Friday, September 30, 2011

Enroute to Monterey

Most of the journey south was completed under power alone and the seas were quite large, some coming from the SW and other’s from the W and NW. Luckily they were quite far apart (12-13 seconds) so we didn’t get too bashed about. At one point, not too far out from Monterey, we had a special treat. We finally had enough wind to unfurl our genoa which gave us another 1 ½ knots of speed and we were enjoying a brisk sail through the building seas. We’d seen a few porpoises and lots of birds on our travels so we were watching for wildlife… and we weren’t disappointed. We were joined by about 6 beautiful white-sided dolphins that frolicked in our bow wave, flitting from side to side, for about 10 minutes. They’re just so great and really make you feel like you’re ‘doing it’… Even after all this time we still find ourselves startled by the fact we actually left and we’re actually doing this trip… It’s hard to explain but so many years were dedicated to the planning and prepping and now, finally, it’s unfolding right in front of us… really a ‘pinch me, is this real?’ kind of a feeling. But, here we are, now tied up at the Monterey Municipal Marina and ready to explore this new place… later.. CJ

Half Moon Bay

We arrived at HMBay at 1530 hrs., which was perfect timing for scoping out the local eateries. Kathy’s mom has suggested we’re ‘eating and drinking’ our way down the coast. She may be right, but it’s fun and a great way to get a feel for each new location. For instance, at the HMB Brew Pub, the chef actually gives out free appies that he’s experimenting with on Tuesdays at happy hour.. so guess where we were.. you bet! We’ve been blessed with friendly and helpful staff where ever we’ve gone and they’ve offered great advice on places to go and things to see… and, of course, other good places to eat :-)

Half Moon Bay is a nice little seaside town, larger than you might think at first blush, but accessible by local buses. We took a turn on those buses to go into the main shopping centre in search of eye drops (seems you can’t buy Polysporin eye drops without a prescription in the US and, as CJ’s eyes are acting up a bit, we had to find something to soothe them.) The bus ride was interesting and on the way home the driver dropped us off early which gave us an opportunity to walk back along the beach walk. It was really quite beautiful. One thing we learned (from our server of course) was that Maverick Beach is just around the point from HMBay. That’s where, about once a year, humungous waves come in and they call a surfing competition. The waves can build up to heights of 70 feet plus and many good surfers have lost their lives trying to tame them… interesting note on human nature.. hmmm, let me see, these waves could kill me... guess I’ll give ‘em a whirl… (Darwin’s theories at work, yet again). Anyway, we met up with a couple of the BCA boats here and had a chance to get to know Bill and Brenda and Mel and Margie… all good people.

The forecasts that we could get (no internet connection in Half Moon Bay so we had to rely on postings at the Harbormaster’s Office) convinced us that heading further south on Wednesday would be a good idea. Otherwise we could get stuck in HMB (a nice place, but not somewhere to hang out for too long) for quite a few days. Sooo, you guessed it, at 0500 hrs. (again)… well actually it was 0510, we crept out of our quiet little slip and motored slowly (it was dark) around the old pilings, out the breakwater protecting the marina, through the unlit anchored boats in the outer anchorage, and out the ‘entrance channel’ protected on both sides by stone breakwaters. As so often can happen, we’d been lulled in to a sense of complacency by the quiet, protected waters of the harbor and were rudely awakened from our reverie by the huge, broad-side swells that buffeted us and bounced us onto our side a few times as we turned out of the protected entrance and headed across the bay. It was quite an eye-opener, certainly got our undivided attention and put our ‘security’ measures below to a good test (most passed, some did not :-). It took a good couple of hours to break free of the large, broad-side swells but once the dawn had broken and we had a better handle on our location and situation, things did calm down. We motored south for several hours (the only wind we had was what we generated by our forward movement) and had a scenic tour of the coast as we pointed our nose towards Monterey.

Leavin’ the big city...

What a wonderful ‘leaving’ we had. After enjoying several days exploring Sausalito and bonding with no less than five BCA Fleet of 2011 boats and crews, it was time for us to pick up our skirts and head out; and, at 0500 hrs., we did just that… under a clear, starry sky and with no apparent wind at all. We wound our way out of Richardson Bay and headed out under the Golden Gate Bridge. The waves were large but far apart and, except for the occasional large cross swell, the waning ebb tide was good to us – allowing us to exit the Bay without opposition, however… like an old friend, the fog waited patiently until we’d almost cleared the last shipping lane buoy. It then wrapped its soft arms around us, enclosing us in our familiar world of grey mist and 50 yards visibility. We’re sure glad we bonded with our radar, even if it is the smallest one you can buy… it still works… well, really… it’s great for up to 3 miles. If we ever win the lottery it might be time to upgrade… but for now, we’re fine.

We’re heading to Half Moon Bay. It’s only 20 miles south of San Fran but it looks like a cozy little hidey-hole and we wanted to get out of the Bay before a few days of windy weather hits. We’ll enjoy exploring the beaches, trails and pubs of Half Moon Bay and, hopefully continue our journey south on Wednesday or Thursday. Apparently Hurricane Hilary is sending a little wind and water up our way, so we’re happy to sit it out for a couple of days in somewhere new.

To those of you who have written… thank you. It’s always great to ‘hear from home’. To those of you following our Blog… thanks also. It’s good to know folks are enjoying the ‘words’. And… Kathy has added quite a few photos so don’t forget to check the photo gallery (and behind each photo is an ‘album’ of others).

The good ship Shannon is doing well for a girl her age. We managed to snap the handle on the Y valve but that’s all fixed now (and of course once you’re ‘there’ you might as well clean out the hoses…right? So the heads system is renewed… yea!). Kathy changed out our ignition starter button (for the engine) and it works better than it’s ever worked now…. also yea! We of course still have many projects underway and they’ll get done in their own sweet time…

Well, we’re about 2 hours out of Half Moon Bay now and the sun is doing it’s darnest to burn off the fog… and it’s almost time for me to go back on watch… until next time… adios, CJ

Friday, September 23, 2011

San Francisco… the 1st bubbly

We brought two bottles of champagne with us. We had the first one on September 18th, after having arrived at the Marina Village Yacht Harbor in Alameda at 1800 hrs… and it was delicious!!

Shannon in Bodega Bay

Bodega Bay was very nice, and we had lots of great (long) walks… but it was time to go. The locals call it Blowdega Bay and, indeed, with the winds that come up every afternoon (25+) one could be forgiven for getting ‘stuck’ there. So, having checked the tides, the weather forecast, and the ‘goings on’ at the Golden Gate Bridge… we headed out of town at 0500 hrs.

For the first time in days there was no fog that morning; neither was there much wind (and it was on the nose) but lots of warm sunshine as we motor-sailed down the coast. While the fog was always on the horizon for once it stayed there and we enjoyed a clear, sunny transit all the way from Bodega Bay to Alameda. We passed by Drakes Bay. We were warned about anchoring there if a south wind is blowing and there was one forcast. Also we had already planned to head all the way in if we could.

Having travelled down Bonita Channel, dodging fishing boats and minding the bouys, we turned left and were greeted with the vision of the Golden Gate Bridge… clear as a bell. Every cruising guide warns you to be very mindful of the traffic lanes and ships coming and going from San Francisco Bay as well as the volumes of water pouring in and out as the tide floods and ebbs. We were very proper on our approach and after one large ship passed us on their way out, we looked ahead to see dozens of sailing vessels of all shapes and sizes sailing everywhere on the Bay. They were crossing the channels back and forth, and there were also several small passenger ferries scuttling back and forth across the Bay between Alcatraz and other such islands. It was chaos to say the least. Luckily there were no other large ships trying to arrive or leave. The wind was finally up but we were far too busy taking photos of each other with the bridge in the background to think about hoisting sail.

.... and so, we motored across the Bay ducking around and giving way to all the sailing boats (even an America’s Cup boat)… At one point one of the passenger ferries was aiming right for us and I called Kathy up to be witness to what was going to be a very close call (we had the right of way). Luckily I didn’t give him the ‘not so friendly’ wave as when he got closer, the Captain came on the PA system to point us out to his passengers and welcome us to San Francisco…! Then he slid by our stern… only to be replaced by a fellow on his kite board ripping across the Bay. He got so close, he actually put his kite over top of our mast and managed to miss our radar arch and stern at the same time… quite hairy really!!

Having survived crossing San Francisco Bay, we wound our way under the Oakland Bridge and up the Oakland/Alameda Estuary for about 3 miles to find our pre-arranged slip. We had chosen Alameda as our first port of call as we hoped to re-connect with a woman I had met several times in the past. Nancy Erley has twice circumnavigated our planet on her sailboat. She’s also an instructor, teacher (there is a difference) and speaker, and she’s currently doing some yacht brokering in the Alameda area. It was great to see her again and we spent some very enjoyable time together talking about boats and off-shore sailing and ways to improve Shannon’s rigging design (seems I’m finally old enough to warrant some lines run aft to the cockpit) :-)

After 3 days exploring Alameda on foot and by bus we decided to get closer to the Bridge in preparation for continuing our journey south, and on September 22nd we slipped our lines in Alameda and had a vigorous sail across San Francisco Bay to Sausalito. We arrived at our new marina (Schoonmaker Marina) in Sausalito at 1500 hrs. and were greeted by two other Canadian boats, both members of our fleet. Sea Reach, Night Sky and Shannon are all lined up along the outside of F dock with a great view of the Bay. The Bay is covered with a thick, tall, layer of fog while we sit here in brilliant sunshine with a swimming beach as part of the marina.. great fun.

Just to keep us on our toes, the heads hoses are acting up :-( so I must leave you now and don my ‘plumbing role’… luckily West Marine isn’t too far away as the handle has also snapped off the Y valve…. Oh well, isn’t that what cruising is all about… working on your boat in exotic places… Bye for now… CJ

Friday, September 16, 2011

Rounding the 'Cape'

Since the early days, when we first began warming up to this crazy idea of getting on a small sailboat and heading for Mexico, I've had two persistant scary thoughts about the journey: crossing through the powerful, crazy, mixed up outflow waters off the Columbia River, and rounding the "dreaded Cape Mendocino".

Well, today, after years of nervous anticipation, I can finally say "been there, done that!".

We left Eureka, California on Monday morning before dawn and made our way down the Humboldt River and across the river bar at slack water (being both Capricorns, we had planned our crossing to within minutes for the safest time). The fog settled in as we made our way out to our first offshore waypoint, but our radar was working well and the seas were calm, with a very gentle swell from the northwest.

So.. after all those years of anticipation and all those stories of other boats getting "beat up" while rounding the Cape... our experience was almost a bit anticlimactic. Almost that, but definately not disappointing... it was exactly what we had planned (and hoped) for.

To celebrate our achievement, we were treated to a steady stream of marine wildlife visitors. It started innocently enough.... our new friends Rich and Cat, on Anna (a wonderful Tianna 37) were motoring along about a mile off our port side. Kat had just hailed us on the VHF to tell us they'd been surrounded by dolphins for 10 minutes. We were happy for them and (to be honest) just a little bit envious.

A short while later... I noticed a splash about 50 yards ahead, then a smooth back arching through the water and a flash of white. I called Carolyn, and by the time she came up the companionway from the cabin, we had several Pacific Whitesided Dolphins swimming up near the bow of the boat. We clipped on our teathers to the jacklines and both went up the bow.

I've heard that these wonderful creatures come to play in the compression waves off the side of sailboats. It's an amazing thing to watch. I lay on the deck and watched them take turns, one by one, swimming up next to the hull and then, woosh away with a flick of a powerful tailfin, only to be replaced by yet another.

After we came back to the cockpit, both with big smiles on our faces, I called Cat back to tell her about our visit. Once we'd switched to a working channel she said, in an awefilled voice "but did you see the whale?"

While we'd been up at the bow playing with "our" dolphins, a Humpback whale had done a full body breach out of the water about 20 yards in front of Anna. We looked out and saw two large dorsal fins, about halfway between our boats. One was smaller than the other, so we realized that this was likely a mother and calf, which may have explained the protective behaviour of the whale that Cat had seen.

The next morning, we had our very own whale encounter. The dawn came with overcast skies and very light winds. We had been motoring all night and, shortly after shutting down our engine, we sailed slowly up to a tideline of ripples in the water and then through a large colony of seabirds. CJ called out "Sorry to break up the convention, guys", as they each lifted up off the water in time for us to pass. Little did we realize at the time that those birds where a sign of something more.

Moments later, I heard a blowing sound and turned around to see a whale's tail about 50 yards behind us on our port side. Then I saw the distinctive barnacled side of a large Humpback to our starboard ... and then yet more ahead of us. For the next 40 minutes, while I did my best to maintain a reasonably straight course in the light wind, we watched a large pod of Humpbacks fishing (16 - 20, we couldn't be sure). As they appeared to keep circling back toward us, I had to keep faith that they knew we were there!

The thing I will never forget about this experience, is the sound of the whales calling to each other as they organized their hunt. I'd heard this sound before on recordings, taken by underwater microphones, but had never known that a sailor could actually hear it above water, on a quiet morning at sea with the engine off.

Of course there are no photos. I was too busy steering and Carolyn was too busy adjusting sails to keep us moving forward.

You'll just to take my word for it.

thanks for listening.


Eureka to Bodega Bay...slowly but surely...

As I sit here, in foggy and sunny Bodega Bay, it seems our friends in other boats have long-since passed us by... and I'd worry about that, except that I know we're doing this journey our way... not racing down the coast, not worrying about what everyone else is doing, just doing it our way... at our speed. We've hunkered down for several days each time we've hit land and that's ok too. We've needed sleep, time to tidy our little home and then time to explore our new location. It's all good as they say. We've had some difficulties with our cell phone (seems AT&T doesn't 'really' understand how to use Canadian credit cards) but Kathy has finally sorted that out (we think) so all should go smoothly now.

Now then... didn't we have a 'ride' from Eureka to here... oh yes we did. We left Eureka on Monday, September 12th.. slipping away into the fog at 0545 hrs. Did I mention we've been in fog for what feels like 'ever'. It's actually just like sailing at night, only you can't see the fishing boat lights anymore so it's all a big surprise when things show up on your little radar screen. But we've bonded with our radar now and, so far, he's looking after us pretty well. With that, and AIS the beeping and flashing lights keep us company as we travel through our dark and misty world. Can't wait for warm air and sunny days... somewhere south of San Francisco. Anyway, I digress. After working our way down the foggy Humboldt River and over the (then quiet and calm) Humboldt River bar, we bid Eureka adieu and carried on our journey. Our biggest focus was on getting around Cape Mendocino without getting beat up... that'd been one of my biggest hopes as almost everyone else we're heard from had suffered huge winds and waves and all the 'related activities'. We had choices and they included going way out (many like to do that...but get beat up). We could stay in (and get beat up). We could just get around the point and head in to Shelter Cove... we could keep going to Fort Bragg or Noyo Bay anchorage...or any one a few smaller anchorages along the way...or we could/might get as far as Bodega Bay if we could get there in daylight. So, after consulting with the NOAA meteorologist (which you can do in Eureka.. it's the one NOAA office that isn't behind barbed wire....and is public friendly, welcoming you into their inner sanctum and showing you all their computer screens and computations, etc.) we decided that Monday morning was the time to go and that we'd basically get out to the bouy, turn left, and 'go for it'... see how far we got as long as we were comfortable. We headed out, turned left and carried on. Two other boats (SV Anna and SV Bella Star) with friends Rich & Cat and Aaron & Nicole, left at the same time and we travelled loosely together for quite a while. The fog finally cleared and the sun came out and we motored on... and on... and on... There was no wind; not even enough to put the main up even a bit. The flogging would have driven us nuts. So we motored on... our little engine doing a fine job. We rounded Cape Mendocino (which takes several hours) under power, with no sails and almost flat seas.. like a lazy Sunday afternoon bobbing across Georgia Strait. During this whole day of no wind, calm seas, and motoring on... we had visitors of the cetateous type and the Flipper type... Kathy will tell you about those shortly. I'm writing about the other stuff. We finally had enough wind to put up the main and we motored on into the night making good time. Our initial plan was to go to Bodega Bay and then to Drakes Bay and then into San Francisco. At the pace we were travelling we were pretty sure we'd make Bodega and even thought we might actually make Drakes Bay. And so we continued, feeling good, resting well, and enjoying the trip.

0600 hrs, precisely, on Tuesday, September 12th... with no indication or warning and with no change in the rolling seas and steady wind... our dear little engine went cough...sputter. cough, cough, cough, sputter.... silence. What a horrible sound that is. The seas and winds were up enough that things were pretty rolly-polly. So I mustered up my tired mind and started checking things.. Nothing trailed behind the boat (we were still worried about whatever we had snagged on Leg 1 - and then shooken off, but not before it gave the rudder a good work-out and loosened it up a wee bit), nothing flying around the engine room, no liquids spewing from anywhere in the engine room... drat! The only thing left was to change the fuel, armed with buckets and rags (and at least 8 arms to catch things as they rolled back and forth on the cabin floor) I changed the filter (interesting how courses and mechanics blast over the actual 'changing' of the filter... never mentioning the small O rings, etc... luckily the filter wrapping still had instructions I could read (with flashlight in mouth and eye glasses on). Anyway, I got 'er changed, cleaned up the mess, and tried to start the engine. Cough, cough, sputter...silence. Wow... what a disappointment. So now, again, we had no engine...but we had sails.. and they were working fine.. so we carried on into daylight. We sailed on towards our destination and, at one point, I realized we were going to need assistance getting up the channel to Bodega Bay and the marina, so I contacted the Coast Guard. They were great, kept in touch with us as we sailed on towards them, and then came out to meet us just before we arrived at the head-lands. They were very professional, a great team, and with their assistance we made it to the Spud Point Marina - D dock, outside berth. Once they left, we treated ourself to a wholesome dinner of rum and coke, and then passed out in bed and slept until 1000 hrs. the following morning.

The next day we had a diver check out Shannon's bottom. He was amazing. He inspected the entire hull, shook the rudder, cleaned up the prop, checked the zincs, and then took a video of the bottom. He transferred the video to our computer and walked us through the entire inspection...all for $80. He found scratches and a few chunks of paint missing on our hull... consistent with having latched on to, probably, a bunch of kelp with debris trapped in it... that would account for the rudder and prop vibration we'd experienced in the first leg. He also thought the rudder was a wee bit loose, but nothing serious and we could deal with it whenever the boat is out of the water next. So, that's all good. Once he left, I began to focus on the engine. I thought it through and decided that it probably was a fuel filter clog, that I had changed it ok but that maybe there was still a little air in the system. So I bled it (it didn't take much), walked out to the helm like everything was normal, and started the engine. It started and ran like a charm. Phew again. So, here we are in Bodega Bay (morning fog, sunny afternoons) and watching the weather. Somehow NW winds 25+ and NW wind waves of 3-5' with cross swells of 5-7' at 8 second intervals just doesn't seem too attractive. So, we're enjoying this nice marina and going for walks and working on our little home...and writing this Blog.. for now. Besides, you ought not to leave harbour on a Friday anyway. So, for now, we wait. Hope all is well with you and your family. ttfn... CJ PS: we're off for a walk and some fish & chips... yummy.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A whale of a welcome to California!

We spent a good time but a long time (7 days) in Newport, Oregon... waiting for winds and seas to settle to a comfortable pace and height... too many horror stories from other cruisers so we decided not to be heroes but to enjoy our visit and check out the town. And, of course, we found a few good restaurants and a fun brewery and a couple of hardware stores.. what more could you ask for?? Finally, on September 4th we slipped our lines in the early, foggy morning (0600 hrs.),crept out of Newport, and headed out to sea. It felt great to be back on track; better rested this time and with the experience of the first 3-day leg under our belts. NB: something we didn't mention about that last leg was the little excitement we had when we realized that we'd picked up something (probably a large bull kelp) that felt like it had wrapped itself around our rudder a bit and then,just to get our attention, took a turn or two around our prop shaft. With a sluggish rudder and a vibrating prop shaft we decided to take a page from Lin and Larry Pardey and forgo using the engine for a spell. So we sailed... and we sailed... and we sailed some more... in confused seas requiring hand-steering for a couple of days... That's why we were so very tired when we hit Newport. The good news is that, just before arriving at the Newport bar, we decided that whatever had latched on had probably been knocked off in all the confused we started the engine and, to our delight, everything was fine. We motored in to Newport under our own steam... knocked off the remains of some kelp from the top of the rudder at the dock.. and carried on as if normal :-)

So, here we are on September 4th, a little older and wiser... but much better rested, heading off on the next leg of our journey. We planned (when we left) to go to Coos Bay; a much shorter run than our previous leg. They say the best cruising plans are written in sand, just below the high-water mark... and that's a pretty good description of what happens. With all our planning (and we are both Capricorns) we still didn't quite make it to Coos Bay. Instead, we did as we'd said we'd do and as the weather was holding and our spirits were good, we just kept going. We sailed past Coos Bay and we sailed past Port Orford. We sailed past Crescent City and finally, we came out of the fog at Eureka, California. Not the short little hop we'd envisioned.. but a great one at that. We had fog most of the way so spent countless hours staring at the radar screen. It was like sailing at night all day long except that you couldn't see any ships lights because of the fog. Again tho' we had some fabulous experiences. There were birds everywhere and they seemed to travel with us at night. While on watch you could hear them chattering away to each other, on both sides of the boat. And, we had whales... two nights in a row. The first night Kathy was on watch and it was just before dark. She heard then saw what we believe was a pilot whale surface a stones throw away from our port side. The whale blew as it passed heading north (as we were heading south) and was then gone. The next night we were both in the cockpit and it was dark...when out of no where and very close to the stern of the boat we heard a huge growl and blow of a whale that must have just barely missed the boat. There were several other blows too so we're not sure if it was just one whale passing very close by or 2 or 3. Pretty scary, in the middle of the night, with an animal that close to our little ship. But it was neat too (after the shock wore off). Anyway, our ship-board routines were much more comfortable this leg and so we kept going. We motor-sailed most of the way... had to keep the speed up with the waves as they were coming from behind and pretty uncomfortable if you weren't in synch with them. We both slept better on this leg too; shorter, less regulated sleeps... but enough.

Coming in to the Eureka bar, in the fog, was quite an experience. There were waves breaking on the ends of the jetties (huge, rock breakwaters parallel to each other and creating a safe entrance over the bar and up into the river) and the channel, although dredged, is fairly narrow. But with our trusty GPS and Kathy's skill at setting up courses, we navigated our way over the bar, into the river, and up to the Eureka Public Marina where we gratefully accepted a slip and moorage. We had only just arrived and sat down to catch our breath when we were treated to a feeding frenzy of a magnitude we hadn't seen before. Pelicans, egrets, and other sea birds... along with seals and sea lions, all thrashing about just off our transom. The pelicans hit the water like cannon balls, diving after the fish and, as each Pelican did so, they were instantly swamped by several of the smaller birds thrashing about after the tidbit left-overs. Except for the fog (all day except for 2-3 hours in the afternoons) Eureka is kind of a neat place too. We've already found the Irish Pub and the sushi restaurant... and there's a brewery in town that awaits a visit. The Co-op has good food and there's an Englund Marine store. There's also an NOAA centre here, which we visited this afternoon. A meteorologist took us back to his desk and showed us how they make their weather predictions. He also helped us look at what to expect on Sunday and Monday with respect to the bar conditions and potential weather as we head south. This is a really great service and it's the one NOAA centre that the public can actually visit. Anyway, we're back at the boat now (Thursdays are Irish nights at the Irish Pub) and ready to tuck in. Tomorrow we're off in search of a hardware store and will do some more chart planning,etc. Hope all is well with you. TTFN... Carolyn