Sailing away with Nikk and Jan

Archive for September, 2012

La Luz

Imagine my surprise when the toilet bowl that I was flushing suddenly lit up with dozens of tiny globules of light. It was the middle of the night out on the ocean, and I’d gone into the tiny head to relieve myself. In order to flush the toilet, I needed to flip a small valve, then pump a handle vigorously to bring in seawater, then flip the valve back to its original position and pump vigorously again to remove the seawater and other fluids. Both pumping actions resulted in flashes of light! Intrigued, I set my mind to thinking, and later to researching, and discovered that bacteria, or more likely tiny organisms called dinoflagellates, were being stimulated by their cell walls being bumped, and then a chemical compound (a”luciferin”) was reacting with oxygen, giving off a bluish light as a result. We see this transient light in the bow wake of the boat too, but I didn’t expect to see it in the toilet bowl!

Our leg from Newport to Eureka was full of unexpected occurrences, and several were light related. We were delayed getting away from Newport on Sept. 18, due to fog, but finally at 11am sailed south and this time stayed 8-10 miles offshore, not wanting to endure another dash for a port if we sailed a lot farther out. It turned out that this allowed me to watch the lights of the towns and isolated residences that we passed in the dark of night, imagining the lives on terra firma while we sailed with our little tricolor lights at the tip of the mast, and running lights port and starboard. Nothing needed fixing, the seas were calm, and it was very different from the sailing leg that came before. On the 19th we refueled in Coos Bay early in the morning, we needed to refuel because we had been motoring the whole way, only using the mainsail for stability, due to almost no wind. Even though Captain Nikk was frustrated at not being able to sail, First Mate Jan was happy because we were able to cook, eat, and drink without everything sloshing and sliding, and our 3-hour watches were very easy, just checking the radar and position and going above every 20 minutes or so to scan the waters for ships. Off Cape Blanco Nikk spotted two humpback whales only about 200 feet away, but the most unusual sighting happened right on the boat the next morning.

About sunrise on the 20th, when we were getting close to Crescent City, Nikk said “there’s a bird on the boat!” Sure enough, there was a Leach’s Storm Petrel hunkered down in the cockpit well. This is a bird about the size of a robin, with black feathers, a white rump patch, and long, long wings for its size. They migrate from Alaskan waters all the way to Argentina or perhaps New Zealand. We didn’t know what was wrong with it, but it let Nikk hold it, and then tried to burrow under the seat cushion down in the cockpit well under the wheel. When we got to Crescent City, we found the number of the Humboldt Bay Wildlife Care Center and called them. They told us that they would meet us in Eureka the following day, and take the bird to the care center. So we went off to explore Crescent City, thinking that we might stay there until we saw the only dock covered in seagull poop 6 inches deep. The smell was rather overwhelming. Poor Crescent City marina is still recovering from the tsunami caused by the Japanese earthquake in March, 2011. The city just received federal funds for repairs, and there was a lot of construction going on at the marina too, so continuing to Eureka seemed the best option. We did eat breakfast and a late lunch at the marina cafe, and walked down to the jetty to take pictures. Logging big redwoods and other trees was big business for this area for many years.

The locals called these flowers “Flamingo Lilies”


At 3:30 we left Crescent City and motored on, getting out about 8 miles by 8 pm. Suddenly our little Petey the Petrel became active, flapped his wings, and when Nikk took him out of the cockpit well he flew away to our cheers and good wishes for a safe migration!

Petey the Petrel


The sunset that night was brilliant.


On the light theme, I discovered that a setting Jupiter is bright enough to cast its own sparkle of light on the water, before this I thought only the sun and moon were brilliant enough to make that strong a reflection. We’ve sldo discovered that some fishing boats use three huge halogen lights while out fishing, and they light up the ocean like they were a small city. We saw many fishing boats as we waited for the light of the sun to return on Friday morning the 21st, waiting because the entrance to Humboldt Bay is not one we wanted to try in the dark. Finally we followed a fishing boat into the bay, then motored five miles north up the bay to Eureka, and the little marina on an island which is a Nature Preserve across the channel from downtown Eureka. The only buildings are the marina buildings, including another marina cafe with great food and service (salmon with panko/onion/butter crust, baked potatoes and green beans, and a lovely Bloody Mary, to replenish our veggie and protein needs). And I almost forgot, there was a National Weather Service building too. Saturday we went into Eureka to rent a car, and saw many, many Victorian homes and mansions, including the Carson Mansion, 16,000 square feet, built in 1888 by a lumber and mining baron. Resouce extraction really paid off for him, I think.


A quick trip to Portland for Nikk to take care of some legal business, and to pick up important pieces of equipment like the dive tanks means a pause in the journey. We hope to be continuing to San Francisco and Fisherman’s Wharf on Monday Oct 1, and finally Jan gets to sail under the Golden Gate Bridge if weather permits. Stay tuned for the next chapter hopefully written in the City by the Bay.


The Best Laid Plans…

The best laid schemes o’ Mice and Men oft go awry.    Robert Burns  “To a Mouse”


Like little mice at the mercy of nature, our plans were changed by the weather.  While Portland heated up, we were sailing on the ocean blue, with temperatures in the high 50’s and low 60’s, clear skies, and the wind taking us about 60 miles offshore by Friday morning, where we set course for due south, expecting to arrive in either Coos Bay or Crescent City.  With just about perfect sailing conditions, imagine our surprise when the noon weather report stated that a small craft advisory was in effect, with gusts 30-35 knots and confused seas starting at 5pm and continuing through Sunday for 10-60 miles offshore.  Since we were at 60 miles offshore by then, we listened for conditions 60-100 miles offshore.  None were given on any channel, which was very weird.  Not wanting to risk sailing in those conditions, we turned to the east and headed for Newport.  The winds gusted to 18 knots, the seas rose to 8-10 feet, and we smashed and slewed our way east northeast for 12 rather brutal hours.  Waves came crashing over the bow, standing on the stairs and bracing myself while standing watch felt like being in a washing machine, and about 8 hours along I thought “could we have just a minute or two break, please?”.  Mother Nature did not rest, but Nikk did for about 2 hours while I stood watch and Moo steered us very capably along towards Newport.  Finally about 11 pm we could see the lights of Newport, still about 12 miles away.  GPS actually worked, after a little confusion and squinting for sight of the jetty beacons, staying on course put us right above the jetty mouth, and a half an hour later at 2:30am two weary sailors were moored at a marina dock and getting ready for some much-needed sleep.  Out there on the ocean there were moments of beauty:  right at sunset a solitary bird, perhaps a South Polar Skua, followed us, using the wind off our sails to draft and soar behind us for many minutes, leaving, then returning, and some dolphins (Pacific White-Sided?) cruised our bow wake for several minutes.  We both now have several new bruises, and I had a dislocated left little pinky, which I bravely pulled back into position,  and it is now swollen and making typing the “a’s” a bit difficult.

Newport Marina with Balance moored at center


Today is Monday, and we’re still in Newport at the marina, waiting for the weather to let us go, perhaps tomorrow.  Our Tigard HS classmate, Dave Hansen, who lives in Salishan, came down to visit us at the boat today and took some pictures, now we can comply with requests for pictures of us on the boat.

Dave dropped us off at Englund Marine to find another program for the radar which will supplement our present data for central California to Central America and include the coast from British Columbia to the end of Baja.  $200 seems a bit steep, but we will be able to have information on a small screen and avoid rolling out the huge charts and wrestling with them at the nav station while the boat pitches and rolls.  Since the weather was so sunny, we walked down the Embarcadero, got clam chowder at a refurbished bistro, and now refueled, decided to hoof it across the long, long Yaquina Bay Bridge (195 feet high)  back to the marina.  The fog started rolling in just as we finished our trek across the bridge, and we were hungry AGAIN (we didn’t get to eat much for about 20 hours during our ordeal getting back to shore) so stopped at the Rogue Ale Brewery Pub and Restaurant, for a fabulous meal of mahi mahi fish tacos and Shrimp Louie, with Hazelnut Cheesecake for dessert.  Since I’m allergic to hops, no ales for me, instead the most beautiful concoction I’ve ever imbibed, a Blue Horizon (dark rum, Blue Curacao, ginger syrup, and pineapple juice).  It was yummy, too. Since I’m on the topic of food, we also ate yesterday at the little Fishtails Cafe for a very late breakfast.  The cafe is right by the Oregon Coast Aquarium, where I took students to see Keiko, the Orca, back in 1997, and in a mall of little wooden buildings, all brightly painted, with a giant sea monster statue very near the cafe door.  Fishtails makes their own bread, muffins, and jams, and the veggie omelet had homemade pesto on top.  Quite delicious also.  Enough about food.  I’ll se if I can add some pictures, and then get some sleep before hopefully setting out tomorrow for Crescent City, arriving there Friday or Saturday.

Here is the Blue Horizon cocktail, quite a stunning sight



Where the River Meets the Sea

Balance at Enumclaw Marina/Cathlamet

Woke up this morning in Cathlamet to sunrise forecasting a clear, sparkling day, and left the marina at 8:30am with light winds and only little ripples on the river. Yesterday was a bit different. We left McCuddy’s Marina at sunrise, motoring downriver and the tender at the railroad bridge swung the tracks to let us through right away, which we took for a good omen. So much for superstition. Everything was going smoothly until 90 minutes into the trip; the fan belt broke, the engine alarm went off, the engine got so hot it pressurized the antifreeze, and antifreeze started spraying all over the engine compartment. Disaster! But Nikk quickly anchored, replaced the fan belt, fired up the engine, and an hour later we were smoothly motoring again. By the time we reached St Helens the north wind kicked up to 15 knots, the wind waves were coming at us three feet high, and we were on the “hobby horse” bouncing up and down for about two hours. It was a good test of how well we’d tied and stowed everything. With easier motoring, we reached the Enumclaw Marina at Cathlamet by 6:30pm and were very happy to be in the cozy little marina. Besides all the anchorages, there are little cabins and yurts, bathrooms and showers, and spaces for motorhomes and campers. Lewis and Clark were welcomed here by the Wahcanicum settlement, and traded fish hooks for otter pelts, dogs, and fish. One of the natives was wearing a seacoat and trousers which came from one of the ships that had made contact with the tribe. We heard a lot of log trucks go by on the highway above the marina, and saw a lot of huge tankers in Longview loading logs to take across the ocean. When I was in Australia in the early 70’s they called Douglas Fir “Oregon”. because of all the timber used for houses there that came from the Douglas Firs right here in Oregon.

The Enormous Astoria Bridge

Today we motored with the head sail up for about half an hour before we got to Tongue Point, near Astoria, and then got to sail part way across the bay from Astoria to Ilwaco here on the southwestern point of Washington. Nikk is always a happy guy when we get to put up the sails and turn off the motor. The wind came from the east today, very unusual, so we were surfing following waves from Skamokawa to Astoria. We’d hoped to get across the bar today and out onto the ocean, but instead decided to stay overnight at Ilwaco and go over the bar early tomorrow, leaving here at 7 am if we can get ourselves up and going that early. The temperature was in the high 70’s here, way too hot for the folks who live here and are used to a marine climate, but perfect for us. The marina is a great place to visit on a day trip from Portland or if you’re traveling to Long Beach. The area above the marina has art galleries and restaurants in wooden buildings, and there is a wonderful hiking trail called the Discovery Trail that starts from town and goes out to the Cape Disappointment lighthouse through cool forest. We hiked the trail a year ago.

We’ll be bundled up out on the ocean, and will try to sail all the way to Crescent City, taking turns being on watch, and having the monitor wind vane keep us on course, if all goes well. The next blog will probably be from Crescent City, unless the weather turns and we need to scuttle to the nearest port. I just baked a loaf of banana bread with a recipe very like my mom’s, hopefully it will be the kind of food that a stomach will like while getting used to the “motion of the ocean”. We’re very excited to get out on the “big water” (that’s what Deva called it when she saw the ocean for the first time at age one).

The Fear Factor

   Over and over again our experiences prove that it is our mental outlook that is fundamentally responsible for whether we are successful or unsuccessful,  healthy or ill, attractive or ugly, happy or depressed.     Lama Thubten Yeshe



To that could be added “fearful or unafraid”.  I have been thinking a lot about fear lately, because so many people say something like “I never could do that because I’d be scared to death”, or “aren’t you afraid of ……..?”.  So here are some musings about fear, both personal and psychological.

Fear seems to rule some lives more than others.  I understand how our mind can overreact, as I have had a personal experience with unreasonable fear this past year.  Twice in 8 months someone crashed into my car, the second time leaving the car smashed and totaled.  No serious bodily injuries, just some neck and back pain which persists, but any time someone pulls out too close, or Nikk follows someone too closely, or any other time in the car when my mind thinks I might be in danger, I get a huge adrenaline rush and anxiety.  The overreaction is slowly dissipating, but makes driving or riding in a car unpleasant when it occurs.  Normally I am not a fearful person, this overreaction gives me empathy for those people whose physiology causes them to be fearful.  Why am I not usually a fearful person, and why specifically am I not a bundle of nerves thinking about all the potential dangers awaiting us on the sea or on the land in a foreign country?

Part of it is that I am by nature not one to worry, in fact I think worrying is a waste of time and energy.  No matter how you imagine a future scenario, unless you are psychic, that scenario has very little chance of occurring, life being so full of potential possibilities.  And worrying puts one in a state of distress, most of the time, which is not where I want my mind to be.  Worrying and planning are two different modes.  Nikk and I do a lot of planning;  we try to think of all the things we might need, and then obtain them if possible, and think of the things we don’t want to happen, and how we can avoid them if possible.  So because of the latter we have life jackets, harnesses and life lines, which will keep us in the boat during rough weather.  We have radios, and radar, and flares, and bright lights attached to our life jackets in case we do go into the water.  That, of course, is something that is a real danger, and is the only thing that I worry about, when considering this journey.  Having Nikk go overboard and not get back into the boat would be devastating in so many ways.  I could sail or motor my way to safety, probably, but the emotional devastation would be huge.  So do I think about that possibility very often?  No.  Why?  It would spoil the present moment.

Part of not worrying is that to worry you need to have your mind focused on the future, and I just don’t operate that way, and never have.  Of course I plan, and dream, but it doesn’t occupy my mind to the extent that it would if I were a person who lives in the future.  Carl Jung, and many others, have described different ways that humans relate to time.  There are people whose minds focus a lot on the past, dwelling on either positive or negative scenes, and relate those to the present.  There are people who live in the future, and I do have to say that schools want to have students thinking about their future lives, benefits of study, and benefits of performance.  Inventors spend a lot of time thinking about the future, as does anyone who imagines their life and dreams about what might happen in times to come. Nikk and I have been spending a lot more time thinking about the future while doing all this planning and preparing.  But Nikk and I  live mostly in the present, which makes us very good in emergencies, because we can take care of what needs to be done pretty smoothly, without worry.

That brings me to trust.  I know that Nikk has a wealth of experience sailing, he knows what to do in all sorts of conditions, and that gives me the idea that I can trust his experience to get us safely through the possible trials  I’ve been reading a lot of books about sailing, and they have given me glimpses of the pleasures of the cruising life, and the possible discomforts and dangers.  One of the books I really enjoyed is called  The Motion of the Ocean by Janna Cawrse Esuary, it not only is an entertaining read, but gives the reader a humorous and honest look at life aboard a small boat sailing from Seattle to the South Pacific and eventually to Japan.  I’m excited to actually get to pursue our own adventure, and willing to see what the future has in store.  I wouldn’t say that I’m a thrill seeker, but I certainly do love having new experiences.  To get the rewards of any endeavor, you have to be able to put up with the internal and external discomforts that inevitably come along, and love what you’re doing so much that nothing gets in the way.  There will be moments of beauty, and perhaps moments of terror, times when we are marveling at our luck to be where we are, and times when we wonder why we thought this sailing trip was a good idea (seasickness comes to mind here).  I hope throughout it all we can keep a certain equilibrium of thought, action and response.  We are happy to know that we have the good wishes of so many people, and I do believe that the blessings of others will have a positive effect on our journey.  With only one or two more days of preparation and dealing with setbacks, I think that the next blog will find us on our way.  Thanks for staying tuned throughout the long days of trying to get underway.

Looking Forward, Looking Back

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.

Henry David Thoreau

Because for so many years the summer traditionally came to an end with Labor Day, the end of a teacher’s summer freedom, pressure is internally mounting to get on the river and sea, and out of town. Unfortunately for our plans to leave by September 1, we still are not away from our moorage. The holdups are brackets, brackets, wires and cables. Dreaming of our journey keeps us going through all the stutters in the outfitting progress. Last week saw a lot of forward progress. The surveyor came and gave the boat a thorough inspection needed for us to get insurance. The re-machined propeller came back from Seattle and the boat was hauled out to install the propeller, then it ran so smoothly we could hardly hear it. A dinghy was purchased to go with the eBay motor, and Jan purchased a beauty of a little accordion to entertain us and keep my musical mind busy. I’ve played piano since I was about 5, but the accordion’s key size is much smaller, and I’m busy memorizing the locations of all the different major, minor, D7 and Dim stops for the left hand. Then there’s the bellows….already I’ve found that it’s too easy to run out of air just when you think you’re coming to a rousing close to a song and it piddles out with a tiny whimper of sound.





Craig Shaw up the mast attaching the LED anchor and running lights

Nikk has been doing many small and large projects, including installing a row of 6V golf cart batteries under the floor in the cabin where our sodas, beer and wine used to reside.
These batteries will store energy from the two solar panels that have yet to be installed, and that energy will do important things like power the refrigeration and electronics. Of course, power needs cables and wires, which are being installed with a lot of contortions in very small spaces.
Then there are the missing brackets, the ones that were sent to attach the radar pole are the wrong size, and would result in the pole listing to about a 30-degree angle, not so good for reception (and appearance). So we’re waiting and waiting for a man to machine and send a different bracket. If all goes well we will do the final provisioning this week and be on our way next Saturday the 8th.

I have done sewing projects, calling up some very rusty sewing skills. Back when I was 12, my friend’s mother, Mrs. Robinson (yes that really was her name and she was not the type to seduce young men), started a 4-H group to teach us sewing and knitting. With infinite patience and a lot of skill she gave me the start to many years of sewing and knitting garments, with help from my mother too. I still knit on a regular basis, but haven’t sewed for about 20 years! Luckily my daughter loves to sew, has a beautiful Pfaff, and was willing to help me wind a bobbin, thread the needle, and get to sewing. The first project was sewing fitted sheets for the v-berth, the bed in the bow, which starts out at 74 inches wide at the head and torso, then tapers to a measly 18 inches at the feet. Taking two sheets, one a queen, one a king, I somehow managed to measure, pin and sew them into the desired shape. Another related strange project was going to Ikea to get a 3 7/8 inch thick foam mattress, then cutting it to fit the v-berth with a hacksaw. After wrestling the mattress into the v-berth, I put on the fitted mattress protector, and it fit like spandex on Darcelle!
Then came ripping out the two zippers on the wheel cover, getting new zippers, and sewing them back on with very heavy thread. I think that’s the end of sewing projects.

The last few weeks have been filled with good times with friends and family. Dinners, lunches, concerts, a pool party, walks, talks, and lots of playing with the grandchildren, with the realization that I am making memories that I’ll be able to return to when far away. Leaving all the people that I love and am connected to in so many ways is the difficult counterpoint to the excitement of adventure. I’ve been riding my bike around Portland, taking pictures of places, too. Here are a few that I’ll enjoy looking at when I’m baking in Baja. If you’re reading this and there are no pictures, come back, because I have to leave the iPad and go to Nikk’s computer to be able to add pictures to the blog. Portland is such a beautiful city, with so many ways to ride the bike. Tomahawk Island Drive, next to the marina, has a tree-lined median strip like Ainsworth, and after that my rides almost always take me alongside I-5 across the channel, then sometimes into North Portland, down Willamette, and back past Kelly Point Park and along Marine Drive. I call it the River to River and Back Again route.



Portland from Willamette Boulevard bluff


Peninsula Park Rose Garden fountain


We have survived all these projects with minimal damage to our persons, only some scraped knucles and shins, and are looking forward to the sailing adventure to come.  The next blog I’ll write about a topic that comes up all the time when people ask me about our journey, FEAR.



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