After the Debacle

While I felt good about having the common sense to abandon the anchor and not try to lift 125 lbs. of anchor chain and anchor more than 150 feet (50 ft of 3/8”bbb chain x 1.65lbs/ft x  + 40 lbs. anchor = 122 lbs. plus rode), I had a sleepless night.

While I wasn’t sleeping, I came up with the plan for the week:

First, I had to get the windlass working. It had an electrical problem; it had no power and lastly the wildcat was hitting the chain stripper. None of that was good.

Second, Wrangell only has about 7 hours of daylight nowadays. While the sun never gets very high in the sky in any case, I needed to maximize our chances of seeing those stupid little shrimp pot floats. They are only 10” by 5” wide. No easy to see under poor lighting conditions.

Third, even as we abandoned the anchor, I was looking for the shrimp pot float that should have been very near the boat. We spent 10 minutes looking for it with no luck. I was now worried that the reason we couldn’t find, notwithstanding the whitecaps and poor light, was that the float was under water, pulled there by the strong currents in the area. In the upper part of the bay, I didn’t expect the currents to be that strong, but in the opening to the bay, where we left the first shrimp pot, the currents could reach a few knots. In 320’ of water, with a pot on only 400’ of line, a current will drag the float under. Plus, even worse, with such strong currents and a light pot, who knows where the pot would be a week later.

So, first thing Sunday, I went to my navigation chart to check the currents and tides for the coming days. Coastal Explorer does make that easy. I had to find the slack current times that occurred during what daylight there was. I quickly realized that our options were limited. The viable days were today, Sunday Friday and lastly Saturday (7 days away).

Today was out since the windlass problem was not yet solved. Also, we were all tired. I didn’t want to have any more problems or issues, otherwise I may be writing about Mutiny on Dauntless.

Friday was a school day, but push come to shove, it was viable.

Saturday looked ideal with sunrise and tides. Slack time in Mahan Bay would be at 09:50 Saturday morning, sunrise is 08:20. Plus the currents would be with us until it turned just before 10:00 and then we could ride it home also.

With more than $500 of gear waiting for our return, I wanted to maximize our chances of finding it. So I told the crew we needed to be there by 9:15 to 9:30 giving us a good hour of slack or not strong currents to find our shrimp floats (I used the largest white fender I had for the anchor, I knew I would have no trouble finding it).

Subtracting the 2.5-hour cruise from 09:30 meant a 07:00 departure time. Yes, it would be dark, but my goal was to retrieve our gear.

The last part of this plan dealt with the weather. The winds had been strong 12 to 18 knots the entire day when we left the pots. At noon, it was not much of a problem, but as the afternoon, the clouds had increased, the day became even more grey and darker. With a little pickup in the winds, little whitecaps developed, which made it impossible to find any small white floats in a grey sky and sea.

A shrimp Pot Float

So, we needed a day with light winds and the less clouds the better.

I go to Windy.com for all my long-range weather planning. I still find it easier to use and I use it for the big picture in the long term. The weather models (I use the ECMWF) were consistent for the entire week and showed that Saturday was the best weather day with the lightest winds and the only non-overcast day.
That would work and I planned accordingly.

Next up, I would have to tackle the Ideal Windlass and get it working by the coming Saturday, the best day for daylight, weather, winds, tides and currents.

 

 

 

 

Anchoring at Night in Strange Places; It’s not for the Faint Hearted.

Only day’s away from completing this 2,000-mile, two-month journey, I found myself breaking yet another of my hard and fast rules I made for myself 5 years ago.  Entering yet another harbor at night, and having to anchor by radar, avoiding darkened, moored boats and mooring balls.

But like most hard and fast rules, I had to weigh the circumstances against various risks. In this case, anchoring at night was the least risky option. I’d left Channel Island Harbor at 04:00 for the 120 nm voyage to San Luis Obispo harbor. I’d planned on 19 hours. Thus, to arrive before sunset, would require me to leave the Channel Islands at midnight.

Leaving anyplace at midnight means a total disruption of my sleep cycle. I’d be starting a long trip tired and already behind my personal power curve. By leaving at 04:00, I’d be able to get a reasonable 6 hours sleep and 03:00 is on my natural wake up curve (though normally, I’d go back to sleep for another 3 hours).

Raymarine E-80 Radar, C-Map on Coastal Explorer, Navionics chart on Samsung Tablet

 

 

 

 

 

Therefore, anchoring in a strange harbor at night seemed for me to be the lessor of two evils.

Let’s talk some basics. Four years ago, I hated my Raymarine E-80 Radar. I felt (and still do) that it was 1980’s technology, dressed to look like the 21st century. It was on my lest to replace at the earliest opportunity when money allowed. I had wanted a radar that I could integrate into my Coastal Explorer and C-Map chart plotter, navigation program.

San Luis Obispo harbor

Using the “Auto” settings, the E-80 will show you if the Exxon Valdez is bearing down on you, but otherwise, it either filters too much or not enough to be useful for close in maneuvering. As the miles and time increased under my belt, I learned how to best fine tune the radar using the manual settings for gain and sea state (which is basically a filter) to make it an effective tool.

Whenever I start the engine, I also turn on the: radar, navigation lights, auto pilot, VHF radios and horn.

Always.

For the first lesson in using the radar is that you must use it when the visibility is ideal, to be able to effectively and safely use it when the visibility is impaired, whether due to darkness or weather conditions (mainly fog, rain is another issue).

While underway I’m constantly checking and identifying any radar contacts visually, as well as on the navigation charts (for navigation markers, buoys, etc.).

As soon as I spot something the radar does not see, I adjust the radar, fine tuning so to speak. Normally this is just a matter of adjusting the sea state setting, though sometimes I also must fine tune the gain. E.g. I may see a fishing skiff a half mile off my starboard quarter, but it’s not showing up on the radar. I’ll have to lower the sea state setting, maybe only a few points, until the skiff shows up, but not the countless wave tops around it.  Sometimes, I’ll have to adjust the gain also.

My goal is always for the radar to show me potential hazards, without showing me wave tops. For the last couple of years, my tuning technique has been good enough to do exactly that. Forget the “auto” settings, they are hopeless.

Since I don’t get many false alarms, this also allows me to maximize the use of the two zone monitors.  For coastal cruising, like I’ve done since entering the Pacific Ocean, I set up a ring at ½ mile, that’s an 1/8 of a mile thick. Thus, if anything enters that ring you get an alarm. If you just put a circle around your boat at ½ mile, the radar will see some clutter very close to the boat and thus render the alarm, ineffective at best and annoying at worse. I make this ring go about 220° to 300° around the boat. That way it will see something approaching from the stern quarters, but not directly behind, as the radar will occasionally see a reflection of the mast, again making it ineffectual.

The second zone I set up 1 to 1.5 miles from the boat, in a much more 20° arc.

On the open ocean, well away from land, I’ll basically double these distances.

If I do get any false alarms, I adjust again. Usually it happens as the sea state gets worse (bigger seas).

For my set up, I find values of both the gain and the sea state in the 70’s to work best. In flat seas, I can lower the sea state to just above 50, but again, even changes of 1 or 2 can make a significant difference.

On this night, entering San Luis Obispo (SLO), as the seas calmed as I entered the bay that is protected from the NW through the East, I readjusted the sea state, lowering the filter values. From my charts I knew there was a mooring field, presumably with some moored boats. I adjusted the E-80 so that it would pick up objects as small as the mooring balls. Had the seas been above 2 to 3 feet, this would have been an impossibility, but if I had such seas in the harbor, I wouldn’t be stopping in any case.

This night, with strong NW winds, the harbor was well sheltered and the seas where maybe half a foot or less. Under those conditions the radar will do well.

I open and secure both pilot house doors, so that I can have quick access to looking out. I also go to the bow to scan the approach with binoculars (7×35), which I find very effective a night in poor light conditions.

Thus, I have that visual picture in my head, while checking the radar to ensure it’s seeing the same things.  Again, because I am constantly doing this in the daytime in good visibility, I have the confidence to know what the radar is telling me at night, when I must trust

Here is a short video of  it of me getting ready to enter the harbor:

Here are some stills made 2 minutes before the above video:

The radar 2 min before I took video
Coastal Explorer using C-Maps above, Navionics on tablet below

Three years ago, going through the main shipping channels of the Kattegat to the Skagerrak over the top of Denmark, I was terrified by what my brain perceived as the massive ship about to crush Dauntless. I was outside the channel, marked m red buoy, I knew the ship had to stay in the channel. The radar told me the buoy and this massive ship were ¼ mile distant, but my brain, every time I looked at the ship, I could swear was less than 50 feet away.

My mind was so convinced this ship was towering over us, that even as I checked and rechecked the positions of the markers on the chart and the ship and marker on the radar, all showed the target as more than a quarter mile away, but my mind would just not accept it.

I only calmed down when the ship was past.  In the daytime, my mind would not have been fooled, but at night, the perspective of distance, becomes very difficult.

I realized then that if I was going to continue to travel at night and not die of a heart attack, I had to make sure I knew exactly what the radar was telling and what it wasn’t and once done, accept what it showed.

So, this night, almost midnight, as I pulled into SLO bay, the radar guided me to a large area with a diameter of about half a mile with no mooring balls, though there were a couple of boats anchored on the west edge.

No fuss; no muss,

I was anchored in 25 feet of water at 23:20 having done 120 nm in 19 hours and 30 minutes, at an average speed of 6.2 knots.

The trip from CI Hbr to SLO. The Maretron data for pitching and rolling shows I did a fair amount after I rounded the corner to head north.

The morning after:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It Wasn’t Me; It was the Motherboard, I Swear

Dauntless doesn’t seem to have a care in the world, as she sits peacefully in Morro Bay, California.

No, I haven’t died or been in jail, I was in computer-less purgatory.

You know that place you end up when you depend on your laptop to communicate with the outside world.

And sure, a cell phone is great for talking, but if you think I’m going to write a blog post on it, as my mother would say, you have another think coming.

But a new motherboard for 500 bucks installed and at $67 battery from Amazon and my little HP Envy laptop is as good as new.

So, what did you miss? A lot really. Almost all of it too painful to even think about, let alone write about. But I do feel responsible to those of you who have spent your valuable time reading my rantings and ravings in between an adventure or so, so here are a few highlights:

  • The $1,000 to replace the leaking seals in my transmission. They still leak.
  • The reconditioned heat exchangers that started leaking 10 minutes are leaving port
  • The 60-mile detour (doesn’t sound like much in a car, but that’s 9 hours in a boat.
  • Being beaten back to Cabo San Lucas, not once, but twice. This from a person who never turns around.
  • Deciding to take the dingy 3 miles in a 30-knot wind only to discover it goes much faster downwind than up. Oh, and then I bent the prop, twice, the second time, with a belching of oil. And we were still three miles away from Dauntless, which we could not see in any case.
  • Checking into the USA with Dauntless for the first time in 4 years.
  • Being stopped by the Mexican Navy.
  • Being chased my fishing boats
  • Hobby horsing until you think you are going to die.
  • Entering yet another harbor at night, having to anchor by radar, having vowed years ago, never to do such things.

Umm, I had forgotten most of that. I’ve burned thru money this trip like a drunken sailor, but I’ve been so stressed for all the above, I’ve drunk much less than normal.

Through it all, and because of some genuine and generous friends, I was able to leave Dauntless for a week and make a quick trip to Fairbanks, Alaska, which was as as I’ve ever seen her and attend a wedding at 11,000 feet, which, left me breathless.

I hope to get back to my writing routine in the coming days. I start with the end, first.

Coming Next, Anchoring at Night in Strange Places: It’s not for the Faint Hearted.

 

Costa Rica Days 5 thru 7 – Isla Cedros & Jesusita to Bahia Guacamaya

I stayed two nights in the wonderful, quiet, still anchorage of Cedros & Jesusita.  It gave me time to catch up on my

Sunset in Bahia Guacamaya on 23 July

sleep and to complete the chores, cleaning and re-organization I should have done before I left the dock in Golfito.

Not the first time I have managed to stress myself by not finishing things as I should in a timely manner.

Won’t be the last, but still …

I hated leaving but it was time to move on.  I carefully followed by previous track out into open water.  If I didn’t take any shortcuts in; I certainly don’t take them on the way out.

I was underway before 8:00, as I had contrary current to contend with, I kept the rpms a little higher, 1700 today than the usual 1500 to 1600.  This gives me about an extra half knot, but also consumes an extra quarter gallon per hour or 17% more fuel.

Entering Bahia Samada at night of 22 July
Approaching Bahia Guacamaya

 

 

I was headed to Bahia Samada.  While it got good reviews on Active Captain, I’m starting to think all these reviews are written at a different time of year, with no south to west swell, because again it turned out to be rolly.

Also, buggy.  I’ve gotten in the habit like most experienced “cruisers” to turn on generator as the sun sets. It’s at this point that the winds will decrease or die and the bugs come out.  Also gives me an opportunity to put a little charge in the batteries, while running the A/C to cool and dehumidify the boat.

I usually run it a couple of hours, though I am conscious of the noise and it there are any other boats nearby, I turn it off sooner rather than later.

As I turned NE around the cape towards Samada, there was a large area of rain showers and thunderstorms, seemingly right over my intended destination. Though my timing worked out well in that the storms were moving slowly west, so while it rained for a while, by the time I got to the anchorage for the night, it at stopped.

As I said, not a great place to stop.  Rolly and buggy (mostly gnats).  Therefore, at the crack of dawn the next day, I was ready to get out of Dodge.

Hauled anchor at 06:00 and was underway to Bahia Guacamaya.  This place also got great reviews and for once it deserved them.  Hardly any roll, quiet, beautiful.

I stayed here two days.  I got the water maker running again, cleaned up the stern deck and jury rigged my garden hose reel that I use for the stern anchor line.  I did a good job, only wondering why I had not done it weeks earlier. Another unknown mystery of the universe.

But even before that.  The trip was very nice.  When I had left the winds were light from the northeast, forecast to turn southwesterly during the day at about 8 to 10 knots.  As I rounded Cape Velas the winds were ESE at 20 knots gusting to 25.  That pretty much was the rest of the afternoon.  Very luckily, I was only a few miles off shore so the wind had very little fetch (the distance winds blow unencumbered over water) this kept the wave heights down, in fact they were less than 2 feet.

Dauntless was rolling on marginally.   Now had I come here a few hours later, the seas would have been much greater.  Just like the day I left Golfito, with the winds having blown all night, the seas were moderate by the time I left.

Also, I was able to check the latest forecast.  I use WIndyty.com for the most part as I love how they present the data and the options you have to change what you look at.  I pretty much only look at winds, though I may check the different weather forecast numerical models to see any significant differences. What was interesting about today was the forecast was very wrong, at least in terms of wind speed and for a small boat like Dauntless, that does make a significant difference.

I usually tell people, whether they ask or not, that weather forecasts are usually right, but when wrong they are usually wrong or time or location.  What do I mean?

The forecast was for 8 to 10 knot winds out of the east.  But 100 miles further north, the winds were forecast to be 20 knots.  So, in this case the forecast was wrong by location.  The timing was good.

Now since my Krogen on can go about 60 miles in 12 hours; 100 miles off on location makes all the difference in the world.  But if I was in an airplane covering a much larger distance, the location being off becomes much less of an issue.  Same thing if I’m a ship going 18 knots.

Now had I gotten up that morning with the winds blowing hard, I would not have left.  Because the other aspect of bad weather forecasts is that they usually don’t get better.  Meaning, if the forecast starts off incorrect, for any given time and place, it’s not like the weather will catch up.  Sure, it may look like the forecast is spot on 12 hours later, but more likely, it’s just a matter of chance.

So, I got to Bahia Guacamaya and just as advertised the bluffs to the east blacked the winds from getting into the bay.  Ver nice.  One of the best anchorages yet, certainly the best if I include the scenery.  So good in fact, I really regretted not have Trinh with me.  This would have been such a wonderful spot to explore together.

Here are some videos of the two days:

21 July 18:15, Entering Bahia Samada at night.  

22 July Bahia Samada the following morning

22 July 11:13 Underway to Bahia Guacamaya

23 July Morning in Bahia Guacamaya

 

Costa Rica Day 5 Summary: Engine Start 07:46, stop 18:50; uw 10 hrs 49 min, 67.7 nm, avg speed 6.3 kt. Average Roll while underway, +8° to -10°, delta of 18°;

Anchored Bahia Samada in 17 feet water with 100’ of chain out.

Costa Rica Day 6 & 7 Summary: Engine Start 06:00, stop 14:40; uw 8 hrs 30 min, 55.6 nm, avg speed 6.56 kt. Average Roll while underway, <5°either way, delta of 10°;

Anchored Bahia Guacamaya in 21 feet water with 80’ of chain out.

 

Oh, How I Miss My Navionics’s Charts

Costa Rica Day 3

Approaching C & J as the sun sets.
Don’t Do This at Home

As soon as my eyes opened due to the light thru my porthole.  I got up; it was time to get out of here. My night was not as restful as it should have been.  I was eager to get to the next stop which as I had read about on Active Captain, virtually guaranteed me an easy, peaceful, steady night.

I use Active Captain to search the best places for the current weather and sea conditions.  In North America, I find it indispensable.

I was so happy to get underway.  If you are going to be rolling around, you may as well do it while making miles.  I had a long day ahead of me, so I got going, before I made my Vietnamese coffee.

My Vietnamese coffee. The grounds go in the strainer on top of the cup.

Which will be another crisis looming in the distant horizon, the day I run out of Vietnamese coffee.  I really like it. I can make it very, very strong, almost like espresso, but it is not bitter.  At some point, I may think about importing it into the US.

But I digress.

It’s 06:30, I’m heading WNW to get around the cape’s further north and it’s a grey day.  With broken clouds, only a few patches of sky and rain showers from the previous evening’s thunderstorms lingering to the north and west.

I don’t mind the storms.  It all depends on the winds.  As

I approach C & J. Dropping the anchor now

long as the winds are favorable I’m happy.  On those days that I have choice as to leave or not depending on the weather, I pretty much only look at the winds. On a boat, the winds, speed and direction, are what makes a difference.  The boat is made to get wet, I don’t worry about rain.

Today the winds are light and while it’s a long day, it wasn’t bad at all.  As I arrive at my planned anchoring location, I am a bit perplexed because it doesn’t look like what I’d pictured from the charts.

Or I should say chart.  In one of the more bizarre aspects of my mind, I’ll make a plan and then when it comes time to execute, forget the main reason I made the plan in the first place. I can only chuckle.

In this case, for the last 4 years, I make it a rule to always have two electronic charts available.  The primary is on the boat’s computer and runs with Coastal Explorer, my navigation program.  I’m running C-Map (ex-Jeppesen) charts mainly because they are the most cost effective for world-wide coverage.

This is the Navionics Depiction that i DID NOT have available. Dumb ME. Notice it marks more rocks and the power line better

My secondary is Navionics running on my tablet. Also, extremely cost effective for tablets.

Except I left my tablet, who was dying from battery failure in Viet man, planning on getting a cheap tablet while in NYC.  But then I decided while in NYC to save a few pennies, since I’m only spending thousands of dollars a month on Dauntless.

I forgot about my Navionics charts.

Until now. At some point, I will do a review of the two charts, C-Map versus Navionics, but now, I just missed the other’s perspective.

Just then with the sun setting, a small open boat comes by and I decide to overcome my shyness and ask in my crappy Spanish for his recommendation for a good anchoring spot.

I do and he does.  I follow him about a quarter of a mile and he puts me on the spot.

In 26 feet of water I put out the anchor and snubber (I always use a snubber bridle, that takes the chain load off the bow pulpit and puts it to the bow hawse pipes and cleats).

This spot was ideal.  Even with the slight current, the boat felt like it was on land. It would slide around 90° every 6 hours, but the movement was not even noticeable.

I stayed here two nights.  In the 12 overnight hours, the boat moved 0.01 nm; the previous night, the boat moved (while on anchor) 1.7 nm!

I slept 10 hours straight and spent the next day doing more cleaning, organizing and minor stuff.

 

Day 3 Summary: Engine Start 06:20, stop 18:07; uw 11:39, 78.1 nm, avg speed 6.7 kt. Average Roll while underway, +7° to -9°, delta of 16°; extreme rolls delta 20° (not bad, half of what it was crossing the Atlantic)

Anchored off Isla Cedros & Jesusita in 26 feet water with 120’ of chain out.