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

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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