Landfall

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

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Oaxaca Transback Logs: Friday, August 9th

Oaxaca has made landfall! Here’s the last log entry of the passage.

8/9 17:00
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.

Elyn Andersson

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Oaxaca Transback Logs: Thursday, August 8th

You can follow Oaxaca’s return track here on Oaxaca’s website.

8/8 15:00
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

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Oaxaca Transback Logs: Tuesday, August 6th

You can follow Oaxaca’s return track here on Oaxaca’s website.


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.

Crewmember Andreas

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Oaxaca Transback Logs: Thursday, August 1st

You can follow Oaxaca’s return track here on Oaxaca’s website.

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

Oaxaca Transback Logs: Wednesday, July 31st

This is the second log for 7/31, received late. You can follow Oaxaca’s return track here on Oaxaca’s website.

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.

Doug Amquist

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Friday Harbor to San Francisco (ASA 106)

10/07/18

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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Running DRs

Running DRs

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. 

Log entry ever hour.

Log entry ever hour.

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. 

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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. 

Coos Bay fuel dock

Coos Bay fuel dock

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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. 

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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. 

Photographs never do waves justice.

Photographs never do waves justice.

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. 

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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. 

Two hands on the helm.

Two hands on the helm.

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. 

Approaching the Golden Gate

Approaching the Golden Gate

All in all a great passage and epic learning adventure.

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Thank you Kirill Knovitchenko for the pictures.