Subtitle: Letting Go—OR—From Snow-Capped Peaks to Palm Trees in Twelve Days.
Our last weeks in Kingston were quite hectic; Philip was still actively working at MarinerBank as we sorted, stored or [more likely] dispensed of our possessions. It's amazing how much we'd accumulated despite our concerted attempts over the years to not acquire "stuff". There was some anxiety of course as we were up-rooting ourselves from our friends, family and our comfortable existence. We really didn't have the chance to get excited about the places we'd see or people we'd meet along the way though since nearly every waking moment was filled with a chore taken from a long checklist.
Philip's last day at the bank was August 8, 2003 which was culminated with a wonderful and lively reception for bank employees and board members. Philip was presented with a beautiful clock and barometer set with the inscription: "Captain Philip - May you always have fair winds and smooth seas - The MarinerBank Crew - August 8, 2003". That evening we moved aboard the boat and spent the next four and a half days finalizing details and getting underway.
At last, on August 13, 2003 at 1513 local time [with the help and moral support of Beth and Richard Smith] we cast off our lines and motored out of the Port of Kingston . We couldn't believe we'd actually done it— we'd sailed away into what was hopefully the adventure of a lifetime. Our first stop was Port Townsend where we spent two days finalizing rigging, motor and other personal details, before moving onto Port Angeles WA, where we had a scheduled rendezvous with Howard Hanners, our friend and crew for this first offshore voyage. Howard and his wife Jean arrived first thing Sunday morning, bearing fresh veggies, cookies, a pie and even a fresh basil plant!
From Port Angeles, we had a tiring day beating up the Juan de Fuca Strait through fog and contrary currents to reach Neah Bay, the jumping off point for Pacific passages. There we talked with two other boats, Cats Paw and Northern Lights that were also leaving on Monday for the trip down the coast. As it turned out, we were the only ones planning to take the offshore route—a fact that didn't bother us since we were more concerned with the lee shore during strong summer westerlies or the occasional low pressure system and the possibility of having to cross dangerous bars to enter west coast ports.
Monday August 18, 2003 dawned with a heavy blanket of fog over the Strait and the gateway to the Pacific. This was fine with us since we had a few chores and final provisioning to complete in Neah Bay. The fog cleared just after lunch and we were underway at 1350 local time, beating out into the Pacific to the buoy "J" [now "J" A] and then back southeast to Duntze Rock and out into the Pacific.
Watching Cape Flattery disappear astern as the waves grew steeper and darkness fell was a bit intimidating but we were confident in our boat and enthusiastic to put distance between us and the coast. Carina performed beautifully sailing hard into confused seas for a day and a half under staysail and reefed genoa plus double reefed main.
Dawn of the first morning at sea was perhaps the most challenging as waves built to a frightening height and we suffered a couple of boardings that filled the cockpit and dampened our spirits. The odd thing was that the winds were modest [+/- 20 knots] as compared to the steep and imposing waves. Weather predictions had foretold of 15-20 knots of wind and up to six foot seas; clearly this was not what we experienced. Something else—a storm north of us perhaps—was affecting the seas around us.
Despite our surprise at the ferocity of the seas, we were not completely surprised as we had been warned by numerous others that the seas off the WA and OR coast were often incredible and those who travel the coast inevitably get "hammered". The entire Carina crew [including Jake] suffered the effects of motion sickness during the first two days including nausea, headache and extreme fatigue but everyone prevailed and recovered once we turned south and Carina's motion began to be less harsh.
The second night at sea we hove to* to reduce the boat's speed and to allow the crew to rest and get a real meal. To be honest, no one was eating much beyond energy bars yet [later on we made up for it though!]. On Wednesday morning with Howard at watch, the boat was hit by a wave and tacked itself out of the hove to position. All hands were quickly on deck and when asked what was happening, Howard replied, "We're going to San Diego!". Once we got the boat organized and sailing downwind under the control of the windvane named Yurso [get it?...yurso vane] or Oscar or Barry [depending on which crewmember you asked], things settled down significantly for most of the next 10 days. We had one day of drizzle and light winds and an afternoon/evening gale off of Point Conception CA, but otherwise it was 12-18 knots from astern and seas ranging from 2-8 feet.
Getting used to the boat in constant motion took time. We never fully got used to having to hang on to the boat and to everything in the boat all the times. We—perhaps naively—expected to waves to be consistent such that you could adapt to a rhythm and begin to subconsciously adapt to the motion. What we experienced was less regular and certainly of shorter wavelength. We developed a bit of an early warning system where whoever was on watch would warn those below if a particularly irregular or large wave was bearing down on us.
Watches were of particular importance despite the fact we were traveling so far off the coast. Shipping, though light, was always a concern because deep draft vessels move fast but have little maneuverability. At night we ran our radar on standby and supplemented our visual watches by surveying out to 24 miles every 15 minutes or so. We only had one truly close encounter with a vessel but were able to make contact and illuminate our sails using a 1,000,000 candle power light. This safely tool had traveled with us for years and had never proven so valuable! During watch the crew also kept watch on the servo-pendulum wind vane that was responsible for steering the boat, in addition to our course and position and sail trim. We had little worry about monitoring depth as we were in 1600 - 2000 fathoms of water!
During the day the crew kept busy napping, reading, cooking, watching the ocean or just trying to keep order in a small boat. We thought we'd have so much time to affect repairs, etc. but every simple task took so much more time than expected, days seemed to fly by and we simply maintained our ship. Napping became an important routine and we attempted to discipline ourselves to sleep during the day to try to avoid sleep deprivation and the concomitant poor judgment it brings. After a few days, sleeping at any time of day became easy for everyone!
The sea, though to our eyes barren of much sea life, was beautiful and amazingly vast. We sited a few petrels, a shark, a couple of whales [though not close] and later an amazing display by what we believe were blue dolphins. The encounter with the dolphins occurred in the Channel Islands on a day of "lazy" sailing with light winds. Suddenly coming at us at a high rate of speed was a herd of hundreds of dolphins. They were alternatively slicing the water, leaping [sometimes in groups] and occasionally breaching by leaping high out of the water spinning and flopping back onto their backs. As they raced by the sound was like storm surf or river rapids. We took no photos [unfortunately] probably because the situation came and went so fast and we were caught unprepared and frankly, in awe.
Our last night at sea was marked by little and diminishing winds and significant ground fog. This, combined with increased shipping as we passed out of the Channel Islands and into active shipping lanes, made the night seem long. Dawn of August 31 brought little relief to the fog and unfortunately not enough wind to move the boat more than a knot or two towards San Diego that was still over thirty miles southwest. In "defeat" we cranked up the new Yanmar and motored the final miles to San Diego.
It was not until we were nearly at Point Loma could we begin to see land. Slowly, oh so slowly, the San Diego skyline became clear and we were surrounded by hundreds of other boats. Our first stop was the police dock in an attempt to get information. Since we were a domestic boat we weren't met by harbor police and we mistakenly took the closed police mooring office for the harbor police office. Fortunately, and through the generous intervention of many people, we were met by Beverly Wilson-Gledhill who along with her husband Fred and grandson Michael Selter, have hosted us at their facility while we found other accommodations. We are currently tied up ["rafted up"] to a tuna boat owned by a very friendly guy by the name of Paul. His is not a commercial boat but is really a tricked out, 34' pleasure boat. Paul has even lent us his truck to do some grocery shopping. The other boat in the photo is "Maverick", a multi-million dollar mega Cayman Island-registered yacht that has a full time crew just maintaining the brightwork. We are right next to the "High Seas Fuel Dock" so we get a great view of all the commercial fishing boats going in and out of the harbor. What's amazing is that the commercial charter tuna fishing boats all have aggressive names such as "Relentless", "Tracer", "Grande", "Dominator", "First Strike" and [we're not kidding], "Bite Me" and "Penetrator"!
San Diego seems like a bit of a closed boating community. It's certainly not "cruiser friendly" as there are limited and inconvenient anchorages and few slips available. Locals tell us that slips are available but they're difficult to learn about unless you have an "in" with a marina or yacht club. The police dock is a bargain but is only available on a first come, first serve basis and is limited to 10 nights. Because we arrived on Labor Day weekend [ahead of when we thought we'd arrive], transient moorage or anchorage was simply unavailable.
As of Sept. 22, 2003 we'll be moving over to a slip at the Kona Kai Marina for 39 days at an outrageous sum that has certainly put a dent in our cruising kitty. We'll have to budget a bit more tightly in other areas to make up for it but feel it's a worthwhile expenditure as we prepare the boat for the next leg of our journey—the voyage down to Cabo San Lucas and into the Sea of Cortez. Besides Paul, we've met Dennis and Fredricka who are the Seven Seas Cruising Association station chiefs. These are very friendly and accommodating folks who've even taken us on an excursion to San Diego's "Little Italy"!
* Heaving To - Configuring the boat and rudder to balance the boat roughly 50 degrees off the wind moving slowly if at all. This storm tactic reduces the motion of the boat and thus crew fatigue. Under extreme conditions, it is an invaluable strategy.