When I left my watch at 17:00 on Friday, visibility was already diminishing. We had just heard USCG PAN-PAN announcement on Channel 16 about whales congregating around the Farallon Islands west of Golden Gate. We had been sailing under spinnaker toward a waypoint two nm north of the same to clear the rocks before aiming for the Golden Gate proper. The weakening wind which also veered a bit was making that point of sail difficult.
We had a laptop with AirMail and Expedition softwares on board along with an Iridium Go satellite modem to facilitate our communications. AirMail was useful to download up to date GRIB files which showed the progression of wind, pressure, cloud and rain forecasts. We fed these GRIB files into the Expedition software which then used our sail inventory and associated polar data to suggest a route through the weather systems. So close to the Golden Gate, we no longer needed routing information but knowing the correct wind direction was still essential. One last GRIB download confirmed our forecast of more westerly winds. Setting a new waypoint to clear the southern end of the Farallons instead became the new standing order while I slept, wondering if we would hit a whale in the dark.
When I woke up to take over the watch from our able watch captain Matt Aldred at 03:00, I found him and our crew mate Doug Almquist bubbling with excitement. Captain Rhys Balmer had brought OAXACA ever closer to the Farallons before turning it over to Matt. During that time, the wind had completely died, so with only the mainsail remaining, we were motoring. They had seen dolphins, seals and schools of fish dashing in the water by the Farallon Islands leaving behind green streaks of bioluminescence. It had been a dazzling light show in the water and their amazement was evident in their animated descriptions.
By the time I came up, we were past the Farallons, pointing toward Golden Gate. The fog was thick, no lights were visible and the only way to navigate was by instruments. Matt had set a waypoint near Point Bonita, safely tracking us on the north side of the southwesterly shipping lane. We were able to use the cross track error feature on our chart plotter to navigate a steady course. On the AIS, we could identify a pilot vessel at the center of the transition zone where all traffic lanes from the open seas converged before the final approach to Golden Gate. Soon, other vessels also appeared on the display.
The thought of navigating in the fog with other vessels in the mix, was making me nervous. With Doug and Andreas Wieberneit, we worked our way across the shipping lanes and the transition zone, leaving the pilot vessel and a large cargo ship to our north. Staying out of traffic lanes seemed safer. As we approached the south end of the Golden Gate, a loud foghorn sounding ahead was making us nervous. It was a two second blast every 20 seconds which turned out to be emanating from the south tower of the bridge. Once inside the Golden Gate, the fog lifted and we were soon docked at the Corinthian Yacht Club in Tiburon around 09:00. We had left Hawaii with 150 liters of diesel, we still had about 90 gallons left after. We had managed to sail most of the way…
Oaxaca’s owner Michael Moradzadeh greeted us dockside with donuts, champagne and orange juice for a round of mimosas then we cleaned the boat, folded the sails, moved them to storage along with the excess diesel. It was a joy to see Michael relieved to receive his boat back in one piece. He treated us to Mexican food then we parted our ways. Everyone flew home while Rhys and I chose to drive, which proved to be an exhausting proposition after a challenging final episode on the water. It sure was a long day…
Eren Eruc First Mate
Oaxaca has made landfall! Here’s the last log entry of the passage.
Position: 37º 52’ N 124º 01’ 44” W
Speed Over Ground: 7 knots
Course Over Ground: 094º magnetic
True Wind Speed: 9 knots
Our last full day on the sea! I awoke this morning to a lullaby, sailing on a dream. The calm, soft slapping of the waves on the hull as we sailed a smooth 9 knots in 10 knot wind, the sea almost flat except for the gentle swells from the northeast.
Coffee in the cockpit with Rhys and Andreas who were on watch. Erden whipped up his (now) infamous 'sailor's hash:’ consisting of half a cabbage sautéed with onions in a stick of butter, and some bacon jerky stirred in. Add a soft-fried egg and lots of black pepper, and we have one of the best dishes in the Northeast Pacific. We watched the sea roll until my turn at the helm at our current "boat" time of 7 am. Which is actually 10 am "local" time; and we are beginning to realize we will need to adjust.
Whales in the early afternoon off the port aft, and post nap I awoke to a thick fog which has hung on all the way until now, 7 pm "local" time. We will keep our eyes and ears open as we go into the night with the fog, going south of the Farallons and arriving to the mainland before sunrise. As inconceivable as it was when we last watched Hawaii fade into the dusk 14 days ago, it seems almost as inconceivable that we will see land as the day begins to break in less than 12 hours….
What an adventure this has been! Upwind sailing, downwind sailing, hot sunny days, sunsighting with the sextant, squalls, sea baths, sunsets. Bioluminescence cascading in the wake, shooting stars, celestial navigation, dolphins, albatross, seas so smooth we could see our reflection leaning over the bow, 12 ft seas on the beam, choppy seas, confused seas, spinnaker sailing, Black Betty sailing, storm jib sailing, honey smooth daydream sailing. Karaoke singing at sunset, delicious dishes, creative cooking, hot drinks, pineapple, apples, flavored water, fresh fish. Starbusts and gummy bears.
But most importantly, six sailors who have crossed over 2,000 nautical miles of deep blue sea, salt on their skin, memories in their head and dreams of hot showers, cold beers and ice cream.
Position: 37º 32’ N 127º 58’ W
Course over ground: 065º magnetic
Speed over ground: 9 knots
True Wind Speed: 11 knots
We may have got a little behind on our updates, and I could see how it’s hard to imagine we are that busy out here, but we are. We have napping, chatting, fishing, cooking, cleaning, and most importantly, sailing to do.
Today's sailing is absolutely choice broad reaching. We have the little A5 up, which is a heavyweight asymmetrical spinnaker. There is a small regular following sea, it’s blowing 10-12 and we are hitting 10 knots regularly (depending who is driving.) The helm requires no more than 12 inches of movement to keep the boat on course and we are pretty much heading the right way. This is ocean sailing!
The bad news is we only have 250 miles left and it will be over and done before we know. We have become a little family, a tribe, a sitcom-worthy group of roommates on a vast blue screen, a band of gypsy Bedouin rogues clad in safety harnesses and multi-colored balaclavas. If only you could see us now as we spur on our craft: she slices along, sending swarms of flying fish like wild fairies that ride wheelie-popping water bikes in every direction, launched from the white water on Oaxaca's slender prow.
Here we come San Francisco. We may not have flowers in our hair, but we are all significantly saltier sailors than when we left and have earned a landlubbers ration of showers and beer!
Captain Rhys Balmer
Position: 36º 45’ N 134º 16’ W
Speed over ground: 10+ knots
True Wind Speed: 15-20 knots
Woke up for my 3am watch which started with a sail change: the giant black genoa was too much for the building winds, so we changed down to the A2. Our prior motoring course of 030º had put us right into the cold sector of a small low pressure system that had just developed at the fringe of the pacific high. Since this low pressure system was so small, we could see the backside of a cold front and the approaching warm front all at the same time.
Being in the cold sector gave us great wind from the north, so the next watch had to change down further while I was asleep. Spent the rest of the day almost beam reaching, with winds that were close to 20 knots at times and perpendicular waves of up to 12 ft. We reefed in the evening, which took the weather helm off and balanced the boat really well.
Matt created some great dinner from the second half of yesterday's mahi. I'm still amazed at the speed this boat can reach when under sail.
The daily logs of the students and crew on the Ocean Passagemaking course delivering Oaxaca, a Santa Cruz 50, from HI to SFRead More
Position: 31º 37’ N 150º 21’ W
Course over ground: 030º magnetic
True Wind Speed: 2.9 knots
The ocean is flat like a sheet of glass. We've been motoring since yesterday. Looks like we are cutting through the two segments of the high. Saw an albatross today, amongst other sea birds. Rhys found a flying fish on the side deck.
It was also a great day for trying to shoot noon sights with the boat being relatively stable. Our longitude was quite a bit off, but then we didn't manage to catch noon time because we first had to learn how to find the sun. We also all participated in the engine check.
Crew member Andreas
Position: 30º 04’ N 153º 09’ W
Course over ground: 055º magnetic
A great day. The grinding in my stomach from the residual sea-sickness has gone, leaving me with yet another stunning sunny day in the middle of the Pacific.
Spotted today: a few birds that this note will hopefully prompt me to go look up, some flying fish, and a sea absent of other vessels. The enormous vessel from yesterday was still on my mind - it was nice of the captain to broadcast "Happy Sailing" on channel 16.
We're up near the 30th parallel and it's getting cooler at night. My appetite has returned with the amazing Mongolian grill stir-fry by chef Matthew Aldred. Hopefully this will be the last night spent beating to the wind with the furious sea trolls pounding their clubs on the hull. We'll see.
The daily logs of the students and crew on the Ocean Passagemaking course delivering Oaxaca, a Santa Cruz 50, from HI to SFRead More
Pictures from a short bareboat charter aboard Journeyman.Read More
“been lucky with clear skies during my 00:00- 04:00 watches to see the Southern Cross, Jupiter and Venus shining very bright and marking my 110 degree course at times”
Megan SternsRead More
Anacortes WA to Portland OR in January
I am just returning to land now after a challenging winter delivery from Anacortes WA to Portland OR. Fortunately I was accompanied by my friend and shipmate Don Stier. Don has many miles in and offshore and in addition to his experience with diesels he has an iron stomach. Both of these things are important with powerboat delivery.
It took 3 days for us to move the Tayana 42 pilothouse trawler the 300 plus miles out, down, and around the west side of Washington. The weather as you might expect this time of year on the NW coast is often less than ideal. In addition the dangerous conditions, there are only a few places to retreat to and of those few places only a few times a day you can cross their dangerous bars.
Our adventure began at the Brown Lantern in Anacortes where we ran into the renown sea writer and sailor duo Andy and Stephanie Schwenk. When I mentioned we planned to cast off at midnight Andy informed me that the marina the boat was in would be locked by now. It being Friday and already passed the bed time of any broker that might be convinced to let us in we had to find another way. As my friend and the former purser aboard the tall ship “Lady Washington” said on our eventual arrival to Portland and upon hearing the first telling of this sea story "any sailor worth his salt can get into a locked marina".i
Once on the boat with our bags of gear and provisions we set about watering up, checking oil, and lashing furniture down. Yes power boats have furniture. After running the engines for half and hour and checking the transmissions we were off to catch the ebb. The Western Star had two beautiful recently rebuilt bright red Ford Lemans below the spacious parquet dance floor that was her main saloon. This large space turned out to be more of a skating rink later in the weekend for her stocking footed crew.
Once under way and having rounded Lopez Island's southern Iceberg Point we began our watches on the now flat calm Straight of Juan De Fuca. With a crew of two sleep is work and socializing is minimal. I slept in the birth on the bridge and Don took the first watch. The boat we were delivering was recently sold and therefor had nothing aboard. We had to buy a pots and a pan before we left. Unfortunately we forgot something…a lighter.
Neah bay for ice-cream and a lighter.
Its now 13:00 Saturday and we are reassessed the weather. The forecast of a nice 5 to 10 knot breeze with a casual 7 foot swell had changed. That evening the moderate easterly was going to veer 180 degrees and we were going to be contending with a 25 knot westerly and the sea state that comes with it. This wasn't my only concern. We were going to be transiting the waters the where Makah people fish. Unlike commercial crabbing the indigenous peoples aren't restricted by the opening and closing of the fisheries. Last year we scraped some formidable competition off our transom by sailing into a particularly dense field of floats during the Oregon Offshore race up the Washington Coast. This was different, we were in a powerboat and with the wind forecast to pick up from the west there was the real danger of fouling our props with a lee shore. There was hope though. A few years ago the tugboat companies got together with the crabbers and designated crab pot free lanes up the west coast. When I went to load their waypoints into one of our plotters I noticed there were a few phone numbers posted on the PDFs of the charts illustrating these lanes. I called a few numbers and raised a fisherman who, surprised that his number was still on the resource, said that commercial crabbing was only open 12 miles north of the Columbia River and the native fisherman would be putting there pots in 30 fathoms and deeper. I had to ask if I heard him correctly. I have always see pots in water less than 200 feet. He confirmed what I heard and I thanked him happily for the information. This was good news for us because the forecast was for the easterly winds while we were going to be navigating the northern part of the coast and meant we could hug the coast without fear of crab gear and take advantage of the reduced fetch that would reduce any chance any seas could build.
I haven't hugged the coast that close since we sailed the area in my Moore 24 during another Oregon Offshore years ago. We didn't cut between any rocks this time though. Somewhere not far south of an island called Destruction Island the wind veered 180 degrees in one hour and in a very short period the seas came up. Both Don and I have many miles offshore in sailboats and none of that experience can prepare you for the drastically different motion a powerboat has with waves on its beam. We were rolling 20 degrees side to side and quickly. It was black as a cows insides as we crashed and rolled down that isolated coastline. The lights of the plotters on the bridge meant you couldn't see anything outside. You also couldn't sit in the helmsman's chair and even with your legs spread wide you had to hold on the dashboard's fiddle until your hands and legs were sore. Somewhere in there when trying to chase down the banging sounds coming from every end of the boat and devise different ways to lash cabinet doors shut, the range started to slide out of its home. The only thing stopping it from sliding all the way out and dancing all over the parquet floor was its propane hose. But this wasn't the only dangerous and heavy object wanting to dance that night. The two golf cart house batteries that were installed in the shelving opposite the galley had shifted and knocked open the louvered doors hiding the fact that, to my distress, they were not strapped down like they are supposed to be but were only held in place by a short fiddle. That was enough. I try to get boats moved as quickly as possible to keep down costs for the owner and this isn't always comfortable but we cant risk the crew and the boat to do it. We disengaged the auto pilot and turned to head into the building waves and out to sea. The swells at this point were 10 to 15 feet high. We dropped the revs to the minimum that the autohelm could steer in an effort to slow our progress into the mine field of crab pots the darkness hid in the deeper water offshore we were now heading.
As I recall this is where my poor proud sailors stomach couldn't take anymore and the apples I had been eating left me. I can count the times I have been sea sick and every time its dark and rough. I should have known it would happen and taken something but its good to be reminded what a terrible feeling it is and that we all have our limits. We continued west until we were about 40 miles offshore before things laid down enough to allow us to turn back south. The closest harbor south was West Port, a small fishing port with a bar opening to the west. Bars are dangerous because the rivers that create them produce shallows and strong currants and both of these make waves shorten and break. The only way to negate or reduce this is to time your crossing around the flood. The weather was going to deteriorate in the next 48 hours and make continuing the passage impossible for at least a week so we pointed our bow at the Columbia river's buoy number one and adjusted our speed to arrive on the next flood.
When we approached the bar we saw that that old fisherman was right. There were crab boats everywhere and crab pot floats less than a hundred feet from each other. It took both of us watching to see them before they were under our bow. If they did get under the boat all we could do is put the engines in neutral and watch for them to come out the back. We were about 12 miles out and in 300 feet and the end of the ebb was really confusing the seas so paired with our dodging and weaving the boat was rolling a lot. Even when we were on the bar and in the channel there were floats everywhere but an hour into the flood and the seas laid down. Two hours later and we were shooting up the Columbia River at 10 knots and it was looking like we were going to make last call.
Signing off for now,
Last week, I led an Advanced Sailing course on a yacht delivery from my new home on San Juan Island to San Francisco, California. I was joined by fellow captain, sailing instructor, and renowned ocean rower Erden Eruc. Our students included the owner who plans to sail the boat, an Island Packet 350, to Columbia in the coming years. The rest of the class were students from California and Washington.
All of the crew had the sailing experience and prerequisite classes necessary to be eligible for the journey and certification. The testing and instruction was to be done underway. We put a navigation course together for the crew a week before the departure, and included a midnight shakedown sail on GBA's Cal 40 "Journeyman". Everyone successfully demonstrated a nighttime sail change, reef, and crew overboard recovery.
We also began working on the task of meal planning together a week beforehand; Its quite common for sailors to not have much of an appetite for the first few days, but after that it is one of the true comforts at sea. It’s important to think ahead about meals on a passage like this: recipes that are easy to prep ashore aren't so easy offshore. Before departing Seattle for Friday Harbor, the boat was provisioned with a Costco run that met all the dietary restrictions we had aboard.
Once the boat and crew arrived in Friday Harbor, we spent a day working on the last bit of provisioning and trip preparations. We bought all the fresh fish we needed from the floating seafood store in the marina, as well as 6 dozen farm fresh eggs that could be stored in the dry lockers without refrigeration. I installed the lee cloths I made for the boat: a crucial item for sleeping safe and sound in a seaway. 20 gallons of spare diesel in jerry cans were also filled and secured on deck, a lesson in the essential skill of lashing necessary items when there is no room for them below.
We left on the last of the flood and headed south with light 5 knot northerly. Once you cast the lines off, all the frantic pre trip stress from all the prep drops away and you are left with the moment you are in and the weather forecast ahead. We motored out of the Straight of Juan De Fuca in calm glassy seas. This gave us the opportunity to do some dead reckoning (DR) practice, provided an introduction to the vessel traffic rules, and learn the system of lights for nighttime travel.
Once we cleared Cape Flattery and entered the Pacific Ocean, our attention went to the weather systems that were developing off the coast. The experience of sailing the west coast during October on the cusp of winter weather can vary widely. This time of year, there is an increasing risk of strong southerly winds which makes sailing south difficult and sometimes dangerous. One week before we left, the forecast for our departure called for 25 knot winds out of the south and needless to say, this was a concern. Fortunately, the forecast was wrong and westerly winds developed allowing some beautiful reaching.
Anyone who has beat into 25+ knots of wind and the seas that come with them on the Washington coast knows that motoring is not that bad. Running the "Iron Genoa" is fine, but it means one needs to keep an eye on fuel consumption and the wind forecast for the rest of the passage. You need to have reserves for the possibility of light winds ahead necessitating motoring to stay on schedule. We ran DRs down the coast to potential fueling destinations, looked at the tide tables to see if the entrances and their bars would allow crossing at our ETA’s, and if the fuel docks would even be open when we arrived.
We decided that Coos Bay would be perfect to top off our tanks so we were ready for whatever lay ahead. Coos Bay is a beautiful place, and our stopover was no exception. When we negotiated the somewhat confusing lateral buoys that mark the entrance, the coastline was calm. Puffy Cumulus and Cumulonimbus clouds skirted the coast, giving no sign of the weather we were now anticipating in the coming days to the south.
Our light to moderate conditions were going to turn to possible 40 knot gusts and 14 foot seas. The only thing that gave us solace was that the wind was forecast to be from the North and Northwest. The job now was to run DRs to the coves and harbors along the coast so we had a plan if, in the remaining days of our passage, we decided we needed to head in until the weather passed. Again, bar crossing and time of day we would arrive were all calculated and the invaluable "Charlie's Charts" was consulted. We found that at our speed and based on our location, we would not arrive in these harbors in daylight hours and that once in and the weather upon us, we would be stuck for days as the bars or their entrances would be closed or unsafe. The crew came together, deciding that it was more prudent to stay out than to risk going in further down the coast and preparations were made for heavy weather.
The 35 foot Island Packet we were aboard had been in charter in the Puget Sound and had all the amenities of a charter boat. Fridge and freezer, large head with shower, TV, kitchen appliances and cooking utensils were aboard. At one point I counted 4 different coffee making apparatuses aboard; they were being used in some sort of experiment to see if pour over was better than press or percolator. Now was the time to stow everything that could break or provide a hazard. The rugs on the cabin sole were stowed and towels were stuffed in with the ceramic and glass. Then a plan for food was made.
We had frozen lasagna and pizzas to put in the oven if no one felt well enough to cook, and we precut and cooked a bunch of potatoes for a clam chowder to could make in a single pot once the seas began to grow. One pot cooking is important when a number of people need to be fed quickly, and to limit time below decks where an eye on the horizon is key to maintaining an appetite or even your last meal. Our boat had a two burner gimbaled stove that worked very well, but when working in the galley some have found that running a strap to hold the chefs balance while his or her hands are full is a real help. That said; it’s always a good idea to cook in your foul weather bibs and sea boots as a large pot of boiling food could seriously hurt a sailor.
Our plan had us slowing down to catch the lighter wind around the cape we were most concerned about. This was a welcome break from having to motor every time that the boat speed dropped below 5 knots. We discussed boat balance and shortening sail for the coming wind with the entire class. When the wind increased we began shortening sail, leaving more sail area forward of the center of lateral resistance, and ran a preventer. Once we found the right sail plan the helm was surprisingly well balanced.
The seas did pick up and a few even broke into the cockpit. We had to run the engine after 24 hours because we were running the freezer, and when the engine was on we did our chicken jibes. This is a maneuver that involves tacking through the wind instead of jibing the main sail. Jibing when it’s gusting 40, even with a heavily reefed main like we had, can put a breaking load on the booms rigging. To prevent this, you can do a 160 degree turn up through the wind and waves. Tacking through the wind presents its own problems: this means the boat is turned beam to the seas at the beginning of the tack as the boat heads up, and as it bears away back to a broad reach. Coordinating this with breaking seas is a little stressful and for a moment, when you are head to wind, you feel the full power of the wind and seas. I had the helm for the first one and we furled the jib all the way in (moving the center of effort aft), released the preventer, and when I saw the smallest wave put the helm over and brought the RPMs up to 3000 to power through the wind.
After the wind and waves subsided in the lee of Point Reyes we began our approach into the San Francisco Bay. One of the students was taking advantage of the calmer sea state working on the written portion of the Advanced Coastal test. As it turned out the dolphins and whales weren't the only distractions to the more academic part of the adventure. The tight formation of Blue Angels suddenly shot into view and all phones and cameras were out. Turns out, SF does Fleet Week big and we were not the only one reentering the stratosphere; the strange light guided us into our marina in Emeryville that night turned out to be the SpaceX spaceship landing.
All in all a great passage and epic learning adventure.
Thank you Kirill Knovitchenko for the pictures.
I am proud to say that Griffin Bay Adventures' first class was a success. This passage was emblematic of the kind of educational adventure I am looking forward to continuing to offer. The smiles as we passed the bottle of champagne around on the dock in Victoria Harbor after our finish made all the work and that lead up to the passage and the hardships of passage totally worthwhile. The comradery that comes from a 300 mile trip up the Washington Coast and down the Straights of Juan De Fuca is what keeps people coming back to this challenging and rewarding race every year.
The crew consisted of three students; a father and two sons and three instructors.
Who's in for 2019?
“…I sold the Merit and got the Moore 24, a proper job at North Sails and an evening shift at West Marine unloading truck to afford the 400 dollars in flares and other stuff we are supposed to have…'“Read More