Tuesday, November 3, 2015

And So it Begins

Whenever I tell someone that we have a boat they always come back with the old story about the two happiest days in a boaters life. The fact is, boats are expensive and they are a lot of work. So when Kyria and I were planning this adventure, we decided up front that it would be silly to put forward all the time and expense only to leave her floating in a slip while we continued with our busy lives. We decided up front that if we did this, we would make time to really lean into it. And that is exactly what we have done. Since we christened her "Joyride" and brought her home to San Diego in April, we have logged over 175 hours on the engines which is more than we predicted for the entire first year!

Below is a long account of my most-recent 7 day solo adventure to Catalina Island...

With the conclusion of a long racing season (with very mixed results) and the traditional time off the bike in order, I had been thinking of how to spend this time. Historically I have found it difficult to take 2 weeks off the bike. But with Mrs. Sabin Waugaman headed to Europe working for 2 weeks, this seemed like the perfect chance to get off the bike and “off the grid”. I had jumped through some fairly large hoops and finally had our official permits to enter Mexican waters. For the next two weeks I was pointed south where I would cruise along Baja California, Mexico and in and around Ensenada.

Lying in bed that night before we were to say goodbye for 2 weeks and head to opposite ends of the earth, my lovely bride requested that we experience Mexico and Ensenada together - a reasonable if not untimely request. 

The next morning I had formulated a new “loose plan” to head north to Santa Catalina Island, a place that I/we had been several times before, but always to the same location. - Avalon. And there are literally dozens of other places - both on Catalina Island and also along to way that would provide discovery and adventure.

It's true, the most popular/touristy port in Catalina is Avalon, but, for me it's a perfect balance of modern amenities and relaxation.

As I idled away from the slip and out of Shelter Island Yacht Basin I was high with anticipation. I was running a mental preparedness checklist. One of the things I like best about the ocean is that you are not the Big Man on Campus. You need to be prepared 7and respectful of her; regular engine checks when underway, diligent maintenance, always cleaning and checking everything mechanical. Our boat - a 50' Ocean Alexander is like a floating home; two bathrooms, showers, toilets, plumbing, 3 AC units, duplicate sets of electronics, stoves, refrigerators - not to mention 2 big ol’ Yanmar diesel engines, generator, shaft seals, fuel polishers, fresh water systems, sewer systems, and on and on... 

Below is a list of the unexpected “challenges” as well as some observations on my recent trip to Catalina.

Shaft Seal Issues & Bailing Water
The lubrication tube on the port shaft seal came off spilling water into the bilge. This is not the first time this has occurred. I noticed an unusual sound coming from the exhaust and stopped the motors to check. One of the hose clamps had snapped. Luckily, the last time this happened I bought extra clamps. It only took 15 minutes to re-attach the hose and bail 4-5 gallons of salt water from the bilge.

Major Fog Bank
Coming into Avalon on day 1, I encountered a major fog bank. This was my first chance to rely almost 100% on radar. I could see boats within 1 mile off my bow on the radar but could not sight them. With the MARPA function on the radar I was able to lock onto them and let the computer tell me their path and speed. It worked great! With each one of these small incidents I am gaining experience and confidence that I could navigate a night passage.

Yanmar Gauge
For some reason, the port engine gauge stopped working. The unit downstairs on the salon helm works just fine. Also, recently I have a data connection installed so that I can read engine data from my MFD. This came in handy while operating from the bridge. Every once in a while I switched to the MFD just to make sure that everything was kosher on the port engine. Redundant systems – that’s what I’m all about!

Unpredictable Weather

One minute the sun can be shining bright and the seas are calm, and in a flash, the wind can whip up and you can’t see over the wave in front of you; even from the fly bridge of a 50’ motor yacht. I use 2-3 different services to check and re-check the weather.

Each time I leave the docks it seems like I learn something. I’m certain that sea captains who have been out here for decades are still learn things each time they are at sea. Maybe they don’t technically learn anything, but rather just expect there to be challenges. One thing that I am learning is that it is impossible for everything to go according to the plan. Rather, the expectation should be to have multiple unexpected things occur and just hope that you have been through enough with preparations and alert enough to catch things before they cause a catastrophe.

Santa Ana winds
A shining example of the unpredictable weather came on my first night at Avalon. Shortly after noontime the harbor patrol came by to report that they were expecting 50+ knot winds. They suggested if at all possible, I should find another port. I had checked and rechecked the weather before leaving San Diego the night before. No Santa Ana's forecasted. But based on the latest recommendation from the guys at Avalon Harbor, I checked the forecast again. I didn't necessarily find any reports of NE winds but I decided to take the advice and get out of dodge. I decided to slip around the south rim of the island and take an outside passage to Catalina Harbor, thinking that if the wind would be blowing out of the Northeast, I would be on the leeward side of the island.

I picked up and headed out.

When I rounded the south rim, I encountered a wall of wind and waves. 35-50 knots and 12-15’ waves! I proceeded for about 20 minutes, pounding into growing swells and then decided to turn back and take my chances at Avalon. I have to admit, these were some of the biggest waves I've ever encountered. But I was in a very large, sturdy boat and felt very confident that I had lots of options and was never really in danger. Making a 180’ turn in 15’ waves was exhilarating though ;)

When I arrived back at Avalon, the harbor patrol suggested that I tie off to 2 moorings on my bow (in anticipation of the storm) – which I did. The ropes that they use on the mooring balls are heavy nylon and I decided that if the weather got really bad, that nylon would work like a saw on my gel coat. Also, as a safety precaution, I decided that if I used some of my own ropes to loop around the mooring eyelet, it would be much easier to simply let the mooring line go if I needed to get away in a hurry.

Joyride tied off to two mooring balls, wating for the storm that never came. In front are two of the excursion boats also tied to moorings. On the horizon 25 miles to the east is Los Angeles.

I used my own dock lines to tie off to the nylon mooring lines. 1) this will reduce chafing in high winds 2) More importantly, it would be difficult to release the nylon loop from the bow cleat in high winds. But with my line looped through the nylon line I could simply untie and say "goodbye"

As it turned out, it was much-ado-about-nothing, I felt the winds that night, but nothing that even kept me awake.

These guys are not afraid of much. And they are everywhere.

Avalon – Day 2 & 3
Part of the reason for this trip was to spend some time off the bike. In fact, I didn’t even bring my road bike along on this voyage. My first morning in Avalon, I hiked around the south route (which I have done before). It is approximately 4 miles out a flat road along the coast and then up, into the hills. It is a very scenic route that climbs high over the Avalon harbor.

On the second morning I took off walking without a route plan. I just wanted a brisk 2 hour walk. I headed north out of town and walked along a nice 2-3% incline road along a golf course. There is also a local school along the route. My server at Avalon Grille last night said that he had grown up here and went to that school.

I began to see signs demarking a botanical garden ahead. I arrived at the entrance to the park and after paying the $7 entry fee I continued along a beautiful island garden. At the far end of the road I saw a huge brick building (pictured left) – more of a shrine really. When I got there I noticed another sign pointing to a path that promised 360’ views at the top. It was worth the walk.

Shrine at the top of the botanical gardens.
To the right is the path to the tip of the mountains.
1600' of elevation in only 1.5 miles.

This was the view from the top. Off on the horizon is the town of Avalon where Joyride is moored and where I walked from.

It turned out to be a very challenging 1.5 mile walk to the top. Once I arrived I could see the other side of the island along with some amazing views of Avalon through the valley below.

By the time I arrived back into town I had walked nearly 10 miles; half of them up hill. Definitely one hardest and longest walks I ever done. 

Day 4 - Epic bike ride on a folding bike

I brought along the folding bikes and could not resist making a training ride. I rode the 4 mile route 3 times including 2/5 miles of climbing on each lap. My legs were feeling the strange bike position after the efforts. I also rode another 15 miles all around Avalon – Descanso beach, Botanical Gardens, etc.

Avalon to Two Harbors – Day 5

After three nights at Avalon it was time to move along. Honestly I could have stayed here for 2 weeks but one of my objectives on this trip was to experience new places.

Two Harbors is located 14 miles north of Avalon at the near tip of Catalina Island. There are “two” harbors – one located on the east side of the island and the other on the west. Each harbor has a couple of coves. The eastern side is larger and it is where the “facilities” are located.

It was a beautiful but uneventful cruise along the mountainous Catalina coastline. When I arrived I checked in with the harbor Patrol on VHF channel 12.

The mooring I was assigned at Ithimus Bay was near the entrance of the harbor, providing nothing in the way of cover if the wind were to come in the wrong direction. And, low and behold, the strong NE wind blowing right into by port bow, made for the roughest night so far. I rolled and pounded most of the night. On this night, I was in bed with lights out by 8:00 (It seems so hard to stay up late while I am at sea) But after awaking several times to check the mooring, I finally threw in the towel around 7:00 and filled up the coffee pot. I think I got somewhere around 5-6 hours of decent sleep.

The morning was beautiful – a bright sun rising behind the mountains and shining into the salon. Mornings at Catalina are Zenlike - definitely my favorite part of the day. I took my time -drinking almost an entire pot of coffee, then packed my folding bike, a change of clothes and a shower bag in the dingy and idled into the pier at Two Harbors.

There is one restaurant at Two Harbors located right off the pier as you make landfall (pictured below). More like a grass hut with glass windows and plastic chairs. Supposedly the steak is above average, if you can eat before the flies eat it first. The restaurant/bar serves as the primary gathering point. Next door is a small general store stocked full of snacks, sunscreen and every Cali imprinted t-shirt, visor and shot glass ever made. Dotting the hills surrounding the beach are 20-25 flat roof houses – all a painted a slightly different shade of mud, approximately the same color as the dirt roads to and from. I think Clint Eastwood filmed the movie “High Plains Drifter" here.

Behind the palm tress is the patio of the only restaurant in town.
There were several people wandering around and I learned that there was to be a wedding there later in the day. I was thinking with all these people here, there must be a vacant trailer park somewhere near LA.

I rode my bike around the town then took the short, quarter mile ride over to Catalina Harbor (the outer side of the island) to check out the cove. It’s a narrow cove, and very desolate that looked to provide very good cover from the open ocean in the event of a storm.

There’s only one public shower facility at Two Harbors.  With the severe water shortage, they are forced to charge for a shower - $2.00 for 2 minutes. I shaved in the sink and then deposited my 8 quarters, hoping the water would not be ice cold. To my surprise, it was toasty hot! As it turns out, 2 minutes is plenty if you’re not shaving your head, face, chest and legs. Dang, once I quit bike racing I’ll have so much more leisure time – not to mention a huge savings in my water bill.

Two Harbors to Dana Point – Day 6
I checked the weather forecast and it was a perfect day for cruising. I set a course for Dana Point only 35 nautical miles away, and cast off.

Today was my first go at running the boat from the lower helm long range. The Hawkeye’s were playing at 12:30. So, as I write this, I am halfway between Two Harbors, Catalina and Dana Point, with the Hawkeye game on TV and the auto pilot pointing the way @ 8.5 knots.

Dana Point Harbor
You’re never the toughest, or the biggest, or the fastest. But as it turns out, our little 50’ motor yacht is too big for any of the slips at Dana Point. Actually having said that, I’m fairly certain that the nice young (probably blonde) gal manning the VHF radio probably didn’t understand the term “end tie”. None the less, I spent the night at anchor in a moorage inside the breakwater, so all was good.

On Sunday morning there were hundreds of people enjoyed the fall morning and stand up paddleboards.

Because the bay is so sheltered from the open ocean,
there are lots of small boats and kayaks.
Lots of racing kayaks in formation behind sailboats- riding their wake.

I have been on a binge lately and have been eating $15 baked potatoes. They take 90 minutes in the microwave but the microwave takes too much power to run on the inverter, so I leave the generator running an extra 90 minutes, just to cook the potato. In fact my typical MO when I arrive in port is to foil wrap a spud and get it cooking, then light a stogie and wash down the boat. A quick wash down takes about 60 minutes. By then it’s time to crack open a bottle of vino and throw a piece of protein on the Barbie.

With a full belly and a couple glasses of weeknight wine, I find it hard to stay awake much past 8:00. I typically settle into my cabin with a “fun size” pack of peanut M&M’s and one of those funky individually wrapped toothpicks that have a brush on the end.

Sunday Morning in Dana – Day 7
The phone rang early this morning with the lovely sound of my wife’s voice from Spain, on the other end. It has been a challenge connecting this week. With an 8 hour time difference and my sporadic cell phone reception while at sea, we have spoken less than once a day. This week has been a contrast in lifestyles. For the most part, I am completely alone. In fact, I am reflecting on the observation that other than hailing a mooring on the radio, and talking to her every other day, I have not heard the sound of my own voice for almost a week. I’ve never minded alone time.

It’s Sunday morning 9:45. Fifteen minutes until Hope Online. Not sure what the rest of the day holds in store. That’s the way I have been rolling on this trip. It’s usually a game day decision. Without checking, I’d guess it’s roughly 60 nautical miles back to SD. I could hang around here today…or not.

Back to Civilization
After a great morning service (www.hopeonline.org) I decided that I had seen everything I needed to see at Dana Point, at least without unstrapping the dingy, so I tooled around the harbor just to check things out before my last leg to San Diego. Dana seems to have a really nice vibe. Calm, quite, thousands of stand up paddle boarders and an obligatory yacht club or two.

Whales tails
As I was setting the waypoints on the Raymarine a distress signal came across channel 16. A fishing captain was reporting that I 40-50’ grey whale was caught in a lobster trap. He read out the coordinates which happen to in the vicinity of my route. So, I plugged the new coordinate in and pushed the throttle down.

I rarely run this hard, partly because it just doesn’t seem civilized and also because at wide open throttle she burns around 40 gallons per hour – multiply that times $3.00 a gallon and you can almost watch the bank account drain. But, this 40 ton motor yacht absolutely purrs when she’s high up on plane. I backed the throttle down to ¾ and enjoyed the exhilaration of 18 knots for almost an hour.

This is what a lobster trap bobber looks like.
In fact this a fairly large and visible bobber.
There are literally thousands of these dotting the kelp beds.

The whale parties had switched to channel 22. The Coast Guard was directing traffic with the captain on the scene service as the eyes. I could see the boats about 5 miles ahead when the captain chirped in to report that the whale had freed himself and was nowhere to be seen. I’m not sure if the Coast Guard was suspicious that this had been a hoax, but he asked for all sorts of information from the captain; name of the boat, CF’s, captains name, address, phone. Then he asked if any pictures were taken of the whale. The captains reply – “Yes, in fact one of my passengers took video”. That was good proof to me that this was not a hoax.
They take their whale safety pretty seriously here,in the Pacific.

As I adjusted my course I realized that I had seen very little aquatic life on this trip. I every past trip we have seen hundreds of dolphins, seals, sea lions, various species of foul. Once I saw the torso and tail fin of a large grey whale.

With approximately 40 miles still to go, I backed the throttle down to my favorite cruising speed -9 knots. At this speed I feel like I am making good time but at the same time feeling relaxed.

That’s when a very large and very confident seagull glided in and touched down dead center on my bow. He rode with me the entire way back (40 miles) and only lifted off when the spray from other boats’ wakes blew over my bow at Pt. Loma. I wondered – where is he going? Are seagulls like eagles and always fly alone? Or maybe he’s just killing time while Mrs. Seagull is off in far-away places pursuing her passion.

I rounded the corner at Pt. Loma and was tucked in safely back at Bay Club, slip F18 by 4:00 pm.

This is where I live (halftime), Bay Club Hotel and Marina on Shelter Island, San Diego.
In the foreground is the gangway to the docks and in the background is Pt. Loma.
On the other side of Pt. Loma is the Pacific. In between is a floating city.
The tide changes twice daily. Notice the pilings on the docks.
They are constructed so that the docks rise and fall on the pilings according to the tide.

As every good sea captain understands, the trip is not complete without the tedious work of clean-up. I broke out the brushes, buckets and boat soap and spent 2 hours taking off the first layer of salt and sea.

Lessons Learned on this Trip

1.      For weather forecasting I need something more than my cell phone service. When I am away from shore (or other places like Avalon, that have cell service) I have no way of getting real time updates. With the possibility of ever changing weather patterns, and as I start to make longer passages, I will need something better.

2.      Don’t try to keep all of the salt off the boat. It takes around 3 hours to clean the boat after a windy day at sea. Clean the boat thoroughly once you are tied off at your mooring and then accept that you are living on salt water.

3.      You can strap down the dingy without dropping the straps into the water.

4.      On a mooring ball that ties off the bow and stern, try to tie off on the port side to avoid the connecting rope when loading and unloading the dingy onto the Freedom Lift.

5.      The water maker failed – showing an indicator message. I shut it down and then restarted. It seemed to be working fine, but I can’t tell how much water I made.

6.      Generator Raw Water Loss - After securing my mooring at Two Harbors and washing down Joyride, I took the dingy into the restaurant. I left the Genset running in the hope that it would charge the battery bank while I was gone and I could shut it off for the evening. However, when I returned to the boat, the Genset was not running and the display indicated the it had experienced a “raw water loss”. I –restarted it, and it seemed to run just fine. I surmised that maybe a kelp leaf had gotten sucked into the intake and that once the Genset stopped, there was no longer any suction and then obstruction floated free.
7.   The generator does not have unlimited capacity. You can’t run TV, hot water heater, AC’s and water maker all at the same time. The Genset shut down and displayed an indicator that AC capacity had been exceeded. I shut off the water maker and it seems to be functioning back to normal.




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