Chasing Weather Forecasts

When will I ever learn? I don’t know what part of me ignores good advice that I give others. It can be about weather, stocks, women or whatever, I’m very consistent, as I seem to consistently do what I tell others is a fool’s errand.

I suppose that makes me the fool.

How it looked on the day of departure for current conditions

Yep, I have certainly earned that this year.

Here are the four snapshots taking from Windy.com of the southern Pacific coast of Mexico taken on 30 April 2018, Monday. These shots highlight what I mean by chasing forecasts. This is different than waiting for the right weather window. That I also had done.

A reminder of some of the vocabulary I use.

Windy.com aka windyty.com is a pretty slick graphical user interface for the numerical weather forecasts that are produced by the National Weather Service, the Europeans, the U.S. Navy, etc. On Windy, at the bottom right of the screen, you can select the two or three models available to view: ECMWF 9km, GFS 22km, and in CONUS, the NAM 5km. The number that follows the model name is the grid resolution, smaller being better. If I was on the east coast USA, I would only look at the Nam. I trust it less on the west coast, since it’s near the edge of the model.

How it looked on the day of departure for the next day, Tuesday

In any case, no matter where I am, I always look at only one model, because I have no way to know which model is working best for that time, space and season.  I use the ECWMF because of the lower grid spacing (excluding the NAM). Next spring, as I prepare to move north again from San Francisco Bay, I will use the NAM and read the NWS forecast discussion for my area of interest. Nothing else. If you look at too much stuff, you will just get confused. (this is well documented, but I won’t go into it now).

How it looked on the day of departure for the next two days, Wednesday

While in Huatulco, I was waiting for the right weather window. I was hoping for 3 to 4 days of light or southerly winds (at any speed).  Looking at the forecasts, it seemed the week of 30 April was it.

I did well wait for the right weather window, what I did poorly was chasing the forecast.

Looking at the map that shows Tuesday 1 May, the Tehauntepec winds were blowing from the Northeast, and while there were northwesterly winds off the coast, there was that lighter blue area well off the coast with winds that seems to be northerly, then turning more northeasterly. That would have been great.

So, I left Huatulco with the idea of heading west longer than needed to try to get west of the stronger NW winds.

That’s Chasing Weather Forecasts. For the first 3 days it seems to work well. We did have light winds and when the winds did pick up from the NW, they were still less than 10 knots.

The problem was as the winds got stronger, we were so far off shore, 70 miles, that we were left with few good options. The 14 hours backtrack to Xtapa was the result.

If one has about capable of 20 knots, then the math changes significantly. Then it’s more viable to chase good weather. But when you boat plods along a fuel sipping 5 to 7 knots, it becomes impossible to get to the right time and place and then stay in that honey spot. Weather moves to quickly.

How it looked on the day of departure for the 3rd day, I’d hoped to be in that area of lighter winds 150 nm due S of Manzanillo. I don’t even know if it ever existed.

In the North Atlantic, Dauntless made about 140 nm per 24-hour day. In that same time, a low-pressure system will move 500 nm and the associated cold front will move even faster. There is no getting out of the way.

In this last passage up the west coast, I didn’t bother with weather forecasts once underway. All I needed to know was that once the stronger NW winds set in, they would get stronger before they got weaker.

Returning to Xtapa was the solution. Chasing areas for better weather, would have been a fool’s errand.

 

 

Who Can Say No to Hitchhiking Boobies?

Certainly not me.

The stop in Xtapa gave me a chance to reboot my mind. It was fitting that the trip ended at the same high stress level as just after leaving Huatulco. Having to enter a strange harbor and marina at night is always stressful. My depth perception is askew. Everything seems significantly closer than during the day. I have to force myself to trust the instruments.

We docked without incident, as usual. Got a good night’s sleep. And then my HP Envy laptop decided to give up the ghost. It was not to be replaced/repaired for another month, when I arrived in southern Calif, so no blogging for a while.

While this may appear to be a relief, in fact, it was the opposite. Writing about my adventures, my mishaps, my miscalculations, allows me to reflect on my practice.

As a high school principal, I quickly realized that during job interviews, when I was looking for additional teachers, the outcome of the interview really came down to three questions:

  1. Was the prospective teacher intelligent, did they know their content area?
  2. Did they like children?
  3. Where they reflective in their practice?

I didn’t care if they knew how to teach; I could teach them that. But there is no way to overcome the negatives of any of the above three questions. You can’t make a lazy or stupid person, smart and not lazy. You can’t make them like children. There are too many teachers who teach because it’s convenient. In moments of black humor, we, principals, would say, they are here for the parking (some schools have convenient parking, some don’t).

And lastly, we live in a culture of blame. If things don’t go as we as we would like, we look to blame others, never looking in the mirror. It’s my parents, government, spouse, boss, fill in the blank’s fault. But good teaching practices only happen when the educator is reflective. After every teaching period, every day, every week, every year:  what could I have done better? How can I connect with that student(s) better? Why didn’t they understand_____? or something as simple as, what worked, what didn’t?

Reflection allows our brain to better organize new data, recognize mistakes or things we could have done better or even just differently. In writing this post, I remembered in my 4th year of teaching, I had put up a mirror on the entry door with the caption, “Meet the person responsible for your learning today”. Much like reminding people to turn off cell phones in inappropriate places, it’s a little reminder that can go a long way.

As the boobies started to congregate on Dauntless, first resting on the paravane pole lines and at the end of the pole. Then, an intrepid fellow managed to land on the bow pulpit rail despite the pitching bows. Once other’s saw his success, we because a virtual bus ride north.

They did promise to clean up before they left, but I suspected they would forget that promise. But as I thought about their lives, I thought about how good we, Americans, have it so good. There was one fellow who parked himself on the rail right near the pilot house door. He was keeping watch with me. When I had to go out to pee, I didn’t want to disturb him/her, so I walked thru the boat to the stern deck, instead of my normal spot on the starboard side deck (where the high side rail offers more protection from falling overboard).

The numbers increased every day, until that last 24 hours when the pitching became untenable even for them.   I think their coloring indicated they were juvenile blue or brown footed boobies.

Xtapa was a nice, albeit unexpected respite. It was 30-minute bus ride to Zihuantanejo. We ate, drank and slept well for 3 days waiting for the winds to subside.

 

 

 

 

The Saga of the Katadyn Watermaker

The passage from Huatulco to Xtapa was eventful in many ways.

Our fine feathered friend was ready for adventure

The Katadyn 160 Water maker, made in Switzerland, has been a stalwart since installation four years ago, in 2014. It’s simple, which attracted me to it. No gauges, no bells, no whistles, no back flushing, no nothing. When doing long distance cruising, the more simple, the better. It’s only accessories are the manual and a salinity meter, but the manual says your taste buds are more accurate than any salinity meter. Thus, I turn it on, have the three-way valve to the test hose which empties into the galley sink. In the first minute or two, it will taste salty and maybe even moldy, if I haven’t used it in a week. After 5 to 10 minutes, (depending on when last used), I check it again and it’s good.

If I won’t be using it for more than a week, I will “pickle” it. Basically, that is to run a solution that prevents bacterial growth, mold, on the membrane that is producing fresh water.

I have used it in brackish water, but the organic growth quickly clods the first filters, so I don’t do that anymore. I also have a special cleaning solution that I have only had to use once, this past year, because I did not pickle it for a few weeks of non-use.

So, this Katadyn has produced thousands of gallons of water the last four years. I turn it on, taste the output in 5+ minutes and switch the three-way valve to fill one of the water tanks. No fuss, no muss, simple.

This time was no different, however after a few hours, I noticed that I was wasn’t hearing its distinctive thumping sound. It’s hard to hear unless you listen for it, though I can put me hear near the galley sink and the thumping is quite distinctive there since the output water uses the galley drain thru hull.

The power was on, but the watermaker was not. There is an auxiliary pump and the watermaker itself (which is essentially a very high-pressure pump that forces seawater thru the membrane and molecules larger than pure H2O, water, can not pass thru and are sent down the discharge hose.

The auxiliary pump and the watermaker each have a separate fuse, so that was an easy check and I found the watermaker fuse had melted. not just opened, but the plastic fuse itself was melted.

That’s bad.

Mark pointed out that those fuse holders can be the culprit by not holding the fuse tight enough, letting it arc. OK, new fuse and holder. Watermaker is thumping again.

Eight hours later, the watermaker had stopped again. Same fuse, though not melted, just blown.

There was clearly a problem, that just couldn’t be laid on poorly made Chinese fuse holders.

To compound matters, I had let us leave Huatulco with minimal water on board, only 55 gallons in one tank, the other being empty, ready for the watermaker to fill. The watermaker fills one 150-gallon tank in about 20 hours.  In normal water usage, I use about 25 gallons per day, but there were three of us.

I was far more stressed than I let Brian and Mark know.

I replaced the fuse again and hoped for the best. This process was made more difficult because to check the fuse and the watermaker, I had to open the heavy hatch cover to the aft section of the engine room in the salon. (On the list of winter projects is to put a hinge on two of the four panels).

Seven hours later, it stopped again. Quick check shows fuses OK. Next step, the relay.  This relay was one of the half dozen I bought from Amazon for $8. It had been working in that hot engine room for 4 years. Despite being Chinese made, it was heavy duty and well built, except for one thing, the wires, also heavy gauge, were cross colored. Color coding and “standards for American and European Direct Current (DC) wiring (as used in boats and cars) are pretty much the same: red is positive, black is ground, yellow is accessory, etc. So, these relays, all used red, black, yellow, blue wires, but not in the accepted color scheme. It was clear even before I bought them that that was the issue and the reason they were on sale at such a good price. So even though I’ve used them on applications around the boat for the last 4 years, even doing a simple replacement, takes me some time, because it’s hard to get my head around the different color scheme. Don’t connect that red wire to the black one!

But that was done, and we are making water again. Good, because we were down to 23 gallons.

Three hours later, again a blown fuse. Now I was getting worried about running out of 30+ amp fuses.

While I was dicking around with the relay, I took the opportunity to dig thru my spare 12-volt electrical parts bin to figure out my options if I had to replace the fuse holder.

I could take the fuse out of the circuit altogether, but that’s an emergency fix. I did have a real circuit breaker. I could rewire and replace the fuse holder with the circuit breaker and put long enough wires on it for me to have access in the salon. In other words when it tripped, I could just reset, without opening the heavy hatch each time.

So, a few hours later, when the fuse went again, that’s what I did.  I also stopped the engine, over the years I have come close to having a severe accident when underway and my foot slips next to the spinning shaft. In this case, my ankle just bounded off the shaft, but I took it as a warning. It took 30 minutes, but at the end, I had the circuit breaker wired up to the salon.

The watermaker worked for the next 20 hours filling the one tank.  I think the circuit opened not once during that time, though it did open while filling the second tank the next day.

Best of all, it was easy for me to check and we had no more water problems.

We left Xtapa with full water tanks and the watermaker did work as required on the four-day passage to Cabo San Lucas, however, just before arrival, I noticed that the watermaker pump itself was leaking its internal oil. The seals had failed. I’m sure that was the cause of the higher than normal electrical draw all along. I’m just happy after four years of no maintentance, it gave me one more week when I needed it.

I have the seal repair kit, it will be another winter project. More than ever though, I was grateful to Katadyn for making a watermaker that would tolerate my shenanigans.

Here is a link to the Katadyn. I bought it directly from Katadyn, since they were discontinuing the model, so they gave me 30% off. But the link shows the simplicity of the system.

http://www.downwindmarine.com/Katadyn-PowerSurvivor-160E-Watermaker-12V-p-91001017.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Eventful Passage

Only an hour and a half after leaving the wonderful little stop of Marina Chahue, Dauntless’ winter home, we were underway once again. I wanted nothing more than an uneventful passage. I was so appreciative of Mark and Brian stepping up and volunteering as crew, so I wanted them to have a good time too with no worries.

Beginning of Day 2, 07:53
End of Day 1, First night, 04:45

Now I realize, that having a “good” time varies greatly from person to person, but in general, being on the open ocean is peaceful. It can be the epitome of serenity itself, unless there are nagging issues.

Beginning of Day 2, morning after the first night, 07:53

Dauntless was suffering from abuse. In the pervious two years, I’d ridden her hard and put her way wet. I loved this Kadey Krogen so much because I could do exactly that. The leak in the heat exchanger was the first “must stop the engine” problem I’d had since the middle of the Atlantic! That was more than 5,000 miles and 18 months ago.

End of Day 1, First night, 05:51

This boat was made to take a beating and keep on ticking. But just as rough seas bothered me far more than Dauntless, the little problems on the periphery did the same. They kept me in a state of what’s next?

We spent the next 40 hours going west. I’ll explain why in more detail in the upcoming post, Chasing Weather Forecasts, but for now it suffices to say that I wanted to be 60 miles off the coast.

We were also running a bit harder than usual; the Ford Lehman was purring along at 1800 rpms. Maybe the purr was more of a growl to me, but it was important that we make good time while we had favorable winds, in this case they were WSW at 5 knots and we were making 7 knots.

The primary reason I don’t run at 1800 rpms is the significant decrease in efficiency from 1500 to 1800 rpms. Here are my estimated numbers in a flat sea:

 Kadey Krogen 42-148 w Ford Lehman Sp135 & 4 Blade Prop
 RPMs  Gal/hr  Avg Sp Range
700  Kts nm
  1,800     2.00       7.2   2,520
  1,700     1.75       6.9   2,760
  1,600     1.55       6.6   2,981
 1,500     1.40       6.2   3,100
  1,400     1.25       5.7   3,192
  1,300     1.10       5.3   3,373

 

Thus, for a 16% increase in speed from 1500 rpms @ 6.2 kts, we consume 43% more fuel. That’s fuelish.

By early morning on the second day out, we turned northwest, on a heading that would parallel the coast until we could turn further north in a couple more days. Winds were still OK, from the north at 10 knots, thus on our beam, but not strong.Evening of the of Second Day

By the end (48 hours underway) of the second day, we had covered 320 nm for an average of 6.7 knots. The pitching and rolling had been minimal, pitch less than 3° up or down and rolling less than 5° in either direction (always greater to lee side).

Day 2, 24 hr since departure
Evening of the of Second Day, 19:48
End of Second night, early morning, 04:25

But then it all started to change. From the beginning there was a smallish weather window, from 2 to 3 days. Now, during our third night, that window was closing. Winds picked up to 320° @ 12 knots, so only 15° off the starboard bow (our course being 304°). Pitching increased to +4 (this is downward as measured by the Maretron Solid State Compass (which the autopilot uses too since it reacts better than the flux gate compass) and a more significant, -12° (bow pitching upward).

This was getting uncomfortable. For my intrepid crew, they took it in stride, far better than I.

The third night, 03 May 03:32 Maretron data shows the pitch lower left graph (each unit is about 4 degrees of pitch).

Our watches were set so that I would get 6 hours sleep overnight. Brian and Mark covered 21:00 to 04:00 as they saw fit.

End of the third night, 3 hours after last picture, ride is better, but winds are picking up, now at 9 knots, but gusting to 16 ( upper row, middle, telltale on the winds)

Before going to sleep that night, I did discuss with them the issue of weather. Our weather window was not only closing, but the forecast was for increasing winds right on our nose for the foreseeable future. While I was still hoping to get to Cabo direct from here, that was still 3+ days away. 12 knots on the bow is tolerable, 15 is borderline and 18 is a no-go.

Sunrise on Day 4

They were up for it; as I went to bed that evening, I wasn’t sure I was.

I awoke 3 hours later. The boat was pounding, not constantly, but on every third pitch. Pounding to me is when the boat slams into a wave, like hitting a log. Thump.

I tried to go back to sleep. The master cabin in the Kadey Krogen is forward and the only downside is that this pitching motion is most apparent there.  However, it usually doesn’t bother me. My first experience with a corkscrew movement was a few years before Dauntless came into our lives. We were sailing (literally) with my Dutch friends, Jan and Karin, in the Outer Hebrides, west of Scotland. Anchored in a rolly harbor off of St Kilda, that night I felt, dreamt, that I was sleeping on a roller coaster. The rhythmic corkscrew motion I found almost soothing. I slept well.

But this was different. The pounding bothered me. Things break with that sudden, jarring movement (and in fact it was during these days that the pressure switch stopped working on my fresh water pump. I later discovered it only had soldered connection which came apart).

My sleep became very fitful, waking every 10 to 15 minutes, my mid seemingly wanting to figure out what was going on. Finally, I turned on the light and tried to figure out the pattern the boat was in. For 30 minutes I measured the frequency of the pounding. On virtually every third pitch, which were 8 d=seconds apart, the boat would pound hard, every 25 to 28 seconds.

I also knew that which these seas, pitching movement, unlike rolling, takes significant power. In other words, instead of going 7 knots, we were now going 5.5, but using the same fuel as if we were going 7.

At 5.5 knots, it would take 100 hours to get to Cabo, that’s 4+ days of this crap. That was impossible.

I decided to start my watch early, figure out if we could mitigate the ride and if not, determine my options.

First thing I did, after I got the lay of the land, was to reduce rpms to 1650 and change course by 10° to the west. This put the seas on the stbd bow. Weirdly, our speed just slowed a tad to 6.0 from 6.1 (we also have currents off the Mexico coast, which are both tidal and non-tidal).

Significantly our pitch was reduced by almost 50%. I liked that. Even more importantly, the pounding stopped.

I could live with these conditions.

Alas, they were not to stay.

Just before sunrise, around 05:00, the winds increased to 330° @ 12 gusting to 16. This increased the pitch +4 to -8° and the roll +10 to -9°. I further reduced the rpms to 1590. Over the next couple of hours, Mother Nature started to mock me. The winds backed around to 290°, right on our nose again.

At 08:00 the winds were steady at 300°12 to 14 knots. I knew they would only get stronger during the day (the sun heating the air and land do cause the winds after all).  This was also in line with the forecast of increasing winds over the next few days.

At 08:45, I informed the crew that we were changing course and would head to Xtapa, a little town with a nice marina just north of Zihuantanejo. This would mean a bit of backtracking. We were already north of Xtapa; however, the other alternative was Manzanillo, which was 113 nm at 330°. With the seas on our bow, increasing winds, it would take us 24 hours to get there. Whereas, Xtapa, at a heading of 065° would put the seas behind us and we should have a quick 12-hour ride. So long, because we were 70 miles offshore.

It ended up taking 14+ hours, but after pounding into the seas for 10 hours, who noticed.

Passing thru the shipping lanes, it was nice to have the Digital Yacht AIS transceiver.  It allowed us all to avoid one another.

14 hours later, at 23:00, we entered yet another unknown harbor and docked in the dark, at Marina Xtapa

What else is new.

I did get a good night’s sleep.

Four hours after we made the turn to head to Xtapa, we are bracketed by two freighters. Again AIS transciever makes this easy for ALL concerned.
Depiction on Coastal Explorer
Four hours after we made the turn to head to Xtapa, we are bracketed by two freighters. Again AIS transciever makes this easy for ALL concerned
What it looks like looking out the window
What it looks like looking out the window
The Maretron data shows how much better the ride became, though rolling continues.
The Maretron data shows the four days of Pitching and Rolling. The last day before we turned to the east was untenable with pitching as much as 20 degrees.

 

 

 

 

Café Culture

I have two favorite cafés in Ho Chi Minh City, Bui Van Ngo Coffee is larger, fancier and also has some baked goods. Café Thuy Moc is smaller, homier and they make killer smoothies, my favorite being Sinh To Bo, an avocado smoothie.  They are also on a busy street corner that I can watch fascinated how crossing traffic manages to crisscross in a smooth ballet of traffic.

Sunday morning, 08:00, at Bui Van Ngo Coffee in Binh Tan, HCMC, Vietnam

Sunday mornings both places are full, which goes to my observation that about 40% to 50% of the population have Sunday off, at least partially.

I haven’t been to China yet, but having spent time in Korea, Japan and Vietnam, the Vietnamese work the most. Japan and Korea (South Korea of course) being closer to a more western life style with more time off.  My friend Sam, married to Bac, who wrote the book, For Two Cows I Ain’t Half Bad, remarks that when he arrived in Vietnam in the late 1960’s, the Vietnamese had a life style that had hardly changed in the last few thousand years. 90% of the population were agrarian, farmers, and farmers are renown the world over for one thing, they just want the powers to be to leave them alone.

A page from the menu of the popular cafe

I blame the U.S. State Department for most of the post WW2 debacles. Full of ivy league graduates who think they know everything, but, know nothing about the places in which they are supposed to be experts. They lurch from one fiasco to another. Acting when they should sit on their hands and being still when they should act. How is Iraq any different than Vietnam? Ok, basta, enough.

Café Thuy Moc, smaller. The owners, the couple on the left and their one year old daughter, who just learned to walk on the right.

Having been on Dauntless for the last three months, the first week back in Vietnam was a bit strange. Probably jet lag as much as anything, though I did, or I should say, Trinh did, change my apartment for a house.  I like my new neighborhood better, it is less industrial, than the previous one. Even though I had a 10th floor apartment the amount of dust that filtered in every day was astounding. Most probably from the large apartment complexes being constructed nearby. Now, almost no dust.

My German neighbor back in the day said I had an empfindlich stomach. Google does a good job of translating that to mean: sensitive, delicate, touchy. That’s certainly my stomach. But it really likes Vietnamese cuisine. Maybe even more than I do. I was surprised these last months being in the USA and Mexico as to how much I missed the food and as to how much I didn’t like most of the offerings in the U.S.

Coming up, Foods to Die for

Update, I just recently discovered cappuccino in Vietnam. My hard and fast rule is never, ever get  a cappuccino outside of Italy, as it is just awatered down, over milked version fo the real thing.

But coffee in Vietnam is always strong and good, so I thought I’d spend the big bucks, 49,000 VND or about $2.20 US and give it a try.

I’m so glad I did.  As good as in Italy. Perfect in fact.

Thanks Vietnam

cappuccino
Sinh To Bo at Café Thuy Moc
Avocado smoothie

 

 

An Auspicious Start

Ever have those situations when the yellow/red flags are waving, and you spend all your time trying to decide if the flag is yellow or red? Instead of wondering what’s causing the flag to wave in the first place??

Our Intended Route in Red. Taking the time to get away from the coast seemed best for the forecast winds at the time.

Welcome to my world.

Brian and Mark arrived Sunday, the 29th of April. I was a bundle of nerves, due to:

  • The normal stress of starting a long trip,
  • The stress of having crew to keep happy,
  • I still had to check out of the port Monday morning,
  • Having decided to have the boat yard, do the transmission seals, they did not take credit card, so I must figure out a way to get $1000 in cash by Monday morning.

My Monday noon, all the problems were solved, and I was feeling pretty good. I had good, intrepid crew. We had food, wine and booze enough for however long a cruise the weather would allow.

With a crew of two, plus me, we had 205 gallons of fuel in the port tank, 210 in the stbd tank, 55 gallons of water in the port water tank and the stbd tank was empty (to be filled with the water maker while underway).

The track from the InReach at Share.Delorme.com/Dauntless
(If you go to that site, I do not know why the time is 12 hours off)

Engine start was at 12:25, we got underway 10 minutes later, clearing the breakwater at 12:45, on the way to either Can San Lucas, 950 miles northwest (7 days) or maybe even Ensenada, which was another 700 miles further north (another 5 days).

So, at the beginning of a 7 to 12-day passage, my sense of well-being lasted 20 minutes, or about 2 miles.

Clearing the breakwater, we set the course SSW to clear the coast before turning west, then WNW.

The bilge alarm sounded 20 minutes later, (a buzzer that

The Coastal Explorer, C-Map chart

is activated whenever the bilge pump is on), went off, and then sounded again a few minutes later. That was not normal. Thinking the stuffing box again, I left Brian at the helm, while I went to open the salon hatch to the engine room.

Stuffing box was not leaking, but I did see a pinhole leak that was spraying water from the oil heat exchanger. Umm, it’s a pinhole leak, sea water, yet the bilge pump had been on enough to pump much more water? What’s going on.

A minute later, as the engine overheat alarm sounded, it all became crystal clear. Shut down the engine, but we were less than a mile from the rocky shore.

Mark and Brian relax the night before our eventful trip

The engine coolant hose (a heater hose) from the engine to the water heater had failed at the nipple to the water heater. It has dumped all our coolant into the bilge. We were 6/10ths of a mile from shore; a very rocky shore. So, first thing I did was fill the engine coolant tank with fresh water using the garden hose the first owner had installed in the engine room just after the fresh water pump. It was good to know that I had a source of fresh water for the engine that I could use in a critical situation.

If push came to shove, I’d stick the nose nozzle in the coolant fill and turn it on, to keep water in the engine if I needed to start the engine before the repair was done.  We were in 160 feet of water, so I also had the option of dropping anchor.

Lines stored behind the fly bridge ladder

Had I had a problem that was going to take longer to fix, or if I did not have fresh water available, or if I was alone, I would have let out 200 feet of anchor and chain, knowing that the anchor would set itself as the water shallowed. This is the emergency anchoring plan I always have in the back of my head while cruising near shore. In still deeper water, with no shelf, I would combine my two anchor rodes, the secondary being 50 feet of chain and 250 feet of rode (400’ of 3/8” BBB chain on the primary with 55# Delta anchor).

I also have stored behind the salon between the upper deck ladder:

  • a 500-foot line,
  • a 250’ line,
  • a couple of 50’ lines,
  • a few shorter line,
  • the stern anchor) Bruce) and it’s 300 feet of rode on a hose reel.

 

These lines can all be easily retrieved and used as necessary.

Had I been alone, that’s what I would have done, while turning the boat around and heading back to the marina on auto pilot. I could have then re-fit the hose, knowing I had at least 15 minutes before I needed a course correction.

But I was not alone.

With Brian at the helm, responsible for watching our drift, Mark and I proceeded to deal with our two problems, the coolant hose and the pin hole oil cooler leak.

The coolant hose was easily dealt with. Cut off the end and reattach to nipple. I then checked for leaks, as we started the engine. No leaks, so I filled the coolant tank with ¾ gallon of coolant. This all took 10 minutes.

Next to tackle the oil cooler. We first tried a quick repair; can we stop the leak enough until our next port.  No, we couldn’t, the metal at the cap end from which it was leaking was too thin. (these were the heat exchangers that had just been supposedly checked. In addition, I’m sure this was the one that was already leaking, and I told them to keep it).

Checking the situation at the helm, while we were drifting towards shore, we were drifting very slowly and again with Brian watching, I knew we would have plenty of warning should an issue arrive. Therefore, we decided to change the oil cooler.

What a PIA. But an hour later we were all done. No leaks of oil, water, or anything.

It’s on my must do list this fall to standardize all my hydraulic and oil fittings. Thus, making it easier to replace lines or bypass the coolers if need be.

We had drifted a quarter mile closer to shore, we still had a third of a mile to spare. Easy Peasy as Micah would say.

Knowing we could return to the marina easily, reduced the stress of this repair. It wasn’t “fix, or else” like it may have been in the middle of the Atlantic, like with my imaginary fuel leak.

At 14:10 we were underway again.

My peace of mind now lasted one minute.

The autopilot was not working. It thought it was working, but it wouldn’t steer correctly.

Back to the rear of the engine room, I looked at my Octopus pump, it looked ok, no major leaks, then I saw the three valves which control fluid to the pump, allowing me to change pump without draining all the hydraulic fluid from the system, were closed.

Oops.  At least that was easy.

A minute later, we were underway again, hopefully to Cabo San Lucas.

This time my peace of mind lasted a whole two hours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting the Show on the Road

The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.

Having gotten my toothache taken care of by having a root canal the first evening I was back in Huatulco, I was finally felling pretty good. The previous 5 days were a whirlwind of: pain, getting things done in NY, flying to southern Mexico and getting back to Dauntless after 8 months.

All winter I’d been watching the weather and winds off the west coast of Mexico and California. Jimmy Cornell’s World Cruising Routes and his updated Pilot Charts of the Pacific had made it clear that I would have a slog ahead, commonly known as the Baja Bash.  2,000 miles of going northwest into predominantly northwest winds of anywhere from 5 to 30 knots.

JimmyCornell Ocean Atlas Monthly Pilot Charts for all the Oceans

As mush as I love my Kadey Krogen, it has gotten me safe and sound through so much; I hate head seas.

But I had a plan. A pretty good one I thought. It was clear from the above references that I would have at best 25% of the time favorable winds. For every one day of good winds, I’d have three days of head winds. But as we all know, weather works in averages. I couldn’t exactly count on moving one day and then resting the next three. I could just as eiasily see 7 favorable days and a month of head winds.

Over the winter I had planned for slogging up the coast. Getting back to Dauntless the last week in April. I would spend May getting her a bit more ready. Fixing, replacing somethings that needed it and completing some projects stared long ago, but never completed as we cruised from Ireland to the Pacific Ocean in a little less than a year’s time.

My transmission and damper plate

This plan would have me leaving Huatulco in June as hurricane season started.

Perfect.

The dominate weather pattern is only disrupted by the tropical cyclone pattern of tropical depressions growing to storms and possible hurricanes. Their anti-clockwise wind pattern disrupts the dominant high-pressure system causing the NW winds off the coast. I could have days and days of winds with some southerly component.

The normal position of the Pacific High. This year is has been stronger and more persistent.

The only downside of this plan was that should the strengthening tropical depression or storm head northeastward towards the coast, I’d have to have my hurricane holes laid out.  Also, single handing on this coast is difficult, as places to stop because of weather are few and far between. For example, there is no safe hurricane hole between Huatulco and Acapulco, 250 nm or two full days away.

In the previous months, I’d also sort of put it out there that I was looking for crew.  With crew and a longer weather window, we could get up the coast in some large chunks.  Maybe even get to Ensenada in a 10-day passage. That would be so wonderful.

Pilot chart for the Pacific off Mexico

In March, I had gotten an email from Brian, who was volunteering himself and another friend, Mark, to help me get Dauntless north. The only caveat was, their free time was in early to mid- May.

I was very happy. I had not thought it wise to do this coast alone.  Coastal cruising is totally different than crossing oceans. In the middle of the ocean there are no fishing boats, pangas or other stupid stuff. The large freighters you may occasionally see use AIS and keep their distance (once I upgraded to an AIS transceiver in 2014).

The only downside was the weather. In May, the winds are steady and strong from the NW.  No tropical disturbances to disturb that pattern.  During the entire spring the Pacific high that generates the strong easterly trade winds over Hawaii and been doing its job too well. I seldom saw weather windows of more than a couple of days and the 25% favorable time was more like 10%.

Stuffing box wrench

I’d also be a bit rushed to get Dauntless in the water. But I was less concerned about this, as she came out of the water with just a minor transmission leak, that had grown progressively worse over the pervious 2,000 miles. So, I decided to have the boat yard in Huatulco fix the leak. This turned out to be a $1,000 mistake. With my time frame of having to leave now to best make use of my available crew, it left no time for the yard to correct what they didn’t fix.

More and more I realize that I need to do virtually everything myself on Dauntless. I hate paying someone for a half ass job, when I know that I can just as easily to my own half assed job for free!

Dauntless goes into water

I also felt time pressure because Brian had crewed with me on Dauntless two years ago from Ireland to Scotland and he had had to wait several days for the boat yard in New Ross to get everything done. I didn’t want to make him wait again. And yes, I know not to let a schedule dictate actions, but no matter what, I, as skipper feel and am responsible.

The only things that had been done was the transmission seals and I had removed all the heat exchangers, as one had a pinhole leak and I wanted them all, including my spares, checked and tested.

We ended up splashing the boat right on schedule, a couple days before Brian showed up. This whole sequence left a lot to be desired on my part.

My original plan was to do a little test run of an hour to make sure all systems were Go. But once they put Dauntless in the water, the winds were strong, against the marina, in fact, the port may have been closed, but in any case, with such winds, I wanted to only tie up once, not twice. As it was I had a hard-enough time getting the boat into her slip and at one point was 90° off. I had to rig a spring line around the piling that we were pressed against and use that to turn the boat to face the slip.

No, a test run was out. I felt lucky that I got Dauntless into the slip without damage. I didn’t want to press my luck. In hindsight, this was not the best decision, but it seemed so under the current circumstances.

Once in the slip, with the engine room bilge pump alarm was going off continuously, I was reminded that I should have checked the stuffing box while still on the dolly. Water was pouring into the boat.

After the initial cursing myself for not checking before, I realized the bilge pump was keeping up, barely.

I got my chain wrench and locking pliers and within a few minutes (unlike previous times), the nut was unlocked, and I could tighten the shaft nut my hand until most of the water stopped.

We were good to go, or so I thought.

The Shot Across the Bow

Splashed a hundred feet off our bow. Thick black smoke poured from the funnel of the WWII vintage ship as she pushed thru the seas at her full speed of 18 knots.

Which was still double the speed this Kadey Krogen could do. In fact, the only time we would ever see even 15 knots, would be if we went over a waterfall.

Keeping a watchful eye on us

My little imagination had to settle down; returning to reality, I knew why we were being stopped. An hour before, a panga had crossed our bow about one half mile ahead. Seeing our paravane stabilizers deployed, I’m sure he reported that we were fishing or trawling. We do look like a trawler after all.

Therefore, I was not surprised an hour later when the grey shape of a warship appeared on the horizon.

Watching the radar track, they were aiming for us, so I was ready for their call. They hailed us as “the fishing vessel”. We changed to a working channel on the VHF and they requested that we stop for an inspection. 

ARM Farias

From this start to finish, the Mexican Navy was the epitome of professionalism and courtesy. It’s simply the nature of Mexicans as I’ve experienced in all my encounters these last months. No matter where or when, even in New York.

The ship was the ARM Farias, P110, a minesweeper built in Alameda, California in 1942 as the USS Starling (AM-64) and sold to Mexico in 1973.

Asked to heave to, making no way, our ride became very rolly, as the paravanes need to be moving to stabilize the boat. So, I asked to make some way and that request was granted. Larry and I then watched for the next half hour as the Farias deployed their skiff (an 18-foot panga), which then motored over to us.

Stopped just south of Ballenas Bay

We had retrieved our lee side paravane pole and bird, so the panga could offload on that side. The boarding party consisted of about 6 and the lieutenant in command spoke good English. He proceeded to tell us the same boiler plate language that had been said when we were initially stopped, essentially that since we were in Mexican territorial waters, they requested that we agree to an inspection (yes, it was a request that could not be denied, but it’s still nice to be asked, even when we all know what the response must be, “Yes, of course”.

Obvious as soon as they were aboard that we were not fishing, the lieutenant then proceeded to go through an inspection checklist. This did take more than 40 minutes, as they recorded serial numbers of many of the electronic devices on board, even cell phones and radios. I got the impression that this recording of such information was to demonstrate that the inspection had been carried out.

He also did look in our living areas, in the drawers under the bed and in various storage compartments. Almost everything is stored in large plastic containers and tubs. He asked me to open one that was stored in the passageway, under the washing machine. It contained my winter coats. That was the only and only container I had to open, which I was grateful for since we’d probably still be there if I had to open the 20 odd containers of spare parts in the engine room.

I asked if their ship was a minesweeper and they confirmed my guess, adding that is was built in 1942.

I told them they should ask Trump for a new ship. They thought this was very funny. I was serious. If we can spend billions for a wall, the least we could do is give the countries the tools they need to stop any illegal activities. That we don’t, just shows what a farce this whole secure the borders act is.

At the end of the inspection, they did ask, phrased as, “our commander asks if you have a new Mexican flag? As the one you have is too frayed”

In this picture you can see that half the red portion of the flag is gone

This also didn’t surprise me, as having decent national or courtesy flags can be an issue worldwide. And in fact, I did nave a new flag (remember, on a boat, if you need one, you need two) and they were pleased when I replaced it.

So, ended our stop by the Mexican Navy. Very nice, polite and friendly, I thanked them for keeping us all safe.

Vaya con Dios

The new flag

 

 

 

 

 

The Dingy Fiasco part 2

As the winds finally let up after 10 days to let us get out of the tourist hell that is Cabo San Lucas, I was optimistic that having a functional dingy would give us increased stopping opportunities.

Our peaceful anchorage in spite of 25 knot winds

One of the key factors in deciding to burn money staying at the marina in Cabo for $100 per day was the lack of a serviceable dingy. Though, the reviews for anchoring outside the harbor, were mixed at best.

Leaving Cabo, the plan was to get a few days up the coast to wait out the next forecast period of strong northwesterly winds that preclude any movement north. Our goal was Magdalena Bay, a very large bay, similar to San Francisco Bay.

We had decided to bypass the anchorage off the Magdalena Bay entrance, as it did not look as protected as San Carlos, point another 12 miles north through a meandering, narrow channel. We were also looking forward to getting the taste of Cabo out of our systems be visiting a real Mexican town again.

Thus, the die was cast for Puerto San Lucas.

the channel to Puerto San Lucas in Magdalena Bay

As we were passing the anchorage, heading up channel, we heard a call on the VHF, weak, but readable, in Spanish, telling us something. Again, my Spanish stinks, so I wasn’t sure what was being said, but I guessed it was about Puerto San Lucas and we’d figure it out when we got there. I’d already made the decision that the anchorage at Magdalena Bay was too open for my likes.

12 miles and two hours later, as we approached Puerto San Lucas, we got the call again. This time, it was loud and clear that the port was closed due to the anticipated high winds. I suspected that, so we told them we were going to head a couple miles further north to anchor in the lee of the mangroves. That was met with happy approval, since it was clear in the tone of the conversation, that the port captain didn’t like telling us the port was closed to us.

We proceeded north another few miles which put us right on the edge of the charted area of both the C-Map and Navionics charts. Going very slowly as the water shallowed, at one point, I did let us get out of the channel and had to rapidly reverse to avert the 17th grounding of my career (but who’s counting?)

Video of us approaching out anchorage 

Still shot of us approaching anchorage
Dauntless at anchor, north of P San Lucas

Anchored in about 10 feet of water, with 100 feet of chain and snubber for the anticipated winds, we were quite content. The winds were already 15 to 20, gusting to the high 20’s, but with no fetch, the seas were very small, less than half a foot, and Dauntless was rock steady.

We did swing around overnight due to the current, but my 55-pound Delta anchor has never dragged since I got it 4 years ago. I don’t even bother with an anchor alarm anymore, but I admit that’s because I have given up on Drag Queen probably because it turns itself off due to poor reception in my cabin and more importantly, I don’t anchor off lee shores.

Having sleep like a baby, the previous two nights having been spent underway, we woke up full of piss and vinegar. Time to take the dingy to Puerto San Lucas and check out the action, well more like, check out the food.

Now, not being totally stupid, I decided to go upwind for a bit to see how well the dingy and its puny 5 hp outboard could handle the conditions. As you can see from the video, all looked great, though the winds were blowing 20 to 25 knots.

The view from the dingy on our reconnaissance lap

Did I do the math? No. Puerto San Lucas was about 2.5 to 3 miles away; downwind.

But we set off with the winds to our back, the only concern was where we could land the dingy. Not knowing that location was mistake number #1.

Mistake #2 was I have two handheld VHF radios. The primary one, the ICOM, battery could no longer charge, so that was on the list of things to replace. The secondary one, the Chinese whatever, would take real rocket scientist to figure out how to use, thus it was relegated to some storage container someplace where I put things I don’t feel like dealing with.

Video of our test lap 

Besides, why would we possibly need a radio.

Twenty minutes later, zipping right along, maybe a half mile upwind of town, wondering where we could land the dingy. We see a man cast fishing, standing in about 1 to 2 feet of water maybe a few hundred feet from shore. Let’s head there.

As we get closer, we finally realize we are running of water. Umm, those rocks look so close. I reach to unlatch the outboard, so it can tilt upwards and as I fiddle with the lever, ge-clunk, the prop hits a rock or two and we are in half a foot of water.

We get out the oars, yes, I remembered to take them, only to realize we are hard aground, as the wind continues to push us towards shore.

I jump out, to get us turned around, Larry starts to row. Some minutes later, we are in deeper water, enough to start the outboard.

Rule #1, when running aground, follow the same route out as you followed in. Mistake #3, not following Rule #1. We were further to the west than our track in.

Getting the outboard started we decided to head back to Dauntless. The outboard had a bad vibration; I’d bent the prop. That, the 25 knot headwinds with the now 1 to 2-foot seas it produced, along with a heavier dingy and two people, meant that our downwind speed of probably 5 to 6 knots, was now about 2 knots.

Every minute we would be splashed by a breaking wave. We couldn’t see Dauntless at all. I knew where she was, but clearly, we were more than 2 miles away. That meant, we had an hour of this.

That’s when we went aground again. This time coupled with a belching of very black motor oil, like the Exxon Valdez had passed through. I thought I had totaled the outboard, as in the prop hitting a solid object was enough to break a connecting rod inside the motor.

But the motor started up and we seemed to crawl northwards. I didn’t know where the oil (about a cup worth) had come from, but I expected the motor to quit at any moment. The winds and seas were too strong to row again. Even with the outboard still running, we were doing at best 2 knots.

We discussed contingency plans.

We decided to head north until the boat came into sight and hope the motor lasted long enough. I kept on asking Larry if he thought we were making any progress. That guy fishing was still quite visible, while Dauntless was no where to be seen. This went on for the next 30 minutes, until it was obvious that we were making progress. Though I wondered for how long. The outboard was clearly on its last legs, shaking itself to death with no oil.

We decided that if the outboard quit, we would have to head west to the shore, about 1 mile away. We could not go upwind, but if we angled across the wind, we should be able to make shore. At that point, we would get out and walk along the shore in deep enough water to drag the dingy north. Once NW of Dauntless, we would row to her.

We were cold and wet, but having a plan that was at least feasible, made me feel slightly better. Though I was feeling miserable that I was subjecting Larry to this fiasco. That was making me feel worse. When I’m alone and fuck up, I deal with it. But I hate for others to suffer because of my actions. This is why I like being alone many times. I don’t feel stressed nor responsible for anyone else. If I torture myself, so be it, I deserved it.

The Kadey Krogen came into sight after about 40 minutes since we stared heading back. She blended well into the background. The outboard sounded worse than ever. I pictured it quitting within feel of Dauntless. With these winds and waves, no way could we have rowed to her. Even if we were 100 feet away, we would probably have to row to shore, a half mile away, and do our drag up the coast to get upwind of her.

I crossed my fingers and toes.

About this time, we saw a panga heading south. But it was about a half mile to our east and by the time we saw it, it was well south of us. Had I seen it earlier, I would have waved it down. He could have towed us to Dauntless in 10 minutes. But it wasn’t to be. I was reminded how stupid it was, especially under such conditions, to venture forth without a radio.

For 30 minutes we watched Dauntless get bigger and bigger. I prayed to Poseidon, Circe and whoever would listen to just get there. Finally, as I bumped into the swim platform and Larry grabbed ahold, I breathed a sigh of relief. We’d made it.

Getting the dingy rigged to the winch line, I decided to see if the outboard would start. No, it was done. I was grateful it kept on going that last hour.

I’ve written before about the “having two keys”. There have been countless times when I have lost a key but had duplicates someplace. Whereas I can never remember having lost a key when it was my only one.  I wondered if I was more careless than usual because I knew I had another outboard in the future? My friend Mike had promised to give me his spare 15 hp outboard when I got to Southern California.

One never knows, but everything is connected, even when you think it isn’t.

The following day, leaving for Magdalena Bay anchorage, to give us a better head start the next day.

 

 

 

 

 

The Dingy Fiasco part 1

It’s hard to believe that I have 5+ years and 20,000+ miles under my belt. I don’t.

Why, you wonder?

Oh, the routine things, those daily tasks or almost daily takes, are easy. It was in Germany when I lost my bow thruster. That was at the beginning of our 2015 Baltic Adventure. Seems like ages ago.

So, I’m pretty good at back and filling now. I can turn Dauntless around in a 180° in two boat lengths or 85 feet. It also gives me the excuse to Just Say No. When a marina, like recently at Dana Point, gave me a slip that I thought that I may be able to get in, but never get out again, I was able to easily say no, without guilt.

They found an end “T” dock for me.

I can also change the Racor fuel filters and prime them in less than two minutes. But now, I have the wisdom that I don’t need to rush. That’s the advantage of having the two dual Racor filters in parallel. Also, by only feeding from one fuel tank at a time, it a problem or issue develops, I immediately change the tank feed and filter and then diagnose the problem. This came in handy a couple of weeks ago when I sensed a change in engine pitch.  I immediately asked Larry to take the helm, while I went to the engine room. Sitting on the stringer in front of the engine, I could tell the rpms were not steady, but slowly rising and falling.

That meant a fuel or air problem.

The Racor bowl looked good, but I immediately changed to the other Racor. No change. I switched fuel tanks. The surging continued and got a bit worse.  But now I thought I understood the issue. I talk Larry to increase the throttle. After a moment’s hesitation, the engine started running smoothly and normally again.

What was the problem?  I’d run the fuel tank empty!

But I didn’t kill the engine because I acted immediately by changing both the filter (that at that point, probably had some air in it) and the tank. The Ford Lehman can be a PIA if you run it totally out of fuel, but I do have an auxiliary electric pump which I use just to prime the Racors and the engine mounted filters if need be. It works great, within seconds, system is pressurized and no more f…ing with that lift pump on a hot engine.

But the dingy, why that’s another matter. In 2016 we only used it a few times. Sitting in Cabo San Lucas with nothing to do, waiting for the head winds to die down, I figured I may as well make one last attempt to get the dingy going.

I spent an hour in the hot Cabo sun pumping it full of air. I’d already used another tube of 5200 to seal the back transom to the pontoons. The dingy looked pretty good. No need for a new stink’in dingy. I had looked at the local Costco the day before but saw no sign of any. (My observational powers leave a lot to be desired).

My inflatable, inflated. Looked pretty good.

Then in yet another moment of inexperience, I decided to lower the dingy to the dock, without checking the outboard.

I was feeling pretty good until the next morning. That sad picture tells the tale.

I decided that we could survive without the dingy. And in hindsight, we would’ve, could’ve, should’ve done without one.

Returning to Costco to stock up on required supplies like Danishes for yet another attempt to head north, I spotted the dingy that had eluded me the last TWO visits. They had it displayed standing vertically, on it’s tail. Of course, I couldn’t see it like that. They may as well have hung it from the ceiling.  But remember, that this point, I had decided to go without. How was I going to get it to the boat in any case, so, I just bought my Danishes

Walking out of the store, I noticed these guys, presumably taxi drivers, and with my 20-word Spanish vocabulary, I never found out, but they did point me back to the store and I understood that Costco delivered.

When businesses make it easy to spend money, I’m all in. In 10 minutes, I had my dingy bought and they would deliver the next day.

The Next Day

Another hour of foot pumping, my new dingy was good to go. Now, to get the outboard working. Of course, after The First and Nearly the Last almost a year of non-use, it was a no-go.

The New Dingy

I realized I had to clean the ports in the carburetor again. No biggie, except in my inexperience, I had not done this while the outboard was on the boat or even on the dock. It was now sitting on the transom of the new dingy. I debated trying to take the carb apart while hanging off the end of the boat., but realized it was a sure way to lose a critical part. My back would have to pay the price for my brain not thinking about this before.

Another hour later, I finally was good to go and thought it would be good to take the dingy down to the fuel dock and fill up the gas can.

All went as planned and I was left with a confidence that I did not deserve.

The video of the first and nearly the last dingy trip

 

 

 

 

Keys:

 

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.