Sunday, November 17, 2013

Winter Cruising in the PNW

Distance traveled:  19.2 miles Friday, 16.7 miles Saturday

Travel time:  3 hrs 17 mins Friday; 2 hrs 45 mins Saturday

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In the Pacific Northwest the boating season is generally thought of as May through September. Puget Sound and adjacent waters only vary from about 48 degrees in winter to 55 degrees in summer, and never freeze, but the days are short and the weather is cold and rainy outside that season.


One goal in buying the new “Next To Me” was to attempt to expand the cruising season by getting a boat large and warm enough to be comfortable on the water even in “off “ season. We learned on this trip, accompanied by friends Jim and Phebe, that we succeeded.


After a good night’s sleep at the Kingston Marina and a leisurely start to the day, we headed south with Bob at the helm. We drove from the fully enclosed flybridge with a “Mr. Buddy Propane Heater” keeping things comfortable despite the 15 - 20 mph wind, whitecaps at times , and temps in the high 40s. Jim again shared helm duty.


After tying up in Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island, we wandered the streets of Winslow, the attractive adjacent town, peeking into nautical shops, checking out local real estate, and enjoying the prolific public art. On return to the boat,  Phebe made dinner in celebration of Cathryn’s birthday: beef curry on couscous, salad and apple crisp with almond flour crust and lots of candles on top, accompanied by singing and wine. Yum, and what fun! We’ve lost track of the dozens of birthdays the 4 of us have celebrated together by sharing dinners, attending concerts and lots more.


Saturday morning brought blinding sun and blue skies. After a leisurely start (apple crisp for breakfast anyone? You bet!) we continued south, traveling at slower speed (7 mph) and driving from inside the salon at the lower helm for the first time ever, sitting comfortably and warmly inside.

Overall a great trip: time with good friends, a chance to try out winter cruising and more time honing our single screw boat handling skills. 

One of the things we’ve always said we liked about boating is that it offers a chance to continue to learn new skills in our retirement. Well, we can report that by buying a single screw boat we’ve guaranteed the continuation of the learning curve.

We each absolutely nailed a docking using our new back-and-fill technique. We can also report that we each completely muffed another one. We like to remember that batting .500 in baseball is almost unheard of and considered terrific!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Gig Harbor to Kingston

Distance traveled:  35.3 statute miles

Travel time:  4 hours, 21 minutes


Thursday morning we pulled out of the slip at our home marina with long-time friends Jim and Phebe aboard. Some of our Looper friends will recall meeting them when they joined us for a week in the Florida Keys in February 2013. November is not considered prime “cruising season” in the Pacific Northwest for good reason, but we were cheerful and excited about the 3-day cruise, despite the temperature around 50 and gray skies with rain in the forecast.


The journey north was uneventful despite some rain for an hour, and particularly relaxing for Bob and Cathryn because Jim took the helm for almost 3 hours and Phebe for 1 hour, so we got to relax and enjoy the scenery.


We spotted seals and sea lions, a few Dall’s porpoises, a container ship or two, and several freighters, paralleling the shipping lanes for most of the journey.


Cathryn was at the helm when we left the marina and when we docked in Kingston, and both went completely smoothly, aided psychologically by there being THREE crew on deck holding “walk-around fenders” ready to save us from disaster in the event of errant maneuvers. No fenders needed. Boy, those “back-and-fill” lessons were a great investment of time. Thank you again Jim and Robin of M/V Adventures!


The Kingston Marina is an interesting stop. While the town is small without much selection of great restaurants, we thoroughly enjoyed the arrival of a Purse Seiner at the slip next to ours shortly after we tied up. They reported having a “bad day” on the water, having only caught 100 or so Chums (a type of salmon, which they also referred to as “Dogs or dog fish”).


They allowed us to come aboard to peek into the hold while a “Buy Boat” (who buys fish directly from commercial fisherman the day of the catch) tied up alongside to unload the fish from the Purse Seiner to the Buy Boat. Fascinating, as we’d never observed the process before. Both women fish handlers have worked fishing boats in Alaska for the past six years and were reported, by the men, to be outstanding “fish throwers”, and Tabitha admitted she’s also really good at catching fish with a rod.'


Three slips down from ours was a 40’ Beneteau sailboat with a woman in the canvas-enclosed cockpit playing beautifully on her 88-key electronic piano, not something we’ve seen aboard a boat before.


At 5pm Jim and Phebe’s friends Stan and Linda (who we’ve met many times, and we’re sorry we failed to take photos while they were aboard) arrived from their home to join us for dinner. A nearby Mexican restaurant over-fed us, and lively conversation ensued. We returned to the boat for wine and more conversation afterwards, then off to bed, groaning from over-full stomachs.


I, Jim, (first-ever Guest Blogger) am inserting a brief note to both thank our ever-gracious hosts and to highlight their outstanding docking abilities. Both of our co-captains have docked and undocked with remarkable precision. Neither Phebe nor I ever needed to actually deploy our ‘walk-around fenders’-----we were entirely superfluous! Since “Next to Me” is a single screw boat and one of the available slips afforded us only a foot or so on each side we were very impressed! We would enthusiastically ship out with these sailors to anywhere----say Tahiti????

Check-in/OK from Eagle Harbor WA

GPS location Date/Time:11/15/2013 13:16:34 PST

Click the link below to see where we are located.

If the above link does not work, try this link:,-122.52301&ll=47.62041,-122.52301&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The “Aha!” Moment: or Back-and-Fill, Round 2

Tomorrow morning we leave for a 3-day, 2-night boat trip with long-time friends Jim and Phebe. So today we went to the boat to do preliminary provisioning, get a pump-out, fill the water tanks and '”Oh, while we’re here, why don’t we do a little back-and-fill practice ?” (see previous post  on back-and-fill if you don’t know the concept).

So off we went. As people who like rules, we began by discussing “which way do we turn the helm hard if we want the stern to go to starboard when goosing it in forward gear?” and generally reviewing, verbally, the lessons we’d been taught by Jim and Robin last week.

After spinning the boat around in the middle of the harbor a few times, suddenly, we felt like we “got it”, and all the pieces came together. So we headed to a nearby dock to practice backing the boat into a slip. Cathryn docked the boat three times, very well each time, and Bob docked the boat twice, very well both times. Cathryn needed the third time to convince herself she really had it, while Bob just asked himself, “why mess with success?”

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Next we headed to another spot in the harbor and each took the boat into a face dock, bow first.  This felt a little less elegant than our stern-in practice, but it worked.

We’ve got a long way to go, and we’ll still mess up when docking. Wind, current, brain freezes, and ordinary screw-ups can catch a Skipper anytime. There’s a saying among boaters:  “Sometimes you watch The Show; sometimes you ARE the show.” Today, in Gig Harbor we were The Show, just in a funny way, not a bad way.

But we feel better about boat-handling now than we have since the day we bought this boat. Woo hoo!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Single Screw Training and Other Doings

Distance traveled:  5.3 miles going nowhere

Travel Time: 3 hours

When we bought the new '”Next To Me” in September, we knew a major challenge would be learning to maneuver and dock a single engine boat, wildly different from the same maneuvers on a twin engine boat like we had for our Great Loop journey. We may have underestimated JUST how different it is. A twin engine boat can be turned 360 degrees precisely in place by putting one engine in forward gear and the other in reverse, pivoting on its’ centerline. A single screw boat pivots, normally, from a point about 1/3 aft of the bow of the boat, so requires a much larger turning radius; a bit like the difference between turning a VW Bug compared to a 15-passenger van with a much longer wheel base . . . . unless you can master a skill called “back and fill”, a centuries old term derived from sailboats, but which operates on a similar principle with motor boats.

Yesterday we took “back and fill” lessons inside Gig Harbor, and you can see our path of travel on the recorded track below.


In October when we attended our first MTOA Rendezvous (Marine Trawler Owner’s Association) in Poulsbo, we met Jim and Robin. They’re full-time cruisers who’ve lived aboard their gorgeous 49-foot DeFever pilothouse trawler for 9 years. They cruised from Nova Scotia to the Bahamas and points in between for a number of years, then shipped their boat out here last Spring so they could cruise the waters of Puget Sound, Alaska, the Inside Passage and everything in between for 2-3 years.

Jim and Robin arrived in Gig Harbor aboard M/V Adventures on Tuesday and came to our home for dinner. Conversation flowed easily (along with the wine) and we laughed and told lots of boating and other stories. To our surprise, we found we’re all acquainted with some of the same “characters” from our respective east coast cruising, they as DeFever owners and us as Great Loopers. Cruisers really do comprise a small community in many ways.

Having a great deal of experience in all kinds of boats (including single screw canal boats in Europe), Jim and Robin offered to give us lessons in boat-handling and docking aboard “Next To Me”.  Fortunately Wednesday was dry and calm, if chilly.

So for 3 hours we drove in circles, learning how to turn and dock our 30,000 pound baby, and received instruction from Jim, with Bob and Cathryn taking turns at the helm. Jim explained the theory and physics behind the maneuvers, patiently walked us through them dozens of times and gave us feedback on what to do differently, and eventually got each of us to experience a successful docking. He was amazing in his calmness, patience and talking to us at the right level of detail, having judged our skills and knowledge accurately. And Robin does all the driving and docking of their boat!


We were tired but had increased confidence that we’ll master this thing after 3 hours of instruction. What a fun afternoon! We returned Robin and Jim to their boat, and they’ll stay in Gig Harbor a couple more days seeing the town.


October weather in the Puget Sound area was weird this year. It was unusually dry, and for a couple weeks there was dense fog every morning followed by blue skies and blinding sunshine in the afternoons.


The purse seiners came out, as they do every October,  engaging in lots of fishing directly in front of our house. Note the 133-foot wooden gaff-rigged schooner “Adventuress” sailing northbound in the background of the photo above.


Sometimes we can get a pretty good view of their catch if we use our binoculars as they pull up the nets.


Cathryn completed the Power Squadron’s “Engine Maintenance” class last night, and Bob has spent 40 hours in the engine room of “Next To Me'”, cleaning, repairing a few things, and painting the engine and bilge. He’s done lots of other projects too, some important for safety reasons (like replacing navigation lights whose lenses were faded to no longer be red and green, as they’re supposed to be) and others important for personal reasons (like replacing the stereo and speakers inside).

And we made the decision to join the Bremerton Yacht Club, so are attending meetings to be introduced and complete the membership process. We hope to get moorage there before we leave to travel for the winter so we can move “Next To Me” from Gig Harbor to Bremerton.