Seattle to San Francisco

 

Westsail 32 Satori close hauled while sailing back to Seattle from Poulsbo
Westsail 32 Satori close hauled while sailing back to Seattle from Poulsbo

Satori and I have been busy. We’ve worked hard at learning how to sail, what to repair, and how to sail in the Ocean. After wintering over in the San Juan Islands, mostly living on the hook, and spending time sailing around the Salish, I feel fortunate. Since I was young I have always thought about sailing in the ocean. I knew it would feel different than sailing close to land. Also the boat would be different, and look out of place in the protected waters of the sea. When my longtime family friend offered a good deal on Satori, I felt it was my purpose to take her and sail her like she was meant to do. In a way, I think maybe she chose me. Maybe she knew I would take her to the ocean, and she would show me what that means. After three years we finally did it. We made it to California.

Satori getting splashed after five weeks out of the water, looking pretty good
Satori getting splashed after five weeks out of the water, looking pretty good

During the months of April, May, and June I spent most of my time in Port Townsend. Either I was working on Satori, or playing music with the locals. There was still much to do to get Satori ready for her trip down the coast. I worked with the local maritime tradesmen, mainly shipwrights, to finish the job. Her prop needed overhauling, her bottom faired, her rigging completed, her water tanks water tight, her rudder overhauled, her tiller repaired, and her cabin organized. By the end of June most of the tasks had been completed. I’d work in the evenings and weekends while the painters worked on her hull, or the prop guy pecked away at getting parts and installing them. Eventually everything was completed that needed to be done before she went back in the water. I decided to take a trip into the San Juan Islands to visit some of the sailing community, some which I had met already, and others only through social media via the internet. A few days in Fishermans Bay on Lopez Island, then back to Seattle to wrap up the final provisions of food and supplies. I rounded up my first crew member, then we began our journey back north to pick up another and head out into the Strait one last time.

A floatplane divides our anchorage, with Satori and Harbinger enjoying fourth of July weekend
A floatplane divides our anchorage, with Satori and Harbinger enjoying fourth of July weekend
Tall ship Hawaiian Chieftain sailing near Port Ludlow
Tall ship Hawaiian Chieftain sailing near Port Ludlow

Our first stop was in Port Townsend to pick up the second crew member, and to top off the water and fuel, plus fill the two jerry cans of water, and two of diesel. We also decided to prepare Satori to be more water tight. First by moving the anchor chain into it’s storage under the v-berth, and then sealing the chain pipe with a towel, a plastic bag, some duct tape, and more duct tape. We also sealed the jerry can lids with plastic bags and duct tape in case the seal was not secure. Finally I lashed the anchor to keep it from moving, and sealed the second chain pipe. I secured the wires in the engine compartment to prevent any movement, as well as added a little more security to keep the battery bank from moving. Finally I bolted the cockpit sole and sealed it to prevent water from leaking through in case the cockpit filled with seawater. We also did some additional tweaking to the running rigging so we could barber haul the jib or staysail, plus added a boom preventer so we could vang the boom outboard, plus run a preventer system from the bow back into the cockpit. This allowed anyone at the helm to release both the vang and preventer without going forward, in case there was a sudden need to jibe or sheet in the boom. I moved the boathook down into the cabin and secured it to the headliner to keep it out of the way. The trysail slugs were in the second track, and the sail stowed in the ready bag under the boom. Everything seemed to be in it’s place, crew ready with their tethers and hunger for blue water, and then we headed out into the Strait.

Crew from Neah Bay to San Francisco the day before departure
Crew from Neah Bay to San Francisco the day before departure

The trip from Port Townsend out was supposed to be nonstop, out the gate, and down the coast. Conditions were not ideal, but then again, they never seemed to be right. We pressed on and motored past Port Angeles. Eventually we encountered twenty-five knot headwinds, with gusts to thirty. The waves stacked up, our progress slowed, a crew member seasick, then fell during a lurch and sat on a protrusion in the cockpit which caused a nasty bruise. Our speed slowed to about two knots, and our chance of getting to Cape Flattery on time seemed low, so we opted to spend the night back in Port Angeles. A couple of hours of downwind sailing under staysail put us easily into the harbor. We spent the night there, then looked at the weather forecast again. This time we saw a better weather window just a little further out. Instead of departing on Thursday, we chose Sunday morning. We just needed to be at Neah Bay by Saturday night, and bought even more time to mentally prepare. The next day we motored to Neah in calm seas and winds, and made great time getting into the harbor. We spent a few days doing even more tweaks to the rigging, and preparing. Mostly we just tried to relax, and enjoy the solitude of the land of the “fat belly”, or “the generous with food” – aka Makah. The forecast looked okay for the first few days, but pretty rough at Mendocino. In theory we could head offshore, stay further off at Mendocino, then head back in once we were clear of the heavy weather. Winds did not look light, but we decided to go and just try to avoid gales.

Jason on the foredeck preparing to raise the mainsail
Jason on the foredeck preparing to raise the mainsail

Sunday morning we were all up bright and early. We departed the calm and foggy bay at 7:30 am, and were out into the strait by 9am. The swell was stacked up again, and winds combined with the steep waves were up enough to cause a crew member to become seasick. Satori did great breaking through the swell and getting past Tatoosh Island. Eventually we could stop motoring, the swell became westerly, and the winds back from the northwest. By mid-afternoon we had all sails flying with a double-reefed mainsail. We remained on the same tack through the night, and when the winds built to over twenty knots, we furled the jib and ran under double reefed mainsail and staysail. The next day I also had been stricken with seasickness. The entire day I could not keep anything down, but by the evening it eventually subsided. My body adapted to the motion, and I eventually felt better again for the remainder of the trip. Our tack was pushing us offshore quite a ways, and we needed to keep close enough to land so that once we were at Mendocino we were close to the mark that we used to get around the heavy weather. The forecast called for gales near shore, and offshore. We had no place to go so we buckled down and accepted our fate. On the fourth day we jibed and headed back towards shore with only the jib. We were hitting speeds of six and seven knots the entire way. We worked to keep Satori under six knots, but suffered the boat rolling. By the fourth night, the winds had built and the seas seemed to be building as well. For the entire evening I watched the seas continue to build. Water started to break high enough to flush across the deck. On occasion the water would enter the cockpit. I stayed up the entire night studying the ocean and learning the waves. I learned about the intervals, the breaking seas, the swell, and grew confident that we could overcome whatever come to us. The next morning we decided to head back offshore. This time we would line it up with our mark at Mendocino. As the winds and waves continued to build, we opted for a sail change to staysail only. By the fifth day we were in gale force winds, and waves bigger than any had ever seen before.

Mike sleeping in the cockpit sole
Mike sleeping in the cockpit sole

At one point we all realized that the only way out of our situation was to keep pressing on. Somewhere a little north and a hundred miles from Mendocino we decided that the boarding seas were getting out of hand. The Aries wind vane autopilot could not keep her on course. At first we tried to heave-to. I had never tried it with the storm sails, and although we did get a slick for a short period, she eventually gained headway. The crew was very tired from the sail change, and the effort involved, so instead of continuing on getting her to heave-to, we took a break and continued sailing. I went below to take a quick nap, but within forty-five minutes was awoken when a crew member yelled down to get suited and help out. The wind vane could not steer Satori any longer, so we switched to hand steering. Fortunately I had been in a similar situation in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where the seas were stacked and the waves were breaking. Only this time the swell height was three or four times bigger. I taught the helmsman how to keep the stern to the waves and allow the water to wash under the boat. Every time a wave came, we would instruct the helmsman how far centered, or to port/starboard the bow should be for the oncoming wave. He would correct and keep her pointed, but sometimes Satori lost her steerage from waves that broke big enough to have a slick of turbulence. Only a few times did the slick prevent us from being setup for the next wave. We were never told about Mendocino Ridge, and with the combination of gale force winds, and the upwelling from the bottom of the ocean, we had massive waves to contend with. To describe such a thing will never compare to what it was like in person. I will try by explaining the size of waves. Behind us looked to be waves the size of boxcars on a train, with an occasional wave that was almost twice the size. Most of them broke from the gale force winds that blew their tops off. When they broke from underneath Satori we could see the trough, which looked to be like looking down from the height of a boxcar. More or less 15′, but 40′ in length from the top of the wave to the bottom, and occasionally 60′ from a big wave.  Fortunately it only lasted for about four hours, but during that time we took on considerable water, the wind turbine died, and our spirits were pretty low. By the evening we were able to give the helm completely back to the wind vane, but we kept a watch schedule to make sure we didn’t encounter any more big waves capable of knocking Satori sideways down a wave. A couple of times during the night she did hit a wave sideways, but she would always recover and get back on course. It was a rough night, but we endured, and Satori kept us warm and dry.

Jason raising the trysail for heaving-to
Jason raising the trysail for heaving-to

The next morning was concerning for us. We had jibed again to head back towards land, but were quite a ways offshore. To make a landfall in San Francisco, we needed to be further on our beam, but the swell and breaking seas were still threatening us. The forecast showed to be less severe than before, so we waited, then we decided to try a beam reach. At first it seemed like a bad idea, but after the first hour the winds and seas subsided enough to make the sail enjoyable. We were screaming at seven knots over water and headed straight into land. We continued this course with minimal boarding waves until our course was close enough in to allow us to bear away again and head towards the Bay. By nightfall we were running under staysail and double-reefed mainsail alone, and going faster than I had ever thought Satori could go. At times in the evening I saw nine knots over water, and over ten knots over ground. I was back to panic mode, being concerned that the winds would build and Satori would experience her first broach. I opted to suit up and drop the mainsail to slow her speed for our night run. Eventually the winds did build again, but not enough to cause boarding waves except a few times from the rolling motion. By morning we were close enough into Point Reyes to begin motoring so we could time the Golden Gate tides. The seas were still up, but the tiller pilot did well at keeping her on course. Although we were not through the gate yet, our spirits were high, and we knew by the afternoon that we would step off the boat and onto land again.

The crew putting away the trysail after the winds subsided
The crew putting away the trysail after the winds subsided

The first ten hours of motoring was uneventful. The anticipation had built, and everyone was wide awake and excited for our landfall. We had done it. By the time we entered Golden Gate, the tides were still at flood, and the winds had picked up enough for us to sail under the bridge. A friend allowed us to use his slip at Pier 39, so once in alignment with Alcatraz, we switched the motor on and entered the harbor. We had done it, averaging 135 nautical miles per day, over the course of six days and seven days total. Satori and her crew had not only sailed through gales, but we learned how we could have done it better. I realized that the trysail was not used nearly enough during the trip. Running under staysail alone caused Satori to roll more than she needed. With the addition of the trysail in winds above twenty-five knots would keep her stable and allow her to stay upright. I was fortunate to have a competent crew, even if we were all only experienced at sailing in the protected waters of the Salish Sea. They will return knowing that anything they encounter there will never compare to the unforgiving Mendocino Ridge and Northeastern Pacific Ocean.

Sailing under Golden Gate bridge
Sailing under Golden Gate bridge

A few shouts to those who helped me make it happen. First I want to thank my mom, who gave me rides to Port Townsend after ditching my car, and rides to Costco to provision for the trip. She was also who mentioned Mendocino Ridge in a text message, which eased our stress knowing that it would eventually end once the sea floor went back down again. She also sent daily emails with NOAA forecast reports for the California coast and offshore areas. They were very helpful, in addition to PredictWind Offshore app and grib downloads. Also my friend Marvin, who’s wisdom and thoughtfulness was forever helpful. He was our point of contact for the float plan, and for daily messages via Iridium Go! sat phone. To Frank Schattauer, who I worked with on getting Satori’s offshore sail plan and suite of sails for bluewater sailing. He and his brother Axel not only built an amazing set of sails that performed flawlessly, but was helpful in configuring the running rigging on Satori. His advice added safety and simplicity in reefing, and running the staysail without a boom, plus helping me decide to go with a roller furling jib. Two generations of sailmaking and sailing experience has led to giving great performance to a boat known for lack of speed. Also to Randy Leasure for loaning me his slip at Pier 39. After spending two weeks getting to San Francisco, and having a slip right in the heart of the city, with friendly staff and tenants, I feel blessed. His passion for sailing has been an inspiration since I first started doing research on how to sail a Westsail in modern times. There are others who have helped along to way. My friend and crewman Jason, who is a phenomenal sailor and sail trimmer. He has helped me maximize Satori’s sail plan, and keep her moving along as fast as she can safely go. When I was most concerned, he did great keeping me calm. His background in aviation has given me new light on maximizing the performance of a cutter rigged sail plan. And to my crewman Mike, who I couldn’t have had a better person to compliment Satori, Jason, and myself. He stepped up for his watches, slept on the floor, and took a beating, then went home wanting more. He is an inspiration on living life.

Crew from Neah Bay to San Francisco the day of arrival
Crew from Neah Bay to San Francisco the day of arrival

After a lifetime of dreaming about ocean sailing, and three years of outfitting Satori for the trip, and a rollercoaster of emotion, we’re here. I’ll be updating the blog going forward to keep you up to date on where we are at. I’m working my way down the coast to warmer weather. We have achieved eleven latitudes south, and have five more to go before fall. Stay tuned for more adventures.

Westsail 32 - Satori sailing to weather, close hauled in fifteen knots of wind
Westsail 32 – Satori sailing to weather, close hauled in fifteen knots of wind

Tragic stories of the Westsail and lessons to be learned

The Westsail 32 is a stout boat. With a gross weight of more than ten tons, and a ballast of three and a half tons, the remaining weight of wood, metal, and fiberglass is six and a quarter tons. An excellent choice for anyone looking for a hull that can fend off damage from running aground or boarding seas. The ballast is also encapsulated inside the keel so the only component under the water subject to damage is the rudder, which is protected by the keel and oversized bronze gudgeons and pintles. The rigging is also constructed with a stout mast, outboard chainplates and oversized cables, which can keep her mast upright even after being knocked down. Her balanced sail plan is designed to allow three sails to fly, with the jib stay extending six feet beyond the deck and the mainsail boom extending to the furthest aft part of the cockpit. The working sails are a 374  ft² yankee, 320  ft²  mainsail and 150 ft² staysail. Satori is 844 total ft², but the sail plan is calculated as 663 ft2. A reduced sail plan is an 80 ft² trysail and 85  ft² storm jib, a total of 165 ft². To keep keep the mast up, there are six shrouds extending outboard, a forestay, an staysail stay at two-thirds up the mast, and a single backstay. An additional set of running backstays provide opposing force when the winds are greater than twenty-five knots and the boat is running downwind under staysail or storm jib. The simplicity of a tiller prevents any potential risk of loosing steering because there are no moving parts aside from the gudgeons and pintles holding the rudder to the keel.

So with such a massively build boat, is it possible for a Westsail to sink or become dismasted? Absolutely. One thing to consider about owning a Westsail is the age of the boat and rigging. Bud Taplin provides a list of known part failures that have occurred over the last forty years. Rarely will you hear of a Westsail becoming holed from running aground but there are rare occasions where the captain made a fatal error in navigation, which caused the demise of their vessel. In the video below, you’ll see that this particular incident happened on the Coast of California against sharp rocks.

Most of the reports from Westsail being lost are due to rigging failures or neglect and abandonment. If the rigging has been well cared for and serviced regularly, the rig could be strong enough to handle a complete capsize and 360 degree roll. Sundowner is one boat in particular that has been rolled, yet did not suffer a dismasting. Likely this was due to the fact that the owners were meticulous in keeping the rig in good condition, and likely serviced and replaced any suspect part that has a potential to fail. Westsail ‘Pilot’ had also suffered a dismasting after enduring big seas and gale force winds. They attempted to run before a gale, then endured a complete roll, and finally lost their rig after attempting to run under bare poles. ‘Tar Baby II’ had also suffered a dismasting but not due to storms and heavy seas. This time it was a rigging failure from one of the toggles on a boomkin stay. The lower stays that hold the fore and aft stays are crucial to supporting the mast and are often neglected. They chose to abandon their boat instead of attempting a jury rig, and were rescued by a fishing vessel. The video below shows their wonderful journey, which includes the abandonment. What’s interesting about this particular situation is how the rig ended up failing. Since the downward support of the boomkin was no longer in tact, the wooden boomkin sheared right where the thru-bolts held it in place. The lesson for all Westsail owners is to make sure that these four stays that support the spars are new and their chainplates are also replaced. Bud Taplin suggests that every boat replace the chainplates that hold down the spars if they are original.

Another example of a Westsail suffering a dismasting due to a complete rollover is ‘Aissa’. In this incident, the boat was in the high latitudes, southeast of Stewart Island and was also reaching before the wind and seas under only the storm jib. Perhaps at this point of sail the waves had a good chance of rolling the boat, but as mentioned in this story, the seas were steep enough to potentially pitchpole the boat, which might cause even more damage or worse. This is yet another story of the captain deciding not to tow a sea anchor, heave-to or set a bow anchor. Fortunately they were able to run under jury rig and motor to get their boat to shore.

Finally, the last story was also a scenario where the boat was in the high latitudes near Cape Horn with an accomplished sailor named Tom Corogan, who extensively sailed his boat ‘TLC’. In this scenario, it is uncertain if the backstay broke or if it was also a result of the boomkin stays breaking, but it did lead to the mast coming down and the boat being abandoned. There is a photo that shows how the boomkin looked after the rigging failed, and it looks as if the entire mess of steel had lifted and moved to the port side, which may indicate that it was indeed the boomkin stays and not the backstay. Also in his interview he mentions “two little cables” instead of the single long backstay, which also indicates the boomkin stays had failed. The confusion is he also says, “after the two backstays broke”, but two backstays would not be considered little so I’m speculating that it was the boomkin stays. I am looking towards other to get more info on this incident. Another discussion seems to indicate that it was the backstay, but that was provided by a news article so there is still some uncertainty. What is known is that the wreckage caused the tiller to become jammed, which prevented him from steering the boat, then later caused the abandonment. Wether it was the backstay or the boomkin stays, a rigging failure yet again caused the boat to become disabled.

Perhaps the most known story about a Westsail abandonment is Satori. Many people mistake this Satori for the Westsail that is also named Satori on the Atlantic side of the country. By coincidence they were both named around the same time. My Satori did do some cruising in the North Pacific, but the infamous Satori only sailed the North Atlantic. Coined, “The Perfect Storm”, a popular novel included Satori and Captain Ray Leonard. The story begins with a well rigged Westsail with two crew members. The boat was knocked down in a storm that absorbed Hurricane Grace and another no-name storm becoming, “the storm of the century”.  There is an excellent article that documents the account which led to the abandonment of Satori. In short, the Coast Guard rescued the crew and the captain left the boat to sail under storm jib and pointed it towards New Jersey. Later the boat was found on a sandy beach on the shores of New Jersey and later repaired. Nothing more than a some light damage occurred to the boat after running aground. Later the boat was repaired and continued to sail without issue.

There are other stories about Westsails being lost at sea but much of it is limited information and not much to be learned from them, other than perhaps to carry the proper emergency radio communication equipment. I have not heard of any stories where the crew had rigging failure and the boat and crew perished as a result. I’m sure there are stories though. There were over eight-hundred Westsail 32 hulls manufactured so there must be more stories out there. Readers if you know of any, please add your comments and link to any other accounts that are available online.

So for future Westsail owners who plan to take their boat into the great big blue, perhaps the two biggest lessons I learned from the accounts above are:

1) Learn and use storm tactics that are known to succeed. Lin Pardy’s book, ‘Storm Tactics‘ describes heaving-to and deploying a para-anchor from the bow in a bridle to keep the bow to the waves. Bernard Moitessier tried trailing warps on his first trip around Cape Horn, then later learned that he could surf waves coming from his stern quarter under bare poles and keep the boat in control at all times. This meant having someone at the helm at all times as well. Many people believe that the Jordan Series drogue is a better solution for keeping the boat stern to the waves and slowing the boat down to prevent capsize. John Kretschmer describes his best heavy weather tactic as beating or heading to wind when the winds are gale and beyond. There are many other opinions and ideas regarding heavy weather sailing, but the most popular and perhaps the most successful is knowing how to avoid heavy weather all together. Either way, not one tactic will win but also not one tactic will work for all boats in all situations. I am still working on outfitting Satori with storm equipment. I have a new trysail and storm jib for when the winds allow for sailing, but am not further equipped with a para-anchor, Jordan series drogue or additional high-load tackle. I am planning on outfitting with both bow and stern anchors however.

2) Prepare and maintain your rig and rigging. In the most popular accounts of a Westsail becoming dismasted, it seems that the rigging could have been inspected, replaced and maintained to prevent a failure. This includes the chainplates, the mast assembly and toggles, turnbuckles and anything else that may not have been inspected or replaced before heading offshore. When I purchased Satori, I thought simply replacing the standing rigging would be all that is needed to prepare the rig for offshore sailing. I’ve now decided that I was naive to think that the four stays and chainplates would suffice, as would not rebuilding the mast and inspecting every single fitting. I’ve since decided that I will continue to refit Satori during this upcoming winter, with the primary project being the mast, boom and any other rigging that has not already been serviced or replaced. Another idea I’ve had is to make sure there are backups for the backstay and forestay. A dyneema solent stay would be useful to allow Satori to run under two sails, or allow a genoa to be deployed without having to take down the yankee on the roller furler. It would also allow the storm jib to be deployed on the forward triangle to balance the helm in winds from twenty-five knots to thirty-five knots. Currently the plan only allows for the staysail and mainsail triangles to be utilized. It would also serve as a backup forestay in the event that the steel stay failed. The backstay could also have an additional dyneema stay that could be attached like a running backstay but when running with only a sail on the forestay or spinnaker, as opposed to only the staysail and opposing runners. When neither of these stays are needed, they can be lashed outboard to a belay pin and because of their light weight, would not cause a sacrifice in weight aloft.

I do not expect anyone to believe that I am an experienced offshore sailing captain, or even experienced with Westsail 32 sailing yachts. I am only in my second year owning a sailboat and have never been offshore. I have only learned from the media that is available to read from other accounts. These accounts are perhaps the most critical elements of preparation. Even Bernard Moitessier did not have experience with heavy weather and big seas when attempting Cape Horn the first time around. He asked his wife and co-pilot to bring up books into the cockpit from their library so he could come up with a solution from other accounts. Vito Dumas provided enough insight in his account to allow Bernard to come up with his own ideas. He also knew that Tsu-Hang was pitchpoled by running directly before the sea under bare poles, which should be avoided. Only when he cut his warps and surfed on the stern quarter did he finally maintain control in such a sea state. Much of today’s information is no more than the same information that previous sailing authors had learned. I have chosen to stick with stories that would also apply to the type of boat I am sailing. Much of the stories written in the early 1900’s through the 1970’s were of double-ended, heavy displacement boats. Perhaps the only difference between today’s version of the same offshore boats would be a ketch-cutter rig versus a cutter rig, plus the addition of more advanced structural materials and rigging. The weight has decreased and durability has gone up. Only the quality is left to question when deciding which product will suit the application. Because of my extensive research, it has enabled me to conglomerate some of these accounts and lessons into something I can pass on to my fellow readers. I hope it has been insightful and useful for your own preparations. Please comment if you have any additional insight or opinion.