Monday, December 29, 2008 | Author: Julia
We had a perfect 24 hour run down to San Diego. Flew the spinnaker for about 8 hours into the night, then under a bright starry sky continued on with main and jib through the night. This was our first passage since the gale, and as the day ended and we prepared to sail through the night I felt some trepidation. I watched carefully for signs that the weather was deteriorating, waited to see if the breeze was strengthening but no gale was imminent. We sailed on through the night and as the 3 hour watches ticked by I became increasingly comfortable with being on passage. I was able to sleep below, rather than lying there anxiously listening to every noise (of which there are many on a moving boat). By 6am (Jacob's watch) I watched Orion's Belt setting in the NW and knew this night passage was coming to a close.

After a week at Cat Harbor moored in a town of 200 people coming into the San Diego channel was breathtaking, there were boats everywhere-big power boats zooming by, sail boats tacking across the channel, kayakers, anchored boats fishing, military boats and we even saw the tall ship Californian crossing paths with an America's Cup boat.

We are currently at the municipal docks in San Diego. We will be at the dock for about a week to do some boat work that we didn't get finished before we left San Francisco, get more food and top up on water, diesel and propane before making the next leg into Mexico.

Here's our view when I poked my head outside this morning.

32'42 N 117'14 W
Saturday, December 27, 2008 | Author: Jacob
Here we go!
Sunday, December 21, 2008 | Author: Julia

Saturday, December 20, 2008 | Author: Jacob
9AM in the morning, and the wind was already blowing in the high 20's, and we were down to our staysail crashing away to windward. We'd both been up all night, stuck in a tight anchorage that quickly became a lee shore, leaving us hanging from our stern anchor with the bow only 4 boat lengths from some nasty looking rocks. We left the anchorage in a hurry before dawn, and the boat is not put away for this 65 mile passage between Santa Cruz Island and Catalina. Below decks clothes and cushions are everywhere, topsides we haven't run our jacklines, put the trysail on deck, or the other checklist of things we normally do. On top of that, we have our stern anchor and 250 feet of nylon rode sitting on the cockpit sole, and the Monitor self-steering is out of commission due to a nasty interaction with our stern anchor line during the night.

Despite our state of relative disarray we were happy to find the wind as we went through Anacapa Passage, it was great to be sailing in the sort of wind Pisces loves, and given the weather forecast for a primarily light wind day with local isolated heavy weather, we both jumped at the opportunity to get some good sailing in before we passed out the other side into more light air.

An hour later and the wind and seas had continued to build steadily. Average wind speed was now solidly in the 30's with gusts higher, and the seas were becoming steeper. At this point we knew it was time to take care of some of the boat 'chores' that we had put off. Turn downwind, lash the anchors at the bow, run a jackline, get the trysail onto it's track on the mast, and drop the staysail.

Now it's decision time. We can run before this building gale towards the S, taking us far offshore. We can gibe over onto starboard, run before the storm and attempt to find refuge behind Santa Cruz Island to the W. We can head back upwind and try to continue making way towards our destination, or we can heave to and wait it out. At the core of our decision was the belief that this must be an extremely localized weather phenomenon, which led to a disbelief that this could really last very long. Running off to the S would take us far out of our way, and possibly prolong our exposure as we rode along with the moving system. Running towards Santa Cruz Island was a decent option, but we both had some trepidation about approaching an unknown coastline during these conditions. After several hours of trying to make way upwind, we didn't think we could continue to hand steer for much longer. Heaving to seemed our best option: the boat would take care of itself without the need for one of us on deck, we would stay closest to our destination, and presumably the weather we were experiencing would pass over us quickly as we lay stationary. 10:38 AM, up went the 70 square foot storm orange trysail, lash down the helm, and get busy waiting.

NOAA weather radio reporting wind speed at Anacapa Island Buoy (approximately 15 miles to windward) of 40 knots continuous, gusting to mid 50's. Leecloth set below, Julia seasick. Motion below is okay, following a pattern: quiet and surprisingly comfortable for a minute, then a larger set of waves rolls through, boat lifts up up up, down quickly into the trough, the bow falls off to leeward leaving us more beam on to the following wave, which grabs us and corkscrews us more violently. I spend about 45 minutes on deck trying to adjust the trim of the trysail and the tiller to get us to head up more, no luck. It is extremely cold, 48 degrees before wind chill, spray everywhere, everything is soaking wet already. Finally I go below and convince myself to lie down in the quarterberth and get some rest, a minute later we lay down slightly more than normal, and gallons of water pour down the closed companionway, drenching our charts and hitting me squarely in the face. So much for rest.

At 2PM NOAA is reporting winds at Anacapa of 45 knots continuous, gusting to 57 knots. Conditions where we are have changed as well, the waves are much larger and steeper now, with the top 3-4 feet of some of the larger ones breaking and curling like you see on a beach. It's raining now, and when I go up into the cockpit to try and scan the horizon for other boats the rain is hitting the winches so hard it's making a 'pinging' sound like hail. Looking around is bleak, the horizon in every direction is just angry sea. To windward you are stung with rain and spray and see nothing but steep waves, to leeward you see the foaming backs of the rollers, and the wind just ripping across the surface of the water, flattening down the backs of the swells and blowing foam off the top.

4PM, we can't wait passively anymore. Maddeningly, only 20 miles to the N and 20 miles to the E winds are light, and here we are stuck firmly in a Force 9 gale that is giving no signs of abating. There's one hour of daylight left, and neither of us are happy about the idea of continuing this fight into the dark. We try motor-sailing to windward, and while we can make about 3 knots to the E-NE it's absolutely brutal work. Wearing wool socks, seaboots, foulie pants, pants, long undershirt, wool sweater, hoodie, foulie jacket, scarf, wool beanie, and it is still freezing cold. Harness clipped in, one hand on the tiller, the other wrapped around the windward winch for stability. You get good at anticipating when a wave will hit the boat and ducking your head so that the brunt of the spray hits the foulie hood rather than your face. Helming requires constant attention, there's no way to sustain this for long, especially not with daylight ending. We try running before the waves again. Over 6 knots with the trysail alone, helming is even harder. A slight misalignment to a wave and we get laid down 40 degrees on our beam. That's the end of that, and at 5:30 PM we heave to again.

6:00PM, since heaving to we have not been able to get the boat to lie comfortably, and the occasional wave breaks hard against the hull, on the deck, or in the cockpit. At one point we take a good deal of water in through a dorade. At this point Julia comes up with the suggestion that we run the engine in slow forward to help drive the bow up to the wind. This helps greatly, bringing us to about 60 degrees off the wind, not perfect, but far better. For the next hour I sleep below while Julia takes a watch.

7:00PM, the boat tacks itself through the eye of the wind for the second time. Even through our exhaustion we realize this must mean conditions are abating. Back up on deck to find wind down in the mid 30's. We can make way against this, and we jump at the window to get further east away from the storm. Over the rest of the night conditions continue to moderate as we motorsail towards Catalina Island.

9:00AM, After a long night running on adrenaline and coffee we are safely moored at Cat Harbor on Catalina Island. It's been about 48 hours since we got any real rest, but it's sunny out and we have this mooring for up to a week. Put the boat away, lunch, and then 18 hours of sleep. It's been exactly two weeks since we started cruising.

While we would never go out seeking weather like we got, now that it is in the past we both see it as an invaluable experience. Pisces proved herself beautifully, as did the gear and decisions we had made prior to leaving. Let me tell you, a piece of safety gear that costs $500 seems like the biggest bargain in the world when you are in the kind of weather we saw. Having trust in your boat and equipment is crucial, and we give heartfelt thanks to Gary for building such a strong boat, Joe at Leading Edge Sails for building us our Trysail, Jason at Argo Yacht Rigging for doing our rigging, and Ethan at Engine Rite for our beautiful little Beta.

One of the most interesting things we learned from this experience was the necessity not only of storm tactics (running, heaving-to, etc.) but also the necessity of storm strategy. We did the right things, but in retrospect we never took the time to develop an overall strategy of how we would deal with this unexpected storm. For example, we hove to early on, hoping to wait out the storm even though early in the storm might have been the best time to try more active tactics, it was daylight, we weren't exhausted, the wind and waves were relatively small. Later in the day when the frustration had built and we wanted to switch to active tactics all these factors were stacked against us. It is crucial to take the time early in the storm to create an overall plan factoring in how to minimize the impact and duration of the storm, what order to attempt different storm tactics, and how to ensure the crew is fed and rested.

Like any good sea story, there's much more to it than we could fit above, and as time goes by it's possible the wave height will grow a bit, the wind will become just a wee bit stronger. If you're interested, we're glad to share more of our experience and what we learned, but, as also befits a good sea story, drinks will have to be on you.

33 26' N 118 30.2' W
Sunday, December 14, 2008 | Author: Julia
A couple of nights ago we were anchored at Santa Cruz Island with our friend Greg on Nightcap. He had sailed out to meet up with us from Vintage Marina at Channel Islands Harbor. The plan was to spend a couple of days at anchor, dinghy ashore, explore the island (which is primarily National Park), do some hiking and generally enjoy the island.

We'd been listening to the NOAA weather radio forecasts about the nasty storm that was supposed to sweep the west coast bringing gale conditions and big seas but when we finished dinner and went to sleep that night, the gale warnings were forecast for the outer waters, not the inner waters where we were. By the time we had coffee the next morning the gale warning had expanded to include our anchorage and so we decided to head back to Channel Islands Harbor along with Greg for a few days until the storm blew through.

So we are currently at the harbor where we first saw Pisces, had her surveyed, hauled and prepared her for the trip back up to San Francisco. Our initial thinking was to stay at the anchorage and tough out our first storm at anchor. It has to happen sooner or later right? Greg made the point that if there is a storm approaching and a harbor available, then the prudent action is to take advantage of the harbor. Being on shore and leaning into the wind made me really glad we were in the shelter of a marina rather than on constant watches at anchor, ready to slip the anchor if we started dragging. We are less than two weeks into our cruise, and are grateful to have the flexibility to head into a harbor at this point when storms come through. After spending the afternoon yesterday on the bus to Borders bookstore, we are ready to get back out to enjoy the isolated beauty of the Channel Islands.

There is another storm forecast for Monday, so we will be here until that blows through and then head back out, probably to Santa Cruz for a few days. Until then we are enjoying being here, last night was the lighted boat parade in the harbor, and afterward we went back to Nightcap, drank scotch and Greg gave us a primer on celestial navigation and showed us his sextant collection.
Today I will dinghy over to the farmer's market, do some laundry and we will get some diesel before heading out again.

We have some photograph galleries that we are updating as we go along. The current one is our California Coast gallery.

Thanks also to Jeff from Fancy for the great pics of us (looking really nervous!) heading out under the Golden Gate.

34 10.5' N 119 13.4' W
Thursday, December 11, 2008 | Author: Jacob
It's been a week since our departure from San Francisco and we are definitely working hard to acclimatize ourselves to passage making and cruising. It's been a long week (or a short week if you ask Julia) with a ton of 'firsts': first night on passage, first windy night at anchor, meeting our first cruising character (John in Morro Bay on his Waterworld-ish trimaran), first time walking miles to the grocery store, first time using our spinnaker offshore, first on-deck shower, and on and on.

A lot of the cruising experience has been similar to what we expected, but there are a few things that have surprised us, so in honor of one week of cruising, we present 'A Retrospective - Week 1'

Light Winds + Swell = Unhappy
On the San Francisco Bay light winds means either motor, or just enjoy a slow but steady sail to your destination. On the ocean, light winds can still be accompanied by swell. This combo makes for a very unhappy boat (and hence an unhappy crew). As you are picked up by a swell the apparent wind rushes forward, causing the sails to backwind. As you are dropped down into the trough the wind returns to it's original position, causing the sails to crash back to where they started.

The sound of the boom doing this over and over can drive you insane, but if you drop the main, you may find yourself rolling from rail to rail. Before leaving on the trip we knew we would need a preventer setup for heavy weather sailing, but this week has taught us the preventer is possibly even more important in light winds to minimize the slatting of the sails.

What matters is When, not Where
We thought the hard part of navigation would be the getting to your destination without running into anything or getting lost. So far, what has actually been hard is getting where you want to go, when you want to be there. It's never a great idea to enter an unfamiliar harbor or anchorage at night, so, in these short winter days you have a narrow window of time at which to arrive. Couple that with a large spread of possible boat speeds, and you end up with a tricky situation.

As an example of the sort of planning we have been consumed with, the trek from Morro Bay around Pt. Conception is about an 80 mile trip. If you maintain an average speed of 6 knots VMG (velocity made good) if it's a good strong wind or you are motoring, it's a 13 hour trip. If you maintain an average of 3 knots VMG if the wind is light or from an unfavorable direction, it's a 26 hour trip. Ideally you would round Pt. Conception during daylight, but not in the late afternoon when the wind picks up. So what time do you leave Morro Bay? Further, this 80 miles doesn't even include the additional distance to a suitable anchorage (which of course you don't want to arrive at in the dark)!

Hand steering is brutal. It's cold, tiring, and boring. The Monitor windvane is worth it's weight in stainless steel (which seems to cost roughly the same as gold).

Weather Forecasts are Wrong (but nice to have)
Not having instant access to multiple sources of weather information over the internet can be a bit anxiety producing. We are learning strategies to cope, including finding alternate sources for weather information, such as NOAA weather radio and calls to local harbor masters. Although 'knowing' the upcoming weather is a relief, so far the forecasts seem to be batting 0. We had an evening of light winds out of the South West, when the forecast was for strong winds out of the North East to drive home the point that weather forecasting involves a good deal of art rather than science.

The California coast is absolutely vibrant with life. Being so close to nature has been a true highlight, and already we feel privileged to have been allowed to play silent observers to the coastal marine life.

Between Half Moon Bay and Monterey we started noticing some strange shapes in the water. Quickly we realized that we were sailing among a school of thousands upon thousands of Jellyfish. There were groups of hundreds of babies the size of your fist right near the surface, and below them in the deeper water, the somber form of the adults with tentacles up to 15 feet long.

Off the Big Sur Coast we saw a feeding frenzy of seals, breaching out of the water and breaking into what looked like teams that would sweep across from one side to the other in a line, no doubt herding their prey. Minutes later a line on the horizon turned out to be hundreds of dolphins rushing towards where we had left the seals. They were leaping out of the water, often 5 and 6 feet clear of the swell. Groups of them swam right under the boat. Standing on the bowsprit we had an amazing view of them passing below us, and it even seemed that you could hear their calls.

Leaving Morro Bay we were the lone boat among hundreds of sea otters, lying on their backs cracking mussels. We have had night watches accompanied by dolphins, and anchored in a cove surrounded by dive bombing pelicans.

And that's it, we are currently crossing the Santa Barbara Channel headed to Prisoner's Harbor on Santa Cruz Island to meet our friend Greg on Night Cap. After that we will probably head to Catalina Island where we plan to wait out a storm which is dropping down from the Pacific Northwest (or so the forecast says).

Lat 34 Degrees 14' N, Long 119 Degrees 50' W

Monday, December 08, 2008 | Author: Jacob
Our first overnight passage of this trip is in the books. We left Half Moon Bay Saturday mid-morning, and made the ~30 hour trek down to Morro Bay (and in response to Sanjay's question: Yes! It gets very very cold at night). During my night watches I kept thinking what I would say if someone suggested I sit on a grey Northern California beach all night staring at the water to make sure nothing appeared, and then I would ask myself why I was gladly doing the equivalent 12 miles out at sea. Further motivation to keep moving South, eventually it has to warm up right?

Yesterday afternoon we arrived at Morro Bay, and are currently tied up at the Morro Bay Yacht Club, which is clearly very experienced at dealing with cruisers: 'Showers are there, here's a map to the supermarket, wireless code there, laundry is over there, garbage is there, you can use the water on the docks, etc."

Today we are off to a slow start, but have lots planned, not the least of which is to do our 50 hour service on the engine (did I mention there was no wind on our trip down? We currently have to hand steer whenever we are running the engine, which quickly gets brutal, but on the flipside is a good motivator not to burn fuel).

The picture is of Pisces with the 'famous' Morro Bay rock in the background. We will be here for a day or so taking care of chores, and watching the weather for a good rounding of Pt. Conception.
Friday, December 05, 2008 | Author: Jacob
After going back and forth on a variety of last minute projects, and some spares we wanted to buy, we decided that enough was enough, it was time for us to leave. In fact, it really was our mental state that dictated when it was time to leave, as opposed to the boat, we were done even if the boat wasn't quite.

Leaving was very strange. We turned in the key to the marina, packed up the shore power cord, hose, dock lines and we were off. It seemed like we were going out for a daysail, as opposed to an open-ended cruise. Chips and Jeff from Fancy joined us near the Golden Gate and escorted us out underneath the Golden Gate. It was much appreciated, as it made us focus on something other than the fact that we were leaving!

We had a great sail from San Francisco, light winds, tweaking the windvane and finally getting it dialed in, steering Pisces better than either of us would have. We spent a good bit of time in silence, and a bit of time saying things like 'can you believe we are doing this?' or 'wow, that swell is really big.' Added a few things to the to-do list, and overall were very happy with how Pisces handled out in the ocean.

We are now anchored in Half Moon Bay, which is the perfect spot to start a trip, a big open protected anchorage, only one day from home. For anyone out there planning a cruise, we can't recommend enough the wisdom of 'leaving' your homeport and only heading to somewhere few hours away. If you are at all like us you will need another day or two to stow the results of your night before Costco trip (2 carts!), finish a project or two, and just get your head straight after the weeks of frantic preparation. We arrived here at 4, had the anchor down by 4:30, dinner, and then asleep by 8 for a solid twelve hours working on the deficit our preparation had created.

Today we stowed the aforementioned Costco goods, used some free wireless internet (courtesy of the Oceano hotel), and relaxed in the sun with our friend Sikander, who brought his crab nets and helped us catch a bucket of crabs that later become a great crab taco dinner.

Tomorrow it's off again, this time for an overnight trip down the Big Sur coast, with a stop at either San Simeon or Morro Bay depending on the time of our arrival.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008 | Author: Jacob
This blog post comes from from outerspace! Courtesy of the Iridium satellite phone system and UUPlus email system.

This is how we will stay in touch while we are gone (which is any day now).

Very cool.

Friday, November 28, 2008 | Author: Julia
I have been struggling and mulling for a week now about how to approach this post. I cannot figure out a particularly concise or clever way to approach it so here's the rambling story.

I drove my Dad down to LA a couple of weeks ago on what was supposed to be a two day delivery trip to get him situated down in LA. He was going to live with his sister for a while to be near his friends and doctors.

Almost two weeks later I was still down there and Jacob had joined me when Dad was admitted into the hospital. He doing better now, but the situation was a real shake up.

"Cruising boat, fully equipped, plans changed, must sell" kept flashing through my head as we did the hospital shuffle: hospital, food, hospital, food, sleep, hospital and repeat. Were we going to be stuck down there on this rotation forever? Sell the boat and try to get a job in this terrible economy?

This experience has also given leaving on the cruise a bittersweet tinge. Sure we have a sat phone and the family promises to call if anything happens to anyone, but the logistics of getting back are such that we may not be able to get back in one day, or even two, and by that time will it be too late? The pressure of goodbyes in this situation are almost unbearable, and so I cope by assuming the best-that nothing terrible will happen and we won't be gone that long etc.

Returning to the boat last week from LA felt like being transported to another world. Our leave date is now a flexible date sometime during the week following Monday, Dec 1. We are starting to see a tiny pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel and starting to watch the weather. Obsessively.
Saturday, November 22, 2008 | Author: Jacob
We get a fair amount of "you don't have an ________?! You absolutely have to have an ______ or your boat will sink the minute your masthead crosses under the Golden Gate!" While we value everyone's input, sometimes we get the sneaking suspicion that a good portion of these exhortations are based solely on (sometimes limited) personal experience, rather than an objective assessment of need.

The frustration level that we feel during these conversations is inversely proportional to the time left before departure. And since we are now extremely close to departure, we present our list of the Top 5 Things We 'Have to Have' that we don't have!

Now, before you get all outraged, let me say that we would like to have some of the things on this list, but because of time or money we don't have them yet. In fact, we completely reserve the right to add anything on this list as soon as we realize just how wise your advice was :)

1. SSB - Generally people use a SSB or Ham radio for ship-to-ship communication as well as email. We are going with an alternate approach to communications, that used by Beth Leonard and Evans Starzinger. We have a simple stand-alone SSB receiver that we can use to listen to cruising nets, or receive weatherfax, and a satellite phone for data.

2. Chartplotter - We have plenty of GPS units (1 built in, 2 handheld), plenty of paper charts, but no chartplotter...actually this is the thing on the list that I want most. Coincidence that I am also the one who is in charge of navigation?

3. Inflatable Dinghy + Outboard - Don't have them, in fact, we went out of our way to sell a perfectly good rigid inflatable and a somewhat problematic outboard. We do however have a beautiful hard dinghy, that rows great and has a sail kit. Sitting here now I can say that I really like rowing. Ask me again in 3 months.

4. Head - Oh my god! A return to the middle ages! We have no head, instead using the tried, true, and gracefully named 'bucket-and-chuck-it' method.

5. Roller Furling - Pisces originally had a Furlex 200s roller furling unit on the jib. According to the manufacturer this unit is undersized for a boat of Pisces' size, and we can attest to that based on our experience. After spending a memorable hour out on the bowsprit in a good size swell with the jib jammed half-way up the foil, we knew that we needed a new furling unit. Unfortunately, it turns out that furlers are much more expensive than we had envisioned in our happy internal universe. Expensive on the order of many months of living without working. Hence, no furler.

Those are the 5 we hear the most, but I'm sure if you are creative you could add a few to this list.
Thursday, November 13, 2008 | Author: Jacob
Our solar panel installation is now done, and we are (semi) officially off-the-grid so that we can flush out any electrical system problems prior to departure.

I had some concerns about the solar, as I wasn't a huge fan of the idea of more stuff hanging on the back of the boat, but once it was all hooked up I was an immediate convert.

Especially now that we are counting amp hours, it's amazing to watch power flowing back in, I can tell that I am going to be obsessively checking the amp meter. Right now we're getting 3 amps in (not enough to cover this computer usage, but hey... :).

We purchased our setup through Wholesale Solar. They were good to work with, and I would definitely go with them again.

We went with a single Kyocera KC65T and a Morningstar ProStar 15M Charge Controller. Both seem to be very well built, and installation was straightforward.

As you can see from the picture, we currently have the panel mounted on our radar arch cross-bar, with the ability to tilt fore and aft. Eventually I would like to add an additional panel, and set them up on the port side arch post (opposite the radar) with a setup similar to Atom's solar tracker.

That however, will have to wait, because now I need to turn my attention to some other projects.
Thursday, November 06, 2008 | Author: Jacob
In general I am the type of person who wants to gather as much data as possible before making a decision. My feeling is that most of the time there is a superior option, and if none appears obvious it's because you don't understand the complete picture yet. I'd prefer to defer a decision than make one without feeling entirely comfortable with it. (By the way, this drives Julia absolutely crazy, as she takes the polar opposite approach to making decisions).

The data-driven approach works well a good deal of the time, but there is a certain category of choices where it really falls short. These are the decisions where a major piece of the possible competing outcomes is simply unknowable. A certain sign that you are facing one of these is when you start saying things like "it will probably be fine...but...if it's not it could be a catastrophe."

So now for some nautical detail. The standing rigging (all the wires and fittings that hold the mast upright) has a lifespan somewhere between 10-15 years, depending on use, quality of the original materials, weather, and luck. If you are very diligent (and of course lucky) you might manage to find the signs of impending failure before it actually becomes failure ('TIMBER!').

Our standing rigging is about 8 years old, and we've always planned to replace it as a precautionary measure before leaving. However, after some serious sticker shock after getting a re-rigging quote, we've started wondering whether we really need a new rig...and right there you end up in one hell of a 'who knows' decision making process.

After an evening or two of running in circles on the issue, we decided that we needed expert advice. The problem is, no one really wants to give you an answer one way or the other (which is understandable, because essentially they are saying 'who knows? and I don't want to be the one who said things will be fine if they turn out not to be'). A typical conversation goes like this:

Us: 'So, having looked at the rigging, and given our plans what are your thoughts?'
Rigging Expert: 'Well, everything looks good, there are a few things here and there that should be remedied, but generally everything is good. The materials quality is high, and appears to have been put together well.'
Us: 'Whew, well that's a big relief because...'
Rigging Expert: 'Uh yeah, so like I was saying everything looks okay, but you can't really know, and you wouldn't want to have something happen when you were far from land or access to repairs.'
Us: 'Uh, yeah that's pretty much the reason we came to get your opinion.'
Rigging Expert: 'I'll send you my bill.'
Wednesday, October 29, 2008 | Author: Julia
Monday, October 27, 2008 | Author: Jacob
Our planned departure date is just 35 days away!

December 1st

Today we are: Working (last week), selling a bedframe, selling a guitar effects unit, getting the boat measured for a trisail, getting our engine oil pressure sender switch replaced (another story), giving away a three foot stack of moving boxes, laundry (one of the last times with a free washer and dryer), buying zincs for the bobstay fitting (now underwater as Pisces gets loaded up), and a bunch of other stuff I can't remember right now.

Busy, but exciting.
Monday, October 20, 2008 | Author: Julia

It's an eerie feeling; to have an apartment full of stuff one day and the next day to have an empty apartment. The garage sale was a success, getting money for stuff we no longer want or need is always satisfying. But I'm still getting used to the lack of our everyday things. Sold the toaster and the drip coffee maker for one thing (put a major dent in my breakfast routine).
Once we get moved onto Pisces the lack of all our stuff will no longer matter, but this week while we're still in the house, it's very strange to wander around the house, seeing where things used to be.
This week I'll start on a major internal clean of Pisces and moving our stuff on board.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008 | Author: Jacob
Well, we've been in the yard for our final haul before heading out cruising. As any boat owner knows, a visit to the boatyard can be a trying experience, full of suprises. These surprises generally result in the use of boatyard labor, frequently charged at a going rate of ~$100/hr here in the Bay Area. It's a painful, albeit necessary, ritual.

That being said, we've had as good a time as possible with this last haul, in large part due to our hauling out at Spaulding Boatworks. If you don't know about it, I highly recommend you check out this piece of Sausalito waterfront history, the people there are honest, fun to be around, and true craftsmen.

We've done quite a bit during this haul-out, but a few things are interesting and are probably worth documenting in case it helps anyone else:

1) Bottom Paint/Barrier Coat Flaking Off!

When hauled we noticed some cracks in the bottom paint and after inserting a knife (I've decided that the universal boatyard survey is the pocket knife insert test) huge sheets started just peeling off! The sheets were up to several square feet at a time, and appeared to consist of several layers: Bottom Paint, Misc Greenish Gray (Primer?), Blue (Barrier Coat?), White (?), Pink(?). What was being left on the hull was white, which appeared to be a continuation of the topside paint, with places where another red layer below still showed (most likely the original gelcoat). 

You can imagine the sinking feeling this led to, as we watched our hull being peeled away...Michael, the boatyard manager apparently had never seen anything quite like this, which is not a good sign when you are talking about someone with around 30 years of experience!

Here's a picture of the 'finished' product on the port side:

It remains a bit of a mystery, the generally opinion (including that of an Interlux rep who came to take a look) is that it's a 'multiple failure' sort of thing, causing the barrier coat adhesion to fail. This left us with a couple of options: 1) Grind back all the places where it still adhered (expensive, and time consuming) 2) Apply barrier coat over the non-adhered places (medium expensive) or 3) Apply bottom coat directly over top, wait and see what happens next haul out (the 'out of sight out of mind' approach).

We went with #3, as everyone recommended we take a wait-and-see attitude. Very likely that next time we haul the remaining portions will also be peeling. Once we get it all off, we'll sand off the bottom paint and re-barrier coat. Not a fun prospect, but not awful.

2) Rudder Post Mystery

Since buying Pisces I've been a bit confused about how the rudder was attached, and given our cruising plans, now was the time to find out for sure. 

Pisces has a keel hung rudder, A large diameter SS shaft extends out of the top of the rudder, into a fiberglass tube that extends up to the deck level. This fiberglass tube is glassed in with supports to the hull. So far so good, a very standard arrangement. The confusion was that at the bottom of the hull where you would frequently see a massive pintle & gudgeon arrangement...there was....nothing...just more fiberglass. I thought that most likely we had a bronze fitting down there that had been covered with filler and faired in to the hull. 

To confirm this, and to confirm that the bronze fitting was in good condition, we asked the yard to do some exploratory surgery. So they started in with a grinder, deeper and deeper, but no metal...As it turns out, there is no metal at all, the heel of the skeg is actually just a fiberglass tube that accepts another length of SS shaft from the bottom piece of the rudder. This fiberglass tube piece was most likely made separately from the rest of the boat, then carefully lined up and attached with about 1/2" of thickened epoxy, and then the whole thing was wrapped with fiberglass all the way around the skeg. 

Here's a photo with exploratory hole:

If you look closely at this you can see (around the 3" mark) where the attachment starts. It's a slightly odd way of connecting the rudder, upside is there is no metal to corrode, distinct downside is that removing the rudder will require chopping this piece off. I think if we end up in a situation where we are removing the rudder according to plan, we will probably replace this set up with a more normal pintle & gudgeon with external metal fitting. In the meantime, it's not going anywhere.

3) Thru-Hull Madness

While all the above mentioned haul-out items managed to get our hearts pumping, only one thing actually deserves the 'scary designation'. Due to a redesign of our engine beds during the recent repower, the engine raw water intake was no longer easy to open and close. We asked Michael and Chris at Spaulding to take a look at whether we could rotate the seacock handle to provide better clearance. As part of this, they removed an external seawater strainer on the thru-hull. 

After doing this, Chris noticed that the thru-hull didn't appear to be sitting flush with the hull, instead having a 1/4" or so lip of sealant. A little further exploration (with a pocket knife again) led to the discovery that the 3 bolts which hold the seacock in place went all the way through the hull, but at some point someone had cut the heads off the bolts, and then inserted the current thru-hull on top of them, using sealant to fill any gaps. Essentially there was nothing substantive keeping these bolts from popping out into the hull, this would have allowed the thru hull itself to become loose, leaving a good size area around the thru-hull, and three 3/8" or so holes in the hull.

This is just scary. As a result of this, Chris glassed up the area, and moved the whole set-up a few inches further outboard, with a new thru-hull and no bolt holes...Finding that alone makes the haul-out worthwhile...

So, that's the bulk of it. We also spent a good bit of time working on a redesign of our electrical system (we highly recommend Malcolm Morgan if you are in the Sausalito area and in need of electrical help), plumbing, and storage. Another haul-out is in the books, Pisces is back in the water, and we have a new set of 'to-do's' for next time we haul...pretty standard all around.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008 | Author: Julia

Heading back down to our slip--the perfect relaxing ending to a wild washing machine day with all the boats greeting Maltese Falcon at the Gate.
Wednesday, October 01, 2008 | Author: Julia
I've been looking through cruising books looking for ideas, tips and tricks and handy hints on living aboard and storage. I've dutifully gone through all the classics including Beth Leonard, the Pardeys, Nigel Calder, Jim Howard and many more.

One thing has struck me about these books on cruising is that the writers all describe the item that one needs for cruising as the final product. By that I mean whole chapters will be devoted to the perfect plumbing system, the perfect storage system for the galley, the perfect anchoring system and so on.
In my experience the reality of designing a system or finding a solution to a problem is much less polished than that. Our method of designing a solution is to mock something up to see if the basic concept will even work. Then we make a trial design to check for any major flaws. Then we have a first pass at designing the system. Then we stop and assess any unforeseen issues. Finally we use the system for a few months and see how we like it. If it doesn't quite work, we take another crack at the design process. And so it goes.

The gap between the smoothly edited chapters on the perfect must-have galley plumbing system and the grubby reality of figuring out a solution that works for us is sometimes enormously large and it takes meeting another cruiser on the dock and hearing about their problem solving to remind me that everyone goes through the trial and error process, no matter how polished the re-telling of the process becomes.
Thursday, September 25, 2008 | Author: Jacob
Well, we've been busy making things official (marriage and cruising). In the last several weeks we've both given notice at work, and Julia's last day is 1 week from today. In fact, both of our jobs were very supportive and offered 6 month leaves of absence. It works out very well given the timing of the Mexico cruising season, if we get down there and have had enough, we'll have great jobs to come back to.

It's been interesting now that we are in a position to speak more openly with our friends at work about our plans. Most people are supportive, but there's usually an element of hesitation, or a feeling that they are holding back from saying what's really going on in their head. Often I get the feeling that it would be much easier for people to fit our trip into their cognitive framework if we had some goal. If we were doing a long-distance ocean race, people would get it immediately. We could probably even be tracing the route of some obscure lumber schooner and people would still accept it more readily than just going cruising.
Friday, September 19, 2008 | Author: Jacob
The author of one of my favorite sailing blogs refers to his sailing as a '15 year circumnavigation to say goodbye to the world.' 

It's a beautiful sentiment. Even though I hope that our sailing isn't a 'goodbye' and is more of a 'hello' the feeling of needing to get out and see another piece of this earth is the same. 

Wednesday, September 03, 2008 | Author: Julia
Saturday, August 09, 2008 | Author: Julia
Dinghy chocks are surprisingly difficult to find. We contacted Spaulding Boatworks to get a quote on bronze castings using Lin and Larry Pardy's patterns that they donated to Spaulding. The total cost of the quote? $400 for two. So it was back to the drawing board.
When we joined techshop, we learned of a place called Metal Supermarkets near us in Redwood City but because they are only open during the work day we'd never been able to go. This week we stopped by for a look around.

For $40 we purchased enough stainless steel for both the chocks and the backing plate for 3 chocks. In one afternoon at techshop using their band saw and metal grinders we have two lovely chocks and backing plates.
We also made a quick stop at MacBeath Hardwood and picked up a 3 foot slab of teak to install in the chocks.

This project is coming along surprisingly well. Considering how difficult our prior two projects were (engine repower and boom gallows), I wonder if I have a redefined definition of complicated.
Sunday, July 20, 2008 | Author: Julia
Update as of 08/03/08
After two weeks of playing with the HP, we were not thrilled with it. We had doubts about it's long-term durability and reliability in being our prime communication link in many ways with everything.
We were resigned to just making do until we had a conversation with Jacob's parents who have a MacBook with the new chip, and who (it turns out), would much rather have a PC! So it's back to mac for us, and it's SO GREAT!!!!

Today we purchased a PC to use when we're on Pisces. Jacob found a great price on a spiffy little HP with lots of memory (so we can take tons of photos once we leave).

While I use a PC at work I've always been a Mac person so it felt a little weird to buy a PC for personal use. But it's surprisingly nice and has all sorts of cool features (that Jacob assures me are not the important ones) such as web cam and a little remote control for the DVD/CD player etc.
It will be our video and voice link to family and friends as well as our entertainment center for music and video.

Right now, I'm excited to start using it to download weather faxes. We've been listening to the cruising nets using our world radio receiver, and I'm itching to start figuring out how to download the weather forecasts and faxes onto the PC.
Saturday, July 12, 2008 | Author: Julia

Kathy is a friend of mine from work who happens to be a nurse with many years of experience in medical air transport and emergency treatment for yachts and airplanes.

Today we met at Pisces and she brought us a comprehensive medical kit for us to take when we leave. We spent a lovely day out sailing with her and she taught us how to start IVs.

Thanks Kathy!!!!
Sunday, July 06, 2008 | Author: Jacob
We took advantage of the long weekend to spend some time out on Pisces. We had a great weekend, with everything from drifting calm all the way to 35 kt gusts.

We spent Friday night at anchor in Richardson bay and enjoyed front row seats on the foredeck for the Sausalito fireworks show. Saturday we had an impromptu raft-up with Fancy, followed by a lazy sail around Angel Island. Saturday night we spent at anchor at Paradise Cay, followed by a wet and wild beam reach home in 28kts with gusts to 33kt+ with two reefs in the main, the staysail, and the monitor (name currently under debate) steering.

Getting out for a few days at anchor reminded us that beyond how many individual items there are on our 'to-do' list, there are so many categories of things to focus on. It's very easy to start focusing in on one category of things to-do, and lose track of all the other equally important types of things that need to be done.

For example, we've been spending some time looking at safety equipment, and from storm anchor to trysail to sea anchor we've been thinking a lot about safety. However, being out this weekend reminded us that we need to think about how to get the dinghy easily launched, whether the jib sheet blocks are correctly located, where to store our clothes, and so on and so forth.

Here are some general categories of things that need to be considered:

Safety: Storm preparation, medical supplies, etc.

Sailing: General sailing equipment, running rigging, standing rigging, positioning of blocks, sails, etc.

Daily living comfort: The boat has to be comfortable to live aboard, frequently used items should be accessible, etc.

Admin: Where's the mail going to go? Health insurance, boat insurance, etc.

Spares: This deserves its own many of what are we bringing?

Here's a couple of pictures from this weekend:

We randomly saw Fancy (the boat we race with) going by in Sausalito, so they stopped in for a lunchtime raft-up.

This last week we bought a used Luke 65 lb storm anchor. As Julia demonstrates above, this thing is huge.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008 | Author: Julia
We are back in our slip at Brisbane with almost 5 hours on the Beta. Of course I forgot the camera to document the inaugural motor home over the weekend. The weather was perfect, the new motor purred the whole way and it feels a little surreal to have Pisces back at our slip already. The new engine is so quiet that when I am standing up at the bow I can't hear it running. The galley doesn't shudder continually, making cooking much more comfortable, and the noise level below decks is so much more quiet.
The entire repower took 2 weeks to the day--it is slightly unbelievable to have the project that was the most anxiety producing be over so quickly. To have an engine that I trust in and rely upon is a whole new feeling. One I'm looking forward to getting used to.
Monday, June 16, 2008 | Author: Julia

Wednesday, June 11, 2008 | Author: Julia

Friday, June 06, 2008 | Author: Julia
I drove to work today with a car load of misc. boat supplies, clothes, drop cloths (ie old sheets) reference books and a computer in anticipation of the engine rebuild. Ethan called yesterday and said he'd picked our engine up from SFO, and I imagined it sitting in his shop all clean and shiny, waiting to go into Pisces.

It feels slightly surreal, sitting here at work talking about work-y things, knowing that in a few hours we'll be heading towards that shiny new engine in Sausalito. Over the next few weeks I feel like we'll be living a double life. Working on the engine as much as we can, and showing up to work trying to hide the engine grease and grime during the day. What will Pisces(and we!) look like when it's all finished? I'll take lots of pictures and post as often as I can.
Tuesday, June 03, 2008 | Author: Julia
Well, we've been very busy with work and projects, so this is just a quick update.

Boom Gallows:
The original boom gallows cross beam was laminated, and badly needed some attention (varnish, fix delaminating spots, etc.). We took this off, spent about a week of evenings sanding it, then decided the extent of the delamination was such that we would need to pull it completely apart and relaminate it....well...we pulled it apart without too much trouble...

Plan B: replace with a solid piece of wood. Quick trip to MacBeath's revealed that the price of a piece of teak sufficient to do the job would roughly equal the cost of a new sail, so mahogany it is!

The other funny thing about this is that the bronze brackets which hold the boom gallows are exactly 2" across. Now, if you've ever bought lumber you'll know that an 8/4 piece of wood (rough sawn to 2") is only 1 3/4" when planed down. So we would have to find a thicker piece, and plane it down significantly just to get the extra 1/4" of thickness. Instead of doing this we went with an 8/4 piece and have come up with a plan to use small pieces of teak as trim on the gallows. I think it's going to look really nice, we'll varnish the mahogany and leave the teak natural. We'll post photos as soon as possible (which may be a while because...)

Next week we're repowering. We've mapped out the electrical system, have a rough plan on how we're going to cut away the necessary cabinetry, and we've got a few days off from work. It's going to be quite a process, and it will probably be all quiet on the blog front until we've come out the other end.
Wednesday, May 07, 2008 | Author: Julia
We are now proud members of Techshop, the coolest place ever and only 4 minutes from our house. Open until midnight every day, full of large heavy machinery (think bending, cutting, welding, grinding, lasers, embroidering, etching, milling), space to work on smelly, messy boat projects until late in the night...oh yes and an extremely large foam cutter. For all your foam cutting needs.
Sunday, May 04, 2008 | Author: Julia

Beta Marine 38
We have been talking with Ethan from Hirschfeld Yachts about repowering with a Beta Marine ever since we bought our first boat (a Cal29), that had an Atomic 4. We ultimately decided not to repower the Cal and instead bought Pisces; which has an old Volvo MD3B. This spring at the Strictly Sail boat show, it was time to stop prevaricating about whether or not to repower; if we want to repower before we leave then the boat show was the place to start that process in motion with all the major dealers offering discount prices.
As a result, in a couple of weeks we will be taking Pisces up to Schoonmaker Marina in Sausalito and repowering with a Beta Marine 38.

We will be taking time off work to do as much of the repower as we can in order to cut the install cost; this flexibility is just one of the many reasons why we chose to go with the Beta Marine guys.

Another recently acquired item (so new in fact that it is still being shipped to us) is our EPIRB. We ultimately decided on the ACR GlobalFix 406 (the kind with the GPS locator). We bought it from Sals Inflatables over in Alameda, the same people who we hired a liferaft and EPIRB when we came up the coast with Pisces. They had the best price around, and we didn't have to pay any shipping.
Friday, May 02, 2008 | Author: Jacob
It's been a long time since we've posted anything...and a lot has happened.

We started planning and scheming about going cruising three years ago. It started out as any good dream should, with a vague assertion that it was something we wanted to do. Since then it has gained it's own momentum, 'let's look for a cruising boat', 'let's buy the cruising boat', 'let's start outfitting the boat'. Until we found ourselves where we are now...just a handful of months out from perhaps actually getting to go cruising.

Along the way we have thought quite a bit about what going cruising meant to us, in terms of both what it represented as a dream, but also what it required in terms of sacrifice. Some of the more material sacrifices involve things like not buying a new car, living in a cheap apartment in order to save money, not spending money on furniture or anything else that we would have to sell after a short period of time when we moved aboard, etc. These things never really seemed like a huge sacrifice to us, because really, who cares if your coffee table is a second generation Ikea hand-me-down?

Recently though we've had to confront other aspects of the sacrifice that cruising will entail, namely being away from family and putting life opportunities on hold.

This realization started for us a few months ago when a close family member became very sick, to the point that it seemed 100% sure we would not be going cruising on the schedule we had original anticipated. It was never a question for either of us, that family would come before going cruising, but it was still a huge shock to have everything we have focused our energy towards suddenly be thrown into doubt so close to the time when we would have achieved it.

Having this happen also brought into focus another type of sacrifice that trying to do something like cruising requires, a sacrifice which is a bit more subtle than the material things, and also much more important. Trying to go cruising requires putting everything else on hold. Interested in switching jobs? Doesn't make sense, we're going cruising in a year. Want to get some further education? Can't do it, we're leaving to go cruising so soon, and the time could really be used in improving the boat. All your energy needs to be channeled into getting the boat ready, and keeping your life in a state of affairs where you can up and leave for some undefined amount of time. Not an easy task.

This was driven especially home for us because if something does suddenly throw a wrench in your fine planning (such as illness) you suddenly look around and say "shit, I've got nothing going on other than planning to go cruising!". It forced us to do some very deep soul searching about what cruising meant to us, and what were the limits of sacrifice we were willing to make in order to achieve it.

We have had a wild ride over the past bit, being shocked and frightened by the illness in our family, getting over the initial chaos of having a plan thrown into disarray, and even getting to the point of being comfortable with letting go of the dream of cruising (at least in the near term).

And then...things got better....our family member suddenly was not so sick...and cruising suddenly wasn't off the plate...

So, here we are, back where we started. Except that now our commitment feels that much stronger. We had our dream pulled suddenly away from us, we had to confront what it meant to us, why it meant that to us, and let it go. And it looks like we are lucky enough to have been given back the opportunity to pursue it.
Sunday, February 24, 2008 | Author: Jacob

This past week we had the opportunity to visit the workshop of Hawkes Ocean Technology. They are the builders of "winged submersibles" that dive using short wings and forward momentum rather than the traditional variable ballast submarines rely on. The most apt comparison is that a normal sub is like a hot air balloon, where as Hawkes Ocean Technology makes underwater planes. Not using variable ballast lets them build subs that maintain positive buoyancy (a useful safety factor), in a compact and (relatively) cheap package.

It was inspiring to tour their workshop, including getting to view Deep Flight Challenger (below), a sub being built to dive to full ocean depth (36,000 feet). This sub was funded by Steve Fossett, for a planned record attempt for the world's deepest solo manned submersible dive. Unfortunately, the fate of this project is in limbo now that Fossett has been declared dead after his small plane disappeared over Nevada. Anyone interested in joining a consortium to realize this exploration?

Sunday, February 10, 2008 | Author: Julia
A few weekends ago we were out for a relaxing day sail, just puttering around the central/south bay. We had a lovely (and un-blogworthy) afternoon and were headed back to our new slip at Brisbane Marina when we spotted a power boat chugging slowly southward. It slowly became apparent that we were on a close to (if not actual) collision course with the boat. We were not overly concerned because as a sailboat under full sail, we clearly had rights over the powerboat. However as we got closer, it became apparent that something was not right. I first heard the man on board shouting at the women who was steering, telling her in no uncertain terms not to change her course to avoid us in any way.
As we continued to get closer, the man became more and more belligerent toward us; shouting obscenities over to us for as long as we were within shouting distance. He was furious at us "stupid sailboaters" for getting in his way. Obviously, we had to shout back which only fueled his rage. It was unbelievable how stupid and irresponsible this guy was.

Whatever bad taste that experience left in my mouth was washed away by our overnighter in Richardson Bay this weekend. It was perfect early spring weather, and we headed up towards the Central bay and crossed the slot with jib, staysail and full main. It was so beautiful we decided to spend the night at anchor in Richardson Bay. Once at anchor, I rowed the dinghy in to Sausalito for fish and chips and brought them back for a most satisfying meal on board. Jacob kept a close eye on our position during the night, and we didn't drag. We got up right as the sun was rising and motored across the Bay surrounded by all sorts of birds and sea lions.
This is possibly the best way I can think of to spend a weekend.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 | Author: Julia

Sunday, January 13, 2008 | Author: Julia
After a fairly dispiriting few weeks involving stomach flu and (apparently) the fiercest storm in 2 years to hit the Bay Area we were finally able to get out and test the windvane. Doubts had been bouncing around in my head about it while we were stuck inside: was it actually level? did we install it correctly? and most importantly, was the vane going to be able to handle Pisces' sometimes feisty weather helm?

However the first day of testing was positive; we played around in 10kts setting the vane on different points of sail and found that it worked surprisingly well! Now I'm itching for summer conditions to test it in some normal breeze. However that will have to wait another few months, nothing I can do about that!

Now that the windvane is on and mostly functioning (we jury rigged the lines to the tiller while we figure out the best place for the blocks), we are a huge step closer to leaving. Sure there are still things to do; and the boat show in April will be an expensive one; but the boat is solid, capable, and now with the vane on has reliable self steering. These next few months are just waiting for the right season to leave and getting done what we can until it's time to go.