Monthly: May 2012

28 May

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Fetch; Master Mariners Regatta

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burying the rail in a puff

May 25-28.

After receiving Laingdon’s email with the invitation to join in the Master Mariners Regatta, my itinerary started to fall in place. I drove up to Sausalito and met Laingdon and his friend Leighton Richardson. I had pulled up at the Spaulding Boatworks to see if there was any chance in finding some work for the next couple of weeks. It being Friday and a holiday weekend coming up, I thought I might as well plant a seed now for when I would return after the trip on Tomalas Bay. There was no work in sight, but he was going to talk to the coordinator of the Arques School, which has an educational boatbuilding program in the same building. I got a call later that evening, but no immediate opportunities were apparent. It felt good though to have made some initial contacts.

Laingdon and Leighton met me at the boatyard and we arranged for parking for my van and boat. Parking in Sausalito is a bit of an issue as I was to find out a day later. Somehow I was supposed to know that I couldn’t park a trailer anywhere for more than an hour on public streets. Oh well, maybe I’ll contest the ticket.

Leighton lives in Sonoma and has a beautiful boat ‘Morning Star’  moored in Sausalito. I was familiar with the boat, because it used to be berthed in my hometown for years, during which I had admired her many times. Both Laingdon and I got a bunk on the boat, which was very convenient and fun. A few berths over was ‘Elizabeth Muir’, the schooner we were to sail the race with.

 

Morning Star (52 foot wooden ketch)

 

Elizabeth Muir (48 foot wooden schooner)

 

 

interior of Elizabeth Muir

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sausalito waterfront

 

 

one of the house boats

 

We took a walk and admired some of the other racers. Pursuit was one of them, a classic sloop with a huge rig and lots of shiny brightwork (varnish). (Some specs: Formerly “Avatar” – Designed by Burgess & Morgan, NY. Built in 1929, Length 82′ Mast 96′ Weight 50 Tons – 12 Man Racing Crew – Sleeps 12. Spinnaker 3600 Sq Ft)

 

Pursuit (82 foot wooden sloop)

 

 

 

We had dinner in a Nepalese restaurant and chatted on the boat before hitting the sack, greasing out throats with some good wine. Leighton used be in the wine business, selling software for managing grape farming and knows a lot about wine.

 

Laingdon and Leighton

 

Next morning (26th) our crew and the skipper Peter showed up from Sonoma and we went right ahead to get the boat ready for the race. We motored out toward the Golden Gate and got the sails up. What started in a light breeze would end up in 30 knot winds and good sized waves splashing all over the boat. We had a wonderful race in an amazing setting. Classic boats, Golden Gate as a backdrop, wind and whitecaps and a happy crew. In certain areas on the bay, called the slot, the winds are particularly strong due to a ventury effect through the Gate.  Ocean air gets sucked in by heating air inland. It gets a bit exciting there at times, but the schooner (and skipper) handled it gracefully, only burying the rail a few times creating a big stern wave that followed the rail seemingly dutifully. Off course this was more due to the historic evolution of boat shapes and the eye of the designer that laid down her lines. Wind, waves and boat were all working well together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

skipper and crew

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

spinnaker on down wind leg

 

burying the rail in a puff

 

Laingdon drove her partway back

 

relaxing after the race

 

that would be me

 

 

Tradition has it that Laingdon goes aloft after or during every Master Mariners to straighten something out.

 

 

the burgee was wrapped around the rigging

 

 

he took a picture of us from up there

 

 

 

 

After the race we had a ‘debrief’ below with bagels, creme cheese, capers and salmon and good wine. Peter, the skipper, is actually a grape grower and winemaker in Sonoma, so there was no shortage of this wonderful stuff. We capped it off with rum on Leighton’s boat and I finally crashed in my bunk in a cloud of bliss. It had been a good day indeed.

 

 

 

 

Laingdon and Leighton

 

Peter's wine label

 

skipper Peter on right and his partner in the boat Ivan on left.

 

Sunday we all took it easy and hung around between breakfast, lunch and dinner. No pressure to accomplish anything, but eat and rest. Monday midday I planned to get back to Tomales Bay to meet fellow small boat owners for a few day messabout on that bay, however I just learned that the trip is delayed due to some medical emergency.

All weekend I was impressed that, by ‘pure luck’, I had fallen into this opportunity to be part of that well known race on San Francisco Bay. I know the theory of following ones nose, but it still amazes me when it works out this way. I can only hope that the rest of my trip will follow suit.

 

 

 

28 May

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Fetch; Clear Lake to Tomales Bay

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May 23 and 24.

After my windy ride on Clear Lake I stayed at a nice little RV park called Edge Water along the southwest shore of the lake and took my time in the morning. The wind started strong early in the day and I had no desire to go back on the water that day.

 

Clear Lake from the road

 

Once on the road, I was headed for Napa Valley, but a sign Anderson Marsh, national historic landmark got my attention. The marsh is located at the southeast end of the lake and looked interesting. I parked the van at the beginning of a dirt road and hiked into the marsh. A lot of paths were flooded so access was restricted. I had to get my boots to make it to a small pond. Quite often a big fish would jump out of water, I couldn’t tell what kind they were. The wind was howling and Turkey Vultures were soaring overhead.

 

 

end of the lake

 

 

Anderson Marsh

 

 

 

 

vulture soaring in the wind

 

I was expecting to see little herons in the marsh, but every time they saw me first and bolted out of their hiding place with loud quacks before I spotted them. They are keen little buggers, those Green Herons.

Back from my walk, I noticed there was a pole with an Osprey nest right next to the van. I had completely missed that when I arrived. One of the birds just came back with a fish head to feed the young ones.

 

high pole with Osprey nest on top

 

 

 

I decided to stay the night right there and grabbed something to eat in town.

 

I left Clear Lake early in the morning and headed for the wine country. After crossing the hills on steep hairpin roads I dropped down in a nice valley with vineyards north of Calistoga. The town itself had wine tasting rooms all over and seemed well geared toward tourism, with café’s, gift shops and galleries.

 

 

 

 

Down toward Napa the valley gradually got wider and wider and the road was flanked with vineyards left and right. I turned west toward Petaluma and Marin County, because I was going to attend a small boat messabout on Tomalas Bay in a few days. I’ve allways enjoyed the landscape of Marin. It’s rolling hills and sporadic clusters of woods somehow intrigue me. Maybe it reminds me of England, but different.

 

Marin County

 

 

 

After winding through the landscape on narrow roads I arrived at Tomales Bay, a long tidal estuary connected to the Pacific in the north and ending at Pt Reyes Station in the south. Pt Reyes Station and Inverness are small funky towns where we were thinking of moving to about 20 years ago. We lived in Berkeley where work was, but were seeking a quieter spot to live. The reality of the commute to town however made us rethink that plan. Somehow the development of the rest of the Bay Area seems to not have reached this area to this day.

 

Tomales Bay

 

 

 

I arrived at the Marshall boat ramp midday and the winds were horrendous (for a small boat). The plan was to to meet at this ramp, a few days later for a three day messabout in small boats. I hopped in the restaurant next to the ramp, called Nick’s Cove and realized that may end up being an expensive mistake, looking at the menu. A hamburger with beer however kept things under control.

 

boat shack next to the ramp

 

plenty wind

 

 

I scoped out Pt Reyes Station and Inverness for a place to spend the night, but there were no parks anywhere except in Omega, a few miles south. I payed for the night there, which was a bit spendy. I was used to about $15 to $25 per night including hookups, but here they were charging $59 (I believe) for a weekend night. Granted, I was moving into summer season and into fancy California, but I had a hard time with it, because I wouldn’t be able to keep this up for long. Another issue I was dealing with was that I didn’t know what do for the next three days, awaiting the messabout. I figured I would come up with something the next day after a good night of sleep. I would probably go to Sausalito, I thought.

 

Sure enough the next day presented me with wonderful opportunity for a good time. After finally getting internet connection at the campground, I got an email from my friend Laingdon, who I know from Port Townsend. He invited me to come over to Sausalito, where he had just arrived, to join in the Classic Mariner Regatta! This is a big time anual race with all older wooden boats, varying from small yachts to schooners to big 80 foot classic sloops, often about 60 boats total.  All this on the magnificent San Francisco Bay in typically high winds blowing through the Golden Gate Bridge. He was going to be racing with friends of his on a beautiful schooner ‘Elizabeth Muir’, a local icon on the bay. I happened to have seen this boat under construction about 20 years ago in Bolinas under a shed in a gorgeous rural setting. I always had to swing by there when I could, to get a peek at this project, not knowing off course that I would be sailing on her one day. That day was about to happen! Stay tuned.

 

 

23 May

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Fetch; Wind on Clear Lake.

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May 21 – 22.

Monday morning I had my last breakfast with Dan and Mary. After getting out another blog entry, I thanked them for their company, hospitality and generosity and was on the road again. I was headed for Clear Lake, about 50 miles inland from the coast. Dan had told me one of their adventures on that lake being caught in a sudden freezing fierce wind and how they had tried to find an anchorage not getting much sleep that night. Dan had loaned me a storm jib and a drogue (underwater parachute to the boat slow down in high winds), not knowing that I would need that storm jib so soon! Thanks Dan! Driving inland I noticed the landscape change from coastal redwood forest to dryer grassy land with lots of oak trees.

Oak trees; a change in landscape

 

 

It definitely felt warmer getting out of the car at Clear Lake and the wind was blowing pretty good, kicking up whitecaps on the lake. The heating landmass inland sucks in the ocean air like a turbine. It starts early in the morning and just keeps going, as I were to find out. I first had to get an inspection sticker, stating that my boat was free from invasive plants. Dan had told me where to get one next to a launch ramp. After getting the sticker I didn’t feel good about launching right there, because being at the west corner of the lake there wouldn’t be much protection from the wind. After studying a map I noticed a small peninsula sticking out into the lake at Buckingham Point, with a marina and ramp. I looked like there would be some protection from that point east. There wouldn’t be as much fetch and more coves to hide in. Getting access to chart is a bit of a challenge when criss-crossing the country side. GPS doesn’t bother with lakes like this (at least not my chip) and buying charts for wherever you possibly may end up is too expensive. The woman at the front desk handed me a simple little map showing casino’s, campsites and restaurants, but it showed just enough to initially find my way around. Later I ended up with a map showing little more detail, but by no means a nautical chart.

 

Overall map of Clear Lake, with Buckingham Point in the middle

 

Map detail with the Buckingham Point on left

 

I made my way over there and talked to the marina manager. He in return asked the sheriff, who happened to sit right there, where I could find a sheltered anchorage for the night. The sheriff asked me if I was a good sailor because he didn’t want to ‘fetch’ me in the night (pun intended). Konocti Bay was what he recommended, with good protection from the wind, coming from the Northwest. It was about 6 PM when I motored out the protected marina and once outside noticed two foot breaking waves in The Narrows, rolling by the breakwater. I wasn’t going there, instead I was going to stay in the more sheltered area to the East, so put in two reefs and raised Dan’s storm jib. Now being in sheltered water means the waves are small, but the wind provides plenty challenges. It comes screaming over that hill in a rather unpredictable way. Moments of very little wind suddenly get followed up with abrupt gusts from various angels. It can slam into your sail and lean you way over, because the boat doesn’t have speed yet, accelerating the boat to over 5 knots quickly.

 

yellow storm jib

 

 

 

Once away from the so-called shelter, I got in a steadier breeze and reached downwind at a formidable speed of 6 to 6.5 knots. Landlubbers may not think much of this, but for a small boat sailor that’s pretty exciting! Fetch was starting to get on a plane in the gusts. I had my GPS out and once in a while it would read over 7 knots with one strong gust pushing us to 7.9 knots! Planing is pretty exciting, water shoots out both sides and the boat steadies as it gets on top of the water, rather than dragging through it. I hope you will excuse me from not having any photographs of Fetch planing!

 

The original boat as I bought it, called a Fulmar was designed by Iain Oughtred and was a sporty daysailer, light enough and with generous sail area (165 sf) to make her plane easily. As I converted her to a cruiser, I didn’t have planing in mind, but steady cruising. As I added structural weight in decks and cabin I also added 200 lbs of lead ballast to keep her upright. Instead of the original 400 lbs Fetch now weighs 1200 lbs. All in all, with the added weight and the double-reefed main with storm jib, she behaved splendidly. Never made me nervous, just enough adrenaline to provide an excellent exciting ride. Not that I wasn’t nervous, but that was residual nervousness from sailing her with her original working jib, which is twice the area (40 sf instead of 23 sf). The original jib hooks a little at the leech and is cut fuller, so it overpowers the boat in a stiff breeze. It takes a bit of time to gain trust in a boat in those circumstances under a new sail configuration. Even heading into the wind, she puts the rail down and just stays there, gently putting up with gusts. Instead of easing the main, I let here head up a little and ease off after the gust. Some violent gusts, like the ones coming over the hills, require easing he main in a hurry. Mind you, I have my hand on the main sheet at all times in these conditions. I installed the mainsheet jam cleat in the middle of the cockpit at deck level, just inches away from my hand, so I can ease her out in an instant and very controllably. I’ve also led the jib sheet to a spot well within reach so I never have to duck down to get it.

 

I found an excellent spot in the lee to spend the night. Instead of anchoring I opted to tie up to a dock and had a very simple dinner.

 

 

dinner

 

Sitting in my comfy reclining chair I read a bit in ‘The unlikely voyage of Jack the Crow’ by A J Mackinnon, a marvelous book that I had just borrowed from Dan. I crawled in my sleeping bag at about 9:30 and was trying to get used to all the noises around me. The gurgling of wavelets lapping against the laps of the hull (some people like this), the occasional groan of the dock lines, the wind in the trees on shore. At about midnight I still hadn’t slept yet and noticed the boat hitting the dock at times. That’s odd I thought, all this time we were pushed away from the dock. After a bit the boat started to roll as well as hitting the dock, once in a while rather harshly. I slowly started to come to the conclusion that I may have to do something about this, which is harder than it sounds when half asleep. I put some clothes on and stuck my head out of the hatch. It abruptly dawned to me that the wind had turned 180 degrees and was hitting me square on, slamming me into the dock. I could only assume that it would get worse in short order. The aforementioned wind turbine suddenly was running in reverse! I put my foulies on, started the motor and began to untie the dock lines. By now I even had a hard time keeping my balance on the heaving dock, so I kneeled down. In short order I backed away from the dock and was heading for shelter. It was pitch black and I realized that after a sun eclipse, the day before, there was not likely going to be moonlight any time soon.

 

Hauling Fetch in the middle of the night.

 

I was heading toward the other side of the cove, about a mile and a half away. Getting there, there wasn’t much shelter as the wind was ripping down the hill from different directions, but there were no waves except for a nervous rippling. I picked a spot and dropped anchor. Back in my sleeping bag I mused the fact that I always enjoyed reading about this kind of thing in voyaging books. Now I was the object of the theme. I don’t think I slept at all when around three o’clock the boat started to roll more and more. I wedged myself against the hull and tried to put up with it. After a while I poked my head outside and realized that the rolling was ridiculous. I didn’t have the centerboard lowered, slowing the roll down, because it bangs too much in the trunk. The rudder blade was up as well, to prevent damage from grounding in case of dragging the anchor, so the boat was rolling without any resistance.  This was unacceptable, even at this time a day. The wind had come around 180 degrees and now I was on a lee shore once again. Somehow the wind and the waves didn’t line up, so Fetch was kept square to the waves, rolling viciously. Oh well, anchor up and motor back to where I came from was going to be the remedy. I didn’t put up too much fuss and tried to enjoy the occasion. Once back, I didn’t tie to the dock, but anchored nearby. I finally slept and woke up at eight, with bright sun peeking through the portholes.

 

I made coffee and had something to eat and realized I had to use the bathroom. I figured people ashore wouldn’t appreciate seeing me emptying a bucket with suspicious matter overboard and I visualized the very sheriff I had met earlier, fining me for polluting CLEAR Lake. So far I had never used my porta-potty on Fetch and it was way back under the cockpit seat. It took a while to move stuff around and figure out the logistics, but finally I got the job done. I remembered that two years ago, when designing and constructing the cockpit seats, I had made sure the porta-potty would fit there and that there would be a way to actually use it if need be. It paid off, as did many other arrangements I had to figure out. Satisfying? Sure, but sometimes it seems that buying a production boat where everything is worked out for you and doesn’t take ages to build is tempting. I wonder for instance how it would be to own and use a Montgomery 15 or a 17. Relative to the effort to build a boat, a production boat is darn cheap.

All around me there were many Grebes doing their ‘thing’. In mating season they pair up and show off their courtship dance, which is pretty bizarre and graceful at the same time. They dive down to pick up a bunch of vegetation and try to impress each other. Successively they do a series of graceful bows, picking at their feathers on their backs and end up in an almost vertical position in the water. As if that isn’t enough, occasionally they suddenly both start running side by side across the water with their bodies clear above the water and their heads straight out in front, ending in a simultaneous dive under water. I’ve seen this in a nature movie once and was glad to witness it first hand. Their sounds reminded me of frogs, but with a higher pitch.

 

Grebe

 

 

 

I studied the chart and scoped out different places to explore. It was too early to just head back, the sun was out, the wind was blowing and it was warm! I had gained confidence in my reduced rig so I decided to go downwind first, find some lunch and just deal with heading back into it later. Again Fetch behaved beautifully going downwind at 5 to 6 knots. The wind wasn’t as strong as last night (yet). I went around Gooseneck Point and past Oak Cove I found a small marina to tie up in.

 

 

 

 

I found a nice restaurant and had another fabulous chicken salad. Wine and coffee made me feel on top of it all. After all, I had a long beat to weather ahead of me. I was watching the waves on the lake, with white caps all over and white streaks and felt a little intimidated. To delay my fate I spend some time in a park photographing a Green Heron (didn’t let me come close though) and some turtles.

 

 

 

Green Heron, didn't let me come close

 

 

Back at Fetch the wind seemed as strong as the night before, about 20 to 25 knots, I reckoned. There was absolutely nobody on the water and I was wondering why, assuming that everybody was at work, this being a weekday. I didn’t want to wait it out, because this could just go on as I had experienced the day before.I raised just the double reefed main first to see what would happen going upwind. Fetch tried, but only got to about 2.5 knots, which was not acceptable considering that my destination was about 7 miles upwind. Going 2.5 knots while tacking under main alone, would mean a beat of at least 5 to 6 hours and it was 2:30 already. I raised the storm jib and suddenly we were going a steady 4.5 knots and occasionally 5. That was more like it! Waves were once in a while crashing over the bow and giving me a good dunking. I hadn’t put on my foulies, because they make me feel constrained and sweaty. However it was warm enough to keep me from getting soaked as my pants had a chance to dry some before the next dunking. It took a while to realize that everything was actually OK, that I wasn’t irresponsible, I was just beating to weather in a good breeze with the boat trimmed just right. No weather helm, but nicely balanced, making good head way into the wind. I tacked in about 110 degrees. Sailing into these waves at 4.5 knots at about 55 degrees off the wind was just dandy for little Fetch, I thought.

I sailed big tacks across the lake, seeking for a bit of relieve at the other side. However I realized that while the waves are indeed lessened under the lee of a hill, the winds are instead harder to deal with. It comes twirling down those hills in an unpredictable manner and force that make you have to pay attention every moment. It was a toss up whether to prefer the more steady wind and higher waves in the middle of the lake. After about 3 hours of this I gladly slid into the marina entrance. I realized that out on the ocean one would be in this and much worse for days on end. Somehow that didn’t appeal to me at the moment, I was happy to be at the ramp. That night at the camp spot I was rewarded with a nice sunset.

 

reward

 

 

 

 

 

 

21 May

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Fetch; Going fishing with Jim and Ed

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May 20.

Six in the morning my alarm went off. Time for breakfast and driving over to Jim for our day of fishing on the ocean. We were hoping for a break in the wind and sure enough, there was none. Jim was ready with his truck hooked up to his Bayliner and we drove over to town.

 

 

This boat and trailer combination ways about 6000 lbs, but his truck had no trouble with it. Jim’s fishing buddy Ed had also just arrived, so we lowered the boat in the water and slowly headed out the Noyo River. Once through town and under the bridge, it turned foggy and we used the GPS and radar to find our way out. Half hour later the sun would come out. There was still some residual swell running of previous days wind, enough to make you having to brace yourself all the time.

 

early departure

 

 

 

 

Ed and Jim navigating out of the harbor in the fog

 

 

Ed baited the gear with herring and put it overboard. The gear consist of a metal flapper called a flasher, a lead weight to hold everything down, a hoochie to make it look like a squid inside which a herring is hooked to a barbless hook. You use barbless hooks to not hurt the fish so much in case you have to throw it back.

 

Ed putting bait on the gear

 

 

me sitting down and holding on

 

Weighted this way one gets to about 20 to 30 feet deep, because the boat is moving at 2 to 3 knots (trolling). If you want to go deeper to find fish there, you use a downrigger. This is a heavier wire on a separate reel with a much heavier lead ball on it. This ball can sink much deeper (100 to 200 feet) on a moving boat. The actual fish line you use with the rod is loosely clipped to this downrigger line and can therefore slide down to greater depth. Once the fish ‘hits’, the clip comes loose and you can start reeling in the fish. Being barbless, you stand the chance loosing the fish, so you have to keep tension on the line at all times while reeling in.

 

down rigger and rod

 

Having said all this however, we didn’t get so much as even a nibble on the bait. We spend a few hours looking for fish, changing gear and tactics several times to no avail. Shortly after eleven we headed back in the harbor a bit bummed, but that’s fishing; you never know.