Monday, September 30, 2013

No Pictures

There are no pictures of the rainy days. Wet doesn’t show up well on camera. There are also no pictures of the way tepid, filthy dishwater feels on my hands when there are only 6 dishes left and the water tanks are empty, and heating up more means walking to the outside spigot, lugging bottles of water back, and boiling it in my kettle. There are no pictures of the not-enough-room, one-at-a-time getting ready, the days we are all trying to go somewhere at once, but as soon as anyone gets ready, she sits down to wait and next thing we know, everyone is sitting down and no one goes anywhere. There are definitely no pictures of the way week-old, wet, dirty laundry smells in the sail bag at the head of my bed. There are no pictures of the constant shuffle of too many things, of not quite enough room for everything-in-its-place. No pictures of the digging, when what you want is always at the bottom, in the back, down at the foot of the bed, behind the settee cushions. There are no pictures of no room on the couch, no room on the counter, no room in the sink. No picture of “What if the Coast Guard closes the bar?” or “What if we run out of fuel?” or “What if the engine dies right here?”
But there are also no pictures of the laughter when one of the kids says something truly funny in the middle of a hard moment. No pictures of the way it tastes when we share our last bit of chocolate. No picture of the feeling of accomplishment from sailing into anchor without using the engine. We can never seem to capture the joy of family game night, all of us tucked in tight around the table. It’s always too wobbly to get a shot of our traditional “Popcorn in the Pacific.” I can’t post a picture of crawling into a warm, dry, still bed after a night at sea. Pictures of new friends don’t ever capture the joy of meeting them and the fast connections forged over common experiences or shared viewpoints. There is no way to photograph the girls’ growing confidence as they capably and (almost always) cheerfully take on the challenges of sailing, navigating, lugging groceries, or exploring new places. There are no pictures of a year of days with Bryan, no photos of the power of facing a challenge together and together, accomplishing what we could not do alone. 
This blog is curated, of course. If not, the internet would collapse under the weight of the boredom. But if my blog posts seem to portray our life as ideal, a romantic fantasy, a relaxing vacation, please re-read the first paragraph. And if you start to wonder, as I sometimes do, why in the world we would subject ourselves to the discomfort and, yes, the danger, of our current lifestyle, please know there is no way to capture the whole difficult, frustrating, breathtaking, glorious, tedious, life-changing picture.

Friday, September 27, 2013


We’ve been waiting for a good weather window in Eureka, CA almost a week now. So long, in fact, that last night, I dreamed the weather forecast had changed and now the good weather predicted for Friday and Saturday had changed to south winds (not a good thing when you’re headed south). Sure enough, when I woke up this morning, Saturday’s nice N winds had disappeared and the evil “S” had taken their place. Fortunately, though the sea has been inhospitable thanks to wave action from a North Pacific storm (Monday, a dockmate tried to leave and the bar was full of 16-foot breaking waves) Eureka has been more than welcoming. It’s hard to believe from inside protected (and mostly sunny) Humboldt Bay, that the ocean is all worked up about something. But our next hurdle is rounding Cape Mendocino, where any swell and winds are magnified around the point of land, so we’re filling the days with fun while we wait for a safe chance to head further south.
Meira's making stalls for her model horses so they'll be safe at sea

We spent our first day in Eureka holed up in our cozy boat while rain and wind outside made us very grateful to be tied up at a dock with power (power=heat!) and not fighting the deteriorating conditions at sea. By the next day, Saturday, it was clear we were going to be here a while. So we located the important sites (a public library and a pizza parlor) and walked around Eureka’s unique downtown strip.

Carson Mansion by day...

...and at night

We don’t expect to go to church every week on our trip, but we have been looking forward to experiencing worship with other communities along the way. I googled churches in the area and found an intriguing Sunday evening option in nearby Arcata. The bus got us there an hour and a half early, plenty of time to explore the North Country Fair, a delightful travel serendipity.

The church had a guest musician for the evening and we enjoyed hearing his words and music and then chatting afterwards as we waited for a ride. The buses had already stopped running by the time church was over, but the pastors offered to take us home…and then invited us for dinner Monday night.

We discovered many similarities in our life stories (and many favorite books on their shelves, always a good indication) and they generously invited us back on Tuesday to do our laundry.
We spent Tuesday morning scouting out the local farmer’s market for good deals and found some familiar foods (corn, green beans, and heirloom tomatoes, ohhh we miss our CSA!) as well as a new one—Armenian Cucumbers. We had to try it!
I’d read in a fellow cruiser’s blog that the Eureka weather station was very friendly and open to visitors, so Tuesday afternoon, we rowed over in our dinghy for a tour. It was fascinating to see the forecasts in the making, get our questions answered, and get the inside scoop on the forecast for later in the week. Unfortunately, they told us pretty much what we already knew—that the swells wouldn’t die down until Thursday night or Friday. Several people took time away from their work to talk with us and a new cruiser friend who came along. If you ever get the chance to visit, I highly recommend it!



By Tuesday night, back at our new friends’ house, we felt right at home, doing laundry and joining in on a typical family meal. We had been looking forward to meeting new people along the way, hoping some would feel up to inviting us into their regular lives for an evening or a day. I didn’t expect to have it happen already, but we’re so grateful it did.

Unexpected Tangent: Hannah had lost her retainer in Crescent City. Somewhere between getting a piece of gum and playing on the beach, it fell out of her pocket and, though we searched the beach and the boat, we all thought it was gone forever (with varying emotional responses). But when I opened the dryer at our friends’ house, there it was, sitting on top of the lint collector. It must have fallen out of her pocket into the laundry bag where it rode around for a week before making it through the entire laundry cycle safely. We had hoped it would show up, but I never expected it to show up that way!

Wednesday, we walked to Grocery Outlet (about a mile away) and loaded up everyone’s backpacks, our rolling grocery cart, and several bags with 30 lbs of ice and a lot of food. We’re hoping to be able to spend some time at anchor after our next travel days, so we wanted to have plenty to eat while we’re out there.

Photo fun in an alley along the way


Today, we’re fueling up and dealing with business of the bureaucratic and the cleanliness kind. Our plan is to leave around sunrise in the morning, along with a mass exodus of other impatient cruisers, and see how far we can make it before a new storm sends us steep seas again early next week. The farther south we are, the less the North Pacific storms will affect us, so we’re hoping to make it almost all the way to San Francisco in this jump. After we spend some time in that area, we should just have another 48 hours or so of travel time to get south of Point Conception.
Here’s Bryan after a bike ride to the nearby gas station

Thursday, September 26, 2013



After we left Crescent City, we had a long day-sail down to Trinidad Head. We’d heard there was good anchorage available there, but pulled in just after sunset to see the anchorage taken over with mooring balls for the seasonal fishermen. Most of the fishing boats have been pulled out for the fall so, after much discussion, we picked an official-looking mooring, tied up for the night, and went to bed, hoping no one came to kick us off in the night.

In the morning, we woke to the sound of a work crew hauling moorings up out of the bay. Apparently, they remove the buoys for the winter. We rowed to shore and asked around. No one seemed to know for sure whether we were OK to stay on our mooring but, as one local said, “If you weren’t supposed to be there, someone would have said so already.” We figured the workers wouldn’t get around to our mooring area until later in the week and headed out for a hike up Trinidad Head.




After a nice loop around the head (named Trinidad by the Spanish explorer who first stumbled across this beautiful point on Trinity Sunday) and a few minutes on the beach, we split some delicious fish and chips at the seaside restaurant and rowed back out to the boat where we discovered a swarm of flies were setting up housekeeping. We quickly decided to head on down to Eureka for the night, and had an easy 3 hour motor down the coast. About 5 miles (1 hr) before we hit the entrance we noticed fog starting to settle in around the city. And by the time we reached the vicinity of the jetties, it had settled in so thoroughly, we had less than 1/4 mi. visibility. We could see clearly to the north, and out to sea the sun was setting in a clear blue sky. But the jetty was completely invisible. We eased our way ahead until we spotted the green marker at the end of the north jetty. We tucked into the protected waters and motored through the fog patch to a sparkling clear evening on the bay.
Flocks of cormorants, 100 strong; low-flying pelicans riding the ground effect just inches off the bay; a snowy egret or 2, flashing white in the golden sunset served as Humboldt Bay’s first welcoming committee. The north end of the bay angled east and we curved around into the light of the full harvest moon, rising over the Coast Range. We slowed down to savor the magical evening, slid past a water party—a group of illuminated and exuberant kayakers drifting around the bay—and pulled up to our dock assignment to Humboldt Bay’s second welcoming committee, a couple of fellow cruisers ready to take our lines and help us tie up safely for the night.   

Saturday, September 21, 2013

It Gets Better

Newport found us feeling torn. We need to push to get south before the weather changes for good, but we needed a little break, a few repairs, and wanted some family and friends to come for a visit while we were still within driving distance. We squeezed in our work and a little play and said a few last goodbyes. A good friend came to visit, brought us bread and butter and took us to lunch and the grocery store. We had a day of eating and playing with my family and jokingly celebrated Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and the 4th of July. Hannah preemptively pinched everyone who wasn’t wearing green and we sang Christmas carols in the Mo’s parking lot until much too late.
We spent a couple of nights in the ocean, and I came up on watch Monday morning just in time to see the sun rise. Clouds extended off to the north and sun shone bright off to the south. The dividing line was sharp and appeared just over the Oregon/California border, as if the strength of sunny California could overcome even the mighty power of Oregon’s gray weather.

Crescent City, CA was a delightful stop. The marina is still under major reconstruction after the 2011 tsunami, so we anchored out in the bay and rowed (and rowed and rowed) into shore. We spent 2 nights and a couple of beautiful, sunny days running errands and exploring the town.  
In the evening, the tide was low enough to walk over to Battery Point Lighthouse, a privately owned lighthouse near the entrance to the bay. We’d motored past it the day before, but it was fun to see the sea from the other direction, without having to worry about all the rocks and sea stacks that necessitated the lighthouse’s placement.
We still have miles to go to get clear of the impending autumn weather, but getting to California feels like a good start. And taking a day or 2 to explore the novelty and beauty of new places sure helps shift the balance of frustration and joy back in the right direction.

Friday, September 20, 2013

It’s an Adventure, not a Vacation

Sailing Away in St Helens (photo credit: An Der Chang)

Do you really want to hear all about it? Can't you just imagine that 4 people on a 50-year-old boat heading south on the Oregon Coast would have had a few breakdowns, some bad weather, some good weather, some good days, and some bad days without hearing every detail? No? OK, here are the details.

We took a few days to reach Astoria. Our first night downriver, a thunderstorm revealed a few leaks, mostly in newly installed deck hardware (After all that work poking holes in the boat, now we have to seal them too?!)

The next day, we stopped in Cathlamet, WA for the night after a day of motoring downriver.

OK, that last sentence, while technically true, doesn’t really give the whole picture of how the day went. I spent the morning throwing a mini-tantrum, pulling out soggy paraphernalia from various compartments and wondering how I was ever going to feel at home in the tiny, messy galley. There was still miscellaneous stuff all over the settee from moving aboard so clearing any space necessitated moving about a dozen other things in the right order. Even making a simple sandwich felt overwhelming. When I finished up what I could and took over for Bryan on watch, he came down to a mess in the V berth where a blackwater holding tank valve had ruptured. Yes, that’s just as icky and smelly as you’re picturing.

By the time we reached Astoria on Saturday, it had become clear that our head’s sea cock had broken. This valve keeps the ocean out of the boat but allows us to dump our holding tank while out at sea. The valve is below the waterline, so sensible people replace them when the boat is out of the water. We’d recently replaced another one when we did our bottom paint, but this one had looked fine then.

We spent a few days in Astoria. By Sunday afternoon, we had things put to rights enough to welcome some friends aboard for a potluck lunch. They’d been camping in nearby Fort Stevens State Park and we were so glad to show them around the boat and see them once again before we left.
Photo Credit: An Der Chang

Monday, we finished up the head repair job. Meira relayed directions from Bryan, who was leaning over the side of the boat holding his hand over the hole, to Hannah, who “really quick!” pulled out the temporary plug on the inside and screwed in the new sea cock. Whew! Since we were already in this deep, Bryan replaced all the head and holding tank hoses and took advantage of the marina’s free showers.

Tuesday morning, we checked the weather one last time (yup, north winds to blow us south predicted to stick around another day) waited for the fog to lift a bit and headed out across the bar. The fog may have lifted in Astoria, but was still hovering thick over the several-mile bar. We sent Meira up on bow watch, Hannah and I each kept a close eye out on either side and Bryan drove carefully, just on the edges of the busy channel, blowing the noisy fog horn every few minutes. Once, a deeper horn responded from just ahead and we blew back and forth until we heard them shift safely off to port.

There’s no picture here. Go hold some dryer lint in front of your eyes to get the same effect.

By the time we cleared the mouth of the Columbia, the fog had cleared away as well and the wind filled in for a few hours of sailing. In the afternoon, the wind picked up a bit. We had our light-air drifter poled out with our whisker pole and just before we went forward to change sails, the whisker pole broke. Getting the sail down took a bit more fuss than usual, and when Bryan finally had it tied down on deck, I looked up to realize our spreaders had both fallen out of place.

Here’s the explanation if you care. A sailboat’s mast is held up by cables in front (the forestay), in  back (the backstay) and on each side. Our boat has 3 cables on each side, 2 lower shrouds that start about halfway up the mast and attach to the chainplates (remember the chainplates from the last post?), and 1 upper shroud  that starts at the top of the mast, travels over a wooden spreader and down to its own chainplate. The spreaders do just that: they spread the cables out at the correct angle to keep the mast up straight. They are very important. They should not flop around at sea.
See? Up there? Spreaders...spreading (Photo Credit: Jenny Riddle)

We’ve adjusted our spreaders before. Bryan had re-tuned the rig before we left St. Helens, in fact, and he was pretty sure that nothing was broken; the new chainplates were set at a slightly different angle than the old ones, and the spreaders needed to be lifted a little to compensate. But the wind and the seas had picked up a bit and he didn’t want to climb the mast under those conditions. Oh, and the only way to get the spreaders back up without climbing the mast (have you guessed?) was with our now-broken whisker pole.
We briefly considered heading into Tillamook Bay for the night, but the bar can be treacherous even for locals, and we’d never been across it before. We took a minute to think, almost always a good idea, and then splinted the whisker pole back together. Bryan made up for the loss of length by standing on the dinghy on the foredeck (tethered in!) and poked the spreaders back into place while I drove into the swells, trying not to think about what I would do if he fell.

The spreaders soon became the least of our concerns as a southerly wind filled in both earlier and stronger than predicted. We didn’t want to sail in wind this strong without a good inspection of the rig so we motored west most of the night just to keep from bashing around too much in the swell. Visibility dropped to not-nearly-far-enough and our auto pilot gave up steering. Bryan took the worst of the watch in the middle of the night, but it was a long night for both of us. Meira stayed cheerfully, helpfully awake through most of the night and Hannah stayed cheerfully, helpfully asleep. In the light of day, with a few extra hours sleep, it was easy to think of better ways to handle the bad weather. But at this point in our trip, our energy and excitement were pretty low; mostly we just gritted our teeth through a rough night and a long day slogging south into Newport.
Yaquina Bay Lighthouse

We made it across the bar into Yaquina Bay without any trouble, though we had some last minute excitement in the marina when our assigned slip was taken and our high-temperature alarm started blaring. Bryan killed the engine and we drifted in—watching the depth sounder drop—to an empty spot at the dock.
I think no matter how prepared, how rich, how experienced one is, the beginning of a trip like this is often a big adjustment. And we do not claim to be overly-prepared, overly-experienced, or anything resembling rich. Many sailing friends claim that getting away from home is the hardest part, and that may prove to be true in retrospect. But sailing off the Oregon coast is not usually easy, neither is living aboard an older boat with a family, and we didn’t expect it to be so. The frustrations, fears, and crises we handled might have been surprises, but they weren’t unexpected.

So we set the girls up with a movie on the computer, and went out to dinner at the nearby brewery, wondering, affirming, reminding…”It gets easier, right?”
Whatever you want is always at the bottom of the locker

Thursday, September 5, 2013

And We're Off

You've been waiting for this post, I'm sure. I've sure been looking forward to this day! Sometime in the spring, we sat down to pick a departure date. We'd read that without a hard deadline, many sailors find it difficult to leave the dock. The Pacific NW coast gets dicey in the fall, so we knew we wanted to leave in early September. It seemed pretty obvious to us both to choose September 3rd, Bryan's birthday, as an ideal day to sail away.
First, we had to move aboard. We'd purged a lot when we left our house and little by little worked to let go of more after we moved in with Bryan's mom. But there was still an insurmountable pile to deal with in the last few days. We drove several car loads up to the boat and on Saturday, spent one last morning at the house getting (we hope!) the last of our things packed. Bryan's mom and aunt left today for a month in Africa and Amsterdam, so they were in the middle of their own packing frenzy, but somehow we made it out.

In a caffeine fueled frenzy, the girls and I spent Saturday evening and all day Sunday "stuffing the stuff" while Bryan worked on drilling holes in the boat to install the new, external chainplates. He broke a drill bit off inside one stubborn hole and spent most of the day trying to find a solution.

Our work started out tidy and sensible and devolved into randomness as we got closer and closer to Sunday night. Finally we stashed the last few boxes in the trunk of our car and went to bed because Monday was...
The Bon Voyage Party!
We'd been saying smaller goodbyes for days, even had a picnic in the rain at the park near our church for those who couldn't make it to St. Helens. But many of our friends and family had never even seen our boat, and we wanted to give them a good picture of our home for the year. Monday morning, Bryan spent more time drilling the chainplate holes and the girls and I found hidey holes for everything below.

Many of our dear ones were able to join us. We tested the buoyancy of our vessel for a few family pictures and spent a delightful afternoon shifting from the park to the boat to see everyone "one last time." 
I'd said to Bryan the night before, "I wish I could filter out all the exhausted and the freaked out and just leave the excited for a little while." At the party, people from all of our circles—family, church friends, sailing friends—intersected and their excitement for us overshadowed, just for the moment, all the hard work, the frustrations of the past months, and the uncertainty about the next. We've read other sailors' accounts of these events and imagined our own, but nothing prepared us for the outpouring of love, food, cards, gifts, and well-wishes.

OK. You're reading a sailing blog, so I know you're not too annoyed with sailing lingo. But just in case you don't know, the chainplates are the lower attachment points for the shrouds (the side cables holding up the mast) and ours were fiberglassed into the hull of the boat, 50 years old and un-inspectable. We'd manufactured new ones out of aluminum-bronze (that's a story in itself!), and planned to install them on the outside of the hull where we could inspect and maintain them more easily.

Before we could leave our dock, with readily available power and borrowed power tools, Bryan had several holes to drill, starting on the outside of the boat, working through the old chainplates, piercing through to the inside. He'd already finished the starboard side before the party, and it had gone relatively smoothly. Tuesday started off well, with 5 chainplate holes drilled in 2 hours. but this one hole on the port side seemed to be actively resisting. He broke several bits, dropped a few more (we've more than paid the obligatory sacrifice to Neptune) and borrowed a bigger drill. Nothing seemed to help and every pass with the drill produced a miniscule amount of metal shavings, just enough to keep him at it. Bryan assumed he was drilling through the old chainplate and likely a tie-bar, originally installed across all three chainplates, but even still, we couldn't figure out why it was taking so much longer than the other holes. Some friends (H&A) stopped by with helpful essentials—fresh strength, good attitudes, and gatorade. After 5 or 6 hours of drilling in the sun, the bit finally broke through to the other side. The whole marina heard us shouting! 
Later, the men realized they'd likely hit a weld and that bit of reinforced metal, in addition to the ½-¾” of stainless steel they'd drilled through was the reason our friend thought we'd discovered a new element—Un-obDrillium.

We scrambled to get cleaned up and our generous friends took us out for a celebration dinner. I don't know if we were more excited to celebrate Bryan's birthday or the fact that we'd finally poked the last hole in the boat. Either way, we took over a corner of the local Thai restaurant with our cheer.

By the time we walked back from dinner and cleaned out the truck one last time, Bryan's mom and aunt had arrived to see us off. We debated tossing everything on the deck and motoring over to nearby Sand Island, just on the principle of making our deadline. But Bryan's back was starting to seize up from the day's work and we made the sensible decision to stay for the night. “What if our first port of call is...the lovely St. Helens Marina?” Bryan joked. “It's conveniently located, with very friendly locals, and it seemed to take no time at all to get here!”
We said a last goodbye to Bryan's mom and aunt, off on their own adventure, and walked back to the boat, breathing a little deeper than we had in weeks.

Epilogue: It was Wednesday afternoon before we raised the drifter and eased away from the dock under sail. H&A had come back with more provisions (the boat is so loaded down with treats from friends—chocolate, quick breads, miso soup fixings—I think I could have skipped provisioning) and stood on the dock taking pictures and cheering as we slipped across the river to the Sand Island dock. Our journey of (many more than) a thousand miles had begun, not with a single step, but with a sail just about as short. Hannah, the official log-keeper, enjoyed recording the exact times of our departure and arrival: 4:07pm and 4:15pm. Symbolic? Yes. But meaningful just the same. We'd untied the lines from our old lives and crossed the river into our new one.