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.)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Awaiting a Weather Window in San Diego

Doesn’t this remind you just a little of the scene in the Monty Python movie "Meaning of Life," where the building sets sail through the city?  No?  Well how about a scene from "Master and Commander?"  It was filmed aboard this ship, the HMS Surprise.  We crawled all over this ship and many others at San Diego’s astonishingly huge and diverse Maritime Museum.  Their crews answered dozens of questions from us, mostly about rigging and history.

The downtown San Diego Maritime Center has a terrific collection of ships and boats, including the 148 year-old square rigged ships Star of India (background in this photo,) HMS Surprise, the topsail schooner Californian, the Victorian ferry steamer Berkeley, and a Soviet submarine from the Cold War. 

Surprise is a replica of a Royal Navy ship of the late 1700s.  Here's her Captain's cabin, just like in the movie:

The Star of India is 148 years old and still sails.  She is a sistership of the Balclutha, whom we visited in San Francisco.  This is her Captain's cabin:

And here's the Captain's cabin from a Cold War-era Soviet submarine, the Pluto.  This sub, which played a role in the Cuban Missile Crisis, held 78 men under extraordinarily cramped conditions.  To give you an idea, there were 3 toilets for the whole crew, and it was considered a serious crime to spend any excess time in the head.  Yeesh.

We’d originally intended to spend just a few days here in San Diego.  Oh, sure, like you believe that by now.

A big storm rolled in last week and another one was forecast for this weekend with a high surf warning, which upended our second planned departure date of November 10. And a doozy it was. So we will leave sometime this coming week for Mexico.  The photo below is of a model of the Star of India in big seas.  She rounded Cape Horn 21 times in a little over twenty years!

These are our Port Townsend cruising friends Randall and Sarah from S/V Alastor visiting us at the Southwestern Yacht Club, where we've been staying.

In between socializing with friends old and new, we’ve been working rather feverishly on a boatload of projects, because San Diego might be the last place where there’s easy access to parts, materials, and stuff we’re used to finding.  Jim did a bunch of engine maintenance, plus he installed a new fuel pump on the engine, and a roller fairlead on the stern rail in case we ever need to use our new drogue.  (For non-sailors, the last one’s a guide-slot for the rope that would be attached to our new set of brakes towed in the water.)

Sockdolager's cabin is as cozy and traditional to live in as a little ship's library, and we sometimes get that same feeling in the cabins of traditional boats.  We loved the Californian's main saloon, below, with soapstone fireplace and leaded glass.  Karen would duplicate this back at the house in Port Townsend, if it was possible.

Here is the Californian's seamanlike bow.  All the halyards and downhauls are run back to the safety of the main deck.

But her helm was the best:

FriendShips:  It's amazing how many friendships you make and renew when cruising.  In the photo below is is Karen’s musician friend Susan Mumma, from Seldovia, Alaska, who came bearing gigantic lemons from her Dad's yard.  Susan organizes the Seldovia Summer Solstice Music Festival, which is one of the most fun festivals Karen has ever played at.  Future Dana 24 sailor Stu Stecker also stopped by to visit with a friend.  And so did our cruising friends Mark Montgomery and Nina Oken, from S/V Woofie.  Jim hadn't seen his old friend George Easton since grad school; George found our blog through a mutual friend and contacted us. He and and his wife Annette treated us to a memorable Tuscan dinner at their home. Annette is fresh from a culinary course in Italy, and boy can she cook (and boy did we eat.)

We also spent a delightful musical evening with John and Whitney Pinto, our hosts here at the Southwestern Yacht Club, at their home.  They are also freshly back from Italy.  John is not only a gourmet cook and wine expert, but will be soloing their Dana 24, Aurelia, to Hawaii in May. With Chris Humann sailing his Dana 24, the Carroll E, to Hawaii in the next Transpac race from San Francisco, that may qualify as a Dana 24 invasion.  Fair winds and low seas, guys.

Proper yacht-ifying:  Jim replaced all of Sockdolager's old lifelines with a high-tech ropelike product called Amsteel Spectra, and his marlinespike work on each end (a Brummel with a 19-inch bury and hand stitching to keep it in place) is a sailor’s joy to behold.  Non-sailors, there is simply no translation for this.  Our teak decks wanted some bungs (little round wooden thingys) replaced, so Jim took care of that, too.

Our new dinghy’s bottom grew an algae garden, so a couple hours’ elbow grease and a vow to check it more often was how Karen spent one afternoon.  She also sewed a small awning for use under sail, which doubles as a water-catcher, and worked well during the storm.  We don’t have a sewing machine aboard, so all sewing is done by hand.  Slow but fun, in a meditative kind of way.  A film clip we once saw of a sailor named Irving Johnson doing sail repair by hand aboard a huge Cape Horn barque in the early 1900s, inspired her—his flying hand was almost as fast as a sewing machine.  “If he could do it, maybe with enough coffee I can do it” is now her motto.  We’ve also been inventorying lockers, because although the boat’s only 24 feet long you’d think you were searching for the thingamabob du jour in the arroyos of the Grand Canyon.  Here's a new rope mat Karen made from our old mainsheet:

The Southwestern Yacht Club is terrific—friendly people, well-maintained docks, and a spiffy new clubhouse that’s one of the best gathering places we’ve seen.  They love transient cruisers here. It’s a pleasant half-mile walk along a waterfront garden path to the commercial district.

Talk about interesting boat names, we’re in a slip next to the fishing boat pictured above, owned by the Husseini family, who are originally from Afghanistan.  “…and boy, oh boy,” said one of them,  “you ought to see how often we get stopped by the Coast Guard!”  And in the spirit of continuing to collect fun boat names for your reading pleasure, Dana Point harbor has two sport fishing boats docked side by side, one named D-Cup and the other named Teaser.  We kid you not.

When the Shore is Like Velcro:  We have this concept we call “The Vortex,” kind of like when you walk into a grocery store intending to buy just one or two specific things and two hours later you walk out dazed, having just spent two hundred dollars.  But with Downwind Marine and a host of other nearby nautical purveyors making everything so easy, we stepped into the Vortex with the glib utterance of its Official Entry Phrase.  This phrase contains the four most expensive words in the English language:  “While we’re at it…”  Still, you'd be proud at the number of projects we've deferred for later.

We have promised to give you a photo-tour of all the new "Fiddly Bits" aboard Sockdolager, and haven't forgotten.  There are a lot of them, and it may be done in little installments when we are not in project mode while trying to get to Mexico ahead of winter.  Meantime, for an accurate mood shot, here is Karen's very own Demented Helmsman photo aboard Surprise:

Here's where the REAL helmsman stood during the movie filming.  It's belowdecks and they used radar and radio calls to steer while the actors on deck did what actors do.

Salmonchanted Evenings:  Thanks to our Port Townsend-based sailing friends Gordon Neilson and Kate Miller, we have a supply of the best Native-caught, Native-smoked silver salmon you ever tasted.  Four fillets got inhaled within a few minutes after we uncovered them at a cruiser’s potluck.  Sailors had rapturous looks on their faces, and there was lots of pointing and back-and-forthing in the direction of the salmon.  We have more to share along the way!

Departure looms:  The idea that we are still able to go barefoot in November is so unique to us that it feels illicit.  To those of you in the Far North, it probably is illicit.  The sound of palm trees rustling in the breeze, though often drowned out by the noise of fighter jets taking off at the nearby Coronado Naval Air Station, is a delight.  Just kidding about the water skier.

But winter is still chasing us south, and we plan to leave soon for Ensenada, Mexico.  From there we’ll take a long hop down the Baja coast, stopping at Magdalena Bay, and then we’ll sail around Cabo San Lucas to head for the Sea of Cortez, where we hope to spend the winter.  Since we’re used to Pacific Northwest weather, whatever temps Mexico has to offer us will probably still feel fine.  We hope.

More ship photos:  We tend to go a bit gaga over beautiful old traditional ships that have interesting histories.  Here's one of the steerage cabins in the Star of India's 'tween decks.  The back of the museum admission ticket showed an actual copy of the 1874 Passage Contract for this family of emigrants to New Zealand, aboard the Star of India.

And here's the inside of the beautifully carved "turtle hatch" over the main saloon of the Star of India:

Here's Jim on the deck of HMS Surprise:

And here's the Surprise, as seen from the stern deck of the Star of India, with the ferry steamer Berkeley in the background:

This is a tiny corner of the enormous passenger cabin of the Berkeley.  Sumptuous, eh?  There's even a varnished dance floor!  This ferry helped reunite families in San Francisco Bay after the big earthquake of 1906.

This is the Soviet sub Pluto, seen through a porthole on the Star of India:

The periscope still works!  On display were sobering photos of a couple of US warships taken through the periscope.

And finally, here's the escape hatch on that sub.  It's in the aft torpedo room.  Although this was once an enemy sub, you can't help admiring the endurance of the men who sailed on her and, for that matter, aboard all submarines of that era.

Lingo Bingo:  Awhile back we listed a number of To-Do List High Priorities, which included learning French and Spanish.  Karen has been studying Spanish in the hopes of knowing a few phrases that in Mexico will be pleasant conversation-starters rather than startling conversation finishers.  The importance of saying the right thing is only outshined by the importance of not saying the wrong thing.  For example, in the book Spanish For Cruisers by Kathy B. Parsons (highly recommended), there is an example of a lady on the deck of a boat who made a fabulous first impression as they pulled up to the dock.  She bellowed, “Excusado!  Tire la ropa!” which you would think sounds close enough to “Excuse me!  Throw me a rope!” but in reality means “Hey toilet! Throw me your clothes!”  Wow, so the guy on the dock (who happened to be the Captain of the Port) first hears himself called a bathroom epithet, but then learns she still wants to see him naked anyway.  Nice going, Gringa.

This reminds me (K) of the time our friend Karen Helmeyer who, on a trip to Spain, meant to ask a man “May I borrow your pen?” but instead due to a teensy mis-speak asked, “May I borrow your penis?”  She told us it took awhile to extricate herself from that one.  **We just received a note from Karen saying, "One teenie correction... it was a comb I meant to ask for (peine) but I ended up asking for a penis (pene.)  Just in case you want to edit."  We do!

Which brings up of the story about the T-shirt maker in Miami, who printed up a bunch of shirts for a Papal visit, but instead of "I Saw The Pope" (el Papa) they all said "I Saw the Potato" (la papa.)

I myself have sinned.  Several decades ago in France, an amorous taxi driver approached me in the train station near Paris’s Orly Airport, making suggestions in French whose meaning would have been clear even to speakers of Antarctic Urdu.  It was time to firmly discourage him, so I dusted off a phrase previously given to me for just this purpose by a French-speaking American friend, who evidently had a wonderfully hidden sense of humor.  I puffed myself up to maximum size and shouted, “Je suis couchon!”  Which means, “I am a pig!”  This stopped all commerce for fifty yards and elicited a sudden wide-eyed jaw-drop on the face of the amorous taxi driver, who then gave me a slow Gallic shrug, the French version of “Whatever.”  After a time, the stunned silence in the train station ebbed and the ticket counter patrons turned away to resume their business.  The taxi driver, puzzled by my insistent “I MEAN it, Bubba!” expression, walked away muttering.  Unaware of what I’d actually said, I stalked triumphantly through the door like a pheasant in summer plumage.   So now you can see why rote memorization is proceeding with utmost caution.

Since we last wrote:  The first place we went after Marina del Rey in Los Angeles was the nice large Cat Harbor, on Catalina Island's south side (opposite the little indent in the right side of this photo.)  We expected to find a lovely anchorage—this was where some scenes in the movies "Mutiny on the Bounty" and "Master and Commander" were filmed—but the large field of mooring balls has taken up so much of the inner and outer harbors (and you aren’t allowed to anchor among them) that besides one shallow crowded spot in the inner harbor, the only places left to anchor are one exposed spot outside the harbor in rolly swells, and a small rocky 46 foot-deep cove near the outer edge of the harbor that’s iffy holding if there’s any wind.  But still, it's a gorgeous island with a lot of history.

We took a mooring near a parking lot with maintenance sheds, and soon two industrial barges came in and moored ahead of us.  Then the harbormaster arrived and told us it would cost $28 per night to tie up to a mooring, and that the one we were on would cost nearly $40 per night!  Yeesh.  We were tired from the hectic pace at Marina del Rey, so we paid $56 for two nights, enjoyed a good walk ashore to Two Harbors (the indent at far right), and then left for Avalon (the indent over the "T" in "Santa".)  This turned into one of the surprise highlights of our journey so far.  You read about our encounter with a blue whale in a prior post.  Avalon, where in-harbor anchoring is also prohibited, offered us seven nights on a mooring for the price of two, and when our friends Jim Morris from Silver Fog and Craig McPheeters from Luckness showed up (along with lots of other cruisers aware of the late-season discount) it was a fine time in a little bit of Mediterranean splendor.

With six of us having an impromptu party in Sockdolager’s cockpit one lovely evening, Karen asked, “Does anyone know what day it is?”  Jim M. said hmm, and furrowed his brow.  The young couple from a sweet Falmouth cutter glanced at each other, puzzled.  Craig looked down as if calculating quantum physics.  Jim Heumann was silent, but then reached for the GPS.  Ah, of course, we all said, upon learning the answer.  But you know you’re a cruiser when it takes that many people to figure out what day it is.

Next port of call was Dana Point, 35 miles to the east.  It was a mellow crossing, as you can see in the photo above.  Plus, who wouldn’t want to sail their Dana to Dana Point?  Our boat was made in nearby Fullerton, in 1987, and was named, as is the point, for the famous maritime author.   We’d both read Two Years Before the Mast in preparation for finding landmarks where Richard Henry Dana had sailed in the 1840s on the brig Pilgrim, and we weren’t disappointed.  In fact, a replica of the brig Pilgrim greeted us on arrival in the harbor, and she's moored right at the spot under the cliffs where R.H. Dana and the crew tossed all the tanned hides down to the beach!

This was also high school reunion time; Jim went to San Clemente High (Class of '70) and we had two terrific reunions with his classmates Jim Gallagher (and wife Lorraine) and also Vickie Vedder Sweet.  Karen had previously learned that a classmate from her high school (in Connecticut) lives in Dana Point, and she spent a nice morning with Peggy Loorman Lynch.

Eleven/Eleven/Eleven:  For a break from projects we spent Veterans Day being tourists, which is where all these ship photos came from.  Big plans were evident all over the harbor:  America’s Cup boats were practicing their racing skills, the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson was being set up for the big basketball game between North Carolina and Michigan State, and the Maritime Museum’s tall ships were busy preparing to set sail. After climbing around on ships, we took a harbor tour on a 1914 pilot boat that had to skirt the race boats out practicing for the preliminaries.  These are smaller, 45-foot versions of the giant 70+ foot catamarans that will be participating in the final races in San Francisco Bay in 2013.  Some of the best coverage then, if you're interested, will likely be via Latitude 38 magazine.

Suddenly, a huge 747 jetliner veered off from final approach at the nearby San Diego Airport, banked left and headed straight in our direction, flying at about 200 feet over the water and directly over our little pilot boat.  What the heck?  Holy mackerel, it’s Air Force One!  We all stared in slack-jawed amazement, so surprised that almost no one reached for a camera.  It was so close you could see every little detail of the landing gear, and even read the Presidential Seal on its side.  Jim said later, "I think I saw Obama waving from the window!"  Here's Air Force One landing at Coronado Naval Air Base:

A-HA!  So the President is going to the game, cool!  How do you top that?  About 20 minutes later Air Force Two came roaring in!  Whoa!  How do you top THAT?  After the harbor tour, we walked back to the Star of India to peacefully watch the sunset from her foredeck. Karen admired a gorgeous curved wooden hatch.  A short older man stopped and told us it was on the ship when she was built 148 years ago.  He seemed to want to talk with us, and was fascinating as he related tales of navigation and sailing.  He admonished us to not depend on the black box for navigation, and Karen assured him she had a sextant and tables aboard and was brushing up on celestial navigation.  He nodded his approval.  Just after we bid him farewell and happy sailing the next day, another crewmember said, “Do you know who that was?  That’s the Ship's Master, and no one knows more about sailing this ship than he does!”  So.  THAT'S how you top a great day!

Under the Star of India's bowsprit in this photo you can see the USS Carl Vinson, brightly lit up and ready for the basketball game with the President, Secretary of the Navy, and who knows who else aboard with all those carrier sailors.  From what we heard (roars were audible across the whole harbor) a good time was had by all.  Touring warships from different eras on a Veterans Day with the unique date of 11-11-11 gave pause to think:  in 1918 this day was to commemorate the signing of the Armistice ending the "War to End All Wars."  It originated as both a day of remembrance and a day of peace.

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