Aquila Pacific

Ken Britten and Sandra Aamodt sailed from San Francisco Bay to New Zealand via the South Pacific and then returned home via Hawaii on their 45-foot ketch, Aquila.

27 November 2009
10 September 2009 | slip F-261, Richmond Marina Bay
10 September 2009 | Drake's Bay
09 September 2009 | Green water
08 September 2009 | about 200 miles out
07 September 2009 | near the Pacific great circle routes
06 September 2009 | under high pressure
05 September 2009 | about 600 miles out
04 September 2009 | North Pacific Ocean
03 September 2009 | North Pacific Ocean
02 September 2009 | North Pacific Gyre
01 September 2009 | North Pacific Gyre
31 August 2009 | North Pacific Gyre
30 August 2009 | North Pacific Gyre
29 August 2009 | North Pacific Gyre
28 August 2009 | North Pacific Ocean
27 August 2009 | North Pacific Ocean
26 August 2009 | North Pacific Ocean
25 August 2009 | North Pacific Ocean
24 August 2009 | North Pacific Ocean

The bird list

27 November 2009
Yes, we know, it's been a while. We will - really! - write about how it is to get back on shore. But not right now, this is about birds. I finally did the data entry and spreadsheet work to figure out the bird list from the trip. It took me a long time to psych myself up to this since I hate Excel with a purple passion. But it is done, and I can mail the list to anyone who wants it - send an email or post a request with yours. I was surprised by how many of the birds we saw were new: we got 201 species, of which 195 were "lifers". Cool!

My personal favorites: the fairy tern, just because it's so pretty and is so much the spirit of the islands. The kiwis, of course, for obvious reasons. Just so dang goofy! Albatrosses are incredibly impressive on the wing. The most unusual sighting was probably the short-tailed albatross, seen on the way back to Rarotonga. It's a North Pacific species, and I saw it about 25 degrees south. I doubt I could get anyone to believe me, but I saw it well.

The sad news from the trip is how many of these birds are on the endangered species list. I haven't counted it up exactly, but probably more than 20 get that dubious distinction. And habitat loss will be a big problem as the islands start to go under as the seas rise. Good luck and godspeed to the gang in Copenhagen!

The circle is closed

10 September 2009 | slip F-261, Richmond Marina Bay
That pretty much says it all. We're back!

The run in from Drake's Bay was glass-calm and foggy. Sandra said, correctly, that the 5 miles near the entrance to San Francisco Bay were the most dangerous of our entire voyage. But the fog has cleared, and we're lolling in the cockpit with adult beverages, admiring the familiar view of the skyline of San Francisco. It still seems weird. Hard to know if this should be strange or familiar. But we're cruisers now, and we're just happy with a nice sunny day in a nice harbor. Tomorrow, who knows?


10 September 2009 | Drake's Bay
Just a quick post to say we made it! We're anchored in the calm of Drake's Bay, with just one boat sharing it. We lost our wind not long after the last post, and had to motor a few hours to get here. But it was nice, lots of birds and a luminous fog-bow to welcome us to land. We cracked a bottle of good fizzy to celebrate, had a very nice meal, and now are getting ready for some well-deserved sleep.

The run to the barn

09 September 2009 | Green water
Aquila must know she's heading home, as she's had a bone in her teeth all of yesterday and last night. We logged 160 miles in the last 24 hours, one of the best days of the whole voyage. There were several "lasts" logged as well: the last night watches, the last dishes done at sea, the last of the blue water. I smelled shore last night, and have smelled tide flats this morning. There is kelp in the water and a fog-bank lurking just offshore of us. We're on track to pass Pt. Reyes at the end of the afternoon. We're hoping it won't be fogged in, because the sunset there can be so lovely. But we know the statistics of that point, so we'll see when we get there.

We have quite a nice tide for the run in to the Bay tomorrow, flooding all afternoon. We're probably going to lift hook mid-morning sometime, and be back at the marina by the end of the day. If anyone from Davis or the Bay area wishes to come down to welcome us, that would be great! We'll almost certainly be at the F dock of Marina Bay Richmond, unless they force us to go somewhere else. They have a nice web site with a map. To get through the gate, either loiter until somene goes by, and we'll keep a lookout as well. Or prop the gate open (shhh!). If anything changes, we'll post here as soon as we know.

Home waters

08 September 2009 | about 200 miles out
A couple of important milestones have been reached. We're back within US territorial waters, or at least the "exclusive economic zone" that reaches 200 miles out. We're in the coverage area of the "California offshore forecast" released by the Weather Service. We're probably, for the safety-conscious, also within helicopter range of Coast Guard Alameda. But more importantly, it just *feels* like home. The temperature has dropped and the wind is 20 knots out of the north. There's about a 8-10 foot sea running, a mix of swell and wind-wave. In a nutshell, this is what it feels like most days when you clear Point Bonita. The boat is running fast on a close reach, and we should have no trouble getting into Drake's Bay sometime Wednesday evening. Then it will really feel like home.

The anticipation of returning to ordinary life leads to mixed feelings, which I, for one have not sorted out at all. I don't know what it will feel like going back to our land routine after this trip. It will certainly take some adjustment. I have a feeling that we will pine for the sea rather badly for a while, but time will tell. If we do, Aquila will be ready for us there in the Bay.

Conversation with a supertanker

07 September 2009 | near the Pacific great circle routes
Aquila: "Supertanker at 37 22 north, 133 40 west, this is sailing vessel Aquila" very short delay... then in a thick Arabic accent... tanker: "[unintelligble] to the vessel calling, we have you at 6 miles away" Aquila: "Excellent, we agree. What is your vessel's name?" tanker: [unintelligble] tanker: "Do you have any other business with us?" Aquila: "Well, yes, where are you coming from and where are you bound?" tanker: "We are coming from the Persian gulf and bound for [long pause] L.A." Aquila: "Thank you. Aquila clear. tanker: "out"

This happened just before sundown yesterday, after we had seen a *very* big tanker crossing our stern. Probably 1200 feet long. While we knew we were not going to be a scratch on his bow, we were curious about where we were relative to the shipping routes. The conversation ran up against a couple of prevalent cruisers' myths. Most importantly, we learned that such boats will, at least sometimes, answer hails on the radio... and in English! And to a male voice calling, no less. We also learned that someone was on watch, and actually watching the radar. And that Aquila shows up at decent range (it takes a couple of miles for such a boat to turn). All good news, in addition to providing a few minutes of entertainment.

The westerly came back about 9 last night, and has been good ever since. A little rain blowing through, but still nice progress. Looks like there's a chance we might make in to Drakes Bay on Wednesday night. But still a little early to tell.
Vessel Name: Aquila
Vessel Make/Model: Huntingford Sea Maid 45
Hailing Port: Winters, CA
Crew: Ken Britten
About: Sandra Aamodt is a freelance science writer and the coauthor of Welcome to Your Brain: Why You Lose Your Car Keys but Never Forget How to Drive and Other Puzzles of Everyday Life.
Extra: staysail ketch LOA, 45 feet LWL, 37 feet beam, 13 feet displacement, 31,000 pounds draft, 6 feet, 5 inches sail area, 967 square feet 80 hp Cummins diesel
Aquila's Photos - Main
June 2009
18 Photos
Created 30 July 2009
February-March 2009
34 Photos
Created 22 February 2009
November 2008 to April 2009
17 Photos
Created 26 November 2008
Vava'u island group, November 2008
3 Photos
Created 8 November 2008
October 2008
7 Photos
Created 7 November 2008
October 2008
5 Photos
Created 20 October 2008
Tahiti, Moorea, Huahine, Tahaa and Bora Bora in French Polynesia, September and October 2008
8 Photos
Created 15 September 2008
Hiva Oa, Tahuata, Nuka Hiva islands in French Polynesia, July 2008
8 Photos
Created 27 August 2008
Kauehi, Fakarava and Toau islands in French Polynesia, August 2008
8 Photos
Created 27 August 2008

Seeing the South Pacific

Who: Ken Britten
Port: Winters, CA