It's real. . .
13 August 2009 | Alameda, CA
The champagne has been drunk, the rum swilled, toasts made and achievements celebrated, the crew has gone on their way, and Avocet has been scrubbed inside and out. Only a few physical traces remain of her recent passage (the largest of which is a branch still wedged between her skeg and rudder). Before I begin my shoreside explorations and adventures, I though it appropriate that I should take a moment and reflect on the these recent days and the effect they have had. . .
In the months leading up to this first passage, I wondered when it would really hit me. That feeling of anxiety and fear, that faltering of confidence and commitment. While so many have done more, this was no small thing I had set out to do. At some point I was going to have to face myself. I would have to set the boat projects aside and come to terms with my own emotions of what I was doing. I thought it was odd the time had not presented itself yet but, I had set goals and was working hard to achieve them. I was probably just to busy.
As the months to departure turned to weeks, I was sure the reality of my choices would hit me very soon. When would it hit? When would it suddenly be real? I began seeing all of my "lasts". My last day of work, my last shopping run, my last mail pickup. . . my last night out with my friends - that had to be when it would hit. It was happy, and it was sad, but it didn't trigger the mudslide of emotions I knew had to be on the edge of letting loose.
A few hours before our departure, a group of close friends stopped by to share in some food and drink and to see us on our way. Amie asked "Is it real yet?". No, it wasn't. I was excited and looking forward to getting underway but there was no sudden change in the way I felt. The fear, anxiety, and unsteadiness was just not there. It felt as if it was just another trip to Port Townsend.
Dad, Amie, and I spent the next day in Port Townsend and headed for Port Angeles at the crack of dawn on August 1st. We creeped off the city dock and eased into a thick fog, carefully weaving our way through the anchored boats and around the points. Radar, depth meter, and constant lookouts guided us out of Admiralty Inlet and into the Straight of Juan de Fuca. We spent most of the day shrouded in fog and while it was known before hand, Amie's skill in navigation made itself immediately apparent.
In the laziest part of the afternoon, the engine faltered, sputtered, and died. Classic fuel starvation. We had plenty of fuel but the filters, while clean, were empty. I flipped the switch on the backup lift pump, expecting to begin filling the filter housings, and nothing. Not only had the backup pump failed, it had created a blockage in the fuel supply line. Ultimately, it was an easy fix, just bypass the pump. But then my body began to protest, or more specifically, my stomach. It would seem it didn't agree with going from half asleep and on deck to being wedged in to a hot engine compartment of a now rolling and pitching boat.
Repair procedures were put on hold so that I could evacuate it's contents. Feeling better, I went back to work while Amie and Dad went about hoisting sails and running lines. Having not actually "sailed" the boat yet, I believe they tried four or five different options before getting a reasonable amount of stability and forward progress. Down in the cabin, reparations were underway when the diesel stove decided to back draft and flood the cabin with smoke. Again, my stomach protested and I had to stop my repair attempt to do a more thorough "evacuation".
Shortly after, the repair was completed, low and high pressure fuel systems were bled, and the old Perkins was purring like normal. By then, though, the fog had lifted, winds filled in, and we had a great sail the rest of the way to Port Angeles were we planned to pick up the rest of the crew. Unfortuanately, while the sail was fun, it did put us in to Port Angeles after the fuel dock had closed. With Marcus and Brian joining us, we spent our first fully crewed night tied securely to the transient dock in Port Angeles.
The morning of August 2nd arrived, the fuel dock opened, and with a full tank of fuel, Avocet and crew began the slog out of the Straight of Juan de Fuca. Fog, adverse current, and a steady wind right on the nose did it's best to slow our progress but in the end, they all succumbed to the trusty old Perkins.
By evening, we made our way to Cape Flattery. Amie asked again if it felt real yet and to my own amazement, it still had not hit me. I thought maybe in a couple days I would come to terms with the reality of the situation.
As we left the Straight of Juan de Fuca, the fog lifted just enough to give us a glimpse of Tatoosh Island and I suspect it was a little gift to Amie (it was something she had hoped for) because moments later, we were again enveloped in thick, damp fog. We tried to sail but the light Southerly winds were not agreeable to progress towards San Francisco. Once again, the Perkins grumbled to life and applied the less graceful, but effective, "brute force" method of making way.
The sun rose to meet us on August 3rd and a pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins played on Avocet's bow, completing the picture. The winds became slightly more cooperative, the Perkins took a rest, and Avocet was under full sail, making good time, and putting some distance between herself and shore. Afternoon brought a frenzy of excitement as two beautiful tuna were caught. It is hard to describe sashimi so fresh, it is still warm.
It would seem that such a day was not meant to last and by the following morning, August 4th, we were back to motorsailing. While not ideal, it did give us a chance to charge the batteries, run the watermaker, and combined with the water heating capabilities of the Dickinson stove, provided for some very humanizing showers.
August 5th brought little to no wind, calm seas, and all indications of the same for the foreseeable future, the decision was made to turn for Crescent City, CA to refuel. Light winds made an appearance in the afternoon and allowed us to fly the asymmetric spinnaker through the evening. As night set in though, it was back to the Perkins.
We reached Crescent City by the morning of the 6th. An impressive set of breakwaters lead to a quaint fuel pier with a few resident commercial fishing vessels. While we only stayed just long enough to top off Avocet's fuel tank, I got the impression that the little town of Crescent City is about fishing and little else. Downeaster Alexa comes to mind. . . With full fuel, renewed energy, and Crescent City off our stern we made our best attempts at sailing. In the end and for the rest of the day, it was the Perkins that we relied on to make progress towards San Francisco.
At long last, the winds filled in and August 7th began under Spinnaker and a solid 6kts on course for San Francisco. As morning gave way to afternoon, the winds strengthened. Avocet began making way at speeds I've never seen from her before. Charging swells with a bull-like determination and sliding down their faces at over 10kts. With Brian at the helm, we logged 10.9kts. It is the fastest I have ever seen her move. But it was not to last. . .
For those who do not know Avocet, it is important to note that while you may be standing at the helm, you do not always direct where she goes. Your efforts there are merely a suggestion and if she disagrees, she will resist with the same stubbornness of a donkey. Usually, she will simply continue on her course but slow down as you attempt to force her with the rudder. However, on this day, she fought back.
Moments after Brian coaxed her to her fastest speeds, she began to round up. As Brian attempted to drive her back down, the force on her rudder was too much and she pulled a steering cable right out of it's fitting. The helm went loose, Avocet rounded up and the Asym flogged insanely. Quick actions by all the crew averted a broach. The vang was blown, main and asym sheets were eased, and Marcus was on the bow in record speed, wrestling the sock down to douse the spinnaker. She wanted to round up and she got her way.
The emergency tiller was rigged and within just a few minutes we were actually back on course, under a reefed main, at almost 6kts. Marcus took over steering, Amie began plotting our position and finding options to make port. Dad, Brian, and I assessed the damage and began making repairs. Hose clamps, safety wire, spare shackles, and even a little duct tape were employed to create a very effective repair. Within the hour, we had restored the wheel steering and were continuing to San Francisco under reduced sail, but still making a solid 6kts.
Evening came with more wind and gave Brian, Marcus, and Amie some great sailing throughout the night. As the seas increased, Avocet allowed one wave to wash over her stern and, while the cockpit stayed dry, a couple of open ports made for some damp berths in the aft cabin. Thankfully, nothing was damaged and the old girl shrugged it off as if it was nothing. As morning approached, the winds eased and by sunrise, we were back to motoring.
Late afternoon of August 8th was our ETA to San Francisco Bay so that morning we began setting up for the Northern approach. Skirting between Potato Patch Shoal and the shoreline gave us the most direct route and kept us out of the main shipping lane. As we neared the Golden Gate Bridge it was obvious that it was going to give us a true San Francisco welcome and hide in a bank of fog.
After negotiating our way around a few cargo ships, we made our way under the bridge against and adverse current but with building Westerly winds. By the time we cleared the bridge, we were on a great downwind run across the bay. Alcatraz was gray, foggy, and foreboding, The city was sunny and beautiful, and there was more ferry, shipping, and recreational traffic than I have ever sailed in.
We continued across the bay and under the Bay Bridge, eventually making our way down the estuary to Alameda. By sunset, Avocet had been snugged into a slip at Marina Village. Our new neighbors were there to greet us before we even had the dock lines on and soon after the champagne and rum began to flow. We had made it.
The next day, as we began to explore the marina and surrounding areas, Amie asked again. "No" I said, "It still isn't real."
Now that everyone has gone, Avocet has been cleaned, and the traces of the passage begin to diminish, I begin to reflect, I have come to realize something. I have a different answer to the question Amie posed over and over. It is real. It never "hit" me because it always has been real. This was something I set out to do many years ago and has been a driving force for so long. The anxiety and fear have been pushed out by years of longing and desire. Every day had been a reaffirmation of my commitment and every step closer, another stone in the foundation of my confidence.
I didn't have to let go because I was never holding on. . .