Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Rest of the Story

While the storm was an exciting and terrifying experience, it was also great training for the less than benign parts of the ocean where I am heading, and if anything is certain, there will be more where that came from.

Some people seem to think that I will be using my parents boat for the voyage. Having experienced what it is like going to windward in her for a few hours, I would like to avoid knowing what it would be like for nine months. She is a great boat, but I will just be using her for training and will stick with the Swan 38 for the world voyage.

So, I told you about the storm, but haven't yet told the rest of the story. Here it is:

I left Tsehum Harbor at 7AM two days after the storm and pointed the bow north. It was a gray day, but that didn't matter as we were heading toward freedom. It's incredible how after a blow, the usual depressing gray and cold that we like to complain about doesn't seem that bad at all! The wind was extremely light so we motor sailed north. While making repairs we had bought a new anchor and I tried it out while still in the harbor. Everything seemed to be working well, which was almost a surprise after the wear from the storm.

That night we tied to one of the mooring buoys at Montague Harbor and I enjoyed the change from the last time I was there when there were countless boats all fighting for space. Now there were only two other boats and I had a good romp ashore, exploring the woods and roads around the anchorage.

The next day I untied from the buoy and continued the run north. For the next several days we traveled during the day and anchored at a secure anchorage during the night. In this way we made our way steadily north. A few days out of Tsehum Harbor the propane ran out so we were back to the expedition diet of cold soup out of the can. It was all too familiar from other sailing trips. I took loads of food but most of it required cooking and thus couldn't be eaten without a working stove.

Since most of us don't really enjoy the delicacy of cold soup, I would sometimes row ashore and build a fire to heat up the food. I could get one going pretty quick from my time in the woods and mountains. It would often be quite beautiful beside the anchorage under the stars away from the pollution of civilization and I would bundle up against the cold and stay up late by the fire before rowing back to the boat.

One night, in the Thormandy Islands, I had a beautiful evening just like described and put out the fire to row back to the boat. While launching the rowboat, my hand brushed up against a jellyfish, which just happened to be of the stinging variety. I wasn't that worried since they aren't that dangerous up here and it didn't hurt that bad just yet. Rowing back to the boat, I was marveling at the calm night and most beautiful phosphorescence in the water when I heard a bizarre sound coming from the water. With images of some sea monster from the depths, I rowed a bit faster to get back to the safety of the boat. The creature, whatever it was, made the same sound again, except louder and closer just as I clambered aboard the boat. I had just escaped the creature and heard nothing more from whatever it was.

The next morning I discovered our friend from the night before to be a seal, and he wasn't to let us depart without leaving his mark. The seal had kindly vomited all over the dinghy, with blood and scales and fish fins all over the place. I had put off cleaning it that morning and regretted that decision because after a day of sun, the vomit had baked onto the surface of the dinghy and it was all the more dreadful to clean up.

The sail south through the Strait of Georgia was a lively run with a strong wind dead behind and we roared downwind at 7 to 8 knots. That may not seem that fast, but believe me for this boat, it is. The waves were big enough that I had to worry about the boat broaching so I hand steered to keep the stern to the waves and we had a wild ride. The coast mountains of Canada were quite visible as it was a clear day and we made good time back south.

On the last day of the trip, my hands that were stung by the jellyfish swelled up and were complete agony for a few hours. It was quite difficult to handle the sails and lines but eventually the swelling subsided and I spent some time cleaning up the boat. I was boarded by the border patrol as we neared home (they always seem to be convinced I am a drug smuggler) and finally docked and dealt with the nonsense of customs and all that bureaucracy that seems so out of place after a while alone at sea.

So in the end we survived a force ten storm, jellyfish stings, cold soup and perhaps the worst of all seal vomit, all the while having a brilliant time! I cant wait to get out there again.



Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Wet Voyages

Many sailors in the Pacific Northwest, having experienced one of the mildest winters in recent memory had assumed that perhaps this April would offer an early start to the relatively warm, leisurely cruising days of summer. As often is the case when you insult the weather gods with such a ridiculous notion, they decided to seek revenge. And out there amongst the intricate waterways of the inside passage was a small sailboat and teenage sailor that provided the prefect target for their frustrations.

When I headed out of my home port, bound for Desolation Sound, I had done enough sailing to expect some challenging weather this time of year, and had even wished for a gale or two for a little excitement and for a bit of a change from the fickle winds I had been dealing with on recent sailing excursions. But when you are on the ocean you must be careful what you wish for. Just two days out of Port Angeles, I found myself in the middle of the worst storm to hit this part of the coast in thirteen years.

The trip had started quite well. I had left the marina early that morning and headed out with a beautiful sunrise and calm seas. There was too little wind to sail so I motored across the Strait of Juan de Fuca and up Haro Strait between San Juan Island and Vancouver Island to Sidney. There I cleared customs into Canada and motored a couple miles across the bay to the anchorage at Sidney Spit. I knew we were in for a bit of a blow but I was in an adventurous spirit and didn't know at the time just how bad things would get.

The boat I was sailing was my parent's Truant 33, a good solid boat for these waters with the exception of two things. First, her pilothouse, which is quite nice most of the time to get out of the nasty weather, but with it's large windows exposes a weak area for bad seas to smash into. And secondly, her tendency to roll in rough water or with a large following sea. It's not usually dangerous, mind you, but in a real nasty blow can make for quite a wild ride.

That evening, the weather was calm and there was little sign of the advancing tempest. But it was April Fools Day, and the joke was on me. It was the calm before the storm. Soon the barometer made a steep drop and the weather rapidly picked up to gale force. By 3AM I was permanently out of bed to make sure the boat was not washed onto the beach.

All that day, I was constantly working to ensure the boat did not drag anchor and get bashed apart on the beach. As the wind and waves increased, the strain on the anchor and chain became incomprehensible. They always say to keep the strain off the windlass which I did with a short line with a hook on the end. This line exploded because of the strain and all the pressure was on the windlass. Without the line holding the chain in place, all 250 feet of it pulled out and jerked with a sickening jolt on the end of the anchor chain, which had a big ring on it to keep from pulling out.

By this point we had drug anchor quite some distance and were far too close to the beach. I had to motor full on against the wind and waves just to keep as much pressure off the anchor chain as possible. Eventually, when the chain came off the windlass and was pulling all across the deck it caused damage to the teak toerail and bending the bow pulpit. The wind had made it impossible to hear almost anything and I was using the ski goggles I brought to be able to see at all into the wind.

Later, just to make things worse, it began snowing. I don't know the strength of the wind because the anemometer broke, but it was really bloody strong. The seas made life uncomfortable but since we weren't offshore they didn't have the opportunity to grow to dangerous heights. And so it continued for the rest of the day and well into the night.

After the storm was over and we were safely docked in Tsehum Harbor I realized I was safe from the storm but was now in equal danger from my parents probable reaction to the storm damage to the boat! The anchor, a hefty plough style anchor, had so much strain from pulling against the storm that it had bent! There was the damage from the anchor chain that had scratched gel coat and done considerable damage to the woodwork near the bow. A stanchion holding up the lifelines had also broken from the seas. Fortunately, my parents were glad that I was alright and my father and little brother came up for two days to help with repairs. I am very grateful for this timely assistance. I was just glad I wasn't the poor bugger who's boat plowed through 10 megayachts before crashing into some millionaire's beach-side resort!(I'm only partly kidding.)

The very first thing I saw the morning after the storm was the bow of a sunk boat being towed by a tug out of the harbor.

In the end, dozens of boats were either sunk or beached in the storm and in places entire marinas were decimated. You could hardly use the radio because mayday's were going off all over the place and it was a miracle no one was hurt. After a few days of work on the boat, I shoved off and again pointed our bow north. But that's another story.

Here's a few pictures from the more enjoyable parts of the trip.