useful bits

On the off chance that anyone who wants *actual* information about what it’s like to sail from Seattle to San Diego stumbles upon this, I thought I’d give writing a useful post a shot.

My gut: Hahahahahahahaha. No way, stupid!

My heart: We’ll see.

#lifegoals.

ANYWAY.

Scheduling. We were out a total of 14 days, 12 of which were at sea, under “power” (please note here I’m using “power” to mean sailing, power sailing, or motoring). I didn’t keep track of that breakout, but I should have. Because I thought I was going to do a lot of things that I wasn’t able to (like write, and also eat), at lot of the details (like journaling) got lost. So, that’s another thing to note, I guess: be prepared for pretty much everything to be the opposite of  Pacific NW cruising. If you’re anything like me, you will spend your hours attempting to stay warm and calm, not writing (read: keeping track of sailing vs. motoring hours), cooking, or doing anything creative or useful. Basically, if we were doing five knots or better, we sailed; if we dropped below that, we motor sailed; and if there wasn’t a lick of wind, we motored. If i had to make a rough guess, I would say we spent the better of part of six days sailing, three motor sailing, and three motoring.

Sailing around the clock. Before we left I thought, sailing at night? Why would you ever? We had never done it, and it seemed like the stuff of crazy people who don’t understand happy hour. But here’s the thing. Math! You can make unbelievable time in a sailboat when you don’t stop. And when you’re used to sailing from whenever you want (when you’re us, is anywhere between 8:00 a.m., and noon) to whenever you want (which, again, for us is between 3:00 and 7:00 p.m.), you gain considerable ground in upping those hours on the water from five-ish to 24. So, we sailed around the clock, and we averaged ~140 nm a day. That is a LOT. Also, it seems kind of weird and scary the first night, but after that, you get used to it, you learn to rely on your instruments, radar, and AIS, and it gets to being even be kind of peaceful and beautiful. When the weather is intense–heavy fog, high waves and swell, and 25-30 knots of wind–it isn’t super peaceful; but when the wind and seas are calm-ish, it’s fine, and you can actually lose time. I saw some pretty moons, and one night, a fire.

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Weather. The Washington and Oregon coast are windy, swelly, bumpy, freezing, wet, and miserable. Pack one billion percent more warm clothes than you think you’ll need. Also, hand warmers. The end.

p.s, if you get seasick, find something better than over-the-counter Dramamine because once you make the turn at Neah Bay, you’ll be sick (I mean the INSTANT you make the turn you’ll want to barf and then die), and taking something that’s going to flatten you doesn’t work when you have a watch to make.

Food. If you’re like me and you love two things in life–eating and cooking–heed this: make food ahead of time that you can heat up in one pot and be done, like chili verde or beef stew. Cans of soup work too, but unless you’re seasick, blech. Boring and tasteless. You will be thankful to dump the contents of a Ziploc into a pot on the stove and be eating something hot 20 minutes later. There will be very little sandwich making or complicated-meal-preparation (although having the bread and the meat and cheese on board are great for grabbing and eating while holding on and trying not to die). Many a meal for us was a handful of nuts or jerky and a cold tortilla, simply because it was too rough to cook (or stand).

Spares. When doing the research for the trip, we read and heard from every possible source that we would most likely be stopping in San Francisco, if not sooner, to make repairs. “Oh, don’t worry about where. You’ll have to stop for parts and repairs at least once, if not more often,” was not an uncommon refrain. While hopeful it wouldn’t happen, we had to be prepared for that, so we just assumed something would break or go wrong. We were very lucky, however, in that EV was a champ. I’m talking CH to the AMP. Literally almost nothing went south. We had a minor hiccup with the auto pilot, which turned out to be a programming problem, so for about a day we switched to the manual, old skool Autohelm. But other than that, seriously, she effing rocked it. Nevertheless, be prepared. Besides the obvious (tools, duct tape, oil, coolant, and zip ties), we carried spare straps for the AutoHelm, an impeller, fuel and gas filters, and sail mending equipment.

Gear. Absolute must-haves are an autopilot and a wind vane. We have a Hydrovane, which I’ve mentioned here before, and it rules the universe. Literally can’t say enough about it. We ran ours (Henriette), almost the entire trip, and she was the winner of everything. You are going to be in rough seas and ideally sailing, so auto-steering without using any power is immeasurably critical. If you don’t have a proper boom brake, get one. They’re worth every penny. Or, if you really don’t want to spend the money, rig your own. There’s no way I would have been calm sitting watch alone in the middle of the night without a boom brake. Get one. If you have a good chart plotter that’s up to date, you’ll be fine. Update your software and ensure you have the correct charts. AIS is a bonus, but I came to love and rely on it more than almost anything else; so your call, but my advice is get it. Radar is a must if you’re going in the Fall, which I assume you are.

Miscellaneous. As scary as the passage might seem at any point, have faith in your boat, your crew, and yourself. But mainly and most importantly, trust your boat. Sail the shit out of it before you leave, test everything ten times, and do all the work yourself. I cannot emphasize enough that knowing your boat will pay untold dividends. When you know every square inch of your boat, every sound, puff of smoke, or idiosyncratic vibration, your mind will be one billion percent more at ease when you’re out at sea. If something goes wrong or weird, one, you will know if it’s actually wrong or weird; and two, if it is, chances are good you’ll know how to fix it. When our Autohelm snapped a belt at 3:00 a.m., in 25 knots and eight-foot seas, Loren fixed it in two minutes. That’s what you want.

Finally, enjoy the moments. I’m not a woo-woo type of person, and even just writing that gave me a little bit of a rash, but I don’t really know the right way to say it, and I don’t have time to try out eleventy variations right now to get just the right combination. I’m not going to say Have fun! Or, Enjoy!, although you probably will. We did. I guess, just know why you’re doing it and be mindful of that. Absorb what you can and/or set out to do. Be open to insights when they present themselves–you’ll learn more about yourself than you might want to or think you need to–and then do something useful with that information. I went into the trip excited and pretty devoid of expectation, and that served me well. I learned a LOT and I grew as a person. But that’s just me, and that might not be where you are or what you want. So, spend some time thinking about those things before you set off, and keep yourself open to everything while you’re out, and no matter what happens, at the bare minimum, you’ll gain a new part of your own story. I think Dinesen was right when he said, “The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea.” And I say, when you’re lucky enough to be a sailor, you get all three.

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