Thursday, August 28, 2008

Coastal Passages

We have brought Indigo south to Eureka, California, accomplishing this in three coastal passages of about thirty hours each, traveling between five and thirty miles offshore. On every passage there are moments of despair, of wishing we were snug at home on land. When seas are rough – as they frequently are off the coast of Washington, Oregon, and Northern California - it feels as if the boat is a frisbee being tossed around in the ultimate game. At night and in fog we get damp and cold. Occasionally there are minutes of panic, or long spells of boredom or mild mal de mer.
But, so far, there have been plenty of incredible moments where I say to myself, “this is worth the price of admission!” Like seeing the rugged Southern Oregon coast in the light of a summer sunset. Who gets to see the coast from this perspective? Or the midday encounter with a half dozen sea critters who we at first thought were Orca whales. On closer inspection, we discovered they were Risso’s Dolphins, a species we had never heard of before. They share the Orca’s upright dorsal fins and are nearly as large, but are paler in color and play near the surface in groups.
Maybe my best moment came at the end of a three hour, middle of the night watch in very rough water and high winds off Crescent City, just south of the Oregon boarder. As the Captain roused himself to take over, I sat under a star-studded sky in the cockpit and watched a crescent moon rise over the Northern California coastal mountains. It was large and yellow and looked exactly like a big banana in the dark sky. A rare sight, and definitely worth the price of admission.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Splicing and Storms

We sat out a two day storm moored in Astoria. While the wind howled and the rain pelted down, we accomplished a host of chores and projects. The most impressive accomplishment was the Captain's: he mastered the art of making the end-to-end slice necessary to create the continuous loop of rope which furls and unfurls our mainsail. It turns out that the fids and pushers used in splicing rope have some similarity to the tunnelers and grafts that are the tools of the vascular surgeon.
Now that the storm has past, we will continue our travels to the south. We will leave early tomorrow for a two-day passage to Coos Bay.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Spinning South with the Elephant

A week ago, we picked up our sails in Port Townsend. Our jib, main, and storm jib had been repaired and reinforced, and we added storm trys'l. But the most spectacular addition is a colorful cruising spinnaker, also called a spindrifter.
We spent a morning hoisting and furling our "white sails", then turned to the Spinnaker, sitting on the dock in its bag. This is a big sail - 1284 square feet of purple and blue ripstop cloth. We stared at bulky thing, and determined that it should be called the Elephant, since it was the largest thing we had ever had to stow on the boat. With some creative rearranging, we were able to free up the deck locker on the bow, giving the beast a place to live.

The following morning, we motored out into the Admiralty Inlet in brilliant sunlight to try out the spinnaker. In six or seven knots of wind, we pulled the Elephant, packed in a tube of light cloth called the snuffer, from its locker. The Captain hoisted the long tube, then pulled back the snuffer. The wind filled the big, big pachyderm of a sail, and the boat picked up and ran downwind at nearly five knots. We practiced snuffing and releasing the sail happily for hours.
Since then, we have transited the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and made the trip down the coast of Washington state. We had light winds as we began the offshore passage, and sailed with the spinnaker for several hours. The wind increased suddenly, and we learned that snuffing the Elephant offshore in an eight foot swell and fifteen knots of wind is a little more difficult, but still possible. We had a windy and foggy twenty-seven hour trip to Astoria, sailing most of those hours and sad only because we couldn't see the full moon.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Familiar Waters

We cast off our lines and left Anacortes this morning, the first step in our trip south down the Pacific Coast toward Mexico. We passed out of the Guemes Channel, down the Rosario Strait, and past Deception Pass. We know these waters well – where the current is strong, where the underwater rocks lie, there the tide rips are treacherous. It occurred to us that we were leaving behind the comfort of familiar waters. This made me think of Mark Twain.
As a young man, Mark Twain worked on river boats along the Mississippi, eventually earning his license as a Steamboat Pilot. This entailed learning every bend, bar, and port along the river. He later wrote:
“The face of the water, in time, became a wonderful book, a book that was a dead language to the uneducated passenger, but which told its mind to me without reserve, delivering its most cherished secrets as clearly as if it uttered them with a voice. And it was not a book to be read once and thrown aside, for it had a new story to tell every day. Throughout the long 1200 miles there was never a page that was void of interest, never one that you could leave unread and lost, never one that you would want to skip, thinking you could find higher enjoyment in some other thing. In truth, the passenger who could not read this book saw nothing but all manner of pretty pictures in it, painted by the sun and shaded by the clouds, where as to the trained eye, these were not pictures at all, but the grimmest and most dead earnest of reading matter.”