Monday, July 28, 2014

Northern California to Northern Oregon by sea

July 24, 2014

It’s now the end of the day on the 24th. We’ve been going for four solid days now. As you could likely tell from the last entry, I had planned to write a quick entry with each watch I took. Out of mercy for my readers, I’m not going to do that. As anyone that checks this blog knows, I can be a little verbose when I have no constraints set upon me. Plus, the conditions of our trip haven’t been terribly conducive to writing. There’s certainly been time, but when there’s been time there have also been waves and rain, and when I have time I’m generally on deck on watch, creating a terrible combination for my poor old MacBook.

So, instead I thought I’d provide a series of observations of the trip as we go. Some things we’ve done. What I’ve seen. And maybe a rambling thought or two.

What we’ve done. We’ve motored along up the coast. In the four days we’ve had two stops, once to try to get fuel, and once to successfully get fuel. But other than that it’s just been a constant trek heading north. And since the wind has either not been blowing, or blowing the wrong way, we’ve been under power the whole way. We’ve had sails up, but only for stability, not for speed. We’ve been doing between 4.5 and 6.5 knots, depending on wind and waves. Right now I’m plodding along at 4.5 knots due to a nice little northerly.

Speed kills. And slow speed kills slowly. Going at 6.5 knots I can compare it to running. For me running at that speed would be a real challenge for more than a few hundred meters, so it feels like we’re moving. In the grand scheme of thigs we’re still moving slowly, but it still feels like your going. 4.5 knots is just frustrating.

It’s a long march. We set our course, we set the engine to 1800 RPM, and we go. The autopilot steers a course far better than I can. So we maintain a lookout. Sometimes I’ll spend the whole watch just watching the ocean and enjoying its beauty, caught up in my own thoughts. Sometimes I’ll turn to a book (more on them later) or, if near shore and conditions are just right and I can make a connection, have a text chat with my sister or friends. But it’s just a long march of several days. It’s beautiful, and I’m loving it, but it’s a long way to go.

It’s three hours on, three hours off. As a guy who likes his sleep this can be a bit challenging. Waking up at 1:00am, to pull on your gear and head out to on watch is not unpainful.

While on watch I’ve seen some beautiful things. There have been dolphins playing beside the boat, or leaping through waves about 50 meters away. There have been 4 whale sightings, breaching and waving their tails. There are numerous crazy birds that squeal and squawk at us as we go by. Some can’t get out of the water and sort of swim-fly across the tops. But by far the most beautiful and entertaining are the birds that swoop across the sea, dodging between wave, with their wings almost touching the water. They are my greatest form of entertainment when I’m out here on the march.

Sunsets. Of course there are sunsets. And they’re beautiful, although perhaps not spectacular, if one is to be such a thing as a sunset critic. Which would kind of make one a dick, wouldn’t it. In my current state though, I think I prefer standard sunsets. The spectacular ones mean something’s up in the atmosphere, and I don’t need that.

The main point of being on watch, particularly since we’re motoring, is to ensure that we stay on course and that we don’t hit anything. I’ve been amazed along this trip by how little is out here to hit. (Knocking on wood.) There has been remarkably little traffic. On my watch right now I’ve had several boats go past, and that has been a rarity. In fact, a trawler just spent the past hour climbing up my backside, and I just spent the past several minutes changing course to get out of his way. It’s one of the few times that we’ve had to do anything like that over the past week. I’ll add that I was the stand-to vessel, but he seemed determined to come right up behind me, even though he’s not actively fishing. Very annoying.

Night watches are a different ballgame. They’re a little spooky. You’re still hurtling forward, but you really can’t see what’s in front of you. You’re reliant on other boats’ lights, or radar if you choose to use it. I expect that you become more comfortable with night watches with experience, but right now it’s more something to be endured than enjoyed.

There’s a system called AIS that will show you where everyone else is, or at least where everyone who has an AIS transmitter is, but we don’t have that on board. It would be very nice for night watches.

When not on watch I sleep, cook something, read, or just hang out and talk to Cuno. My cooking has been pretty limited since we’ve been in some pretty big waves. So it’s just lighting the stove and putting something in, or trying to cook on the range without creating a disaster. Frankly, I’ve been happiest with ham and cheese sandwiches so far. Cuno still doesn’t eat much, but he’s been willing to have whatever I’ve been making. He just tends to have very small portions.

Cuno is a great guy. Easy going. Happy to teach. And a good teacher. But we’re in very small quarters with one another. Things I’ve learned about Cuno include not offering him food when he’s just gotten up, and to not be too chipper in the early hours. Sometimes on the boat I tend to get a little euphoric and happy. I like it out here. Some people sometimes don’t want happy.

The weather is constantly changing. Even though it’s late July we’re getting showers and rain fairly regularly. And hour ago it was a sunny sunset, now it looks like I’m heading for a nasty cloud. I’m just hoping it moves before I get there. My rain gear has held up well, although I’m happier with my Musto pants and Dubarry boots than I am with my Gill jacket. The jacket is chaffing around my beard when I put the foul weather collar up, and it’s kind of scratchy even though they’ve put a soft fabric in there. Also, why aren’t there any loops for hanging your wet weather gear on the inside of the jacket. That seems pretty obvious. We’ve got a couple of days left and I think it’s going to be sunny. I’m hoping so…

This is not my Puget Sound protected Pacific. This is open Pacific. So the waves are constant and they’re big. I mean really big. Wave height estimates are always exaggerated, so I’m not going to try. One the one hand, it’s so frustrating trying to cook or get dressed. I’ve got bruises all over from being thrown against the wall. On the other hand, I love sitting in the cockpit, riding up and down, hitting the crest of a wave and dropping into its trough. That must mean my waves aren’t that big though, because I do understand that, if they so desire, they will pick me up and slap me down.

Cuno has taught me that having a sail up will dramatically reduce the impact of the waves on the rolling of the boat. Even if it’s not powering us, having the sail up dampens the yacht’s tendency to rock from side to side, by providing some resistance in addition to that provided by the keel. Last night without the main up was pretty sleepless. Cuno and his mattress were rolled out of their bed at least 5 times. I fortunately have a V-berth, so that can’t happen. Tonight, with the main up, I think we’re going to sleep much better.

I just took a break and am back out on a 2:00 to 5;00 shift. Our speed is much better now. Almost 6 knots. But it’s also much colder out. If I were to do this trip again I’d bring a heavier sweater and a toque. I came with a ball cap for my head and have been wearing it constantly, but it was originally just for sun protection, so it’s really not heavy enough. I’m wearing 5 layers on top right now and need every one. If I really get cold I’ve got a couple more that I could add.
Safety gear. We’ve got a very nice life raft that the owner bought just for this trip. Prior to that all they had was a dinghy, which wasn’t going to suffice if it got really nasty out. I mentioned before how disappointed I was with the life jackets. I can’t believe anyone would go to sea with a boat with this poor of jackets. If we’d started or stopped at any point somewhere where we could purchase them, I would have picked one up. A really good one can be had for $250, and it’ll do what it’s supposed to, save your life. We’re also missing safety harnesses, which is ok because there’s nothing to attach them to on this yacht. I suspect the owners never took it out in weather where they might be needed, but I’d always want to have that option. Once you’re on the water you can never be sure what might come up. In fairness, it’s not the new owners’ fault, since they just bought the bought.

I believe in an earlier post I mentioned that the fuel gauge was broken. That was unfair of me to Groovy, and I apologize. She’s just incredibly efficient. After noticing no drop in fuel levels for the first day plus we got a little concerned, so Cuno went hunting for the fuel tank. We found it in his cabin, right under his bunk. We were able to open it and confirm that it was, in fact, still full. After 30 hours or constant running that’s pretty amazing.

By Wednesday afternoon, or around 60 hours of constantly running, she was down to a little over half full and we neeed to refuel. We had selected a few potential harbours to stop at and chose Charleston Marina at Coos bay for the duties. I’d heard a lot about Coos Bay before and was looking forward to getting in there and checking the place out. We turned in off the ocean at around 4:00 and went through the very long entrance way, motoring down and around dredging crews. We finally spotted the fuel dock and pull in. But it had no signs of life. Another boat tied up to the dock was also wondering how to get fuel. I got the harbor master’s office on the phone and they said that they thought it was closed for the day, but they gave me a number to try. I tried that number but got no answer. Another person near the dock said that they thought that they ran at odd hours, opening at 7:00 or earlier to help the fishing vessels and then closing by 3:00. It was now 4:45. Fine for them to close when they want to, but not terribly helpful to anyone else wanting to use the marina.

We checked our charts and timing. Newport seemed like it had good potential for fuel, and it was far enough away that we could be there the next morning when it might be open. Knowing how good Groovy was on diesel, we were pretty sure we could make it. So we headed out again, back through the long entrance way, and had wasted about two hours on Coos Bay and their lack of fuel.

80 miles later we pulled into Newport, Oregon. There were massive rollers at the entrance to the breakwater, that crashed impressively onto the rocks there. But once through everything was nice and settled. It was hard to find the fuel station, since it’s hidden in a marina within the harbor, but we found it. We docked, bought fuel, dumped our garbage, filled the water tank, and set off again. Out through the break water and we were back on the march.

Are there any things any readers of this blog are interested in finding more out about? Let me know in the comments section and I’ll happily respond.

Books – I’ve read a couple of books while on this trip. So good to pass the time while on watch. (I would have been a poor military watch keeper.)

Gulp by Mary Roach is a complete tour of the Alimentary Canal – aka your body’s digestive system. I saw this woman interviewed on The Daily Show a couple of years ago and loved her sense of humour. The topic seemed so odd and yet interesting, particularly when combined with her voice, that I decided to pick this one up. The book itself is entertaining and fun. It’s filled with stories about the researchers and quirky characters who have dug into topics from taste and saliva to the colon and rectum. These are things that I’ve never read about before and, hopefully, never will again. Roach’s sense of humour makes this a fun read, but I felt that the book missed out on taking its biological side more seriously. I came away with a lot of anecdotes, but not enough solid understanding of just how things work. How does the body get nutrients out? How do we generate energy from the consumption of food? If I’m going to read a book on this topic I’d also like to get some further hard data. Overall, a recommended read for people who don’t mind having a bit of poop and fistula in their literature.

The other book was A Voyage for Madmen by Peter Nichols. This is the story of the 1968 Golden Globe sailing race to be the first person to circumnavigate the world solo without stopping or receiving assistance along the way. This was a great read while out on this trip. The concept of almost a full year at sea, alone, going through the incredible hardships that these men faced is amazing. To read about this while bitching about a little rain and an early morning watch is humbling. Nothing says “Man up Hawes” like someone achieving a challenge like this. I personally wonder if I could take something like this on. It would be an amazing personal challenge. I believe that you could probably get a boat these days that would be far better suited for the challenge and, while you’d still run into mechanical difficulties, you’d have a vessel suitable for the task. But could I mentally stand to be alone, at sea, for 9 or 10 months? It would be an amazing challenge.

The book is well researched and well written. I was fully engaged throughout, able to get a view of the mindsets of these 9 very different competitors. The sentimental favourite has to be the eventual winner, Knox-Johnston, and the wonderful Frenchman, Moitessier. While I probably have more in common with Knox-Johnston, one has to admire Moitessier’s approach to life and the artificial competition that he found himself engaged in. If you enjoy sailing, the sea, or just epic human adventure, then I’d recommend these two.

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