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?)