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.

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