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.)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Call Me Squeamishmael

Why we're glad to not be at sea right now.
As the gales of November hiss through bending trees and bring impossible amounts of snow to some northern latitudes, it might be a good time to ask: what are your favorite summer memories? Was it that sparkling beam reach on a warm evening? The chuckle and click of tidal water on a quiet day? The spectacular fish or load of crabs you caught and shared with friends? Was it the smell of loamy black earth on your hands as you gardened, or the sight of crimson tomatoes emerging from green leaves like an organic Christmas tree, or the astonishment at the gigantic rose that grew out of a leafless stick you almost pulled because you thought it was dead?

In the world of plants, this rose was a total optimist.
Maybe it was the satisfaction of a safe passage through fog, and the pleasant low hum of quiet conversation drifting through the darkness among boats sharing a peaceful lagoon. For Jim and me, it was all of the above.

One of those moments where you wonder, is it going to clear or get thicker?
Right now as the umpteenth Pacific low of the season moans overhead, we think how grateful we are to not be at sea in such weather (hence the title of this post.) While the woes of the world sometimes seem irreparable and the rain keeps us more indoors than we'd like to be, right now feels like a good time to slow down and reflect on what it is that keeps us all going, and remember what it is we dream about when we’re not out doing the things we dream about.

A fine memory of the Tasman Sea. 
Our last post was in August, so we will catch up from there. One of the highlights of the sailing year for us is always the Wooden Boat Festival, held each September in Port Townsend, Washington. Jim and I gave a Sunday morning talk called “Lessons learned from sailing a 24-foot boat to New Zealand,” and were astonished at the size of the crowd that showed up. Judging by the fun that was had, we’ll probably give another talk next year.

There were good days and not so good days...
Some mighty big boats squeezed into Point Hudson. This is the Pacific Swift from Victoria, Canada.

Coinciding with all the wooden boat celebrations was the annual ukulele festival. There is something so marvelous about a fine night of watching a series of amazingly accomplished adults coax the most unlikely sounds out of toy-sized 4-stringed ukuleles that the audience can’t help itself from regressing to childhood. We had a nice reunion with our Boise-based ukulele-playing friends Christian and Susan Petrich, and I smiled through an evening concert with them as Jim volunteered to work at the Wooden Boat Festival, at the beer tent near the music stage, appropriately named “Bar Harbor.” At the end of the Festival there is a sail-by. Picture a river of 200 or so wooden boats, from cute and tiny to huge and magnificent, all gussied up in shiny new coats of paint and varnish and utterly delighted with themselves, sailing in a large circle that goes out to Admiralty Inlet and back past town. Every year I say, “It can’t possibly get better than this,” but it does. And then as we glided past town, a comedian who’d obviously read our last blog post sailed up to us and yelled, “I know you! You’re famous!” We exchanged a few nyuk-nyuks and I was still laughing an hour later.

This year, Lin and Larry Pardey were here, and they spent three weeks before the Festival visiting boatloads of friends. Here’s a photo of one of those sparkling beam reaches, with wine and picnic food aboard Sockdolager, and with our friend Christian Gruye along. That’s the 137-foot pilot schooner Adventuress in the background.

Lin and Larry enjoying an afternoon sail aboard Sockdolager
And now, look how fast the sun has retreated south. The holidays are almost here.

With the hours of daylight decreasing to around 8 at this latitude (48 degrees north) and to 5 at where I used to live in Alaska, it’s good to remember that in tropical latitudes there’s a fairly steady 12 hours each of daylight and darkness, give or take a little depending on how far you are from the Equator. Here’s a nice little interactive graphic that will show you how much light there is at any latitude on any day of the year.  

A favorite sunset scene. Sockdolager in Mexico, 2012
Of course, those elongated summer sunsets we so enjoy don’t happen the further toward the Equator you go. There, the sun rises and sets fairly quickly, plunging rather than easing you into darkness or brightness. For some reason I can’t fathom, I was thinking this morning about how in northern latitudes the usual workday begins around nine and ends around five, which uses the best light of day, but in places like Tahiti, where it isn’t light of day but heat of day driving the cycle, you’d better get to the market well before nine or the best fruits, vegetables and fish will have been picked over. In Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas, the weekly market begins at four in the morning, and it’s all over by six. This, combined with our love of long winter naps no matter what the latitude, could be part of why we missed fresh vegetables so much during our stay there. 

It’s been way too long since the last blog post, but I had a bit of surgery in September and it took awhile to recover. Without going into details, it wasn’t about the heart, the heart is fine, I’m fine and nearly back to normal, and am glad it’s over.

Okay, a confession: Jim and I ogled another boat. Before we left to go on our Pacific voyage, we couldn’t help but appreciate the salty lines and incredible craftsmanship of a unique 29-foot wooden vessel that can only be described as a fishing trawler loosely based on a Chincoteague skiff design from Howard Chappelle’s American Small Sailing Craft, but with an irresistible dash of tugboat DNA.  It has the kind of simplicity and ingenious use of space and wood that only our friend, shipwright Leif Knutsen could have designed and built. The conversation Jim and I had in 2011 was one of those “I know, but...” types, and went something like this:

“Raven would be the perfect boat for our dotage, when we’re too creaky to sail anymore.”

“I know, but we’re about to cross the Pacific, and we’re not in our dotage yet.”

“I know, but we will be someday, and that boat would be perfect.”

“I know, but we HAVE a boat.”

“I know, but it would be a shame to miss out on that one.”

“I know, and she’d be perfect for the Inside Passage to Alaska, wouldn’t she?”

I know. Just imagine a heated wheelhouse."

“I know, but we need to let go of it because we can't afford it.”

“Not to mention we’re leaving the area for who knows how long.”

“I know.”

Okay, ANOTHER confession:  we did more than ogle it. Raven was still for sale when we returned from the voyage last year. We dithered and blathered and hithered and thithered and then decided to buy her. I know. Two boats. Evidently we are going into an extended overlap period. But I’ve done the Inside Passage round trip in a sailboat, which meant standing in the rain while mostly motoring, for a thousand miles each way. We are not selling our beloved Sockdolager… yet, but we couldn’t pass up the chance to own the perfect boat for the dotage years.  What the heck, right? What are we saving for if not to spend it on boats?  And don’t try to pretend YOU don’t understand this if you’ve been following this blog. None of us has an excess of self-control when it comes to boats.  

Sockdolager's new sister, Raven
Lots of room for parties!
If you happen to be a member of Off Center Harbor, you can have a video tour of Raven here.

While we in the Northern Hemisphere hunker down for winter, it’s a good time to brush up on things like safety at sea, and the Cruising Club of America has a comprehensive web site on the subject.  And Good Old Boat magazine has the third installment of a 6-part series I wrote on setting your boat up for solo sailing, in the November-December issue.  

And as long as we’re at it, winter is a good time to take up new hobbies, and what better hobby could there be than one that’s portable enough to take along on your boat? I’m talking something that has given me years of pleasure and that never fails to immerse me in the local surroundings in ways little else can. I’m talking about bird watching. Imagine sailing along and looking up and seeing a swift mostly-white bird with a black cap on its head, and knowing (because you recognize what species it is) that this bird has just flown ten thousand miles from Patagonia? How cool is that! And how cool would it be to become proficient enough at identifying seabirds where you could participate in citizen bird counts, which are sent to scientific agencies? There is a movement to get more people on boats to become bird spotters who log sightings, and you can read more about it at Birding Aboard, a web site I happened to stumble across. It’s full of fascinating articles. 

Something else to think about next time you’re out at sea: what’s down there in the deeps? It’s fun to look at a chart and think, good grief, the water’s almost a mile deep here, or, it’s shallow for miles and miles, I wonder what lives in here, and then try to imagine what it looks like.  Well, at least that’s fun for me. 

Deep-sea vents. Photo: NOAA
Deep sea floor scene. Photo: NOAA 
Google “photos of the deep sea floor” to get an idea of what it looks like. While sailing over Monterey Canyon in California’s Monterey Bay, we wondered what critters were swimming or crawling or growing beneath us, some of which have never been seen before, as we glided across an underwater Grand Canyon. 

Container in 4,203 feet of water, Monterey Bay
But there’s a lot of manmade stuff down there, too, and glimmers of the effects of such debris are emerging. In Monterey Bay, scientists are observing the impacts on the sea floor and subsequent colonization of life on some shipping containers that fell overboard ten years ago. There are tens of thousands of them at the bottom of various oceans, and it’s worth knowing about. Here’s a link to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary’s article on this. 

Most of our friends who were in Tonga and Fiji have arrived in New Zealand, though a few remain in Fiji, which is in the midst of its cyclone season.  

An interesting take on storing your boat ashore in a cyclone-prone place like that is to dig a deep hole for the keel, and lower the boat into it so that it can’t fall over in high winds. 

Boats stored with keels in holes so they won't fall over. Photo: Toucan
And finally, Jim somehow managed to completely take apart our corroded outboard motor, which had fallen into 25 feet of water back in Tonga but loyally hung in there for another year and only gave up the ghost when we arrived home. The most amazing thing is, Jim remembered how to put it all back together! All except for one washer, which rolled out of the way during reassembly and showed itself just as the cowl went back on.  Even more amazing is, the motor runs without it! Maybe it was so grateful to not be made into recycled parts that it is now exhibiting this strange behavior:

Friday, August 22, 2014

Right after July there's Fogust.

Tonic crosses the Strait of Juan de Fuca with Sockdolager, in fog.
“Contemplation is nothing more than 
Pondering whether or not the sun is a nihilist.” 
 ~ Lo Fu, Beyond the Fog, translated by John Balcom

We’ve been out buddy-boating in the San Juan Islands, with our friends Carl and Patti Kirby. Two Dana 24s in home waters! Sockdolager and Tonic cut a wide swath of fun. It felt good to be back aboard our little floating home for a cruise.

Sockdolager's homey interior.
And - big news! Good Old Boat magazine is publishing my six-part series on setting your boat up for singlehanded (or shorthanded) sailing.  The first installment of two articles is in the September issue, and you can read one of them, about mental preparation, for free by clicking here and then clicking on "Sneak Peek" just above the cover logo. The series will run through the May-June issue.

San Juan Islands.
Up here in the Pacific Northwest, people are more tolerant about inclement weather than people in most places I’ve lived, except for Alaska, where, once on a frigid day when 26 inches of snow fell sideways in 100 mph winds, the only concession made was to move the school district’s gym classes indoors. No, I’m talking about that murky maritime miasma, those industrial strength walls of airborne mashed potatoes that give this month its nickname in these parts. Fog from San Francisco to British Columbia is neither gauzy nor gossamer, it’s thick enough to shovel. But when it weaves its fingers through water channels among mountains, it’s beautiful. In fog you can sometimes see the wind blowing.

Watching fog caress mountains.
Oddly enough, mists or vapors were once thought to be poisonous and to carry contagions such as plague and cholera. From ancient times to the 19th century, the “miasma theory” held sway over beliefs in Europe, China and India. It wasn’t until the discovery of germs and germ theory that the terrors of “night air” receded.

Yeh Ming Tzu, my teak folkboat, in Nantucket Harbor in the 1970s.
But fog can still hold terror for the mariner. I remember being lost in fog on my wooden folkboat back in the 1970s. Swift Long Island Sound currents carried us toward a small island with a big rocky shoal. I couldn’t tell which side of the island we were on, and, not wishing to be shipwrecked, found myself all ears, alert for the sounds of surf or ships, and ready with the fog horn. Also wishing for someone to please hurry up and invent a magic black box where you could press a button, and bingo! Your precise position, madam.

My radio direction finder gave me only one “null” when its swivel top pointed at the lone beacon ten miles away, and I needed a second null to cross with it to update my position. Grabbing one of those small transistor radios the size of a pack of cigarettes that teenagers used to hold to their ears, I tuned it to WABC AM radio in New York, and when that station’s strong signal grew weak as I rotated the radio, it gave me the second null. Thank you, Cousin Brucie, I whispered, and plotted our position.

Eastern entrance to Deception Pass, fog pouring through.
Now there’s miniaturized GPS and radar and other delights, but the way fog always made me feel back then is etched in my memory. The photo above is of the eastern entrance to Deception Pass, four days ago. Currents can get to 6 ½ knots, so we timed it for slack water. At the other end was a 50-foot powerboat barreling along at flank speed. Yeeks! Our new broadband radar picked it out like an approaching cannonball, and we were ready with fog horn, lights blazing and a right proper stinkeye when it swerved into view.

Tonic emerges from a fog bank.
Every boat needs a fog horn, though big ships and powerboats like the one in Deception Pass might not hear it. One of the best protective devices you can have on your boat is a good radar reflector, hoisted in the rigging. Cheap metal ones like ours seem to work as well as expensive ones. If you have a wooden mast and stuff it full of aluminum foil like the Pardeys describe, it can augment your boat’s radar signature, but it doesn’t work with metal masts.

Part of Sockdolager's fog inventory. The rest includes bright navigation lights, a fog horn, and alert eyes and ears. 
Modern fog horns have devolved into earsplitting compressed-gas squealers that require frequent replacement if you run into a lot of fog, or plastic tubes with the blowhole so near the sound hole that it deafens you. The gas ones are loud and effective until the gas runs out, at which point they sound like dying banana slugs. Not that banana slugs make noise, but I needed a picturesque northwest animal metaphor here.

So, let’s examine a revolutionary fog horn technology that’s easy, endlessly available and probably so effective that neither the Coast Guard nor your local chandlery want you to know about it:

An old bugle makes a good fog horn.
Get yourself a used bugle, trumpet, heck, get a tuba if there’s room aboard. It doesn’t have to be in good condition, just playable on a couple of notes. I guarantee that once you Google your bugle and learn how to pucker your embouchure, you’ll be getting exactly the type of attention you seek, namely, people will say, what the hell is that, and then do their best to avoid the awful racket. The best part? In fog, nobody can see who’s making the noise! Of course if you’re an erstwhile Dizzy Gillespie who happens to sail in these waters, please accept my apology now. Jim is still recovering from the two-note “concert” I played for him all the way across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. But we were heard and obeyed, weedhoppahs.

Did I mention it was foggy? We left Port Townsend on the outgoing tide, at 6:00 am with Tonic following close behind because they have no radar, and we didn’t see land until we reached our destination. At the mouth of Admiralty Inlet we paused to wait on the sidelines of the shipping channel as a big ship plus a tug and barge passed unseen, their basso profundo horns going BOOOOOOOOOOOOOP, vibrating our sternums. I noticed how much white sails blend in with fog, and how well tanbark sails stand out. Of course at night, all bets are off. And then, after all those hours of staring into the murk and at the radar screen (and did I mention how rough it was? Six foot seas in tide rips, vertical as the ones off Oregon,) and like a voyage through a tunnel, we emerged from the fog into full-blown tourist season at Friday Harbor.

Sockdolager at Friday Harbor. It's good to have our rowing dinghy back!
The sky got so clear that at first, having been conditioned by staring alternately at the radar and into featureless gray, that we mistook it for the blue screen of death. But Friday Harbor cheerfully welcomed us with open arms and bottles of wine.

Yes, bottles of wine. Alan Oberlander, an experienced sailor who lives aboard a well-kept Falmouth cutter named Sookie and writes a lively blog called Art of Hookie, has been one of those people we’ve corresponded with but hadn’t yet met. Here’s a photo of Alan and his friend Emily, who were delightful and excellent conversationalists. Alan supplied us with wine from his brother’s winery, and I’m here to testify that was some fabulous plonk.  

Alan and Emily
Our friends from San Diego, George and Annette Easton, who make the best pasta in the universe, happened to be vacationing in Friday Harbor. They stopped by with wine and cheese and an invitation to a freshly-caught crab dinner, which turned into a hilarious evening of more good conversation and music at the Roche Harbor home of some people we’d never met and who weren’t even there. No, we didn’t break into their house or anything, it was being used by the parents of friends of friends. But if we had all been fifteen years old, we might have been in beeeg trouble.

What took Jim and me by surprise on this cruise was the number of people who recognized us: A boat swerved over and hollered, “Are you the ones who went to the South Pacific?” Several dock-strollers said, “Hey! Sockdolager!” (and they pronounced the name correctly, impressive!) An affable Aussie blinked at me in surprise, then blurted,  “I know more about you than YOU do!” Which made me laugh. My favorite was a woman on the dock exclaiming, “Aren’t you those writers?” Yeah, I wanted to say, all sangfroid-y, we’re those writers. Instead, I laughed and danced a tiny jig.

It caused me to recall a little debate I’ve had several times with various friends:

Friend: You’re famous!
Me: No we’re not.
Yes you are.
No we’re not.

So, to have people stop by like we were some kind of celebrities was, if you want to know the truth, a real blast. And a reminder that we are lucky to have some of the coolest blog readers, followers and friends on the planet. Meeting you is a lot of fun.

Another thing August in the San Juans is known for is not much wind. We left Friday Harbor and motor-sailed toward Stuart Island, at the far northwest corner of the zigzag line on the chart separating US from Canadian waters.

We spy Speiden Island, on the way to Reid Harbor at Stuart Island.
Check out the rapids! The channel north of Speiden Island was having a maelstrom moment.

Rapids in the channel, Speiden Island.
Sockdolager was moving through the water at 5+ knots, but our speed over the bottom was a crawl.

Carl and Patti, being the cagey sailors they are, sneaked Tonic up the side of the channel and passed us with nonchalant ease. The rascals.

Stuart Island’s commodious Reid Harbor was active with boats, but there was plenty of room for two Dana 24s to anchor.

Tonic and Sockdolager at anchor, Reid Harbor
And nighttime brought a Supermoon, which explained the extreme tides.

A visit to Stuart Island isn’t complete without the 6-mile hike through dense forest to see the lighthouse at Turn Point.

Jim, Patti & Carl on a hike to Turn Point. (Photo taken by Karen)
And besides the terrific view at the end, there were other rewards, such as the best outhouse we’ve ever seen, bar none, anywhere. It was workmanlike and neat on the outside and a real palace on the inside. Being an outhouse, though, its art collection went largely unappreciated by patrons with intact olfactory receptors.

Best li'l outhouse in Washington.
And Sasquatch hunters, your search is over. Lurking near the outhouse. Who knew?

Sasquatch, standing very still.
As long as we’re dancing around the subject, the owners of an “interesting” Roche Harbor business went a little overboard naming their boat, but it fits. The MV Phecal Phreak buzzes around Roche Harbor doing free holding tank pumpouts. Their motto is “We take crap from anyone.” The two young men operating the boat told us they can earn a hundred fifty a day in tips. It’s a brilliant business model. Do the icky job nobody else wants for free on big, squeaky-clean yachts, and watch the pity money pour in. At Friday Harbor, the honey wagon is named MV Pumpty Dumpty. Cute, huh.

The MV Phecal Phreak.
Alright, let’s cleanse the image palate, shall we? How about these Roche Harbor dahlias.

Jim went for a saunter to watch the chaos at the Roche Harbor Customs dock, which was jam-packed with many boats coming in from Canada. At least 5 more boats were lined up in the harbor waiting for space at the Customs dock, while others buzzed around between them. The air was full of fumes and a few tempers were fuming, too. Jim came back to Sockdolager, which was tucked away in a nice quiet spot, with a good story: "You wouldn't believe it. This 35 foot powerboat went to pull away from the dock without pushing off the dock. Its stern swept too close and the dinghy caught on a big dock cleat and was ripped right off the stern."

"Good grief!"

"And then a big trawler, probably 45 feet, came straight at the dock, I thought it was going to crash. But about ten feet off the dock it stopped, gracefully pivoted, and made an eggshell landing. No drama."


"But the best part was when this little girl looked up from her position on the bow. There was a man on the stern with a dockline. He and the little girl were nonchalant. I hadn't noticed who was driving. The little girl called, 'Good job, Grandma!' Now that was cool."

Jim knew about a sweet little stop at a small village on Westsound, Orcas Island, called Olga. Not many people know about it. We two Danas squeezed in for a quiet night. Shhh.

One of the local sea captains is immortalized on a wall, inviting creative selfies.

Anacortes is a delightful town with great restaurants, shops and a thriving marine industry. Its marine hardware store is unique and reminiscent of chandleries you used to see several decades ago. Lots of sailors say it’s their favorite place, and we agree except for one thing. Living a stone’s throw from a refinery that produces 120,000 barrels of oil a day, experienced a major explosion in 2010 with fatalities, and was cited with 44 safety violations by the state, Anacortes residents know that some paychecks come with great risk.

Part of the immense refinery at Anacortes.
We can all wish things were different, but most of us use products from refineries like this, so perhaps examining our own consumption patterns a little closer while holding industry and its regulators accountable, for the sake of future generations, would be a good start.

We motored past several anchored tankers, including this one, one of the first double-hulled tankers in the Alaska fleet. I remembered calling it on the VHF radio back in 2006 when I was crossing the Gulf of Alaska in Minstrel, my former Dana 24. The officer of the watch very kindly gave me a weather report, and when I asked how good Minstrel’s radar signature was, he said they first noticed us as a tiny blip on their radar at 16 miles, which surprised me since I only carried an inexpensive aluminum radar reflector. It was confirmation of the effectiveness of such a simple device.

Tanker Polar Adventure at anchor, Anacortes
I had never been down the Swinomish Channel to LaConner before, though Jim, Carl and Patti had. It reminded me a little of the Intracoastal Waterway on the US east coast, except with fiercer currents. There’s a reason people arrive early at the guest dock: to get an inside spot, which we did. The current’s so strong you have to tie off your wheel or tiller, or the rudder will slam around. And the entertainment is spectacular as long as you’ve got a ten-foot dock between you and the rampaging boats in the channel. Boat-watching for clever names netted us “Incrabnito,” “Aquaholic,” and “License to Chill.” A 50-foot powerboat pulled in, revved its engines, and completely engulfed the dock in thick black smoke. Its name? “Sea Mist.” I was appreciating that special irony when a loud voice hollered at someone over the radio, “Hey idiot! Why doncha be more polite?” Jim and I looked at each other and laughed.

Next morning as I sipped coffee in the cockpit, a woman on the boat opposite us stepped gingerly onto the dock. She had endured a wild couple of missed approaches and a crash landing the previous evening, which featured heroic line throws by her boyfriend and his son and a posse of yelling men on the dock. The morning was calm, early, and quiet. “Nice morning,” I said.

“Yes,” she ventured, and looked back. “It’s my boyfriend’s boat. Well, not really, he’s thinking of buying it and the owner let us take it out for a week.”

“Wow, generous owner. Is your boyfriend going to buy it?”

“I think so. It’s so homey inside. Just like an RV.”

“Yeah,” I said. “An RV without brakes.”

“Yeah,” she said nervously.

After a lovely quiet evening on a free mooring on the north side of Hope Island, it was time to transit Deception Pass and cross the Strait again. Having fog lurking about, it was another good chance to practice bugle solos, and I wore out my lips.

When we returned home, I was delighted to get a call from Lin Pardey. She and Larry drove Brownie Lite up from California and are enjoying catching up with friends in Port Townsend. Lin is a presenter at the Wooden Boat Festival, and so are we! Check out the schedule, it's worth a trip to Port Townsend. Lin and I had a wonderful visit. Here she is in my studio as we discussed various writing projects.

We're going to present a slide show at the Festival, on Sunday September 7 at 9:30 am in the Cascade Room, about our voyage to New Zealand. It's called "Lessons Learned Sailing a 24-foot Boat from Port Townsend to New Zealand." Following us will be Lin and Larry, then Colin Angus (went around the world on self-powered vessels and vehicles) then Steve Callahan, who spent 76 days in a life raft and was a consultant for the movie "Life of Pi," which will be shown at the Festival. We hope to see you there!

It’s good to be back home in our beautiful northwest waters.