So after a bit of a slow start we left the marina around 9:30 Sunday (yesterday) morning. The Shawnee left at the same time and was headed in the same direction so we both motored and motorsailed (very light wind) along at about the same pace. After about an hour Austen (the skipper) hailed us requesting a quart of motor oil if we had any to spare. We had enough to share but how to get it to them while under way? We still had onboard the long floating line we used to swing the stern upstream when backing out of the slip at Rocky Pointe so we tied the jug of oil on to it and trailed it behind us and they used a boathook to snag it. To return the line the Shawnee pulled up along our dinghy and Austen tossed it in. We were happy to be able to help out a fellow sailor in need.
Our plan was to continue upstream to the Vancouver city docks where we could tie up for free. There are several restaurants within walking distance so we thought we’d have lunch and maybe stay overnight. Getting to the dock required passing a railroad bridge with a verticle clearance of 39 feet. Our mast is 42 feet above the water plus our VHF antenna so we would need to request a bridge opening (it is a swing bridge). I rehearsed the radio procedure but another sailboat got there ahead of us and requested the swing so that was easy. We had to wait about 5 minutes then the bridge tender sounded his horn and the bridge began to open. There must be some big machinery under water because the water got quite strange and squirrely – next time we’ll hang back a few seconds before proceeding. Anyhow (to make a short story long) we made it to the Vancouver docks without incident but as soon as we were tied up we knew we wouldn’t be staying long. The water was so rough we were afraid our fenders were going to pop up onto the dock. We could have moved to the inside but it looked pretty shallow and there were some old pilings very close to the end that we would have to squeeze past. As Mike at zerotocruising.com says, sometimes free costs too much.
So we quickly decided to move on to plan B: stay the night at a marina a little further upstream. We called ahead to ensure availability and to verify the marina’s location (we’d never been there but it had been recommended by another sailing couple). It was a bad sign when the guy on the phone clearly had no idea how to give directions for approaching by water. First we went to the wrong marina (and were redirected by some nice guys on the dock), then when approaching the entrance to the right marina we ran aground! The charts showed nothing under 9 feet in the area so when our depth sounder alarm went off at 14 feet we weren’t too concerned since we were already going very slow. A few seconds later the depth sounder showed 1 foot and at the same moment we felt the keel just kiss the bottom. Devon immediately turned the boat around to leave the way we came in but the depth sounder went to zero and we felt the keel hit again. This time the boat slowed and heeled over about 5 degrees, Devon gunned the engine and there was a tense moment when we thought we might be stuck but we continued moving forward and then we were free. Fortunately the bottom was just mud so no harm was done but it was freaky anyhow.
On to plan C: well we didn’t have a plan C so while Devon found deep water I dug out the cruising guides and decided to head for Camas/Washougal on the Washington side. It was further than we wanted to go (about 2 hours) but it seemed like the best option (we haven’t found any good cruising guides for this area so our info was pretty spotty). About 40 minutes later we spotted a great looking dock on Government Island that wasn’t on the charts or in the guides. There were only 3 boats and there were no “private” signs so we headed over, it turned out to be a great find. The docks are about a year old, have plenty of room, deep water, are protected, and free (max stay 72 hours). We had been motoring all day (which we dislike), we hadn’t eaten since breakfast (it was now about 5pm) and we were exhausted so we were thrilled. We liked it so much we decided to hang out and stay again tonight.