Monday, September 2, 2019
Sunday, September 1, 2019
When I came on watch at 1AM this morning I could just see the loom of Honolulu's lights off to the south. We never did see any lights on Kauai. Dawn broke this morning when we were still thirty miles from Hanalei, too far offshore to see lights on shore there.
We get a bit stir crazy during the night watches aboard Starr, staring at the instruments with nothing else happening. Clay noticed that our log, the instrument that tells us the miles travelled since it was reset, was approaching a special number, and we got a picture of it. Simple things for simple minds....
At 3AM a ship popped up on the AIS, our first in five days or so. It was the English flagged 250 foot "Petrel" heading for "Project Area Midway" at ten knots. It must have been some kind of research vessel.
At 6AM Kauai appeared on the radar, and a few minutes later we could see it ahead of us in the growing light. We should have the anchor down in Hanalei Bay before 9AM.
Saturday, August 31, 2019
I'm sure Fred's advice on the lures was correct, but when the ocean is full of mahi mahi, and not ahi, mahi is what you catch. We put an ahi lure out and caught three more mahi in quick succession, just keeping the last and largest one. We hooked up the second fish before the lure was even all the way out again after releasing the first one. The second was probably one of the first fish's buddies that followed her into the boat as we reeled her in. Interestingly, all the mahi we have caught have been females. After the third mahi we put the fishing gear away. I never thought I would write these words, but we are tired of catching mahi. It is a first world problem.
We had yet another windless day with flat seas yesterday, and the forecast into Hanalei continues to improve. We have been incredibly lucky with the weather on this crossing. The good weather the first week (except the sloppy seas on the first night out) was expected, but beyond seven days forecast reliability falls apart and it becomes a roll of the dice. The mighty Starr has rolled well.
Last night was an excellent one for star gazing with a cloudless sky and no moon. The Milky Way sat like a lighted arch above us all night. Clay and Sharry were on watch just before midnight when a huge meteor entered the atmosphere in front of Starr, arced across the sky, and exploded in a burst of light. Clay couldn't determine if it exploded in the atmosphere or upon contact with the ocean. We see the coolest things out here.
There was no sign of other human life on the planet again yesterday. No ships, no planes, and almost no rubbish. With all the fish we are catching, I am surprised that we haven't seen any fishing boats. The area south of Hawaii outside the US economic exclusion zone is full of fishing boats. I've seen them on all my passages south. I wonder why they aren't up here north of the islands?
Friday, August 30, 2019
Yesterday morning we decided it was time to bust out the fishing gear again and snag something for dinner. Within an hour we had landed two mahi mahi. The first went into the freezer. We threw the second one back and put away the rod and reel. Not bad. We've fished for just over an hour total and landed three mahi mahi.
The skipper declared that we've caught enough mahi. It was time to catch some ahi. How do we do that? I texted my daughter Kendra's boyfriend Fred, a legendary offshore fisherman, for some advice. He responded, "7-9 inch, green lure, bullet shaped... and Kendra is gonna be jealous that I got a text and she didn't! Haha."
It was glassy all day yesterday, and once again there was relatively little rubbish in the water, just a few floats and the occasional smaller stuff just below the surface. We didn't see any ships. I did see a contrail above us parallel to our course. Must have been a HNL-SEA flight.
A couple of us saw a green flash at sunset. The air was exceptionally clear with clouds disappearing over the horizon. That's the second time I've seen it this summer!
We are in just about the same location where I've had to make some hard decisions during multiple Transpac races to Hawaii. After six days on starboard tack, the decision on when to make that final jybe to port tack is critical and often determines the winner of the race. Jybe too soon, and you'll have to jybe back to starboard, the lifted tack, at the end of the race. That means more miles sailed and a slower race. Same thing if you wait too long to jybe - wasted miles. It is difficult to pick a lay line from 400+ miles out but it sure feels good when you get it right.
Thursday, August 29, 2019
The forecast showed that the southwesterly headwinds we experienced yesterday morning would be light and short lived. They were neither. The wind slowly increased as the day progressed, and after dark last night it was up near twenty knots with a good sized wind chop. It got a bit uncomfortable aboard the mighty Starr heading directly into it at nine knots, but at least we were dry in our climate controlled wheel house. I'm glad I wasn't aboard Keith's Cal 20. I'm sure his evening was worse than ours. The wind started to clock and die off just before I came on watch at 1AM. There is still some left over slop this morning, but it is disappearing quickly.
Surprisingly, the updated forecast models missed the strong southwesterly completely. It showed light northerly winds and small seas. That's the first time in a long time that we've seen the models get it wrong. The models are calling for a flat calm day today. We hope they are correct.
The rougher weather yesterday made it harder to see rubbish in the water, but we saw a lot less than we expected. It was pretty clear that we were passing through an area of far lower garbage density than the day before. We haven't seen any garbage in the past hour since it got light this morning. Perhaps the worst is behind us.
We got two dinners out of our mahi mahi. Don made an excellent lemon/butter/caper sautéed mahi the first night and a tasty fish soup the second with onions, potatoes, shrimp, ham hocks, and clam broth. We've had a couple of days of no fish. Perhaps it is time to put the line out again?
Don and Sharry had a flying fish come in through their open cabin window the night before last. It got stuck on the window sill and didn't make it into bed with them. There would be a better story if it had.
We haven't seen any ships for more than a day now forcing the crew to create its own entertainment. Books are being finished and sudokus completed. We've solved most of the world's problems during our night watch discussions so we're spending more time listening to podcasts. Hidden Brain is a favorite.
Wednesday, August 28, 2019
It was another glorious day yesterday spent piloting Starr from the flying bridge. The wind was still from the NE, directly behind us, basically blowing the same speed we were going so it was like a calm day at the beach. There was a lot of lounging, napping, and reading up there by the off watch crew.
Visibility is much better from Starr's flying bridge, ten feet higher than the wheelhouse. As a result, we could see a lot more of the rubbish that sits just at or below the sea surface. It was everywhere, and we were never out of sight of small pieces of plastic. We passed a few nets as well. They weren't huge nets, but might have been large enough to foul Starr's prop had we hit them head on.
It was stressful looking for nets ahead of the boat, particularly during the late afternoon when the sun ahead of Starr created a glare that prevented the watch stander from seeing submerged items until the boat was nearly on top of them. That tug boat captain we spoke to a few days ago was right about nets after dark. There is no way we'd see them, even with our infrared camera. We are depending on luck to avoid those, and so far luck has been with us.
This morning it is looking like garbage density is less. Perhaps we are through the worst of it? We shall see.
The wind shifted overnight and is now coming from ahead of us. The seven knot breeze combined with our speed through the water makes an apparent wind of fifteen knots over the deck. That might be too windy to enjoy life on the flying bridge today.
I tried to contact Keith on his Cal 20 by text via his Spot Tracker system but never got a response from him. We are now past his probable position so it doesn't look like we will see him out here.
We did pass a 750 foot cargo ship yesterday headed from somewhere in Asia to Peru. She looked like an empty grain carrier heading for South America to pick up a load to take back to Asia. Do the Chinese eat quinoa?
Tuesday, August 27, 2019
Yesterday it felt like we were in the tropics. The wind was from the Northeast, directly behind us, and blowing at the same speed Starr was powering, about nine knots. That made the apparent wind close to calm, and it was glorious on deck.
Don dug out the flying bridge cushions from the lockers, and all of the crew spent time up there during the day. Sharry read her book for a few hours in the shade of the bimini and Donna spent her entire three hour afternoon watch scanning for nets from the upper level control station. It was easier to spot rubbish from that higher elevation, and debris density increased to the point that there was always some pieces of plastic in sight. Interestingly, it was almost all smaller than a dinner plate in size. We continued to see the occasional plastic fishing float, but haven't seen any other large pieces of garbage, We've only seen two nets so far.
I sighted my first malolo, or flying fish, during my afternoon watch. Yep, you're in the tropics when the malolo are around.
The barometer is telling us that the high, or one of them, is behind us. After steadily climbing for a few days, it started dropping a day ago. Barometric pressure is down from a high of 1024 to 1015mb. Usually a significant amount of wind accompanies a pressure gradient that steep, but we haven't seen it.
We reached the halfway point of the passage yesterday afternoon. The forecast shows that the high is starting to get better organized behind us, and the North Pacific is moving back into a more typical summer weather pattern. Fortunately for Starr, the trades won't return to normal until we are just two days out of Hanalei. Until then we should be enjoying flat water and light winds.
Last night we could see squalls filling in all around us on the radar, and dawn revealed what will likely be a wetter day than yesterday. Starr can use the rinse.
Our new watch system has a problem we need to sort out. We have been allowing the nighttime standby watch stander to nap in the wheel house day bunk. The current watch stander rotates into the standby position at the 10PM, 1AM, and 4AM change of watch. We don't want to rouse the soundly sleeping former standby person, ("Wake up, it's time to go to sleep"), but there is no place for the new standby watch stander to nap unless we do. If we don't deal with this quickly, Don may come up to the wheelhouse for his 7AM watch to find Donna at the wheel and Clay, Sharry, and I spooning in the day bunk!
Monday, August 26, 2019
Shortly after posting yesterday's blog we got a radar contact. The "Ever Lyric", an 1,100 foot container ship heading from Taiwan to Los Angeles at 21 knots, was on a near collision course with the mighty Starr. Don called them on the radio, "Do you see us?", he asked.
"Yes, we see you," the female on the other end of the radio call answered in Chinese accented English.
"Would you mind altering course a bit to pass green to green?", requested Don.
"OK. Green to green," she replied.
We watched nervously as the behemoth bore down on us, slowly altering course to port. She passed us about a mile away.
We saw a few other large ships during the day and evening at a greater distance from us on similar or reciprocal courses heading to and from Asia.
Speaking of other vessels in the area, Kaneohe Yacht Club member Keith Letzky, who is out cruising around the North Pacific on his Cal 20, is about a day ahead of us on this heading. That was not a typo. He is indeed out here on a Cal 20. We will be keeping track of his position as we get closer. It would be fun to run into him (figuratively, of course) out here. "Pardon me, Do you have any Grey Poupon?"
The volume of floating rubbish sighted increased significantly yesterday. We probably saw a couple of dozen bits of junk before it got dark last night. Most prevalent were black plastic fishing floats, chunks of styrofoam, and plastic bottles. No more nets, and no glass balls.
We are keeping a close watch ahead of us for nets that might foul Starr's propeller. We have confidence that we can see and take evasive action in time during the day, but not so at night. Don decided that we should have two watch standers during the hours of darkness so there is always someone standing next to the engine controls just in case we do suck a net into the prop. Quick action to put the engine in neutral should save the transmission, prop, and shaft and make it easier to get rid of the net. Our new watch system has each of us on for a six hour watch at night and a three hour watch during the day. While on watch in the dark we are staring at the TV screen for the infrared camera pointed at the water in front of Starr's bow. It's not very exciting, akin to studying a television test pattern for hours on end. Nobody saw anything of note last night. We also didn't suck a net, so Life is Goo aboard the mighty Starr.
Sunday, August 25, 2019
We are definitely in The High now. The barometer has steadily climbing up from 1014mb a few days ago to 1023mb today. Water temperature is up to 76 degrees, seas are almost Kaneohe Bay smooth, and last night the skies were perfectly clear. The Milky Way was directly overhead during my midnight to 3AM watch pointing the way to Kauai.
After seeing no garbage all day long, we saw a plastic buoy and a few minutes later some styrofoam just before sunset yesterday. A ship passed behind us on the radar screen during Donna's night watch, our first since leaving the coast four days ago.
Don and I were chatting just after the end of my night watch when a ship appeared on the radar ahead of us heading in the opposite direction. As we converged its details appeared on the AIS. It was a 250 foot tug powering at thirteen knots, too fast to be towing anything. Curiosity and boredom took over. We called him on the radio to find out what he was doing out here.
The watch stander aboard replied that he was working in The Garbage Patch, and was on his way home. He didn't tell us what he'd been doing, but said we could find out more at "Ocean Cleanup". Perhaps he was pulling that long boom thing we have been reading about?
We asked him where the largest concentration of garbage was located. "Southwest of our current position," he replied. Let's see we are heading..... Southwest. Ok, then.
We got into a long discussion with him about seeing and avoiding garbage, particularly fishing nets that can foul our propeller. "You might see them in time during the day, but there is no way to avoid them at night," he stated confidently. Don has some experience with nets and propellers. On the 2016 crossing from Hawaii to Seattle, Starr twice got nets tangled in her prop at night. Fortunately, Don was able to get the nets off without damage to the propulsion system with only a couple of hours delay.
This morning we are passing a piece of floating garbage every few minutes. Styrofoam, black plastic fishing floats, a mess of cork floats probably with a submerged net below them... No glass balls yet. We have modified the watch system going forward so there will always be two people on watch during the hours of darkness. Hopefully if we keep a constant eye on our forward looking infrared camera, we can keep nets out of the propeller at night.
A huge pod of perhaps fifty spinner dolphin stopped by for a visit at 9AM this morning. We never get tired of watching these beautiful animals frolic in Starr's bow wave.
As I was getting ready to post the blog, Don spotted a net floating ahead of us. "Quick, get the fish line out!", he yelled. I rushed to Starr's stern and got our already rigged lure in the water. I was letting the line out as a mahi hit the lure next to the net.
"Fish on!", I yelled, and Don stopped Starr. As I reeled the fish in I could see dozens of mahi following their hooked companion toward Starr's swim step. Somehow the brand new hook broke off of the lure just as the fish was getting close, and the whole school disappeared. No problem. We rigged a new lure, circled around to the net again, and hooked another one. This time we landed a nice ten pound female. Fish for dinner!
Saturday, August 24, 2019
Yesterday morning at 11AM we passed our first bit of floating debris. I couldn't tell what it was, but it looked like plastic. Sharry and I saw another, a piece of styrofoam, this morning as I was typing this. Nothing else sighted. We also haven't seen any ships in a couple of days. At some point we will be crossing the California - Asia shipping lanes so we are remaining vigilant.
The seas were flat calm and the winds were light during the morning. The swim step was damp, but seas were not washing over it anymore so we decided the time was ripe to open it up for a look see. It was full of water and everything stored there was sloshing around.
We got out Starr's emergency diesel pump, which is stored on the upper dinghy deck, set it up, and started pumping out the swim step. After clearing 80% of the water we stopped, pulled out all the gear stored in there, and attempted to pump out the remaining 20% of water. The diesel ran fine but the pump wouldn't suck water. We tried new hose gaskets, moving the pump down to the main deck, and switching suction hoses. Nothing worked. After an hour of screwing around, Don took the pump apart to discover that the impeller had decided that this was a good time to disintegrate.
Clay got the last of the water out with a bucket and cleaned out the remaining muck that was clogging the swim step bilge pump. Donna was washing all of the stuff that came out of the swim step while Don and I were messing with the diesel pump.
Once the swim step was clean and empty, we tried to determine how the water was getting into it. Clay lay on his back below the shut hatches while Don and I poured buckets of water on it. Clay should have worn a snorkel - both hatches leaked significantly in two places. Don also lay on his back in the swim step with both hatches shut, and he could see light coming in through the seals. It's fair to say that the skipper is less than pleased with the workmanship in replacing and adjusting the swim step hatch seals last week.
We put the gear that wouldn't be affected by flooding back into the swim step and shut the hatches. We are hoping it stays calm enough for the swim step deck to dry. If it does dry, we can seal it closed with duct tape. We found places for the rest of the gear on the upper deck and in the lazarette.
Four hours later everything was put away and we were back to reading and listening to podcasts. I hope we don't need that diesel pump for the rest of the crossing.
Friday, August 23, 2019
The North Pacific High is an area of high atmospheric pressure located between Hawaii and the west coast of North America. It shrinks during the winter and grows in size and intensity during the summer when most boats are making their crossings to and from Hawaii.
I spent hundreds of hours studying The High before and during numerous Transpac races to Hawaii in an attempt to predict its next sinister move. Sailors heading west need to avoid The High's center, an area of zero wind, if they don't want to park. The further they sail from The High's center, the safer they are, but that takes them south of the direct course to Hawaii, adding miles to the distance sailed. Into the mix, add the fact that The High moves often and quickly, sometimes splits into two or more systems, grows or shrinks. This usually happens faster than sailors can react to its changes. Navigators try to find the sweet spot of compressed isobars south of The High where the breeze that circles it in a clockwise direction is the strongest but the minimum number of additional miles are sailed. It is basically a game of chess against The High. Win, and you feel like a king. Lose, and you spend extra time out there and get to watch someone else collect the trophies.
At the moment The High is a navigator's nightmare. It is poorly organized, spread over a vast area, and forecast to move and surge randomly. Fortunately, the mighty Starr doesn't mind. In fact, the less wind the better as we steam across the Pacific at a steady eight knots. Yesterday's swell has died away to nothing and we have altered course to head directly for Hanalei Bay. It is looking like this will get us there experincing the least wind and smallest seas, just what we want.
Surface currents heading east from Japan roughly follow the wind direction and strength on the north, east, and south sides of The High before they head west towards Hawaii. The High's center and area of least current are roughly colocated. It's an area of no wind and no current and is reported to be the location of the Pacific Garbage Patch.
Our present heading should take us right through The Garbage Patch. Other than a single log on the first afternoon, we haven't seen any floating debris.... yet.... stay tuned.
We are trying a watch system where each watch stander is on for three hours and off for five. That's nine hours on and fifteen off each day, plenty of time to sleep. There are one hour overlaps with the previous and next watch stander at the beginning and end of each watch. This morning when I came on at 8AM, Donna had one hour left. At 9AM I am alone for an hour, and at 10AM Don will come on watch during my last hour. I like it. I can socialize with Donna while I get my coffee and breakfast. I have an hour later to write the blog and stand watch by myself, and then get an hour to talk with Don about his projects for the day. He has already been up to the wheel house this morning, and as I write this he is down in the engine room trying to get the water maker, which was doused with salt water in the lazarette two nights ago, working. Salt water and electric motors don't usually get along well, so we are not optimistic.
Thursday, August 22, 2019
Starr's short stay in Neah Bay worked to perfection. We got the last of our engine maintenance done, the entire crew had a nap, and we had a pre-ocean lunch of vegi pizza prepared by Donna. All this occurred while a front was passing overhead heading east, and by 130PM when we weighed anchor, the wind was calm and the sky was sunny.
We powered out of The Strait of Juan de Fuca, around Tatoosh Island, and into the Pacific. There was some swell left over from the wind ahead of the front, but nothing serious.
At 330PM the swim step bilge flooding alarm activated. Swimstep watertight integrity has been a challenge aboard Starr for some time. Like most swim steps, it is only a few inches above sea level in flat water. In any kind of seaway, water washes over it. The four foot long by fifteen foot wide swim step has two large hatches in the deck for access to the void below it for storing gear like barbecues and fenders. Keeping those hatches watertight has been a challenge for Don, who just had the hatch manufacturer replace the sealing gaskets a few days before our departure. It looked like the new seals were leaking, so Don and Clay spent an hour sealing the shut hatches with surgical tubing jammed in the gap between the hatches and the deck.
It got quite a bit rougher last night after dark. The sea state wasn't caused by the local wind, which was moderate and on the beam, but left over from weather that had occurred earlier elsewhere. The problem was that waves were coming from many directions at once. There were swells from ahead of us, from the port bow, and the port beam. Starr was being thrown all over the place, so we altered course to the south of our desired SW heading for an easier ride. It was tough anyway and many of the crew were seasick.
The rougher conditions increased the amount of water on top of both the swim step and aft deck. The temporary hatch repair job apparently wasn't working because the swim step continued to flood, and the lazarette, the area between the swim step and engine room was also flooding from water coming down its deck hatch as well. The lazarette is supposed to gravity drain into the engine room where any leakage would be removed by the engine room bilge pump, but the limber hole between the two compartments was apparently clogged. We started draining that compartment with a siphon. It was a busy night with flood alarms sounding at all hours, sick crew, etc.
Don went aft to look around this morning after first light to discover one of the swim step hatches wide open! It's locking latch had apparently come undone and the compressed air opening assist cylinder had pushed the hatch open. Well, that explained the leak....
Clay and Don got the swim step hatch shut and sealed the hatch into the lazarette with surgical tubing to stop that leak.
I came on watch at 8AM this morning to find a beautiful day and no alarms sounding. The seas have moderated a bit, nobody's sick, and the crew is catching up on sleep after a busy night. It is still too bumpy to come up to our desired heading, but we will be fine heading south towards the tropics for a while. We expect the seas to continue to moderate.
The repair to the lazarette hatch worked and no water is coming in there anymore. The swim step bilge pump is running continuously to remove the 500+ gallons of water that filled it. Unfortunately, there were some cardboard boxes in the swim step storage area and they have dissolved into muck which is clogging the bilge pump strainer. We are clearing the muck out of the strainer every hour so the pump can keep doing its job.
Wednesday, August 21, 2019
It took about an hour to get through the locks connecting the Ballard Ship Canal with Puget Sound. I'd never been through a lock before, but it wasn't much different than the dry docks I worked on for twenty years as an engineer for the Navy. There were lots of tourists watching us as Starr was lowered the ten feet from the canal elevation to sea level.
Once out in Puget Sound we were on our way. The crew secured the fenders and dock lines and tidied the deck up for sea. It was a stunning evening with calm winds and clear skies as the sun set over the mountains of the Olympic Peninsula.
There is a lot of ship traffic in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, our route to the ocean, so Don decided that it would be prudent to stand two person watches until we were well offshore. Clay and I were on watch at midnight when a 1000+ foot container ship passed us going in the other direction at fifteen knots. We were off Port Angeles at the time, and even though the ship passed two miles from us he blocked out a large portion of the lights on shore. Five minutes after he went by a strange bold line appeared on the radar that was approaching us rapidly from the direction of the ship. "Clay, I think that's his wake!" We had the infrared camera on to warn us away from any logs that might pop up ahead of us, and although it was pitch black outside, the infrared camera screen made it look like daylight. Sure enough, as the bold line approached Starr the screen showed a four foot breaking wave bearing down on us in the otherwise glassy calm. We held on as it hit our bow at an angle. Starr pitched, waking up the rest of the crew, but the stabilizers kept us from rolling. It reminded me of "The Poseidon Adventure" where a tsunami wave suddenly appeared on a calm sea to capsize an ocean liner. Our wave wasn't THAT big, and it didn't damage Starr, but a small sailboat lazing along on a flat calm evening without radar and infrared camera would likely have been caught unaware by the approaching wave with more dire consequences. Good thing we have all these tools on the bridge!
Our departure timing turned out to be perfect with respect to tides. We had an average two knots of push as we rode the ebb tide out of Puget Sound. Starr arrived at Neah Bay, a small protected hidey hole where the Strait of Juan de Fuca meets the Pacific Ocean just after 5AM. We anchored in the dark, and as the dawn broke found ourselves surrounded by sail and fishing boats also swinging to anchors in the bay.
Our nasty offshore weather is still there, but should be gone by noon today. We are taking the opportunity to finish up some last minute engine maintenance and catch up on sleep. We will likely weigh anchor at noon and be on our way.