This is the private signal flag that I fly from my boat (or anywhere, really). A private signal (or a house flag) was traditionally a flag that represented the owner of the boat. They aren't very common anymore—the closest I usually see is someone flying Blackbeard's flags —but given my interest in archaic communication systems, here we are...

Jesse Morgan's Private Signal Flag

As best as I can describe it, it's a blue swallowtail flag, charged with two green right triangles, each surmounted by a white chevron, the peak of the first at the first third and the peak of the second at the crutch, with the second overlapping the first.

I designed it near the end of the summer of 2021. This was the favorite of a half-dozen or so iterations. All of them were blue, green, and white and vaguely represented both mountains and the letter M. All of those are fairly common elements, but I wanted the flag to be somewhat unique. After searching through Flags of the World, Wikipedia, and reverse image search, the most similar flags I could find were Ed Mitchell's reimagined flag for Montana and the flag for the city of Seward, Alaska. The swallowtail shape helps set it apart from most flags. It fits with the theme, since private signals were traditionally swallowtailed (perhaps for the same reason...). Along the way I also found the FlagWaver web app, which was really helpful to visualize how the flag would look with and without wind.

If, somehow, you found this page after seeing the flag, do let me know.

When I got the old boat motor back, the lower was still detached. It was also seized up. I was trying to reattach it to store everything away, but I needed to spin the shaft to line up the teeth. Out of curiosity, I started to disassemble the lower. As I worked at the shaft, this junk started pouring out the gear oil drain... It had the consistency of dirt with some salt crystals mixed in. I didn't have a magnet to check if it was ferrous, but I assume this is what was left of my gears.

Mechanic took a look at the outboard. Much to both our surprise, there was no trace of gear lube in the lower unit (and I'd believe it from the noises it was making). However, there was also no signs of water intrusion. We're both baffled. Parts alone would be $1500. Time to look for a new motor...

It was a short, but foggy, trip back to Seattle

It was a short, but foggy, trip back to Seattle

07:00 - I called Aurora Rents and confirmed they had a motor available. April, Anders, and I headed up to Shoreline to pick it up and then to Edmonds. Daniel and I swapped out the motor, made sure the Honda would start, go into gear, etc., and then set off. As we floated away from the dock, the engine stalled. Repeatedly (oh no, not again). Eventually, I got it to stay running as we drifted past the breakwater. We circled for a few minutes longer for good measure before continuing south.

It was quite foggy when we left, although it was supposed to burn off by 11:00. We were just talking about estimating visibility in the fog when I looked behind me and could see clear back to Edmonds. The rest of the fog disappeared by the time we reached Shilshole.

There were a number of boats waiting at the locks as we approached. I expected we'd need to wait another cycle, but we managed to squeeze in at the end.

We made it back to Fremont, cleaned up the boat, and returned the motor. As we headed across the Ship Canal Bridge, it looked like perfect sailing weather on Lake Union.

Sorry 😔   the spinnaker!

(April, responding to my text about the motor issues)

After going about 6 miles, as we entered the Puget Sound proper, the grinding noise came back. The wind was starting to pick up, so we shut off the motor and put up the sails. However, the tide was still on its way out and the current was slowly dragging us back north.

We hadn't made much use of the Spinnaker before. In the two years that I've owned the boat, I think we've pulled it out twice. It took a minute to remember how to trim it, but once we did we finally started to make forward progress.

We sailed one tack until a bit south of Pilot Point then gybed and continued to Edmonds. As the wind picked up and the tide turned, we started to pick up speed. I think we were averaging 5-6 kt, speed over ground.

The wind started to die down as we passed the Port of Edmonds. We might have made it back to Shilshole, but it seemed like tempting fate to just continue past the marina conveniently in front of us. We decided to take a closer look at the motor and then decide if we'll continue or stop in Edmonds.

The grinding noise was back immediately. I wanted try moving the gear linkage adjustment back, so we inflated the dingy and I jumped back and forth from the boat to the dingy, trying different adjustments, while Daniel tried to work us back upwind towards the marina entrance.

Thanks Daniel...

As we made our final tack to put us into the marina, the motor was once again going into forward gear, albeit with unpleasant noises. We were still 10 minutes out, so we shut the motor off until we reached the entrance.

As we approached the entrance, we doused the mainsail but kept the genoa. If we needed to sail into the marina, I felt more comfortable handling just the headsail. I started the engine and put it into gear... nothing.

We continued in under sail, searching out an empty spot in the guest moorage area. We found one spot left, but couldn't get the boat around and upwind (I think I should have doused the headsail sooner). We bailed and tied up to the haul-out dock instead (the first spot turned out to be the pump-out station, so we couldn't have stayed there anyway). A powerboat was leaving from the guest dock and offered to tow us over into their place (thanks Jesse!).

As we waited for April to come meet us, Daniel and I started going through our options. Staying in guest moorage at the Port of Edmonds was $40/night. Towing back to Fremont would be ~$1300 (at that point, I might as well just buy a new motor...). Eventually, Daniel discovered Aurora Rents apparently rents an 8 HP Honda Outboard for $80/day. Perfect! April arrived, we all got dinner, and I headed home with April so we could pickup a motor in the morning.

Port Townsend in the distance

In hindsight, we should have anchored in Oak Bay, just on the other side of the cut. The tide was coming in the night before, which would have given us a favorable current. Instead, we faced a 3-4 kt opposing current when we left Tuesday morning.

Sunset in Port Hadlock

Anchored near Port Hadlock

Leaving the Strait of Juan de Fuca

As we approached Port Townsend, the motor started making a new noise from time to time, which could be described as a grinding sound.... We had originally planned to head to Port Ludlow, but decided to anchor at the south end of Port Townsend Bay, near the canal, and give the motor a break.

Incredibly calm in the Strait of Juan de Fuca

Cap Sante Marina

No one could look at the motor for at least a week, but one of the mechanics we spoke with suggested adjusting the gear linkage. The motor was going in and out of gear fine that morning, but we gave it a small adjustment anyway and started back towards Seattle around 11:00.

James Island from the North

We decided it would be best to see if someone could look at the motor before we headed back towards Seattle. It was Sunday and all the shops were closed, but we decided to head to Anacortes so we could call first thing in the morning. The motor went right into gear and we didn't risk touching it again until we were pulling into our slip.

It wasn't long until we made it to James Island, where we had intended to spend the weekend. We headed counter-clockwise around the island. First checking the cove on the east side and then the floating dock on the west side. Both were full and it looked like a large group of people were camping together on the west side. We decided to continue on in search of a quieter mooring.

Spenser Spit was next, but it was also crowded and looked somewhat exposed. We were supposed to have 25 kt winds in the area overnight. We were going to head towards Blind Bay, but as we stopped to move fuel into the main tank, we noticed Swifts Bay just around the corner with only a couple of boats in it. We motored into the bay (hey, it went back into gear) and dropped the anchor (during which, the motor failed to go into gear) at 16:30.

09:30 - We're officially in the Strait of Juan De Fuca.

10:30 - Just east of Smith Island, we decided the wind had picked up enough to start sailing. We intended to move towards the east side of the traffic lane, and then pick a nice line WNW.

We never got a chance to head north. The wind died back down and boat traffic was picking up, so we decided to put the motor back in the water. However, when I put it in gear nothing happened. It almost felt as if the shift-lever was disconnected... Reverse? Yup, reverse worked. Forward? Nothing. Motor off. Motor on. Push harder. Switch faster. Switch slower. No forward gear. I inspected the linkage. Everything looks fine... Try again. Motor goes into gear. I had no plans to take it out of gear until we got to wherever we ended up going.

Flaky failures are definitely my least favorite failure mode. Flaky problems are hard to troubleshoot and ever harder to know if they're actually fixed.

Moored at Ft. Flagler Sunrise over Marrowstone Island

06:30 Time to get underway. There was just enough wind to provide steerageway. We sailed off the mooring to work our way back to Port Townsend Bay. To be honest, the current was moving us more than the wind.

Opps..

We decided to moor at Ft. Flagler State Park Friday night and head across the Strait first thing in the morning. Apparently, while we were... negotiating... with crabbers to tie up to the dock, this boat just drove straight into the beach. I have no idea what happened. We saw the lights from a tow boat coming to fetch it a few hours later.

As the wind began to blow the fog off, it was fascinating to watch it deflect around the hills.

The saga of my and Daniel's sailing trip to the San Juan Islands had a foggy start. As the wind began to blow the fog off, it was fascinating to watch it deflect around the hills.