Showing posts from 2015

(Em)Bed-Well Harbour: Too Much of a Good Thing

May 13, 2015

I have entered Canadian waters at Bedwell Harbour twice, and I have nothing but nice things to say about Canadian Customs.  Polite, considerate, and effective service, and if you arrive after hours, you can get clearance over the phone (as is true for all marine Canadian points of entry as far as I know).  We got in about 1800 hours, and I did the phone check-in.

On a previous occasion, I'd stayed at the marina there, which is quite nice, and affords access to showers and even a swimming pool.  But we wanted to leave early, and the guide books say that the holding in Bedwell is very good (sticky mud), so we dropped the hook, had gin and tonics, made dinner, and went to bed after a 55 mile day.

This was my first use of my shiny new Rocna 9 kg Vulcan anchor.  I elucidated my motivation for buying this anchor in a previous post, and everything I said about it there, I still believe.  It is a great anchor. It is such a good anchor that in the morning we could not get it …

Provenance and Providence

May 13, 2015

Mathias and I got away from Port Townsend early in the morning, the ambitious target of Bedwell Harbour in our heads.  It is a stretch for a slow boat (55 nM), but we were motivated.  The tides were favorable for slipping between San Juan Island and Lopez Island (a pretty fast tidal gate) and by doing this interior route, we had a pretty clear shot north in protected waters towards Friday Harbor, and on up to Bedwell Harbour, our most convenient place to clear customs into Canada.  We decided to stop at Friday Harbor for something or other from a drug store, and I thought I might as well top off the fuel tanks while there. At a liter an hour, we had used less than half of our usable fuel.  But never pass up a bathroom (or fuel stop)... thats what my mom says.

I topped off the tank, switched the key on, and hit the starter button. Nothing.  OK, OK... its a loose panel connection... a problem I'd had before.  Take it off, wiggle everything, check every connection. Clic…

Don't leave home without a Marine

May 12, 2015

When I started planning The Trip, I hoped that Mathias would join me for some segment of the voyage.  He is on a walk-about year after a long stint in the Marine Corps as a helicopter pilot, and I had it in mind to reserve the trip home from Sitka for him. Weather patterns and prevailing winds suggest it would probably be the best segment of the trip, and with the most sailing.  His other plans mitigated in favor of his joining me for the start of the trip instead.  This turned out to be a fateful adjustment in plans that probably made the whole thing work.

Ripple's regular home is on Lake Union, which means that the Fremont Bridge and the locks stand between us and Puget Sound.  The bridge is less than a half mile from my marina, and is the only bridge in the area that I need a lift to get under.  The night before departure, I took care of that by staging the boat on the Sound-side of the bridge so we wouldn't have to worry about the morning bridge traffic embar…

Recruiting the Crew

All of my notable achievements as a parent revolve around expeditions to wild places. A ski cabin in the Gross Vente mountains, the canyons of Zion National Park and Canyonlands, the Escalante Wilderness, the Grand Canyon: anywhere challenging enough to keep casual hikers off the trails.  My children learned of their father's passions and fondness for Scotch around campfires, on desert trails, and in twisty slot canyons. These trips were shared with other close friends as well. Decades later, phrases and punchlines from those early trips elicit cascades of smiles and memories among the participants.

As I planned this latest venture into the wild,  I hoped that some of those same people would sign on for a part of my voyage, though I fully expected to do significant chunks of the trip solo. I invited both my sons (Mathias and Brendan), as well as Wes, Pete, and Sam, each of whom I have known for 30 years or so, and each of whom had participated in memorable past excursions.  Unlik…

Shackleton's Watchwords

My son, Brendan, gave me a book that provided the meme for the trip on the Inside Passage. The book is a photographic essay and commentary on the Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1954. There is a quote in the book attributed to Ernest Shackleton, whose entrapment in Antarctic ice in the early 1900s and subsequent escape pretty much define intrepid self reliance. When asked what the most important character traits for an explorer were,  he replied:
Optimism, patience, idealism, and courage... in that order As I prepared Ripple and myself for this journey, I returned again and again to Shackleton's words.  I am no explorer, and nothing about my trip was first-worthy or courageous.   In fact, I am inclined to replace the word courage in Shackleton's formula with confidence, butthe front half of the quote is the important part: optimism and patience.  The demands of the trip required lavish quantities of each. Optimism is difficult to sustain in our cynical, post-factual world, and p…

Go With the Boat You Have

Every sailor in the Pacific Northwest thinks about the Inside Passage.  It isn't circumnavigation, it isn't even blue-water sailing, and you're never really out of sight of land.  Oh... and there is not really even that much sailing to be done!  The local joke is that there are two kinds of boats on the IP... motorboats and motorboats with sticks.  But the Inside Passage IS the Pacific Northwest.  It is the ancestral home to nations of native Americans whose cultural histories rank among the richest of any indigenous culture.  The terrain is majestic and the wildlife plentiful, and a time traveler would find little changed in a millenium, or ten. Well... less ice now.

The Vancouver expeditions gave us the names of many passages, points, and islands, from Desolation sound in BC to Traitor's Cove on the Behm Canal.  The stories of the Russian presence in Alaska, from the Bering Expedition through The Russia Company, and the fateful sale of Seward's Folly to a recalc…

88 Days

The Summer just past witnessed my most ambitious cruising experience: Seattle to the northern reaches of the Inside Passage (and back!). I had hoped to blog my trip, day by day, but that didn't work, for a variety of reasons,  though I was able to post pictures on Facebook.

The trip was an epic journey, and I shall try to capture some of the lessons and stories after the fact. The upshot is that I travelled 3,050 nMiles in 88 days with 5 crew members (one at a time). Cruising for such a distance aboard a 26 foot boat in the company of each of my sons and three life-long friends stands among the great passages of my life.

The people met (and re-met), the places visited, the wildlife, the waters, the difficulties (mostly self-inflicted), and challenges of weather and sea have taught me great lessons and made me a better mariner than I was.  And whetted my appetite for more.

My beloved Ripple failed me on a single occasion: a 20 year old electrical connection failed due to metal fa…

1 down 749 to go

We don't (officially) leave until tomorrow, but Mathias and I moved Ripple to the ship canal so as to avoid the Fremont Bridge embargo in the morning.
Mike at the Ewing Street Marina graciously afforded me a spot for the night, and wished us well on our voyage.
Sitka here we come!

Obsessing About Anchor Rodes

Buying a mattress is about as dull, and opaque, a consumer choice as any of us has to make.  You can't take your friends for a ride in (on) it, however much you like the color, it is quickly obscured, and you really can't test it out... in spite of the fact that you're going to spend a third of your life on it for a long time.

Ground tackle is like that.  You might get some cred for your choice of anchor (probably not), and every sailor loves to debate the virtues of chain and lay and scope and flukes

I purchased a new anchor, and obsessed for a time about the rest of the ground tackle.  My existing rode was a mere 200 feet of 1/2" triple strand nylon, and twice that will be barely enough for some of the more extreme Inside Passage anchorages.

Conventional wisdom suggests an eighth inch of rode diameter for each 9 feet of boat length (for a working anchor). That would be 3/8" line for Ripple, but 3/8" is hard to grip and haul, especially with 50 lbs of ancho…

Boat Instrumentation

The first of May.  All the canvas work is done.  A wee bit o varnishing to do, maybe some touch up paint.  The punchlist still includes first aid and provisioning, and this 'n' that.

I acquired the last bit of instrumentation for the trip today.  Installation tomorrow.

May 12 is the scheduled day of departure.

Sitka, here i come.

The Dodger: A Gentleman's "B"

I finished the sewing for the dodger on Saturday, but didn't have the nerve (and the snaps) to try to fit it to the boat until today.  The most difficult aspect of the process of patterning and sewing is that you have little sense of whether you're accurate enough until the end.  The very end.

Today, under warm sun, I installed the snaps (every 4 inches) and studs, working from the front and moving around 1 snap on each side at first, then a pair at a time.  They all went in securely and easily.
I set the snaps in the canvas by hand, rather than with a fancy snap tool, but it went ok.

The straps I will set to the forward jamb cleats in the cockpit, the forward most hardware that exists in the cockpit.  The angle is slightly acute (less strong), but the whole assembly seems to be plenty strong enough, and not too difficult to move around in order to gain access to the foredeck.

I am thinking about how to do an extension (about 24 inches) aft from the aft bow, to increase the r…

Sewing Station for the Dodger

Having watched the Sailrite video on dodger construction 4 times through (completely, twice, various sections as many as 4 times), I grow envious each time they pan across a sewing table (a loft floor, really) that exceeds the size of some bowling alleys of my youth.  I've put together a sewing table that I hope will suffice to build my dodger.

The pieces for the dodger are as long as 9 feet, and in order to sew them without skipped stitches and wavy stitch lines, it is necessary that they move serenely through the sharp bits of the sewing machine. My feed table is a mere 6 feet in length.

I should get the materials by tomorrow and get busy cutting and basting and seaming.

Fresh Bread

I'm starting to wonder about provisioning... 2 people x 90 days x 3 meals plus per day.  Interesting challenges, especially if culinary interest is one of the objectives.  I did my first experiment with bread making aboard today, and the result was surprisingly close to the mark.  In fact, I slathered some butter on the product and ate the whole thing.  What a treat -- fresh bread amidst the canned stews and freeze dried and prepackaged fare I expect to have going.

The set up:

Dutch oven atop a two-burner camp stove
Cake tin inside to keep the loaf off the bottom of the pan
Small loaves, one at a time.

The fuel consumption for 20 minutes of baking was about 70g, which is about 1/6 of the capacity of the fuel canister.  Half a buck to a dollar for a small loaf, including ingredients:

The recipe:

1 cup all purpose unbleached flour
3/4 cup water
1/2 - 3/4 tsp yeast
a bit of sugar in warm water to proof the yeast.
salt to taste, some in the recipe and some sprinkled on top the loaf


The Dodger Begins to Take Shape

In a scant four weeks I expect to pass through the Ballard Locks heading to Sitka.  I've carefully organized my task list so as to maximize the drama of these last few weeks.  Spring varnishing is underway,  and it looks like the weather for that will cooperate.  Why settle for the unvarnished truth when you can have sparkle plenty, as my Mom is wont to say?

But the real drama is all about the dodger.

I've known I needed to make one since a day two years ago in early August in the Broughton Islands with Terry.  The warming summer sun was obscured by a weeping marine layer.  I was wearing every stitch of clothing I had with me -- five layers -- and I was still cold. In August. Protection against wind and spray will be pretty important (which is why I left it to the last possible moment). Knowing you're going to be hanged in the morning wonderfully concentrates the mind.

So, I ordered the Sailrite video on building dodgers, and arranged for a local company, King Marine Can…

The Wages of Zin(c)

The Yanmar 1GM10 is the simplest of diesel engines, and mostly it just works.  Its natural reliability can lead one down the path of negligence, however, and so it has been for me with regard to the zinc that is embedded in the cooling channels of the engine block.

The engine block has a zinc anode because it is raw-sea-water cooled, and because this water is frequently salt water, the potential for electrolysis within the engine block is substantial.  The problem is that this zinc is hard to get to, requiring moving the alternator out of the way so as to get a wrench or a socket near the bolts that hold the zinc-bearing plate in the block.

Having done so, the plate comes off easily enough, and I had the zinc and necessary gaskets on hand. My intentions were good, you see... I've had these parts for two years, knowing that it had almost certainly been too long since the zinc was last renewed.
The evidence:

Nothing left.  Not the smallest remnant of zinc to be found.  Cold comfort…

There Be Dragons (but they aren't where they used to be)

Maps (and their maritime versions, charts) are abstractions of the places we travel.    They project geography, history, technology, politics, commerce, and even art.

The very definition of explorer rounds to traveler without maps.   We celebrate those who traveled the uncharted world and secured it with soundings, but dismiss as imprudent those who would travel without a chart today. The term itself -- unchartedterritory -- remains a primary abstraction for the dangerous unknown, though few regions of our world have remained uncharted in the lifetime of any living person.
Today's recreational boater may have few paper charts.  Traveling close to home, especially in the Pacific Northwest, you're seldom far from visible landmarks, and the shoal waters are the exception rather than the rule.  The electronic surrogates for charts are rich in functionality and reduce the complexity of navigation, telling you your heading, orienting you on a chart that moves with you, and zoom ea…

Chart Plotter: physical installation

There are many mounting options for chart plotters, some of which have fancy swiveling armatures which allow the device to be swung out of the way when not in use.  My diminutive cockpit is not well suited to such solutions, and in any case they are expensive options.

Two possibilities seem suitable.  One is to mount the device on a companionway board that slides into the companionway, but this makes access to the cabin problematic.  I also have a compass so mounted, and while I use it only rarely, a long trip in unfamiliar waters mitigates in favor of its use.

The second option is to take advantage of the port-light in the cabin bulkhead.  I fashioned a wooden plug, (4 7/8" diameter  x 1 5/8" depth) that is sandwiched between two discs slightly larger than plug and the rim of the portlight.  The plug is thus captured securely in the port-light housing (hanger-bolts and wingnuts), and the swivel base of the chart plotter attaches to the plug.  The cabling will pass through …

Un-race to Alaska

Race to Alaska
I'm sailing to Alaska this Spring/Summer.  That's the plan, anyway.  I have friends who will be rendezvousing [is that really how you spell that?] with me for various parts of the journey.  People who have spent cold, hard cash on plane tickets.  So... this is real.

But I am NOT racing.  I hate racing, and have, since the summer of '68 when my father and I campaigned an aging Star class sloop (sail # 1500, christened Surprise) through a summer of racing in the Kaneohe Yacht club.  Our racing confederates were state sailing champions in Hawaii, and raced Stars to keep their hands busy between TransPac seasons.  Dad and I were dwarfs, without the experience or the mass to keep Surprise on her sailing lines, and our single victory that summer was that we avoided finishing last in a single race, by a single second.  [insert pump fist here].

But others, of course, ARE racing to Alaska this summer, and it just may be that we will arrive in Ketchikan in the same c…

All Rodes Lead to Where I Stand

I travelled to Victoria a few weeks ago to buy a stash of used charts for the Inside Passage, and the fellow who sold them to me recounted the story of the worst night of his life.  Anchored in a cove out of the 50 knot winds in one or another strait, he found himself at the mercy of 70 knot katabatic winds -- Williwaws.  As a landmass cools at night, the air cools, grows heavier, and slides down towards the water, converting potential energy to kinetic energy.  His 40 foot steel sloop was sailing on her anchor, describing smiles on the chart plotter, a pendulum on a 300 foot tether, rolling through 90 degree arcs.  THUNK.  His anchor let go, but mercifully reset itself.  More than once.  Those smiles were getting closer to the lee shore, until finally when all was said and done, his margin of safety was a scant 6 feet.

I've been boning up on ground tackle ever since.

The guidebooks to the Inside Passage talk about 15 fathom anchorages in some places.  Multiply that by even modes…

Queequeg's Coffin

Before boats were designed for the tyranny of stand-up headroom, esthetic proportion ruled nautical form, and while it is as difficult now as ever it was to define such beauty, you know it when you see it. William Atkins knew it, and I fell in love with his efforts from the first time I saw Ripple for sale. The price to be paid is not small, though. Well, actually, it is exactly small. You won't find a more compact (Latin for cramped) 26 footer than Ripple, so every cubic foot of storage space is dear.

Facing two to three months aboard for a trip up and down the Inside Passage, I need to optimize my storage, and have been building a house-top carrier to help.  The challenge, of course, is to devise a solution that does minimal esthetic damage while making a substantial contribution to available storage.  I'll be taking propane canisters along with me as well, and having a non-interior storage space for those will increase safety and peace of mind.

I also wanted it to be secur…

Who Governs the Governor?

Ripple is powered by a quirky one cylinder diesel engine (a Yanmar 1GM10) whose operating costs round to zero.  At a liter an hour and an oil change once or twice a season, it just runs.  For the first three years I had Ripple, I had no difficulties with it, and developed a fondness for its pockety-pockety rhythms.  The last two years, however, I have had trouble starting, with symptoms that had all the earmarks of air in the fuel.  Once started and warmed up, the engine ran like a top, but getting to that point was often challenging.

The problem was ameliorated somewhat by rebuilding the injector, which was 30% or more out of spec.  The air-head diagnosis was reinforced by various minor faults discovered in the fuel system: a dodgy Racor filter head, loose banjos, looser-than-ideal fuel hoses.  Most everything pointed in the same direction, and the mechanic I engaged helped get all of this stuff sorted, including rebuilding the injector, installing a more reliable Racor filter head …

Connecting a Chart Plotter, VHF, AIS Receiver and Tiller Pilot using the NMEA 0183 protocol

NOTE: An updated version of this posting that includes an AIS transceiver is now available here. Ripple's complement of communication and navigational electronics now includes:
Standard Horizon CP390i chart plotter Digital Yacht AIS receiver  Raymarine ST2000  tiller pilot Standard Horizon VHF/DSC radio These devices can all be networked, so installing them includes making decisions about whether and how to connect them.  As with most everything on a boat, there are tradeoffs.  The benefits of additional functionality are always at war with the unanticipated dangers of creeping elegance and the instability that arises from proliferating connections (natural failure points).

My four devices, like most modern electronics, can talk to one another using the well-established NMEA 0183 protocol.  NMEA 0183 falls short of a full-blown network, but it meets the need for point-to-point connections such as are appropriate to my configuration..  The NMEA 2000 protocol provides a full network…