We've been busy these past few days getting our boat rigged for ocean sailing. We have a fabulous new suit of sails built by Carol Hasse & Co., and we have new hardware to fly them with...now all we have to do is learn how to use everything! Yesterday we took a climbing lesson and learned how to ascend and descend the mast if we need to inspect or fix anything up top. Sailors have borrowed gear and techniques from rock climbers and so we'll be wearing a climbing harness, using an ascender and a descending tool so we can perform this task independently and safely. For the last year or so we've been reading offshore cruising encyclopedias, watching sail trim and rig tuning videos, and attending seminars, so we know that that each time we set off on a major passage we will want to inspect our rig from top to bottom, checking all the fittings and lines for any stress, wear or chafe. So much easier to fix it before leaving than once it has failed, at night, in the middle of a storm (because you know that is when everything is going to go wrong that wants to go wrong.) Today we got a sailing lesson at the dock, learning to hoist and douse our new Asymmetrical spinnaker (or Aspin). It is a colorful, very light weight sail (once we actually fly it we'll be sure to post a picture) that helps us keep moving even in light airs. Traditional spinnakers are actually quite fussy and require a few hands to sail them correctly. This one will let us sail on a broad reach to downwind position without a pole and the fuss of balancing the sheets. Finally, we set up one of our most important sails, the storm trysail (pronounced trys'l). This tiny triangle replaces our mainsail when the winds are blowing too hard for a double reefed main. It flies free of the boom and is sheeted straight back to the cockpit. It has a swatch of Day-Glo green on the top of it so other ships can distinguish our sails from ocean spray - comforting. According to Carol, we can and should use this sail often, for example while motor sailing dead into the wind (to give our boat stability) or when sailing in the dead calm of the ITCZ (formerly known as the doldrums) when the boom can often slam back and forth with little wind and sloppy seas. If we use the trys'l in these situations, we'll be much more comfortable with it should we need it for its original purpose (surviving the storm.)
The kids have had it a bit rough trying to keep themselves occupied while we focus on details above and below decks. We get them out to walk the beach in the morning, they've been busy coloring in a fancy prism coloring book, and they also play Airbender the Last Avatar (a cartoon superhero) in the dinghy. Our youngest, Freya, always seems to be the child to break in something new (stitches, broken bones) so it is fitting that she is the first to fall over board into the excruciatingly cold marina water. She always wears a lifejacket - this is one thing we are very strict about - so she did just fine, but it was a shock all the same. After she was dried off and warmed up again she said "I think next time I'll wait for an adult to get in the dingy with me." That lasted until the next morning when she was back to jumping in the dingy off the dock and having a great time in her fantasy play.
The dinghy is a rather exciting addition to our rig. We have a 10 foot, aluminum hard body, AB inflatable. Quite light for a boat that size, 80 something pounds, and with our 9.9 Yamaha outboard we can really "get it up to horsepower" as the kids like to say. Two nights ago we motored into town for some dinner and it was the first time the kids had the chance to ride in it. Finn, our more sensitive middle child, was screaming "don't make a wake, go slower, I can't take it anymore" and Freya was yelling, "wahoo, go faster Daddy, get it to horsepower, I want horsepower." Sophie was smiling, taking it all in, feeling the wind in her hair.
We've also had our first lesson in the gift of time. We have all this gear and we've been going to school, but the most important element in safe passage making is time. It is important to stay in port when you should stay in port, it is important to take the time to do a job right before you set out, and it is important to let the trip unfold vs. forcing it to fit one's agenda. This is an about face from our usual mode of operation. Our original plans included getting out of Port Townsend by today, but tonight we learned that our new wind generator didn't ship out right away so it won't be here until Friday, and we learned that we likely won't have a weather window for our departure to Neah Bay and beyond until May 20th (about a week later than we had marked on our calendar, a few months ago, in ink.) So we decided to hunker down for an early night, drink some Coal Ila (aka the good stuff) and reflect.
05/11/2010, Port Townsend
We have departed! So far we are just 35 miles North of Seattle in the beautiful Port Townsend. It has been a hectic last three months with Eric working harder than ever through his official last day at BlackRock on April 9th and then continuing to work... on our boat... sometimes starting as early as 5:30am, for this last month before casting off.
Our transition to living aboard has been messy so far. We don't have everything stowed, we don't have all our rigging installed, kids miss their friends and teachers at school, the weather is bitter cold and rainy, but we did this for a reason and while the kids fight as they try to go to sleep in the small Pullman berth they share, I'll try to recount some of the reasons:
1. Eric and I have been dreaming about this kind of boating adventure since we were married almost 13 years ago.
2. It hit me last year as I sailed from Fiji to New Zealand with Mahina Expeditions that if I took off in a car I could only drive the edges of one continent, but in a boat, I could go almost anywhere.
3. I received so many speeding tickets in the last two years that I had to leave town in order to avoid losing my license.
4. The biggest reason is actually something that Eric likes to say: If we sail to Australia with our kids at ages 10, 6, and 5 they will know at an early age just what is possible.
One of the benefits of planning an extended trip away from home is the inspiration for so many appreciations from friends and neighbors. We've been toasted and celebrated. We've been called brave; we've been called crazy. There were gifts and emails, letters, and CD's filled with music and books on tape. One of our dear Sherpa friends shared some Tibetan prayer flags with us. She draped silk scarves around our necks just like her husband and relatives experience each year as they prepare to ascend Everest. She also gave me some very special seeds that have been blessed by monks. She told me that I can shake a few in the sea if I need a little help and I can throw the whole lot in if the situation warrants; this gives me great comfort. We've lived the last few weeks with an abundance of support, well-wishing and love. You know who you are - thank you so much!
After spending a month or so in the great care of Miller & Miller Boatworks in Seattle, we've now stopped in Port Townsend to visit with our riggers (Port Townsend Rigging) and our sail maker (Port Townsend Sails). They are helping us finish the details on our 1984 refitted Hans Christian 33. She's a lovely, sea-kindly little boat filled with 10 years of family memories sailing in the San Juans and briefly, the Gulf Islands. With expertise and counseling from all three shops, we'll be in the best shape we can be to set off on our extended cruise.
One of the first things we learned about cruising when we began reading the literature is that the most successful cruisers are also the most flexible. We are not the most flexible couple by nature: I like control and Eric likes stability, but we are trying to go with the flow and suspend our expectations in order to let a safe and enjoyable trip unfold. That said, our plans are roughly to set sail shortly for the Port of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii. My Dad, a sailor with thirty plus years of experience, will join us for that leg. I call him our "training wheels." We hope arrive in Radio Bay, Hilo Harbor sometime mid-June. We'll stay long enough to visit the volcanoes, re-provision and fix anything (of course something) that needs fixing before casting off again to even warmer weather. We've been saying that our next stop would be Rangiroa, Tuamotus and it still may be, but we've gone back to Jimmy Cornell's book, the bible (these days) of ocean passage planning and may find that a course for the Cook Islands is more pleasant and gives us a bit longer to linger in more remote places like Tonga and Fiji rather than the more tourist-frequented islands of Tahiti and Moorea. Can't say what we'll actually do until we do it, but we expect that sometime by mid-November we'll be pulling into our berth in Bundaberg, Queensland Coast, Australia for a 5-6 month sojourn while we wait for sailing season to start again in April.
Christine and I are actively getting ready: we have home school materials for the kids (9,6 and 4), are planning provisions, and I am spending weekends installing and upgrading gear on the boat.
Our rough plan is to sail from Seattle to Port Townsend in early May, spend a few days with our riggers. We will move on to Port Angeles where we will pick up Dale, Christine's father, who will join us for the leg to Hawaii. From there to Neah Bay to wait for our weather window. We expect arrive in Hawaii in early June. After a short break, we will sail to French Polynesia where we hope to spend a little more time. These first two legs will take around 20 days each. Yes, we will sail at night, and one of us does have to be awake at all times. From there, our plan is to island hop on short (2-4 day passages) through the Cook Islands, Niue, Tonga, Somoa, Fiji, New Caledonia, and land somewhere on the Queensland Coast to wait out the cyclone season. Around April of 2011, we will begin working our way back through the Pacific Islands and home. This is a rough route, riding the trade winds across the Pacific. I am sure that weather patterns will alter our route and that the people we meet and experience may also alter our plans
We did extensive maintenance and upgrades on our 25 year old boat, including new rigging, new bowsprit, several new sails, new electronic instruments (radar, chart plotter, wind instruments, etc.), a desalinater, more efficient refrigeration, HAM radio, new VHF, new liferaft, new dinghy, new batteries, and of course, bottom paint. Not all of these are complete, and we have a lot to do before May.