This was my first off-shore experience and I was excited for the opportunity to do it. (Mark was an e-mail friend and fellow boatbuilder, and we were in "Charade", his Pearson 30.) Mark had moved Charade from Portland, two days east, down the Columbia River. He had juggled this with work during the week along with other preparations, so he was quite a bit behind on his sleep at the start of the trip. Mark was planning to spend his vacation time sailing out of Port Townsend and had invited me to join him as a result of our discussions of sheet to tiller steering. I brought my gear to demonstrate to Mark and also to satisfy my own curiosity about making it work on different boat.
We left Astoria at 3PM on Sunday, July 19th after a grocery run and a stop at the fuel dock for diesel. The diesel overflowed in the cockpit, but Mark had it quickly cleaned up and we were on our way. As we cleared buoy #1, the last one on our right leaving, I could see that we were still on the ebb of at least 3 knots. Crossing the bar, of course is something they warn not to do on the ebb, but in our case it was the smoothest water we saw over the next 36 hours and we really made fast time getting out. I later theorized that the swell was from the north and was stopped by the breakwater, and it's a southerly swell that must cause the problems on the bar. Mark ran up the main and hanked on his #2 jib, which looked to be about a 140 with reef points down to a 90%. This was before we reached the bar and we had about 10 knots wind on a close reach.
The winds steadily increased from the northwest as we tacked out about 20 miles and then back in to the 20 fathom line and back out again, close hauled. Crab pots start appearing inside the 20 fathom line, even though it can be 5 miles from shore in places. Mark has a fish-finder set up on a cable so he can slip it on a mount inside or out. It displays speed through the water and depth plus the Loran Lat/Lon and a screen plot repeated from his Loran down at his nav station. Speed over the bottom and true course is read off the Loran down below. By mid Monday morning, Mark projected that due to the minus 1 knot current we were bucking and the rough seas, (by this time we are sailing with reefed main and jib.) our northerly progress is a dismal 2 knots and we have over a hundred miles to go. So he cranked up the Farymann and we motor sailed.
Up to this time we had been using sheet to tiller steering, which had worked quite well, but with the extra speed in motor-sailing we reverted to the autopilot or hand steered when the waves stacked up too high as we were occasionally slamming quite hard. We had at least 30 knots wind over the deck. (Mostly it was air.) Even hand steering, it was often impossible to keep Charade from occasionally slamming quite hard off a high wave into a "hole" in the waves on the other side, feeling like landing on a pile of bricks. We were running all Monday night with #3 jib and double reefed main. About 3 AM Tuesday morning near La Push, the engine suddenly stopped hard. Ironically, about the same time the wind started dying. Mark told me to try to restart it but all that accomplished was to blow the main fuse.
I woke up mid morning to find us in a dead calm with Mark having removed the valve cover, trying to puzzle out why it would not crank over. This becomes a story in itself which I'll save for later. The short version is it wasn't fixable. Mark cooked up a big batch of scrambled eggs and we entertained our selves watching a 57 foot motor yacht get rescued by the Coast Guard. We picked up their call to the CG on Ch16. Their engine needed the fuel line bled and the skipper was too seasick and his one member crew didn't know how to do it. We joked that if we had 2 knots of wind we could have "rescued" them ourselves.
With the reefs shaken out and the #1 genoa up, we were making about half a knot forward through the water, whilst drifting at 1 knot back to Astoria. The sails flogged and filled with a snap. But it appeared there was wind out further to the west, so we sailed at 1 knot west while the current took us at 1 knot back to Astoria. This we compared to the other option of dropping the anchor in some 250 feet of water and waiting for wind. By sunset, we were making northward progress of net 1 knot in about a 3 knot intermittent wind just off Sea Lion Rock. I woke about midnight and Mark had us moving along at about 2 knots. For some very odd reason, the southerly drift had subsided to only about .5 knots. We were approaching Umatilla Reef, which projects out 5 miles to the west. By staying close hauled, it appeared we could possibly clear it without having to tack. The problem was that it wasn't visible, so Mark was feeling like we were putting too much trust in the Loran. I then broke out my GPS and independent chart book and verified our position and course. With that, Mark, feeling assured, went below for some well needed sleep.
Even though we were only five miles from shore, there were no lights to be seen except for the red flash of the buoy outside the reef and the white beacon up ahead that I determined must be Bonilla Point, on Vancouver Island, some 24 miles away. I would stare at where I thought a light had last blinked only to have it blink far away from where I thought it was. Fortunately, the autopilot was working as I would have had a difficult time steering. I was startled to have an area the size of a football field suddenly light up, right next to the boat. The first time I saw it I looked up, expecting to see some big light from the sky. But just as suddenly, it would all go away. I had been seeing the sparkles of phosphorescence as the night before, but this was the first time I had seen it like this. Sometimes the patches were smaller and one would trigger another next by. As we approached the buoy, we could hear the moaning of the Umatilla Reef whistle buoy. But, as we drew abreast, the sound died completely and all I could hear was the chilling sound of the surf as the swells broke on the rocks in the darkness towards the shore. I missed the rising of the sliver of moon, just ahead of daylight. I was startled when I first saw it, it just hung there, looking red and as unreal as the phosphorescence had at first notice.
I tweaked our course on past the reef and by daylight we were ghosting along at 1 knot northward but were drifting about the same eastward. The concern was that the wind would die and the southerly drift would resume and carry us back to the reef. But gradually a 3 knot wind developed and we were able to resume northward without tacking. By noon, the wind had picked up and we were making respectable knots again, rounding the Duntze Rock buoy, which we could hear but not see as it was hidden in heavy fog along with cape Flattery. By now the wind had risen to 30+ knots from the west and we were surfing along on a broad reach in swells which would often shoot our speed up to 8 knots. Gusts would often put us rail down and hand steering was a real balancing job as you had to anticipate the yaw and correct for it in advance to keep the heading.
Suddenly the wind dropped to about one knot, apparently in the lee of Cape Flattery, although it was more southwest, so it was hard to figure why. Mark had wanted to stay south of the inbound traffic lane, but there was no wind. After he went below for some sleep I took the liberty of cutting north, across the inbound lane and picked up about 10 knots of wind and turned us East again, running right down the separation lane. By mid afternoon we were back up to surfing down the waves again, averaging 7 knots over the bottom with the help of a flood tide. We were now in the traffic separation lane but a wet fog was closing in, nightfall was approaching, and we were headed into a caution area. Mark didn't like going through that so he opted to call the CG and tell them where we were and that we were crossing to the south under sail with no power, no channel 5 on our radio, (which is the vessel traffic channel) and that we would continue to monitor ch 16. They acknowledged this and agreed to pass this on to the vessel traffic service.
Around midnight, I was at the helm with thick fog, making about 3 knots, and Mark below watching our plot on the chart from the Loran which now showed us safely to the south of the inbound traffic. We were concerned as several approaching foghorns were to be heard. Suddenly lights loomed through the fog off to our starboard beam. These were not navigation lights, but something that looked like an office building with about 3/4 of it's lights out in no particular pattern. With no horizon and only the compass, I had no sensation of which way this ship was moving and which way I should steer to get out of it's way, or if in fact I even needed to. Feeling panic, my instincts took over and I headed directly away, and only after having the boat dead astern was I able to determine we were getting further away instead of closer, which allowed me to resume back on our prior course. Mark kept saying I should have headed south instead of north because we were on the south edge of the traffic lane and we should attempt to get further away instead of more back in the lane.
Then it happened all over again. I did all the same things with the same result and the same discussion. Finally it happened the third time and I held course until Mark could see this from the cockpit, before resuming my turning away. Only then could Mark see the logic in my maneuver but we still had no explanation why three large cargo ships should all be so far south of their lane. Shortly later we broke through the fog and could see Port Angeles. Mark gave me course directions for clearing Dungeness Spit based on Loran Lat/Lon which I could read from the cockpit on the repeater. Shortly after he retired I watched a fourth ship head into Port Angeles to apparently pick up a pilot and continue east, all to the south of us, while we were supposed to be south of the traffic lanes. Then all visibility was lost to the fog and my glasses would bead up and I could not read the Loran readings with or without them, so I steered by compass, only being able to make out the 90 degree marks most of the time and keeping an eye over my shoulder for that fifth ship. I did see lights from several ships before morning but they would disappear as quickly as they appeared.
Approaching the horn at Dungeness Spit I made a discovery. The Loran had me north a mile from the horn while my ears were telling me it was more like three miles and astern. This is when I broke out the GPS from my pocket and discovered Loran showed us over 2 miles to the north and a mile further west than GPS. Suddenly our mystery problem back at Port Angeles was solved. In this area. Loran is simply off by that much.
The morning of day five, approaching Protection Island, our wind died to nothing again. The tide was ebbing past Point Wilson, which creates a counter clockwise swirl, and we hoped to follow this to Mc Curdy Pt. and then pick up the first of the flood tide to sneak around Pt. Wilson and into Port Townsend. There wasn't quite enough wind to pull it off and around noon a large power cruiser from Port Orchard, came up to us and offered a tow to Port Townsend. Mark was by this time towing us with the dinghy and oars. Those last 5 miles seemed a lot longer somehow. I called Annamarie on the cell phone and we joined Mark for a visit to the local diesel repair shop. It was interesting to realize after 30 minutes of discussion that Mark knew more about diesels that this manager. Unfortuantely, the Farymann mechanic was gone, but he finally got the other mechanic involved in the discussion and Mark got instructions on how to start to trouble shoot for all the possible reasons for the thing to not turn over. After that, Mark took us out to dinner, and we wished him good luck and headed home as it was Annamarie's bookclub night, and she was anxious to be off.
[Addendum - After returning from my travels with Annamarie, which we were off to the following day, I learned of Mark's repair project. The problem was not in the engine but the transmission. A broken tooth had become jambed in the gears. Mark didn't find this out until after cutting a large hole in the cockpit sole. After that, the repair was straight forward but it used up the week that he had planned to spend in Desolation Sound. His return trip to Portland he did solo and apparently it was uneventful.]