Saturday, July 30, 2011

Neah Bay, out and back.

July 27 to 29th.

Before this trip, I had never been offshore in a sailboat.  I had never been on a sail by myself that lasted more than 24 hours.  As I am considering sailing to Mexico, I needed to resolve in my mind whether or not these represented challenges that I could meet or not.  After being back, and thinking about it, the trip seems to be a Go.  Mexico here I come!

I left Neah Bay on the 27th around noon for what I was then planning on being an overnight sail, returning the next morning.  There was decent wind for most of the trip - wind speeds in the range 10 to 15 knots.  Initially my sail plan was genoa and full mainsail.  I added the staysail to the mix after a few hours and the boat settled down nicely.  Rather than rolling so much between the waves in the swell sets, the boat seemed to push forward more aggressively.   She was rolling less and had picked up a little speed.  The staysail stayed up for most of the rest of the trip.

I had been out sailing the previous day to use the Monitor for the first time, and since then I had made a few small adjustments which improved its performance.  I was really happy with the performance of the Monitor.  It sailed the boat for the vast majority of the trip, efficiently and better than I could.  If I'm on a boat with other crew I can be a decent helmsman, keeping the boat in trim to the wind pretty well.  But when I'm singlehanding, there are so many other tasks that demand my attention that hand steering just isn't something I can do for more than minutes at a time.  I would hand steer and then become distracted by questions such as: where is that freighter I saw on AIS and am I still safely out of its way; has the wind speed/direction changed and if so how is my current course; is there any new traffic around; was that a whale I heard behind me blowing?.  There are lots of things that need or seem to demand attention, and if  you're hand steering attending to any of them can leave the boat at poor angles to the wind even after a brief spell of inattention.  The Monitor just keeps on steering accurately, hour after hour.  Its remarkably freeing.

My first sunset on this trip was wonderful, in mostly clear skies.  This was followed in a few hours by a very dark night - the moon had set earlier that afternoon and the skies were brilliant.  At around midnight I changed my mind about the trip and decided to extend it by a day as I wanted a full day at sea.  I was heading in a rough northwest direction, staying off the coast of Vancouver Island and between 5 and 30 miles offshore.  At around 2am the wind picked up slightly and I put a reef in the main.  I decided that this should probably be part of my preparations for night sailing - putting a reef in the main at night is conservative but probably a good habit.  I'll adopt this strategy for a while unless conditions clearly warrant otherwise.

Sunrise was to a clear sky and after a beautiful night.  Wind 11 knots.  It was a pretty amazing night for me.  Its hard to describe how the boat felt surging forward all night at over 6 knots into waves and wind, surrounded by darkness but with an absolutely beautiful bioluminescent bow wave and wake.  I felt intensely satisfied by my circumstances and the long set of choices to get to where I was.  The boat met all my expectations and I have high hopes for my future trips.

Sunrise was in dense cloud, the dark gradually fell and light arrived.  Later in the morning the wind fell somewhat but with a forecast for 15 to 25 knots I left the reef in the main.  As I had nowhere in particular to be, my boat speed at 4.5 knots was just fine with me.  My destination was back to Neah Bay but not for 24 hours so there was no need to push the boat.  I sailed all afternoon watching traffic and tacking around the fishing fleets.  The fishing fleet seems to be equipped with AIS transponders - but they sometimes turn them off.  It was a little disconcerting to be watching the chart plotter and have an AIS target suddenly pop into view a dozen miles away.  I wasn't surprised by any other traffic this trip - aside from the massive volume of shipping traffic there is in this area.  There are many more freighters transiting this area than I thought.  However any plan I had thought of for heading south from this area includes getting offshore and out of traffic lanes as soon as possible.  No change there.

The second day was pretty awesome.  There was low lying cloud all day so I wasn't able to see land Thursday even though I wasn't that far offshore for part of the day and could have seen it if conditions were otherwise.  Being out of sight of land was awesome, I liked the feeling.

That night the forecast winds were 15 to 20 building to 20 to 25, all from the west.  At around 4pm I jibed the boat while 30 miles off the coast of Vancouver Island, near Barkley Sound and started the return trip to Neah Bay.  That night I was sailing nicely in 11 knots of wind, just entering the western entrances to the traffic lanes when the fog started rolling in.  Then the wind started dying.  By midnight my boat speed had fallen to around 1.5 knots.  I was in an area where there was potentially heavy traffic, in fog with not a lot of boat speed.  I could see on AIS most of the way down the straits and far offshore and didn't see any freighters heading my way, but thought it a prudent move to start getting out of the way.  I brought in my Genoa and started motoring back to Neah Bay in dense fog.  A little while later there seemed to be a surge of freighter traffic as 6 freighters were heading west down the straits in my direction.  By then I was in a good spot and was happy with my earlier decision.

The winds stayed fairly low the rest of the trip.  Around 2am I was seeing west winds up to 11 knots, and then falling within a few minutes to 4, ranging all over. The fog varied between thick to thin, but visibility was reduced for most of the trip back.  I arrived back at the entrance to Neah Bay at 3:45am.  I lowered my main, prepared my anchor setup and slowly motored into the anchorage.  By 4:30 I was back at anchor, in a dead calm, the trip a success.

I'm really happy with how this boat is setup.  All the equipment choices are working out really well.  Luckness is a comfortable, well equipped cruising boat now.  This is not the way she was when I bought her two years ago, but she has evolved into a kick ass cruising machine.  I'm also pretty happy with my skill level.  I have a lot to learn and experience yet, but I feel I seem to have a solid enough grounding in the skills required in order to be able to pickup additional skill and experience while on a longer cruise.  I could stay in Seattle and the Pacific NorthWest for years developing my skills further - but the most common and popular piece of cruising advice other cruisers pass along is to "Just GO!"  Get out there.  I'm planning on taking that advice.

I'll return the Seattle over the course of the next few days and start working on my refreshed project list.  Most of the projects are fine tuning.  Adding more anti-skid surfaces to make dealing with life onboard while heeled easier, for example.  Small stuff.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Anchored in Neah Bay

Neah Bay is where everybody leaving from the Pacific Northwest stays waiting for a suitable weather window for their trip south.  Its a sailing landmark of sorts in these waters.  However on this trip, I'm only here to take a look around.  This is not yet the start of my big sailing trip.

I've taken a day off to catch up on a few chores.  I'm baking bread and have pressure cooked a batch of beans which I can use in meals over the next few days.  The wind has been good all day, 10 to 15 knots.  Race Rocks to my east was reporting 38 knots with the Central and Eastern Straits having a gale watch in effect.

I'm sitting here at anchor, stealing an unlocked wifi connection from shore using my Ubiquiti Bullet wifi adapter.  I have the inverter on with my laptop plugged in.  My solar panels and wind generator have been excellent.  My battery bank is fully charged and I'm actually generating power above what all the devices are drawing right now.  At night I've been watching a video on my laptop and then playing with my SSB with laptop connected, drawing quite a lot of power.  On light wind nights, when the wind generator wasn't working at all, I have been waking with the battery bank down around 40 amp hours.  The bank is normally fully charged by noon, even while I'm at anchor.  Today where there was wind all night, the battery bank was fully charged when I woke up.  The wind/solar power is working out really well.

Enough techno-babble.  The main reason I'm here is to make the decision about whether or not I stay in Seattle an extra year or leave for California and Mexico in around 4 weeks.  The boat is going to be ready for the trip, I'm trying to decide if I'm ready or not.  I still haven't sailed offshore or single handed on a multiple day journey where you need to get sleep.  Obviously I need to be able to do both of those things if I'm going to take this boat down the coast.  So….  Do I stay or do I go?  That is the question I'm trying to answer.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Port Angeles

Neah Bay

Arrived at Port Angeles yesterday afternoon, motoring all day from Mackay Harbor.  No wind.  Left Port Angeles this morning and arrived in Neah Bay this evening.  The forecast was for W 10-15 building to 15 to 25 after 2pm.  I motored until 2pm when a west wind finally started arriving as I had light east wind all morning. I waited for it to build to a steady 10 knots - and after motoring for 35 miles I had 15 left to Neah Bay.  My ETA motoring was 4pm and I wanted to arrive in daylight.  When I started sailing the two remaining hours for the trip turned into five, but it was nice!  

Sailing these waters is very different from the San Juans.  I had no real traffic to deal with except for freighters and they all broadcast AIS locations so they are easy to deal with.  The wind was pretty steady, unlike in the San Juans where it is constantly shifting and changing strength.  It was a nice sail.  The wind built to 23 knots, but the boat was balanced very nicely with a reef in the main and finally a reef in the genoa.  Sailing into the wind was a pretty wet ride, there was spray over the bow and back into the cockpit covering me with saltwater.  I hadn't been sailing like that for a while - it was nice.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Wet Pole

Leaving Echo Bay on Sucia for Mackay Harbor.

I almost lost my pole today.  I was heading down Presidents Channel in the northern San Juans heading toward San Juan Channel towards my next destination.  Presidents Channel is fairly narrow, and the winds were flukey, and the current slightly against me.  Anyway, I was tacking back and forth making slow progress.  In this situation, its better to keep the tacks as long as possible (taking wind into account etc.) and that's what I was doing.

I was on a port tack heading toward shore.  I was trying to tack fairly close to land, but with a margin in case things go wrong.  It was time to tack and I was still using the autopilot to help - so I pushed the button.  Once again, the autopilot tack was messy.  I ended up in irons, then the sail backwinded.  At this point I was preparing to reverse the sheets again to do the tack again when I looked forward and watched my new whisker/spinnaker pole fall off my mast and slide into the water.  Oops.

The pole has two ends (wow!) one of which is a jaw which can accept a sheet and the other of which is a socket which connects to a car on the mast which can set the height of the pole.  It was being stored by being attached to the car, then drawn up the mast with the free end fitted in to a set of jaws designed for the purpose.  Everything looked like it should to me when I stowed it.  Either the flapping sail hit the socket release lever or something else happened to release the pole - because it was free and floating away.

Now I had a $2000 carbon fiber pole floating away, a backed sail, a stalled boat and no chance to perform my man overboard drills.  I decided the easiest thing was to furl the headsail, start the engine and go back to the floating pole.  The first two steps were easy, then I started motoring back to the area I thought the pole should be.  The pole is black, and so was the water.  But I finally spotted it and I made a wide turn to put the pole to my leeward.  Just as I was pulling up to the pole it started going vertical.  It was dramatic!  The timing was made for TV.  Just as I approached the pole it started going down.  I ran forward with the boat hook in hand and managed to hook the release loop on the pole on the first try just as it was submerging.  The pole was seconds from being gone forever.

Once it was hooked, I pulled it aboard and stowed it in its deck storage location.

That was the last time I've used the autopilot tack feature.  Last year I used to always tack the boat manually.  Standing in front of the wheel I can manage both sheets and reach behind to steer the boat.  However this wasn't working very well as the brake on the wheel wasn't strong enough to keep the boat on a course it was left on - it would wander.  The helm brake was rebuild in the last visit to YachtFitters though, and it works great now.  Also last year the autopilot wouldn't tack at all, which was fixed.  I've been thinking that now that I have a machine on board to help with the tacking, I should be using it.  No longer.  I've gone back to my old style of tacking and its much better.  All my tacks are much more controlled again.  Yay.  A little more refinement to my sailing techniques.

It was a beautiful day of sailing today.  Sailing into 10 to 15 knots all day.  No rain, some sunshine, a few challenges with all the traffic and narrow channels.  Good stuff.

My old plan which was a short sail to the San Juans to work on projects has been abandoned.  I'm going to make this trip longer and try to get some offshore experience.  Now I'm heading out to Neah Bay via Port Angeles.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Sailing from Mud Bay (Lopez) to Echo Bay (Sucia).

One of the reasons I'm on this trip is to gain experience and develop my skills.  Its working.

It was a good sailing day - lots of variety.  Dead calms up to around 15+ knots, with the wind behind me, on my beam and on my nose.  No rain today, some sunshine and clouds.  I am pretty patient with the sailing, and will often wait for more wind when its blowing one or two knots rather than quickly turning on the motor.  I have no schedule so I can afford to take my time.  The forecast was for 15 to 25 building in the evening.

Toward the end of the day I was fighting a slight current coming from Sucia which was dead upwind.  I was outside Matia, an island to Sucia's south east trying to get to anchor.  The boat was heading toward Matia, going upwind in 17 knots of wind, reefed.  Everything was just fine.  I saw that I couldn't head high enough to miss Matia and allow me to get closer to Sucia, and knew I needed to tack.  I was getting closer and closer when I decided to tack early - it was windy and if things went wrong I would have time to fix them.  Things went a little wrong.

I have been using my autopilot to help me tack as I am single handing on this trip.  So I prepared my sheet lines, told the autopilot to tack and started my drill.  I don't know the circumstances yet, but sometimes the autopilot doesn't tack very well.  This time it stopped its tack with the nose of the boat into the wind - about 1/2 of a tack.  By this time I had the port sheet off its winch and the starboard sheet being brought in trying to get the headsail across.  This is when the wind shifted slightly and back winded the headsail.  Now things started happening fast.  I took control of the helm but boat speed was lost quickly and I couldn't complete the tack by hand.  So I had to return the headsail to its starboard tack situation it was in before starting this.  This would put me on a coarse back for Matia - no problem, it was still far enough way I could do it all again.  So I wrapped the sheet around the port winch and started bring in the sail on the port side again - this is when I got an override on the winch, jamming the port sheet solidly in the winch.  It was a good one, solidly built.  Pulling by hand on the sheet wouldn't even budge it.  (An override is basically the sheet wrapping itself in a knot around the winch.  You don't want this.)

At this point the boat is accelerating again, toward land, and with the headsail trimmed I could neither release it or bring it in.  The choices I thought of then were to cut the sheet or fix the override.

Anyway, I remember from sailing classes that to fix the override you take the tail of the sheet to the opposite winch, and grind it out.  This worked.  Thanks Chris!  In moments the sheet was free, I organized the cockpit, tacked again and everything was fine.  There was very little drama - although it was a situation full of potential drams…

There were a few problems.  The original tack didn't complete and I didn't notice quickly enough to finish it by hand.  I had been doing this all day, but missed this one.  Oops.  When I brought back the backed headsail I put three wraps around the winch rather than two as I was working quickly and I was influenced by the slapping sheets and sails.  Three wraps leads to overrides, two is better.  All day I'd been using two wraps around the winch, adding one or two more when most of the sheet is brought in.  Oops again.  Tacking early was a good choice.  Yay .  Getting the override free was pretty quick.  Yay again.  From there the mini crisis was averted.

To follow this up, after I got closer to Echo Bay and had the sails put away I heard a call on the VHF from a sailboat that had gone aground on a charted reef on the south side of the entrance to Echo Bay - from where I was, it was "right over there."  Here I was single handing a keel boat - nothing I could do.  Luckily I saw vessel assist motoring out of the bay toward the sailboat - he was on scene within 5min.  Good timing for the owner.

Sorry for all the sailor talk, but there is a sailing theme on this blog eh.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Leaving Shilshole for a short trip

I needed to get out sailing.  I had been working on projects at Shilshole for weeks, and things are winding up.  I am waiting on a few parts from my windlass manufacturer (a fix for the remote and a new bow roller to fix a problem.)  As I can't speed that up, I thought I would get up to the San Juans where I could work on a few projects in better surroundings.  One idea is that I need to varnish the boat still this season, and that I could do this at anchor easier than tied to a dock.  I also need to attach all the cones to some line, building my Jordan Series drogue.  I can do that work anywhere.  Somewhere more scenic would be nice.

I left on Sunday for Port Ludlow, and from there left on Monday for Mud Bay.  The winds in the straits were light and I needed to motor most of the way across.  Its nice to be out on the water again.

While at Mud Bay I calibrated my knot meter.  It turns out that it has been reading 10% high.  When it showed I was going 7.2 knots, it was really only 6.5.  My heading sensor was also calibrated, so the radar overlays now overlay the charts properly.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The year of shaking up

Finding the right names, or goals for things can be important.  With the right name, some event/object/whatever can take its proper place.  For example, the space shuttle was meant to provide a cheap and easy way into space, leading the way for much more space travel in the future (which would have been around now.)  However the space shuttle proved to be expensive, dangerous and time consuming to turn around for the next trip.  Clearly the stated goals for the space shuttle were wrong - the project may be a failure if measured by those goals.  However if the goals had been more realistic the project could have been measured a great success.  Setting goals or giving names can be tricky...

So, I've retired from work, sold my house and am almost finished doing the (initial) work on Luckness.  I've decided on a name for this first year of retirement - its my "Shake me up tour."  Shaking me up refers to my life - I've already started the process of shaking my life up pretty dramatically.  There were 20 years of work, which followed 10 years of university, which followed high school, etc.  There have not been too many breaks in that progression and one of my methods now has been to throw some chaos into the mix and see what happens.

A big part of the shake me up tour is going to be related to sailing, but its not all about sailing.  Sailing is a means to an end, just as the boat is a tool to be used.  Right now its not clear to me what the outcome of all this will be, but I'm looking forward to figuring it out.  Or trying anyway...

Anyway, while I'm still tied up to dock here at Shilshole, my Shaking Up has already started. The tour has begun.  What happens from here is pretty open ended - there are lots of outcomes which are perfectly acceptable to me over the next few years.

The latest things to hold me to dock right now are a few last minute fixes I wanted to complete before leaving on my summer sail.  My rough timeline is to leave sometime soon, sail around here and there until mid- to late august, return to Shilshole and then decide on the next step.  My current favorite outcome for that step is still to leave for California and Mexico - but I'm not committing to anything until after I've returned from my summer sail.

While down at Quartermaster harbor I found a few things that needed fixing on Luckness.  My anchor chain counter is busted - it was showing I had 2000 feet of chain out at one point, followed by -14688 feet brought in.  The problem appears to be a chafe point on the wiring below the windlass as it exits the backing plate - the wires had become exposed and were shorting on each other.  Getting the sensor out required that I take off the gypsy on the windlass - so I no longer have a working anchor.  The parts should be here next week.  I don't like to sail without a working anchor however...

I also found that while raising my anchor while it was heavily loaded that the chain would jump out of the gypsy constantly.  Its done this in the past, although it was worse on this trip possibly due to the load being higher as I was untangling the anchor which had gotten tangled with one of the others.  After speaking to the folks at Lighthouse I believe the problem is that there is a twist being introduced into the chain between the bow roller and the gypsy.  As this twist builds up, the chain jumps out of the gypsy.  It makes sense.  Lighthouse is going to fabricate a new anchor roller for my bow which will have the proper shape: a deep grove which fits the entire width of the chain, with a narrower groove in this one to accept the width of a chain link.  This should hold the chain in place as it comes onboard without twisting the chain between the roller and windlass.  Supporting this idea is some discussion on the Rocna web site which describes their ideal anchor setup - which has a bow roller as described.  If this works out it would be awesome.  Pictures of the roller will follow.

The current roller is below:
The groove is not deep enough to fit the chain link on its side, so it is always resting like an 'x' in the roller.  Then as the chain is pulled to a side, it trips on the groove and when it comes back to center a different part of the chain is on the bottom - introducing 1/4 twist.  If I had a lathe I could maybe fix this one, but I can be busy on other things while the proper part is being fabricated and sent to me next week.  The chain should sit like an '+' in the roller, not an 'x'.   Ooooh, ascii art is so cool.

The deck wash pump also burned itself out on the weekend, so I've replaced it.  After I removed it, it was not at all surprising that it burned out.  This is one of the last pieces of original equipment onboard - it was clearly time for replacement!

A new deck wash was on my original list, but I took it off my project list as the old one was working and I wanted to get out of here.  What should have been a day project turned into three - but the details aren't very interesting.  Things take longer than you might expect eh.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

July 4th in Quartermaster Harbor

I've been working steadily on my list of projects, whittling it down and down.  There are only a few items left on it which I can't work on while underway OutThere, but I can't quite leave yet.  More on that in the next post...

I met some friends down in Quartermaster Harbor over the July 4th weekend.  Frog Prints, Limu and Luckness sailed down on the 3rd, rafted up and spent the night.  On the 4th the other two boats left to go sailing while I stayed at anchor and continued working on my projects.  Frog Prints, Limu and Hope joined up for the evening of the 4th.

I had tried to join this crowd in the previous two years but wasn't able to.  There is a large fireworks display on the harbor on the 4th with lots of room to anchor.  We had good weather and calm winds for the display.  Good times!

Frog Prints, Luckness, Limu from Hope
The fireworks barge arrived that evening
The night was clear
The crowds are ready...
And it starts!

(Click on this image if it is not showing an animation.)