Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Great Loop, Round Two

March 24, 2012 we left Fort Pierce, Florida to begin a 12-month journey around the Great Loop (eastern third of the United States and portions of Canada) returning 6,000+ miles later. In April 2013 we sold the boat to Jack and Sara, who re-named her "Ithaka".

Today at 8am Jack and Sara and pulled out of Fort Pierce headed north to begin Ithaka's second Loop, their first. Congratulations Jack and Sara! We wish you adventure, fun, happiness, safety, learning and hordes of new friends! We drank a toast to you and King Neptune with our first cup of coffee this morning.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Best Weather Forecasting Tool

Distance traveled:  50.2 statute miles
Travel time: 6 hours, 22 minutes

Thursday afternoon when we arrived in Port Townsend, all the websites we use to make travel decisions based on weather said Friday wouldn't be a good day, and Saturday would be better. So we told Lynn (Bob's sister), our Float Plan Monitor, that we'd be staying in Port Townsend another night and travel home Saturday. We don't normally file a "Float Plan", similar to a Flight Plan for airline pilots, except when we do major crossings of big bodies of waters, like the 174-mile overnight trip we did on the Gulf of Mexico a year ago. But during winter months here, there are so few recreational boaters on the water to help in the event of problems, and we did cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca twice, and we're traveling alone, so we decided to file Float Plans for this trip. It's comforting to know someone is monitoring your plans and will call the Coast Guard to check on your welfare if you don't arrive at your destination on time. Wouldn't want to suffer the fate of the Malaysian Airlines flight that disappeared more than a week ago and has yet to be found!

Friday morning we got up and checked the weather and didn't like what we read: everything had changed since the previous night's posting. We deferred our jog so we could check the NOAA weather update that's usually posted at 9am. Yikes, Friday didn't look good and the next few days looked worse!

Instead of Friday looking marginal, and Saturday better, conditions on Saturday now looked worse than Friday. It looked like if we didn't travel home right away, we might be stuck in Port Townsend for 3-4 days. Looking out the window, conditions didn't "seem" worrisome. We're currently enrolled in the Bremerton Sail & Power Squadron's "Weather" class, and had been reminded that the best indicators are our eyes, checking to see what's visible in the sky and on the water around us. Those observations said "Go now!"

So we sent off a new Float Plan, secured items that might fall over in larger waves, cast off our lines and took off on 30 minutes notice. This is called "learning to be flexible", not entirely different from what friend Phebe did to Cathryn a year ago by cajoling her to join in Yoga and Pilates classes at the YMCA, though she's been more successful in gaining flexibility in boating than at the Y.

So we took off under skies that looked like they could go to either good or bad, but wind and water that was calm, knowing we could always "bail out" at Kingston, the half way point, if conditions became rougher than we prefer.

We crossed the Shipping Lanes (the Vessel Traffic Separation scheme that essentially creates traffic lanes in Puget Sound) twice, and got passed by vessels many, many times our size, going three times our speed.

Few recreational vessels were out, but cargo and freighter traffic was normal.

As usual, we enjoyed the shoreline scenery including a particular fondness for beachfront homes and cottages. After more than six hours, with waves trending from 1-3 feet, wind from calm to 15 - 20 mph, we arrived back at Bremerton Yacht Club where we keep the boat, happily tied up around 4pm until next time. It was a great fun trip, and we can't believe what marvelous good fortune we had with the weather, considering it's still March. Eight days, departing home one day late for weather, made for an awfully nice cruise. What a winter it's been!

Note to readers: We recently had a PC failure and are now using another PC for blogging. Unfortunately this also resulted in our losing access to the LiveWriter software we'd been using, due to some technical glitch that our IT department hasn't been able to solve. So we're now using Google's Blogger software, which we find to be unusually non-intuitive  for a Google product. This has resulted in some pretty weird formatting and other oddities. We're leaning on the IT department to get all this fixed, to no avail so far. At the same time were reformatting the Blog, as it had gotten a little stale, and too Loop- focused. Now that the Loop is a full year in our rear view mirror, we want to freshen it up. Since this too is in the province of the IT department, which seems overwhelmed at the moment, it may take awhile. In the meantime, our apologies. (Note: everyone who actually knows us, knows that Bob is our IT department, and this blog wouldn't even exist but for him!)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Victoria and the Turn Toward Home

Distance traveled:  41.2 statute miles
Travel time:  5 hours, 18 mins

In the afternoon we meandered around town, peeking into galleries and shops, buying a few items at the hardware store, and  taking a brief tour of the Parliament Building, Empress Hotel and other notable stops. Inside the Victoria Convention Center is a lot of First Nations art, including impressive totem poles.

The Empress Hotel is a lovely example of the chateau-style that emerged during the time it was built close to 100 years ago. Inside is grand and not at all modern-looking, though clearly the infrastructure has been upgraded to modern day standards.

We had a delightful "last supper" with Robin and Jim at ,a Polish restaurant with authentic Polish food, owned and operated by an all-Polish staff of fairly recent immigrants. It was delicious.

Thursday morning we got up with the alarm clock at 5:30 and pulled out of Victoria Harbor after hugging Robin and Jim goodbye, as they came to kindly cast off our lines. For the next 5.5 hours we traveled southeast across the Strait of Juan de Fuca toward Port Townsend.

At the early morning hour of our departure, the Harbor was beautiful and the Parliament still lit.

The weather turned out to be even better than forecast. Of all our Strait crossings over the past 9 years, this one was the easiest and most beautiful. Waves never exceeded 1 foot and the wind was calm.

The sun rose above the horizon during our first hour of travel.

Freighters, military ships and very occasionally another boater appeared.

The not-so-distant mountains were spectacular, with sparkling, snowy peaks.

We arrived in Port Townsend early afternoon, cleared U.S Customs by phone, and took reciprocal dockage again at Boat Haven at the south end of town. Huge boats came and went throughout the afternoon.

"Gyrfalcon" shown below, 86 feet long and built in 1941, arrived about 5 pm to prepare for a month-long haul-out during which a lot of hull, shaft, bearing and through-hull work will be done as part of a refurbishment to prepare it for world travel by its' new private owners. In a previous life it was owned by the government and did survey work in Alaska.

We walked the mile into town and poked our noses into dozens of shops and galleries. This was perhaps the quietest we've ever seen Port Townsend, as it's a lively town that attracts hordes of visitors during summer months.

The Wooden Boat Center had lots of beautiful boats on display and in various states of repair or construction. The forecast for Friday was not so good, while Saturday looked much better, so our plan is layover in Port Townsend another night.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Spring has Sprung

Today was a perfect March day: brilliant blue skies, endless sunshine, and chilly in the morning but warm-ish in the afternoon. Cherry trees are blossoming, and primroses, crocuses and daffodils too. We jogged along the south-facing bluff looking across the Strait of Juan de Fuca where yesterday we got battered around, and today it looked like a gigantic swimming pool, calm and flat.

The middle of the day was spent with Jim and Robin at the British Columbia Maritime Museum where we learned about the maritime history of the region, the Canadian Coast Guard and more. Nice little museum!

Later the 4 of us took a Victoria Harbour Tour on a tiny boat with 7 passengers to hear the history of the area and see the sights traveling north up "The Gorge", with stories provided by a local guide and boat Captain. You'd think we get enough time on the water, but all 4 of us enjoyed it.

The City of Victoria has 70,00 residents, but the greater Metro area is closer to 400,000, comprising over half the population of Vancouver Island which is otherwise sparsely developed. 

Architecturally the place has a strong British feel to it.

Evening found Jim, Robin, Cathryn and Bob walking to Bard & Banker's Irish Pub for dinner, then returning to our boats in the dark where we enjoyed the nicely lit Parliament Building across the harbour.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Haro Strait to Victoria

Distance Traveled:  23.8 statute miles

Travel Time:  3 hours, 28 minutes

We've crossed the Strait more than a dozen times from Port Townsend to the San Juan Islands or return, but always in a smaller, faster boat, traveling 18 - 30 miles per hour and completing the crossing in 1 - 2 hours. This is the first "slow boat" we've owned, a trawler that does 7- 8 knots, turning that crossing into 4 or more hours depending on tides and wind direction. Cathryn decided 5 days ago she didn't want to make that journey without more experience with the boat and knowing the weather can change in short order, so we could be caught in fog, heavy rain or high seas before completing it. 

And as always, if one of us feels more conservative than the other, the conservative opinion wins. So we traveled the east side of Puget Sound, through the Swinomish Channel and into the San Juan Islands, a longer but more protected route, rather than making the 4-hour Strait crossing. That allowed us to cross the Haro Strait to Vancouver Island instead, a 2-3 hour journey from San Juan Island to Victoria.

On arising Monday, the forecast looked good for the morning, but 15-25 mph west winds and  higher waves than we prefer were forecast for the afternoon, so we took off shortly before 8. After picking our way south through Mosquito Pass, we entered the Strait, protected from west winds by Vancouver Island, and found no wind and 1-2 foot swells, with mostly sunshine. Ideal!

 See below for the route we took.

The southwest diagonal crossing of the Strait stayed calm the whole 2 hours, but as soon as we rounded the corner to go between Discovery Island and Vancouver Island, headed west directly into the wind, waves generally 3 feet with occasional 4-footers and whitecaps appeared. It wasn't scary, but wasn't comfortable either, as this 30,000 pound boat isn't stablilized, so tosses and bucks in waves like that, especially if they're at all on the beam as they were this morning.

We hoisted our Canadian courtesy flag, got out the Customs Quarantine flag along with passports and NEXUS cards, and stopped trying to walk around the rocking flybridge.

You can see how beautiful the first two hours of the journey were.

About halfway across Haro Strait we spotted in the distance what appeared to be a boat with no one in it, always a concern in the event someone has fallen overboard. We deviated off course to check it out, only to find a derelict old dinghy half full of water and needing no help from us.

Rounding the corner heading toward the lighthouse on Harling Point, the freighter traffic noticeably increased.

We were happy to round the last flashing Green buoy and turn into Victoria Harbor, out of the wind and waves that tossed us about for the last hour.

It's a busy harbor, and the Victoria Clipper was coming inbound, while the 341-foot Coho car and passenger ferry which operates from Port Angeles to Victoria came outbound.

Though friend Robin had given us advance notice, when we came into the Harbor we forgot her admonition that a stretch of it operates as a Runway for seaplanes, so a narrow passage on the south is marked by yellow buoys, and we were supposed to stay inland of them. We didn't. So a  little Water Taxi came racing alongside with the Captain waving his arms, and in a friendly fashion yelled for us to get out of the runway. Yikes, we moved quickly.

We hailed friends Jim and Robin on the VHF radio who are living aboard their 49' De Fever in Victoria Harbour this winter (until they head toward Alaska next month). They met us on the dock to arrange a slip close to theirs and catch our lines. Nice! We haven't seen them since they visited Gig Harbor in November and had dinner at our home. They snapped the next photo as we came in.

So we're tied up at the Ship Point dock where we have a great view of the Empress Hotel and Parliament building, and the city lights are spectacular after dark.

We're surrounded mostly by enormous, newer fiberglass ships and historical, wooden schooners. Not many people are aboard these boats, so it's quiet except for passing pedestrians just outside the gate.

The Coho ferry docks just across the narrow harbour from our slip.

After a short walk and lunch with Jim and Robin, we bought a few fruits and vegetables (can't bring most of them into the country from the U.S.) and settled in for the afternoon.

Later we joined Jim and Robin and their Canadian live-aboard friends Perry and Diana for dinner aboard "Adventures". The pressure-cooked ribs were the tastiest we've ever eaten, and the conversation was lively all evening, with lots of technical and boating discussions, funny stories and raucous laughter. We stayed up way past "Baja Midnight" or "Looper Midnight" (9pm).

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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Layover Day & Into the San Juan Islands

Friday:  a No-Travel Day

Saturday:   Distance traveled:  41.5 statute miles
                 Travel Time:  5 hours 14 minutes

We planned to leave La Conner on Saturday, but the day's forecast called for lots of rain and gale force winds in the area we intended to travel, so we sat tight instead. It was great to go for a morning jog in the alluvial plain of the Skagit Valley, meaning no hills, on which we hate running at home.

The rest of the day was spent on boat chores. This boat is named "Next To Me", the name of "our song" , and the same name as our Great Loop boat. When we sold that boat to Jack and Sara, we got their permission to remove the Name Boards, so mounted them on both sides of this new-to-us boat. We added the name on the boat's transom, but the dinghy mounted on the swim step completely obscures that one, so we've been meaning to put it on the bottom of the dinghy so boats coming up behind us can call us on the radio by name if needed. We used our yacht club buddy Jeff's dinghy to access our dinghy bottom to do the job.

Finally that job is off The List! Just in case you think Cathryn did all the work, and Bob was just standing around taking photos, let it be known that Bob spent an hour cleaning the bilge, a truly fun task, while Cathryn was showing Jeff the wonders of "Active Captain". But cleaning the bilge doesn't make for good photos.

Our yacht club buddy Jeff (who came on board for beers the prior night) had to climb his mast this morning to retrieved  his portable anchor light. We were impressed how quickly he assembled what we think of as "mountain climbing gear" (prussiks, climbing harness and rope/line) and scrambled up!

Yesterday afternoon a 43-foot DeFever "Gray Hawk" owned by Canadians Bob and Marilyn, pulled into the dock opposite from us, and after introductions, they invited Jeff and us to join them for cocktail hour.

Bob and Marilyn are both good cooks: we had hot-out-of-the-pan sauteed garlic mushrooms followed by hot-out-of-the-oven homemade cinnamon rolls to go with our drinks: yum! Bob and Marilyn live on their boat full-time for 6 months each year, still doing consulting work part-time, mostly by computer and traveling, so not tied to an office, and they live in Saskatchewan the rest of the year. Nice folks and an enjoyable visit.

Sunday dawned cloudy and calm, and we got a slightly late start due to Daylight Savings Time, meaning we slept past 7am. So at 8:45 we said goodbye to Jeff, Bob and Marilyn and headed north and west, winding our way through the San Juan Islands. We've been here every August since 2005 except for the year we were away on the Great Loop, and it's a beautiful, busy area in summer months. By contrast, there are very few boats this time of year.

We've never seen a Washington State Ferry on the hard before, but that's what this is. Guess they've gotta do their out-of-the-water maintenance somewhere, sometime!

The color in this photo didn't turn out quite right, as this is Speiden Island below, a small, pretty, uninhabited island we've circumnavigated many times, and which always has brown grass in August, but today was green!

The sky stayed mostly gloomy, but the water was calm except for Rosario Strait which had 3-4 foot swells for about an hour of our journey.

We arrived in Roche Harbor mid-afternoon, had our pick of empty 75-foot slips (for our 40-foot boat) and found only 50-amp electrical service, while our "tiny" boat (by Roche Harbor standards) is equipped with 30 amp electricity. There are zillions of multi-million dollar boats parked nearby, and new-ish 100+ foot boats are common.

There's a U.S. Customs Office here in Roche Harbor, so we stopped to purchase our 2014 U.S. Re-Entry decal, which we'll need later in the week when we return from Victoria, Canada.

After dinner we went for a walk around Roche Harbor, enjoying the longer daylight hours and public art.

This is a picturesque "village" on a beautiful remote island.