Thursday, October 21, 2010

San Francisco to San Diego (2010)

We left San Francisco early in the morning on October 6th. We were concerned about the strong winds and high seas that develop regularly along Point Conception, over 200 miles south of San Francisco. We listened to the weather daily on the VHF before leaving and found a couple days with light winds and calm seas and headed down the coast. We started out with five to seven foot seas, but over the course of the day the seas become calmer and by the evening were almost completely flat. It felt like we were in the Puget Sound, not in the Pacific Ocean. We bagged the sails and motored all night. For the last few hours before the sun went down, we encountered all sorts of marine life ten miles west of Santa Cruz near Monterey Bay. We saw over twenty gray whales, a few humpbacks and had dolphins swimming with us on several occasions. Here is a link to a You Tube video clip showing some of the whales and dolphins we saw that night. It is a little rocky, so hopefully it doesn’t make it you seasick to watch it.

We like to motor as little as possible to save fuel and because the noise from the motor makes it difficult for us to hear each other when one of us is down below and the other in the cockpit. Despite this, we opted to motor most of the first two days, as the winds were very light and we wanted to cover the 200 miles to get beyond Point Conception before the weather changed. We spent quite a bit of time on those first two days just reading in the cockpit as the calm seas allowed us to do so without getting seasick.

On the second evening we went by several offshore oil/gas platforms. They look like small island cities at night. The next morning we passed by one within about a half mile to get a closer look.

We reached Point Conception a little before dawn and passed the point with relatively calm seas. Early in the afternoon on the third day, the winds started building and we had some good sailing for the next day. It was nice to finally turn the engine off. We decided to stop at Santa Catalina Island, about 25 miles southwest of Los Angeles. We pulled into Avalon Harbor on the southeast side of the island at about 9:00 am on October 9th. It was Saturday morning and the harbor was packed. We were lucky to get one of the few remaining mooring balls.

Santa Catalina is a popular destination for southern California boaters as well as those coming from the mainland by ferry. There are tons of restaurants, hotels and tourist shops. In the short period of time we were onshore, we saw four weddings on the beach. We spent most of the weekend walking around and exploring the harbor. It was nice to stretch our legs again. By Sunday afternoon most of the weekend crowd had left and we contemplated staying for a few more days, but decided we better head to San Diego so we could get started on our last big boat projects before heading to Mexico.

Avalon Bay, Catalina Island

San Diego is about 70 miles from Catalina so we knew we were going to have a long day ahead of us. We untied from the mooring buoy and left about 7:00 am. We had four foot swells from the west and 2-4 foot wind waves from the southeast. The wind was blowing directly from the direction of San Diego. It was going to be a bumpy ride. The NOAA weather forecast mentioned that the winds would be backing to the south in the afternoon, which would be better. We headed as close to the wind as we could sail, which was due east. The winds did back more to the south later in the afternoon and we were able to sail more in the direction of San Diego, but the indirect route added quite a few miles to the trip and we arrived at the south end of the approach to San Diego at 9:00 that evening.

About a mile before we were about to turn north and head into the channel we noticed that a ship that we had been keeping an eye on for the last half hour was heading for us and it did not appear to be turning in the direction of the ship channel like we thought it would. We both realized very quickly that the ship approaching from the south would have a very difficult time seeing our lights as they would be blending in the with city lights from San Diego to the north. We quickly turned on our spreader lights for a couple seconds. These are spotlights mounted on the spreaders, about 20 feet above the deck and they are the brightest lights we have. They light up the whole deck as well as the bottom half of the sails. Within seconds this large ship made a hard turn and headed east. It was surprising to see a ship that size turn so abruptly. That was a little too close.

We dropped the sails and motored through the channel. Navigating the approach to large cities at night is very stressful as it is hard to pick out the navigation lights from the city lights in the background and there are all kinds of hazards if you get off track. Di stood on the bow and directed us while I steered. We pulled into the marina at 10:00 pm. After 14 hours of sailing into the wind, we were exhausted. We went below to make a quick dinner and noticed a crackling sound coming from all over the boat. It sounded like we were floating in a large bowl of Rice Krispies. Several ideas involving fiberglass delaminating and electrical shorts went through my head for several minutes, but after ruling those out we were stumped. We were too tired to think and decided it was a project for tomorrow.

When we checked in at the marina office the next morning, we asked if they had any idea what it could be. Maybe it was the concrete docks. The woman at the office informed us that many of the San Diego marinas have brine shrimp in the water and they are responsible for the noise. It is hard to believe that these tiny shrimp can make so much noise, but this meant that we didn’t need to make a new repair and we were relieved.

We are going to be in San Diego for four to five weeks to finish up a few projects before heading across the border. The next day we started by washing Saviah. We’ve traveled over 1,200 miles since we left Seattle, and she is salty.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

San Francisco (2010)

Around 6 am on September 24th, we pulled into San Francisco Bay. After the marinas opened at 9 am we got a hold of the Pier 39 marina and found out that they had guest moorage available. When we pulled in we could see tons of people and it was obvious that we were in the midst of a very popular tourist destination. We later learned that it is the most visited tourist spot in San Francisco. We spent four nights at the marina. We caught up on sleep and laundry the first couple days and then walked around exploring the city. It was quite hot the first few days and we felt like we were thawing out.

sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge

In the marina there are 12 floating docks designated for sea lion use and there were probably a hundred of them while we were there. They are entertaining to watch, but can also be a bit of a menace to boaters. Besides the 12 floating docks, there are a couple of boat slips that they also liked to visit at night. They would jump up on the docks and bark really loud. The marina supplied a few plywood shields near those slips and boat owners would have to charge the sea lions with the shields to get them off the dock. Some of these sea lions weighed half a ton. Ten minutes later they would jump back up again and start barking. The process went on for a couple hours. We were glad we didn’t dock at one of these slips.

marina at Pier 39
After four days we were ready to leave the marina and anchor out in the bay for a while. Although it was in a good location near Fisherman’s Wharf and other tourist attractions, there is a lot of current in the marina and it gets quite a bit of the wake from the ferries and other large sightseeing boats. At times the boat was rocking back and forth so much it seemed like we were going to rip the cleats out of the dock.

Chinatown and Lombard Street

We headed out to Treasure Island, which is a 45 minute boat ride from San Francisco to anchor for most of the next week. Treasure Island has great protection from the winds and wake in San Francisco Bay. We hung out there and relaxed for most of the next week and spent our time reading, doing a couple of boat maintenance projects and working on the blog.

We’ve had a great time in San Francisco, but after 12 days it is time to start heading south again. It looks like the offshore weather will be ok for the next couple days. We plan on heading out Wednesday morning (Oct. 6th) so that we can get south of Point Conception before the winds start to build again. This point can get really nasty, but after that the winds and waves should be more benign. We haven’t decided when or where we are going to stop between here and San Diego. We are just going to play it by ear.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Seattle to San Francisco (2010)

We left Elliott Bay Marina on September 9th after two weeks of scrambling to finish last minute boat repairs, buying provisions and getting everything stored on the boat and saying goodbye to friends. We stayed the last night with our good friends, the Arthur’s, and in the morning Eric dropped us off at the marina and helped us shove off. Everything we had planned and worked toward over the last four years was finally coming to fruition, and with that came many mixed emotions. It felt surreal and exciting, and at the same time sad. We were now unemployed, sold many of our belongings, had rented our home, were leaving behind family and friends, and embarking upon the trip of a lifetime.

leaving Seattle and sailing up the Puget Sound
We stopped in Port Townsend and Port Angeles before we made it to Neah Bay where we did some final provisioning and waited for a weather window. Neah Bay is on the Makah Indian reservation near the northwest point of Washington State and geographically a good spot to stop before heading down the coast. The marina is almost exclusively used by commercial fisherman and fishing guide boats and occasionally as a last stop for recreational boats before heading offshore. Although the marina was well protected from the weather and we were able to do our last minute provisioning, this isn’t a place we would want to spend much time. Fortunately, we were only there for two days before we got a decent weather window.
Neah Bay, WA
Originally, we had planned to take an offshore route and head out 100+ miles and go all the way to San Diego in one leg. When we left, the wind and waves were high offshore and calm inshore for the next several days so we decided at the last minute to take an inshore route and make as much progress south before the weather changed. When we left we had calm seas and winds, but it was a weak high pressure system, so we knew that it would most likely change in a couple days.

And change it did. We had covered a good distance the first two days and were now about 140 miles from the California/Oregon border. Unfortunately, on the third day the winds from the south had built to 25-30 knots and seas were up to 10 feet. When we would come down one wave, the bowsprit would get buried in the next wave and the spray blown back into the cockpit. We were soaked and cold and starting to get a little crabby. We were also making very slow progress into these headwinds. We checked the weather and the same conditions were expected for the next four days. We decided to heave-to that night and get some rest. The next day we would head toward the Umpqua River, about 30 miles away, and look for a protected area to wait for the wind to calm down and change back to a prevailing northwesterly.

We had limited navigational information for the Umpqua River, but we knew there would be a place to moor about eight miles up the River. We were pleasantly surprised to find Winchester Bay, just inside the mouth of the river, which had plenty of moorage and all kinds of services for a fraction of the price we were used to paying for in Puget Sound.  We stayed in Winchester Bay four days and got the diesel heater going so we could dry out the boat and warm up. It rained every day, so we spent most of the time inside reading.

After four days in the marina, the forecast showed another good weather window and so we headed south again. We had following seas and winds the whole way to San Francisco and got some good sailing in. It only took us four days to get there. The last evening before pulling into San Francisco Bay we had a full moon and a starry night. This was the first night we could see stars since leaving Seattle over two weeks ago. 

Entering a large city like San Francisco at night can be quite a challenge. There is a lot of commercial traffic going in and out of the city and it is difficult to judge distances at night so we were constantly plotting our position on a chart and double checking it. At one point we decided to head a little south to get around what appeared to be a tanker off our starboard bow. Eventually, we realized that it was the lights from San Francisco 40 miles away.
We decided we would both stay awake that night and help each other navigate since we could pull into a marina in the morning and catch up on sleep. We took the sails down and motored under the Golden Gate Bridge at 6 am and headed into San Francisco. We called around, but none of marinas were open, so we pulled into the closest one and tied up at the fuel dock to get some sleep for a few hours before they opened. We checked the weather on the VHF before we laid down and found out that it was going to be the first day of a three day heat wave. We were so excited to be here!

Vancouver Island trip (2010)

In early August, after moving out of our house, we headed out for a three week circumnavigation of Vancouver Island.  This was our “shakedown cruise”, and we did this trip for several reasons.  Transiting the west coast of the island would give us some much-needed offshore sailing experience and as we rounded the corner and starting sailing south we would get to see some of the Inside Passage, a beautiful area with an abundance of wildlife, remote anchorages and unspoiled wilderness.

We also wanted to spend a few weeks living aboard before heading down the west coast of the US.  Most cruisers move onto their boats well before leaving in order to get used to the live-aboard life.  We didn’t have much time to do that.  We had to scramble to get out of our house and onto the boat by August 1st, and now we had another deadline: getting down the coast of Washington and Oregon before October, when winter weather begins to take over and more storms hit the coast.

So, on August 2nd, Saviah sailed north out of Seattle, stopping in Port Townsend for the night and then crossing the Strait of Juan de Fuca the next day.  We cleared in with Canadian customs in Victoria, BC and headed out again first thing the next morning.  Once out of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, our course was 10-20 miles offshore, slowly motor-sailing against the prevailing northwest winds and swell.  Our goal was to make it around Cape Scott, on the north end of Vancouver Island, and down to Port Hardy in as few stops as possible.  This would be around 320 miles.

This was our first time to sail through the night, which was quite an experience.  Even though we had read that three hour night shifts are optimal, we decided to start off with one hour shifts.  This didn’t last long, as it was cold and wet, and we had many layers on under our foul weather gear.  With all of the rocking of the boat, it took ten minutes to take off the foul weather gear and ten minutes to put it back on.  Needless to say, we spent a significant amount of time the first night just getting in and out of our foul weather gear when we should have been resting.

On our third night, we had no wind and very dense fog with about ten feet of visibility. We couldn’t even see the mast from the cockpit.  It was a very long night, and since we don’t have radar, we were constantly on the lookout for lights from other boats.  We could hear whales around us, but couldn’t see anything.  When the sun came up and the fog cleared, we could see two large gray whales about 100 feet away.
We hadn’t anticipated motoring so much or the low fuel efficiency we were getting going into the wind and wave, and we left Victoria without topping off our fuel tanks, a mistake we won’t make again.  By the third night, our diesel was running low, so we spent that long foggy night bobbing around, listening to our poorly stowed provisions and gear shifting and crashing about in the cubbies as we rolled in the small swell.  At this point, we were 180 miles from Victoria and 140 from Port Hardy, and it was clear that we should find a port to get more fuel.  We went about ten miles up an inlet to Zeballos, a small fishing community.  After topping off our tank, we got a good night’s sleep and headed out again the next morning.
During this passage, there was a big storm northwest of Vancouver Island and a fishing boat with four people on board went missing.  The passengers were never found, and we heard the boat was eventually located off the Oregon coast.  There were search helicopters overhead, and it was a reminder that the waters here can be some of the nastiest in the world.  We weren’t in the worst of it, but we had some stronger winds in the 20 – 30 knot range.  We decided this would be a good opportunity to rig our storm trysail.  Although the winds were nowhere near what you would normally use a trysail for, it was good practice to run the sheets, and get it hoisted.  We learned that our lazy jacks get in the way when we hoist it and made a note to do something about that later. 

We made it around Cape Scott on the north end of Vancouver Island just as the sun was coming up, six days after leaving Victoria.  Later that afternoon, we arrived in Port Hardy and slept for fifteen hours straight.  We stayed there two nights and spent some time checking out the town and doing a bit of grocery shopping.  Now that we had the difficult passage out of the way, we could take it a bit slower in the protected waters of the inside passage.

On August 10th, we crossed the Queen Charlotte Straits and headed over to Sullivan Bay to pick up our friend Eric.  He took a seaplane up from Seattle so he could spend the next week with us cruising down to Desolation Sound.  It was cold and foggy crossing the straits, the same weather we had consistently since leaving Victoria.

In the morning, and then again in the afternoon, we came across a pod of dolphins.  There were around fifty of them, and they were breaching all around us and very close to the boat.  They would swim right under the bow of the boat and stayed with us for several miles.

We stayed at a marina in Greenway Sound  for a night and then anchored in Health Bay the following day.  We had strong winds that night and the anchorage was a bit rough, so we got an early start the next day and covered about 50 miles.  We finally had some favorable winds in Johnstone Strait and sailed along dead downwind at 7 knots under full main and genoa.

During this trip, we transited the Chatham Narrows, Whirlpool Rapids and Green Point Rapids.  In the Pacific Northwest, we have semi-diurnal tide cycles, which means that there are two different tide cycles per day that rise and fall as much as 15+ feet per cycle.  Where islands come together and form a narrow passage, the current can flow over 10 knots during the maximum ebb and flood with significant rip tides as well.  Since our top motoring speed is 6 knots, we made sure to time all of the passages for slack tide, which took  quite a bit more planning.

Di at the helm and marina at Blind Channel
We spent a night at the marina in Blind Channel on West Thurlow Island and then anchored in nearby Bickley Bay the next day.  We desperately wanted to catch some fish and tried just about every day.  We tried jigging for bottom fish and trolling for salmon.  The locals recommended some good fishing spots, but we never had any luck.

We spent another day putting some miles under the keel.  We covered 32 miles before arriving at Cortes Island.  After some cooler weather on the north half of the Vancouver Island, we were excited to make it to Desolation Sound where it was sunny and warm.  We anchored in Squirrel Cove for a night and then moved to the Malaspina Inlet on the mainland the next day.  A small sailboat was beached there some years ago reminding us to make sure our anchor was holding well.

fishing in Bickley Bay and anchored in Malaspina Inlet
Prideaux Haven in Desolation Sound was our next stop and the highlight of the trip.  We spent two days in this beautiful, but crowded anchorage.  Because there are so many boats in the anchorage, a stern tie is necessary to prevent swinging back and forth.  We dropped the anchor when the bow was facing away from the shore and then backed in and tied a line from the stern to a tree on shore.  

Prideaux Haven
We spent the next few days exploring the anchorage by dinghy, hiking, swimming and fishing.  The water in parts of Desolation Sound is warm enough to swim.  It was 75 degrees in this anchorage, while not too far from there it dropped into the 50’s and 60’s.

The next day was Eric’s scheduled departure from Mink Island, but his flight had to be pushed back a day because President Obama was in Seattle airspace that afternoon, and they weren’t allowing in flights in.  We spent the evening in Refuge Cove, and he flew out from there the next day.

After Eric left, we made our way back to Nanaimo and Montague Harbor, one of our favorite spots in the gulf Islands.  Montague Harbor is on Galliano Island and there is a Provincial Park there with mooring balls in the bay and camp sites on-shore.  During the summer, an old school bus comes to the park every hour in the evening to pick up campers and boaters and bring them to the Hummingbird Pub about ten miles away.  We took the bus in and had dinner before we left for the San Juan Islands the next morning.  We cleared customs in Friday Harbor and then made our way back to Seattle.

That left us about three weeks to get Saviah ready, get our affairs in order and say goodbye to friends before heading south down the coast.   Our shakedown cruise had highlighted several things we wanted to improve.  For example, we didn’t have a compass light and found that when we shined the flashlight on it during our night watches, it killed our night vision.  A small red LED light would solve that problem.

There were other things we wouldn’t have time for, but they would remain on the project list for when we had time down the coast.  For example, we bought a watermaker, but still hadn’t installed it.  We also wanted to make sunshades for the tropics and buy and install some sort of high frequency radio.  There will always be a running list of things to do on the boat, but we had finished the most important items and overall felt good about heading down the coast.