Friday, September 5, 2008

Off to the United States

Well we finally made it into US waters on August 30. Before we left, Rani made a quarantine flag from some old clothing for use in other countries when clearing into ports.

The first day was a bit rough with sustained 20 knot winds, 7 foot swells and 4 foot waves on top. We both had some doubts about the wisdom of sailing this exposed coast. As we passed Cape Flattery at supper time, we discussed turning back for Victoria (and even selling Ladybug, flying to Mexico to buy another boat!). Fortunately we persevered and we eventually adjusted to the rolling motion, breaking waves, and queasiness. Luckily, neither of us was seasick and we began our watch schedule of alternating 2 hour watches in order to get some sleep. There was surprisingly little shipping or other boats on this passage once we crossed the lanes at the entrace to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The autopilot (named Banshee for what should be obvious reasons) helped us cover 140 nautical miles entirely under sail in less than 24 hours – a respectable distance for a 29 foot sailboat.

Sunfish off Oregon Coast

In Grays Harbour Washington we tried to clear into the US only to find out that there was no customs facility and that we should have called ahead. The coast guard folks came over to help us straighten things out and we were able to clear in through Seattle customs via the phone. As a bonus, we were issued with a written warning that will be mailed to my Dad and Mum in Nova Scotia (Folks – please don't worry when you get a formal looking envelope from Homeland Security!).

Rani in her 'coffin' berth

The next passage was the longest continuous sail I have done to date (most of my sailing has been daily passages along the coast). We sailed about 230 nautical miles over 3 days and 2 nights to Coos Bay, Oregon. We flew our newly recut spinnaker, which I had never flown even in its previous configuration as a racing spinnaker. We discovered that it was a very well patched sail. Due to the age of the repairs, the glue had failed on the patches and they fell off in a shower into the water and on the deck, leaving the spinnaker with a network of small holes and tears. This prompted us to nickname it 'Shroud of Turin', it being a very holy cloth.

Chris in front of the old coast guard station at Grays Harbour

We sailed across the Columbia river bar at night under spinnaker and had a close call with an outgoing tug. Rani really dislikes night sailing in areas with traffic and we both stayed in the cockpit watching for boats and trying to decipher all the lights. These can be very confusing and a couple of times we made pretty radical course corrections to avoid airplanes and lights on the shore that were doing excellent impersonations of approaching container ships.

We arrived In Coos Bay yesterday, pulling in here to avoid gales forecast for the next 4 days. We have met some interesting cruisers who are also harbour-bound and will rent a car to do some purchases and to visit the dunes, beaches, forests, and cliffs of the Oregon coast. Next passage will probably be to Crescent City California.


From Rani - Chris has summed up the last four days quite well but I have a few impressions to add myself:

It seems like we have been sailing for weeks, not days. We have lived through a lot, been very close to nature and learned a lot about each other. I think that Chris is more of a risk taker than I am even though I was labeled an adrenaline junkie a while back. Maybe it's because he knows his boat's capabilities and his own ability to handle it better than I do but I have experienced several hours of fear and prayed more in those hours than in the past year. God is probably getting sick of hearing from me! The sea has many moods ; sometimes it is so calm that one feels like a duck floating in a garden pond but at other times it is so turbulent that I feel like a fly caught in a washing machine.

Coast Guard training at Coos Bay (Charleston). The cutter in the picture goes out on training runs

Rani chatting up cute coast guard trainee

Rani sewing quarantine flag

There have been highs and lows but I would say that my highs outweigh the lows by a mile. The night crossings were my worst nightmare as the lack of depth perception in the dark hours of the night and an overactive imagination made every buoy and vessel light appear a lot closer. Chris tried to reassure me , with limited success, that not all the tugs and container ships were out to get us personally! The 4 to 7 feet swells following the boat, even at night, were not as threatening as the ships as far as I was concerned. Looking up at the starry sky, however, always had a mesmerizing and calming effect. I have never seen as many stars and the milky way as clearly as I did on those night on the sea. Looking at those galaxies beyond our little planet makes one feel very miniscule and wonder how many life forms there are out and are any of them looking down on us and questioning who and what we are?

Amongst my personal highs are the sights and sounds of the creatures of the sea – a gray whale snorting close to the Ladybug but invisible in the dark, flotillas of Stellar sea lions swimming by like a synchronised swim team, a beautiful yellow sunfish floating on the waves like a giant sunflower. The days have been sunny with blue skies and we have had ample time to sit in the cockpit to sip wine, read and feel lucky to be free of all conventional responsiblities, like work and house chores. That doesn't mean that we have nothing to do all day. Changes in the wind entail sail change and that can be hard work, especially in 4 foot swells when the boat is rocking from side to side. Cooking requires gymnastic abilities as one tries to balance while chopping vegetables with one foot wedged against the table post or settee, one hand holding the chopping board firmly on the counter and the other carefully holding the knife to avoid suicidal stabbing. While taking my weekly shower ( that's a lie, it was after 5 days really ) , I noticed some very colourful bruises all over my body from bumping into cleats, winches and various other bits of equipment on the deck. My upper body strength is also improving as I assist in hoisting sails or tacking – I guess I didn't need those exercises that you provided, Sorrell.

So, it's not all fun and frolics, folks , but I am enjoying this adventure immensely.


Michael said...

Great to see a post from you guys..I was starting to wonder if you could find an internet connection :). I know exactly what you mean about those lights at night... coming into Canso on our return from St Pierre was very confusing even with GPs, chart plotter and radar...

Glad to hear from Rani that the highs are out weighing the lows.. What a true adventure you guys are on !


seanf said...

Glad to see you guys are making out ok.