San Francisco to Los Angeles

 

Evening sailing in San Francisco Bay
Evening sailing in San Francisco Bay

San Francisco to Monterey

I wasn’t looking forward to the bash out of San Francisco’s Golden Gate. There was already an offshore swell that could hit eight feet, and we were going against the grain. Fortunately I at least had enough crew to divide the work involved. I would still need to run the foredeck until the crew understood how to reef, rig the boom vang, and rig the preventer. This time I was seasick only after the first couple of hours and it didn’t go away until Monterey the next morning. I think it was the initial bashing over stacked swell, and then the swell hitting us from a couple of different angles. Fortunately it was just waves of sickness that did not prevent me from doing anything. In fact it was better if I was doing something above deck. I think I prefer to be at a point of sail where the motion is what I like to call rock-a-bye. I also think it’s better to ease into it. I had a third crew member this time, but with already three experienced sailors, the third was just along for the ride. For whatever reason she brought enough food to last an entire week.  Not to mention two bottles of wine, and a bunch of fruit. None of the other crew had seasickness, so that was a bit embarrassing. The winds were great once we rounded Point Lobos, but then early the next morning they changed direction to the point where Satori was slatting pretty violently. It wasn’t enough to motor, and then eventually the wind came forward of the beam, so that helped in the end. We made it to Monterey just after fog rolled away from shore and our landfall was uneventful other than seeing a large amount of sea lions on the break wall coming into the bay.

Sentinel Building in the Financial District of San Francisco
Sentinel Building in the Financial District of San Francisco
Sunset at Alcatraz
Sunset at Alcatraz
Leaving San Francisco
Leaving San Francisco

Monterey to Los Angeles

After spending a week in Monterey, I was not able to find any crew for the next part of the trip to Los Angeles. Fortunately the forecast looked good enough to be somewhat uneventful. I was expecting to motor most of the way, or the entirety. I was planning on stopping in Santa Barbara or Ventura, but I didn’t decide until I was able to see the amount of progress I made getting past Point Conception. After spending part of the afternoon waiting for the fuel truck to arrive so I could fill the tanks, I departed during mid-afternoon. It was a good time to leave because I was looking at a calculated total time to Marina del Rey of fifty-five hours, averaging five knots. The first part of the journey I saw a range of six to ten knots, with an occasional gust to twelve knots. I could keep motoring and point directly to my destination, or I could sail with a spinnaker and likely only average three knots by losing my desired angle (vessel made good). This was not a pleasure cruise. It was a delivery, meaning I did not want to waste time sailing unless I could average as good under motor or better. Doing a watch schedule was pretty straightforward. I would sleep either thirty minutes or an hour at a time, throughout the night. Depending on how many obstacles were around, I would scan the horizon with binoculars, then check the chartplotter to make sure course and AIS targets were identified, and then set the timer. It only took about five times before it was morning and I felt refreshed enough to stay awake. I was well away from commercial traffic, the horizon was visible, and there wasn’t much in the area to be concerned about. This time the seas were mellow, so I never felt seasick.

Bluefin Tuna from the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Bluefin Tuna from the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Jellyfish from the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Jellyfish from the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Once I was closing in on Point Conception the winds started to pick up. The skies were clear, and it was warm enough to be comfortable with just a puffy jacket and hat on. I decided once I saw sustained twelve knots to start sailing, which helped conserve on fuel, and my sanity from so much engine noise. Point Arguello is where the winds began to build. I believe this was just the Venturi from offshore winds hitting the point and picking up speed. Eventually I had to put in a reef on both the mainsail and jib, then again on both, then put the mainsail away and run under reefed jib. The winds grew big enough to warrant putting the jib away and run under just the staysail. I was still going over six knots with just the reefed jib, and I was also starting to see a lot of commercial traffic to the south. The strangest thing was the fact that the seas were still only about two to three feet. Occasionally I would see one double the wave height, or steeper than the rest, but never anything to worry about. In fear of losing control of the boat during one of the gusts, I decided to roll up the jib and rig the staysail. Only a short period after that I decided to setup a track where I would need to jibe through the night to avoid oil rigs and the commercial traffic. Maybe eventually I could put more sails up and keep sailing, but I would need to do quite a few jibes, and maybe a couple of sail changes through the night. The other option was to motor again and just stay a couple of miles from the shipping lanes. No need to do sail changes, no need to worry about having to jibe. Just a slightly more uncomfortable rolling motion, but only until I was in the lee of Point Conception.

Point Pinos in Monterey
Point Pinos in Monterey

I did another track to see what time I would arrive in Marina del Rey if I didn’t stop. Not only would I arrive around 3:00pm but I would not lose the time it took to get to and from shore the next day. If for any reason something happened during the night, Santa Barbara and Ventura were close by, so I decided to stay off the coast and head for Marina del Rey. I maintained a similar watch schedule, but this time I had a few more frequent checks due to the close proximity of oil rigs in the Santa Barbara Channel. In the morning it was still grey, but the air was noticeably warmer. By the time I passed Point Dume and Malibu it felt like summer. The winds started to build, but I decided to just keep motoring. It was two sleepless nights, a battle with the wind and waves at Point Conception, and I still needed to figure out where to park Satori once I was in Marina del Rey. For the last two hours I was really tempted to sail in, but then I saw the amount of boats outside of the harbor and decided against it. Every choice is so much more conservative when I’m single handing. Maybe it’s my lack of experience, but either way I felt better to just mark waypoints and try to get into port. Heading into the marina was the worse part. Sailboats tend to sail all the way into the marina, and you need to somehow get across to the motoring only lane and still give way to all of the boats.

The north side of Point Conception
The north side of Point Conception
The south side of Point Conception
The south side of Point Conception

Getting to the guest dock at Burton Chase Park was no problem. It was completely empty and the wind was blowing Satori right onto the dock. After checking in at the park office, I switched to a guest slip. It was warm enough to only need board shorts and a tank top. I could see palm trees everywhere around the bay. The park and waterways were full of people, which many were blasting their hip hop and techno music. I am in Los Angeles. It’s warm. I think I’ll stay a while.

Summer projects & MNBB

Satori stays'l powered
Satori stays’l powered

The photo above was taken by my friend Colin while we were out sailing in March. The winds were peaking between twenty and twenty-five knots that day. Brent kept pushing me to put up more sail. Eventually I did but as they passed me, I thought about my capabilities to push Satori to her limits. I have a long ways to go…. It’s the weekend and I’m not out sailing. Satori is in need of a summer grooming. There is green algae growing on the teak exterior in places, the lockers were never cleaned very well and the forward berth is getting  a new mattress in a couple of weeks but has some mildew stains. It’s a nice window to get some long needed cleaning finished. The list of projects is still a mile long. When summer finally arrives, I will need to have enough canvas, electric fans and ventilation to keep the cabin cool. My pup Sasha stays on the boat while I’m sometimes away at work during the day and it’s a good enough reason to keep working on getting Satori ready for hot weather. While I was at Neah Bay last week there were some thoughts about comfort and living on a boat while anchored or under way. I did my best to make Satori as comfortable as possible but I also realized that there will be more work to do to get her comfortable while in the cockpit. She needs weather cloth and better cushions. I love her teak decks at the moment. There are no signs of rotting or leaking though the cabin-top so the wood will stay until it is no longer maintenance free. However, sitting on the teak isn’t comfortable for longer then a few minutes at a time. I have some ideas on vinyl exterior cushions and padded weather cloths so I will start the construction project soon. I may hire someone to build the cushions but I will take care of the canvas parts. As part of the energy saving effort and to ensure less maintenance, I also did an upgrade on all of my cabin light bulbs to LED. I still have four fluorescent tube style bulbs that I will be upgrading but it’s nice to see only .2 amps instead of 1.5 amps per light fixture after upgrading. Aside from the refrigerator, the lights are the biggest consumer of power so I will make sure they are reduced to draw the minimum possible. Of course, adding another 100 watt solar panel when the dodger is completed will help out as well. Later installing a wind generator will complete the off-grid efforts that will make Satori capable of going indefinitely without the need for supplemental energy from either the Yamaha generator or the motor. I hate the idea of consuming gasoline and will avoid it at all cost.

LED bulb
LED bulb

Another interest of mine, coming purely from the engineering and technical interest of marine navigation is being able to take advantage of what is available to us from an innovation perspective. People commonly ask if I can receive internet while on the sailboat. The answer is mostly yes, we can have varying degrees of connection at any given time. Currently while moored at the marina, I have access to Comcast high-speed internet at the usual cost for homes in the area. It provides excellent download and upload speeds and I have not experienced any outages while connected. While under way there are other options as well. If I am anchored near a shoreline that might be broadcasting wifi, it is possible to boost the signal and use it. I have something called a bullet and high-gain antennae that would hypothetically provide access. I have just recently installed it and very recently powered the system with the 12 volt house system. I did test the configuration but I wasn’t able to pick up anything that provided internet. I did pick up the entire marina’s individual wifi networks though. I could see signals from both the north end and south end and they were strong enough to pick up. I believe they are all closed networks however. Since I have my own wifi network, I will go ahead and use it to pass though the antennae. A more long-term project is to make my boat network much more usable. Currently I have four separate wireless networks; the Garmin chartplotter, the Vesper XB NMEA 0183 streaming network, the Comcast internet and finally the Ubiquity antennae piped into a D-Link network hub. The issue with this configuration is having to disconnect and reconnect each individual network to switch between different types of networks. I would like everything to be proxied  through one network. The next project under way is something I’m going to call MNBB for now until something else strikes me. The acronym stands for Mariners NMEA Black Box. The idea is to take a simple and easily configurable computer and stream NMEA data to it. The computer will listen to a network port and if it is streaming NMEA data, it will store it for analyzing. In case you’re unfamiliar with NMEA I will break it down simply for you. It is a standard or protocol that your boat instruments use to communicate with one another. A chartplotter uses NMEA for it’s GPS coordinates and possibly to pick up AIS targets, not to mention weather, water heading and anything else that would be part of your marine instrument collection. Most of the marine products you would carry on your vessel are for displaying current information, like the current water temperature or your current heading. Navigation software can track your position and heading over a period of time and display your track and course through a virtual line on a virtual chart. It’s handy for looking at later to make better decisions about future trips in the same area but is quite limited for showing you what else that might have been part of your trip. For example, what was the wind direction and what direction were the currents going? How about the wind speed or barometric pressure? Generally you don’t have the privilege to see this because your software is probably limited. We are low level consumers of marine electronics and software and at the mercy of how they want you to use it. From a software engineering and project perspective, it would be fairly easy to make such an idea both cheap and dependable through the innovative and collaborative efforts of other engineers who might want to contribute to an open source project with a mission to circumvent the consumer electronics industry.

Rasberry Pi
Rasberry Pi

The idea came from a computer called a Rasberry Pi. It’s a simple and very compact computer that can handle something as simple as this. There are two components to the project: first is saving the data in a way that makes it easy to consume from a simple and customizable user interface. Since the data is easy to parse and store, there isn’t a lot of processing power needed. Since the Rasberry Pi computer can enact as a web server, we can easily use the same kind of user interface that you would be accustomed to in your every day life. No need to install any software, just connect to your boat network and request the url that hosts all of the different tools you can interact with. Anyone who has web skills and a little bit of database knowledge can write their own modules that would do whatever they wanted. For sailboat racers one could really have fun with the performance of their boat and compare the given information to make better decisions in the future based on the conditions for any previous race. Cruisers can take a look at information regarding weather that might teach them better decision making in the future. All of the data could even be shared between one another to create a crowd sources infrastructure of boating conditions. The greatest part of this project could be the cost to consumers who are not technically savvy to use it. Buy a Rasberry Pi, install a disk image and configure it to connect to the boat’s internet to get the NMEA data and then connect to the same network on any device that can connect to a wifi network and they simply type in a web address like, http://svSatori/ and there is your application. Obviously it would work as a website and the user does not need to understand anything about computers. Perhaps someone could charge a service to install these units for anyone who doesn’t know even the basics of modern computer technology. It’s an idea for now. The Rasberry Pi computer is $60 with a wifi dongle and case so there is very little investment to get the project started. Everything else is written in open source and readily available through the software community. I’ll post my progress on here once things get going. Finally, I wanted to mention the addition of some recreation gear. A play toy really. I live right next to the second most popular beach in Seattle and right now the weather is awesome. It doesn’t quite feel like Hawaii but I did paddle out along the beach on my new inflatable stand-up paddle board or iSup for short 🙂 It’s a fun way to get out of the marina and mess around in the water when there isn’t much wind but a lot of sun. I picked up the NRS Earl 4″ x 10’6″ model. This is versatile enough to take out on on actual surf but stable enough for flat water as well. A three-piece paddle is a nice addition for storability. The entire setup packs down into a small mesh backpack that can be stowed on Satori easily. There is a little concern about puncturing it, since I have already patched it once due to barnacles on the side of the dock but with more care I hope to avoid patching often. Either way, it’s a great addition to this live aboard lifestyle.

NRS Earl inflatable SUP
NRS Earl inflatable SUP
Werner Fiji paddle
Werner Fiji paddle

Neah Bay

Everything in the last year has come down to the big question: Can Satori sail long distances? Can she motor until she runs out of fuel? Can she keep me and anyone else on board safe under most circumstances? Is she still a capable vessel?

You won’t hear very many people telling you that they have been to Neah Bay and back in a sailboat during a period of variable weather. We planned for a twenty-two hour motor all the way to Neah, with my dog Sasha and my buddy Ryan. My goal was to average five knots under motor, which included both an incoming and outgoing tide and west winds up to twenty-five knots. We left Seattle on Thursday around 3pm, fully loaded with food, beer, fuel and fishing gear. Fishing looked to be really good out there, with people targeting halibut and lingcod but also king salmon and flounder available. I decided to purchase an EPIRB to add to the arsenal of safety equipment kept on board. I really wanted radar but there just wasn’t enough time and budget to install it before we left.

Planning our passage through the Strait of Juan de Fuca - Photo by Ryan Davey
Planning our passage through the Strait of Juan de Fuca – Photo by Ryan Davey

We made great time getting to the eastern entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. There were winds up to twenty-five knots at one point. Somewhere around 3am we also encountered large cargo ships coming from our stern and had to be sure to keep the waves quartered on our bow so we didn’t get rocked too hard. At about 4am Ryan finally decided to try to get some sleep in the settee under some rough waves but about an hour later I encountered some pretty big seas and they were breaking on occasion. I’ve never been in any situation where the waves were so steep and powerful. I would hit a wave, drop off the other side, hit another one right away, drop off and the third one would come at a different angle and hit the boat hard enough to stall it out and stop any forward momentum. The prop would also come out of the water from rocking back and fourth so much. We were at a point where running downstream was a safer option but then we also decided to reach in closer to shore to try to get out of the gut of the strait. Although we didn’t turn back, hugging shore a little closer helped out quite a bit so we kept on going. Halfway up the strait we hit the great Pacific swell and started to navigate incoming rollers. They were steep because of the outgoing tide against an opposing wind but not big enough to stall the boat or cause us to consider turning around. At one point I found the sweet spot and was riding the waves comfortably with a nice rhythm.

Breaking seas, Strait of Juan de Fuca
Breaking seas, Strait of Juan de Fuca

We kept on motoring until we hit the final mark just outside of Neah Bay. Exhausted, I inflated the dinghy and motored poor Sasha to the rock jetty that protects the bay so she could do her long needed business. Too tired to cook or eat, I let out more rode on the chain anchor and backed it up with the second anchor and finally set the anchor alarm and crashed at hour twenty-six after leaving Seattle.

Docked at Neah Bay fuel dock
Docked at Neah Bay fuel dock

The next morning we woke up groggy and realized that there was a massive halibut tournament going on. We fueled up at the dock and were hurried off just in case a tournament fisherman came back. No room in the marina either. So much for checking out Neah Bay town. We motored out and started fishing just outside of the bay. There were several boats in every spot that seemed fishy. We hooked a couple of flounder and were glad that we had some fresh fish to catch, regardless that they were sole. After many hours of trying to drift and jig on the bottom, we gave up and headed back to the bay. Just as we were within a hundred yards from our anchorage, some jackass fisherman decided to cut us off and drop anchor, knowing that we were headed there. We picked the wrong time to visit Neah. Next time, just keep on going…then head left. After setting anchor I filleted both fish which produced plenty of fish to eat for the both of us. We called it a night and did another night of sleep before pushing out of the strait the next day.

Fillet the flounder. Photo by Ryan Davey
Fillet the flounder. Photo by Ryan Davey
Fresh caught flounder on the grill. Photo by Ryan Davey
Fresh caught flounder on the grill. Photo by Ryan Davey
Sasha happy to be on shore. Neah Bay
Sasha happy to be on shore. Neah Bay

The way out of the strait was pretty uneventful. Somewhere at the border of the two fishing regulated zones we encountered a huge amount of boaters fishing right on the border. I called into the Coast Guard to see what was going on, wondering if it might have been due to the sailboat races that were happening that day but didn’t get much information. I picked my line and headed into the crowd, hoping no one would change their position. After successfully passing the crowd we had more uneventful motoring in almost no winds and calm seas. Ryan crashed for a few hours and I made the call to head all the way to Port Townsend and anchor in the dark. Around 10pm we finally pulled up to the town front to scope out the anchorage. Too many boats there so we headed past the ferry terminal and found a spot close by away from any other boat. It would have been nice to have radar.

Fishing Trawler
Fishing Trawler
Anchored in Port Townsend
Anchored in Port Townsend

The next morning we decided to skip going into town after reading a good forecast for winds in the North Sound. We sailed off the anchorage in good style and then headed out of the bay and around the point, into the Sound. The winds died and so we motored for a short time, until the winds were ten knots on our hind quarter. I put up all sail and let Satori run downwind. We made great time heading south and it was apparent that we would be able to sail all the way to Shilshole so we kept on, a day early from our expected arrival. About two miles north of Shilshole the winds picked up and the seas became big, confused and rolling. At one point I asked Ryan to go forward and drop the jib. He did well considering we were on a broad reach and the jib was in the water and flogging. After that episode we were running downwind a mile from Shilshole on just the mainsail, with the staysail up but only in case we needed to turn up and have a foresail to keep pointing up. It’s the first time I have experienced such strong following seas and at times the stern would get washed out. It took some deliberate care to keep from getting caught broadside to the waves, which could have rocked the boat dangerously. Within a half a mile from the entrance we needed to make the final maneuver to drop the mainsail so we could get into the marina. The seas were breaking in parts, the swell was bigger than I wanted and I had to head up and get the main down. My plan was to first release the halyard on the downwind part, then head up and have Ryan pull the mainsail down with the correct timing. Once I headed up, he was able to drop the mainsail, and then head back down to get into the safety of the marina. Finally we pulled into the slip and it was all over. One hell of a ride.

Listening to WX
Listening to WX. Photo by Ryan Davey
Heading home under sail
Heading home under sail

Some retrospective:

What does it take to be a competent sailor? I’m heading to the ocean next year. Do I have what it takes? Well, proper seamanship has much to do with experience. I can’t say that I’m the best sailor but I feel competent after this trip. Satori’s engine ran strong without issue the whole time and I discovered exactly how dependable it is. The entire system is in great working order. All of her most recent upgrades work without any issue and I have a pretty good idea on what to do to get her even more comfortable and prepared for the great Pacific Ocean. I doubt I will be able to do another big trip like this one until next year. Until then I will keep the upgrades coming. I will keep making her even more seaworthy and keep taking her out to challenge my capabilities. As far as taking on crew, it’s best to find someone who is clean, organized, motivated, respectful and seaworthy. Perhaps this was the most important learning experience this time around.