Pre-history of the Adventures of Mulan
29 April 2009 | Vancouver, BC
The pre-blog Journal of cruising adventure #1 of the Parr family (formally to be known as "The Adventures of Mulan")
We started this journal as an information source for our infamous annual family newsletter. It is now resurrected as a backgrounder for our blog - in order to dispel any notion that preparation for an off-shore voyage is a random act. Grab a coffee - it's a long posting!
The photo above is the crews' last outing on our previous boat, "Tahi Too", in the WVYC Wednesday Night Series races. Although now owned by another EHYC member, Tahi Too was the Division 5 winner in 2007, and may once again grace the series under her new skipper.
A Canadian first (after 15 years living here) - went to a pub for a pint with former neighbour, current dentist, and fellow sailor Alan. Alan has taken his family to Germany for a 1 year sabbatical, using the logic that you have to do these things when the opportunity presents itself. Got me thinking about cruising ambitions.
After several minutes of contemplation, I blind-sided Susan with the idea of taking the kids on a cruise between now and Jack starting high-school. Initial reaction was, as expected, extremely doubtful.
After several days of contemplation, Susan bounced the idea off her good friend 'glyndathegoodwitch', an enthusiastic wannabe sailor, lapsed private pilot, and seemingly obsessed marathon runner. Initial reaction was, as expected, extremely enthusiastic - "you have to do it".
Attended the annual 'Commodore's Dinner' at Eagle Harbour Yacht Club (kind of obligatory when the dinner was in your honour a mere 12 months previous). Bounced the concept off several fellow members, but by now it has gone from concept to proposal, and having 'fessed up our ambitions to fellow sailors, we are committed to pursuing our (my?) dream. Let the planning begin!
Signed up with the Blue Water Cruising Association, who appear to be the local resource and gathering point for like minded people. Found numerous other resources and a multitude of blogs on the 'net' of like-minded people.
Attended first BCA meeting, and had the audacity to introduce myself and announce that we were going offshore in 2009 with three kids. Caught the attention of Liza & Andy Copeland, and had an interesting chat with them at half-time, and they offered to chat to help us based on their experiences (as documented in Liza's books). Just as well, as a non-scientific observation of the room would indicate that few other attendees have three kids under 10.
Weekend trip to Anacortes to view a Fast Passage 39 - a recognized offshore vessel, but in an unrecognizable condition. Too small for a family of five, and a cockpit too small for a cruising couple or family IMO. Also viewed a Moody 41 - not previously familiar with this boat - and a couple of Beneteaus.
Beneteau First38 listed on CraigsList - lots of pics made available, but not completely sure as to the suitability of this boat for our purposes - despite the Copelands' many miles in a sister ship - or the logistics and/or expense of buying a boat in SF and getting it to Canada.
Viewed a Jenneau Sunfizz 40 - fancy, well maintained, but IMO even less suitable than the Beneteau. And who could seriously sail in a boat called a sunfizz? Sounds like a sundowner with an umbrella.
Journeyed south with Susan to attend a one-day seminar by Mahina Expeditions. Solid, but rushed overview of all things cruising. Perhaps too much time spent on finding a right boat, but got a good book as a summary and foundation for "to do" lists. Was also a big promo for their offshore expeditions/training opportunities, which appear to be a way to finance their perpetual cruising lifestyle.
Spring break with the kids in Fort Myers Beach. Lots of time on Yachtworld researching Florida-based boats, but maybe we should give up and buy some cheap real estate. It's likely the agents are running out of for sale signs. Eventually only viewed one boat - a Moody 41. Not convinced that we want a centre cockpit. Too cramped. This particular boat not in good enough condition. Didn't help that the owner peered over my shoulder offering comments on everything I was looking at.
Time to get serious. After trying since the weekend of attending the Mahina thing, finally connected with both the broker and the owner of a Grand Soleil 39 for sale in Portland. Broker in Seattle, owner in Vancouver BC, so logistics a tad challenging. Nice boat, well looked after, so the next weekend visited a sistership listed in Sausalito, CA. Not well looked after, grossly over-hyped in the listing, but you don't know unless you go see it. Have since discovered that the listing was copied from the previous time this boat was sold - in 2002 - with no mention that all the listed expenditures ("over $300,000 spent") was by the previous owner, and the boat has seemingly been neglected since then.
What a blur. Offers, trips to Portland for survey and "sea" trial (on the Columbia River), much research into moorage, registration requirements etc. Survey went fine - Larry Goodson, who has actually circumnavigated on a sailboat. Moorage is available in Portland, but need to cancel existing Canadian registry and get Oregon license. Alternative is to bring closer to home without entering Canada, which would trigger GST, PST and import duties of 9.5%. Have found space at Semiahmoo Marina in Blaine. Friends Kelly & Callum interested in helping with a delivery run, but have only 60 days to remove from Oregon waters. As Canadians, we don't really want to cruise the world in a US registered vessel, and the kids like the existing name, Mulan.
Bought some items from fellow Bluewater Cruising folks - a drogue and 500ft rode (on a spool the size of a small oil drum!) and a Dutchman boom brake. Also attended a seminar on life rafts - DBC make the best, and perhaps the most expensive - but how appropriate is it to economize on the piece of equipment you are least likely to use, but most likely to regret economizing if you do have to use it!
Took "Tahi Too" (our Islander 30) out for one last jaunt in the Wednesday night race series. Wind died after a reasonable start, so we abandoned in favour of Coronas.
"Mulan" officially changes hands. Last minute hiccups trying to correlate the HIN number to a Grand Soleil, but it seems the original importer was Elite Yachts De France (in Annapolis, importing an Italian boat. Go figure!).
Hopefully Tahi Too has also closed - an alignment of the financial planets.
Now to get the vessel ready firstly for delivery (new forestay, liferaft, charts, safety equipment) and secondly for the trip. There are some advantages to buying stuff while in Portland due to tax free status - especially big ticket ones like HAM radios.
Documents finally changing hands - planets have actually aligned somewhat in that Tahi Too has sold and the cheque is in the mail, along with a moorage refund. Eases that burden on the line of credit! Will be only a temporary easing as major purchases loom.
The folks at Schooner Creek Boat Works in Portland have provided some estimates on standing rigging work - the worst case scenario calls for a replacement furling system, but this may not necessarily be a bad thing given our off-shore intentions.
Road trip with the boys to visit the new boat for the Canada Day long weekend. Searingly hot, with the two hour delay at the border not that helpful!
Big spend up at West Marine in Portland - taking advantage of the strong Canadian dollar and the tax-free status of Oregon. Ordered a watermaker and the HAM radio equipment. Spent the weekend trying to look into every nook & cranny on the boat, and addressing some of the niggly items from the survey in order to satisfy the insurance folks. Didn't actually take the boat away from the dock, but it felt comfortable as a second home!
Did a subsequent weekend trip with Alan to Portland to do a down-river delivery run to Astoria. Last minute hiccups as the life-raft has not been delivered as promised by Fedex, and the new roller-furling not installed until the very last minute due to delivery issues from the manufacturer.
On the Saturday we were spurred into early morning action by the opening of the railway bridge over the Columbia - motored to St Helens for fuel and holding tank pump out, then an evening stop in Cathlumet, which entailed a very shallow entry with a brief (fortunately) grounding on the mud at the entrance. Boat motors nicely, but not all instruments appear to be calibrated correctly. Daily tally of three successful dockings, and one grounding!
Buried the bow a couple of times in the short sharp swells on the river - does not bode well for the idea of keeping a RIB dinghy on the foredeck!
Next day to Astoria - delayed by our enthusiasm for a quick departure conflicting with the low tide. Spent half an hour enjoying breakfast while waiting for sufficient water to float the boat! The rest of the journey to Astoria relatively uneventful, although the entrance to the marina is not for the faint-hearted, with the current, opposing winds, and in our case, incoming freighters adding to the mix. Safely docked by early afternoon, and time for a beer before our scheduled limo ride back to Portland airport (there being no other way of getting back!).
The last week of July saw the delivery run to Blaine! In the end, our friend, Callum, was the only volunteer, and after some delicate discussions with the Department of Homeland Security delayed our planned evening departure, we prepared for a middle of the night version. The CBP folks were 'curious' about the Canadian registered vessel with no US cruising permits or licenses. For a nominal fee they gave us departure papers, but also stated a requirement to check into, and out of every U.S. port going forward (as a cost of $19 each way for each port!)
Callum created a light list from the chart so we would know the route. While some advised on a low water crossing of the bar, logic dictated a high water crossing, and so allowing for a 2 hour journey to the bar necessitated a 0200 hour departure. All went swimmingly until approaching the 2 second flashing green mark, when a wall loomed out of the darkness. Sudden evasive action ensued, and further examination identified two such marks in close proximity - the only difference being that one marked to starboard side of the main channel, and the other the starboard entrance to a side channel. Several dispersions were cast upon the folks that determine buoy coding!
The bar itself was a doddle, but we had kind weather. Then it was a long motor northwards in approx 6-8 foot swells, with no wind. Biggest hazard turned out to be the lines of crab pots - marked with dark mungy rows of floats that suddenly appear over the crest of a swell. Fortunately we managed to avoid all in our path, so maybe lady luck was still with us.
My sea legs (and stomach) took longer to kick in than Callum's, so he was chief navigator and galley slave during daylight hours. Once I acclimatized we were approaching Cape Flattery, and so the potentially hardest part was almost over. Not wanting to do a second consecutive night on the water, we pulled into Port Angeles late in the evening, and tied up to a partially constructed dock as there were no office folks around the marina to direct us to (or collect fees for) an official spot. Conveniently we had to depart at a reasonable hour to ensure a timely arrival in Blaine - in theory!
We actually managed to sail some of the way up the strait - trying out the chute which was quite a blast. We reported into Blaine via cell phone, only to be told to continue to Point Roberts - a surprisingly long detour. Once there we had to phone in, then wait for a CBP officer to arrive. Fortunately he was quite conversant with Canadian boats, and completed an application for a cruising decal, which will negate the need to report to every U.S. port for arrival and departure purposes. The long detour (at boat speed) meant a dark entry to Semiahmoo Marina, which is not the easiest of spots to find you way into because of the sand bars. Fortunately we avoided mishap, and executed an almost flawless docking maneuver (which I have since failed to replicate!). Kelly (our third crew member who defected at the last minute) met us at the docks, and helped guide us past the last (and unlit) shoal at the marina entrance.
As Jack's school composition instructions would conclude - all in all, a successful delivery run.
Mulan's first outing with the crew on board, to Sucia Island in the northern San Juans. Crowded anchorage, and therefore required an on-the-fly (or perhaps on the hook) change from the nylon rode to all chain. Being a newbie to all chain, the anchor drop was not according to the textbook, although maybe it would have been if I knew where to find the textbook. The chain leapt off the windlass and did its best to eat holes in the fiberglass edge of the chain locker. Judging by the amount of chain in relation to the depth, there must have more chain on the bottom than the anchorage requirements dictated!
The island was a great success with the boys, especially the China Caves - numerous alcoves of varying sizes worn into a sandstone cliff. Also a beach for Jack to practice skim-boarding, but water too cool for prolonged swimming. Who knew, that the further south you go, the colder the water.
Our (my?) biggest challenge was finding out the windlass was not functioning, requiring the manual extraction of those copious amounts of all chain anchor rode, with a 22kg anchor on the end for good measure. Later examination identified a shorn drive key on the windlass as the culprit, but given the unit is 25 years old, getting an off-the-shelf replacement is highly unlikely.
Actually got to sail home - nice breeze, and despite the newness of the boat, we managed to pass several other sailing vessels heading for Blaine. They were going in the same direction, so technically it was a race.
Last week of August saw a longer San Juan cruise (actually was more of a motor sail). The expedition was deferred by a week due to weather and work priorities. The weather option didn't work that well in our favour, but we drove to Blaine in pouring rain on the Sunday, stayed overnight in the marina, and left next morning under reasonably pleasant conditions. First stop was a revisit to Sucia, mooring this time in Shallow Bay, and managing to secure the last available park mooring buoy. This precluded us practicing the all chain anchoring technique, which may have been a good thing given the delicate state of the windlass.
The next planned stop was Jones Island, a state marine park, but all the bouys were taken, and there appeared to be insufficient room for anchoring. As we made our way into the bay a powerboat passed us at a reasonable speed, determined to beat us to any mooring that may have been available. No wonder sailors cast dispersions on the character of power-boaters! Plan 'B' was Friday Harbour, and we secured a spot on a dock, which also gave Susan a chance to practice her VHF skills. Many rave about FH as a must visit spot in the San Juans, but aside from provisioning, it has less to offer than we had expected - although the boys were rather enamored by the ice-cream parlour.
One night in the big city was enough, but on the way northwards we re-passed Jones Island, and this time lucked out with a mooring bouy. This gave us a chance to go for a long hike around the Island's trails and to do some kayaking, and to get a better night's sleep away form the hustle & bustle of a busy dock.
Having headed into the wind on the way south, we figured we'd get to sail north, but no such luck. Set sail in the dark in order to make it a shorter day for the boys - by the time they were up, we already had a few miles under our keel. Also helped with timing the tides, as the churn experienced near Sucia on the way down was absent on the way back.
Fall & Winter 2008/2009
The issuance of Nexus cards became the saviour of battling the long border line ups - even 40 minutes in the Nexus line was preferable to the 21/2 hours in the regular lane. Once Jack's soccer, and all the boys rugby schedules went into recess, weekend excursions became the norm for a while. Max (my boat buddy) accompanied me on one overnight trip, but come December it was too cold to stay overnight, so they become long day trips. Becoming familiar with the boat was as high a priority as actually fixing or installing anything, but progress was made: measuring for, and ordering a Hydrovane (probably the biggest single post-purchase expense we face); planning the installation of the water-maker (which eventually required the relocation of other equipment); planning the installation of the Ham radio (deferred until all new equipment has been procured - Pactor modem, AIS/AIS-B, battery monitor, solar regulator). The to-do list grows, but many say they still have a long list when they cast off the mooring lines.
Many hours were spent researching notebook computers, including several discussions over coffee with Andrew's friend Jamie, a computer professional. With the recent availability of solid state drives, the search has been narrowed, but not yet completed - hopes of a Boxing Week bargain were dashed, but the economic situation is definitely impacting prices. Dell is looking the most likely suspect at this stage - although they have a reputation for using components other than the latest & greatest - and Toshiba also offer solid state drives, and have a seemingly better reputation.
Susan built a project list/calendar of the planning requirements, carving her items up into a month-by-month list - January is education month (for the boys, not the parents!) signed up for lots of Bluewater courses, including celestial navigation, intermediate diesel, Ham radio operation, electrical troubleshooting, and offshore weather forecasting. While books are available on all these topics, doing a course is more time efficient, with the books for reference.
Telecommunications continues to be a learning curve. To install a Ham, you technically need a Station Licence, and to activate the VHF-DSC, you need a MMSI (Marine Maritime Service Identity) number. The MMSI will also be used for the new AIS-B. AIS is a system required by commercial vessels, and communicates such data as ship's name, tonnage, type, heading, speed, position, and closest point your tracks will be to each other. AIS-B is the recreational vessel version recently approved by the U.S. and is a transmitting upgrade to non-commercial AIS, which is a receive only 'black box'. AIS-B will also allow the Department of Homeland Security and other national security organizations to track your movements - the big brother of recreational boating!
Education month. Actually it started in February, but collectively we have done (or are currently doing) Celestial Navigation, Off-shore weather, Medical, and Ham Radio Operation over recent weeks. Two other courses, Psychology of Cruising and Diesel Engine were postponed or cancelled for reason beyond our control. Maybe just as well, as my coaching commitments to Sam & Jack's field hockey teams occupy Mondays, Thursdays & Saturdays, and rugby fills in Sunday mornings. Filed hockey started when soccer finished, so there was no break when that coaching assignment finished. I won't know what to do with all the spare time when we are on the boat!
We (Andrew) now have a regular Ham call sign (VE7-NZL) and have applied for an offshore one (VE0-MLN) - just in case any readers have a Ham set up at home! Now also have the station license, an MMSI number, and VHF radio operators certificates. Now for Skype, off-shore email address, and maybe the Sat phone thing.
We both informed our respective places of work regarding our plans. Susan has been offered a leave of absence, which will provide a back-stop for earning income when we return.
As the month draws to a close, we have established our presence on sailblogs (otherwise you wouldn't be reading this!)