Do you remember what you were doing the day of the 1993 Inaugural Day Storm?  I couldn’t exactly but in 1993 we were building our main house on Obstruction Island. “Oh THAT storm!” I said when I looked it up in the year’s journal. *

On January 20th Rick Petro was coming to plan the septic system.  He had already had to reschedule once.  The winds howling all night and I thought we would have another delay.  Around eight in the morning the wind seemed less so I hustled down to the north dock.  Our inboard/outboard, dubbed Bad Boat, had blown a head gasket for the New Year.  The only working boat was my 17-foot Whitehall, a rowboat. With the waves surging in from Rosario Straits, I was barely able to keep my balance on the dock while untying the boat.

Rick was already at the Obstruction Pass dock.  He didn’t look very confident about his mode of transportation as I handed him a second pair of oars. The Whitehall has two rowing positions and I was putting him to work. However, as soon as he dug into the challenge, he decided he wanted to get a similar boat.


rowing on a normal day

Whitecaps rolling in with the southeast wind and combining with an ebb tide convinced us to head around the NW point of Obstruction. We pulled the boat onto a sheltered beach.  Rick headed straight up to our place to try and find acceptable soil on the top of the rock.  Shortly afterwards our friend Craig Zafforoni arrived reporting that it was blowing 50 knots in Seattle.

the point and beach (center) where we pulled in; we came from the dock on the far left

Not wasting any time, Rick laid out our septic and back we went to the beach. The seas were definitely worse than when I had picked Rick up.  Even though the tide was ebbing, the storm surge had the boat almost awash. Two oars were out of the boat, sloshing close by tangled in the kelp.    As we looked at the waves I told Rick he was welcome to stay the night.

He wasn’t willing to concede to the storm, “We can get out of here.”

First we bailed the boat.  Next he pulled it completely up onto the log and turned it bow out.  Once the boat was almost totally afloat he had me take the forward seat.

“Are you ready?” he called.  Rather casually I said I was.  He asked, “Are you sure?”  I focused.  Rick continued, “As soon as I give it a push and come over the stern, you start rowing. It is up to you to get us away from the breakers before I have a chance to sit down.”  Right.

He pushed and leapt in.  I rowed.  When seated, he joined me and the breakers were behind us. In no time we arrived at the Pass dock.

Now the trip home, — 50 knots in Seattle made me want to hurry.  The only reasonable place to tie up on Obstruction was the North Dock so I started rowing into heavy seas.  It was a comfort to know my boat wouldn’t flip. It has 4 floatation chambers built-in. It rose over the waves rather than plowing into them.  Not a drop was coming over the gunwales.

Spindrift rose off the water.  The waves out in the Straits stood like a wall of raging water.  I leaned into the wind against my back. The troughs were huge. Timing was everything if you didn’t want the oars to be pushing air instead of water.  Feet braced, pulling with all my strength, it was a hard grind against the waves and tide.

Suddenly the wind stopped. After a brief moment of calm, no more than two strokes, the wind switched 180?.  Now it was in my face! In my face and pushing me to Rosario Straits where the waves rose like mountains.

where I didn’t want to end up

Instead of struggling into the waves, I was suddenly going forward too quickly.  I didn’t dare turn full broadside to the weather to head to our dock.  I tried working my way sideways, using a crabbing stroke.  Visions of the waves crashing on the storm side of Obstruction were in my mind’s eye. I tried to picture a safe haven.  All I imagine were slamming, sucking seas.

After an exhausting struggle, I made it into the lee of our island. I’d overshot the dock by several hundred yards but was safe. Gently I rowed down to the dock and just sat, holding on.  I could hear Jeffrey and Craig chattering and they came down to check the boats. I waited. The idea of tying it up seemed like too much work.  When they arrive I turned to show them what I had battled. The wind had once again dropped. It was almost calm and, although it didn’t stay that way, I had nothing to show for my worst storm.

Inaugural Day of 1993 was my first big storm. There have been others equally serious but, to me, this was the worst big storm.

©2010 Caroline Buchanan


My Boat and me;  two sets of oars in place

*I was reading about the Inagural Day Storm  in the Seattle Times of Dec 16, 2006.  The aricle was saying that the day before, December 15, we  had “the worst winds since the Inagural Day Storm on 1993.”  2006 is another story!