Saturday, 17 September 2011

turning left: our first passage

Sailing for adventure on the big blue wet thing... (Fozzie Bear)

Cape Flattery, Washington: Where we turned left

The first two days out, we were grumpy. Not just mildly grumpy, but g-r-u-m-p-y. There were only light winds, and the swell was unforgiving. Fatigue certainly played a role. At first, it was hard to sleep while off watch. In spite of cocooning ourselves into the sea berth like sausage rolls, we got very little rest. The snapping sails and constant rolling could drive any somewhat sane sailor completely mad.

On day 3, we found our groove.

See? We like each other again!
It was as if a switch was thrown. The wind had freshened and the boat’s motion had eased. (And when it got rolly again, we handled it much better.) We finally both got some sleep, and ate a warm meal. Rick started looking cute again! We settled into a routine. We would hang out together in the afternoon, eat dinner and watch the sunset. The first evening watch was from 20:00 until midnight. One of us would sleep, while the other stood watch. Then we would switch places for the next 4 hours, and so on, until noon the next day. We found that for us, a 4-hour watch worked well. It was enough to get some rest when we were off watch, and not too long that we would start losing consciousness while on watch, especially at night. Watches were more casual during the afternoon. Whoever was in the cockpit would keep a lookout and deal with sail changes. We got into the habit of cooking one warm meal a day, sometimes two. We had been told by experienced offshore sailors that it takes something like 3 days (the magic number?) to get into the rhythm of a passage. That was indeed true for us.

We just soaked in the sun and the motion of the ocean became second nature. Mind you, that motion could be a little inconsistent to say the least. Sometimes we were taken by surprise. For example, during one of my first night watches, I got dressed in my foulies1 and settled down in the cockpit. Of course, within a half an hour I had to pee. Off came the PFD2, the foul weather jacket was next, the extra wool sweater was peeled away so I could pull down my bib pants, only to have an unexpected roll make me lose my balance. And there I was, my face plastered onto the head’s door, my hands still gripping the waistband of my foulies. All the while I had to be quiet, because my mate was off-watch and finally asleep. I’m happy to report that my skills improved throughout the passage. No, really, they did. I have very few bruises.

Before we left, we were having issues with our shortwave radio receiver – something is wrong with it. We were going to use it to get weather information during the voyage. We don’t have a sat phone (yet), or an SSB radio. We had decided to sail closer to shore than the Jimmy Cornell crowd. We ended up listening to the VHF for weather reports, and that was adequate. We had discussed our route with sailors who have done the same passage many times. They suggested we go 35nm offshore, stating that they found it much better than going way offshore, (after trying both). During this voyage, we were between 30 and 50nm offshore. We enjoyed very little traffic, the water was too deep to worry about prawn traps and the like. And once the wind picked up, we sailed in mostly reasonable seas. Sailing further inshore can be problematic though, as the coastline is fouled by reefs, rocks, and breaking swell. Traffic becomes a bigger concern as well. This was a happy medium for us.

Our friends are back! 
On day 5, we had visitors. A large pod of dolphins came along and entertained us with their cavorting. Two jumped out of the water, others seemed to strike a pose for our cameras. Soon, we both stopped photographing, and just enjoyed the moment.

There is a lot of that on a passage. You sit in the cockpit contemplating the waves, the sky, the birds. It’s very beautiful. We spent many serene hours doing just that. 

Check out our awsome lee cloth3
Thank you, thank you Dana!
It was very interesting to observe what became important as we settled into our passage. The sea berth was a coveted prize. Nothing could get between that berth and the off-watch crew, (not even the whimper of the crew about to go on watch for “Just 15 more minutes… Please?”) We were both very protective of our down time. When a watch was over, the person going on watch had better get out of that berth quickly. The bliss of sliding into a warm sleeping bag, your weary bones humming with joy, was exquisite. Rest was luxurious, obviously, it was also a necessity. A tired crew can make poor choices, or be more accident-prone.

A warm meal also makes a difference to a crew’s morale. Once my initial queasiness disappeared, I became inspired to feed us well. I made quesadillas, pasta with Chorizo sausage, (um, eating spicy food is either brave or stupid). Rick prepped a chickpea curry, I baked bread… It was the epitome of comfort food. Fruit and raw veggies were also craved, especially after the first couple of days. Music is another aspect worth mentioning where this crew is concerned. We listen to a lot of music. We’re both fanatics. (I’m just more vocal about it!) We had a great soundtrack accompany us on our passage. Here is a sample: Hey (I love you) – Michael Franti /Duties of a Lighthouse Keeper – Human Highway / Long Walk Home – Bruce Springsteen / Early in the Morning – Cindy Lauper (feat. B.B. King) / Things That Scare Me -  Neko Case / Hold On – Tom Waits /  Wisdom -  Mother Mother / Bein’ Green (Muppet Cover) – Andrew Bird / The Orchids – Califone / Devil’s Paintbrush Road – Wailin’ Jennys / King of Spain – Tallest Man On Earth… and the list goes on.

The seas are beginning to look more interesting...
The last 2 days of our passage, were utterly different. The wind picked up, the waves grew bigger and we were flying! It was exciting. It is such a strange sight, to see a wall of water when looking up into the cockpit from the cabin. We were confident in Nyon, and even with a small kerchief of a foresail, (we had reefed long before the winds reached 30 knots), we were still zooming along. We arrived in the San Francisco area, too early to go under the Golden Gate Bridge, (tides, and therefore currents and contrary winds can be a concern). We tucked into Drake’s Bay and are taking a day to catch our breath and then head into San Francisco with a flood tide tomorrow.

We made it!

Land Ho!
Lessons learned:     
  • If the forecast says light winds (5-10 knots), stay in port. We were too attached to our departure date. (And I thought we knew better than that!) Although, we are guilty of the reverse of most newer sailors: We didn’t go out in bad weather and get into trouble. We went out when there was not enough wind and nearly killed each other instead.
  • It’s not scary out here. (So far.) Of course we haven’t been caught offshore in a storm, that would change things. But in spite of that, there’s a certain magic to being out in the big blue on a little boat.
  • Small pleasures go a long way: There’s nothing like a dry pair of socks, a hot water bottle. A warm meal cooked by your mate, dolphins cavorting with your boat. Another sailboat off in the distance, a hug after your watch is over…
1Foulies: What sailors call their foul weather gear, which consists of a heavy raincoat and rain pants, among other   accessories
2PFD: Personal Flotation Device, in other words, a life jacket or inflatable life jacket
3Lee cloth: This refers to a piece of cloth attached on the sea berth to prevent yourself from falling off the berth when the boat heels or during rough conditions

Most of this post was written underway, we wanted to write about our experiences when they were still fresh in our minds.


  1. So... You measure your sailing skills by how many bruises you have? :)

    Glad you guys made it and had a fun passage, well mostly. I know you'd posted a few times about finally leaving but now it feels like you've finally left on your blog! Awesome. Looking forward to continued adventures.


  2. haha, what can i say... finding your sea legs is part of the deal right? :)
    I know eh, the leaving took forever... But I figured I would share that part of the experience too, as that's what it's like - you're leaving, but not really, you're leaving but only a little bit... blah blah blah... (Hopefully, it wasn't too boring.) We are happy to be adventuring at last!

  3. I loved reading this blog post! I'm so happy you arrived safely in San Fransisco :D

    ... and I'm also glad you didn't kill one another :P

  4. Haha, thanks M, it was all in all a great experience! And Rick and I get over our grumpfests very quickly - it's more fun to be happy :)

  5. Glad ya'll made it safely and were able to "get in the groove". I'd imagine we'd be really grumpy during such a long passage, but it does sound amazing!

  6. Kyra, I've been catching up haphazardly on old posts in your blog—enjoyed hearing this account of your passage down to SF!



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