Friday, September 09, 2005

Dispatch 2: The Journey Begins: San Francisco

September 9, 2005
Our true voyage started on August 31, 2005. We had been laid up in port in Seattle for 3 weeks completing an unexpected repair of one of our structural bulkheads. We chose to look at the experience as our first “repair of the boat in various foreign ports” as many define cruising. As it turned out it was our home port complete with great friends who brought us meals and lent us their cars and lent sympathetic ears to our plight. We worked 10 hours a day to get the work down and finally left feeling much better about the boat.

We headed to Neah Bay to await the correct weather in which to leave for San Francisco and to await the arrival of our friend Bob who was our 3rd crew member for the passage to San Francisco. We had a very benign trip through the Straits of Juan de Fuca, mostly motoring in fact, an unusual circumstance. We arrived in Neah Bay to find another boat waiting to do a similar passage and while we waited 2 more boats arrived with similar agendas. We immediately started comparing notes on weather maps, weather routers and plans and finally all ended up leaving the same day, August 31.

The day was sunny with wind from the North, but we were delayed leaving for the day by waiting for Bob and then by an alternator belt shredding and needing to be changed which Richard did in about an hour while Bob and I drove the boat. We motored out to Tatoosh Island to make the turn down the coast and were rewarded with gray whales blowing and diving and a spectacular wild coastline. It was evening and we settled in for the night still motoring as the wind died completely. It was strange to be out on the ocean doing such a familiar thing: motoring. The seas were pretty tame and the crew was figuring out their sealegs. Richard was happy from the beginning, Betsy started on medications before we even left port and Bob was unhappy to find out the first night that he was affected by the seas and the medication took most of the first night to work.

Our trip had variable winds, all from the North or Northwest, for the first 4 days and we had one other night we motored rather than listen to the sails bang back and forth as they filled with wind then emptied on the ocean swells. We flew the spinnaker (a big colorful sail that works for downwind sailing in generally lighter air) for over 24 hours as well as another 12 hour period due to light winds. Meanwhile, we made good time mainly due to the motoring which moved the boat at a steady pace. We traveled up to 80-100 miles offshore (out of sight of land the whole time) until time to turn into the Bay Area. As a result we saw a ton of fishing boats the first and second nights and then spent 48 hours without sighting another vessel.

We saw what we thought were sunfish basking on the surface, also a few more gray whales. We were treated often, almost daily, to a porpoise show. They come upon the boat out of nowhere, and crisscross the bow in pairs or more, swimming under the boat and generally being playful until they’re suddenly gone. It absolutely cheers the soul to have their brief but spirited company and they made an appearance at night quite often which was great distraction for the sole crew member sitting in the cold. At night the porpoises are outlined in phosphorescence so you can see their complete outline as they dart through the water gracefully. There were not many birds: albatross, shearwaters, including one who circled the boat several times eyeing our lure for fishing that was just below the surface (and fortunately did not try to take the bait!), and a few gulls as we got closer to land.

The sun was out every day but our last and the stars were incredible at night—so many of them and so beautiful. We were out during the new moon so the moonlight was not there to dim the stars.

On 4 September off the coast of California near Cape Mendicino, sailing in light air, we caught a 10# tuna just around midday after trailing a fishing line off the stern for 3 days on and off. That was quite a lot of excitement for Richard and Betsy, confirmed non-fishermen and healers by nature. Here was this bundle of muscle, a beautiful fish fighting for its life in our cockpit and bleeding messily. We tried our technique of pouring liquor down its gills (tequila) and it seemed to work to subdue and then kill it. Then Bob (the true fisherman in the crowd) did the fillet work. We had lunch that day of tuna prepared in butter, lemon and tarragon and dinner of marinated tuna in soy sauce, oil, sesame oil, garlic and ginger. Both meals were delicious. The boat maintained an eau de tuna smell for several days which was not quite as delicious as the meals.

Also on 4 September off the coast of California while ghosting along in light air, we experienced the strangest vibration in the hull of the boat, much like the sound/feel of starting a large diesel engine that was out of alignment that lasted for 5-10 seconds (an eternity). We were freaked out, checked every system on the boat, worried we’d hit something but knew we were in 1500 fathoms of water (9000 feet!) and felt no change in our momentum. We thought it might have been an earthquake, and, sure enough, we e-mailed Bob’s wife and another friend that night who came back with the information that there had been an offshore earthquake at that very time at that very place of 3.3 magnitude. We were about 5 miles from the epicenter. How strange is that?

Finally the last 36 hours of the trip, we got to experience mother nature in more of the ocean form we expected. Winds were predicted to be 10-15 knots for a couple days, then 10-20 for a couple, then 25-35 (up to gale force). We knew we were about 3 days from San Francisco so we were eager to get there before the gale winds arrived. The winds piped up the first day to 15-25 and by the second day were sustained in the mid to high 20’s with gusts to 30 to 33, but luckily all from the North/Northwest (so downwind sailing). The seas grew too, we thought, 8-10 feet and life was rather rocky on the good ship Qayaq. Most disconcerting was the difficulty sleeping due to all the motion. The sailors were well capable of dealing with the conditions, the boat did beautifully, but resting was nearly out of the question. Betsy finally collapsed in hysterical laughter the last day describing her attempts to sleep on the floor (the least motion part of the boat) and sliding from one side to the other on her back like a bug, trying to brace her legs on both sides. Well, you had to be there, or not.

We arrived at Drake’s Bay, 25 miles outside San Francisco on 6 September around 4 PM. We dropped anchor, did a bit of boat clean-up and fell exhausted into our berths for a 2 hour nap. After dinner we fell immediately to sleep again for 10 hours. Today we drove to San Francisco in very light wind, motoring right up to the Golden Gate bridge where we picked up 10-12 knots of wind and sailed our boat under the bridge, popped champagne while taking pictures. The bridge was classically partially shrouded in fog (the top portion). We landed in Sausalito at around 2 PM.

So ends the first ocean passage of Qayaq and the beginning of our cruising life. We so appreciated the help of our friend Bob, a great and experienced sailor, who joined us for his first ocean passage and enjoyed it thoroughly. He was so easy to be with despite the boat being pretty small for 3 people. Having a crew of 3 meant that we all got more rest (other than the difficult conditions) and enjoyed the passage that much more. We are sure we would not have caught the tuna or known what to do with it without him! Our current plans (always subject to change) are that we will be in the Bay area for possibly a couple weeks and then coastal cruise south down the California coast, getting to San Diego in early November.


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