Under the Bridge

(Once again, make sure you read the post below first so you don’t miss any of the juicy details!)

The boat was put back together and dried out, we were rested and fed, therefore it was time to head onward to our ultimate destination: San Francisco. On Tuesday September 6th we left Bodega Bay and motored then sailed to Drake’s Bay, completely cloaked in fog the entire way. What we could see of Drake’s was pretty, though the cow manure smell put a damper on things. Three other cruising boats were anchored out and much to our surprise a fourth familiar looking boat appeared right before dusk. It was Hot Sauce, the bright orange trimaran who’d been tied up next to us in Port Townsend when we left. We hadn’t seen them in Neah Bay so expected they were still in PT. Just another example of how much faster multi hulls are then mono hulls I guess. We shouted hellos and said we’d look for each other in the Bay Area. Dinner that night: Canned Delight. (Black beans, garbanzo beans, kidney beans, corn, sweet peas and tomatoes, all from cans. Mmmmmm.)

(Rob says) Heading down the coast to the Golden Gate Bridge on Wednesday was beautiful.  Spinnaker flying riding about a mile off of the coast in 100 feet of water.  It continues to surprise me that just a few miles north of the GG and SF, an obviously major major metropolitan city, it still looks as it did a 100+ years ago.  Big brown rolling hills with animals roaming – just missing the natives.  There were fishing boats with troll poles cleaning their catch and basking as we were in the light wind and sun!  Which we know is a rarity around here, which gave us major respect to the fishing boats that often work in very foggy and ocean rolling conditions.

We thought we had it made.  A GG entrance in the sunshine!  “Is it filling in or clearing up?” was the question from some crew person maybe me.  “Definitely filling in!”  “Oh”.  “Whelp”….  We were doing 2 knots under spinnaker, very relaxing but we were coming up on the SF bar, which can have standing waves (I’ve heard since it can actually stand up to 30 foot barrels!).  But the sea state was small so the fog was our only obstacle and shipping traffic.  And darkness as we came towards the evening as we drifted.  So the call was to blast on the engine and boogie to the gate – with a requirement to shut it down and sail under.  The fog ebbed and flowed leaving us unsure if we would have zero viz or a sunny gate entrance.  Rounding the corner for the final approach around an amazing lighthouse built on a razor sharp ridge the fog lifted and the wind built.  Off with the engine and up with the mizzen and jib – the wind was blowing about 18 and we were broad reaching.  We were doing 8.2 knots trying to stay clear of the shipping channel while snapping boatloads of photos.  A tanker was coming out.  There was dense dense dark fog behind us and we could hear the horn of a ship buried in there somewhere heading our way.  We gybed – cleared the outgoing lane and headed for the inbound lanes edge to gybe again and make our final run under the bridge.  Yes – it was beyond glorious.  We did it.  And the fog had cleared to give us great visibility of the city and the red red bridge connecting two golden landmasses.  We made it!  We were buzzing. And, the mast cleared which always is a good thing when going under bridges in a sailboat.  Once under the bridge the wind increased to 25.  We were barreling along the SF coast still under jib and mizzen (jib and jigger they call it) doing 9.5!  Behind us the GG was swarmed and taken over by that dark fog and the sun was setting.  We kicked on the engine, headed up, struck sail and lashed them and headed into Aquatic Park with a stout current on the stbd beam.  Aquatic Park is the ONLY anchorage on the SF city front.  And it has a full view of the GG, Ghirardelli Square, much of the city, Tall Ships of the SF Maritime Museum, the Oakland Bay Bridge, Alcatraz, Angel Island, and Treasure Island etc!  It doesn’t get more “we are in SF!” than that!  We dropped the hook and headed to shore.  BTW – we were the only non-resident boat in there – the other boats were small sail training boats.  We had the only city anchorage to ourselves!! At a free anchorage.  We wandered the city streets floating on air and culture shocked by all the activity.  We were in Fisherman’s Wharf.  Souvenir stores, loud bands, street musicians, taxis, trolleys, cable cars and lots and lots of people.  We floated along the sidewalks taking it all in and trying to stay out of peoples way and found a Rainforest Café that had fish tanks.  Unconsiously we all drifted in.  We swarmed the tanks, pressed up against the glass, maybe realizing the only things we could relate to were the fish in the tanks.

We spent about 5 days in the city.  Quickly becoming savvy to public transportation.  We met my sister for lunch at her office in the financial district and roamed on foot miles a day exploring this amazing city.  And managed to have small town connections with various people in the big city.  One Chinese man that is a postal worker overheard a stamp conversation we were having around a mailbox and instantly became friends with us.  We shared our journey down.  He shared the gems of the city and we did a group photo. He shuffled us into his car on his insistence to take us to “the real Chinatown” restaurants.  He was right.  We were the only non-Asians in a restaurant that held 200 and was near capacity.  Life is amazing how you can share a moment with a stranger who is with you one minute; you share, learn, experience each other as “friends” then back into the world we go.  Moments are where it’s at.  These are the precious things.

We are here.  Leg one:  Check.


Wow! So then what happened?

The dramatic day of our knockdown, Wednesday August 31st, was happily the same day we spotted land and reached calmer winds and seas close to shore. Oh joy! We were so mesmerized and relived by the sight of the golden California hills that we got a little too close (I see houses! I see cars! They’re getting bigger…) and had to alter our course slightly offshore when the fog came up and we still had 20 miles of rocky shoreline to go. When darkness fell the stars came out, the phosphorescence beamed brighter than ever and at 3am we flew into Bodega Bay. As soon as we rounded the breakwater the rocking swell that had accompanied us for 7 days turned to glass and we ghosted through the eerily long narrow channel into the harbor.

What did we do next? SLEEP. Our legs didn’t work properly when we leapt onto the dock to tie up (Ben almost went in the drink) so we gave up on that and exhaustedly pulled on the driest clothes we could find and fell into our bunks. No one stirred until 2pm the next day. A gray foggy Bodega day greeted us when we finally awoke and crawled out of the companionway hatch to take a look around. The boat was soggy inside and a little bedraggled outside (poor dodger) but otherwise Velella velella was just fine! What a boat.

After we found hot food we set to work pumping out the bilge, stoking the wood stove, hanging up wet clothes, and putting things that had flung themselves to the starboard side back to where they belonged on the port side. The lee clothes did a stellar job of keeping most things in place during the knockdown but we had a few adventurous items (guitar, cloves of garlic, hatch covers, cans of chili.) I trekked up to the harbor laundry room and spent 3 hours doing 7 loads of laundry. I believe Rob failed to mention in the last post that when the boat went over on her side, the only place we took on water was through the forward hatch, which happened to be directly over me! So when Rob and Ben were swimming around the cockpit for half a minute, I was watching a waterfall cascade into our forward cabin aka our bedroom. All the bedding and clothes that were saturated by that unwelcome surprise had to be washed clean of salt and mildew. By late that night, the boat felt a lot cozier and as a treat we made popcorn and watched a movie, while the woodstove crackled nearby. It was like we were back in PT Boat Haven and none of our adventures had even happened. But when we went to sleep and dreamed of dolphins and giant waves and sparkling seas we knew it had been real.

The next day Rob’s mom came and picked us up to whisk us back into civilization. We left the boat and went to San Rafael for the weekend to stay with Rob’s sister and son and celebrate our successful arrival to California. We were a little out of it the first day (when we entered a Whole Foods grocery store that was buzzing with people and colors it was sensory overload; even when we stopped moving the world felt like it was spinning by) but we quickly adjusted back to land living. Highlights from that wonderful weekend include feasting on the rest of the albacore we’d caught, hiking through oak trees and sage brush, discovering and partaking in an oyster feed at Tomales Bay and laughing and telling stories over amazing meals with Lynn, Lauren and Reef. Hooray for amazing family!

See photos by clicking the link to Picasa on the right side of our site. Enjoy!

Love, Vv Crew

The Big Knock Down (otherwise known as the only post Rob ever wrote for the blog)

Day Seven:  Mother Nature High Fives Us!
(Rob writes) After nearly a week of glorious sailing, delicious fish and “fire-balling” (the only phrase I can come up with that nearly describes night time sailing far offshore with screamingly bright phosphorescence seeming to fly past the hull at impossible speeds) we got a weather fax that said Gale.  The report was for 35 knot NW winds with 12 foot seas in 48 hours.  This we can deal with, we thought, that’s staysail sailing.  So onward we go.  Less than 12 hours in the wind was at 40 – that’s 48 hours early…   A few more hours and the wind was at 50 and climbing.  The sun was just beginning to set so we decided we needed to make a decision 1. Staysail through the night 2. Heave to and continue on in the morning when we can see the seas (which were starting to build).  After our first large wave that I named Everest hit us mid decision we decided “Heave to it is!”.  We struck the staysail and hoisted a reefed mizzen.  I check the anemometer.  Winds were now in the mid 60’s.  We felt good about heaving to.  However, possibly because of the surfboards and other gear forward, we were not able to get to the desired position of being hove to.  Hove to, or Heaving to – the act of stalling your boat out in a storm by flying a sail at the back of the boat which points your bow about 30-40 degrees off of the wind so that you drift away from the wind stalled out and create a “slick” in the water that mellows out the waves hitting the hull.  This mostly worked.  It stalled the boat out but because of a variety of possibilities we were not able to get more than about 80 degrees to the wind – which put us nearly side to the wind and building swell.  But we did stall out and have the tiller lashed which allowed us some hands off watches through the night.  Ben and I took 2 hours shifts while sea sick Kai stowed herself as comfortably as possible in the pitching Vv down below.  We hove to through the night and although the boat rail was mostly under the boat felt very safe.  Some waves came over the boat a few times but we were never worried for our safety.  Comfort was the only thing we craved – but that would not be provided by this storm.  The forecast was for the blow to last 3 more days.  We wanted none of that!  At 6 am I came back up on deck after a 2 hour “rest” of watching the anemometer willing it down (anemometer – we have spinning spoons at the top of the mast that feed a signal to an analog meter in the boat that tells us the wind speed.  I don’t know how it didn’t blow off that night 🙂 )  When I popped my head up to see Ben (side note – for the entirety mostly of this storm it was clear and beautiful with sunny days and starry nights) so back to popping up and seeing Ben, I hoped he would say “seems like it’s dying out” but the sentence sounded more like this “seems like it’s getting worse”.  Hmmm.  Okay.  Something you don’t read about in heavy weather tactics at Sea is to drop sail and fire up the engine and get the hell outta there.  We were lucky that the water intake for the engine was on the low side with the way we were healing.  To sail in that would have continued to be wet and dangerous because of the heavy winds.  The highest wind we saw at this point was 72 knots.  So our plan became to drop the mizzen, get out of being hove to and make way towards shore – which happened to be Bodega Bay some 80 miles away – and we were about 65 miles off near Cape Mendocino ( a sketchy Cape we had heard lots about where the sea floor ridges up out several hundred miles from shore and likes to stir up the Seas).  The engine fired up and also liked the plan.  So off we go.  Motoring 6 knots parallel to the swells (now ranging between bout 15-20 feet with some tops breaking).  I took the first shift.  Steering was not as hard as I thought it could be.  I put my back to the swells because reading them and adjusting the boats position didn’t seem to affect the effect of the swell/waves on the boat so I decided I’d save the mental processing and physical energy it took to try and steer to the oncoming wave.  So onward we went like a big surfboard cutting down the line with spray and the occasional wave over me and the boat.  The mighty Velella velella was doing beautifully!  After a long three hours Ben slid open the companion way hatch and popped up for his shift.  I was greatly relieved to be done and hand it over.  It was 9 am, sunny and still blowing 60.  It been about 24 hours since the Gale first hit us.  Ben came up, closed the hatch behind him and I was filling him in on the situation of our heading and what I had been seeing out there.

Here it comes:

We didn’t see the wave.  But I heard it.

This is where mother nature must have bent her knees, stared at the elbow, jumped up and full swing slapped Velella velella and her crew a High Five!  We got knocked down.  I’m under water at tethers length inside the cockpit, held secure by our stern pulpit and weather clothes.  Ben’s up to his thighs in water and Vv is on her side in the great Ocean.  Moments later, seconds, she’s back up vertical and still motoring along.  Kai pops up out of the hatch immediately to make sure Ben and I (mostly me, just kidding Ben) are safe.  Which we are and are actually laughing.  This is still not scared for our life Mom.  The boat is incredible.  Okay onward.  I knew that waves in the open ocean when of large size can and will combine energies and form a large wave that stands above the others.  That’s the one that hit us.  I also knew it was very unlikely that another one was behind it.  So we decided to keep going.  I handed to tiller to Ben, sat back to take it all in and breath and laugh and stare at the ocean and think and stare at nothing and laugh and look at Ben and look straight and be like “Holy Shit that was CRAZY!!!!”  Then I laid back in silence and POOF! my self inflating life jacket went off.  “A little late isn’t it” is something like what Ben muttered.  And we laughed some more.

After about 12 hours of motoring the swell started to die.  Oh!  BTW.  We knew that the offshore conditions were Gale and the near shore were for Small Craft Advisory.  We want that!  Which was a lot of the reason we headed for shore.  If the near shore was also Gale we would have had to keep offshore to keep safe sea room.

The sun was out.  Kai and Ben were down below.  And I felt charged.  Just then two dolphin were astern of us surfing the waves telling me “You made it Ee Ee Ee”.  An albatross soared over Vv into the distance looking left and right and a grey whale breached off the bow and another surfaced off the starboard side. We were clear of the storm and mother nature wanted to show her support.

It was glorious and now we know what the boat can handle.  And Kai and Ben are the best crew ever.  They never lost faith or trust in what we were doing or in the boat that took care of us.  They are both press ganged into many more sea miles.  And we can’t wait to get back out there after some exploring SF for a bit.

If you want to read an article about a boat that didn’t fair as well check out Three Sheets Northwest, the story of the Gypsy Soul that was out there somewhere in that same storm.  We said goodbye to them at Neah Bay after they fueled up.  They ended up taking on water and got rescued by a coastguard helicopter in that same storm.

Yeah Velella velella!!!!  And Yeah everyone that helped us make her bomber!  You know you.

Sailing South

Oh, you patient readers, thank you for standing by so loyally (if not silently- alright, alright, I’ll post on the blog!) I’m sorry for the long silence but we will try to make it up to you with multiple magnificent stories from our journeys so far. Gather round and I’ll tell you some tales…

Where did we leave you? Oh yes, gliding out of Neah Bay, around Cape Flattery and out into the great Blue Sea. That was Wednesday, August 24th. Let me break down the next seven days at sea for you:

Day One
On Wednesday we whooped as we passed Tatoosh Island off Cape Flattery, the most NW point of the continental USA and headed out to OPEN OCEAN. The sun was bright, our PFD harnesses (personal flotation devices that attach us to the boat) were squeaky clean and our bellies were full of Neah Bay smoked salmon. It didn’t take long to see we did not have our sea legs yet but we wobbled around the boat jubilantly, raising and lowering sails trying to get just the right combo to capture the light to mid strength 10-15 knot NW winds. We bundled up in red and yellow foul weather gear Rob has acquired over the years and sat around the cockpit feeling quite surreal. We were headed into unknown (to us) territory!

By evening we were all kind of listless, getting used to the ocean swell that rocked the boat side to side AND forward and back, not at even intervals. I think we ate chili and rice for dinner and I think it was delicious. Some of us threw up that night and then felt fine (Ben), some of us were too stubborn and just felt kind of sick the whole trip (me). And some of us didn’t share one way or the other if they were feeling ill (Rob). I didn’t go below for at least 24 hours since I felt yucky and chose to sleep crunched up under the dodger that first night. (For non-boaty people, the dodger is the canvas and plastic windshield-like thing that protects us from the weather when we’re steering the boat. It’s a lifesaver but not exactly designed as a bunk.)

That night Rob and Ben experienced their first Night Watches at Sea, which they said was magical. I slept through it. Night watches are shifts that we rotate, where one person at a time stays up on deck while the rest of the crew are sleeping. After 3 hours of keeping an eye on the boat and the wind and the self-steering wind vane which is what is actually driving the boat, they wake up the next crew person and go hit the hay. We had been told this was many people’s favorite part of offshore sailing. After I experienced it our second night, I can see why. Stars! Cool soft darkness. And ephemeral phosphorescence! Rob said it looked like we were a rocket shooting through the sky.

Day Two
Thursday was sunny too and we read our books and ate peanut butter crackers and more chili and watched the water turn from gray to aquamarine blue. The boat continued to rock around and we continued to have nice winds. We flew the spinnaker for awhile when the winds diminished then dropped it for the jib before night. Another red sunset and I took the dawn night watch, 4 am to 7 am, just me and Velella velella. Very sweet.

Days Three, Four and Five
Friday, Saturday and Sunday we read, ate, laughed, slept, listened to Rob’s stories,
and SAILED. I think we changed our shirts and underwear once in there (I did at least, I can’t speak for the boys). We lived in our foulies most days, not for the rain, we hardly had any, just for the windbreak factor. I finished almost 3 books and french braided my hair to reduce the lack-of-showering gross factor. Ben made Pad Thai that Rocked our World on Sunday night. On Friday we opened the box my mom had given us, taped shut, that said “Open when you can’t see land” on it. That would be now! It was packed with notes, books, chocolate and loooooove. It even had a little recording of her saying “Hello! You must be in the middle of the ocean by now if you’re listening to this. I hope it’s very blue and beautiful!” It was very sweet.

Every night at 9:15 pm we turned on our single side band radio and picked up a call from Carolyn ‘Ace’ Spragg, our rockstar land contact in PT who checked in on us daily to get our lat/long and see how we were doing. She shared with us the latest weather reports, listened to our small victories of the day (no one threw up! we made pad thai!) and answered any salty questions we might have, since she’s a more seasoned offshore cruiser than the three of us. It was really uplifting to hear her familiar voice, especially on nights when the wind was howling a little louder.

Day Six
Monday started out so well. There was no hint of what was to come that evening. The morning was bright and sunny and Rob was on the morning watch. I was just going up to see if he wanted relief when he noticed the demure fishing line we’d had tied off the back of our boat every day from sunrise to sunset was shaking like crazy. “Fish on!” we shouted to Ben, which really wasn’t necessary since he was sleeping in his bunk about 2 feet away. Forgive us, we were a little excited. “We caught something!” Rob reeled in the line hand over hand until a shape rose up out of the depths. “It’s a shark!” I said, incorrectly. “No, it’s an albacore,” said Rob, not because he knows his fish better than me (please) but because that was what he was hoping for, since they are so tasty. Lucky for all of us, he was right. While Ben and I cheered him on, Rob pulled the tuna over the stern pulpit and wacked it on the head with a hammer from the toolbox. Not exactly how we do it in Alaska but it completely worked. I cut out the gills, gutted it (making sure to point out how the heart keeps beating even detached from the body) and started filleting it. Albacore tuna I discovered are quite different than salmon but we figured out where the spine and bones were and cut some nice fillets. They look more like pork loins than fillets but anyway. Ben brought us buckets of sea water to wash the blood off the deck (this is a ketch after all and not a fish boat) and then heated up the cast iron with coconut oil and we were eating fresh delicious albacore tuna about 15 minutes after it left the sea. Wow! Ben then went on to amaze us even further with incredible fresh fish tacos. You can see why we invited him on this leg of the journey.

Day Seven
This day was crazy. So crazy, it needs it’s own post. I will pause now to build the suspense and post some photos. Click on the Picasa link on the right side of our site to view them!