As we progressed south, we had good steady 10-15kt breeze out of the NW and sailed with on a starboard tack with a full main and single reefed genoa. With the boom out to port quite far and the boat rolling in the swell we were having to have one person act as a ‘shock absorber’ to keep the boom from slamming back down after a roll. After one night of that, I finished rigging our Wichard Gyb’easy boom brake. I had not fully appreciated this piece of equipment until now. With the control lines lead aft to the secondary winches, we found that the boom was held nearly stationary! It also lived up to the name later on when we had a wind shift and an accidental gybe. It slowed the gybe to a safe speed. This proved to be one of the best pieces of gear on the boat.
At one point the wind went light so we furled the genoa and motor-sailed with the full main out to starboard. While this did not provide much sail power, we found that it damped the rolling of the boat.Later in the evening I (Risto) made a rookie mistake and learned a valuable lesson. It is standard proceedure to shorten sail at night but as we were motor-sailing in light air, I got lax and left the full main up. In the second night watch the wind picked up to 15-20kts and the swell increased. I realized we needed to get the main down. Since we have a roller furling main, it is necessary to turn up wind far enough to take the pressure off the sail for it to roll correctly. As we rounded up to luff the main, I forgot that the boom brake was still tensioned which pulls the boom down. As the main rolled up, it rolled forward which folded the luff edge over on itself and jammed with about four feet of sail still up. We left it up as a stabilizeing sail. It was the next day when we pulled it down and furled it on the boom that we realized that a couple of the battens had punched though the end of their pockets and that the stitching of the pockets had broken loose a bit. Damn! I always like to consider screw-ups as education. There will be tuition paid at the Doyle Sail loft in Alameda.
After getting the main down, we had a brisk sail with a single reefed genoa on a port tack which allowed us to angle back in towards the coast.
We had contracted with Commanders Weather, a weather routing service, to provide us with an eight day forecast before we left Neah Bay. We had planned to go out at least 100 miles to 127*W longitude to avoid the pressure gradient off of Cape Blanco and Cape Mendocino. On 8/10, after checking with Comanders Weather for a verbal update, they confirmed what I had ascertained from my weather forecast. It was time to head SE to close the coast south of Cape Mendocino.
As we sailed on, the wind went really light so we rolled in the genoa and fired up the ‘iron genny’. This allowed us to bear off on a rhumb-line course for the coast…maybe.
Why does everything happen in the middle of the night? No sooner was I sound asleep than the engine temp alarm went off. Engine overheating? NOW? We had never had an issue with overheating. So we went through the usual process of troubleshooting: Silver Wings has what is called a fresh water cooled engine which is a bit of a misnomer. It is actually anti-freeze cooled; the coolant running though the engine passes through a heat exchanger where it is cooled by sea (raw) water passing the other way. The first thing to check is to make sure the raw water is circulating. So we checked the raw water strainer and found it clogged with eel grass and gunk. I realized that this should be a regular maintenance item (as we were 100 miles from the nearest eel grass!) Thinking the problem solved, we started the engine again. Ten minutes later, just as I was drifting off again, the alarm went off again! In spite of the light air, we were able to get some sail drawing and make progress. I asked Don and Ben to let me get some sleep to let my brain ‘noodle on it’. Interestingly, after a couple hours of sleep, I woke up wondering if it could be the thermostat. Don said he had a similar situation and had just removed the thermostat entirely. After checking that the raw water impeller was ok, I made a call to Mark Hariawa at Auxilliary Engines in Seattle. He suggested that we try to blow out the raw water thru-hull by using the foot pump for the inflatable. While this did not seem to make a difference, it was good to see the it could be done should we ever need to clear the thru-hull of debris. We just closed the seacock, pulled the hose off of the strainer fitting, jammed the inflator fitting from the foot pump into the hose and pumped as we opened the seacock. It was apparent that there was air flowing out of the seacock. So no blockage. At this point we determined that the only thing left was the thermostat. After removing it, the engine ran perfectly, although a bit cooler than ideal for the remainder of the trip. Add a repair item to the San Francisco repair list.
I had called Commanders Weather to get an update and they indicated that the wind would build to 20-25kt with gusts into the 30’s along with building seas to 2-3 meters
As we neared Pt Arenas and turned south towards Pt Reyes the seas built to what seemed to be enormous size. In reality, they were probably around 2.5 meters. Exactly as forecast. Bear in mind that when seas of 2.5 meters are forecast, that is the ‘significant wave height’ which is the average of the highest 1/3 of the waves. This means that there will be occasional waves that are twice the height of the significant wave height. We certainly experienced some waves in the 5 meter range. There were some that were every bit of 15 feet.
While we continued to motor our course towards Pt Reyes, we tried to keep these seas on our stern. ‘Otto’, the autopilot, did an amazing job steering in these conditions. The waves would lift the stern and if they caught us a bit on the quarter, Silver Wings would slew around somewhat sideways to the face of the wave. For the most part, Otto kept up and was able to correct. Once in a while he would not be able to correct and would give an alarm so we could hand-steer to get back on course.
All of this was a fantastic confidence building experience. Silver Wings was proving to be a VERY seaworthy vessel. Don sent me an email with an endorsement that read:” Silver Wings proved what a great boat she is. The trials of the winds and waves we encountered simply pointed to what a able vessel she is. At one point north of Pt. Reyes a large breaking wave grabbed a hold of Silver Wings an slewed her sideways, heeling her to 45*. At no point during the (event did I feel unconfident in her . She simple shook it off and kept going.” The long fin keel and skeg hung rudder allows for good stability as well as maneuverability.
Over and over, again, I was glad for all of the extra time and effort we put in to ‘strength and safety’ in our preparations. We believe that if we take care of our boat, she will take care of us.
Finally, we rounded Pt Reyes and headed for Drakes Bay to anchor for the night. We found the wind increasing to 30-35kt with gusts over 40kt. As we turned into Drakes Bay the wind eased a bit and we anchored in about 20-25kts. This was more wind than we had ever anchored in and I was, again, grateful for our 44# Rocna anchor and all chain rode. With a generous 5:1 scope and our double snubber line, we all enjoyed a bit of whiskey and a good sleep.
Morning brought fog and an unclear weather report.With 5 hours to get to the Golden Gate, we needed to time our passage into San Francisco to catch the beginning of the flood. We hesitated for an hour or so and decided to go for it. The fog dissipated and the sun came out as the wind filled in out of the NW. As we entered Bonita Channel, I decided to put up the main in spite of the damage. I have dreamed for YEARS about sailing OUR boat under the Golden Gate Bridge and here was our chance. As we approached the bridge the wind increased to the point that we dropped the main and sailed with just the genoa. Sunshine, a fair breeze and under the bridge we sailed.
We toasted with Champagne and lots of photos. Unfortunately, I discovered later that the GoPro was inadvertantly not running!