Kids, Don't Try This At Home!

Hi, and welcome to the adventures of "Triton", a 45' Robertson & Caine Leopard catamaran we purchased in July of 2007, in Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands. We sailed her back to Emeryville, California, located in the lovely San Francisco East Bay area, worked a few more years, then set off cruising in the fall of 2014. This journal is the story of our ongoing adventure, the folks we've met along the way, and the hardships and joys of that journey. Please read along and let us know what you think!

You can click
here to start from the very beginning of the entire adventure. You can navigate from post to post simply by clicking the NEXT or PREVIOUS phrases at the top or bottom of each page. To find out what we've been fixing, changing, upgrading, click on the Triton Boat Work link under Related Websites. If you want to subscribe to this blog (and get emails letting you know whenever we update it) just click on the icon that says "subscribe to: posts (atom)" at the bottom of each page.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Home Coming: The Triton Crew Returns


There is probably no more welcome view a sailor can hope to see than the entrance of their home port after a long journey. In our case, it was the Golden Gate Bridge, spanning the passage into the San Francisco Bay. Today, we finally got to see just that as we crossed between Marin and San Francisco on our way home to Emeryville, California.

After four years of investigation, too much analysis, planning, and preparation (and spending most of my life's savings), after more than a year of bashing into waves, running with the wind, avoiding slavers, pirates, privateers and other government officials, overcoming the hardships of the sea, fixing just about everything at least once, managing crew mates and logistics that would have tried the patience of Drake himself, and worst of all, having to return back to our day jobs, we finally sailed Triton to her new home port.  Well, motored a lot, actually.   This is a picture of her just a few months afterwards, nestled at dock in Emery Cove Yacht Harbor.  What you don't see is a picture of the exhausted crew, or the depleted bank accounts.

We left Half Moon Bay on March 8th, 2008. Everyone who had been crew on Triton were meeting us in our parking lot in Emery Cove Yacht Harbor before 10am. We had rented two large vans from Enterprise Car Rentals in Berkeley, to ferry everyone down to Half Moon Bay. Par for the course, and in keeping with numerous other vendor experiences over the last two years, when we arrived to pick up the vehicles they weren't ready yet.
So, we waited while they dicked around. What pissed me off, though, was the attitude of the manager of the facility, which was indignant and annoyed that we were complaining because they'd made promises they couldn't keep, instead of apologizing and offering us coffee while we waited. We walked across the street and bought our own. It will be a long time before I use them again, but it was still better to be ignored, mistreated and abused in English by American incompetents then anywhere else in the world. Home Sweet Home. It isn't half as bad when it's the home team letting you down.

Eventually we were given our rental vans, and picked up the crowd milling about our parking lot. They were a motley crew if ever there was one. None the less it was great having everyone all in one place, and the ride down was replete with stories of our adventures and laughs about our trials and tribulations. We arrived at Triton in Half Moon Bay, loaded everyone on, waited for a few stragglers, and headed up the coast. On board were almost everyone who had ever sailed with us, but some folks just couldn't make it, and they were greatly missed.

It was a cold, windy day and a bit foggy and overcast as we motored almost directly into the wind. We had hoped to do a little sailing, but as usual the Weather Gods were determined to make us pay for every inch of progress we made. A few folks made offerings to the sea (mostly to the sea, some of it we had to wash off the coamings), but this didn't seem to appease the Gods and the wind and waves picked up as we approached the headlands of San Francisco.

The waves were about four feet, short and square, which meant we bashed a bit more than was fun, and the motion was a bit uncomfortable for everyone. Well, at least that is what others have told me. I was so absorbed in making sure everything was functioning properly on the boat, checking that we didn't lose anyone overboard and looking out for the dreaded Coast Guard, that I never actually noticed how green so many folks were getting. At one point, someone was heard to say "Please move, you are blocking my horizon."

It is funny though, because you really do get used to the motion of a boat over time. I've no doubt that the same journey two years ago would have had me green. This time it barely registered that we were moving. In fact, I felt worse once back on land. None the less, the conditions were not great, and the cold and wind didn't help anyone's mood. We motored along, and fought our way north until we could see the entrance to San Francisco Bay.

Along the way I couldn't help remembering all the great times and crazy antics I'd watched. Mota hanging off the bow in a rainbow colored muumuu, misplacing Thorny in Panama city, Robert having sex with turtles, just to name a few, but there were stories galore for each of them, and I could not have made the trip without them all. I am so grateful for their help, their encouragement and their support. I've no doubt I made numerous mistakes along the way, but it was a special part of my life that I will always look back on with great fondness. I'm glad to know these strange and weird people, foolish enough though they are to jump on a boat and sail out over the edge of the world with a madman for a captain, but most of all I am proud to call them my friends! They did it for the adventure, without pay, usually without clothes, and they were all wonderful to be with.Take a good look at these folks. It is cold, windy, wet and miserable out, most of them feel seasick at this moment, yet they are all smiling and happy to be alive. These are the kind of folks you want to take with you on your college road trip, or hiking across the Himilayas, or into outer space. They are fabulous, fun, special and they won't let you down when the going gets rough. They are the kind of people that move the world. There are a few missing from the photo [Jeff, Holly, Thorny, Rain, Robert] who couldn't make it this day, but they were all there in spirit. They will all always have a standing welcome on Triton, and I hope they will crew with us again once we embark on our next journey into parts foreign and unknown.

As we traveled under the Golden Gate Bridge, and entered San Francisco Bay proper, the wind and waves subsided, and everyone's stomaches settled down as well. AnnMarie made several trays of lasagna, and we had a Thanks Giving Dinner that couldn't be beat. We pulled up to the dock around 5:30PM, about a half hour sooner (but about five months later) than we had planned. Our journey was over, we were back home and land lubbers again.

It was a bittersweet moment. I was relieved be home, to have sailed over four thousand miles with everyone aboard safe and sound, proud that we lived up to our desires to never sail into a weather if we didn't have to, and most of all, happy to have completed something that most folks would never even try.

That may sound like a great achievement, but the effort was only possible because I had such great help. The crew that sailed from BVI to Trinidad [AnnMarie, Erik & Qat], then from Trinidad to Panama [Jeff, Mota, Jen, Mike & MaryAnn (with AnnMarie joining us in Aruba)] then the glorious time we [Jeff, Mota & I] spent in the San Blas Islands, then going through the Panama Canal [AnnMarie, Jeff, Thorny, Eric & Qat], from Panama to Costa Rica [Jeff, Thorny & Holly], from Costa Rica to Nicaragua [Ian, Robinson, Jacob & Roxanne], from Nicaragua to Mexico [Rain, Robert & Robinson] and most especially, from Mexico to San Francisco [Mike, John & AnnMarie], who took on the very toughest part of the trip, as well as the folks [Kiko, Eric, Don] who tried hard to come and through no fault of their own couldn't make it, not to mention the incredible help from all the wonderful cruisers we met along the way. We were blessed with great good fortune in the form of wonderful friends we hope to see again soon.

Most importantly, I could never have attempted this without the amazing support of my partner in crime, my better third, the admiral of the fleet, SHE WHO MUST BE OBEYED: AnnMarie. Her efforts during this journey were never adequately praised, and she got the fuzzy end of the lollipop considering the legs she sailed all turned out to be the most difficult. We beat the whole way from BVI to Trinidad, we were in a gale (with a broken auto pilot) the entire time from Aruba to Panama (so her watches meant steering by hand in lousy weather), and endured the bashing from San Diego to San Francisco. She suffered through all of that without complaint, and worked hard to do everything she could to make everyone aboard happy, comfortable and well fed. When she wasn't with us, she worked 80hours a week at home (she started and owns her own accounting agency) keeping us solvent. She is truly the hero of this adventure.

To everyone else who made this dream come true, and especially to our devoted readers, I say thank you for your dear support, your overwhelming encouragement, and we love you all.

Wishing you all fair winds and following seas...

Robb Triton


Monday, March 3, 2008

Half Moon Bay: Waiting for Godot


If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans.

We arrived in Half Moon Bay last month, ostensibly just for a few days, in order to regroup, rest up, and clean up. The day after we arrived, Sunday, was beautiful: warm and sunny. We were half tempted just to motor the rest of the way home, but we were tired and wanted to invite everyone aboard for the final run home.

Half Moon Bay is a well protected harbor in a south facing bay that lies underneath the headlands that make up the bottom of Silicon Valley. It is only a few miles from San Francisco, and a great place to sail if you are looking for a quick weekend trip from inside the bay. The area has a large sea wall the encloses the main harbor, and then a second sea wall with a marina tucked inside it. It is a working marina, with numerous fishing vessels moored here, and crabbers selling their catch along the pier. The docks are old, and a bit ragged, many of the boats are in even worse condition, but I love the area, and the folks were friendly and helpful.

Our initial plan was to wait until the following weekend, organize everyone who had ever served as crew aboard Triton (without managing to get kicked off), then sail north the last twenty miles, with all on deck as we went under the Golden Gate Bridge and into San Francisco Harbor. Our good friend and long time crewmate Jeff H. (see "eggerator" in the index for a funny story about him) had made plans to leave the country (for an entire month) the Friday before our trip, but we'd convinced him that he really needed to be with us, so he changed his plans! It looked like most everyone was going to be able to make it.

But the Gods found out first. That week, a storm brewed up out of the Pacific. It was predicted to contain hurricane strength winds, seas of biblical proportions, and a rain of frogs. We watched the weather reports carefully all week, hoping the jet stream might change direction, but it continued to amplify the low pressure system headed our way. On top of that, a cold front was swinging up along the bottom of it, carrying along rain clouds, gusty wind and a thunderbolt or two. Very ominous.

In the meantime, we cleaned the boat. Very much like her crew, Triton's hygiene had been neglected for several months as we'd pushed our way north, and she needed a good bath and a wash behind her ears. In fact, there were parts of her (like Robinson's bathroom) that hadn't been properly cleaned the entire time he was aboard. It was disgusting and the smell emanating from the head could knock a buzzard off a shit wagon. We took turns attacking it with various chemicals while holding our breath. We resolved never to let a future crew member aboard unless they left a cleaning deposit in advance.

Unfortunately, the weather in Half Moon Bay that week was horrible. Foggy, damp, with a cold, drizzling rain most days. We tore the boat apart and pressure washed every inch, scouring away sea grime from surfaces that hadn't seen the light of day since Panama, and battling bacterial that, if left undeterred, would soon discover fire, invent the wheel and elect their own form of government. We spent most of our time in rain slickers, on our hands and knees, deep inside bilges, cupboards, closets and cubby holes, pushing ourselves pretty hard after such a long sea voyage, but still hadn't finished as Friday approached.

In the midst of all this toiling, our good friends Ted, Suzanne and Blair stopped by to say hi. They were in the area, and we were thrilled to see them again, and delighted for any excuse to go out to dinner somewhere warm. We dined at a local fish restaurant called"Sam's Chowder House", located just a block south of the marina on Route 1. The food was fantastic and we highly recommend it. There are several other restuarants in the area, but they pale in comparison. We especially didn't like the Half Moon Bay Brewery just down the road from the marina.

What worried us most was that weather system off the coast was still picking up steam. A low pressure system in the upper atmosphere had linked up with the surface depression, reinforcing and strengthening it. The predictions were becoming quite dire, and many folks were shocked that we were still considering moving the boat under those conditions. We talked about it for a while and decided that only reason we were sailing was to meet a self-imposed schedule, and that although our boat could easily handle the conditions, there was no compelling reason to put our friends and crew in harm's way needlessly, so we decided to postpone the trip until the following weekend, although we felt really bad for the inconvenience we'd caused everyone.

In the meantime a really ominous storm brewed up along the coast and slammed into the marina. It was odd watching thousands of seagulls nestle into the sea wall and crowd in along the waterfront. I've never seen so many birds together in one place since "The Birds". They were even a bit quiet and still, like in the movie. Scary, in a Alfred Hitchcock kind of way.

So, given that the storm was going to dump on us, and we couldn't get much else done, we packed up the car and drove home to spend some time on our houseboat "Hurrikane" in Emeryville, mostly to sit quietly in front of a space heater without having to do anything. We drove home in the rain, took off our clothes and flopped into bed. And got sick. Really sick. The kind of sick where you welcome the grave. I'm not sure what kind of bug it was, but it was virulent. Perhaps the Spanish Flu, the one that killed 18 million people last century, was trying to make a come back? Maybe it was something we came in contact with when we cleaned Robinson's head. Whatever it was, both AnnMarie and I were death-warmed-over for almost ten days. We were laid out in bed next to each other barely able to move, unconscious most of the time; coughing, sneezing and hacking up various internal organs whenever we were awake. It was not fun.

We are only now beginning to feel better, and still aren't fully recovered yet. Last night we went for a ride back down to the boat to check on her and stopped for a lovely meal at the restaurant next to the harbor. We've rescheduled with the crew for this weekend, although not everyone can make it this time. We're disappointed it didn't work out better, but, in keeping with the traditions of the sea, you pay for every inch you sail against the wind.

In the meantime, we will be moving the boat on Saturday, March 8th, and will be crossing under the Golden Gate some time around 4pm. We'll post our position on (look for KD6TAJ) as we approach the gate. If you have a spare minute, please wave as we go by. We are also planning a boat warming party on the following Sunday, March 9th, between 10am and 2pm. If you are in the area, please drop by and say hi.

Cheers for now,



Sunday, February 10, 2008

Point Conception: What A Drag!


Hello Northern California!

AnnMarie arrived the other day and we quickly headed north. The weather gods decided to punish us for moving the boat so quickly by throwing wind and waves at our bows. We bumped and bashed along, making less than four knots over much of it. The temps rarely got above sixty five, and the wind chill made it feel much worse. We wear our foulies most of the time now, and hats that can also be used as birth control, cause no one is gonna sleep with you if you're wearing it.

We motored continuously, with swells and chop coming from several different directions at once. Every so often a few waves would combine to leap up and smack our boat, jarring everyone aboard and making a booming noise that reverberated through the entire boat and slowing our progress.

The next morning I came on deck to discover that the port side trampoline, recently restrung with line we'd bought in Mexico, had parted. The constant bashing had snapped the line in several places. Two sides of it were still tied to the boat, but the other two dragged through the water with each wave that slammed into us. We reduced speed as I put on all my foulies, PFD, harness and clipped in to the jack lines, then went up on the bow to cut the tramp away from the boat. After hanging on the end of a cold, slippery bow while it bounced along through the waves, I managed to wrestle it back aboard and stow it in the cockpit. Then I went inside, and warmed up over a tin can of seafood. This is definitely not the glamorous cruising life you see on the magazine covers.

We reached Cojo Cove, just beneath Point Conception, at sunset and dropped the hook. There were a few large Coast Guard mooring balls just outside the anchorage, but these were reserved for the various oil rigs tenders, rescue ships and other such corporate and government boats that frequent the area. The winds were from the northeast, around fifteen knots but gusting to twenty five every so often, so we were nervous about making sure we had a good grip on the bottom. I added a smaller 20lb Danforth (something I've done many times before) to the end of the big CQR, but I had little faith in our primary anchor. We'd had nothing but problems with it in the past; it never set well, tended to drag, and didn't handle wind changes very well.

We dropped the hook in twenty-six feet of water over what was described as hard sand, taking pains to lower the anchor slowly, allowing the small anchor to touch, then slowly drifting back as we laid down the larger CQR and chain. We paid out all of our rode as we drifted back (leaving us a 6 to 1 scope) and then backed down on it with the engines, feeling the big anchor dig in. We sat there for a while, watching the land around us, as well as our GPS positions, to see if we going anywhere. We weren't, but I still wasn't comfortable about it, so I left the radar & GPS on, setting the electronic alarms to warn us if we moved.

Then we had dinner and rechecked our position: all was well. Naturally, the wind had died completely and we were being slowly rocked by a gentle swell from the west. Perfect conditions for rounding the point. I wondered if we should just pull stakes and head out now, but we were all tired from the bash, so we decided to get some much needed rest. We'd stay here a day, wait until tomorrow's sunset and then attempt to round the point. We all went to sleep.

About four hours later the alarms went off. The wind had come up, there was still some fog and we were dragging through the anchorage, headed out to sea. By the time I'd got up on deck we were sliding past one of the mooring balls, not five feet away from us. I started the engines and pushed them slowly forward, trying to at least keep us in place while the rest of the crew came up and we figured out what to do next. The wind was freshening, and it would only get worse when the sun rose. We decided to weight anchor and head north now.

As we used the engine to keep slack on the chain and power the windlass to raise it, the chain began to rattle aboard, but suddenly pulled to the left and towards the mooring ball. We realized then that the hook was tangled around the mooring ball's chain, somewhere beneath forty feet of cold, dark, murky water. We thought about several possible strategies, but the reality was that without a dry suit, regulator and underwater flashlights, it didn't make any difference. We were stuck.

It was still dark, we were exhausted, and this time definitely not worried about dragging, so we went back to sleep. Our plan was to wait until morning, then deal with it then. We woke up just towards sunrise when the mooring ball began banging against the side of our hull. It was dead still outside. We got up, made several attempts to figure out what to do, but diving into freezing cold water without the proper equipment, alone, using only a "Spare Air" as a regulator was a recipe for disaster. In the end decided that the forty feet of chain and an anchor we'd never liked was worth losing. We dragged out the bolt cutters, snapped our way to freedom and set out around the point.

We took advantage of the early morning wind and dashed around Point Conception, bucking fifteen knot head winds and five foot high swells and chop. The sun rose and so did the wind. Soon we found ourselves bashing into waves that crashed over the deck and sprayed green water onto the salon's cabin top. As the day wore on, so did we. We took turns at the helm, wrapped up in our foulies and watching the wind and waves do their best to stop our progress north. The only one who seemed to enjoy any of this was John, who thrives on bad weather, high seas and long stints at the helm. We sidled in along the coast line, hoping to avoid the brunt of the weather as we motored north.

We continued on and arrived at San Luis Obispo the next evening. It is a beautiful little harbor with a few mooring balls for transient boats. We motored in after dark, and tied up to a ball, but couldn't raise the harbor authorities on the radio. We've been having problems with our VHF radios, I believe the main radio's transmitter has failed entirely, and the VHF handhelds, even on the highest setting, were limited in their abilities to reach anything more than a few hundred yards away. We crashed for the night, listening to the seals barking on the breakwater just yards away.

The next morning I took the dinghy into to shore and paid for our night's stay, then checked out the fuel dock. Sadly, it is under temporary construction and not something I'd recommend for anything but a steel sided fishing vessel. The pumps are on top of a long pier, twenty feet above the water, and the hoses are lowered down to you. The only tie-up is to a long "camel" (a log surrounded by old car tires) that is lashed to the piers. Anyone wanting to preserve their gelcoat would be well advised to consider this arrangement before counting on getting fuel here. We left shortly after that and headed north again.

The ride up was more of the same. Long swells from the west, mixing with short chop from the north and a "reflection" swell bouncing off the shore from the east. It made the ride rough and bouncy, with a lot of slapping and banging as we went. We arrived in Santa Cruz that morning, and tied up to the local fuel dock. The folks at the dock were great, bending over backwards to make our stay there pleasant. We grabbed a spot just around the side and tied up Triton. Not less than ten minutes later we were met by John's sweetie Diana. John needed to get back due to a death in his family, so we had time only for a brief drink and snacks before they headed home together. SLO is a lovely bay and the harbor was quite nice, with many nice restaurants and a great beach as well. We refueled, spent the night at the dock, got a good night's sleep. AnnMarie and I left the next morning, only to be greeted by increasing winds and waves as we headed on.

Eventually we approached Half Moon Bay, and our next destination at Pigeon Point Harbor. It was already sunset as we entered the bay, so we needed to rely on the navigation lights atop the buoys that mark the entrance. You need to be careful when coming in from the south. There is a large reef that runs just south of the entrance, and you need to work your way past it before turning east. The harbor is very windy, but quite well protected, with a long, high sea wall around it. There is a second breakwater around the marina itself. We motored along, found a berth to tie up at, and cheered. We'd made it!

We had decided to leave the boat here for a bit while. We wanted to invite everyone who has ever been crew on Triton (and their spouses) to join us for the last twenty miles home. Our plan is to sail under the Golden Gate with the entire crew on deck, then pull up to the dock and invite all our friends aboard for a home coming celebration. So far, most everyone we've contacted can make it and we are excited to be so close to home.

Keep an eye on this website for the final leg's description and photos of the event. It has been a long, strange trip, but well worth the effort. We have been blessed by great friends, fantastic crew, a great boat and a survivable amount of government interference. No doubt the last twenty miles will take the longest, but it is good to be this close to home.

Cheers for now,



Thursday, January 31, 2008

San Diego: the only thing not at war here is the weather.



Sorry if I'm yelling, but for someone who has spent the last year driving miles on dirt roads looking for a shop, store or roadside hovel with the right part in stock, this place is a boater's wet dream come true. One of the biggest problems we've had with Triton has been the leaking plumbing, which uses a 15mm "quick connect" fitting. I've looked everywhere in Central America for it, but most folks had either never seen it before or didn't carry it.

I walked up to the very first boat chandler I found and showed them the part. "You ever seen anything even remotely like this?" I asked the salesman. He smiled and said "Seen it? I've got a box of them right here!" and pointed to a wall of bins of various valves, tee connectors and other fittings, all exactly tailored for the 15mm line. I almost cried. Right next door was a Yanmar dealership; I was able to get everything I needed for the engines. A block away was one of the largest West Marines in the country. It was heaven. I've been able to get parts to fix most everything that had been broken or missing since I first bought the boat.

The next day I went to a museum exhibit then out for dinner with Holly E, a good friend who lives in these parts. We toured around town, saw a great movie called "Juno" (very, very funny and definitely worth seeing) and had a sushi dinner that I didn't have to catch first! It was pure luxury. As a token of my appreciation, I gave her a pair of fuchsia-colored furry gloves. Truth be told, I wasn't quite sure how I'd gotten them, and they just didn't go with my foulies- I'm a winter and those are definitely a spring color.

Monday afternoon I went over to the big building in town to speak with the Customs folks. The Vessel Entrance & Clearance Specialist woman I spoke with (I'm not making that up, that really was her title) assured me there wasn't any problem, so I was officially a real live American again. Now I can sail into any port in America I want without first spending a day making of fool of myself in Spanish. I still retain my constitutional rights to do so in English, which I've honed over the last year, but at least I'll know what the port officials are saying to me when they make those snarky comments.

With all the paperwork accomplished, and many of the boat projects done, I thought it would be nice to take Holly out on the bay. We went out for a day sail the next day, and it was amazing. Once you navigate around the various aircraft carriers, freighters, mid-sized warships, speed boats, three-masted schooners, tugs, restored wooden ketches, trawlers, restricted military operations areas, kayaks and canoes that jostle about the channel, sailing the bay is a cake walk. The winds were light but constant. We set the sails, aimed for a distant island, and sat back.

Now I realize why S.D. sailors are considered such light weights by the folks further north. It's so easy to sail here. The same trip out of S.F, after only an hour, would have involved three climate changes, dense fog and being run over by a Panamax freighter. If you tried this stunt out of Seattle, it would also have included a gale, icebergs and sub-zero temperatures. As it was, I think the only time I needed to do anything more strenuous than looking around was when I refilled our drinks. San Diego is definitely a boat friendly place.

After an hour or so we were quite a ways off shore, the winds were dying and we decided to turn around and head back. Just as we tacked, some military type folks pulled up in a speed boat and wanted to know if we were definitely leaving. We assured them we were, but asked why they wanted to know. "Oh, in a few minutes some folks will be jumping out of an airplane and want to land right here in the water." Long pause while we stared at each other. "Is there anything wrong with the plane?" I asked. "No, they just need the practice" was their offhand response, "they do this all the time." Yup, we are definitely in San Diego. If you'd wanted to parachute into the San Francisco bay you'd need authorization from about thirty different government agencies first, and probably be protested by Green Peace, Save The Whales, and the Bay Area Muck and Seagrass Preservation Society.

Anyway, it was a beautiful, perfect day and a great way to relax after so much mandatory motoring. I'd almost forgotten what it was like to use the sails for something as self-indulgent as just sailing. Holly seemed to enjoy herself as well, and we pulled into the harbor as the sun was setting. There were fighter jets flying in tight formation, a helicopter rescue drill going on off to starboard, and the local mine sweeping operations had just begun. What a harbor! Even the local Trader Joe's has pictures of aircraft carriers on the walls! I think if you smashed Berkeley and San Diego together, the resulting matter/anti-matter explosion might destroy the universe.

When I returned to the dock, there were two wonderful messages waiting for me on my cell phone. The first was from John, who said he'd had such a great time that he wanted to come back and do the rest of the sail with me. The second was from AnnMarie. Her dream job for the last year (the reason she hadn't been along for the entire trip) had just turned into a nightmare. She worked as the Comptroller for a patio furniture import company. About three months ago, the offshore parent company had dismissed the entire senior level management in America, a move that surprised everyone, especially AnnMarie, as the folks they let go were one of the best reasons she liked working there. At the time they had assured her they would be making her a new job offer quite soon, and in writing, but first they needed to finish the audit. She had been working seventy hour weeks on this project, for several months, and it was finally coming to an end when they gave her their offer letter.

While it had much of what she wanted, it contained some clauses she just couldn't accept. When she asked about changing it she was told it was a "take it or leave it" proposition. At that point she was receiving several calls a week asking her if she were interested in any outside contracts, and since it was made clear that amending her offer wasn't an option, so she quit. Honestly, I wish she had done this months ago. She is going to fly down and join us for the rest of the sail up. But won't be able to meet us until Long Beach, as she needed a few extra days to make sure she left the books up to date, run the various payrolls, general ledgers and all that other geek stuff that makes companies work.

John arrived a few days later. There were a few last minute items we needed, so on the way back from the airport we pulled into West Marine. As I was wondering around the store I heard "Rob! What are you doing here?". I looked up and saw Ron, my manager when I worked in the Oakland store. He had transfered down here. We chatted for a bit and then I invited him and his wife over for dinner, along with another WM employee who thought she might be interested in sailing north, a dock neighbor and some local sailors we'd met along the way. We made a big seafood & pasta dinner, chatted about work, told sea tales and even talked politics. What surprised me was that before everyone left they insisted on doing the dishes, cleaning the galley and making sure everything was ready for our departure tomorrow. It was a very lovely gesture and a great way to end my stay in San Diego.

Early the next morning we fueled up, topped off the water tanks and set sail for parts north. We pulled into Long Beach after a short day trip. It was an odd harbor, mostly very small craft, with old wooden docks, but the rents were cheap and we only needed to be there long enough for AnnMarie to arrive. There was a very large mall, Whole Foods, Safeway, and yet another West Marine, right along side the piers. We are definitely back in the states.

Well, it won't be long now before we are back in Emeryville, we need only work our way around Point Conception, and we're home free. The weather systems that gave us such great southerly winds have all passed through, so the high pressure system that normally lives off the coast has returned, bringing with it northwesterly winds, which will be on our nose for the rest of the way. But, AnnMarie will be along, which always brightens the day.

I hope this post finds your prospects as joyful and spirits as high!




Monday, January 28, 2008

The Barn and Beyond


Ahoy Mateys!

Well, we are in San Francisco now. The weather is cold, it is raining on and off, and windy. There are Subarus and Volvos filled with soccer moms everywhere we look, the streets are filled with people bustling about carrying shopping bags, and everyone is bundled up against the weather. Oh, wait a minute, this is San Diego! It just seems like San Francisco. What happened to their blue skies, warm winds and lush gardens is beyond me, but folks here all insist that we at the southern end of the state, not the middle of it.

We left Ensenada this morning, motoring for San Diego harbor. The trip north went smooth and was uneventful. We had southerly winds and swells from the west, making the coast fly by, but it really hasn't been nearly as much fun. The motors throb and rumble as they push us along, and the seas roll us side to side, making for a less peaceful journey. We also aren't cooking very much. Mike and John have been living on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and bananas with Nutella. I've been eating mostly from foil packets of Indian food, straight from the pouch. Not great, but tasty and easy to grab.

A troupe of dolphins accompanied us most of the way, dancing across our hulls and jumping out of the water so close we could reach down and touch them. They are always happy to see us, our grinning and playful neighbors that come and go as they please. I've watched them now for over a year, but I know that soon, sadly, they'll be gone; the water is getting too cold for their tastes. I will miss them. We've started seeing more seals, another indication of the changing weather and water temperatures.

As we entered American waters, we played "Back In The USA" by Linda Ronstadt, but honestly, it was anti-climatic. We were cold, tired and ready to get off the boat. The water heater lines had ruptured a while back, leaving us without hot showers. Our makeshift attempts to repair it lasted only a few days, so we were looking forward to land and warm water. Although we'd had a very good run up the coast, still, it has been cold and windy, and at times wet, especially at night. We had to wear foulies for most of it, with lots of layers underneath. At night we slept with as many blankets as we could find. With only three on board, our watch schedule meant someone was always at the helm while the others slept, and no one was getting as much rest as they needed. We were looking forward to getting off watch, going out for dinner and getting a decent night's sleep.

On the way in to the harbor we passed several Navy war ships, freighters and even a submarine on its way out on patrol. There were many helicopters practicing search and rescue exercises, and fighter jets circling the bay, clear indications that this was one of the United State's largest naval ports. Their presence here permeates everything about the area. It is definitely a military base city, regardless of how laid back or left wing it might appear.

We arrived at the Customs dock at 4:30pm. A previously arriving vessel had already called for the Customs Officials (based at the nearby airport), so they appeared only minutes later, instead of the normally long wait. There were two officers, and I think we got the nice one. He was quite nice and very polite, gave us help filling our forms and explained where the local stores, restaurants and government buildings were. He wasn't sure about our papers, it was not immediately clear if our vessel required additional processing, and ended up calling the main office several times as we tried to resolve this. In the end he didn't confiscate our documentation, but suggested we show up at the main office on Monday just to make sure. After a brief inspection we were officially back in the states, and free to come and go as we pleased. We then moved the boat over to the "transient" dock (funny to be a transient now that I'm a legal resident again), where arriving boats could stay for up to ten days for very little money. Mike and John had made flight reservations to leave on Sunday, so we were planning on spending the next day at the world famous San Diego Zoo, a tourist attraction none of us had ever seen before. We grabbed dinner and went to sleep, happy to be home.

The next morning Mike received a call from his wife. The massive storms that had made getting here so easy for us, had flooded his home. Their garage was awash, and their back yard was under three feet of water. He needed to get home immediately, and grabbed the next plane back. John was also feeling bad about leaving his folks for so long, and decided to leave a day sooner as well. They were both the greatest of crew, the best of friends and folks to whom I will always be grateful. Getting up the coast without them would have been a slogging nightmare. Thank you guys!

Well, we've made it to the states, that's one big accomplishment achieved, and something that took far too long to happen, but was worth every delay, disruption and detour. I've been fortunate enough to have had the help of many great friends, made some new ones along the way, and found out that the best measure of a man is the quality of those who come to his aid. By that yard stick, I'm the luckiest guy alive. I never dreamed so many wonderful people would join us along our trip, nor did I realize just how much I needed their support. To everyone who was ever a part of this, I humbly thank you all.

Now all that remains is get around Point Conception (known to be a tough corner for boats going north) and the slog up to San Francisco. I'm not sure if I'll be able to convince anyone else to come along, but I think the rest of the journey could be day hopped, as there are hundreds of harbors, large and small, along the way. For now, I'm going to take a few days to relax, see about getting the boat back to shipshape, repairing those items that we've left to the last or couldn't find the right parts for in Central America, and resting up for the next big jump.

I trust all of your plans are moving along as well, and look forward to seeing you all shortly.




Thursday, January 24, 2008

Asuncion to Ensenada


Hola Readers!

The Triton continues its journey north up the wind swept, treacherous coast of Baja. We left Asuncion yesterday accompanied by a van guard of dolphins. They seem to be the same six, jumping about in our bow wake. We motored quickly up to Turtle Bay, arriving at midnight. Now you can buy fuel at the dock, but it is difficult docking there (requires a stern tie) and they have a reputation for charging whatever they think you'll pay. We had been told to look for the Enrico on AnnaBell instead, who had a small tug boat with a 200 gallon tank on board. He would sell you fuel while hanging on his mooring ball, which you could use overnight for free. He came highly recommended by several folks, and was said to be really fair and honest. We'd also been told to be careful because there were some other less scrupulous folks in the bay that might try to rip you off, and to know exactly, in advance, what everything was going to cost, including their time, and to make sure that you had exact change. We motored into the bay leery of shysters and cons.

Before we'd even put the anchor down a panga came motoring up out of the gloom, with a smiling, friendly Mexican aboard. It was dark, overcast and cold. He came along side our boat and said "Mi Amigo, necesita diesel? Usted puede utilizar este amarre gratis" [roughly translated this is: My friend, do you need diesel? You can tie up for free at this mooring ball!] So being the sophisticated, road weary traveler that I am, coupled with my mastery of Spanish, I still had no idea what he was saying.

To make matters worse, I had been warned repeatedly by enough cruisers to be careful about accepting anything without first finding out what it will cost. "Kwanta Questa Mooring Ball?" [how much cost mooring ball?] I asked, in my pigeon Spanish. He looked back at me, smiled politely, and said "Usted no necesita pagar por el amarre si quiere combustible. ¿Necesita diesel?", [No, sir, you don't have to pay for the mooring ball, it is free if you want diesel, do you need any fuel?] I had no idea what he said, except something to the effect that he wanted to sell me diesel. I knew I didn't want to pay for the mooring ball when we could anchor for free.

"No Nessicito Mooring, Kwanta Questa para Diesel?" [Me no need mooring, how much cost for diesel?] I asked, which now had him completely confused. Why doesn't this stupid gringo want a free mooring ball, its all included for free if you buy diesel. "Si, mi amigo, diesel is $2.49 a gallon" he politely replied. I turned to my crew and said "Okay, let's put the anchor down, then we can buy some diesel from him. I'm not sure where AnnaBell is, but we need to get moving north quickly, and this guy is right here." John and Mike looked at me oddly, but shrugged and started getting ready to drop the hook. It was then that I noticed the word "AnnaBell" stenciled on the side of the panga. John politely coughed, then leaned over and said "I think he wants you to use his mooring ball while we fuel up." Not wanting to appear foolish [yeah, right] I nodded sagely and asked Mike to take the helm while John and I went to the bow to pick up the mooring ball. Enrico was there waiting with it and handed us up the line. It couldn't have been made any easier.

Enrico then started up the outboard on his panga and disappeared back into the night, returning moments later in a small tug. He pulled up along side us, we rafted up, and he started up a generator, flooding the area with bright lights. He had a very professional rig, with a diesel pump and meter, long hoses and fuel nozzle. Ah, but ever the cautious customer, I decided to fill one of the 20 liter fuel jugs first, to make sure he "gave good weight" as they would say in the butcher business. We'd heard too many stories about pumps that didn't register properly.

We filled a jug with diesel and noticed that the meter registered 24 liters! Ahah! So that's the scam, I thought. I pointed this out using gestures and my highly fluent Spanish. "Senior, es veinte liters, pero es viente cuatro?" [Sir, is 20 liters but is 24?] Enrico looked at me incredulously. No doubt thinking "Yeah moron, you just put 24 liters in a 20 liter jug". Then I looked at the jug. I was filled to the top, a good three inches above the line marked on it that indicated full. We reset the meter, got out another jug, filled it to the line, and it registered exactly 20 liters. Throughout all of this, Enrico was patient, gracious and courteous, despite my overwhelming stupidity in either language.

Eventually we finished fueling the boat. We'd also filled up several jerry jugs and a few extra plastic water jugs, just to be sure we'd have enough fuel to get to Ensenada. We intended to run at top speed to take advantage of the flat seas and calm weather. Enrico disappeared down into his tug, presumably to calculate our bill. I sat down with my calculator and did the same. Of course, Enrico was probably doing the math by hand, and rounding off at two decimal places, whereas I was using a scientific calculator with floating point notation. When I finished, we owed him $420.00.

I went back outside and waited. A minute later he reappeared and presented a bill for $418.00. Thrilled that I (for once) had something positive to contribute, I pointed this out to him. "No, senior, es incorrecto!" I said, smiling a toothy grin. Enrico looked back at me with what I can only described as resigned ennui, and cocked his head to one side. I showed him my calculations, and proudly gave him the extra two dollars. He took the money, counted it, then with a thin smile slowly said "Bueno, mi amigo, gracious, buenas nocha". Exactly translated this means "great, my friend, thank you, have a good night", but given what had already transpired it could also be interpreted as a very polite "Please go away, you are a tiresome and odd person".

We then turned tail and headed out the harbor and up the coast towards Ensenada. Actually, I tell a lie. We stopped even before we'd cleared the point at Turtle Bay. The starboard side engine's alternator light came on, then the warnin light came on, then the temp started rising, then the audible alarms started sounding. We shut it down, and while wallowing in the swells I crawled down into the engine compartment to see what was wrong.

We'd broken a fan belt. We had spares, but it was a brand new one that failed, and after some inspection I'd realized that the geniuses who'd maintained the boat at The Moorings in BVI (who'd installed the alternators originally) had used bolts that were slightly to narrow for the manifold sleeves they slide through. This oversight has allowed them to wobble slightly as they loosen, leaving the alternator itself just slightly out of alignment. Not an emergency (I could just retighten them every few days, a process that ranks just under Barium enema on my list of favorite things), but it means that we are putting more stress on the alternator bearings than is necessary, and wearing out fan belts faster than we need to. The real solution is machining the through holes perfectly square and using the correct bolts. Something I won't be able to do until I'm back home and have access to all my tools.

There were long rollers coming in from the west, maybe eight feet high but spaced out pretty far, but the wind was dead flat calm, so we decided to continue north on one engine while I replaced the fan belt. I had the envious task of squatting inside a steaming hot area the size of a college dorm refrigerator, while working on an overheated engine and burning any part of my (now dripping with sweat) body that happened to touch it while gently being rolled back and forth. Folks who say things like "Gosh, what an amazing life, Robb, so glamorous and fun, I wish I could go sailing too" rarely ever change fan belts at sea, replace packing glands when out of the country, extract impellers from old motors, fix blocked up heads or repair stuck values attached to half full holding tanks.

None the less, we motored out the bay, turned right and headed up the coast under a full moon and flat sea. If you've been skimming over this blog you may not have noticed yet but the weather has very much been in our favor, which is very unusual. We've had either flat airs, or winds from the west or south, with long swells rolling under our beam from the Pacific Ocean, but best of all, relatively light chop and very little bashing over all.

Odd conditions for the infamous Baja Bash in summer, but this is winter, and it is very common for winter storms working their way in from the Pacific to make the conditions just right for a sprint up the coast. We did run into a bit of bad weather later that night, which lasted for about twelve hours. A squall blew in from the west as we motored along. Mike was on watch, and noticed an oddly shaped radar return, which seemed to be keeping pace with us but getting closer. He kept staring out, looking for the ship. Eventually he asked me if radar would pick up storm clouds. "Oh, yeah, easily." I replied, "why do you ask?" He pointed over to the radar and said "Well, there is this dragon shaped cloud coming towards us, I'm worried it might be a storm."

I looked over at the radar and sure enough, there was a very large squall front coming in, although you probably have to be the kind of bored you get from standing watch to claim it was an upside down dragon shape. Mike insists that it is, but I think it looks more like a kind of sead horse. I leave it to the reader to decide. We scurried around the boat, making sure everything was battened down, that there were plenty of flashlights ready, the radios were charged up, all the electronics were operational, the engines controls were in the green, there was food and drink already prepared, etc. All the things the various sailing books recommend. Then we sat and watched as the squall approached. At first it appeared to be a dark line across the horizon, but quickly the winds picked up speed and the waves built.

Soon it began to rain, and the waves began to come at us from every angle. There appeared to be a "break" in the storm front, a small area that didn't seem to have much cloud action inside it, so we headed for it and broke through the storm front and out onto the other side of the squall. We bashed along, and needed to slow down to avoid pounding into the sea, but it wasn't much of a problem and eventually what little weather was left blew past us and we were back to long rolling swells and light winds. So much for the treacherous waves of the Baja Bash. Even the squalls were pretty timid this trip.

We were still worried about getting slammed into by a big Pacific storm though. We'd been watching a low pressure system several hundred miles west of San Francisco for quite some time. It had been slowly working its way east towards the coastline, and it was our hope that it would continue to do so, but not get there until we'd at least arrived in San Diego. For more details on this (or if you are a fascinated by amateur explanations of weather) scroll down to the end of this page for a more detailed description of what was happening in the atmosphere.

Theoretically, having a slow moving storm just off the coast like that meant we'd get help going north; and we pretty much did. Most days we sailed with both engines going full out on flat seas and following winds. It was beautiful sailing and we ran straight through from Turtle Bay directly to Ensenada without stopping. We pulled into Ensenada harbor, which has a really interesting sunken river boat right in the middle of it. You have to go around it to get into the marina. We arrived at four o'clock on Thursday and grabbed an end tie at the Cruiseport Village marina. The marina is a fairly nice place, with hot showers and other such amenities. The marina staff were quite pleasant, spoke English far better than me and were very helpful. They even filled out our departure paper work for us, adding Mike and John to the crew list. We raced over to the Harbor Master offices to file our new papers.

The offices are only a few blocks from the marina, but we grabbed a cab because it was getting towards quiting time and we didn't want to have to wait until tomorrow (or worse still) Monday before we could leave. We walked in and gave our forms to the woman at the front desk. She gave them back to us and said (in quite refined English) to go talk to the guy behind the next window. Amazingly, the Ensenada authorities (Port Captain, Customs, Immigration) are all in one building. Each office has a sort of bank teller like window, set around a common room, with one or two officials behind each window. We went to the next window and presented our papers. He said something quickly in Spanish while looking over our papers. "Por favor, Senior, mi Espanyol es poco" [Please Sir my Spanish is small]. Without looking up, and weary but excellent English he said "You need to pay for your exit visa, go back to the first window."

We went back, paid for the visa, then returned, got our new crew list stamped and were set to go. "Oh, do I need to do anything else?" I asked. "Nope, your cleared to leave for San Diego." he replied. "So I don't need to have customs stamp my paper work?" I asked, surprised that it could be this easy. "Well, they are right there, so why don't you ask them." he replied, clearly impatient with my limited understanding of reality.

I walked over to the Customs Window, where there were two officials looking at a computer terminal. "Buenas Dias, senior, por favor, me pueden ayudar?" [Good day sir, please can you help me?] to which the first official looked up, smiled and said "Si, digime?". [Yeah, what's up?] Okay, deep breath, long pause while I compose this complex question in my head, then "Mi barco es aquĆ­, pero ahora voy San Diego con mi barco y mi amigas." [My boat is here, but now San Diego with my boat and girlfriends] The official looked at me, then at Mike and John. I can only imagine what he was thinking.

"Es possible necesito documentacion para mi barco?" [It is possible need documentation for my boat?] At this point the official leaned forward and, in a heavy Brooklyn accent said "What is it you want anyway?" Oh, that's right, they speak English here. "Um, I just wanted to make sure I had all the paper work finished so I could leave the country." He looked at his partner, shrugged, then said "Did you have the documents they gave you when you entered the country?" Now, I remember doing this, and getting the form that said I'd paid the entrance fee, but that was several ports ago and the documentation was back on the boat. They were closing in three minutes and I really didn't want to have to wait another day while I tracked it down, so I started frantically searching through my folder looking for anything that resembled the form.

"It will have a stamp on it from Customs." he said. I pulled out the Agriculture Inspection form and gave that to them. He frowned and shook his head "No, it will say Customs on it. This stamp is different". I dug around and found another form that had a stamp on it. He snorted and said no, this is from Nicaragua. I searched more, found the original crew list when we entered the country, there were several stamps on it. "Nope, it has to be from Customs." Eventually I found a crew list from Mazatlan when we went through all those problems with Customs getting Rob off the crew list. It had their stamp on it.

The official looked at the paper, looked at me for a bit, then shook his head. It what can only be described as the most polite but slightly patronizing tones he said "Look, normally we don't do this, but today we will make an exception. Next time you come back to Mexico you will need to prove that you paid to enter the country. Now go away." I looked over at the crew. John was starring down at his shoes and grinning, but Mike was shaking back and forth trying to suppress his laughter. We walked back outside, dragging what little dignity I had left along the sidewalk and got in the cab. Both of them have been doing Borat imitations of me asking if this is the correct document ever since.

Despite my continual humiliation in Spanish, it looks like we will be heading up the coast at first light tomorrow. The weather appears to be holding and we should have fair winds and following seas. With only sixty miles to go, I am so looking forward to making a fool of myself in a language I feel competent in. In the meantime I wish you all the best.




[Editor's Note: The following was snipped out of the main text as it is boring as hell, and stuck back here at the end solely for those folks so bored at work they have nothing better to do but learn about meteorology. Does your boss know you're reading this stuff?]

The reason we wanted a storm off our port beam has to do with how weather works in general. It is a relatively complicated subject (which I've been failing to master for quite some time, regardless of how hard I try) but I will attempt to explain this in very simplistic terms (i.e. lies to children when they ask why uncle Harry is wearing a dress) so please don't think my explanation is anything more than a gross simplification of what is really happening. Weather happens for a lot of complex reasons. Mostly, it is there to thwart the sailing plans of cruisers, make life miserable for farmers and provide surfers with yet another excuse not to get real jobs.

Mostly what causes weather has to do with some basic concepts like: warm air being lighter than cold air, the earth spinning, the sun heating up the planet unevenly (mostly because the planet's builder, a union run shop, put all the water in first, and then just dumped all the land on it in clumps instead of the lovely checkerboard design the original plans called for) but mostly weather happens because air moving between the poles and the equator tends to not go in a straight line, but instead veers off on at a right angle. This twisting is called the Coriolis effect, and also explains why Australian toilets are left handed.

Which way it twists (right or left) depends on which hemisphere (north or south) you are in. Well, actually it depends on which hemisphere the air is in, you can be anywhere. The important point is that if you have a bunch of high pressure air in the northern hemisphere, it will try to go out towards the air around it (whose pressure is slightly less) but since it tends to twist (clockwise in this case), you end up with a kind of swirl effect. There is a huge semi-permanent high pressure system that lives out over the center of the Atlantic ocean, whose clockwise motion is responsible for the famous Trade winds.

The same is true of low pressure systems, except it works in reverse. As the low pressure system sucks air in, it swirls counter clockwise. Providing you are above the equator. If you're below it, just reverse the directions of which way the swirls go. The problem with low pressure systems is that as they suck air into their core, it needs somewhere to go. If there happens to be the right conditions just above it, then the air goes up and is whisked off by the jet stream. Which means there is more room to suck in even more air down at sea level. Get too much of this happening too quickly and you get storms. With the addition of just a few other elements, you get hurricanes. Or typhoons if you live under the equator or are left handed.

So, if you have a low pressure system off your port beam (and you are heading north) the counter clockwise spin of the air means that the air north of the low pressure system will be moving westward, the air west of the low's center will be moving toward the equator, the south most air will be moving east, and the east most air around the low will be moving north. That's why we wanted the low off our beam. The air closest to us (the air to the west of us, but east of the low pressure system) would be pushing us north.

Totally obvious right? Well, you were warned. This stuff is PFM (pure fucking magic) as far as I'm concerned. I read all the books, look at all the weather charts, listen to the forecasts, and still can't figure out how to make them all make sense together. BTW, a great book on this subject is Steve Dashew's "Mariner's Weather" but nothing short of a degree in the subject really seems to be enough. Guess I'm going back to college.