Several minor observations from a sailor who has spent many years transiting Harney Channel and dodging Washington
State Ferries. I have anchored in Blind Bay on Shaw Island for weeks at a time watching the ferries run to both Shaw and Orcas
- If you have not navigated Harney you have no idea how confusing and troubling the water
and traffic can be
- many folks on this forum have a very dangerous misunderstanding of the rules of the road as it applies to sailboats and a total lack of appreciation for practical and safe navigation
- Harney channel is a challenging and often dangerous environment
for sailboats. I have sailed thru and across the channel hundreds of times as a single
hander in a 40' boat, a captain
on a crewed bigger sailboat, and crew on many smaller sailbats.
Please note the dimensions and locations of the ferry landings on the attached image - click on it to get a bigger image
The channel has some strong currents that vary greatly from side to side and from east to west.
The wind is very erratic and swirls and twists as it moves thru the channel
State Ferries always take different routes depending on their destination
. Sometimes a ferry coming from the east will go to Orcas first and then to Shaw, other times they go to Shaw first and then Orcas, and sometimes they go to only Orcas and then head
back east while bypassing Shaw.
There is no way to know where the ferry is headed since they might take a path on one side of the channel, pass their destination
, and then circle back to their destination in order to have a favorable angle to the dock
while struggling with the current.
I have, on many occasions, been very surprised when I passed a ferry I thought was headed to Orcas which then seemed to make a 180 degree turn and head
back toward me while trying to dock
On a given day, in seemingly identical conditions, I've seen the same ferry transit the channel on the far north side, in the middle, and on the far south side.
There have been times, when sailing, that I have tried to hold my course while having the right of way, made contact via VHF
, with the ferry, told them my intentions and they acknowledged those intentions, and then had the ferry pass within 10 yards of me while I had rocks just five yards to the other side.
It is confusing and difficult and I can easily understand how both boats where sure they were doing the correct, and safe, thing.
However, a single
hander (which I am more often than not), going below for even a minute in Harney with a ferry in sight is just asking to have a serious problem.