Friday, August 21, 2009

Blue Water Cruisers We Are

Newport, OR
Wednesday, August 26, 2009

We have been initiated and are, officially, blue water cruisers! Let's hear it for the dreamers: a toast, please! We hope all our friends and family will raise a glass in celebration. It's been quite a ride.

The photo above is leaving Neah Bay and heading out onto the Pacific; the ocean clearly misnamed by some mischevious sailor. But ... I get ahead of the story.

Pt. Townsend - Preparing Nereid

Pt. Townsend hosted us while preparing Nereid for her debut. The haul out went smooth as ice behind a Zamboni: George is going to write an article on the efficiency and skill of the people in charge of haul out services there. He didn't have an ounce of concern for Nereid, the way they handled her and set her up on stands. It was strange climbing into a boat with only air beneath her: I immediately missed having the water nearby, and when I mentioned it George said he felt the same. However, all that space underneath gave Jaqi room to set up her barbering chair and get Tor prepared for his voyaging.

Those few days were non-stop in activity: washing, sanding, wiping down the hull with mineral spirits (so the paint would stick to the hull, not the dust. We'd heard tales of paint falling away when people neglected this arduous task), painting and replacing zincs - which required a special trip into Seattle (thank you, Jaqi!) The business that was just across from our perch is called B.U.M.S. (Bottom Up Marine Services) and they generously lent us scaffolding and a 5-gallon bucket we could use to reach the upper hull; for which we traded a 12-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon (Their choice: "Did you see our name?" they asked.) George wielded the 20lb. sander, working it above his head in an exhausting labor of love. (He didn't mention Michelangelo, but the experience must have been painfully similar in terms of posture.) We met the couple next door, Tracy and Bill, whose boat Zephyr has much the same gear as Nereid, and when we got talking we found uncanny similarities in our plans, destinations and crew. (They have 3 cats aboard!) They've become boating buddies, whom we've met up with now in two subsequent ports. More about them later (and their blog is Jaqi, Tor, George and I all pitched in, and we got Nereid back in the water by the 2:30pm deadline on Thursday. (They charge $1.00 a minute if you're not ready at the appointed time.) Meanwhile, we had nearly completed our provisioning. You know you're in a mariner-related town when no one blinks an eye at shopping carts full of beans and pickles. Unfortunately, we couldn't leave the next day because our shipments from West Marine had been delayed, and we wanted our AIS (Automatic Identification System) and Chart Plotter installed beforehand.

AIS is a satellite-based system mandated on ships over 300 tons and popular on smaller vessels. It transmits and receives position, speed and bearing data as well as the vessel's MMSI (a unique identifier used for SAR - search and rescue. And, if a vessel has Class A software it also sends the ship's name, which is handy when contacting them on VHF. The Chart Plotter translates that into a friendly graphic that alerts you when a vessel (which they call a "target," oddly enough) comes within the distance or time threshold you have set. We don't carry radar, so this is our night time and heavy weather navigational tool.

We tied up at the Pt. Townsend dock and spent our $40.00 a night for two more nights, awaiting the AIS and getting it installed with the help of a seasoned electrician we'd met at the local exchange. It was an 8-hour install with his assistance. (Nothing is simple to install on a boat, despite what the user manuals say. Common wisdom is that the estimates on product packages apply only if you're installing it in a laboratory setting. If it involves running wires, multiply the estimated time to install by 3.) But, the time was rewarding in that we were able to meet up with George's former classmates Christie and Jason (, who looked radiant after having spent 3 months cruising in Alaska. George said that if he had any second thoughts about cruising, being around them cast any doubts to the wind! We met their friends Fischer and Kim (who is the creative force behind the calendar "Sexiest Maritime Women" and Jack Tar magazine.) All of us are headed towards Mexico: this lifestyle seems to be contagious.

Port Angeles - Twilight and the Dawn of a New Adventure

We left Pt. Townsend on a sunny day around Noon, with our first destination being Pt. Angeles, about 7 hours north. There wasn't enough wind to sail, but we were underway and feeling fine. This leg of the trip was easy. We docked at the floating town docks, which rock and rise and have a lot of character. They're $15.00 a night, payable on the honor system. The docks were pretty full with local folks putting down their shrimp pots: one man had two little girls, dressed as cute as could be in their above-the-knee dresses. They were about five years old, and one of them was very proud that she was not afraid of the shrimp.

We settled the boat and walked to the local grocery, passing a tourist shop dedicated to the phenomenon of Twilight. Thanks to Amy, I wasn't clueless about the story: however, we encountered only humans. The night was a quiet one, restless due to the docks, but quiet. We set out the next morning for Neah Bay - our jumping off point for the Pacific!

Neah Bay - Swells and Fog

This was an interesting day! It was clear, with light winds. Light weather sails are high on our wish list. We motored, encountering some chop but having a pretty smooth time of it until we neared Pillar Point. From there, the swells were solid and pretty closely spaced. I had the wheel and enjoyed learning how to take the waves. At Clallam Bay, I maneuvered her through the fishing grounds without drawing a single audible complaint, and then I saw the fog. I called George up to the cockpit for help with navigating, as it wasn't clear to me how far we had before Neah Bay. Soon, we were enveloped in fog. Tor, George and I all took posts in the cockpit; George at the helm, and all of us on watch. We used the air horn to signal our presence and kept an eye on the AIS. There were several fishing vessels on the screen, and it appeared that all were heading in. Slowly, we worked our way westward. After some time, we spotted land and rocks. We moved further offshore and continued our cautious approach. After nearly an hour, the fog began lifting. We were approaching Neah Bay!

We pulled into the bay without incident, the sky blue and the breakwater easy to see. Our first stop was the fuel dock, across from the rows of commercial fishing vessels whose names we recognized from our AIS. Our newfound friends Tracy and Bill were at the dock to greet us. They were anchored in the harbor, and we made plans to meet. It was the evening before Tor's birthday, so while we waited for the fuel dock to become available, I headed to the local store for cake ingredients. Eagles were nesting in the tree near the road, one parent keeping watch from a bough while the youngsters chattered away. It took over an hour for us to get our turn at the fuel line (a large power boat had gone in ahead of us) but the time was well spent. A group of sports fishermen struck up friendly aconversation, showing us their hold full of salmon, a beautiful ling cod and a halibut. They gave us fishing tips, a lure and a fly. Soon enough, we were anchored out in the harbor and dinner was on the table. Bill and Tracy came over just in time for warm chocolate cake with cherry filling. We sang Happy Birthday to Tor and enjoyed a lovely sunset.

Juan de Fuca

Rough! We headed towards the Pacific, thankful that the fog was lifting. The waters were, of course, choppy; but we were elated to be on our way! We soon pulled her into the wind to put up the sails. This was problematic, because the main halyard was wrapped around the mast. George and I went forward, our life vests clipped onto the jacklines that we have set up along the full length of the decks both port and starboard. Unfortunately, the motion of the sea and the attention to detail required for clearing the lines made both of us sick. George was only mildly sick, but I was less fortunate; and would remain that way through the rest of that day and night. Nausea is exhausting, so as soon as possible, I went below to rest. The cats greeted me with eyes that flooded me with guilt. Wolfgang got sick, though only once, and then I was able to rest. Tor took the first 4 hour watch, George the second, then me. Once we got out of the mouth of the strait, the seas were kinder to us. We were hailed by Tracy and Bill aboard Zephyr, and they let us know we were showing up clearly on their AIS. They were headed further offshore than us, though we hoped we might remain in hailing distance.

Tor saw a string of Orca, including juveniles, while George and I rested. The cats each found a place behind the bike bags and settled in for the duration. That night, the winds came up. I was at the helm. George decided we needed to have two people in the cockpit at a time, so we set up some blankets and pillows on a side bench and Tor kept me company. Unfortunately, he then succumbed to the mal de mer. Luckily, I had a bucket nearby. Meanwhile, darkness settled in and the winds continued to pick up. Steering required constant attention to stay on our course of 180 to 210. Soon, George came above decks to say it sounded like he was in a cement mixer up in the v-berth. We shortened the genny and reefed the mainsail, and George returned belowdecks, but none of us would get much rest that night or the next two. Before my watch was out the winds had gusted up to 30 knots. At that point, we had already put in our second reef and fully wound the genoa. George said that steering in the dark, watching the AIS and being constantly attentive to the compass felt like playing a video game (though I don't know how he knows that). He was right - it was much like that (only colder.) Finally, it was George's turn to take the helm. Tor went below and I took up the secondary post in the cockpit. It was a pretty active position that night. It was pitch black, and we weren't seeing boat lights but our AIS was reporting them. We kept an eye on them and learned how to better read the chart plotter where their information popped up. Somewhere around 47 degrees 44 minuites (as I recall) I hailed the Arctic Enterprise on our VHF. I was pleased to get a response from their captain, who didn't see us on his AIS but was able to clear away my concerns: they had already passed us. (I've gotten better at checking coordinates.) A couple hours later, I hailed another vessel that appeared to be on a collision course. Again, I got an immediate reply from their captain, who found us on their radar and promised to avoid us.

When morning arrived, Tor took the helm. He hadn't slept; just rested, so we were all pretty tired. George directed Tor to cut the engines (by this time there was no wind) and let her drift during his watch. We were far enough offshore (about 50 miles) that all he had to do was keep an eye out for other boats. George and I went belowdecks and got some much needed rest.

To our shock, the winds never returned on our second day out. We motored, making our way steadily southward. Swells were present and steering required attention, but it was a good day as far as I was concerned: I was able to eat a granola bar. No one got sick again. Later, I fixed us all toasted ham and cheese sandwiches and minestrone. The cats ate treats from my hand but refused wet food or water; they had pretty much just shut down for the trip thus far; though Wolfgang actually made a few trips up to the cockpit to visit with me while I was on shift. (Brave and tender hearted feline!) Our second day and night were spent motoring. George took an extra long shift and (we found out later) suffered bruises on the backs of his knees from sitting so long on the bench behind the wheel. The weather report showed a storm coming in about 24 hours, so the crew voted to head for Newport. It was the smart thing to do, and we anticipated that we could get there fairly early on our third day. Unfortunately, it took much longer.

Our third day was spent searching for buoys amidst the fog. (They call this month "Fogust" you know.) Our AIS kept us informed, and this time we did get visuals on a few ships, including a NOAA research vessel (McArthur). A frustration was that the charts on our AIS/Chart Plotter were poor; something we hadn't realized until this day, when we were seeking more detailed data. The chart failed to list Newport - the most significant port on this coastal stretch! We had a couple of books that gave us pointers on the approach, but none had waypoints for the markers and buoys. We just had to do the best we could with what we had, and that would have been enough if the fog hadn't added itself to the equation. In the late afternoon, we reached the vicinity of Newport. We could not find the entrance buoys. (There was almost no visibility.) We heard a regular horn, but we were looking for buoys with whistles and a buoy with a gong. George thought he heard the whistle, and then Tor thought so too, but it was difficult to tell whether it was a whistle or a horn. Consulting our books and charts, we explored the waters at a very slow pace. Newport has sandbars and two jettys, and there are always many fishing boats and crab pots. It was a pretty target rich environment. Finally, with it being only about an hour before sunset, George gave me his blessing to call the Coast Guard for some pointers. I radioed them on Channel 16, giving our coordinates and asking for guidance. The dispatcher came back with, "I strongly recommend you move west immediately until you reach 100 feet of water." Just as she said that, the jetty appeared before us in the fog. We moved west.

We had been near the buoy, but too far north, which put us at risk of going aground on the sandbar (not disastrous except for the cold) or onto the rocks of the jetty (disastrous). The Coast Guard came back to ask us our particulars (how many people on board, whether life jackets were on, whether we had any medical emergencies or conditions such as asthma). They informed us they had dispatched one of their boats to guide us into the marina. We waited at the 100 ft. depth until they appeared from the fog - a large, utilitarian boat with 5 guardians on board. Politely and professionally, they instructed us to follow. Thirty minutes later, we were at the dock. (And immediately greeted by Peter, on a neighboring boat, who warned us to move to another slip if we were to avoid grounding on the minus tide. We did.) Two Coast Guard officers inspected our boat, which passed muster except for a blown starboard bow light (which we immediately replaced), a lack of registration numbers on the starboard bow (which I remedied the next day) and no presence of a specific Coast Guard publication (Tracy gave us an extra when we saw them in port the next day.)

So here we are in Newport. We've had fun meeting several other boaters headed south and feel we are part of a "constellation" (for lack of a better word) of yachtistas.

We'll be heading out today for Coos Bay, which may be as far as we can get before the next weather front puts us on hold a few days.

We love you all, and we'll try to get some postings from George up here this week. He said he felt like Odysseus heading for the sirens, when he came up on the jetty.

Probably our biggest hope and task now is to find ways to conserve our energy during any future tough stretches. We'll be able to use our windvane when sailing in reasonable air, and we need to practice hoving to with the sea anchor. Keep an eye out for updates on those.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Bon Voyage

l to r: Helio (golden fur), Lauren, Michael (holding Athena, with the golden heart), George, Celeste, Brian, Cyd
Hudson Point Cafe at Pt. Hudson

The time to launch has finally come ... Nereid's scheduled to come out of the water Wednesday for a pressure washing, scraping, sanding, painting and replacing of the sacrificial metals (zinc) on her bottom. Then, it's only the weather between us and the ocean. We're both doing final research and shopping. The salon looks like a college dorm, complete with our "to do" list hung along the wall.

Between finishing up work and preparing, there's hardly a moment to digest the sense that we are approaching a threshold which, upon crossing, will define a moment in which we have been forever changed. I can't do justice to the moment, so I will turn to Alfred Lord Tennyson, who so well conveys the connection between the oceans and our spirit of adventure. This is from his poem Ulysses:

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Of course we will have many years' adventure and, as Lauren said, return by air if not by boat to visit family and friends. We hope, of course, that friends will visit us in ports o' call. Our third crew member, Tor, comes up Tuesday or Wednesday. We'll all post more later ...