Thursday, October 29, 2015

Day 58-59 of the 2nd Voyage: In which we finally arrive in San Diego a day late (well…seven weeks) and a dollar short (well…a couple boat bucks) but wouldn’t have it any other way.

After a successful run to Oceanside for an overnight stay, we set out in the morning for the final leg of our journey. Despite all of the problems with the transmission, we knew we would make it San Diego—if only because we made a pact that should we break down, we would have Vessel Assist tow us there. But make it there we did and under our own steam, which made our entry into San Diego Bay that much more triumphant.

That being said, we had a long time to bask in our glory. San Diego Bay is huge! You’ve got the city on one side (including an airport and a military base) and Coronado Island on the other (which also has a military base but it’s slightly cooler than the other one because they’ve got helicopters and jets) and in between the two is a large expanse of water where not only are there a dozen marinas, terminals and commercial docks, but it’s also where the navy likes to park their battleships. In fact, the bay is so big that they have one aircraft carrier on the city side and another on the island side and yet there’s still plenty of room to fit a small country (a well-protected small country!) in the middle. Connecting city side with island side is the Coronado Bridge which stretches upwards of 200 feet at mid-span but apparently only crosses a body of water that's two feet deep, which we discovered when we ran aground. Did I mention we ran aground in the middle of San Diego Bay? We totally ran aground. In our defense…when one is faced with a 200 foot high bridge spanning a wide bay and there are battleships on the other side of the bridge, doesn’t it stand to reason that the water underneath the taller spans would be dredged deep enough to accommodate a navy destroyer? You know, a ship with a 60-foot draft? We certainly thought so, especially since we were following the channel markers and keeping the red buoys on our right as per protocol. It was only when we started catching on the seabed that we looked back and realized the channel had split into two separate channels right under the span with one making a dogleg to the left side and the other making a sharp turn to right. (Thanks, unnamed cruising guide that starts with a "D" for neglecting to mention that.) Fortunately, the sand was soft and we were able to nudge our way back into the proper channel. Luckily, the only witnesses to our little faux pas were the two 12-man navy teams zipping around us in their high-speed boats, the crews of two military police boats waiting in the channel for the return of “Warship 25”, the dock crews waiting for “Warship 25”, the four helicopters keeping tabs on “Warship 25”, and in all likelihood “Warship 25” as I’m sure we were on their radar. Editor’s Note: Though news of its imminent return was all over the VHF, we didn’t actually get to see “Warship 25”. It’s too bad…I’ve never seen a battleship with a two foot draft before.

At last, a little over an hour after entering San Diego Bay, we passed through the breakwater at Chula Vista Marina—the place we will call home for the next few months as we complete some projects aboard Raven, recharge our resolve, and determine where we go from here.  We learned a lot, but you’ll have to wait a couple days to read about it. The first order of business is to crack open a bottle of champagne, sit back and watch the sun set over the bay, and wonder aloud, “Did we really just travel 1300 miles by boat from Puget Sound to San Diego? How the hell did we manage that?”

SPECIAL THANKS to Pam and Mike of S/V Kamalani Kai in Everett for the champagne. We had saved it to celebrate our arrival in San Diego and must admit there were times we thought it would go unopened (and a couple times we thought it would be destroyed during the rough stuff). It was probably the best champagne we’ve ever had!


Pictured: Moet & Chandon Imperial Champagne (aka Our Fave!)
Not Pictured: The plastic cups we drank it out of (the glass ones didn't survive the trip)

Pictured: San Diego coming into view
Not Pictured: The parade, fireworks and key to the city (alas, only in our heads)
Pictured: Approaching the Coronado Bridge
Not Pictured: The look of wonder turned to shock upon realizing it was merely a fancy crossing for a duck pond

Monday, October 26, 2015

Day 52-57 of the 2nd Voyage: In which we finally find ourselves in Southern California (and on our own terms) but we may have another problem.

Morro Bay to Long Beach: Resolved to make the 180-mile journey to Long Beach and faced with a 26-hour passage, a transmission that has still not proven itself to be 100% trustworthy, and the one-two punch of Point Arguello and Point Conception (i.e. the “Cape Horn of the Pacific”), we did what any gun shy crew would do…we brought in a professional. Now when we mentioned to some of our dock mates in Morro Bay that we were utilizing the services of a local delivery captain, many of them looked at us as if we had a) lost a bet, b) received one free delivery skipper with the purchase of another of equal or greater value, or c) finally come to terms with the fact that on the Master and Commander scale, my boating expertise was somewhere near a Captain Ron. In other words, they couldn’t understand why we were so concerned about Point Conception that we felt we needed help. (And yes, the answer is “C” but still, they don’t understand.) You see, many of them had years of sailing experience, most had made the trek from central to southern California numerous times (and with the benefit of a working transmission), and a few were just idiots*, but almost all felt that the best way to gain experience was to just get out there on your own and deal with whatever the sea throws at you aka the “sink or swim” method. Now I can totally respect that and I’m all for getting out there and doing it (well, maybe not so much the sinking or swimming part—neither sounds very appealing when you’re 15 miles offshore), but in the grand scheme of things, I’d much rather my “experience” come with training wheels. I prefer my moments of fear, apprehension, and extreme uncomfortableness be reasonably doled out and interspersed with periods of calm, contentment and excitement. And if that keeps us in the harbor longer than most or necessitates another crew member, then so be it. Besides, I’m not really sure what experience you gain when clinging to the rails and praying that you’re not going to be the “fun size” version of the Poseidon Adventure.

As for the Captain, he’s basically a crew of one until my skills improve, so it’s more reassuring for him to have one other person on board who not only knows what they’re doing but knows the best routes around the points and can be of help should something go horribly wrong (I’m looking at you, engine room.) And that’s how James came to be part of the Raven crew on the passage from Morro Bay to Long Beach. This particular route is his specialty and the trip couldn’t have gone smoother. We hit an optimal weather window, found a route just far enough offshore to reduce the effects of swell, and kept the watches to three hours to combat fatigue. To top it all off, the transmission did its job and kept the bitching to a minimum (a little discharge of oil, but nothing to be too concerned about). By the time we reached Long Beach, confidence levels were rising. It would have been a near-perfect voyage had not the docking gone totally awry. But that was less about line handling and more about bad directions and an outdated marina map. Editor’s Note: Should you find yourself at Alamitos Bay Marina, be advised that docks 1-3 are now just 1, dock 4 is 2, dock 5 is 3, and so on. And if they assign you 3A, be aware there is no 3A but there is a 3B so go ahead and sidle in there. And, oh, try not to miss getting on the boat when it pulls away from the check-in dock as it makes it very difficult to direct the boat into the slip which no longer exists and then convey to the boat that 5 is now 3 (and there is no 3A) especially when the office has no VHF, the Captain won’t answer his cell phone and for some reason he can’t decipher your wild hand gestures as you run from dock to dock trying to determine which one is “right down from the Crab Pot”. Suffice to say, it got a little f*cked up.

But at last we did get tied up on the end of dock 3, walked down the length of the dock to the Crab Pot restaurant, and celebrated a successful journey with four liter-size mugs of beer. Editor’s Note: Try to avoid the tables under the palm trees. If the tree itself isn’t dropping things on you, the squirrels and the birds are. One of them managed a bullseye right into the Captain’s mug. Luckily it was just a seed pod; had it been something else, he would have opened a can of Wild Kingdom on their asses.

So what’s the problem? We really love it here! Alamitos Bay is spectacular. The marina here is modern, clean, and beautifully landscaped. Seal Beach and Naples Island are within easy walking distance. We’re in close proximity to stores and services. And the Pacific Ocean is just beyond the jetty with Catalina Island only a few hours away. (I hear that Los Angeles is around here somewhere but I won’t hold that against it.) Maybe it’s because we’re warm and wearing flip-flops while the “drizzle days” of winter commence back in Washington, or maybe it’s because we’ve finally reached Southern California after a long and occasionally-arduous journey, or maybe it’s whatever the palm trees are dropping in our drinks, but for whatever reason we’ve fallen hard for this place and for a brief moment we were wondering if we even needed to continue going south. But this second voyage of the odyssey can only end in San Diego, so onward we go. Tomorrow we set out for Oceanside.

*You didn’t think I’d let that “idiot” remark slide without commenting on it, did you? Maybe “idiot” is a strong word, but as we were waiting for our weather window in Morro Bay, a Bayliner motor yacht came in late one night and tried to raft up next to us. They had just bought the boat and were on their way to Mexico and judging by the way they handled the craft, it became apparent to me that they had no idea what they were doing. And I don’t say this because they only had two dinghy fenders on a 50’ boat; or that their lines looked like they came off of a clothesline; or that it took six people to get them tied off because he couldn’t quite manage the docking. I say this because the following morning as they set out to leave I asked them if they were concerned about the conditions around Point Conception and the reply was, “Oh? I didn’t hear the weather. Is the weather supposed to be bad?” I explained that the forecast called for 10 foot seas and 15-20 knot winds with gusts of up to 35. “Is that bad?” they asked and then immediately remarked, “Oh well, guess it’s good experience.” Ten minutes later, they were gone. I often wondered how they fared. My guess is that if they stopped along the way and picked up a professor, a movie star, a millionaire and his wife then we won’t be hearing from them for a while.
Pictured: The First Mate and Otter at Seal Beach
Not Pictured: Seals. What's up with that?
Pictured: Alamitos Bay Harbor as seen from the deck of Raven
Not Pictured: Drizzle (it couldn't get past Point Conception)
Pictured: Squirrel at Crab Pot bar scouting out his next bombing target
Not Pictured: Ammo. He's still working on that.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Day 45-51 of the 2nd Voyage: In which we lose another week, but resolve to resume our journey come hell or high water (transmission be damned).

Richard the Mechanic offered to drive down to Morro Bay—a “mere” four-hour drive—but as his first opportunity to do so would be at least 10 days out, we opted to try a more “virtual” approach. So Richard gave the Captain a list of things to check, settings to tweak, and gear maneuvers to try, and after a morning of back-and-forth phone calls, the signs all pointed to a control valve. The offending valve was removed, FedExed to Richard in Santa Rosa, checked, repaired, FedExed back to Morro Bay, and reinstalled. Total time elapse: three days.

Unfortunately, in those three days, we lost our weather window and would have to wait four more days for favorable conditions to get around our last geographic challenge for this voyage: Point Conception. Known as the “Cape Horn of the Pacific”, this is the place where the Pacific Ocean meets the Santa Barbara Channel so much like Cape Flattery in Washington, it has a reputation for large waves, big swells, and a lot of wind—all ingredients for creating a nasty gale and/or “uncomfortable” conditions. There are no places to duck in should the weather get sketchy so it’s important to watch the forecasts, identify a two-day window of tolerable weather, and then try to time your passage so that you’re rounding the point at night as that’s when the seas tend to be calmer. And you definitely don’t want to make the journey between November and March because that’s when the conditions really deteriorate—so understandably we want to hit this window because Morro Bay is a nice place but we really don’t want to spend the winter here.

Admittedly, we have probably psyched ourselves out a bit but having endured the rough passage around Cape Flattery, the “strong breezes” off of Cape Blanco, and the sh*t storm that was Cape Mendocino, we have come to have a healthy respect for places with bad reputations. Here in Morro Bay, we’ve talked to many boaters who have made the passage around Point Conception and most—if not all—have shrugged it off as being “not that bad” as long as you’re going south, although there were a few that headed out only to come right back in because apparently “not that bad” can still kick your butt.

So we have pinpointed our weather window and have decided that not only are we heading out, we’re going for distance—a 180 mile, 20-25 hour voyage from Morro Bay to Long Beach where we will stay for a couple of days to gather ourselves and wonder what the hell did we just do? We are all hopeful that maybe—finally—this time the transmission will give us zero problems, yet are hesitant to commit to being overly optimistic. After failing so many times, we’ve begun to lose confidence in the entire mechanical system. I think at this point we could put in a brand new transmission and still not be 100% confident that it would work—that’s how bad the juju is in the engine room.

But all there is to do now is get back out there and see. The transmission will either work or it won’t. If it dies, we sail as far as we can and then call Vessel Assist to get us into the closest port. If it lives and gets us successfully to Long Beach, then we may finally—if tentatively—call the transmission “fixed”. Point Conception may very well be where we find out. You see, before the Spaniards came along and renamed everything, the native Chumash people called the point “Humqaq” and believed it was the “Western Gate” where the souls of the dead leave the earth to begin their journey to paradise. Taken metaphorically, this could symbolize our own voyage—the two years of preparation, the shakedown cruise from Everett up through British Columbia where we spent a month in purgatory (dba Campbell River) before returning to Washington, then our passage out to the Pacific and down the coast to this—the gateway to Southern California, San Diego, and our next jumping off point to places unknown but hopefully resembling paradise. Taken more allegorically, it could mean that our transmission is about to shake off its mortal metal coils and go to that big engine in the sky (where I hope they have a mechanic because I don’t think Richard will go there.) Either/or I guess we’ll find out tomorrow. Incidentally, in the Chumash language, “Humqoq” means “The Raven Comes”. And yes, the Raven is coming…whether we’re ready or not.
Pictured: Our Washington state flag after having endured a hodgepodge of weather in British Columbia, high winds along the Washington coast, a gale along the Oregon coast, and whatever the hell that was along the Northern California coast. We're going to retire old George...he's seen enough.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Day 41-44 of the 2nd Voyage: In which it’s one step forward and two steps back but at least we’re 100 miles closer to our destination.

Richard the Mechanic returned on Saturday with the transmission in tow and the “smoking gun” in a small sandwich baggie. It seems that inside the valve that feeds the oil into the transmission was a cylindrical object with another cylindrical object inside it and a spring. Now there should definitely be a cylindrical object inside there as it regulates the flow of oil; but the object(s) inside ours were squatters. The general consensus now is that when the previous owner was having transmission trouble, his mechanic identified this same valve problem and went to replace the part...only he either did not have or could not get the part so he took the part off of a different model and “made it fit”. And much like me trying to stow eight bottles of wine in a space built for six and wondering why it suddenly smells “vineyardy” after a rough voyage, sometimes “making it fit” can have less than stellar results. Of course this mechanic—being an overachiever—actually made two things “fit”: the outer casing of the part was too long so it was squished in till it actually bent, while the inner casing was not long enough so a spring was added to fill up the space. End result? A “design” that not only hindered oil flow, it hindered future mechanics from fixing the problem by being wedged in there so tight. But unwedge it Richard did and when the transmission with its new, model-correct part was finally reinstalled, it passed its sea trials with flying colors—maintaining proper PSI and not leaking, spewing, or spitting fluid of any kind. With tentative optimism, we planned to set out the next day.
Pictured: A trifecta of trouble.
Not Pictured: The transmission it belongs to cuz it definitely ain't ours!
Santa Cruz to Monterey: It was just a three-hour jaunt across the bay and served more for confidence-boosting than anything else but the air was warm, the water smooth, and in spite of the fog it felt good to be underway again. We had no troubles whatsoever—the transmission performed admirably. It would have been a perfect little crossing had it not been for the game of musical slips we got to play at the marina. The nice thing about most marinas, especially those run by a municipal port, is that they will always try to make room for you. Sometimes it works, sometimes you wish you had never asked. I had called ahead to the Port of Monterey for availability and after much thought—during which I could hear the shuffling of papers, the clicking of a computer keyboard, and the hum of other voices—I was told “H1. It’s all the way down at the end nearest to the harbor wall where they offload the fish. It’s a bit shorter than you so you’ll stick out a bit. And you may want to put out fenders on both sides.” Wait. What? That didn’t sound good. When we finally got in to the marina, we found “H” dock and headed down, way down, and there at the end was the largest purse seiner fishing boat I’d ever seen squeezed into a marina slip. I called the harbor office and said, “There’s a giant fishing boat in our spot.” “Oh no. Your slip is on the other side of him; in between him and the wall. You’ll want to watch his stern—it’s sticking out a bit—but you can do it.” I’m glad he’s so confident in our abilities. But that stern that was sticking out? Try jutting out twenty feet into the waterway—like a big, steel Cape Horn. And when the Captain finally rounded it, the “slip” turned out to be a small area of fetid water with creosote pilings on one side, a small finger dock with sea lion barriers on the other side, and about two cleats for the whole thing. Oh, hell no. I called the harbor back. “This won’t work. What else you got?” More paper shuffling, more murmurs. “Okay. Go back out to the entrance and come back again to “A” dock, there’s room along the end tie. But do us a favor and back in. Oh, and go as far south along the dock as you can.” Okay. We head out of “H” and find “A” dock. I call the harbor office again. “Um, yeah. About ‘A’ dock. There’s a schooner there already. If we dock in front of him, we’ll be sticking out into the waterway.” There’s a pause and then he says, “Wait. How big are you again? What’s on ‘A’? A boat?” At this point I’m beginning to get the feeling this guy has lost control of his marina. I look over at “B” dock and say, “B end tie is empty. Can we have “B?” Another pause and then, “Oh, ‘B’ is empty? Yeah, why don’t you go head and tie up on ‘B’—that’ll work.” After we got squared away, I went up to the office and he remarked. “I’m pretty sure you could have gotten into H1 with some fancy maneuvering.” “Probably,” I said, “But I didn’t want to disturb the sea lions. They were doing such a great job of totally ignoring your barriers. Besides, ‘B’ will work perfectly.” “Oh. ‘B’ was open?” Sheesh.

Monterey to San Simeon: It was a long 12-hour slog, but we finally reached San Simeon right at sunset. There’s nothing there—just a short dock for the day-trippers heading up to Hearst Castle—and unfortunately, “nothing” also pertained to the lighted buoys that were supposed to be there to indicate the best places to anchor (as in, “here are the rocks so don’t anchor here”). Without any guides (and no other boats), we had to guesstimate the best place to drop anchor. The good news is that it was an excellent anchoring. The bad news is that we were a little farther out than maybe we could have been and the wind was coming from the south which, since the harbor is not protected from the south, meant rolly (very, very rolly) conditions all night. And big side-to-side action is not conducive to a good night’s sleep. Luckily the next day’s journey was not that long.
Pictured: The sun setting on the San Simeon anchorage.
Not Pictured: The large kelp beds that you must navigate to get in (trust me, I'm going somewhere with this.)

Pictured: The Deck Boss doing battle with the flies that congregate on aforementioned kelp beds and seek refuge on our boat (see?)
Not Pictured: The carnage. The Deck Boss has a mean swat.
San Simeon to Morro Bay: A mere three-hour trip—the highlight of which was crossing through a pod of about a hundred dolphins! —and one we were glad to make in the daylight. If you’re not familiar with Morro Bay, “morro” is Spanish for “rock” and there is a giant rock right at the entrance to the harbor (seriously, look it up—it’s a giant 530 foot tall rock) with a seawall stretching out and nearly meeting a breakwater stretching from the other shore. Great waves break on either side and in the middle of the seawall and the breakwater is a narrow entrance where you must cross a bar. A bar is a big mass of sand that accumulates at the entrance of a river or harbor and if you don’t cross them at the right time, you can get stuck. And that’s embarrassing when it's a minor "stuck", and boat destroying if it’s major. But the Captain cleared the bar like a pro, navigated the twisty turny channel, and performed a tricky docking. Good spirits all around—until a clunking noise was heard coming from the engine…

Pictured: Morro Rock ~ English Translation: Rock Rock
Not Pictured: Sense

Friday, October 9, 2015

Day 31-40 of the 2nd Voyage aka The Lost Days: In which we patiently bide our time and ponder the significance of premonitions, punch cards, and ill-timed comments.

Richard the Mechanic made the three-hour trip from Santa Rosa a few days into our Santa Cruz residency and spent a couple hours down in the engine room with the Captain before hauling away the transmission for yet another trip to his shop. In hindsight, we should have gotten the transmission a punch card as it’d be well on its way to a free trip and/or a spa day at Jiffy Lube.

Since that day, the Captain has been fielding calls from Richard—procuring part numbers from engine components, tracing hose paths, and testing out non-transmission theories—to help him zero in on what exactly is ailing our little hunk of junk. The Captain has also been conducting an informal search for a new transmission…just in case. Our mechanic back in Everett told him that a new transmission had a 90% chance of curing all of our ills. So what happens if our ailment falls into that 10% range? What problem does that point to? The mechanic’s answer? “Who knows.” Okay, but can Mr. Who get the parts?

In and around the transmission, we have been filling our days being tourists and locals in turn. We rented a car for a few days—a brand new (as in 15 miles on the odometer), black-on-black Jeep Compass aka The Gutless Wonder (seriously, it had all the oomph of a constipated possum)—and then as our stay gradually lengthened, took to calling Enterprise every morning saying, “we’re going to keep the car one more day; we’ll return it tomorrow—promise!” and then calling again the next day, and the next. We finally gave up the car before we went broke. When you don’t own a car (and therefore don’t have car insurance) you are obliged to purchase insurance from the rental agency—which will easily double the rental rate. It’s steep, but it’s all-encompassing. And I’ll tell you what...knowing you can drive a brand new car off the lot, return what’s left of it in a shopping cart, and then just walk away brings a whole new level of freedom to driving a car!

But we made the most of it while we had it. We did the touristy things, of course. We spent a morning at the historic Boardwalk where the Captain soundly beat us at putt-putt (or in the Deck Boss’ case, putter-putter); spent an afternoon driving north along the Pacific coast where we had hoped to have lunch in the small town of Davenport, but could only find one café and it was full (we had read that there were six restaurants. Of course, when entering from the south, they list the population at 405, but say it’s 382 when coming from the north—so they clearly can’t count.); and even spent some time watching the surfers on our way to Capitola where we found a seaside restaurant where happy hour may have started at 2:00 pm but the drinks were so weak it’d be 8:00 pm before you cracked a smile. Editor’s Note: this was a rare misstep but it evens out via the discovery of the 99 Bottles of Beer restaurant. So-so food, but a beer selection that’s off the charts. We could have started a punch card to track all the ones we drank, but didn’t. Too bad because we ended up going again and I’m pretty sure I could have gotten a double punch for the hard root beer ice cream float (yeah, you heard right.) And of course we visited the beaches. Many are within walking distance of the marina, but the Captain and I drove up north to Scott Creek Beach where we shared a mile of gloriously-warm sand and surf with only a handful of other people.

On Wednesday, we tempted fate. Monterey has an aquarium (a “world-class” aquarium, we’d been told) and is an easy drive down the coast from Santa Cruz. Monterey will also, probably, be our next port—our jumping off point to Morro Bay. A week ago—when we were a bit more pessimistic—the question had been posed, “Should we go to the aquarium now, or should we wait until we break down in Monterey?” In a moment of optimism, we threw caution to the wind and headed down the highway. Besides, if it’s as wonderful as they say it is, we can always go again. Editor’s Note: We don’t need to go again. If you’re planning on going, be sure to find a coupon…and bring your own fish.

Otter, unfortunately, is not allowed in “world class” aquariums or awesomely-cheesy, pirate-themed putt-putt golf courses like the one at the Boardwalk. But that’s okay, because he spent some fun-filled days at the Bed & Biscuits Doggy Daycare showing those California dogs how the big dogs play. When we brought him in the first day, they asked if we’d like to buy a punch card for ten discounted visits but we declined stating that we didn’t think we’d be in Santa Cruz that long. Later on, when we picked him up after his fifth visit, the guy remarked, “You should have got the punch card, huh?”

The day before we gave up the car, we ran around and did errands—reprovisioned mainly—as there are really no good markets within walking distance of the harbor. Of course we found ourselves at Costco. Now I won’t trot out the typical “everything at Costco is so big” witticism (I don’t have to—Costco published their own joke book…it’s 6,542 pages long) because truth is, I love Costco—I love the fact that you can walk in for staples (beer, bacon and coffee) and walk out with something totally unexpected (lawn chair, falafel and a casket). At any rate, as we were trying to squeeze another case of beer into an already over-flowing cart, I remarked, “Wow. It almost looks as if we’re getting ready to head out again!” The Captain and the Deck Boss both glared. “Don’t say that!” they said in unison. “Wow. It almost looks as if we’re getting ready for a huge staying-in-Santa Cruz party!” I backtracked. Because this is what we’ve become…superstitious people afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing for fear of jinxing a positive outcome. We’ve taken to talking in cypher, second-guessing our intuitions, and interpreting omens in the most mundane of incidents.

The last day we had the car, we stopped at the Entenmann’s outlet. We had passed by the place countless times and the temptation for donuts had finally become too great. I pondered how many boxes to get by calculating the number of days it would take to get to San Diego divided by the weak will of someone addicted to frosted-chocolate donuts and then realized I was doing it again—I was putting the voyage in jeopardy by believing we would actually be going on a voyage. I resigned myself to the fact that I should just buy the number of boxes that I could consume in the parking lot because these donuts were never leaving the zip code, so I grabbed four. At the checkout, the cashier asked if I would like a punch card. I looked down at the little crudely-cut, photocopied card in her hand—good at that store only—and wondered why I would need a punch card that would be totally useless anywhere else in the world. And then it hit me...maybe I was going about this all wrong. Maybe you don’t get a punch card to use it; maybe you get one so you won’t need it. And we certainly wouldn’t need it in San Diego. It was a sign! (Or at least a good theory.) Did I want a punch card? Damn straight I want a punch card. And ten more boxes of donuts, please.
Pictured: Otter and the Captain at Scott Creek Beach
Not Pictured: The madding crowd
Pictured: Pirate-themed mini golf at the Boardwalk
Not Pictured: The Deck Boss' "putt" from hole 4 that landed at hole 6
Pictured: Bad photograph of hammerhead shark at Monterey Bay Aquarium
Not Pictured: The 15 minutes waiting for it to come around again so bad photograph could be taken
Pictured: Best attempt at photo of hyperactive Puffin hopped up on espresso, adrenaline, and spiked squid. Seriously, you would have thought the water was on fire. If you do go to the aquarium, he's over by the sharks. Bring a lawn chair and a falafel--you'll want to catch all his shows.


Friday, October 2, 2015

Day 30 of the 2nd Voyage: In which you should probably be careful what you wish for, should definitely be wary of what you joke about, and in actuality should probably just shut up altogether.

Remember when our mechanic Richard jokingly said that he’d drive down to Santa Cruz if the transmission crapped out? Richard is totally driving down to Santa Cruz to go another round with the transmission. He hasn’t been to Santa Cruz in 30 years. Half Moon Bay was a professional challenge. This time it’s personal.

He has 42 years of experience, has a stellar reputation throughout Santa Rosa, is the trusted mechanic of commercial fisherman from Bodega Bay down to Half Moon Bay, and is the go-to diesel mechanic for one of the largest agricultural outfits on the coast. Let’s just say he knows a little something about transmissions. And he’s being taken to school by our 33-year old hunka hunka burning junk.

At this point, the Captain is wondering if we just shouldn’t bite the bullet and purchase a new transmission but in the battle of man vs. machine, Richard will not tap out. He’s been reading and re-reading the service manuals; has dismantled a similar transmission at his shop to compare the components; is studying the email communications between Raven’s previous owner and Borg-Warner, the manufacturer, in regards to this same problem ten years ago; has called Borg-Warner to discuss said problem ten years ago; and has studied up on exorcism rites in the remote (or not) chance that the thing is just possessed.

He fervently believes that the transmission is fundamentally sound and if he can just put his finger on the straw, then we can save the camel’s back. We appreciate his dedication and we know that he’s looking out for us. After all, a new transmission is upwards of 4-5 boat bucks; if he can work his magic, we’ll only be into it for half that. But the fact of the matter is that we are running out of ports. There are no safe harbors between Monterey Bay and Morro Bay—only a 100 mile slog between the two. We have to be able to rely on our engine, especially if there is no wind or—worse—a wind that wants to blow us toward shore (a very rocky shore). Monterey (the city) is our last port before we embark on this 14-hour journey.

Though confident that he will win the war this time around, he did say in jest that if we break down in Monterey, he’ll drive down there…with a new transmission. Dammit, Richard, we told you not to say that!
Pictured: Richard Porterfield. Mechanic.
He has come to Santa Cruz to chew bubblegum and kick some transmission ass…and he’s all out of bubblegum.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Day 29 of the 2nd Voyage: In which the “Transmission Tour of California 2015” gets held over in Santa Cruz.

Half Moon Bay to Santa Cruz: With Edgrrr locked up in the aft cabin, we threw off the dock lines and pulled out of our slip at the Pillar Point Harbor Marina. At 15 minutes out, we passed the spot where we had pooped out the week before; another five minutes and we passed the buoys where the whales liked to play; five minutes after that and with the open sea ahead of us, we eased her up to cruising speed. So far so good. A bit of bounce as we made our way offshore but once we got about five miles out and turned south, the sea smoothed out considerably. We settled in for a seven-hour journey to Santa Cruz, hopeful that our transmission woes were finally behind us. It was a nice thought.

I’d like to preface this by saying the engine sounded great. It seemed to be running well; it had ample output; and we were making really good time. Then I’d like to pose a philosophical question…would there have been a problem had we not looked at the gauge?

The gauge in question is the one that measures PSI (pounds per square inch) on the transmission. When the gears are engaged, proper PSI is 120. However, about two hours into the journey, the PSI was registering 60. Upon seeing the low PSI, the Captain went down to check the transmission and saw that the breather was spitting fluid—an indication that the seal was about to blow—again—and we’d lose all pressure. In layman’s terms: no pressure means no gears. In other words, we were about to have another Half Moon Bay experience.

So here we are--two hours outside of Half Moon Bay, five hours to Santa Cruz. We could raise the sails, but the wind is right on our nose and a lee shore means we’d have to tack farther out to sea to avoid being pushed towards the rocks. Add to this the realization that not only will we have no gears once we disengage the engine but it’s very possible that we won’t get the engine back on once we reach the harbor. With this in mind, a call was made to Vessel Assist in Santa Cruz and about an hour and a half later Captain Monte caught up with us just south of Point Pidgeon. Once the tow line was set, we shut off the engine and sat back for the three hour ride. And it was a nice ride—like sailing without the sails—and with the frequent visits of large pods of porpoise and the amazing scenery of the California coast, it was really very pleasant. It got me to thinking that if we couldn’t travel with our own mechanic, maybe we should travel with our own tow boat.

Now if there’s a positive aspect to getting towed into a marina, it’s that they will always make room for you and it’s generally a pretty nice berth. Santa Cruz Harbor is built into a natural inlet so it’s long and narrow and protected by hills on three sides. Had we come in under normal circumstances, we probably would have found ourselves deep in the marina somewhere—in a nice berth no doubt, but no different than most. But given our circumstances, they placed us on a dock just inside the harbor entrance. During the summer months it’s reserved for the water taxis, but now we have it to ourselves--a side tie with an unobstructed view of the jetty lighthouse, front-row seats for all the boats coming in and out, an Italian café perched directly above us, and beach access just past the cannoli.

So this brings me back to our philosophical question. Would there have been a problem had we not looked at the gauge? First off, it’s a trick question. If you own a boat, there’s always a problem. But had we not looked at the gauge, it’s entirely possible that we would have made it to Santa Cruz just fine, but we would have lost our gear functionality as soon as we entered the marina and dropped down to docking speed. So what’s the difference? If you’re towed in they’re likely to put you in an unoccupied suite; if they have to manhandle you around the marina, you’re sharing the room above the garage with the sea lions.

So now what? Well, most likely we’re here for a week to ten days (that seems to be the norm), so we’ll rent a car, see the sights, hit the beach, mingle with the locals, and watch the sun set over the Pacific every night. It’ll be okay. Philosophically speaking, it won’t suck.
Pictured: Santa Cruz sunset from the deck of Raven
Not Pictured: Transmission (because why spoil a good thing?)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Day 27-28 of the 2nd Voyage: In which the engine room is made whole again and we rethink our “leave no man behind” policy.

A couple days ago, the Captain and I were making our way down to one of the beaches when we stumbled upon a rusty, old diesel engine that had been abandoned amongst the weeds. Apparently the universe is not without a sense of humor. The Captain remarked, “I bet it runs better than ours.” Because the Captain is not without a sense of irony.

But thanks to Richard, our mechanic from Santa Rosa, we can tell the universe to go take a hike. As promised, he returned with our transmission—new rings, new seals, new caps, new collars—and he and the Captain got it reinstalled. A few hours later and the gears were working, the shaft was spinning, and nothing was overheating. We might just make it out of here yet.

As we were saying our goodbyes and making small talk, Richard asked where we were headed next and we replied, “Santa Cruz. Want to come with us?” (After all, a mechanic might be a handy crew member when your 33-year old engine keeps falling apart.) For whatever reason, he declined. But he did offer to drive down to Santa Cruz should something go horribly wrong. He was joking, of course. But I’m hoping he didn’t give the universe any ideas.
With some confidence that the engine was ready to resume the journey (notice I didn’t say “total”—after this many times to the rodeo, you start having a lot more respect for the bull), we prepared for a 9:00 am Sunday departure. The forecast called for a high of 74, waves at 3-5 feet, and winds at 6 knots. Aside from some patchy morning fog, great conditions for a 7-hour journey. While the Deck Boss and I did the last of the stowing, the Captain turned over the engine, checked the transmission, and tested the gears. We then unplugged from shore power and prepared for departure. I went down below to gather life jackets and as I was coming back up, something seemed…off. Head count. Captain? Check. Deck Boss? Check. Otter? Check. Edgrrr? Edgrrr? Edgrrr? The damn cat had gone MIA.

Now it’s no secret that Edgrrr is not a big fan of the engine. It’s loud, it rumbles, and as of late it is a harbinger of the bumpy ride to come. When the engine is turned on, he immediately heads for one of his seven hidey-holes on the boat. Only today, his seven hidey-holes were empty. We checked everywhere. We looked in lockers, cabinets, closets, drawers, and berths; checked under pillows and behind books. We even checked the engine room because yes, he might resort to reverse psychology. When a search of the topsides came up empty, I knew there was only one place he could be…Brother Buzz, the floating petri dish next door. 

In the past week, we had found him a couple of times on the B-Buzz. In those instances, we called and he came right on out. Today, he was playing possum. Hoping I still had potency left on my last tetanus shot, I ventured aboard and poked around. It was layers upon layers of junk holding up junk—buckets, nets, tools, rope, small appliances, planks, beer bottles, hunks of metal—all corroded together in rot. There were holes in the deck, soft spots on the planking, and windows broken out—all convenient openings for a cat (or any other critter for that matter) to get down below. Wherever he was hiding, he was not coming out and there was no going in after him. As we are unfamiliar with Monterey Bay, we had set a departure window of between 9:00 and 10:00 so that we could reach Santa Cruz while there was still plenty of daylight. At 9:50 we conceded defeat, shut off the engine, and prepared for one more day at dock. The little bastard crept out from under a rotten deck plank at 10:05.

I went up to the harbor office to pay for another night and ran into Bo, the Harbor Patrol Agent who helped push us in to “H” dock the first night we arrived. We got to talking—about transmissions, boats, life plans, and finding yourself stuck in places that you're kind of glad you did. She asked when we were leaving, and I mentioned that we had hoped to leave that morning but that the cat had other plans. She laughed, “A cat?! You also have a cat? Three people, a dog, and a cat?! You’re like a circus!” Bo, you have no idea.
Pictured: A**hole

Pictured: Where Edgrrr may find himself the next time he sabotages a departure


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Day 25-26 of the 2nd Voyage: In which we patiently wait for our transmission by turning into complete beach geeks.

This may come as a shock, but Washington State is severely lacking in warm, sandy beaches. Factoring in the outer coastline, the offshore islands, the sounds and bays, and the tidal portion of the big rivers, Washington has over 3,000 miles of shoreline—but very few beaches where you could comfortably dig your toes in the sand and not get frostbite.

Now before my fellow Washingtonians rise up and revoke my “Mildew or Die” membership card (on second thought, go ahead and revoke it), I want to clarify that Washington beaches are beautiful, nay breathtaking, and many are well worth an inclusion on anyone’s bucket list. But the fact of the matter is that they are more conducive to beachcombing (an activity in which you search the beach for something to do that doesn’t involve swimming, wading or sitting in the sand), metal detecting (a hobby in which you search for treasure on beaches where you can’t swim, wade or sit so you can afford a vacation to a beach where you can) and clamming (an activity in which you take out your frustrations at not being to swim, wade or sit by digging holes all over the beach) than to basking in the sun and playing in the surf.

Most of the beaches in Washington are what tourism brochures refer to as “wet, wild, and rugged.” In other words, instead of sun you’ll have drizzle (pack your waterproof hoodie!); instead of sand you’ll find slick rocks, slimy mud and broken shells conjoined to make Hell’s own Slip-n-Slide (what your orthopedic surgeon will call “vacation home in Maui”); and whereas you will definitely have surf, it will be full of trees that are trying to kill you. No, seriously. Many beaches post signs that implore you not to turn your back on the water as large tree trunks are known to blast up on shore with the waves. Don’t believe me? Next time you’re on a Washington beach, look around at all the trunks strewn about. That’s right. Your beach comes with a body count.

Not to say that we don’t have beaches where you could theoretically dig your toes into the sand and not worry about lethal trees. We have Alki Beach in West Seattle, for instance. It’s still too cold for swimming, but at least the sand is somewhat warm…during the summer…in the middle of a heatwave. Now it’s been years since I’ve been there so let me pull some recent soundbites from Yelp: “good for beachcombing”; “…it had real sand!”; “the water was full of seaweed” (this guy was from Denmark and probably the only person to actually go IN the water); and my personal favorite…“You won’t have much to do if you don’t like being so close to the water” (which is either way existential or just plain stupid—there’s a fine line.) Frommer’s didn’t even mention the sand…or the seaweed for that matter. They went with “there are lots of cheap restaurants and places to buy sunglasses across the street.” Okay, I can sort of see the restaurant angle. If you’re going to spend $10 a day on coffee, you have to cut corners on your fish and chips. But sunglasses? I don’t know anyone from around here who doesn’t have five pairs: your “good ones”; the ones you actually wear; the ones that you won’t get too upset over if the dog eats them; the ones with the scratched lenses you keep in the car in case you find yourself at Alki Beach without a pair; and the welder’s helmet for that first day the sun comes out after six months of dreary drizzle. Not having sunglasses must be a tourist thing.

But I digress a little. Bodega Bay was nice and there must have been some beaches around there somewhere because there were surf shops, but given the cold ocean temperatures I figured that much like the Washington surf shops they sold blubber suits, earmuffs, heated boards, and maps to a secret beach where you could surf without fear of being poached. Editor’s Note: We did in fact pass by the entrance to a beach but they wanted $7 to enter. What if the beach was “wet, wild, and rugged”? We couldn’t take that chance. But Half Moon Bay is different. It had beaches all over the place! Editor’s Note: Free beaches! Small ones, long ones, some for surfing, some for fishing, some with dark sand, some golden and soft. We went to Mavericks Beach where in the winter they have waves that get up to 60 feet high and crazy people that actually surf them. We spent some time on Surfers Beach where the waves were not so high (and the people not so crazy). And we walked on one long beach that turned out to be five different beaches because apparently there’s a “no beach left behind” policy so room must be made for all of them. And when we’d exhausted the local beaches, we hopped on the bus that travels a stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway to gawk at all the beaches along there.

I guess if I had to come up with a reason for the sudden fascination with beaches, it’s probably because this is the first place that truly looks, feels, and even smells different from home. Familiarity is waning, giving way to anticipation, and that makes everything more exciting…even stretches of sand.

We weren’t able to comfortably go into the water—this is the end of September after all and we’re still somewhat in the northern climes—but for right now, we’re just thrilled to be able to walk along the surf’s edge and not freeze, sit on the sand and not have a damp butt, and gaze out at the Pacific without fear of a tree harpoon. I can only imagine what awaits us further south.
Pictured: Otter playing in the surf with a piece of wood.
Not Pictured: The tree it came off of. That's terrorizing a campsite in La Push, WA.


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Day 23-24 of the 2nd Voyage: In which once again a hunk of metal has us immobilized, but at least we’re in a better neighborhood.

First some thoughts on the events of day 22: I guess the good thing about the transmission crapping out again was that it happened right as we cleared the last breakwater in the harbor—so not too far out to sea. We’re becoming seasoned sailors (I use the term loosely; technically we’re becoming immune to misfortune), so the “oh sh*t” portion of the ordeal only lasted about 10 seconds before we all went into action. The Captain brought us about and prepared the anchor, the Deck Boss kept the Swab from getting underfoot, and I, having a classic Yogi Berra “it’s déjà vu all over again” moment, got on the VHF to inform our new BFFs in the Harbor Patrol that we had lost all gear functions—again—and that we had dropped the anchor—again—and now we needed a tow (slightly different—last time we only needed a push). “Where would you like to be towed?” they asked. “Any place with a mechanic.” I responded. “No mechanics here. I’ll give you the number for vessel assist and they can tow you to the nearest city.” they offered. (Nearest city? San Francisco? That’s half a day away…and going in the wrong direction.) “Guess we’ll go with the marina, then.” I answered. “We’re on our way.” they said with an audible sigh.

And so about an hour after leaving “H” dock, we were pushed into our new berth on “C” dock and found ourselves trudging up to the port office with our tails between our legs. The question was inevitable and the only answer we could muster was, “Yes – this is the same problem we had last night when you had to rescue our sorry butts, but if it’s any consolation we’re sure the problem is much, much worse today!” But being the lovely people that they are, they didn’t give us any grief and actually put us in contact with the only mechanic in the area—the one that works on their official boats. As it turns out, that wasn’t necessary. The Captain put in a call to Richard, our mechanic in Santa Rosa, and being the up-standing guy that he is, he offered to come out the next day and make good on what had gone so bad.

Now this is where I could get all technical and stuff, but I’m going to throw this out in laymen’s terms because it’s the only way I half understand it myself. When Richard first had our transmission, he admitted that there were a couple of things that seemed odd (yet they worked) but the only thing that was actually broken was the seal; so the seal was replaced and the transmission reinstalled. So one would assume that if the exact same transmission is going in—the one that had been working perfectly fine until the seal blew--then everything should be peachy. But apparently the broken seal was merely a cry for help and now that the transmission had our attention, it was going into full melt-down mode. Richard and the Captain hauled it out, did some surface inspections, examined the components that fed into the transmission, consulted the service manual, perused some recently discovered communications between Raven’s previous owner and the transmission’s manufacturer, and sacrificed a chicken (not really—just wanted to see if you were paying attention). To keep the narrative going (and because I sense you are zoning out), here are some key words and phrases that were bandied about: overheating, bad suction, MacGyvered, external filter, undersized ring, wrong model number, Frankensteined, pump. Editor’s Note: two of those words are not exactly what you want to hear when describing a vital component of the engine. Hint: one of them had a bad haircut, and so did the other one. The verdict is still out on what precisely the problem is, but this is what’s known: the transmission is going on another trip to Santa Rosa where it will be pulled apart completely, put back together correctly, and brought back to the boat for reinstall four days later at which time all the peripheral systems will be checked to make sure they play nice with the guy just back from rehab.

In the meantime, we are settling into our new home at the end of “C” dock. Unlike our previous spot at the end of “H”, many of the boats on this side of the marina are in good shape or are in the process of being restored plus there are quite a few live-aboards—all factors that create a more sociable (and safer) environment. Now did you notice how I said “most” of the boats? Unfortunately, much like our old spot on “H”, the boat directly across the finger dock from us is… well, words escape me. But imagine you had a boat—a fishing boat (I think)—along with a tackle shop, a lumber yard, four bucket seats from an old car, and the random contents from the garage the car came out of. Take all that and put it in the direct path of a tornado, then add a matching dinghy. Celebrate your masterpiece with four empty six-packs of beer, neatly stack them on a shelf next to the dock box (because why not?), and add one to two years of cobwebs since that was most likely the last time you set foot on the “Brother Buzz”. (Or six months with a good lawyer.) But I must say that there is a positive aspect to being next to the B-Buzz…the sea lions avoid it like the plague.
Pictured: The Brother Buzz...Boat of the Year? No. Patriotic? Hell, yeah.
Pictured: Side view. Because you just can't turn away.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Day 22 of the 2nd Voyage: In which we’d like to thank the men and women of the Pillar Point Harbor Patrol for towing us back into the marina…again.

‘Nuff said.

Pictured: Getting towed back in to Pillar Point Harbor Marina (Half Moon Bay) a mere 15 minutes after leaving.
Not Pictured: The collective thousand-yard stare of the crew when asked if "they were having fun yet".

Monday, September 21, 2015

Day 21 of the 2nd Voyage: In which everything goes perfectly until it doesn’t.

Bodega Bay to Half Moon Bay: The day couldn’t have started out better: cool but not cold, dewy but not foggy, shifting but not just in one direction. Now able to go both forward and backward, we eased out of the slip and headed toward the channel—a 9-hour journey ahead of us to Half Moon Bay. The initial passage out was rough but once we got out about five miles and turned south, the sea calmed down, the sun shone bright, and the temperature shot up. The next eight hours were spent kicking back on deck, tweaking the autopilot every now and then, taking the occasional cat nap, and scanning the horizon for obstacles. Editor’s Note: A typical obstacle is a crab pot. Whereas we had a few of those, our other obstacle was MSC Line’s 1000-foot Arianne. It’s rare that a large container ship is the “obstacle” but when they’re only going 3 knots and you’re going 8, it turns into an interesting game of “chicken”. Technically we could have safely crossed their bow with plenty of room, but didn’t want to inadvertently end up the bug on their windshield. We could tell they were concerned; they just had the hull waxed.

We reached Half Moon Bay a little before 5:00 pm and as I’m preparing lines and fenders, I hear “whale!” and sure enough, about 200 yards away is a humpback whale swimming back and forth between the buoys. He’s sending up sprays and lolling along the surface and finally gives us “the tail” as he dives deep. It was pretty freaking cool! But I had work to do. There was a docking to be done and I was not going to mess it up. We made our way into the Pillar Point Harbor Marina—past the long breakwaters bright white with bird poop from the hundreds, nay thousands, of pelicans, seagulls, and assorted waterfowl that make these rocks their home—and found our berth, a side tie at the end of “H” dock. The Captain made his approach, turned us around for a starboard side tie and…no gears. No forward. No reverse. He immediately released and set the anchor in an effort to keep us from drifting toward the breakwater while I called for assistance on the VHF. We waited. And waited. The stern was starting to drift dangerously close to the poopy-white rocks. I got on the VHF again and implored them to come right away. I told them, “We’ve set an anchor, but the wind is driving the stern toward the rocks. If you could please come right away that would be … lovely.” Lovely? Granted, I was under stress. I was trying to convey the urgency of the situation while watching the rocks get closer and closer. I panicked. I froze. But lovely? Even I wanted to slap me. But help did arrive in the guise of Chris and Bo of the Pillar Point Harbor Patrol and they were able to push us toward and alongside the dock so we could get tied off. They were friendly, professional, and didn’t make us feel awkward for the situation we were in. They were lovely.

Once we got tied off, the Captain went below to the engine room and came back with a prognosis. The immediate problem was a nut that had come off that was allowing the reverse gear to disengage. This had triggered a larger problem with the gear settings in general. The Captain was able to fix the reverse gear and adjust the settings so that once again we had full functionality. We would be able to continue our journey the next morning.

Which leads me to the neighbors. The only spot the marina had available that was large enough for us was in the commercial/derelict section. We never mind the commercial docks and rather like the rattle and hum of the working boats, but derelict is something different. About a quarter of the boats on “H” dock are derelict—some sailboats, some power, some commercial. They are green with mildew, caked in bird poop, and look like they’d sink to the bottom as soon as you untied them. It always makes me sad to see boats in this condition. You know they were bought with the best intentions, but when life gets in the way, the boat is usually the first to be neglected.

But these are not the neighbors that I speak of—they don’t bitch, complain, argue, or jostle for space. There’s a “fine” boat in the slip next to us (and by “fine” I mean condemned) and on the other side of it is a finger dock that has been commandeered by the local sea lion community. At any given time there are at least eight of the beasts lumped one on top of the other vying for the best part of the dock (which I’m assuming is the part not sinking into the harbor under the weight of eight grumpy sea lions or perhaps it is and they want to be the first to desert the sinking dock when it finally gives way.)  They bark and ark and orf and oof and belch and growl pretty much non-stop. As soon it starts to quiet down over there, a new sea lion swims up and tries to hop on and the symphony of bitching starts all over again. And they stink. Did I mention they stink? At first we thought it was the guano from the hundreds, nay thousands, of birds perched on their poopy white rock walls, but they got nothing on the sea lions. They put out a stink that’ll curl your hair if it doesn’t fall out first. I looked it up and a group of sea lions is called a “raft”. Guess that’s appropriate if a raft is four feet high, smells like a cesspool, and sinks like a brick.

So we ended the evening on the back deck—drinking beer, swatting at flies, holding our noses, and trying to talk over the cacophony one slip over—and hoped that the next day would bring a better outcome.
Pictured: 8 sea lions vying for the prime "perch at the end of the pier"
Not Pictured:  The Pig Pen cloud of pollution wafting around the group
Pictured: The "fine" boat next to us at Pillar Point Harbor Marina
Not Pictured: The "fine" raft of sea lions lamenting that "there goes the neighborhood" 
Pictured: Pillar Point Harbor Patrol leaving after getting us situated on "H" dock
Not Pictured: Envy of a boat that actually works


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Day 18-20 of the 2nd Voyage: In which we bid a fond farewell to Bodega Bay and hope we haven’t jinxed it by saying so.

To my faithful followers (both of you!), I don’t want to leave you in suspense any longer…yes, the Captain and I managed to get the transmission back into the engine room. It wasn’t easy manhandling 200 awkward pounds of cast iron up onto the boat, around the deck, through the pilothouse, down into the galley and back into the engine room, but we did it. We may never walk fully erect again, but we did it. Getting the transmission bolted to the diesel engine was another story. Imagine having to line up two objects perfectly so that they create a seal, only one part is suspended in mid-air and weighs 200 lbs. Oh, and the whole thing is down in a bilge that narrows and slopes down into the keel. And you can’t stand up. And it’s 180 degrees in there. Celsius. We had some difficulty. But luckily, Richard aka The Best Mechanic in Santa Rosa made the drive out and brought his special “moving heavy-ass things into awkward places” gadget. Within 45 minutes the transmission was bolted into place. Another hour later and everything was hooked up. Fifteen minutes of putting the engine through its paces, and we were all systems go! The only thing now standing between us and our next destination is a good weather window. A small craft advisory warning through Saturday morning set the day—Sunday. With a forecast of 10 mph winds, 3-5 foot seas and lots of sun, we’re slathering on the sunscreen and making a break for it.

But we are going to miss Bodega Bay. It’s a great place to break down (IF you have a good mechanic!) and had we not, we would have missed out meeting some awesome people. From Sean on the Melissa Jo, Shannon at The Dog House, and Reese at Spud Point Marina to Abalone Tony docked right next to us (still trying to figure out what he’s going to do with that bathtub) and our fellow bus rider from Sebastopol who asked if we would watch his groceries while he went to smoke a joint and would we like some frozen yogurt—to all of you and many others.. . it’s been fun. And if we don’t see you again, please don’t take it personally.
Pictured: Spud Point Marina in Bodega Bay, Sunset
Not Pictured: Good photography

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Day 10-17 of the 2nd Voyage: In which we don’t care if it’s a sequel, prequel or gritty reboot, we will NOT be having another Campbell River.

Bodega Bay was supposed to be our respite between the 30-hour ordeal from Brookings and the upcoming 30-hour slog to Morro Bay—roughly 12 hours to have a hot meal (on real plates and everything!), stretch our legs (on ground that doesn’t fall out from under you!), tend to our bumps and bruises (Aleve with a beer chaser!), and get some sleep in a non-bouncing bed (zzzzz!). The Captain and DC Richard changed out fuel filters to placate the engine, and I took Otter ashore to placate his bladder.
We set out early the next morning and headed over to the fuel dock where we topped off the tanks and pumped out the heads (a fortuitous action for which we’re now grateful). We then cast off from the dock, headed towards the channel…and could not get the forward gears to engage. (In lubber language, we couldn’t put the car in “drive”.) But we still had reverse so we backed back into the marina and onto a side tie pier. I swear that for a brief moment, we all considered just finishing the voyage backwards, but when the reverse gear gave out as well that idea was quickly scrapped. (In lubber language, we contemplated driving to San Diego in reverse till someone lobbed a socket wrench at our heads.) Time spent in the engine room and on the phone with our mechanic back in Everett pointed to a problem with the transmission. Not good. Now I could bore you with a lot of talk about torque and ratios and slip but it would sound like I know what I’m talking about (which is a stretch), so suffice it to say that without the transmission the propeller wouldn’t have a clue as to what to do and would likely be bullied into doing something it would regret by the engine.

Now if anything good came out of our 30-day exile in Campbell River, it’s that we’ve become a little wiser when it comes to “the process”. We vowed not to make the same mistakes—to come out of this sooner, saner, and sans bankruptcy. Here are a few lessons we learned:
Lesson 1: Find your first diesel mechanic and immediately fire him for being incompetent. We say this from experience. In an unfamiliar port, the first mechanic you find will probably come from a business card tacked up in the laundry room. You like him right away because he’s the only mechanic who answered his phone. He will be enthusiastic, seemingly knowledgeable, and inevitably way in over his head—to which he will never admit. Everything will take 2-4 weeks, including and especially returning your phone calls after the first consult. Be proactive and hire/fire this guy immediately so you can get on with your life.

Lesson 2: Find a competent diesel mechanic! How? By walking the docks. Talk to enough marina tenants and you’ll hear the same names mentioned over and over. Better yet, talk to the commercial guys. The fishermen here in Bodega Bay don’t have time to wait 2-4 weeks for parts and/or someone to show up. DC Richard got the name of a mechanic in Santa Rosa—top diesel man in the area. We took him the transmission on Sunday morning, got it back on Wednesday…as promised.

Lesson 3: If something foreign and/or proprietary is going to malfunction, make sure your mechanic owns a junkyard. We had to go through a manufacturer in England to replace the manifold—and we all know how that turned out. When we took the transmission to the mechanic in Santa Rosa, he informed us that should ours be beyond help, he had at least two “in the yard” that he could pull off of old engines. As he gestured toward countless heaps and mounds of engines and parts, the Captain and I exchanged glances. We were each thinking the same thing, “He probably has at least three Nauticat manifolds just lying around. Had we only known. Great. Now I can’t get the theme song to Sanford and Son out of my head. Elizabeth!”

Lesson 4: Save on labor costs by doing the heavy lifting yourself. In our case, the problem was inside the transmission itself—specifically a seal that had gone bad. The Captain and DC Richard unbolted and removed the transmission—all 180 lbs. of it—and through a system of pulleys and planks maneuvered it out of the engine room, through the galley and pilothouse, out on deck, attached it to a halyard and swung it out and over into a waiting dock cart. From there it was loaded into the trunk of a Toyota Corolla that would never comfortably go over a speed bump again. We figured we saved $800 in labor alone. (Of course, I will be helping the Captain get the damn thing back IN the engine room and reinstalled. Given the going rate of divorce attorneys, we may be losing money on this one.)

Lesson 5: Rent a car. This was the second thing we did (after hiring/firing the first diesel mechanic—which took all of two conversations in as many hours so well done, us). It necessitated a 40-minute bus ride to the nearest major town to reach the rental agency, but the freedom it has afforded us is priceless. Since procuring the car we have shuttled three to four adults, one large dog, and a sick transmission all over Sonoma County. We make at least one trip inland each day. That’s saying something, because Bodega Bay is far removed from civilization. The nearest town is Bodega (not to be confused with Bodega Bay), but there's not much to it—a country store, a church, a few old buildings. In other words, it’s a downshift from 55 mph to 25 mph for about three blocks (long enough to say, "my car doesn't even go that slow.") and then back up to highway speed. The next town is Sebastopol. Technically, Sebastopol is only 12 miles from Bodega Bay, but it takes a good 40 minutes to get there because the highway winds and curves and rounds and switches and goes around in circles and posts a different speed limit every couple of miles. One stretch will be 55 mph, then abruptly switch to 35, then back up to 55, then down to 25, then up to 50 (still haven’t figured that one out). And every turn of the road has its own “suggested” speed with some being more “suggestive” than others with flashing, blinking, “you’re gonna die you take this turn at 55” lights. We’ve been relying heavily on our phone GPS with the voice navigation. With the exception of a trip to Home Depot, it has worked pretty well but it does have one annoying feature…it displays the speed limit along with your current speed, and as soon as you go even one mile over the speed limit, “ding ding ding.” So on the stretch from Sebastopol to Bodega Bay where you’re literally changing your speed every 100 yards, the “ding ding dinging” can really get on your nerves. After being “ding ding dinged” for the umpteenth time, the Captain vowed to “punch that guy in the mouth” if he did it again so I quickly switched the navigator voice from male to female because he wouldn’t hit a woman.

Lesson 6: If you’re going to get stuck, choose someplace nice. Bodega Bay is a little town of about 1,000 people scattered along the edge of the harbor and up onto the hill above. It’s mostly a commercial fishing port, but there is a beach nearby that’s popular with surfers and several inns for “getting away” along with the requisite taffy stores, kite shops, and seafood restaurants of a seaside village. Its chief claim to fame is that it (along with Bodega, the aforementioned town not to be confused with Bodega Bay) was the setting for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. So quite a few of the shops and restaurants sport variations of the “birds” theme. The town was also the setting for the horror films, The Fog and Puppet Master 1, 2, 3, and 5 but they’re not as prevalent as The Birds. I’m not sure why. I heard the town got its nose out of joint when it wasn’t featured in Puppet Master 4; they made up in time for 5 but things got ugly when they got passed over for 6, 7, and 8. (I wouldn’t even mention 9.)

At any rate, this is where we currently are and I think we’re keeping a (fairly) positive outlook this time around. Tomorrow, we will be reinstalling the transmission and (hopefully) preparing to leave in the next few days. Bodega Bay is nice, but San Diego awaits and there’s still a long journey ahead.

Editor’s Note: We had to say goodbye to Delivery Captain Richard. With Raven temporarily out of commission, there was nothing more to “deliver”. It was quite a journey to get here and we’re thankful he was with us. He got us through the tough stuff—the scary stuff—and we learned enough to get the rest of the way on our own. We would welcome him back to the crew at any time!
Pictured: Looking out toward the channel markers; a typical evening in Bodega Bay. They filmed the movie, The Fog, here. Not sure why.
Pictured: The roof of Home Depot as seen from a dead-end street right before the GPS told us to "put the Corolla in four-wheel drive, smash through the fence A-Team style, and careen down the hillside till you hit the lumber section...literally. Then your destination will be on the right...and the left."