The Rest of the West (coast)

San Francisco: A week in San Francisco Bay is never enough to see and do everything but we were able to explore some areas we hadn’t seen in previous visits – Sausalito, Angel Island, Berkeley and Emeryville. The annual Fleet Week was in full swing, too, so we caught a Blue Angels show, which is always a treat.

Leaving San Francisco, we hopped down the coast, stopping at several more northern CA ports along the way –

Half Moon Bay, home of the famous Mavericks surf break;

Monterey, where the sea lions rule the roost;

Morro Bay (one of our favorite coastal towns), where we caught up with new friends, Carl & Bebot, whom we met in Brookings, OR.

From Morro Bay, we did an overnight and rounded Point Conception, our last major West coast navigational challenge, at night. We were lucky to have light winds and calm seas the entire time.

Santa Barbara: We pulled into Santa Barbara in the early morning and settled into our first southern CA port. We spent four days there, taking in the Harbor Festival, marveling at the beautiful Spanish architecture throughout town, and filling our bellies with good food before continuing south.

LA: After a full day of motoring (thanks to more low/no wind conditions), we grabbed a slip in the beautiful setting of the Marina Del Rey Marina and watched the weekly sailboat race in the channel. With only a couple of days in town we hit the ground running the next day, hoofing it to Venice Beach to check out the famous boardwalk and returning on our newly procured skateboards, a slightly faster but less stable (for Paula, at least) mode of transportation. The next day, we rented a car and explored further afield – Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Hollywood Blvd., Sunset Blvd., and Burbank, plus a visit to the Griffith Observatory and an obligatory pic of the Hollywood sign. Our only rule when driving in LA was “NO HIGHWAYS,” so our route back was an interesting tour of business districts and neighborhoods, some grungy and others over the top swanky. We had a fun time but two days was enough – time to leave the city in our rearview mirror.

Catalina Island: Several people had told us how beautiful the Channel Islands are and that we absolutely must visit, especially Catalina. We nearly skipped it because we only had a day to spare and there were other coastal ports we wanted to visit. With such strong advice, though, we figured we should give it a go. When we moored at Isthmus Cove in Two Harbors, we saw a barren and dusty landscape and a harbor full of mooring balls filling up quickly with weekenders from LA, not exactly the serene beauty we had hoped to find. What we experienced over the course of a day, however, was a laid-back, festive atmosphere with tons of activity – kayaking, paddleboarding, snorkeling – and water so clear you don’t even need to touch it to see the sea life fifteen feet below the surface. We took a few hours to check out Avalon, as well, which has a much different feel, with a busy harbor, a bustling tourist town full of boutique shops and restaurants, and the Casino (not a gambling establishment, but rather, a large event center and theater).

San Diego: One overnight from Catalina Island put us in San Diego, where we’ve spent the last week doing all the last minute preparations before we leave the US and head into Mexican waters. It’s not been all work… we’ve also had the chance to visit some of our fave locations and catch up with old friends, the best way to finish our trip down the US West coast.

On Halloween morning, we departed for Mexico as part of the annual Baha Ha-Ha cruisers’ rally from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas (www.baja-haha.com). Be sure to follow along on our international adventure!

baja-ha-ha-start

Heading South

After five weeks at home visiting friends and working on boat projects we put Anacortes in our rearview mirror on Sep 12th and headed to Neah Bay, WA, the stepping off point for our trip down the west coast. Our plan was to take advantage of a short but good weather window that would allow us to go 30-40 miles offshore and sail directly to San Francisco, taking about 5 days. Best laid plans…

After two days we were making good time, albeit with the motor assisting the sails due to a lack of wind. We had settled into our 3 hours on / 3 hours off nighttime watch schedule. On the third day the wind finally picked up, as did the seas, and we shut off the motor. Unfortunately, shortly after, our autopilot seized up and we were forced to hand steer, which is akin to driving a semi truck without power steering. In calm conditions this wouldn’t have been a big deal, but with strong winds and heavy seas it was a very uncomfortable and physically taxing situation. We certainly didn’t want to deal with it for another three days to San Francisco so we headed to the nearest harbor, Brookings Harbor, OR – which wasn’t all that near – about 30 miles (or 6 hours) away.

A week later, with a freshly repaired autopilot, we motored (still no wind) down the coast to Eureka, CA, where Wags polished off a few more boat projects while Paula jumped ship for a short trip to Ohio to attend her high school class reunion and visit with family.

When we finally passed under the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco Bay, a quick calculation showed that our 5-day passage from Neah Bay had taken 17 days. Yes, it took longer than planned, but we faced new challenges, saw new places and met new people along the way, all the elements of a good adventure!

 

The rest of our trip down the west coast of Vancouver Island was a mix of secluded anchorages, quaint towns and new friends. The Bunsby Islands, Dixie Cove, Young Bay and Barkley Sound provided our last few bits of isolation. Winter Harbor, Walters Cove and Zeballos gave us a chance to stretch our legs, chat with the locals and make some new friends – after meeting the three amigos on M/V Carisma, they were a common sight at several of our anchorages down the coast. Tofino was a great blend of surf town culture with a bit of cosmopolitan thrown in, mainly by way of cuisine and brew. Our last night was spent in Oak Bay at a popular marina in a relaxed suburb on the east side of Victoria, BC. The next day, as we rounded the corner of San Juan Island toward our Customs clearance in Friday Harbor, we felt a good dose of culture shock seeing the sheer number of boats in the area. After a quick check-in we motored through the islands, crossed Rosario Strait, passed under Deception Pass bridge, and grabbed the mooring ball directly in front of our house. We were home… for now.

We found that one of the first questions people ask since we returned is, “What did you learn?” So, here’s what we learned, in a nutshell, in no particular order:

  1. SE Alaska is amazing and absolutely exceeded our expectations.
  2. Wags’ interpretation of comfortable wave height was somewhat skewed by 24 years in the Navy and many days at sea on ships much bigger than 48 feet. Ten-foot seas on an aircraft carrier are NOT the same as on Gadabout. His meter has been recalibrated.
  3. Capes are the real deal (see “Respect the Capes”). We will experience many more in the years to come; now we know what to expect.
  4. The life expectancy of electric pumps is approx. 8 years (We replaced three on this trip).
  5. Any docking you walk away from with no new scratches on the boat is a good one.
  6. Rafting to other boats is NOT a good idea in a strong current, although our de-rafting “challenge” gave us a good excuse to buy a new grill.
  7. Surfing tidal rapids is one of the coolest things ever (see “Surfing in Alaska”).
  8. Paula needs a bigger lens.
  9. Gadabout has a mind of her own when going in reverse. And when swinging at anchor. Our new mantra: “Gaddy gonna do what Gaddy gonna do.”
  10. We never get tired of seeing whales. Or bears. Or otters. Or pretty much any wildlife. (Horseflies and mosquitos do not count.)
  11. Our depth finder is schizophrenic. At one point, our 6-ft keel should’ve been 3 feet in the mud according to its reading.
  12. New experiences are made even better when shared with friends. This is one we already knew but it’s worth repeating. We look forward to sharing more of our sailing adventures with friends along the way.
  13. We swore we’d never navigate by a cartoon map. This typically applies to tourist maps (i.e., don’t walk toward the big cartoon beaver to find the river). Now we do it on a regular basis – our electronic charts are a significant aid in our navigation. That said, if you unexpectedly see the bottom, STOP.
  14. We are thrilled with Gadabout’s seaworthiness and level of comfort, and we are ready to take her around the world.
  15. We can spend at least 89 days together and still be ready to continue the adventure.

We probably learned more lessons but in the interest of not revealing the most embarrassing ones and not boring our readers, we’ll stop here.

Stay tuned… the adventure continues in September when we head south toward Mexico.

Gaddy at home

Respect the Capes

Swells lifted Gadabout’s bow and drove it into the next wave, over and over, sending rushes of salt water onto the deck and down the gunnels. We held on for the ride, watching the foredeck intently, hoping the tie-downs on the gas cans and kayaks were secure enough and wishing we had remembered to put an extra tie on the anchor…

Two days earlier our southward crossing of Queen Charlotte Sound was only slightly uncomfortable with a few rolling swells on our beam, quite calm in comparison to our journey north back in May when the ship’s log at the end of the day read, “One crew lost to sea sickness.” Based on these conditions and the most recent weather forecast, we decided to revise our route and return home via the west coast of Vancouver Island. We headed to an anchorage on the north side of the island to set ourselves up for an early morning departure the next day to round Cape Scott. Unlike the east coast of Vancouver Island, which is well protected with comparatively benign conditions, the west coast is more rugged and wild, requiring careful planning and attention to weather, especially when preparing to tackle the two substantial capes, Cape Scott and Cape Cook, and open ocean waters in the northern section. The waters around a cape can be very confused, waves coming from every direction, ocean swells from multiple angles competing with wind and current. Periods of accelerated winds and heavy seas can create treacherous conditions.

We had checked windyty.com, our go-to app for a consolidated wind forecast, a couple of days earlier when we had internet connectivity. The night before and the morning of our start, we listened to the marine weather conditions reported by the Canadian Coast Guard on the VHF radio. We were happy to hear a forecast of 10 kt winds and 3-4 ft seas off Cape Scott.

We weighed anchor at 0600 and headed out. It would take two hours to reach the cape and we wanted to make sure we rounded it in the morning as winds tend to pick up significantly in the afternoon. Aside from a gentle ocean swell it was an easy couple of hours. We were making great time with an ebb current; enough, in fact, to slow down briefly when a humpback whale put on a tail-slapping show less than a hundred yards away. As we continued on and reached Cape Scott, however, the wind and wave heights started to increase steadily and substantially. The water off the cape on this day was the picture of confused. By the time we turned south, we were seeing 20-25 kt winds and 6-9 foot seas, and taking it from every side. It was rough, much rougher than we expected given the forecast. Had we known, we probably would’ve waited a day, but now we were in it to win it and we had another two hours to go before reaching the first possible anchorage. Although we were maintaining a decent speed, we seemed to move forward at no more than a snail’s pace along the distant shore. Fifteen minutes became a half hour, became an hour and, finally, we made our way through the entrance to Sea Otter Cove. After negotiating a very shallow, rocky channel in the wind and, by now, rain and fog, and anchoring in a mere 10 feet (leaving only 4 feet under our keel), we said a little prayer of thanks and collapsed on the settees for a much needed nap.

Two days later, we rounded Cape Cook on Brooks Peninsula. This time, we had the wind at our backs and were able to put up the sails, which helped to settle out our motion a bit by countering the rolling of the seas on our beam. While less severe than off Cape Scott, we did encounter confused seas again and winds of 25-30 kts, making for an uncomfortable ride.

With the two major capes of the west coast behind us and several days of smooth water passages ahead, we reflected on our experience and decided the most disheartening part is that no matter how hard we tried to capture it, the pictures we took didn’t do the experience justice. You’ll just have to take our word for it. Or three words, rather… Respect the Capes. We definitely do.

— Paula

Cape Cook

 

 

One of the cool things we discovered while traveling in Southeast Alaska was the uniqueness of the local radio stations. Although I’m not completely clear on the business model, it seems that many of the small towns have only one radio station and it is typically run as a sort of public radio co-op.

Since the tastes of the local populace are quite varied, the stations play an equally reflective variety of music and programs. You may have Reggae in the morning followed by a little Country after lunch and then an episode of “This American Life” for the afternoon set. Mostly, the DJs are volunteers from the local community who get to choose their own programming—some become quite popular and in demand.

In Petersburg a friend even offered to let us come by and spin tunes on the midnight radio hour. We politely declined as we had to be underway early the next day but had we taken him up on it I can assure you that the late night Petersburg crowd would now be intimately familiar with the Replacements.

In Sitka the local station is in a shared building with an excellent coffee shop/restaurant. After dinner one night we went upstairs to see the station and the DJ invited us in and gave us a fun tour. Their discography collection was quite extensive but he did let slip a little secret of the local DJ trade—Pandora.

Community radio – by the people, for the people. Just another piece of the charm of Southeast.

— Wags

A Crappy Job

There’s an old cliché about traveling around the world in your sailboat, that it’s actually just fixing your boat in exotic places.

There’s another one that goes, it’s not a matter of “if” but a matter of “when” you will have to dismantle and rebuild your toilet on a cruising boat.

Yes and yes.

When you are running your own boat (I like to call it a ship in these instances) you are essentially running a small (very small) city. You have all the infrastructure issues intendant with a city…except maybe roads. There is electrical generation and power grids, fresh water production, garbage, and of course, waste management.

Gadabout has two toilets (“heads” for the nautically inclined). The guest head is a rock star electrically-powered toilet that is controlled by a push button and makes all sorts of cool noises and grinding sounds when it flushes. The head in our stateroom is a traditional mechanical marine toilet where you have to pump a lever and rotate a valve to either fill the bowl or flush the bowl. Every guest on board gets the same lecture: don’t overburden the plumbing, no foreign materials, and flush early and often and everything should work fine, until it doesn’t. Oh, and if you clog it, I will supervise while you fix it.

So when Paula told me in the middle of the night that the toilet stopped working you can imagine my excitement for the next day’s activities – supervising her as she fixed it. Unlike visions of sugarplums dancing through my head, however, my thoughts were somewhat darker as I tossed and turned. I knew who would actually be doing the work. After a morning of pounding through five-foot seas while rounding a cape (I sincerely hoped something would be knocked free), I attacked my challenge head on (pun intended). The good news is that the problem seemed to be on the intake side of the system. This is where seawater is pumped in to fill the bowl so hopefully all I would have to deal with is seawater. Dismantling the valve assembly was surprisingly easy and almost immediately the culprit revealed itself. A three-foot-long piece of seaweed had been sucked into the system and was mucking up the works. After cleaning it all out, bingo bango we were up and running again in about thirty minutes. It was SO much better than the alternatives that had been running through my head all night.

So, having read this you can now sign yourself off as a “qual” on Marine Heads 101. Moral of the story, it’s not “if” it’s “when.”

– Wags

 

One of the highlights of this trip has been some of the meals that we have prepared onboard. The stars of these dinners have been ingredients fresh from the ocean. We have eaten Dungeness crab that went straight from the trap to the pot, prawns the size of sausages, and salmon so fresh it has never been refrigerated or frozen. In addition to the proteins above we also made some interesting discoveries. We met an amazing couple (Jo and Ron) in Thorne Bay who graciously shared some of their freshly harvested vegetables from the sea. Jo is a world-class forager and introduced us to sea asparagus and her delicious relish made from pickled bull kelp. (She maintains a fantastic blog that is well worth the visit: www.alaskafloatsmyboat.com) Sea asparagus is not a seaweed but actually a type of plant that grows right at the intertidal zone. It is small, bright green and has a nice crisp crunch with a flavor similar to a raw snap bean and a slightly salty finish. It makes a wonderful side veg when sautéed with olive oil, onion and garlic, but can also be used to compliment a salad or even as a salad on its own.

The relish was made from “bull kelp.” For the flatlanders in the group, bull kelp is long (like up to 20 feet) tubular seaweed (kelp) that has a ball at one end and tapers to a point—it looks kind of like a bull whip. I never knew you could eat this stuff as my only encounters have been when trying to avoid it lest it foul our prop or rudder (it is incredibly strong). But as every kid knows, everything is palatable with ketchup, so I’m not sure why I doubted the edibility of this stuff either. (This definitely does not need ketchup.) The relish is great and has the same texture as the pickled relish we are all used to with a slightly briny front end that balances the sweetness from the pickling nicely. We ate it with some cream cheese and crackers. I also tried it on hot dogs for lunch… so I guess it did have its inevitable meeting with ketchup.

Bottom line, I guess if it looks good then eat it, just avoid the yellow snow and round red berries (“tastes like burning!”). Bon appetite!

— Wags

Misty Fiords National Monument is a 2.3 million acre area in SE Alaska, almost all of which is designated wilderness. It is close enough to Ketchikan to be a major tourist attraction, with floatplanes and tour boats ferrying passengers daily to take in the awe-inspiring beauty of Rudyerd Bay and Punchbowl Cove. It is a bit out of the way for most pleasure boaters but we had heard that it was well worth the added miles. One friend described it as “Yosemite filled with water.” Having seen so many incredible anchorages already in SE Alaska, we were suspect that this one may not be able to deliver the jaw-dropping beauty that description invoked. Plus, although we’re fairly social people we also like being the only boat in a secluded anchorage and this didn’t sound like it would provide that experience. Still, we needed to see for ourselves, and it was a good way to extend our time in Alaska before heading south into British Columbia.

On the 7-hour journey (we’re in a sailboat, remember), we prepared ourselves for the inevitable crowd of boats and tour operators that would certainly be in the area when we arrived. The landscape along the route was less than spectacular but we remained optimistic. We entered Punchbowl Cove late afternoon. It was just as the description depicted. The sheer, 3000-ft wall bordering the cove immediately brought to mind the powerful vision of Half Dome. We half expected to see a group of climbers bivouacked midway up, preparing to ascend the next pitch. The most amazing part, however, had nothing to do with the land features, but rather the water… We were the only boat in the cove.Punchbowl Cove

The guidebook mentioned a hike to a nearby lake and we were ready to give it a go. As soon as we were comfortable with the anchor grab we hopped in the dinghy and went ashore. After four landings and exploration at various spots along the shoreline with no luck finding the trailhead, we decided to try the one last spot it may be… right beside the big Trailheadstriped sign posted on a tree, the sign with a USFS sticker on it. Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Why didn’t we try there first? Well, it was a super rocky section for landing… we thought the sign was a fishing regulation sign (it was similar to others we had seen)… and, well, we’re Wagners. We never do things the easy way.

The hike to Punchbowl Lake was described as a mud and boardwalk trail with areas where scrambling is required. We took the mud part seriously and wore our XtraTuf rubber boots, the only footwear you really need in Alaska. Good thing, too. The boardwalk (more like a series of rough hewn logs covering the deeper sections of mud), while fairly well maintained by the USFS, was mossy and slick, and parts of it had been washed away in recent slides, making it necessary to climb hand over foot on the steeper sections. About halfway up there was a viewpoint with a cascading waterfall roaring over the cliff to the river below leading to the cove. The trail wove its way through temperate rain forest with enough bear scat on the path to concern even Grizzly Adams. Aside from our loud talking and random hand clapping to warn any bears of our presence – “We’ve got spirit, yes we do!” – it was quite a peaceful scene.

The trail ended at a USFS shelter, complete with rowboat and canoe, beside a serene mountain lake. We launched the canoe and spent the next half hour or so paddling in complete stillness and seclusion, gawking at the steep granite cliffs surrounding us, wishing we had more time to explore.

When we returned to the boat it was dusk and a light rain had begun to fall. The next morning, we heard the first floatplane overhead around 0800 and as we weighed anchor and exited the cove we passed the first tour boat. An amazing anchorage, an amazing hike, all to ourselves… we realized how lucky we were to have had the perfect Misty Fiords experience in Punchbowl Cove.

— Paula

Must Love Dogs

It is no secret that Paula and I love dogs. Anyone who has spent even a few minutes around us knows this to be true. Our hunger for K9 interaction, however, could…. could… sometimes, be interpreted as the equivalent of a creepy guy in a van handing out candy. Each of us typically carries a small milkbone (or two) in our jacket pocket in case we run across a pooch on our explorations. Usually, once folks are over the shock of two strangers enticing their pet with treats, a window for conversation opens. This has led to several new friendships with both dogs and their people alike – Dodger/Tom & Jenny, Winston/Tom & Caroline, Clarence/David, Francy/Deb. Had we not stopped to harass their dog, it is unlikely we would have struck up a conversation, instead preferring to pass silently while mentally critiquing their boat name, foulie choice or some other such nonsense. So, at least until the police are notified or restraining orders are in place, we will continue to walk the docks, milkbones secretly ferreted away somewhere in our clothing, awaiting our next chance to meet a new dog. Oh, and his people.

Below, is Francy. She owns Deb, who gave us a great tour of her classical fish buying scow.image

Close Encounters

We arrived in Sitka on 28 June and our good friend, Jessie, flew up from Seattle the following day to join us for a 10-day leg to Ketchikan. After meeting some new friends (and dogs) on the dock, checking out the town, touring the raptor center, and tasting some flavors at the Baranof Brewery, it was time to head out. With the exception of a rainy, windy first day, the worst being as we were transiting Sergius Narrows entering Peril Strait, we were blessed with nice weather. After two anchorages and no wildlife sightings, however, we were starting to worry that we may not be able to deliver on the whales and bears we had strongly suggested would be a part of the tour.

We needn’t have worried. After exiting Peril Strait, we anchored for the night in Ell Cove, a splendid little cove with room enough for only one or two boats, entirely secluded and protected from any effects of Chatham Strait outside. And we had it all to ourselves. As soon as we dropped the hook, we spotted a young brown bear on shore. We watched as he walked the entire length of the shoreline before retreating to the forest. After settling in, Jessie and I hopped in the kayaks for a little exploration in the next coves over while Wags took the dinghy in search of salmon. We set out on a low tide, which revealed a wonderfully diverse area with white sand below the surface, rocky outcroppings leading up to the trees, and small coves tucked in behind the rocks. One such cove was quite inviting. It had a very narrow entrance, maybe 20 feet wide, leading to a shallow pool of crystal clear water surrounded by a rocky beach and forest. I paddled into the cove and sat silently, taking in the sounds of the ravens and eagles in the trees. As I slowly scanned the area, I heard Jessie, who was at the outside edge of the entrance canal, say in a calm but strangely nervous tone, “Paula, we need to get out of here.” Instantly, I realized there was very likely a bear in my immediate vicinity. I turned to look and, sure enough, about 40 feet above me, standing on the rocks was a young brown bear. He seemed as surprised at me being there as I was at him being there. He looked at me, then at Jessie, then back at me and sniffed the air. By this time I had turned my kayak in the direction of the exit and slowly started to retreat. I paused briefly to snap a couple of pictures, although I have to admit my increased heart rate prevented a perfect focus of the lens. We paddled out to a safer distance then watched the bear make his rounds searching for clams on the beach as the ravens squawked their disapproval. Birds, starfish, seals and a whole lot of jumping salmon (none of which were interested in Wags’ bait, unfortunately) rounded out our nature viewing that day, but nothing could compare to our close encounter with the bear.

The whales made their appearance, as well, over the next several days. For the most part, winds were calm and the seas glassy – not ideal for sailing but perfect for whale watching. As we glided through the water we spotted both humpbacks and orcas. If we were close, we would shut off the engine and silently drift, listening to the sound of their breathing all around us as they fed near the surface. In Labouchere Bay, on the west side of Prince of Wales Island, we anchored in a beautiful cove a humpback had chosen as his feeding spot. He was leaving the cove as we entered. That evening Jessie and I again explored in the kayaks, delighting in the natural beauty of the area and the antics of the sea otters, and Wags again took the dinghy to fish. As we all made our way back toward the boat a couple of hours later, the whale returned and we had a rare opportunity to watch as he surfaced along the shoreline rocks to feed right in front of us.

We pulled into Ketchikan with six cruise ships lining the docks and the hustle and bustle that goes with being in a tourist town. As we said goodbye to Jessie, we were reminded how much we love sharing our experiences with others. The close encounters from the past 10 days were even better in the company of a good friend.

— Paula

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