Monday, October 29, 2007

San Francisco

At sea, the sailor yearns mostly for a good breeze and for the comforts of the next port. Yet after a few days in port, its the sea that begins calling again. We have been having a great time in this city, but that wide open sea does begin to call us back, as does the "Paradise" in our imaginations, with welcoming warm waters, sandy beaches and days of only sailing from one perfect spot to another. So Thursday has been selected as a shoving off day, and the weather looks like it will cooperate so far, the forecast is for N or NW wind 15-20kts. If that forecast holds it will keep us moving nicely and hopefully we'll make San Diego by the 5th or 6th. In SD, my cousin Ian Maury will be waiting for us with a few surfboards to add to the menagerie we keep on deck. Dan and I are not surfers, but hopefully we can change that by the time we reach Cabo.

San Francisco has been very relaxing. Dan has "worked" at his old job at South Beach Marina taking tourists out sailing and maintining sailboats. I have spent most of my time reading and riding a bike around the city and catching up with old friends and family. Dan and I commute to the Mission most nights on our bikes to find his hipster clan and socialize with them. One sign that its time to leave town is when going out starts to seem like a job.

One highlight of my stay has been a great bike ride I took with my old friend Mariana over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. It was one of those perfectly clear days here, sunny, with cool, crisp air, when you feel it might be the best city in the world. Its the time of year now after the fog has abated that San Franciscans say is their real summer. Its not quite warm enough for us, though. Hopefully La Paz will be warmer, as that's our next big destination.

The view of the city from the top of Twin Peaks.

A good end to a bike ride as the sun sets behind the GGB.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Eureka to San Francisco

Eureka was a great place to spend a few days, but Dan and I both began to yearn for a bit more action, at sea and ashore. We did have a great time on our last night in Eureka and went to an art gallery to see the band, Scout Niblett. Scout herself was a slight, unassuming young British woman, very cute, with baggy sweatpants and floppy cowboy boots, who had a beautiful voice, and would mesmerize the small town crowd by singing sweetly while strumming her electric guitar a bit, only to suddenly let loose mega-amplified meaty chords that collectively moved all hairlines back a few inches. Why this soon-to-be sensation was in Eureka, I don't know. We may go see her again soon, as I think now she's in SF. Anway, we somehow managed to get up before dawn the next morning to catch slack water (not a drink) at the Eureka bar . (Bar crossings can be very dangerous as during an ebb current the ocean swells curl and break like surf and can capsize anything but the biggest boat) Past the bar, it was as we expected, large swells and a slight breeze, from unfortunately, the south. We stopped motoring just a few minutes past the entrance jettys to check on the source of some mysterious water appearing down below, and with the boat wallowing the the swell, I immediately had a "cleansing experience" over the side. The end of my sailing career flashed before my eyes, but in a few mintues we were going again, and I steered for the next several hours as we motored and began to feel much better. After we rounded the feared Cape Mendocino, the wind began to build, and our latest "first night out gale" had begun. Our timing is getting consistent at least! We could have waited another day for this small front to go through, but ashore, 25 knots sounds like only a slight breeze, but when you're out there, it all feels like 35, and the waves happily heap up and start to slap the boat around. We were ready to get going, so when its time to move on, you just start moving, damn the torpedoes. It was another long night of going slow, bad visibility, and taking cold spray down the neck of your jacket. Water was forcibly injected into each previously hidden leak in the deck, and almost everything down below was wet. It wasn't as bad as our first night out from Neah Bay, but we were excited for it to be over. At around noon the next day, the wind began to slack off and the waves began their seemingly interminable process of laying down. Wouldn't you know it, the wind kept on dropping down to nothing, and the motor was started to keep something productive happening and not just the maddening lurch to each wave. It was a beautiful sunset, and a clear night, with more porpoises swimming alongside the boat all lit up from phosphorescence. The next day there was not a cloud in the sky and the waves finally responded to friction and gravity and flattened out. The motor purred on and on and I watched the sun blink on from under the horizon, and then amazingly only a few hours later, fall back into the sea. In the time in between, we aired out all the wet gear we could and spent quite a long time just watching the mountains, and rafts of kelp float by. One thing I've always loved about calm weather is that its much easier to see any disturbance on the surface of the ocean. Whales and porpoises and even jellyfish seem to come out in flat seas, but really they were there all along, now its just possible to see anything that touches the surface for miles. We did a slow, cruise-by of the desolate Farralon Islands, and then drifted a bit to wait for slack current at the Golden Gate. As we drifted, a NW wind finally began to rise and we hoisted full sail and set a course for a spot in the haze where the long awaited Golden Gate loomed. It was a fairly intense evening of dodging containerships and finding our way past fourfathom shoal. Only a few miles from the gate the breeze slacked a bit too much and we dropped sail and resumed motoring into the Bay. Crossing under The Bridge, was very exhilirating and every bit the moment we had imagined. It was probably my 13th time passing under its span, but this was the most beautiful and imposing the bridge has ever looked. Its colossal height and breadth have never seemed more like a miracle, with the tops of each tower piercing into the fog. We secured a dock in South Beach harbor and Dan dragged me out to the Mission district in soggy jeans to roust out what adventures might still be had that night. Now I've secured my new permanent table at the South Beach Cafe, a 100% Italian experience, and the sun is shining and we are feeling that a bit of pressure has been relieved, as Mexico is still waiting for us, and winter can come and the harsh Pacific can churn away up north, as long as it sends us a few long days of NW wind in a few weeks. Thanks to any and all who have followed along or offered words of encouragement. If you're in the bay area, drop us a line and we'll have plenty of time for a warm, dry, night out in this wet, foggy harbor.

The dreaded Cape Mendocino Boys, barking at us and playing King of the Hill on the Cape Mendocino Buoy, with Cape Mendocino behind. This band of local thugs was not too pleased with our visit, and motivated us too keep going.

On deck, watching the sun set, thinking too much about land, and life. Scout Niblett and normal life seems another dimension entirely, so distant from this lonely world.

The Porpoise Show. They've been visiting us regularly. Its most impressive to watch them at night when phosphorescent phytoplankton lights up when disturbed. A swimming porpoise will appear as a streaking torpedo of light zooming in toward the boat. When the water is clear and the night is dark enough, you can see a perfect outline of the porpoise, sparkling and shimmering in the most eery and inspiring display. Its as if the ocean has a whole new sensory option, with motion producing its own light.

SE Farralon Island. Pirate haven.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Final Push

Dan and I have decided to shove off tomorrow morning. The swells should die down from their 16ft level they are at now to somewhere around 9ft, and we should have fairly settled weather for the trip out around Cape Mendocino. Headwinds are predicted so we are thinking it may take us 4 days to make the last 230 miles to the golden gate. Eureka has been great, a little quiet for our tastes, but a great place to relax It is time to get going as we still seem to be in the normal pathway of the low pressures that seem to be stacking up out there. Mid September really is the best time to leave seattle, as October seems to be a totally different animal. Our buddy boat was in Neah Bay at last report waiting out that monster low that swung up the coast. If anyone is interested in keeping up with Kevin's blog, check out.

Dan and I were taken in by a great local family yesterday and we had an awesome night of conversation and food at their house in Eureka. Thanks Stacia and Dan(#2) for everything. It was so good to be taken care of and make such a fun connection while trapped here....behind the redwood curtain.

Its time to abandon my permanent chair here at the coffeeshop and get ready to head back out to sea. I hope my stomach remembers that its become immune to the horrors the open ocean.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Neah Bay to Eureka

Last Sunday night the 5 southbound sailboats holed-up in Neah Bay had a meeting aboard the boat of our new crusiser friends we call, "The Swiss Famliy Robinson." ( a long story) The five southbound captains discussed their plans for how many miles offshore they would go for the best weather, avoiding shipping, etc. and we all agreed on a radio call-in schedule to keep in touch. All other captains decided to wait until tuesday, but I thought we should be on our way as soon as the weather had cleared on monday. There is a mental trap that cruisers seem to fall into waiting for the "right" weather window. We found one person who said he had been waiting for 2 years to leave Neah Bay! Another flat out told us we were crazy to think of leaving with the endless train of lows bearing down on us. We were also the smallest of the five boats and I wanted to get South as quickly as possible before the next low swung down from Alaska. So, against the cruising conventional wisdom, we set out. We rounded the long awaited US northwestern most point in a moderate SW breeze, but as we cleared the cape a stiff chop from the SSE appeared as a remnant from the storm and mixed with the big W swell to produce a fairly confused sea. To add to the fun the wind began to blow into the mid 20s from the SW. Those three wave patterns created not a very nice ride. I won't beat around the bush, I threw up all night, Dan was scared, and John just stayed in his bunk. But maybe having a horrific first night at sea is a blessing, because everything else after that started to seem like gravy and our stomachs were like iron after the second day. After the blow, the wind began to veer to a more favorable direction, and the waves slowly became more orgainzed. We made mostly good progress southward, although the Oregon coast did start to seem almost as long as California. The sun began to shine brighter and our sprits climbed steadily as well. We had some amazing runs of perfect breeze. With a double reefed main and full jib Sula loves almost any breeze except a dead run. Then as the breeze builds, we just roll up the jib and she settles right into it. She is very fast for her length, and mountainous 17 ft swell from the NW only served as a surfing engine. As well as fast, she is also well mannered and stable, and hardly a wave ever threatened to come aboard. Her rudder is powerful, and she can steer herself upwind with the wheel locked for hours. She is quite simply an amazing sea boat and I'm relieved that those same lines that struck me visually, handle the ocean so well. The GPS hit 11.1 kts once as we carved beautiful turns down a wave face. The windvane also is amazing. He, (the windvane is a He), is a better helmsman that we are, and never gets tired or takes his eyes off the compass, and never needs one amp of electricity. No swell ever overpowed him dangerously. His name is Karuk. Thats one of many stories that I could descibe in more detail. It involves two great women we met in Port Townsend, Mary and Zhuvuya, who had just come from a session with their guru/spiritual/relationship advisor, a woman, who becomes a "portal" for a spirit force named Karuk. Karuk is a male though. We're very happy to have Karuk aboard as he makes long watches much more fun. We were not planning to stop before SF but John needed to get back and a nasty cold front is coming tomorrow, so we pulled over in Crescent City, CA for a night, then motored the next day to Trinidad Head, and Eureka CA. Although it is a bar crossing to get inside, this is the last best place to hole up waiting to make it around Cape Mendocino and make the final push to SF. As a crew, we did beautifully. There was not one harsh word the whole voyage, and after that first night we all began to enjoy the trip immensely. John loved looking at the ocean in all its ever changing scenes, and watching the huge swell running under, and sometimes towering over us. Dan never tired of squeezing each last tenth of a knot out of the boat, and he proved to be quite a force, making amazing meals inside the chaotic washing machine of the cabin. The ocean and the boat were all I expected them to be and more. I was constanly amazed at just how beautiful it all is, the waves, the sky, the stars, the moon rising behind the coast range. And pulling into a different, crazy, normal town, a new one each time, is a great way to see the world.

John and I hiked out to Cape Flattery on Sunday. An amazing place. I want to come back and kayak there when the swell is a bit lower. John's birdwatching urges were sated as well, as he spotted a sojurner Pelican, maybe blown by the storm, at the extreme northern end of its range. This one of those primal, land-before-time places that can't really be appreciated in a photo.

Karuk does all the work while we enjoy the view.

It started to look tropical as we approached California.

This kind of sunrise over the coast after a crystal clear night with brillant starts makes it hard to get a lot of sleep during a night of motoring from Crescent City to Trinidad, CA.

Sula anchored in the snug cove behind Trinidad Head.