Footnotes, ponderings and lessons learned
24 September 2017
Post by Moe
Laurie, Harry and I just completed a major offshore voyage down to Mexico on the sailing vessel Shala. A voyage of 1400+ miles. It was not exactly a crossing, technically it was a coastal cruise as we started and ended in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and stayed well within the Northern Hemisphere. It was more of a latitude adjustment if you will. From the second hour of the first day to the second to last hour of the last day we saw no land at all, save for a ghostly silhouette of Santa Catalina Island, mostly obscured by fog. We may as well have crossed an ocean by the way it felt.
1. There is no such thing as a predictable ocean voyage. No two trips are alike and all of my previous experience at sea commercial fishing did not adequately prepare me for a sailing voyage. The differences were profound. In fact, “experience” can lead you astray, it did to me. My crewmates, who had no experience, were probably better off as they had no previous database to draw from. As an example, the majority of my sea days (1000+) were spent north of the Columbia River and south of Alaska and it is a very different ocean. I kept expecting and hoping that the sea state would settle out and become further spaced apart from 5 – 8 seconds to a more comfortable 10-15 seconds, but it never did. It stayed as a miserable, short, choppy, messy sea regardless of what the wind did.
2. Expectations – The notion of a simple b-line course from Ucluelet south and west until well clear of Cape Mendocino, then hanging a left (or gybing to starboard) in hindsight was ridiculous. An ocean is far too variable, predicted winds are far too unpredictable, every day was a course correction of one kind or another. It became less and less important to adhere to our planned course and more necessary to strive for as much comfort as we could, even if it took us miles from the intended course.
3. Weather – For 20 or so years I have fancied myself as a weather expert, after all, I’m a windsurfer and windsurfers know the weather. We all just go online to EC Canada or NOAA, download some satellite imagery, have a look at some Doppler radar, and scan the animated data from Windyty or BigWaveDave.ca and BAM, instant weather guru. The only problem at sea is the absence of high-speed cable internet. Of course, I knew that. But like most of us, I was addicted to internet forecasting. My advice to newbie voyagers is to unplug the cable at least one month prior to departure and get used to using any and all alternate forecasting tools, then only go online after you have made your own forecast to your specific region to verify your prediction. No cheating! Trust me, it is a very hard transition to make all at once.
4. Boats and crew – Boats are tough, crews are not. I would suggest the toughest crew is not equal to the weakest boat. In fact, thousands of boats have survived long after their crews have given up on the boat and abandoned ship. Indeed, some ships have even gone on to complete the intended voyage without the crew. I’m not going to suggest that we don’t worry about keeping on top of the ongoing maintenance and repairs, far from it. I will say that working the crew past the limit of fatigue just to keep the boat sailing on course is a good way to ruin the trip and to start making bad decisions. If your crew is exhausted, stop sailing, heave-to or, at the minimum, douse all sail, secure the hatch and go to bed. It is highly unlikely that any harm will come to the boat or the crew. So keep to the watch system you have agreed to. When off watch, go to bed! Even if sleep seems impossible, a laydown rest is better than nothing. My shipmates were not as experienced as I and they both felt they needed to take care of chores at the end of their watches. I disagree with that thinking. Their tasks were of high priority to Harry and Laurie but lead them both to the point of exhaustion. On a few occasions, I was taking some of their watches to get them some rest without their request. I was able to have enough reserve energy to do that and more because I was the most diligent sleeper on board. In fact, during a lightning storm we sailed through, I said good night, I’m going to bed. They both looked at me like I had lost my mind, but what can I do about lightening? So I slept and we sailed on.
5. Meals – Laurie was adamant that we pre-cook and package enough frozen food for 15 meals. Being a seasoned boat cook, I was sceptical. She was brilliant! The point is, there is nothing like a fantastic meal to keep the crew happy. Canned beans and peanut butter sandwiches will not suffice. Eat well, be happy. Dress warm, change clothing often, you won’t be able to wash your clothes, but you can flip the pile.
6. Computers – There is no going back to the pure age of sail. WE are an electronic species and that is that. Most modern boats have many computers on board and all are necessary for the function of the boat. On this trip we had one HP laptop, one Mac Air laptop, one iPad and one Samsung tablet and two iPhones. The HP was dedicated to downloading the weather fax files. Downloading weather faxes neither begins nor ends, it simply is. Its source was an HF sideband radio. Because of the download speed (slow), it’s all we could ask of it. It often froze up, or lost signal, or both, making it necessary to start again because an incomplete fax is useless. We had to find a station, then a frequency and wait and wait and wait. By the time we had all the files downloaded they were often too old to be reliable because conditions change by the hour, sometimes dramatically. To give an example, in the space of four hours the fax read first – there is no reported cyclonic activity in the eastern Pacific. Then – there is a tropical cyclone and hurricane watch in the eastern Pacific. Big change! The former was supposed to be valid for 72 hours so we kept up with the downloading. The Mac Air laptop was dedicated to emails both sending and receiving. The problem with that is that both computers shared the same modem. Emails were for personal communication, so not a high priority. Next was the iPad. This was dedicated to the Iridium GO system, essentially a sat phone that was used to download grib files and was sold as a hotspot that could handle gribs and emails and text messaging for up to 5 devices. Its performance was less than we expected. The problem with that is that we had oversold our ability to communicate with family and friends and to be able to do a regular blog post. The result was causing us all much anxiety as we were receiving texts from concerned people asking if we were okay. Unfortunately, we could not respond. Lessons learned – don’t worry about social media when offshore. Put away the iPhone, tell your friends you’ll be in touch when you can and concentrate on sailing the boat.
7. Marine equipment – Caveat Emptor! Just because it says marine does not mean the item is suitable to be used on a boat, particularly an offshore boat. Case in point – Harry purchased a brand new marine range/oven from a reputable marine chandler. It came with the associated gimbaling hardware, including mounting brackets. The brackets were made of pressed 1/32” stainless steel. They were mounted on the bulkheads on each side of the space for the oven to drop down into the brackets. The installation kit also included a flexible propane line with enough slack to allow the unit to gimbal up to 90 degrees with adequate clearance. The oven/range was factory fitted with a ½” stainless dowel on each side with a flange so that the unit would drop down into the brackets with a locking tab on each side. The install was done with a high degree of craftsmanship and I inspected it myself. It also came with a gimbal lock mechanism and the unit never had a chance to gimbal, other than during dockside testing prior to going offshore. The day we left port was the first time the lock was taken off. A mere six days into the trip the stove began to hang up during its swing from side to side. We found this odd, to say the least. Harry blamed himself at first for a poor installation. We were puzzled. Then we noticed black debris on each side of the oven that looked like pencil graphite. We had to constantly unstick the stove to assist it to swing. Not until we made port did we discover the cause – the constant gimballing over 12 days had elongated the stainless brackets by ½” and, amazingly, had sawn almost halfway through the stainless dowels, thereby dropping the stove ¾” from its original mounted position and badly chafing the propane line. So, in under two weeks it had nearly cut itself free from the bulkhead. This is marine hardware? If it were me, I would be freaking out on the manufacturer, totally unacceptable junk. We ended up repairing the cuts in the dowel with JBWeld, sanded smooth, then we made a pair of teak block/brackets to support the entire surface of the dowels. As of yet, it has not been sea tested.
8. Bilge pump float switches – It’s funny how the most popular brand of bilge pumps have the most problematic mercury float switches. I’m not naming names, but I have gone through three of these on my boat in 8 years. Same problems, sticky switch mechanisms, failure to shut off after the level drops and consequently draining the battery, or worse, the float switch failing to lift up once fully submerged. Not like it’s important or anything. So I just keep buying more. I had assumed it was just my bad luck to purchase defective parts. When the main bilge float switch failed to shut off the pump on Shala, I asked Harry how old the part was. He told me it was not quite one year old and, worse, it’s a replacement to a replacement. So what do we do? I honestly don’t know. I suggest finding the best parts available and triple-tested at the dock, but it is a disturbing problem.
9. Sails and sailing – Furling headsails and main. Some may disagree with main in-mast furling due to the off chance it could jam once fully deployed. I cannot imagine a more terrifying scenario than a runaway mainsail in big wind with no way to douse it. But to date, Harry has never had any trouble with his system during his eight years of sailing Shala. From personal experience on this trip, the ability to micro adjust the mainsail from the cockpit to the exact size needed for the conditions effortlessly, makes reefing super easy and not at all stressful. Reaching poles are essential! Perfect your own system, make it work as easily as you can make it. Don’t leave shore without them. Sail fast, sail appropriate to wind and sea state, anything over 5 knots is good sailing. It’s not a race. Some days you will be fast and you will be making excellent time, other times you will be cursing the 4.2 knots showing on your GPS. Relax, you are still getting to where you want to be.
10. Sextant – We had high hopes we would be taking sun sights every day at noon but the sextant never got out of its case. Rather than using celestial navigation to plot a daily position, we could barely remember to get an accurate fix on the chart taken from the GPS at the same time every day. We are not making excuses, we just did not. GPS is just too accurate, too convenient and too easy.
11. Motoring – Every single yacht on the water today is a motor sailor. Don’t think otherwise. So motoring or motor sailing during lulls in the wind is not admission of failure. IN fact, it is prudent sailing strategy provided you reserve 1/3 of your fuel for making landfall. The only purists on the water are the boats with no engines at all (they are few). You have an engine for a reason, you it if you need it.
I’m not a professional, world-class navigator, I’m just a regular working guy who likes to sail. I’m sharing my insights with anyone who thinks they can use it.
sittin at the dock of the bay
13 September 2017 | ensenada, mexico
so i sit in paradise…a week has gone by…more…i cant remember how long ive been here. my crew left me today and suddenly the “irma” of activitiy is over. the first few days were surreal. i awoke the first morning and had to pinch myself. here i am in paradise…somehow ive managed to get my home here too…wow what an unreal sensation. we hit the dock for a stroll along the malecon. holy... the whole bloody walkway is pitching and rolling. the sensation is like when you close your eyes and spin around and then open them up and you cant stand up…its kinda like that except you dont actually fall down. the sun shines thru the fog and land is like some foreign place. its not the reliably stable platform it once was. i look for a hand hold when im at the urinal cuz the whole bathroom is pitching and rolling. its taken me a week or more but the land is gradually becoming stable. the sidewalks are once again terra firma and im not staggering like a drunken sailor anymore.
weve already met some very nice people on the dock and a friendly atmosphere is all around. each night we meet some new friends and we have happy hour on a different boat every night and we all have something in common and that is that weve come from some other place to be here. its like we are old friends. we met some canucks from prince george. prince george?? what the hell are they doing here? well i guess its just as strange that a landlocked albertan is here to. americans, hawaiians, phillipinos, grecians, canadians, mexicans, …we are all here and its like a family already. i love this place already even though im kinda stuck at the dock till the hurricanes season dies. i never really counted on that but then i just got focused on getting here. there is so much to think about and surely you will miss some detail that the other cruisers thought of and now i feel like an idiot. hahahaha. anyway im trying not to stress about it. this is the new life.
i rode my bike down miles of beach today and boy did that feel good. its only been a couple of weeks of no riding and already my legs are weak. so i will try and incorporate a ride every day and get my biking legs back.
it doesnt take long and im back to the “projects”. there is always something to do and the pitching and rolling trip down here has shown some “snags” that need to be addressed. then there is the salt water from the dock. dock water…it supposed be potable isnt it? anyway i filled up my tanks before i asked that question. ooops... brackish water in the tanks….more couplers , and hoses, and clamps, and filters, combined with lots of sign language and broken spanish/english, and a couple days later i have a charcoal filtered system plumbed into the water maker making clean fresh water from dock water. the jobs never end. and now that laurie and moe are gone i also have to do the all of the cooking and cleaning and daily living chores. jeez it was nice to have crew!! i love those folks. they are amazing people and im so grateful they were with me for this journey. it would have been so much more difficult without them. i cant thank them enough and now they are gone. i feel just a little alone and far from home but then that was surely going to be one of the "cruising life” dilemas. i dont think you ever really can imagine all of the things in your life that change. i just had this ideal vision about how great this life would be and so far it is…just many things i didnt think about. i miss my family and friends but this typing is kinda helping as im just letting it go and im hoping that said family and freinds will get the love im sending. anyway the sun goes away early here. it seems very late even though its not. im gonna hafta get used to the sun setting around the same time every night, winter ,and summer. i seem to end up in bed very early and of course that means up early in the morning too.
ive tried to upload some pics but with limited success. im not sure if its the lame internet, the lame blog provider, or the lame operator, but photos are proving to be difficult. i will keep trying and may or may not have success, but you will know…. if you see pics. hehehehe
oh ya i forgot to mention…the sun here is soooo much hotter. i left a sail bag out in the sun since i got here and in one week it has already faded from a bright red to a dull orange. guess the lazy days of taking the sun for granted are over. i was walking the dock the other day and spotted a boat with a 2 gallon pump jug of sunscreen tied on deck…..i get it now.
Some highlights and lowlights, from my perspective…
07 September 2017
Post by Laurie
After the second day, I quickly realized that we were in a time shift. With our watch system in fully swing, it was necessary to catch sleep when the opportunity arose. This meant going to bed and getting up at least three times over a 24 hour period. In my world, each day seemed to equal one week. Eventually, I just learned to be in whatever moment was current. Time always passes, no matter what, and I set my mind to be in the present moment as it would surely pass. Although there were mentions of how far we had gone and how far we had left to go, I did not let that into my mind. I lived in the moment at hand.
Warmth is not at sea on the North West Pacific Ocean in August. Especially as we progressed further west. The day wasn’t so bad, we even had light coat only days at first. The nights required at least three layers under my foul weather jacket and two under my foul weather bib pants. Fleece was a requirement top and bottom A warm toque, fleece hoodie and jacket hood pulled up over my head. Over the first three days (aka as weeks, see above) I did not bother to removed a single layer when I crawled into my bunk between my night watches. Including my shoes. On the third or fourth day, I thought I might release my feet from captivity. Phew! Did they every stink! As we progressed further south, I began to wonder if we had inadvertently boarded a vessel bound for Antarctica. The weather got cooler, damper and another layer was added. I must note that I found the wind itself to be warmish, not biting cold. The cold dampness of the sea is what made the layers necessary. Cold humidity.
As I had expected, my worst fears came to pass. Big wind and rough seas. When Moe and Harry decided to heave-to (essentially parking the boat) due to the sea state, I caught their apprehension and allowed my feelings to run wild. I was terrified. Even in my terror I was able to respond to the task at hand and did what was requested of me. Immediately upon parking, I crumbled into a blithering mess. Moe tried to comfort me only to be met with a full on blast of emotion. Before falling into my bunk for a sob session, I did get our position plotted on the chart. Once I got over the melt down, I had a little chat with myself about my behaviour. It was time to stiffen the upper lip and my spine. I found it a hard but good lesson on being part of the team. Henceforth, I would do my best to keep my fears at bay and be a positive member of the crew. I was not always successful and there were even times when my insistence on charting and close weather watch were misconstrued as freaking out. Nevertheless, I was relentless in those respects. Our safety was at stake here! Coming into a busy shipping lane set off the panic alarm, too. After instruction on the AIS and radar and the assurance I could wake anyone up if I was concerned, I took on that night watch. It is the fear of being inadequately equipped or trained to handle a situation that sets off those alarm bells and the frustration of uncertainty. Knowledge is power.
As I knew it would, we never, ever ceased movement. Forever we were tossed back and forth from one side of the boat to the other. While we walked, while we cooked, while we sat on the toilet, while we slept. Occasionally there were requests to the current watch keeper to please find a road less bumpy or at least stop hitting every pot hole! The movement made every task a chore. In the galley not a single item could be set down without being secured first, otherwise it would go skittering across the counter. All meals had to be well thought out. What do I need? Where willI put it? Moe’s galley experience came in handy here. He set up a dish pan on the counter, secured to the wall, that served as a great place to put items in active use. Even that had to be watched, though. If an item was placed in the pan alone, the sea would toss it about. We had to make sure there were enough items in the pan to prevent movement. On especially rough days, I had a belt that secured me to the stove. There was more than one time I was glad to have been held from being tossed mercilessly across the galley to the chart table. Moe also devised a spring across the counter face from the sink to the port side wall. This was handy for holding our water bottles. It kept my tea bottle still, and away from me, while I poured boiling water. I learned to walk very cautiously, often using the athlete’s stance to recover my balance. I looked like a toddler learning to walk. And always, always, have at least one hand on a secure point before taking a step to reach out for the next handhold. Movement became slow and careful. I learned the pattern of the waves. Roll to port, roll to starboard for a number of rolls; take a couple giant rolls, one to port, one to starboard, coast for a few seconds; repeat. Of course, it was never that consistent but I’d call it a general pattern.
One night as I was coming off watch in the dark, a thread from my toque caught on the hook of my earring as I pulled the toque off. I sat on the bench to detach the thread. A big roller came by unceremoniously dumping me right onto the floor! There, I realized the earring and toque would not part without removal of the earring from my ear. I had put a rubber stopper on the hook of the earring to prevent losing it. Do you think that would move? Nope. Now what to do? I have the toque dangling from my ear, I’m on my butt on the floor, the sea is getting great amusement by rolling the boat and me around. I’m stuck. In the dark to boot. Then I remember the eraser on the table! Thank goodness for my OCD ways. I reach up to where it should be and grab it. I use it as a base, kind of like a thimble, and push the hook on it for stability and finally I’m able to get the rubber stopper off and the earring out of my ear. I laughed at the foibles of the sea all the way to my bunk!
Post by Moe
07 September 2017 | Ensenada, Mexico
Post by Moe
leaving on a solar eclipse seems like an auspicious way to start an adventure like this. im glad to be off the dock because im tired of the pre-trip stress and emotions After all, I've done this before....or have i ? anyhow 2 days in ukee fog was enough for me. harrys cdn cash was evaporating fast and laurie was balancing on a great emotional divide. prior to leaving harry invested in an iridium go sat comm system and the technical rigmarole took all of saturday and sunday and left little time for much else. we had a total of 4 computers and phones operating on a satellite wifi hot spot that was supposed to deliver email, text messaging, and weather forecasting. in addition to that we were collecting weather fax data on the hf radio via an hp pc and frankly the flurry of technical discussion was consuming the entire attention of captain and crew. but in spite of it all we did leave the fuel dock fully loaded with food, fresh water, and fuel including 175 litres in jerry cans in the lazerettes.
into the sunshine just after the passing of the moon in front of the sun. as i was off watch i went to bed. 24 hrs of nice, fast, full sail broad reaching. we acclimatized our selves to the watch system we had set up. mine had 2 dog watches of 2 hrs each, so i did the 2000 - 2200 and got to see some great sunsets, but the 0200-0400 was ugly, the wind seemed to blow harder , the waves came from everywhere, it was rougher and scarier with that hollow in-mast furling system making the creepiest wail ever.
slowly slowly the wind diminished, hmmm we did not pick that up in the pre trip weather forecast. im reluctant to switch from my internet based forecasting to old school methods of data collection, like vhf, hf, barometer readings and weather fax (yes weatherfax is old school ) now we are back in the stone age of dial up modems but at 10%the speed of the slowest dial up ever invented. What? no google? so why did the wind die? like i said we missed an important clue, more on that later. so we motored for 12 hours till we found some wind...in the wrong direction. from the SE not the NW. laurie was not impressed and flat out told us we were incompetent meteorologists. now i do admit im no weather guru, but im not exactly new to this either, but i had to endure her glare for another 6 hours, as the wind continued to back to the sw forcing us to sail close hauled when we should have been broad reaching. oh well i did catch a tuna which distracted us for a while. when we finally felt that sw peter out harry was the first to notice that black line off to the nw, immediately followed by a sudden and dramatic rain squall. at first i was elated to see the nw, then vindicated, as i shouted to my long suffering wife, see!! old mister nw is here. my next thought was oh shit, this looks ugly, the wind hit us at 21-25 kts, and continued to climb into the high 20's making a complete mess of the ocean surface and dismantling the remaining sw swell into breaking waves. we took a wave in the cockpit around dinner time, and things were on the verge of becoming unmanageable so we made a plan to heave-to so we can rest up and allow the sea to settle. its all about the sea state all the time. the wind strength and direction can be irrelevant at times and may or may not contribute to a rough sea, but other factors such as , current, and other layers of ocean swell can and will influence the size and duration of the waves and the sea state.
We began to sail into the Cape Mendicino area of influence and what an area! Covering the distance from the Columbia River between Washington and Oregon states all the way past Point Conception for another three hundred miles to the south and up to two hundred miles wide. It's a giant area and it's a gale factory most of the time. A gale is defined by winds up to 34 knots. Day by day the wind increased and so did the seas, it became choppy, sleep was difficult and we got grumpy. The distance between waves was not much, maybe 5 - 10 seconds making things very uncomfortable and hard to cook and, as I do have experience as a sea cook, it took a lot of my effort just to make dinner happen.
Maddening. The sea is wearing us down more than we expected. The sea is more rowdy and Mr. Radar has failed to detect three fishing boats within three miles and less. We had suspected radar issues entering Ucluelet, but we decided it was incorrect tuning by the operator. This was not good. An unreliable radar is a liability. Almost immediately the sat phone stopped sending text messages. We could receive some incoming messages, but were unable to send. The next problem was the HF radio that was paired to an HP PC through a Pactor modem. It was freezing up and causing the PC and the modem to require restarting.
So we are down to AIS and visual only. We can't trust the radar and we know for sure that not all boats transmit AIS. We know that because we are one of those boats. Having said that, most larger boats and tow boats do use AIS, but during the whole time we saw only one fishing vessel displaying an AIS signal.
At night, in the fog, it is very stressful not to have the right electronic equipment. I wonder how many we missed in the night?
We gradually reduced sail until we had furled 3/4 of the main sail, eventually taking it all in. We tried wing on wing with a very small poled out genoa but we felt it was overpowering the autohelm (ST 7000). The wind occilations of the boat as it got out of sync with the waves was awesome to see and the auto pilot (aka auto) was the hero. We did need to do a small electrical repair on the autopilot. One ten minute stint of hand steering was enough to convince me that auto was the most valuable of us all.
Eventually with the wind hovering in the high 30s, gusting to the 40s, we reduced sail further to 0 main and a mere two feet of poled out genny and were hitting boat speeds of 10-11 knots. One day was amazing - we covered 140 miles. All the power you can handle, as long as you can handle it. It all sounds like tough guy stuff, and it is and it isn't. We are not really tough guys, but we are all very adaptable and we are working well as a crew. We are eating well, sleeping whenever possible and Laurie is becoming extraordinarily competent as an offshore navigator and, as a result, has been promoted to Nav Master and Breakfast Cook. Harry gets the best watches, but is getting the least sleep. Harry is performing brilliantly as a captain. He is adapting to his captaincy very well. We appreciate him taking care of the vessel and its myriad systems.
Time seems bent somehow. Priorities break into numerical values of equal, greater or lesser importance. For example, speed of the wind, speed of the boat, the time of day, the time it will be tomorrow, the distance to go, the course to cover, the direction we are going, the angle of attack, our bearing, and so on. They all matter. It's all very important. In addition, there is vessel traffic, what is their speed, what is their course, what is our course? It's all a whole bunch of numbers and that's all we seem to care about at this point at this time. Life becomes very simple, it's all a matter of numbers.
San Francisco looms for days as we try to run our easting down, broad reaching and still poled out. Laurie is the one who provides the next terror of the day as she scours the weather fax, the gribs and the offshore text forecast. Once we had determined that the 3 meter swell leftover from Kenneth were forecast from the south up to 31* north. Exactly where we were going. We took the foot off the gas for 10 hours to let it by and spent a day loafing off of Point Conception at 4.3 knots. Then, Lidia! Localized thunder cells off the Catalina Islands! Live fire military drill exercises to the east, dense fog and Lidia is dissipating. Lidia is increasing. Lidia is stalled. Lidia is not stalled, but heading NW to a point up to the head of the Sea of Cortez. Not far from where we're going. Bummer. So, LA? San Diego? Or Ensenada? Ensenada is the port of choice for us but no one is keen to experience a possible 50 knot SE winds as the remnant of Lidia is expected to be.
The wind died completely off San Nicholas Island. Motor on for 30 hours direct to Ensenada, flying fish everywhere, sunshine, warmth, smiles all around. Motored through thick smoke and ash from a wild fire behind Ensenada. Docked at Cruiseship Village and we are done we made it ahead of Lidia by 6 hrs!
a day at sea
23 August 2017 | off the coast of oregon
23 aug 2017
the night began with a rapid drop of the wind. from 12 knts to 6 to 3 in a matter of 1/2 hour. at 2045 on tuesday we reluctantly started the motor. we had had some success with the iridium go in that we were able to get a couple phone calls out but the texting part was still completely inoperable…much to my chagrin. in any case i was able to download the offshore gribs for our location and that did help with the frustrated feeling. the night was basically un eventful… we saw the glow from a coastal city which was remarkable as we were 114 nautical miles from the coast. moe said he saw a ship go by on his watch. the radar still unable to display the ships targets. we have determined that it is not working properly and no amount of tweaking seems to help. we have pulled out the manual and have slowly begun to try and troubleshoot the peice of shit. we have set up 2 hour watches on the night shift and this seems to be fairly comfortable for all participants. the crew is well fed and reasonably rested so far. wed morning arrives and i have had a fairly good couple hours of sleep and i feel quite spirited today. lauries watch is done and mine has begun. i make a coffee and start to enjoy the lovely morning sunrise. as it gets lighter i notice a couple of ships on the horizon that are neither showing on a.i.s. or the troublesome radar. it appaears that they are tuna boats. moe comes up and looks around and says right off… “ we should put the fishing gear out” …so we do. within 2 minutes of dropping the gear in the water i say to moe…” do we have a fish on? “ he has a look and says … “fish on” it suddenly turns into mayhem in the cockpit…moe is pulling the fish in and im just staring around in amazement as a he pulls in a wildy thrashing albacore tuna. he figures it weighed 8 lbs. it was the first tuna i have ever seen out of the water and i was amazed at how highly specialized it was. they are completely built for speed. anyway moe asks for a knife and stabs it into the gills and the cockpit quickly becomes a slaughter zone. by the time we have a loop on its tail and hanging over the edge the cockpit is splattered with blood eveywhere. the next few minutes are pretty busy. moe the fisherman soon has the fish bled and is starting to dissect it. he shows me the specialized fins and the eyes and the tail and its really amazing how incredibly evolved these fish are. they have some very amazing little fins on their tail that are like ailerons and can be individually “tuned” for maximum agility yet incredible speed. moe says they can swim up to 60 miles an hour. that to me is amazing. anyway in about a half an hour we have fresh tuna fillets and moe is now turning his attention to making savichy. he is an amazing fellow…he does it all. i cant say enough about how i hit the jackpot when it comes to crew. laurie is the whip that keeps us navigating and attaining weather forecasts. she cooks and cleans and navigates and does regular watches. moe is pretty much the chef onboard. we have been eating gourmet meals since we left and its pretty amazing and tonight we dine on fresh tuna.
so on we motor…12 hours on flat seas and no wind….soon we start to get some wind from the south east and it is almost enough for us to sail but not quite. it is, however, enough to get a wave train going from the south east. within a fairly short period of time the wind starts to veer, south, then south west for a little , then west for a while, and finally sets in from the nw. the wind comes up to around 15kts and we start to sail. the sea is extremely confused from the different wave trains all colliding and it isnt long before we have just a terrible ride. bigs seas from all directions and strong wind from the nw. at one point we take a breaking wave right on the port side house windows. its sounds like a cannon and gave a very hard hit which got our collective attention immediately. i was amazed that the windows did not break but they held. we did decide thought that it was time to heave to and get defensive. we hove to and sat in just terrible seas for an hour or so and suddenly from the starboard side we took another giant wave breaking right on the side of the house and on the windows and it suddenly got pretty scary. i went outside and realized that the wind had increased substantially. the boat was still sailing even hove to and we had sailed out of the protection of our slick. i finally had to furl all sails and heave to under bare poles. this did the trick and shala finally settled in the shadow of her slick. we sat in this configuration for some time while i carefully watched the slick and various wave trains. every so often we would take a breaking wave that would smash on the stern and send a horrible thump reverberating through the hull. this was annoying and scary but not as dangerous as taking the waves on the beam. after a couple hours of watching waves and fretting i noticed on the chartplotter that we were drifting very close to a sea mount and that this would likely cause the already horrible waves to stand up even more. i hummed and hawed for a bit and finally , right at dusk , decided that it would be irresponsible to take the risk and started the engine and turned into the predominant wave train. we started smashing head long into them trying to get a few miles of westing to avoid the seamount. the folly of that decision was soon apparent when the darkness fully engulfed us. it was very difficult to keep the boat pointed into the predominant wave train and i, for some unexplained reason, chose to hand steer. there was a glow on the horizon from a fishing vessel that i believe was also hove to as it never changed position in relation to me but i could not see it on radar or on ais. this and the wind indicator were the guide posts for steering. after a couple hours of this madness ( my crew occasionally sticking their heads out to wonder what the hell i was doing ) i finally felt that i had achieved enough westing to heave to again and feel safe that we wouldnt drift over the sea mount. after heaving to we decided to all turn in and try and get some well needed rest. this turned out to be impossible for me as each wave that hammered the stern sent a shudder thru the boat and thru me also. the waves hammered all night and we all awoke to another day at sea.
Pedder Bay to Ucluelet
15 August 2017
Post by Laurie
August 12, 2017
As previously noted, Harry and Shala departed Nanaimo in an inauspicious manner sometime around or on July 25 and went to False Creek in Vancouver, where the HF radio decided to give him grief. He spent some hours and some more money (you know, BOAT = Bring On Another Thousand) making it work and purchasing an Iridium GO as an alternate weather and communication device. Currently, both seem to be working. Better to sort that out in False Creek than the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
In the meantime, over in Nanaimo, I sorted out and organized our paper charts, purchased Sailing Directions for US and Mexican waters and planned the dry goods shopping trip. Moe picked up some needed plywood, patiently endured my panic attacks with love and patience and conferred with Harry via text and email to help solve any issues he faced. Undoubtedly, Moe is the most unruffled by this venture. He doesn't have the responsibility that Harry carries, he has the experience of sailing for many years, he's been out on the deep blue sea as a commercial fisherman and he's a calm man by nature. I'll have more to say about that later.
On the 30th of July, Moe and I took the ferry over to Vancouver and met Harry and Moe's daughter, the family doctor. After a delicious and huge feed of sushi, we had a short but sweet first aid refresher. She kindly reminded us of the skills we need and sorted our first aid kit into manageable chunks. This bag is for gaping lacerations, this bag is for minor wounds, this is the burn kit and this is the CPR bag and much more. Thank you, Dr. Kaitlin!!
Over the next few days, Harry meandered through the beautiful Gulf Islands to Victoria, anchoring in Cadboro Bay by Wednesday, August 9. Is there never a problem to iron out before the big sail? He soon found himself redesigning the water maker fill-tank! As of today, I can only trust that he made it work because I haven't heard anything further on that front. He planned to sail to Pedder Bay the next day as he and Moe were meeting there to take Shala up Juan de Fuca Strait to Ucluelet, our intended point of departure. Last night, Friday, I delivered Moe to a friend in Cobble Hill who generously drove him to Pedder Bay. Pedder Bay, where the wind blew 20 knots as Harry rowed the dinghy to the dock to pick up his first mate...
Did I mention the fishing derby scheduled at Pedder Bay the very day they planned to leave? Myriad fishing boats and a gale warning, what could possibly go wrong?! As I lay in my still and quiet bed last night, I thought of my companions as they attempted to get some sleep while Shala was tossed about and the wind howled through the rigging, hoping to get a head start on the fishing fleet. (As it turns out, there was little sleep with a 30-knot wind knocking on the door all night.) I was up early checking the weather - "Gale force winds of 34 to 47 knots are occurring or expected to occur in this marine area" - anxiously awaiting some kind of contact. What would they do? At last, I heard the 'ding' of a text message just after 0700! The plan had changed. They were heading back to Victoria due to bad weather, wind over waves (ouch!) and a military closure. Connections were poor so all I could do was asked to be kept up to date. 0908 - another 'ding'! They have decided to head out to Race Rocks and "give it a go and good luck to us all"! At that point, I was chewing my heart for breakfast. I sent my best wishes and prayers and prepared to go dry goods shopping for the trip. What else could I do?
When the shopping was done and I sat at my kitchen table having lunch when I heard another ding. They decided to proceed up Juan de Fuca Strait after all! By 1300 they had 17 miles behind them, 20-25 knots on the nose and estimated another 17 hours to Bamfield. I was told 'so far, so good, just an awful pounding'. Holy smokes! They are surely testing their mettle, their teamwork, their friendship and their sailing skills. I won't lie, I'm quite happy to be on land, sorting foodstuffs, but I am also very proud of the two men with whom I will travel on the craziest venture of my life to date!
At last, by dinner time I had word from the sailors. All was well, they were past the worst of the weather and seas and expected to be in Ucluelet by 1000 the next morning. I relaxed and settled into my evening chores. I was happily awoken from my sleep at 0430 to an incoming text message. They were safely anchored in Ucluelet! Yay! I did hear later about the trip coming into Ucluelet... black night, fog, unsettled seas, and a tow coming out of Ucluelet and - wait for it - both GPSs and the depth sounder chose that time to stop! Oh boy. They are survivors these men. They hastily solved the problem and, as noted, safely dropped anchor and did a little jig of joy for their accomplishments.
I've been told they did learn some good lessons about comfort at sea, stowage, watch keeping, sleep deprivation and their joint problem solving skills. It was a valuable journey indeed.