Aug 15, 2005

Seattle, WA to San Francisco Bay, CA

MONDAY, 8/15 Time for KEWA to sail to her new home port -- San Francisco, California. We purchased the boat in Seattle and spent the later part of the summer flying there on the weekends to prepare her and also explore Puget Sound, the Straits of Juan de Fuca and the San Juan Islands. The Seattle area is now high on my list of places where I like to spend time. Amazing cruising grounds anchored by one of the more funky larger cities I know of.

Dock lines were pulled aboard at 1200 sharp after the usual pre-cruise preparation scramble, and Elliott Bay Marina soon disappeared over the stern. The tanks (175 gallons of diesel and 250 gallons of water) were full, and KEWA was well outfitted and well-provisioned -- we could have gone anywhere, or at least Hawaii. Good progress had been made against the hitlist of desired repairs and upgrades that I began constructing from the moment we owned the boat. The only major disappointment being the still disabled Furlex hydraulic headsail furler.

The calm winds, sun and warmth were deceptive. While we all knew what lay ahead in exiting the Strait of Juan de Fuca, at departure time the world seemed like a resort and is was unimaginable that hours later, instead of t-shirts and shorts, we'd be into multiple layers of clothing topped-off by foul weather gear. We'd transit the Strait the first night. As we motored out of the marina, the mainsail was quickly unfurled (push-button hydraulic furling), although the diesel continued its work as the wind was light and we needed to catch a favorable current out of the Strait. Puget Sound was serene and picturesque. Ideal, except for the lack of the crucial ingredient when you have a mast -- wind.

We settled in as we progressed north. Our experience levels blanketed the spectrum from practically being born on a sailboat and rarely stepping off to wondering what it feels like to be on a boat offshore. A key pre-departure discussion topic was seasickness. If this trip is a rare opportunity to have a novel vacation, then why take any risk at all regarding seasickness? If you plan to do this a lot, then don't you really want to know just how susceptible you are? If you are already calibrated to the whole thing, then why worry about it? Like many aspects of understanding how the human body functions, it is stunning just how little we seem to know about seasickness, or more importantly, how to prevent it. There is lots of folklore and even more posturing ("while the others took drugs and/or puked over the side, I chugged another beer with a diesel chaser and laughed at the weak people around me"). I don't have the answer, but I can say:

  • Why not begin the cruise with a settled stomach (take it easy party-wise the night before you depart)?
  • Don't confine yourself to the v-berth in heavy weather; seek stability, open spaces and fresh air.
  • Stugeron seems like a powerful drug that really combats seasickness (of course, the FDA is not on board with Stugeron, so you have to order it overseas).
  • Scopolamine patches don't seem to hurt and might really help.
  • Beth Leonard's Navy Cocktail is a dubious proposition -- just try to get a US MD, even one who is a friend, to prescribe Ephedrine, period, much less with Phenergan. Does Phenergan by itself help? Seems like a good thing to have on board, but I'm not sure (yet).

We quickly passed through Puget Sound and headed west out the Strait. As predicted by Pete, the westerly winds in the Strait picked up as evening approached, and it rapidly fogged over and cooled down as we progressed towards the Pacific Ocean. By 20:00, the winds were 20K, gusting to 25K+ and the waves were an easy 8+ feet, right on the nose and with a short period. Few experiences are as exhilarating as riding into weather on a well-founded sea vessel and, with essentially zero visibility due to fog and nightfall, being glued to a 8" radar screen as your only view on the world -- all the while, hoping that you don't drive your 36,000 lb vessel into something or someone. There were a couple of fifteen minute breaks in the fog, revealing a dazzling star-filled sky before the gloom filled back in. We continued to motor against the sea, making only about 5 kts of headway into the weather. KEWA is an exceptionally well-founded offshore cruising vessel, and although she handled the waves well, on several occasions,she pounded hard and was slowed to less than 2 kts when coming off the face of exceptionally large and steep wave patterns. The decks flooded every fifth wave or so, enabling us to discover several hatch leaks. Nothing severe, but definitely annoying.

Our watch schedule was 3 hours on / 3 hours off at night and 6 hours on / 6 hours off during the day. Either Pete or I were always on watch, and this schedule provided the remaining crew with a schedule that never settled into a fixed pattern, but at least gave each of them 6 contiguous hours of sleep sometime each night.

While it never really got cold, maybe only as low as 50 degrees F at night, at the end of each night watch it was remarkably comforting to go back below into the heated cabin. It's almost eerie how over a period of hours, the cool, moist air creeps into the cockpit and penetrates any slight opening or breech in your foul weather gear, gradually increasing your awareness of the vast and cold ocean you are sailing on.

TUESDAY, 8/16 We entered the Pacific Ocean early Tuesday morning and were presented with overcast skies. As we progressed further offshore, we began to experience a curious wind. Instead of the strong northerly that was almost bankable this time of year, a light southerly materialized. So, we continued to motor as we headed south. And motor, and motor and motor -- a total of just over 100 hours on a cruise that lasted a little less than five days. Not what any of us envisioned. We experienced some clear skies during the day and raised a sail or two, but the wind was always too light to douse the diesel.

We settled in to a pretty comfortable routine. No time to relax or watch DVDs, though. There was always something to do. Try to grab a couple of hours of sleep. Work on a meal. Rig the fishing gear. Test the INMARSAT mini-M and mini-C communications. Fire up the watermaker. Check out equipment. Knock a few more tasks off the hitlist and back to watch duty.

The route strategy was to stay far enough offshore to be over deep water and avoid crab pots and commercial fishing traffic. This put us about 25nm to 40nm off the coast for the majority of the voyage. We dragged two fishing lines behind us during daylight hours -- A rod and reel with 40lb test and green clone, and a handline with 150lb test and a larger red clone.

WEDNESDAY, 8/17 Still overcast and essentially no wind. At 06:45 in flat seas we hooked a tuna, something fully anticipated, but a new experience on this boat nevertheless. The rod had been set for maybe 15 minutes, but the handline wasn't out yet. You can obviously fish from sailboats, but the logistics of bringing a fish aboard, subduing it and ending up with steaks in the freezer requires some attention. The fish fought hard, but was no match for the tackle. As it was brought in towards the boat and first became visible, that fact that it was an albacore tuna was confirmed. I decided to try the net instead of the gaff as somehow that just seemed easier and safer. The fish barely fit in the net and it took some effort to bring it aboard without breaking the net or dropping the whole affair over the side. Once on board, the fish was laid on a towel and, instead of beating it with a club, we experimented with alcohol on the gills to kill it. A much cleaner process and very effective, although for a few minutes the fish's nervous system seemed to fight for life, resulting in a few bursts of high-energy movement. Some on the boat seem horrified that drinkable alcohol (in this case, Barcardi 151) was being given to the fish instead of the crew. If there was ever any doubt in your mind about the health benefits of alcohol on living things, seeing a few splashes of rum kill a 30lb fish in a minute or so should put those to rest.

The gills were slit to drain the blood and the fillet knife was applied to create a lot of tuna steaks. Albacore cooks quickly, I guess due to a very low oil content, so next time the steaks will be twice as thick. The vacuum bagger was utilized for the first time, resulting in a freezer full of vacuum-packed tuna steaks later that morning. Fortunately the high-power salt-water wash down pump and hose made short work of the grizzly mess on the stern deck. No more fishing the rest of the trip as we were more than set with fresh animal flesh.

The fog and clouds came and went during the day, but no wind. That changed in the evening and, for the first time on this voyage, KEWA progressed under sail alone. Anyone who has ever sailed an auxiliary-powered sailboat knows the transcendent experience of killing the engine and having the magic of the airfoils drive you forward, especially after listening to over 48 straight hours of engine noise. The motion of the boat under sail is still aggressive, but in a comforting "meant to be" manner. We transitioned from the throb and vibration of the diesel one second to the sophisticated, elegant and relaxing power of the (moderate) wind. Unfortunately, a couple of hours later and we were back on the diesel.

THURSDAY, 8/18 The weather still overcast, we had another brief opportunity to experiment with the sails this morning. Once again, a very brief but exhilarating experience before the drizzle and calm returned. After some debate, we decided to head inshore to secure some fuel, mostly driven by the belief that the very act of fueling up would cause the wind gods to become jealous and blow. We went into Brookings, Oregon. Easy access from the Pacific -- fuel dock close to shore and no risky bars to traverse. 100 gallons later, I reached down to cast off a line from the fuel dock and found four black, spit-polished boots a few feet away from me facing my direction. With a sadistic grin, the face attached to one set of boots uttered "so, have you ever been boarded?" I don't recall my exact response, but I do remember being informed that today was my lucky day.

Looking back, it was a non-event and being a sailor you gotta appreciate the Coast Guard. However, there is something about black-soled waffle-stomper boots, guns, night sticks and a "son you drivin' through my town like you don't give a damn" attitude that gets to you. What they were trying to accomplish is beyond me. We got boarded, they superficially looked around, we had to pull out this and that and, in the end, no one got shot. I got a nice piece of paper telling me that I passed, theoretically to ward off a repeat performance later in our voyage. No harm, no foul and we were soon back at sea.

Being closer to land now, we could actually see the shore, and it is amazing. Rustic, undeveloped and rugged. Offshore, throughout the voyage, we were joined on occasion by dolphins and porpoises. They like playing with the boat, splashing all around and riding the bow wave, but usually not for too long. This afternoon, a handful of Dall's Porpoises visited. Beautiful black and white creatures with plenty of energy to spare!

FRIDAY, 8/19 More of the same. The constant drone of the engine. Periods of high visibility, followed by fog. Never a clear sky. Once again, the wind began to build, increasing hopes, and the sails started flying. Minds began to believe that, yes, it is possible to have sustained winds on the Pacific Ocean. However, like a fantasy that teeters on reality but then is crushed when you open your eyes, the wind never materializes in any sustained form. While the wind adds an entirely new dimension to the experience, being offshore with the diesel droning is still an exhilarating experience and the time passes quickly. I could do this for a living if only you could actually make a living doing this.

SATURDAY, 8/20 We approach the Gate early in the morning. It remains calm and overcast. We hit rush hour -- fishing boats everywhere, heading out of the Bay and going where we've been, en masse. Needless to say, we are motoring. We motor under the Golden Gate Bridge, past the city front and Alcatraz and on to Emery Cove Yacht Harbor in Emeryville. Let's just say that the approach is shallow. We were reading 4.5 feet on the depth sounder with a boat that has a 6 foot 2 inch draft. Three factors at play -- pretty big boats use the channel, I'm thinking the bottom is mud, and maybe the calibration on the sounder is not set at the waterline. Anyway, we make it and soon are at our slip with an incredibly friendly Emery Cove person there to grab a line as we dock. A successful voyage by any stretch of the imagination. Next time, however, there will be more exercising of the sails. I am convinced of that.