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, February 18, 2014

A Writing Winter

Port Townsend, Washington: A procession of gales clipped by bright crisp days has been the way winter is this year in the far upper left corner of the US.

No big dumps of snow and no extreme temperatures. I’m happy about the no snow, having maxed out my lifetime tolerance card many years ago while living 8 miles up a mountain road in Alaska, but Jim’s not so certain. I think he misses snow and the fun you can have in it. Me, I look forward to the first flowers of spring.

We’re enjoying the peace of a low-key winter, with unlimited time for me to write and for Jim to convert the garage into a workshop for himself and a little studio for me. It’s all going pretty well. I haven’t posted in awhile because, well, I’ve been busy writing. The book about our voyage to New Zealand, that is. It’s harder than I thought, because although the blog is a good guide to draw from, I’m finding everything needs to be re-written in order to hang together the way a book seems to demand. Fifteen chapters are complete, at least to second draft stage. And though I don’t tend to talk about a project while it’s underway (something about losing the magic juju,) here’s a brief excerpt from one chapter, about sailing down the coast of California, between Santa Cruz and the Channel Islands.

The book is still not titled, though I have a few ideas and am open to suggestions. I want to capture the spirit of what it feels like to go cruising to unknown places and the surprises they give, while deepening a sense of appreciation for being alive and in the world. Tall order, but why not try. I hope you enjoy it.

Sockdolager sailing off the Channel Islands.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ book excerpt~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

California’s waters gave us an easy but foggy passage from Sausalito to Santa Cruz, where we watched the dock reconstruction from the tsunami that had hit five months earlier. Steel reinforcements bracketed each piling, and reinforced beams extended halfway across the dock. Someone had painted them hot pink, evidently to keep others from tripping. 

Strolling through the seaside amusement park, we spied every possible kind of high-fat funky carnival food that could be had for a couple of bucks and some swagger at the prospect of clogged arteries. “Whoa, fried Twinkies!” I said. “I’ve never tried one.”

“Go for it,” said Jim.

“I dunno, they look like little rows of myocardial infarctions.” I considered the idea while watching a patron gobble a cream-filled greasy gluten dog. “Nah. I don’t see an ambulance standing by. Maybe some other time.”

The weather behaved, allowing us to explore a little, but ten-foot waves from two directions rolled in and closed the harbor entrance for a couple of days. They came from the Gulf of Alaska and some gigantic storm near Antarctica, traveling thousands of miles across the curvature of the earth to crash on this coast. Nervously we watched them break over the channel entrance. I was surprised at how far wind-generated waves of that size can travel--in fact, they can go all the way around the planet at the Southern Ocean, where there's no land to stop them. 

Once the entrance calmed down, we left for Monterey. The windless passage forced us to motor in thick fog through which the sun shone, giving us fogbows. On a smooth grey sea, they look like rainbows seen through milk glass.

A fogbow. 
As we glided over the invisible edge of an abrupt dropoff to the oceanic abyss that is Monterey Canyon, I stood on the foredeck as lookout, musing over what the terrain must look like thousands of feet beneath us. What lives are being lived down there? So deceptively smooth here at the surface, but we are flying over the equivalent of the Grand Canyon! I wished I could dive down for a look, but snapped to attention when a great white shark about 8 feet long appeared on the surface smack in front of the boat. We were going to collide with it. I yelled Sharrrk! Dead ahead! back to Jim, but there wasn’t time to avoid it. The shark must have sensed the boat’s pressure wave and scrambled out of the way just in time. It swam down our starboard side, casually watching us with a black beady eye as if nothing had happened. Wow, Jim and I mouthed at each other, That’s a great white for you.

We sailed out of lovely Monterey into a dazzling sunset that bronzed Big Sur’s hills and Sockdolager’s sails, and a tide of happiness washed over me. This is where I want to be, sailing on this boat with this man. It was that simple. 

The 3-day passage went so easily that we arrived early at the crossing point with the busy Santa Barbara Channel, thirty miles north of Point Conception. We crossed the shipping lanes at a right angle to minimize the chance of encountering ships, and shaped a course down the other side to run parallel with but several miles outside them. A steady parade of ships made it feel as if we were walking on the shoulder of a freeway.

The boat was still going too fast. If we kept up this speed, we’d arrive at night off San Miguel, the most northwesterly of the Channel Islands. Our destination was Cuyler Harbor, an uninhabited windswept indentation guarded by rocks, kelp beds and elephant seals. The wind kept picking up, which made us go even faster. NOAA’s radio weather service announced a gale warning. Cuyler Harbor looked like the best shelter, so here was a unique challenge: with so little sail up, how could we slow the boat down further, so as not to arrive off a rock-strewn harbor entrance in darkness? The end of this passage turned out not to be as peaceful as the beginning.

We kept reducing sail until we had nothing but a tiny scrap of genoa out, and we were still doing 3 ½ knots downwind when we needed to be doing 2. Winds were now 20 knots, and Sockdolager did not want to slow down. The seas were rising, which made reducing speed even more important. Entering a tricky harbor in these seas could not be done in darkness, and we didn’t want to sail past it. So, keeping clear of the shipping lane on our port side, we did some zig-zagging, little detours about two miles wide, to increase the distance sailed and stretch out the hours until dawn. It worked.

Around midnight I saw a large squid glowing ghostly green just under the surface of the darkened sea.  It was about two or three feet long, and aligned parallel with the waves. It moved quickly and diagonally from one wavetop through the water to the next wavetop, where it would pause.  It stayed just beneath the surface, seeking the space inside each wavetop as if hiding underneath a mountain peak. Squid are tremendous predators, and this behavior made me wonder: does being inside the top of a wave instead of near the trough or in flat water increase the chance of being undetected by prey? Most fish that swim near the surface at night might expect attack from underneath, but probably not overhead. Does the change in sea surface from calm to wavy actually become a change in habitat that triggers different behavior in some species? I had no answer, but enjoyed wondering about it as we zigzagged through the night.

Cuyler Harbor, San Miguel Island, just before the gale.
Off the harbor entrance at dawn, we began threading between rocks and kelp beds, and found a good sandy-bottomed spot to anchor in and ride out the coming gale in the solitude of a harbor surrounded by rock walls and sand dunes. It was scenic, deserted, and, unfortunately, filled with the weird, low-frequency burble that can only be made by three dozen 2-ton elephant seals. The gale blew for four days, and the seals treated us to the sound that twelve year-old boys would make if they could commandeer the public address system at a baseball stadium, for a belching contest. On the first day it made us laugh to hear it. By the fourth day we were belching unashamedly along with them.

Elephant seal.


  1. How about "Two years beneath the mast" ? :-)

    1. HA! Isn't that what you do to a gold sovereign? You place a valuable coin beneath the mast. Well, sometimes I feel rather golden AND sovereign...

  2. I was more thinking of "Two years before the mast" written by R.H. Dana... Oh wait: aren't we actually sleeping *before* the mast in a Dana? Only at anchor, that is...

  3. I am buying a Dana and taking it up to Alaska,my question is ,do you know of a Dana with a heater on it ,looks like the only place to install one would be the side of the hanging locker.

    1. Hi Bruce,
      Karen here. My former Dana, Minstrel, has a diesel heater. Seacraft Yachts in Seattle installed it inside the starboard cockpit coaming (there are no boxes for holding winch handles there) and the ducting was led through the head compartments into the main cabin at the bottom of the hanging locker. A vent in the head turned that space into a drying room for foul weather gear.

      Sockdolager has no heater, and we are pondering what to do, because a wood stove would be nice but finding space for it is the trick. Let us know what solution you adopt, and enjoy the sail to Alaska.

    2. I was wondering if a small stove could find room ABOVE the hanging locker on the starboard side, against the head compartment bulkhead. But maybe it would be too close to the ceiling? I would want to have the heater in the cabin where I can monitor it rather than hidden somewhere out of sight.

    3. Good question, Richard. The problem with that is the height of the heater; you would need something to move that heat lower in the cabin. Also, depending on the type of heater, proximity to the overhead could be a problem. Though that space looks logical at first glance, I don't think I'd want a heater there.

      Of course, there's always the upended flower pot over a burner, but be sure to ventilate the cabin.

      If any Dana or other small-boat owners have ideas they want to share, feel free.

    4. Going out on a limb here, given that I'm not a handy carpenter: how about ln the lower part of the hanging locker? Flue would be routed to the back and up through cabin top. The issue is how to insulate the top of the heater so that the rest of the locker is usable... Don't know how feasible this would be. Maybe rebuild the whole locker into something else going up to the roof.

    5. The lower part of the hanging locker is where the ducting came through on my (K) old Dana with the diesel heater. As for putting a solid fuel stove in there, I don't know--seems like you'd have to leave a hefty insulated airspace above it, which means loss of that storage space. Interesting idea. Take photos and let us know how it goes!

    6. In fact I was thinking that the best place for a heater might be where the stove is! So I did a quick check and found this:
      A diesel stove that can double up as a heater - what do you think? Haven't checked the dimensions.

    7. Wow, Richard, that's interesting. I noticed the oven is installed separately from the cooktop, but that it has the sea-clamps to keep pots on those smooth burners. I would wonder about 2 things: Can it be gimbaled? If not, some cooking at sea is going to be harder. The reason I question the gimbaling is because the stove is in two pieces, and also getting the diesel fuel to the stove would require flexible hose, and I'd want to investigate how that's done.

      Also I'd want to know the stove's weight, which should be similar to the existing one to keep from having to do a major re-trim. But this is an interesting and innovative possibility. Keep us posted on what you learn. -Karen and Jim

  4. Hi you two, Karen, your book sounds fantastic. I look forward to reading it and learning... Would love to hear from you guys sometime. We're home in Maple Bay for the summer and are searching for our new (to us) next boat. Carolyn & Kathy

    1. Hey guys! It would be good to see you, too, and catch up. (Readers: Carolyn & Kathy sailed their 30-footer, Shannon, to Mexico when we did, and are mentioned several times in this blog.)

      The book is well underway. Good luck with your boat search and let us know what you find.

  5. Great to see you're having fun with enjoying your sailing adventures Karen. We're still going strong at Mairangi Writers with a few new faces round the table and lots of books being published, even one about sailing! (My latest Sunstrike novel is about travelling from Bali to Auckland with no technology.) All the best for your travels,
    Bev Robitai

    1. Great to hear from you, Bev! Please tell the Maitangi Writers hello for me, and congratulations on the publication of your latest book. Why don't you add a comment for readers under mine, to tell where we can get it.

  6. Hi
    I've just found your blog and it's fantastic....I will enjoy catching up on all your posts. Can't wait for the book!

  7. Your book sounds fantastic. I look forward to reading it.