August 30, 2008

Charmed arrival in San Francisco

Placid conditions under the Golden Gate
Originally uploaded by behang

We came under the Golden Gate bridge around 4:30 on Thursday afternoon. Although they were absent from the rest of the passage, we had dolphins in pairs visiting us on and off for the hours preceding that cruise under the bridge. Between their escort, and the unbelievable weather (nearly windless, flat water, sunny- HOT- and clear) - it truly felt like a charmed arrival!

As if the conditions around us weren't enough, there was a stunning synchronicity in our arrival and that of our children. They've been with my parents, a.k.a. Poppy and Plug, since we left Bainbridge on the 21st. They were flying to SF on Thursday, and we had expected before to have been in the Bay a couple of days before them- time to get cleaned up, rested, etc. What are the odds that they would fly into SF, get into a rental car, and drive to the waterfront JUST IN TIME to see us go by? I mean *really*?! With our big yellow kayak on the bow, the kids could pick out Totem right away. We could see them jumping and waving on the beach (click through to pictures on Flickr to see more). It was pretty sweet!

Looking back on the passage, it was charmed in many ways too. We had FANTASTIC crew in PJ and Curtis...good friends, great sailors, the kind of people who make getting up at 1am to sit watch in a chilly, bouncy cockpit desirable. I can't say enough about them. The ride the last few days had some, well...exciting moments (gusts to 50 knots- yikes) but overall- we made good weather choices and had a terrific journey without any hiccups.

We're settling into Marina Village, on Alameda- along the channel between Alameda island and Oakland. Our good friends Jim & Diana Jessie live on their boat, Nalu, just a few slips down- and have given us a hearty welcome. The children have been touring SF with my parents but join us today, and will be excited with our "front row" view of action in the channel from the end tie.

We'll be here for at least a month and possibly a bit more. I'll finish up work- commuting via ferry or BART to downtown San Francisco until the middle of the month, and Jamie will get to charge ahead on various boat projects. And of course, we want to milk all the time we can get with Jim, Diana, and other friends in the bay area before continuing south- who knows when we'll have the chance again?

Meanwhile- we made the hometown newspaper on Bainbridge! They wrote this article about our plans. Kind of a surprise to see the photographer on the dock the day we took off...I might have put on a clean shirt had I known, but it's fun to share something we're so happy about doing. Apparently there were a couple of pictures, too, I'll have to see what I can get sent down...this is a neat record for the kids, I think, and a fun way to share our adventures.

August 24, 2008

Departure Day

welcome to day 1
Originally uploaded by behang

Departure Day

It was just after noon on Thursday, August 21, 2008 that Jamie and I finally cast off the docklines—departing Bainbridge Island to begin a nomadic life afloat as a family. Over the last two weeks, we’d kept a count of days-to-departure updated on the whiteboard affixed the pantry locker door- it finally read “0”!

Despite the years of planning and dreaming that lead up to this day, immediate celebration of the milestone was somewhat lost in the chaos of last minute details. Some were bigger than others: despite redundancy in spares for nearly every part, our previously trusty autopilot expired. Not really interested in hand-steering down the coast, with <24 hours to go a new one was acquired and installed. Then there was the oven in our house that had a service call…the pile of turf (I called it sod, until our British tenants educated me) in our driveway…the report at work (I’ve got several weeks to go) that needed some ‘splaining…another half gallon of milk to shore up our provisioning…clothes for the children’s week away…and what felt like 100 other tasks to complete.

We have two crew members coming with us- Curtis Edwards was already on board, and we were picking up PJ Baker at Shilshole marina. Notably, the children were not on board but with their grandparents, aka Plug and Poppy. They are happy little boat kids, but their sailing experience limited to coastal cruising around Puget Sound. Going offshore is wholly different, and given the probability of adverse or weather during at least some portion of a trip down the coast—we felt it was prudent to spare them the experience and ease in more gradually through progressively longer hops south from San Francisco Bay.

Sending us off in true style was a friend I’ll miss more than I can say! Tracey Denlinger pulled together her family (parents Ray & Jan Peacoe, and children Sam & Julia) and ours (my parents with our children in tow) on board the Peacoe’s Sabre, Abuela, to escort us out Eagle Harbor- complete with a soundtrack of tunes from a CD for the occasion. Abuela stayed alongside until we raised the jib and pointed up towards Shilshole. Watching them turn, it hit me just how much I’ll miss the frequent visits with this dear friend and neighbor…thankfully, sunglasses are a great foil for discreet tears.

Meanwhile, at least the crew on Abuela was having a fine day on the water- Niall was actually mock-crying, LOUDLY, across the water while they all waved hankerchiefs at us. It was quite a sight! I was thrilled to see my mother on board- she loves boats, but from a distance. Getting ON them and leaving the dock is another story altogether! (Mum, I’ve got the St Christopher up).

Riding the Humpback Highway

Today- two days later- we’re riding what Jamie finally called the Humpback Highway. We’ve seen so many whales today I’ve actually lost count! Most were too far for away photograph to do any justice, but there have been spectacular displays of tail slapping, breeching, and several mother/calf pairs. It’s been a smooth ride of gentle swells and beautiful skies.

We haven’t had enough wind to sail, but were able to get out just behind one weather system- and are motoring through so we can get south ahead of a second one. We’re anticipating pulling into Newport, OR (hopefully finding wifi to upload this!) on Saturday afternoon to wait out the next low…let the big winds blow by, then head out on the back side. We’ll get favorable wind and anticipate a nice sail south, with perhaps a bit of excitement (hopefully not too much) around the Cape Mendocino.

Meanwhile, we have the opportunity at least to take a deep breath- look around- and enjoy and appreciate the place where we are and this time in our lives. Our first full day out, PJ replaced the whiteboard departure countdown with this message: WELCOME TO DAY 1 OF THE CRUISING LIFE. Are we ever grateful!

August 12, 2008

Top 10 Questions

check out the bow wave

After years of planning and dreaming, it feels pretty amazing to have smoothly finished the move on board our sailboat. That we're soon to depart on an open ended journey as a family still leaves me wondering if I'm dreaming!

We've found that sharing the news of our impending, open-ended travels prompts concerns about our sanity, followed by a pretty standard set of questions. To help, here's a shortlist of our answers; apply to your questions as desired:

1. South
2. 47 foot sloop
3. Six months. Six years. Who knows?
4. Homeschool!
5. Originally thought we'd sell, but the real estate crash intervened.
6. Pirates are in predictable areas, looking for Big Money boats. We will avoid both of these risk factors.
7. Sure, storms are scary. So are car accidents.
8. Routine maintenance in exotic locations
9. Semi-retirement, whatever that is.
10. Why not?

We do hope to update this site slightly more often than it has been…aiming for weekly position reports, and pictures when we have bandwidth (remember, we’re talking rural Mexico and central America for most of the next 18 months). And meanwhile, we're taking names for crew, visitors, or babysitters to go down the California coast (October) or hang out in Mexico and points beyond.

August 10, 2008

There are always projects

Replacing hatches
Originally uploaded by behang

We purchased this boat with the idea that it was already in solid shape, and definitely not a "project boat." All you boatowners out there now shaking your heads at us know... EVERY boat is a "project boat." It's just a matter of scale and how much you want to submit.

There weren't any structural problems: although 25 years old, it was well made and appeared to be well maintained through a series of owners. The signs of age we'd seen on other Stevens 47s- such as crazing in the deck gelcoat- were minimal. The biggest areas for improvement we saw, at the outset, were primarily cosmetic: a desire (if not need) to reconfigure the main salon settee, so it would comfortably fit all five of us. The old vinyl headliner, which was servicable but yellowed with age and, well, vinyl. And update and expansion of the sails, since the inventory is small has many miles...that won't do for the ex-sailmaker. The formica-clad galley: adequate, but aged.

Oh, the blush of new boat ownership! We saw these as our biggest future projects. It's kind of funny, in hindsight. Kind of.

What happened instead? Total rewiring. Complete replumbing. New throughulls. Rebuilding much of the main salon and all of the forward bunk cabin. The biggest outlays were for a complete re-rig, including new chainplates and all the standing rigging except the mast itself. And this my friends...this is just the beginning!

Cruising friends told us a long time ago that their lifestyle was really just "routine maintenance in exotic locations." We have a new appreciation for what I now recognize as a boaters adage: it truly is like having a hole in the water into which you through bills.

Meanwhile, I am grateful to be married to an incredibly capable, do-it-yerselfer who is steeped in the marine world. Why order new chainplates, when you can relearn CAD, find the steel fabricator and polishers, and have them yourself (and exactly as desired) for half the price? As I type, he is tuckus up in the bilge, troubleshooting a pump for the graywater tank. I'm looking forward to learning all these systems and tools, truly, but thank goodness it's not necessary now.

Now about that marine diesel engine maintenance class down at the local community college...