"To the oceans and beyond"
Monday, January 22, 2007
"To the oceans and beyond"
Friday, January 19, 2007
The Plan (as it were)
In a nutshell the plan is to drive across America towing our little camper trailer and see what we can see along the way. We don't have a big budget so I am working where I can to boost what we do have. After visiting the requisite relatives along the way and seeing what we want, we are going to end up on the shores of Lake Erie where our sailboat, the 28 foot Feng Shui, is being stored. After about two to three weeks of prep work and upkeep we are going to move on board and cruise, first on the Great Lakes, and then through the Erie Canal and the Hudson River to the sea. Where we end up after that is up to our whim and the weather.
I almost would like to say that the desire to undertake this journey was the result of some life changing epiphany, that I woke up one morning with this sudden urge to just pack up the wife and kids, sell and or give away everything we couldn't fit in the Suburban and the 15 foot 1962 Shasta camper trailer, and take off for our sailboat in Ohio to live the life of live-aboard cruisers. The reality is that I've had the dream to do something like this as long as I can remember and I'm just now getting around to doing something about it.
Having a dream is important, with it we can set and then attain goals and a major purpose, and without a purpose or direction we just sit and spin our wheels. Dreams give us an opportunity to pick our own course and our own destiny. One thing that I have noticed is that someone without a dream seems almost dead to me - a life stuck in the crowd, doing just the norm and never stepping out of the little box that society provides for you or what your peers and family think is the right thing. Don't get me wrong, I suppose some people's dream is to spend the first third of their lives going to school in order to work at a humdrum job for the next half to two thirds, constantly in debt, never owning anything just borrowing it from the bank or credit company, just so they can retire on a government stipend and whither away for their few remaining years. Not me, and not any one who is dynamic and successful. Big money lawyers and doctors almost assuredly had a dream to guide them. Anyone who can be called successful, not just financially mind you, had a dream first. The trick is in doing it. In other words, eventually you have to stop just dreaming and get up off your duff and do something; set a goal, make a plan, grow some balls, gather your courage and then step out.
Don't get me wrong, the dream didn't start out quite the way things are now. At first it was just me and a nameless, faceless woman of my dreams on a yacht sailing anywhere and everywhere and having grand adventures. Money, or at least where it came from, never seemed to enter into it. The boat was always something fantastic and grandiose, and my destinations always exotic and sexy. Freedom was the goal, plain and simple.
When I started hanging around with another kid in high school that had similar dreams and who knew something about sailboats and sailing, the dream grew. Sailing, now that was true freedom, and somewhere deep inside of me a hunger grew; ghosting along on the open ocean powered by Mother Nature herself, just the wind, the waves, the boat, and me ( and the exotic beauty at my side). That kid from high school became my best friend, and he's now known as the Crazy Captain Cliff.
After high school in landlocked Fairbanks, Alaska, I headed towards the sea. First to the salmon boats in the waters of off the Kenai Peninsula and then the US Navy for four and a half years. In the meantime Cliff had built a couple of small sailboats and then purchased a 17 foot fiberglass sloop with a centerboard. He had bought it while stateside and came to visit me in San Diego where I was stationed, towing it behind his 1976 Cadillac De Ville. We launched it into San Diego Bay and I got to sail for the first time. Mind you I had been dreaming about sailing for years, but actually doing it was more exhilarating than I had ever imagined.
I was hooked, bad. I couldn't get enough, I sailed every chance I got. Some friends of mine in southern California had a Catalina 27 and I talked them into taking me out almost every chance I could. Once I got back to Fairbanks Cliff and I sailed his little sailboat on the lakes around Alaska all summer every summer. We became such regulars at the local lakes that people we didn't even know knew us as “those sailing dudes”. But always, in the back of our minds was that dream to just take off and sail around the world, after we were rich enough to do it of course.
One thing that I learned about myself while on the salmon boats and in the Navy was that I LOVED the sea. I mean, I had always imagined my self out on the ocean, but that love was for the freedom. Now it was a true love for the sea itself as much as anything and as soon as I could I went back to her. First I worked as a crewman on a trawler on the Bearing Sea, then as an engineer on a salmon tender on Bristol Bay. Every chance I had I went to the ocean, but living in the interior of Alaska didn't afford me as many chances as I would have liked, so I sailed every lake I could get to in the summers.
Just Do It
I have never been a money rich man, and probably never will. With me, money just seems to slide on past, run through my fingers, or avoid me all together. Life doesn't always give you riches in the form of money, but that didn't stop me from thinking that it would eventually. When I met my beautiful wife to be, Shawna, I told her that I fully intended to buy a large sailboat one day and sail around the world. I'm not sure but I think that hooked her. She says that something in my eyes and the way I talked about it made her believe me. She says that right then and there she knew I was going to do it. Well I guess she wanted to come along, because she married me and learned to sail and now powers my dream. Now when I look at her and our two daughters I know that true wealth isn't summed up by a bank account, in every way that matters I am a wealthy man. So I sailed when I could and talked about taking off one day, but I was still waiting for the proverbial bag of money to fall out of the sky so I could afford it.
Despite my love for the sea and my desire to take off and cruise the world I stayed landlocked and shore bound for quite a while. For one thing I guess in a way I was waiting for that nameless, faceless girl of my dreams to materialize, and when she did I guess, like I said, I was waiting for the bag of money to just fall out of the sky. It took me several years to realize was that that was not going to happen. Of course I had other excuses too, like waiting for the kids to grow older, but I was really just trying to get my courage up I think.
One thing that I have always done is read; books, magazines, online articles, whatever it was if it was about sailing and cruising (or history) I wanted to read it. Then one day it dawned on me, the only ones out doing what I wanted to do were the ones who just up and decided one day to stop waiting around for the world to hand it to them, and they just went and did it. Some were wealthy or well off, some were almost indigent and poor, but they did it anyway. I read once that the cost of cruising was everything you had in your pocket, no matter how much or how little that is. If you think about it, that is just like any lifestyle. How many people have very much left over after paying rent or a mortgage, utility bills, groceries, clothing, car payment, medical bills, etc.? Any thing left over goes to recreation and retirement accounts. Get a raise and get another payment. Get a bonus and get a toy, or pay back debt then finance a toy. In the end its all the same.
Now like I said, I'm not a rich man, money wise, and that didn't seem to be going to change soon. I really didn't see any reason to spend all of my income every month, no matter how much, financing a lifestyle that wasn't my dream, so we experimented. First we bought an RV then sold or gave away what we didn't need and stored what couldn't fit, and drove off down the highway to the coast. For a year we traveled the state of Alaska living as cheap as possible and went where we wanted. I worked when it was available and we needed it, but for that year we lived on less than ten thousand dollars. We camped on the beach in Homer, Alaska, and stayed with friends in Nikiski. We went to Seward and Whittier and Anchorage, and everywhere we went we visited the marinas and docks to look at sailboats. We dreamed, and the dream got more and more real. Eventually it became a goal, and then a purpose; and then a plan. So we went back to Fairbanks to work for two more years. I used some inheritance money to buy a sailboat that was near the east coast because that is where we wanted to start cruising and found the cheapest possible place we could to rent and got ready. Then last summer we traded the RV for the trailer, sold and gave away everything again (you wouldn't believe how much stuff you can accumulate in two years) and took off.
Of course I must give credit (or blame) where it is due. Captain Cliff had decided to stop waiting and just do it before I did. He and his family found their dream boat in Florida and were going to head out. I was going to be left behind, and that certainly helped kick me into gear. He was also feeding me books by and about folks and families that had cast off and just gone out and done it. His encouragement was paramount as neither one of us could imagine leaving the other behind or getting left behind ourselves. So I owe it to him that I grew some balls and got to it. But Cliff added one more needed ingredient to the mix; he is a boat-a-holic. At one point he owned five different sailboats, from a dinghy to a fifty foot schooner. Some of the work I did on our one year land cruise was on a 40 foot steel hull that he had bought in Anchorage. After a lot of sweat he gave that up and bought a larger, 50 foot schooner in Florida that was in almost ready to go condition. In the meantime he had traded the 17 foot sloop for a larger 24 foot trailer-sailor that we took to Prince William Sound. Cliff had also bought a 28 foot fiberglass boat on Lake Erie that he and his family had planned to take down the ICW (Intra-Coastal Waterway) to Florida. After finding his dream boat already in Florida he put the 28 footer up for sale, so I bought it.
The boat was already named Feng Shui, and I thought that fitting so it will stay. She is a 1968 Cal 28, designed by Bill Lapworth and built by Jenson Marine. In my opinion she is the perfect boat for my family and I to start out on. She is roomy enough but not so big that maintenance and upkeep are going to break us. There is ample room on board for the two girls and us and what we need. Of course we are not talking cavernous but the space utilization is the best I have ever seen on a boat this size. Each girl will have her own quarter-berth and Shawna and I have the large v-berth up front. The large dinette can be made into a large double berth for guests if needed. The head is small but not too small and the galley is at least larger than what we have in the Shasta now. Overall she is larger inside than the RV we used to have. She draws only 4 feet and with her fin keel and spade rudder she will be rather maneuverable in port, and being a Bill Lapworth design she should be rather fast and agile under sail. Instead of an inboard motor there is a 15 horse outboard in an outboard motor well in the lazzerette, so there is extra storage under the cockpit. Of course if she turns out to be too small we can always find something bigger once we are out there. Feng Shui is going to be our coastal cruiser while we learn the ropes and get used to life on the water but she is not the ideal round the world cruiser for us. With the kids we will need something larger and more self sufficient for longer crossings. But at least while we are on the water and around boats and other cruisers we can keep an eye and ear out for what we want next.
So here we are hanging out in Colorado waiting for a weather window to allow us to go on down to Florida where I am going to help Captain Cliff and his family get their boat ready to go and hopefully find some work along the way. At least it will be warmer. We have family and friends all over the country so our journey might be a little zig zagged. The earliest I think we can start working on our boat this spring will be sometime in April so we have some time to kill. Once in Florida Shawna and the girls are going stay for a while with our adopted Gramma Cheryl in Bartow while I head down to Lake Okeechobee to help Cliff. I also supposedly can find plenty of work working in the boatyards down in Fort Lauderdale. Once spring hits we are going to head up to Kentucky to visit Shawna's brother and to Illinois visit her grandparents before heading to our boat in Ashtabula, Ohio. I have a step brother who lives near Detroit that we want to visit too but we may wait and sail over to see him come summer.
One final thought, to quote a man whom I respect totally not just for his philosophy but more for his attitude.
“Don't Dream Your Life, Live your Dream!”
Wednesday, January 3, 2007
We- the family and I- have been staying with Shawna's parents in Divide, Colorado since
late summer. The building season was just tapering off but I found plenty of work with Lee, my father in law, who is a contractor. We have finished up some houses he was working on and some side projects as well. In Lee I have have found a great friend, and friendship means a lot to me.
The girls have gotten plenty of time with their Oma and Opa, Shawna is getting to know her parents again, as an adult, and I have found a new friend and pal in Shawna's brother Austin.
Shawna's sister, Tashina, lives near here too with her husband, Allen, and their little one, Travis, so Shawna has gotten to spend lots of time with them as well. Allen works with Lee also and he and I have become great pals. He and I work well together and share a lot of common interests.
After much snow - two blizzards and two or three large dumps - and the thrill of Shawna's other little brother, Nick, visiting from Fort Campbell, Kentucky -we can now finally poke our heads out and savor the memories. From two days before Christmas until after New Years Day I was only able to drive out on three different occasions. Even when it was not snowing the wind would drift the snow up especially around the cars and trucks, my own more so than the others due it's location. Often we just dug out enough to get Lee's truck out and just left my Suburban buried.
Christmas day went well with the hoard of presents both girls got from everybody. This was the first time that the girls had had a holiday with this side of the family and everyone made a big occasion out of it. This was also the first time in nine years that Shawna's parents had had all four kids home for Christmas, so this holiday season was special for everyody.
Anyway, I hope everybody had a good holiday and we hope and pray for everyones health and happiness in the year(s) to come.
Friday, December 22, 2006
Just about the time we made the turn into Carquinez Strait the wind picked up quite a bit and started acting against the river's current causing some chop and spray. The thing with the strait is that two rivers are funneled through the narrowest section of the of the canyon and, with the high walls here, the wind was funneled and accelerated, right on our nose. So by the time we were abeam of Glencove and in sight of the bridge, I was at full throttle riding with the current against a 25 knot wind. There were some three to four foot waves that made the ride fun. As we passed under the Vallejo bridge and then by Mare Island the wind shifted around to come from the northwest instead of due west and settled down to around 15 knots, so we set the sails, secured the motor and ghosted onto a sunny San Pablo Bay.
This was sailing. There was the sun and a good breeze and we were on a broad reach cruising along at 6.5 knots over ground. Then we were at 4.5 knots over ground. Then 3 knots. Then just as we were coming up on Pinole Point we gave up. The tidal current was to strong, and we wanted to conserve fuel, so we dropped the hook just off of the pier at Point Pinole Regional Park and had a noon cocktail hour. The sun was out and the breeze was nice and we just hung out and wondered why we saw lots of sailboats from big to small motoring at top speed down the bay towards San Francisco instead of joining us for a drink and then sailing down after the current turned. Lunch was peanut butter sandwiches and screwdrivers.
Around about 1:30 we pulled anchor and set the sails just as we came off of slack. The river's current began to come back and the wind was from due west at about 15 knots gusting to 20. I set my course for San Quentin (SW) and my sails for a close reach. We rounded the point at Richmond and turned due south for the Richmond-San Rafael bridge at 6.5 to 7 knots and officially entered San Francisco Bay. This was our goal, to us almost the holy grail of small boat sailing. It was here that Captain Cliff turned to me and said, “Do you think we should reef down the sails now?”
“I don't think we need it yet, I've got it good.” I replied.
At the time the boat was healed over about 25 degrees and the wind had changed points just as we had so that even though we were sailing due south we were still on a close reach and I was fighting the tiller hard against a severe weather helm.
As I looked at the main and suddenly realized there were no reef points in it a thought occurred to me, and I asked “Are we set up for reefing?” . Captain Cliff got a puzzled and thoughtful look on his face and didn't reply right away.
I used our little wind meter and got a reading of 18-22 knots just as we passed by a small island with a lighthouse and a bed and breakfast. We were making good way and I adjusted the main sheet, traveler and boom vang so as to minimize the weather helm. Then I led a line from the tiller through a block to the starboard winch and was able to sit on the side of the pilot house on the windward side and steer by using the weather helm. I would pull on the line to pull us off the wind and ease off and let the helm pull us up into the wind and so was able to keep a rather steady course even with the wind gusting to 30 knots occasionally.
Now we were approaching the bridge and a lot of commercial traffic was joining us, with their wakes. The fetch was lengthening as the bay widened and the wind had shifted by now to be coming from west by southwest and the waves increased in size considerably. Then the rain started. With the bow plunging and the heavy weather helm we were burying our foredeck occasionally and healing to 45 degrees, so we decided to reef. First was the jib so I gave over the helm to Captain Cliff and went forward with some bungee gaskets while he headed us. I had a fun time wrestling the jib down and attaching the sheets on a higher point on the leach. I then reattached the clew to a higher point and both bungeed and tied the loose foot. Raising it with the halyard to try it, I was surprised it worked as I had just improvised the whole thing. Captain Cliff gave it a look over and had me take the helm so he could tackle the main.
There were extra grommets 1.5 feet up on the clew and the leach so he had me head the boat as he loosed the halyard, re-hooked the clew in the higher spot, reattached the outhaul and pulled it in tight. Then he raised and tightened the halyard and laced up the tail end of the foot with the end of the outhaul. After he raised it back up I got us onto a course for Angel Island. I had to tack back and forth some to make it as the wind was coming almost from the island sometimes.
This was some of the most fantastic sailing I have ever done and the grin on both our faces said it all to me. I was sailing fast and hard in the rain with winds gusting to 40 knots but staying near 30 most of the time on a choppy bay with about a hundred or so other boats all heeled over hard. Riding on the side of the pilot house and steering with my line was way better than trying to stand in a very small cockpit leaning down slightly to hold a very short tiller. Every time we came about I had to re-rig my steering line but that wasn't hard. As we cruised into the lee of the island I turned and headed due south to a small semi protected area just north of the light house on the southeast side of the island.
At a suitable spot the Captain ordered me to come about while he brought in the jib. We were being buffeted by occasional gusts that rolled down off of Angel Island or poked their way around the point and one almost knocked us down while Cliff was on the foredeck securing the flapping headsail. I had trouble keeping us headed into wind as each gust seemed to come from a different direction. As a consequence I was riding with the main sheet eased considerably and was sailing in circles and figure eights trying to prevent a gust from catching us off guard.
As soon as the Captain had the jib secured he made the anchor ready and had me steer in closer to the island towards a sort of cove just south of what looked like an old hotel. At about a hundred yards from the shoreline I steered due north up the shore directly into the wind. As soon as the breeze halted our forward progress the Captain dropped the anchor and I steered us backwards as he let out generous scope and then snubbed us. As we swung around I could feel that we hooked good. He let out a little more and tied off the nylon rode to the samson post while I dowsed the main.
In the lee it was almost like night and day. The rain still fell intermittently and the wind still buffeted us from varying directions but with considerably less intensity. It was actually pleasant sitting in the pilot house and watching the fleet cruise by. All of them at a full 45 degree heel and most with reefed down sails. There were at least fifty boats out there doing some extreme sailing until almost dusk. So one more night before making it to San Francisco.
We talked a lot about the day's sailing and were both pleasantly surprised that we were not all that frazzled even after sailing in pretty extreme conditions in an unfamiliar boat that turned out to be rather harder to sail than any boat we had sailed up to that point. We had mostly lake sailing experience between us, only a little real open water experience under sail. But we both had a good bit of open water time at the helm of some pretty big power boats when we were commercial fishing in Bristol bay in Alaska, sometimes in gale conditions. I also had four years Navy time too (but on submarines, so it doesn't count). We had both sailed in gale conditions on lakes in Alaska, just not together. Lake sailing in extreme weather conditions keeps you on your toes because you are always on a lee shore and, at least on the lakes around where we lived, there was almost always a shoal draft condition any time you needed to claw off a shoreline.
What we had just done was really no more stressful than the gale that had hit me hard and suddenly as I was adrift with no motor and only a reefed jib up on a Siren17 while on my honeymoon on Paxson Lake in Alaska. My new wife, on her third time ever sailing, and I were forced to throw out the anchor and stop ourselves about 150 feet from the lee shore in a little cove that was open to the full force of the storm that lasted about two hours.
The City By The Bay looked inviting across the bay from us. As darkness fell and the lights from the city came on we could see a silhouette of Alcatraz Island. We decided to wait until morning to sail over. After setting anchor watches on the GPSs' we had a cup of tea. One worry we had was realized at about 11:30 pm when the wind had shifted, again, and had pushed us toward shore. We were watching a movie on the laptop when we felt a bump and discovered some rocks that were rather shallow now that the tide was out. So we started the motor and re-anchored about 100 feet farther out. If you believe the Captain's GPS, we dragged a little in the night, but not enough to be noticeable visually, and neither anchor alarm went off.
Part three, To The City, to come.
Monday, December 18, 2006
The Instigator: Captain Cliff Smyth, AKA Tamer.
The man all the madness will inevitably be blamed on. The person responsible for fostering (festering?) within me the desire to sail and a desire to be free and in charge of my own destiny.
I chose this photo because it shows the madness. This picture was taken on San Pablo bay just north of San Francisco around noon. We had Just sailed down the San Joaquin and Sacramento River on a stretched, 27 foot, Roberts 25 named Westward.
This picture is a mere 2.5 hours later as we prepare to pass under The Richmond- San Rafael Bridge and into San Francisco Bay. Mind you we are in a very tender, short tillered, 27 foot boat, sailing her into gail force winds for the first time. We have just learned everything we know of this boat's ability's and our skill with her over the preceding day and a half. Her sails were just some that Captain Cliff had found used and had recut, only one headsail, a jib, and one main with no reefing points grometted in. And then Captain Cliff says, "Maybe we should reef her in, what do you think?"
We had sailed at dawn on the previous day from Owl Harbor Marina up on the delta. No engine, just that wonderful feeling you get when a fresh morning wind fills your sails, and your boat moves effortlessly and silently out past all the sleeping boats in the marina. Just as the sun came up over the distant purple mountains we sailed out to the first mark, just a buoy showing the way past a wreck, and entered the channel in the steady flow of the San Joaquin.
The wind was as near to directly behind me as I left the slough where the marina was, and all I had to do was slowly ease into a broad reach with the wind on our starboard side. Then I searched forward with the binocs for the first channel buoy, a green one, found it and then set my course so as to stay well to port of it but still in the channel as I searched for the next one. The whole time of course I'm periodically checking my chart, and the moving plotter on the laptop that's connected to the gps, and letting the skipper (the afore mentioned Captain Cliff) know that I know where I am and what I'm doing.
Then it was a most splendid morning sail down river with just enough of a breeze to be traveling 7-10 knots over ground (4 knot river, and 3 to 6 knots thru-water speed).
Because of the meander of the river, even though the wind came on steady from just north of due west we were sailing from a broad reach to a close haul back to wing in wing and back close hauled again. At one point when we were at a critical turn in the river and the marked (and charted) channel was narrow we were quick tacking from close hauled to close hauled in order to reach the outside of the next turn but not get grounded in the process. In many respects sailing the river rung out all my sailing skill in a short time. Like lake sailing you are always on a lee shore, and like lake sailing the wind never seemed to be steady long enough. I've always thought that small boat sailing in lakes or small bays teaches Sailing better than anything.
Just a little after noon we had reached up just past the Highway 160 bridge when the wind began to trifle with us and then died altogether just off West Island. So we started the motor, just an outboard in an outboard motor well in the lazzerette, and motored into the marina at Antioch. The plan was to find a small market for provisions and to find a fabled West Marine that was said to be in the area. And maybe checking out a few bars if we could stay at the marina for cheap. We found out when we checked in with the Harbor Master that we were breaking the law.
It turns out that because of all the flooding on the Delta so far that summer there had been a ban issued on motorized small craft, mostly to cut down on wake erosion. It also turned out that the fine for violation was $1000.00, and the sheriff was out patrolling in his boat. So after making sure we could park our boat there we ventured into town and accomplished our goals (except the bars) just in time to be back an hour before sunset.
We had moved the boat earlier at the transient dock so that the bow was pointed directly out of the marina right across the river at Kimball Island, which was still in the county. Our plan was simple, just untie and push out across the river at a westerly angle and up Broad Slough and across the county line. Apparently the ban wasn't in effect in Sacramento County, so if we could get there before the sheriff saw us then we were home free. We did not want to be stuck in Antioch until the ban was lifted.
It worked of course and the wind returned, from the east, so after making it to the middle of Broad Slough, and the county line, we secured the motor and sailed on to the confluence of the San Joaquin and the Sacramento rivers. We had enough light left as the sun neared the horizon so we sailed on down the river to Suisun Bay then turned north towards a snug anchorage in a place called Honker Bay off of snag Island.
After the birds settled down on shore we settled in for our first night out on the the cruise. After a cup of tea we updated the log and went over our navigation and fuel consumption. Then we hit the bunks after setting an anchor watch on both GPS's.
The morning was clear with a light breeze, just from the wrong direction. We ran a close reach and then close hauled until we were right in front of the Port Chicago Navel Weapons loading facility then gave up and started motoring. Here is where we learned a lesson about charts and having updated info. Our paper chart was a chart book and our plotter chart was the latest NOAA chart of the area. The paper chart didn't have the new security lane around Port Chicago. So for about half the way we were violating the security zone. No one seemed to notice. But lack of information like that could get you into trouble.
After sailing around the point we came up on and passed under the new and old Benicia bridge and on up the canyon towards the Valejo bridge. Being on the motor the whole way made it simple to navigate the river and we had such a wide channel that we never had to get near any other craft, of which there were only tugs and cargo ships.
Part two in later posting.