Passage to Oregon

Sailing North: The Captain's Perspective

captain as mechanic thumbJuly 12, 2011

Let me share a view of the trip from the captain's perspective.  Sequoia is now 808 nautical miles almost due north of Kauai after 5 1/2 days of sailing.  The mouth of the Columbia is 1500 nm north of Kauai and 1430 miles to the east, and if we could take the most direct route, the whole trip would be less than 2000 nm.  Unfortunately, the winds dictate otherwise.  Just as for the clipper ships of 150 years ago, we will continue to sail north and start making the right turn only when the wind allows, at about 40 degrees N. So we are not quite 1/3 of the way home.

Each day I look at weather reports to check on the expected winds, but in reality we are just sailing along the path of least resistance. We started the trip in strong east winds and uncomfortable seas.  The winds have moderated but, rather than shifting a little south to make flatter sailing, they have shifted a little north of east.  The result is that we are sailing close-hauled on the course the winds allow.  Although we could make upwards of 8 knots in these conditions, it would be very uncomfortable:  heeled over hard, pounding into the waves, lots of spray over the bow.  By reefing down (we are currently carrying one reef in the mainsail and 80% of the staysail) the boat's heel is limited to about 15 degrees and the motion is comfortable.

Comfortable is relative, of course.  There are only two places in the cockpit that don't get occasional buckets of spray and back at the helm is not one of them.  Fortunately, Jeeves, our Monitor wind-vane self-steering has been on the job without complaint (and virtually without adjustment!).  Inside the boat is dry and comfortable -- we have all slept well.  Cooking and chores are more challenging:  Barbara really has to fight the heel and motion when cooking but has turned out very tasty meals.  Last evening's dinner was teriyaki meatballs stir-fried with fresh veggies over rice and the last of some Hawaiian cheesecake.  But today we will eat the last papaya, and most of the fresh food will start to run out in the next week.

An unexpected surprise has been how warm it has been.  The water temperature has only dropped to 82 degrees F and it has been too warm in the cabin, definitely tee-shirts and shorts weather.  But as I write this tonight on my 3-6 AM watch (I'm keeping an eye on the radar!) I am wearing light warm-up pants for the first time.  By the time we are finally headed west above 40 degrees N it will call for fleece without a doubt.

As chief mechanic, my bane this trip has been our 12V electrical system.  Our refrigeration, sailing instruments, lights and computers all run off of 12V, supplied by 3 big batteries weighing nearly 500 lbs.  The batteries just store the juice;  they are recharged by three redundant systems:  the engine's alternator, the wind turbine, and the solar panels.  In a triumph of Murphy's Law, all three charge sources have suffered failures this trip.  Bummer!  The solar panels gas spring-lifts all decided to fail more or less at once, so the panels would not stay extended horizontally.  The wind turbine has kept blowing fuses (down to the last one, now).  And most importantly, the engine alternator/regulator stopped charging.

Yesterday I spent the day trouble shooting the alternator, replacing the alternator entirely (turns out the old one was worn but not the problem, and the new, unused alternator had been attacked by saltwater in storage).  But after a day's greasy work, we isolated the problem to a faulty battery temperature sensor and the engine charging is working again.  Fixing the solar panels required lashing a pole to the life rail on each side, to provide a support point high enough for a line to help hold the panels up.  Clearly an unexpected use for a boathook, but a successful field expedient solution.  Bottom line is that all charging systems are now working and Barbara doesn't have to figure out what to do with a whole freezer and refrigerator of food spoiling.

So the passage is fairly routine now, with just enough excitement to keep it from being totally boring.  We're getting  plenty of rest, thanks to Mark, our competent crew.  The Kindle bookreaders and MP3 players are getting a workout.  While the trip seems to stretch long at this point, in a few days we will start turning toward home, and shortly afterward pass the half-way point.  And if the winds are very light as we pass through the Pacific high, we will get a chance to do some laundry!