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

A taste of swell and freedom

I begin writing to you from a superb anchorage next to a marked shipwreck inside of Friday Harbor. A dozen other boats share this anchorage but only a few are occupied with cruisers. For short trips to shore with the pup I have elected to inflate the paddleboard and simply paddle to a nearby beach. It’s much easier than inflating the dinghy and outfitting it with all of the necessary equipment to make it seaworthy. It takes considerably less time and effort to inflate a paddle board and it’s more enjoyable for the both of us. I’m still trying to decide how I will keep it on shore while I wander town but I guess I will figure that out later. It’s a peaceful anchorage but it bustles with ferry and floatplane traffic, not to mention many boats in and out during the day. Nonetheless it is more quiet than Port Townsend and Seattle.

Motoring north against the wind on a calm Saturday morning
Motoring north against the wind on a calm Saturday morning

 

I allowed myself two days to get to this little harbor. The first day I partially motored up Puget Sound until the winds picked up and I could tack a couple of times to get into Port Townsend. It was a nice trip with plenty of sun and only a handful of halibut fishermen to add something less than mundane on the passage. I especially liked the moments where a fisherman decided to pass a dozen yards at my bow instead of intelligently passing on my stern. Once I made my final tack into Port Townsend I came across a dinghy race, which was in between my anchorage and my point of sail. With respect to the race, I decided to trim my sails to reduce speed and then go around the mark keeping out of the way of the race boats. Finally I made a tack into the irons with only a small amount of jib, furled it up, which slowed Satori to a stop and finally dropped anchor. There is nothing more fun than to maneuver under sail with trust that the motor is not needed to get into mooring.

Schooner Adventuress at her mooring in Port Townsend
Schooner Adventuress at her mooring in Port Townsend

I arrived early enough to enjoy summer like conditions with little winds. It was my first time away from the marina with my new wetsuit and snorkel gear so I tried out a dive to clean the hull of a year and a half of growth. I also rigged the Aries windvane autopilot for the next day’s crossing of Admiralty Inlet and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The water was cold but I managed to stay comfortable for about an hour to get much of the growth removed. My first dive was a success, other than perhaps needing a few extra pounds of ballast for neutral buoyancy. I didn’t spend any time in town since I had everything I needed on the boat and was more concerned about preparing for the next days adventure. It would be the first time operating the vane gear and I was also looking at crossing during an outgoing tide against a westerly wind. It’s common for the winds to blow freshly in Admiralty Inlet so I was expecting up to twenty-five knots.

Schooner Zodiac at her anchorage in Port Townsend
Schooner Zodiac at her anchorage in Port Townsend

The next morning I slowly worked my way around the boat to ready for lifting anchor and casting off under sail. The winds were around twelve knots and blowing me away from the shoreline. No matter how much I prepared for the casting off, I still managed to screw up my mainsail halyard routing which caused me to change tacks more than once. Once I was off and underway, I realized that the main would not raise without fixing the issue. A couple of tries heading right towards the ferry terminal and the main was up and the sails were set. Now to get the Aries vane gear working, but not without some fiddling and learning first. Once I was heading out towards Point Wilson I realized that there were some obstacles to maneuver around. First an oncoming towing tug with it’s barge on a cable in my way. To tack away from the barge meant heading abruptly into breakers and risking getting pounded near the point buoy. Still I did my tack to let the tug know I was avoiding it but was also heading towards the breakers. With enough time to make another tack to clear the tug I was back on course and sailing away from the tide rips. I rarely cross in front of a ship in the traffic lanes so I carefully kept close hauled but kept the bow pointing towards the tug until we were within shouting distance, then was able to bear away at it’s stern. Then another large cargo ship in the westbound lane. I have to avoid it as well and avoid heading too far downwind. Once it was far enough west I could point Satori on her course under steering vane and enjoy an exciting sail to weather for a bit. Seas broke on her bow at every wave. Some splashed water over her deck. The winds rose to twenty knots at one point and I decided to reef the mainsail to balance her helm. I am still learning the reefing technique and was not able to get the sail ties secured so left it bagged at the base but still reduced the pressure on the helm. Never have I had such an exciting sail than at that moment. It was likely what it feels like in the ocean with similar winds. Waves rolled in, some big enough to bring water from the bow into the cockpit. Satori found her rhythm and kept pushing through at five to six knots. Over ground we were almost seven knots and enjoying the excitement.

Beating into Admiralty Inlet and the Strait of Juan de Fuca
Beating into Admiralty Inlet and the Strait of Juan de Fuca
Aries vane gear steering the boat in the Strait of Juan de Fuca
Aries vane gear steering the boat in the Strait of Juan de Fuca

Past Admiralty Inlet and into the strait the winds eased to twelve knots so the main’s reef was shaken out and back up to full sail. The winds were also on the port quarter so I had to devise a boom preventer to keep it from rattling itself away. It was obvious that a whisker pole could have helped in the same way for the jib but it was still doing well on most rolls as long as the winds stayed above twelve knots. I was able to stay on the same course with some minor course corrections to the vane gear all the way to the San Juan Channel. Then of course the winds died, or shifted, or the current would sweep the boat and mess up the course. I was able to sail through the channel but out the other end I continued to Friday Harbor under auxiliary power. There is a small harbor just east of the marina that provides some protection from wind and current, but is exposed to boat traffic just the same as Port Townsend. There is little sanctuary from commercial traffic here, but the town was a perfect place to enjoy a new place while beginning my work week. After two nights, I pull anchor and sailed off to the next mooring.

Anchored in Friday Harbor next to the shipwreck
Anchored in Friday Harbor next to the shipwreck
Whale skeleton in the Friday Harbor Whale Museum
Whale skeleton in the Friday Harbor Whale Museum

Pulling anchor and raising sails was the plan but as soon as I left the harbor the winds died and I was resolved to drifting until I dropped sails and ran under auxiliary once again. I expected winds to constantly shift direction and speed in the protected bays and harbors, so going with the engine was out of necessity. I checked out a south bay on Shaw Island but it was unappealing due to the southern exposure and bordered on private land. Big houses shadowed the beach so I decided that there were better options. Another half hour of motoring north brought me to Blind Bay on Shaw Island. It is inset enough to be fully protected from ferry traffic and close enough to be able to paddle around the point to visit the general store next to the ferry terminal. There are private moorings but for the most part this bay has just a few temporary residents. A strong cellular wifi signal was present so this would be our home for two nights.

Hooded mergansers and a wooden fishing trawler, Shaw Island
Hooded mergansers and a wooden fishing trawler, Shaw Island
Prying oysters from the reef at Shaw Island
Prying oysters from the reef at Shaw Island

Upon exploring the reef and Blind Island I stumbled upon a nice stash of Pacific Oysters. The first night while taking Sasha out for a swim we enjoyed two as part of dinner. I decided that it was worth a second night stay just to harvest a belly full of oysters exposed at low tide on the reefs and island. To take the harvest seriously I wore my wetsuit, gloves and booties so I could wade into the tide pools. I brought a big screwdriver to assist in the prying of these strongly adhered shells so I could shuck them back at the boat. Technically it is not legal to take the shells but the next morning I brought them back and scattered them around the reef again so the ecosystem living in the shell could thrive again. I did stop off at the general store on Wednesday but they were closed, but I went back on Thursday hopeful of fresh baked goods. To my dismay they only had generic grocery goods with some tourist items available, due to being early season and all. I settled for their selection and brought back breakfast and snack foods instead. It was pretty cloudy during these two days, which meant the need for the diesel stove. It also meant that the solar panels were not doing well keeping up with my demand. Apparently a 15″ Macbook Pro eats up a lot of amps. The second day was partly cloudy so the batteries were able to make it back up to eighty percent.

Looking north from Blind Bay  on Shaw Island
Looking north from Blind Bay on Shaw Island
Fried Pacific oysters from Blind Bay
Fried Pacific oysters from Blind Bay

After work I prepared the boat for a trip around Lopez Island eastward. I really needed to get further south so getting home was not going to take too long. Plus there is a bay that seemed like a perfect place to spend the last night in the San Juans on the southeastern side, right around the point from crossing the Strait of Juan de Fuca and into Admiralty Inlet. Crossing the north end of Lopez I was getting a nice southerly breeze that guided Satori towards Rosario Strait but after entering Lopez Sound the winds were not only lighter but coming straight to where I wanted to go. I figured this was a good time to use auxiliary and also get the batteries charged while I head towards the new anchorage. I was delighted to go through Lopez Pass to exit the sound into Rosario Strait with such steep walls on the islets and not a single boat in sight. Another thirty minutes and I was dropping the RPMs to line up the anchorage in Watmough Bay. It is perhaps the most stunning of all bays in the San Juans. I was concerned about the availability of internet and at first did not seem to get a signal, but after rebooting the network and cellular hotspot I was back in business. This is all possible thanks to Verizon’s cellular data plan. The anchorage is nicely protected from winds but it also had some rolling from container ships that travel down Rosario Strait. Most of the time Satori would be stern on when a set came rolling in but on occasion she would be in mid-swing and taking the waves on her quarter or beam. Still not as bad as Friday Harbor or Port Townsend’s ferry and powerboat traffic however.

Watmough Bay cliffs
Watmough Bay cliffs
A beautiful anchorage in Watmough Bay
A beautiful anchorage in Watmough Bay
Satori at her mooring in Watmough Bay, Lopez Island
Satori at her mooring in Watmough Bay, Lopez Island

I wanted to get home on Friday evening but was also entertaining the idea of sailing into Port Townsend and spending the night there, to complete the final part of the trip into Puget Sound on Saturday morning. I did not want to come into port in the dark, nor did I want to deal with southerly winds at anchor. After leaving anchor under sail at 5pm on Friday, I was able to sail due south until the wind turned to my bow and became calm. At that point I dropped sails and began to motor. As I passed Smith Island heading south, the currents and waves began to build and the wind shifted to southwest. At that point the winds began to build once again but I was at a point of sail that would have caused me to fight off land or tack back west, so I opted to maintain auxiliary power until I could reach or head downwind. In retrospect I believe I made a navigational error when deciding to cross Admiralty Inlet from Admiralty Head southward towards Point Wilson. My main reason for this decision was to be able to time the commercial traffic correctly to get through the east and west lanes without coming too close to an oncoming vessel. My mistake cost me a considerable amount of time and a period of time in a very heavy sea state. The closer I came to Admiralty Head, the seas built to a point where I have not experienced before. I cannot accurately judge the wave size but there were some big enough to cause Satori lose her steerage while the wave passed under her and would cause her to lose control from the heavy surge of water flowing under her. In order to maintain control and keep stern-on to the oncoming seas, I continued my course around the point at Fort Casey and then back northeast along the shoreline of Whidbey Island. Keeping stern to the waves was my best strategy, but the tide rips were also pushing me toward shore. At some point I had to begin to turn southward and expose my beam to these steep and swift seas. Eventually after slow progress and difficult timing I began to work southward. Several times I was hit by a confused sea state that caused the boat to lay close to her rail, but never a moment that put water over her deck. By the time I had crossed the inlet, navigating past oncoming commercial traffic, it was getting dark. Winds shifted from the west and I decided to keep going into Puget Sound. I was still in heavy seas east of Port Townsend and a steady twenty knot broad reaching wind. To take advantage of the winds I unfurled a small portion of my jib, which pushed me along at five knots and occasionally hitting six knots with a gust. Although Satori rocked from the following seas, I knew I had passed the most difficult part and rode the wind until I felt the winds calm and the seas became manageable. Once heading southward around Marrowstone Island the winds were less than six knots and I could set the tiller pilot to take the helm in an almost glassy sea state.

It was still another six hours of motoring to get Satori back into her permanent mooring at Shilshole. Most of the remaining trip was keeping a lookout for commercial traffic and identifying the aides to navigation throughout the Sound. At one point while I was making hot chocolate in the cabin, I noticed a large empty container ship overtaking me within an eighth of a mile at my stern. By that point I did not have much time to do anything but take the helm and put it hard over to give a wide berth. At first I could not understand why this ship came unnoticed but then realized it’s ship’s name from coming northbound not thirty minutes earlier. It must have gone north and u-turned south again, giving me no more than ten minutes before the u-turn and overtaking me. I did not receive a radio call and by the time I was heading away from it, I was getting some flashing lights coming from the crew out of deck. I was baffled that this large ship was using flashlights instead of VHF to communicate. Once it was clearly at my bow I next had to feel the onset of the ships wake and put the helm hard over again to take the waves at the bow. Although not as great as the tide rips, they still caused water to break over Satori’s deck and woke me from a tired slump. Another couple of hours and I was heading into port. A perfect turn and reversed throttle placed Satori at her slip and we slept a quiet morning’s sleep until noon.

Now that I’m safely tied to the dock and able to reel over the entire week, I’ve managed to consider some new techniques on keeping safe while single handing in the Salish. I met the Salish’s most peaceful and bountiful anchorages, it’s most remote and scenic bays, it’s perfect winds, and not so perfect winds. Most of all I have learned her unforgiving tides and currents accompanied by the swell of the Pacific Ocean. For a man and his dog, with a forty-foot heavy displacement sailing vessel it is much less forgiving. Without considering the tide changes, I met Salish seas that most people will never encounter. To be so close to the water unable to see anything but the waves that surround me, while waiting for Satori to come out of a trough and over the crest of a rip tide wave. Satori kept me safe and she handled the seas like a champion yacht. In every situation I maintained enough control to safely navigate, and that is all that matters. Chalk this up as a learning experience and remember to time the tides next time.

Satori back at her mooring in Seattle
Satori back at her mooring in Seattle

Aries steering vane Part III

A quick recap:

The vane gear that came with Satori has never been rebuilt. It’s completely original and everything is there except that it needs to be rebuilt. There is a rebuilt kit available from England and I was able to disassemble the vane gear to be cleaned and rebuilt so I can continue using it. Last week I spent an evening disassembling the final parts and cleaning and polishing to prepare for the rebuild. Yesterday the two rebuild kits came in the mail. One for now, one for 30 years from now. I doubt these kits will be available for much longer. $200 per rebuild kit is much, much cheaper than new vane gear. These run upwards of $3000 so I opted for a laborious rebuild over a new-used one.

Vane gear rebuild kit

I spent some time yesterday cleaning and preparing the servo rudder casting to install new bushings. I bought a chisel to assist in removing the bushings and a reaming drill bit to clean off the old epoxy from where the old bushings were glued in. These were very helpful at first and then some 60 grit sandpaper polished and prepared the area for new glue and bushings. I suggest starting with a jigsaw to cut out the old bushings. I didn’t try this at first and ended up cutting a little alloy at the casting. The new bushings did not come with a hole for spirol pins so I ended up drilling new ones and then epoxied the new bushings into place. I will let that dry overnight and then assemble the servo assembly.

Update: I was able to get much of the assembly completed yesterday. A nice coat of bike hub grease between the tooth vane carriage and the ratchet base plate makes the rotation of the tooth vane smooth. I also greased the bevel gears to keep the friction down. The only issue I had was a crossed thread problem with one of the fork end grub screws that holds one of the joint block pins in place. Later I realized that there is a couple of nylon washers that sit in between the fork and connecting rod but there is little friction in between so I opted to leave them out instead of risking having to tap the threads again, which involves buying a new tap. New taps need to be measured against the grub screw and I’m not going down that path. Moving on….. The last two components are the vane holder assembly and the ratchet assemblies. I’ll wrap it up tonight assuming all goes well and by this evening I should have a fully rebuilt vane gear. I’m still missing the mounting blocks but I have an invoice in my records that shows these were purchased from England and are probably stowed somewhere still on the boat. Assuming these are found this weekend and the vane gear can be remounted before I take Satori to Seattle. This is what you call sweat equity at it’s finest.

Final Update: Assembly is complete! I was able to assemble the final vane holder assembly and I only need to thread the lines that attach to the tiller and add a couple of bolts to the breakaway sleeve at the rudder. I also had to reuse one of the wedge spacers which you can see in the final photo below. It’s the original white one that is slightly narrower than what came in the rebuild kit. It was in fine condition so it should last another 30 years or so.

Chisel the old bushing away
Using a jigsaw and chisel I was able to remove the old bushings.
Rasp the old epoxy
A tapered rasphead bit cleans the old epoxy back down to alloy. Some additional sanding preps the new bushings.
Nylon rollers as needle bearings
New bushings and greased up nylon roller bearings offer long-tern smooth rotation of the vane.
Click pawl system to correct steering, new springs and a clean and lubricated housing.
Click pawl system to correct steering, new springs and a clean and lubricated housing.
A freshly rebuilt Aries Standard Vane Gear
A freshly rebuilt Aries Standard Vane Gear

Lines are threaded, new pins for the rudder are on order and only a bit of chain remaining to complete the working vane. I will post one more update in the future to demonstrate the use of this autopilot contraption. I must mention that the engineer of this vane gear was brilliant. He passed away a few years ago and I was fortunate to still be able to buy a rebuild kit for it. Each part was very well engineered and meant to last several lifetimes. I am really excited to not only have successfully rebuilt it but also to be able to use it reliably while cruising.