Tony’s impressions – first leg
A full 3 years preparation has finally culminated in a departure! Wow, the years of .intense anticipation seemed to fade into oblivion in the hectic final days count-down. So much yet to do, and time is running out! One of our cruising friends gave us good advice: Make a new list “TO-DO IN MEXICO” We did!
Our crew for the first leg, Keith and Ben, arrived on Saturday and settled in to their respective quarters on-board. We enjoyed our open-boat and drop in Saturday afternoon. At one point we had 16 on-board and others on the dock! On Sunday we put out from the safety of Victoria Harbour in winds which gusted up to 40 knots. It was a good preparation and sobering exercise for what was to come in a few days!
My very good friend John Gardner came down to the dock first thing Monday morning to say goodbye. Thank you John! A few tearful farewells on the dock took place just after lunch. Thank you so much Madeleine for making it down …. It meant a lot to your dad. So, we did finally set out from Victoria on Monday August 22nd at 3:30pm in order to take advantage of the ebb-tide at Race Rocks later in the evening. We motored out past Ogden Point where our close and dear friends Jim and Anna McLauchlin waved to us and took photos. That was a highly emotional experience!
It seemed surreal to see the skyline of Victoria recede into the distance, realizing that we would not see it again for a few years. About a mile offshore we made rendezvous with “Nightide”, a lovely 46 foot Liberty cutter owned by our new friends, Ian and Helen, who would be “boat-buddying” with us to San Francisco. We were also touched by Jim Witter, our marina-landlord for the last three years, who sped out past the breakwater and came alongside to bid us farewell. All in all, a very emotional few days! As we busied ourselves hoisting all sail, suddenly the enormity of what we were about to embark upon hit us, or me, at very least.
The weather was lovely and benign as the forecast predicted and it remained so for the next couple of days. First evening out we experienced a fanatstic moonrise over calm water. We sailed down the Strait of Juan de Fuca in beautiful moonlight and made the BIG left-turn past Duntz Rock off Cape Flattery, WA, USA. Only 800 miles to San Fran!
Soon enough routine developed and we settled down to watches, food preparation, getting in and out of cumbersome safety gear, clipping on tethers, falling fully clothed onto a bunk or settee to catch up on a few hours sleep. Our buddyboat being much longer on the waterline was obviously faster. Ian and Helen slowed Nightide down and on occasion hove-to so we could catch up. We didn’t sail aggressively, but clipped along at a good pace for Mayaluga averaging about 5.5 knots (a bit over 6 miles an hour) and on occasion well over 6 knots. Tuesday went by without event, except for an increasing beam sea which induced a steady roll and we trundled along. We were not yet used to motion at sea, so bruises become somewhat normal, mostly around the hips and thighs.
Wednesday we decided to tweak our rig to gain some extra speed downwind. We rigged the boom-brake under the boom and hooked up a gybe preventer from the end of the boom to the rams horn on a midship scupper. Not totally elegant, but effective. We also decided to deploy the whisker pole to hold the genoa out on the opposite wing to the boom, wing-on-wing. It proved so effective that we maintained that configuration for over 24 hours until the wind piped up too strong to allow any margin of safety.
Thursday brought stronger wind conditions and huge confused seas as we made our way south about 120 miles offshore. Did I say huge? Yes, HUGE! We were eventually down to staysail only, having lashed the main onto the boom and rolled up the genoa. Whoa …. decided to put a reef into the staysail as we were surfing down the crests of 15 – 20 ft seas at what seemed like breakneck speeds in 30+ knots of wind. Life on-board very quickly became chaotic, impossible to cook, brew coffee, or even remain seated on the toilet! It was a wild ride, rolling and bucking because every few minutes we experienced a cross-sea roque wave which tossed us like crazy! Oh, did I fail to mention that we were unable to down load any weather forecasts after leaving Victoria? The very expensive SSB (Single side band high frequency ham radio) would not process our email requests for grib files or weather charts. Oh well , just plough ahead and do what we can with what we have. We have a good solid boat and a great crew. Was there some puking over the side? Yes! Was there some element of fear mixed with an overdose of adrenalin? Yes! Was it fun? I guess it was exhiliarating anyway.
By noon on Friday everything changed. It seemed like we had endured this chaos for days, but it was only about 36 hours. Within a few more hours the wind died and the seas flattened. Soon we hoisted all the sail we had in order to maintain speed. Eventually the sails just slatted in windless conditions because Mayaluga was still rolling from residual cross seas. There was no option but to fire up the engine, and that was to be the sound we heard all through Saturday, and all through Sunday, and into Monday as we approached the Golden Gate Bridge. As we closed into the coast it brought us into contact with fairly thick shipping traffic, on occasion we were monitoring up to three ships at a time to ensure we were not on collision course. Unfortunately we had lost contact with Nightide, our buddy-boat during the storm. We lost radio contact with them and they dissapeared from our AIS screen. What a pity. We obviously hoped they were OK but felt at peace because they had a good vessel and were a competent couple.
AND THEN …. the Golden Gate came into view! What a sight!! Another item would be off my bucket list as we sailed under the massive structure. And then the most strange thing happened! Nightide sailed into view as we closed distance towards the Golden Gate bridge. We discovered afterwards that they had been able to keep rough track of where we were by using their Sat-Phone to text a relative in New Zealand, who used the internet to track our position, and then relay our Lat and Long positions back by text! The marvels of modern communications are staggering. Sailing under the bridge side-by-side afforded great photgraphic opportunities which we could not have captured without a buddy-boat! Thank you Ian and Helen.
Thank you to our crew! Both Keith and Ben displayed courage, skill, and consistency in the face of sometimes very challenging conditions. Karin was a star! She even baked a dozen muffins in crappy conditions …. the crew wolfed them down in a matter minutes. All in all, a great first leg. good company, good food, and good memories.
As we passed under the Golden Gate Bridge we cracked open a bottle of bubbly which Peter and connie had presented to us just prior to our departure! Memories to last a lifetime!!