06/09/2010, 30 N, 130 W
Are we going to Hawaii yet? When will be there? Will I have my birthday in Hawaii? How much longer will it take to get there? I thought of a sobering analogy in reply to these questions: Sailing to Hawaii covers the same distance as driving across the United States, only we are moving (on our best days) at 6 miles/hour. Take a look on a map, that is only a small bit of the distance to Australia (our intended destination by November.) What a big ocean!
We've had the moments of panic when the sump pump goes off in the middle of the night and we think oh my goodness where is that water coming from? (the shower head released the last of its holdings). Or we wake up and find ourselves becalmed and think we've mis-represented our time and position to our weather router and we second-guess the course we are on. Or we think we've used 35 hours of our 100 hours of diesel when we've only used 25 hours (that is within our comfort zone as we are ¼ of the way to our destination.)
We also had our moments of beauty. A tiny bird found its way to our deck in the cold, foggy night we left San Fran. We think the bird was soaked through and needed to dry out. It stayed with us for almost 3 days - through a raucus gale with 29 kts and 8-10 foot seas. The morning the weather cleared, he must've flown away. We've heard some familiar squeaks today so we may have another stowaway somewhere on deck. The dolphins appear from time to time. They show up like good friends do at the front door - unannounced and thoroughly welcome. We stop what we are doing and watch the show. They like to ride the bow wave - we read that they enjoy the resistance. The other day we were sailing along when Spfeet! Spfeet! And Woosh! About 20 dolphins were on the scene - circling, diving, flipping. They stayed for a good 20 minutes and entertained us fully.
This trip isn't all fun and games - there is a lot of work, some tension, a great deal of kid management issues. My Dad commented that our greatest challenge is not working the rig, but dealing with our kids. When I filled out the application for my Mahina Expeditions trip from Fiji to New Zealand last year, the Neals' materials stressed that their opportunity was not a luxury cruise, it was a hands-on seminar. It was luxurious and relaxing compared to what we've undertaken now. With Mahina, we had 8 adults on board, Amanda and John cooked all our meals, there was quiet time to read or sleep between watches and class time.
On our boat, we have to do it all and we get very little downtime from the kids - there is no school we can send them off to for 6 hours in the day. I can't deal with the lack of sleep as well as Eric can. I also have trouble with my mood during a particularly bumpy ride. I don't get seasick in the traditional sense with nausea, but I get very annoyed with being thrown around the boat when all I'm trying to do is cook a simple meal of pasta and red sauce (for and hour and a half!) I fantasize about selling our boat in Hawaii and buying plane tickets to Australia. Eric is much more even tempered and has a consistently positive outlook. He's our highly capable captain and we are lucky to be in his care.
Eric's chores in this regard range from downloading our weather faxes on the Ham radio, fixing the toilet (again), making fresh water with our Spectra desalinator, home schooling Sophie, cooking sometimes, and reading to the kids at night. That leaves plenty of work for me to do during the 24 hour day, but my skills are not as diversified. When I speak of the 24 hour day, I mean to convey that we do experience every hour. There is little in the way of deep sleep. Rather we catch our rest in bits and pieces, and sometimes very little. Our watch schedule is 2 hours/on and 4 hours/off. I sleep from 10pm-2am and then again from 4am-8am. The kids get up at 6am so that takes a hunk out of my time right there. The boat is still moving along all through the night. Down below we have the courtesy lights (glowing red, along the walkway) on to give us some light during watch changes but not so bright that it hurts our night vision.
Last night we had our first star-filled night of the journey; hoping for another tonight, but it is 7 pm and the sky is once again covered with clouds.
[Ham operator's note: the sky is 60% clear per the ship's log.]
06/05/2010, Central California Coast
We didn't quite catch the fair winds south from San Francisco. We motored south to keep our speed up as we got out of the shipping lanes. The Bay entrance tends to reflect the incoming swell, and can be very choppy. None of the kids got sick, but they all opted to lay in their bunks. In the late afternoon and early evening, we only had about 7 kn of wind dead astern, with choppy seas. As we didn't feel comfortable flying our new drifter in the fog at night, we opted to motor south into what should be more wind. About 2 AM it started to pick up and we were sailing! We are now working our way south in light winds which we expect to build and shift west this afternoon. There is a high pressure system (no wind) to the west of us, moving east which we need to get south of before turning southwest. We are very hopeful that we are now headed to Hilo.
06/04/2010, Alameda, CA
As we pulled into Alameda, Alan, one of Christine's crewmates from her Mahina trip, met us at the dock and helped us pull in. Alan offered any assistance he could give us as we repaired and reprovisioned; it was nice to meet a friendly face.
We needed to keep our stay short in the Bay Area as we needed to get the boat ready and leave before a high pressure system (no wind for days) moved in and stalled us, so we apologize to our friends in the Bay area we did not call or get to see. We were extremely busy - removing the boom, then re-rigging was a substantial job for us while keeping three kids on the dock and away from travel lifts. As we would be losing close to a week, Christine organized the shopping list for Dale for our third provisioning effort (a charm?) for the leg to Hawaii. We also had a dead laptop to deal with. Dale took our old laptop in to be checked out. As the motherboard was fried it made more sense to buy a new computer. Bill at USATEK was able to recover the data off of the hard drive for us. Alan drove me to buy a new one. Alan was a great help to us. Late Wednesday night was installing software and restoring the data, when I realized Christine's emails had not been recovered. Dale called Bill in the morning: he came and picked Dale up, recovered the mail, and dropped Dale off for no charge! People continue to be extremely helpful to us.
Svendsen's boat yard took also took great care of us. Chris got right on our boom repair and re-seated the casting. Adam lent me a bike cover the 2.5 miles to top off our propane tanks and Barrett gave us some extra screws for our furlers, as some had worked loose.
Once we had everything back together I went aloft to check all of the fittings and gear and make sure nothing else was working loose. Loctite is becoming my new best friend. On the way down the coast, two of the lugs in our headsail furler worked loose - some red Loctite should stop that from happening again. Ever. Hopefully I won't have need to take it apart.
Our weather router advised us to leave Thursday night before some inclement weather and light winds settled in. We hustled to get out of the yard, fuel up, and set sail. We were in for a surprise as the only gas dock in Alameda closed at 4:30. Fortunately we found a 24 hour fuel dock nearby. On checking the chart, I noticed depths on the approach of 3 - 6. Surely fathoms, as we draw 6 feet. Never assume. A quick look at the key told me we would not be reaching that fuel dock. The last dock open closed at 6:00 across the Bay. We couldn't quite make it. As we had burned about 1/3 of our fuel motoring in with the broken boom, we had to have more diesel to set out. So, we spent the night at the Golden Gate Yacht Club Marina and walked up to Baker and Chestnut streets for a wonderful (and expensive!)Greek dinner. We are learning to be more flexible on this trip (a lesson to be learned over and over again.) We filled up in the morning, topped off our water and scooted out the Gate.
06/01/2010, Bodega Bay, CA
I know I've been in port too long when my daughter tells me that the young woman who just waited on us at the Oregon Coast Aquarium Café is engaged to the funny waiter who took care of us the night before at the Rogue Brewery Restaurant. We also knew the bus drivers by name and knew how to give directions to newcomers. We had to get out of Newport, OR! Our weather guy called us on Thursday afternoon and said we could depart that night if we wanted - we cast off and slipped out of town.
I am now writing from Spud's Marina in beautiful Bodega Bay in Sonoma County, CA. Wine Country - but I didn't come for the wine tour. On Sunday May 30 we were sailing about 100 miles out from San Francisco talking about how it would be just another day or so before we'd likely be turning to starboard and heading toward Hilo. The wind had fallen a bit so we decided to shake out the reef on our mainsail and get some speed up. I went forward to do that and while I was cranking the mainsail back up the mast, a screw popped out of the boom. Where did that come from? I looked around and couldn't find the likely place so I put it in my pocket and would keep an eye out. Later I went forward again and noticed another screw on deck, and then a gap between two parts of the boom; ever time the wind gusted or we got a wave the boom pieces would separate and waggle back and forth. I am not a rigger, so I can't give the exact name of these pieces and parts, but essentially I am talking about the place where the long metal piece of the boom meets up with another small black piece that connects to the gooseneck which fastens to the mast. These parts allow the boom to stay attached to the mast and yet move around as it needs to. Short version: the boom broke. I quickly pulled the screw from my pocket and put it in the hole, yelled for Eric to suit up and meet me on the foredeck with a screwdriver and another screw. We assessed the situation, called our rigger back in Port Townsend by sat-phone and confirmed that we had a significant issue to address. Had we been in the middle of the ocean, we would have had to put our creative energies at work and jury rig some kind of solution. We could have done it, but would have been quite compromised. Since we could still motor back to San Fran and get the job done right, we opted for that instead of trusting our luck for another 2100 miles and beyond. The weather we experienced off Cape Mendecino (sustained winds of 25 kts and gusting with 8-10 foot wind waves one after the other for about 18 hours) was enough to make us realize what course we should take. We were very unlucky to have to stop our trip - just as we were beginning to bring the boat into a wonderful balance and sail her with some style - but very very lucky our rig held together during the big blow and that we didn't lose our boom and rip our new mainsail in the process.
Just after we made the call to change our course to 90 degrees and head for shore, the fog set in. One hundred miles off shore! All night long and most of the next day we had visibility of ½ mile or so. We watched the radar closely and kept a look out as best we could. At first we were heading directly for San Fran and ultimately Alameda. (Our rigger set us up with a shop with a great reputation in Alameda and said that he'd cover the costs of our repairs - a great thing to do) However, with the dense fog and the fact that we'd be making the mouth of the San Fran harbor at dusk - we chose Bodega Bay, a more straightforward harbor with a much easier entrance. We pulled in around 7pm, after navigating through fog so think we could hear the fog horn off the red nun as we rounded Bodega Rock and our radar told us we came within a few hundred feet but we never saw it. I imagine that is what pilots feel like when they fly at night under instruments alone. The wonders of radar, GPS, chart plotters and sat phones make it much easier for people like us to make these grand adventures at sea. My heroes are the sailors who started the cruising lifestyle with little more than charts, a chronometer, and a sextant
We will pull out of Bodega Bay at midnight tonight, June 1st, so we can hit the approach to San Francisco (60 miles away) around 10:00am just as the ebb turns to flood. The Coast Pilot says that during the month of June one can expect an average 4 days of fog. The forecast for this area calls for fog all week. Hmmm. Hoping for seasonably good weather and visibility as we head under the Golden Gate Bridge into one of the busiest US ports. A dubious pleasure.
After holing up in Newport, Oregon for a few days, we are on our way to Hilo. (I think we made it a day before Freya asked how much longer until we reached Hawaii.) We left Newport Thursday evening, a good thing too because the bar was closed Friday morning with more bad weather on the way. We saw many fishing boats around Newport and down the Oregon coast, but very few since the California boarder.
The first couple days at sea were spent adjusting to the motion and routines again. We had hoped to engage the kids on their school work while at sea, but that is proving difficult. It may get easier as we get more accustom to the motion and get into steadier winds to the south.
Sophie and Finn managed to play some monopoly, and Sophie created her own version based on the Harry Potter books, called Wizardopoly. She made a very elaborate board, but for ease referenced her properties back to the Parker Brothers properties cards and money. If the kids can play games with each other, it will be much easier for us. They watched one movie on Christine's laptop, then it stopped working. Hopefully we can get it repaired in Hawaii. My netbook is now our only computer, critical for communication and weather information.
Yesterday and last night we had 22- 25 knot winds from the north, and were sailing fast under double reefed main and staysail. The west swell made it a bit uncomfortable, but we are making good progress down the coast. Today the winds have a more comfortable 15 knots, and we are sailing due south at a good pace. We are all looking forward to warmer weather.
Our Spectra watermaker is working great, and enabled us to take some nice showers. We still have to conserve water, as it takes substantial power, but it is a nice piece of gear.
05/26/2010, Newport, OR
As I said goodbye to Ruth Ann, the love of my life, and entered the airplane in Grand Rapids, Michigan, early in the morning, I anticipated getting off a shuttle bus later that same day in Port Townsend, Washington, stepping onto the deck of my daughter's and my son-in-law's boat, the Jenny P, and setting sail for Hawaii. But that kind of start happens only in books about this kind of adventure. In reality people with good sense take it to heart when their weather router suggests that today is not a good day to meet the sea. Better wait for Sunday. So we did.
Our weather router, who resides in Hawaii, is in daily contact with Eric and Christine. He knows exactly where the Jenny P is, in port or at sea, at any moment, through a very sophisticated set of technological devices that also allow him to see what weather is ahead of us at any time and to make suggestions about alternatives to sailing through storms when alternatives are available. What a great and comforting service!
We had a very nice send-off the night before we left Port Townsend as Alan and Sandy stopped by with a bottle of very good wine and their best wishes. They took a couple of pictures to email to back to Bob and Alice, and through them to Ruth Ann. At six-thirty in the morning we left the dock and headed for Port Angeles, west along the mountain-rimmed coast of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Eric expected us to have to fight the flood for some part of the trip, but, as he predicted, most of our hours at sea were spent with the benefit of the ebb. We had only a one-day window to go west, according to the weather router, and we were not about to waste even that. We made Port Angeles without much difficulty, but were locked in there by a series of low pressure systems for another three days.
We crew made the best of it with excursions to a playground, an evening out with dinner and a movie (We thoroughly enjoyed the new documentary, Oceans) and a full day in Victoria on Vancouver Island where we visited the local castle and a maritime museum, traveling there and back by ferry.
Finally, our weather guru suggested we had a 72 hour window during which we could actually exit the Strait and sail down the coast of Washington and Oregon, perhaps as far as Newport, Oregon, before another set of low pressure systems were sure to come through. We left at high tide.
As we rounded the waypoint just outside the Strait of Juan de Fuca and headed south along the Washington coast, we adults on board broke out a bottle of Champaign, toasted Poseidon as well as each other, and headed south. We have decided on a two-hour watch schedule after having experimented with four-hour watches the first night. The four-hour watch proved too challenging in the cold. For the following 60 hours, the winds varied between twelve and twenty knots, gusting from time to time to twenty-eight The air temperature reached the mid- 50's during the daylight hours but got down to the low 40's after sunset. The rollers were generally at eight feet and above, off our starboard quarter, making life below difficult to say the least, but the children coped...not without some rancor, but they coped. A freshly baked apple cake in the early morning not only takes the bite out of the cold, but makes life below decks a lot more comfortable as well.
At the top of a swell I looked off to port across the gray valley that just passed beneath us and wondered about the life teeming below us, remembering the images from the movie, Oceans, and marveling at my good fortune to have been invited aboard by my daughter Christine and my son-in-law Eric. I have day-dreamed of just such an experience as this for decades. I am a very lucky man.
On an early morning two-hour watch the second day out, I heard a whales' blow off our starboard quarter, turned to look at the twelve foot spray, and just as that dissipated, the whale's enormous head came rising out of the gray swell to take a breath... all of which nearly took mine away.
We pulled into Newport, Oregon, straightened things out below, got a twelve hour sleep in and now are waiting out the two or three-day rainstorm our weather-router predicted. Life is very good. Anticipation is delicious.