Thursday, July 30, 2009

Alberta to Ontario

I left my lovely camping spot behind the general store on July 22 and headed for Saskatchewan. My first stop was Cardston, where one of Brigham Young's daughters and her husband formed the first Mormon settlement in Canada. This town is also the birthplace of Fay Wray of Hong Kong fame and home of the Remington Carriage Museum. This fascinating museum was formed around approx. 50 superbly restored carriages, sleighs, and wagons donated to the province of Alberta by Don Remington. I spent 4 hours here and it was well worth the price of admission ($9). The carriage building industry was massive in the late 19th century, using assembly line techniques and automation that formed the foundation for the 20th century automobile industry. I learned where such car terms as dashboard and trunk come from (dashboard was literally a board at the front of the carriage to protect the passengers from whatever the horses stirred up). Another interesting (to me anyway) fact was that some people welcomed the coming of the automobile as it would reduce polution from horse manure that filled the streets in many towns.

Dump wagon - ancestor of the dump truck - used in road building.

Sleighs and wagons.

Next I visited Writing on Stone provincial park and hiked the Hoo Doo trail to look at the battle scene petroglyph. This and the other drawings in the park were quite hard to see and some idiots had writen their names over the pictographs (red pigment paintings). I was too late for the tour to the restricted area, where there are supposed to be better scenes.

Battle scene pictograph with increased contrast.

Hoo doos.

I camped at the side of a dead-end farmer's road (in a ditch) near Medicine Hat that night. It is much harder in farming areas to find good free campsites. I was now reduced to finding a place near dusk and cooking my suppers and breakfasts at picnic parks along the way.

The next day I spent in Eastend – a charming small town with a very good little museum. The museum had the obligatory dinosaur bones and several restored buildings including a marvelous 1950's/60's bungalow that reminded me of where I grew up. The main difference was that they had an armadillo in their living room... Strangely, I met up with and had coffee with 2 sailors in this very landlocked town. They live on board a large ferro cement boat in North Carolina and were interested in sailing the Pacific coast, so I told them about our adventures there.

Armadillo on classic 70's carpet.

Because driving across the highways of the prairies can be a bit sleep inducing, I took to stopping in all the towns along the way. Some were quite lively and clearly a going concern, but most were faded remnants of their former selves (see picture of Aneroid's sign). I found it very sad to see churches and businesses closed up and houses collapsing into the high grasses. The amalgamation of so many farms and the resulting increase in farm size has depopulated many centers.

What's wrong with this sign?

Abandoned house.

My next night's camp was much more pleasant, with deer grazing nearby and a nice view out over a farmer's pond. Thinking of Rani, I concocted a one pot Indian 'biriyani' of rice, mexican peas, red pepper, soy protein, and Patak's vindaloo curry paste. It actually tasted quite decent :)

The next day I visited the excellent Cherniak gallery in Assiniboia. This privately created gallery is free to the public and has an excellent collection of recent Canadian paintings, Australian art, Chinese antiques and even a room full of group of seven paintings. It is the gift of a local banker to the community. The gallery was superior to many public galleries I have seen. That night in my farmer's field campground, I heard two coyotes howling very close to the tent.

The following day I reached Winnipeg and enjoyed a walk along the trails near the Forks historic site, followed by an afternoon at the Musuem of Man, etc. The museum had some superb dioramas and the Hudsons Bay company exhibit was particularly good. They also had a complete – and I mean complete – replica of the Hudsons Bay Company's Nonsuch ketch housed in a massive room that was built around her when she retired from her sailing voyages. The legislature here reminds me of the one in Victoria, complete with statue of Victoria in front and fountain at the rear. The Manitoba version is strict neo-Classical with massive doric columns.

Buffalo hunt diorama

Nonsuch transom - I plan to redo Ladybug II to look like this.

Manitoba Legislature
The next day I crossed into Ontario, stopping to make breakfast in the lovely town of Kenora. In Vermillion Bay I had a refreshing swim in a lake and a much needed wash (the only main downsides to this nomadic lifestyle is having to carry your own water and limited access to showers). I bought some water treatment for the tent as it looked like rain was threatening. The night's camp was up a lumber road and I went for a nice hike through the woods here after waterproofing the tent fly.

In Thunder Bay, i spent most of the day at Fort William – an extensive and well presented reconstruction of the North West Company's main fort and trading post. There were dozens of re-enactments and I had a chance to paddle a voyageur canoe. The North West company was based out of Montreal and competed head on with the Hudsons Bay Company until they amalgamated around 1820. In downtown Thunder Bay I visited the marina (of course!) and chatted with a sailor on a boat the same size as Ladybug. He had paddled around lake Superior last year in a kayak (an 8 week trip) and hoped to sail the same route. My camp that night was by a peaceful gravel quarry.

Furs at Fort William.

Birch bark and wood canoes.

Terry Fox tribute near Thunder Bay.

I finally had a good hike the next day in Lake Superior Provincial park. They have a Coastal trail here similar to the Juan de Fuca trail near Victoria. I met two large groups of teenagers on this trail. I almost ended up camping here, but decided to drive a little outside the park and camped on a lovely sand beach overlooking Lake Superior. The driving here is through lovely mixed forests and the hiking trail was in great shape and looked lightly used.

From here I drove into St Sault Marie and visited the locks (broken) and art gallery (not great). It was somewhat depressing to learn that the Canadian locks fell down in 1985 and were rebuilt on a much smaller scale in 95, leaving the only way for commercial shipping to reach Lake Superior via the 3 sets of American locks. The reason we built our own locks in the first place was because in 1870, the Americans denied access to a ship load of our soldiers en route to quell a rebellion. It strikes me as ridiculous that we did not maintain this important shipping link from the Atlantic. From Sault St Marie, I began to see farms again amongst the woods. I camped that night beside a microwave tower with the sound of cows lowing in the distance. Today I am off to see the big nickel in Sudbury.

Video of oil pump in Saskatchewan - there were hundreds of these in farmer's fields in this province and Manitoba.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Alberta Bound

I began the drive across Canada on Friday July 17 and thought I might as well blog this, too...

The first picture shows Ladybug being hauled out at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, with the new owner looking on.

Ladybug out of the water

I stopped off at Pitt Meadows near Vancouver to pick up a stove that had some burners which are hopefully of use to the new owners of Ladybug. Then I headed out on the Lougheed highway, past Hope and took a wrong turn up past Yale. I camped at the side of the road on an old logging road beside a stream – actually a very nice site. The next picture shows a strange little stone entranced structure about 4 feet wide. Two of these were set into the hill above the stream and I do not know their purpose. Maybe food storage? Any comments?

House in the hill.

The next day, I stopped beside a huge slag heap in Greenwood. The picture is taken of strange bell shaped objects – each taller than a man – that lie scattered over the slag heap. I explored what looked like smelting ovens and various foundations and a huge brick chimney. Later I learned that this was a copper mining operation. It must have been a big one, because the environmental impact is still huge!

Copper mine slag.

Saturday night I made clam chowder and a bear arrived looking for its share. It circled me at a distance twice and then snorted and made to charge. I was in the car by this point and packed up ready to move to a better camp spot. Note that these pics were taken with a small point and shoot – yes, that bear is pretty close!

Bear 1

Bear 2.

On Sunday, I went for nice hike (Kootenay Columbia trail) in Rossland and checked out some of the coal mining exhibits near the visitor's center. On the hike I shot this plant that I believe is called bear grass.

Bear grass.

The next pic shows my Sunday campsite (on Monday morning) in a vacant lot near Lake Moyie. I am enjoying the challenge of finding good sites that don't cost a fortune (nothing for the first 3 nights).

Campsite 3.

On Monday, I went for a hike at Mount Fernie park and took this picture after a grouse errupted from the brush, crying and puffing herself up in order to lead me from her young. I was amazed at the bravery of this little bundle of feathers!


I entered Alberta and explored the Crows Nest Pass area. I took the self-guided driving tour of the little towns that make up this area and then headed to an off the record campsite behind a little general store on the way to Waterton Lakes. It cost $5 a night per person and I have had the whole campsite to myself for two nights.

The windmills are part of a huge turbine installation (I counted more than 70 on two nearby ridges). The scenery in Alberta is stunning with the prairies and farmland set against chains of mountains.


Today (Tuesday) I spent the day hiking in Waterton Lakes National Park. The bison are in a paddock at the park entrance and reminded me a bit of cows, I'm afraid – maybe because they are penned in. The deer was munching grass in front of the visitors' center.

Penned bison.

Tame deer.

I walked the Bertha Falls and Lake trail and also around the lake – about 14Kms and maybe 500 meters vertical gain. The trail was surprisingly empty early in the day and I had the lake to myself. The picture shows the red sandstone that forms the lakeshore at this point with the head of the lake hemmed in by bluffs that probably reach 7000 feet.

Bertha Lake.

The last picture is taken from Red Rocks Canyon – a slightly disappointing place except for the wonderful drive in. The 'canyon' is fairly small and narrow and was full of very well fed tourists waddling around the paved walkway and families splashing in the water. The people in the water were having fun, anyway...

Off to see some petroglyphs tomorrow...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Ladybug Sold

I am both happy and sad to say that Ladybug is going to a new home. Chris and Judy James at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club are the new owners. She is currently hauled out and will be getting new standing rigging this week.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Pictures and Videos from Hilo to BC

A few videos and pictures from Hilo, the trip across, and Victoria (pics are in reverse chronological order):

Sailing downwind with jib poled out:

Video during the gale shot from inside the dodger. Running under bare poles:

Video during the gale looking aft. Running under bare poles:

Chris and Judy James - I am staying in their slip at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club while they decide if they will purchase Ladybug.

Ladybug safe and sound at the RVYC. Jim Allen, who helped me buy Ladybug, commented that she looks like she just came back from a trip to the Gulf Islands.

Cruise ship I met about 300 miles off Cape Flattery.

Aft starboard shroud has begun to fail.

Repair to shroud that got us home (I sailed mainly on the port tack to keep pressure off the starboard shroud).

Trying to dry out the autopilot.

Japanese gardens in Hilo

More Japanese gardens in Hilo

Hilo park

Hilo park

Sunken boat - this was my neighbor in Radio Bay, Hilo

Friday, July 3, 2009

Sample Book Chapter - Hilo to Home

As some of you may know, I have been working on a book about the trip. Below is a very rough unedited draft of the second to last chapter covering the return trip. I wrote most of this during the last leg and have just finished adding a few pages from the last few days while enjoying my stay at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club in sunny Cadboro Bay.

A very nice couple here at the yacht club are interested in buying Ladybug and she will be hauled out and surveyed here in the next week or so. If the sale goes through, I will work with the new owners to re-rig her and fix a few things that were worn out or broken on the return voyage. On the whole, Ladybug came through very well and looks like she just returned from an overnighter in the Gulf Islands, now that I have hosed off some of the salt!

Here is the sample chapter. I would value your critical (positive and negative) feedback, editorial and otherwise.

From Hilo to Home
And yet the sea is a horrible place, stupefying to the mind and poisonous to the temper; the sea, the motion, the lack of space..”
Radio Bay is a strange place for a cruiser's anchorage. It is a tiny mud bottomed harbour with a sea wall that fronts directly on a busy container terminal. Because of security restrictions brought in after the terrorist attacks on Sept 11, 2001, I always had to be escorted when I left the boat or arrived back at the gate. The constant container traffic was incredibly noisy during the day, although at night it was quiet, especially compared to the continuous noise and motion that I had become accustomed to on the crossing.
I tied Ladybug's stern to a pair of cleats on the sea wall that would have suited the Queen Mary, running an anchor off the bow to hold her away from the wall. This was the first time I had moored this way, using a so-called Mediterranean moor, and I was grateful when Curt from the boat next door lent me a hand.
Curt had arrived from San Diego on a 30 foot Newport that he had purchased there for use in the Mariana Islands. His crossing had been rough and the boat had not held up as well as Ladybug. It's internal structure is not as strong because the bulkheads that span the interior at various points are not bonded in place. Curt described how the boat flexed and creaked and groaned in the big seas he encountered. Most of the hatches and port lights had leaked and the interior of the boat and almost all his possessions were soaked in salt water. He was in the process of using a powerful caulking compound to fix these issues for the upcoming 3000 mle passage to his home on Rota. There were four other cruising boats Med-tied to the wall, two on their way back to San Fransisco from the Marquesas and the others outbound from the US.
The check in with the Harbour Master was simple enough and the fees a reasonable $8 per day. Customs and Immigration also went surprisingly smoothly, everything handled by one very friendly official. It strikes me as strange that the US border security people who I have met when checking in by boat have without exception been friendly and helpful where their equivalents at the airports are usually the opposite.
I walked a couple of miles in to the center of Hilo, marveling that I could still walk after four weeks of lying around on Ladybug. My legs felt fine the first day, but on the second and third, I felt very stiff and sore in the thighs. It must be that on the boat you use the backs of your legs when balancing and moving on deck, but the fronts do not get much use.
I had read in Blue Latitudes that “...the Hawaiian language has only twelve letters, half of which seem to be k”. Sure enough almost every street name in Hilo starts with K and I found it next to impossible to remember any of the names during my brief stay. In fact I met a man who had moved here two years ago and he confessed that he was only now starting to get the hang of Hawaiian place names. Hilo is, however, quite small and the downtown is laid out on a grid, making it easy to get around.
Hilo is also known as the City of Parks, thanks, ironically, to a tsunami. While Hurricanes sometimes reach the Hawaiian islands, tsunamis are a bigger threat. On my walk in, I passed a plaque that described the 1960 tsunami, which obliterated much of the city along Hilo Bay including the mostly Japanese township of Waiakea. The 8.3 magnitude earthquake that caused this tsunami occurred off the coast of Chile. While the tidal wave caused little damage elsewhere, Hilo Bay area was hard hit and sixty-one people lost their lives here. About 540 homes and businesses were also destroyed when waves up to 35 feet high swept over the coast.
-->It was decided not to rebuild in the most low lying areas and a large area of the Shinmachi district was made over into parkland. Where houses and businesses used to stand there are now playing fields and parks. I was puzzled about the hotels that line this tsunami prone coast, but learned that they are built on strong pillars and the entire first floor is designed to collapse and give way to the wall of water when a tsumani strikes.
It rained on my walk into town and again when I walked home. This is the wet side of the island of Hawaii because it is exposed to the cloud-bearing trade winds. Anywhere there is vacant land, its seems that a rain forest grows. After four weeks of nothing but blue, gray, and white, I drank in the colours and smells of the luxuriant foliage. Great Banyan trees, which spread by dangling their vine like roots from their branches lined many of the boulevards. Some of these Banyans had trunks more than a dozen feet in diameter. Many trees were more like plant colonies than individual trees, aerial plants dangling and sprouting from every branch and trunk.
In town I visited a covered market where I bought fresh vegetables and succulent strawberry papayas. These sweet little fruits have a red flesh and are much smaller than the papayas we typically see in northern supermarkets, being about the size of a mango. At Sharky's cafe, I caught up on emails, letting everyone know I had arrived safely Rani had sent me loving emails each day and it took me a couple of hours to read them all and respond from a month's absence. Sharky's is a great little hole in the wall and was my introduction to the friendly, laid back Hilo attitude.
On my second day I took the bus into town. This is a free service, running during the day once every hour or so. I met Bob, a survivor of the 1960 tsunami. Bob was of Japanese descent but born and raised in Hawaii. On the night of the tsunami he woke up when he heard what he thought was rain. It turned out to be a river of water flowing past his house. He made it to higher ground but the tsunami destroyed his home and all his possessions (insurance did not cover tsunamis). Bob emigrated to the mainland, but had recently returned to the place of his birth.
I asked Bob if he still spoke Japanese and he told me he did and that anywhere he traveled he tried to learn basic phrases in the language so as to connect better with the people. He was a mischievous fellow and warned me about the importance of pronouncing words correctly. He told me how many Japanese visitors to Hawaii have problems pronouncing the word 'coffee', saying cohee instead. Unfortunately there is a similar word in Hawaiian, 'kohe', that means vagina. I told Bob about a similar problem my brother had had while he was courting his Thai wife. The incident involved a car trip with his wife, her parents and her 83 year old grandmother, driving through the rice paddies north of Bangkok. My brother, Mike, saw a water buffalo and decided to impress them with his command of Thai by shouting out its name with great gusto. It is something like "kwai" (pronounced as you'd imagine "Bridge over River Kwai" would be, though it's a different word). Unfortunately, Thai has not just tones (tones weren't the problem), but also 32 vowels, including long and short versions for each. With a long "ai", "kwai" is, in fact, water buffalo. With a short vowel, unfortunately, "kwai" is a word for penis that is considered so rude that his future wife, Wallapak, had never in her life spoken it aloud, perhaps the rudest word in the entire Thai language. There was stunned silence in the car, so Mike tried again. And again. And again.....
The economy in Hilo is not strong. Tourism is down due to the recession, but it might be a blessing that Hilo is not booming. The town has a cohesiveness that is rare in places where rampant building of hotels and condos has been allowed. Instead there is a nice mix of old and new architecture, including several attractive municipal and private buildings from the early 20th century. Nothing fancy here, but nothing terribly run down either. Real estate prices are also quite reasonable, making it feasible for an average person to own their home. While food prices are high, residents pay less than visitors. I could see myself living here.
The first night, I invited Curt from the boat next door to join me for a pasta supper. Curt, who is originally from the spa town of Baden-Baden in Germany, spent nearly 30 years building and running a very successful dental lab in Salt Lake City and another in California. When he turned fifty he left behind his 10,000 square foot home and Maserati sports car to go cruising on a 27 foot sailboat. His wife did not share his passion for the sea, so she got the house and car and he ended up sailing alone around the world, stopping to do dental lab work when he ran out of funds. He met his second wife Christine in the south Pacific where she spontaneously left the boat she was on to join him on his little cruiser. A few years ago they found their paradise on the island of Rota, near Guam. They leased nearly an acre of land here and built a beautiful home. I told Curt I would visit him someday to see paradise at first hand.
I did not spend as much time in Hawaii as I woud have liked. I felt driven to complete the voyage to BC. The sailing season was well underway on the west coast and every day I delayed reduced the chance of selling Ladybug this year. Vowing to return, I departed Hilo two days after I arrived.
The weather forecast contained a small craft advisory with winds to 30 knots, but things were supposed to calm down as the Pacific high moved northeast the next day. I decided to chance it and sailed out of Radio Bay mid-afternoon. By nightfall the winds were in the high 20's with rain squalls that brought even higher gusts. This was the first time on the crossing that I feared for my life. We were beating into head seas under our smallest jib alone, the seas so high that they broke regularly over Ladybug. I had to dog down all hatches and put the main hatch boards in place to keep out the seas that were sweeping across the cabin. I cursed the fact that I had not secured the cockpit lockers and it was now too rough to do so with any safety. Ladybug was being laid over in the gusts and if she went much further water could pour into the cockpit and below through the open lockers. In the dark, this probably seemed worse than it actually was and despite all the pandemonium and violent motion, Ladybug and I survived the night. Rarely have I been so happy to see the dawn, although the seas were still very high and the wind did not lessen much that day.
By 3 am on the third day out, the wind was down enough to put up a little bit of reefed mainsail. I was feeling lethargic and mildly seasick due to the constant tossing motion. Probably the worst aspect of single-handed sailing is coping on your own with illness. Even mild lethargy makes it hard to do the simplest task on board and I had to force myself to cook a meal or go on deck to let out or take in a reef. There were some compensations for the squally weather. Later that night when I came on deck to adjust the course, a great ghostly arch of light. like the entryway of a giant cathedral, lay across the heavens. I concluded it was a rainbow shining in the reflected light of a full moon. How many people can say they have seen a rainbow made of moonlight? That night I also saw the only ship I would pass near until reaching the coast of North America. It approached very quickly from the direction of Honolulu, disappearing for a moment in a rain squall, and then reappearing all lit up with lights like a necklace of pearls. I felt happy that there were other people out here with me on the great ocean, even though the ship passed behind us by over a mile. I watched it until it disappeared behind another squall and felt quite lonely when it was gone.
The autopilot belt broke the next day. It had served us well through more than 4000 miles of cruising, but I was nervous that the replacement would not hold up until I reached BC. I had the original repaired belt just in case, but this would require me to remove the autopilot and reinstall it in other holes because the old belt was longer than the two newer ones.
On this leg, I began to see how one could go crazy alone out here, particularly during days or even weeks of calm weather. I recalled Donald Crowhurst, who took part in the first single-handed around the world race back in the 1960's. For various reasons, he began to falsify his position, leading a bizarre double life, where during his radio check ins he would report excellent progress when in fact he was sailing in a circle in the Atlantic close to where he had started. His boat was eventually found abandoned and his log entries reveal a gradual decline into madness. At the end it is assumed he simply stepped off his boat into a watery oblivion. One day, when I was shouting at the weather gods for their lack of sympathy (and wind!) I caught myself saying, “If we don't get some bloody wind soon, I'll do a Crowhurst!”.
Both the calms and the storms are ultimately a result of the Pacific High and related low pressure systems. It was on the way back to BC that I realized how much we were influenced by the Pacific High. In fact it determined the direction of this entire trip, providing the consistent northwest winds that pushed us quickly down the coast to California, responsible at least indirectly for the San Quintin storm, and dictating the C shaped track of the last two legs. The Pacific High produces winds which rotate clockwise around a center that is usually found in the middle of the Pacific near Hawaii, but can vary dramatically in both shape and location throughout the year. Low pressure systems in its vicinity also produce storms such as the gales that kept us pinned in Coos Bay for a week.
Mariners have long known how to take advantage of natural phenomena such as the winds and calms generated by the Pacific High. As early as 1847, Matthew Fontaine Maury formalized this knowledge in a series of charts of the worlds surface currents and winds. Today, sailors still use pilot charts, compiled from the records of countless ship's voyages. These charts show monthly average wind and current conditions and while they cannot predict actual conditions, they give you an idea of the probability of getting favourable winds and currents on a given passage.
The Pacific High makes the trip south a breeze, so to speak, because not only does it provide consistent tail winds, those same winds produce a surface current of less than a knot that helps speed you on your way. Before the advent of powered vessels, it was next to impossible to go against these winds and currents. Nowadays many sailboats motor back up the coast, usually waiting for the evening hours and sometimes holing up for days to wait out a strong northerly blow. Other sailors take advantage of services like Dockwise Yacht Transport , which will ship your boat north on board a specially designed boat carrier. But the only way to sail north without a continuous beat into rough seas and high winds is to go around the high.
Another phenomenon related to the high is the North Pacific Gyre. This is a giant area of water rotating clockwise, which is the site of a giant garbage dump called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Here, due to currents and wind, garbage from all over the Pacific collects and is trapped in an area twice the size of Texas. I started to see large and small pieces of plastic floating regularly by Ladybug at around 30 degrees north. For the next 600 miles, this depressing procession continued, with black plastic balls, containers, pieces of crate, and yellow rope drifting endlessly past. While scientists had predicted the formation of such a garbage dump, it was a sailor, Charles Moore, returning from the Transpac sailing race who first reported the phenomenon.
Five days out and the wind swung into the south and stayed there for a week. We were no longer in the trades with their consistent north east winds, but had passed into the northerly variables. However, we were still making better than 100 mile days and I settled into a routine of putting up the spinnaker when winds were light and a poled out jib when heavy. Sometimes I would add a reefed main to the jib in moderate winds. One spinnaker run lasted 54 hours, so it was not all sail changes!
On day six I found that some of the Mexican eggs were off, so I threw the carton overboard and started a new one, which proved to be alright, still. It is not surprising, I suppose, given that these eggs had been nearly 6 weeks without refrigeration. I made peanut butter cookies because I had finished the last of the treats we bought in Mexico. I also saw the first fish of this leg, a streamlined tuna-like torpedo, weaving at amazing speed across our bow and sometimes jumping clear of the water.
Day eight was nearly the last day of the voyage. Around 10 pm in a rain squall, the wind shifted so that I needed to jybe the spinnaker from starboard to port tack. When I brought it around, the sail twisted into the dreaded hourglass. I crawled forward to release the line that holds down the tack of the spinnaker so that I could bring it back and around the sheet to remove the twist. This turned out to be a bad idea. While this is easy to do in light winds and daylight, it was pitch black with heavy cloud cover and no moon. With 10 knots of wind, the forces on the big sail were huge and I found myself holding grimly to the line with one hand and to the lashed down dinghy and shrouds with the other. Then a gust pulled the sail and yanked me off my feet throwing agaisnt the lifelines. My foot caught under the whisker pole twisting my leg painfully. If that had not happened I might have gone straight overboard. Somehow I held on to the bucking line, freed my trapped leg, and worked the line to take the twist out of the sail. I was absolutely exhausted by the time I re-cleated the tack line. The force was so great on this line that it took another half hour and several attempts to tighten and re-cleat the line to its original position.
On day nine a storm overtook Ladybug with near-gale force winds and ten foot seas. At first I set a poled out jib with the reefed main on the opposite side. This 'wing and wing' configuration makes for a balanced sail plan when running directly downwind. However it was too much sail as the wind built that night. We began to surf down the waves regularly reaching 9 and 10 knots. I took the main down around midnight when I was worried we might broach in the trough of one of the waves we were surfing. We continued to sail at a consistent 6 to 7 knots and I went below and put in earplugs to try to catch a few hours sleep. The next day I added up our mileage for the 24 hours and it totaled 154 nautical miles – better than 6 knots average and Ladybug's best run to date.
Obviously a voyage like this would be more difficult and much slower without some way to steer the boat 24 hours a day. Even Joshua Slocum, the first man to sail alone around the world, used different sails and a lashed helm to set up the 37 foot Spray so she could steer herself. Before I left on this trip, I had never used an autopilot, sometimes hand steering for 15 hours at a stretch. After only a week out I could not imagine going back to that life and our autopilot was in use more than 95 percent of the time. I would rate reliable self-steering as the single most important item to add to a sailboat for the single-hander, even more important than GPS.
There are different ways to make a boat steer herself. Electronic autopilots come in different flavours with the smaller ones installed in the cockpit, directly pushing a tiller or turning the wheel (like ours). The beefier electronic or hydraulic pilots are mounted below decks where they typically operate on the steering quadrant. The reasons we opted for a lighter cockpit model were energy consumption and price. The bigger units can consume so much power that we would have needed to run the engine to keep up. Wind vanes are another choice that work better in stronger winds where small autopilots like ours can be overpowered. I had researched windvanes before we left and had plans on board to build a simple vane with a second rudder hung off the transom. If we had continued with Ladybug, I would have built this in Mexico. I now believe that one should have both an autopilot and vane steering on a long distance cruising boat.
I did not realize how much I depended upon the autopilot until it broke down. Usually this was simply because a belt broke – easily fixed with a spare belt or a dab of crazy glue. A more serious failure occurred while sailing between Ensenada and Turtle Bay where the motor unit starting making strange grinding sounds and ceased to work in one direction altogether. It took a day and several attempts to fix the problem, which was that one of the gears that transferred power between the motor and the cogged pulley had gone out of alignment, wearing an oblong hole in its mounting plate (Gorilla Glue to the rescue!).
On the evening of the twelth day out, we had nearly reached 40 degrees latitude. Forty is a magic number when sailing around the Pacific high because that is usually where you can expect to find consistent northwest winds that will take you straight back to North America. Sure enough we had an hour of such winds – a teaser that had me literally jumping for joy in the cockpit. They died away that night completely,though and I took down the sails for the first time on this leg. Apart from an abortive attempt to fly the spinnaker around midnight in a light south breeze, I slept through until the morning. When I woke up the cabin was cool and a light northwesterly wind was blowing. I set the main and jib and we were on our way for Cape Flattery.
As I sat in the cockpit enjoying the sunshine and a steady beam reach, my thoughts returned to Chris Malchow and Courtenay Steele on their Tahiti ketch who had disappeared out here the fall before we left on our trip. Like Ladybug, their boat was equipped with an EPIRB emergency locater beacon, but no life raft or shortwave transmitter. are two months overdue on their voyage from Hawaii to Vancouver Island. Like me, the couple had left from Hilo bound for Victoria. They were reported overdue when they failed to arrive in BC from Hawaii after about 40 days and a search turned up no clues as to what had happened. The best guess was that they had struck something – either another ship or a submerged object such as a container and had gone down too quickly to escape into a dinghy or activate their EPIRB. Running blind at night, it is easy to imagine hitting something in the dark and I comforted myself that the chances of this happening were slim. I did some calculations to figure out my odds of being hit by a ship if I blindly crossed a shipping lane. It worked out to between 1 in 100 and 1 in a 1000 depending on how I ran the numbers. There were six shipping lanes shown on each of the blue water legs, so there was certainly a risk of being hit. I decided to compromise and keep a better watch when near the lanes. When I reached the busy traffic separation scheme off Cape Flattery, I would keep a continuous watch.
By day 14, I realized that I must be stuck inside the Pacific high after all. The baromoteric pressure was 1020 millibars and the winds were from the north east, so I assumed we were on the south east edge of the high. Over the last two days, we had had southerly winds and calms where I took the sails down to reduce wear from flogging in the big westerly swell. My hope of a record passage time had vanished, but the calms had one benefit. They allowed me to see a parade of hundreds of little sails passing us on either side. I stared fascinated at these little creatures that ranged in size from smaller than a dime to a few inches across. The sail was almost transparent and a semi-circular fan shape. When I examined the creatures more closely from ladybug's bow, I noticed that the sail was attached to a purplish jelly like oval body and that tendrils hung below the body. I later learned that these are a type of jelly fish known as By-the-wind sailor jellyfish and belong to a group of hydrozoans known as Chrondrophores. Apparently, they aren't true jellyfish, but consist of a colony of small creatures known as hydroids. They use their sails to move more efficiently than the tidal currents alone would allow and feed on plankton, like most surface drifters.
The sailing jelly fish may also explain the little tern like birds that have been skittering around Ladybug night and day. These birds are dark brown with a lighter chevron marking on each wing and a white band across the tail. Maybe a foot in wing span they use swallow-like aerobatics when they hunt, skimming low along the surface of a wave then turning suddenly at an impossible angle. They seemed to gravitate to Ladybug at dusk and dawn, maybe because of my lights, and there were dozens of them last night. I believe they may eat the jelly fish or perhaps they feed on a marine insect that I never could see. They do not seem to be fishing, for they never enter the water.
On this leg, I listened to music for maybe an hour a day, finding certain types of music to work better than others. Maybe because of the repetitive motion of the waves, music that had regular rhythms or contained a constant background note seemed to fit well with both the environment and my mood. I found that I also favored music made by the human voice. The spare choral music of Monteverdi's vespers, haunting melodies by Enya, and the wonderful spirituals sung by the Blind Boys of Alabama were my favorites on this crossing.
The days of light breezes and occasional calms continued until the eighteenth day out when I noticed an ominous drop in the barometer, which has been reading 1018 millibars. It starting dropping over night and was down to 1013 mbs at 5 am and continued dropping all day, reaching a low of 1008 mbs. Now this does not sound like much of a change, but it resulted in the highest winds and worst conditions I have ever sailed through. The wind built that morning to about 20 knots from the south west and rose further during the afternoon to 30 knots. During this time I was running under the poled out storm jib. Around supper time, Ladybug suffered a mild broach and it was clearly time to get down the jib, I put up the main with all reefs in, but even this was too much and by 7:30 pm, we were down to bare poles running before what was now a full gale. The winds were between 35 and 45 knots and even with no sail up, we were still reaching 7 knots on the face of the waves. The seas were also building and maybe it is good that it became dark soon after this, for I was unable to see them rearing above my little boat. What I could see was not encouraging with 10-12 foot seas and 3 to 4 foot breaking crests in places. In the gusts, even these were flattened and there were great pools of white spume and long tendrils of whipped up water running down each wave face.
The autopilot was having problems with the really big waves, occasionally allowing us to turn beam on to the seas. I tried to hand steer, but after an hour and a half I was exhausted. I was obviously out of shape from lack of exercise, but it was just too much strain to try to keep the boat running before the big seas watchng a dancing compass, so I turned control back to the autopilot and adjusted the course to make it easier on it.
I was not properly prepared for the gale. The regular jib was in a bag on the coach roof and it soon tore free from its lashing and almost washed over board. The whisker pole broke free from its mounts when a sea washed over the boat. There were by now seas washing regularly over Ladybug. The cockpit filled with water a few times when a particularly large wave broke over the transom. I got on my wet weather gear and climbed out to resecure the whisker pole and stuff the sodden jib into the cockpit. I tied more lines around the mainsail which was flapping wildly wherever a loose piece of sail was exposed. The mast was pumping from the wind in the rigging and it was extremely noisy even below.
I put a mattress on the cabin sole and lay there all night listening to to the storm rage, too anxious to sleep. An occasional sea would wash over the cabin and water would jet in a stream through a gap between the hatch and the hatchboards. Each time this happened, I mopped up the water as best I could before it ruined th electronics or soaked the cushions. The next morning my teeth were aching and I thought I had developed a toothache, only realizing later that I must have been grinding them during the night.
By early morning the wind had swung into the west and there were now waves coming from two directions, occasionally colliding. One of these must have hit us side on because I looked out the port lights and could see only water. Everything on the port side of the boat ended up on top of me on the floor. I would estimate that some of these seas were in excess of 20 feet, probably being a combination of two seas on top of one another. I went outside again to survey the damage and reset the solar panels which had been twisted out of position by the wave. The outboard motor was sitting at an odd angle, the wave having broken the shear plate (much the same thing happened during the San Quintin gale). The dodger must have struck the water or maybe an edge of the solar panel when we went on our side because later I noticed that part of its window was ripped free of the surrounding cloth.
Three times a big breaking sea washed in over the transom and outboard motor, flooding the cockpit. I had stowed water containers and fenders in the cockpit and this reduced the volume. The water reached the bridge deck and entrance to the cabin, but stopped there and ran back out quickly through the transom cut out. In the process, it completely covered the autopilot control unit and motor, although miraculously the autopilot did not immediately stop working. After the second wave, the autopilot beeped and stopped steering. I leaped out into the cockpit and straddled the seats while resetting the steering and starting the autopilot again. As I was doing this, another wave swept in between my legs and splashed up against the bridge deck, spraying the inside of the cabin with ocean water. I cursed myself for not replacing the hatch boards in my hurry. Later when I was cleaning up after the gale, I found a little two inch fish stranded under a water container that must have washed in on one of these waves.
The wind and seas continued that next day, though the barometer began to climb and was back up to 1015 millibars by evening. The winds dropped below gale force shortly after supper and I knew I had survived the worst of it. Around 11 am the autopilot beeped and stopped working. It had been submerged by at least two waves so I assumed that water had got into the socket that supplied power to the unit. Over the next day, by drying out the socket and resetting it when it failed, I was able to keep the autopilot working for up to two hours at a time. The next day it quit for good and would not work for more than a few seconds. I realized that there was a problem with the motor unit and concluded tha water had got inside and was shorting out a sensor that sends feedback to the control unit when the motor is moving. Unfortunately, I discovered that I had not brought the right type of screwdriver to open the motor unit. I tried making a long enough shaft by gluing two screwdriver bits together with epoxy but the epoxy was not strong enough. Next I tried to make a screwdriver from a coat hanger by flattening one end and filing it like an arrow hear. This was the right shape but was too light to turn the screw. Finally I resorted to heating the motor in the oven after drilling a hole in the casing to let out any water or vapour and squirting alcohol inside. Sad to say, even this extreme measure failed to help.
So now I would have to hand steer. We were still about 300 miles out from Cape Flattery and maybe 375 miles from Victoria. I really did not relish the prospect of hand steering for four or more days, but there was no alternative. All hopes of a fast passage disappeared because now I would have to heave to or lock the helm at night and we would only make good progress for the twelve or so hours per day that I could stay at the helm. To make matters worse, I could see a line of cloud moving in from the south east that looked much the same as the clouds I had seen before the gale. Sure enough the barometer started to fall and the wind and waves picked up. By nightfall, we were running toward the east, beam on to the waves in an attempt to get out of the path of the storm. We must have been on the edge of this one, because the winds never reached more than 35 knots. By the next morning we were clearly outside of its track, the wind gradually veering into the northwest.
I began my hand steering shifts, starting before 7 am, I would steer for two or three hours at a stretch and then take a break for tea or a meal. For longer breaks, I would take down the jib and lock the helm, leaving ladybug to steer a course within 20 or 30 degrees of where we wanted to head. On my mid-morning break I had a shock at when I was resetting one of the solar cells. I noticed that two strands of wire from the aft starboard shroud had parted at the bottom where they came out of the swage. This was potentially very dangerous. If the shroud parted when we were in high winds, the mast could buckle and the extra load on the other stays could result in losing the mast. Fortunately, I was better prepared for this problem than I had been with the autopilot. I had some extra wire and bulldog clamps on board and I cut a length of wire and clamped it on one end to the shroud and then tentioning it with vice grips, I clamped the other end to the swage.
I hand steered for twelve hours that day and then locked the helm for the night. My hard work was rewarded the next day, my twenty third day out, with an amazingly good run of 112 nautical miles in the last 24 hours. The northwest winds had remained high during the night allowing us to coast along at better than 4 knots while I slept. I started early that morning with my first shift at 5:45 am. Half an hour later, a four foot long sea turtle drifted by, craning its neck to get a better look at us, Moments later I was startled by the appearance of the Silver Sea, a cruise ship bound for Alaska, immediately off our starboard bow. This was the first ship I had seen since the freighter off Honolulu and I hailed her and asked for a weather forecast. The office on duty was very courteuos and after giving me a two day forecast for the waters off Cape Flattery, he wished me a pleasant voyage.
The forecast called for northwest winds for the next two day, building to gale force by tomorrow afternoon. I was happy about the continued winds but a bit nervous about going through another gale, which would be the third of this passage. However, if we made good use of these winds, we should be past Cape Flattery and into the Strait of Juan de Fuca by tomorrow at noon.
That afternoon the winds built to 25 to 30 knots from the northwest. I had figured out a way to make Ladybug steer herself with the wind on the beam like this by putting up the small jib and reefing down the main to two or even three reefs. She would alter course by between 10 and 20 degrees, but maintain good speed. Only occasionally would she fall off too far and accidentally jibe. When she did so, the preventer would hold the main in place and I would immediately notice the change in motion and hurry to the cockpit to set things right.
The strong beam winds continued for 12 hours until 2 am and I was not able to snatch more than a couple of hours sleep due to the violent motion. When Ladybug was beam on to the seas, an occasional breaking sea would slam into her side and water would pour over the cabin and run down the windows on the other side. At 3 am she jibed accidentally and I decided to get up for the day. It was possible, now that we were only 30 miles out from Cape Flattery that I could make it to Victoria by nightfall.
I hand steered that day from 3 am on. The wind died down and the mountains of Vancouver island poked up out of a blanket of fog as the dawn tinged them in rosy hues. I altered course at the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca so as to cross the shipping lanes as quickly as possible. Three large ships, container ships and oil tankers, passed within a few miles on their way across the Pacific. The fog moved down off the hills and enveloped us in its damp embrace and I could see for less than a 1000 feet. I turned on the motor to speed our crossing but before long I heard the throb of another engine. I turned ours off to better hear and the dim outline of a trawler suddenly appeared to starboard only a few hundred feet away, passing just behind us. An hour later the fog burned off and we were safely out of the shipping lanes. To port I could see the fog shrouded entrance to Port San Juan and behind us and to Starboard, Cape Flattery and its off lying rocks and islands were now visible in the early morning sun.
The promised gale force northwest winds did not appear until that afternoon. Shortly after the fog burned off, a light northwest wind directly behind us allowed me to set the main alone. We drifted along the coastline, paralleling the Juan de Fuca hiking trail and doing three or four knots. China and Mystic beaches were abeam shortly after lunch and the wind built gradually through the early afternoon. I was soon reefed down to a two reefed main and we were moving along smartly at five to six knots. By the time we reached Point No Point the wind was up to 30 knots and Ladybug never dropped below six knots after that.
The seas were starting to build and I was getting quite tired after 12 hours at the helm without a break. I put on my MP3 player and selected some lively music to keep me going and to drown out the hiss roar of following seas. Sheringham light passed quickly by and soon we were passing Sooke and on to the rocky shores of East Sooke Park. For hours I stood at the helm or on the cockpit seats, twisting the wheel to keep Ladybug lined up with the waves, The stronger winds and seas made this increasingly difficult even with the small amount of sail I had up. At Becher Bay, the wind died down a little, and I foolishly shook out a reef. The wind returned a few minutes later and it was now much too strong to easily reef back down. I hung on to the wheel, using most of my strength to prvent her from turning and broaching. Even a slight lapse of concentration would allow Ladybug to veer off and the force on the wheel increased incredibly if I allowed this to happen. Ladybug was now doing a consistent 8 to 8.5 knots through the water, well above her theoretical maximum speed of about 6.5 knots.
I had calculated that the tides at Race Rocks should be in our favour and sure enough, we received a lift from the tide and hurtled through Race Passage at nearly 10 knots. I had no charts for this area, nor could I have left the helm to consult them, so had to go by memory and by looking for kelp and turbulence to avoid the many shoals and off lying rocks. It was a wild trip with tidal rips and eddies on all sides. The famous old lighthouse at Race Rocks was wearing green netting over a layer of scaffolding and looked almost lopsided in this peculiar garment. As we passed her by a half mile off to starboard, the buildings of Victoria appeared behind Bentinck Island, shining in the late afternoon sun.
I ran the last six miles down to the capitol city with a fresh beam wind, now much reduced by the sheltering hills of Metchosin. The sun was just setting as Ladybug passed the light at Ogden Point. I waved to some children watching the sun set from the pier and furled Ladybug's sails for the last time. Motoring up the familiar harbour, I tied up at the customs dock, nearly 11 months to the day since I had last been in Victoria. It was good to be home