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.

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.


The trip to San Francisco was like nothing l had imagined.  Despite what I considered careful planning, I had either too much wind, too little wind, wind from a direction that hadn’t been forecast, seas that bore little relation to the forecast, equipment failures, and a minor existential crisis.  Still, I made it mostly alive.  Here’s the tale.

June 9th, Departure

Check this out.  I’ve got the boat loaded and ready to go, and she’s sitting on her boot stripe.  This is after I’d carefully considered everything on the boat and made several trips back to the car with things I decided I wouldn’t need.


BackBeat, loaded and ready to go.









I left Port Townsend early Monday, catching the last of the ebb.  The forecast for the Eastern entrance to the strait was 15-25 knots from the NW, so I had a reef in and a heavy weather jib up.  I expected the current to change soon, but when the wind comes straight in like this the waves tend to lie a little easier with the flood than the ebb.  My boat is light, and going to weather is tough when wind and waves conspire against your progress.  A botched tack can stall the boat and set you back a quarter of a mile before you get her pointing again.  I figured the worst that could happen if I left in these conditions was that I’d get a beating trying to make 3.5 knots motorsailing to weather.

Well, that’s exactly what happened.  Jak Mang, on Maitreya, had left Port Townsend four days earlier for the same race and had more settled weather.  I was reminded once again that a calendar and a deadline are two of the worst things you can have on a boat.

So I sailed.  I motored.  I motorsailed.  More than twelve hours into this leg I’d only managed to get about halfway between Crescent Bay and Port Angeles.  That’s not great.  The wind was blowing a solid 25 now, with higher gusts.  During one particularly gusty tack I lost control of a sheet, which flew around, snapping and cracking like a cowboy whip in a wild west show.  Trying to grab it was a mistake; when it hit my hand it sounded like a gunshot and felt like a hammer blow.  I eventually got the jib trimmed and looked at the knot meter.  The high wind alarm had gone off.  Check it out.


34 Apparent is A LOT of wind!










With night falling in the shipping lanes, fifty some miles to go to Neah Bay, and a new respect for the wind gods, it was an easy decision to turn back and run off to Port Angeles.  I got the boat secured, had something to eat, and turned the heater up to try to dry everything out.  I noticed water in the bilge as I was cleaning up.  It came out easily with the pump and a sponge, but I was a little alarmed at the amount.  It stayed dry overnight, though, so I turned up the optimism and resolved to continue.  I really hoped this little weather snit would blow itself out by morning.

June 10th, Day Two

It didn’t, but what could I do?  It looked like the strait was in for several days of high NW winds.  I had places to be, so I set out once again, early, to try for Neah Bay.

More sailing, motoring, and motorsailing eventually got me to Neah Bay just before nightfall.  It was a bone-jarring ride.  Teeth rattling.  Generally unpleasant.  There was more water in the bilge, and I was a little concerned about my keel joint.  My spare battery had broken its moorings and was lying on its side in the bilge.  I was exhausted and a bit rattled.

It made me happy to see a pair of sea lions lounging on a dock, so that’s where I tied up.  I thought it would be cool, like parking next to a zoo exhibit.


Neah Bay Zoo









That lasted about half an hour.  I don’t know whether these two were fighting or flirting, but good lord they were noisy.  I soon determined that I was on the commercial dock, where the only power available was 50 amp, so I moved the boat to a more habitable finger.

Here are some Neah Bay pics:


My Neighbor










The Fishing Fleet






Makah Marina


The (Ambitious) Little Fishing Boat That Could


Jonathan Livingston Seagull Meets Jackson Pollock




































Tuesday night in Neah Bay was pleasant.  I dried things out, bailed out the bilge water I’d accumulated, secured my wayward battery, and got some rest.  I checked all my safety gear and found that the CO2 cartridge in my favorite PFD was bad.  I didn’t have a spare on board, so I moved my knife, PLB and strobe to my harness and got one of the guest PFDs ready to use.  I also filled the outboard fuel tank and stocked up on candy bars at the gas station.  Looking back I figure I missed Peter on Scaramouche and Jak on Maitreya by just a few days.  Too bad.  We all got a beating going down the coast, and it would have been nice to have the advice of these more seasoned sailors.

The last thing I did Tuesday night was look at the next day’s coastal weather.  5-15 from the NW with a four-foot NW swell seemed pretty reasonable, and my plan was to get out to about 127 to avoid the compressed isobars further down the coast.

June 11th, Day three

Wednesday morning dawned calm.  No wind at all.  Not even a ripple in the bay.  That calm water in the pics above seemed to extend well into the strait and past Cape Flattery, so I motored around Tatoosh Island, put the sails up, set a SW course, and then sat there parked for several hours.  I finally fired up the outboard when the current started pushing me back toward the coastline.

My outboard gets about 18nm per gallon.  I had eight gallons aboard, so I figured I could motor about 120 miles and still have a good reserve.  That’s what I did.  Several boring hours passed quietly.  I don’t remember when the wind picked up, but I do remember getting the weather with my sat phone and seeing how much had changed since I left Neah Bay.  Now, instead of 5-15 from the NW the prediction was 15-25, with small craft advisories for high winds and hazardous seas.

The wind I got was pretty much from the NW, as predicted, but I was seeing high 20s on my wind indicator, and that’s with 8-12 knots of boat speed at about 150 degrees apparent.  And the seas, OMG.  NOAA had called the swell at eight feet with combined seas of at 12 feet.  I don’t know what they were smoking when they put that out.  First, the swell and waves did come predominantly from the NW, but there were other wave trains that collided with them, and the whole sea seemed like it was frothing and exploding.  I saw a bulk carrier pounding North at about 126W.  It did not look comfortable.  About every eighth wave its bow would bury in a spectacular explosion of white water.

By now I was running with the waves with just a double-reefed main and trying to steer through the mess without crash gybing.  I could have sworn some of those waves were more than 20 feet high and, as it turns out, the way NOAA defines significant wave height allows for the possibility of seas up to twice the predicted value.  Yup, they were big.

I got through most of Wednesday night with the autopilot, but by Thursday morning it had started making unfamiliar noises.

June 12th, Day Four

Wednesday night’s moon was pretty big, and I thought I could see pretty well, but Thursday morning was a shock.  If the seas seemed big at night, at least I could only see the wave directly behind me.  Even before the sun came up, in the grayish light before dawn, I could see pretty far back and it wasn’t pretty.  By now I was alternating hand steering with the autopilot.  My assumption was that the unfamiliar noise I’d been hearing could only be bad, and sure enough, later that morning, the autopilot motor just started spinning.  It appeared to respond to commands from the brain, but the actuator wouldn’t budge.  Shit.  I wanted to heave to so I could get below to get the spare but, frankly, the thought of trying to come about in that wind and those waves scared the crap out of me.

The rod was stuck at about the middle of its travel, so I pinned it to the tiller and dove below to get the spare autopilot.  I was surprised to get back to the helm to find that the boat had pretty much held its course.  I mounted the spare, and it was smooth sailing once again.

For a few hours.  My boat is kind of twitchy in following seas.  This makes the autopilot hunt for its course.  I had the manual in one hand while I tried out various rudder gain settings.  Both this one and the original had been set at a value of four, which I came to by following the instructions for commissioning the units in relatively calm waters.  It had worked fine in every condition I had encountered up to the huge seas and high winds, where I found that a gain setting of one gave me the best performance.  Still, the spare pilot failed within hours.  This one made no noise at all, but just stopped responding to commands.  I could tell that the motor had failed because the only sound it was making came from the off-course alarm.

Now what?  Well, first I got the boat under control and continued on my course hand steering through the waves.  That bought me time to think and look at my chart.  There was no way in the world I was going to hand steer the rest of the way to San Francisco.  Heading toward Astoria would have meant a long windward slog.  The nasty Columbia River bar was prominent in USCG sécurité broadcasts, so that was out anyway.  I settled on Newport, Oregon.  It was south of my position and looked like a place I might find someone to repair my autopilots.

The next sixteen hours or so are a blur.  I hand steered until it started to feel unsafe to be at the helm.  I was exhausted.  I’d heaved-to to rest several times, but I wanted to try a drogue.  My oldest son, a marine canvas guy, had made me a nice ladder out of seat belt webbing.  I use it to climb my mast solo and it works nicely.  I’d anticipated that I could also use it as a drogue if I needed to, and I had the parts aboard, so I rigged it up.  I made a bridle out of extra line and attached a 150 foot nylon anchor line.  After that came the ladder, and then an eight pound mushroom anchor on a twenty-foot cable at the end of it all.  I payed it out with the storm jib up, and was amazed how nicely the boat rode.  The advantage over heaving to was that I could use the bridle to get the boat to point in the general direction of Oregon without constant attention to the tiller.  Heaving-to seemed like a more temporary way to rest, and I when I did I just drifted kind of generally South with the wind and waves.  With the drogue out I was making from one to three knots, and felt like I could point the boat where I wanted it.  The motion was easy, and when I needed a quick break I tied the tiller off with the rudder centered.

June 13th (Friday), Day Five

Winds were still high and the seas were short and steep.  It was miserable.  I rode the drogue when I was tired, and pulled it in when I wanted to make some time under sail.  I’d guess I pulled the drogue in four or five times altogether, and I found that it was easy to get back on the boat if I waited until I was in a wave trough.  Then I’d pull in as much as I could, cleat it off, and wait for the next trough.  I worked my way toward Newport this way, but I felt more like I was surviving than sailing.

Friday Night

Sometime Friday night. Drogue is out. I’m wedged sideways in the boat with my head under the deck. I could feel hypothermia coming on, so I’m bundled up trying to get some energy back so I can go out and steer again. This totally sucked.















It was awful.  At one point I was curled up in the bottom of the boat thinking about firing my EPIRB just so someone would come and get me out of this.  I didn’t, but I thought about it for a long time before I got it together enough to go out out and sail the boat just one more time.  This is about the time I absolutely knew that if I made it to Newport alive, I was going to sell the boat and take up golf.  Or walking.  Hell, any sport where the ground is solid under your feet.

June 14th, Day Six

When the sun rose Saturday the wind and seas seemed to ease a bit.  I was still about sixty miles from Newport.  As I got closer to the coast the wind dropped until I was only making about four knots.  Yes, I could have put up the spinnaker and made hull speed toward Newport, but at about forty miles out I fired up the motor.  The closer I got, the less wind I had, and aside from another nine hours of hand steering, Saturday was actually sunny and pleasant.  I made it to Newport by early evening.

When I stepped onto the dock I was wobbly and weak.  I had a line ready, but the wind caught the boat and it drifted just out of my reach.  I thought for a minute about jumping for it, but I just stood there watching it float away.  I thought for another minute about jumping in and swimming to the boat, but still I just stood there.  To tell you the truth, if it had floated out the channel and I’d never seen it again, that would have been fine with me.  It was drifting across the marina to another finger, though, and my new neighbors, who had seen me come in and were watching this comedy, ran around and caught it for me.  The guy’s name was Andrew, and I don’t remember his wife’s name.  They were in Newport waiting for weather to get North to Seattle, and I really owe them.  Who knows how many boats mine might have bounced off of and damaged before it came to rest somewhere.  Andrew, if you’re reading this, I hope you made it to Seattle safely, and thanks again for all your help.

An hour later I had the boat put away and was crashed.  I hadn’t really eaten or slept since Tuesday night, and I was beat.

June 15th, Day Seven

Well, this was the day I’d originally hoped to be in San Francisco.  Ha ha ha.  Nature clearly had other plans for me.  Not much to do on a Sunday in Newport, Oregon, so I phoned a few of the numbers I’d gotten for possible autopilot repairs and did some serious housekeeping.  One guy called me back to tell me that there was no one in town who could repair an ST2000 tiller pilot on short notice.  Newport is a commercial boat town, and all the dealers cater to them.


Drying things out in Newport.


Yaquina Bay, Newport Oregon



















Hearing that news, along with general boredom and a little anxiety about getting to San Francisco on time, motivated me to open up the two dead autopilots.  It turns out they’re not as complicated as I’d thought, and I was able to piece together one functional unit from the two dead ones.


Drive belt failed on the first and on the repaired autopilots.  Turns out this is a common failure, and Raymarine will not sell parts to end users.  Something to consider if you buy Raymarine.


Rubber dust covers failed on both units.


Poor alignment from the factory caused the second motor to burn out.  It was two to three millimeters off.  Bad QC I guess.


This is not supposed to look like this. The loose piece is normally pressed in and seals the bearing race.


This is the first unit that failed. I couldn’t reuse the cracked case so I moved all the remaining good parts into the back up unit and saved all the bad parts for the warranty claim.




























































Other than that Sunday kind of sucked.  It was Father’s Day, and I was in a tough spot, far from home with none of my family around.  At least the Rogue Brewery was close at hand.  I stopped in for some over-priced fish and chips and a Dead Guy Ale.

June 16th, Day Eight

The first thing I did Monday morning was order another autopilot from Port Supply and arrange for it to be shipped overnight to the marina office.  The rest of the day I walked around Newport, watched movies, and chilled.  The only other noteworthy thing I did Monday was drop the mushroom anchor on my left big toe.  That left a mark that I can still feel as I write this.

June 17th, Day Nine

Hung around, picked up the new autopilot from the marina office, got ready to leave with the tide at 1700-ish.  Left with the tide at about 1800, motored out past the jetty, and set a Southerly course that would keep me within about fifty miles of the coast.  By now I was freaked out about the autopilot issues and kind of worried about the keel, so I wanted to stay close.  There was no wind, so I motored for several hours.  When the wind did come up it was flukey and light, so I basically motored or motorsailed most of the way to Coos Bay, where I pulled in for about an hour to refuel.  Nothing more to report.

June 18th and 19th, Days Ten & Eleven

I’d made Coos Bay late in the morning of the 18th and was gone, with full fuel tanks, by noon-ish.  I cleared the jetty and set a Southerly course again.  Between Coos Bay and Mendocino there was nothing unusual to report.  I had 15 to 18 knot winds varying from 150 to 180 apparent.  It was nice and I was making decent time.  The repaired autopilot was working nicely, and all was well with the world.  The worst thing that happened was that I popped up to look around once and saw that I was headed straight for a fishing boat about 300 yards away.  I changed course, but there were several other boats in the area, and not one of them was transmitting an AIS signal.  I spent the next several hours slaloming through this minefield of boats.

June 20th, Day Twelve

I was cruising along at a pretty good clip in about 15 knots apparent.  The autopilot was driving, and I was looking at weather I’d downloaded on the sat phone.  It said that Cape Mendocino was going to be ugly.  That was hard to believe because I wasn’t that far away, and I was in pretty nice conditions.  I didn’t see anything in the GRIBs that looked that bad.  I turned on the VHF weather and heard the same report though.  I decided to keep my spinnaker up as long as possible.  I don’t know why; it wasn’t a good move.

Right on cue, about 20 miles NW of Mendocino , the wind stared 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.

7/1/14, 05:30.  Oops, have get on the road to go get the boat.  I’ll post part two when I get back.

Sea Life

June 30, 2014

I saw thousands of these.  Yes, thousands.  Maybe millions.  Every time a wave broke over the boat it left their little bodies behind, and the blue part left ink spots on the deck until the next wave washed them away.  Strange looking creatures.  They were completely at home in the conditions, and I envied them that.  They’re called sail jellyfish.


The Sail Jellyfish









When conditions were at their worst, a black footed albatross seemed to hang around to keep me company.  Yes, I know it was probably just looking for scraps of food, and yes, I know that it probably wasn’t the same bird every time.  I also know that it couldn’t care less about me, but it gave me some comfort at the time to imagine that it was checking in on me.  “Hey, dude.  You look like you’re having a rough time.  I live here.  Anything I can do?”


Black Footed Albatross










These dolphins are fast.  They too came around to check me out and stayed a while.  Again, I liked to think they were there for moral support.  They played a game where the port side dolphin would shoot forward and dive under the boat, in front of the keel, and pop up on starboard.  Then the starboard dolphin would do the same thing and pop up on port.  Cross, repeat, cross again.  In high winds and huge seas, while I was wondering what in the hell I was doing in a small boat, they were playing backyard dolphin games.  Super cool.


Pacific White Sided Dolphin








It’s interesting that you don’t see as much of the albatross as you get close to land, and you don’t see many gulls as you get out to sea a ways.  Saw lots of pelicans close to the coast, and a few puffins up near Cape Flattery.  I don’t know anything about sea lions, but I never imagined them far from shore, so I was surprised to see one pop its head up about sixty miles out.













SHTP Qualifier

May 10, 2014

It was about 1:00 pm on Tuesday, April 28th.  I was ready, the boat was ready, the sun was out, and the wind in the Strait of Juan de Fuca was supposed to be from the East.  I headed over to McDonalds for my last french fry fix, then went back to the boat, sent some emails, and cast off the lines.  From my marina you head a little more than a mile East in Port Townsend Bay, then a couple of miles North, before you round Point Wilson and enter the Strait.

The wind may have been East in the Strait, but in the bay it was definitely North.  That made for a nice short reach to Point Hudson, but as soon as I entered Admiralty Inlet the full force of the fifteen-knot wind and flood tide pinned me down for hours.  Really, it took me seven hours to work my way out to the Strait, and then I only made it because the tide turned.  The Coupeville/Port Townsend ferry captain  passed me every forty minutes or so.  He must have thought I was nuts, just sailing back and forth across the inlet.  I saw other boats under sail turn around and head back in rather than fight the current.  The ones that got out motored.


It wasn’t that far.

So why didn’t I turn around and try later, when the ebb current would have given me a boost?  Good question.  The short answer is that I was out there already, and it kind of felt like turning back for a later start would jinx the trip.  So, I stuck it out.  When I finally turned on my GPS track recorder it was 8:00 pm and I was just passing the Point Wilson buoy.  Next time, Kev, look a little closer at the current tables.  ALL of Puget Sound fills and drains through Admiralty Inlet.

This is me trying to get around Point Wilson.  Ugh.

Trying to get around Point Wilson. Ugh.










Once I got well into the Strait the wind really was shifting from ESE to ENE.   I basically had a nice reach/run in variable winds all the way out to Cape Flattery.  Not much drama.  There were some patches of light wind after sunset.  At one calm point I could hear a whale blowing near me, so I got my spotlight out and tried to find it.  No luck.  I could hear it but not see it.  Those things are stealthy.  I wonder if it was checking me out?  It seemed to hang around for a while before it left.  Maybe it thought I was another whale, but upside down.  Hmm.

Finally in the Strait of Juan de Fuca!

Finally in the Strait!










On the way West I stayed close to the Canadian side because there is usually less ship traffic there, and because the wind was cooperating nicely.  The first night I poled out the genoa and rested with the autopilot driving.  That was simple and worked well.  When the sun came up the wind did too, so I set the spinnaker and hand steered.  As I approached Cape Flattery the wind decreased, and what was left was just enough to overcome the flood current.  The last ten miles or so against the tide were slow going, but I finally passed Cape Flattery and its weird currents from hell with a few hours of light left before sunset.

In the Pacific I had consistent twelve to twenty knot Easterly winds.  It was a nice deep spinnaker reach through the commercial fishing fleet, which was pretty thick the first forty miles or so offshore.  When all daylight was gone I could see them on my AIS display, but you could also see their lights for miles.  That part of the coast looked like an empty mall parking lot at night.  The yellowish work lights illuminating little pools around each boat looked like lonely lamp posts.  They faded off my horizon as I worked my way West.

Easy run out to my turn point.

Easy run out to my turn point.

I’d had fun surfing the wind waves in the Strait, but surfing the larger swells out in the ocean was a freaking blast.  I was seeing consistent boat speeds in the high sixes, and when we took off on a swell I’d easily get into the mid-eights.  My highest boat speed was a little over eleven knots.  Woohoo!  And then BANG!  My guy parted.

This is how I learned about chafe.   It was pretty spectacular, except that I thought the spinnaker was going to shake itself apart.  It did shake off four of the six sail numbers before I got it under control.  I’m going to look for ways to beef up that sail a bit, and go over every inch of my rigging chasing away chafe.  The guy had broken at the tip of the pole where it runs through the jaw.  Make a note:  when experienced sailors talk about chafe, listen up.

Qualifying Track

My GPS track.

The rest of the ride West was uneventful.  As I got close to my turn point–roughly 47.50 lat 128 lon–the wind shifted to the SW.  I adjusted my course to roughly WNW, as you will see on the picture of my track.  I made it out to about 128 degrees, and turned back.  I’d done more than 200 miles by this time, and was about 135 miles offshore.  Except for four or five hours of calms the wind remained steady, and I had a nice reach back to Cape Flattery.

Here are a few videos from the calmer period.  I was bored, clearly.  It’s a nice reference, though.  The swell was reported as four feet.  That seemed about right.  I wanted to show people what that looks like.  I don’t know that video really captures it, but I will tell you that a four-foot swell is nothing compared to the tightly packed four-foot wind waves anywhere East of Cape Flattery.  Even the eleven-foot swell was nice, I thought.  Imagine riding your bike up and down steep but rolling hills.  In the wind.  That’s what I thought it was like.  Even the three or four-foot wind waves on top of the swell seemed manageable going downwind.  Upwind may be another story, but after years of getting beat up in the Strait of Juan de Fuca’s wave/current train wrecks, I think the swell will probably be manageable upwind.  Oops, maybe I shouldn’t have said that.  Jinx.

I ran the spinny lines to the cabin top and steered from inside with the autopilot remote.  Okay, that's pretty lazy.  Well, when all's going well you kind of get bored.

I ran the spinny lines to the cabin top and steered from inside with the autopilot remote. Okay, that’s pretty lazy. When all’s going well you kind of get bored.

During the calmer period on the way back in I saw three whales, a black-footed albatross, and a lot of commercial fishing debris.  The whales rolled and spouted pretty close to me.  By the time I got my phone and started recording, of course, they had headed off and never showed their tail flukes again.  The bird hung around with me for most of a day.  I learned after I got back that it was an albatross, and that this member of albatross family seems to like hanging out near boats.  That doesn’t surprise me.  The fishing fleet, which I was near again, probably has something to do with that.  As far as debris, there were chunks of floating net material, net floats, and something that looked like a huge rubber beer keg.

The wind finally picked up and the ride back to the Strait was mostly uneventful.

It was a different story once I made Tatoosh Island.  Cape Flattery is surrounded by powerful currents, and the wind had shifted back to the SE, so the first few miles inside the Strait were pretty painful.  Light shifty winds, a strong ebb, lots of commercial traffic, rain, fog.  Ugh.  The wind finally died altogether and I just drifted along for a while.

When the wind finally piped up I was down below.  A gust hit pretty hard, so I bolted out of the cabin to take the tiller.  The autopilot was dead.  I went back to the cabin to check the switch, and saw that the whole panel was dead.  When I jumped into the cockpit I must have kicked the panel master switch, because I had no power.  I’d left the key in, and this happens once in a while.  When I took a closer look, though, I saw that I had broken off the key.  With no autopilot, and the boat way over-powered, I hove-to to figure out what to do.  Once I got the boat balanced the motion was really nice, so I opened up the 12V panel and bypassed the master switch.  Everything came back on. Whew.

The source of my electrical emergency.  I'm replacing that switch with an on/off switch like the battery selector.  Nothing sticking out to break off.

The source of my electrical emergency. I’m replacing that switch with an on/off switch like the battery selector. Nothing sticking out to break off.











Once I got everything under control I reduced sail and kept going.  Check out this crazy track.  The wind was blowing about eighteen knots from the SE, and the current had me pinned down again.  It was raining hard, and I was generally miserable.  I seriously thought about pulling into Neah Bay for a break, but I would have been short about sixty miles of the four hundred required.


This looks like drunk driving. Nope. Strong, shifty winds and a brutal ebb current pinned me down for a while. Also, it rained. Real rain. Like Noah and the Ark rain. And I sat in it for HOURS. Why do I do this?

The wind and tide finally changed, and the rest of the trip was in light, shifty winds.  By the time I was near Ediz Hook I was bobbing around in the busy shipping lanes, in thick fog, in the dark.  My AIS alarm was going nuts.  I estimated that I had already done more than 400 miles, and had gone roughly 130 miles offshore, so I fired up the outboard and headed in to Port Angeles for the night.  The next day I motorsailed back to Port Townsend.

I parked across from this boat.  It's a 160' Westport.  They build them in Port Angeles.  They must have spent some serious coin on tooling, because there is not one single flaw in all those acres of fiberglass.  Not even a ripple or a wave.  The guy at the fuel dock said they start at about forty million, and then you have the interior to do.  He asked me if I thought those owners were as happy as us.  Hell yeah they are.

I parked across from this boat. It’s a 160′ Westport. They build them in Port Angeles. They must have spent some serious coin on tooling, because there is not one single flaw in all those acres of fiberglass. Not even a ripple or a wave. The guy at the fuel dock said they start at about forty million, and then you have the interior to do. He asked me if I thought those owners were as happy as us. Hell yeah they are.

I learned a few important things. First, my autopilot doesn’t steer very well downwind under spinnaker in waves. I ended up hand-steering during the day, and using a poled-out genoa at night. I’ll have to work on that problem. I think it’s just a matter of playing with the rudder gain and damping. That was hard to do on the water with the spinnaker up because every time I tried to read the manual and play with the autopilot menus, I’d lose track of my heading and get in trouble. I want to be competitive, but I’m not going to hand-steer for twenty hours a day.

 Second, my boat broaches easily, but it also recovers easily. Maybe it’s because I’m a big guy, but between releasing the sheet and shifting my weight to trim the boat I was able to get the rudder to bite. Broaching is alarming, and I don’t want to do it on purpose, but I’m no longer afraid of it.
Lastly, I’m competitive, but I’m not nuts about it. For me there’s a difference between sailing and racing. I don’t think I can keep up the racing focus 24/7. I tried, but there were times when I couldn’t be bothered to work every wind shift. Sometimes I just set a course, balanced the boat, and went below to read. There were times I didn’t see the sails for hours. Hats off to people who can go balls to the wall all the time. I’m thinking now that if I’m racing about half of the time and just sailing or sleeping the rest, then that’s about what I can do. I have no idea how the single handing pros do it.
Altogether, it was a really fun trip. I was well-rested the whole time, but then I sailed conservatively and didn’t push anything. The only things that broke were the spinnaker guy and that master switch. NOAA said the ocean swells were 11 feet, which seemed about right. I had no trouble with seasickness.  Doing this qualifier was great preparation.  I know now that those long winter hours making checklists were well-spent, and I have more confidence in myself and in my boat.  



Fire Safety!

April 18, 2014

The rewiring project used a lot of heat shrink tubing.  Whenever I try to shrink it with a lighter I seem to burn it, so I bought a mini torch.   I’m sure this is a good product, but mine exploded on me, burning the shit out of my hand and damaging our kitchen floor.


The Inflamous Mini Torch

The torch ships without fuel, which is a good idea, so I took it to the kitchen to fill it with butane.  It’s pretty simple.  You press the butane nozzle onto the filler stem until it’s full, just like a lighter.  There were some drips, so I wiped them off with a towel, waited a minute or two, and fired it up.

Maybe “exploded” is the wrong word.  A flame the size of a yoga ball shot out the ass end of this thing, igniting the towel I had used to wipe away the drips, and my left hand with it.  Holy Crap!  No matter how cool you think you’d be in a situation like this, your first reaction will probably be to wave your hand around like a crazy person.  That’s what I did, and of course this does no good at all.


I don’t know what failed here, but it failed big.

The flaming towel dropped to the floor.  Now the flames were licking all the way up the cabinet fronts, and my hand still looked like the Olympic torch.  I yelled for help.  Julie came running around the corner from the bathroom, losing a shoe as she hopped over the dog gate.  All of a sudden I remembered the “Stop, Drop & Roll” thing from grade school.  Within the space of a second or so I realized that stop, drop and roll wouldn’t really work in my situation, and I stuck my left hand  in my right armpit.  The flame went out, and Julie and I stamped out the burning towel.


I have the best wife in the world, and I probably owe her a new kitchen floor. Just outside the frame are black footprints where we stamped out the fire. I guess the floor melted, and all the jumping around pressed the pattern of our soles into the material.

I applied the appropriate first aid, and my hand is mostly healed, but I learned a few important lessons.  First, this whole episode probably took fifteen seconds or so.  You cannot believe how fast fire spreads!  Second, if fire doesn’t freak you out, it’s probably because we usually start it and control it ourselves.  An unexpected, uncontrolled fire will most likely challenge your illusions about how you would react to one.  Third, we have a good fire extinguisher in our house, but it’s in the basement.  By the time I’d gone down to get it, the whole kitchen might have been on fire.  Time to get some more fire extinguishers for the house.


This is three days after the fire. All the blisters had started to break. Yuck. Very painful.

All this got me thinking about fire on the boat.  I have two current fire extinguishers.  One is mounted on the compression post.  The other is mounted on a bulkhead next to my battery charger.  It occurred to me that if there’s an electrical fire back there, there’s no way I’m crawling into it to get that one.  I’m going to move it out of there.  The risk of fire on my boat is pretty low, but still.

Here’s a pic of my starboard bulkhead.  I put the charger on the cabin side because I usually keep spare gas for the outboard on the cockpit locker side.  It seemed like a good idea to separate the two.  I had put the extinguisher there because I have two, and this is the extra one.  All my wiring is fused, and I can’t imagine having an electrical fire on board, but you never know.  I’m going to figure out a place to put it where it’s more easily accessible.


The silver vented box above the baby wipes is the charger. The fire extinguisher is next to it. The two solar panel controllers are there now, too. Ignore the mess, please!

Misadventures in the Strait

November 18, 2013

My first attempt at the 400 nm offshore cruise that will qualify me for the 2014 SHTP ended early when I turned back to avoid getting caught in a gale.

I knew mid-November weather would be dicey, but I had the time available and thought I saw a weather window I could sneak through.  Our Summer had been pretty busy, and I figured this would probably be my last chance to get the qualifier done before next Spring.  Turns out the most stable feature of offshore weather in November is its instability.  Here’s some video of the long beat toward Cape Flattery before the Weather turned:

Commercial Traffic!

Here’s a real question for anyone out there who can help:  why does it always seem like there’s so much more ship traffic at night than during the day?  I do a lot of night sailing, and keep good watches, and I’m convinced that there’s more activity at night than there is during daylight.  I’d like to understand why.  I’d been tacking into a NW wind since about 6:00 am trying to get out to Cape Flattery.  When I wasn’t on deck I’d pop up every 15 minutes to scan for traffic.  There wasn’t much to speak of.  Here’s my math:  if a commercial vessel averages 18-20 knots they go roughly 5 nm in 15 minutes.  Since that’s about what I judged my visibility to be, that’s how I timed my horizon checks when I was below.  It works fine for me when I’m in, near, or crossing the shipping lanes.  If anyone has a better plan I’d really like to hear it.

So, I was surprised when, for the second time in a month, I was nearly run down by a container ship.  At 7:00 pm–about 13 hours into the trip–I checked for traffic, and, finding none, tacked onto port, trimmed the sails and went below to call Julie.  That call lasted four minutes.  I knew I was in the shipping lane, so I went right back out to have a look.  What I saw were the letters CMA CGM, about twenty feet high, and maybe 150 feet dead astern.  Those letters were amidships on the port side of the biggest container ship I’ve ever seen, and I still can’t figure out why I’m not dead today.  Really, I’m a methodical, careful guy.  I know how to read nav lights, and I’m freaky about safety.  How did I miss this ship?  I know it’s my own fault, but I still can’t figure out what I did wrong, other than being near the shipping lanes at night, which I thought I was being careful about.  Please weigh in if you have an opinion.

My GPS track.  The near-collision occurred shortly after the last tack onto port before I turned back (left end of image).

My GPS track. The near-collision occurred shortly after the last tack onto port before I turned back (left end of image).

At that point I’d decided to get close to Vancouver Island and tack up the Canadian side of the strait, out of the main traffic areas.  I’d been on port about 45 minutes, in increasing wind and waves, when the VHF woke up and I heard, “Sailing vessel in the vicinity of 48.12 N, 123.38 W, sailing vessel in the vicinity of 48.12 N, 123.38 W, this is the US Coast guard, do you copy?”  I paused, and then looked at my GPS.  Were they looking for me?  Then, a second time, “Sailing vessel in the vicinity of 48.12 N, 123.38 W, sailing vessel in the vicinity of 48.12 N, 123.38 W, this is the US Coast guard, do you copy?”  By now I’d figured out that the ship that nearly hit me had called me in.  I picked up the mic and with a knot in my stomach replied, “US Coast Guard, US Coast Guard, this is sailing vessel Backbeat, at that approximate position, over.”  “Sailing vessel Backbeat, please move to channel 22 Alpha and stand by for further instructions, over.”  “22 Alpha, copy that.”

I switched my VHF to channel 22A, where the communication was a little less formal, but still terse.  It was the ship that had called me in.  The watch crew didn’t see my running lights until they were right on top of me, and I hadn’t come up on their radar.  I told the Coast Guard woman that my running lights were on, but she requested that I go see if they were obstructed.  I told her I would do that.  She asked me for my destination.  I told her I was going offshore for a few days. There was a brief, but really heavy, pause.  She asked me whether I’d received the NOAA gale warning.  I told her I’d heard it, and there was another brief, but really heavy, pause.  She asked me for my position, which I gave her, told me to check my running lights, and then said, “We’ll be standing by if you require assistance, over.”  That’s the part that really freaked me out.

GRIBS for 11/16.  Red arrows, purple arrows, and lines close together are bad for a guy alone in a little boat.

GRIBS for Friday. Red arrows, purple arrows, and lines close together are bad for a guy alone in a little boat.

I sat there for a minute before going out to check my lights.  They looked fine to me, but I could see that the jib I’d secured on deck when I put up the storm jib was likely covering up the starboard light.  I clipped in and went forward to re-tie it, away from the lights.  By this time the wind had risen to the low and mid twenties.  I’d put the storm jib up before dark because I expected heavier winds later in the evening and through the night, and I didn’t want to be dealing with that on a heaving deck in the middle of the night.  Well, here I was, on the heaving deck in the dark anyway.  With the ebb current, I was making 7+ knots over the ground under reefed main and storm jib.  With the wind from the NW blowing against the current, the waves had built to the point that, with the swell, they were about 12-15 feet high and close together.  This is just a guess, but I don’t think I’m exaggerating.  Here’s my thinking:  at the crests of the waves, the troughs seemed about as far down as the sidewalk in front of my house when I’m shoveling snow off the roof.  In the troughs, the crests seemed about as high as my spreaders.  On the deck it didn’t make a difference.  I was getting tossed around like a rag doll.  I took me about fifteen minutes to get the jib re-tied so the running lights were unobstructed, and when I went below to collect my wits I felt like I’d gone a few rounds with the foredeck.

This is the gale warning the USCG told me about on the VHF.  Note the 35 knot winds and 21 foot seas.

This is the gale warning the USCG told me about on the VHF. Note the 35 knot winds and 21 foot seas.

I can’t say I ever collected them, because going to windward in those conditions, in a 3,000 pound boat, is a pretty rough ride.  Down below I felt like the ball in a pinball machine, getting tossed around and bouncing off everything in sight.  Funny, very little on a boat is plumb or square, and there are lots of lovely curves, yet it still seemed my arms, ribs and shins were finding sharp corners everywhere.  I was sick, tired, frustrated, and pretty banged up, and I started looking for reasons to quit.  I didn’t have to look far.  The gale I was sailing into promised 35 knot winds and 21 foot seas.  Getting caught in that mess is one thing; sailing into on purpose seemed stupid.  I do own a masthead tri-color and a radar reflector–either of which would help others see me better–but I hadn’t had time to install them before I left.  I have a sea anchor, but the only rode I have is the 150 feet for my ground tackle.  The recommended rode is 10-15 feet per foot of boat length, which for me is 250-300 feet.  I have a drogue, but I’d left it the shop.  I could have used some lee cloths, as well as some baffles to keep gear in the v-berth from flying around.  I need a padeye in the center of the cockpit floor to clip into; the four feet from the companionway to the jackline seems pretty far when the deck is dancing around.  I have a DSC VHF, but I haven’t wired in the GPS yet or programmed in my MMSI. The list goes on, but in the end I had to admit to myself that I’d tried to rush this trip because I thought I could get out and back in the window I thought I had, and because it was my last chance to get it done before Spring.

See all those nuts above my head?  Well, I did too but it didn't stop me from whacking my head on them again and again.  Ouch!

See all those nuts above my head? Well, I did too but it didn’t stop me from whacking my head on them again and again. I’m laying sideways across the boat because I don’t have lee cloths, and wedging myself in was the best way to avoid getting bounced around.

I turned back at 8:00 pm.  Going downwind is usually pretty comfortable, but in these steep waves the autopilot kept over-correcting.  The course was fine, but the boat was yawing like crazy and rolling down the faces of those waves.  I went out to hand steer, which was a little better, but it was pretty miserable as the tops of the waves broke into the cockpit.  My boat doesn’t have a lot of freeboard.  When those waves break, it’s not really like the breaking waves you see in the surf.  It’s more like your stern rises to the crests, and the wind blows the tops over and into your cockpit.  The wind was at about 180, so I tried coming up a bit to stabilize the boat.  All that seemed to do was make the rolling worse, so I went back to autopilot, put the hatch boards in, and braced myself in the companionway with the hatch slightly open, where I stood for another six hours until I made the Dungeness lighthouse.  About that time the wind swung around to the South and the waves smoothed out, and it was a nice reach past Protection Island, where the wind eventually died and I motored the rest of the way in.

I’d left at 5:45 am Thursday and covered 76 miles trying to tack out of the strait.  I made it about halfway before turning back about 8:00 pm.  The run back to Port Townsend was 46 miles, for a total trip of 122 nm.  I was tied up and put away by about 5:30 Friday a.m.  My average speed was about 5.5 knots with reefed main and either the working jib or the storm jib, which is about what I’d expected.

Looking at the weather Saturday morning I saw that the system hadn’t moved much in 12 hours, and I was glad I wasn’t stuck offshore in it.

Twelve hours later it was still bad.

Twelve hours later it was still bad.

After a couple hours of sleep I get up and spent most of Friday with my granddaughter, Rowan.  Sitting in a cozy house, watching the storm pass through with a fire in the stove and a busy baby learning to walk, I reflected on the decisions I’d made.  If this had been an easy trip in July, and there had been no serious challenges, I’d probably have made it out to my turn point and back with no drama.  I’d probably have thought pretty highly of my skills. I knew now, though, that I’d pushed my luck trying to fit this trip into a time convenient to me, with a few key details unattended.  Every time I do something like this I learn a little more.  This time, I re-learned the lessons that you can’t cut corners and hope for the best just because you have a schedule to keep, and that the weather doesn’t give a rip about your schedule.

I’m not big on signs and omens, but sometimes all the little things add up and make you wonder.  The trip was delayed a couple of days, mainly because I had to take our old cat to be euthanized.  I never have trouble getting in or out of my slip, but Thursday morning I got out of sorts trying to leave and almost hit the gangway.  I did hit the boat in front of me, and got my forestay stuck on his boom (it’s a classic wood boat with a very long boom).

I've never had this much trouble getting underway!

I’ve never had this much trouble getting underway!

When I got out of the harbor I raised the main head-to in a stiff wind and bore off on a port tack.  When I raised the jib it flogged wildly and the port sheet (I hadn’t put in stopper knots, d’oh) ran through its car and wrapped itself around the starboard sheet.  The sails were up and set, so I set the autopilot and went forward to untangle the mess.  It took about 15 minutes, and I was already getting discombobulated.  Fast forward about an hour, and I’m approaching the yellow buoy that marks the precautionary area off Point Wilson.  That’s kind of like an intersection of the different shipping lanes.  I’m not going to give details here, but I will admit I hit the buoy, glancing off it just slightly, even though I could see it coming for miles.

By this time I was getting sick and had a headache.  I get a little seasick once in a while, but the conditions I was in at the time wouldn’t have caused it alone.  I knew when I left that morning that a gale might develop, and my plan if that happened was to pull into Neah Bay, wait it out, and re-start my trip.  The qualifier has to be 400 nm, non-stop, though, so re-starting from Neah Bay would have meant using my alternate waypoint, which was 200+ miles offshore.  Thinking all this through, along with the prospect of an extra 200 miles of weather exposure offshore, was rattling my nerves.  I took some Dramamine, had a sip of ginger ale, and tried to relax.

It never left my mind that maybe the cat wasn’t ready to go.  We got along fine, but she was really old and had some health problems, and it just seemed like time.  Nevertheless, all I could think about was Poe’s Black Cat, and the psychology of guilt.  Our cat was sweet, but you never know . . .

Kitty, the cat.  1997 to 11/11/13.

Kitty, the cat. 1997 to 11/11/13.

Foulweather Bluff 2013

November 7, 2013

79 boats started the 2013 Foulweather Bluff race in light winds.  Super light, as in fighting for two knots of boatspeed.  25 boats eventually gave up and abandoned the race.  We could hear them on the VHF, one after another:  “Race committee, race committee, this is so and so.  There’s no wind and the beer’s gone so we’re packing it in.”  The CYCE shortened the course to finish at Scatchet Head, near the South end of Whidbey Island.  We placed 13th overall among the 54 boats that finished, and second in our division.  Woohoo!  The best I’d ever done before was a third in division when I singlehanded the Sunday leg of the 2012 Race to the Straits.  This was also the first ever race for my wife, Julie, and I think she really dug it, so double points for enthusiasm and success!  Jim Jones, my partner for the Northern Century in August, did most of the steering, which is good because he’s probably a little better at it than I am.

The Port of Edmonds can squeeze in a lot of boats.  I talked to a few fishermen who weren't too happy about it.  Oh well, they have their fishing derbies and take up the whole marina too.

The Port of Edmonds can squeeze in a lot of boats. I talked to a few fishermen who weren’t too happy about it. Oh well, they have their fishing derbies and take up the whole marina too.

Julie and I spent a nice evening in Edmonds after delivering the boat from Port Townsend.  We stayed on the boat, which was nice, but trains seem to go by every hour or so.  They’re commuter trains, and they blow their whistles every time they stop.  Really loud.  Oh well.  Between the trains and some late night revelers it was a restless night.  At any rate, the Port of Edmonds marina is attractive and clean.  The people who work there have always been great to us, and it’s within walking distance of the parts of town you’ll probably want to visit.

I don’t recall whether it was the evening before or the morning of the race, but a familiar face approached me on the dock with some hot tips.  I didn’t remember his name (it’s David Odendahl), but we’d met during the Northern Century, which is a really tough race, so I was all ears.  The first thing he told me was to put the marks into my GPS and sail to that, because it’s tough to see them from a distance.  He was right.  If we hadn’t done that we’d have been chasing the general direction of the mark, just reacting to wind shifts and hoping for the best.  The other thing he told us is that there always seems to be a wind hole South of Whidbey Island, and not to get stuck in it.

Before the start, hobnobbing, planning strategy, getting psyched, etc.

Before the start, hobnobbing, planning strategy, getting psyched, etc.

We went West after the start to keep clear of the hole.  Sometimes it seemed like we were too far West, and I wondered if we’d ever get back in the light winds.  A few times the wind totally died and Jim had no steerage at all.  It was really frustrating, but we didn’t seriously think about quitting because it was a pretty nice day and we had plenty of time.  After a few hours a good breeze filled in from North.  We had a nice beat almost to the mark with boatspeed in the high fives.  Woohoo!  That part of the race was perfect, and I think we all forgot about those first painful hours.  The wind lightened up again and shifted as we approached the finish line, and the current was trying to keep us from crossing altogether.  It was like trying to climb back up the down escalator.  Everyone was having trouble getting around.  We made a couple good tacks, crossed our fingers, and inched across a few minutes after Bingo, who took first in our division.  We rounded the committee boat and headed back to Edmonds with the wind and current behind us.  Others weren’t so lucky.  We watched boats that were within 100 meters of the line struggle and drift away.  That sucks.

With Jim Jones, ace helmsman, on the way back to Edmonds.

With Jim Jones, ace helmsman, on the way back to Edmonds.

The weird thing about handicap boat racing is that you don’t know how you did until the race committee applies your handicap and corrects your time, and you don’t even get to see that until you get back to the clubhouse.  We’d been happy just to finish, but when we got back and looked at the results we were really thrilled.  Those light-air hours seemed a lot less frustrating looking back from a second place finish, and it was fun replaying the whole race over pizza and beer.

Eventually Jim left to meet his daughter in Gig Harbor, and Julie and I decided to leave Edmonds with the tide and get back to Port Townsend later that night.  There was a little wind coming from the North, but not enough to be worth sailing all night, so we fired up the outboard, left at about 1900, and set a course for Foulweather Bluff.

Sunset on the way back to Port Townsend Saturday night.

Sunset on the way back to Port Townsend Saturday night.

The sunset was beautiful.  There wasn’t much traffic, so I let the autopilot steer and kept watch.  Julie hung out below and read.  It was really nice, and I expected an uneventful trip of about 25 miles.  So, this is where I should back up a bit and mention that I use reading glasses.  A few weeks earlier I’d gone to the eye doctor and got set up with a single contact lens for my left eye.  The idea is that one eye has good close vision and the other has normal distance vision.  It takes a while to get used to, but your brain is supposed to eventually work things out so you enjoy the great all-around vision you had in your youth.  Well, I was tired.  That contact had been in all day, and my brain still hadn’t figured out how to process the two different signals.  This wasn’t a problem during daylight, but at night every light I saw looked like a star burst and my depth perception was way off.  Again, there wasn’t much traffic and the night was clear, so I maintained my course and just kept watching.  It was dark, so I kept track of the beacons and watched the GPS.

When you get up near Point No Point you have to cut across the shipping lanes to get over to the channel on the West side of Marrowstone Island, which takes you to Port Townsend.  Imagine my surprise when what I thought was a beacon on Marrowstone turned out to be the port light of a container ship.  It was about 100 meters away, which is insanely close anytime, but at night, when you’ve just realized that the island you thought you were looking at is moving right at you, it was terrifying.  After a quick heart attack I jumped back to remove the autopilot and steer hard to starboard.  As soon as we were safe and I could breath again I woke Julie up to watch it pass.  We were so close the wake was about like the swells you get off Cape Flattery.  After it was terrifying, it was pretty impressive.  Funny, the VHF was on and I never heard a thing.  I have all the correct lights, but I wonder if anyone even saw me.  One thing I knew for sure was that the mono-vision contact lens scheme was not safe at night.  I’d had that lens in for more than twelve hours by then, so getting it out on a rolling boat was like trying to pick a scab off my dry eyeball.  It had to go, though, and I eventually got it.  Lesson learned.  No contacts at night, ever.

The rest of the trip was pleasant.  We were tied up and cozy in PT by about 2300, and that was the end of that adventure.  I’m thinking now about the Winter Vashon, so more later . . .

Rescue at Sea!

September 2, 2013

My brother (driving the boat) is a fisherman and experienced boater.  A few weeks ago his boat went down about 15 miles offshore outside of Westport, WA.  Quick thinking, PFDs, a handheld VHF, and GPS led to a relatively quick recovery.  Thanks to all involved.  Amazingly, his fishing buddy was wearing a GoPro camera.  Here’s the video.  Be safe!

Engine Trouble!

March 20, 2013

Been a while since I updated the blog, so here’s a story from the 2012 Race To The Straits.  Naaman had done the Seattle to Port Townsend leg with me, but I was singlehanding the PT to Seattle leg.  I’d turned around to head home after finishing at Shilshole late in the afternoon, and anticipated getting back to PT at about midnight.  The wind had come in pretty good from the North, though, and with the flood tide it took me a while just to get to Edmonds.  I was tired, so as dusk fell I pulled in to rest.  That seemed like a better idea than beating into the tide all night and getting in to PT god-knows-when.

I left Edmonds Monday morning.  About five minutes into the trip the motor started acting up.  I could tell that the impeller was shot, so I shut it down.  For a minute I considered sailing back into Edmonds and calling Naaman, who is a marine technician, but the wind was up and the tide was going my way so I decided to sail back to Port Townsend.  That breeze lasted about an hour before dying.

One of my brothers spends lots of time fishing in the sound.  He told me once that he doesn’t get why most of the sailboats he sees seem to spend more time motoring than they do sailing.  The answer is that traveling from one place to another in a sailboat, on a time schedule, is different from chasing the wind around the bay on a lazy afternoon.  When you have to get somewhere you need to plan for wind, current, traffic and tides.  These forces rarely line up perfectly with your plan, so if you need to get somewhere you’re sometimes better off motoring than sitting around in a traffic lane waiting for wind, or beating into a headwind with opposing current.

When the wind finally picked up again it was straight out of the North and the tide had changed.  I was trying to get North, so this sucked.  Hours later I had worked my way up Admiralty Inlet to a point near Oak Bay.  The video above is of the approach to Oak Bay, which  at the moment was hosting a nasty tide rip.  I guess you can’t really see it on the video, but those rips are worth avoiding.  The problem with avoiding this rip was that I’d have to go up the East side of Marrowstone Island and around the top to get back into Townsend Bay and my comfy slip at the Boat Haven.  If I could just work my way through the nasty water, there’s a channel at the top of Oak Bay that’s the regular short cut between Port Townsend and parts South.

After I shot the video above, I kept sailing into the bay despite the tide rip.  The wind died soon after and I spent the next few hours coaxing out a couple of knots of boatspeed as I worked my way toward the channel.  As I neared it the tide began to change and the current eventually flushed me through.  It was a wild ride.  The currents were stronger than the wind, so the boat was spinning and wandering while the sails were flapping.  I had no steerage, and at one point was running around the deck with a pole to keep the boat away from bridge pilings.

The current spit me out the North end of the channel and the wind died completely.  I just sat there for a moment to collect my wits.  By now it was dusky and I was beat, so I decided to anchor at Port Hadlock and finish the last few miles to PT in the morning.  The anchorage is about half a mile away, though, and there was not even a molecule of breeze.  So I started sculling.  Yep, that’s what it came down to.  After 45 minutes of sculling I picked up a mooring in front of the Wooden Boat School and called it a very long day.

The next day–by now it was Tuesday morning–I cast off in light air and worked the current up to the Boat Haven.  It took a few hours, but by noon I was back in my slip buttoning things up.

In the end, what is normally about a thirty mile trip took me about 42 hours with no motor.  When I account for the time at the Edmonds marina and on the hook at Port Hadlock, that’s only about 18 hours spent actually sailing.  Singlehanding in the dark in that busy part of the sound isn’t really safe, though.  I used about every sailing skill I have, and a few that I didn’t know I had.

I’m writing this in March, 2013.  The Race To The Straits happens again on May 4th and 5th, and I’ll be there.