Monday, September 28, 2015

San Fran to Monterey

Angel Island with GG Bridge in background

Kids are back on board!

We reunited with kids in San Fran (thank you Aunty Whitney for flying them down!).  Since then we have seen everything from China Town to the Jelly Belly factory to a wonderful winery in Napa (yes, we did the jelly belly factory and winery on the same day!). 

After almost a week in San Fran, we felt ready for our first leg down the coast with kids.  We decided to expose the kids to all of it at once - coastal sailing and an overnight combined.  The energy aboard was palpable as we went under the Golden Gate bridge.  I resisted the urge to tell the kids to calm down and just soaked it up.  They were in life jackets and harnessed in for the first time.  The bridge, the light, the dolphins - they were all part of the magic.

Homeschool begins!
With an outgoing current and decent winds, the seas kicked up just as the sun went down.  Not the best combo for the first night at sea!  Before long, Maggie had hurled her dinner in the cockpit and both other kids came back above decks to try and rid themselves of the seasickness.  It was a tenuous first night at sea, wondering if we had done the right thing.  But, within a few hours the seas had calmed down considerably and all kids were sleeping on deck and we were able to migrate them downstairs where it was quite comfortable. 

We pulled into Half Moon Bay just after midnight and navigated the entrance buoys beyond the breakwater until we found a little spot to put down our anchor and get some rest.  The kids awoke to a world filled with pelicans and fishing boats and after we fueled up - lots of flies!  Fly swatting and dodging shrimp pots filled the first few hours of our journey to Santa Cruz.   Santa Cruz did not disappoint with whales, dolphins a great beach and a fun boardwalk to entertain.

After a few days in Santa Cruz, we headed off for Monterey.  As soon as we were off the dock the winds picked up to 20-25 kts and with a double reef and a partially furled headsail off we flew at 7-8 kts in big swell and white capped wind waves.  Simi eyed us warily - as if to ask "is it always going to be like this?  Big wind, big waves."  We aren't sure yet, but did enjoy the sail after everyone got used to the rhythm of the wind and seas.  Monterey seems like a hard place to leave with its endless cultural history, amazing marine diversity, 5 star aquarium and a walking/biking path that is the envy of any good city.
Kids at Monterey Aquarium with Herring ball in background.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Seattle to San Francisco

Sailing Into the Storm

Coastal Crew:  Cranston, Morgan, Niko and Cory
After a summer of carefully navigating tides, currents and avoiding long passages with poor weather I had to wonder to myself - did I try too hard to avoid inclement weather?  How will we learn unless we push ourselves a little bit?  I know the thrust of my efforts were to introduce the kids to sailing full time without turning them off with bad weather.  So, when it finally came time to head down the West Coast without kids and with a crew eager for adventure and experience - we took the opportunity to sail into a storm, push our comfort zone and see how Agamere performed.  We were not disappointed.

Visiting pod of Dahl's Porpoise's
We knew it would be a few days until some good winds picked up off of the coast of Washington and Oregon but we were eager to get started.  Our plan was to head 40-50 miles offshore to see the deep blue water of the Pacific, knowing that we might have to head inshore to hideout in Coos Bay or Newport while the wind and seas off N. California abated.  On Sept. 5th we needed to make the call - to head inshore and wait or keep going and see what 25-35 knot winds were like out in the ocean.  We finally made the call after much crew discussion and decided to continue heading South where within 24 hours we would encounter building wind and seas. 

The gradual onset of the storm was a perfect intro to heavy weather sailing.  Winds built on the evening Sept. 6th from 10 kts to 20 kts and seas grew accordingly to 5-7 ft.  By noon the following day the wind had increased to 25-28 kts and seas had grown quickly to 9-10 ft.  By early afternoon the waves had taken on a new look with large sets of 20 ft waves picking up Agamere and rushing past her.  The effect on deck was one of awe - intense wave watching all day.  The crew was officially in the biggest Pacific Ocean waves of their life!

Below decks was another realm- loud, shuddering, with the mast jerking loudly during wind gusts and wave action, the autopilot groaning and the wave motion from all directions rattling even the most securely packed dishes and boat accessories, not to mention the crew off watch who were trying to rest.

As the evening progressed, the winds picked up continually until we were seeing 28-34 kts of wind and gusts up to 40 kts.  The waves just kept towering higher and higher and started to blow over at the top.  It was most impressive. 

Heading into dusk as a storm is peaking is certainly not for the faint of heart!  The four of us sat together in the waning light wondering what the starry night would bring (I liked to think of it as Disneyland's Space Mountain ride on acid).  Suddenly we realized that a larger wave had picked up our fully reefed 40,000 lb boat and we were momentarily surfing at 15 kts (twice our avg cruising speed)! It was the perfect parting gift of this particular windstorm.  Our eyes were wide and our adrenaline was running thick.

After exiting the windstorm, the waves took about twelve hours to settle down at which point we were able to head directly East towards San Francisco between beautiful, large, well spaced swells with full sails up and 15 kts of breeze (which seemed suddenly like child' s play). We unwound, ate real food including the delicious tuna Cory had caught just as the storm was picking up, and reveled in our new found experience - both humbled and impressed by the Pacific Ocean.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Desolation Sound

A  Refresher on Anchoring Properly...

As I sat down to write this entry at 23:25 on Friday night, our depth alarm went off - warning us we were in less than 15 ft of water.  I popped upstairs with our spotlight to see how close to the cobble spit we were and take a look at our position to see if we had dragged our anchor during the afternoon thunderstorm and ensuing gusts.  All seemed calm and our position ok.  But, now I'm on alert, again.

After three weeks of relatively easy anchoring in the San Juan and Gulf Island coves, Desolation Sound gave us a quick wake up call during our second night.  We had run into Island friends upon entering Roscoe Bay and rafted up with them for the night.  When they pulled anchor the next day, we cavalierly threw out our new trusty 65 lb spade anchor, gave a quick tug on it and continued on with our afternoon of playing in the warm water.  Just after midnight the winds started howling down the hill and through the bay in a variety of directions.  Nick woke me to double check our location, fearing we had dragged anchor. Sure enough we were closer to the two boats rafted together nearby.  Roscoe Bay is narrow and crowded so we chose to take turns on anchor watch and agreed we would pick up anchor and reset if needed, otherwise we would wait till morning to reset.  We could see several people out on deck shining their spotlights onshore to check their position.

Sleeping on deck in a sleeping bag was definitely the best way to stay alert and the stars were amazing - worth the nerve racking business of shifty winds and an anchor that isn't holding well.  By morning it was dead calm in the bay and we were about 20 feet from our neighbors with fir needles covering the decks.  We chatted with our new Canadian friends over morning coffee before we fired up the engine and reset our anchor just a little farther away.

After that evening at Roscoe Bay we were on high alert - setting our anchor harder, putting out more chain and stern tying as well.  Most of the shoreline in Desolation Sound is rather vertical, so finding a spot where you can get enough scope out and not end up stern tied 2 feet from shore is a trick.  Our favorite anchorage was in Teakerne Arm - it took three tries to find the right spot and our windlass almost gave out, but the view from the companionway was worth the third effort to anchor-with a rock wall jutting straight up behind Agamere. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Orcas and Salmon

Reid Harbor is a favorite of ours - with a trail to it's one room school house that is open for teaching as long as there are kids on Stuart Island to attend.  This last year it was closed but the library as always was open for visitors with its inspiring walls lined with books and hand printed postcards to purchase and send on.  We went to Reid Harbor while Simi was at Camp Orkila and planned to spend several days there - hiking out to the Turn Point Light House and playing on the beach.

On heading into Reid Harbor we spent many hours  fishing for pink salmon that seemed so abundant that we should be able to just catch them with our large net.  We all took turns casting our pink buzz bomb into the water but finally gave up and went inside to set our anchor.  After dinner we rallied for an evening fishing session from our dinghy.  We were one of four boats out on the unusually calm waters of Haro Strait with the sun heading down towards the horizon.  For sure we would catch a good sunset if nothing else!  

Inspired by seeing other fisherman landing their fish, at last we got a bite, pulled in the line hauled in our first salmon.  The kids were ecstatic!  Since we had just provisioned the boat with lots of food and also had our new freezer compressor stop working, we had to get crafty about preserving and using the meat on board.  We decided to make gravlox which is a three-four day process of cold cooking the fish in salt, pepper, sugar and dill and weighting it down with cans (or gravel - which is where the Swedish name comes from). 

Finished lox - four days later!
Covering salmon with salt/sugar mixture
On Day 2 at Reid Harbor we joined the crack of noon club for a hike to Turn Point.  The stars aligned and when we at last made it out to turn point at 2:00pm, a pod of Orcas surfaced in the waters right below the lighthouse cliffs!  There was a large male Orca and at least seven others in the pod with a young calf and mother in tow.  It seemed there were at least as many whale watching boats, streaming behind the pod keeping some distance.  The majestic presence of seeing an Orca surface does not change from one encounter to the next, simply amazing. 

Whale boats chasing fast moving Orca pod down Stuart Island
The kids hiked a total of almost 5 miles and really didn’t complain much at all.  William loved seeing the grassy airstrip that islanders use, Maggie listened for animals and we talked about the geology and different ecosystems.  We saw a swampy area with chewed on skunk cabbage, dry grassy fields, saltwater marsh, thick Madrona and Fir forests and chatted with the many walkers up and down the road who encouraged the kids (and us the few times they actually ran ahead!).

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Visitors from Ashore

Baking brownies with the Danielson girls

Loving up Margarita Dog
On the bow of the dingy to avoid crab pincers!
We enjoyed a visit from the Danielson family at Spencer Spit on Lopez Island.  A combo of camping, boating, playing on the beach, crabbing and of course some "long boarding" behind the dinghy! Simi was enjoying a week at Camp Orkila so our crew was short by one.  We welcomed the energy of the Danielson twins - and I think William was in 7-year old girl heaven!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Off the Dock at last!

Tug and Tow in Admiralty Inlet
We officially shoved off the dock in Port Madison at 05:30 am on Monday, July 13th.  With one extra 10 year old crew member aboard we had six total - the adult crew of two greatly outnumbered by children!  Not to worry, currents of +2 knots carried us quickly up Admiralty Inlet with calm seas and lots of shipping traffic.  Nick had helped me off the dock in Port Madison then went back to sleep after a long night of packing up Agamere with all of her essentials that had spread out on the Roose dock during the last month.   Alone at the helm, with the first rainy morning in a long time, I couldn't help but enjoy the early morning hours alone.

The crew finally started stirring just as we reached the Straits of Juan de Fuca.  I was presented with a costume dress up by William with his blanky overhead, headlamp on top of that and a special dance up the companionway stairs-complete goofiness that spread to Maggie, Simi and Zoe and set the tone for our whole crew.

The Straits were about as nice as they get with 10-15 kts of wind abeam, engine off, waves but little chop and several other smaller sailboats to cross with.  The currents that pushed us north out of Puget Sound continued to assist us as the tide turned and waters began flushing back into the Salish Sea and up Haro Straits.  Pink salmon (or Humpy's) were leaping out of the water all along the Western shore of San Juan Island-reminding us that we must brush up on our salmon fishing skills.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Water in the engine...

After going to a yard in Ballard to have Agamere's bottom painted, zincs replaced and new folding prop installed (among other things) we spent several weeks in and out of Port Madison, both sailing and motoring to get a feel for our new equipment.  Just a few weeks away from shoving off from our home port for a year, we wanted to make sure everything was ship shape.  As the days went on, it was clear that something wasn't quite right with the starting of the engine and upon closer inspection, we discovered there was water in the engine oil - enough of it to raise the level of our dipstick to an overfull status. 

Toasted Turbo
We spent June 23rd taking apart the engine, including the turbo which was simultaneously discovered to be completely non functioning (see photo), the exhaust elbow, also in poor condition and the water cooling unit.  We took a sample of the scary looking oil for lab analysis - unsure if it was coolant or seawater in the oil.  Then we began the work of removing all of the grey/milky oil and replenishing the engine with fresh oil to stop any additional engine damage.  With four of us knocking our heads together, we finally figured out the source of our unwanted malice - it was seawater and it was intruding the engine through the exhaust system by way of the newly installed dripless packing gland.
Crew at work on engine
We were thankful that the watery oil was discovered now rather than halfway up the Straits of Georgia!  Our Yanmar needed a new turbo & new exhaust elbow so that we could put her back together and run cleaning agents and new oil throughout the lubricating system.  Hatten Marine in Seattle came through with five star service by taking our battered turbo (which was no longer made and only three remained in Japan) and had it sent out for a short turn around rebuild.  Five days later we had parts in hand and our intrepid crew went to work putting the parts back together and fired up the engine (with the dripless packing gland water hose re-routed as a vented system).  The oil looked crystal clear after running the engine for about 30 minutes.

Today we took Agamere out to see how the engine worked under load with its new turbo and clean oil.  For the first time since we've had the boat (three years), we can get her rpm's up to 3200 without blowing crazy black smoke - thanks to the new turbo.  In addition, the engine now starts up without a fuss as she did before the water intrusion began. 

Lessons learned by a non engine buff: 1.) a high oil level indicates that something is filling the oil and it is likely not the engine oil fairies 2.) idle for several minutes before shutting down your engine to let your turbo cool off - this is likely how the first turbo was shot years ago 3.) if your engine starts running differently - take note and check things out.  A huge thanks to Cranston, Cory, Steve and Bill for helping diagnose and repair the engine with us in what seemed like record time!