Friday, July 22, 2011

May 16-20, 2011 - Moving the boat from San Fran to La Conner

Sorry for the LONG delay in posting to our blog.  Life has been very hectic these past several months.  Now it's time to update our blog.....

After watching the weather closely for a month, and lining up a few professional meteorologists to consult if we saw a good weather window opening up, we waited for our chance.  About May 13 a window seemed to be opening for us.  We consulted our meteorologists who concurred that the weater looked good.  I started making phone calls to my potential crew, and after a day or so had a good crew lined up, ready to go on short notice.  I purchased one-way airfare for the 4 of us.  One of the crew had a buddy in San Fran that offered to give us a ride from the airport to the boat when we landed at 9:00PM on Sunday night.

Well this didn't really go according to plan.  We got to the airport just fine, riding a shuttle bus from La Conner to Sea Tac.  We checked in and headed to our gate.  There was some sort of medical emergency on the plane during the flight that brought it to Sea Tac and our flight was delayed a little at first.  We waited, and waited.  A person on a stretcher was wheeled out of the plane after a while.  Shortly after this they made an announcement that the plane was now delayed at least 2 hours.  Great!  We finally landed in San Fran around midnight which blew our free ride, and also our stop at the grocery store so we could get an early start in the morning.  We took a cab ($$$) instead and just went to bed.

The Crew:  Steve S, Brett H, Jeff B, and me (Steve E)

We woke up in the morning to windy conditions with rain.  Jeff called his friend who was still able to come over for a visit and take us to the grocery store.  He showed up around 9:00AM and then we all went to breakfast.  After that we hit the grocery store and loaded up with food.  Back to the boat to get everything stowed.  We finally backed out and left the dock around noon, about 5-6 hours later than I had hoped.

We motored past Alcatraz, and then passed under the Golden Gate Bridge to begin our slow march up the coast.  The wind was blowing pretty hard and with each mile the waves and sea swell grew larger.  It wasn't long before we started encountering fuel issues.  I had mounted vacuum gauges at the helm that allowed us to monitor how clogged the fuel filters were becoming.  A normal reading is between zero and about 5" of mercury.  A partially clogged filter would read between 5"-10" and a filter that needed to be changed would read 10" or more.  There is one gauge per engine and both were doing fine for about the first hour or two.  But then they both took dramatic and rapid climbs until they were up around 20".  That's definitely in the territory where the engine is being starved of fuel and will likely not be running much longer. 

I headed to the engine room to investigate.  I switched both clogged filters to the clean standby filters by flipping a valve, expecting the reading to instantly drop back down near zero.  They didn't.  In fact they didn't budge at all.  I began tapping on the fuel tank selector valves and with each tap the gauges dropped.  Something had become clogged in these valves but my tapping on them was breaking it free.  I managed to get both engines down to normal readings again.  Phew, that was lucky.

About an hour later the port engine's vacuum gauge began to climb again.  I went down again to repeat the tapping procedure.  This time it did nothing.  The gauge continued to climb to 18", then 20", then 22".  Now the engine mounted fuel pressure gauge was beginning to drop.  It should read about 70psi during at normal cruising rpm but it was now dropping to 20psi, then 15psi, now 10psi.  At this point the engine started to sound rough and the rpm's were varying.  I went back up to the pilothouse to shutoff the engine and work on a plan.  We decided that there must be a major blockage in the fuel system and that we may have to abandon the trip.  We changed course and headed for a port in Northern CA, running on just one engine, praying that this fuel blockage didn't occur on the other engine or we would be in serious trouble.

Meanwhile, the sea conditions have become almost intolerable.  We are getting beat up out here with 30+ knot winds, 10+ swell with 4' wind waves on top of that.  The boat is slogging along though taking it in stride. 
Up we go.  Nothing but sky.

And then down.  WAY down!

At his point in the trip we were headed basically straight into the waves, so the boats motion was primarily just bobbing up and down with not too much side to side roll.  The waves and swell are very interesting out here.  It is often difficult to predict what the boat is going to do.  Often you see a huge swell headed your way and you watch it get closer and closer only to have it totally flatten out just in front of you.  Other times the sea just seems to lump up right before you sending the boat skyward  immediately followed by a resounding thud as it drops off the back side and falls into the awaiting trough.  This was not pleasant and makes one wonder just how strong a boat really is.  Can it take this pounding?

All of this up/down, up/down, up/down did take it's toll on the boat and the crew.  Steve S. got violently sea-sick very early on in the trip was was completely wiped our for the first two days spending two days on the couch.  He could not eat or drink.  We were becoming concerned for his health when he suddenly and completely snapped out it.  What a relief!!!

Our anchor chain, 380' of 3/8" high-test weighing about 800 pounds, broke through the little door intended to keep it contained in the anchor locker,which allowed it to completely spill out onto v-berth cushions.  I attempted to wrestle it back into the locker but found myself floating between the bed and the ceiling, along with quite a bit of chain in my arms, when the boat dropped off the backside of one of those waves I mentioned.  I gave up the idea of dealing with the chain in these conditions, as a broken arm now could spell disaster.

The anchor chain spilling out of the chain locker.

A cabinet door in the galley popped open and let a brand new glass jar of olive oil fall out.  It unfortunately landed right on the Kenmore Elite glass electric inductive cooktop cracking the glass cooktop.  Oh well, we wanted to switch to propane anyway....  One of the window blinds in the salon broke free of it's mount and fell to the floor.  On it's way down to it's resting place it struck a wall mounted light fixture breaking off the little on/off knob.  The sliding door between the salon to the cockpit began to slide open on its own during side-to-side rolls and would slam hard against the stops.  It eventually broke one stop, and did some significant damage to the upper track and the side door jamb.  This will take major repairs to fix.  The boat picked up a "boatload" of creaks and groans during the trip.  I think I'm going to be spending a lot of time over the next year tightening every screw I can find, as well as removing many items so I can reattach them with screws AND glue.

Meanwhile, remember that fuel problem we are having, as all of this other suffering is going on?  Well, we are running on one engine, headed toward port getting beat up by the sea, with one seasick crewman, starting to wonder if we are going to make it non-stop as we had hoped.  Armed with not much more than determination to find the source of our fuel problem, Jeff B. and I head to the engine room.  Jeff is a machinist, a pilot, an adventurer (he just returned two days ago from several weeks of riding dirt bikes along the Baja Peninsula), a great mechanic, an ex-commercial fisherman, and the one person I know that I can truly call "MacGyver".  We spend about an hour taking apart various portions of the fuel system looking for the blockage.  It's hot, smelly, and noisy in the engine room, but we are are the center of roll and pitch so the motion of the boat is almost imperceptible.  Finally, we find it.  Installed just before the fuel filters is a fuel on/off valve.  It is completely plugged with debris.  You cannot see though the opening that is supposed to allow fuel to flow.  We clean it, put it back together, and fire up the engine.  No more fuel restriction, the vacuum gauge and fuel pressure reads normal and the engine is running strong!   Excellent!!!!  Thanks Jeff!!!!

We alter course and return to our original track plodding along the coast headed toward home, not to some unfamiliar port in Northern California.

Let's get this baby home!  Brett and Steve in the pilothouse.
Sleeping is interesting in these conditions.  The master stateroom has two beds, and there is a big couch in the salon.  This worked out well for our crew of four.  One person on watch, one tending to items onboard that needed attention, and two people sleeping.  The motion of the boat isn't bad down in the master stateroom.  It is possible to sleep here despite the terrible conditions and motion of the boat.  In the bow in the v-berth sleeping would be impossible.  I think that at times you would literally be tossed into the air and perhaps even reach the ceiling.  Not so in the master berth.  You do sense a little weightlessness at times, followed by your body being compressed into the mattress, but it's not bad and you can sleep through it.  I'm a big believer in mid-ship or aft staterooms in an ocean crossing boat.

At one point we burried the bow into the face of a huge wave which sent a ton of blue water flooding across the decks.  It turns out that the drains behind the pilothouse door are not very large.  Hundreds of gallons of water pooled up over these drains and flooded the area outside the pilthouse doors.  This let water rush in under the doors which flooded the floor of the pilothouse.  I was taking a nap in the master stateroom when I heard a desparate plee for towels.  That's a shocking way to wake up, let me tell you!  I rushed up to the pilothouse to find sea water sloshing back and forth on the floor.  That's a scary sight.  This happened a few more times, but we had packed towels around the base of the doors so not as much water got through.

For most of the trip the guys had a few fishing poles out.  We were in possible tuna or salmon territory and we are motoring along at about the ideal tuna fishing speed, for about 700 miles.  As a joke, Jeff and I conceive a little prank to play on Brett.  Jeff took a pair of his underwear and attached it to the hook at the end of Jeff's line.  Many hours later I come up to the pilothouse after coming back from an engine room check and say something like "I'm not much of a fisherman, but it looks to me like there's something on one of the poles".  That doesn't get much of a reaction.  But, curiosity eventually gets the better of Brett and he goes to take a look.  "Yep, there's something here" says Brett.  He grabs his pole and starts reeling; "hey, I think it might be a salmon..  But it's not putting up much of a fight; maybe it's been on there a while".  He reels in his catch:

I think it's a salmon!

No, it's the elusive blue and grey BVD...  Keeper!

We all had a good laugh over this.  We needed a little humor as it had already been a long trip and we still had a few more days to go.  Disgustingly the only thing we really did catch out there, 20-30 miles offshore was a plastic burrito wrapper!  Yuck.  What are we doing to our planet?  About this time the winds start to subside and things are getting better.  Finally a little break from the pounding.  We are treated to a nice sunset, and finally Brett is able to cook some spaghetti in the galley!  Ah, no more eating M&M's, trail mix, dried fruit, and trying not to spill our drinks (non-alcoholic or course!).  Life is returning to normal.  We can eat.  We can sleep.  We can once again walk like a sober person.

A nice evening 30 miles offshore.

Unfortunately our calm only lasted a day or so and the winds began to pick up again.  As we approached the Washington/Oregon border our calm subsided.  The winds were once again kicking up the waves and tossing my "new" boat around like a cork in a wading pool.  This time however, the winds are from the west.  This is not good as the waves are now hitting us from the side.  This is known as a "beam sea" and it is something that most boaters try to avoid.  Beam seas toss your boat from side to side which is VERY uncomfortable.

Our Hatteras is a boat that has what mariners refer to as a rounded (or soft) chine.  Where the side of the hull meets the bottom the transition is very smooth and rounded, like a sailboat.  Hard chined (or stiff) hulls have a very abrupt angle here, like a speedboat.  Most ocean crossing power boats have rounded chines because they allow the boat to roll more smoothly from side to side providing a less abrupt motion for the people.  But, they roll further than a hard chined boat.  We were seeing the boat roll 30 degrees to each side regularly.  Then 35 degress became somewhat common as the conditions worsened.  There were occasional rolls to 40 degrees and a few that reached 45 degrees.  It was less than 10 seconds from one side to the other.  I think some amusement park rides must have been designed by sea-going mariners.  Imagine your living room tipped at 45 degrees, in EACH direction for a total swing of 90 degrees.  That's what we we experiencing.  It was almost impossible to walk around.  Forget trying to cook a meal or even eat a snack.  Got to go to the bathroom?  Nope, you better just hold it for now.  We endured this beating for 2 days.  You get used to it, but it gets very tiresome and life is anything but normal.

The typical roll, around 30-35 degrees.  We saw it go to 45 degrees.
By now the noises in the boat are growing louder, and stranger.  There is one noise coming from underneath the pilothouse settee that sounds like a stack of plates falling against each other in Domino fashion.  Back and forth go these "plates".  It's loud, it's strange, and it's new.  It is REALLY loud in the master stateroom which makes sleeping in there a real challenge.  Then there is a noise that is related to the wind.  When the wind really whips up something begins to resonate and create a loud hum inside the boat.  It's a loud rumble and it is definitely tied to the wind.  I have since figured out that it is the SSB radio antenna that is causing it.  How to fix it; I don't know yet.  Creaks and groans are everywhere and they are louder now than at anytime in the trip.  Steve S. has nicknamed the boat "squeeky-teeky".  Geeze, I hope I can find all these noises and that Steve will rename the boat "silent-night".

Despite the noises, this is an impressive sea boat.  It can certainly take more than most people can.  It does roll a lot, but that is by design.  At 8 knots, having a boat with a stiff hull would be dangerous.  The motion would be so "snappy" that people would likely be tossed around which leads to injuries.  A faster boat can overcome some of this because as a boat goes faster it becomes more stable. But a faster boat couldn't carry enough fuel to make it from San Fran to La Conner non-stop.  Going fast burns a lot of fuel.  Long range boats are slow boats with their efficient speed and maximum range governed by their "hull speed".

After rocking and rolling our way up the Washington coast we finally make it to the Straight of Jan De Fuca and make our first course change since California.  We turn right and head into familiar waters.  Home is so close now.  But, at 7-8 knots it's still half a day away.  We are in the straight of Juan De Fuca all night and this is a place with a lot of commercial traffic.  Thank goodness for AIS (Automatic Identification System) that shows all of the commercial boats on our chartplotter.  It gives us their heading, their speed, their name, destination, type of ship, and more.  With this we know what is coming, both in front of us and behind us.  It is really cool, and it's a great safety item, particularly in fog or at night.

Screenshot of AIS on the chartplotter.  The white dotted lines are freighters.
I don't get cell coverage until about Victoria.  I've only had cell coverage for perhaps 50 miles out of the last 750 miles.  I am on AT&T.  The other guys have Verizon phones and they have had cell coverage at least 75% of the time.  All I can say, is if you are a boater, AT&T is NOT your best choice!

We slowly (agonizingly so) close in on Shelter Bay.  It's been a long trip and everyone is anxious to be home.  This is the type of trip though that most "hard-core" boaters wish to make.  I had quite a few potential crew members tell me that this is a trip that is on their "bucket list".  People were offering to pay their own way they wanted to do it so much.  It is the second time for me.  I would do it again in a heartbeat.  There is something special about being so far offshore that you can't see land.  It is amazing to see nothing but water and horizon in all directions.  You can watch the sunset in one direction and hours later see sunrise on the other side of the boat.  It is very satisfying to take a boat long distance.  To overcome technical issues.  To figure out a routine that works.  To have time to think and ponder.  To be away from TV and the internet.

Kathy took some pictures of Adagio when we were close to La Conner, and she got us on our final approach about to dock in Shelter Bay after running for 5 non-stop days up the coast covering about 900 miles of rugged ocean.

Less than 1 mile from home.  900 miles behind us.  We are going to make it!
Oh no!  Now I have to dock this thing?
Tied up in La Conner, safe and sound.  We are all happy to be home....

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