Monday, September 24, 2012

Life On Water

I'm done with the trip!  The Blog will remain, but I won't be adding to it often, or at all for a long time.   I will continue to sail, continue to keep Altair, and I'd like to do another trip across the Pacific Ocean, or further, but for now I am hanging up my dirty captains' hat.
I would like to review the last four and a half years..
First, I have made a movie of the last bits of the trip when I had a video camera to work with.  You may have seen some of the footage before, but maybe not all of it. 

When I stopped working, I was dreaming about traveling with the boat, but not brave enough to take the first step off the continent. Instead I did some small trips around the Puget Sound to keep my mind off the deep waters. When I finally decided I was going to confront my fears of the ocean, and set out to make it to the beginning of the Pacific, I had to go up the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where I met a strong inflowing wind, which beat me into a scared submission. But I survived. The nice thing about survival, I feel, is that you can look back to the time before the event and realize that you are less scared of it. No longer is a storm an unknown. This was not really a storm, but it was a lot of wind, and I suffered a casualty, the loss of my beloved White Knight, a canoe that I was dragging behind. Still, afterward I could look back and see that Altair was undamaged and up to the task of defending me against the elements.
Sometimes I learn best by practicing and then spending time doing something else for a while, so I headed by car on a trip around the country. I drove to Rhode Island, to Cape Cod, and down the eastern seaboard, stopping in historical places, and then landing in Florida, before working back along the south towards California. When I got to California, I then flew to Costa Rica for the winter, and came to miss being aboard the boat, while seeing the wonderful opportunities that warm water sailing could hold.
 I was eager to get the boat to the warm, so when I got back to Seattle, and Altair, I then promptly took her north, to Alaska.
 It was a beautiful trip, because of the extremes. At the glaciers nearly all life is absent; only the barren rocks and crushed earth can stand the ice, but a short distance away from them the trees begin and life is flourishing. My life on water was also brought to an extreme, when I hit the Sherman Reef, and then pulled the boat off again. I put two holes in the bottom from the reef, and in my attempt to examine them, I made another, worse, hole in the side. My trip and my boat and even my life potentially had come to an edge, and I was forced to hold to a tight balance in order to get out. But despite the successful re-floating and patching of the holes, I had fallen out of love. Altair was no longer to be trusted.
I spent the winter living in Bellingham, with the boat in the bay, and after a few months I began to work on adding new systems (like LaFawnda), and over time I found my love and trust had returned.
I had also done a passage to San Francisco, and discovered the peaceful side of the Pacific, so I was finally ready, when spring came, to launch on a long trip. 
I left in May with my father, on a trip down the coast and that was successful and easy, so I did the next part alone. When I finally got to Mexico I dabbled on a solo overnight trip.
 It was surprisingly easy! My confidence in my solo sailing built over the next year in Mexico and I was ready the next May for a longer trip. 
I then set off for Hawaii, toured the islands, and now have returned. Alone.

All told, I have sailed 18,754 nautical miles in the last 4.5 years. That's more than 21,500 regular miles.
I burned 279 gallons of Diesel, for an average of 77.3 miles per gallon.
And I spent $14,500 for the boat part of the trip. That is purchase, insurance, repair, haul outs (three), storage in Mexico, fuel, parts and love.
I want to go over the price part more, because I believe that many people have the dream to go out sailing but are putting off the departure because they don't have the cash. I am a firm believer in small boats, and for the price of my trip (I didn't include the food price, because I eat cheaply, but others may not) you could not even buy a larger boat. I was looking at a beautiful 36 ft boat for $55,000, but if I had gone through with it, I wouldn't have gone. So if you want to sail around, I recommend this: Get a small boat, the smallest that you can possibly stand. Get it cheap, then check the most basic things on it, like the mast will stay up and the sails are ok and the engine starts (that one is more optional) and then untie it from the dock and start out on an adventure. For $30,000, I believe that you can get a boat and sail across the pacific or around the world (if you hurry), for 3 years.
I saw many people with nice big 40-50 ft boats who saw the same things I did, and although they might have had a more comfortable trip, I would argue that less comfort makes for a better trip. An adventure.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


 After much stress and perfect conditions for racing down the Johnstone Strait, (where I was able to make 10 kts at times, because of currents) I got to Campbell River and called customs up, and they promptly cleared me over the phone.  So in my mind, I feel like I didn't really need to be here, since they didn't do anything in person.  What a nice welcome back present.
Despite these setbacks, I am feeling bright and chipper and very happy to be landed.  The trip down the island was nice, superbly pretty, and I had some dolphin visitors!
But first, the trip report:
When I left Hanalei Bay, I had a nice trade wind running from about due East, so I was able to point upwind a little (and I was going as high into the wind as I could).   This isn't the most comfortable sailing, so I was trying not to be down below that much.  After a few days of this, though I was making good progress, I could see the boat falling apart slowly from the bashing and beating against the waves.  I had tried to seal it up, but on this trip as well I was taking on water the whole way, and had to bail quite often.  There is a rail (a rub rail) that goes around the boat and it is this plastic thing that covers the "hull-deck join" which is the spot that the deck and the hull were attached together when they made the boat.  That rub rail was torn from the bow (by the waves) and then broke and I lost about 1/3 of the port side plastic thing, even though I tried to tie it back on.  So I had about 15 little quarter inch holes that would get pushed under water when going through a big wave, and that made everything wet in the front, and filled the bilge.  I am currently working on fixing that.
After four days the winds became light and though that was welcome because the seas dropped, so it was almost as calm as being on a lake, I wasn't able to make the progress, and I couldn't point as high, so I was going North and NW, instead of NE.  Still, out in that calm patch (this patch is about the size of the USA) there were lots of interesting garbage pieces, and fish under them.  I hooked into a few Mahi Mahi while puttering along.  I was using the motor on and off to keep moving for the next 11 days, and then ran out of fuel, so I made very slow progress for about 2 days until I was able to pick up a light westerly!  The winds blow in a circle around the North Pacific High, from the East in the trades and from the west above.  I thought I was saved, but the winds dropped and I had calms and winds on and off for the whole rest of the trip, and lots of dense fog making it very cold.
There was one "storm" that came through near the end, and I could see the swell growing bigger and bigger, then the wind came up and I was flying along.  I hit 13 knots down a wave before pulling in sail.

My AIS receiver worked like a charm, and I was able to see all the container ships as they passed, and then call them on the radio to ask if they could spot me.  Most of them could not.  I think that if I do this kind of trip again I will try to get AIS broadcast ability, and then they can see me as a dot on their screens, complete with boat name, speed and direction and everything, so I cannot be missed.  Radar is not necessary until you get close to land and have small boat traffic.
As I was about 400 miles from Port Hardy, I heard on the radio a small boat named "Zulu" calling.  I had met Zulu first in Mexico (or I had seen them there, but not spoken with the crew) and then in Hawaii, and we crossed paths within 10 miles out in the middle of the blue!  They had left 4 days before me, so I was pleased by my progress.

I ate a lot more than the other trip, so I ran out of food that I wanted to eat, and have been dreaming about things lately... 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Arrival (almost)

I arrived* in Canada today, after 30 days and 1 hour sailing.  The last few days were slow and hectic, since there is a lot of traffic that comes past the area up here, and then there are rocks.  So I finally made it past Cape Scott (the north end of Vancouver Island) and into the channel, and to Port Hardy!  Yay! 
But then when I got to the office and called canadian customs to tell them I arrived, well, I have made an error.  Port Hardy is not a "Port of Entry", so I cannot arrive here.  Therefore, I must un-arrive and go to Campbell River to enter Canada with all due haste.  But the Canadians are watching me, so I have to keep to a schedule, so I hope the weather is nice for me for the next few days so I can make it.
They were kind enough to allow me to stay the night here and get food, so that is the scoop right now.
I guess I'll write more about the trip in the future.