Rewiring The Boat

April 17, 2014

I was sailing at night once, in some nasty weather, and my running lights went out.  Turns out a chafed wire was the problem.  My son fixed it for me, but I committed then to rewire the whole boat, by myself, before the SHTP.  I wanted to know where every tinned strand is, and what it does.

Well, it’s almost finished.  My mast is down now because I’m having the sheaves replaced at the top and in the base.  When the mast goes back up next week it will be better than new, and it will have a new tricolor, strobe, anchor light, and VHF/AIS antenna.

Back to the wiring.  I’m not dumb, but 12 volt marine wiring was a pretty steep learning curve for me.  I travel between Spokane and Port Townsend, and I wanted time to get it right, so I took the whole panel out of the boat, brought it back to Spokane, and spent the winter figuring it out.  Nigel Calder’s writings were a huge help.  I also relied on the SHTP electrical seminar notes published by Michael Jefferson.  In fact, my wiring diagram is pretty much taken right out of his seminar.  Between those two guys, and hours of looking things up on the internet, and asking some patient people the same questions over and over, I finally got it.

I have two new 6 volt golf cart batteries wired in series for a 12 volt, 232 amp hour bank.  I have the original Optima group 31 battery, at 75 amp hours, wired to the battery selector to be used as a spare.  Each bank is fused at the positive terminal.  I have a 1.5 amp charger wired directly to the Optima, so that it’s always full when I leave the dock.  The main bank is supplied by a 55 amp three-phase charger.  I have 100 watt and 25 watt solar panels with charge controllers.  The outboard alternator is wired into the positive distribution post.  There is a 2000 watt portable inverter generator,which easily runs the 55 amp charger.  I’ve completed the SHTP electrical budget worksheet and figure that, with no sun at all, I can go about four days before I’ll have to break out the generator.


The final result. The sink will go back in. I don’t use it as a sink, but it’s a great place to store wet things.

Here’s my new panel.  The radio on the left is the new Standard Horizon VHF with GPS and AIS (receive only).  Its antenna is at the masthead.  It allows you to set up a perimeter alarm, which I plan to do.  My MMSI  number is programmed in, so that radio is good to go.  Right next to it is the receiver for the Madman autopilot remote, which I love.  The battery selector lets me switch to the Optima backup battery if I need to.  The switch in the lower center is the panel power switch.  Right next to it is a Victron battery monitor for the 232 AH bank.  Both switch panels are waterproof.  There are two 12V powerpoints on this panel.  The one on the front has two USB ports in it.  The Garmin GPS is wired into the spare VHF right next to it.  It can be removed in seconds for portable use.  The spare VHF has its own antenna on the stern rail.  It also is programmed with my MMSI number.  The stereo is above the spare VHF.  It can play and charge almost anything with a USB connection and MP3 files.

All the cabin lighting is now LED.  Four lights are wired into the main bank, and five are battery-powered.  The running lights are LED.  The masthead tricolor, strobe, and anchor lights are LED.  All the wiring runs through conduit.  Before, it was run behind trim pieces, which made it tough to get to.  Now it’s a breeze.

Terminal block

This is one of the terminal blocks, where the positive leads are collected and sent to the panel.  Everything is heat-shrunk and labeled.  There is not much room behind my panel, so the fit is pretty tight, but it’s all easily accessible.


This is the back of the panel about halfway through the fabrication process. There’s a lot more wire in there now, but I can tell you what every single one of them does.




















I posted some other pics on the Boat Preparation page if you’re interested.  One thing I did that helped me a ton was to get two 6 volt lantern batteries and wire them in series.  That gave me enough 12 volt power to test every circuit before I even left my kitchen table.  If you know what you’re doing, this probably seems unnecessary.  I don’t, really, and I wanted to know that my new panel would work properly as soon as I turned the battery and panel switches.  It did.  Whew.

I made a few mistakes here and there installing everything, but nothing was critical and I learned a ton.  Everything works like it’s supposed to, and boat wiring is no longer a mystery to me, which was my goal.


April 17, 2014

Shameless plug for Ed Louchard at Zepherwerks in Port  Townsend, WA.  He custom makes all his sheaves on a lathe.  I think they’re reasonably priced, and when you have him rebuild something for you, he doesn’t just pop in new sheaves.  He gets out his calipers and adjusts everything so they spin like crazy.  He’s done four genoa cars, a traveler car, and a backstay adjuster for me.  Now he’s doing four sheaves in my masthead and six in the base.  If you want nice sheaves that don’t wobble or bind, check him out:


Sheaves. Not the most exciting thing on a boat, but you really want them to work right. Ed’s do.  Check him out.

Grandkids Rock!

April 16, 2014

I know this has nothing to do with sailing, but it’s my blog so indulge me for a minute.

One of my sons has a canvas shop in the boatyard in Port Townsend.  Sometimes he brings his daughter to work with him.  One morning they stopped by with breakfast, and we all took a break.  I was bouncing her on my knee and forgot how little head room I have.  Whack!  I tossed her right into the ceiling.  She looked at me like she wondered whether she should cry.  I guess not.  She shook it off and kept climbing on everything.

Grandkids rock.

Breakfast on the boat

Rowan Jones, 16 months.

Emergency Rudder

April 16, 2014

The SHTP Race Committee requires an emergency rudder.  This is what I came up with.  I still need to fabricate a tiller head and make a tiller that I can use with my autopilot.

This weighs 30 pounds, but it will not fail, and it's really easy to mount.

This weighs 30 pounds, but it will not fail, and it’s really easy to mount.

A long, long time ago I used to sail dinghies that were kept on moorings.  We’d grab the sails and rudders from the boathouse, row out to the mooring, and rig the boats in the water.  In any wind at all, getting the rudder pintles mated to the transom gudgeons was a challenge.  Same with my Lightning.  I didn’t want to deal with this in a seaway during the SHTP, so I had a support welded to an old outboard mounting bracket.

The rudder is permanently mounted to all of this, so all I have to do is hook the jaws of the outboard mount over the edge of the transom bracket and clamp it down.  That’s a whole lot easier than trying to fight the torque on the rudder.  Also, the transom bracket has about a foot of vertical travel, which means that much less rudder area in the water while I’m securing the whole contraption.

Speaking of torque, anyone with a tiller can feel how much of it there is on the rudder and its fittings when you back a boat up.  There’s a lot.  I got curious, so I tried to work out how much side force would act on a rudder if it were locked down sideways and dragged through the water at six knots.  I’m terrible at math, and it appears there are a few different formulas, but the results I got were shocking.  The lowest number I got was 228 pounds of force.  The highest was nearly 600 pounds!  I went with the higher number, and beefed up my transom and outboard bracket with large, half-inch backing plates inside and out.  The rudder hardware is stout.  That half-inch aluminum plate on the rudder mount spreads the top and bottom rudder fittings pretty far apart, which should reduce torque loads on the fittings.

Through-bolted with 5/16 bolts and 1/2 inch backing plates inside and out.

Through-bolted with 5/16 bolts and 1/2 inch backing plates inside and out.

I’m no engineer, and this whole setup could probably have been made lighter, but I feel good about the design.  It works well at the dock.  I’ll test in on the water in some weather as soon as I get a tiller made.  I use the outboard to get out of my slip, so that will mean getting into the bay, then taking the motor off and stowing it, and then mounting the emergency rudder.  Seems like a PITA, but I need to know how quickly I can do it if the need arises.  For me, it’s one less thing to have in the back of my mind freaking me out.  I’ve done untested, and it has never worked out for me.

Well, that’s my emergency rudder design.  Any input is certainly appreciated.  If anyone knows the real, super-authoritative formula for calculating rudder loads, I’d really be curious to know how my numbers compare.  Let me know.

BackBeat out . . .

This is what comes in the box.  Mine doesn't have the external antenna, and it works great.

The Madman AP-WRC2 Wireless Remote.  I bought one without the antenna, and it works great on my 25′ boat.

Why does anyone need an autopilot remote?  Well, my Raymarine ST2000 tiller pilots are controlled by buttons on the drive unit.  Imagine you’re on a spinnaker reach and it’s time to gybe.  The boat is light, so every step you take on deck alters its balance.  The drill on my boat is to get the boat going dead downwind, put it on auto, go forward and move the pole, then go back to the cockpit, put the pilot on standby, complete the gybe, put it back on auto, and trim everything for the new course.  That’s a lot of deck dancing when you’re alone.  With a remote I can gybe from the foredeck.  Now imagine you’re beating toward a mark in a fresh breeze, sitting on the rail to keep the boat as flat as possible, and the wind shifts.  Leaving the rail to go back and adjust the course unbalances the boat, causing it to round up and the keel to stall.  With a remote I don’t have to leave the rail. Okay, now imagine you’re alone at night and you go overboard.  Your tether caught you, but now you’re dragging alongside a rolling hull doing 6 knots, and you can’t get back on.  With a remote I can push the auto-tack buttons and heave the boat to, which may give me better odds of climbing back on.  Lastly, imagine you’re doing a long delivery for a January race in the Pacific Northwest.  There’s little wind and the current is contrary, so you’re motoring, but it’s cold as hell and raining.  Going out to the cockpit just to steer around a kelp bed or a floating log is a PITA.  With a remote you can dodge that obstacle with the push of a button.

Each of these scenarios–except the MOB situation, which I hope not to test until the water’s a little warmer–is a regular fact of life for me, so I began looking at Raymarine’s remotes for the ST2000.  The S100 remote is $415 at Defender.  The fancier Smart Controller, which can repeat certain NMEA data fields, is $565.  Both are wireless and rechargeable.  I don’t know much more about them, though, because I came across a story about Madman Marine’s new wireless remote and got really interested.  People seem to like it.  The price is under $200 with shipping from Australia, and Neil Finlayson, its inventor, is a making a go of this as a small business.  I really like the idea of supporting underdogs, so the Raymarine products quickly faded from my radar.

Madman’s wireless remote provides all the functionality of the Raymarine S100, but sells for less than half, and comes with two fobs which run on batteries.  I don’t usually like rechargeable electronics, so this appealed to me.  I keep spare batteries on the boat for my various hand-held things, and it just seems easier to me to pop in new batteries than to be caught unable to use something because it has to recharge.  I haven’t given this a lot of thought; maybe I shouldn’t, but I have a bias against small rechargeable electronics. Whenever a charger or cradle is involved, I seem to lose it.  Anyway, I checked out Madman, and the product seemed ligit, so I pulled the trigger.

I bought the Madman Remote thinking that if for some reason it didn’t work, at least at didn’t cost a fortune.  Shipping was quick, even from Australia to Washington State.  I received nice e-mails from Neil inquiring whether I’d received it, and asking for feedback.  He really seems to care that his customers are happy, which is a nice change from some suppliers.  The bottom line is that it works just as advertised.  It’s simple to install–even for me–and it works just as it’s supposed to.  I have about 150 miles on mine now, and the only problem I’ve had is that I think two of the batteries I put in one of the fobs were DOA.  I put that fob in my toolbox and use the other one, but I’m going to replace those batteries and buy a couple of extra fobs anyway.  They’re relatively inexpensive, and I just can’t see not having spares.

When I said installation was simple, I didn’t mean it was easy.  It’s simple because you have one cable with three leads: two for power and one for NMEA data.  The problem for me was Raymarine’s connector.  Neil’s instructions are crystal clear but that connector is a bitch to work with if you have fat fingers, like I do.  It has metal contact barrels on the back.  You insert your wire and hold it in with a tiny–and I mean TINY–set screw.  Maybe you’re better at this than I am, but I think Raymarine should design a connector with real screws so you can attach everything with ring connectors.  You know what?  Nevermind, Raymarine.  I have a spare connector, so I’m going to do it myself and solder all the connections.  My current installation is protected with all kinds of strain relief, but I don’t want to fall off of a wave someday and have the impact knock one of those wires loose.

This is the Raymarine connector.  Those contacts are TINY!  I'm guessing they're about 4mm deep.  Doesn't seem very secure to me.  I lost two set screws before I have the whole thing properly installed.

This is the Raymarine connector. These contacts are TINY! I’m guessing they’re about 4mm deep. Doesn’t seem very secure to me, so I’m going to come up with something better. I lost two set screws before I had the whole thing properly installed.

Okay, back to the Madman Marine AP-WRC2 Wireless Autopilot Remote.  It seems like a solid unit.  The wireless connection is perfect on my boat.  Neil Finlayson seems like a good guy.  I’ve use it now for about 150 miles, and it does everything it’s supposed to do.  The fobs are like the ones you have for your car keys.  There’s an o-ring sealing the whole thing up, and I can attest that after wearing mine on my PFD for hours, in the rain, it seems waterproof.  What’s not to like?  I waited as long as I did to get a remote because Raymarine’s products are expensive.  Now I don’t know how I ever got along without one.  The Madman remote meets my needs, and I would buy it again in a heartbeat.  I’m not sure, but I believe it also works with other Raymarine autopilots.  Send Neil an email and he’ll get right back to you about any questions you have.

If you have any questions for me, please feel free to contact me.

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!

AYC Northern Century 2013

August 28, 2013

Well, another year, another DNF.  We still don’t know what happened.  Look at our track shortly after the start:


This is the SE corner of Guemes Island, where we were Etch-A-Sketch doodling for more than six hours!   There was no wind, and we got into some kind of eddy hell.  While we were there we collected a variety of grasses and kelp on our keel and rudder, which we attempted to clear with a rigging knife rescue-taped to the end of the boat hook.  No wind + no control of the boat + the middle of the freaking night = no fun.

By about 13:00 Saturday we’d finally cleared the North end of Lummi Island and picked up some wind.  The rest of the sail was great, but I did the math and guessed that we probably wouldn’t finish by the deadline, so we set a course for Friday Harbor and turned this year’s race into a cruise with a finish line.  Here’s our track before the GPS batteries went dead:


Sitting at home, analyzing our track and times, and comparing the tracks of the yachts that finished, I think we might actually have made it in before the deadline had we stuck it out.  There were some advantageous wind shifts after we withdrew, and it turns out most of the other teams had the same problems we did, but in different locations.  At any rate, I made the decision to withdraw, and regretting it now isn’t going to do any good, so I’ll keep learning the local currents and give it a go again next year.

We did see a lot of cool stuff.  Drifting to within 100 feet of an anchored tanker was cool.  You think those things are big until you get up close, right at their waterline.  Then you realize that “big” is a colossal understatement.  We saw the usual seals, sea lions, porpoises, and sea birds, which are all cool, but we also saw what was either a Dall’s porpoise or a juvenile orca.  It was difficult to tell which it was because it wouldn’t stay on the surface for long before it dove again.  We also saw a lonely looking puffin.

As always, the Anacortes Yacht Club put on a great event.  Maybe next year we’ll finish it.


August 28, 2013

I don’t use the trip computer page or functions on my Garmin, but it apparently keeps track anyway.  1200 miles in a couple of seasons is a lot of sea time at an average 4.4 knots.  I don’t always have GPS on, either.

The max speed of 13.1 had to occur downwind with help from a current, and surfing a swell or something.  I’ve had some wild reaches, but I sure don’t remember seeing that kind of boatspeed on the knot meter.  I’m by myself most of the time, though, so when the wind pipes up I’m usually dealing with the spinnaker, not staring at the displays.