Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Holidays From Silhouette!

It's been quiet on the blog front for awhile. We are still in San Diego working on boat projects, enjoying the (mostly) sunny weather, and spending the holidays with Kirsten's family. Kirsten can't remember when the last time she spent both Thanksgiving and Christmas with her family was -- probably in high school!

Last Sunday, we took some time out to enjoy San Diego's 40th annual Parade of Lights. The parade theme was Back to the Future, and many of the boats not displaying traditional Christmas themes were sporting disco themes. One boat even had a disco ball, and several crews could be spotted disco dancing on deck:  "Do a little dance, make a little love, get down tonight!" One crew from our marina, from the boat Green Flash, rocked flared bell bottoms, psychedelic mini-dresses, and huge Afro wigs.

Boat projects completed so far in San Diego:
  • Reconfigured the solar panel array and added a third 85 watt solar panel. We recycled stainless tubing from the old wind generator and solar panel mounts into the new arrangement.
  • Remounted the three 8D batteries into battery boxes, improved the way they are secured, and added an isolator and a new inverter.
  • Reinstalled the water maker (properly, this time--its original installation was very poorly done), flushed the membranes and replaced the hoses. It produces 6.5 gallons of water an hour.
  • Installed a new holding plate and compressor for the refrigerator. The new unit maintains the box temperature plus/minus 1 degree F of the set-point and consumes far less power.
  • Made curtains for the 14 ports.
  • Applied another coat of varnish to the hatch boards.
  • Replaced the leaky freshwater faucet in the galley sink, added a seawater tap and pump, and replaced the hoses for all galley water taps. 
  • Purchased an outboard for the dinghy and added a small tackle on the radar arch to facilitate transferring it from the inflatable to the storage bracket on the stern of the boat. 
  • Cut off the top of the forward water tank (aft two-thirds of the tank), cleaned and measured the tank, and ordered a new polypropylene tank to sit inside the old tank. We decided against trying to repair the old tank because nearly all Cabo Ricos of this vintage have had problems with leaky forward water tanks. If we repaired the tank, the flexing of the boat as it moves would probably just recreate the same problem. Installation of the new water tank is pending and will involve fiber-glassing in supports on the interior of the old tank to support the new slightly smaller tank.
  • Cut out drawer supports under the V-berth to create a larger storage space and cut an access lid to the storage space in the plywood under the V-berth. Also cut an access lid in the forward third of the old water tank to create an additional storage space there. 
  • Replaced flexible hose that supplies propane to the galley stove.
  • The project list is growing shorter by the day. Life is good.
From the crew of Silhouette to family and friends near and far, we wish you a peaceful and joyous holiday season!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Leg 1 Complete: Seattle to San Diego

We arrived in San Diego on November 17 after two days and two nights of non-stop traveling from Morro Bay and a total of about 14 days actual travel time from Seattle. (Some of those travel days were full twenty-four hour days, while others were days spent traveling with a night at the dock or at anchor.) The rest of the time since we left we have spent in port. Silhouette has gone 1,046 miles since she left the dock at Eagle Harbor! When we arrived in San Diego, we tied up at the Public/Transient dock next to the Harbor Police dock on Shelter Island, but today we moved Silhouette to Half Moon Marina. The marina is in close proximity to the marine services we'll be using while in San Diego (we are back in project mode!) and within walking distance of grocery stores, etc. 

First on our agenda was catching up on sleep. Yesterday, we washed down the boat, went over the project list and visited with my mom. Patrick also went to Village Marine to test our watermaker and learn the ins and outs of it first-hand from the Techs there. We were happy to find that the membranes were still good and we could keep the new ones we purchased as spares.  

The first day out of Morro Bay was a bit of a rough ride, with large swells from the gale that had just passed. However, the ride was not intolerable; we never saw gusts above 21 knots (there was a steady 15 knots most of the time); and we got in some sailing. After rounding Point Conception, everything flattened out and we had to motor the rest of the way.

Going through the Santa Barbara Channel was like visiting the Land of Oz, with so many oil rig platforms lit up like so many Emerald Cities.  

We encountered a huge amount of shipping traffic in the Santa Monica Basin (Huntington Beach/Los Angeles area) and the San Pedro Basin. Some night watches are more interesting than others, and I had one of my more interesting series of watches during this stretch of coast. Sure, it's peaceful and beautiful cruising along under the Milky Way with the soothing sound of wavelets lapping at Silhouette's soothing, in fact, that it often has the soporific effect of a lullaby. Sometimes, it's easier to stay awake if there are other vessels to pay attention to. There are no shortage of these in southern California, and on our transit to San Diego, we encountered some unusual situations. 

On my first watch, it was not a vessel, but a whale, that first came alongside the boat. I heard a loud blow right next to the boat. Whale!... or dolphin? I thought. A second loud blow:  Definitely whale!  I moved to the helm to slow the boat down. The third blow was followed by the back and dorsal fin of the whale as it dove about 30 yards off the starboard side. I didn't see it again and maintained the boat's heading and speed.

The next challenge was identifying a huge vessel, the size of a city block or large aircraft carrier, which was obviously right on our course. I saw the vessel ahead, but it didn't come up on our AIS (Automatic Identification System) immediately, so I could not tell what the vessel's heading or speed was. Sometimes it appeared to be moving west, but other times it looked like it was off our bow. I didn't know whether I would have to change course to avoid the vessel or not. We got closer and closer, and the vessel still wasn't coming up on the AIS. Finally, I woke Patrick for assistance. About the time I was coming to the conclusion that the vessel wasn't moving, it finally popped up on the AIS. Patrick noted that the bow was pointing in one direction, but the vessel appeared to be traveling in the opposite direction. He suggested that the vessel was drifting, which made perfect sense. We altered course to steer clear of the unpredictable behemoth. As we drew closer, Patrick noticed that the vessel was displaying two stacked red lights: the sign of a vessel not under command. (That means they probably had a watch present but were unable to control the ship.) They might have had engine trouble or trouble with steerage. After I went below and Patrick began his watch, the Aries Explorer finally got underway and its AIS signal reported its destination was Singapore. The AIS data also indicated it was carrying "Class A, IMO Hazardous" cargo. That translates to "International Maritime Organization, Dangerous Goods, Explosives." Apparently, the wide berth we gave her was warranted. 

On my next watch, about three hours later, I noticed yet another vessel right on our course. A naval vessel had been making announcements on Channel 16 about performing maneuvers at a certain latitude and longitude. We were approaching these coordinates. The vessel was making a series of repeated starboard turns as outlined in their broadcast. Again, I woke the skipper, who decided to make radio contact with the vessel. The warship reported they were concluding their maneuvers, and it was safe to pass astern of them.  All was well, but that's just not a situation one expects to run into at three o'clock in the morning! (There was also another navy vessel nearby conducting maneuvers "with small arms fire" and advising mariners to maintain a 5 NM distance!)

We will be staying in San Diego for about a month in order to finish some of the boat projects we didn't get done before the weather window closed in Seattle. We will also spend Thanksgiving with my family. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Farewell, Morro Bay

The rest of our stay in Morro Bay was as pleasant as the start. We enjoyed meeting Barry and Connie from S/V Rage. (We never did get the story on that boat name guys, but here in San Diego, we have seen its complements:  Anchor Management and Angler Management !) 

Every time I went out in Morro Bay, I found something new and interesting to do and a thriving sense of community. There is a wonderful park on the Embarcadero where the Morro Bay chess club meets for serious games every Saturday from 10:00-2:00. The picnic tables in the park all have chess boards built into them, and there is a giant chess board made of cement tiles in the middle of the park. The outsized chess pieces, the size of small children, are available for anyone's use on Saturdays (you have to rent them at other times) and are monitored by volunteers from the chess club who, at 2:00, return them to their locked cabinet in the park. 

Morro Bay Chess Club

Centennial Park, Morro Bay

On my second trip to Morro Rock, I came across members from the Peregrine Falcon Watch. Had the falcons been in their nest and not out hunting, I'm sure they would have offered to show me them through the spotting scopes they had set up. As it was, they answered my questions about the falcons and showed me a huge photo album of pictures from local photographers:  the falcons in hunting, feeding, mating, and chick-rearing modes. 

One stormy day,  there was a feeding frenzy off the stern of our boat. Small packs of half a dozen sea lions would cross our stern, arcing and snorting through the water. Dozens of pelicans folded in everything they had, including those tremendous pouches under their bills, and plummeted pointy-end first into the water like aircraft gone wrong. They made a tremendous crash when they landed and came up shortly afterwards, with fish in the mouth more often than not. There must have been some bait fish moving through the estuary because we only saw this level of feeding activity once. We tried taking some video footage of the action, but didn't really get anything that captured what we were seeing.

While humans are not exactly an afterthought in Morro Bay, one gets the sense that room is made for other species. The activities of humans and the activities of other wildlife seem more in balance there. We really enjoyed this peaceful stop before southern California.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Morro Bay: A Hidden Gem

White Pelican

We are holed up in Morro Bay, waiting for the next storm system to pass through. Prediction for today:  lightening and thunder along the coast and possible water spouts! (If we see one, we are to travel 90 degrees away from it.) 

On the way out of San Francisco, we made a side trip to the Farallones. There was still too much swell from the last storm system to get in close enough for wildlife viewing, and the big surf crashing against the islands made the landscape look even more menacing. The rocky outpost is surely the Devil's hellpot! We could hear the seals and sea lions but we couldn't see them. We did see another whale and our first shark though! Great whites inhabit the waters off the Farallones, but all we saw was the snarky dorsal fin come up off the stern of the boat, so we couldn't identify the shark for certain. There were two tears in the trailing edge of the dorsal that looked like slits. It was a chilling sight.

Farallone Islands

Then it was off down the coast. By morning, we were cruising along the magnificient stretch of coastline from Carmel to Morro Bay which includes Big Sur. This stretch of coastline is only lightly developed and is underpopulated. We could see Morro Rock a couple of hours before we entered the narrow entrance in the breakwater. Once in the harbor, we tied up to an anchor buoy. The dock was full, and we needed an excuse to try out our new dinghy, purchased in Alameda.  It was my first time tying up to an anchor buoy, and I missed getting the bow line through the shackle on the buoy on the first pass, but I got it the second time around. Coming into unfamiliar harbors at night has been one of the more nerve-wracking experiences of our journey, and we try to avoid it:  but sometimes it can't be avoided. 

Godwits Feeding in Morro Bay
Yesterday, we set off in the dinghy to check out some of the sights in Morro Bay. Rowing the dinghy is hard work, and I was envious of those overtaking us in their more streamlined kayaks; but at least we can use the dinghy to get out and explore the area. Morro Bay is a beautiful natural area and one of the most picturesque places I have seen in some time. There is a spit protecting the bay with the shifting topography of sand dunes left in their natural state. The bay is a fecund estuary, with about a dozen clam holes per square foot of mud, a stop for frequent flyers on the Pacific flyway. 
California Quail
I'm sure the waterfowl vary with time of year, but we saw brown pelicans, white pelicans, godwits, at least three species of cormorant, and several other species. Patrick got some excellent pictures of these from the dinghy. We beached the dinghy and took a short walk on the trail around the estuary. I guess we will see more of this type of landscape in Mexico, but here, desert and chaparral plants come right down to the sea or wetland. On one side of the trail you have pelicans, on the other, California quail! Truly an interesting contrast.

Brown pelicans were in abundance.

Beyond the estuary is a forest preserve which we did not get to. The preserve reportedly has a boardwalk trail and is another popular spot for birders. 

Morro Rock
Later, we left the dinghy at the dock and took a walk to Morro Rock. Morro Rock is a volcanic plug, one of a chain of "morros" left in the region when their original volcanoes eroded away. The dacite rock (similar to granite) beckons to the climbing instinct; however, it is illegal to climb Morro Rock. Peregrine falcons nest there. From the base of the rock, you can see wildlife doing its thing in a spectacular natural setting:   sea lions and sea otters jug-handling out in the bay, heron stalking their prey in the thriving eelgrass beds, and sea gulls feeding on seafood for a change, instead of trash scavenged from urban cans. On the other side of the rock is a long, sandy beach, where we watched some of the local surfers. 

We still don't have a good picture of our vessel at anchor, but our blog is finally official!


Saturday, October 29, 2011

"Local Gusts"

We pulled into Alameda late yesterday afternoon, where we will spend a week working on the boat and visiting family and friends. Upon further reading, I don't think we were in a true gale, as I wrote in my last installment. We were in gale conditions for over three hours, but I think it was a local phenomenon produced by the topography around Cape Mendocino. Apparently, these California headlands produce something known as "corner winds," and it is also not uncommon to go from 15 knots to 40 knots in a matter of minutes in the vicinity of Pt. Reyes. We had calm conditions rounding Pt. Reyes this time, but we still have Pt. Concepcion ahead, which is nicknamed the "Cape Horn of California" (who knew?) due to this phenomenon.

There is not much else of interest to report. We have seen marine mammals every day. Apparently, the coast is a bountiful feeding ground in October, because we did not see this many marine mammals on the trip up the coast in May 2010. After leaving Ft. Bragg, we saw a school of 50-100 white-sided dolphin. The grub must have been good, because they showed no interest in bow riding; they just kept moving slowly through the cloud of chow they were feeding on.

Another thing of note: truly of note! It has been sunny every day since we left Seattle, with the exception of the downpour the morning we left and our gale conditions. We're talking unseasonably warm. Yesterday, I came into San Francisco Bay (which usually has a strong breeze) wearing a light pair of cotton cargo pants, a T-shirt, and bare feet, and I was still too hot. It's supposed to reach 76 in Alameda today!

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

Tall Ship, San Francisco Bay

This post edited and post-dated from a previous email. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

First Gale

We are in Ft. Bragg, California after coming through our first gale on Silhouette. It came as a complete surprise. After leaving Newport, we continued south; but not much was happening in the way of wind, and we motored most of the way from Newport to Crescent City, with a brief sail when the winds filled in temporarily around Cape Blanco. Newport is nothing if not rich in marine life, and I think I saw my first albacore leap out of the water as we left that area. We also (positive ID) saw a Mola mola and circled the boat around for a close-up look at this clumsy, dinner plate-sized fish with a ginormous dorsal fin.  It was only the second time I've seen one!
We decided to stop and anchor behind the breakwater at Crescent City for a good night's sleep before continuing on, and we left again early the next morning. Again, there wasn't enough wind to sail; the weather was clear and sunny. The forecast was for rough weather further south on Monday and Tuesday (this was Friday), so we decided to bypass the port of Eureka and try to make it to Drake's Bay (just around the corner from the Golden Gate) by Sunday morning. As we passed Eureka that night (still motoring in calm conditions), the forecast was for 10-20 knots within 10 nm of Cape Mendocino (ideal sailing conditions for Silhouette) and only 25 knots from 10-60 nm offshore. (We'd been in 25 knots before on Silhouette).

The wind was just starting to build to 12-13 knots when I got off my first watch at 10:00 p.m. We set the headsail, and Patrick was able to sail through his watch, as the wind continued to build to 20 knots, rounding Cape Mendocino with no problem. Ironically, our problems began south of the infamous cape. When he woke me for my next watch at 2:00 a.m., the wind was 25 knots. We were only 12 miles offshore. Patrick tried to nap in the cockpit while I took my watch, but the wind continued to build to 30...35 knots. We partially furled the headsail and finally, furled it all the way and ran under bare pole to slow the boat down. The boat's hull speed is 7-point-something knots, and we were doing 9.0-10.0 knots surfing down some of the waves. Under a bare pole, the boat was a little too slow (4.0-5.0 knots); but because the gale had not been in the forecast, we hadn't hanked on the storm staysail ahead of time, and Patrick didn't want to send one of us out on deck in the dark to do so. Lesson learned. The strong gusts were beyond my beginner's ability to steer well; the strongest one recorded by our anemometer was 43 knots. A few waves splashed into the cockpit, and there was spray everywhere. Although the wind vane was still handling most of the steering, Patrick frequently had to jump up to hand steer or adjust the vane. When the wind shifted from the northwest to the northeast, and we were beam to the swell, even Patrick had a difficult time with steerage. Since we didn't have a storm staysail set to hold us into the swell, he started the motor, which did the trick. The wind vane was able to self-steer with the motor holding us into the swell.

Silhouette performed beautifully in the gale. My only concern was that we didn't have enough sea room and would be blown ashore before the winds died down. Patrick assured me we had plenty of room, at least until daylight when we could put up a sail. About an hour before daylight, the wind lessened to 20 knots. We put up sail again at daylight. About an hour later, it was 12-13 knots, and by the time we motored into Noyo harbor at Ft. Bragg in clear, sunny conditions, the whole experience seemed surreal.

The rolling log fuel dock we remembered at Noyo from our trip up the coast had closed. The only fuel dock there now is at Dolphin Isle marina, which is too shallow for our draft. It can only handle boats with a 3 ft. draft or less. The fishing fleet now has to truck in fuel to fuel their boats. (The smaller guys do it with jerry cans.) We are moored in Noyo Mooring Basin, which can barely handle our 5 ft. draft. We actually changed slips to a deeper slip so we wouldn't be sitting on the bottom at the minus tide coming up tonight. We have been in Ft. Bragg since mid-day Saturday due to gale warnings further south; we are planning to head out again tomorrow.

This isn't Patrick's favorite marina with its lack of facilities (the strength of the Internet signal varies with tidal height since the moorage is down in a basin and all the motels (whose Wi-Fi we are using) are up on the hill. There are no showers*, which motivated us to move the shower installation project up on the project list: Silhouette now has a hand held shower! However, I am loving my stay in Ft. Bragg, where I have college friends and extended family. I went huckleberry picking with my friend Cyndy yesterday, and I'm getting ready to make huckleberry pancakes for breakfast. 

* We later discovered there are showers at Noyo Mooring Basin:  key available in the office.

This post edited and post-dated from a previous email.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Whale in Newport

Yaquina Head Light, Newport, Oregon

We pulled into Newport just after sunrise this morning. It is an amazingly beautiful sunny day! So far, we have had incredible luck with the weather (since our inauspicious beginning in the downpour.)

We have also had a lot of marine mammal sightings. We saw our first gray whale off Cape Alava. We saw our second gray whale this morning when we were coming into Newport: It was right in the middle of the channel between the two jetties! Patrick spotted its blow first. We eventually saw its back, flipper, and flukes. We didn't know what to do at first. Should we try to go in and risk the whale breaching right next to the boat? Or should we wait for it to leave? The whale was probably feeding. The gray moved to the far left side of the channel, so we decided to attempt to enter through the center of the channel. As we did, we saw the whale dive (flukes) and head out to sea. A couple last spouts, and it was gone.

Yesterday, when I was on watch, a blow alerted me to the presence of dolphins. There were at least three Pacific white-sided dolphins alongside Silhouette. They didn't stay long at the bow---doing 6.0 to 7.0 knots, perhaps Silhouette was too slow for them to get their cetacean adrenaline on! And of course, we also saw the ubiquitous sea lion on the bell buoy.

Self-portrait in the Yaquina Head Light.
Wow! We are finally reaping the rewards of some of our hard work. We were finally able to sail Silhouette all day and all night yesterday! We had a steady 15-20 knots and again, were able to make 6.0-7.0 knots using just the headsail. I am anxious to try out our new main, but we don't really need it right now; and with my inexperience, it's also safer to use just the headsail at night. What a pleasant experience to shut down the motor and sail along for hours and hours without burning gallons of fuel or listening to the engine noise! Patrick hooked up our Monitor wind vane, and it did most of the steering. We just had to make minor adjustments to the sail and the vane on our watches when the wind shifted direction. We haven't really given much attention to the Monitor (or serviced it) since we got the boat, so we were pleased that it worked so well.

Last night was quite amazing with stars and celestial bodies literally tumbling out of the sky. Stars, planets, the Milky Way, meteors (shooting stars), and a blood orange moon rising over the horizon: There was so much to look at!

It's funny how the minute something good happens, you forget all the discomfort. The first day out of Neah Bay, we didn't have much wind, but there was a lot of swell from the previous high winds. It was a very rolly ride for the first 24 hours, since we were headed downwind and we were beam to the swell. The wind came up right at sunset, just as I was getting ready to start dinner. Once again, I had a major meltdown trying to cook dinner on a gimbaled and gamboling stove. Later, a swell threw me into the medicine cabinet door and I broke the handle off and jammed the door stuck.

The winds are turning to southerlies for the next couple of days. We're not sure if we'll continue on (the winds are not too high) or hang out here for a couple of days until the northerlies come back. Oh, and BTW, the Rogue Brewery is right here in the marina. We'll have to take a tour later this afternoon. But first, nasty jobs and showers. Patrick just changed the oil, and I just cleaned the composting head: lest those of you back home think the sailing life is all romance and adventure! For those who are sailors among you, though, the moorage in Newport is ridiculously cheap! $20 including power and Wi-Fi, and only $180/month for a 40' vessel. 
Fresnel lens, Yaquina Head Light.

This post post-dated from a previous email.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Casting Off Lines/Big Left Turn

Our voyage started like all great voyages---in a torrential downpour. The minute we pulled away from the dock in Eagle Harbor on Tuesday, a squall came over and we got drenched. Luckily, we had our rain gear on.

We got to sail as far as Point No Point for a change! We had a south wind and were doing 6.0-7.0 knots with only the headsail, so we didn't even put up the main. Gusts of wind up to 25 knots made steering downwind challenging. After Point No Point, the wind died and it was getting late, so we motor sailed the rest of the way to Port Townsend. There, we spent a day at the dock working on minor projects and making sure all the gear was securely stowed for sea. It was a full day, and we did not finish until dark.

Thursday, we headed for Port Angeles. We had all three sails up for awhile and Silhouette was moving along beautifully. But then the outhaul broke (which adjusts the tension on the foot of the main). We jury-rigged something so we could still use it. At the dock, we found that the little safety ring (like a key ring) that you put through the pin of a shackle inside the boom was missing. It must have been overlooked when the boom was reassembled. Luckily, it was an easy fix. We topped off on fuel and water and headed for Neah Bay the next morning. Port Angeles has all the amenities you need at a dock, but I didn't really like it. Very security conscious and locked up tight as a drum. The overnight guest dock (we got there after hours) is right at the entrance to the harbor, exposing the boat to swells all night.

It was a long haul to Neah Bay. There was not enough wind to sail, so we motored all the way. We were in a hurry to get there so we could take advantage of the weather window presenting itself this weekend. We were rewarded with the beautiful and peaceful anchorage that is Neah Bay:  the first safe harbor after returning from the Pacific (although we, of course, are outbound). But it reminded me of when we brought Silhouette up the coast and eased into this harbor, feeling a sense of relief and accomplishment that we had made it to home waters. Last night there were stars and a waning full moon, which meant of course that it was friggin' cold. Even with my new foul weather gear, I'm going to need more layers for our first series of watches tonight!

We have lucked into an amazing weather window for this time of year. Northwest winds from 10-20 knots are predicted for Saturday and Sunday. Perfect for sailing downwind! We should be able to make it to Newport, OR by Monday morning. Patrick is keeping his eye on the weather, and if the weather looks good, we may just keep going until Eureka. 

This post post-dated from a previous email.

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