06/15/2010, 664 miles Northeast of Hilo
After several overcast days with periodic squalls, we have a blue sky day, and great downwind sailing. (If you don't mind the swell and the boat pitching around a little - hopefully that settles down tomorrow.) The sun is very welcome and well timed, as we are all tired. We had our first flying fish on the deck yesterday, the kids were thrilled. I am anxious to start trolling for tuna, wahoo and mahi, but it has been a little rough for fishing and I have been busy with kids and the boat.
We made our turn to Hilo and are sailing down the rhumb line, 664 miles to go, or about five days with favorable winds. Our course is just on the edge of what we can comfortably sail downwind: sailing dead down wind reduces stability, causing the boat to roll and sail in a serpentine manner. We do not want to enter Hilo harbor at night, so we need to keep the course, keep our speed up if we want to have a chance of getting in on Monday. Tuesday is more likely, and if the wind and waves are challenging, later. A 17 day passage from San Francisco would be very good for our heavily loaded boat, and we are all looking forward to a meal ashore, ice cream and a full night's sleep without watches and rollers.
Sophie is teaching me to play Pokeman, and had all of us playing the "Mafia" game she learned at sailing camp. The kids got frustrated with their Lego creations exploding as they flew off of the table, so now the narrow walkway through the cabin is often covered in legos. The kids are playing together better every day. It is a big change for me to be around them 24/7.
Yesterday was supposed to be a morale day (showers, a significant event as I have to make water and empty the "sail locker") but we had to cancel it due to the strong waves. Everyone is feeling a lot better today.
We have reached the trade winds! We now have more consistent winds form NNE and NE, between 15 and 25 kn, or 18 - 30 miles and hour. 20 kts seems ideal for the boat heading downwind. We have been scooting along at close to 6 kts, pretty good for our heavily loaded boat.
A challenge has been that we will see a steady 19 kts from 10° for 45 minutes of the hour, then a spike up to 25 kts from 40°, for 15 minutes or so, straining the rig or forcing us to change sail configuration, only to have the wind drop back down to 19 kts. If we stay rigged for the 25 kts gusts, we have an uncomfortable ride in the 6-8 foot waves as we move too slowly. We also get the occasional larger (8 - 15 foot) that seem to come form 30° different direction (our beam) providing some jarring motion and sending anything we forgot to secure sliding across tables. Cooking takes twice as long, as we have to make sure nothing, especially knives and boiling liquids, have an opportunity to launch. I don't mind.
Christine is not enjoying the motion, but the kids are loving it. While the adults held on, like kids in an elevator they started jumping as the waves hit to see how high they could get, if they flew across the cabin onto the couch, all the better. They soon learned to dive from one side of the cabin to the couch on the other side in time with the waves, sit on the steps and let the waves slide them right off, or hang from the hand rails and let their bodies swing wildly. These games are driving Mom crazy. They are getting exercise.
It is not all bumpy though. In the afternoon and evening we had quiet calm seas and 18 kts of wind. The stars are out for a second night. With continued winds and luck, we should be in Hilo early in the week of June 21.
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.