CW’s Sailing Adventures

June 30, 2010

40' Sailing Cat - San Diego to Sequim, WA (128)

And it was back to San Diego to finish moving our friends 40' Leopard cat up to Washington. We had a long leisurely trip up from the Panama canal. During the beautiful cruise north, I had done a respectable amount of maintenance on the diesels and Saildrives. Four years of brutal charter company servicing had taken their toll on the new boats underachiever drivetrain. It was time for some much needed professional servicing.

We were in the right place, if you can break it on the water, San Diego has a place you can get it fixed, if not cheaply. We finally found an authorized Volvo mechanic. These guys must have all the work they can handle. After tens of thousands of dollars and four weeks of servicing including new fuel pumps, rebuilding alternator mounts, replacing a cracked case (manufacturing defect) and even a haul out to fix a small leak in the starboard Saildrive, we were back at sea.

I've said it before, 'Buy a fixer and you may end up doubling your investment'. One thing that worked great was the solar panels. We never plugged in and even in the yard, the boat maintained it's own batteries and systems stayed online, unattended. Credit to the panels and the Blue Sky controller.

Paul took us out of San Diego bay while Sheila and I enjoyed the parade of boats traversing the waterway. Just out of the harbor we had problems with the cooling water. I wasn't going back. We drifted for a bit while I coaxed water through the system. Was it sucking air? Time would tell. It was a quick beat to Catalina. I wanted to show the kids where the locals went for our sailing getaways.

We rolled into beautiful Two Harbors and took a mooring. I gave the kids the lowdown on what to do and, “Don't forget the Buffalo Milks”. I dropped them ashore and went back to wrench … just for old time sake. That night, cleaned up, we had a grand dinner at the little Harbor Reef restaurant.

Bright and early we motored off and up through the Channel Islands, dolphins aplaying at the bow, whales lingering off to port. Off Santa Barbara we cruised through the oil slick I always find trailing off the rigs. We took a slip in Santa Barbara, nice people, cute town. Paul and I worked on some close quarters boat maneuvering.

But it was time for the big Oakland Boatshow, excuse me, the Pacific Boatshow, ya that sounds better. Which means I got to ride the train. Amtrak goes from downtown Santa Barbara straight to the boatshow in Oakland … perfect. I grabbed some snax and reading material and was All Aboard in no time – front-facing ocean-side of course. The kids didn't need me for the short SB-SF leg. They made it up to the bay and to the show before it closed on Sunday.

I met the boat at the new West Point marina in SF's south bay. They've done a nice job there. We had a big ribs dinner with the kids and their son Paul, our SF mechanic Lloyd and his beautiful wife. The next morning, Lloyd joined us for the short run up the bay to fuel at Coyote Point marina, nice spot.

We sailed out with the tide, the city on our portside lit up with the orange glow of the setting sun. That's a beautiful town. The head wind and short chop kicked up to make us work for the bridge. We cracked open some headsail and shot off across the bay and into the lee of Sausalito. Tacked again and cruised out under the north end of the Golden Gate. Another epic scene.

We arrived at the entrance to Bodega Bay before sunup and in the thickest fog I could remember. I was alone on watch. I had been in the bay before. Using the radar as my eyes I eased up between the breakwalls at half a knot. The one on starboard was too low to show so I had to guess where it was. Once further inside, visibility opened up to a good 50 yards. That was enough to lay eyes on the marker posts.

We ended up at the end of B dock, for transients, where we chilled for a few days. It's only $30 a night there plus a deposit for the bathroom with the solar-heated firehose-pressure shower. We had an out of season system pounding the coast just to the north, so we were not in a hurry to get right back out. We spent some time honing our close quarter maneuvering skills and even did the walk around the bay to the little town where The Birds was filmed. We ate dinner at the new version of the diner and then watched the movie back at the boat … and then slept fitfully.

We finally got back out to sea, into the big swell aftermath of the storm. We had a lucky couple of days before the normal 20kts on the nose kicked back up. We pulled behind the wall at Port Orford. I know, I've never heard of it either. It's basically a 20' sea wall with local small fish boats sitting on it. They lower the boats with cranes to go fishing - cool. I finally raised the locals on the radio and they said we could take fuel. We tried parking sideways but it didn't seem safe. We went out a bit, dropped the hook and backed in. I got a line around a pylon and with the boat in forward to keep us off the wall, I called up for the fuel hose. The guy didn't like my set up but agreed to fuel. We paid in a coffee can on a string, Turtle Bay style. It all worked out.

Back at sea it was rough going around the point. Alone on watch with the boat launching off waves and landing in holes, spray shooting aft with the strong breeze and Nickelback blaring on the mp3 player. The big roach main driving us ever forward as we headed for the last and most treacherous cape on our 4,000nm voyage to weather, Cape Flattery. I felt alive.

On that last ocean leg we saw ships, whales and found out that wooden fishing boats didn't always show up on radar. We put the great Pacific behind us as we rounded the pinnacle, Cape Flattery and eased gently into the Straight of Juan de Fuca. A satisfying sense of achievement warmed me.

And what was that odd sensation? I almost forgot what tail winds felt like. But there they were, easing us gently to our destination. All the way up from San Francisco we had bitter cold and grey conditions and now, a quarter mile inland, it was warm and sunny.

We enjoyed some nice downwind running to Sequim Bay where the kids had a house over the water and the boat had its own home, a permanent slip. As we entered the marina triumphant, we enjoyed some odd stares from the locals who hadn't seen a lot of adult catamarans in these parts. And there's a reason for that.

As I type this I am sitting at the wide nav station of a big new Leopard 46 cat, watching the calm sea in front of Nicaragua slip by the rail. I just brought her through the Panama canal and will be relocating this work of art to Mexico. Two beautifully running Yanmars aft and a full length stateroom to myself in the starboard hull. I've earned this. Unless something more exciting comes up, I'll be filling you in on the details next month.

June 25, 2010

40' Sailing Cat - Turtle Bay to San Diego (127)

Our adventure on the Leopard 40 catamaran continues. After attending a beautiful ceremony to celebrate Turtle Bay's 60th anniversary, we headed back out to sea. Turtle Bay is a protected anchorage and fuel stop – thank you Anabell's – about halfway up Baja CA. The afternoon breeze had just started to lay down. There were whales everywhere. We cruised up inside the island of Cedros and popped out the top ... to smooth water. I had never seen it smooth there. I celebrated quietly inside myself, careful to not let the sea know that something was amiss.

But the wind did come on that next day and blew hard. I saw a chance to get a break from the mean chop by shooting up inside the Sacramento reef - sinker of ships and cruising boats alike. But we ran into one of the shortcomings of cats. They won't go into the big wind/bad chop combo, no matter what you do. I used to stay out and bang it out all night, getting nowhere, but thankfully, I've outgrown that. I turned tail and we ran 12 miles back to San Carlos. An hour and a half later we were anchor down in a beautiful, calm spot.

We were very close to the states now and the urge to jump back into the fray was strong. But the weather turned worse and sanity kept us in port. We spent the next day gleefully parked in flat water as 30kt gusts whistled through the rig. To kill time I pulled apart the starboard heat exchanger and found a couple impellor pieces clogging key channels. Yep, if you are missing an impellor fin, make sure you find it. For fun, Sheila made brownies and we enjoyed movies and coldies all afternoon.

That night I walked out onto the bow. There was a tiny fishing village ashore. The pueblo generator had shut down and all the fishing shacks were dark. I looked back over my shoulder to see our array of cabin lights and big screen TV aglow. I remembered back to my trip up this coast on my little Low Key. If it were back then, I'd be sitting under the warm glow of my oil lamp, reading some adventure book. Was one experience better than the other? Maybe.

Our weather reports indicated that the weather was going to break soon. We picked a time that would put us at the reefs with some light. At 0400 we tried to leave. The bow roller on these cats is not on the bow, it's back toward the middle of the boat. To ease tention on the chain you have to motor into strong wind. Not being lead from the front, the boat tended to pivot allowing the chain to come up and grind on the hulls. It was not a clever design. It took us about an hour but Paul and I got the chain up, and with the morning land breeze, we sailed out. The breeze whisked us quickly up through the reef. It was eirie sailing with land to starboard and breaking waves to port.

And I spent more time in the engine rooms, nursing the motors so they would survive 'til San Diego. About mid day we started to smell rotten eggs. It didn't make sense, Sheila kept the boat immaculate. I've had that smell on boats when I haven't pumped the head in a long time (the life in the seawater dies eventually).

That day I learned another very important event that makes that smell. One of our big house batteries was failing and heating up. The worst thing you can have on a fiberglass boat is a fire. They say that if you don't get a fiberglass boat fire put out early you won't be able to, it burns too hot. I re-wired the batteries taking the offending one out of the loop.

We cruised into Ensenada putting the worst of the Baja behind us. We fueled up and took a slip at my favorite marina, just north of town, the Coral (say: corral). It felt good to have made it so far on less than perfect motors. We headed right up to the salon to get our showers and then cabbed into town. Unusual for Mexico, you can do a whole check out in one building! Then it was lunch and a coldy at my favorite roasted chicken place where a never ending train of mariachi groups played and plyed for our business.

After walking out of the 22nd chandlery of the trip that didn't have the impellers we needed, we headed back to the boat. We relaxed for a couple of hours, savoring our last evening in Mexico. At 2200 we got underway so as to have a morning arrival in San Diego.

The sea was smooth for our cruise across the border. Morning brought us to the mouth of San Diego Bay with its sail, power and submarine traffic. Our tired cat plowed in, pushing steam out both sides. After two months of Latin American adventuring, we drifted up and secured to the first US Customs dock since Florida.

Once we were inspected and checked in, we moved over to the public dock. They gave us a spot on the inside next to a small sloop that looked familiar. It was a tight squeeze but I'd had a couple months of practice parking with motors and gear boxes that were not always reliable. Once on the dock I recognized the boat next to us. It was the wreck I had brought down months before, the one we had to sail and finally row up to the dock. I wrote about it. It looked pretty good. It must have just rained.

There was a different kind of cruising crowd at the dock than I'm used to seeing. I suspect it is something we are going to see more of. There were a bunch of young people, 20's and 30's, with classic plastic rigs, prepped and ready to head south to begin there own unforgetable cruising adventures. It was good to see and it brought back the feeling of cruising my own boat, just a few years ago. I hear there's a book on the subject.

But I was home … or pretty damn close. I was ready to take a little vacation from my vacation. I was going home for two weeks. But first there were some details to be worked out, mechanics to be called and a haul out to be arranged. When my part was done I called for my ride. Dena made good time coming down from our South Bay, a couple hours away. Though she had visited the boat often in the two months, I think she still missed me.

Fond farewells were doled out. I chucked my bags in the back of her truck and she whisked me off to blissfull post delivery leisure. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy my deliveries. But it's about striking a balance. If done right, I accept the number of deliveries that keeps me on the continuous happy-go-round of being excited planning the next trip, excited being out on the cruise, and then being excited to be home. And start again.

Land life is renewed for me when I spend a chunk of time on the water. We stopped off in tiny Encinitas and pulled up a coldy at a little Mexican food place (I know, I didn’t care what I was having). No concern about getting back quickly or maintenance that needs to be done or plans to make for the next day. No where to be. Just us, catching up.

June 20, 2010

40' Sailing Cat - Cabo to Turtle Bay (126)

You all may reacall I was moving a 40' Leopard sailing cat from Panama to Washington. We pick up the adventure as we depart PuertoVallarta, headed across the beautiful Sea of Cortes for Cabo. Onboard is our core crew, owners Paul and Sheila and myself.

We fueled up and got out early in the morning. It's about 300nm from PV to Cabo, across the entrance to the Sea of Cortez. I've crossed with 15 footers rolling out of the sea but this time it was nice and calm. Early 0n in the 'crossing' we did a little sailing, odd for a north bound trip. We even spotted some turtles, south of the prison islands, the Tres Marias.

Our destination was San Jose del Cabo. It's a little east and north of Cabo. It's more quiet, less expensive and closer to the airport. We got parked and dinghied over to the main dock. While the kids got us checked in and rented us a car, I got a shower. They had a new bar there next to the office. It was called the Container Bar and, you guessed it, it was cut out of a big shipping container. They had done it up real nice with a grill and everything. I got a message from Robin at the Lats office that our friends on the fishing boat Scrambler were in SJC. I looked around and spotted one of the Scrambler shirts. I walked over and said hi to Frank. Frank and the boys had been killin' it down there, pulling in Tuna after Tuna in the over 200 pound category. He pulled out his cracked Iphone and showed me some great pictures.

You can't sail around southern Baja without a visit or two to Cabo San Lucas. We hopped in the car and made the trek to town. Cabo has changed a lot over the years. It went from a sleepy fishing village to a brothel for 'El Norte' sport fishermen, to it's recent incarnation, a nicer resort/timeshare city. The best thing about a spot like Cabo is that you can get boat parts. And we were desparate for some pieces to keep the Volvos running. On the way back to sleepy SJ we stopped at the Costco for some consumption abuse, Us style.

We prepped the boat for what would likely be the harshest leg of it's long adventure up to Washington.
It is over 700nm from Cabo to San Diego. Ideally we only make one stop on that trip at Turtle Bay, a little more than half way up. That first leg to Turtle is over 400 nm so you want to get as much fuel in the boat as possible and take it at the last possible fuel dock. That dock was back in Cabo. We had a nice sail down to Cabo. The intense sea traffic started about a mile out. Cabo is Sportfish central. Add all that to the tourist boats and jet skis and a few cruisers and you've got some traffic.

We ducked and dodged and slid into the fuel dock sideways, just aft of a big Perini Navi. We had come a long way together and docking had become second nature. When we were close to a port the kids would whip on lines and fenders. We would discuss the plan. I would get one of the swimsteps close and Paul would step off. Sheila would hand him the spring line that he would make fast to the dock. He would signal me and I would pivot in the ends of the boat so they could secure them. Well, almost that smooth. With two fuel tanks and 16 five-gallon jugs all full we headed out to start our slow, rough slog north.

But it didn't start out rough. We left busy Cabo with a few sunset cruise boats to port and nice vacation villas on the cliffs to starboard. A couple miles on we left them all behind. The water turned glass smooth and the sun set quietly over the orange horizon. This was a clean start. I told the kids to not get too excited.

I was awoken on my off watch, in the dead of night, by the words, "We’re really close to this boat”. Those are words that should never be spoken with the rules we had in place. We were well beyond the point where I needed to be consulted on every boat seen. We had advanced to the stage where I was to be consulted when there was any doubt. I arrived on deck as we passed close astern to a mid sized fishing boat. I went back to bed figuring my words would be more measured after breakfast.

Magdelena Bay might be your first stop if you want to see a beautiful spot or haven't rationed your fuel well. We had had a fast perfect leg to that point over oddly smooth water, very lucky. To celebrate our crossing the entrance to Mag Bay a whale breeched off to starboard, all the way out to it's tail. Knowing that the smooth conditions couldn't last, we topped up the tanks with a few fuel jugs while we could.

That version of the Leopard 40' had two 40 horse diesels. It was way overpowered. We only ran with two motors when parking. At sea, even against current we ran with one motor. In flat seas the boat would easily reach hull speed with one motor. When the chop would kick up and the boat would slow down we would still be going as fast as we wanted to. With all the catamaran banging I didn't want to break anything by pushing her harder.

As it does, the wind kicked up to over 20 kts. A little swell was generated by the winds and the bangfest began. With the added pressure of the wind and chop, the starboard motor started to heat up. We switched over to the port motor and I found the impellor was down to two and a half fins. Impellors to fit Volvo motors were one of the things that we were not able to find in all of Latin America.

Our last day before making it to Turtle was beautiful. It had calmed some and we had a clear view of the best of baja, drifting by to starboard. We pulled into Turtle Bay in the evening and we took a free mooring off of Anabell's, just to port as you come in. They are so nice there. Rueben and his son-in-law fueled us up first thing in the morning with filtered fuel from their own bright green, mini fuel barge. Then they offered to give us a lift into town.

And sometimes you just get lucky. It was the town of Turtle Bay's 60th aniversary. Turtle is a great place but it is a dusty little Mexican town, far removed from ... anywhere. But that doesn't slow down the locals. They are very proud and put on the best aniversary celebration that I have ever seen. There were costumes and floats, booths and games, speakers and mariachis. There was a new king and queen crowned every year, and this being a new decade, all the old kings and queens had to dress up and attend. It was all on and it was a spectacular event.

Whales led us out into the bay. It was perfect.  

June 15, 2010

Land Cruise - Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam (125)

 Last month Dena and I swam the beaches of a tropical Pangkor Island and visited the Sultan of Selangor before heading north to Thailand to run the Lats & Atts Share the Sail (that story by Bandit in issue #123). But our SE Asia adventuring was not over. Dena had always wanted to see the legendary ruins of Angkor Wat and we intended to have a quick look at Vietnam.

First things first, there was a Lats & Atts Harbor Hangout to check out in Chalong Bay, Thailand. David and his wife run the Harbor Hangout - Coconut Twins. For those not arriving by boat, they also run an Inn. After 7 days on a 44' boat with 7 people, Dena and I were ready to stretch out a little. Soon as the door to our room closed, it was clothes off and into the giant shower.

Later we headed into the hills on the Inn scooter to check out the giant Buddha. To get there, take the dirt road past the monkey show and the grazing elephants. That night we headed down to the anchorage with David to meet up with our own Mike and Robin from Lats & Atts for a wonderful bay front dinner. On the way back to the Inn we drove by David's other bar which was full of beautiful local working girls. I suggested we stop off for a coldy. I got the raised brow from Dena.

It was time to make our way to Cambodia. To get there we had to go through Bangkok. At the time there were raging, sometimes violent protests going on in the city. A chance to see history being made, wouldn't miss it. We took a long bus ride that dumped us a couple blocks from the train to Bangkok. I'm fond of buses but I love the train. This one was ancient. We spent the extra couple dollars and got a sleeper. It seemed like a bargain but then it wasn't Amtrak. There we were cocooned in our little bunk, separated from 40 other people in the car by a drape, the wheels screeching and scraping as we hobbled along. It was cozy.

We arrived in Bangkok in the morning. Being in a city, we could have gotten a regular cab for our ride across town but we opted for an open air tuk tuk. It's basically a moped connected to a rickshaw. We figured it would be a better way to experience our first mass protest. Alas, there was a break in the action and so we had to settle for empty, smoky streets. Locals had told us that we were safe because we could not possibly be mistaken for either protestors or cops.

We found our next bus and headed for the border. As we ventured away from the city, the signs stopped having English on them which left us with only the goofy Thai script. Our last tuk-tuk driver dropped us at a Visa scam place near the border to Cambodia – real visas, triple the cost. We walked out. We decided to try to get our visas directly from the border guards.

Dena and I have traveled a lot, separately and together. It sometimes seems like a competition for who travels more efficiently. She trumped me this day when she whipped out a spare passport photo for her visa saying, “Where's yours?” accompanied by her clever laugh. Luckily for me, the Jedi mind trick (and 6$ to the guard) got me around the photo requirement – cat skinned.

After another long cab ride, with some very nice Kiwi backpackers, we arrived at legendary Anchor Wat. This was Dena's dream destination more than mine but I did my best, “I'm fascinated by the same architecture repeated for three days” impersonation. The temples really were beautiful and I did like the little town we stayed in, Siem Reap.

We bussed to the capital Phnom Penh. Sometimes we were on dirt roads … on the main route to the capital! But that's the kind of traveling I like - to see a place before it gets soiled by imports, chain stores and TV. This place was real. It was miles and miles of farms, stick fences, horned cows (buffalo), and moats (mini reservoirs), in front of stilted huts and smiling faces. It was self sufficient people, making their own food and living the way God (Nature) intended.

And then there were the bugs. They eat them as snacks. I prefer natural, local, whole foods but I draw the line just before bugs. And they were at every roadside stand. Nice wicker bins full of marinated and cooked: cockroaches, grasshoppers and spiders. The guy sitting in front of us got off and bought a bag, sat back down and mowed through the little critters like they were popcorn. It was pretty awesome.

And hyper-efficient scooters everywhere. Traffic is not an issue when everyone rides a scooter. Like in Thailand, they had roadside stands that sold gas out of re-used plastic or glass bottles. It was convenient, “I'll have the coconut icecream and a liter from the Johnny Walker Red”. Most of the scooters were gas but some were electric, and they had charging stations for them. These people understood the importance of evolving in a healthier direction.

We visited the killing fields. The communist Khmer Rouge swept through the country in the 70's, rounding up and slaughtering thousands of the thinking people: professors, artists and scientists. In the middle of the camp was a big glass tower full of skulls. This place did move me.

We hung out at the coastal town of Sihanoukville and took a longtail to the islands to snorkel. We took our scooter up muddy dirt trails to find we had the entire Kbal Chhay falls park to ourselves for the day. It was beautiful. Most of the rooms we rented in SE Asia were nice, beachfront places. Most were under $20. Mopeds were $5 a day. A trend that I hope catches on at home was the people wearing pajamas in the middle of the day. They match, they're comfortable, why not?

The nice young lady beach vendors pulled the hair off of Dena's legs with strings for a couple bucks. That looked like torture so I settled for a foot massage. Down the beach we found us a beach bar. Dena enjoyed her cocktail while the resident monkey swooped down and wrestled me for my hat. Dena tried to play with the monkey too but only got her hair pulled … again. We settled on a nice bungalow bar on the rocky point for some hi end sunset drinks - $2 a piece.

The next morning we visited the Vietnamese embassy for visas. Were we even allowed into Vietnam? It turns out yes. It was the easiest visa I've ever gotten. It was there that I learned that Vietnam is still communist, after all we went through. So much for the Domino Theory, WMD's or whatever ploy the profiteers trick us with next. “Fool me once … er, uh, don't fool me again”.

The border was one of those classic dusty outpost borders with the rusted fence that the decrepit guard had to lift by hand. I felt like I was on the Universal Studios tour. It was a long travel day but we made it out to the Vietnamese island Dao Phu Quoc. We found another $20 beach bungalow and another $5 scooter.

I misjudged the size of the island. The map we had didn't have a legend, it was more like a place mat. They were building a road around the island. We decided to see how far we could get. If you are willing to drive over super slippery red clay mud and traverse narrow foot bridges over rivers, then you could take a scooter all the way around. Miraculously we never dropped the scoot in the mud but one time we did a 180 degree slide. Dena didn't flinch, which is why we didn't fall. I'm not sure exactly, where her trust in me comes from. The foot bridges were rickity bamboo structures. Again we were back on the studio lot, this time on the Swiss Family Robinson set. We finished the day with a slow easy hammock.

And finally we made it to Saigon. Officially, it is now called Ho Chi Min City but the locals still call it Saigon. It's a fun city. Dena picked the hotel and did the haggling. She got the poor guy down to a low price and when he couldn't find the keys to our room, he upgraded us to the suite for free. She got lucky. We hit the open air shops for some family gifts and ate at a different restaurant for every meal, trying to get our final fill of SE Asia and her great food.