Monday, November 25, 2019

Southern California Channel Islands-San Diego

San Miguel Island
On the morning of departure from Half Moon bay, I woke up not able to even see the neighboring boats a few hundred feet away, the fog was so thick, so I settled back to wait for the afternoon sun to burn off the incredibly thick mist, as it always did farther north in Alaska and Canada. However by 1 pm the fog had moved just outside the harbor but still showed no signs of abating, so I decided to up anchor and investigate how thick this fog really was and if it was worth trying to push through. However, less than half a mile outside of the breakwater Darwind and I were enveloped in a thick blinding fog, full of the sounds and occasional looming shadows of sport fishing boats, so I decided to turn back before luck ran out and we ended up on a collision course with one of these invisible hazards. 
Just as we were approaching the breakwater again though, we suddenly sailed straight out of the fog bank into the bright sunlight, so I turned around again, this time paralleling the edge of the bank on a west-southwest course out t sea, eventually curving around to the south and south-southeast as the fog thinned and eventually disappeared completely 10-15 nautical miles offshore. The rest of the day passed almost without event , with a perfect,  steady 10-15 knot breeze over the quarter. However the whales I had sighted outside of san Francisco returned, and at one point I dashed up on deck in the middle of making lunch when I heard an incredibly loud spout, and saw two humpback whales pass either side of the boat, barely 20 feet away! I was deeply shaken by the close encounter, thinking again and again about what one of those leviathans could unwittingly do to my thin fiberglass shell, if it happened to bump into it a bit to hard or flick its tail jut a few feet too close! Only after the initial shock was I able to really appreciate how special the experience was to have been so close to such massive and beautiful creatures, and then I almost wanted it to happen again so I could better appreciate the moment!
Close encounter with a humpback
Numerous daily visits by dolphin en route to San Miguel Island
The next days passed extremely pleasantly, possibly the most pleasant days of sailing of the trip so far, with a gentle breeze just enough to keep us moving a decent pace, the hot sun overhead, and sparking blue water all around. I spent up to 18 hours each day just napping and reading on the foredeck, finishing the 500-page One Hundred Years of Solitude in just two days, and passing Cape Concepcion, the notorious “Cape Horn of the Pacific,” under full sail and absolutely ideal weather. On the other side of this cape, however, the winds gradually started to build, and as the sun went down with my destination of San Miguel Island just over the horizon, the wind had picked up to 30 knots, and I was surfing at maximum speed down the steeply building waves under triple reefed main and reefed number two jib. By the time I was nearing the island, I had too much sail up for the Aries to handle, so I took over, figuring that as soon as I rounded the point everything could calm down and I would not have to reduce sail any further.
At last, we surfed around the point and swung around into the lee, where the swell died quickly, but the wind continued to gust just as strongly or even stronger over a narrow, steep, peninsula. Eventually, the lights of half a dozen boats moored in the anchorage of Cuyler Harbor came into sight, among them, my friends from Neah Bay aboard Mamaku. Eventually I managed to claw my way up into the teeth of hat was now a moderate gale into water shallow enough to drop the hook, and put out all of my chain before lashing the sails down as well as possible in the howling wind, and hunkering down below for a sleepless night watching the gps to check if the anchor was holding and trying to ignore the howling of the wind in the rigging and the incessant scream of the wind turbine.
In the morning, only Darwind and Mamaku remained tugging at their anchor chains, in what turned out be an incredibly beautiful bay, with tall cliffs, a long, white sandy beach, and even three tall, solitary palm trees. That day, Harry, Sarah and Jonty picked me up on their dinghy (my little packraft would have been useless in that much wind) and we went ashore to bask in the beautiful sandy beaches, take a short hike to the ranger statin on the center of the island’s flat plateau, and eventually back to their boat for some delicious curry made with mussels from the rocks on the beach. I stayed until later that night playing cards and trying to ignore the wind on Mamaku, until returning to Darwind for another restless night, although a bit better for having tied off the shrieking wind turbine.
Sandy beaches and turquoise water of Cuyler Harbor
The next day we spent in much the same way, exploring some caves down by the beach and taking a closer look at some of the elephant seal and sea lion rookeries on one end of the harbor. However, a weather report of a much stronger gale headed our way prompted the decision to head out for a more protected harbor on Santa Cruz Island first thing in the morning.

Santa Cruz Island
            In the morning the wind was stil blowing strong and in order help to get the 150 feet of chain I had laid out up on deck, Harry and Jonty from Mamaku zipped over in their dinghy to give a hand, Harry at the helm motoring up the chain and Jonty and I on the bow hauling in the slack. As soon as the anchor was on deck, my helpers left to go pick up their own anchor, and I headed out into what I expected would be some pretty rough weather, –I was so confident that the wind would be howling even stronger than in the anchorage that I had left the genoa below, and had already tied in reefs in both the main and jib in anticipation–however even before I got out of Cuyler Harbor I had shaken out all of the reefs and by the time I had left the bay had even switched the #2 jib for the genoa! Apparently most of the wind that had been keeping us up all night was funneled over the low island at much higher velocity than what was actually blowing out at sea.
After leaving the San Miguel the wind picked up a bit more, and was down to just the jib for a few minutes when the wind funneled down the channel between Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz islands. It was in these higher winds that Mamaku finally caught up to and overtook the slower Darwind, and we passed close to get some great photos of each other cruising downwind at maximum speed. In the lee of Santa Cruz Island the wind died completely, so we motored along the beautiful and wildly carved sandstone cliffs, passing our intended anchorage, which seemed a bit exposed and rolly, to the eastern tip of the island where we found a sheltered anchorage.
Mamaku (top) and Darwind cruising between Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz Islands
With the boats swinging serenely at their anchors, Mamaku and I both launched our respective tenders and headed to the shore, where we all got very wet in the beach break and Jonty nearly flipped Mamaku’s dinghy on one of the bigger waves. A short sunset hike, and we were back on the boats for the first really quite nights sleep in a while–for me not since Half moon bay.
Of the next morning, while it was till calm, Harry, Sarah, and Jonty picked me up in their dinghy again to go snorkeling in the very clear water. At first I stayed in the boat, while they all went in, as I didn’t have a wetsuit and the water was still fairly cool from the California current sweeping down the coast, but I did bring a mask and snorkel to at least look over the side of the dinghy. However, as soon as I stuck my face in the water and this world that I had been sailing over but hadn’t actually seen was finally opened up to me, it didn’t take long for me to be drawn completely over the side in my board shorts. Once in the water I didn’t get out either because it was incredibly beautiful. Never having snorkeled or dived in more temperate climates, the swaying kelp forests mesmerized me and I couldn’t get enough of diving through these lush underwater ecosystems, where there were also a surprising number of bright, colorful fish darting around and through the kelp. After probably half an hour or more, I had to return to the dinghy with blue lips, and once out of the water couldn’t stop shivering for a long time, but it was definitely worth it!
 Later that day the predicted gale hit and we were once again stretching out our chains and in the bigger gusts Darwind, with the jibs still lashed to the lifelines, was “sailing” back and forth, tugging violently at the snubber and showing quite a bit of bottom paint when she got knocked over by the gusts. At one point it seemed to abate for a bit so I made an upwind dash to the beach, when I played in the surf with the packraft for a bit before heading back out when the wind came back.
After bringing the jibs below, Darwind lay to her anchor much better, but it was still another agitated night, and I didn’t want to risk being blown out to sea while trying over to paddle over to Mamaku in my raft, so I stayed aboard the rest of the day, reaching a decision over the vhf radio to leave early the next morning for Santa Catalina island.
Dawn departure for Santa Catalina Island

Santa Catalina Island
            Before dawn in the morning, I was up and raised the anchor myself (remembering with regret how easy it was with two extra sets of hands) and set sail, this time not as cautiously as from San Miguel, which paid off when once again the wind began to die just outside the very windy anchorage. This time Mamaku and I did not have such a beautiful run, and the wind kept rising and falling as well as changing direction from a close reach (almost upwind) to a wind-on-wing downwind, and everything from reefed main and #2 jib to spinnaker to motoring. Needless to say it was a very exhausting day, made more so by the fact that by the time we were approaching Santa Catalina it was already pitch dark with no moon, and I had to try and find a spot to anchor in the fairly crowded–though not too bad–anchorage which for the most part was over 60 feet deep. Eventually I found a spot in 50 feet near a derelict trimaran and dropped the hook before collapsing into my bunk.
            Santa Catalina Island was the first populated island (except for the park rangers on San Miguel) that we had stopped at, and in the morning I met up with Harry, Sarah and Jonty ashore at the extremely touristy town of isthmus. I had originally planned to do some provisioning–I was down to a couple of onions and one potato as the only food on the boat not in a can, but after seeing the prices I settled for an ice cream. (Actually not too expensive and very good after weeks without any) We poked around the town for a bit, then went back to the boast to fill up some jerry jugs of fuel for what looked like an almost all-motoring 100 mile passage to San Diego. I was hoping to be able to avoid refilling here, but I was down to just a few gallons so it really was necessary, yet when I saw the price of an even $6 a gallon at the fuel dock, I almost turned right around! In fact, I actually did, since I had brilliantly forgotten my wallet so I had to run back over to the anchorage and borrow Mamaku’s dinghy to go get it off the Darwind. Walking back with 5 gallons of gas in each hand wasn’t very fun either, but at least now I wouldn’t be stuck with no wind and no fuel halfway to San Diego.
            That evening I went on a short sunset hike with Mamaku crew up a steep hill where all of us realized how little exercise we had been getting the past month (or months for me) sailing down the coast, and scaring each other by shouting “snake!” every once in a while after seeing a sign warning about rattlesnakes in the area. For dinner, we were both low on supplies so we pooled our last few fresh items to make a curry, but half way through cooking the rice, Mamaku ran out of propane for their stove, so Jonty and I zipped back over to Darwind to finish cooking in on my recently–and at great effort–refilled stove.

San Diego/Mission Bay
            I left Santa Catalina island on the Darwind around 1 pm, once I noticed that contrary to the forecast the was actually a fairly strong favorable breeze filling in, and sure enough for almost the rest of the day had perfect sailing weather out past the island, until by sunset the wind began to drop, until for most of the night I was alternately motoring in the absolute calms or setting the sails and getting some sleep as soon as there was enough of a breeze to work the windvane. In the end, the timing worked out just right, because I was motoring up the channel into the incredibly busy San Diego Bay just an hour or two after sunrise.
            On entering this boy however, I was also entering a different world from the laid-back, small town or even larger Canadian towns and deserted anchorages. This world was dominated by an incredibly powerful force, which I had never really encountered before and so gravely underestimated: Bureaucracy. All of the anchorages were controlled by the Harbor Police, with permits required for some, and limited spots and days for all; the marinas were all extremely expensive and required insurance that I didn’t have; and every time I called one place or another a different person answered with completely different answers. After literally going in circles trying to find a place where I could actually put the boat, I tied up temporarily at the pump-out station of one of the marinas and sat down for some serious telephoning. At the end of which I had called every one of the dozen marinas in San Diego, with prices ranging from $30-90 per night, none of which I could afford, and dozens of called to the harbor police until I finally was able to reserve a 72 hour spot at an anchorage on the far side of the bay from the actual city, but at least it was somewhere to anchor.
            On dropping the hook I was hit with a wave of heat even though it was only 9 am, so took a short siesta before packing a day bag and taking a bus across the huge sweeping bridge I had just motored under into the city. After wandering around the streets in the glass and cement canyons of the skyscrapers looking for some reasonable priced food, I got a delicious Thai curry-rice-pork-burger thing from a food truck. After that I got another bus to the marina district of the city where I was overwhelmed by the amount and quality of marine supply, rigging, and chart stores, and apparently just missed seeing the Mamaku crew as they rushed around doing their errands. (Quite a lot as they planned to leave for Mexico the next day) Eventually I ended up at a Starbucks, where the grandparents of some of my closest family friends in anchorage picked me up for dinner.
            For the next nearly two weeks I was immersed in a head-swimming world of bureaucracy and wallet-draining supply runs while trying to sort out the tangled mess of Darwind’s documentation and insurance paperwork, adding another solar panel, and getting a surfboard. At the same time I was constantly being shuttled from one anchorage to another, at one point even having to sail 20 miles north to mission bay. Throughout this clusterfuck of phone calls, paper trails, customs offices, and dead ends, there were some highlights, especially in mission bay which was a much more laid-back surf community where I caught my first waves in years, and ended up meeting some really cool people who ended up inviting me over for dinner one night.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Neah Bay-Northern California

Neah Bay to Crescent City
Day 1
            After a mad rush of bus rides to get the repaired part for the self-steering, I was back on the boat by 4:00 pm, and after a quick pit stop at the fuel dock to fill up, Darwind was beating out the strait of Juan De Fuca in the teeth of a 25 knot breeze and a huge swell building against the favorable 3 knot current. Unfortunately only a few hours in, just as we came abreast of Cape Flattery and slicing into 10-15 foot swell, the wind died to almost nothing and I was forced to start the engine to clear the islands and rocks around the cape. As the sun went down, the massive swell made motoring a living hell, and I actually gave up and turned around four times, each time facing a counter current and a midnight arrival back in Neah Bay, so each time I turned back into the swell to push on. Eventually, after the fourth aborted U-turn, we were clear of the islands and even though the wind still hadn’t come up, I raised the sails and cut the engine, letting the current and the light breeze push Darwind south and west at one or two knots, while I settled into the 15 minute catnap schedule that I used on the Sitka-Prince Rupert run.

Day 2-3
            Early the next morning, the wind came back at 15-20 knots from the North, where it would remain for the next three days, with only minor fluctuations in strength and direction. The next few days passed fairly uneventfully, with a few dolphins, a few distant whale sightings and some incredible phosphorescence and starts under the new moon. However, by the third night I was starting to feel the effects of almost no sleep, and in fact at one point I slept through my alarm and woke up with several fishing boats within a couple of miles and had to stay awake for the next four hours to get out of the cluster. At that point I decided that trying to get all the way to San Francisco, another 500 miles at that point, was impractical and dangerous, so I jibed and began angling in towards the coast and Crescent City, California, the first port with an easy entrance and no treacherous river bar.

Day 4
            The next day, the sun was out as I reached in towards land, around the dramatically named dragon reef and an impressive lighthouse standing on a tiny rock 5 miles offshore, until at 7pm, as the sun was setting I dropped the hook into a soft mud bottom inside a long protecting breakwater, and almost immediately fell into one of the best nights of sleep in my life.

            The next day, I packed a day bag and headed inland, where after five miles I entered the redwood forest and spent the rest of the day wandering along dirt roads that looked like bear trials compared to the giants they wound through, diving deep into the heart of the woods on narrow trails or bushwhacking, climbing where possible as high as I dared and still not even making it the tiniest fraction of the way to the canopy, and a large amount of time simply sitting in awe of the unbelievable presence and power of nature that pervaded this forest. I have always loved spending time in the forests around Seldovia and Anchorage, and the old spruces covered in moss have always rooted me to reality and calmed me when I was the most stressed. And here those trees of my childhood seemed like saplings, and as many times taller as these trees were, they seemed also to magnify the essence and calm of their smaller cousins.
            Anyway, after 15 miles of awed wandering and hiking and exploring, by the time I turned back towards the coast two months of almost no strenuous physical activity were taking their toll on my feet, legs, and cardio, so by the time I staggered back to the dinghy I was reduced to taking a rest every hundred yards. Needless to say the next few days were spent in recovery, both from the lack of sleep sailing then the hike, and to top it off I met and become fast friends with a Canadian sailboat also on their way down the coast, who recognized the pink boat from when I was anchored outside of Vancouver, and who had to meet the crazy person sailing her. And so thanks to the unique color of Darwind’s hull I was actually able to have somewhat of a birthday celebration with friends. (Although because of a favorable wind for departure on my actual birthday it was actually the night before)

Bodega Bay
            After the unpleasant experience of almost no sleep for four nights in a row, I decided to make the next hop considerably shorter, planning for one or possibly two nights down to Fort Bragg, there to weather a nasty north gale that was forecast in a few days. However, after a day of sailing it became apparent that my calculations were a bit off, and it turned out that I would be arriving in the middle of the night rather than dawn, and would have to heave to or sail back and forth outside the narrow bar for six or more hours the light and tide to become favorable. I was already considering sailing on, when that evening the wind that was expected to blow up to 25-30 knots rose to 35-40, forcing me to reduce sail until Darwind was running under bare poles, with the only sail bundle on the boom pushing her along at five knots! Luckily, it didn’t last long enough to raise a dangerous sea, but it was enough to make me want to stay well clear of the rock-bound coast until I could be sure of a wide, sheltered bay where a safe entrance could be made at any time of the day or night.
            The first available port to fit these criteria was Bodega bay another hundred or so miles down the coast, but it was as protected as easy to enter as the chart suggested, and I made the first after-dark arrival of the trip in the wide, crescent bay with its white sand beach. Here for the first time I was presented with truly different scenery: bare, brown hills, sandstone cliffs and a white sand beach under a hot sun replacing tall, evergreen-coated mountains, grey granite crags, and rocky coastlines.
            After a day of rest at anchor in the outer bay I moved into the dock in the inner bay for the night at the peak of the gale and in order to take a much-needed shower and do the laundry, then moved back out for the final day of the gale when I realized how little of the gale which raged just a few miles offshore was actually felt along the coast. Finally, when the weather forecasts gave the all clear, I raised the anchor for the short sail past San Francisco to Half Moon Bay.

Half Moon Bay
            The trip to half moon bay started under a hot sun with no wind, and the engine roaring as we rolled south on the large glassy swells left by the recent gale. However, soon the Golden gate bridge came into sight in the distance to the east, and throughout the day I spotted dozens or even hundreds of whales all around the boat, from a few hundred yards to the horizon. Eventually, an afternoon breeze picked up and I was able to cut the engine and sail the rest of the way to Half-Moon bay, arriving just after dark, but without problems avoiding the well-lit reef and entering the large harbor behind the protective breakwater.
            Here, I needed to refill my stock of denatured alcohol fuel for the stove, which had run out in Bodega Bay and charge the batteries which had become dangerously low, so in the morning I moved in to the dock and plugged in, then set out on the bus to the hardware store a few minutes down the road. However, after scouring the shelves, and consulting with several employees, I discovered that in fact the sale of denatured alcohol had been banned from the state of California only a few months ago! After some frantic research and calls, I finally found a West Marine store just outside for San Francisco which had some, so I hopped on a bus for a two-hour ride into the city which I had intentionally sailed passed only a few hours ago. Luckily I managed to find the fuel, as well as a couple of other things I needed at West Marine, although as always at those stores they were incredibly overpriced. And after some extreme exhaustion, dusty and sweating from the heat and a much delayed rush hour bus ride back to the boat, I managed to get off the dock without paying a cent since I hadn’t stayed the night, and was back on the hook and fast asleep, now well-stocked with stove fuel and ready to go, by sunset.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Vancouver-Neah Bay, the last fo the Inside Passage

            The second major destination of the trip, after Sitka was Vancouver, which symbolically represented the end of the inside passage for me, even though there remained a couple of hundred actual miles to go before the Pacific Ocean. As if to highlight this transition, I happened to arrive in Vancouver during a hot flash with temperatures in the high 70-80’s for a whole week! The water was also unbelievably warm, and I started every day with a dive off the dodger and a quick swim around the boat. Mainly I rested that week, reveling in the warmth after a seemingly endless ordeal of rain and cold in northern BC, and enjoying the change of pace and delicious cuisine of the big city.
            Even more fun was that I got to hang out with my good friend Brooke, who is going to Simon and Fraser University in Vancouver, and we were able to spend a weekend going for a day sail and visiting the aquarium. These interactions were especially beneficial to my mental state, as this was the first time in a month I was able to talk to someone my own age about normal things, not only about boats and sailing!
            As fun as all that was, after a week I was starting to feel strange being in one place for so long, and the concrete jungle was starting to wear down on my nerves; however beautiful Vancouver is, its still a city and can never compare to the pristine wilderness I had just spent a month completely immersed in. So I pulled up the anchor and left, headed towards the Gulf islands then Victoria, and as soon as the anchor was up and we were moving – even though there was no wind and it was a full day of motoring – it felt so good to be underway. That night, I dropped the hook in a tiny cove on an uninhabited island, where I immediately went ashore and disappeared into the thick, old growth woods for several hours. When I got back to the boat I made a huge pot of spaghetti and fell into the best sleep I had had for a long time.
anchored off downtown Vancouver

            Waking up the next morning, I had the anchor on deck when I realized that one of the boats I shared the anchorage with was having trouble getting their anchor up, and the skipper of the third boat was trying to help. As it was only a short run over to victoria, I decided to go see if I could help, so I threw a few fenders over the side and rafted up to the boat in trouble. It turned out that they had anchored a bit too close to the mooring block of the small dinghy dock in the cove and had gotten the chain immovably wrapped around it. My first thought, with abnormally warm Vancouver in mind, was to jump in and free the anchor, but after failing to find a mask and snorkel, feeling the chilly morning air, and the even chillier water, I concurred with the two skippers (who had been looking at me like I was crazy from the moment I suggested jumping in the water) and instead merely lent my hand at using some bolt cutters to sever the chain and abandon the anchor.
            As soon as the anchor was free, I cut loose and continued on towards victoria, only to be nearly stopped dead by a brisk headwind and strong countercurrent in boundary pass, but at least today I was sailing again instead of motoring. Eventually I arrived at Cadboro bay on the outskirts of Victoria and dropped the hook that evening just before sunset.
            The next day I got in contact with Noah, another friend from school, and he showed me around the University of Victoria campus and we made arrangements for him and his friend to come for a short sail the next day. Unfortunately there was absolutely no wind that day, but we still had some fun ghosting around the bay in the zephyrs. After that I spent a few more lazy days in at anchor, took a bus in to the beautiful victorian downtown, and walked the docks at the yacht club, where I happened to meet none other than Jeanne Socrates, who had just a week before completed a solo nonstop circumnavigation of the globe at the age of 78, making her the oldest human to complete the ultimate voyage. As much as I loved Victoria – much more so than Vancouver – it was time to be moving on before winter storms made the Washington and Oregon coasts all but impassable.

in the gulf islands
Port Townsend:
            After a long mostly-motoring crossing of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, I arrived at the picturesque town of  Port Townsend, where I dropped the anchor in the large exposed bay off the Victorian waterfront. On the second day after arriving, I longboarded across the town to do laundry and say hi to Dana, an old family friend now living there, and she even lent me her car to go down to Seattle and pick up the new life raft the next day.
            Of course the morning I planned to leave the boat to go to Seattle, it was blowing around 30 knots onshore, so I had the pleasant experience of trying to get the anchor up in that–a task which took almost 2 hours–and motor over to the marina where I could leave the boat tied up to the dock without constantly worrying about the anchor dragging. After a bit of a trial getting the boat tied up, which involved overshooting the dock and having to motor in full reverse in order to make it back upwind, I was content, and set out for the first drive I had taken in almost two months.
            After a two-hour drive and short ferry ride, I was in Seattle, where I experienced the hell of trying to find a downtown parking space in a large city, then met up with Kalissa, another friend from school, who was living in the city. After a few hours hanging out and catching up, she went to work, and I went to go pick up my new life raft, which was much heavier, making me infinitely grateful that this time I wouldn’t have to break my back trying to lug it on buses and public transportation all the way back to Port Townsend.
            The next few days I spent not doing much except walking the docks, which to a sailor were like a fine art gallery, as Port Townsend is known as the center for classic wooden boats on the West Coast, and not doing much while I waited for a decent window to get down Juan de Fuca to the Pacific.

Port Angeles
Having left Port Townsend, I was immediately thrown into some of the most frustrating sailing conditions I have ever experienced. The wind simply would not settle down, constantly changing direction and force–although the direction was always more or less a headwind–so that at one point I clocked 17 sail changes in just two hours! In that 12-hour day, I only managed to scrape my way 30 nm to Port Angeles, where I anchored off what I later found out were free city docks. I only spent one night there, but I did meet the crew of the Mamaku, a Canadian/New Zealander boat heading south from victoria, and we made plans to meet again in Neah Bay, our next stop and the last one before the open Pacific.

Neah Bay
            The next day was calm, but I needed to get to Neah bay to be in position for the next favorable weather window to sail down the coast, so I settled in for a long, 10-hour motor down the straight. This would have been a completely uneventful trip, except that around midday when I jumped below to make a sandwich for lunch, I felt a sunned deceleration then a sickening crack from the stern and I immediately jumped up on deck to see that we had ran directly into a huge clump of kelp, and that the paddle for the wind vane, which I had left down in hopes that the wind might pick up enough to use it, was trailing behind the boat on the end of its tether.
            This was the first major breakage of the voyage, yet compared to how frustrated and petty I had become when faced with contrary wind and current the day before, I surprised myself in how calmly I addressed the situation, so that before I even arrived at Neah Bay I had called several machine shops in port Angeles and found one who could probably fix the piece or fabricate a replacement, and I even enjoyed sighting a small sunfish feeding near the surface and the last few minutes in which I sailed into the bay in the light breeze that finally filled in.
            That evening I went ashore for fish and chips with Harry, Sarah, Jaunty, and Don of the Mamaku, then later went to their boat to celebrate Don’s birthday with a home-baked cake and drinks. We spent the night discussing plans for the best time and route to head down the coast, solutions to my wind-vane problem, and celestial navigation, as well as swapping the usual stories about previous voyages. We became quick friends, and decided that we would try and met up again further south, as our routes were almost identical; Harry and Sarah returning to their home in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand via the same route that I planned to take across the Pacific.
            The next morning I was up early and took the first bus from Neah Bay to Port Angeles, where I brought the broken part to the machine shop and they said they could have it done by the next day. I returned to the boat, explore the massive breakwater that encloses Neah Bay with the crew of Mamaku, then said goodbye, as they planned to leave early the next morning to take advantage of the tail end of a passing northerly gale. In the morning I took the same early bus to Port Angeles, got y reconstituted part, then was back n the boat and off the anchor by 4:30 pm, headed out to the open ocean and long offshore days for the first time since leaving Alaska.
the broken part

good as new

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Leg 3, Britsh Columbia, Prince Rupert to Vancouver 570 nautical miles

            Day 1
            Leaving Prince Rupert it was raining with a heavy fog, which would become all to familiar to me in the next 8 days. However, there was also a brisk, following breeze which allowed me to sail fast and comfortably, something that I would not experience again for over a week. As the day progressed, open, choppy water with the remnant of an ocean swell gave way to islands, and eventually to the narrow entrance to Grenville Channel, a 45-mile, nearly straight cut less than a quarter of a mile wide for the majority. The wind died behind the islands, but the sun also came out, so I ghosted on the breeze and current as far as I could before tucking into a small cove for the night.
            Day 2
            The second day in Grenville channel marked what was to come in the next week of inside sailing, with a brisk south breeze, a channel too narrow to really sail upwind, and a day full of either motoring or motor-sailing, as well as an introduction to finding the counter-currents in the eddies along the shore, which gave me an extra knot of speed towards the next bay, where I anchored in the first, outer basin, only learning as I left early the next morning that there was an incredible waterfall just around the point in the inner basin!
            Day 3
            After a pre-dawn start in order to make it to Bishop’s Hot Springs before dark, I found myself motoring down a calm channel all the way to the tiny town of Hartley Bay, stopping a few minutes for fuel to feed the gas-guzzling little beast that rules these calm, constricted waterways. Later however, I actually managed to get a few minutes of sailing in when I turned north (the wrong direction) to get to the hot springs (worth it), and to make it even more special, a pod of Dahl porpoise joined me to play on the bow wave! Seeing these sleek and beautiful creatures playing so close is always an amazing sight, and these were the first I’d seen on this trip!
            I was lucky enough to snag the last mooring ball at the hot springs that evening, and after a quick dinner, I was in the packraft and at the springs in no time, where I added Darwind’s name and the date to the thousands of inscriptions covering every inch of the small structure built around the springs.  After a luxurious soak in the perfectly hot water of the springs, I paddled over to spend the evening swapping stories over delicious fresh seafood and cold drinks with Don and Jenna on the Alsaska B.
            Day 4
            The next day, I left the calm waters of Bishop’s Bay to barely stick my nose into the 30 knot southerly in the main channel before scurrying back to my secure mooring, repeating to myself that at least it’s better to be hot and wet than cold and wet. And so I spent the rest of the day intermittently soaking in the springs, taking short dips in the ocean to cool down, and reading tucked into my sleeping bag in the cold, but dry cabin.
            Day 5
            The wind was absolutely calm for almost the entire day of motoring down the 60 miles of Princess Royal Channel to Klemtu, with only a brief squall of southerly wind and downpour near the end. For the majority of the day light scattered showers came and went, and the only really interesting thing was that I sighted an Elephant Seal, which I had no idea even lived in this part of the world, much less so far from the open sea in this labyrinth of passages. It never moved the entire time I saw it, and I almost convinced myself it was a log, but closer inspection through the binoculars revealed without a doubt the short, trunk-like nose of a male Elephant Seal!
            Day 6
            I spent the day in Klemtu, moving from the floatplane dock where I had mistakenly moored when I arrived after 9:00 at night, and I spent the majority of the day holed up inside the cabin with a book, listening to the southerly gale whistling through the rigging overhead. That evening however, I helped an aluminum Swedish boat to tie up to the dock and spent the even chatting with Erik, another solo sailor on his way north. In between stories and technical discussions, we participated in the time-honored sailor’s tradition of swapping sailing guides; I passed on my book for Southeast Alaska, and he gave me one for sailing in French Polynesia.
            Day 7
            One week out of Prince Rupert and I barely made it as far as it took me two days to cover crossing the gulf, and had to burn a dozen gallons of gasoline to get those few hundred miles too! Today at least I had the chance to feel some motion under the keel as I ducked out into Queen Charlotte’s Sound for a few miles of beating before turning back into the channels for a pleasant beam reach all the way to Bella Bella, another of the few, tiny communities along this almost completely deserted stretch of coast.
            Day 8
            After Refueling and sighting a huge humpback right off the dock, I set out as soon as the morning fog started to clear, and by midday, when I was well out into the much more open Fitz Hugh Sound, the sun came out and with it came a beautiful northerly wind that pushed all the way down the sound to Home bay, where I shared the tiny, perfect anchorage with a Canadian sailboat. As well as finally being able to let the Aries take the helm for a while, I was ale to get all of my wet clothes and bedding dry in the wind and sun for the first time in a week!
            Day 9
            The next day, I left early expecting another day of sun and northerlies, and was sorely disappointed to be motoring over glassy seas and through a thick fog as I entered Queen Charlotte’s sound for the longer hop down to Sointula near the northern tip of Vancouver Island. The fog didn’t burn off until the afternoon, and the wind didn’t pick up until after 5:00 pm, but I still wanted to make it to Sointula, which I remembered as one of my favorite town in BC, so I pushed on until well after dark, finally dropping the anchor through incredible phosphorescence and under an incredible canopy of stars around midnight, making a run of 78 nautical miles.
            Day 10
With A sunny day at last, I decided to take a break and explored Sointula and Malcom Island, riding the free bikes provided by the marina, and swimming in the crystal-clear water off the northwest tip of the island.
            Day 11
            The next day started out foggy and calm (surprise surprise) and I entered the notoriously nasty Johnstone Strait under power, until the fog burnt off and the wind started to pick up from the West. I started out under the full main and genoa, but within a few hours was reduced to a triple reefed main and the number two in gusts over 25 knots. And as I got closer to current and race passage, the seas started to kick  up against an opposing current, which can run up to six knots in this part, so I ducked behind the shelter of several rusted, sunken wrecks that make the breakwater of Kelsey bay, a very interesting little town which I had never visited before. On the docks there, I got to talking with Bruce, also headed down the strait, on a converted troller, and as well as some very interesting conversations on history and politics, he gave me some valuable advice about when to leave in the morning and how to catch the counter-current that runs close to shore.
            Day 12
            In the morning I attempted to get gasoline at the town, only a few kilometers up the road, only to discover that the nearest gas station wasn’t for another 10 kilometers inland. After weighing the idea of continuing and possibly having to walk all the way back with a heavy gas can I decided to turn around and hitch back to at least make the tide on time, and luckily the first car that passed picked me up and it turned out that I left the dock within minutes of Bruce, who I followed closely along the shore, through fog so thick that at times I lost sight of the rocks and trees just 100 feet away!
            As the fog cleared, the sun came out, and the main current in the channel turned from against me to over four knots whipping Darwind along at speeds over nine knots for hours, until I arrived at Brown Bay, a small resort where I stopped and ate lunch while waiting for the current to die down a little in Seymour narrows, which are known to generate massive tide rips and whirlpools at full flood or ebb. Just off the docks of Brown Bay, I was even able to watch a couple of harbor seals playing in the clear waters of the straight, which remain so crystalline due to the massive churning produced by the millions of tons of water racing back and forth through this massive saltwater river every day.
            After passing through the narrows at slack water without incident, and with a sense of profound anticlimax, without seeing a single whirlpool more than a foot across, Darwind shot out into discovery channel, the last bit of constricted waterways before the relative open waters of the straits of Georgia. However, having passed through the narrows at slack after a following current, the opposing current soon built up until only halfway to the freedom of open water, we were only able to crab sideways back and forth against a five knot current, and when we started to loose ground around sunset, I was reluctantly forced to tie up at the nearest harbor to wait out the tide.
            Luckily, as so often happens in these kind of situations, I ended up tied up next to a very interesting couple who invited me over for a cold beer, which turned to two and eventually to a delicious dinner and a free, much needed, shower.
            Day 13-14
            After being pushed back by the current in Discovery channel, I was more than ready to hit some open water and hopefully get some real sailing and real miles in towards Vancouver, so after setting out at noon to catch the right current this time, I motored out into a completely flat strait. Soon, a brisk south breeze picked up, but rather than despair as I had in the narrower channels, with enough water to make good distance with each tack, the headwind turned from a curse into a blessing, allowing the Aries to do the grunt work while I enjoyed the sensation of finally putting sailing miles under the keel. I also relished the challenge of working every last ounce of speed out of the boat after so many boring hours simply motoring in a straight line down straight channels. That night, the wind died and became extremely shifty and gusty, but rather than motor, with searoom to spare I had the luxury of simply drifting while soaking up 10 minute catnaps under the starts in the warm air of the cockpit.
            In the morning, the wind steadied somewhat, allowing for the course to resume more or less towards the destination, rather than looping back on itself and swinging every which way as during the night. By afternoon as I drew closer to Vancouver the traffic steadily increased until just before the skyline broke the horizon, I could count at least a dozen sails scattered around me, ad dozens more motor and commercial vessels, all either coming from or heading towards the same place. Finally after a short bout of motoring through the fields of anchored freighters, the anchor rattled down to catch on the sandy bottom of English Bay, on the outskirts of an anchored fleet of sailboats and overlooked by the skyscrapers and high-rises of downtown Vancouver.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Leg 2 Sitka to Prince Rupert - 310 nm

Leg 2: Sitka-Prince Rupert, BC

            After an awesome week of long boarding, hiking, swimming and getting projects done around Sitka, Dad and Carmen, who had come down to say goodbye, having missed the Seldovia departure flew out and the wind was swinging around for the short hop down to Canada. The only minor glitch occurred when, two days before leaving Sitka, I realized that I had somehow left on a world trip without my passport! Luckily my mom was able to ship it out with the next Alaska Airlines flight, so a near-disaster was avoided, and now, (I’m pretty sure) I’ve got everything I need.
            On departure day, the wind was already blowing, and since I was anchored instead of at the dock, I didn’t even need to turn the engine on at all, and within a couple of hours I was once again rolling to the Gulf swell and cruising along at six knots with the wind over the port quarter. Unfortunately, unlike the first part of the gulf crossing, this leg would be parallel to shore, and just the day before the entire fishing fleet had left the dock and were strung out all along my route. All day, I had to keep adjusting course to steer clear of the fishing vessels and their long trolling lines, until I managed to break free of the majority of the fleet around 10 nautical miles offshore.
            That night, due to the proximity of shore and the ever-present fishermen, I stayed on a strict 10-minute sleep schedule, which it turned out was not nearly so bad as I had imagined it would be. I soon got into a rhythm of getting up, poking my head outside to do a quick 360-degree horizon check, then resetting the alarm before falling instantly asleep on my bunk. (Luckily it was dry out, because putting rain gear on every time would have made the process unbearable.)
Day 2
At dawn, I was actually surprisingly rested, but still got a longer nap in during the day when it was more likely that any boat that came too close would see me. However that afternoon was when I began to get mildly worried about the batteries, which were by now down to 11.9-11.7 volts, and the solar panel and wind generator seemed unable to bring this back up despite having plenty of wind and sun.
            The second night I lengthened my sleep period to a luxurious 15 minutes in bed, as there were much fewer boats around, but I ended up spending several hours on deck that night anyway, because shortly after the incredibly bright moon-rise, a pod of orcas passed within a couple of boat lengths, so close that every time I heard one of them blow, I thought it was about t hit the boat! Then, after the Orcas left, I kept hearing chirping sounds all around the boat, and when I finally dug out a flashlight to see what was making the noise, it turned out to be dozens of small brown bats circling the mast and sails! I suppose they must have been attracted to the masthead running lights or something, but I was extremely surprised to see animals normally associated with caves or forests 5 miles from the nearest island!
            Day 3
The final day, sailing up Dixon entrance, crossing the imaginary line in the water that marked the border, and raising the red-and-white Canadian courtesy flag passed under a thickly overcast sky and the first rain since leaving Seldovia. Then navigating through the rocks and reefs of Brown passage alongside several cruise ships and a container vessel was a bit stressful, but on passing through, things quickly calmed down. Then they continued to calm down, until by midnight I was flopping along at less than a knot with two jibs and the full main up, 15 miles up an narrow channel from the docks at Prince Rupert. At that point, I dropped the sails, started the engine, and pulled into the nearest cove to anchor for the night.
            At 1:30 am, I decided I had better call Canadian Customs to leave a message saying that I ha arrived in Canada but wasn’t able to make it to the customs dock until morning, just in case the coast guard got curious. What I wasn’t expecting at all was a very tired and annoyed heavy French-Canadian accent to answer! I instantly felt bad about calling so late, but I couldn’t really hang up then, so I think I was checked into Canada with probably the least exchange of words possible, not even my passport number, and in five minutes I was given a number to display in a window and the line went dead!
The next morning, I motored up the channel and tied up to the dock, where I immediately plugged in the dangerously low batteries to shore power, and went ashore, on foreign soil after only one stop in Sitka; I felt like I was moving incredibly fast, a feeling which I had no idea would be completely obliterated in the next few hundred miles.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Leg 1/Shakedown, Seldovia-Sitka: 630 miles

Departure day at last! After three years of preparation, the actual beginning of the trip ended up becoming a very last-minute affair. For just under two weeks, after returning from Bristol Bay and a brief glacier-ski interlude in anchorage, I had been busily working on getting all of the critical projects ready to go, finishing the engine well, repainting the dodger, sealing the leaky hull-deck joint, and by Tuesday I thought that I might be able to depart by Saturday at the earliest. However, on Wednesday night, the forecasted southwest wind started blowing a day early through the rigging at 15-20 knots, and there was no way I could pass up such a positive omen, and such a beautiful wind. Thursday morning came and I had managed, by dint of staying up through 4am, to get every project necessary to sail more-or-less completed, and the boat cleared and stowed for an offshore passage.
            Over breakfast, I told my mom about my plan to leave that day (Thursday) and, surprisingly, she agreed, saying “You’ve got to go when the wind is right.” I had been worried that she would have insisted I wait for my dad and sister to come down to say goodbye on Saturday, but she knew that they would understand, after all, my dad’s favorite phrase after “anytime can be naptime” is “wind and tide wait for no man.” After that, until departure at 2pm everything was a frenzy of activity, including riding my bike to a friends house to cut one last part for the engine well, until at 1:45 I was finally as ready to depart as possible. My mom, and a few other very close family friends came down to the dock to say goodbye and cut the last dock line. (a sailor’s tradition for good luck at the start of a long voyage) This small gathering and quiet farewell was much better I think that the bigger send-off my mom had been planning, but as I was slipping out of the breakwater about to raise the main and cut the engine,  I looked up at a burst of loud cheering coming from the deck of the Boardwalk, where more friends and Seldovians were waving a long banner and shouting their farewells, a gesture that broadened my smile and erased the last doubts or apprehensions about the coming passage as the sails filled to pull me out of Seldovia Bay and towards the horizon.
Day 1:
            As I left Seldovia bay, running downwind under main and genoa, I quickly had to switch the large jib for the smaller, heavier, “#2” jib, and slowly hardened up the tack until I was close hauled, with spray flying and the bow burying into almost every oncoming wave.  This wet tack took me all the way out into cook inlet and around dreaded point Bede, whose swift currents and infuriating winds I was not sorry I would never have to round again, before I swung around onto my true course to shoot straight out Kennedy Entrance between the Chugach and Barren Islands into the Gulf of Alaska. Flying on a beam-to-broad reach at over 6 knots, and riding the last of a 3 knot favorable current, I was having a blast and Darwind was sailing at her very best. Just before the sun set in the wake, as we were clearing the last bit of land for the next 600 nautical miles, a pod of orcas, the male with a dorsal fin at least six feet tall, passed going the other way. The rest of the night passed without much sleep as I kept an eye out for any traffic through Kennedy entrance and played with the sails until finding the best compromise between speed and safety running under just the #2 jib on a very broad reach.

            When I woke up the next day, I realized how hard it really was to spot and be spotted on a small sailboat as I picked up a ship on the AIS with a CPA (closest point of approach) of 1.75 nautical miles, yet I could only just barely see it even at that short distance, although this could have also been due to the heavy haze still lingering from the forest fires still burning on land. After the ship passed, the only boat I would see until Sitka, I spent the day, slightly queasy without my sea legs, resting under the sun on the one dry spot on deck, wedged between the mast and the life raft and watching the last of the mountaintops dip below the horizon, until about 4pm, when having not eaten since 2pm the previous day I made a quesadilla then took a nap below. At one point I tried raising the triple reefed main, but quickly dropped it, as it only caused the #2 to flop in the wind shadow and didn’t improve the speed enough to be worthwhile. That evening, however I was greeted by an old friend, the albatross, skimming low over the waves on a motionless, six or seven foot wingspan.

Day 3:
            By the very first hours of the morning on the third day I had found my sea legs at last, and after a night under an incredibly starry sky as can only be seen at sea, I also found my rhythm with the boat, the sea, and the sails. And of course, with sea legs and rhythm comes appetite! Dinner was a gigantic pot of spaghetti while watching one of the most incredible sunsets I have ever seen, either on land or at sea, and with the ever-present albatross whirling and skimming above the crests of each 8-foot swell, I was riveted to my place in the cockpit until the last bit of light faded from the horizon. That night, too, when I went on deck again just before midnight, I was surprised to see some of the best phosphorescence I had ever seen! There had been some the previous night, and I knew it existed in Alaskan waters, but had never seen it so bright so far north before! I spent hours staring at the spectral glow of the disturbed water, especially watching the phantom blade of the Aries carving back and forth through the wake, blazing with green-blue light and leaving a sparking comet tail trailing almost to the next wave! And then when a big breaker overtook the boat, she seemed to be floating for a moment on a huge glowing carpet of whitewater surrounded by black nothingness. Eventually, however, the chill night air forced me below for a nap, and so I climbed into my bunk a very happy sailor.

Day 4:
            As the wind abated somewhat, I raised the double-reefed main wing-on-wing with the #2 poled out on the opposite side of the boat, and so rolled directly downwind for most of the day, still making incredible time and an average speed of over 5.3 knots! We ran this way all day and through the night, with only a brief interlude to heave-to (stop sailing) in order to fix a loose bolt on the Aries self-steering gear, but this was quickly accomplished and we were back underway within 10 minutes of noticing a problem with the steering. – All in all the perfect day of sailing, I felt I could continue like this for weeks, and felt regret that the passage would be over in only a couple of days.

Day 5:
            When I woke up from one of my naps, I realized with a shock that for the first time we weren’t making 5knots, and kicking myself for not noticing and waking up sooner, I jumped out of bed to raise the rest of the main and switch the #2 for the much larger genoa, until we were once again cruising down each wave with roaring foam at the bow. However, the wind continued to abate, and the Aries, possibly still not in 100% condition after my hasty underway repair was not steering as well in the lighter winds that came and went in frustrating, drawn-out squalls all day. Around midday, I sighted a whole pod of humpbacks scattered around the boat, one huge one startled me by surfacing only 1 wave behind the Darwind, but other than that the rest were never closer than a ½ mile. After glancing at the chart plotter to see that we were less than 100 nautical miles from the Sitka docks, I felt a mounting excitement for my first landfall and the successful completion of my first offshore solo passage, yet at the same time a twinge of regret that the voyage was less than 24 hours from completion; I felt that it was too bad that just as I was really getting into the rhythm of an offshore passage it was already over.

Day 6:
            On the morning of the last day of the passage, the wind was even lighter and continued to die through the day, until by the time I passed through a fleet of over three dozen small sport fishing boats around Cape Edgecomb, I was ghosting over a glassy swell at barely three knots, and after passing through the fleet and into the even calmer waters of Sitka sound, I finally had to suck it up and start the engine which had sat silently on the rail since clearing the breakwater of Seldovia harbor six days before. After that it was a quick, calm 2-hour motor up the sound and inside the harbor where the anchor chain rattled over the bow and the boat swung to the tide in the utter silence that always follows a long passage, full of the rush of water, creaking of blocks and lines, and the whistling of the wind.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Improvemnt Projects 2017-2019

Over the years since my last post, I have completed two solo voyages, from Seldovia to Seward, and Seward to Seldovia (both 150 nautical miles and three days), in order to do out-of-the-water work in Seward, and both trips proved to be trials of both the boat and myself, with long nights, terrible anchorages, and one force 7-8 gale(30-35 knots wind and-11 foot seas). As expected, the boat did incredibly well even in the worst of it, and except for realizing how much I need to get south to warmer climes, and smoother seas, so did I (or at least I think so, I survived, so I guess that's a plus). As well as sailing around South-central AK, and commercial fishing in Bristol Bay to make some much-needed cash, I have been kept busy steadily chipping away at the ever-growing(although dare I say it has begun to shrink) list of things to do before my circumnavigation departure in August 2019. Now, with under 2 months to g, here is what has been done:

1.  Replace the seized up adjustable backstay with Dyneema lashing
2.  Rebuild galley/nav station
3.  Build a wooden whisker pole
4.  Sew a companionway flap
5. Install a motor well for the outboard
6. Replace the Cape Horn windvane with an Aries Gear
7. Install two flexible fresh water tanks, 28 and 14 gallons respectively
8. Upgrade ground tackle to a 33lb Rocna anchor on 200 feet of 3/8" chain
9. Replace old head with a composting AirHead toilet
10. Redo the cockpit locker lids
11. New antifouling paint for the bottom
12. Replace the old dingy with a new packraft
13. Opening portlights for the cabin

And here is what still needs to be done:

1. Finish the box for engine
2. Repaint the dodger
3. Register EPIRB
4. Install AIS tranciever
5. Install a new 400 watt inverter
6. Fix the electric auto pilot
7. Sew a lee cloth for my bunk
8. Curtains for windows
9. Additional bookshelf
10. Install an anchor windlass
11. Provision dry goods for at least 3 months