Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Rounding scarey South Point

Leaving Hilo. You can just make out the observatories on Mauna Loa, the largest volcano on earth.
While we weren't exactly dreading rounding South Point, we were both looking forward to it with trepidation. This passage is infamous for its difficulty because of the strong winds and currents that are usually present. The winds are so consistently strong that the trees grow sideways away from the prevailing winds.

A wind-blown tree at South Point, Ka Lae in Hawaiian.
Virginia watched the weather reports closely and it looked favorable on July 13 so we decided to make a run for it. We wanted to pass the volcano in the dark so we could see the lava flow at night. We figured leaving at around 11 a.m. would be about right. The total passage to Honomalino Bay looked to be about a 23-hours. We decided to do our watch schedule of four-hours on, four-hours off. The wind was almost perfect the minute we got outside the breakwater. Off with the engine and up with the sails.

Smoke and steam mark the path of lava down the Kilauea Volcano to the sea.
We always underestimate how fast Oceanus goes. We wanted to be at the Kilauea lava flow after dark, but sailed past late in the afternoon, good for seeing the steam, but not for viewing glowing hot lava. What was beautiful, was the reflection of red from the lava on the underside of the clouds.

The interesting part was the smell. A month earlier, when we were out in the middle of the ocean, we talked about other people's experience of smelling the land before you could see it. We were looking forward to smelling Hawaii because everyone knows how wonderful Hawaii smells. Imagine our disappointment when all we could smell was, what we thought was, petroleum. We never could figure it out until we passed the spewing volcano. There was the smell: an odd petroleum, sulfur-like smell. Lava.

The winds were holding up. We were going about 7 knots and it was pleasant sailing. Virginia had the watch from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., which put her at South Point near the end of her watch. She was a little nervous because of the horror stories, but she said it was the easiest passage ever. In fact at 1 a.m., while approaching the point, she was so bored she considered calling her night shift nurse friends at North Lincoln Hospital in Lincoln City. Then she realized it was 4 a.m. in Oregon—a really busy time for night shift.

She woke me up around 1:30 a.m. because she needed help changing tacks as we rounded the point. I took over since I was already up.

The 14 wind turbines of the Pakini Nui wind generation project on South Point are each topped by a bright red light, which all blink in unison. Those lights, combined with the blinking white light from the Ka Lae (Hawaiian for the point) lighthouse, made for an enjoyable, ever-changing light show and stayed visible from the boat for almost an hour.

The winds got lighter and Oceanus slowed down, which was a good thing since we won't enter a strange anchorage—any anchorage, really—in the dark. The sky was clear and the ocean fairly smooth. In the waning darkness I saw a green navigation light dead ahead. It didn't seem to be moving, but Oceanus' speed was only about 2 knots by this time. I wasn't worried, but I also kept close tabs on the vessel. I figured it was a fishing boat waiting for daybreak. I was right; at first light she began moving and set a course south and out of my path.

Virginia relieved me a short time later. I dropped into my bunk and seemed to fall instantly to sleep. It didn't last long. About an hour later I felt Virginia shake me awake. She had started the engine, which usually gets me on deck as quick as I can pull on my pants, but not this morning. I came on deck groggy as she peppered me with questions. Finally I had to beg for a moment to get my bearings. According to the GPS, we were outside our planned anchorage, but where exactly it was wasn't clear.

Virginia at Honomalino Bay.
We consulted the cruising guide, but still weren't sure. Finally, after searching the shoreline with binoculars, the instructions made sense. We slowly motored past the rocky reefs and carefully felt our way into Honomalino Bay about 7:30 in the morning.

From the bow of the boat I could see the bottom nearly 80 feet below us. By the time we reached a good anchoring depth of 25 feet I could clearly see the ripples in the sand patch in the middle of the bay. We dropped anchor and set it. I slipped on my mask and fins and dove into the clear, warm water to check the anchor, which was buried deep in the sand.

Beautiful palm trees, black sand beach, sandy bottom perfect for holding an anchor, protected from wind and waves: it was a perfect anchorage and we were the only boat and people in sight.
Oceanus anchored in Honomalino Bay.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Hanging in Hilo on the Island of Hawaii

We anchored in Reeds Bay at Hilo on the Big Island for almost a month while we waited for parts and fixing things that broke on our 22-day passage. We found the bay to be a good anchorage and comfortable most of the time. We were also impressed with the great holding. (More about that later.)

We got to know Hilo pretty well. It didn't take long, it isn't that big, but I can't think of any city with a more distinctive character. Once we figured out the bus system, we could easily get downtown to a laundromat, grocery store and a great bookstore.
Hilo is also the home of the visitor's center for the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. Designated in June 2006, the monument encompasses the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands from a little northwest of Kaua'i to about Midway Atoll, covering 4,500 square miles. The coral reefs inside the monument are among the healthiest reefs in the word and 90 percent of Hawaiian green turtles nest on its islets. A national monument has the highest level of protection of any designation, so it requires special permits to visit this area. We enjoyed the exhibits in the visitor's center, especially the 3,500 gallon saltwater aquarium.That the visitor's center is located in Hilo is kinda funny since Hilo is about as far away from the monument as you can get and still be in the Hawaiian islands.

We enjoyed a whole afternoon of poking our heads into the t-shirt and souvenir shops, not to mention the candy shops. One standout was Moonstruck Patisserie, a little French bakery where Virginia had passion-fruit cheesecake and I had the best croissant of my life. It really was love at first bite.

A big highlight during our stay at Hilo was seeing our friends Jason, Renee and their daughter Elli. We visited their beautiful property outside of Hilo where they are building a house. One weekend Renee and Elli spent their Saturday taking us to the Kapoho tide pools to snorkel, followed by hamburgers at their place. We really needed that outing since there are no good snorkel spots within walking distance of our anchorage, that we know about, anyway. Renee also generously lent us her car two different weekends to run errands, go to church and sight see.

The waterfall at the Hawaiian Botanical Garden.
One of the unforgettable places we went was the Hawaiian Botanical Gardens. If you ever go to Hilo this is a must see. It was started by a couple who bought 17 acres of undeveloped, garbage-strewn valley on Onomea Bay and spent six year hand-clearing the sight. They turned it into a garden of Eden and opened it to the public in 1984. Tropical plants from all over the world grow here. It's now a self-sustaining non-profit nature preserve and has expanded to 34 acres, much of it held in reserve for future conservation and protection.

From our boat we could see a restaurant called The Ponds. We fantasized for a few days about eating fish and chips there before we finally walked over and tried the place out. Yes, the fish and chips were everything we hoped they would be. We ended up going there twice during our stay.

For the Fourth of July we celebrated by going out to breakfast at Ken's House of Pancakes. It is mentioned in every travel guide and was an easy walk from the bay. It is justifiably famous for the food. We had huge omelets and pancakes with passion-fruit syrup. We left stuffed and waddled back to the boat. That night we watched the firework show over Coconut Island from our boat.

We made friends with Chris, the owner of a little store not far from our boat called All Kine Stuffs. She was nice enough to let us have our replacement alternator shipped to her store. Her store also carried pink wintergreen mints my wife calls headache pills. These candies that are like crack cocaine to her and they are next to impossible to find. (Call her and she can tell you why she calls then headache pills.)
Some of the Bonsai at the Hilo gallery.
We found an interesting round building on one of our walks and decided to check it out. It is the Wailoa Center, a gallery run by an art organization for local artists. We enjoyed the paintings from several different local artists. Most of the paintings were land or seascapes from the Big Island's west side. The following weekend the gallery had a Bonsai show. We walked the two miles to the gallery and saw some of the most beautiful Bonsai I've ever seen—many of them 50 or 60 years old.

Everyone says that all is does in Hilo is rain. We didn't find that to be the case. Maybe because we are from the Pacific Northwest where rainfall of 90 inches a year is no big deal. While it did rain almost every day, it didn't rain all day, just two or three intense downpours, mostly at night. A cruise ship moored in the Harbor every Tuesday. The first Tuesday we were there was the only time I saw it rain nearly all day. It was raining so hard we could hardly see the cruise ship from our boat. We felt sorry for the people on board.
Cruise ship leaving Hilo.
We enjoyed watching the cruise ship coming and going, but not as much as the canoe club races, which took place nearly every evening. Most of the canoes were six-person outriggers, but there were also some sleek one-person outriggers as well. Some mornings canoes full of students would paddle past our boat and stop for a visit.
Lili'uokalani Park.
Every time we walked to downtown we passed the Liliʻuokalani Park and Gardens. This 30-acre Japanese gardens is beautiful and felt like something out of a storybook. The park's site was a gift from Queen Liliʻuokalani and was built in the early 1900s. It is one of the largest such gardens outside Japan. The gardens contain Waihonu Pond as well as bridges, koi ponds, pagodas, statues, torii, and a Japanese teahouse.

We planned to leave July 5th but when we tried to pull the anchor up it wouldn't budge. I dove in and discovered it was tangled around a large barnacle-encrusted piece of machinery. No wonder the holding was so great! I also found our prop to be completely encrusted with barnacles after just a few weeks in the bay. The next day I strapped on my scuba tank and untangled the anchor chain and scrubbed and chiseled the barnacles off the prop and other places. Then we waited for a couple more days for favorable winds to get us around South Point. We had heard scary stories about this passage, but that's for the next blog.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Sailing from Mexico to Hilo, Hawaii

A squall heads our way near sundown.
Time. You can cross an ocean going little more than five knots, it just takes time. For us in Oceanus it took just under 22 days to sail from San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, to Hilo, Hawaii -- 2731 nautical miles.

We sailed through four time zones. Most of the time, in fact, we didn't know what time it actually was. It reminded me of the line in Where the Wild Things Are where Max sailed his boat "in and out of weeks and almost over a year." The clock on the wall in the salon read one time, the satellite clock reported another time, our InReach satellite texting device told another time and the Garmin GPS gave yet another time. To top it off, part way through the crossing the battery for the wall clock over our bunk slowly died adding to the confusion. I began to rely on sunrise and sunset to keep me oriented. The question prompted, what seemed like, hours of discussion between Virginia and me. But we had plenty of time. It wasn't until Hilo hove into view and we picked up a signal for our cell phone, when the issue was settled.

We left San Jose del Cabo on May 21 at about 2 p.m. Mountain Standard Time. Since arriving in California back in February, we traveled a surprising distance east in addition to our steady progress south. So far east, in fact, we added about five days to our ocean crossing. Leaving  from San Francisco, the distance to Hawaii is about 2050 miles. Leaving from the tip of Mexico's Baja peninsula added more than 650 miles to the trip even though we were only two degrees of latitude north of Hilo.

Our course was due west and the winds blew out of the northwest putting Oceanus on a close reach for the first couple of days. The boat moved along well, but it heeled over about 15 degrees making life aboard difficult. Moving about usually took both hands and good timing. Sleeping meant making a nest of pillows on the lee side of the bunk and hoping the boat didn't pound too much in the large seas we encountered. Virginia described it as trying to sleep on a waterbed with a group of three-year-olds jumping on it while beating on pots and pans. I didn't think it was that bad, but I can sleep through almost anything.

It wasn't until day six, we were able to ease the sheets a bit. With the wind on our beam the heeling and pounding was less, but where were the glorious, downwind runs other sailors talk about who experienced the trade winds? Still, beam reaching has its advantages. We racked up some impressive noon-to-noon runs: 150, 157, and 153 nautical miles all with a reefed mainsail and genoa. Then, about day 13, the wind came from the east, northeast and dropped to seven or eight knots. We dropped the main, which was blanketing the genoa, poled out the genoa and raised our reaching staysail, sheeting it on the side opposite the genoa. With wind from the stern, our noon-to-noon milage dropped, but life aboard was much more comfortable.

During the whole voyage we saw only four ships and one other sailboat. We encountered the ships early on as we crossed the route from the Panama Canal to North American ports. We caught a glimpse of a sailboat at the edge of the horizon near the end of the voyage. Except for those encounters, we saw little more than sea and sky.

From on deck I can see about four miles in any direction to the horizon. This movable bubble of sight was our world. The sea teamed with flying fish. Oceanus startled large schools of them that would leap free of the water and fly above the wave tops. They were a constant source of entertainment. Each day I would pick up two or three that landed on our deck and died there. Only twice did one land in the cockpit so I could return it to the ocean before it died. In the sky, blue-footed boobies regularly visited us circling Oceanus looking for a place to land. Nothing suited them, and they let us know of their displeasure with squalks and baleful looks. There were shearwaters too, but not many other birds live the pelagic lifestyle required this far from land. Only once did dolphins visit us, but the pod  of two or three dozen stayed with us for three hours, playing in our bow wave and breaching.

The sea and sky were our constant companions. No words can adequately describe the beauty of the tropical ocean. I never grow tired of looking at its deep sapphire blue with brilliant turquoise highlights that turns to black as the sun sets. Like the sea, the sky is always changing: the endless variety of cloud formations, the quality of light from each unique sunrise and sunset, and night skies filled with stars. The Milky Way looked like a river of light in the sky most nights. We also saw several meteors, sometimes two or three in a four-hour night watch. Mirroring the lights in the sky was the twinkling phosphorescence in the sea. The vikings called it Ran's jewels after the Norse goddess of the sea. And so it seemed to me -- lights glittering like jewels in the deep.

The wind never got much above 25 knots during the whole passage. Even the occasional squall that came our way didn't pack much of a punch. But the gusts were usually from another direction, throwing off our wind vane self-steering. Little rain accompanied the squalls either. We planned to catch rain. Lucky for us our 120 gallons of fresh water was more than adequate.

Maid Marian, our Hydrovane self-steering gear worked great, we hardly had to touch the wheel.
Our third crew member, Maid Marian, our Hydrovane self steering, worked tirelessly keeping us on course for days at a time without needing any attention. Hydrovane is made in Nottingham, England, so she needed a name from the Robin Hood legend. She's an amazing piece of gear and doesn't complain or need much attention. When the winds were really light, say below three or four knots, she would take a break from her duties and we would hand steer.

Besides our VHF radio, which has a range of only several miles, we had a DeLorme InReach. It uses the satellite phone network to send and receive texts from nearly anyplace on earth. It also sends out a tracking ping every few minutes to update our position on their web site. This is our only long-range communication while at sea. We would occasionally send and receive texts from our family and one friend who kept an eye on the mid-ocean weather for us.

Virginia received a text about half way through the passage telling her that her dad died. He was not in good heath, but it was still tough on her. The funeral was six days before we made landfall. A few days after the funeral, and still about 300 miles from Hilo, I ask Virginia if I could get her anything. "Yes," she said. "Off this boat!" I wasn't sure how to respond, except to say she had to wait or she had a very long swim ahead of her.

With only a few days until our landfall, the focus of our discussions shifted from "What time is it really?" to "What do you want to do once we get to Hilo?" Not surprisingly, for those who know us, it was mostly about food. Specifically: Ice cream and donuts (Virginia); shave ice and fish and chips (Brandon).  We both agreed it would be nice to sleep more than four hours in a row on a bunk that didn't bounce around.

This sailor needs a shave and a shower.
Things break on a long passage. That's just the way it is. They also always break -- always -- in the middle of the night. Our radar reflector chafed through the flag halyard and fell from spreader height at 1 a.m. It hit the deck right above my head when I was fast asleep. A few nights later a bolt came loose on the boom brake and again it hit the deck right above my head while I was fast asleep.

Some of the things that broke I could fix, but the alternator wasn't one of them. We discovered it wasn't charging the first time we ran our engine. We decide to run the engine once a week to make sure it was working and to fully charge up our battery banks. Our solar panels usually keep the batteries charged unless it's really hot, which taxes our refrigeration, or overcast during the day, which cuts the efficiency of the panels. When that happens, our over-sized alternator on the diesel engine keeps the batteries topped up. Without the help of the alternator, we turned  everything off that we didn't absolutely need. We even turned the freezer off at night to conserve electrons.

By 1 a.m., June 10, we could see the lights of Hilo on the horizon. Oceanus charged along at 6.5 knots. We didn't want to enter the harbor in the dark, so I hove to for about three and a half hours, making about half a knot to the north away from Hilo. As the sky grew brighter I changed course back toward our goal, but by then the wind was light and fluky, coming directly from where we wanted to go. Our batteries were too low to start the engine and the overcast day wasn't helping. In desperation, I lashed our Honda 2000 portable generator to the deck, crossed my fingers, and fired it up.

We use the Honda as needed to top up our batteries while in calm anchorages. I wasn't sure it would work at all on the pitching deck while underway. But it worked like a champ, charging the batteries while Virginia and I fought to keep Oceanus moving in the light and unpredictable breeze. By noon the batteries were still low but we decided to try the engine. It cranked, but didn't catch. I tried again, still no love. One last time. Crank, crank, crank, sputter, crank, sputter, sputter, vrooom! Hilo and ice cream, here we come! It's about time.
The view from Oceanus safely anchored in Reed's Bay, Hilo, Hawaii.

The Aquarium connection

The Oregon Coast Aquarium is following our adventure on their web site as part of the Oceanscape Network. If you would like to read more about our encounters with marine wildlife look here.

If you want to track us go to share.delorme.com/virginiaford.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Adios Mexico, on to Hawaii

The view from our slip at Puerto los Cabos marina in San Jose del Cabo. The large sculpted cross puts on a light show every night.
We've only been in Mexico a month, but it's already time to say adios. Hurricane season is about to start and it's already HOT! It's been in the high 90s F every day this week. My wife seriously can't take it. We're talking heat stroke and total misery.

So today we leave San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, for Hilo, Hawaii. We are excited and looking forward to seeing our friends in Hawaii and continuing to explore the underwater treasures of those magic isles, this time from our own boat.

We've enjoyed Mexico for the most part. One of the good/bad things is we rarely have internet. I have enjoyed the break, but it makes it tough to keep the blog updated.

Snorkeling at Bahi Los Frailes.
The 10 days at anchor at Bahi Los Frailes was beautiful and it was there we decided to sail for Hawaii -- that was one week ago. We spent the last three days in San Jose del Cabo stocking our boat and getting her ready for three-to-four week trip to Hawaii. Just a few more items and we're off!
Oceanus at anchor at Bahi los Frailes.

Friday, April 1, 2016

No crowds during California's winter

Avalon on Catalina Island. The mooring field is starting to fill up for the weekend.
Cruising California in the off season is the bomb. Every place we stop to anchor or tie up not only has room for us, but welcomes us -- sometimes with off-season rates. And the weather is about the same as the Northwest's best summer days; sunny, dry and mid-60s to 70s.

We were only going to stay in Santa Barbara for a couple of days but I caught a cold and we stayed a nearly a week with no problems. We've heard from other cruisers that during the summer, slips in Santa Barbara are hard to get and good luck trying to extend your stay. It is the city's only marina and in a wonderful location, so it's not hard to understand why slips are in demand.
Virginia explores Pelican Bay on Santa Cruz Island. 
The couple who keep their boat in the slip next to us spoke glowingly about the beauties of Santa Cruz Island across the channel from Santa Barbara. They recommended we anchor at Pelican Bay, which is usually crowded during the summer months. We sailed across the channel and found only one other boat with which we had to share this idyllic anchorage.
Beautiful Santa Cruz Island.

We were there for two nights when we heard a weather report of gale-force winds that would hit the island. So we sailed to King Harbor at Redondo Beach. No slips were available, but we spent the night on one of four mooring balls for transient yachts. We were the only boat at the mooring field and there were no boats in the anchorage inside the breakwater. This small marina is a gem, but we didn't have the time or inclination to explore it. Still feeling a little punky from my cold, I didn't want to unlash and launch the dinghy.
Seabirds line the breakwater at sunset on the King Harbor breakwater.
We wished someone had warned us about the mooring balls in California. I'm sure we were great entertainment for people onshore as we tried to figure out why this ball had a funny wand in the water and no way to tie to the top of the ball! The trick is to grab the wand, pull it up on deck and use the pendent attached to it to hoist up the mooring line to loop over the bow cleat. Then you follow another smaller line to a loop you then put on the stern cleat. Important safety tip: wear gloves.

Shoreline Village Marina in Long Beach. The harbor is also known as TransPac Harbor with signs detailing the history of that great yacht race.
The next morning we sailed the short hop to Long Beach and the Shoreline Village Marina. This marina is right in the middle of restaurants, shops, walkways, parks and not far from from the Queen Mary and the Aquarium of The Pacific. (You can read about our visit to the aquarium here.) At night, twinkling lights lit up the businesses and structures in the nearby park. We felt like we were docked in the middle of Main Street Disneyland. We could even see a Ferris wheel from our boat.

We weathered a pretty good storm, with gale-force winds, rain and thunder and felt secure; the boat hardly moved. In the morning the marina was filled with garbage washed down the LA River into Long Beach Harbor. It was pretty grim. Most of it was reeds and branches, but much of it was plastic: water bottles, plastic sacks and wrappers of every description. Single-use plastic is evil. We stayed four nights and by the time we left most of the garbage was cleaned up.

We found the gas dock at marina next door was convenient place to fuel up. Their diesel price was the least expensive we've come across and the attendant was helpful and friendly. He told us stories about other cruisers he'd met including a family of four from France who set off for French Polynesia after buying fuel.

Two Harbors on Catalina Island.
Long Beach is right across the water from Catalina Island so we decided to spend a few days there. As a kid I always wanted to visit Catalina during our vacations to Southern California. Our good friend back in Newport, Chris, also insisted we not miss it.

"Don't go to Avalon" was a phrase we heard often while at Long Beach. "It's crowded, expensive and hard to get a mooring ball." So we decided to stay at Two Harbors. The mooring field at Two Harbors is lovely and deserted in the winter time. We spent two nights... two very rolly expensive nights. At $50 a night, it was more expensive than most marinas. We were glad to leave that harbor.
Oceanus moored in Avalon Harbor with the amazing Casino, which was never used for gambling.
We sailed two hours to Avalon and paid the harbor patrol $84 for two nights. The harbor patrolman said, "our winter special is pay two nights and get the next five free." We like free so we stayed a week on Avalon and loved it. The mooring field was less than half full, it was quiet and we slept well every night. Best of all there is plenty to see and do.

The harborside of Avalon. In the background is the entrance to the walkway to the Casino and the Avalon Yacht Club.
From our mooring we watched people walking along the shops and restaurants that front the harbor. Most of the brick-paved streets near the harbor are pedestrian only and most of the vehicles on the island are propane-powered golf carts. Up the hill from the harbor is a chime tower that struck the hours and each quarter hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. On one end of the harbor we could see the monumental Casino building built in the art deco style of the 1930s and at the other end we could watch the ferries come and go from the mainland.

On shore we visited some of the shops, but we really had no interest in most of them. We have everything we could want. We did find a great Ace Hardware store packed with an astonishing selection of practical items. I finally found the perfect nozzle for our hose to replace the one we left on the dock at Newport. I've been looking for the right one in every port since we left. Best of all it cost only $3.

The botanical gardens on Catalina Island.
Each day we did something: visited the botanical gardens; went to the Tuesday night half-price movie so we could see the fantastic theater inside the Casino; rented a golf cart for an hour so we could tour around Avalon in style; walked to fill our propane bottle, and attended church in a meeting room in the U.S. Bank building. Part of the fun was rowing to and from the dinghy dock to get ashore and visiting with the other boaters along the way. The water was so clear we could see the bottom most of the time. We saw a bat ray and several bright orange Garibaldi fish. I spent an enjoyable afternoon snorkeling around the boat cleaning off the grunge from Long Beach Harbor and checking her bottom.

Friday was the last night of our stay in Avalon and the little harbor filled up with yachts including several from a Southern California yacht club having their spring cruise. The main party boat was next door to Oceanus and at one time had eight dinghies tied up to it. The nice thing about yachties is that most of them are older and the party was all but over by 9:30 p.m.

The next day we headed to Dana Point Marina for two days to visit friends. It's a beautiful marina. They were also very accommodating when we needed to change our reservation because we stayed longer than we planned at Avalon.

Then it was on to San Diego. As we came close to the entrance to the bay we saw two islands... two Mexican islands!
Oceanus was one of only three yachts tied up to the Police Dock in San Diego. During the fall this place is packed.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Finally cruising, and loving it!

Virginia sailing south!
Waiting for a weather window paid off big time. Insted of making small hops down the coast, we were able to jump from winter to summer in just a few days. The stars aligned on Feb. 8 and Virginia and I left Newport and headed south.

It was also a good time for our friend, Paul, to join us. Paul is an amazing mariner. As a young man he served in the U.S. Coast Guard, then he worked as a crab fisherman in Alaska, then sailed his own boat, a 38-foot Atkin Ingrid, down the West Coast to Mexico, Central America, through the Panama Canal, Caribbean, and up the East Coast. He was also a professional skipper and for about the last 10 years captained a research vessel in Alaska. He is now the owner of another Atkins masterpiece, a Valgerda, the 19-foot faering that I built.
Paul at the helm of Oceanus.
Having him aboard was a huge confidence booster for Virginia and me. It also made for a sweet watch schedule -- four on, eight off. We learned a lot from Paul and can't thank him enough for helping us sail south.

The three of us decided Sunday (Feb. 7) that we would leave the next day. Paul arrived about 10 a.m. Monday and we started getting ready. Virginia heard the Coast Guard restrict the bar to 40 feet and under and called to us that we had to leave before they closed it all together. We cast off and headed for the entrance (or in our case, the exit) to Yaquina Bay. With picture-perfect breaking waves on either side of Oceanus, we were the last vessel to cross the bar before the Coast Guard closed it at 11:15 a.m.

Once on the open ocean, however the seas were less threatening at about nine feet at 12 seconds or so, sunshine and the wind at our back. We motored through a minefield of crab pots. With Paul at the helm, Virginia watched for pots to starboard and I watched the port side. We headed southwest until we were in about 60 or 70 fathoms of water -- too deep for crab pots -- then we turned south.

The wind was out of the southeast and light. We put up the mains'l and motorsailed, an effective strategy in our old CCA boat because as the boat heels over the water-line length increases, increasing the speed potential of the boat. For two days we motorsailed this way and averaged 7.5 knots.

The first night was clear and not as cold as we expected. Far from any artificial lights, the stars shown bright. During my four-hour watch, which started at 2 a.m., I saw six meteors. I looked at the ocean and knew this was what I was meant to do.

Around noon the next day we sailed into California waters as we crossed latitude 42. It also meant we didn't have to worry about crab pots anymore, since crabbing was closed in California.

On our third day, the wind died and the swell dropped to its smallest of the voyage. With the calm came fog. We motored through it with a bubble of visibility that extended only 50 feet around us. A fur seal watched us pass as it reclined in the water with its flippers and head extended above the surface to save body heat. Paul, came on deck, grabbed the air horn from its pocket in the cockpit and headed to the foredeck to stand bow watch.

The fog persisted into the night. During my early-morning watch I shut down the engine and ghosted through the fog under mains'l only at about one to two knots. With no engine noise I could use all my senses to guard against colision with another boat. While we don't have radar aboard Oceanus, we do receive AIS (automatic identification signals) from other vessels equipped with an AIS transponder. Most commercial vessels have them. I watched the screen and saw several signals around me. I also heard chatter between fishing boats on the VHF radio, most of it in Spanish.

One of the fishing boats picked me up on their radar. The VHF crackled to life: "Sailing vessel heading south at North 38 degrees 23 minutes, what is your intention?"

That was my heading and my approximate position so I answered. "This is sailing vessel Oceanus. We're making for Bodega Bay and don't have radar. Over."

"I can see you on my radar. We will stay well south of you. Over."

"Thanks." I said. "Out."
Bodega Bay, setting of Hitchcock's "The Birds."

In the morning the fog lifted and we motored toward Bodega Bay. It took most of the day partly because we kept 20 or 30 miles offshore, first to avoid the crab pots and then to stay well clear of rocky headlands.

As we approached land we saw the swell breaking on the cliffs west of Bodega Bay and more breaking seas on a rocky reef guarding the entrance to the bay. We followed the bouys into the bay and tied up at the fuel dock. We were in California.

Drake's Bay, the real one. Don't believe anyone who tells you Drake spent the winter in Oregon.
We spent a day tied up in a slip at Spud Point Marina and then sailed to Drake's Bay just north of the entrance to San Francisco Bay. We anchored just after sunset and we were the only boat in the bay. We spent a night there listening to the wind howl in the rigging, but the water in the bay was calm. The morning was sunny calm and beautiful. What a magic place: elephant seals and birds on the beach and dairy cows grazing on the pastures above the cliff tops. I wish we stayed for a week, but we needed to push on.

We decided to skip San Francisco because the Coast Guard reported 20-foot breaking seas across the entrance to the bay. As much as I wanted to sail Oceanus under the Golden Gate Bridge that dissuaded us. We headed to Half Moon Bay instead.

It took about seven hours of hard sailing with 13-foot seas and 20-knot winds. One hour we covered 10 knots surfing at about 12 knots much of the time. What a great boat!

We stayed in Half Moon Bay for two nights and then left for Monterey early in the morning so we could get there before dark. Two sea otters playing in the middle of our assigned slip served as a welcoming committee.

Virginia and I with Steinbeck, my favorite author.
Monterey was great fun. Sunny and warm most of the time although we did have wild wind, rain and thunder one night. Paul stayed aboard for a full day and played tourist with us, seeing Cannery Row, a museum and the house where Robert Lewis Stevenson stayed for a few months. The next day Paul jumped ship and caught a train back to Newport.

The fishing pier at San Simeon with Hearst Castle on the hill above.
Virginia and I left Monterey Bay early morning on Feb. 21 headed to an anchorage in San Simeon Bay. We passed through a Sea Otter Refuge zone and much to our delight there they were! Otters were our near constant companion the entire way. At first glance they looked like a piece of drift wood floating along until we got close.  Then we saw their fuzzy heads watching us. We anchored that night in San Simeon Bay where we could see the famous Hearst Castle high on the hill.

The rock at Morro Bay.
We left San Simeon the next morning. By early afternoon we entered Morro Bay, a tiny bay behind a huge, gnarly looking rock. We spent the most peaceful night of the voyage tied to a mooring ball at the Morro Bay Yacht Club.

Once again we left just as it was getting light so we could round Point Conception before dark. This point marks the change from cold air and water of central California to the warm air and water of southern California.  It also has the reputation of being the "Cape Horn of West Coast." Many boaters have their hat handed to them trying to round Point Conception. We were lucky and enjoyed a beautiful day and near perfect conditions. We rounded the point without any problems. In fact, it was so calm that Virginia went below and made lasagna, which we enjoyed after we anchored for the night in the Cojo Anchorage.
Point Conception from the Cojo anchorage.
The following day we raised anchor and headed south in WARM air. Instead of four layers underneath our foul-weather gear, we had on, first, sweatshirts and then switched to just t-shirts. Hundreds of Pacific white-sided dolphins passed the boat all day. The water was so clear and calm that we could watch them as they swam underwater next to the boat.

We entered Santa Barbara Marina in the afternoon. We saw a smaller sailboat hard aground just outside the channel so I entered slowly and was careful to stay between the red and green markers. I watched my depth sounder go from 21 feet to 10 feet to 4 feet in less than 30 seconds and then we were hard aground right in the middle of the channel. I tried backing us off to no avail. All of a sudden a strong ebb current pushed us crossways to the channel and heeled the boat over about 40 degrees. The water was boiling around us. I went from annoyed to frightened. After about a minute I felt the boat slide off somewhat and right itself. I put her into reverse and was able to gently back off what must have been a hump of sand in mid-channel. I aimed for the center of the next two buoys and we entered the marina without further problems.
The amazing Santa Barbara courthouse.

We spent a week in Santa Barbara. That's about five days longer than we intended, but we were tired and both caught a nasty little cold. Hey, we're cruising now, plans are made to be broken, right?

The Aquarium connection

The Oregon Coast Aquarium is following our adventure on their web site as part of the Oceanscape Network. If you would like to read more about our encounters with marine wildlife look here.

If you want to track us go to share.delorme.com/virginiaford.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Mast pulpits and propane aboard Oceanus

Our Dickinson propane fireplace warms the boat up nicely on cold Northwet winter days.
Few things make living aboard a boat in the Northwet more comfortable than a fireplace and a good galley stove and oven, especially in the winter. And few things make a trip to the mast safer than mast pulpits. On my boat the two are related.

The oven is large enough for Virginia to make three loaves of her great wheat bread.
The old stove that came with Oceanus ran on propane and looked dangerous. It was not hooked up. When we moved it sawdust and chunks of rust came out of every opening. The oven door had no window and, worse, no way to lock it closed.

Another troubling thing was there was no evidence on Oceanus of a proper propane locker: one that was air tight except for the vent over the side as required by the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) and every good marine surveyor.

The propane locker for Oceanus is a deck box.
My solution was to buy a deck box for Oceanus to use as a propane locker. I chose a Trident Marine L-P Gas 20-pound Dual Chest Locker, (part number 1502-0020). Generally I'm happy with it after I upgraded the regulator. Why they put a cheap, single-stage regulator on an item that cost one whole boat buck... well, it kinda ticks me off. The only other thing we did was put a backing plate on the latch. Those are the bad parts. Otherwise, the box is well made and stout, no oil-canning when I stand on top of it.
The propane deckbox has room for smaller propane cylinders, windlass handle and other odds and ends in addition to the two 20-pound tanks.

I located it a little in front of the mast and bolted it through the deck at each corner using 3/8-inch bolts with big fender washers. I used UHMW plastic shims about an inch thick and slightly tapered to lift it off the crown of the deck. I then used a large hole saw to cut a hole in the bottom and a smaller one to cut a hole through the deck for a plastic through hull. The through hull was big enough that I could fit two hoses -- one for the new Dickenson Newport fire place, the other for the new Dickenson Mediterranean stove and oven -- and a 14-2 wire for the solenoid.

Here's how the propane box and the mast pulpits relate. I bolted one leg of my mast pulpits to the port and starboard sides of the deck box with good backing timbers and fender washers. The mast pulpits each have four legs, so that saved me eight holes in my deck.

Mast pulpits (granny bars) are harder to find than you would expect.
I feel lucky to have these mast pulpits (granny bars). We spent a lot of time looking for mast pulpits for Oceanus. I could find nothing on-line. We regularly checked places like Minnie's and Columbia Marine Exchange for used ones. We even contacted a couple of stainless steel fabricators, but none of them wanted the job.

Then, as I helped a dockmate with a project aboard his boat, I spotted eight stainless steel flanges bolted to his deck. I asked him what they were. "Oh, those go to some mast pulpits that were just too big for the boat," he said. "I took them off because they were always in the way."

He was right, they were too big for his 33-foot boat, but they are perfect for my 43-foot boat. It must be something like, "when the student is ready, the teacher shall appear." When you look long enough and are desperate enough, you will find what you are looking for.

When my dockmate retrieved them from his garage and brought them to the boat I couldn't believe my good luck: they were the most beautiful mast pulpits I ever saw. They had a gentle arc, four feet and a teak pin rail with four belaying pins on each pulpit. The pin rail looks nice and is handy. The mast pulpits also provide a great place to secure the eight polyethylene jerry jugs we carry aboard for fuel and water.

The deck box makes putting on the mains'l cover easy.
The mast pulpits and deck box make working around the mast easier and much more secure. The deck box is a great place to sit and admire the view or to stand on to reach the top of the mains'l when putting on its cover.

Back to propane. Once the deck box was in place with a way into the boat for the hoses and wires the rest was pretty easy. I got some help from my local RV place to tee off the line after the regulator so I could run a hose for both appliances. The tee must be made in the box because ABYC allows no connections inside the boat except to the appliance. Then it was just a matter of running the hoses for the fireplace and the galley stove and connecting the electronic shut off to power the solenoid in the box.

Everything worked well on the first try, except the flow seemed anemic. After looking at the cheap regulator that came with the deck box and comparing it with the ones at the RV place, I figured it must be under sized. Another $35 into the project for a two-stage regulator was chump change. The bigger regulator did the trick.

I can't remember the name and can't find the documentation for it. I remember it's made in Canada.
After doing all you can do to keep propane only where it should be, you still need a bilge sniffer. This warns you if propane is leaking into your bilge and pooling there waiting to blow you and your boat to kingdom come. We found this nice unit that's made in Canada.

A hand-held sniffer is essential.
We also bought a portable combustible gas sniffer to check all connections. Soap suds just doesn't cut it.

For more tips on staying safe with propane here's 10 tips from the good folks at Attainable Adventure Cruising.

On previous boats we had an alcohol stove and a kerosene stove. Virginia was not a fan of either of those fuels. If we were not planning to sail south we might have considered a diesel stove. We are well aware of the potential for explosion from propane, but if you like to cook on board, propane is the best option.

Weather Window Update

We are still waiting for a weather window to open so we can head south. Here are some photos of waves crashing on the rocks in front of a friend's house in Depoe Bay, Ore., this week. Maybe next week....
This wave hit the base of a 40-foot cliff and shot about 80 feet into the air.