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!

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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.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night...


Well, truth be told, it wasn't that dark, only a bit damp and foggy, but the lights from the San Francisco shore glistened in the mist and clearly lit our way towards the Golden Gate. We left Ayala Cove at midnight, on the slack tide.
The Bay Bridge off to the left, and the S.F. skyline at night.
It didn't get dark or stormy until we made the grand left turn that all Bay Area cruisers dream of-- heading south towards San Diego and points beyond. And then things got rough.

The seas were quite lumpy and there were gale warnings from up north, but that isn't that unusual, weather-wise, for this time of year. We headed out off the coast and onto a southerly course, our rhumb line taking us due south and away from land. Unfortunately, the swell was running parallel to us, which made for a bumpy ride. Catamarans, as you may have gleamed, are wonderful cruising platforms, especially on a beam reach in long swells, but can be a bit uncomfortable if the wave action gets too short, too steep, too confused, or directly aft. When that happens the the water will slam up against the bottom of the center span of the boat, causing, what is lovingly called, "bridge slap".

The result is a loud bang that shudders through the center of the boat, causing anything on the salon table to jump about an inch into the air. On the bright side, whatever jumps up almost always lands upright and in exactly the same place that it started, but it can be a bit disconcerting if you've never experienced it before. On our trip from Trinidad we got into just such a situation, and at one point one of the crew woke up me to say that they thought the boat was breaking apart. It wasn't, but it can feel like that.
Hi Ho, Hi Ho, its off to work we go...

And it can also make you seasick, which is what happened to AnnMarie. When we set off, she spent most of her time in the galley cooking, or down in a cabin or bilge, organizing things. That is probably the worst thing you can do when starting out on a cruise. The best thing to do is to rest as much as possible, and only get up to take your shift at the helm. But there were meals to make, and things to clean, and she felt responsible. She over did it, and got sick.
The last two months of heavy duty effort, coupled with a general lack of sleep, the normal stress of sailing anywhere, and the anxiety of heading off into the blue yonder, conspired to produce a not unexpected case of mal-de-mar. If you've ever been sailing, you'll know that this is typical on the first day, and the best remedy is restful sleep. To that end she has been lying in the captain's bunk of late, trying to relax, but we don't envy her. If I had to choose between being horizontal and green, or upright and tired, I'd pick the latter every time.
The seas that night were not making her recovery any easier. We'd motored all the way from the gate, trying to find a tack that banged us up the least. As we did the prevailing waves began to grow at an angle to the swell, confusing the seaway and making it almost impossible to ride smoothly. At some point the wind reached gale strength, and we found ourselves surfing down the face of waves, wondering if we might bury the bow. Quite an ominous beginning to what should have been an easy sleigh ride to San Diego.

We headed off the wind a bit more, but that meant we would be heading further away from the coast. Around midnight we were more than forty miles from land, and at day break we tacked back towards shore for a bit, but that left our course almost due east, not gaining ground towards our destination. Such is the way of cruising. You often find yourself having to choose between not getting there or getting beat up.

And so went the day. The winds howled, the seas broke, the crew stood their watches, and the boredom of ordinary life at sea set in. There is not much to see when off the coast. Occasionally a group of dolphins will come along side and frolic in your path, or some random cargo ship will decide to run you over, but otherwise there isn't much to do.
A sailor's life for me!

During the day AnnMarie bravely stood her watch, to the point of getting sick over the side, so Michael and I took her turns and she mostly slept that first day, "mortified and saddened" to quote her directly, for not being better rested before setting sail. She knew better, and was kicking herself for not taking better care of herself. A friend of ours claims that you should never set off sailing at night, but I think being anxious and sleep deprived caused more upset stomachs than any amount of sunlight.

The watches continued, with Michael and I going along only until we felt tired. The sun went down and the winds picked up. We continued to be blown further from the coast and so we tacked back towards land. Micheal came up for his watch and I crashed into bed, but not before explaining the situation and saying that if there were any problems at all to just lean over and knock on my hatch and I'd come up immediately.
And that is an example of why, no matter how hard you try to avoid it, it is almost impossible to give an order and have the crew do exactly what you meant, and not what you said. To me, saying "if anything goes wrong" meant that "if anything at all out of the ordinary" happens. What Michael understood was "if anything that you think you can't handle" happens. This is problematic because Michael, being a very capable, competent, and self-reliant buckaroo is very confident about what he can handle (and in most cases with good reason- he is strong, smart, and capable of remaining calm under stress), so anything short of hitting a whale, a boat, or land, just isn't going to be something he deems worth the trouble of disturbing me over.

I woke up around 4AM, rested but surprised that I'd slept as long as I did. I stumbled up into the salon and tried to make sense of the chart plotter and log, both of which were blank, the last entry in the log my own. I looked at the GPS and radio, neither of which were registering a position. In fact, none of our electronics were working, nor had there been any log from Michael at all. I dashed out into the cockpit to make sure that he was still there, only to find him calmly sitting at the helm, watching the waves break around our bows.

"Um, what's going on?" I asked, "None of the electronics seem to be working."

He just shrugged and said that he'd noticed it had all stopped working a few minutes after I'd gone to bed. I then pointed out that there weren't any log entries either. His response was that since nothing was working, there wasn't anything to record.

It was a dark, moonless night, we were in a gale, heading for an unforgiving, rocky coast. We were some unknown distance from it, and unaware of our current position. We didn't have any record of our course or speed for the last several hours, and I still hadn't fully woken up. It is moments like this that make sailing a combination of the momentary terror one typically associates with earthquakes, losing control of your car on a slippery road, and receiving an ominous letter from the IRS.
I managed to reboot the electronics, but was alarmed to realize that we were having a problem with it. We had just spent a lot of money installing new equipment, and this was the first time we'd really needed to rely on it, and it let us down. It failing this early in our trip did not bode well, and I decided that I'd pick up a hand held GPS just to be on the safe side. We did get it all working again, figured out where we were (safely far from the coast) and continued on, but the weather wasn't letting up and a certain fatigue and ennui sets in under these conditions. We just wanted a rest from the constant banging and jostling of the gale, so we decided to take refuge in the harbor at Port Louie, near San Louis Obispo.  We really didn't want to stop but we needed a rest.

We entered the harbor at night, in the fog, grabbed one of the first mooring balls designated for transient guests, and collapsed into bed. If you've ever been on a long car ride, and pushed yourself past that point of exhaustion, where all you can think of is sleep, you'll know what it is hold up safely in a harbor after riding out a gale. We slept like rocks.

The harbor is a beautiful, picturesque one, with an old wharf that runs out into the bay. There are a number of different anchorages there, many different mooring options, and some basic marine services, most notably a free water taxi that runs every couple of hours. There are many fishing vessels, and even more harbor seals, who've learned that any vessel left moored and unattended makes a great place to sun. You'll see no end of boats with spiked boards, barbed wire, and any number of other devices designed to deter aquatic boarding parties. Even more frustrating for someone leaving their boat in the harbor is the prodigious marine growth that seems to ignore all bottom paint. We were astounded at the growth we saw on some vessels. The locals we spoke with said that a boat left unattended for a couple of months can expect to have several feet of seaweed growing from it. I'm not sure if that is truth, or justification, but keeping your bottom clean here seems to be a full time job.
Michael and I woke up starving hungry. AnnMarie's stomach was still a bit tight, so we left her aboard and grabbed a taxi ride into shore and had breakfast at a restaurant right on the wharf, called "Fat Cats". It had come highly recommended by our good friend, and sailing hero, Harry, and it was a nice treat to sit on land and watch others bob about.

Michael was worried about getting back to Emeryville before the end of the weekend, so while ashore we looked into making arrangements for his transportation. It seemed that the only way to get him from the marina to the nearest trains or buses involved a very expensive cab ride, so he decided to wait until we got to Santa Barbara, where there would be better access to public transport. The weather seemed to be improving, and the ride south looks good.

Our only problem now is getting around Point Conception, which is notorious for bad seas, horrible currents, and giant sea monsters that rise up and grab a hold of your ship, dragging it to the bottom. I'm less certain about that last one, but can vouchsafe the first two. I've been around that point several times, and have seen it be everything from flat glass to the inside of a washing machine. Current reports are that we'll have a good weather window for the next twenty-four hours, so we'll be setting out shortly and hoping to avoid a storm that is brewing to the north.

Wish us well.