This past day has been quite interesting. I asked Chris if he was having fun earlier and he looked at me with a funny look on his face and said “this isn’t exactly watching Netflix and eating popcorn”.
I rephrased the question “Is this worth it so far?”.
He replied “Absolutely.”
He’s right though, this isn’t the traditional definition of fun. Taking a boat 2500 miles across an ocean isn’t Netflix and Chill. It’s work. But, not to sound trite, nothing good comes easy. So, we grind it out. We solve problems as they come.
We started today down two on the scoreboard; malfunctioning backstay and dead batteries. We ended today with a jerry rig on the backstay that should get us all the way to Honolulu and the engine running, charging the batteries. Back to even. Thank some smart scientist for solar panels.
There were conversations early this morning about how we could make our way to the coast to pull the boat in to get it fixed. We decided to rely upon ourselves and fix the issue. This is why we are out here. Regular guys “facing up”.
Speaking of regular guys. As I type this out on my iPhone I’m in the cockpit of Stay Gold with Beau, who has the helm. We are watching the sunset on a beautiful Pacific night and working our way to the Tropics (we have to steer by hand).
Beau is the definition of a regular guy. He’s a 5th grade school teacher from San Diego who loves adventure and travel more than most. He once spent 6 months in New Zealand with 10 of his friends just for fun. When I called him a year and a half ago to see if he was interested in this voyage he said “ahh man I’m not sure, I don’t really know how to sail or anything. Lemme think about and I’ll call you back”
Not even five minutes later he called me back to say “Hell yes. I’m in.” And he’s been true to his word. He took an ASA 101 class that I taught the other day and then hopped on the boat for Hawaii. He’s a natural at sailing and a great crew member.
I think what is most remarkable about Beau is how much of a team player he is. He started this adventure out of his element but wants to learn, doesn’t complain about anything and is a joy to be around. We are lucky to have him.
It’s about my time to take the helm. From the middle of the Pacific, with love…
It seems like these things always happen in the middle of the night. I had just laid down for a nap after my watch. I’m about to put my headphones in and I hear Willy say “Brian, Brian! We lost the backstay adjuster”.
I hopped out of the rack and ran up topside in my shirt and skivvies. Luckily, no rain. Just salt spray. The seal that holds hydraulic fluid into the cylinder – essential part of the equipment – had failed. Our backstay was flopping around like a wet noodle. This is the wire that connects the mast to the stern of the boat; critical for keeping the mast pointed up and not somewhere else.
Willy and I quickly devised a plan using some dyneema, a block and tackle and other assorted parts and pieces to keep the backstay where it should be. Later today, Chris used his climbing knowledge to form a more permanent solution.
I was really impressed with everyone’s cool heads and ability to solve problems under pressure. I feel like sailing is just a series of problems that require solving, along with some wind and sails. Compound that issue with minimal sleep, dead batteries and the inability to run the engine to charge them (charging up now with solar!) and last night could be considered a kick in the balls.
Sun is out now and we are slowly making our way to the South-South West. The water is so blue out here, it beautiful. No whales or dolphins yet though.
Getting a few mins of sleep before my watch…Capt Brian
The weather has filled in and we are making an average of 7-8 knots directly towards Hawaii. The latest weather GRIB shows the conditions should remain…we just need the boat and crew to keep up! We’ve made 160 nautical miles in the last 33 hours. Not too impressive as we had a night with very light wind.
I think the most stressful part of being at sea so far away from anyone else is the total trust you develop in your fellow crew and the boat. The noises that the boat makes are totally normal, but they make your mind wander. So far things are holding up. Stay Gold is a solid boat and she will take good care of us.
Earlier today we spotted a few albatross; a sign of good luck and favor to the sailor. It’s believed that the albatross holds the heart of a sailor and they bring good omen. Let’s hope so!
No luck fishing so far; we have a tuna handline ran off the stern and are trolling a huge lure looking for a tuna or anything else that will take it. We did see some tuna fishing boats out this far. We called one over the VHF to chat and he said they had only 15 fish for the day.
Our Raymarine autohelm is out for the count…it was working after factory repairs but after we got through the Straits it started to malfunction. I haven’t been able to get it to work since. The selfsteering windvane is also a no-go; we can’t get it to cope with the conditions nor set up correctly so we’ve resigned to steering by hand for the remaining 2100 nautical miles. Not much else will make you a great helmsperson than driving a boat for 12 hours a day with quartering seas.
If conditions hold and we can continue the momentum we’ve developed we should make landfall in about 15 days. That said…a lot can happen between now and then.
Final thought from a conversation in the cockpit earlier today; if you ever want to discover the true nature of your character, climb a mountain or go to sea.
We are approximately 85 nautical miles off the coast of Oregon, heading southeast around a weak, unpredicted low pressure system.
The past few days have been eventful. We are a bit tired and wet but spirits are high. It takes a lot to keep a sailboat running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We sail nonstop. To do that, we keep watch shifts. There are tons of ways to do this, we selected a rotating watch shift. We have to two teams, A and B. Each team has two members, Willy and I are in A and Beau and Chris are in B. Willy and I relieve each other and Beau and Chris relieve each other. We stagger the relief times so that there are always two on deck to sail and there are no gaps in turnover data. It’s working well, but with this system and the number of crew members we only get four hours of time between shifts to sleep, hygiene, eat and write blog posts. It can get tiring.
I didn’t mention this in my last blog post, but it’s a good story to keep a guy humble and prove how it’s important to work together as a team.
As we were coming into Seiku for fuel and brews we had to pass to the right of a breakwater. At the end of the breakwater was a couple of orange buoys (not official navigational aides) on the right and then on the left were docks with boats.
I cut the corner around the breakwater too tight and ended up soft grounding on a sand bar. As soon as I felt the boats motion change I knew we had grounded (done it a few times before!) and called out to the crew who was on deck that we grounded.
I immediately put on a hard rudder to turn the boat toward open water and the crew got on the rail to heel the boat. With the hard rudder and heeling we were able to get her off the sand bar and back out to the bay. I called the marina again and apparently they watched us ground and then get the boat off the sand bar. What’s frustrating about this is that we had JUST called to confirm they had fuel – it would have been nice to get some local knowledge before we popped ourselves up on a sandbar. Also, I should have checked the charts better before heading in.
It was great to see the team hop to and get the boat back on her feet. Teamwork at its finest.
First day at sea! We made almost 120 miles, leaving Gig Harbor at 10:06am on July 6th and arriving at Seiku WA at about 1:30pm.
We haven’t sailed at all yet; for a sailing expedition this has been a testament to how many times we can fill the Diesel engine fuel tank with 5 gallon jerry cans in a pitching sea without getting fuel all over (not many).
We have all been a little seasick, a little cold, and very much tired. There is something about being at sea that makes you only focus on the priorities at the time: keeping the boat moving and keeping yourself moving.
It’s easy to forget to rest or drink or even eat, strange as it sounds. There are ALWAYS things that require attention on the boat so we are fixing small things here or there, or standing watch or resting. That’s basically the routine.
Spirits are high and we had a great afternoon in the wonder berg of Seiku WA to fill up on fuel, food and brews. We are going to round Cape Flattery tonight and begin our long haul south along the coast. Make sure to follow us on the tracker!
Preps are in full swing. Crew members arrive this week and next. Our departure is planned for July 6th at 10am – just a bit over one week. We are watching the weather closely and hoping the North Pacific High will cooperate. Right now, it’s the blue circle in the image to the left. We want it to stay where it is, or a bit higher so we can sail nearly straight for Hawaii.
Team Stay Gold competed in the Gig Harbor Yacht Club Islands Race this past weekend. I’ll save the suspense: we didn’t win. In fact, we placed last in our class. This won’t be a harrowing story of how we whipped our competitors or even a proper recap of the race.
Rather, I think what is important, is how the team handled what the race threw our way.
To kick off the day, I mixed up our start time. It was a simple mistake of misreading the Sailing Instructions that cost us precious time. A few minutes behind our class across the starting line, we worked to make up for lost time by keeping the #1 headsail up along with the 1.5 oz spinnaker – we were flying three sails vice everyone else’s two. Our best speed over ground (SOG) as recorded by GPS was 9.2 knots which was helped by the always persistent Northerly current in Colvos Passage. That, along with a LIGHTENING quick bowline made to the genoa clew, as performed by our own Dean Lee, were the highlights of the first few hours of the day. The run north to Blake Island was fast, fun and furious.
Conversely, the beat back was brutal with gusts up around 30 knots and the wind directly on the nose. The image to the left shows our track south – we had to tack around 20 times over 15 miles. We kept the boat on her feet by reefing and using a smaller headsail. Stay Gold loves to go to weather and handled the wind and waves with grace. She’s easy to balance and takes waves on the bow in stride. The boat was charging along, riding the fine line between a close haul and pinching, under a reefed main and 110% dacron headsail just fine until BOOOM! the headsail popped out of the luff track and started flying like a massive pennant from the masthead. Quite embarrassing, even non-sailors know that’s not right.
As I sat there for a second, not really believing what happened, I said outloud “How the $#@k are we going to get that down?. Very calmly, Thomas answered back – “Let’s winch it down…” With a plan in place we executed. I winched, Thomas and Dean pulled and after what felt like an hour (in reality about five minutes), we had the beast stuffed down the companionway. Quickly, we pulled up another jib and got it set – we were back in the race! Never say die…
After inspecting the tack of the jib, it turns out the pennant, which connects to the tack of the sail and the boat parted due to chafing from the higher winds. When it parted, the sail pulled, just like a zipper, out of the luff track.
I was a proud Skipper – no one panicked, we just took a second to breathe, think and then act deliberately. Everyone displayed outstanding teamwork, cool heads under pressure and some solid problem solving skills. For that, I say we won the day and you can have the race.
This wasn’t the only issue we experienced throughout the day, but it illustrates the point: teamwork is only made successful by a strong leader and a strong leader is only made successful by solid teamwork.
One of the crew tried to give me credit for solving a different problem but the hard truth of the matter is any leader, no matter what organization they are in, is only as good as their team. All successes are a credit to the team and failures to the leader. It is easy to tell a poor Skipper by those that scream at their crews. If that’s you, take a look in the mirror; if someone isn’t doing something the way you want – it’s your fault as the Skipper for not training them. Stop yelling, start teaching.
After a long day fighting the ship, running up and then beating back south through Colvos Passage we finished dead last in class and dead tired but, nevertheless victorious in our own right. Sometimes victories aren’t marked by where you place in a race.
With the ultimate goal being the Oregon Offshore Race, Swiftsure and then a Trans-Pacific crossing in July, we decided to take the weekend to prep by doing an overnight trip right after the race.
Saturday evening, directly following the race, we headed back out by moonlight to continue the test until Sunday.
Keeping watch and sailing through the night we dodged tugs towing, massive merchant ships outbound to the open Pacific and picked constellations out of the inky night-time sky. Again, we learned valuable lessons and gained more confidence in not only ourselves, as sailors, but the boat and, more importantly, each other.
We even learned, during our practice for the Oregon Offshore, that we can steer a rudderless sailboat with a drogue. Who knew.
This time we had a strategy in place that would guarantee an optimal start and secure our place amongst the top of the fleet! But as we crept ever so slowly toward the (wrong side of) the starting mark only to hear the horn blow from the race committee boat…well, we knew than that our hunt for the perfect start strategy would continue.
Once skipper Brian brought us around the mark for a proper start, however, we were in our element. Up the spinnaker, down the no.1 Genoa. The mild 4-6kts breeze from the SSE was just enough to keep us running up the Sound.
We could even make out some of the other racers in our class…a good 2NM ahead. Conference was held and strategies were discussed (between some stowaway Nutter Butters and cheese crackers).
The majority of the fleet was sailing closer the shore, moving relatively direct towards the “I” buoy as the next mark. Team Stay Gold opted to exploit the stiffer winds in the middle of the Sound. The move presented the risk to extend total distance and overshoot the mark, but after making a few calculations for current and course we made the final turn towards the east (the winds by now coming from WSW) and lo!
What’s this? The fleet!
Somehow (although less modest sailors would attribute it to skill and fortitude) we managed to catch up with a good part of the racers…Team Stay Gold was back in the game. Our navigation piloting was dead on and we landed right at the mark, just in time to raise the Genoa and douse the spinnaker for the beat down south. At this point the teamwork of our foredeck crew (Byron and Brent) was not only well-tuned, but a fine source of one-liner entertainment for the rest of us in the cockpit (unfortunately not entirely family-friendly and thus unprintable).
Despite Chris’s initial observation that “that damn lighthouse is not moving anywhere”, progress was made towards the south.
We passed a competitor or two and caught up with a few more, enjoying some of Joe Scott’s tasty smoked meat selection on the way…but alas, as the wind died down to a few subtle knots the SV Stay Gold (a heavy lass) struggled once again. The wind now briefly from the north, we hoisted the spinnaker once again and trudged towards the final marker at Brown’s Point before rounding into the home stretch.
Once again we opted for the middle of the Sound to provide some power, but like perhaps some others out there that day more tacks were needed than planned to make it into Dumas Bay. The wind now back from the SSW (why would consistency ever grace our sails?), we put up the spinnaker in a broad reach. As we neared the final hundred meters, we were surprised by some sudden gusts. Although the gusts mildly overpowered the spinnaker, the boat handled the extra speed nicely and heeling was tolerable. In the cockpit there was excitement to finish the race so swiftly, when suddenly we heard a shout from the foredeck:
“Let the spinnaker fly…it’s not worth losing your boat, Brian!!”
Byron was apparently experiencing the newfound acceleration differently up front. And perhaps the battle cry would have had more effect if we wouldn’t have slowed down to 2-3kts just a few seconds later. The gusts were gone and we struggled to get the Genoa up to carry us the last meters over the finish line. Blue Jay, who we had so proudly passed earlier on, flew on by us at the line…well done Team Blue Jay! In slow motion (seemingly) we crossed the mark ourselves…finishing almost as “quickly” as we had started. But we were happy and proud. What a fine race.
And even though you won’t believe me if you weren’t there, we saw the sun that day!
As is standard, Team Stay Gold left Gig Harbor very early in order to make the warning at 0955 for CYCT Tacoma’s Harbor Series #1 – Quartermaster Harbor race.
We left with four bottles of whisky, fifteen sandwiches, three cases of beer and thirteen souls on board. No one can say we don’t know how to have fun.
After grabbing a team photo at the public dock in Gig Harbor we charged towards the start line; near Dumas Point.
Luckily, or maybe not, the race was postponed for a few minutes “to let the wind build”. We might as well have postponed all day. I’m fairly sure the highest gust recorded was 4 knots.
No matter, we still know how to have fun on Team Stay Gold. With the wind nearly non-existent and the way sound carries over water, it was easy to hear other teams yelling and getting worked up over silly things like sails and lines and whatnot. We had plenty of time to contemplate these and other life conundrums while stuck in what were surely the Puget Sound doldrums – vast expanses of water smooth as a liquid ice skating rink.
One highlight of the day; we got ourselves a good, long look at Manzanita Point on Vashon Island. At least two hours worth, we even were able to see the same spots twice as the current went from slack to ebb and started pushing us back towards the start line. No matter; time for more whisky.
At the end of the day, with the rest of the fleet retiring, because I think the excuse was “there’s got to be something better on TV than this” we press on. Crossing the finish line in Quartermaster Harbor 30 minutes prior to the time limit is still finishing and by damn, Team Stay Gold doesn’t give up…no, no; we stay gold.
For our wherewithal, we were rewarded with a whale sighting off of Point Defiance on our way back to home port. Some things are just better seen in real life.
We were promised snow. Instead all we got was fine day for the Duwamish Head Race 2017 out on the Puget Sound filled with teamwork, friends, exciting maneuvers, near collisions, plenty of insight and a thimble or two of Gig Harbor’s best Batch No 12 Bourbon (Heritage Distilling Company). But snow would have been nice.
Team Stay Gold met at the Des Moines Marina on a cold, January 7 morning for the Duwamish Head Race 2017.
For several team members it was their first time meeting each other, and indeed for one, his first time sailing. This is part of the fun of sailing with Captain Brian on Stay Gold, however; sailors bound by their interest and passion for the sport, rather than experience and reputation alone.
The team was able to get some hands-on experience pretty soon though, as we raised sail for a few practice tacks and to position ourselves for a timely start. The early morning wind was good and gave us hope for a speedy passage at race-time, but alas, this was not to be. Although we passed the 10am starting markers almost ideally, soon the wind died down to a few knots and plagued all but a few of the entire race fleet. Jibs came down, spinnakers went up (some upside-down, some twisted…) and every puff of air was exploited whilst trying to observe right-of-way within the clusters of sailboats. As the wind began to shift more frequently, spinnakers were exchanged for lighter and larger jibs and Genoa’s. Stay Gold opted for a light-air #1 Genoa (130%), which stayed aloft the remainder of the northward journey.
Slowly, but steadily, with an average of 3-4kts (SOG) Stay Gold team made its way up the Sound, past Three-Tree Point and Fauntleroy towards the Alki Point Light. We managed to hold a fine course throughout, not veering too far out into the western Sound or coming too close to shore. This was only made possible by constant vigilance and attention to point of sail…the whole team was up to the challenge of making every small correction possible. While we had sailed at the tail-end of the pack up to now, suddenly we caught up to middle of the fleet, who had to lay in long tacks from the west to get back over to the next marker. As exciting as this was, the wind practically came to a stand-still and we had to inch our way towards the marker. Luckily we had nice (and lengthy) views of downtown Seattle and the Space Needle as a backdrop to the many deeply philosophical discussions that ensue on a windless passage (“Put the chips away before I end up eating them all”).
Finally the turn around the Duwamish Head Light was made and the wind fell into our good graces again, driving us WSW on a fun 7kts spinnaker run towards the next mark, Blakely Rock. After reaching our top speed of the day of 7.7kts on the reach across the Sound, plans were made for dousing the spinnaker and exchanging foresails for the turn around the marker towards the south. Although the course was held tightly, we had difficulties getting the foresail up smoothly and ultimately we had to come to the quick conclusion that we had opted for the wrong sail, the aforementioned Genoa instead of the #3 jib. In the somewhat stronger SSE winds, our maneuverability suffered as we got onto a starboard close haul tack.
To add to our self-caused stress, Wind Wizard, a fellow competitor, was approaching our port side head on from the East at a dangerous pace! Efforts were made to steer away from a pending collision.
As the Wind Wizard swooped past Stay Gold a crew member from the vessel loudly announced the root cause of their unpredictable course…”We’ve lost our steering!”. Tight on a close haul and still fighting to reconfigure our headsail, the out-of-control sailboat remained a very real threat to our vessel. Once again Wind Wizard appeared, this time in front of us. Almost driving right up onto their stern Stay Gold was able to fall off at the last minute and get on a decent powered tack to get some distance from the other boat. Support was offered per radio to the sailors, but fortunately their team managed to find some interim solution and avoid further mishap.
In the meantime, Stay Gold had lost some valuable speed and therefore time. We had to watch any lead we had on fellow racers dwindle and disappear, but spirits remained high as we found a steady course and sped south towards our goal, the Des Moines marina. As night started to fall (around 17:30-18:00) we all worked to stay warm and kept a firm lookout for other vessels in the Sound. Headlamps were a luxury on board (only one, to be exact)…hence, mental and verbal notes were made to be better prepared for future night sails. After all, not a day goes by we don’t all learn how to further optimize our infinite path.
Sailing southwards on a close haul in the dead of night, we were able to maintain a fairly steady SOG (speed over ground) between 4-5kts, sometimes holding at 6kts for lengthy periods. The crew had become much more proficient at laying in a quick tack after a good 7hrs of hands-on practice. Snacks and thimbles ensured enduring high spirits and warmth as we approached the final stretch.
To our wonder, there were other racers still underway and (behold!) behind us…good job team.
Tactical plans were made to lay in a final tack or two to get Stay Gold across the Sound and into the finish zone without losing precious wind or sailing past the actual finish line. We picked up some speed and changed to a starboard tack. Ben, standing at the pulpit with binoculars, searching the night for the markers caught sight of the unlit floating buoy and we had our confirmation…we’re right on target for a final maneuver. “Helms-a-lee!” and we’re there! We did it! Crossing the finish line to a horn-blast from the committee team at 20:06:37 we had been underway for 34.62NM and over 10 hours. But there were no complaints…on the contrary, we agreed it had been a mighty fine day of sailing and camaraderie.
Stay Gold came in last in our class for the race, but you’d never have known it from the smiles plastered on the team’s faces…then again, the cold wind may have frozen them in place earlier.