Ballard sailor experiences unexpected adventure on Bainbridge

John Kuenzli anchored his boat, “Howlin,” near the shore in Hawley Cove Wednesday, but it was towed into Eagle Harbor Thursday.  - Dennis Anstine/Staff Photo
John Kuenzli anchored his boat, “Howlin,” near the shore in Hawley Cove Wednesday, but it was towed into Eagle Harbor Thursday.
— image credit: Dennis Anstine/Staff Photo

John Kuenzli wasn’t looking for adventure 10 days ago when he sailed out of Ballard’s Shileshole Bay Marina bound for Eagle Harbor in a 22-foot derelict boat named “Howlin” that he had just bought for $100.

But he found one.

“I decided I’d sail over to Bainbridge and check it out because I’d heard good things about the people in the harbor over here,” he said.

Kuenzli, who admits to being an inexperienced sailor, made it across Elliott Bay before his boat became becalmed and got stuck on Rockaway Beach on the evening of Aug. 10. He got off the beach the next day at high tide, but then things got a little tenuous as he tried to navigate the harbor during a sailboat race.

Eventually he was towed into Eagle Harbor by a racing vessel, docked overnight, moved to a linear moorage line the next evening, woke up thinking he had a leak and then slipped over to Bill Point where he beached the boat on purpose so he could inspect the hull at low tide.

“The guy at Rockway told me people did that all the time there, cleaning the hull during low tide to save haul-out money,” Kuenzli said.

City Harbormaster Tami Allen had known of Howlin’s presence on Bainbridge since being informed by the Rockaway Beach homeowner who came to Kuenzli’s assistance when he was first beached. She found him moored in Eagle Harbor when she made her early-morning rounds on Aug. 12 and eventually directed him to a linear moorage line in the Harbor.

“He was fine,” she said. “I gave him the whole rundown on staying in the harbor. He hadn’t committed any infractions...there are no rules against navigating poorly. He said he couldn’t afford $11 a day so he went out on the line.”

Kuenzli awoke Friday with a foot of water in the boat’s lower deck, which apparently was caused by it being wedged under some hardware that’s part of the linear moorage system. He thought he might have sprung leak, however, and decided to head for Bill Point for an inspection.

Allen thought Howlin had left over the weekend, but then she got an email three days later that a boat was stuck at Bill Point. She recognized the boat and asked people at Helpline House to see if they could have someone assist him. She was afraid he might have run out of water and food.

Actually, Kuenzli and his dog, Mississippi, had run into several friendly islanders and their dogs while taking walks on Pritchard Park beach. One islander talked to him for a while, left and then returned with a carry-out tray loaded with meatloaf, potatoes and stew vegetables.

“Everybody’s been real friendly,” Kuenzli said.

He got a ride to Helpline House, registered, picked up some food and a cane to help walk on a sore knee.

But when he returned to his boat Wednesday afternoon, Allen and Bainbridge police officer were waiting for him.

“I assumed he was on the beach because he was taking on water,” Allen said. “We talked and he said he couldn’t find a leak. I asked him if he had a haul-out plan, which is standard for a vessel in distress. It’s my approach that the owner is responsible for his own boat. We’ll do whatever we can, but I shouldn’t be using my time for things that are the boat owner’s responsibility.”

According to Kuenzli, the officer said he had to get off the beach or be impounded. His choices were to leave at low tide or call Vessel Assistance.

“I didn’t want to pay the money for a tow so I told him I’d try sailing back into the harbor,” he said. “The officer was fine; just doing his job, like Tami. They were helpful and they left it up to me, but they made it clear I couldn’t stay there. I understood.”

But when he got back out into the channel, the wind pushed the boat northeast until a gust ripped the boats already-tattered sail. Kuenzli then rode the tide into Hawley Cove where the boat spent the rest of Wednesday – either grounded or anchored in a few feet of water, depending on the tide.

A transient sailor agreed to tow him back to Eagle Harbor Thursday afternoon.

Kuenzli said he’ll raft-up in the harbor until he gets some money on the first of September so he can buy two new sails and return to Ballard.

“And I’m going to get me an outboard motor, too,” he said.

A transient vessel can stay on a raft in the harbor for 30 days without cost,” Allen said.

Allen said Kuenzli’s troubles and how she dealt with them were not unusual.

“This was an easy one, a short term one,” she said. “Well, it’s not over yet.”

She said Kuenzli and his boat caused no pollution or broke the law in any way, so all she could do was monitor it and assist any way she could at a time of the tyear when she’s very busy.

“Usually when a vessel is leaking, it gets pumped out and hauled to a boatyard for repair,” she said. “That’s the normal way, but it’s costly. So I understand that he had fewer options .”

As for Kuenzli, he’d like to get home to his camper in Ballard. But he’s also looking forward to a couple of weeks in Eagle Harbor.

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