As we returned to Wrangell Harbor after a day of fruitless fishing, but with 5 Dungeness crabs at least, I thought about how I was now an “old pro” returning to this harbor and dock.
What made me think that? This was only my 7th time returning to this harbor and docking on this dock!
Seven times! WTF. Virtually everyone reading this who has a boat has docked at their home harbor more than that, hundreds, even thousands of times more!!
But if you have been reading this blog and following my travels for any length of time, you know I’m all about travelling. Even when Dauntless was ported in Waterford, Ireland, Huatulco, Mexico or Vallejo, California and spent most of a year or more in those places, I wasn’t cruising. I’d leave the boat for weeks or months at a time flying to New York, California, Texas, Italy, Holland, Germany, Japan and Vietnam.
Even when we were home ported in Providence, Rhode Island, our trips were big ones, lasting the season, to Nova Scotia, then the Bahamas.
Therefore, since arriving in Wrangell at the end of August and the summer, we’ve done a half dozen day trips, which again is the most ever for any one port!
I miss Waterford. Still probably the best place Dauntless and I have ever lived. Great place for both the boat and me. We’ll return one day.
I regret not cruising more while in Vallejo. That was my original plan, but it was not to be. In part because Dauntless was under a roof, the mast was down. This allowed me to do a lot of overdue maintenance on the mast fittings but precluded taking Dauntless out for a spin.
While I have substituted taught here in the elementary and high schools, I’m pretty much doing nothing. So, taking the boat out for a few hours (we only have 7 hours of weak daylight this time of year) is a treat for me.
I am in the process of organizing a YouTube channel, in which I will have all of my cruising videos of the last 6 years, but that will be a work in progress. I will start with Dauntless leaving San Francisco and coming up the coast to the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia and finally Southeast Alaska.
That evening, I told my crew, Tee and Thien, that they could sleep late. I could get off on my own, but they needed to be ready for action by 09:00 sharp and they needed to be prepared to spend two hours out on deck in the cold and wind without complaint. That was a deal they loved to accept because both like sleeping in on weekends.
We had the coldest weather of the year in these days, the temperatures being in the high 20’s in the mornings. I had already filled the water tanks of the boat just in case we lost the dock water.
I also made one of my brighter decisions. I disconnected the water hose from the boat Friday evening. It took me almost 20 minutes to do so because it was almost frozen, so I was so glad i had not waited until the morning. I then decided that with the light winds we were having, there was no reason to keep all 7 lines on Dauntless.
One of my better decisions. As it was the lines were frozen and it took me a while to get the lines off the cleats. I left only two lines: a short stern line and a line that was tied my mid-dock to the bow cleat.
Saturday morning was dark and cold, 25°F, the coldest Dauntless has ever seen. The night before I had done my engine room checks, including turning on the engine water intake. I had also checked the oil and set the fuel feed.
My alarm was set for 06:30, but of course on all days of departure, I woke early and was up at 06:15. Time enough to make my usual cup of Vietnamese coffee.
Engine start was at 06:36. After last weeks’ mistake of not opening the engine water intake, I am back in the habit of immediately checking for water in the exhaust and I also ran down into the engine room to make sure there were no bad noises, smells or visuals.
Even with only two lines, it still took me 10 minutes to get the frozen lines off. I had to get some cups of hot water for the line on the bow cleat. But I was underway to Mahan Bay at 06:50, 10 minutes ahead of schedule.
I had two hours to think about the plan once we got there. I had thought that if for whatever reason, the shrimp pot floats were underwater, for instance if the pot had got dragged to deeper water, what would we do? I figured we would put out a fishing line without big halibut jig (a big hook with a 12 oz or 16 oz weight). We would troll back an over the probable areas. It turned out that I’m glad I had thought of this.
It was cold and dark, but we were on the way back to collect our gear. Just before 09:00 we were approaching Mahan Bay. It was a beautiful morning, just some middle broken clouds and light winds (see picture above). Tee and Thien were suited up and ready to go. I aimed Dauntless for the spot that we left the first pot and spotted the float right away, about 100 feet away.
Getting the boat hook ready, the boat was a bit too far away, so I turned to make another pass. This was seeming to be as easy as I had hoped in my wildest dreams.
As I approached the float the second time, I realized we were not as straight as we should be and at that instant, I realized that I could only screw up my perfect day if I ran over the thing and got the line stuck in the prop.
As I was having that thought, the float was along the port side hull, I kicked the stern to the right and put the gear in neutral, but it was too late.
Just alike that I had screwed up my perfect day by running over the float and getting the line stuck in the prop.
Fuck me. More appropriate words were never spoke. How could I have been so stupid. I ran to both sides of the boat hoping to see the float, but nothing. Nowhere, no how.
I put the boat into reverse gently, hoping to unwind it. I immediately heard the float hit the hull and seconds later it was floating along the boat, the line still around the prop and ripped out of the float.
The line had been ripped from the float. Then we saw a little piece of the float, about the size of a tangerine, floating away. I went to get the boat underway to try to catch it, with hopefully the shrimp pot line still attached, but we lost sight of it.
It wasn’t clear to me if we still had the line on the prop or not. Now was time for Plan B.
Thien got his fishing pole. He let out a few hundred feet of line. Within five minutes we had a catch. Reeling it in like it was the most valuable fish we ever caught, it was our shrimp pot line. It was also clear that the line was still wrapped around the prop.
So, first things first, I wanted to get the pot on the boat. That done, with all of two shrimp inside, I now had to get the line off the prop.
Being able to hold on to one end of the line that is wrapped around the prop and shaft does make the job a bit easier. In this case, I asked Tee to hold tight and tell me if the line was getting tighter or looser, when I put the boat in gear. She couldn’t tell, even when I tried reverse.
I wasn’t sure if it was a language issue or simply she did not have the feel of the problem, so I decided I had to do it myself. But I also didn’t want someone else at the controls if I am holding a line that is around the prop!
So, I got enough slack on the line so that I could stand at the helm, with one hand on the gear shift lever and the other holding the line tightly with the line from the prop thru the salon to the pilot house. I put the boat in forward gear, and I could feel the line getting a bit looser, at the same time, I could feel the prop rubbing against it.
I pulled harder on the line and it parted. I’m guessing the line cutter just in front of the prop on the shaft was able to put enough pressure to cut the line.
We were free and no vibration what’s so ever.
We headed for the second shrimp pot and it was just where I had marked it on the chart. Which does make me think that it was underwater when we were looking for it a week earlier. We snagged it, this time without any drama and it had four shrimp.
Thien ate them with gusto.
The weather was beautiful, so once we grabbed the anchor line, we tied it off and fished for a couple of hours. We caught two flounder. They were dinner.
Pulling the anchor up now worked like a charm and we motored back to Wrangell in a much better mood that the week before.
Yesterday, Saturday was the Debacle, Sunday the Plan was made. That gave me five days to sort out the windlass and get it working again.
First thing I did was get out the Ideal windlass manual for my ACW windlass. I had two issues:
As we were hauling the anchor, it became more and more strained, until finally it just stopped with the current protection breaker activating
The wildcat hits the top of the chain stripper on each revolution.
Now this windlass is 30+ years old but is built like a champ and perhaps if I rad the manual more often, it will outlast me. Because there in ALL CAPS was a warning that the windlass should only be used with a load in the clockwise direction.
Oops. Because I had anchored with my secondary anchor whose rode used the starboard anchor locker, I would wind the rode around the capstan and use the down switch to rotate the windlass counterclockwise. I had worked in the few times in the past I had done so, but the anchor was never very deep. With a little tap on the circuit breaker protection switch, I could reset the circuit breaker button and the windlass worked fine. I even test it, by lowering the primary anchor and letting a couple hundred feet out on the harbor bottom, which is between 10 to 20 feet under the keel.
Hauling it worked fine, except for the chain stripper being hit and therefore bent by the wildcat.
The diagram of the winch also gave me the information that the top of the chain stripper must be exactly 2.5” above the plate of the winch to fit into the groove of the wildcat which is about a half inch wide. Mine was clearly 2 and ¾”.
In the same manual, I found an old picture, which seemed to show that the chain stripper was perfectly straight. That was enough for me.
So, first stop Monday morning was to the big boat yard next to the dock, Superior Marine Services. There, Tyler, who was the bronze and stainless-steel expert, took a few minutes out of his busy to day to help little me (He is one of those big Alaskans that towers over me, like a brown bear!).
He suggested the big press. I mumbled ok since I was clueless. After all of 5 minutes and about a dozen pressings in different angles and parts, my stripper was as straight as new.
And typical of Alaskans, he wouldn’t take any money for his efforts, even coffee money.
I walked back to Dauntless, installed by stripper and it fit perfectly. I then proceeded to pull up the hundred feet of chain I put out as much to clean it an anything else and my little windlass worked like new.
Tides, currents and sunrise were all set. Now, I just needed the weather to cooperate.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
In one of my recent posts I talked about my use of Windy.com and how much I like the GUI they have developed. It’s an easy way to look at the two-main worldwide weather forecasting numerical models, the GFS and the ECMWF.
Almost a year ago today, I wrote the post “The Atlantic is a Harsh Mistress”. This was my first reaction to the reality of what we experienced versus the anticipation of what I expected.
I had read so many accounts of boats crossing oceans. Not having any experience, myself I was not sensitive to the subtle differences of the trade wind Pacific versus the Atlantic.
Hey, it’s the trade winds, characterized by strong steady winds and large, 15 to 30-foot-long period waves.
Easy Peasey, as Micah was fond of saying.
I’d just read an account of Kadey Krogen 42 doing the much longer passage from the California to the South Pacific and Australia. Their only problem was boredom and they ran out of Coca Cola. I wouldn’t have those issues. Having lived in Europe on and off for years, I’d long ago learned it best to wean myself off American products. And boredom, not when I had countless hours of Korean Dramas and a crew mate in Micah, who also liked them as much as I.
I still vividly remember leaving Heiro, the western most island in the Canaries to small seas and steady winds. After the first hour, I found myself thinking this could be an easy three weeks. An hour later, as the seas and winds increased, I deployed one paravane stabilizer, another hour later, I deployed the second. We stayed in that configuration for the next three weeks.
It was anything but easy. The passage was characterized by three wave sets (swells).
Swell are longer period waves that develop when the wind blows over the ocean for long period of time. Thus, winds and storms, hundreds or thousands of miles away cause swell.
The primary wave set or swell was from the east, the second from the northeast and the third from the southeast. The third had the longest period (time between waves) of ?15+ seconds. The other two, were on the order of 9 to 12 seconds.
On top of this all, were the wind driven waves. These waves are created by the wind at that location and if the wind stops the waves stop also. These waves had a period of about 7 seconds.
The result of all this was that we had 12 to 15-foot waves from the east, right behind us. My Kadey Krogen loves following seas, but what made it so difficult was the other two swells with different periods hat produced a corkscrew movement. Then every 8 minutes or so, the NE and SE wave troughs would meet under the stern of Dauntless and we would do this wild corkscrew movement with first the bow pointing to heaven and then seconds later, twisting down.
It was a wonderful corkscrew if I was on a roller coaster.
Here are some videos of the experience:
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I love my boat so much.
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So that was my introduction to multiple swells. Oh, I had noticed it before in the north Atlantic, but I attributed to “rogue” waves and it was not so systematic as in the trade winds.
The result was best described by some sailors I met in Martinique who had just done the same crossing. They called it the bathtub, because the water was so disorganized.
On the far right, you can see the vertical column where “waves, swell, swell2 and swell3” can be chosen.
Looking at this data today, mid-March, it’s also apparent why the best time to cross this part of the Atlantic is in early winter, as the when we crossed in December, at least all the winds and waves had an easterly component. Now, you can see that there is a swell from the northwest, that must be very unpleasant.