What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been

With all apologies to The Grateful Dead (one of Nancy’s favorite bands) and Robert Hunter, these lyrics definitely describe our journey south. 

On August 25
th we departed Sidney for Port Angeles, WA. It was a short, easy trip, although on arrival we had winds in the 20’s, naturally blowing the wrong way, so Captain Ron had to do some fancy footwork to get us tied up at the US Customs dock. We cleared back into the US without fanfare. About an hour later good friends Stan and Diane, aboard the beautiful Nordhavn 57 Crossroads, tied up behind us. All of us were departing at dawn the next day, so we said our Hellos, exchanged plans to join up at the next stop and went to sleep.

Crossroads departed about an hour before we did, as her crew is made of sterner stuff. She travels at about 1-1.5 knots faster than we do, so she gradually pulled away in the Strait of Juan de Fuca as we both traveled west. It took us until mid afternoon to exit the Strait. When we did, we stumbled into a search and rescue operation, for a woman diver who had disappeared while diving the islands at the mouth of the Strait. The current is strong there, but she was experienced, so early on there was hope that she would be found. We kept track of the search as we traveled south, unfortunately she was never recovered.

The trip south to Coos Bay, OR, was uneventful. The weather was calm, Duet cruised serenely on, doing about 7.5 knots with a following current at 1510RPM. As we have noted before, she has a rather dirty bottom, which slows her down. Nancy and Ron tested the new seasickness medication routine, which worked very well. Of course there was no weather to speak of, so it was hard to tell if it was working or we just weren’t sick.

We did take some pictures (and some video, which will be put on YouTube eventually) of Duet’s pilothouse at night. We do not have any red lights in the pilothouse and we have more glare on the windshield than we like. We may add some red light, although we don’t have any visibiilty issues. We are going to make better glare shields than we currently have.

In the picture below you can see, on the left, the main navigation computer. To it’s right are the engine instruments, the larger radar and the laptop, which is also running, using a different chart. The main navigation PC is driving the boat, the laptop is tracking it. The charts on the two computers are set at different magnifications, so you can see AIS targets further away on one than the other, for example. Both the main PC and the laptop are receiving data from most of other instruments, so they display boat speed, GPS location, water depth and course, as well as AIS targets and chart data. When this photo was taken we only had one radar running as there wasn’t much going on. If it is busy, we usually have two running, on different ranges. The second radar is just to the right of the large one. 

Above the windscreen are the two red B&G instruments, which, once we get them fixed, can track wind speed, wind direction, depth and boat speed. To their right is a round monitor showing wind direction on a boat shaped diagram. After that comes the color Furuno fish finder, which is showing depth. Further to the right is one of the two GPS units (it was off), the Naiad Datum head and the Victron inverter/charger monitor. At the very left edge of the picture, up top, is the second GPS unit, which is on. Our radios and satellite communication gear is out of the picture to the left. 

After some 50 hours, we crossed the Coos Bay Bar and pulled into the Charleston Municipal Marina, just off the entrance. We checked in and settled down to wait out a rather significant storm system that was passing through. Stan and Diane stopped one bar north of us, in Newport, OR, to pick up new house batteries. We were going to stop at Newport, but we were making such good time that we decided to continue. In retrospect, we could have made the next bar south, as the weather didn’t turn bad until about 48 hours after we arrived in Coos Bay. That said, we would rather stop too soon than too late.

We spent about 4 days in Coos Bay. During that time we took on 750 gallons of fuel, which meant moving Duet across the channel from the dock to the fuel station. During that move we discovered that the bow thruster was so overgrown with barnacles that it had stopped working. So we hired a local diver to clean it, and the main running gear, which we hoped would speed us up on the rest of our trip south.

Once the weather settled down, relatively speaking, we decided to continue our journey. At this point, we were looking at a two day window, give or take, as rough weather was predicted off the notorious Cape Mendocino to Point Arenas section of the California coast. Our plan was to run south to Eureka, CA, and, then, if the weather hadn’t improved, pull in. Or, if we had a window, continue on.

Our departure from Coos Bay was uneventful. The bar was still closed to vessels under 28 feet, but we watched a big fishing boat pound her way out and figured Duet would be fine, which she was. We did a little bulbous bow slapping for the audience on the jetty and then turned south, putting the bigger swells behind us. Conditions were rougher than our trip down from Port Angeles, namely there were actually waves and wind. Our new seasickness medications dealt with this extremely well, both Nancy and Ron felt fine. So far this new regime was showing promise.

When we reached Eureka, at midmorning, 24 hours after we left Coos Bay, conditions were poor. Ron checked with the Coast Guard station at the bar and they reported 8 foot breaking seas in the channel, two hours after the flood current had started. When entering or exiting these bars you want to do it on the flood, when the incoming current negates the impact of the outflowing river. Breaking seas are not conditions in which we want to cross a bar, unless we have absolutely no choice.

In this case we had a choice, continue on to San Francisco, which was the next reasonable stop. This meant going around Cape Mendocino and through the washing machine that was currently cycling between the Cape and Point Arenas. Prior to our departure from Coos Bay we had discussed this possibility. We could have stayed longer at Coos Bay, but the longer term weather outlook showed no window for at least another week, possibly 10 days, and we wanted to reach the Newport Harbor Shipyard in time to get our work done.

This is a classic example of what we try not to do, namely make decisions under the pressure of a schedule. We have done more of this this year than we like. Fortunately, like all Nordhavns, Duet is a tough boat, so she gives us the option of going in less than ideal conditions. We had discussed the types of conditions we would be facing at Cape Mendocino, with Gale on the Nordhavn 50 Worknot, and with Stan, who owned two 50s before he bought his 57. Both said the boat would have no problems, particularly because the worst of the weather would be behind us.

So off we went, past Eureka and onward to Cape Mendocino and points south. The weather gradually worsened, as expected. Most of our time in the boisterous section would be in daylight, which makes it easier, as you can see what’s going on. We find rough conditions harder to tolerate at night, as the motion is more difficult to anticipate.

Throughout the majority of this trip we had cell phone and internet connectivity, so we were able to get buoy reports. This was helpful, as it told us what was going on before we got there. Ron was also getting weather maps and updates. The main decision we made was to stay less than 10 miles offshore, as conditions appeared to be milder there than further out. Obviously, there is no line in the water that defines where conditions get rougher, but the reports from the buoys were consistent with the forecasts.

During this trip, Ron plotted a course along the 100 fathom (600 feet) depth contour. This kept us out of any traps or fishing nets, although we did see one long line set up, luckily it was daylight. It had radar reflectors on both ends, but even our big radar couldn’t pick them out of the sea clutter. Ron’s course was also handy for us to set waypoints, as it kept us inside the 10 mile weather line as well, most of the time.

When we reached Cape Mendocino, we had 25 knots of wind out of the NW with gusts into the 30’s, off our starboard stern quarter. We don’t have a working wind gauge, but this is what the local buoy was reporting. The buoy also reported significant swell height of 8 feet, with 2-4 foot wind waves. Significant swell height means that the average height of the highest 1/3rd of waves was 8 feet, but you can’t necessarily add swell and wind wave to arrive at an overall wave height.

The statistical distribution of wave heights shows that a significant wave height of 8 feet means that, if you are out there long enough, you should expect to encounter waves of twice that height, or 16 feet. We were out there for about 12 hours, as we worked out way down the coast. We don’t know how big the largest waves were that we encountered, though we did see waves that trough to peak were at least as tall as the top of our pilot house, which is 13 feet off the water.

Most of the wave energy arrived as fully developed ocean swell, so the period was long relative to the height, making it quite manageable and comfortable. The wind waves have a much shorter period. So we often saw several wind waves barreling along with one ocean swell. This can make for confused conditions, but we were lucky, everything was going in the same direction.

We know Nordhavn owners who regularly venture out in conditions considerably more demanding than what we were in. For us, these were the biggest seas we have experienced. Most of our prior boating has been along the east coast of the U.S. There is a reason why surfing is such a popular sport on the west coast, but not on the east coast. The waves! Because of prevailing wind direction, ocean fetch, and the shape of the continental shelves, typical waves along the west coast are larger. Changing coasts has allowed us to expand our comfort zone.

When this started, we slowed Duet down from about 8 knots to 7, which slowed her surfing down to a more controllable behavior, namely the waves passed under the boat, rather than Duet rushing down the face. The autopilot steered without strain throughout this, and there were no signs of broaching (where the stern starts turning sideways) or loss of control.

We only had one memorable incident, where we were hit by two very large waves in rapid succession from different directions, both waves came from astern of us. The boat rocked rapidly from side to side, about 15 degrees or so, and the stabilizer fins whipped quickly back and forth and pinned at their stops at both sides. We can tell where the fins are in their arc from the Naiad monitoring screen in the pilothouse.

Nothing flew around and there were no loud noises. Nancy was on watch, she remained seated in the big chair. Ron was in the engine room doing a check and didn’t even notice. Other than this, the motion was relatively predictable. The stabilizers were working hard, based on the monitoring screen, but remained at normal operating temps and showed no signs of stress. As our regular readers may recall, we upsized Duet’s stabilizers right after we bought her, and this trip showed that to be a good decision.

Once we got used to the conditions, it was a pretty cool experience. A big contributor to this was the fact that our new seasickness routine (available in detail from Captain Ron via private email) was working perfectly. Even Nancy felt just fine and was able to read and do detail work. Too much detail work still wasn’t a good idea, but this was light years better than she normally feels in conditions far milder than this. We tentatively chalked up a success for Dr. Ron (final verdict will await big head seas, which are the most reliable at producing mal de mer, at least for us).

We did take some video of the weather, before it peaked. Video and pictures doesn’t really show the motion, but it gives a general idea of the conditions early on. By nightfall things were calming down as we began to round Point Arenas. During this part of the trip the only other boat we saw was a 100 foot mega yacht, which passed us during the night. We remained at slow speed throughout the night, to keep the motion more comfortable. Duet ran serenely on, doing what she was built to do, namely convey us safely wherever we wish to go.

We had a number of humpback whales migrating south with us. This wasn’t a big deal in the calm weather, but it was a little disconcerting to see a spout at some distance in the big seas, and then nothing else. The whales appear almost randomly. We did have one close call, where two whales went right under Duet. Nancy was looking at the first one, coming up on the port side after diving under us. Ron happened to be looking to starboard and right down the blowhole of the second whale. He said it was the size of a medium trash can. Unfortunately, that whale spouted all over Duet, fortunately all the windows and hatches were closed. Poor Duet was also sooted by a fishing boat in Coos Bay, so she was looking rather dirty at this point.

By dawn we were just north of San Francisco. Conditions were still gusty, but calmer, so we speeded up again. We thought about going into San Francisco, but, much as we wanted to go under the Golden Gate, we decided it would be quicker to enter Half Moon Bay, just south of the city, and anchor. This decision later proved to be a poor one, but there was no way to know this at the time.

We arrived in Half Moon around 6PM, after about 56 hours of running, dropped the hook and settled in for a quiet night. Half Moon Bay harbor is a sheltered anchorage, inside a breakwater. We were expecting more wind over the next couple of days, so we wanted a place we could hunker down and recover from the journey while the weather passed. We weren’t the only folks with this idea, the anchorage was relatively crowded when we arrived.

Half Moon is shallow, and we anchored at the back of the pack, almost level with a 70 foot aluminum fishing boat and two sailboats. We were between the marina entrance and the exit from the breakwater, but there are no channel markers and the bay is marked as an anchorage throughout on all the charts. We wanted deeper water, so we could lay down sufficient scope (length) of chain to ensure that we had no problems during the coming blow. We also wanted to be clear of the many buoys set throughout the harbor. We set the hook well, had dinner and went to sleep, secure in the knowledge that we were well anchored in a safe harbor.

At 5AM we were awakened by a massive crash, scraping noises and Duet rocking back and forth. Neither of us could imagine what had happened. Nancy thought we had dragged onto the breakwater, although there was no wind. Ron was sure we were home in Tahoe and there had been an earthquake. Both of us were completely wrong.

Nancy was first onto to the deck, as she sleeps in pajamas. When she looked over the starboard side, she found an approximately 40 foot long fishing boat drifting back from where it had hit Duet’s starboard side, level with the master head. There was one man on deck. Nancy said good morning. He said nothing initially, then another man, the Captain apparently, appeared. The first man said to the Captain I thought you were on the wheel. The Captain said no, you were. Obviously the process had gone sadly wrong aboard this vessel.

At this point, Ron arrived on deck. It was still dark, so we switched on our big deck lights. Several other fishing boats were clustered off our stern, wanting to make sure no one was hurt. Once they established that we were all fine, they continued on their way out the breakwater. Our personal fishing boat remained floating nearby. They dug out their spotlight to supplement our deck lights. What we could see at this stage was a scar down her starboard side, about 6 feet long, as well as some chipping of the fiberglass around the master head porthole.

We exchanged information with the Captain, who revealed that he had no insurance. He also said he was responsible and would make good on the damages. We said fine. There was no point in going back to bed, so we had an early breakfast. We then put the dinghy in the water to see what the real extent of the damage was.

The fishing boat’s anchor had hit the outer steel ring of the master porthole. Amazingly, the glass was intact, probably because it is deeply recessed in the hull. The porthole opened and closed just fine. We couldn’t really tell if it was watertight, but we did spray as best we could with a hose over the side and no water came in. The outer ring, however, was bent.

While the fisherman didn’t have insurance, we do. So we also called our insurance agent and explained the situation. Their advice was to report it, as an incident, not a claim, until we knew what the cost of repairs would be and how much the fisherman would contribute. That way we wouldn’t be faced with making a late claim further down the road, if the damage turned out to be more than our deductible. So we filed various forms.

We spent another couple of days at Half Moon Bay. More boats came in as the weather worsened. We did some kayaking and various boat projects, while waiting for things to settle down. We had about 25 knots blowing through each evening, but Duet did just fine.

The large aluminum fishing boat, however, dragged its anchor on the second day of the wind. No one was aboard, and it took us some time to notice that she had traveled about halfway across the anchorage. We confirmed that she was indeed moving with our radar and called the harbormaster. Fortunately, he was able to find the crew, who rushed out and moved her back to her spot. She got within about 200 feet of the stone breakwater before they arrived, but we couldn’t figure out any way to help. Boarding her wouldn’t do us any good, we didn’t know how to work her gear and she was probably locked anyway. We were just glad to see the crew arrive, as a boat that size hitting the breakwater would have been a significant mess.

Other than our fishing boat incident and the dragging boat, our stay in Half Moon Bay was uneventful. We departed early one morning, into calm weather, bound for Monterey. It was a peaceful trip, with good weather. We arrived around 5PM, only to be confronted by a scene of complete pandemonium. We had made a reservation at the commercial marina, as the municipal marina in Monterey does not take reservations. We didn’t want to have to anchor, as the anchorage looked rather tight to us. This turned out to be the understatement of the year, the anchorage appeared to be nonexistent, the entire harbor was covered in moorings, every one of which was occupied.

So we rounded the turn at the seawall and began our journey up the channel between the moorings and the seawall. The seawall was covered in sea lions, barking for all they were worth. They were surrounded by gulls and pelicans, also carrying on in loud voices. The channel was narrow, only slightly wider than Duet, with slips on both sides. Occupants included the Coast Guard, which keeps several small boats and one large one in Monterey. All the Coast Guard vessels were in, so there was plenty of help nearby in case anything went wrong. In addition, there were numerous kayakers, including one guided tour which was slowly making it’s way along the seawall observing the local wildlife. They seemed completely oblivious to 40 plus tons of boat maneuvering in their vicinity.

Ron was steering from the fly bridge, and, after looking at the side tie assigned to us, decided to turn Duet around in the wider part at the end of the channel, at the fuel dock. This way he could bring her in on her starboard side, which is easier for Nancy to manage. The turn was accomplished without fanfare, we managed to avoid running over any kayakers and finally tied up just across from the loudest sea lion. We were surrounded by large fishing boats. One of the captains stopped by to admire Duet and helpfully explained to us that his huge downward pointing lights were used to attract squid, it being squid fishing season.

We had dinner, managed to sleep despite the never ending din from the sea lions, and set off early the next morning for a short overnight to Ventura. The weather remained fine, we had an easy trip and arrived in Ventura 24 hours later none the worse for wear. We did start to see oil rigs, which were a new experience for us. They look like huge UFOs at night, as they are lit up from end to end. The key is they don’t move, so they are pretty easy to navigate around.

In the picture below, the oil rig is the object at the top right of the radar, which is set on a range of 3 miles. If you look closely at the bottom of the radar screen, you can see that the rig is moving at .3 knots, which is an artifact, as often when the radar acquires a target it takes some time to sort it out. Also, this number changes over time with a fixed object, so in the end you figure out it’s not moving at all. You can also see that our Closest Point of Approach (CPA) is .33 miles, and it will occur in 20.28 minutes (TCPA, or time to closest point of approach).

The rig below is burning off some sort of gas out of the scaffold on the left. You can also see the service boat, backing under the rig to deliver supplies. 

We also saw what we are sure wasn’t the real Brooklyn Bridge traveling down the channel, as well as a number of sea lions taking a well deserved break on the surface.

We had another beautiful sunset, it never ceases to amaze us how spectacular this event, and sunrise, are at sea.

After a nice two day stay in Ventura, which included a friendly dock visitor, we moved on to Marina del Rey, where we remained one night and then journeyed on to Newport Beach.

In the picture below, you can see some of the coast of California, north and south of Point Conception. The blue circles are potential harbors (the top one is Monterey and the bottom Newport Beach) and the red ones are the boundaries of the weather forecasts. This way we can tell where we are vis-a-vis the forecast. When you cruise one area for any length of time, you get to know these points, but when you are just passing through it’s helpful to have some visual cues to figure out which area you are in.

We tied up at Newport Harbor Shipyard in mid afternoon. Our journey of over 1,200 miles was completed. We had hoped to do it all in one hop, but the weather, as usual, wasn’t cooperating. We were glad we had ventured out around Mendocino when we did. Not only did we push our personal boating envelope, but our friends on Crossroads ended up waiting another 10 days to depart Newport, OR. They missed the short window we managed to catch, as they were still sorting out their batteries.

During this journey we changed our watch schedule a bit. Two handed crews are confronted with some difficult decisions about watch keeping. The key, in our experience, is to try to get the watches to conform to each person’s normal “sleep” schedule, if possible. On the 46, and during the first leg of this journey south, we had kept to a pretty standard 3-4 hours on, 3-4 hours off at night, and split up the day so that each of us could nap if we wanted. This trip this setup wasn’t working for Ron. He wasn’t able to sleep during his normal afternoon off time, whereas Nancy was sleeping fine whenever.

After some discussion, we jiggered our watches around. Nancy went to bed around 9PM and woke at midnight or so. Ron then slept from midnight to around 5AM. Nancy went back to bed at 5AM and woke around 9AM. Ron, funnily enough, was then able to sleep from around 10AM to 1PM, provided he didn’t have too much coffee. We know several couples who, when running their boats with just the two of them aboard, follow a similar schedule, with one person taking the bulk of the night watch, so we shall have to see how this works for us. The CUBAR has 3 legs of about 50 hours each, so that will give a chance to test this more thoroughly than we did on this journey.

We did some calculations and determined that we had traveled over 4,000 miles since we left Sidney in April. Distances on the west coast are much larger than the east coast, in 8 years of cruising our 46 we covered some 10,000 miles. This Duet has managed half of that in 3 years, and isn’t done yet, we will travel another 1,200 miles before we rest at La Paz.

Our next blog will focus on the time we spent in the Shipyard.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *