The final voyage of The Wandering Eye

The final voyage of the Wandering Eye

A couple of months ago my brother Howie asked if I would join him to take his sailboat, The Wandering Eye, from Anacortes, WA to Seattle where he would leave it with a broker to sell her.

She is now 19 yrs. old and starting to show her age.  We have spent many weeks on this great boat and had some great adventures.  We started in Tortola 15 yrs. ago after he had it in charter with Moorings for 4 years.  We sailed from there to Ft. Lauderdale.  That month taught us how to sail with the assistance of our friend Randy Williamson.  Then up to Glacier Bay in Alaska, to Desolation Sound many times, around Vancouver Island, and multiple trips to the Gulf Islands and the San Juan’s.

Wandering Eye

We planned to meet Sept. 18 in Seattle, rent a car and drive up to Anacortes.  After checking out the boat we would go sail to Sidney, BC and meet our old friend Geoff Goodship and his wife Freddie.   All went according to plan.  We reached Skyline Marina around 5PM and found the Wandering Eye at rest against the dock.  She was indeed an old friend.

The following day was spent helping Howie go through his storage locker.  The plan was to throw most of the stuff out.  The best laid plans.., we ended up taking most of it on board.  It’s a good thing it is a big boat.  “Well, we might need this…”  Soon we were outfitted to travel to Alaska.

The next day my cousin Jim Kahan and his long time girlfriend Erika Difazio pulled up in the Smart car to join us for our trip to Sidney, BC.  Out of this little car came a surprisingly large amount of food.  At least we would not go hungry.  We slept on the dock that night and the following morning, despite the forecast of rain and wind, slipped our lines and headed for Capn Howie’s favorite crabbing grounds of Spencer Spit.  The weather held off.  We arrived around midday.  By one the Captain had his first pot in the water.  By sunset he had caught his limit of 5 legal male crabs.



The following morning found the wind coming up and the rain had begun.   I suggested we head for Friday Harbor, which was about an hour away.  Howie was determined to get to Roche Harbor.  As we rounded the island into Thatcher Pass the wind was up to 20 kts, the seas were getting rough.  I again suggested Friday Harbor as it was nearby.  Before long we were in the San Juan channel.  Winds now 30 kts. Fortunately, behind us.  The canvas side panels on our cockpit popped off and some of the zippers failed as the wind reached 35 kts.  Waves were 5-6 feet and we were hanging on as Howie stripped the remaining canvas off and stowed it below.

It was 5 miles to the Spieden Channel.  Wind meter registered gusts to 40 kts.  With life jackets and safety harnesses on we forged on into the increasing rain.  In an hour we reached the East / West running channel and received some break from the south wind.  The wind was down to 15-20 and we breathed a sigh of relief.

Howie and Phil at helm Howie at helm


An hour later we entered Roche Harbor, were assigned a dock close to the shore and the wind seemed calm.  What a difference.  From here it would be a few hour cruise to Sidney, BC and our friends Geoff and Freddie.

That evening after Jim and Erika prepared their first great meal we were settling in and we found the dreaded plugged toilet in Jim and Erika’s cabin.  We had dealt with this in the past and it was always a little messy.  As Howie started unhooking the plumbing the poop flowed everywhere.  Delightful.  Unable to break the obstruction with conventional tools I went to the dock master and he located a plumbing snake at the local hotel.  This seemed to work.  We found an obstruction, popped it out, and with a bit of an explosive mess and then the toilet seemed to work.  The clean up seemed a small price to pay for fixing the problem.

The celebration was cut short the following morning when the toilet failed again.  We found a bigger snake but Howie decided the holding tank might be full and we had best empty it before proceeding.  Roche Harbor has a boat that comes to you called the Phaecal Phreak.  Before long the barge was along side sucking away.  To our surprise nothing came out of the tank.  Odd.  It seemed to accept water so we called it a day and headed off for Canada.

Overcast with rain but not much wind.  We reached Sidney and cleared customs over the phone.  Then lunch with Geoff and Freddie.  It was great to see my old mentor again.  At 81 Geoff still has all of his faculties.  He had joined Howie and I on the Wandering Eye for many adventures including a trip to Alaska and a circumnavigation of Vancouver Island.  Both he and Freddie are a delight.  He was driving his sister to Kelowna, BC the following day.  Quite a trip.  I always feel better when I see them.

That night Jim and Erika awakened me around 11:30.  “There is a horrible smell in our cabin.”  The poop was loose again.

Time to awaken the Captain.  We searched everywhere.  We ventilated the boat.  We never found the smell source.  We postulated it was a burp back through the toilet.  We also realized we didn’t have a clue.  But the smell was less and we headed back to bed.

We stayed in the harbor at Sidney for another day.  We did take the Wandering Eye out and explored Portland Island about 8 miles to the north.  We returned in a downpour but with little wind.  That evening we found a great Greek Restaurant on Main Street in Sidney.

The next day we needed to send someone into the rigging to restore a flag halyard that had come astray.  We chose the lightest crew member and this was Erika.


The next day we bid farewell to Jim and Erika who planned to take the ferry back to Anacortes and retrieve their Smart Car.  Howie and I pushed off around noon heading for Roche Harbor and customs.  Calm seas.  Clear skies.  But the weather was forecast to deteriorate and we decided to push on and get as far south as we could.  It was hard to believe the San Juan Channel was the same one I had experienced a few days earlier.  Dead calm.  We passed Friday Harbor just before sunset and took a mooring buoy off Turn Island.

We planned an early start the following morning in hopes of getting across the Straits of Juan de Fuca before the weather hit.  We had current against us all day.

The crossing went well until we entered the fog at the southern half of the Strait.  Fortunately, Howie has radar and that gave us a clue a to the traffic.  These are major shipping lanes for Puget Sound.  We cleared the fog just above Port Townsend.  Behind us I had been hearing a fog horn every 30 sec.  I asked Howie about it.

“Its just a buoy.” He assured me.

I turned around and thought I saw something back near the top of the fog.  A few seconds later a huge super structure was bearing down on us from above.  The massive Albert Maersk was flying along at 22kts.  The alarms started sounding on the radar.


A quick turn to the starboard as we scampered to get out of its way.

“That was quite a buoy.”  I remarked to Howie as I breathed a sigh of relief.  He just gave me that sheepish little boy look he has.

We pushed on against the current and reached Port Ludlow just as the sun was setting.  A peaceful place as we dropped the hook in 17 ft. of water.

The following morning held the promise of current in our favor balanced by wind and rain on the nose.  We started pulling the hook at 08:00.  That was when the windlass failed.  Howie got it going again enough to get the anchor aboard.  But our nickname for our little vessel is “As is.” And that is how we planned to leave her.

No worries we would find a berth for the night.  As we pulled out of Port Ludlow the wind across the Hood Canal was gusting to 30.  It was on the beam and Howie put out a small jib.  He cannot resist his urge to sail.  It has gotten us into trouble more than once.  As we reached Puget Sound we turned into the wind and noted the waves were coming up and slightly over the bow.  Our forward speed was reduced to 3kts.

As we approached Point No Point and its famous treacherous waves a large sailboat passed us motoring south.  I noted it went way away from the point.  I should have followed his lead.  I saw a rather large wave approaching.  It seemed bigger than the rest.  Soon it broke over the bow, passed the mast and entered the cockpit.  Our speed slowed to 1.0 kts.

This was ceasing to be fun.  No more direct into the waves.  We would take them all at an angle from now on.

Frustrated by our lack of progress Howie wanted to sail.  I had my reservations.  He started to raise the main.  ¼ quarter of the way up I noted the halyard was fouled around the upper spreader.  The sail would neither go up or down and was flapping like a tuna fish.  With 35 kts of constant wind it would shred before long.

“I’ve got to go forward and try to free the sail.”  Howie said with some concern.

That would mean I had to hold the boat straight into the wind and waves.  Howie put on his harness and was out of the cockpit.  He clipped onto the rail as he crawled forward.  He reached the mast. He was holding onto the mast with one arm and pulling on the sail with the other.  A wave broke over bow and I noticed it came up to is mid calf.  He kept his footing.  The sail came down.  The fowled halyard would not move.  Howie crawled back to the cabin.  I let the boat fall off and the nose lifted up rather than cut through the waves.  I was glad Howie was safe in the cabin.

We calculated 10 nautical miles in this blow to any relief.  At 2.5 kts over the ground we would be here quite a while.  We started tacking with a handkerchief of a jib.  It brought up our speed but forced us to go the wrong way.  We debated if this was progress.   As we neared the peninsula side we noted Port Kingston, a ferry stop, was just a few miles ahead.  It had a small harbor.  I could see the ferry in the distance.  If we could make it that would be home for a while.

To our surprise Jim and Erika had called from Seattle and wanted to rejoin us.  Hard to believe.  We told them to meet us at Kingston if they wanted to return to a boat where their toilet didn’t work.  Was intermittently stinky.  And we most likely would be stuck in a harbor for 3-4 days.  They decided to come anyway.

We reached the harbor.  The wind inside the breakwater was surprisingly strong.  10 people appeared on the dock to help us with our lines.   It was a good thing as we almost were blown into another dock.  Finally, with a lot of help, we were secured to the safety of the dock.  The dock master, one of our helpers said, “You might want to consider putting two lines on each cleat.”  That worked for me.

The daylight soon failed as the wind picked up and was howling in the shrouds.  It was then that Howie decided to change the oil.  He noted it had been two hundred hours and the charter company had not bothered to change the oil.  I noted that we had eight more miles to go if the storm ever blew through and then it would be someone else’s problem.  Howie failed to hear the words “As is.”

Well, the oil change itself went well.  Howie wanted to transfer the old oil to the containers from the new oil.  I suggest we go on deck just in case it got messy.  We had just enough room to get the oil our of the pump resevoir.  But Howie want to get rid of the last few ounces.  He put a little extra pressure on the pump and oil sprayed everywhere.  The cockpit had black diesel oil everywhere as did my pants.

“Howie… “

“Oops. Sorry….”  He asked for a paper towel to clean up the oil.  Now we have black smear everywhere.  So much for that project.

For reasons that escape me Erika and Jim wanted to come back on board.  They drove to Edmonds, along with their catering materials, and re joined us around two on Sat.  By now we had cleaned up the oil mess and restored the boat to a modicum of order.  It was great seeing them as they came down the passenger ramp from the ferry.  As always they seemed to be caring bags of food.

The wind and rain were picking up so we retreated to the relatively dry cabin of the Wandering Eye.  These are good folks and it was good to see them again.  I wondered if they just weren’t professional cooks looking for a place to make a name.  We didn’t seem like the logical choice.   That evening dinner was lamb shanks.  Some of the best I’ve ever had.

Early Sun. AM we felt we had a break in the blow.  Capn Howie decided to try to move the boat to the poo -poo pump out dock so he could work on his pesky toilet.  The wind was light and we made it without incident.  No luck sucking out the full tank.  Time for drastic measures.  Howie opened the top of the tank.  Delightful.  We stuck the poo -poo sucker directly into the tank.  That did the trick.  I noticed Erika almost passed out on the dock from the smell.  Sea gulls were avoiding the boat.  Howie finally found the problem was a disconnected drain hose.

We were unable to repair it despite his personal descent into the tank and after 3 hours we finally sealed her up with a piece of tape that said “AS IS!”  Decontamination required a trip to the washing machine.  By now the wind was back up and it required at least 6 folks to help us safely land the Wandering Eye back on the dock and tie her down.

Sun. brought even stronger winds and heavier rain.  We listened to some of the news reports of flooding and power outages.  They were predicting winds to 40 kts (with 80 at the mountain ridges).  Rain gear was good and we took a small hike into town.  The main attraction in Kingston is the hardware store.  This baby was well equipped.  Howie found a hose he was sure would work in the tank.  The three of us dragged him away from another smelly project.

Mon. came and the weather predicted 20-30 kts winds.  We all took a walk up to the local look out above the ferry.  The 30 kt. windsock for the ferry was only ½ extended for the first time in 3 days.  There was a hint of blue sky.  But Puget Sound told the tale.  It looked relatively calm.  Howie and I silently looked at each other.  We looked back at the sea.  Looked at each other again and nodded.  We would give it a try.

Erika and Jim grabbed their remaining gear.  Howie readied the Wandering Eye for departure.  I knew he was thinking he would get one more chance to sail her.  I was thinking the wind was about to pick up.  It turns out we were both right.  We bid farewell again to Jim and Ericka and motored out into Puget Sound.

We motored south into the building sea.  Wind was now 25 but the sea wasn’t that bad.  The GPS showed us 8 mi. from Seattle and the entrance to Lake Union.  We reached a point where the wind would allow Howie to cross the sound toward Seattle.  Now it was blowing 30 kts and the seas were easily 5-6 feet on the nose.  Here we go again I thought.  But we were able to quarter the waves enough that we moved along without taking on much water.  Before long we were doing >6kts across Puget Sound.  Howie was going to get in his final sail no matter what.  And indeed he did.  Quite the smile on his face as we pulled into the relative quiet of the Lade Union Ship’s Channel.  Just as we approached the ship channel we saw a large blue hull in the distance.  This is usually a Holland America ship.  As she drew closer i recognized the Statendam.  I had worked as a Dr. on most of their ships.  This one had special meaning.  It was on this boat I met my wife Bev in 2001.


We studied the books to the ascent into Lake Union.  4 drawbridges required for our 63 ft .mast and one set of locks.  They all went smoothly.

At Three fifteen in the afternoon, Mon.   September 30 The Wandering Eye tied up to the Signature Yacht sales marina to conclude a nineteen-year run that brought us many great adventures and many more memories.  We wish her well in her next life.


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