Monday, August 8, 2011

Honolulu to Port Angeles July 14 to 24: Part 2: Fast Passage

Once we transited the Pacific High, our passage became very different. Gone were the endless blue skies and sapphire blue waters. The sea and air temperature dropped. The skies became overcast and the wind and seas picked up speed and height. Now we were really going to sail the boat!

Strange skies over the Pacific High

From my journal on Day 15 (44.28N/154.58W, July 13/14):

"We’ve punched through the High! As I write this we are on a course of 62 degrees, with full sails wing on wing in 15 knots of wind and maintaining a speed of 6 knots. We are heading directly to the mouth of the Straits of Juan de Fuca and we have about 1200 miles to go. The motion is very different. We’d got used to a starboard tack and now Ka’sala is surfing along a 2 foot wind chop which causes us to sway side to side. I had to rearrange my galley lockers to accommodate the new motion and we’ve cross fed the water tanks for more even distribution of weight. The sea temperature is down to 15 degrees and the fog has rolled in. We used the radar last night – the first time this trip. Doug thinks it will take us 10 more days to complete the passage.

From deep storage, we’ve dragged out our sweaters, long underwear, toques and gloves. Although it’s 20 degrees today, it will be chilly on night watch. The days are lengthening and the light stays until 10pm and begins again at 5:30. We still have two time zones to get through before we’re home.

Our whole little So Long Hawaii fleet has turned east now. Yesterday Alabar and Kialani rendezvoused and Joel passed over some chocolate chip cookies. I wonder if we did that if they would throw us a fish! It must be amazing to see another sailboat so close in such a vast expanse.”

Over the course of the next 24 hours we made almost 3 degrees west, covering 130 nautical miles. The barometer dropped from 1036 to 1029 as we left the centre of the Pacific High. From my journal on Day 16 (44.43N/151.54W):

“What a difference a day makes! Looking at Doug’s chart we can clearly see we have turned almost 90 degrees out of the centre of the Pacific High. We continue to fly wing on wing toward J de F with the swell coming in from the west while we are heading ENE, trying to keep a course of 60 degrees. As a result, we are being tossed side to side in the waves and things below crash about and move around. I’ve got most things pinned down, but it’s impossible to get them all. We’ve stayed at 6 – 7 knots all night with the waves at 3 – 5 feet – maybe bigger. It’s hard to get used to these new circumstances after the last week of gorgeous weather and fabulous sailing. By tomorrow, or the next day, this will all seem normal. I can’t get over how environmentally adaptable human beings are.

Doug checked the weather faxes last night and it looks like we could pick up more wind as the high deflates. Two boats at the same latitude, but two days ahead of us, are reporting 25 – 30 knots and higher seas. We may not see these winds as the high deflates, but if we do, we want to be ready for them. This morning we talked about various sail configurations and what we need to do if we encounter heavy weather. We may have to move out of our wing on wing configuration into a broad reach in order to maintain our heading. This might make us unfavourable to the waves. There are gale force winds reported to the NE of us – we’ll unlikely see them, but we could get the swell.

High Seas in the Pacific

According to the GPS, we have about 1100 more miles to go. If we keep cracking off 130 mile days we will be at Neah Bay in 8 days. I know the journey is more important than the destination, and I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world, but…..oh my! I’ll be glad when it’s over. The constant stress and anxiety really saps my energy. For some reason, I feel more anxious on this passage than the one to Hawaii and I can’t figure out why – perhaps the worries of home are closer? Perhaps a third person aboard? Perhaps the change in the weather? I just need to get control of myself and my fears. Doug and Tony are incredibly supportive and understanding.

It wasn’t foggy this morning when I came on watch and I could see the full moon clearly.

Calm after the storm

As the light increased, the radiation fog did too, but it’s brighter than yesterday. It was 19 degrees in the cabin this morning – cold! Doug taped one of his T shirts across the companionway to cut down the draft as the wind was coming from the stern. I was wearing long underwear, full wet weather gear and a toque, as well as a blanket wrapped around me. It is very damp and humid, so it’s not only to the motion of the boat to adapt to, but the change in climate as well. The water is only 13 degrees today! I imagine we will be turning on the diesel heater soon.”

Do you recognize the shirt, Phil?

From my journal on Day 17 (46.29N/148.56W) after making 138 miles in the previous 24 hours:

“We’re roaring along this morning. The waves are 3+ meters high and rolling in from the NW. The wind is at 25 knots from the west. We’re trying to keep a broad reach, heading 70 degrees true, but we get tossed on our starboard beam by the crashing waves, which are fairly close together. Every few minutes we get a higher set. The monitor is holding and keeping us within 20 degrees of our course. We’re heading straight home, trying to make a little northing as we go, as we expect the wind to veer more to the north the closer we get. If we can keep up these daily mileages, we will be home in 7or 8 days. That’s the good side – on the other side, we are hardly able to stand up and cooking is a real chore. Yesterday, I was expecting it to be rough, so I made a couple dinners in advance that I can heat up, as well as a loaf of bread. We’ll see how it goes. If all else fails I can warm up some tinned chili.

Captain Doug

It feels really cold – 18 degrees in the cabin and the sea is down to 11 degrees. Yikes! We’re spending more time below, just to stay warm. All our winter clothes and wet weather gear is out and on. Outside the gray seas have crested waves as far as the eye can see and, overhead, the dull sky is flat. Not much fog. We are under double reefed main and full headsail travelling over 7 knots. I’ve been able to hold my watches, nervous but determined. As I write this, Tony has come below to tell us the wind is now over 30 knots, and so he and Doug rolled in a big piece of the headsail. If the wind continues to rise we will move to the staysail, but we want to maintain our speed to keep Ka’sala steady in the heavy seas. Although I know the boat is sound, the circumstances seem very precarious to me. Precious Ka’sala!”

Gray seas

In the next twenty-four hours we covered 150 miles. We saw winds over 30 knots and Ka’sala did a fair amount of surfing off waves well over 14 feet in height. Doug and Tony configured the sails into double reefed main, staysail and a third of the yankee. Ka’sala remained stable and moved fast – we regularly saw over 8 knots on the speedometer. We had gone through a cold front and between the NW swells and the wind chop, the seas were confused. Down below it was bumpy and we had to brace and hold on. Food crates flew around the V berth and Tony took a tumble just brushing his teeth. During the day we took a few breaking waves over our foredeck and constant slapping on our portsides. The waves crested, broke and spumed. One wave hit us so hard, the sound of it interrupted us in the middle of a conversation down below. The three of us went quiet, listening to hear what might happen next. I stayed in the bunk for most of the day – warm and comfortable – my reward for all the cooking. The Monitor kept our course with only a little tweaking as Ka’sala rose, fell and skittered her way along. We talked about reverting to two hour watches, but it turned out not to be necessary as, by the morning, everything calmed down considerably and we found ourselves in 15 – 20 knots in quieter seas.

                                              Doug and Tony - relaxing after a hard night

Even though this 24 hour period was taxing, all three of us, were absolutely taken with the terrible beauty of the sea. We spent hours watching it writhe and twist wondering how something so angry could be the same as the benign being we had experienced just a few days before. Additionally, we knew that what we had gone through was only a tiny window into what the ocean could do when it really storms. At no time did we feel we had to fly our storm sail or deploy our drogue. Once again, we were incredibly pleased with Ka’sala’s performance. It seemed to me that Ka’sala’s cook was also improving, as I could not imagine going through conditions like that a year ago!

By Day 19 (46.55N/142.22W) we had travelled over 2000 nautical miles from Hawaii. We were still covering 130+ miles a day and the wind was holding at 15 – 20 knots. We continued to slowly work our way north in latitude, wanting to make 49 degrees before we turned completely East in case we met with more northerly winds closer to the coast. We were moving along under most of our sails, occasionally reefing the main, on a mostly port beam reach in 6-8 foot seas. Unfortunately we seemed to take the seas on the side which caused the boat to skitter, slow, then speed up. It was not a comfortable motion and meant it was impossible to stand without holding on to something.

From my journal that day: “The port tack makes working in the galley difficult as everything wants to fly across to the other side. My galley stores and equipment, which are stored on the port side, lean and rattle against the cupboard doors. The gimballed oven cants away from me and I have to reach over it to use it. Even preparing a cup of coffee is incredibly complicated and takes time as I wedge myself in, hold on, and try to pour, stir, etc. We soldier through, but we are getting tired with the constant unrelenting anaerobic exercise. It is extremely cold - the water now 10 degrees, continuous fog and drizzle. Everything outside is soaked and we go out only if we have to. I made a chocolate cake in an effort to raise spirits. You can imagine how it turned out in these conditions – kind of like a grade 7 volcano project - but with the icing we managed!

The AIS and radar are on constantly but so far we haven’t picked up another boat. We heard Sequoia tell the Pacific Seafarer’s Net that they had come upon Kialani in the fog yesterday. They were both surprised to see each other, as they hadn’t picked each other up on radar, and neither transmits AIS – yet another example of the necessity to keep watch.

Doug and Tony continue to be complimentary and accommodating about the food, but I’m getting pretty tired of eating out of cans. Oh well. With these stronger winds, our passage has picked up speed and we may make it to Port Angeles earlier than we thought. I just hope there won’t be more drama ahead. I find it hard not to be despondent and today all I want to do is stay in the bunk with a sleeping bag over my head. Instead, I’ve made another loaf of bread and tonight I will try to cook up something special. The care and feeding of the crew goes a long way to keep my mind off negative thoughts. I am happy to realize that Doug has found his element and is holding on to every minute, storing the experience in his memory banks, though I know even he wishes it were warmer. Each day he teases me by suggesting we turn south again – Mexico, Hawaii, the South Seas. But I am determined to return home and finish the business I started there.

Staying cozy in the bunk

From the “So Long Hawaii” net, Trial Run, Bianca, and Freedom are now heading east and making their way homeward to California. They are worried about potential gales off Cape Mendocino. The rest of us continue to work our way to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Soon the passage will be over and we will remember it as a dream.”

On Day 20 (47.47N/139.04W) we finally relented and fired up the heater. It remained on until we reached land. The cold sea temperatures had caused a great deal of condensation aboard and everything felt clammy and damp – even the port lights and hatches were dripping water. However, it was possible to get too much of a good thing because, with the constant boat movement, we needed to keep the flow of diesel high to keep it lit. We ended up opening the companionway for ventilation and wearing T-shirts and shorts below. Our tans were our only reminders of the heat of Hawaii.

On Day 20 from my journal:

“We have begun to see signs of land. A flock of brown birds, a school of dolphins playing around us, and kelp! The weather continues overcast and cold. Last night we went through another cold front that had passed North East of the high. It gave us winds over 20 knots and veered back and forth from WNW to N. We had reefs in the main and yankee, but managed to maintain 6.5 to 7 knots all through the night, to make another 150 miles in a 24 hour period. Farther north a gale blows and the waves we are experiencing from that are 3 – 4 meters high. We are slowly clawing our way northward on a beam reach, which causes us to take the waves on the side and over the foredeck. Last night a wave, that obviously didn’t know where it was going, crashed into the cockpit and surprised Doug with a soaking. We’ve been going so fast we’re becoming speed junkies!

We’re thinking of Port Angeles now and looking forward to the stop. Proper showers, laundry, provisions, a good restaurant meal and a clean boat! Tony may leave us there (after celebrations, of course) but we’ve invited him to stay with us as long as he wants. We’ll miss him when he moves on to do all the other things he has planned for his summer. In talking to Alabar, Kialani and Quest on the radio, we have proposed getting together in Port Angeles to actually meet each other!

The fog persists and we are glued to the radar. We’re expecting another rough night, as it looks like another cold front is making its way toward us. As we get closer to the coast and the shipping lanes of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Columbia River we consider the potential fatality of a collision. We never forget we are such a tiny speck on this large ocean. Huge freighters and fishing boats will soon make their presence known and we will need to be even more vigilant.

Even though we have more than enough wind to sail, we have been running the motor every few days to charge the batteries and make hot water. The fridge is still taking up most of the power, but we are also using computers, lights and radar. It all takes its toll and without the daily intense sunshine we experienced the first two weeks of the trip, the solar panels just don’t crank out enough amps. Our wind generator has begun to make grinding sounds so we have disabled it. Perhaps having one of those trailing generators might be the answer in this situation.”

On Day 21 we were three weeks at sea at 48.16N and 135.37W. We had just made 141 miles. From my journal:

“Last night the winds and waves built again to over 30 knots in 12 – 14 foot seas. Pretty awesome! We tried to make the most of the wind to keep ahead of the waves, but we’ve been knocked about quite a bit. As I write we have only ½ our headsail up and still doing 6.5 knots, shimmying and shaking side to side as the seas follow us and push us toward the coast. I saw over 10 knots on the GPS in one surfing episode and I was amazed. Doug had to explain to me, yet again, that just because a boat was travelling over its hull speed didn’t mean it was about to break up at any moment. What was incredible to me was how smooth and quiet the ride became at these greater speeds. From down below you can hear the water rushing and bubbling by the hull and you just hold on.

View from the cockpit

Conditions were so difficult this morning that I was relieved of my watch – the first time on this entire trip. Tony and Doug took turns monitoring the boat all night with little sleep in between. Looking out the companionway to the seas behind the stern reminds me of the cover of the Adlard Cole book on heavy weather. Ka’sala rides through waves that tower all around. Everything is grey and great plumes of spray heave off the tops of the swells as we ride into the troughs and out again. The waves hit us with mighty slaps, careening us, shivering the timbers and rattling everything tucked away. All of us feel weary of the constant effort to stay upright.

A wave rides away from our bow

Although this cold front seems rougher than the last, I feel more psychologically prepared for this one. I guess because we are closer to home and it is warm and cozy below. I’m being spoiled, tucked up in the bunk under my sleeping bag, wedged in with cushions, reading an excellent book and trying to ignore what is happening around me. Doug and Tony are having a great time, enjoying pitting themselves successfully against nature. All of us now have more confidence in each other and Ka’sala making this heavy weather seem manageable and temporary. Home is only a few days away.”

Nah, nah, didn't get me!

From my journal on Day 22 (48.21N/132.36W):

“Peace at last! During the night we passed through the cold front and gradually the winds and seas diminished. By the time I came on watch at 4am we were almost without wind, slopping and slatting around in the seas. Doug tried to employ the whisker pole on the yankee, but the darn thing jammed on him again. At 3am he was sitting on the foredeck, under the deck lights in the pouring rain and pitching seas, trying to sort it out to no avail. He came down below and announced he had “pegged his fun meter”. We bounced around for a bit, then started the motor to keep up our speed and charge the batteries. Later, we were able to get the main up again and, before long, we found ourselves going about 5 knots in 10 knots of wind on a close reach. The wind had veered and the seas calmed to a long, large swell with Ka’sala rising and falling like breath upon this vast stretch of blue. The water is beginning to warm up – now 12 degrees. (Yahoo! Get out the bathing suits!). It’s sunny and dry. How wonderful it was to see the long stretch of clear skies to the north at dawn. Bundled up in the cockpit it was quite pleasant. Down below the heater keeps us cozy and warm. The movement of the boat is gentle enough that I am able to cook a big hot breakfast and plan for a roast beef dinner tonight.

 Beautiful sunset

 Unfortunately, in these milder conditions, our mileage also decreases and we realize we will take longer than we figured to reach the S of J de F. However, we don’t really care about it because, once again, the sailing is magnificent and we are enjoying our “Cruising World Moment” – after all the excitement.”

 Dolphins (?) off the bow

Day 23 (48.28N/129.53W). From my journal:

“We’re getting closer! The winds have dropped way off and we are struggling to maintain 5 knots. It doesn’t help that we need to go wing on wing to keep our heading. The Monitor doesn’t work particularly well on this course and the waves, though only a meter high, cause us to shift side to side and bang the sails. We’ve prevented the main and Doug has managed to get the whisker pole 2/3s of the way out to hold the headsail. Today is overcast and showers are threatening. Yesterday was such a magnificent day with a glorious sunset. It is hard to go back to another gray one.

I remember now how much I appreciate the sun in this part of the world – no taking it for granted! It’s hard to believe we lived six months without a single drop of rain! My energy levels rise with sunshine and I swept the boat, made bread and apple pie as well as a special dinner of roast beef in mushroom gravy, ginger carrots and roast potatoes topped off with a couple glasses of red wine. After clean up I hit the sack and slept like a baby all night. It was such a reprieve to have sunshine and not be knocked about. I’m in no hurry for the passage to end when we have conditions like this. Tomorrow we move our clocks to BC time!

I'm not the only one who kept a journal!

We are starting to see more freighters now – 4 this morning. Luckily no fog and short nights, so the visibility has been great. On my watch this morning I hailed Aladdin Rainbow because, according to the AIS, our courses were converging. He was happy to hear from us and changed his heading 20 degrees to accommodate us. I can just imagine how invisible we must be to these great ships that also look speck-like to us in the distance. AIS is proving to be worth its weight in gold and wish we had the transmitting component of it as well.
Freighters start appearing more regularly

I spent most of my watch today hand steering Ka’sala. The light winds, waves, course and sail configuration make it extremely difficult for the Monitor to hold the course. It was chilly, but kind of nice having the whole dawn world to myself. “

 Flying along under the drifter a hundred miles, or so, out to sea

Day 24 (48.34N/127W) was our last day at sea. From my journal:

“The wind has shifted over the night to ESE and we are now sailing under full sail on a high close reach managing 60 degrees, but we need 75 degrees to enter the Strait. At some point we will need to motor as the wind will be right on our nose (unless we chose to tack back and forth). Additionally, Doug has just announced that we will enter the Strait against the tide - which will put a knot against us. Weather-wise, it looks benign to enter – perhaps we will be motoring. We’re seeing regular freighter traffic – 9 ships showed up on the AIS during the night. One of them, Elena, was heading straight for us, so we contacted them by VHF to alert them of our presence. We were pleased when they told us they could see us on their radar over ten miles away. Elena ended up passing us a mile astern, then paralleled us on our starboard side for a while. Thank goodness for AIS!! I can’t imagine what it must have been like before it – lots of cruisers in blissful ignorance, I bet! We expect to see even more traffic as we approach the entrance to the Strait. The night watch will be busy as we expect to enter about midnight which will put us in Port Angeles later in the day.

I began my early watch in the fog and drizzle and followed a band of clear sky becoming larger as we moved toward it. It’s warmer today – the water is 14 degrees and, with the heater on below, 26 degrees in the cabin. We had yummy beans last night and this morning bacon and eggs. I’m making the last loaf of bread today and tonight I will make a chicken pot pie – hopefully tomorrow night we will be eating at a restaurant! My stores and provisions have held out remarkably well.

It feels strange being so close to the end. Life aboard Ka’sala has fallen into a routine and has a certain rhythm. It’s hard to believe the journey will soon be over – frightening, actually. What kind of adjustments will be necessary to get back into working clothes, shoes and make up –not to mention how much personal time I will have to give up for my work? Getting back in the saddle will definitely cause blisters!

We’ve just heard our first airplane passing overhead. Earlier we heard our first Canadian voice calling “security” from Tofino. We’re almost home!

Doug says: “Steak dinner, shower and 8 hours uninterrupted sleep, not necessarily in that order”. I agree and would add a clean and organized boat, clean laundry, and fresh food. But it hasn’t been a bad trip at all – no hardships we couldn’t overcome. Ka’sala is an amazing boat!”

Land Ho! At 4:30 pm on July 23 Doug sited the mountains of Vancouver Island. We were at 48.35N and 126.21W, 65 miles west of the entrance to the Straits of Juan de Fuca.

Day 25 (48.18N/124.15W) was the last day of our journey. From my journal:

“ It’s a gorgeous, sunny, west coast day, but it’s chilly on the water. Mist rises from the shore and the haze obscures the distance. A low is moving in from the north and, as we move down the S of J de F, we can see it following us in. A small craft advisory has been given for later in the day through to tomorrow morning and a “gale” watch has been put in effect. All going well, we’ll catch a bit of that northwest wind, before it gets too strong, and sail right into Port Angeles. At any rate, we should be snug on the dock by 7pm. We’re motoring along in flat water and little wind, admiring the brilliant shoreline of trees as we pass by, dodging all the little sports fishing boats heading out to sea. I wonder if they know where we have been?”

 Dawn, last day at sea

The shipping lanes are like a highway and, all night long, the AIS warning alarm went off. We must have passed at least 20 freighters and they continued to pass us by. We hadn’t seen many commercial fishboats and only three sailboats – one heading to Barkley Sound and two others anchored near Cape Flattery. I was on the dawn watch, but Doug stayed up with me to greet the day and we passed Cape Flattery together – the point where our circular trip drew to a close.  From there we would be retracing our steps.

 Lighthouse on Tatoosh Island - closing the circle of our amazing year long voyage

We could hardly believe a year had passed – what an adventure! Right to the very end Doug was keen to head south again. My thoughts are random and I feel discombobulated. Will we ever do this again?

 Sorry to be near home?

We took advantage of the stable seas, relative warmth and hot water to bathe again. I am so impressed with our water consumption – almost a third of the tanks are left after the entire passage. We used it to wash dishes (the greatest consumer), food prep, drinking water, daily wash ups and 15 shampoo/sponge baths.

Doug also managed our diesel very well.  We motored every few days to top up the batteries, an afternoon off Hawaii, a half day close to the Pacific High, 30 hours through the High, and then again most of the last day entering the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  We arrived in Port Angeles with over half our tanks!

We watched the familiar landscape of the Pacific Northwest, somewhat stunned, as we glided past

As we got closer to PA, we couldn’t resist deploying the drifter, but had to take it down when the wind rose as we approached the spit in front of the town.

 Under the drifter - Port Angeles in the distance

When we rounded the spit we found ourselves beating into the teeth of a 25 knot wind, close hauled and heeled over so far we buried our port rail. We scampered around setting up lazy jacks, getting out lines and fenders, dropping and furling sails. We had to run the engine at high RPMs to get through the wind and into the boat haven. Within minutes all was calm.

 Happy Tony at the helm on the Strait of Juan de Fuca

We came alongside at the guest dock, turned Ka’sala around and, before it had even really registered, realized we had our feet on the ground. I jumped and danced and stopped Doug from putting Ka’sala to bed. We broke out the bottle of champagne I had been chilling and toasted Ka’sala on her binnacle, Neptune with a splash over the side, and each other with the rest. After 25 days and 11 hours we had travelled approximately 2800 nautical miles. It was a joyous, yet bittersweet ending to a fabulous passage.

 Ka'sala at rest in Port Angeles after her long journey

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