Written September 3, 2013...posted a bit later...
All smiles on Moments as our team of four crossed under a socked in Golden Gate Bridge after an exciting run from the sunny Eureka, CA. This is the milestone I've (Adam finally blogs!) been waiting for since months back, signifying a trustworthy boat, a capable crew and, well - whether this year off sailing plan will actually work. Looks like it will!
A quick recap: Left Seattle Aug 11 for Port Townsend. Then to Port Angeles, Neah Bay, Westport, Newport, Eureka and San Francisco Aug 28. Justin Cherniak anchored the team through the full route, with Nathan Nelson and Claire Leake keeping watches f rom Seattle to Newport tagging out to Bryan Reeves and Kristin Saunders for the run to SF. Big thanks to the crew for making it a fun and safe trip through some gnarly waters, for your patience waiting for weather and hard work on various boat projects along the way! We did it!
|Bye Claire and Nathan! (Justin - Moments is not through with you yet!) Newport, OR|
|Welcome to the party Kristin and Bryan!|
So, how 'bout that exciting run from Eureka? First, man…it felt good to pull into Eureka. After another foggy battle dodging F/Vs (fishing vessels) crossing the coastal bar, the sun burnt through revealing a blue sky and that which we'd craved for days - warmth! We didn't mind doing a few laps in the harbor in search of the diesel dock as many layers of foulie begged to be shed to reveal what I can at least admit to is some serious NW Dweller ghost-pale epidermis (med student please assess appropriate usage). After a couple nights on the water swapping 3-4 hour shifts, some serious napping was due and achieved in the CA sun. However, with fair winds in the forecast, after some rest and check-ins with the usual stakeholders (Hi Mom! Hi Rachel!), we were back off to sea, racing an impressive Humboldt State University research vessel between the red and greens (that’s the buoys on the way out the harbor).
I mentioned fair winds, but alas, they did not blow our way until some hopeful sail trimming followed by concurrent grumbling by both our crew and diesel engine. Rounding Cape Mendocino, known for its propensity to blow, we caught comfortable North winds for a wing-on-wing downwind run for the record books highlighted by a respectable appearance by The Flasher (our scandalously named asymmetrical spinnaker - thanks for your mid-80s creativity, UK Sails) and an awe-inspiring dance through a pod of about 15 tail-wagging and puff-breathing (insert marine biology-speak here) whales. This experience was exactly what these cruising trips should be about.
|Kristin and full sails looking good!|
The pure bliss ended rapidly (as I'm learning things usually do out there) with a casual comment, "Do you think it looks like some fog is rolling in soon?”, followed by Mother Nature's confirmation and accompanying blow/reef/radar fixation (Meaning the fog rolled in, the wind picked up so much we had to reduce our boat’s sail area, and then our only eyes were through the lens of green, yellow, and in the worst case red blobs on our chartplotter's radar screen – video games!). These exciting moments get the adrenaline going, but luckily have so far ended in "Well, that wasn't so bad...". However, for the other sailboat off in the distance, it was a bit worse…
|Foreground: California - Background: Oregon & Washington|
Turtle Circus (boat name changed to protect anonymity) hailed us on the radio, a bit frantically, inquiring whether we had successfully handled the prior blow. While the mood was quite calm on Moments without too much of the usual chaos, this other vessel had apparently almost suffered a knock down (top of mast touches water!) and was quite alarmed. They must have had it worse than us or were pleasantly asleep down below when the wind unexpectedly piped up. After a bit of conversation with the other boat - a bit of a rare treat out there amongst many hours of empty waters - both vessels continued onward until nightfall.
Just as our team's night watch was about to come on deck, the United States Coast Guard Sector XYZ, United States Coast Guard Sector XYZ, United States Coast Guard Sector XYZ (they always repeat that jumble three times making them professional tongue twisters) came on the radio alerting mariners to "extraordinary endangered whale populations" sighted in the area - proceed with caution! Just as the message ended with "United States Coast Guard Sector XYZ - Out" one of said beasts exhaled full lungs within what was (perhaps exaggerated) 200 feet of the boat. Regardless of true range to the animal, we learned that the announcement was perhaps better left unsaid, as a whale collision occupied our tired minds throughout the course of that night. The unfortunate bit was, we later heard that a sailing vessel was disabled in the area that night due to a "collision with a submerged object" (we decided it had to have been a whale). Poor Turtle Circus…
|Whale vs. Turtle Circus|
So, after all that excitement, we had to get under the big bridge at some point. I can verify that the Pacific Ocean must be pretty darn big, because we waited and waited and waited as the miles racked up in the dark approaching the Golden Gate which seemed so increasingly close but not quite there. Bryan and I battled the sail trim for some time that night, until we finally pronounced the wind "dead". Once again we elected forward progress over the wave bobbing alternative, so Moments trusty, shiny, brand-spanking-new Yanmar stinkpot (what the cool sailing kids call an engine) grumbled to life, just in time for the San Francisco Vessel Transit System (where the shipping vessels prevail over whale sightings) to heat up. Then we got attacked by pirates...
Well, we never quite figured out what "it" was, but it was described by the crew as an Inhuman Drone Pirate (IDP) determined to prevent our entrance without folly into the thriving Northern California metropolis. Like all alarming middle-of-night other-boat encounters, the IDP appeared first not by a convenient electronically-named triangle with speed, heading, and destination information (Google "AIS" to learn about my favorite new toy I've installed on the boat), but as an intermittent green to yellow to red blob on our not-quite-military-grade radar display (combined with our not-quite-military-grade radar interpretation skills). These blobs could be boats or land or buoys (avoid hitting those!) or they could be patches of dense fog or rain (try desperately to avoid those and panic when it's impossible while praying to your maker as doom by massive tanker collision is clearly imminent...then just get wet[ter]) depending on your state of mind, lack of skill at radar tuning, and maybe what is actually out there. So, we tried to avoid as usual, going likely ridiculously far off our course as a 6-mile radar range seems much closer on a tiny screen than in reality. However, this time, our yet to be identified bogey seemed to be...following us! In fact, it truly was following us, which was clear by the time we'd changed course a few times in effort to lose them. Well, the impending doom feeling started to kick in again, so we flipped through the usual VHF channels announcing our intentions not be followed and run over. Without any reply, the battle continued, until through the fog the perpetrator first showed his “face”.
Typically, “faces” out there have a standardized pattern of navigation lights that identify what they are and where they're going. The ones coming at you (aka following you like an inhuman drone) show off Christmas lights (that's red and green side lights with a white angel on top of the tree - two angels?...you're that much closer to heaven or the opposite because that is a REALLY big boat coming at you!). However, the new friend we were making did not play by the rules, was less festive than St. Nick without any red or green side lights, and was persistent in his (most boats are "hers", but I seem to have fallen into "his", likely since I've never met a woman this fierce) use of two one-billion-candle-power, in-your-face spotlights. As the vessel approached rapidly, and our forearms grew increasingly tired from pumping up the rechargeable, delightfully eco-friendly, but utterly impractical West Marine Eco Air Horn (please don't ever buy one and invent something better – should I still link to Pay-Per-Click?), our final resort was to fight fire with retina-burning fire. So, we pulled out our one billion divided by close-to-equally large number candle power, Stoneway Hardware (shout-out!) special spotlight, and fired away the universally accepted "for the love of God please don't run us over" five short flashes. Over and over again…
Well, we lived to tell the tale, as you might imagine, so the way that wrapped up is that we flashed 'em four or five times like that and they eventually beared away, but they got pretty (expletive) close. A few more shout-outs based on the experience: GreenPeace - chill out about those whales. Clearly there were plenty that day and that is our mast, not a harpoon. I consider it unjust vessel profiling if you're coming at us just because another sailboat (Turtle Circus!) went out and keel-punched some blubber-back that day. That's only legal in Arizona. (Shout out to the recently engaged Ashley/Eric combo! Congrats!) Obama - sure, fine, test those new drones all you want, but please put nav lights on them so we at least have a fighting chance to outrun them at our blazing 6 knots. Poseidon - if you're going to take us, please send the Kraken (I mean Beast-that-shall-not-be-named) to devour us in our entirety and instantly from below as the whole chase scene scenario was really stressful there for a few minutes.
To cap off this post – we survived the Eureka Desert sun (scary for the Seattleites [and Riddick BTW – donations being accepted in order for me to see the new movie!]), whales and inhuman drone pirates so far and the only thing left was the…you guessed it…San Francisco Fog. Pshhh…fog…this crew sailed from Seattle 75% of the time in the fog – ain’t no thang. So, no worries, we were ready for that, but what gives – we barely got to see the Bridge, even from directly below it. Oh well, it was a bit eerie which was cool, but we made it, there was much rejoicing (un-enthusiastic “yaaaay” a la Monty Python and the Holy Grail). To Berkeley Marina!
|Sea Bear, The IT Guy, Raccoon Eyes|
|The Architect and The Bridge|
I’m tired – to be continued, along with news of where we are actually at now a month later (hint…sunnier!).