Thursday, October 31, 2013

West Coast Crew
By Michael

It's unbelievable to me that when we left
D.C., she was seven. Happy Birthday Boo.
In the spring of 2010, I emailed John and Cindy of Port Ludlow, WA. I’d learned online that they owned Namaste, one of the dozen-or-so Fuji 40s ever built. I told them Windy and I were considering buying a sister ship for sale in Mexico. I had a million questions.

Cindy got right back to me and in several emails she gave me lots of valuable information about the boat. A month later, we did buy that 1978 Fuji 40 in Mexico, named her Del Viento, and eventually sailed away. And we’ve kept in touch with John and Cindy. They’ve hosted us at their home several times and we’ve become friends.

Like many Puget Sound-area boaters, John and Cindy haven't yet had the time, opportunity, or need to sail outside the 6,900-square-mile watery playground that is the Salish Sea. And though navigating their “protected” home waters is often more demanding from a seamanship perspective than offshore or coastal cruising, the North Pacific Ocean that lies just beyond Cape Flattery remained for them an unknown.

No longer. A few weeks ago, John sailed with us from Port Angeles, WA to Astoria, OR. Afterward, I asked him to write about his experience so that I could post it here. Take it John:
Several months ago I emailed my friends Michael and Windy and asked if I could accompany them part of the way down the coast in the fall on their return trip from Alaska back to Mexico. At the time it was early summer and it sounded like a good idea. Now here I am on a late September night; it’s dark, cold and raining and I need to climb down a wet, vertical, 30-foot ladder to board their dinghy from the pier.

We've been three weeks in the Bay
Area anchored right here, in
Tomales Bay. In the foreground
are cousin Oliver, Grandma Julie,
Auntie Pao, cousin Otis, and Frances.
"I am not thrilled with heights and I was definitely experiencing some pre-trip jitters as I followed 7-year-old Frances down, in my foulies, one rung at a time, trying to maintain some bravado. I survived and we were all soon aboard Del Viento, settling in and catching up on the events in each other’s lives.

"We turned in for the night as we were to set out early the next day. The plan was to leave from Port Angles, round Cape Flattery and cross the Columbia River bar into Astoria. (Ocean sailing with a bar crossing-what more could I ask for?) Unfortunately, sleep did not come easily. My mind instead vividly reenacted many well-known tragedies at sea, leaving me to wonder whether I would see my family again. (I know, very melodramatic.)

"Windy woke me at 0630. It was cloudy, but no longer raining, there was little wind. We weighed anchor without trouble and headed into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Michael and the girls were still asleep and Windy and I got the chance to talk about their routines when planning a passage. I was excited to be doing a coastal ocean passage on the sister-ship to our Namaste.

"Now underway, my anxiety started to dissipate and even the clouds opened up to a bright, sunny day. We motored all day towards Cape Flattery, keeping a sharp eye out for the occasional log. At sunset we were abeam Neah Bay and I could see the light off Cape Flattery, where we’d make the big 'left turn.' At this point, I could feel the increasing size of the ocean swell. Too, there seemed to be more logs here at the entrance to the Strait. It was getting dark fast and to my inexperienced self, these did not seem to be ideal circumstances. But we continued on and I watched the desolate Washington coast disappear behind us.

Windy grew up here in
San Anselmo, close to
where her folks live now.
It's also where George
Lucas penned Star Wars
in 1973 and Indiana Jones
in 1974.
"We decided I would take the 0100 to 0400 watch, so I soon headed to my berth to try and sleep before my turn. Before I knew it, Michael woke me and in the cockpit he briefed me on conditions before leaving me to settle into my watch. Although I was nervous, three hours passed without incident. Windy showed up around 0400 to relieve me and I found sleep came easier than before.

"I had the early shift the next night and by this time the nervousness I felt the night before was gone. The hardest part about that watch was being cold, especially the last hour that seemed to drag. But Michael reminded me about how pleasant a night watch can be in the tropics, wearing only shorts and a T-shirt.

"Early on the third morning, Windy woke me to let me know we were getting ready to cross over the Columbia River Bar. We had arrived a few hours earlier than planned and so we would be crossing in the dark. While the conditions seemed calm, we still contacted the Coast Guard to get the latest conditions. The most unsettling part about crossing the bar was the number of lights. Even though we all know "red right returning," there seemed to be a lot of red lights and it was a bit confusing. But this is where the iPad came in handy, as we were able to follow the channel in, even with fishing boats and the occasional supertanker close by. By sunrise we had tied up to the dock in Astoria and my first trip down the coast was over.

"In the days and weeks that have followed, I have thought about the trip down the coast many times. While I did not cross any oceans or make landfall on a distant shore, I returned home with a sense of accomplishment and a better understanding of what to expect when we point Namaste’s bow south. For me, dealing with the unknowns and the what-ifs have been a hard part of preparing for our own trip. It is always possible to imagine the worst-case scenario. And while I often talk to sailors who can tell you about this or that terrible storm they were in, after spending time with Michael and Windy, I realize that with careful planning, keeping an eye on the weather, and a little luck, most of the drama can be avoided. I feel the greatest thing I came away with was a feeling that although I know our own cruise will not always be easy, I now have a greater sense of confidence in being able to make our own dreams come true.”


John and Windy motoring in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
This is our friend Dr. Angus Stewart. He made the
trip with us from Eureka to Bodega Bay.

And here is Windy and her dad, Paul. Paul made the
early morning, five-mile trip from Bodega Bay to
Tomales Bay.

The girls with their cousins Oli and Otis,
Del Viento behind.

Windy's Aunt Bev, her husband Don, and her
grandparents Lee and Dorothy, nonagenarians.
Lee flew a P-51 in Europe during WWII.
The camera is up here Frances.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

New Boats
By Michael

Ominous, huh? I found it on a
deserted shoreline on NW
Vancouver Island, BC.
I stumbled on a Rolling Stone magazine the other day and my ignorance of popular culture was suddenly apparent. I've not heard a single song listed in the iTunes Top Ten. Something awful has happened because Dave Matthews and Tom Petty and the Red Hot Chili Peppers were not there. Seriously, they're gone.

So I looked up the listed number-one artist, Lorde (yes, just one name like Madonna and Cher). Turns out she is a 16-year-old New Zealander who is a singer-songwriter phenomenon. I listened to her hit, "Royals" and I was impressed. Her extraordinary lyrics confront the ostentatious consumption celebrated in popular music.

If you’re familiar with Lorde’s "Royals," read on, else take a minute to check it out:

And for the benefit of Log of Del Viento readers, I rewrote Lorde's song with a nautical bent. I named it "New Boats," then I thought how excellent it would be if the likes of Eileen Quinn were to record this version on her next album. Can anyone pass this on to Eileen? (Though she and Little Gidding may be retired.)


I’ve always been a sailor done my best
I cut my teeth on worn-out lines, in a dinghy
And yes my boat’s a bit of a mess
Old mismatched gear, no yacht club envy

But every show’s like Musto, West Marine, SOLAS or you’re not safe
Rocna, Monitor, sign up for a charter
We don’t care, we’re sailing Oysters in our dreams
But every store is like new line, watermaker, put it on the credit card
new chain, bigger winch, Parasail spinnaker
We don't care, we aren't caught up in your love affair

And we'll never have new boats (new boats)
It don't run in our blood
That kind of luxe just ain't for us
We crave a different kind of buzz

Let me be your cruiser (cruiser)
You can call me Sea Bee
And baby I'll sail, I'll sail, I'll sail, I'll sail
Let me live that fantasy

My friends and I—we've cracked the code
We sail our trusty good old boats across oceans
And everyone who knows us knows that we're fine with this
We didn't come from money

But every show’s like Musto, West Marine, SOLAS or you’re not safe
Rocna, Monitor, sign up for a charter
We don’t care, we’re sailing Oysters in our dreams
But every store is like new line, watermaker, put it on the credit card
new chain, bigger winch, Parasail spinnaker
We don't care, we aren't caught up in your love affair

And we'll never have new boats (new boats)
It don't run in our blood
That kind of luxe just ain't for us
We crave a different kind of buzz

Let me be your cruiser (cruiser)
You can call me Sea Bee
And baby I'll sail, I'll sail, I'll sail, I'll sail
Let me live that fantasy

Ooh ooh oh
We're sailing like we ever dreamed
And I'm in love with being green
Ooh ooh oh
Cruising’s great without a care
We aren't caught up in your love affair

And we'll never have new boats (new boats)
It don't run in our blood
That kind of luxe just ain't for us
We crave a different kind of buzz
Let me be your cruiser (cruiser)
You can call me Sea Bee
And baby I'll sail, I'll sail, I'll sail, I'll sail
Let me live that fantasy


Making s'mores in the Bunsby Island group,
west coast of Vancouver Island, BC.

Friday, October 18, 2013

A Near Disaster
By Michael

Del Viento heading into the fog a month ago,
en route to Prince Rupert, Canada.

I’m not a great sailor, not even a very good one. But I enjoy moving from one place to another in that way and I’ve long thought my seamanship knowledge and judgment are sufficient to get me, my crew, and boat wherever we’re going, safely.

Then I almost lost Del Viento and my family in a chain of events that spanned about five minutes.

After almost a week in Astoria, Oregon visiting family and friends and waiting out storms, it was time to continue south. We planned to sail direct to Eureka, California, a 350-nautical mile coastal passage that would require we cross two notorious bars: the Columbia River Bar departing Astoria and the Humboldt Bay Bar arriving Eureka. In each case, timing and good conditions would be important. As our trip would cover three nights and two days, we paid attention also to wind and sea-state forecasts for the stretch.

On Wednesday, we readied for a Thursday evening departure. On Thursday evening, Windy took another look and determined it might be better to hold off until morning, that leaving as-planned, we risked arriving at Humboldt too late if our speed was even a bit less than projected. And arriving too late could mean having to wait outside for several hours.

“But if we make good speed, we can still leave tonight and make Humboldt on time?” I asked.

“Yes,” she hesitated, “if everything is goes perfectly.”

I don’t like change. I bristled at the prospect of plan upheaval. We’d sent emails to everyone announcing our imminent departure. We’d just finished refueling and successfully arranged with the fuel dock to remain tied there for a few more hours until departure time.

Eleanor with a small frog she found
in the warm springs of Baranof, Alaska.
“I say we go.”

And we did.

And you think you know where this is going, right? You think this is a story of calamity that will stem from a decision based on convenience or from poor planning? Nope.

At 7:30 p.m., we left the fuel dock and motored out of the marina at the base of the Astoria-Megler Bridge. We had nearly two hours of narrow shipping channels to navigate before we reached the bar. Windy went below to clean up after dinner and I stayed in the cockpit.

“Call me if you need anything.”


This would be our fourth transit of this channel and across the Columbia River Bar. Now, even in the dark, this is pretty boring stuff. I’ve got all the channel-marking buoys, the channel, and Del Viento displayed on the iPad clamped to the bimini frame beside me. Most of the channel traffic is reflected on the tiny AIS screen of our remote VHF on the binnacle. And the conditions are severe clear; I can see everything around me for miles, a sea of lights. I’m bundled up against the cold night on the water and we’re doing about 5.5 knots under power.

For forty-five minutes, I do little else besides make adjustments to the autopilot to keep us on our side of the 600-foot-wide channel. There is a current and we repeatedly drift off-course. A couple small fishing boats pass in the opposite direction, but there seems to be little traffic. I look for anticipated marker buoys ahead and I look for unanticipated traffic from behind. I listen to big ships on the radio fifteen miles out, coordinating bar pilot rendezvous.

The running lights of the next opposing traffic are about a half-mile away. I think that it may be a large fishing boat. There is no question in my mind we will pass port-to-port as we should.

The girls hauling groceries home in
Craig, Alaska.
Recall I said that I almost lost Del Viento and my family in a chain of events that spanned about five minutes. Well, I know that at this point in the story we haven’t yet crossed the fear-inspiring Columbia River Bar, we haven’t entered the Graveyard of the Pacific, we haven’t even sailed night and day and night and day and night along a North Pacific coastline where gales this time of year are a dime-a-dozen and come on quickly, and we haven’t made it across the next bar and into Humboldt Bay. But none of those potential, perceived hazards are relevant; we can go ahead and start that five-minute clock…now.

There is about a half-mile between me and the oncoming vessel in this narrow shipping channel. Given our roughly 13-knot closure speed, we’ll pass each other in just over two minutes.

It’s night, a very dark night. My depth perception is off and I’m trying to make out a shape. I make a million subliminal mental calculations as I watch this traffic, continuously trying to make sense of the lights all over the boat, of the lights on the hills and shoreline beyond it. But my interest is pretty subdued; I know it will all be clear as we get closer.

Then I realize we are a bit closer, closer than I assumed, less than a quarter-mile now and getting brighter, but still not a concern. We’ll pass by, two proverbial ships in the night. I wonder if they see me—my little LED running lights so low on the water—but there’s no need to call on the radio to be sure, we’re going to pass port-to-port, sure as rain.

Then a larger boat grabs my attention, off in the distance, just a smudge in the darkness about a mile beyond this approaching boat, way outside the channel on the other side, heading the same direction as me and merging into the channel. It’s like a large white hull and the first strange thought that occurs to me is that it’s an unlit cruise ship heading out to sea, strange indeed.

My approaching traffic is closer, right where he should be. I can see now it looks like a large tug.

But I’m focused on the new guy, wondering about this big, white, unlit cruise ship—but not concerned, he’ll merge into this channel way ahead of me.

Suddenly my perception of everything changes.

Lights jump out from behind the big, white, unlit cruise ship and they’re close, and I realize this cruise ship is not a cruise ship, but a white wall that’s growing fast. I can’t make sense of what I’m seeing, but it’s all growing quickly, eclipsing the lights in the background.
In Sitka, Alaska, the girls stepping between
salmon heading upstream--like many rivers,
this one was thick with humpies.


I fumble with the AIS to see what it says, to help me interpret what I’m seeing. It’s set at five-miles and I can’t discern anything and I drop it, there is no time. I hear new noises, growing sounds of rushing water and rumbling engines. This produces a flush of panic because I usually hear little over the sound of our own engine.

“What is it?” Windy climbs quickly out of the companionway from the brightly lit interior. She knows something is wrong by the way I called her.


The approaching tug is now close abeam, passing quickly. I take a second to look at the iPad to confirm we are where I think we are, headed the right direction. Then I turn back. The white wall is towering ahead and I see a bow wake, but it doesn’t look right. The lights beyond it are disappearing, but they had been moving alarmingly to our starboard side.

Windy turned to face forward. “Uh, ohmygod, uh, um…”

I know we are in danger and very close to something bearing down on us, but I still can’t orient what I’m seeing. Why isn’t someone blowing a large warning horn? Wouldn’t that happen before we’re run down? What direction is this thing moving? In the same moment, I spin our wheel to port, perpendicular and towards the transom of the passing tug. It seems safe to get into his wake, close to an object I can discern and know the direction it’s headed.

Windy points to starboard.

Immediately I see a line the diameter of a tree trunk lift out of the water in front of us. Then the towering white barge comes into focus and everything makes sense. The tug passing us to port has a large, white-walled barge under tow, but the tow isn’t trailing behind, it’s crabbing far into the opposing traffic lane of this narrow channel. It is dead ahead, less than 150 feet away from us.

Windy says, "No, starboard!" as I spin the wheel back, hard over to starboard about 140 degrees and throw the throttle all of the way forward.

Two or three or five seconds pass before I realize we are clear.

It races by us, right next to us, a big, metal wall.

Behind the barge another large, brightly-lit tug is there, pushing from the rear.

In this context, all of the elements present--the sound, the barge, the wake, the lights--the scene of what nearly happened plays in my head, sharp, sickening, and tactile imagery. I imagine the popping and cracking as Del Viento is caught beam-on, pushed sideways, a wall of water pushing over our side as we roll, break-up, and sink underneath the hard, flat end of the barge.

We both breath deeply and stare at each other, wordless.

For the next hour we stood together, using the radar, AIS, and each other to gauge traffic in the channel. We used the VHF to announce our position and received appreciative responses from captains who had us on their radar but couldn’t otherwise see us. Both of us were buzzing from adrenaline and eager to get out to the open ocean. We were ten miles out before we could relax.

And all the while we talked about and learned from the mistakes I made.

In short, I trusted my senses even when I knew the darkness was disorienting, comfortable with assumptions I made and failing to use the tools I had at hand to verify my perceptions and broadcast my position. Specifically: 
  • I should have referred to AIS signals long before I tried to. I would have set the resolution and realized the tow was drifting into our traffic lane and could have left the channel to remain out of the way.
  • I should have been broadcasting our position at each marker buoy all along. (I should have assumed I was invisible from the start.)
  • I should have been using the RADAR too, from the start. Even though visibility was excellent, this hazard would have been clear long beforehand.
  • I shouldn’t necessarily have been in the shipping channel. Though we sought to be in the channel for crossing the bar, the added depth was not important at this stage, more than an hour from that time.
  • We should have had everything secured below before we untied. It seemed reasonable that we had almost a couple of hours before we both had to be topsides for the bar crossing, but we discounted the value of having both of us in the cockpit while we moved through this traffic corridor.
  • I should have recognized the pattern of navigation lights displayed by a tow boat with a barge behind.
  • I should have been less assuming, less cavalier, about my ability to avoid the potential hazards at the start of that passage. A different attitude would have gone a long way.
My dad, a private pilot, has long trumpeted a saying popular in the aviation community. The message is equally suited to the cruising community: Cruising is not inherently dangerous, but is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity, or neglect.

I realize I don't take or post many pictures of our home inside.
This is from the nav station looking forward into the salon.
Here in the isolated Bunsby island group on the west
coast of Vancouver Island, I spotted this blue boat washed
ashore. We stopped to investigate, thinking it may be
tsunami debris. There were no markings of any kind on
the busted hull.
This is Strawberry Island off Tofino, BC. We anchored here. Those are all floating homes.
Note the stilted wood hull ashore. It is there forever, with a deck
built on the shore side, another home.
Del Viento sits at the dock at night in Sitka, Alaska.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Astoria, Force 10
By Michael

My sister, Julie, watching the storm pound the South Jetty.
We left Port Angeles, WA the morning of Wednesday, September 25, bound for Astoria, OR. Our goal was clear: get across the Columbia River Bar and into safe harbor as early as possible Friday morning. Any later and we knew we'd be caught in a tangle of powerful storms bearing down on the Pacific Northwest, fueled in part by remnants of Typhoon Pabuk that had threatened Japan. At 0400, after 45-hours underway (many of them spent trying to sail in confused seas and fluky winds) we crossed the bar.

When we tied up in Astoria two hours later, day was breaking and both rain and the barometric pressure were falling. By the afternoon, the wind was blowing 20 knots at our dock. It built steadily overnight until we first saw 53 knots on our anemometer the next morning. We double-secured our solar panels, unplugged the dinghy, put on our mainsail cover, deployed all our fenders, and doubled down on the dock lines. Pieces blew off surrounding, untended boats. Tarps whipped themselves to shreds.

Saturday afternoon we intercepted a bar pilot when he arrived ashore after bringing in a tanker.

“What’s it like out there now?”

“It’s blowing forty, seventeen to nineteen foot waves, but the worse is yet to come, we expect twenty-five to twenty-eight foot breakers tomorrow.” He turned to point back on the ship he’d come from, “That’s the last one, the bar is closed.”

We walked a couple blocks up empty 12th Street sidewalks, looking for a respite from the rain. Inside Lucy's Books, we told the proprietor we’d just learned the bar was closed.

“Really?” she asked, looking up the bar report on the computer in front of her. “Wow, it’s red, closed, I haven’t seen that for a while.”

The next day was worse and we drove (in my sister’s car) out to the foot of the south jetty in pouring rain to see things for ourselves. The wind howled and spindrift raced over our heads. Sheets of spray pelted us from above. Atop the breakwater and looking out, it was nearly impossible to discern the six-mile-long bar, the ocean was simply a mess of breaking waves all the way to the horizon.

Sunday night after dinner was the peak. We holed up in my sister’s second-floor hotel room beneath the Astoria-Megler Bridge. Out the window, we could see Del Viento’s mast in the marina a quarter-mile away, fixed at a 20-degree heel. At about 2000 hours, everything erupted and intensified for ten minutes. The rain grew heavy and blew sideways. The wild, raging river was blown nearly flat and huge, sail-like tarpaulins, attached to bridge girders 250 feet above the Columbia River, blew free and disappeared downwind.

Things have since eased. It’s still breezy in Astoria and the rain comes and goes, but the bar is back open, the seas are calming, and it looks like we’ll leave here this evening, bound for Eureka, CA. And we do need to keep moving, the season has changed and more storms are on the way, marching southward from the Gulf of Alaska.


They could only stand on top of the breakwater for a couple
minutes. Note the clumps of spindrift in the air.

Back in Sitka, AK, Eleanor watching a scientist bring
in a bald eagle at the Alaska Raptor Center.

Outside the Sitka Sound Science Center, the
salmon had done their thing and were just
trying to die with grace. The girls wouldn't have it,
repeatedly "freeing" salmon that launched themselves
onto the rocks.

While we watched the storm from Astoria, the Coast Guard was outside, 25 miles south of us, pulling this singlehander off his boat, The Rock. I've been trying learn more about the backstory--why was he out there?--but haven't seen anything yet.

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