Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Astoria Sojourn
By Michael

Eleanor and Frances chat up the fish
mongers. Apparently, the movie
Kindergarten Cop was filmed in
Astoria and the woman who did
the on-location set painting loved
the place so much, she moved there
and has been painting the town since.
We got stuck in Astoria for longer than a week, checking the tides and weather every day, preparing for our departure back across of the notorious Columbia River Bar and our 24-hour passage up to and around Cape Flattery and into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Stuck in Astoria.

Stuck paying $15 a night for our transient slip in a clean, protected marina with hot showers and laundry at hand. Stuck just a short walk from the cozy Three Cups Coffee House. Stuck adjacent to the tracks of the 100-year-old trolley car that took us where we needed to go for a buck. Stuck along the same waterfront as a maritime museum that rivals anything the Smithsonian has to offer. Stuck in a small town where two world-class microbrewers compete for our thirst. Stuck among the picturesque decaying piers of salmon canneries that disappeared long ago.
If it wasn’t for the seasonal urgency we feel, we might have elected to be stuck in Astoria for much, much longer. At one point, Windy browsed the real estate listings, imagining a life ashore with a view of the mighty Columbia. Fortunately, she snapped out of it.

Eleanor walking the trolley track along the riverfront. Note the
waterfront hotel where a cannery once was. The concrete structure is a support for the
nearly 5-mile-long Astoria-Megler Bridge overhead.

Windy at work dry-fitting the inflatable canopy of the
Portland Pudgy.
We were in Astoria long enough to foster a coffee shop
homeschooling routine. The change of scenery was
welcome and productive--must have been the caffeine.
Windy and the girls check out an exhibit in
Astoria's extraordinary Maritime Museum.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Sounds Good
By Michael

There was lots to see on our 100-plus
mile (each way) trip to Portland on
the Columbia River. The coast guard
does a lot of training in this area.
Seven-hundred miles north of San Francisco, Windy motored us out of the port of Ilwaco, Washington (just inside the mouth of the Columbia River). I looked up when she began calling out the depths as they descended, “Nine-point-two…eight-point-seven…eight…seven-point-four…six-point…whoa!” We all lurched forward as Del Viento came to a stop.
I’m embarrassed to write that I was stunned. We hit bottom? Windy could have called out two-hundred feet and I would have been no less surprised that we were sitting on the bottom. I mean, I’ve read about this running aground thing, but the idea of it seemed abstract. We sailed from Puerto Vallarta to San Francisco without a working depth sounder and never had a problem. Now we had new instruments and here we rested on the bottom in a marked channel.
Thoughtfully, I reminded Windy and the girls aloud of something else I’ve read: “Well, if you haven’t been aground, you haven’t been around.” Smiling, I turned to Windy and added, “I’m so glad you ran us aground and not me.”
Frances and her cousin, Kat. The
Portland weather was terrific.
I took the helm and tried to motor us off: reverse—forward—reverse. Nothing. We waved gamely at fishermen as they went by in a deeper part of the channel. Stuck? Nope, we were resting on the sand bar, exactly what we aimed to be doing. I hoped we weren’t still there when they returned.

My mind pulled up things I’d read over the years about boats aground. “I think you and the girls should sit on the end of the boom and I’ll swing it out. That’ll induce a heel and reduce our draft.”
Windy looked around and then up at me, “No. Why don’t we row an anchor out and kedge ourselves off?”

“Yeah, I’ve read that too. But let’s get a sail up first and see if that helps.” I unfurled the head sail, we were on a close reach. Del Viento heeled a bit and moved forward slightly into shallower water. I furled the sail.
“Okay,” I said, “I’m gonna try the engine again, I have an idea.” I powered forward, turning our big, well-protected rudder from one side to the other. I imagined our keel twisting back and forth, carving a hole in the bottom. It soon seemed to make a difference and our swing radius continued to increase. As we gained more motion, I added reverse to the repertoire. Ten minutes after running aground, we were free, once again heading 10 miles up the Columbia River on our way to Astoria, Oregon.

Me and my nephew, Eoin
goofing around.
Ten days later, after motoring the entire 110 miles up-river and inland to Portland, Oregon and spending a week visiting family and friends, it was time to head back downriver.
On the first day of our return trip, our friends Amy Jo and Paul and their son Ossley joined us aboard. The weather was beautiful and we had a favorable current. I was at the helm, I was navigating, and I was tongue-in-cheek regaling Amy Jo and Paul with the story of Windy running us aground.

(You see where I’m going with this?)
We were going fast, with the river pushing us our speed over ground was about 8 knots. I happened to notice the depth sounder read about seven feet. Huh? I was trying to process this information when we ground to a halt. It was like setting a plow anchor, digging in deep to something soft. When we stopped, we were in good, there was no motion—Del Viento felt like she did when she was hauled out weeks before, on the hard, high-and-dry, propped up with jack stands.

After several minutes, having tried the same motor dance I’d used to free us in Ilwaco, we were more stuck than ever. This time there was a downriver current on our beam, heeling us over, attempting to push us into shallower water. Looking down, I could see the bottom. We sat around, considering the situation and talking about our options. I asked Amy Jo and Paul if they’d brought their pajamas.
Having consulted the iPad to see where I’d left the channel and where the deeper water was, I returned to the engine technique with renewed vigor. After several more minutes of my asking, “Does anyone see movement yet?” I started getting tentative, and then affirmative responses. We all rejoiced to be on our way again.

Windy pointed out that when she ran us aground, we were motoring cautiously ahead at two knots, in the channel, that it was an unfortunate circumstance, not an error of navigation. I just blamed the depth sounder, “This never happened before we knew how shallow the water was.”
Eleanor watches as a ship passes us on the Columbia River. At least a
dozen large ships passed us on our trip and it reminded us of the
Culebra Cut in the Panama Canal.
"Portland!" screams this old, rusty Volvo with protest
signs in the back, ready to go.
The girls and their cousins ride the boom for a better view as we
pass through a BNSF tressel swing bridge.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

DIY Install
By Michael

My cable splice. Only Furuno seems
to make stand-alone monitor/antennae
packages and I see the blue and white
Furuno name on all of the commercial
fishing boats. I decided on
the 1715 and paid about $1,800.
Of course, when we bought our radar unit I didn’t go with a full-service electronics retailer and pay for installation. As a cruiser, I have the time to install the thing myself and in doing so, I’d learn all about the installation, knowledge that will likely help me to troubleshoot problems down the road. Besides, it’s cheaper to do it yourself, right?

I decided on the Furuno, I compared prices, and I ordered the thing. I didn’t think to specify the length of the monitor/radome connector cable. I noted that it came standard with a ten-meter cable. Super!
In San Diego, I hired a rigger to rivet the radome mount on the front of our mast, about nine meters up. I didn’t give the cable length a second thought during the two hours I spent trying to fish the cable past obstructions on the mast interior and then out through the tiny hole at the base. But I’m no dummy, less than five minutes after completing that job, I realized my mistake.

Online, I saw that for $450 I could buy the 20-meter cable I should have started with. Because I’d scratched the sheathing wrestling my cable down the mast, I could no longer claim a $175 credit to exchange it. I looked at the blood on my knuckles and recalled the hassle and luck it took to run that cable; I didn’t want to do that again just because it was 20-feet too short. For a short time, I considered mounting the monitor beneath the floorboards, just beside the mast step, but I couldn’t think of a way to sell that idea to Windy.
This is what radar looks like in a crowded
area with the range set to 6nm. We are in a
marina in the half-mile blob in the middle
of the screen. The vertical mass that extends
out of it, up and angled off to the right, is the
Columbia River bridge in Astoria, OR, meeting
the dark mass of land about four miles away.
It's better on the ocean where buoys, boats, and
even whales show up clearly against a relatively
empty background. In the case of whales, as Windy
called out the positions of three of them the other
day, their backs were out of the water, and I
could see them on the display.
Google helped me to find a million dire warnings online against trying to splice radar cable (and some folks who had done it successfully). I closed Google and opened Skype.
“What if I cut off the monitor plug and splice in 20-feet of common wire to match whatever is inside your sheathed cable?” I asked the technician at Furuno headquarters.

“No way. Under the plastic sheathing is metal mesh sheathing, ten insulated copper wires, and a coaxial cable. If you splice in unprotected wire and coax, you’ll get too much interference, it won’t work.”
“What if I buy another $175 cable, cut off the monitor plug of my existing cable, cut off the radome end of the new cable, and then splice those?”

“Uhmm…” I felt a surge of boundless hope in the technician’s pause, “…it might work…” I took that as an emphatic assertion that it will work, “…but you’ll have to be very careful splicing he coax, use a plastic terminal bar—the European style—and make sure the entire splice is in a watertight metal junction box…we don’t recommend this though, you’ll kill your warranty. By the way, when you’re done, you may have to adjust the sweep timing to account for the longer cable—there are steps in the manual for this.”
So I had a plan and with the help of my friend Dr. Stewart in Eureka, I tracked down the cable, terminal strip, and junction box I needed. In a day I finished the installation of the radar I’d bought three months before—and it works like a charm.
It was a hassle to take the do-it-yourself approach, but I spent less, I know much more than I would have had I hired out the installation, and if we ever decide to pull the mast, it will take me about five minutes to disconnect the radar cable. Bonus.


Windy and the girls sitting and watching the jelly fish go by.
It is unbelievable how many jelly fish are in the ocean, like
grains of sand on the beach. We finally sucked one into the raw
water cooling line for the engine. We have a strainer, so he
didn't make it far, but you can't believe how bad he smelled
when I removed the strainer to clean it.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Radar Love
By Michael

Del Viento with her new mast-mounted
radome in King Salmon.
I've been drivin' all night, my hand's wet on the wheel… Don’t know the song? It was a huge hit in 1973 by the Dutch band Golden Earring. There’s a voice in my head that drives my heel… Once it’s in your head, it kind of sticks. And it’s been in my head lately…in the fog…on night watches.
But let me back up.

Radar was installed on our boat before we bought it. Mounted ten feet up on a 3-inch-diameter dedicated stern pole, the covered radome was the first thing I noticed in the listing photos because it was about the size of the ones you see on, oh…warships. Down below, mounted on its own shelf was a monitor so large it was like a wall that blocked off the nav station. I think Raymarine produced this model in 1948.
“Well, if we buy this boat, that’s the first thing I’ll remove,” I said to Windy.

“What? Why would you do that? It says in the listing the radar works fine.”
“I’ve read about these old units, they’re worthless. You have to plan ahead to use them because they take about 20 minutes to warm up—and then when they do warm up, they suck about a million amps out of the batteries. There’s just no point having it aboard.”

Radar was something we would never really need or use aboard Del Viento. Radar was a nice-to-have item that hundreds—no, thousands of voyagers (all with a lot more miles under their keel than me) have done without. Radar was exhibit one in a long list of “safety” gear that manufacturers have scared boaters into thinking they need. Not me. Instead of purchasing a false sense of security in the form of tens of thousands of dollars of “must-have” safety equipment, I would exercise the sound judgment and practice the good seamanship that served the Roths and the Hiscocks so well. Otherwise, where does the spending insanity end?
Not with Windy.

“I don’t want to get rid of something that works until we’ve lived with it.”
So live with it we did.

For nearly a year I tried to forget about it, but the manual was a thick, typewritten tome that took up space. The monitor seemed to grow every time I bent around it to sit at the nav station. I convinced myself we were losing half a knot from the windage of that AWACS radome. But I said nothing…until one evening in La Paz, Mexico watching the sunset aboard Nyon.
I brought it up casually with Rick and Kyra, “So you guys lived and sailed up in Victoria, B.C. and are now cruising, but I notice Nyon doesn’t have radar…” (Do you know why most trial lawyers are smarter than I am? They learned long ago not to ask a question in front of a jury unless they know the response.)

Kyra answered. I remember she said that they did just fine without radar, and largely considered it an unnecessary expense…except for the couple times they were stuck in fog and could hear the rumbling of large ship propellers all around them, fog horns blasting, surf on the rocks, and thought they were going to die.
Windy’s eyes were wide.

The girls love climbing up and hanging out
on top of the boom. Frances's shirt says it all.
Last April, on our bash north up the Baja peninsula, the massive aluminum radar pole broke free of the supporting blocks glassed to the hull down below and two of the bolts securing the deck collar sheared through. Rejoice! The thing was a menace, swaying from side to side and slowly cutting a hole in our transom. Surely it would all have to go when we reached San Diego! Windy never accused me of sabotage, but the thought likely occurred to her.
It felt like the interior volume of our boat doubled when I removed the old monitor. Together the radome and pole must have weighed one-hundred pounds. All of the old wiring I ripped out formed a huge, satisfying bundle of waste cleaned out of our boat and recycled. Success!

And then I realized that we would replace all that I removed—with new radar.
“Absolutely. We’re likely to find ourselves in fog, in the shipping lanes.”

I just did it. I didn’t resist and nor did I resent; she was probably right.
We bought the new solid state, svelte Furuno unit in San Diego. Three months later we were in King Salmon, on Humboldt Bay, when I finally finished the installation and powered it up for the first time. The radar seemed to work fine, but the display resembled a monochrome Jackson Pollack painting. It likely looked that way because we were not on the open ocean, all around us were homes and boats and a maze of King Salmon canals--and maybe it still required adjustment for the cable length, I didn’t know. And secretly, I didn’t care. I didn’t care a great deal how or whether it worked. I was glad only that my obligation to install the thing—this expensive thing we didn’t really need and would likely never use—was complete.

Two days later we left King Salmon and motored out the channel, past the break water and back into the Pacific Ocean, leaving Humboldt Bay on our way to Astoria, Oregon. Within 12 hours, the fog descended. It wasn’t thick at first, but with the night it turned to pea soup, one of the blackest nights I’ve spent at sea. I turned on the radar and I played with the gain and range settings. Within minutes I easily correlated buoys on our chart with objects on the radar screen, passing by. Outside I could see little beyond the glow of our running lights at the bow, but on the radar screen I could see a dozen fishing boats around us and mark our progress as we navigated a clear path safely through the fleet.
How had we come so many miles without this marvel?

I’m smitten. Our new Furuno friend was powered up all night for each of the three nights of our passage from Eureka, CA to Astoria, OR—even when the visibility was good. During one of my night watches when we had good visibility, I glanced at the radar screen as I came below after spending ten minutes in the cockpit surveying an empty horizon. There was a pretty strong target showing 6 miles off the starboard bow. Huh? I went back topsides, focused on that part of the horizon, and soon discerned the faint light of the vessel I missed.
Radar love indeed.


We have entered the land of fog.

Anchored in Shelter Cove, between San Francisco and Eureka.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sick From Salmon
By Michael

This poor guy may have had his fill of salmon
or other fish oils.
Our friends the Stewarts who live on Humboldt Bay told us that sick pelicans around them are exhibiting strange behavior, acting stupid. Dr. Stewart told me he saw a big brown pelican walking down the street like a dog. He showed me pelicans sitting on rooftops for hours alongside seagulls, something he hasn’t observed before. The posture of many pelicans is off, wings held at an odd angle while standing.

None of this is a mystery.

In the normal course of events, pelicans do not consume salmon. They eat sardines and other small schooling fish. They’ve even been known to eat small sea birds. Not salmon.

In the ocean outside of Humboldt Bay, salmon are jumping into fishing boats these days, filling quotas before the first beer is opened. Locals are out in all manner of small craft, in large numbers. But too many of these fishermen are dressing their catch aboard, throwing salmon remnants into the water, attracting gulls and hungry pelicans. Apparently, salmon isn’t good for pelicans.

Fish cleaning stations ashore are another pelican salmon source. At these stations there is such a concentration of salmon remnants that the oils of this oily fish are everywhere. Foraging pelicans are not only ingesting this oil, but getting it on their feathers. This compromises their natural waterproofing and insulation, leaving them exposed to the cold ocean water.
Word is reportedly getting out and fishermen are heeding posted signs about proper disposal of fish guts. Municipalities are shutting down cleaning stations with discharge pipes that go straight to the water. Online I learned that rescue centers are filled to capacity with ailing pelicans.

This flier looks fit.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Chain Of Friends
By Michael

Angus, Joan, and the girls.
Fifteen years ago Windy took me to the emergency room in the middle of the night. The eye pain I’d felt during the previous couple days had worsened to the point that I couldn’t take it anymore. I told Windy it felt like both a teaspoon of sand under my eye lid and someone repeatedly poking my eye with a pencil. I wrapped a towel around my head to avoid even the dimmest light and she helped me dress and walked me to the car like a newly blind person.
There was little the ER folks could do but to reassure me that I probably wouldn’t lose my sight and to give me the address of an ophthalmologist to see first thing in the morning.

We lived in a small, coastal California town five hours north of San Francisco. It is a place not spoiled by population growth and home to the tallest, most magnificent trees in the world. A local state university ensures a diverse population and enriches the culture of this place, isolated as it is from the richness of a large population center. The twin cities of Arcata and Eureka were our home for two years following our first sailboat cruise that ended in Florida.
Dr. Angus Stewart is a fixture of the area, a local practitioner for decades. Once he diagnosed the disease that caused my iris muscle to inflame, he put some drops in that allowed me to focus on the certificates hanging on the walls around me.

“You practiced in Panama?”
I told him about our then-recent sailing voyage, our Canal transit, and the time we spent in Panama City. He shared a love of boats and talked about a Cheoy Lee he’d owned and a delivery he crewed from Hawaii. He gave me sensible advice about managing the iritis, told me about the latest medical information related to the disease, and loaned me a Patrick O’Brian book he’d finished and thought I might enjoy.

Before leaving, I mentioned to his receptionist that this was the best doctor visit I’d ever had, that I never felt rushed. She nodded and said that Dr. Stewart didn’t allow her to book too many appointments each day, that he enjoyed giving time to his patients.
Ultimately, I was his last patient. He was a couple weeks from retirement when I first saw him and my final visit was his last in-office appointment. But our friendship endured. We shared dinners with Angus and his wife, Joan. They came to our wedding and when we packed up and moved to D.C., a nice couch they no longer used came with us. We returned to visit over the years, first as a young married couple and later with infant Eleanor, then with both girls as they’ve grown.

On a visit half-a-decade ago, we told them about our new cruising plans. We talked then about the possibility of tying up whatever boat we were on to the dock behind their guest home. They seemed to take us seriously, but I suspect like all sane people we know they considered dubious the chances that we would actually follow through with our radical, far-off plan to upend our lives.
The Stewarts are another link in a chain of family and friends along this coast. Like most of our California landfalls these past few months, tying up in Eureka, California—behind the Stewarts’ guest home—was both a reunion and another culmination of a plan made, a reminder that we're doing what we set out to do.

Despite a need to make timely progress up the coast, weather kept us in Eureka for more than a week. But in that time we wrapped up boat projects and enjoyed the company and hospitality of dear friends.


Frances and Joan 
Del Viento at the Stewarts' dock in King Salmon. By all
accounts, Del Viento is the largest vessel in the history of this
unincorporated area of Eureka to make it into these canals. Even
at high tide, our 6-foot draft allowed us only inches between our
keel and the bottom at the entrance. This tiny part of Humboldt
Bay is home to harbor seals and otters--Eleanor and I even
surprised playful otters on our dock a couple times.
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