Monday, September 23, 2013

It's an Adventure, not a Vacation

Sailing Away in St Helens (photo credit: An Der Chang)

Do you really want to hear all about it? Can't you just imagine that 4 people on a 50-year-old boat heading south on the Oregon Coast would have had a few breakdowns, some bad weather, some good weather, some good days, and some bad days without hearing every detail? No? OK, here are the details.

We took a few days to reach Astoria. Our first night downriver, a thunderstorm revealed a few leaks, mostly in newly installed deck hardware (After all that work poking holes in the boat, now we have to seal them too?!)

The next day, we stopped in Cathlamet, WA for the night after a day of motoring downriver.

OK, that last sentence, while technically true, doesn’t really give the whole picture of how the day went. I spent the morning throwing a mini-tantrum, pulling out soggy paraphernalia from various compartments and wondering how I was ever going to feel at home in the tiny, messy galley. There was still miscellaneous stuff all over the settee from moving aboard so clearing any space necessitated moving about a dozen other things in the right order. Even making a simple sandwich felt overwhelming. When I finished up what I could and took over for Bryan on watch, he came down to a mess in the V berth where a blackwater holding tank valve had ruptured. Yes, that’s just as icky and smelly as you’re picturing.

By the time we reached Astoria on Saturday, it had become clear that our head’s sea cock had broken. This valve keeps the ocean out of the boat but allows us to dump our holding tank while out at sea. The valve is below the waterline, so sensible people replace them when the boat is out of the water. We’d recently replaced another one when we did our bottom paint, but this one had looked fine then.

We spent a few days in Astoria. By Sunday afternoon, we had things put to rights enough to welcome some friends aboard for a potluck lunch. They’d been camping in nearby Fort Stevens State Park and we were so glad to show them around the boat and see them once again before we left.
Photo Credit: An Der Chang

Monday, we finished up the head repair job. Meira relayed directions from Bryan, who was leaning over the side of the boat holding his hand over the hole, to Hannah, who “really quick!” pulled out the temporary plug on the inside and screwed in the new sea cock. Whew! Since we were already in this deep, Bryan replaced all the head and holding tank hoses and took advantage of the marina’s free showers.

Tuesday morning, we checked the weather one last time (yup, north winds to blow us south predicted to stick around another day) waited for the fog to lift a bit and headed out across the bar. The fog may have lifted in Astoria, but was still hovering thick over the several-mile bar. We sent Meira up on bow watch, Hannah and I each kept a close eye out on either side and Bryan drove carefully, just on the edges of the busy channel, blowing the noisy fog horn every few minutes. Once, a deeper horn responded from just ahead and we blew back and forth until we heard them shift safely off to port.

There’s no picture here. Go hold some dryer lint in front of your eyes to get the same effect.

By the time we cleared the mouth of the Columbia, the fog had cleared away as well and the wind filled in for a few hours of sailing. In the afternoon, the wind picked up a bit. We had our light-air drifter poled out with our whisker pole and just before we went forward to change sails, the whisker pole broke. Getting the sail down took a bit more fuss than usual, and when Bryan finally had it tied down on deck, I looked up to realize our spreaders had both fallen out of place.

Here’s the explanation if you care. A sailboat’s mast is held up by cables in front (the forestay), in  back (the backstay) and on each side. Our boat has 3 cables on each side, 2 lower shrouds that start about halfway up the mast and attach to the chainplates (remember the chainplates from the last post?), and 1 upper shroud  that starts at the top of the mast, travels over a wooden spreader and down to its own chainplate. The spreaders do just that: they spread the cables out at the correct angle to keep the mast up straight. They are very important. They should not flop around at sea.
See? Up there? Spreaders...spreading (Photo Credit: Jenny Riddle)

We’ve adjusted our spreaders before. Bryan had re-tuned the rig before we left St. Helens, in fact, and he was pretty sure that nothing was broken; the new chainplates were set at a slightly different angle than the old ones, and the spreaders needed to be lifted a little to compensate. But the wind and the seas had picked up a bit and he didn’t want to climb the mast under those conditions. Oh, and the only way to get the spreaders back up without climbing the mast (have you guessed?) was with our now-broken whisker pole.
We briefly considered heading into Tillamook Bay for the night, but the bar can be treacherous even for locals, and we’d never been across it before. We took a minute to think, almost always a good idea, and then splinted the whisker pole back together. Bryan made up for the loss of length by standing on the dinghy on the foredeck (tethered in!) and poked the spreaders back into place while I drove into the swells, trying not to think about what I would do if he fell.

The spreaders soon became the least of our concerns as a southerly wind filled in both earlier and stronger than predicted. We didn’t want to sail in wind this strong without a good inspection of the rig so we motored west most of the night just to keep from bashing around too much in the swell. Visibility dropped to not-nearly-far-enough and our auto pilot gave up steering. Bryan took the worst of the watch in the middle of the night, but it was a long night for both of us. Meira stayed cheerfully, helpfully awake through most of the night and Hannah stayed cheerfully, helpfully asleep. In the light of day, with a few extra hours sleep, it was easy to think of better ways to handle the bad weather. But at this point in our trip, our energy and excitement were pretty low; mostly we just gritted our teeth through a rough night and a long day slogging south into Newport.
Yaquina Bay Lighthouse

We made it across the bar into Yaquina Bay without any trouble, though we had some last minute excitement in the marina when our assigned slip was taken and our high-temperature alarm started blaring. Bryan killed the engine and we drifted in—watching the depth sounder drop—to an empty spot at the dock.
I think no matter how prepared, how rich, how experienced one is, the beginning of a trip like this is often a big adjustment. And we do not claim to be overly-prepared, overly-experienced, or anything resembling rich. Many sailing friends claim that getting away from home is the hardest part, and that may prove to be true in retrospect. But sailing off the Oregon coast is not usually easy, neither is living aboard an older boat with a family, and we didn’t expect it to be so. The frustrations, fears, and crises we handled might have been surprises, but they weren’t unexpected.

So we set the girls up with a movie on the computer, and went out to dinner at the nearby brewery, wondering, affirming, reminding…”It gets easier, right?”
Whatever you want is always at the bottom of the locker

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