Saturday, August 28, 2010

Port Angeles to Sausalito, California

We are now in Sausalito California after sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge on Wednesday evening. Mark and his friend Steve flew to Port Angeles on Wednesday the 19th to check on the boatyard progress and work on a few projects prior to our trip. It took them most of the day to get from SeaTac airport to PA because President Obama was scheduled to fly into Boeing Field that morning and much of the airspace had been closed to commercial and private traffic. Eventually, Kenmore Air bussed their passengers from SeaTac to Boeing Field and on to Paine Field where they finally boarded a plane for the short flight to Port Angeles.

When they reached the boat they were discouraged to see that it was covered with the usual boatyard grime and that the bottom paint project had not progressed as far as they hoped. The staff at the yard were great though and assured them that they would be able to complete the project by Friday afternoon. Anne and her friend Carolyn had decided to wait until Thursday to fly to PA and we planned a Friday night departure for San Francisco Bay. Friday was hectic and stressful but by 4PM, "Blue Rodeo" was back in the water getting a thorough scrubbing and gear and provisions were being packed for the trip. Anne and Carolyn cooked dinner aboard while Mark and Steve lashed and stowed all of the gear and by midnight we started the engine and motored through the darkness out of the harbor. As it turns out, we were right on schedule as we had determined earlier that day that a late night departure was most favorable due to the winds and currents in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

We set out full of excitement and apprehension as we pointed the boat west toward the open sea. Steve and Mark traded watches through the night while we motor sailed through the fog fighting a moderate westerly wind and the left-over choppy seas from the previous afternoon's blow. Shortly after dawn the current induced chop gave way to a more steady roll as we began to feel the ocean swells. Eight hours after departure we turned the corner around Cape Flattery and set a course for San Francisco. We stuck with our plan to angle offshore until we reached a point about 50 miles off the coast where we expected the ocean swells and winds to be most favorable for the passage. We quickly settled into a routine where our team of four retired airline captains (sounds dangerous doesn't it?) took turns keeping watch during the daylight hours while those not on watch napped and did the usual house keeping chores. Each evening after dinner Anne and Carolyn would share the first watch until midnight when Mark would relieve them. Steve and Mark would trade three hour watches from then until 6AM when Anne and Carolyn would take over.

Overall, the wind and seas stayed moderate for the first two days and we enjoyed sunny skies. Everyone kept an eye out for whales and dolphins and we were rewarded with several sitings throughout the trip. At one point we were entertained by hundreds of dolphins of several different species, including a small black variety without dorsal fins. After reaching port, a Google search revealed that they were Rightwhale dolphins. We had never seen them before and it was especially entertaining to watch their torpedo shaped bodies squirt through the water and air as they put on a show for us. Anne, Steve and Carolyn hurried to the bow of the boat where they watched in awe as the dolphins took turns surfing the bow wave of our boat just inches below the surface. Shortly after the large group departed we saw a line of white, disturbed water approaching from our port side. We soon realized it was another group of dolphins swimming in what appeared to be a high speed chorus line straight toward us. They approached within a few feet to check us out then quickly sped away. The encounters left us feeling so fortunate to have been able to able have such an experience. It reminded us of the old Mastercard commercials where the costs of items are are listed and the net result is priceless. We were truly having the type of adventure that comes with a certain amount of expense, discomfort and sacrifice but is rewarded with truly priceless experiences. Later that evening a single dolphin swam near to the boat while Anne and Carolyn stood watch in the setting sun and slapped its tail several times with great gusto as if to say "look at me, look at me".

While motor sailing under sunny skies and in light winds off the Oregon coast we remarked that that part of the coastline was not living up to its fearsome reputation. Our assessment was to change suddenly that afternoon as the winds built in just moments from a comfortable 30 to 35 knots from the northwest to 45 to 50 knots including one gust to 60 knots. Before stronger winds hit, Anne and Carolyn took turns hand steering the boat as it surfed down the waves in the robust conditions. It was soon after Steve and Mark took their turns that the heaviest conditions hit and we found ourselves careening in and out of control at speeds up to 17.9 knots sending rooster tails of spray from bow to stern. The ocean surface quickly grew turbulent with streaks of spume everywhere and the tops of the wind waves breaking in cascades of frothy white water. When control of “Blue Rodeo” in the gusting winds and growing swells became difficult the crew made two attempts at reefing (reducing the area) the mainsail but found it jammed in the full hoist position. Mark and Steve speculated that it was due either to binding of the sail’s luff cars on the mask track or possibly due to friction at the mast head halyard sheave. At one point, the extreme force of a 60 knot gust caused "Blue Rodeo" to round-up into the wind despite Mark's efforts at the helm to keep her on course. While broadside to the breaking seas, the top of a wave splashed over our port quarter nearly soaking the crew and filling the cockpit with gallons of cold water. We quickly focused on regaining control of the boat and assessing the situation. Anne and Carolyn would later wonder out loud if they should have been afraid at that point. With too much sail area to continue on a broad reach, we were left us with just one option of running nearly straight down wind with full main and partially furled jib. While Mark and Steve traded stints at driving the boat on this challenging point of sail, Anne and Caroline worked in the cabin cleaning up the mess from our round-up and breaking wave episode. We were all discouraged to find how much water made it through the open companion way spraying much of the starboard side of the galley and main cabin. The howling winds and 50 plus knot gusts eventually subsided and despite the unwelcome salt water bath that we all took we were doing fine and even had time to smile with awe and delight as two dolphins joined us as we careened down the turbulent swells. They leapt high in the air, just feet from our boat, and dived back into our bow wave for a little fun of their own. After several hours of hand steering and the winds continuing to subside, Mark and Steve turned control of “Blue Rodeo” back to our auto pilot and the crew settled into our evening routine of standing watches and trying to get some rest. Mark and Steve decided to take the first evening watches and Carolyn served them hot meals to fuel them for the task. Working below with head down in the washing machine-like conditions proved too much for Anne's stomach and she had to make several trips to the head to be sick. Even though she felt miserable, Anne shared a moment of “comic relief” with Carolyn when she looked up into the head’s mirror making eye contact with her as she stood in the galley eating a bowl of chili. While Carolyn wolfed it down, Anne deposited a similar looking substance in the head’s sink. They both giggled at the irony. It had been quite a work out for all on board but we had worked extremely well as a team and our boat had fared well considering the abuse. We did have some minor damage however such as a tear in our dodger’s fabric window frame caused by the wall of water that came washing through the cockpit and two broken screws on the main-sheet traveler block. We would later find, to great disappointment, that the water surging along the starboard rail had also wrenched Anne's stand-up-paddle surfboard, strapped to the starboard lifelines in it’s padded bag, with such force that it was nearly broken in two by the lashing line. We all got a chuckle when, while surveying and assessing the damage, Anne would repeat over and over again “how much is that going to cost?”.

By midnight the wind and sea conditions were greatly improved and by early the next morning the wind was so light that we opted to start our trusty diesel engine in order to keep our speed up. We enjoyed calm seas and sunny conditions for the remainder of the day which gave us a chance to continue cleaning up from the previous day's excitement and get caught up with our rest. With the miles remaining to San Francisco steadily clicking off, our eagerness to get there and our anticipation of sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge grew by the minute. While motor sailing the next night with Carolyn on watch the engine suddenly quit. Soon the whole crew was awake. Mark assumed we had emptied one of our fuel tanks so he switched tanks and began the messy process of bleeding air from the fuel system. Unfortunately, restarting after the bleeding process proved more difficult than normal. Steve finally suggested switching to a different fuel filter and we were soon able to get the engine purring again. As we motored throughout the next day we put our heads together analyzing why the engine had quit. Mark had been carefully logging our engine operating times and had a hard time believing we had emptied one of our tanks. Carolyn and Mark made an effort to calibrate the fuel tank gauges with little success and Anne and Carolyn finally convinced Mark to open an inspection port on the tank to verify how much fuel remained. The inspection revealed that there was plenty of fuel remaining which allowed us to continue to motor toward our destination at high speed.

Later that day as we began to see glimpses of the California coastline and were treated to an encounter with number of whales that spouted, breached and raised their enormous flukes all around us. What a thrill! We all agreed that few encounters with nature are as grand as those with these enormous mammals. By early evening we sailed back into an area of fog and our view of the San Francisco Bay entrance was limited. In fact, we didn't actually see the Golden Gate Bridge until we were almost underneath it. Inside the bay, in the fading light, we past another awesome sight... this one man made. Anchored near our destination was the James Bond-like, futuristic, 387' motor yacht belonging to a young Russian billionaire. As we passed, enormous "garage doors" opened and two motor launches sped out shuttling guests to a shore side restaurant. The vessel's name is simply "A" and information about it and it's owner is available on the internet. The final challenge of the trip occurred during the next 30 minutes as we followed the narrow channel through numerous moored boats toward the marina dock. Entering an unfamiliar harbor at night is always stressful, especially when blinded by bright, shore side lights. Soon though, without any real drama, we were safely tied to the dock at Schoonmaker Point Marina where we warmly congratulated each other on the completion of a successful passage. With our dock lines made fast, we were soon off to the showers and a celebratory drink and dessert at water side restaurant. Later, back on the boat, we all collapsed into our bunks and, for the first time in days, slept in silence without the constant motion of seas.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Recent Photos

Circumnavigation Is Complete

A lot has happened since our last blog entry. Mark and Anne are now back in McCall, Idaho for a few days and "Blue Rodeo" is on the hard at Platypus Marine in Port Angeles, Washington having her bottom repainted.

When we left the Pinkerton Islands we spent a pleasant night anchored in a small cove a short sail away and continued the next day to the tiny town of Bamfield on Barkley Sound's eastern shore. The trip to town came at an opportune time as the day before we discovered that we had used the last of our fresh water and our last water maker pre-filter had become clogged with material from the plankton and algae-rich water that we were anchored in. Being away from docks and access to shore-side electricity and water for most of the last two months has provided a good shake-down and an opportunity to get to know our floating home even better. Among other things, we have learned that we need to carry more water maker filters and devise a method of cleaning and reusing the filters a few times before discarding them. We will also have to be more selective about where we make water and wait until we are in areas with less suspended biological material.

Bamfield turned out to be an interesting place to visit and explore. The inlet where it is located divides the town in two with no road access between the halves. The locals refer to the waterway as "Main Street" and boats of all sizes shuttle people and goods between the two shores. We purchased some fuel and filled our water tanks at a fishing lodge in West Bamfield, anchored in the bay and dinghied ashore to see the sights. A short walk through the forest took us to Brady's Beach, a beautiful spot featuring craggy rock outcroppings and splendid views of Barkley Sound. As we approached, we passed a family walking in the opposite direction who warned us of a rather aggressive bear they'd seen just 100 yards ahead. Anne had been hoping to see a bear during our whole trip around the island but, aside from seeing a black blob on a distant shore as we sailed by, had been disappointed. Encountering an ill-tempered bear up "close and personal" though was not appealing so we warily continued while loudly singing Monte Python songs in hopes of scaring the furry beast away. Apparently our inabilities to carry a pleasing tune did the trick and the bear was no where to be seen.

From Bamfield we motored through foggy conditions into the Broken Island Group, an archipeligo in the center of Barkley sound where we spent the next few days, exploring the rugged islets and driftwood covered beaches. What a magnificent area! We saw a number of kayakers camping along the picturesque beaches as we dinghied in search of a sea lion rookery on one of the out-lying islands. Our exploration was cut short that afternoon by the return of pea soup thick fog that gave us concern for finding our way back to the cove where "Blue Rodeo was anchored. We returned without any real drama but chastised ourselves for not heeding the advise of the area's guide book that speaks of the frequent and sudden appearance of dense fog and the need to always carry a compass and GPS when away from your mother-ship.

Although the area's scenery was breathtakingly beautiful, the limited afternoon sunshine and cool, damp air made our decision to leave for the civilization of Port Angeles a bit easier. Our plan from the beginning had been to haul the boat out at Platypus Marine in Port Angeles to repaint the bottom's antifouling paint and boot stripe before continuing down to California. While the work was being done we would retrieve our tired old jeep from Seattle and drive home to Idaho with a few things that we did not want to keep aboard for the trip to Mexico. The 15 hour, 90 mile run from Barkley sound to Port Angeles was a classic "Northwest" boating experience. After our 6AM departure, we motorsailed for several hours through fog with visibility often less than 1/8th of a mile. We are getting rather used to the technique of carefully scanning the area ahead while watching the radar for other boat traffic. While not especially fun, the challenge is somewhat like flying "instrument" approaches in bad weather like we'd done for so many years during our flying careers. The cold, wet air sucked the body heat from us as we stood watches in the cockpit and Anne found the poor visibility combined with the rolly seas to be a little hard on her motion-sensitive stomach. As we approached the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, while still in light-wind conditions, our trusty Mercedes diesel engine suddenly quit. Mark had been carefully monitoring out engine operating times and estimated fuel burns and was surprised by the fact that we had run out of fuel in the tank that the engine was drawing from. Although we have fuel gauges, we learned early on that they are only as good as their calibration and that we have yet to accurately measure our fuel tank capacities. We learned later while filling the tanks in Port Angeles that our fuel tanks each hold 15 gallons less than we were lead to believe. Oh well, it's just part of the steep learning curve associated with getting to know a boat. After switching to the other fuel tank, Mark had to open the engine compartment and bleed the trapped air from the fuel lines in order to restart the engine while Anne stood watch and kept the boat moving ahead in the light air. The engine was restarted within minutes but the whole situation was made rather tense by the fact the the engine had chosen to quit in the foggy conditions just as we began crossing the the busy shipping lanes entering the strait. Pilots often joke that flying is hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. This experience didn't exactly fit the "terror" category but was one that we hope not to repeat.

With "Blue Rodeo" pointed east toward Port Angeles. we began to enjoy the building westerly wind and were soon sailing at hull speed toward our destination. The fog stayed with us though and by late afternoon we were seeing building swells and wind speeds approaching 30 knots. We were sure glade we were sailing east. Despite the strong winds, fog continued to menace us and we were dripping wet, not from spray but from the 100 percent moisture-saturated air that we sailed through. Anne pronounced it not to her liking (edited for audiences with sensitive ears) and we both dreamed of sailing in tropical breezes in T-shirts and shorts. We entered the harbor at Port Angeles in the last of the evening light and tied up to the guest dock at about 9:30PM. As our port of entry back into to US, we were required to call Customs and Immigration to officially clear in. This is often accomplished with just a phone call, and we were surprised when the agent we spoke with said he'd be down shortly to inspect the boat and our documents. His visit was short, professional and painless though and we were soon able to put "Blue Rodeo" and ourselves to bed for the night.

As we drifted off to sleep, we couldn't help but reflect back on the grand adventure that the circumnavigation had been. We had met the challenge of safely sailing "Blue Rodeo" through waters not visited by most boaters. We had seen sights that will forever remain in our memories and met new friends that we look forward to sharing with as we continue our travels. There were highs and lows to be sure but our spirits are soaring with warm feelings of accomplishment and fulfillment.

We will return soon to "Blue Rodeo" and, with the help of two good friends, sail on to San Francisco. The adventure is good!

Cheers to all of you that have been following along!

Mark and Anne

Monday, August 2, 2010

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Tofino to Barkley Sound

Our second day at anchor in Tofino's busy harbor started with a late morning dinghy ride to the public dock. We walked a short distance to a coffee house carrying a backpack with our laptop computers and grocery bags. The coffee house offered internet access so we had a chance to post an entry to this blog and check our e-mails while sharing a delicious tuna sandwich. When finished, we continued exploring the town and visited several shops and galleries that were closed the night before. Mark had trouble deciding whether to buy a t-shirt with a beautiful, native-style killer whale image on the front or one from Big Daddy's fish fry restaurant where we had had the worlds best halibut and chips the night before. Although both t-shirts were suitable momentos of our Tofino visit, he opted for the killer whale print. After a quick trip back to the boat we returned to town where we boarded the beach bus at around 5:30pm for a ride to Chesterman's Beach which is one of the famous, local surf spots. Although the surf there was small, the scenery there was beautiful and we watched hordes of young Canadian tourists with their rented boards and wet suits trying to learn to ride the waves. A local resident that we met the first night raved about the fish tacos from a catering type truck that parks near the beach. They sounded so good that we couldn't help but try them before heading back to town. We have eaten fish tacos at restaurants throughout the states and Mexico but found these to be the best ever. We look forward to our time in Mexico and will do our best to find fish tacos there that are even better. Before returning to the boat, we made a last trip to the grocery store where we filled our pack and several bags with provisions.

The next day we continued down the coast toward the town of Ucluelet. Ocean conditions were rolly with swells from the previous day's wind and there were areas of extremely dense fog. Visibility was only about 100 feet when we picked our way through the rocky entrance into Ucluelet Inlet. Our radar and GPS were once again worth their weight in gold and when we started up the narrow channel toward town, Mark noticed two small sport fishing boats drop in behind us like ducklings following their mother. We wondered if they were sitting just outside the entrance, unsure of their position, hoping that another vessel would come along to guide them home. Ucluelet is another small town that is trying to promote tourism and sport fishing to replace the waning commercial fishing industry that once made it a thriving place. We anchored a short distance from it's main marina and took the dinghy ashore for a quick tour. It didn't take long to see what the town offered and buy a few things that we needed to restock "Blue Rodeo's" cabinets. Back at the boat, we watched the entire area be again enveloped by dense fog and were annoyed when a speeding cigarette boat (a la Miami Vice) made several high speed passes nearby with no regard for their safety or any others on the water. We expected Ucluelet to have a little more charm and were a bit disappointed overall.

On July 27th we motored the short distance up the northwestern side of Barkley Sound to Pipestem Inlet and an area known for having a beautiful series of pools and waterfalls accessible at high tide by dinghy or kayak. As we approached an anchorage in a small cove nearby, Mark spied another sailboat and announced with excitement that it was another Deerfoot, the same make as "Blue Rodeo". It turned out to be one of the few production built "Sundeer" yachts that were built in the 1990's. We anchored nearby and were excited to see the owners return and could clearly see similar expressions on their faces when they recognized our boat as one of their sister ships.
After a brief introduction we invited the owners Russ and Gwen and Gwen's brother Mike aboard to see "Blue Rodeo" and to have a drink. What fun it was to compare notes about our two boats! Since so few Deerfoot designs, either production or custom, were built we found it an amazing treat to be sharing an anchorage in such a remote and special part of the world. We joined them later for a tour of their boat, drinks and Gwen's delicious, homemade chocolate layer cake topped with Hagen Daas ice cream. We laughed, told stories and spent the evening getting to know each other. Its magical times like this, in the company of new friends, that continues to make sailing and cruising such a splendid lifestyle. They planned to travel the short distance the next day to the Pinkerton Islands and showed us on a chart a small anchorage that they had used before. Not wanting to part company so soon, we quickly agreed that, after touring the pools and waterfalls the next day, we would join them in the Pinkertons. We have been so fortunate to have had mostly sunny weather and no rain up to this point on our trip but are disappointed by a new trend toward mostly foggy days with only brief, late afternoon clearing. Its during these foggy days that Anne begins to question whether she will ever be able to be aboard a boat without long pants and multiple layers of clothing. She is so looking forward to the warm water and air temperatures that Mexico is famous for. Mark tells her to be careful what she wishes for and can envision a time in the near future when it is too hot and humid to even sleep comfortably aboard the boat. The trip to the falls and pools the next day was extra special as we had the place all to ourselves. The dinghy ride up the creek at high tide revealed a Disney-like scene with fern covered grottos and multiple-tiered pools with cool clear water cascading from one to the next. The area is known as Lucky Falls, a title we felt especially appropriate as everyone who visits feels lucky and privileged to behold such pristine beauty. Despite the cool water temperatures and gray skies we felt compelled to plunge into the pools and scamper over the rocks that surrounded them. We could only imagine how wonderful the place must be on a warm, sunny day. After returning to the boat, we raised our anchor and proceeded to the Pinkerton Islands where we rendezvoued with Russ, Gwen and Mike. Earlier in the day, Anne had extended the invitation for them to join us for dinner aboard "Blue Rodeo". While Mark tidied up, Anne prepared pork tenderloin, roasted vegetables and homemade chocolate chip oatmeal cookies for dessert. Gwen brought a great salad and we shared the wonderful food over lively conversation. Russ started telling jokes that were made especially funny by his ability to mimic many different accents and before long we were all laughing until our jaws ached. Mark joined in and shared many of our favorite jokes that he often forgets until someone like Russ gets the ball rolling.

The next day Russ, Gwen and Mike aboard their boat "A Train" sailed to the town of Bamfield for provisions and returned a day later. While they were away, Mark took the opportunity to work on some rewiring projects and Anne baked wonderful pumpkin, current scones. Cruising is often a mixture of highs and lows and a low point came that afternoon when Anne announced that the toilet did not appear to be flushing properly! Even though Mark had already spent hours crawling in and out of the engine room pulling dozens of wires through it's convoluted spaces, he had no choice but to go in again with rubber gloves, towels and a plastic trash bag to disassemble the offending portion of the toilet's plumbing. Needless to say, he was not a happy camper. A similar low point would occur yesterday when we discovered that we were out of fresh water in "Blue Rodeo's" tanks and our last watermaker pre-filter was nearly clogged. We had saved about two gallons as an emergency drinking supply and were able to make six more before the filter gave up the ghost.

After a second day of boat chores in the Pinkertons, the sun finally peaked out about 5pm and we went for a delightful paddle board tour from our tree-lined anchorage through a marshy meadow up a stream that eventually narrowed to only 3 feet wide. We wound our way through, ducking overhanging branches and the surrounded shrubbery worrying that bears might be watching us from the banks. After returning to the boat, "A Train" returned from their provisioning and extended an invitation for us to join them aboard. We happily excepted, anticipating more stories and laughter over cocktails, but were soon treated to meal fit for kings and queens. They had harvested fresh oysters and caught a number of prawns. Gwen combined them with another delicious salad and, once again, we found ourselves sharing a great meal with our new friends. We parted company that night promising to keep in touch as they were planning an early morning departure for Victoria.

On the 30th we motored the short distance through the northern portion of the Broken Islands and anchored off Reeks Island for the night. Although somewhat disturbed by an occasional wake from fishing boats in the nearby channel, the anchorage was stunning. We watched two seals splashing and cavorting and marveled at our surrounding's change of color as the light faded in the evening. Anne had trouble with the fog and gloom all day and the sun never once made an appearance. She tried to take her mind off of it by cooking a turkey, vegetable lasagna but had conceded that her mood was as dank and gloomy as the gray skies that surrounded us. While we have had incredible weather overall (no rain), it has been disappointing to now have such foggy conditions. I guess this is just another example of the highs and lows of cruising.