New Boat!

March 25, 2016

My blog has been quiet for a while. Honestly, losing Hales Revenge seventeen months ago really threw me for a loop–probably more so than I’d originally thought. I beat myself up revisiting all the could-haves and should-haves, but in the end just accepted the hard lessons and decided to move on, happy to be alive.

So, please meet Whoodat, a 1982 Tartan 33. We bought her last month and will probably leave her at Elliott Bay Marina in Seattle. She’s a well-built Sparkman and Stephens design. With shoal draft, a fractional rig, moderate displacement, and moderate sail area she rates 162.


Julie digging the new boat.  It has a proper galley and a head with a door!

Both previous owners took great care of her and updated her continually. We’ve had her out a few times in the bay and found her to be easily driven and well-balanced. I’m getting used to the wheel; I’ve always been a tiller guy. You should see the systems on this boat. Both of the previous owners were meticulous. Dave, the most recent owner, is a naval architect, and everything is immaculate. I thought I’d done a nice job rewiring BackBeat, but the inside of Whoodat’s panel is a work of art. The surveyor pointed out only a few minor items, so that’s good.


Elliott Bay is a nice place to keep a boat. We have a great view of the Seattle skyline and Mt. Rainier, and it’s handy to get anywhere in the Sound within a long day. Port Townsend is about 35 miles North. Victoria is about 35 more. I grew up in Olympia, kept BackBeat there for a while, and like cruising South Sound. Olympia is about 60 miles South, and there are some nice stops along the way if we want to shorten our sailing days. It will really be fun getting to know this boat in the next few months.

The name is interesting. We’d thought it had something to do with the New Orleans Saints Who Dat? chant and fans. The Seahawks have the 12th Man, and the Saints have Who Dat? As it turns out, the original owner had a story involving a family member and a fast boat. I don’t know the details, but “Whoodat” apparently refers to that boat passing everyone like they’re standing still. Think: “Hey, look at that boat go! Whoodat?” Or something like that. If anyone reading this has the actual details, please let me know.

BackBeat is on the hard in Port Townsend. My insurance company totaled it and then let me keep it. I’ll be there next week to get her ready for repairs, and then she’ll go up for sale. Nothing about replacing the broken boom and keel bolts is technically challenging, but it will take a lot of time and care. I always plan carefully, and then double my estimate. I now think that, even with the modifications I made, she’s a little light for oceanic adventures. I’m sure she’d make it to Hawaii, but the trip back is another thing. I really love BackBeat, but when I’m finished she’ll be as good as new and a great boat for someone new to use in protected waters.

Here’s a link to some more pics:

Here is some info on the design:

Here are some reviews:

It’s nice to be back on the water. We have plans for the Race to the Straits and Swiftsure in May, and I’m getting quotes on new asymmetric running and reaching spinnakers. Exciting stuff!  More later . . .


“Permission to come aboard?”




2014 In Review

December 29, 2014

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,600 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Hale’s Revenge

November 20, 2014

Two experienced sailors and one newb set out October 6th to deliver Hale’s Revenge, an Islander 32–the older, McGlasson design–from Honolulu to Everett.  This boat is a heavy displacement, full keel cruiser.  It was well-equipped for the voyage.  The owner was unable to make the trip, but needed the boat moved ASAP.  We had studied the pilot chart, and knew it could possibly be a rough ride, but–well, I don’t know what “but.”  We weighed the risks and chose to do it.

It didn’t end well.  On October 26, after two other gales, numerous equipment failures, and almost three weeks at sea we were swamped by an irregular wave at about 42N 142W. We’d been weathering yet another storm when it hit us, with a force and from a direction that surprised us.  It knocked out our cabin doors, filled the boat with seawater, blew out the portside windows from the inside, and pretty much destroyed the cabin.

Our approximate position at the time of the accident.

The red “X” marks our approximate position at the time of the accident.

We removed the water, but subsequent breaking waves continued to fill the cabin.  With more than 800 miles to go, continued depressions on the menu, no way to secure the cabin, no communications, no lights, shredded storm sails, the onset of hypothermia, and chronic seasickness in one crew member and serious injuries in the other, my decision to activate our beacon was easy.  The first priority, after all, is to deliver the crew alive.

Hale’s Revenge was low in the water when the two crew were hoisted aboard the Hyundai Grace. Before I left I scuttled her by cutting the raw water intake hose.  I imagine it took a day or so to finish going down.

This was a calculated risk by experienced sailors delivering a well-equipped, seaworthy boat. My policy is to draw a line between personal discomfort and safety.  I can take a lot of personal discomfort, but I don’t negotiate when safety or seaworthiness are on the line.  Especially with other people’s lives.  This was just an unfortunate accident.

Attempting to raft to the Hyundai Grace

Attempting to raft to the Hyundai Grace

Experienced sailors will recognize there is more to this story. There always is.  I avoided details here because I don’t want a 10,000 word blog entry.  If you have questions, please ask them.  If you’re really, really curious, ask me for the whole report.

Scaramouche Delivery

September 6, 2014

Wrecking my boat and not starting the solo transpac sucked, but helping a friend and fellow competitor, Peter Heiberg, bring his boat back from Hanalei Bay certainly took the edge off the disappointment.

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Scaramouche is a flush-deck racer. Beautiful lines, solidly built in aluminum, and fast. Serious pedigree.  Couldn’t have asked for a nicer boat for my first ocean crossing.

We left Hawaii on August 5th at about 0700, with hurricanes Iselle and Julio hot on our heels. Peter has a contact at the Hawaiian Coast Guard station who assured us that their tracks didn’t pose a substantial threat as long as we got North to cooler water ASAP.  We shaped a course just West of due North and started ticking off the miles.

The first week was spectacular trade winds sailing, close to 180 miles a day. Iselle eventually hit the big island and died, but Julio seemed to want to chase us.  We kept a close eye on him; he came further North than any of us thought he would, but in retrospect never really threatened us seriously.  Still, when you’re in the moment it’s a little alarming.  I guess now we can say we outran a hurricane. Cool.  Don’t want to try it again, though.

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Last night in Hanalei Bay

Aside from a couple days motorsailing in light variable winds, we had a really nice sail. The crew Peter put together comprised me and two guys from Fort Saint John, B.C., Mike Haggstrom and Joe Brooks.  I’d never spent this much time on a boat with other people.  You never know how these things will go–I’ve heard some horror stories– but this one was great.  All nice guys, easy to get along with, enthusiastic.  I’d do three weeks again with this crew any time.  It’s true what they say about Canadians.  Just really nice, interesting people.

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Peter looking up from the companionway.

After my misadventure getting down to San Francisco, I’m happy to report there was no weather drama during this trip. During our eighteen days at sea we had some slack days, some more spirited days, some rain, some fog and a few squalls. Nothing we encountered, though, compared to the conditions on the trip down the coast. Thanks, Neptune.  You clearly appreciated that shot Peter offered you as we left.



The watch schedule seemed to work well for everyone.  Mine was 6-9, morning and evening.  That seemed like one of the better ones; next time I should probably offer to take the 12-3 or the 3-6.  I’m used to being up all the time when I sail alone, so night watches don’t bother me.  Still, no one complained.  Again, the polite Canadian stereotype is well-earned.

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Joe Brooks: sailor, teacher, musician.









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Mike Haggstrom:  sailor, businessman, mini collector (the cool old ones from Morris).

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On starboard, nicely making way.

We took turns cooking and, thanks to the provisioning prowess of Christy McLeod, Peter’s significant and much better looking other, we ate pretty well.  We had enough ice aboard to keep fresh foods for about a week.  After that we had a nice variety of canned, packaged, and freeze-dried meals.  I lost some weight, but that’s probably because there is no drive-through at sea.  It was a total score to find two huge chocolate bars in the snack cupboard about halfway through the trip.  I also determined–the uncomfortable way–the shelf life of unrefrigerated Activia yogurt.

Peter had set the boat up really well for the race, so there were no significant gear issues on the trip.  Rigging, navigation, electrical systems and communications all worked fine with no complaints.  There was one early morning alarm when a belt broke on the motor, but Peter had that repaired before I came up for my 0600 watch.  We had a temperamental plotter at the helm, but Peter also has a heavy-duty nav program on a Panasonic Toughbook at the nav station.  We tried to get some of the other returning yachts on the SSB, but no one ever seemed to be home.  AIS was useful for avoiding ships, which we had close approaches with on a few occasions.

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Typical squall.

By Saturday the 23rd we were closing in on Tatoosh Island. The wind had died, so we were motoring at about five knots. Fog lay on the water like a thick blanket, and when night fell we found ourselves in zero visibility.  The watches were nerve-wracking, because the offshore fish boats don’t all use AIS.  Peter was basically navigating an instrument approach to Neah Bay, where they planned to drop me off before continuing on to Victoria.  As we passed Tatoosh the wind came back a bit and the fog began to lift.  We entered the bay, made our way to the marina, and tied up at an end slip.

That was it.  It was about midnight-ish, and after days of looking forward to landfall my trip was over.  Julie and Penny were waiting for me, so I scrambled up to the parking lot.  Being on land again was kind of weird, a little anticlimactic.  You’re at sea with people for three weeks, anxious to get home, and then in just a second you’re not. You really get used to the rhythm of wind, waves, watches, galley duty.  Then it just ends.  I was super glad to be home and see my family, but the transition was abrupt, kind of surreal.  Except for the part about missing my family, I don’t think it would have bothered my to turn around and do three more weeks.

Peter tells me he wants to sell Scaramouche, that after a lifetime pulling sheets he’s through with sailing.  He and Christy have a new project, and cruising plans that don’t include sails.  Scaramouche is a well-found, go anywhere on the planet boat.  It doesn’t need anything that I can think of.  You could buy it tomorrow, sail it past Tatoosh Island, and go anywhere safely and comfortably.  If you’re reading this and are interested, contact me and I’ll forward you Peter’s contact info.

Fast is Fun!

July 30, 2014

That’s the official motto of people who race ultralight boats.  BackBeat is neither an ultralight nor a sport boat, but she can get up and go in the right conditions.  With a masthead kite, wind over 15 knots, and a decent swell to surf, she’ll easily hit 10 to 12 knots.  The highest I’ve recorded is 14.3.  That was running with just a double-reefed main in 30-ish knots and combined seas of 12-16 feet.  Fast really is fun.  Here’s some track data.

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The last 111 miles before San Francisco. 14.3!


During SHTP qualifier.















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During SHTP qualifier.

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Autopilots died somewhere in this track.

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Last 125 miles before Newport, Oregon.  Hand-steering sucks.

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This was a rough but pleasant stretch of water.

I reread part one of this adventure to remember where to pick up the story. With a comfortable buffer of time and distance, my first account now seems kind of dramatic. That’s how it was, though, and you want to get these stories down before too long, or time will change the details.

Michael Jefferson, a Transpac veteran, was among the first people I met when I got off the boat in Alameda.  He and his mate, Susan, collected my sorry ass and took me out for some dinner and company.  He has this theory that people enjoy their pastimes in one of two broad ways.  The type-one folks do something fun and enjoy the moment.  These are your gamblers, golfers, titty-bar patrons, and whatever. Type-two people submit themselves to all manner of punishments before they register their fun.  It’s misery, and in the moment you may hate what you’re doing and swear to change your ways and take up golf, but within a few days of surviving you’re remembering the experience differently, and can’t wait to get back out and do it again.  Type-one:  I went fishing, which was fun.  Type-two:  I got my soul crushed in a gale off Mendocino.  I survived, and now that the edge is off I want to go do it again.  There is a type-three fun-lover. All he’d say about that is that the type-three folks sometimes don’t come back from their adventures.

So, with a little less adrenaline in my veins, here’s the rest of the story. We ended part one with:

“Right on cue, about 20 miles NW of Mendocino , the wind started to build.  I don’t know what you call it when you know something bad’s about to happen, but you sit there and do nothing, hoping it won’t. Inertia?  I don’t know.”

Andrew Evans singlehands an Olson 30.  He wrote a book about it, which I found tremendously useful, and which you can find here:

Rereading his book last night, I spent some time with his discussion of what he calls Emotional Inertia.  This is exactly what happened to me as I approached Cape Mendocino.

You’ll remember that I had my spinnaker up.  The weather was fine, but all the information I was getting predicted high winds and heavy seas, and soon. I knew I should probably take the spinnaker down, but I didn’t.  As the wind increased the boat was regularly hitting 13-14 knots.  It was the middle of the night, and bioluminescence was spraying from my quarters like streamers.  I felt like I was on another planet.  It was really, really cool.

Part of me figured I’d enjoy this as long as possible and then douse the kite, but another part of me was just stalling because I was terrified to get out on the deck and do the work.  By now the motion of the boat was pretty active.  It’s hard to describe to non-sailors, but let me try.  Being on the deck of a small boat that’s pitching and rolling in high winds and big waves is kind of like trying to kneel on the back of one of those mechanical bulls you used to see in bars.  You need all your energy and both hands just to hang on.  Yes, the foredeck is a little wider than the back of a bull, and its movements are a little slower, but that’s about the size of it.  Now, besides trying to hang on, try to get some work done.  No thanks.

Andrew Evans nailed it with the Emotional Inertia theory.  In this case I knew that waiting to douse the kite could only lead to grief, yet I pressed on, doing nothing and hoping for the best.  What eventually happened was that I got the kite down, but it wasn’t pretty, and it was torn all the way across the foot.  That happens when you catch it on something and then let it drag through the water while you try to pull it in like a gillnet.

By now it was about four in the morning.  I had the main out to port with a double reef, and was still hitting 14 knots. The autopilot was actually steering pretty well after I turned the rudder gain down all the way.  I was beat, so I went below to catch a few Zs.  Big mistake number one.  It wasn’t ten minutes before I crash-gybed.  It was loud and violent; I thought the whole rig had come down.  I bolted out of the cabin, gybed back to starboard–properly this time–and got the boat trimmed again.

Now what?  I really needed to get some rest, but I was, I’ll admit, paralyzed with fear at the thought of going back on the foredeck to set the storm jib and take down the main. Getting the spinnaker down had just about wiped me out, so I figured I’d put a preventer on the main and come up a bit to avoid another gybe.  The storm jib would have been a better idea but, well, inertia.  And the main was already up.

Big mistake number two.  Preventers should go on the end of the boom, but my end was way out over the water.  I couldn’t reach it with my tether clipped in to the cockpit padeye.  I clipped on to the port jackline and stood on the sidedeck to try to reach it, but a wave hit the boat and I lost my footing.  For a few seconds I had my arms wrapped around the boom with one foot on deck and the other in the water.  I hooked my left boot toe around a stanchion and used every ab muscle I no longer have to get my weight back on deck and into the cockpit.

Screw trying to get a line to the end of the boom.  Have you ever been in a situation where you’re so tired and so pissed off that you make a decision you know is bad?  That you know people will criticize you for, and that may damage the boat, but you just don’t give a shit anymore?  Well, that’s where I was when I got a nylon line and carabiner out of my line bag.  At least nylon is stretchy, I figured, as I tied the line around the boom.  I don’t have a good spot to put a preventer mid-boom on this boat, but there are some clam cleats on the boom that would prevent my clove-hitch from sliding back toward the vang–or so I thought.

I was hand steering now in apparent winds in the high twenties.  It was actually pretty comfortable, so hoping for the best did not seem unreasonable.  The seas were huge, steep, and short, but at least they all seemed to be coming from the same direction. Keeping them directly astern was going to take me right past Cape Mendocino and generally toward Pt. Reyes, so I just settled in and steered by the waves instead of the compass.  I figured I’d ride the waves until I got close, and then tuck into Drakes Bay, behind Pt. Reyes, if I needed a break.

It was still dark, and I was still trying to stay square to the waves, when a wave seemed to come out of nowhere and hit me on the port beam.  I could hear it hissing just before it hit; there wasn’t anything to do but turn my back to it and brace myself.  It felt like someone turned a fire hose on me. I flew across the cockpit, hitting my left shin on the starboard winch.  I had one hand on a stanchion and the other on my tether, trying to stay in the boat as it went over.  It seemed to take forever, but I’m sure it was only a few seconds before the boat came up.


Knasty Knot










When it did the main was backed.  I had no idea where the boat was pointed, but I grabbed the tiller and tried to muscle it around so I had the waves astern again.  Nothing seemed to help, so I decided to let the preventer go, let the boat crash gybe again, and sort things out when I could get control.

Big mistake number three.  I had clipped the carabiner at the deck end of the preventer to a stanchion base.  They can’t be opened under this kind of load, and now that I knew what kind of loads a main backed in this kind of wind could generate, I was afraid the stanchion was going to pull through the deck and come at me like a missile.  Just as I was reaching for my knife to cut the line, the clove hitch I’d tied in the middle of the boom slid over the cleats I’d “secured” it behind and slipped back toward the vang fitting.  The boom swung about two feet to starboard, and then folded like a lawn chair.

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The Aftermath

The boat immediately stood up.  I just sat there, stunned.  The main was tangled in the rigging, but still projecting enough surface to keep some way on.  Still, I just sat there.  That was a weird feeling.  You know you’re not going to die, but you know you’re pretty screwed. I was steering the boat without even caring where I was going. Time seemed to stop as I rolled all of the possibilities around in my head, and I figured my race was over before it even started.

It must have been twenty minutes or so before I got my shit together and went into problem-solving mode.  It was clear that the main wasn’t in danger of shredding on the rigging. It was driving the boat at nearly six knots, so I just left it up that way and hand steered until long after the sun came up. When the wind finally abated, I untangled the main, shook out the reefs, and cut the clew loose from the twisted boom.  I attached the spinnaker sheets to the clew and flew the main loose, kind of like a genoa.


The Jury Rig












That actually worked pretty well.  The wind had dropped to the high teens and low twenties apparent, and by the time I’d passed Pt. Reyes I calculated that I could get inside the bay by about 1300 or so with this rig.  There was some damage besides the boom.  The spare battery had gone flying around again, and I was pumping water out of the bilge again, but I seemed to be in one piece, and the worst seemed to be over.

The rest of the trip was relatively uneventful.  After all the previous night’s excitements, I was finally settling down and enjoying the sail.  I saw a few charter fishing boats and wondered how their passengers were doing in the conditions. I started noticing the pelicans that had been there all along. As I got closer to the Golden Gate Bridge I could see coastal water bumping up against the blue water.  It was weird–almost like someone had dumped greenish paint into the bay and let it spread into the ocean.  The boundary between the two was abrupt and distinct. Beautiful, but weird.

Brian Boschma, from the SSS Race Committee, called on the VHF to welcome me as I was nearing the bridge.  I didn’t enter the shipping channel, which I later found out was not very smart, but kind of cut the corner at Pt. Bonita, where I dodged some gnarly looking rocks.  I found out later that that wasn’t a good idea either.  Well, any ending you can walk away from is a good ending in music, so I’m applying that motto to this clumsy approach too.

I sailed under the bridge at close to slack tide.  The wind was now about 18-20 knots from the NW, which was perfect for riding the swell coming in behind me.  Brian had invited me to stop in at the St. Francis yacht club to say hello and take a break.  I pulled in, tied up, sat down below, and promptly fell asleep.  When I awoke it was getting late, so I headed out again to get into my slip at Marina Village early enough to register and get a bathroom code.  Along the way I made an attempt to straighten out my boom.

straightened boom)

The best I could do was bend it back a bit and tie it out of the way.













It was no use.  People on boats in the estuary looked at me like they were wondering what in the hell had happened. After a brief chat with a skipper coming in on an Ericson 38, I decided to sport my broken boom like a badge of honor. Really, what else can you do?

Within half an hour I was at Marina Village looking for slip E7.  If you’ve never been there before the layout is kind of confusing, but a few U-turns later, and with the gracious help of my new neighbor, Matt, a liveaboard, I was tied up.

There’s more to tell, but a thunderstorm is rolling in, and I’m going to go enjoy it with my dog.  BackBeat out.


BackBeat on the DL

July 11, 2014

So, I guess I’ll be looking for a new BackBeat for the 2016 Singlehanded Transpac.

I met a guy in Alameda doing the Pacific Cup on a Hobie 33.  We were talking about the cost of these races when he said “You buy these boats for $20,000 and put another $30,000 into prepping them, and then you’re left with an $18,000 boat in the end.”  My numbers are a little smaller, but that’s the truth about ocean racing.

BackBeat suffered some damage on the way to San Francisco from Port Townsend.  Dead autopilots, shredded spinnaker, broken boom, and a broken keel bolt.  It turns out the keel issue is far worse than I’d thought, and it’s looking like my insurance company may total out the boat.  No matter how much you have into the project, they’re not going to pay out more than the boat is worth, and that’s the deal you sign up for when you pay your premium.

I’ll be able to buy her back for a salvage price, so the plan now is to bring her back to Spokane and put her in storage until I have time to do the keel repair myself.  There’s not much in the way of materials–some glass and epoxy, a few expensive drill bits, and some keel bolts–but the time involved will be extensive.  The yard rate is $90 per hour.  My time is an investment into a cool hobby, and when she’s fixed she’ll be a great lake and bay boat.

Here are some (probably too many) pics:

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