05/18/2010, Port Angeles
Who was that guy at the helm in our last posting? My Dad, Dale. He joined us in Port Townsend last Thursday. He'll make the passage to Hilo with us if he doesn't jump ship before we depart. He's very patient and easy going, but the kids have been putting that and all of us to the test. They miss the routine and predictability of school. They miss playing with their friends. However, I think we've found the magic formula for this leg of our journey: Grandpa tells stories. He has a handful of stories about my brother Jon and all his antics when he was little (overflowing toilets, beebee guns, neighborhood ruffians, stolen bikes, a popped water bed, a forgotten bathtub drawing water for hours.) He also tells stories about his grandfathers and his own high school English teaching days (streakers, our house getting teepee'd, senior pranks, administrative officials.) The kids are enthralled. As soon as he finishes one story, they beg to hear it again. Freya is now his sidekick and fills in critical pieces of dialog.
Our most recent lesson (we've known but have had to live it to recall) is that once you consult with the experts -- people who done this before, professional weather routers, authors who've made a living planning routes - ultimately you have to make your own journey. There is no exact way, just as there is no perfect boat. There are trade-offs and unknowns. Our latest news from the weather router is that there continue to be a series of lows offshore and the weather won't be clear for sailing for a few more days. We can wait in Port Angeles another week and maybe sail out and on to Hilo in one shot, or we can leave in a few days and motor sail down the coast until we reach the trades. If we wait, we make no progress at all. If we decide to motor down the coast (300-400miles), we'll have to pull in somewhere and refuel, paying close attention to bar conditions. When the rivers meet the sea there are sand bars that extend well beyond the coast. Seas sometimes break across the bars and the conditions are untenable, even for larger craft. We'll also have to contend with the fishing traffic, freighters, and choppy seas on the continental shelf. None of that sounds good to me and yet it lies directly in the path of my ultimate barefoot, sun-filled idyll.
We have a lifejacket policy on board: below decks no one needs to wear one, above decks everyone wears one. When underway, the kids also wear harnesses, clipped to the boat with a 6 foot tether. When underway at sea, even the adults wear harnesses, and clip in. A couple times they've attempted to go topsides without their lifejackets - just testing to see if our rules still hold. They do! Finn can tell his life jacket from the others once he finds the blood stains. Back in Port Townsend he was jumping in and out of the dinghy and knocked his nose on the oar. We look like a bunch of sea-hardies already. Our personal grooming standards have taken a bit of a turn. So tomorrow our "to do" list looks like this: Take showers, kids have school, make some phone calls that we forgot to make before leaving Seattle, buy detailed charts of the coastal route we hadn't intended to take, walk a mile or so to the grocery store for some bread and lunch meat, get the kids to the park.
05/16/2010, Port Angeles
Our trip to Port Angeles was fairly smooth. Per Carol Hasse's suggestion we tried out storm trys'l as a steadying sail under power - fantastic. Dale took the helm for much of the trip, allowing Christine and I to shake out a couple of bugs in our running rigging and procedures.
Amenities are not as convenient here as in Port Townsend, but the people we have met are very nice. We met a live aboard family in the marina (with a hotub on their boat!???), so hopefully our kids will get some good social time.
Marv, who helped us dock when we arrived, stopped by tonight to ask again how long our boat was. Many other boaters are surprised we really are taking this sailboat so far. We also meet people who have done it on boats much smaller, such as 27 footers. While some may think we are crazy, I often see some longing in their eyes.
The kids had their best night so far for settling down and getting to sleep. The excitement, stress, and lack of routine has been hard for them. I think we will be taking it easy here for a couple of days, and resting up for the long leg to Hilo. We may skip a stop in Neah Bay and keep on going.
05/15/2010, Port Townsend
Today we went aloft, tested our new climbing gear, and took pictures of the rig. Dan set us up with a rock climbing rig, which makes it fairly easy to pull ourselves up the mast. It is great being able to work aloft with both hands free, but we are still getting used to that.
We also got out for our first real sail in a few weeks. This was after changes to the running rigging and deck hardware. None of the mishaps were serious, and we got a lot more comfortable with our new gear. We will still be shaking things out on the way to Hilo.
We realized we really need to get out of Port Townsend, even though we are still waiting for weather to get out of the Strait. The kids are getting restless here. My inexhaustible list of boat projects is getting quite short. There are a couple that I will not get to before we head to Hilo, but the critical list is complete. The new wind generator is installed and working, and I have installed eyes and shock cord stretched across most of the shelves to hold things in. All of the little cubbies I am aware of are full. Christine commented that you actually can fill all of the storage spaces on this boat. We were already low in the water, then I realized the tanks were down, and added another 600 pounds of water. We need to stow the last remaining items, primarily my tools and some rigging gear, so that we don't have to move things around to go to bed every night. As we eat food, storage will get easier. We have cataloged where most things are, but there have been a few important items that did get indexed, and we have repacked several times.
We have already met many very nice and helpful people. At the Rhododendron parade in PT today, we met a very nice family who shared a chair and some snacks with the kids. I had no idea it was a two hour parade. It was a great distraction from the kids. Christine and I have been so focused on final preparations that the trip has not been that fun for the kids so far. That should change in Port Angeles. Our plan is to leave here for Port Angeles at 7 AM Sunday the 16th.
Our weather router informed us tonight that we may not get a good window until the 20th. It will be hard to be patient, but heading out into bad weather would not be prudent. Still, we need to work hard to be ready to go when the weather opens up. We are working on the boat in Port Townsend, finishing up the preparations. While the list is getting shorter, the final details are taking time.
Yesterday I finally took down the wind generator to test it and confirmed my suspicions: with some sanding and paint the chassis will still work fine. The new wind generator should arrive Friday. It was supposed to arrive tomorrow, but was delayed. We are still operating on our fast paced schedules. It is going to take some time to adapt to the slower pace of cruising.
The kids are already pushing for more independence and freedom. They are climbing all over the boat while we work, and are quit adept at moving from boat to dock to dinghy, although Freya did fall in yesterday trying to get out of the dinghy - her brother may have helped that. The water here is only 53 degrees, so she was quite cold. The scare may have helped her although she climbed under the cockpit today to inspect the electronics and steering gear. She is starting to take things apart when I am not looking.
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.