Here you will find tales of voyages past and present on our trusty Pacific Seacraft Dana 24, "Sockdolager," and our Bigfoot29 powerboat, "Raven," from Port Townsend, Washington, USA. In 2009 we sailed north from Puget Sound up the west coast of Vancouver Island to the Queen Charlotte Islands (now called Haida Gwaii.) In 2010 we went back to the west coast of Vancouver Island. In July 2011 we left the Northwest, sailed to Mexico, and in March 2012 we crossed the Pacific to French Polynesia, then on to the Cooks, Niue and Tonga. We spent several months in New Zealand, and in May 2013 loaded Sockdolager (and ourselves) on a container ship for San Francisco. In June and July 2013 we sailed north along the California, Oregon and Washington coasts, and in August we arrived home. In October 2016, Sockdolager found new owners, and we began cruising on Raven, a unique wooden 29' powerboat. In 2018 we cruised up to Glacier Bay, Alaska, and back. But in 2024 we had the chance to buy Sockdolager back (we missed her), so we sold Raven. We hope you enjoy reading about our adventures as much as we enjoy having them. (And there will be more.)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Life in the Slow Lane

It’s 2:30 in the morning, we’re sound asleep after another full day of sailing in the foggy Strait of Juan de Fuca. Karen hears a fog horn from a ship—one of those very low, long deep fog horns that means a big ship. Uh-oh. You know how it is when you’re half awake but you don’t want to wake all the way up because you’re having such a good sleep? That’s how it was. Hoping that it’s no big deal because we’re anchored safely, (we are, right?) she dozes off again. But then, BOOOOOOOOOOOOOP! Good grief, that ship is close! Both Karen and Jim come wide awake. WHOA! Where are we? Home in bed, that’s where. With the windows wide open to let in the cool night breeze. The sound of fog horns from ships groping their way through the Strait of Juan de Fuca is drifting across the still night air, all the way up the hill

to our house. Whew. We laugh. Back in Port Townsend from the west coast of Vancouver Island after a terrific cruise, we’re happy to be home, and planning the next one. This is the entire route.

Jim sails us to anchor through the narrow entrance at Dodger Channel.

Everyday Life on a Boat
What’s it like to live on a small sailboat? Reading this blog may give you an idea, but there’s more than can be described. The motion, for example—how can the peace or the lovely rock-you-to-sleep motion of a good boat that’s well-anchored be adequately described? Or the underway motion of a lively following sea, when the boat surfs down the front of a wave, sails billowing, and makes you whoop with joy? Or the ominous wake of a large ship you can’t see in the fog that tosses you in warning? How about the endless pitch, yaw and roll of big seas that gets you queasily wishing they’d calm down? There’s an endless variety of motion. Also sounds, smells, different kinds of light and darkness. Perhaps that flick of motion seen from the corner of your eye is a bird, maybe even one you know the name and call of without having to look. When you sail, you are a pure creature of the moment, reacting to wind and wave, sensory input, always scanning the horizon for changes in the weather, which rules your life. And, like a good pilot, you are always looking, when sailing along the coast, for good alternate “landing places” in case you can’t reach your intended destination. Life on a sailboat is about motion.

There is fear, too, such as when a squall hits and the wind shifts and suddenly you’re on a lee shore and it’s chaos and noise, and then you methodically work to get the boat under control, get back on course, make rational decisions on how you’ll handle the challenge. This tests how well you’ve prepared. Life on a sailboat is about extensive preparation, practice, proper equipment, and back-up plans.

Pipestem Inlet view

It’s hard to describe how it feels to take your little home with you everywhere you go. You’re at home on the water, anywhere. The boat is stocked with everything needed for extended periods away, wherever you decide “away” might be. Life on a sailboat is about self-sufficiency.

Guiding the boat into another inlet.

Fishing in Pacific swells.

Life on a sailboat is also about stillness. When you chill out after a hard sail, you know you’ve earned it and there isn’t a single brain cell nagging that you shouldn’t relax.

Nothing beats a glass of wine with friends, toasting the sunset in a wilderness anchorage off the beaten path while the surf crashes outside your cove. Sailing is what you make it. The thing about cruising under sail is the wholeness of it. Everything you do seems to have a sense of full involvement with no holding back. It’s why sailors sleep so well.

The juxtaposition of these photos, of Karen cleaning the engine and Jim snoozing after a good afternoon of fishing, followed by the photo of Jack the seadog leaping into Karen’s spot the moment she gets up (he was evicted shortly afterwards) is purely unintentional. Really. Karen did plenty of snoozin’, Jim did plenty of work, and Jack did plenty of barking.

Livin’ LaVida Lingcod
Just in case anyone thinks living on a small sailboat is all can openers and flung spray and hardtack for dinner, let us disabuse you of that notion right now. In fact, if you’re the slightest bit hungry, stop reading and go eat something.

The finest visual all summer, from a civilized dining perspective, was Jim coming back in the dinghy grinning, after 3 or 4 hours of fishing, and hollering “I HOPE YOU’RE HUNGRY!” He’d hold up his fish and Karen would do a little jig in the cockpit. We’ve caught rockfish, snapper, lingcod, salmon,

oysters (they’re slow), Dungeness and rock crabs, and have been given prawns and halibut. We have fed ourselves for much of the summer on fresh wild seafood. We alternate cooking “duties” every other night, and have developed some rather high culinary standards due to the fact that we both enjoy making stuff up, especially when we’ve caught a big fish and it lasts for four meals. Jim rejoices when we’ve “eaten down” all the fillets in the fridge. The expression on his face then is all “OH BOY OH BOY! I GET TO FISH AGAIN!”

Jim's 26-inch salmon.

Our brand new Isotherm refrigerator is all or nothing—either you turn it way down and freeze everything, or you live with a deadline for eating the fish you catch. While cleaning one day’s catch, Jim wished for hermetically sealed fish fillets. Karen said, “You mean, like one of those seal-a-meal gizmos?”

“No,” Jim said, “I mean sealed by the Hermetites.”

“Huh? You mean hermits? Like, lonely guys with nothing better to do?” asked Karen.

“No,” Jim said, “I mean the Hermetites.”

“Ah, of course. And who were they?”

“They sealed,” replied Jim.

“Why?” asked Karen.

“Because they didn’t have refrigeration back then,” said Jim. But Karen knows what’s coming next. Better eat up the veggies because we’re turning the fridge down to arctic.

Following the timeless tradition taught to us by our Canadian friends Marty and Mae, Jim kisses his first salmon.

We’ve been shocked and slightly thrilled to see the price of seafood in markets and restaurants: Half a Dungeness crab with garlic butter, $26. A whole crab, $38. A whole salmon in the grocery store, $37. Six shucked oysters, $7. Well, shucks yourself, it was worth the purchase of all that equipment and the fishing license, never mind the stories we get to tell.

Here is a sampling of Le Menu Sockdolager:

Chinook salmon poached over a cassoulet of thinly sliced potatoes, onions, apples and green peppers smothered in Bernaise sauce. (Karen is not sure what a cassoulet is, but it sounded good.)

Blackened lingcod with a crust of spices.

Prawn Pad Thai.

Sauteed rockfish with almonds and wild sea-asparagus.

Salmon seared in a quarter-ton of garlic and New Zealand butter.

Fish & chips (lingcod) in beer batter.

Chesapeake Bay-style crab cakes.

Steamed Dungeness and rock crab, drawn butter, fresh green beans; and for a change from seafood, Jim’s Meat Loaf. It’s killer. We had a meatloaf cook-off last winter to see who made the best recipe. To Karen’s everlasting shock, Jim won.

Karen marvels at Jim's Tower of Tasty Tostada

Jack, who appears to be feeling better after his cardiac episode, found a three-dog echo in a tiny cove near Julia Passage. A three-dog echo is when one bark echoes three times, which can puff a little dog’s already big ego up. Enough to assume that any wolves in the area know there’s one baaaaad bunch down there on that little green boat.


Enough Food, Let’s Talk About the Weather
In the last post we mentioned the winds have been “active.” Daily gale warnings (winds of 35 knots) have continued all month, and we can remember only one or two days without one. It seems no matter what the weather does, we have a gale. Cold front? We got gale. Weakening low? Gale. Ridge of high pressure? Gale. A dip in the Dow Jones Industrial Average? Gale. We suspect what’s really happened is the entire Environment Canada staff is on holiday at the beach in Tofino and they don’t want crowds bothering them, so each day the little recording is appended to the forecast NO MATTER WHAT THE WEATHER IS DOING, and you hear the cheerful robot say: “…as a result, strong to gale force winds will develop over the entire west coast of Vancouver Island…”

But the sunsets and moonrises have been spectacular.

Moonrise and a cozy cabin

Errant Assumption #1: Whenever you assume that the big bay you’re anchored in so peacefully will remain peaceful, remember this sight--a football field-sized lumber barge that anchored close to us at 5:30 one morning in Ucluelet Inlet. We were awakened by men shouting, as the barge began to swing toward us, “HEY! Are we gonna miss that little sailboat?” Followed by a guy running the length of the barge, peering at us and yelling, “Yeah… I THINK so.” We moved.

A Capital Ship for an Ocean Trip
Reluctantly departing Barkley Sound one morning, we headed out into lumpy Pacific swells and a southeast headwind. Headwind? Whaaa? The weather said west, a tailwind! With K disparaging the laughing Weather Gods as a bunch of sick losers, we motored for awhile, until a zephyr from the west filled in and said we could sail, which we did. Ahhhh. Sailing is best. The zephyr grew and grew, until by day’s end, when we were entering a big square open bay at the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca called Port San Juan, it was blowing fog at 35 knots. You read that right. Blowing fog. 35 knots. Fog around here doesn’t sit still and behave nicely. It’s not your basic well-behaved East Coast summer fog. This is industrial strength airborne mashed potatoes that blows your hair flat. It comes in like a wall. You can see it coming in advance, so there’s plenty of time to build a right proper case of denial. Oh no, that’ll never get THIS far, you say, and when you look to windward again there it is, hovering like a persistent used car salesman, and you know you can’t avoid buying this turkey.

At the end of a long day, sailing fast and dead downwind in 35 knots into a foggy bay whose shores are obscured, except for the sight of a beach full of combers at the far end, is a good test of nerves. Options were to trust the cruising guide, which promised shelter, or head out again into gathering darkness for another 40 howling miles. We decided to check it out. Only if no safe anchorage could be found would we head back out. The aptly-named Thrasher Cove on the bay’s west side was filled with breaking waves, so we sailed across the bay to a tiny cleft in the rocks optimistically named Port Renfrew, and hoped it wasn’t too full of the fishing boats that were all passing us in their haste to get into harbor. It nearly was too full, but between a fishing/research boat and a net tender we managed to anchor in a sliver of smooth water, with waves breaking on the rocks less than three boat lengths to port and wind-lashed seas three foggy boat lengths to starboard. Oh well, who doesn’t need more practice in precision anchoring anyway.

This was the perfect time to try a new technique we’d read about in an excellent older book by Earl Heinz, called The Complete Book of Anchoring and Mooring. Non-sailors skip this part. The technique is called a “hammerlock.” Basically, all it involves is this: once your main anchor’s set and the boat’s in position for the heavy winds but you don’t have room to swing when they go light, you just drop another anchor, preferably heavy, on a short rode off the bow. When the wind dies down, the extra anchor will keep the boat from moving around, but if it does drag you can likely hear it rumbling. From a marginal anchorage like this you’re probably going to move anyway.

Sockdolager's GPS track in Barkley Sound

Weather Gods to Bureaucracy Gods… Over to You
I guess we gave the Weather Gods enough entertainment for awhile, because the next day was spectacular. A sweet little westerly breeze in the morning, some fog but still a couple miles of visibility, and warm sunshine. We tried out a downwind arrangement of sails—staysail boomed out on one side and genoa on the other. Although we didn’t try booming out the genoa using the end of the main boom, we figured out how it might be done. Sockdolager flew along all day, perfection in a 35-mile sleigh ride to Sooke. We realized some of the adjustments that’ll be needed in order to have a reliable trade-wind rig. Of course by day’s end the wind built to 25 or 30, and on a reefed genoa alone we were surfing down some surprisingly large breaking seas. This little 24-foot boat with its 21-foot waterline surfed steadily at 7-8 knots. Now for the really exciting part.

The VHF radio crackled into life. It was the US Coast Guard, cheerfully announcing live fire exercises by the Canadian Navy in a patch of water called “Whiskey Hotel.”

“Did they say live fire? As in real bombs?” Karen asked. Jim thought that’s what he heard, so we checked the chart. Although there is no Whiskey Hotel named on the chart, an ominously placed magenta line near our position said DANGER AREA.

“I think we may be in the live fire area,” said Jim.

“Great,” said Karen. “You check into the Whiskey Hotel and they shoot you.” Right about then a helicopter flew by. We heard a radio call for “Helo Stinger 32.” You’ve gotta love the names these people give their fighting machines. But seeing one from a distance greater than half a mile would have been better, from an appreciation standpoint.

Jim called the Coast Guard, who gave us the coordinates for Area Whiskey Hotel. For whatever reason, they wanted us to plot the coordinates and find out for ourselves rather than take our position over the air and tell us yeah, you’re in the zone, and you’re toast. With all the rolling and tossing of the boat, it took Jim awhile to plot those four coordinates while the Coast Guard cheerfully stood by. Sure enough, we were in it.

The options were to turn back, which in 30 knots of wind was not going to happen easily, or to go out to the shipping lanes to joust with tankers, or (our preference) to sneak along the shore and hope for the best. After consulting with the Coast Guard, who consulted with the Canadian Navy, who took awhile to get an answer back to the Coast Guard, which deeply impressed us into thinking that perhaps we were creating an international situation, the Coast Guard radioed back, “The Canadian Navy says you should leave the area.”

Jim asked if sneaking along close to shore was a possibility, but the radio chose that exact moment to begin crapping out, so who knows what the Coast Guard heard from us other than we wanted to sneak. After several tries, at which point we were deep into live fire territory, Jim was able to make his request understood. We angled north and did the shore sneak, with an eye on the sky for strafing runs. “They wouldn’t bomb a yacht, right?” we asked each other. But several other boats blundered right through the middle, including a mega-yacht towing a mini-yacht, which would have made a terrific target. They emerged oblivious and unscathed out the other side, so maybe we were just being extra cautious by calling the Coast Guard. It was fun, though, in a Dr. Strangelove kind of way, being given orders from the Canadian Navy via the US Coast Guard. Later the same day the Coast Guard announced demolitions exercises in Area Whiskey Quebec, which was, thankfully, forty miles ahead.

Karen’s cousins Bob and Carole Brelsford from Florida drove their motor home, which they call “The Kramden” because Bob loves old Jackie Gleason reruns, all the way to Port Townsend to visit us, and after learning we were still in Canada they came all the way to Sooke. Here we are after a jolly brunch at Mom’s CafĂ©.

Later on, we discovered Errant Assumption #2: You can’t get sunburned in the fog. Here’s Jim demonstrating the Canadian technique for sunbathing in fog while covering his left ear with a hat to keep it from being sunburned.

They followed us home, can we keep them?

You might remember a post last year (August 15, 2009) when we talked about meeting up with an energetic pair of Canadians aboard a 30’ sloop named, aptly, Wild Abandon. We were way up in the wilds of the “Outside Passage,” where almost nobody goes. Marty and Mae Bowles, who hail from Prince Rupert, became fast friends amidst some rather comic adventuring, which we’ve since augmented with video footage, so go back and see 4 new videos added to that August 2009 post, because it’s hard to believe we escaped with our lives. Anyway, we had a reunion this week in Port Angeles (Washington side) after crossing the Strait and its shipping lanes in fog. Once again, Seattle Vessel Traffic Service was invaluable in telling us where the ships were and they us. While entering busy Port Angeles harbor, we used our sense of smell to tell us when we were dead downwind of an anchored ship (it stinks like burning coal) and once in awhile a huge bow would loom out of the murk, and we’d go around it. Truly a Scylla and Chaybdis odyssey for the Northwest.

Sockdolager and Wild Abandon at the docks at Port Angeles

Mainlining Jello Shooters at the local pub with Marty & Mae. The table behind us thought we needed them after we admired theirs, and bought us a round.

Four fast friends

We wanted to keep going, so next
morning we 2 boats (sans radar) convoyed carefully through dense fog, to the amazement of some marina residents who politely called us “bold.”

A tanker in fog. Fortunately, this one was at anchor.

We followed the depth contour near shallows just off the shore, away from where ships could go. By afternoon we were sailing the length of New Dungeness Spit (and national wildlife refuge) in decent visibility, including a spinnaker run on Sockdolager. We filmed each other zooming back and forth.

Sockdolager with her green spinnaker. Photo by Mae Jong-Bowles

A windy night was spent anchored together behind the New Dungeness Spit (at 9 miles, the longest sand spit in the world.)

Sockdolager and Wild Abandon at anchor inside New Dungeness Spit. Photo by Mae Jong-Bowles

Here Karen and Jim encountered Errant Assumption #3. When you’re anchored in only 20 feet of water with a heavy plow anchor, 30 feet of chain and 150 feet of rode, you will never drag anchor. Not. As we watched in disbelief, Sockdolager dragged downwind for a couple hundred yards in the wide open bay. The only other time that’s happened to Karen was in New Zealand, when a big shell lodged itself on the point of the anchor, which prevented it from digging in. Figuring that’s what was happening now, we pulled it in and found no shell (it could have dropped off) but a massive tangle of kelp and soft oozy smelly mud. So, if your boat’s sideways to the wind and the scenery is going by, even though you have half a mile of ground tackle out there, you’re probably dragging.

We swapped crew! Mae went to Sockdolager and Jim went to Wild Abandon.

Mae steers Sockdolager like a pro.

Sailing into Port Townsend the next day was blissful. Just as last year, we were spotted by friends within minutes of entering harbor as we sailed through the anchorage. Marty and Mae joined us at the house to celebrate Marty’s birthday. We were so noisy that our neighbor called to find out if we were burglars.

Wild Abandon does a victory lap along the Port Townsend waterfront

Marty gets a double noogie on his birthday

Errant Assumption #5: That one must always let sleeping dogs lie. Well, one could, when the dog pretends to be out like a light while you’re trying to make up the bed in the V-berth. Jack pretended to be asleep even when we made up the berth on top of him. Good for a laugh, the little cutie. We’re glad to still have our little Jackalope with us.

Big Plans Next Year
This was a short cruise in comparison to last year, and especially in comparison to next year’s plans. But it was sweet, and a good shakedown for the improvements we’ve made to the boat. We’ll spend the rest of the summer in the Puget Sound environs, and in the fall will begin our list of projects to get ready for next year. Our 2011 plans are to rent out our PT cottage and sail to Mexico and then, hopefully, to the Marquesas, French Polynesia, Vanuatu and New Zealand. From there we will figure things out. But the philosophy will be to have fun and an adventure of a lifetime. Neither of us are spring chickens and we’ve worked all our lives for this. As our Canadian friends say, why not go for it, eh?

Sockdolager coming into harbor. Photo by Mae Jong-Bowles