Bite the Bullet & Go
(Anacortes, WA to Newport, OR)
We (Steve & Lulu) purchased Siempre Sabado (ex Drifter) a Westsail 28 in Anacortes around the end of April. The Port would let us purchase slip time for up to 60 days but no more. Since we’re Oregonians we really wanted to keep the boat closer to home. We kept our last boat at Pleasant Harbor Marina in Brinnon, WA for 12 years and enjoyed everything about it except the drive. Besides, Siempre Sabado is to be our retirement boat and therefore needed lots of things done before she was ready to head south to Margaritaville. Having her closer to home would make all these projects much more do-able.
After visiting the boat acouple of times, the end of our 60-day grace period was fast approaching. We had to either find another marina in Washington to stay at until we worked up the nerve to tackle the Pacific, or just bite the bullet and go. We chose the latter. If we were going to sail to Mexico someday, we had to step out in the ocean sooner or later. No time like the present.
Saturday, June 23, 2007. Anacortes, WA.
Back at the boat, our main jobs were to put the name on the boat enter all the waypoints for the journey into the GPS, get 4 blocks of ice, hang some gear hammocks, and uncover and rig the sails. That’s about it. Lulu tackled the name. Since our boat is documented by the Coast Guard instead of simply being licensed by the State, one of the requirements is that the name and hailing port be prominently displayed in letters at least 4″ high. We bought the graphics from Capt. John’s Boat Graphics in Florida. It’s basically a big decal except that each letter is an individual decal, not attached to the other letters except by the backing paper which gets peeled off. I could see myself completely screwing this job up so I gave it to Lulu. She’s much more methodical and meticulous about (some) stuff than I am. It turned out to be easier than we had anticipated and, about an hour later, “the boat” had officially become S/V Siempre Sabado and from here on out she will be referred to either by her full name or by the initials SS. No more references to “the boat”.
Meanwhile, I was entering waypoints into the GPS. Using a chart that our friend Samantha had given us showing the whole trip, I entered about 30 individual waypoints. The waypoints are entered as latitude and longitude but there aren’t any number keys. Instead each number and letter has to be entered by scrolling through the alphabet/numbers/symbols. Each waypoint consisted of at least 8 characters, so it was a lot of button pushing. But, once done, our route was nicely laid out.
The rest of the day’s jobs were done before noon. We could have followed Samantha-the-sailing-gerbil’s advice and gotten underway in the afternoon. She suggested we head over to Lopez Is. for the night just to get the first little leg out of the way. But, as Lopez was not in my programmed route and, more importantly, we didn’t want to, we instead took the afternoon off and strolled down to the Watertown Tavern for a going away dinner and a couple brews. We turned in fairly early with plans to get up about 0430 and be underway by 0500. To really take advantage of the currents in Guemes channel, we should have left earlier. While it was light enough to see earlier, it wasn’t light enough to operate without running lights. And I knew that my masthead white light was not working. Having no way to get to the top of the mast yet, it was simply not going to be working during the trip. That’s one thing when out at sea, quite another when cruising by Coast Guard stations. So, we opted to wait until it was lighter to go.
Sunday, June 24. 2007. Anacortes WA to Crescent Bay, WA.
Although I had the alarm on my watch set for 0430, we were both up at 0415. By 0455 we had slipped our dock lines and were underway. Now, I’ve been kind of nervous about this trip ever since we first decided to do it but once we actually got started I found that I wasn’t really nervous at all. Of course, the fact that we undocked without incident helped a lot. On Saturday, in order for Lulu to put the name on the port side of the stern, we had to turn the boat around. For those who aren’t aware, Westsails have a canoe stern. With no big flat transom to stick the name to, we need to have the name on both sides of the aft end of the hull. We used lines and turned her around by hand and then decide to leave her sitting that way (backed in to her slip) so that we wouldn’t have to do the dreaded backing out maneuver in the morning. We could just put her in gear and go. And that’s exactly how it worked. A stress-free start.
True to Samantha’s current tables, we made really good time heading out Guemes Channel. We found ourselves making 8 knots over the ground under power. In perfectly still water, with our engine turning about 1900-2000 RPMs, we would normally make about 4.5-4.8 knots so the current was giving us a boost of around 3.5 knots. Nice way to start the day. As is very common up there, the early morning was windless.
Now, before I go on, I need to make a confession. Lulu and I are actually novice sailors. In spite of having owned our previous boat for 12 years, we really have very little actual sailing experience. Consequently, unless conditions were really ideal, it was unlikely that we would do much pure sailing this trip. Conditions were never ideal as it turns out. We either had too little or no wind, or the wind that we did have was coming from directly ahead of us. Now, when we actually start world-cruising, we will pretty much have to sail in whatever comes our way if only because we carry a limited amount of fuel. But the big difference then is that we will not have a schedule. Although we would have liked to sail more of the trip, we also wanted to get to Newport as quickly as possible. So, we ran the motor the whole way (except for a few brief periods which I’ll tell you about later). We did motorsail a good share of the time.
The weather was calm but it was kind of cool out so Lulu went below to stay warm and get a little shut-eye. We use scopolamine patches (Transderm Scop) to avoid seasickness and they tend to make her sleepy. They don’t make me sleepy but do give me a slightly dry mouth which, when under stress, becomes and EXTREMELY dry mouth. More on that later.
Anyway, I was in the cockpit happily steering SS toward her next waypoint, enjoying the day. Eventually the fun of hand-steering began to pale and I decided to hook up the autopilot. This consists of setting one end into a socket on the gunwale, plugging the electrical connection in, operating the steering piston until it’s centered over the pin on the tiller, dropping the steering arm onto the pin and then just making minor course adjustments occasionally by pressing one button or another. This is what I set out to do. I don’t remember exactly what interrupted me partway through the setup, but for some reason I didn’t finish. Now comes the first incident of extreme good luck of the journey. As I’m sitting there steering and looking around, I notice that the socket that the pilot hooks in to on the gunwale is no longer on the gunwale! It’s just sitting on deck near the back of the boat where one errant roll could toss it right over the side. What the..? This piece was bolted to its mounting plate by three bolts. All three had rotted off. The mounting plate is bronze, the socket is aluminum and the bolts were brass (I think). Throw in some seawater and the least noble of these metals (brass) will begin to dissolve. Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc and zinc is the metal that we use as a sacrifice to protect our engine, propellor, etc from being eaten away by electrolysis. If I had finished connecting the autopilot, the first time that it exerted pressure on the tiller, the socket would have come off the bracket and dropped into the drink. The autopilot may have followed unless the electrical connection was enough to hold it onboard. However, as it happens, we still have all the pieces and I can surely make repairs tonight at anchor. But now I’m stuck hand-steering. This is okay for a little while but eventually it starts to rain and the experience pales a bit. I tried various self-steering ideas like simply lashing the tiller amidships using spare lines. That didn’t work. She just kept wandering way off course. Then I noticed this green bungee cord. It had been stretched between 2 of the lifeline stanchions from day one and I always kind of wondered what it was for. It was a fairly long bungee. So, I hooked one end to an aft mooring cleat on one side of the cockpit, took a turn around the tiller and then hooked the other end to the cleat on the other side. I could adjust the tension on one side or the other by just adjusting which side of the bungee was stretched more. It’s no autopilot but it worked pretty well. I couldn’t leave it completely unattended but I at least did not have to have my hand on the tiller every second anymore.
We headed across the Straits of Juan DeFuca in the way that would have us in open water for a long time. We followed the outside edge of the Vehicle Trafic Separation Zone or whatever that highway-for-big-ships is called. As I write this, I don’t have my charts handy to refer to.
All-in-all, the day was pretty uneventful. We did get into a squall that kept me pretty wet (although underneath my foul weather gear I was nice and dry and warm). Lulu stayed below most of the day except when I needed her topside to cover for me while I was taking a bathroom break, entering positions on the chart or just warming up. She kept me supplied with coffee, tea and water. Would’ve kept me supplied with food too except that I wasn’t particularly hungry. The Scop was really kicking her butt by keeping her very sleepy but she was always right there when I needed her.
I did a fairly bad job of log-keeping. I’d write down the coordinates of our position every hour or so in a little spiral notepad. Then, occasionally I’d transfer the information to the paper charts just to double-check where we were (the GPS is equipped with its own built-in charts). I have another spiral-bound notebook that I intended to use as a logbook until we can find something nicer. So some of my notes went in there. Of these, the only thing that came home with me is the little notepad. So I have to try to remember/guess at everything else. All that to say that we arrived at Crescent Bay at about 1700 and were anchored by 1715 (if I remember right). The rain quit and we had a very pleasant evening. Used kerosene lamps to save on battery power…need to be able to start the engine in the AM after all. But actually, we didn’t really stay up late enough to need much of any lamps.
Oh yeah, while at anchor I repaired the autopilot mounting so we could use the pilot. Good thing, too.
Monday, June 25, 2007. Crescent Bay, WA to somewhere along the northern Washington coast
The first part of the day was very uneventful. We raised the anchor without incident and got underway while I disengaged about 50 lbs. of seaweed that was now decorating our hook. Our destination today was Neah Bay, the last stop in Washington before heading out to sea. We needed to take on fuel and get some ice before heading out and figured that this would be a good spot to rest up before started out. One last good night’s sleep. The trip to Neah Bay was so uneventful that the notes in my notepad consist of:
6/25: Underway @ 0455; Arr. Neah Bay @ 1500
That’s it. No whales, no dolphins, a few freighters far in the distance.
We took on 10.74 gallons of diesel at Neah Bay which meant that we were consuming about 0.5 gallons per hour which is about half what the engine manual said we’d use. Yee-haw! We managed to tie up to the fuel dock and get underway from the fuel dock without hitting anything or looking stupid, so the stop was a success. While there, we decide that it was silly to stop this early in the day. If we pressed on, we could be around Tatoosh Island and well on our way before the sun went down at about 2130 or a little later. This turned out to be our second lucky decision of the trip. If we had waited until morning to leave, we would have entered Newport in rain, strong winds and low visibility instead of the calm conditions under which we actually did arrive. So, underway from Neah Bay at 1530.
Two hours later we rounded Tatoosh Island and were officially in the Pacific Ocean. The water was calm. Big easy swells, maybe 1-2 feet but with a long period in between. Just a gently rolling ride. No wind but plenty of sunshine. Nice and warm. Not being the least bit tired, I chose to stay on watch. Lulu hit the rack trying desperately to overcome the drug-induced sleepies. Now that we were in the ocean, the skipper imposed the following rules:
1.) Lifejacket mandatory when on deck
2.) Harness mandatory when on deck
3.) Must be tethered to the boat anytime you’re on deck alone (even in the cockpit)
4.) Do not leave the cockpit (except to go below) unless there’ someone else on deck
The main idea here is that, if one of us should accidentally go overboard while the other is below (maybe sleeping), it would be a very good idea to be attached to the boat and the chances of going overboard are better when out of the cockpit so we’d make sure that there was someone there to see you go and take appropriate action. The tethers were sometime a pain but not nearly as big a pain as falling into the water and watching the boat sail away without you.
We headed down the coast making about 5 knots under power but with the mainsail hoisted with one reef. As the evening wore on, the swells increased in size and decreased in period, making for a much rollier ride. This was exacerbated by the fact that we struck the main just before dark just in case. By about midnight, I’d had enough. I woke Lulu and told her that I was throwing in the towel..I needed some sleep pretty bad. Although the ride had gotten pretty wild a few times earlier in the evening, by midnight it wasn’t all that bad. The Scop was still keeping me quease-free. This made it so that even when the ride was wild, it was still pretty fun.
Lulu got on her gear and came topside. I gave her a briefing and then headed below for some shut-eye. Everything I’ve ever read says that the Vee-berth is a horrible place to try to sleep in a bouncy sea. I asked Lulu how it had been and she said it was fine. Couldn’t wait to find out for myself. Climbed into bed and wedged myself up against the hull. My bent legs and arm acted as an outrigger to keep me stable. Seemed pretty darn comfortable to me. Promptly fell asleep, rocking like a baby.
When the diesel engine has been running steadily for many hours (in this case it had been running continuously for the past 10 hours), it becomes background noise. So, at about 0130 when the noise of the diesel slowed down and then stopped, I was out of bed like a shot. Headed to the cockpit to ask Lulu what happened. She said that it just slowed down and quit all of a sudden. I wasn’t really surprised. Actually I had been expecting it. Every story I ever read about people heading off-shore in a boat that has spent many many years in protected waters has the same thing happen. During all those years gunk builds up in the diesel tank. Not usually a problem. But when you venture out into the ocean and get tossed around like a rubber duck in a washing machine, the gunk breaks loose and mixes with the fuel. Before too long, the fuel filters have done their job and become clogged with the gunk. I’ve heard many stories where that was someone’s undoing. You have to change the filter to get going again. The conditions that caused the plug-up are not exactly conducive to working in a hot cramped engine room. Nevertheless, it had to be done. Lulu attempted to keep SS pointed into the waves so we wouldn’t get sideways in the trough and REALLY roll. She did a good job and even managed to make some headway. Meanwhile, I screwed up my courage to dive into the engine room and do the dirty deed. I had started the trip with 5 filters so I felt pretty confident that we had plenty. SS was rolling and bouncing around something fierce. The swells were probably 4-5 feet and pretty close together so it made for a very bumpy ride. Thank goodness for Scopolamine.
The engine room on SS is a little area beneath the cockpit. It’s accessed through a door behind the companionway ladder. It’s pretty cramped, even for a hobbit like me. To get in, you first have to remove the ladder and put it somewhere out of the way. Then move the wastebasket that normally resides behind the ladder. Open the locker that has the fuel tank in it and shut the fuel off. Open the engine room door and tie it open with a bungee. Make sure you have a trash bag, a paper cup, the new filter and the appropriate gaskets. Then turn around a back into the engine room being very careful not to touch anything hot enough to burn you. Around the far side of the engine is the filter. It holds about 2 cups of fuel which has to be drained before you can remove the filter. Drain the fuel and transfer it into a milk jug, trying not to spill as the ocean attempts to shake your boat to pieces. Now remove the old fouled filter. It’s just hand tight. Or at least it’s supposed to be. I only tightened it hand-tight when I put it on last time but it sure is tighter now. And, owing to its position against a bulkhead, it’s difficult to get a good grip. You have to mainly use your fingertips and thumbtips. But, just as you’re about to pound a screwdriver through it and use that as a handle, it starts to move. Spin the old filter off, replace the gaskets and o-rings and, fill the new filter with clean diesel and spin it on. Just hand-tight, now. Put the old filter and gaskets in the trash bag along with the paper drain cup and climb out of the engine room. Replace the wastebasket and the ladder. Turn the fuel back on. Climb out into the cockpit and start the engine. It starts right up. And then dies. You go through this a few more times until finally it catches and keeps running (once all the air has worked out of the fuel lines…the Wetserbeke is self-priming, thank goodness).
For some reason, the combination of Scopolamine and adrenaline makes my mouth REALLY REALLY REALLY dry. This is a level of dry that common cotton mouth could only dream of aspiring to. There is a complete absence of even the memory of moisture in my mouth. Fortunately, we have plenty of water on board and the condition is temporary.
With the filter changed and the adrenaline still pumping a bit, I couldn’t go back to sleep so I sent Lulu below to get some shuteye. However, after a couple more hours, I had to give up and have her relieve me again.
6/26/2007, somewhere off the Washington coast
Today went pretty smooth until late. The weather was fair, at least it didn’t rain. We went from pretty calm seas to very rolly seas off and on. When I say rolly, I’m talking about 4-5 foot swells (I’m trying to be honest here – they looked a lot bigger than that and felt bigger still) that had SS acting like a boat in the movies. You’ve all seen the footage of the big sailing ship pounding through the waves. First the bowsprit is 10′ off the water and then it comes crashing down almost to the surface, blowing white water off to both sides of the hull. That’s how Siempre Sabado was behaving. It was actually quite fun and looked way cool. During the course of the day we eventually raised (and left up) our mainsail with a second reef and our staysail. The reason for the second reef is that our staysail is small enough that w/o the smaller main, SS is poorly balanced. Because our staysail has its own boom, we could sheet both it and the main in tight while motorsailing. I’d guess that we averaged an extra knot and a half by using the sails.
At this point my calculations indicate that we have about 28 gallons of fuel remaining in the tank plus we have another 20 gallons in jerry jugs on deck.. Clearly, running out of fuel doesn’t look like it will be a problem.
It’s a very smooth day. I spotted a whale at one point. He was between us and the shore. I saw this big thing sticking out of the water. Then it turned a little and dropped back in. That’s when I figured out it was a whale. It was several miles off. Lulu saw one do the same thing either later that day or the next and then we both saw another one later yet. The weather has been cooperating. It actually got hot a few times. We snacked and visited and drove the boat.
1800: The engine quit again. Changed filters again. The last filter lasted 15 hours. That’s not that good, but we should still be OK. We still have 3 more to go. The ocean was very rough while I was changing this one. It even got past the Scop and made me just a wee bit queasy. I’ve always read that ginger is good for mal de mer. So we have ginger ale on board as well as a jar full of candied ginger. I figured I’d try a piece of the candied ginger. Bad idea. It no sooner hit my stomach than it was on its way back out again. Fortunately, that was the extent of the seasickness. Tried the ginger ale and it not only stayed down, it tasted good and helped a lot with the Scop/adrenaline drymouth.
Let me tell you a little about what it’s like in a small boat in a churning seaway. Remember on Star Trek how whenever they were hit with photon torpedoes or something thay would go flying from one side of the bridge to the other? That’s what it felt like. You’re just no match for the forces that are acting on you. The boat is small so you don’t get thrown far but you get smacked against first one side and then the other. You feel clumsier than you’ve ever felt. After awhile you do learn to wait for favorable lurches to do whatever it is you want to do. No sense fighting things. When you get out in the cockpit and finally get in position to sit down, the lurching and rolling just plops you down. Fortunately, the places where you need some control (the head, the engine room) are small enough that you can wedge yourself in and remain pretty stable.
1900: Engine quit again. Changed another filter. This one only lasted an hour. That leaves us only 2 to go. That’s really not good. We need to save one to put in just before our trip into Yaquina Bay. Can’t have the engine quitting between the jetties.
As midnight approaches, we are approaching the mouth of the Columbia. We are about 5 miles offshore. During the whole trip we were between 5 and 15 miles offshore. Supposedly this is a crab pot-free zone. Yeah, maybe. We saw plenty of pots but maybe not as many as we would if we were farther out or closer in. There’s been very little boat/ship traffic this trip. However, as we approach the Columbia, the boat traffic definitely picks up. You’re supposed to be able to tell from the running lights what direction the other boats are coming or going. But those freakin’ fishing boats! They’re lit up like a grand opening at a shopping mall. This one had a bright light on it and I assumed it was coming towards us. The light was that yellow sodium vapor color. Then, I don’t know why, but he changed from that color to bright bright bright white. Impossible to see whether there were running lights so I just had to guess where he was going. I finally changed course drastically and he eventually passed behind me. These things were all over the place. I’m watching this and just hoping that my engine doesn’t quit again. Between the engine and the fishing boats I’m way too keyed up to sleep. Lulu tries several time to get me to go to bed but I won’t. But a few hour later I’m starting to get tired. A couple times the engine started to die but I revved it up and then set it back to its original position and it continued on OK. I’m sitting in the cockpit tuned to the sound of the engine lest it die before I can rev it up and I start to see things. We have a horseshoe life buoy hanging on the stern rail. In my peripheral vision, it would become a person that moved around a little. Several other objects also cam alive occasionally. Lulu reported that when she was in the Vee-berth, she could hear a radio playing. Not loud enough to really identify what was playing but loud enough to sound like a radio. Turns out these things are not that uncommon when sleepy and hopped up on scopolamine.
Finally, after babying the engine along I couldn’t stay awake any longer. I rousted Lulu and she took over. I told her what I did to keep the engine running and I hit the rack. Except for one instance when I thought it sounded like she was having trouble with the engine (she wasn’t) I actually slept for about 3 hours in a row. That’s the longest stretch that I would get during the whole trip.
June 27, 2007: From around Seaside, OR to Newport OR
Really nice day today. Warm and pretty sunny. The seas are fairly calm too. At least most of the time they are. We had a few bouncy stretches but not too many or too bad. Our prediction is that we should arrive in Newport at about 1900 this evening. Not too much to report today. We have 2 filters left and have been babying the current one since yesterday evening. It keeps going.
As late afternoon approaches, we make plans for entering the harbor. Douse the sails and change the filter again. This time it’s mainly just so we have a fresh one in when we start up the entry channel. The old one was still working when we removed it. After an hour or so, the engine falters again, even with the new filter. Manage to keep it running but now I start to worry a bit. Seems like a pretty good chance that she could quit while we’re making our approach. Man, I really hope not! When we get near the bouy signifying the entrance to the channel, I consider changing to our last filter just in case. Lulu says she thinks we should just go for it. The old filter has been doing fine as long as we stay tuned to the engine sounds and act accordingly. I let her talk me into continuing on with the old filter. It wasn’t that hard as I didn’t really want to go below and do another change anyway. As we approach the channel between the north and south jetties, I take over steering duties from the autopilot. Lulu rigs the fenders and the mooring lines. We’re about halfway through the channel when it happens. The engine slows down. No amount of throttle will bring it back up. Then it dies. My stomach hurts right now just writing about it. I reached down to the controls and tried to start it back up. It catches. It’s running! I keep the revs up as we continue on in. Now I hope that it will also run at slow speed as I can’t dock under full speed. My heart is in my throat as I slow the engine down and we turn in to the Port of Newport. We almost turn up the wrong fairway but Lulu catches the mistake in time. We find our fairway and slowly motor in. The docks aren’t marked so we have to more or less guess which slip is ours. Good thing we were here once before. We find our slip and do a nice little pivot to get into position. We slide on in. Lulu hops off and stops the boat with the spring line. We tie up. secure the engine and let out a huge sigh of relief. We’re home. And we’ve made our first (of many, we hope) ocean passages by ourselves on our own boat. Siempre Sabado feels more like our boat now than she has since we bought her.
We arrived at Newport at 6:45 PM, 15 minutes ahead of the prediction we made that morning.
And, although we didn’t follow the appropriate name-changing rules (unstep the mast. do a couple 720 degree turns, pour some rum into the water for Neptune, etc.), we’re pretty sure that, given the good luck that befell us on this trip, Neptune hasn’t taken umbrage at our ignoring tradition.