Here you will find tales of voyages past and present on our trusty Pacific Seacraft Dana 24, "Sockdolager," and more recently, 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 the boat (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 are now enjoying Raven, a unique wooden 29' powerboat. In 2018 we cruised up to Glacier Bay, Alaska, and back. We hope you enjoy reading about our adventures as much as we enjoy having them. (And there will be more.)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Neah Bay, WA to Eureka, CA--Offshore

Big seas and winds for part of the voyage made things challenging.

A Rough Corner Turned: We are in Eureka, California, resting up after 8 days at sea, two of them hove-to in a gale. Heaving-to is what you do when you want to ease the boat’s motion and just “park” it on the ocean. More about that later. Nothing like a good landfall and 14 straight hours of sleep to put things right again.

Stowing stuff in the forepeak before departure, to make room for sails on the V-berth.

Departure: The weather window for our departure from Neah Bay apparently closed soon after we left. But while we were there in rainy Neah Bay, happiness seemed to wash over this Indian village at the outermost reaches of the country. While Jim went fishing and Karen contemplated the sky, a rainbow appeared to the east, arcing all the way from Waadah Island to the mountains. Three Makah canoes were paddled with gusto across the anchorage. Later, in foggy twilight, a chorus of male voices sang tribal songs.
Sockdolager in Neah Bay awaiting good weather. Note new weathercloths to block spray and wind.

It was a memorable evening, and next morning a Makah man in a traditional red felt jacket and straw hat climbed over breakwater rocks to sing to the fleet of moored boats. His voice wove a spell among the fishing fleet, his songs coming to rest on boats with romantic names such as Memories, Roamer, Last Watch, Silver Foam, Deeahks, Makah Maid, and Valorous. And his songs reached my ears as I walked the dock, so I stood still and listened with the greatest respect, to something I did not fully understand but knew was good.

To top off a great stay in Neah Bay, the crew of the emergency response tugboat Jeffrey Foss gave us a grand tour and a couple of Foss ball caps.

Chief Engineer Ted shows Karen the inner workings of one of two engines that can generate 4300 horsepower.

This was followed the next day by another grand tour of the new tug that replaced it, the Delta Lindsey. Cap’n Arch, Chief Engineer Ted and the crew are on call 24/7/365, in case a big ship ever loses power, and the Lindsey’s 6800 horsepower is a first line of defense against oil and chemical spills, and shipwrecks. The Jeffrey Foss left for her next assignment while we were touring the Delta Lindsey (click here and see page 10.)  As we left Neah Bay, the Delta Lindsey was just outside the harbor, and we waved goodbye to a talented, dedicated crew with a great sense of humor.  Foss rules, guys!

Delta Lindsey silhouetted against a calm sunrise in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

As we prepared for this passage, the knowledge weighed heavily that this stretch of big water along the Washington, Oregon, and Northern California coasts is labeled by pilot charts as the most gale- and high-wave-prone area in the entire North Pacific.

Our route from Neah Bay to Eureka, where we are now. The red mark indicates where we stopped to heave-to, and the green shows where we resumed our course. 

Since it was our first time across, we can’t tell you if the conditions we encountered were typical or not. But most knowledgeable people are saying 2011 is an extraordinarily stormy year. The seasons are a month late, say others. We believe it, but can also report that this was a good passage, reasonably sailed with no breakage or damage to either boat or crew. We mostly stayed about 100 miles offshore, in deep water away from the continental shelf and the weather influences of land.

Our dodger gives good shelter.

What makes a good passage? Although Karen learned to sail in the mid 1970s and Jim learned in the mid 2000s, we are equals at sea. This goes to show that it doesn’t always matter how long you’ve been sailing, it’s how much you’ve learned, and how well you apply it. Both of us have read every book and magazine article we could find on the subject of sailing and all its nuances. We bring different but equally important skills to this partnership. Both of us have practiced our skills solo and as a team, as often as possible. And while Karen had the chance to experience sailing before electronic navigation or digital instruments, vivid memories of being utterly lost in thick fog and praying for someone to please hurry up and invent a little black box has given an edge to her appreciation of modern electronics: we can count on them until they fail, which eventually they will. But good seamanship skills are fundamental, confidence-building, and ever-evolving. You never stop learning, and no one is overqualified to go to sea.

Jim checks the engine prior to departure.

There are many sailing heroes to emulate, but the ones Karen remembers most fondly from her early learning days were the ones who made good, long passages, the kind she wished she’d been on. They were Eric and Susan Hiscock, Miles and Beryl Smeeton, John Guzzwell, Bernard Moitessier, and that young upstart couple named Lin and Larry Pardey on that improbably tiny boat of theirs, Seraffyn. In sailing’s celestial firmament, these people were the stars that the rest of us in those days navigated by. Their calm seamanship and unflappable humor inspired a generation of new sailors, who understood that following in their wakes was a good course.

But the best description of a good passage that Karen ever read in books written by these sailors was also the briefest. One word, in fact. It came from the late, laconic Eric Hiscock, whose highest accolade after crossing 3,000 miles of ocean was that the passage had been “uneventful.” Whoa! Uneventful? This one word revealed a sublime concept: that with the right combination of preparation, seamanship and care, ordinary people like you and me can, if we want to, self-reliantly sail serious distances across oceans in small ships, uneventfully. It was both a revelation and a caution.

Sunset at sea, wind coming.

It’s hard to write this blog post because we don’t want to overemphasize or gloss over the difficulties we encountered, or make you think this was a walk in the park, or brag, or sound smug, or like we barely escaped with our lives. The Scopolamine patch Jim wore didn’t prevent an awful day of seasickness followed by three days of nausea. Karen experienced the nausea for several days, plus bruises from small stumbles. There was some raw fear at the thought of being at the mercy of a sea bent on giving you a gale, and a hazardous sea warning too late to escape from. Eleven to thirteen foot waves as forecast would be okay, but only 8 seconds apart is not. These are breaking seas, and after you secure the boat hove-to for the night and go below, you listen to them crashing into the hull, punching like prizefighters. In the night a few of them send you over on your side and you feel fear, but also confidence that this stout little boat will come upright again.

First reef in a process that led to a second reef and eventually the storm trysail alone.

The extreme motion of a small boat in big seas requires vigilance, or you’ll be thrown against a bulkhead.  Closest comparison:  Think of getting into a small capsule and throwing yourself into a washing machine on agitation cycle for 8 days.

We took movies, but are still getting them organized.  Plus the connection isn't as good as we'd need to upload them now, so later on we'll have a "movie night" post.

More comparisons:  Cooking a meal in a gale when it’s blowing 35 knots and seas are “hazardous” is a form of juggling.  Almost impossible until non-jugglers develop a system for handling one thing at a time, because the minute you set anything down it’s going on a wild roll around the cabin.  Snacks become mini-meals until one evening you get tired of stupid granola bars and fruit leather, and you cook something simple, hot, and served in a bowl. Boil some water in the kettle, but don’t let it spill or you’ll be dealing with a burn.  Dump some instant mashed potatoes and a can of string beans in a pot, and pour the water in, but wear a mitt so splashes can’t burn your hand.  It smells utterly ambrosial.  Stir the whole mess, spoon it into bowls, and eat like kings only wish they could, sitting in the cockpit in the middle of a wild sea on a beautiful night that few ever get to witness.  Every cell in you is humming with life; even your nauseated mitochondria.

Storm trysail in use, we're hove-to in 30-35 knots here.

Still more… we knew from the medical training that dehydration is a constant threat, but who wants to drink or eat much when it means you’ll only end up having to go below to ride the wild toilet? (Peeing over the side is one of the most commonly reported ways men fall overboard, so not a good idea.) Drink you must, and from bottles that have narrow openings so you don’t dump it down your neck. We each monitored our own fluid consumption, and made sure we nibbled enough variety to cover basic food needs. Staying out of that kind of trouble is a duty, not an indulgence.

After four days Karen wanted to yell “Stop that!” to the crazy corkscrewing motion brought on by increasing wind and wave. Night watches were a 3-hour struggle in cold damp mist to stay awake and alert, followed by 3 hours of sleep and another watch. Anything that required working belowdecks—updating the navigation, ship’s log, or checking in on the Ham radio Pacific Seafarer’s Net—was a recipe for more seasickness.

Black-footed albatross. Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

But oh my God, the things we saw… more black-footed albatross than we could imagine, swooping by on 6-foot wingspans and gazing at us with large dark eyes; shearwaters and northern fulmars skimming wavetops; and acrobatic storm petrels, so fragile and graceful you could weep.

Ashy storm petrel.  Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Other gifts... a bioluminescent wake glowing behind the boat like a heavenly scratch.  Crystalline blue water just behind the white foam of breaking waves.  The gift of a starry night like nobody on land ever sees, with the Milky Way so clear and close it makes you gasp at the thought of your own mortal molecules of billion year-old stardust, rented for a few decades, being so very transient. 

And finally, there is a getting used to, an accommodation, an acceptance, of the motion, the uncertainty, the flow, to the point where none of that bothers you much anymore (but you still do pay attention to weather forecasts.)  And you realize then that you could live out here for a time, and not be such a queasy foreigner.

There are plenty of prosaic things that could define what makes a good passage, starting with the uneventful: no breakage or damage, no major screw-ups, no horrendously scary incidents.  But that’s just the start, and in the 1970s Eric Hiscock no doubt knew it, too.

Karen's gloves, made by her friend Maria Schwartz Rodriguez, have been a prosaic favorite for hand-warming. (Thanks, Maria!)

On living a dream:  A friend, a superb musician, wrote us a note saying, “You don’t want to know what’s going on in the news now, there’s too much contradiction and BS on terra firma.”  But he wrote that he gets a splash in the face that reminds him of the best of times when he reads our Post Cards from the Ocean Road.  Thanks, Mike M.  In these times when, quoting the philosopher Theodor W. Adorno, “…the conversion of all questions of truth into questions of power has attacked the very heart of the distinction between true and false,” you need no excuse to go in search of the best of times.  You need no excuse to say, “Excuse me while I kiss the sky,” and no embarrassment is necessary when the sky kisses back, tongue and all, as Mike wrote so eloquently; “Use your instincts and not just your head.”

If living lightly on the planet while living one’s dream—whatever it may be—is judged to be an abandonment of responsibility or of one’s usefulness in the workaday world, then we have abdicated our core values and embraced the distracted, dreamless, functional insanity of these times.

There’s a reason all this rich birdlife is here:  someone decided to make the most important habitats of Humboldt Bay a National Wildlife Refuge instead of developing it. Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

More on Heaving-to:  It’s a passive tactic for riding out storms, or getting some respite from the more violent motion.  The idea is to reduce speed and thus discomfort, so that the tired crew can rest, cook and eat a meal, change sails more safely, or do intricate task-work like connecting to a Ham radio net.   Heaving-to does not stop all movement, though; if your boat isn’t at an optimum 45 or 50 degrees to the wind, it can become a target for breaking waves.  In our case, the boat stayed more broadside than angled to the seas, and a number of them clobbered us, breaking over the entire boat.  During the two days we were hove-to, Sockdolager was shoved 60 miles to leeward.  That, we learned, is not acceptable, and in a call with Carole Hasse, our sailmaker, we went over options for making the boat heave-to at a better angle to wind and wave.  We’ll try a couple of new things and keep you posted. 

Meanwhile, here is a description of the passage and the heaving-to process, in Jim’s words:  We motored out of the Strait of Juan de Fuca then flew the drifter in light winds through the day.

The drifter kept us moving in the early stages where we were wishing for more wind.  Be careful what you wish for.

In the evening the wind died so we motored through the night.  The wind picked up in the morning and we had a great day of sailing in sunshine and blue skies. As we continued over the next three days the wind gradually picked up until we were double reefed, sailing at about 4kts in moderate sea.

We were too far offshore to get weather on the VHF, and I was too seasick to go below to work the SSB until the 5th day, when I'd gotten used to the motion and felt OK.  So on the morning of the 5th day, off the southern Oregon coast, we decided to heave-to, take a break and get a weather forecast.   What we learned was that we were heading right into a 40kt gale off Cape Mendocino.  Wind speeds are often forecast a bit lower than reality.  Where we were at was also under a gale warning as well as a hazardous seas warning.   Hmmm, we thought, this is interesting.
Jim, wishing the weather forecast was not quite so interesting.

We decided to stay hove-to until the bigger gale to our south passed.  The bad news was that Sockdolager did not heave-to as well as we had hoped.  The good news was that we didn't get knocked down and there was no damage whatsoever.  Here’s where we were that first night:  

We ended up being hove-to for two days.  We were under storm trysail with no jib/genoa.  The boat was mostly beam on to the seas; oscillating between heading a bit into the wind, beam on, and sometimes a bit stern-on to the wind and seas.  Speed was about 1.5 kts mostly to leeward on a beam reach.  We did observe the slick to windward that is expected when heaving-to.  But the motion was extreme.  Seas were at least 10-12 feet with breakers, and wind was gale force.  We have no way of measuring wind speed, but estimate it at 35 knots and probably no more than 40 in gusts.   We got hit by breaking waves perhaps a dozen times.  They broke right over the entire boat.  Several times it felt like the boat was going over, but she never did. 

Karen, wishing the weather forecast didn't include hazardous seas.

After two days the forecast to the south was better than where we were (still 30kts). So we kept the storm trysail up, and a little bit of the genoa, and sailed for about three hours in those big seas under bright blue sky, into calmer waters. That night the stars were crystal clear and the wind and seas were fair and much reduced. Looking at the extended forecast we saw more gales predicted, so instead of continuing on to San Francisco, we made landfall at Eureka. 

Enjoying Eureka's waterfront

Feeling the need to be able to do a better job of heaving-to, we called our sail maker, Carole Hasse, Port Townsend Sails, and had an extended conversation about having her make us a backstay-sail similar to one she made for EOS, another Dana 24. That boat’s arrangement has not yet been tested in heavy weather. This sail would fly off the backstay, with the clew coming forward. There would be no mainsail or trysail flying. This will hopefully provide enough windage aft to force the bow more into the wind. We found that raising the storm trysail in the lee of the double-reefed mainsail made sail handling much easier, and reversing the process when the wind eased also worked well.

Hasse also brought up the likelihood of needing a decent sea anchor for such conditions, and we are concerned about where to store such a bulky item as an 8-foot diameter parachute and all its necessary gear.  So, no, the Dana doesn't seem to heave-to very well. But to have taken such a beating with no damage or a knockdown, I'm still very happy with this good little ship.  Next time we’re on a long passage we’ll probably join the roll call on the Pacific Seafarer’s Net, a Ham mobile maritime group. Our call sign is KF7OWV, and you could follow us here.

Finally, a little note to our dear friends and riggers, Brion Toss, Gordon Neilson, and Alison Wood... in terms of rope strength, we found the Holy Grail: Plasma line.  Breaking strength, one million pounds.  Dudes, tugs are so cool.


  1. what a journey! great news that you are still alive, walking, and talking to each other! - alex

  2. Ha! Alex, it was an amazing journey and initiation into sea-life. And we're enjoying this observation: we've noticed that sailing friends are saying things like "Sounds like it was a good passage," and non-sailing friends are wondering how we escaped with our lives. (Not implying that you are a non-sailor, of course...) But the contrast is quite marked.

    We are not only walking and talking, but thriving on the thought of the next leg of the voyage, which we hope will be gale-free. The further south we go in California, the fewer summer gales--or so says the conventional wisdom.

    Sailing friends have also told us that some folks go all the way around the world without hitting a gale, so it's good to get that one out of the way early, eh? Each experience raises the threshold for tolerating conditions that previously might have daunted you. Still, we're not fond of gales. -K&J

  3. Hi - Barbara/Babs (DHS 69) here = Yikes this is a grand vicarious trip I'm given by you = thanks! Ahhh, Foss Tugs... amazing workhorses of the seas. When I get reborn it will be to skipper one! They spin in their own boat length! (Something only a sailor can REALLY appreciate;-) Keep the pointy end forward. Blissings!

  4. Hi Jim and Karen! That sounds like quite an adventure. I've often heard that sailors from the PNW can sail around the world and not experience seas as poor as they experience from Neah Bay to California. I'm hoping your next passage goes smoother. But it sounds like you'll be just fine if the next passage is just the same as your last one. Congratulations on all your preparations, you have a very seaworthy boat and crew there!

    One comment on the parachute sea anchor. Like most things in sailing these choices are full of strong opposite opinions. If you haven't come across them yet, google "Jordan Series Drogue" - its deployed from the stern rather than the bow. Its what Luckness has now, but I have no experience to report yet. Perhaps when we meet up in California we can compare notes. I've not forgotten - I still owe you a beer from the Sailing Symposium!

    Fair winds!

  5. Hey there, came across your blog in some convoluted way one surfs the net... enjoyed reading about your passage as we ready ourselves to leave Victoria for California, Mexico and beyond... Thank you for the honest description of your passage. Cheers, Kyra

  6. Babs: You would have drooled over the engine room of the new tug. We will try to keep the pointy end of the boat forward.

    Craig: We'll look for you down the ocean road. Keep in touch, we want that beer now that you've reminded us.

    Kyra: Fair winds on your voyage, hope we meet up somewhere warm!

  7. Hey Karen - Sounds like you're having a great adventure... looking forward to seeing you in MDR one of these days soon! Fair winds! - bill

  8. Kurt. Chris and Rani's friend. Is that a Cape Horn self steering rig on your Dana? Do you like it?

  9. Saying hello from Neah bay I enjoy your updates and hope you swing by on your return!

    Capt Arch & Ted!!

  10. Would it work to use the storm staysail as a backstay-sail?

    1. We tried using the storm staysail on the backstay, but the leads and clearances were wrong. You need to be able to lead the sheet well forward and through a turning block so you can adjust it in the cockpit.

      If you have a storm staysail, you might want to experiment with it, but we ended up with a backstaysail specially designed for the boat. Ironically, we haven't had to use it since, but it's good to have it. When we use it we'll take photos and write about it.