Voyages with Swiftsure Yachts
As the wheels of our Alaska Airlines jet touched the tarmac at Oakland International airport, I looked out the window to see overcast skies, a gray contrast to the sunny weather we had been experiencing in Seattle. Jamie Gifford, Curtis Edwards and I were travelling to Alameda to deliver Jamie and Behan Gifford’s Stevens 47 Totem to her new home on Bainbridge Island. As we walked up the ramp from the plane, déjà vu set in. Haven’t we been here before?
Seven weeks earlier, a crew of six, including Jamie, Curtis, and myself had spent the week in Alameda waiting out the finicky weather off the coast. It was boat projects galore as we fixed a propane leak, replaced numerous pumps, rebuilt the aft head and inspected the rig. But it wasn’t all work, and we enjoyed dinner at the Oakland Yacht Club and Sunday morning “Gin Fizzes” with legendary Bay Area cruisers Jim and Diana Jessie. It was a great pleasure to meet Jim and Diana and to spend time with them on their 53’ Grand Banks Alaskan, Nalu. The couple logged over 120,000 miles of both racing and cruising on the previous Nalu, a cold molded Bill Lapworth sloop and have some great stories to tell.
After five days at the dock in Alameda, we spied a weather window and headed for the Golden Gate. Only a few hours out, we were into forty knot winds and steep, sloppy seas that made going slow and uncomfortable. Seasickness struck a few crew members, although Doug “iron stomach” Miller was still snacking away on Jamie’s cheese quesadillas and reading Offshore Fishing for Cruisers as we made our way across the infamous Potato Patch shoal. A quick call on the satellite phone to weatherman Brad Baker back at the Swiftsure Yachts headquarters in Seattle revealed that our weather window had quickly slammed shut and we were looking at long week of strong northwesterlies ahead. With jobs and families to attend to, we flew home to Seattle -defeated by the weather for the time being.
Back in Alameda for the second time, Jamie, Curtis and I quickly set about getting the boat ready for our second attempt. We replaced a broken staysail halyard and made a stop to purchase some fresh provisions. Thankfully, Jamie’s wife Behan had made the trip down with us in April to help stock the boat with meals for the trip, so our job was an easy one. Some fresh fruit, eggs, chips and beer. Hey, at least we weren’t having salted pork and grog! After returning and looking at the tides, we scratched our plans of leaving that afternoon and sat down in the cockpit to relax with a Dark and Stormy.
Six o’clock comes early. While there is always the anticipation of the trip, there is the knowledge of a week’s worth of sketchy sleep ahead as well. But the tides don’t wait, and we were off to catch the end of the flood in hopes of making the Potato Patch before the ebb churned things up too much. The skies were overcast as we headed out of the estuary and onto San Francisco Bay. Rounding the corner and turning north toward Point Reyes, we heard a distress call on the VHF. It was Saturday morning and the local sportfishing fleet was descending upon the Pacific. No problem, a Coast Guard vessel in the area had it covered. We spotted both porpoises and gray whales. With the boat steaming north under engine power, I headed below to get a bit of sleep. When I woke in late afternoon, we were sailing close hauled in 15 knots of breeze. While Curtis prepared an excellent dinner of pasta and red sauce with parmesan, the breeze continued to build. Before long, we were bending a reef into the main, then furling the genoa and peeling to the staysail on the inner furler. And snap! The staysail halyard broke at the mast and we were all on the foredeck pulling it down and getting it flaked. So much for staying dry! We fired up the engine and began motor sailing as the breeze continued to build into the thirties with puffs to forty knots. Totem handled it beautifully as Jamie hand steered through the waves trying to make as much VMG as possible. Things only got more interesting. Around 3am the engine abruptly stopped. An attempt to start it again failed and led us to believe we might have a clogged fuel filter. With the boat slopping around in a messy seaway we pulled off the old filter and replaced it with a fresh one. It’s a diesel, so you need to bleed off the air in the line. OK, got that done, lets fire it up. Nothing. Hmmm, lets think about this for a second. A quick check of the main fuel tank on centerline revealed it bone dry. Wait, the valves need to be OPEN to let the fuel drain from the auxiliary tanks! Bleed the system again and we were back in business.
By morning, things had settled a bit and we were motoring again through a thin layer of fog. On the radar was a Coast Guard cutter paralleling our course about four miles off. The coasties eventually worked across our bow and continued to parallel us to the east, blipping on and off our radar for the next few days. It’s a comforting feeling knowing they are close by, but also another reminder that to the west of us is the largest expanse of open ocean in the world. As the seas had calmed a bit, we were itching to get our fishing line out while we were still in warmer water. We selected a green and yellow plug and tied leader, swivels and a five pound ball to the end of our line. Shock cord completed the system and was made fast to a cleat on the transom. Who needs a downrigger and rod? We were in business. About twenty minutes later Jamie and I were standing on the transom when the shock cord snapped tight. “Fish on!”. Unfortunately, upon reeling in our setup we found that our dinner had bit the plug at the perfect angle, completely missing the hook. Next time I’m bringing treble hooks!
The sun poked out mid afternoon and we seized the chance to dry out some of our wet gear from the night before. One of the things about a boat – especially offshore - is that once wet, things never really dry out. Totem is a great boat though, and I kept thinking to myself how civilized this delivery really was. When you’re used to the bare accommodations on racing boats, things like your own bunk and a galley table… and roller furling and a dodger really make all the difference. Oh, and the autopilot! The sun and calm conditions also gave us the perfect chance to make a few repairs to our friend the cockpit dodger who had suffered some wounds the night before. Curtis spearheaded the effort and I helped out, although things really didn’t get rolling until Jamie poked his head out of the companionway to tell us how a real sailmaker would do it. The weather only got better, and by late afternoon we were all on deck in the warm sun.
The evening was uneventful as we passed by the infamous Cape Mendocino. The directions from Brad back in Seattle had been to pass the Cape before early Monday morning to avoid some nasty headwinds. We met this goal, and by Monday morning we were nearing the Oregon border. Running low on fuel, we decided to pull into the harbor at Crescent City to top off our tanks. Without a detailed chart of the harbor entrance on board, we called in to the fuel dock on the VHF to request directions for navigating the entrance. The reply came back “turn right at the blue shed”. A bit thrown off by the response, we asked for their phone number and called in to speak with someone who had actually entered the harbor and could give us some more detailed instructions. After a few minute wait, the gal in the office tracked down somebody on the docks to speak with us. A half hour later we were safe inside the sleepy harbor. With no one in sight on the pier, Jamie pulled Totem alongside the small gas float and we walked up the dock looking for the attendant. Another half hour passed before we pulled the boat around to the other side of the pier and the attendant passed the hose down on a line. We certainly felt like the odd ones out as the gentleman asked us where we were going and what we were doing. Apparently not many cruising yachts stop through Crescent City.
With full fuel and water tanks we left the harbor and turned north. The breeze had built and shifted west, so we hoisted the main, rolled out the genoa and enjoyed a nice afternoon sailing in 12 to 15 knots of breeze. The miles were still rolling under the keel as the sun set and we settled into our evening watches. Jamie had chosen not to have set watches in favor of a flexible schedule that allowed us to have two on deck at a time if needed. It worked well, as everyone was more or less up and awake for most of the daylight hours.
By Tuesday morning, the Totem crew was settling into rhythm. We were motoring again with clear skies and a few knots of wind on our beam. As we neared the Columbia River, we began to see more and more commercial traffic on the radar. Many commercial fishing boats and the familiar lines of crab pot bouys. As the day wore on, the temperature warmed up. Curtis cooked up a great lunch of enchiladas that, combined with a cold Pacifico, made us wish we were headed towards Mexico instead of Seattle. We assured Jamie that Totem would be heading there soon enough, and that we had already gone too far turn around. Besides, by late afternoon the breeze had filled in again from the west and we were making nice time under sail. About an hour before sunset we came upon a number of huge bait balls rolling on the surface. A while later we saw two whales on the horizon and we were soon joined by a stampede of porpoises who were feeding a ways off and must have been curious enough to take a break. They stayed with Totem for the next half hour, swimming in our bow wake, then diving in front of the keel and popping up on the other side. Once the sun set, Jamie described seeing the phosphorescent glow of a giant bait ball moving towards, then under the boat; each fish a glowing chartreuse silhouette. These are the experiences that make sleeping in four hour shifts and standing cold midnight watches completely worthwhile.
Wednesday morning came quickly and Totem was making great time up the Washington coast. Our estimates put us at Bainbridge Island mid-day Thursday with a stop to take on more diesel somewhere along the way. As we neared the northwest tip of Washington late in the afternoon, we watched the transition between the flat geographic features of southwest Washington to the rugged coastline and mountains of the Olympic Peninsula. It feels good to be back in familiar territory again. After sunset, our check of fuel levels showed less than we would have hoped, so we decide to cut the engine and sail the rest of the distance around Cape Flattery to more fuel at Neah Bay. A few hours later we were sailing on port tack in a dying breeze only a few miles offshore. It’s an eerie feeling to be off the coast like this, hand steering in a flat calm. We rounded the Cape and made for the fuel dock at Neah Bay where we tied up and promptly passed out.
Voices on deck. Curtis was up first and was talking to the attendant when I roused myself enough to crawl from my warm bunk. We had slept in a bit. Apparently someone else had been down to the boat earlier in the morning and had concluded after knocking for a while that there was no one aboard! I guess we needed our beauty sleep. After taking on some fuel we made breakfast and slipped our docklines. Next stop: Eagle Harbor, Bainbridge Island. The breeze built throughout the day and we enjoyed a nice sail down the straits. By the time we reached Point Wilson, the sun was setting and breeze was dying so we turned on the engine and struck the sails. The bright lights of homes along Puget Sound take some getting used to – and make you realize how much easier it is to spot a ship at night when you are off shore. We all stayed more or less awake for the run down Admiralty Inlet, on diligent freighter watch. We reached Eagle Harbor a bit late for “last call” at the Harbor Pub at the head of the dock, but enjoyed a Dark and Stormy in the cockpit before calling it a night. A toast to a great crew and a successful delivery.
HR46 INDIGO Flies South
I was invited to join Les and Marsha Books aboard their 1998 Hallberg-Rassy 46. INDIGO was headed south for the winter. First stop the Bay Area. Also along for the trip were veteran sailors John Rouches and Joe Payne. Rounding out the crew and giving us all a big vote of confidence, was Todd Richard. Todd owns and operates Sound Rigging, Seattle's premiere sailboat outfitter. Todd knows sailboats and his presence meant INDIGO was a well found, outfitted, and prepared yacht. Six experienced crew, three watches, and provisions galore, it doesn't get much better.
Leaving Elliot Bay Marina in light southerly winds, late in the afternoon on Sunday August 12th, we spent the first two hours underway talking about emergency gear, procedures, boat systems, and watch routines. Man overboard modules, inflatable pylons, ditch bags, survival suits, flares, EPIRB's, and more…… Time to rig the jack-lines and ready harnesses. After this thorough familiarization, it was a final relatively motionless dinner. Enchilada soup. Mmmmm great. Especially with the jack cheese and salsa. Most of us were to experience this entrée a second time that evening..
Pt. Wilson is where it starts. Ebb current against Westerly wind. You know the routine. 2230 and it begins to really blow. I'm sleeping in the "V" berth and the first wave to come over the bow finds it's way into the forward dorade vent. "Time to shut that one," I mention to John as cold seawater drips on our bunks. Good luck getting sleep prewatch. John's amazed that I'm able to continue sleeping/levitating in this most forward cabin as he heads for a settee in the salon.
2300 and it's our turn. Let's get some of those electronics dimmed to the point where we might be able to see. I decide to shift the engine into low gear. Hey, it's a Gori prop thing. We're making three to four knots over the bottom as walls of water try to push our land-loving butts back towards Pt. Townsend. Not much commercial traffic tonight. Nothing like a nice 4kw radar and chart plotter. I packed three pairs of shorts, foul weather gear, the jeans I have on, a sweatshirt, and a half dozen Hawaian shirts. I should know better. No matter how hot it's been in Seattle, that watch cap, gloves, and fleece are a must for these trips. Three hours go by tolerably fast. Les and Marsha's turn.
Sleeping/levitating is made far easier in another hour at about 0200 with slack water, then flood, and diminishing winds. Yes, our dues have been paid. Next stop Neah Bay to top off on diesel. We're taking no chances. We can motor all the way with full tanks. A world away from Seattle, we spend less than an hour at this last harbor refuge. 1300 and Tatoosh is left safely aft of our port beam. Ah the wind. And it's Northwesterly. This is what I've been dreaming about. In April, while delivering an HR53 to the Bay, we spent way too much time motoring with constant Southerly winds. This time we would be ushered by our friends Dacron and Nylon. And on this boat, it's all done with buttons from the cockpit. Hydraulic furlers on the main and jib along with electric winches would allow even retiring, old Jesse Helms to singlehand…..All the way to Cuba.
Oh, we still manage to leave the cockpit's protection. There's a mainsail boom preventer to rig, cruising spinnaker to play with. And this we do. "Indigo's" spinnaker boasts a beautiful blue heron. She usher's us South in a marginal breeze. Not for long as increasing winds have us lowering the sock. Overcast day turns to night and we're all beginning to get used to the motions of a quartering sea. The boat is surprisingly comfortable. Great sea berths, a well laid out galley, very usable forward head, and many other features are appreciated as we toast our Swedish friends. Teak decks, a raised bulwark, forward facing nav station, cabin fans, a good CD player, tricolor light, gimbaled stove, lee cloths….. It works very well.
In less than a day we're off of Oregon and it's Tuna time. Fifteen degrees Celcius and a VHF call from a commercial fisherman are more than enough encouragement. A rubber snubber, high test line, and a "Mexican flag" gig are left astern at 150 feet. First hit a half hour later. Good looking fish. Les get's very excited and haul's it in. "Where's the gaff or net?" Not enough fish to hold onto that hook and we loose her hauling aboard. Next time we'll have the gaff ready. That next time happens about three hours later. It's a team effort that's smartly documented by Todd's video camera. A twenty pounder. The aft deck becomes a covered with blood as John, an experience dory man, expertly guts and cleans our catch. That optional 50 litre per minute fire pump comes in very handy when blasting fish guts and blood. Another wise option selection by Les and Marsha.
Marsha prepares broiled tuna for dinner and Les vacuum seals the remainder for future use. John consults Amanda's "Essential Galley Companion" and is happy to confirm proper cleaning technique. I take what is to be the third of three hot showers during this trip. The forward head's separate shower stall is perfectly sized for showers underway. With plenty of tankage and a watermaker to boot should we need more, I'm encouraged to "go ahead." Never before have I shaved and showered while underway each day. Oh how my shipmates appreciate this new found hygiene. It's always those little things that impress. A wonderful shampoo/ bath gel/conditioner dispenser secured to the shower's aft bulkhead allows flawless metering of these products. This list of owner added acoutrements to "Indigo" is very long. I'm blown away by the planning and execution. It's success is measured by our underway comfort and safety. Both very high.
By day we count distance as the capes and cabos are passed. We're running twenty to thirty miles out. Sporadic cell phone coverage. The main is out to port with preventer rigged. The genoa is poled out to starboard with foreguy. As the wind builds and eases, we roll and unroll sail. Perfect and effortless control. Yes, I do sometimes feel guilty on a boat like this. No headsail changes on a pitching wet deck. Dolphins play and entertain. I never tire of their games and showmanship. Barrel rolls, swan dives and synchronized swimming. Bioluminescent nighttime wakes. You can't find this kind of entertainment on television. Satellite, cable, or DVD. No way.
Thursday finds us approaching the dreaded Cape Mendocino, and her southerly companion Punta Gorda. We've all heard stories and I've personally experienced the increased winds these coastal bumps are notorious for. A review of the weather fax reveals compressed isobars in this area. A low over Central California and a high offshore. All the right ingredients. Stir once or twice and add some waves. Hold onto your reef lines. This day was to be classic. Joe cooks a wonderful breakfast. He's a master in the galley despite the motion. His pancakes are far better than the "broached eggs and sole food" I've offered to provide. Sole food is the popcorn and other morsels which have accumulated under the grating, in the cockpit "sole." After four days of snacking on watch, it's there.
The day dawns with clear skys and twenty knots dead astern. We decide to try out the new staysail and custom "Les is more" pendant. With the help of Todd, and Carol Hasse of Port Townsend Sailmakers, Les designed and manufactured an ingenios pendant allowing the staysail to be tacked on the stemhead. See photo. This increases the staysail size and allows the staysail to be poled out when running. Breaking out this Hasse work of art for the first time, we hanked it on, hauled it up, and poled it out to port. With the staysail to port, genoa to starboard, seas and winds increasing, the main was furled. A very easy task with hydraulic in-mast furling.
I've never sailed with twin-headsails and had previously thought twin poles on the mast to be an unnecessary burden. I was amazed at how well INDIGO was steering. With all the sailarea well forward, she was being pulled vs. pushed downwind. I even let go of the helm for over a two minute period to experiment. She stayed her course. As the morning turned to afternoon, winds built to storm force with a maximum of fifty knots apparent registering on the anemometer. INDIGO surfed along. Not being a flat-bottomed race boat, we were surprised at her motion down the waves. "14.9" was our top speed. To take load off the rig and maintain control, we rolled in genoa. Again, a very easy task.. Slack sheet. Ease pole forward. Hit "GENOA IN" button. Tighten foreguy. Voila. Perfect control. Judging by VHF transmissions to the US Coast Guard, other sailboats in the area were not fairing quite as well.
As afternoon turned to evening, conditions eased slightly. No longer were waves roaring up from astern. The freight trains had become trolley's. Time for more sailarea. Roll out some more Genoa. Let's keep her going at over eight knots. The Golden Gate awaits. Our last evening offshore and probably our coldest. Amazingly the water temp is down to eleven Celcius. Heck, it was up to a whopping fifteen off Northern Oregon. Time passes quickly. Especially with microwave popcorn. Yes, it's as much fun to make as it is to eat. I advised Marsha to go heavy on this item when provisioning. More sole food.
A good night's sleep and John and I are up again at sunrise. My favorite time of the day. Pt. Reyes looms ahead. Winds are decreasing and it's a gorgeous day. Channel fever is rampant. As winds diminish, we strike the staysail, unfurl the main, and contemplate the spinnaker. As we pull nylon on deck, the wind dies off to less than eight knots. It's knot worth it. Abeam of Pt. Reyes, we fire up the Yanmar, pitch the Gori into high gear and motor towards the Gate. In relatively calm conditions we pass a fleet of sportfishing boats. We take the inshore channel and round Pt. Bonita at noon.
And there it is…..The Gate. What sailors southbound from Seattle dream of. Champagne is opened. Camera's flash, and toasts are made. "Wouldn't it be great to fly the spinnaker while going under the bridge." Enough wind has filled in from the West. It's doable. Champagne glasses are stowed and this well rehearsed sail deployment goes smoothly. Under full main and cruising spinnaker, we pass at under the ochre colored Golden Gate Bridge. What a sight. Immediately we're greeted to the "Bay." Dodging a large catarmaran sailboat and a tugboat, we're hit by a strong gust. Marsha cranks over the wheel. I ease the spinnaker sheet, and "Indigo" surges towards Alcatraz. "I think it's time to ditch the Heron, " I mutter. Down comes the spinnaker sock before lowering the halyard. We gybe and set course for the Bay Bridge. It's blowing a solid twenty-five knots and a trademark summer afternoon in San Francisco.
After changing out a batten, Les expertly maneuvers "Indigo" into a transient berth at South Beach marina. We spend the next two hours swabbing the decks, hosing off a week's accumulation of sea salt, and packing our bags. We even manage to have a few beers in the process. A great shoreside meal is enjoyed with the crew. A wonderful celebration after a safe, successful passage. Todd and John decide to catch the Giants at Pacbell. Hey we're docked right there. I throw duffel over shoulder and thank Les and Marcia for a great trip.
As I walk towards the BART station, I think, "that was fun." It was enjoyable and safe because we were aboard a well found boat. The boat was extremely well prepared, and we had a very competent crew. This is what passagemaking should be like.
PUFFIN's Voyage to San Francisco
My first task was to understand Chris’s cruising plans, dreams and experience. We talked about what he was looking for: a cruiser in the 40' to 45' range with enough room for his family of four; a boat to take them safely and comfortably to Alaska during the summer of 2006; and a boat they would enjoy sailing in San Francisco Bay in the interim. One of our listings, a meticulously maintained Alden 44, just might fit the bill and, with barely enough time before his plane was scheduled to liftoff, we headed out to Shilshole Bay Marina to take a look at PUFFIN. While it was not love at first sight, she definitely caught his eye. But so, too, had the Norseman 447 he had viewed earlier. The Norseman won the day but did not survive the sea trial. Chris visited PUFFIN again and moved to make her his own. Within two days, she was surveyed, seatrialed and had an accepted offer.
My second task (okay, not really a task!) was to help prepare PUFFIN for her journey south and to join Chris on the voyage from Puget Sound to San Francisco Bay. For me, this is one of the reasons I love being a yacht broker-going to sea and sharing my experience and insight with new owners who are also heeding the call of the sea. The open ocean, star filled nights and wind whistling through the rigging-it doesn’t get much better. And this trip was to be no exception.
The Trip South
Then came the big question: when will there be a perfect weather window for the sail south-a trip that has a rather notorious reputation. I consulted all the weather gods at my avail and came up with the date of May 9th. Chris continued to prepare the boat. Roxanne stepped up to the plate and helped prepare the meal list and provision the boat along with Chris. All the details that go into planning such a trip began to merge. May 9th was fast approaching, and all of us were full of anticipation. I was studying the weather forecasts and patterns and decided that it would be advantageous to move our departure ahead to 5:00 pm on May 8th to take advantage of the light winds forecast for the Straits of Juan de Fuca. The thought of avoiding head wind (try 30 knots on the nose) was definitely a motivating factor.
Leg One: Motoring to Cape Flattery
Tatoosh Island is quite scenic with light house and eroded rock cliffs. It is also home to a variety of sea birds, marine mammals, sea lions and the like. As we passed between Tatoosh Island and Duncan Rock, I took a picture for Chris’s son Duncan as a memento of this trip and the landmark that shares his name. For PNW sailors this is a defining moment-the turn south, leaving the protection of Puget Sound for the open Pacific Ocean.
Leg Two: Tatoosh Island to Newport, Oregon
One of the best parts of being at sea is the telling of sea stories, and early on I shared the tales of the many crossings and deliveries I’ve done in these waters. Nothing is better than a captive audience and captivate them I did. One of the stories I told was of a Victoria- Maui race I sailed in 1986. During this race, we spent a good three days sailing through seas populated on the surface by an amazing abundance of little jellyfish floating on the surface of the water. These sea creatures each had a small sail on the top of their gelatinous body. I also explained that even more amazing then their sail was their sheer number. There must have been over a hundred of these little guys every square meter for miles and miles. Three days, 300 miles: you do the math - that’s a lot of jellyfish!
Well, 19 years later at daybreak on Tuesday, May 10th, I was again greeted by those silly sailing jellyfish. Only this time in even greater numbers and they stayed with us until we reached the Golden Gate Bridge early Saturday morning. They were so thick it looked as if you could walk on them. And most amazing of all, these little invertebrates appeared to be sailing upwind. I think it is time for a bit of internet research-I may get some good upwind sailboat racing strategies! Since arriving home, I’ve done some research on these sailing jellyfish. They are called Vellela vellela and are commonly known as “by the wind sailors.” Apparently there are two types, those that sail on starboard tack and those that sail on port tack. However, we only saw those that sailed on port tack.
Jellyfish weren’t the only creatures we saw on this trip, not by a long shot. Late Tuesday morning, I heard Chris exclaim “did you see that, I just saw a whale breaching!” Nothing brings people up from down below like the call of “whale on the starboard beam.” I, too, left the confines of my warm bunk to take a look. Sure enough, there were humpback whales, and they were jumping. They were probably a half mile off, leaping out of the water every minute or so. Each trip brings some new, intriguing questions to ponder. Why do humpbacks breach? Is it for fun? Is it some sort of social thing? Are they stunning prey to eat or perhaps trying to dislodge parasites from their skin? I’ll have to do some research on this as well. This spectacle lasted for a good ten minutes until they slipped over the horizon. You all, or ya’all (as Roxanne would say) don’t know what you are missing if you haven’t been on an offshore passage.
Humpbacks were not the only marine mammals we saw. Leaving Puget Sound, dolphin or porpoise (not a Dall's Porpoise as those look like miniature Orcas, and these were grey or light brown in color) fished and played along side us. I also sighted a Dall's porpoise in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, but none came to play off the bow as they often will. There were brief sighting of other whales or Porpie (is that plural for porpoise?). But, as you will see, the biggest number of whale sightings was yet to come. But first, we must return to the sailing.
With our sails rolled out for the first time, we sailed “wing on wing” with the 110% genoa out on a pole to weather, the main to leeward and the staysail hoisted on the opposite side of the genoa. This combination balanced and drove the boat well in 10 to 15 knots of wind. I affirmed that life was good, but for some on board I may have spoken too soon. The wind clocked forward, and we took down the pole and let the genoa fly on the leeward side. We were on starboard tack with the wind just abaft the beam. A good point of sail for the Alden 44, and we ticked off the miles. As the wind went forward and increased, we experienced building seas which Puffin took in stride. The crew, on the other hand, did not.
One of the tallest members of the crew (who shall not be named), found sleeping in the v-berth most comfortable. However, he was about to discover that in a seaway the v-berth quickly becomes…..well….not so comfortable. Soon he was talking to the porcelain god or in this case the stainless sink god in the galley. We tried all the remedies known but it became apparent that mal de mer had taken hold and that sleep was the best antidote. Rumor has it that others were also feeling less than perfect. At any rate, there were no objections when the decision was made to stop over in Newport, Oregon for a good night’s rest.
We pulled into Newport around 6pm on Tuesday under light winds and rainy skies. Newport is a very convenient stopping spot. The Harbor entrance, spanned by a structurally interesting bridge, is a straight fairway between two substantial breakwaters. The fuel dock and marina are on your right just after passing under the bridge. Among other things this is a fishing town, and the facilities are great. We all freshened up, took showers and set off in search of a meal and a beer. We didn’t have to travel far as the Rogue Brewing Company is located right at the marina. After a fine meal and some very fine beer, we retired to the boat. I think I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
Leg Three: Newport to San Francisco
We motored for the first few hours returning to the 200 foot depth to avoid the ever present crab pots and then turned left. It wasn’t long before we started to sail again. With a slowly building northwesterly, it was definitely time to try out the spinnaker. Puffin came equipped with a .75 oz asymmetric cruising spinnaker in a dousing sleeve. After wrestling a bit with the dousing sleeve, her spinnaker was flying. Flying an asymmetric spinnaker connected to a tackline off the bow is a great way to get a lot of sail up and really drive a boat in lighter winds. It worked beautifully. Did I tell you how spectacular the weather was? Life was indeed good-for real this time! As we sailed south, the wind went aft and built a bit. In order to sail the course we wanted to sail, we connected the sail to the spinnaker pole and brought the pole aft. We sailed all day this way enjoying the weather, playing some music, and getting to better know one another.
Chris, the new owner, is a software developer for Pixar Animation Studios, and one heck of a nice guy. He and his wife Karen have two children ages six and four. I, of course, was very interested in learning how Pixar makes their great animation movies like Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. It’s fascinating stuff. Chris builds the tools the animators use to do their job. It takes about four years to put out one of these movies and takes quite a team to do it.
As we continued south, we split our time evenly between motoring and sailing. The weather cooperated, too: sunny skies and clear nights. Nothing like coming up on deck to a canvas of stars. I dearly enjoy sailing at night under a clear sky. In my mind there is little in this world that can match the experience of being offshore with only the sound of the wind in the sails and water slapping on the hull under a dome of sky and stars. For example, one night while on watch with Roxanne, I saw what looked like foam on the water. Turning on the flashlight and shining it on the water, Roxanne and I were not prepared for what we saw. Those little sails on the Vellela jellies bounced the light back like millions of reflectors set on the water for as far as the light would shine. It was stunning. I guess you would have to be there.
During our trip, we had two celebrations. Interestingly enough, they both involved Roxanne. The first was a wrist band cutting ceremony. Both Roxanne and Lee had decided a year or so earlier they were ready for a change in the cadence of their life. They determined the rubber needed to hit the road and that a life style change was in order. Symbolically, they put on rubber wrist bands declaring that they would only be cut off after making the changes necessary. Since then, they have moved to a new house on Bainbridge and have gone into business for themselves. They had clearly met their goal - so, while under sail warmed by the afternoon sun, the bands came off! The second celebration was Roxanne’s birthday, which we celebrated twice. Once with a few pieces of dessert the day before and then with a very tasty carrot cake on her birthday, itself, which happened to be Friday the 13th.
Speaking of Friday the 13th, I guess it is fitting that this was the day the engine quit. It was mid-day, and we had just passed Cape Mendicino. Instead of the usual increase in winds, they had abated and the call was made to start the engine. About a minute after starting the engine, it shut itself down. It sounded to me like the engine was starved for fuel. We immediately suspected the fuel filter. Chris and I replaced the filter and bled the system but to no avail. A call to tech support was in order, and I called Dick Metler, the former owner. He walked me through the process for forcing fuel into the primary fuel filter and went over the bleeding procedure as well. After a few tries, we had the engine back up and running which was a relief.
Another event worth noting is the incident with the spinnaker pole. The spinnaker pole is actually a telescoping whisker pole. After leaving Newport, the plastic pin that holds the pole in its extended position disintegrated. But our hardy crew saved the day with a very functional jury rig. This worked well until day four when the pole buckled just forward of the joint where it telescopes into the larger section. This time we cut off the buckled portion, slid the smaller section into the larger and held it all together with a piece of line. Even though Fred had doubts, this jury rig held for the remainder of the trip.
Remember the whales I mentioned earlier. The second to last day of our journey, we were greeted by Grey whales and there were lots of them. It seemed as though there were thousands and with spouts of water blowing, they were heard before they were seen. “Thar she blows” was the call of the hour. Very cool.
As the trip came down to the final 12 hours, the wind filled in reaching velocities that are the basis for many of the tales surrounding these Northern California waters. We saw northwesterly winds to 25 knots, pushing Puffin along at a respectable eight to nine knots. It was another clear night under sail, making good speeds. My only concern was that we were going to reach the waters leading into San Francisco Bay at night, my preference being a daylight arrival. Oh well, we did it at night, and it turned out to be uneventful. The wind dropped, and we motored from Point Reyes and into the bay, taking the North Channel between the infamous “Potato Patch” shoal and land. As we turned left after passing Point Bonita at daybreak, the Golden Gate Bridge came into view silhouetted against a backdrop of pink sky. I quickly changed my opinion of when we wanted to arrive: this was the perfect time. It was beautiful.
Motoring into San Francisco Bay, we arrived at our mooring at the Emeryville Marina at 7am. Chris’s wife, Karen, picked up the tired but hungry crew and ferried us to a local restaurant for breakfast. What a great trip: great company, great weather and a great boat-definitely one for the memory book. The trip had taken just under six days including the 12 hour layover at Newport-a relatively quick passage by any measure. I had new found respect for the quality and seaworthiness of the Alden. She proved herself to be a well found vessel. Most important, I believe Chris felt content with his choice of this boat. I’m sure he is looking forward to making his own memories with his family aboard Puffin. All the best Chris!
Blue water Catamaran Trip
Kent and I are joined on this trip by the Swensons. Steven and Roma currently own a 2002 Hallberg-Rassy 46. With plans to begin cruising next summer they have a nagging question to be answered. Would a multihull be a better for their cruising plans? When Steven called and asked me this question, I pleaded ignorance. But, “let’s find out. Why don’t you sail with Kent and I up to Annapolis.” Knowing he wasn’t the only voting member of the clan, wife Roma, and sons Leif and Gage also packed their duffels and flew to Charleston.
Departing mid-day, we immediately set sail after motoring out of the Charleston Marina in Mount Pleasant. With winds from the north we reached out of the harbor. My immediate impressions were that steering is very subtle. Small rudders, good directional stability, and very little feedback from the helm found me oversteering. This took some getting used to. Gone was the heeling normally found with puffy conditions. This was replaced by quick acceleration with an increase in apparent wind. Exiting the breakwater and setting a course for Cape Fear reality set in. Mid-Atlantic high pressure meant North Easterly winds. Right on the nose. So, the opportunity to see what sailing to windward is like.
This particular Soubise is equipped with fixed keels(daggerboards are optional), a rotating mast, a large, full-battened main, and 110% jib. In relatively smooth water and twelve knots of true wind, eight to nine knots of boat speed are normal. Tacking through eighty degrees of apparent wind seemed to keep good VMG. That’s all nice, but what’s it mean over the sand’s sixty feet below. Our track indicated a true tacking angle of 100 degrees in smooth water. As night approached the wind built, reaching a maximum of thirty –five knots. With two reefs in the main, we punched through steep eight foot seas. As expected, our VMG to windward suffered. What’s the motion like, beating to windward? Unlike the predictable heel/roll/pitch experience on a monohull, there’s a more rapid pitching/lurching/surging sensation. Lightweight due to lack of ballast surely speeds up these motions. Is it more or less comfortable than a monohull? That would depend on the boat. It would be similar to light weight, flat bottomed boats and less comfortable to heavy displacement boats. Naturally. Other observations: Steering was easy and handled by the autopilot. Tacking into heavy seas takes some technique. As a novice, I was able to complete about fifty percent of my tacks.
After a day of beating into rough seas, we couldn’t help but think, “Should we head to the Bahamas?” About a days run with the strong winds on our quarter. “Boy this boat would be great boat in the Bahamas,” was heard more than once. With the reality of boat show fees paid, Annapolis remained our upwind destination. Late Friday evening, winds eased to the point where motoring made sense. Cranking up the twin Yanmars, we headed for the Frying Pan Shoals and then set a course for Beaufort, NC to top off on diesel and water. Morning brought winds backing to the north and we again set sail. Record high temps as we piloted into Beaufort brought the masses out in their open fishing boats. Handling the cat under power proved very easy. More like a twin screw power yacht than a monohull, I was easily able to parallel park at the fuel dock. Forget the rudders, grab the throttles, twist and shout.
Departing Beaufort at about 1400, we headed southeast for Cape Lookout. Sailing in westerly winds and warm, temperatures we were finally able to enjoy some reaching conditions. With a four foot draft, and keels designed to take a grounding, we cut the sand shoals of Cape Lookout watching the fathomer decrease to three feet below our keel. Standing off these shoals in a fixed-keel monohull, would have added another fifteen miles to our voyage. Once past Cape Lookout, we turned northeast and put the Southwesterly wind astern. With a yearning for speed, we pulled the 0.75 oz cruising spinnaker out of the starboard bow locker. Hoisted on a 2:1 masthead halyard and tacked on the starboard bow, this sail allowed us to maintain nine knots, dead downwind, in fourteen knots true with the ability to tack this sail on the windward bow, no pole is needed to sail deep angles. Convenient. Kent spread a wonderful Mexican dinner on the cockpit table which we were all able to enjoy. As I watched the unattended wine glasses on the table I couldn’t help but remark, “you wouldn’t see this on a monohull.” With rising winds and a setting sun, we doused the chute and pressed on under main and winged jib.
As the winds veered to west during the night, Steven gybed over to port. Anxious to be awake while rounding Cape Hatteras, I came on watch at midnight. Reaching along at a steady nine to ten knots, we approached Diamond Shoals. With good visibility and no traffic, we rounded inshore of Diamond Shoals light tower. Operating at reduced intensity this beacon finally showed herself when only a few miles off. Shaping up to a northerly course, I trimmed main and jib until we were close hauled. With winds gusting to twenty-three knots apparent I was seeing ten to eleven knot of boat speed. At about 0400 Kent tacked to starboard as a week cold front passed and continued to follow the coastline north towards Virginia. Again, the knotmeter maintained a steady seven to eight knots.
With winds easing to calm, we fired up the engines and headed towards Cape Henry. At 1824 we passed over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. Warm temperatures, flood current, and clear skies. Perfect conditions for a nighttime transit of Chesapeake Bay. At 0030 I was awaken by wind rushing through the hatch overhead. Joining Kent in the cockpit, we were happy to see Easterly winds and both concluded that it was time to sail. Kent went to the mast and quickly had the main up while I unfurled the jib. “Blue Water Cat” was soon up to eight knots in twelve knots of true wind. What a great way to conclude a trip to Annapolis. As I dealt with shipping traffic, the autopilot easily maintained our course. One ship’s pilot was amazed to see a sailboat doing ten knots in such light winds. The bulk cargo vessel he was aboard took a very long time to overtake us doing twelve knots. By sunrise we were able to make out the Bay Bridge ahead. By this time, winds had eased to six knots. Still enough wind to sail all the way into Annapolis and anchor BLUE WATER CAT among the fleet of multi and monohulls waiting to participate in the upcoming boat show.
We never experienced strong winds from aft of the beam. Scott Fuller, my partner at Swiftsure Yachts, was aboard this boat in such conditions and witnessed a top speed of 22 knots and consistent speeds of fifteen knots. I can easily see how this boat can do 250 to 300 nautical miles days in trade wind conditions.
What are my conclusions after this trip? I personally would consider a quality, well designed cruising cat for long distance cruising in warm climates, mid-latitudes and the tropics. For higher latitudes and cold weather, I would stick with a heavier displacement monohull. Upwind, in a seaway, the motion of the catamaran is no more or less comfortable than a light displacement monohull. With reaching and running conditions, the stability and comfort of a catamaran really starts to shine. The speed potential is addicting and could make for fast passages. The ability to explore shallow waters and beach in tidal areas is also attractive. Living space is superior with vast amounts of cockpit and deck space. Perhaps I was spoiled to experience a boat with very high bridge deck clearance, relatively narrow hulls(for a cruising cat), and excellent sailing performance. I really wouldn’t be interested in sacrificing these attributes for a little more interior space. The sterns swim steps, trampoline, dinghy davit/radar/solar panel arch, and bimini covered cockpit make an awesome water sports platform. With no heeling and little feedback from the rudder one must use the anemometer and show good judgment when deciding to reef. Cruising catamarans definitely deserve consideration for blue water cruising.