Casting Off

Bellingham to San Francisco

July 18th

We’ve done it! After nearly a year long refit of “Imagine”, we finally were able to leave the dock! We had a nice 3 day voyage to the south end of Puget sound to anchor in front of my folks’ place on Totten Inlet. We made stops along the way in Everett (visit with Kellie’s grandparents) and Seattle (Nate and Kari brought us a pizza!). All systems that were expected to work, did so nicely. There is still lots of work to do to finish the “less major” installations, but we’re now mobile and have most of the important systems working. The new mainsail fits beautifully, the re-cut headsails seem to work well, although some fine adjustments to the furling system are still needed.

August 25, 2004

We’re back in Bellingham for final preparations before heading down the coast. Thanks to San Juan Sailing for finding us a slip to use on short notice. It’s been raining for nearly a week now, and we’re getting anxious because I’d rather not finish replacing the standing rigging in the rain, but we need to do it before heading out. Got the SSB radio nearly installed (just need to string up the antenna and make the ground plane), need to haul the boat to install the new prop, finish installing the nav lights and 5 more shrouds… oh yeah, and install the refrigeration system… and probably dozen more things…

Sept. 5th 2004
Current location, Neah Bay, WA.

We left Bellingham officially at 11:00 am on Thursday the 2nd. Our first night was spent at Lopez Island with our friends Mike and Kelly Foster on their boat Wyndeavor. They are sailing with their 2 children and an extra crew member, Linda. Ellie and Carter are being driven to San Francisco by Willi and Lou (Pete’s parents) to meet us next weekend. Friday had us motoring across the Straight of Juan de Fuca to Port Angeles with absolutely no wind. Saturday was windy, but as seems to be our luck, it was a west wind and we were heading, well, west. But the boat sailed great, making an average of more than 5 knots and we settled in to Neah Bay after a 60 mile, 12 hour trip. Moderate seasickness plagued us, but not as badly as the cold weather. Today we are doing a few more projects, taking showers and getting everything stowed away for our trip to San Fran. Kellie is a bit apprehensive, but also ready to face the adventure. Peter is his usual calm self, trying to do one last project even as we weigh anchor. The skies are bright and they’re forecasting favorable weather off the coast. Please write to us this week, as we will be happy to read your mail when we reach CA.

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Sept. 6th, 2004

Location: 46.55N 125.45W (100 miles SSW of Cape Flattery (the end of the straight of Juan de Fuca), ~70 miles off the coast)

We got away much later than hoped yesterday – the last few projects seemed to take three times as long as they should have: finally sanding “Portland OR” off the transom and putting on new lettering telling the world that we’re from “Bellingham WA”, installing anchor points in the deck to lash down the dinghy, rebedding the starboard handrails along the cabin top, adding extra flotation to the hard dinghy, and a final inspection of the rigging up to the masthead were the ‘significant’ things on my to-do-list before we could leave. The dinghy flotation took by far the longest. We’d pulled into Neah Bay marina so we could work on the dink on the dock. We got many interesting looks and comments from the local fishermen… One fellow asked, “So, where’r you headed”. “Mexico”, Kellie replies. “Yer s@#%’in me”… He watched the dinghy floatation project in full swing for a long while, then exclaimed, “Oh, I get it… you’re doing that in case something goes wrong and you have to get in that little boat!”… er, yeah.

We finally got away, and a couple of gray whales gave us a farewell just outside the harbor (they have VERY stinky breath!). Tacking out the straight was getting to be a normal routine by this time (we’re beginning to think that this boat only goes upwind!). Kellie hunkered down for a nap and we went up and over many a big swell. About 8:30pm I woke Kellie up and asked if she was ready to make “the big left turn” we’d talked about for so many years. She muttered something afirmative and went back to sleep, so I tacked and we were off!… well, except that the wind started clocking around from the NW to the SW (of course! We only go upwind!), so we had to tack back to ensure we had room to to clear the point, then a few more times just for good measure… The wind got quite fluky and light so I finally started the motor so we could GET AROUND THAT @#$%^&* corner and all the fishing boats. The wind just wasn’t cooperating and the moon wasn’t up so it was very dark, making sail trim difficult in swirling winds, so I kept the motor going and set the electric autopilot for 180 degrees (south) with the sails sheeted amidship to help control the rolling. Kellie took the 10pm to 3am watch and got to see a fantastic moon rise. Shortly after I started my watch at 0300, the wind filled in a bit from the WNW and we were finally sailing south! Some dolphins came by to say hi (I could hear them better than see them), and the boat was leaving a glowing tail of phosphorescence. This is what it’s supposed to be like! I’d tried to keep track of Wyndevour (Mike and Kelly Foster) thru the night, but eventually lost sight of them (getting them mixed up with fishing boats), but in the pre-dawn hours decided that one particular light was going the same direction we were and hadn’t been left behind like the others. Daylight revealed a sail off in the distance (about 6 miles NW of us) that was on the same heading. Mike finally radioed on the VHF and confirmed it was them and we worked out a radio schedule on the HF. Neither of us had sucessfully tested our HF SSB (long range) radios prior to today (I installed my ground plane on the way to Pt. Angeles), so it was comforting to know we could keep in touch once we lose sight of each other. This morning I’d contacted a pleasureboat in Queen Charlotte sound about 300 miles away (my first SSB radio transmission!), so had confirmed mine was working well.

Throughout the day the sail in the distance got smaller and smaller as they “fell off the edge of the earth”… after awhile only the top half of the mast could be seen using binoculars. Around 2pm I wasn’t able to seem them any more. No land in sight since before noon. The weather is nice, the solar panels and wind generator are putting out 3-4 amps and the batteries are fully charged. The Monitor windvane (self steering) is working perfectly, and I haven’t made any adjustments for at least 6 hours. The only thing that isn’t working quite perfectly is the refrigeration system… it’s too cold in the fridge section (we had milk slushie on our granola). I need some foam insulation to isolate the freezer section better, but where does one find some 1/2″ styrofoam sheet out here… I’ve got some cardboard jerry-rigged around it for now.

It’s now 4pm and we’ve been tooling along at a comfortable 6-8 knots all day on a heading of 185 degrees. Another 40 miles or so and we’ll be crossing the Columbia about 100 miles offshore and leaving “The Washington Coast” behind.

Sept. 8th, 2004

Light winds, but making 4-5 knots in somewhat the right direction. A BIG whale came by for a visit, and surfaced 4 times about 30 feet from us. Very cool.

Sept. 9th, 2004
Location: 42.21N 126.21W (21 Miles north of the California border, 85 miles offshore)

We had a rough night last night (literally!). The wind got lighter and lighter, but the waves got bigger and bigger, and were quite confused. We got tossed around a lot and the sails were slatting hard. I had the boom prevented/vanged to port, but it was still crashing around. The full batten main sure makes a bang when it slats – shakes the whole boat. Kellie woke me at around midnight – the windex at the masthead was spinning in circles, and there wasn’t enough wind to maintain steerage so we decided to drop the main, hoping that that’d give the genoa some clear air to stay filled, or have the option to motor if necessary. I went forward to the mast (harnessed and clipped to jacklines, as always anytime I leave the cockpit), raised the lazy jacks and started easing the halyard while Kellie sheeted the boom into the gallows. The sail came down a few feet, then got stuck… not what you want to have happen anytime, but especially not in the dark when you were taking the sail down for a good reason. I thought one of the battens had hooked behind the lazy jacks, but after awhile determined that wasn’t the case… why wouldn’t the sail come down. The top 10-15 feet seemed to drop and flake above the spreader somewhere… Finally I figured out that the topping lift had caught in the top reef leechline jammer and was “stuck real good”. I decided we’d have to keep the main up and deal with it in the daylight, so raised it back up… ‘cept it wouldn’t go back up all the way… I finally remembered the boom was sheeted hard, and released the mainsheet, back up to the mast and cranked it up (finally), came back to the cockpit. I had another go at freeing the topping lift, and yippee! it came free. Back to the mast… down came the main. Somewhere in this process I thought I saw one of Kellie’s gloves on the deck tangled in the mainsheet. I picked it up and was surprised that it was warm… and it wasn’t a glove… it was alive… a bird! where’d that come from? So there’s this poor little tired bird hopping around the cockpit floor and I’m doing my best not to step on him. Finally Kellie put him in a cardboard box with a towel in the bottom, closed the lid and went to bed. Things down below were a mess – books coming off the bookshelves, the fruit basket slid into the sink, clothes and cushions everywhere. and we’re rolling between 20 and 30 degrees from side to side with breaking waves coming from astern… and no wind… very strange and frustrating conditions! I picked a course based on comfort, not destination, and we headed east for awhile trying to go the same direction as the waves. Some dolphins came by for a visit to cheer me up, and they put on quite a show. I could see them glowing underwater from the phosphorescence, and they left trails like comets. It was amazing seeing their zigzag trails back and forth under the boat and up to the surface. I’m bummed Kellie didn’t get to see it. Sometime around 4am the wave suddenly calmed and I spend some time tidying up below.

I’m writing this “the morning after”, and there’s still not enough wind to sail. The waves built up again enough to be annoying, but not nearly as bad as last night, and at least now I can see them coming! I keep trying to put out the headsail, but it just slams back and forth… wishing for a bit of wind! I’m sure the Wyndeavor crew had a miserable night too. The bird is still here. I made him some breakfast and gave him a little bowl of water, but he doesn’t seem interested. He’s out of his box and sitting on the cockpit floor eyeing me. I got out our bird books but can’t identify him.

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I figured out how to recieve NAVTEX data over the SSB radio, modem and computer. It’s much easier to read it than to try to transcribe the computer-voice weather transmission. Forcast is for 10-20kn N to NW winds from now until Sunday from here to SF. I hope it shows up.

Sept. 11th, 2004

0300 pdt: (that’s 3am) We’re well south of the Much Feared Cape Mendicino… motoring in no wind… partial fog with occasional clearings revealing a glorious starry sky. We’ve been motoring for 27hrs straight. There just isn’t any wind! We’ve got enough fuel left to motor to SF if necessary, but hoping to avoid the expense (we’ve burned 60g thus far, 40g remaining).

6 dolphins came by a bit ago and gave me a 1/2 hour show – I wish I could describe adequately how incredible they looked in the dark – halo’d by phosphorescence and streaming “comet tails” about 20ft long zipping back and forth under the bow. When I first saw one approach from our starb beam, I braced for impact! (looked like a torpedo incoming at about 25kn!) God had some imagination when he made this world!

All is well, but we’re a bit homesick. The trip started out great and we made good time, but for the last few days has been very rolly with not enough wind to sail (the sails help steady the boat from rolling, but if there isn’t enough wind, they slam from side to side, which is hard on them, the rigging, and our nerves!) Looking forward to landfall early Monday morning and a hot shower!

12:30pm: The wind finally picked up last night and I started sailing under genoa and winged out staysail. This proved to be a good combination as long as there was enough wind to keep the sails from backwinding when we rolled from side to side. We steamed along at 6-8kn for a couple of hours, watched the sun rise to beautifully clear skies. The wind slowly backed off, leaving us rolling again, I headed up (east) and decided that today is the day to build and install the spinnaker pole (we don’t have a spinnaker, but it’ll pole out the genoa and hopefully reduce the roll). I’d bought all the pieces in, Bellingham over the summer, but never had time to put it together. I’ve had a 3.5″ x 20ft piece of 11ga 6061 aluminum pipe lashed to the port stanchions for over a month! 2 pole end fittings, a 3′ section of 1.25″ car track and a pole car… I’d attempted to build it several times in the last week, but the tools kept sliding off the deck, and I spent more time trying to hold on and catch tools than working. Today the motion was cooperative and I was motivated – the wind was going to be directly on the tail all the way to San Francisco (another 24 hours or so). I got the end fittings and trip lines mounted to the aluminum pipe and the track bolted to the mast (which involved standing on the halyard winches drilling and tapping holes in the mast from about 5′ to 9′ off the deck – even mild rolling makes this difficult!). Since I’d never used a spinnaker pole, I was hoping I’d thought it all through properly and it would actually work. I used the staysail halyard as a pole topping lift clipped to the bail on the outboard end fitting, a couple spare lines made up the fore and aft guys – the fore guy run through a block shackled to the anchor tray and secured to the cleat on top of the anchor windlass, the aft guy run thru the midship mooring line hawshole and secured to the midship cleat. Kellie had gone to bed, so I was on my own to set the pole. I ran the lazy jibsheet through the end of the pole, and attached the inboard end of the pole to the new mast mounted car. I adjusted the guys to keep the pole from swinging into the headstay or the shrouds and hoisted the topping lift – a few minor adjustments and I had a pole sticking out to the side about where I thought it should be. I then roller-furled the genoa partially to make it easier to gybe, and sheeted it in the other side (with the sheet run thru the fitting on the end of the pole). Voila! It worked! We’ve been cooking along at 6.5-7kn now dead-downwind for over an hour, no more slatting sails, definitly reduced rolling, and the new Monitor windvane is doing a superb job steering. 8ft following seas are rolling slowly under us, but we’re not rolling from side to side anymore (hurrah!).

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Sept 12th, 2004

We made it safely to SF. The last night was tough – sailing downwind in a gale and heavy fog, plus dealing with the shipping traffic heading out of SF made for a tiresom night. We pulled into Drakes Bay (about 20 miles north of San Francisco) at 5:30am, anchored, slept for an hour waiting for it to get light and so we’d catch the tide to make it under the Golden Gate, and pulled anchor at 7am. We had a nice downwind run in partial fog that lifted as we made it southward, and the clouds cleared out as soon as we’d passed under the bridge. We met up with my folks and reclaimed our children and TOOK SHOWERS!

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Sept. 18th, 2004

We spend a couple days anchored in Aquatic Park, right near Fishermans Wharf in San Francisco. We meandered into “town” a couple times. We’re currently anchored near Sausalito in Richardsons Bay, and planning to take the bus back into San Francisco today to see a parade in Chinatown.

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Sept 23, 2004 (added pictures to go along with the stories)

We’re still in Sausalito. We went over to the north end of Angel Isl. yesterday with Mike and the kids off Wyndeavor. I had some trouble getting the anchor to set in 30-45ft in China Bay, but it eventually took hold. We then spend a nice sunny afternoon playing (Mike and I read) on the beach. The sun was setting when I started hauling anchor chain. I only got about 5-10 feet in when it snubbed up hard… really hard. I monkeyed around for about 15 minutes trying to get it free of whatever was down there, but no luck. The conclusion settled in that I was going to have to get wet, so I started assembling my dive gear. I only had a partially full air cylinder, so would have to work quickly. I’d also only brought along my shorty wetsuit, no hood or gloves (hey, we’re goin’ where the water’s warm right?). This’ll be the THIRD time going for a swim in cold water. The others were prop pitch adjustment snorkel-dives. I followed the anchor chain down to a frightening heap of old pipes or pilings… the chain securely wrapped around several – both semi vertical and horizontal. I think we got wrapped around some, and then they collapsed further, because I couldn’t see how we could be so wrapped up otherwise. Visibility was about 18″ using my dive light, and even though I’d let out extra chain off the windlass, it was still snubbing up tight – a perfect situation for broken/severed fingers if not careful. I concluded that I wasn’t going to be able to unsnarl (too heavy and around the wrong side of something that stuck up at least 15′ off the bottom), so headed to the surface for a long line. Back down again with the end of 100′ of 5/8 line in hand, I sorted thru the snarl as best I could without wrapping my line around anything, then followed the chain along the bottom towards the anchor… to say that that anchorage was foul would be an understatement. Piles of old garbage (an extraordinary number of broken coffee/tea cups) and more pilings made for an interesting journey in the dark (visibility now around 10″). I had to un-foul the chain from some more pipes along the way, then finally came to the anchor (I’d put out 150′ of chain). I lifted the anchor (66lb Bruce) free of whatever it was set in, wrapped my legs around the chain so I wouldn’t lose track of it, and tied the line to the shackle by feel. Back to the surface and up onto the boat. Kellie had filled a bucket with hot water, which I dunked my head in, then dumped into the neck of my wetsuit. I jumped in the dingy, and pulled in the line until I was directly over the anchor (about 50′ from the boat). I hauled in as much as I could but I eventually ran out of steam (a 66lb anchor plus 45′ of 3/8″ chain hanging vertically is a tough pull in a dinghy). Back to the boat, and used the sheet winch to pull in the last 10′ or so of line until the anchor broke the surface. I hauled it into the dinghy and unshackled it from the chain, then let the chain drop (it was hard to let go!). Back on the boat I put on several layers of warm clothes and a hat (I was shivering VERY hard by now), then used the windlass to haul in the chain, hoping that without the anchor on the end of it, it’d snake its way around the obstacles. The windlass groaned but the chain kept coming slowly and steadily. Eventually it came freely and we recovered the last 50′ easily. Hallelujah! I’m thankful I decided to make room for the dive gear! We made it back to Richardson Bay just as it was getting dark.

For a couple of days now we’ve been saying it’s time to leave… It just hard to actually do it. I think tomorrow is the day. We’ll get the boat cleaned up today, do our e-mailing, finish a couple of boat projects, then head over to Aquatic Park again. We’ll reprovision at Safeway in the morning, then head out with the tide as soon as the fog clears. It’s about 20 miles to Half Moon Bay, so should be a nice daytrip.

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