Last we heard from Dick and Gail Barnes, via a video interview we conducted on their boat in Hawaii, they were finishing up a relaxing summer spent at the Ko Olina Marina in Oahu after having cruised nearly non-stop the year prior. Their trip began in June 2011 after leaving Hawaii and took them to the Aleutian Islands and southeast Alaska, down the U.S. west coast to Mexico and back across the Pacific to finish up in Hawaii the following May. Over the 11 months, Ice Dancer II amassed 13,500 nm under her keel.
Now at their home in Anchorage, Alaska, the Barnes will spend the holidays with family, followed by preparations for their next trip to Micronesia this coming February. Between their two boats – Ice Dancer, a Nordhavn 50 they previously owned, and their current Nordhavn 57 - they have racked up 82,435 nm. The couple are among the top of the Nordhavn mileage earners, as part of our Nordhavn Distance Pennant Program, and will fly their 80,000nm burgee proudly prior to their next trip.
June 2011—May 2012
Our latest voyage covered a circular path in the North Pacific Ocean, beginning and ending at the Ko Olina Marina, Oahu, Hawaii, spanning the Aleutian Island chain, and the west coast of North America from the Gulf of Alaska as far south to Puerto Vallarta. We traveled 13,497 nm on this trip in 20 days shy of a year.
For the six months prior to casting off, we had been cruising between the islands of Hawaii, following a 17,282 nm, 18-month trip through the South Pacific islands that included the southern-most capes of Australia and New Zealand. Admiral Gail wanted to see the remote and fascinating Aleutian Islands on our next trip, but the question was how to make it there for its short summer season.
Rather than run to the Northwest to take the usual West Coast route to Alaska and out the chain, we decided to attempt a direct crossing to the Aleutians. This may be a first for a Nordhavn. While the West Coast route is essentially an extended coastal cruise that is never far from shore or an inland waterway, once underway on a direct course, we would have no protection from the notorious storms that march across the higher latitudes of the North Pacific. Timing would be important.
For most major ocean crossings, there are times of the year that are optimal. We knew from reviewing the Atlas of Coastal Pilots that northern storms near the Aleutian Islands could be expected well into June and start up again in August. After closely watching weather reports for a month, we left Oahu, Hawaii on June 19 for Hanalei Bay, Kauai (22-13N 159-30W), a 12-hour run in heavy seas. Hawaii’s inter-island channels are subject to winds accelerated by the venturi effect of trade winds accelerating as they wrapping around tall, volcanic mountains. Hanalei Bay is a remarkable destination, with beautiful beaches, a good anchorage, towering mountains, a dinghy-navigable stream and a village unspoiled by industrial tourism. It was a perfect staging place for us to wait out weather conditions far to the north.
Adak was our targeted arrival port in Alaska. Our intention was to see the entire Aleutian Island chain, which begins well west of the International Date Line. Adak is the most westerly port that has diesel fueling facilities. It was a major Navy base during the Cold War and now has a village and a fish processing plant.
On June 23, the grib file weather models looked favorable, both for westerly storms in the far north and easterly trade winds closer to Hawaii. NOAA weather-fax charts and printed forecasts also looked favorable. We weighed anchor at midday and began our trip. For several hours our initial heading was more easterly than desired, to accommodate a scheduled rocket launch from the Pacific Missile Range. For the first three days, we encountered moderate beam seas and warm trade winds. While in the tropics, we boated two nice mahi mahi fish. Over the next three days winds and seas changed to following conditions. Daylight on the sixth day brought calm winds, cool air, dense fog and three albacore tuna (39-40N 168-35W). Albacore prefer cool water temperatures and their appearance was right on cue. We were in the center of a big high and it was moving with us toward Adak. We had glassy seas with no wind. Our sailboat pals were suffering, but it was perfect for us.
As we traversed the north 40s, winds clocked around to the west and intensified. By the evening of July 1, we were above 45 degrees latitude, the winds were 25 to 30 knots forward of the port beam, air temperature was 45 degrees and we contended with an adverse current on the bow. It is no wonder that the Aleutian Islands are known as the birthplace of storms. We were definitely out of the tropics and enjoyed our hydronic heating system that recovers waste heat from the main engine.
On the morning of July 3, the Aleutian Islands came into view. We crossed the Tanaga Strait on low ebb to avoid the fast currents that run through this connection between the North Pacific and the Bering Sea. We Toured Adak Harbor then anchored in nearby Finger Cove (51-50N 176-38W), formerly a Cold War submarine pen. The Adak military base was in a strategic location toobserve submarine activities of the old Soviet Union. Population at the base reached 6,000 before base decommissioning in the 1990s. The Navy lands and buildings were sold to the Alaska native owned, Aleut Corporation. Now there are about 350 living here. It is the western-most municipality in the U.S. and southern-most in Alaska.
The crossing from Hawaii to Adak was 2,074 nm at an elapsed time of 10 days. That is 200 nm per day, about typical distance for a long crossing. Speeds lag with opposing weather and arepushed by following currents, but variations seemto offset over most crossings. With two on board, we shared three-hour shifts from about 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. with longer, unstructured naps during the day. We always have one of us awake and on watch. The system works well for us.
We hiked the shore of Finger Cove and changed oil on the July 4 holiday and fueled in Adak the following day. We bought 900 gallons of diesel, which was enough to explore to the west end of the Aleutian Islands and make it to Dutch Harbor for our next fuel stop.
It was a two-day run from Adak to Attu, the western-most island in the Aleutians, anchoring in Massacre Bay (52-51N 173-12E). On the way, we passed Amchitka, site of three underground nuclear explosion tests, Kiska, Shemya, with its mothballed Air Force Base and crossed the 180th meridian into the eastern hemisphere.
The Japanese occupied Attu and Kiska for a year, during World War II. In 1943, 2,350 were decimated in a fierce battle with U.S. troops on Attu, above where we anchored our Nordhavn. After retaking Attu, Kiska was bombarded and invaded, only to find that the 5.100 enemy soldiers had left undercover of fog, some two weeks before
At Attu, we took our mountain bikes ashore and toured the gravel roads where remnants of old barracks and machinery from World War II and the Cold War era remain. A closed Loran station, formerly operated by the U.S. Coast Guard, is boarded up. The hillsides here are covered with wildflowers and grass. Flowers seen included Rhododendrons, orchids, primroses, wild geranium, chrysanthemum, daisy, lilies, paintbrush, fireweed, lupines,cotton grass and violets. Our summer visit was quite a contrast from the harsh gales and snowstorms ofwinter. Winter winds have been recorded at 150 mph. There were 3,000-foot mountains NNW of our anchorage with patches of snow. All of the hillsides andvalleys wereextreme green, so it must rain sometime. We were blessed with long, sunny days.
Geographically, we were 200 nm from Russia’s Komandorski Islands and 400 nm from the Kamchatka Peninsula, mainlandRussia. Ham radio propagation was a struggle in this remote place. One of thestations we used for Winlink e-mail communication was in Vladivostok, Russia. Before leaving Attu, we supplemented our freezer stock with a 35-pound halibut Gail caught and then started an overnight trip, about 200 nm east to Kiska Island. We traveled on thebackside of a storm that passed throughthe area. En route, we had a sperm whale, blowin’ and goin’ perpendicular to us, come to a complete stop across our bow. I had to use the reverse gear to keep from slowly sliding up to it. We were running along a drop off that had a lot of upwelling going on. Perhaps it was thinking about its next dive.
Like Attu, relics from war action 70 years ago are still evident. All of the Aleutians are volcanic in origin, with hillsides composed of ash and pumice. Before the allied landing, aircraft and warships bombarded the island and the explosive charges left large craters that are evident to this day. On the beach (51-59N 177-33E) are the remains of an old pier, an enemy pillbox and a two-man submarine. We hiked the hillsides and canyons and found another wide selection of wildflowers that were a delight to see.
From Kiska, we made an overnight run to Quail Bay on Kagalaska Island, near Adak (51-45N 176-20W). Here we noticed leaking coolant in thepan beneath the main engine. We had spare coolant on board, but the leaking hose was getting worse, even with the engine at rest. We made a patch from rubber gasket material andclamps, but it was not enough to stem the flow. Adak has little repair infrastructure and infrequent air service, so we decided to make for Dutch Harbor, 463nm to the east. When we arrived, the Harbormaster met us at our assigned slip on a commercial dock, waited for us to secure the boat, and then drove us around to see Dutch Harbor and Unalaska, the two local communities.
We ordered from Anchorage 35 feet of two-inch, high temperature hose to replace the lines running from the main engine to the keel cooler. This hose is very stiff and was difficult to remove and replace. Two workers from a hydraulics shop helped make the repair possible. The hoses were failing where they passed under the engine, well out of sight and barely within reach.
Dutch Harbor is the distribution and supply point for commercial fishing along the Aleutian Islands and up in the Bering Sea. It has fish packing plants, but most of the catch arrives in factory trawlers that catch and process the fish at sea. In port, the product is taken off the ships and stored into large freezers and then loaded aboard freighters bound for U.S. or foreign markets. Dutch has scheduled air service, but it comes to a complete stop in heavy fog conditions. We were fortunate not to have our hoseshipment delayed.
After our hose replacement was complete, we took on 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel at Dutch Harbor, enough additional supply for a side trip to Saint Paul Island, back to the Aleutians and up the Alaska Peninsula to Kodiak.
After another stop on Unalaska Island, at Naginak Cove (53-38N 166-52W), we left July 27 on a 250 nm run to Saint Paul Harbor, in the Pribilof Islands. Here we rejoined Annika and Bjorn, on s/v Lindisfarne, from Goteborg, Sweden. We first met this talented couple in Hobart, Tasmania and later crossed paths at Stewart Island, New Zealand, Kadavu Island, Fiji and Honolulu, Hawaii.
The Bering Sea island group is popularly known for its location in the Deadliest Catch TV series, but historically, for the harvest of fur seals by the Russians prior to the Alaska Purchase and by the U.S. government, thereafter. Aleuts were originally brought to the Pribilofs by the Russians as slaves and nearlytreated as poorly when operations were taken over by the U.S. and its contractors.
Fur seal harvests have stopped except for some subsistence take by the native residents. Fishing and tourism support the local economy, now. We observed several fur seal rookeries where they breed and have pups in peace. Populations continue to decline, in spite of protection, perhaps due tobottom trawler pressure on fish stocks.
Besides the fur seals, cliff dwelling sea birds and abundant wild flowers provide unique opportunities for tourism on the islands. Access is by small, commuter airlines, unless you happen to have acruising vessel. Our friend, Laura Stamm flew out from Anchorage to visit with us and tour thePribilofs.
August 1, we left St. Paul to return to the Aleutian Islands and begin ourvoyage up the Alaska Peninsula. By this date, you need to begin paying attention to your location and exit strategy from the state, or risk consequences of extreme weather conditions that can begin in September. We had a long distance to go before the relatively protected waters of Southeast Alaska and British Columbia.
There were 25 knot winds and following seas on our overnight run from Saint Paul Island to Sandy Cove, on Akutan Island (54-10N 165-48W). Next stop was Kaligagan Island, site of one of the world’s largest puffin rookeries. Thousands of the colorful, parrot-like birds were airborne at anymoment. We anchorednearby in a bight next to Tigalda Bay (54-07.9N164-58.3W), on August 4. It proved to be an unsettled anchorage, requiring a flopper stopper to quiet the roll. On August 5, we found 3 knots of opposing current as we cruised past the tip of the Alaska Peninsula, then anchored at SanakIsland (54-29.0N 162-49.3W). Our chart showed houses, a post office and a school. All we saw wereremains of buildings that looked 50 years old.We left Sanak in the rain but enjoyed sunny although blustery conditions by the time we anchored at Dolgoi Harbor (55-07.3N 161-48.W) onAugust 6. We were joined by nine sea otters which were enjoying clams and crab. On the seventh, we anchored in Balboa Bay, on the mainland. Thisday’s run wasparticularly spectacular, with big peaks, glacier-cut bluffs and snow patches.
On August 9, we were at Coal Harbor, on Unga Island (55-19.9N 160-36.3W), joined again by friends Annika and Bjorn. Annika spliced new Dyneema line to replace the stainless cable and chain on our flopper stopper system. Our cables were becoming frayed and the chains had broken several times. Round Island, in the middle of the anchorage, was covered with blue and gold flowers and had a large kittiwake rookery. August 10 wedeparted Coal Harbor and did a drive by of the fishing village of Sand Point. In nearby Popov Strait, many humpback whales were feeding. That evening, a commercial fisherman gave us a fresh-caught king salmon. Soon after, we anchored at Necessity Cove (56-09.1N 158-20.7W).
On August 12, we rounded the landmark of Castle Cape, entered the harbor to see the fishing village of Chignik and cruised north to our anchorage at Geographic Bay (58-06.9N 154-36.2W). Geographic Bay is located not only in a spectacular setting, but has the added attraction of large numbers of brown bears that forage for clams at low tide. We spent hours in our Hobbie double kayak, taking photos and just watching the bruins. This bay deserves a rating of don’t miss.
We spent the next morning with the bears then crossed Shelikof Strait to Kodiak Island, in the afternoon. That evening, we anchored at Dry Spruce Island (57-57.0N 153-2.8W) and enjoyed a delightful sunset, along with the sea otters. These were the first wooded hillsides encountered since arriving in the Aleutian Islands. On August 14, we left Dry Spruce Island and traversed Kupreanof Strait. Our departure was a little late and we paid for our dalliance with strong opposing tidal current, in Whale Island Passage. Rafts of sea otters, close to 100, were happily floating back and forth with the currents, foraging for food along the way. Unlike our last voyage to Kodiak, there were no whales seen in Whale Bay, where we had seen many fin whales. Anchorage was in Anton Larson Bay (57-52.9N 152-39.1W), where we harvested many king crab in the 1980’s, scuba diving with friends Jeff Riddell and Roy McMichael.
August 15, we took a slip in Kodiak’s St. Herman Harbor (57-46.7N 152-24.8W), along with commercial fishing boats. The good of the harbor was a secure, floating slip with power. The bad situation was air and water pollution from boats in various stages of repair and refitting. We were able to leave Ice Dancer II for a furlough to our Anchorage home, about 250 miles north. But, the raining of steel filings, diesel soot and paint spray gave us plenty of work to clean up when we returned.
GULF OF ALASKA
After a three-week break, we returned to Kodiak, joined by our 14-year-old grandson, George Deardorff. George joined us for our southerly run down the west coasts of Alaska, British Columbia, the lower-48 and Mexico. He brought along, and downloaded along the way, homeschool materials for his freshman year of high school. Homework was turned in and tests were taken on the internet, when in port. He was a very good student while on board and performed well in his studies.
We purchased fuel and oil supplies in Kodiak and departed September 8. Our
preferred course was directly across the Gulf of Alaska, but the 4 p.m. text forecast for Gulf conditions was for high winds and seas. This outlook differed from grib file forecasts produced by grib-file models. Nonetheless, we took a curved course following the northern Gulf shoreline, planning to anchor up at Fox Farm, near La Touche Island, rather than chance a 500 nm crossing in bad weather. The next morning, we were approaching the barrier islands that form the southern end of Prince William Sound and our planned anchorage. Weather was sunny, winds light and seas calm. We called NOAA’s Juneau office for an updated forecast. It was favorable, so we turned south and kept going. We stopped at Middleton Island (59-30.0N 146-17.5W) long enough to board a few halibut, including George’s first. Along the Gulf Coast, we stopped at Lituya Bay (58-36.3N 137-40.0W). Its backdrop provides stunning views of mountains on the western edge of Glacier Bay. It is the site of one of the largest tsunami waves ever recorded and where French explorer La Perouse lost a long boat and crew attempting to cross its entrance.
This was our fifth voyage through Southeast Alaska, so we will forego some detail. This area is so rich in cruising opportunities that it is hard to do justice to the magnificent beauty in the form of log entries. Most anchorages are well documented in the cruising guides. On September 11, we arrived at Elfin Cove (58-11.7N 136-20.8W), a picturesque village located near the beginning of Alaska’s panhandle and inside passages. The following day, we moved to Fingers Cove in Glacier Bay (58-35.0N 136-12.8W) where we watched black bears and whales feeding in our anchorage. Bears returned the next day and that afternoon we moved toward the Glacier Bay’s entrance and anchored at Bartlett Cove (58-27.4N 136-63.7W). This gave us a daylight run to Tenakee Springs, a small boardwalk community that operates a small, state-built marina (57-17.3N 135-35.2W). On September 15, we anchored at Eva Islands (57-25.6N 134-56.5W), where we watched brown bears feeding in nearby streambeds.
We passed through Sergius Narrows on Friday, en route to Sitka. Anchorage that night was in St. John Baptist Bay (57-17.3N 135-35.2W). On September 17, we arrived in Sitka via Neva and Olga Straits. We picked up groceries and George’s homeschool supplies, shipped from Portland by his mother, Maria. We planned to stay a while in Sitka but forecasts for heavy weather persuaded us to head back to St. John Baptist Bay for the night. The next day we retraced our route through Sergius Narrows and into Peril Strait. Our target anchorage was Appleton Cove (57-38.3N 135-17.3W). We floated over a reef off Rodman Bay and caught rock fish for our evening meal and carcasses to bait a crab pot. The next morning we had a trap loaded with Dungeness crab.
Weather was closing in on us, so on September 19, we made our way down the inlet to Warm Springs Bay (57-03.3N 134-50.0W) to wait out the storm. Winds and rain were extreme, but our location, tied on the inside of a state-built float and pointing into the weather, kept us safe. Falls at the head of the bay moved enormous volumes of water, swollen by the heavy rains. Winds blew the roof off of the Alaska Airlines hanger, in Petersburg. While we waited for a break in the weather, we hiked and explored around the enclave of vacation and tourist cabins, nearly all vacated since the end of summer.
And wait we did. Four days later, the winds abated enough for us to make our way through rough water in Chatham Strait and on to Petersburg (56-48.6N 132-57.9W). Petersburg is a fishing town with a large population of Norwegian descendants. Its location is well protected and within reasonable distance to commercial salmon and halibut fishing grounds. After two days, we left the comfortable floats for the run down Wrangell Narrows, a twisting two-hour ride. Like other narrows in Southeast Alaska, transit timing is important to take advantage of slack water or a reasonable following current. At full tidal flow, transit is untenable. We anchored at Lake Bay (56-01.3N 132-52.5W), an area of active timber harvesting.
On Sunday, September 25, we traveled down Clarence Strait and Tongass Narrows to dock at the City Float, in Ketchikan (55-20.6N 131-39.2W). Ketchikan keeps slips available in this marina so that there is space for transients passing through. Space is on a first-come basis and power is included in the slip fee. Weather was bad again on Monday so we delayed departure until Tuesday. We fueled and traveled to Foggy Bay (54-56.9N 130-56.4W) for our last anchorage in Alaska. We found good protection here.
Throughout Southeast Alaska and continuing down into British Columbia, we refrained from running in darkness, due to the number of logs in the water. The problem of dodging logs increased in B.C., probably as a function of greater logging activity. Longer daylight hours in the early summer would allow longer daily runs, but at this time of year, 80 to 100-nm days is the most you can expect.
September 28, 2011, we entered Canadian waters with logs and plenty of choppy seas. We crossed Dixon Entrance in 42-knot winds and by late afternoon tied up at Prince Rupert Yacht Club, checked into the country and shopped for provisions. We pushed on Thursday morning down the narrow and straight Grenville Channel to Hawk Bay (53-16.3N 129-21.1W) in Squally Channel. It was a calm anchorage, even though large swells were running outside. On Friday, we cruised down Princes Royal Channel and anchored in Morris Bay (52-21.0N 128-26.8W). The anchorage proved a little small, so George took a single stern line to shore to hold us securely in place. We changed oil in the main engine, our 12.5L John Deere.
On October 1, we passed the Indian village of Bella Bella and anchored in Rocky Inlet (51-52.4N 127-51.3W), off of Fitz Hugh Sound. In our anchorage were two floating log camps that were in poor condition. We waited out a violent windstorm for three days that was blowing up from Queen Charlotte Sound. While waiting, we took our Achilles inflatable to explore an abandoned cannery in Namu Harbor. On October 4, conditions improved enough to move further down Fitz Hugh Sound to Green Island Anchorage (51-38.5N 127-50.3W). It was protected on all sides with a narrow entrance, 30-foot depth and plenty of swinging room. It was an ideal place to wait for good conditions to cross Queen Charlotte Sound and get behind Vancouver Island.
We had enough light at 0730 to leave Green Island Anchorage on October 5. Blunden Harbor (50-54.3N 127-17.4W) was another beautiful and protected anchorage for our evening stop. Weather had cleared and the scenery was gorgeous. Thursday morning, we left for a short run to anchor behind the Sophia Islands (50-32.0N 126-37.4W). Along the way, we stopped to watch a pod of seven orcas feeding on small fish. This was a strategic stop to time the crossing of Seymour Narrows the next day, at slack water. Tidal flows at the narrows are extreme, so transiting between tide changes is critical. While we had extra time at Sophia Islands, oil in the Twin Disc, main-engine transmission was changed.
On October 7, we left Sophia Islands at 0730, with enough light to dodge logs in Johnstone Strait. This strait connects northern British Columbia and the metropolitan areas of the Strait of Georgia, such as the city of Vancouver. As a consequence, there is considerable commercial traffic on the narrow waterway, in addition to logs, rocks and recreational traffic. We transited Seymour Narrows right on schedule and anchored across from the town of Campbell River in Gowlland Harbour (50-4.7N 125-13.4W). The anchorage is a little deep, but it is well protected and holding was not a problem.
The next day, we departed Gowlland Harbour and started into the Strait of Georgia. We were greeted with strong current and 30-knot winds on the nose, making for steep seas. That evening, we anchored in Deep Bay (49-27.9N 124-44.0W). It was well named and made a marginal anchorage in 100 feet of depth. A filled marina occupied the best waters, local boats anchored up the next, and what was left for us wasn’t much. We held pretty well with all of our 400 feet of chain out. Our stop here was primarily to visit with a long-time friend, John Snyder and Sheila, who moved to nearby Fanny Bay after many years in Alaska. We enjoyed catching up with their activities and sitting down to a Canadian Thanksgiving dinner.
Monday morning we left Deep Bay for Nanaimo (49-10.6N 123-55.9W). We have used this spot to anchor on several trips through the area. It is secure and large enough to accommodate many boats in transit. Besides the good anchorage, Nanaimo is a strategic stop to time passage through Dodd Narrows, a high-speed tidal passage that connects Georgia Strait to the protected Gulf Islands. We left Nanaimo on October 11 and made our way to the Port Sidney Marina. Sidney is the next city of size after Nanaimo and about 18 nm north of Victoria. Facilities are good with modern cement floating slips, and provisioning is easily available nearby. The marina suffered from moderate surge that could be problematic for long-term moorage.
On Wednesday, October 12, we departed Port Sidney, checked back into the USA at Roche Harbor and anchored for the night in Friday Harbor (48-32.2N 123-00.5W), on San Juan Island.
The next day we crossed the Strait of Juan de Fuca and docked at Port Townsend. On Friday, Ice Dancer II was hauled and pressure washed by marina personnel and set on the hard at the Townsend Bay Marine shipyard. We stayed on the boat while shipyard personnel cleaned and painted the bottom, replaced kelp cutters that protect the stabilizer fins, replaced a throttle control and fixed a coolant leak. On Friday, October 21, we splashed and departed Port Townsend, then made our way to anchor off the small boat harbor at Port Angeles (48-07.7N 123-27.1W). On Saturday morning, we fueled at Port Angeles and traveled down Juan de Fuca to the Indian village of Neah Bay (48-22.5N 124-36.6W), which has a well-protected anchorage, just inside Cape Flattery and the North Pacific Ocean. We spent part of Sunday exploring the village that primarily is a destination for summer tourism.
We left Neah Bay just before noon on Monday, timed to cross the Columbia River Bar at high slack water the next morning, after running overnight. Current brought us to the river mouth a little early, so we ran a pattern offshore until daylight and optimal timing to cross the bar and then continue upriver on the flood tide. By noon, tidal flow had reversed and slowed progress, so we anchored for the night in the river (46-14.5N 123-26.2W).
On October 26, we resumed the 110 nm trek up the Columbia River. We had arranged for a slip at Tomahawk Island Marina (45-36.4N 122-39.4W) which is a bit north of the I-5 interstate highway bridge. This is a quality marina, with concrete floating docks, good support facilities and full-voltage electric power. I say full-voltage, because many marinas were built using less expensive 120/208-volt systems, rather than 120/240. Our boat’s electric system does not do well on the 208 service, especially if the voltage drops even lower during periods of high demand. While at Tomahawk, we had Hayden Island Canvas install a new Sunbrella fly bridge top and re-upholster the fly bridge helm chair. We left our Nordhavn to rest in fresh water while we returned home to Anchorage until after the holidays. George spent time with his parents, in Portland, and we re-grouped in January. Ice Dancer II did well in the river water. The only downside was an accumulation of silt in the bilge from prop shaft leak off.
BACK TO SEA
For nearly two weeks, we remained in Portland for weather patterns off the Oregon coast to settle. On January 27, 2012, we left Tomahawk Island Marina and started downstream in the Columbia River, in heavy fog. We could not see the bridge spans of I-5 until nearly abreast of them and chose the well-marked barge channel. That turned out to be a mistake, because while it was a secure course, the vertical space was limited. We scraped our long SSB and VHF antennas as we passed. When we reached the Vancouver Railroad Bridge, we requested the swing bridge to open and held against the current. We took advantage of the ebbing tide to make good time to Astoria (46-12.4N 123-46.7W), where we anchored for the night, near a Coast Guard dock. It was too late to catch the slack tide that is necessary to avoid overfalls and breaking seas in the river mouth.
Early Saturday afternoon, we crossed the bar is fair conditions and started a run south to San Francisco. Conditions were less than perfect on Sunday, with 25 knot winds and 8-12’ seas, both coming from the south. We slowed to six knots to soften the ride, in heavy rain. Late that night a front passed and the winds decreased and backed to the northwest. As we came even 30 nm off Eureka on Monday, winds dropped to less than 10 knots and seas were mild.
On Tuesday, we passed Drake’s Bay, one our favorite anchorages near San Francisco, tucked under the Golden Gate Bridge and tied up to a float at Pier 39 (37-48.6N 122-24.7W), 662 nm from Portland. Our preferred stop is the Saint Francis Yacht Club, but no slips were available due to construction. Instead, we were serenaded by California Sea Lions that occupied the nearby floats, much to the amusement of throngs of tourists. The slip was noisy, had lousy power, and relatively expensive, but hey, it was a slip in the heart of San Francisco. For the next two days, we enjoyed the city, using public transportation in the form of cable cars, electric trolleys and buses. We visited the de Young museum in Golden Gate Park and downtown stores, included Gail’s favorite, the multi-floor fabric store known as Britex.
We departed San Francisco before first light on Friday, February 3 and enjoyed favorable conditions, downwind to Monterey Harbor (36-36.2N 121-53.4W). Marina management at Monterey is friendly to visiting yachts with attractive daily rates that included power. We squeezed into a 17-foot-wide slip, narrower than our beam at gunnel height. Entry into the inner harbor is between jetties that produce strong side currents. Aggressive rudder and throttle control can be needed to traverse this area of restricted maneuverability. Saturday, we walked to the Monterey Aquarium and visited local shops. Late that afternoon we left Monterey and continued south to keep ahead of inclement weather that was moving down the coast.
We had good conditions for the two-night run to Dana Point (33-27.5N 117-41.7W), where we found Dave Harlow Monday morning on Nordhavn’s docks, already at work before the rest of the workers showed up. While there, we replaced our microwave oven and the raw-water cooling pump on our John Deere wing engine. On Thursday afternoon, our former boat, a 50 Nordhavn renamed Sally G came into the harbor. We left early Friday morning, but Sally G had already moved on and we didn’t have an opportunity to visit with those on board.
Friday afternoon we anchored at La Playa (32-42.9N 117-14.0W), off Point Loma, in San Diego Harbor. This is a weekend-only anchorage that requires reservations with the Harbor Police. Soon, my brother Steve and wife Rosemary joined us, when he rafted up along side in his 45-foot Jeanneau sailboat. We moved to a slip at San Diego Yacht Club on Monday morning, bought boat supplies and provisions, visited with family and departed Thursday morning.
Early that afternoon, we arrived at Cruiseport Marina (31-51.3N 116-37.3W), in Ensenada, Mexico. Friday was a paperwork cha-cha day, starting with immigration, then customs and port captain. Fortunately, they have adjoining offices in Ensenada, which is not the normal situation. Our next stop was with the conservation zone authorities, across town. Our plan was to stop in the Islas Revillagigedo, off the tip of Baja California on the way south and Isla Guadalupe on the way back north. Both areas require visitor permits. Well after dark, we had our permits. Saturday morning, we fueled at Coral Marina and headed south.
After fueling, we left Ensenada and ran overnight to Islas San Benito (28-17.8N 115-34.5W). There is a small encampment of lobster fishermen that work this group of islands. Their high-value catch is taken to Isla Cedros or the mainland for transport to market. Conditions were bumpy in the anchorage. We left the next morning for the predictably calm waters of Bahia Tortugas, or Turtle Bay (27-41.2N 114-53.3W). This is a common stop for Baja cruisers. Diesel is available, pumped from drums, but with less quality certainty than the Pemex facility in Ensenada. The next morning, we continued south on an overnight run to Bahia Santa Maria (24-46.4N 112-15.3W), which is near the large Bahia Magdalena. Favorable current gave us an average speed of 9.4 knots, about 0.7 knots faster than our normal long-range cruising speed. We stayed at anchor on Thursday and traded goods with the local lobster fishermen.
We left Bahia Santa Maria on Friday, February 24 and after a couple of hours visiting Bahia Magdalena, ran south for two nights. Few cruisers visit Islas Revillagigedo. These are barren islands, about 265 nm south of Cabo San Lucas. Permits are difficult to obtain, good anchorages are few and other than a fishing camp there is only two small Mexican Navy facilities.
When we reached the islands, we trolled well off Isla Roca Partida (18-59.8N 112-02.8W) where we hooked and lost a large yellow fin tuna. Fishing is prohibited near the islands, so we kept our distance. In the afternoon, we ran to Isla Socorro (18-43.6N 110-56.4W), anchoring in Navy Cove so that we could check in with the authorities. After a boarding party arrived, we found out that the island was closed for what they said was scientific projects underway, but later we heard it was military activity. We were allowed to anchor in a nearby cove and left the next morning. We moved to a small cove on the south end of Isla San Benedicto (19-17.9N 110-48.4W. The sea was active with giant manta rays, visible in the clear blue water. Pumice and grit formed the mountain barrier to prevailing winds. Hillsides were carved into repeating fractal patterns, likely caused by torrential hurricane rains on otherwise parched dry land.
Our next destination was Banderas Bay, on the Mexico mainland. We waited for some heavy weather to calm down and left San Benedicto the morning of February 29, for the 320 nm, overnight trip. Conditions were good. As we entered Banderas Bay, we were hailed by Lance, on Starpath, a Nordhavn 40. They recommended a new marina near the small town of La Cruz, on the north side of the bay (20-44.9N 105-22.7W). That idea sounded good to us because of concerns about problems in urban areas of Mexico. We found a modern marina with excellent concrete floats and good power. While there, we had the entire boat hand waxed at a reasonable cost. Kevin and Anna, from London, were there on Tesla, a 62 Nordhavn. Mexico held several sailing regattas while we were at the marina, with sailboats competing from Mexico and the U.S. The Mexican Navy provided armed security for the regatta participants.
SEA OF CORTEZ
Tuesday afternoon, March 6, we left La Cruz with a watchful eye on weather conditions. We were headed for the east side of the Baja Peninsula. As we left Bahia Banderas, grandson George caught a large jack crevelle, which put up quite a fight. The main crossing of the gulf was in good conditions but we could see from weather charts that a strong northern wind was likely to develop. We timed departure so that our arrival at Bahia de los Muertos (23-59.2N 109-49.6W) would be in daylight on March 8, and it was, at 6:30 a.m. However, the last three hours were in awful, steep, wind waves, piled close together and right on the bow. We should have opted for an anchorage arrival in darkness by leaving La Cruz earlier in the day. The anchorage is well located for protection from the north and when we arrived, there were plenty of sailboats already swinging in the wind, that spills over from the kite-surfing beach known as La Ventana.
It took two days for the blow to subside, so we stayed on anchor at Muertos. When conditions calmed down, we moved to Bahia Balandra (24-19.2N 110-19.7W). The next morning we headed into La Paz, where we tied up at Marina Abaroa. For the next week, we visited with brother John and his wife, Joanne, who have a home in La Paz. We also visited with our daughter Traleigh and her family, down from Phoenix.
On March 21, we took on 4,200 liters of fuel at Costa Baja and left the La Paz area. Over the next two weeks, cruised among the Sea of Cortez islands between La Paz and Loreto. Because this was our third cruise here, we will list these delightful anchorages, rather than reiterate details discussed in previous log entries. They were Caleta Lobos, Caleta Partida, Isla San Francisco, San Evaristo, Punta San Marcial, Honeymoon Cove on Isla Danzante and Puerto Ballandra on Isla Carmen. This group of islands is some of the best cruising in Mexico and well used by gringos as well as local yachts. Mexico cruising guides have photos and descriptions, for those who plan to spend time in the gulf.
OFFSHORE BAJA CALIFORNIA
We left the Sea of Cortez on April 5 and anchored in Caleta Palmilla (23-00.8N 109-42.7W) near Cabo San Jose and the southern tip of Baja California. Ken Williams, owner of Nordhavn San Souci, greeted us by VHF radio from his condo, near the anchorage. The next day, we took a taxi to re-supply the boat with groceries from Costco. On Saturday, April 7, we departed Palmilla for Bahia Santa Maria, arriving at 7 a.m. the next morning. We enjoyed calm weather en route, and caught three yellowfin tuna on the way, between the Finger and Morgan Banks. We rested during the day and departed at 3:30 p.m. to continue our offshore run, northward along the Pacific side of the Baja Peninsula. We enjoyed continued favorable sea conditions, but the water turned from blue to green, limiting chances to catch more fish while trolling along.
Over the years, we have learned to take advantage of these favorable conditions, especially when steaming in the direction of prevailing winds, seas and weather. The stretch from Cabo San Lucas to Ensenada is home of the phenomenon known as the Baja Bash, an adverse situation that particularly bedevils low-powered sailboats. We ran 420 nm over two days to Caleta Melpomene (28-52.7N 118-16.78W) at the southern tip of Guadalupe Island, at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 10. We anchored and soon afterward met by a Navy boarding party. Guadalupe Island is a Biosphere Reserve. We obtained permits to visit while on the way south, at Ensenada. Our permit had 56 formal stipulations, written in Spanish. Mexican Navy has a base on the island and enforces rules. Interestingly, the Navy boarding team had trouble reading and understanding the stipulations, but we were patient and worked our way through the formalities.
Heavy weather was expected to arrive on Wednesday evening and continue throughout the weekend. So, we moved Wednesday morning about 20 nm to North Anchorage (29-09.1N 118-17.1W). This anchorage is protected from the prevailing northwesterly winds and waves, and it is just off of haul-out beaches that are well covered by elephant seals. We stayed through the weekend, watching the pinnipeds, home schooling and conducting boat maintenance chores.
Heavy weather had abated by Monday morning, so we departed for a 180 nm, overnight run to Ensenada. We arrived at first light with very heavy fog conditions. Rather than fight the fog, we tried to find a spot to anchor, out of the swell behind Todos Santos islands. We inched our way through the fog, into a potential anchorage, only to find an extensive aquaculture operation. Slowly, we backed off and carefully worked our way across Bahia Ensenada to Marina Coral, avoiding pescaderos traveling blindly in their outboard-powered pangas. We took advantage of favorable prices and filled our fuel tanks, in anticipation of our upcoming crossing to Hawaii.
Thursday, we moved to the Coronado Islands (32-24.4N 117-14.3W), where we anchored for the night and on Friday morning we check in at U.S. Customs, in San Diego. For the weekend, we rafted out with my brother Steve and wife Rosemary at La Playa anchorage and moved to the San Diego Yacht Club on Monday morning. We visited with family that joined to celebrate my mother’s 100th and as it turned out, last birthday party. Grandson George returned home with his mother, to Portland.
Monday, we traveled to Dana Point. While there, the Nordhavn crew changed out our eight, 8-D AGM Lifeline house batteries and replaced some failing heater hose. Dave Harlow and crew were very helpful, as usual. Before leaving, we topped off our fuel tanks, at $1.20 per gallon higher cost than at Ensenada.
We departed Dana Point at 11 a.m. on Friday, May 4 for Hawaii. NOAA was reporting strong winds up the coast, near Point Conception, but the forecast for the Channel Islands was favorable. By the time we came abreast St. Nicolas Island, we had a full gale on our starboard beam. Rather than retreat back to the lee of Catalina Island, we altered course to the south, to run with the sea and wind. The next day, things calmed down, and we resumed our course to Hilo, Hawaii. This crossing was 2,240 nm, time 11.2 days, estimated fuel consumed 1,550 gallons and burn rate 1.45 nm/gal. We caught a few mahi mahi on the crossing, but had to stop fishing due to crowded freezer space. We were south of where you would expect to find most of the debris from Japan’s tsunami, but we did see very large blocks of Styrofoam that were likely pushed by winds, ahead of heavier debris. Much of the tsunami trash will probably end up in the great garbage patch known as the Pacific gyre, north of our track.
Yachts using Hilo Harbor (19-43.9N 155-03.2W) are med-moored to a dock behind the commercial ships and wharfs. To transact business with the Port Captain and government agencies, you must enter a secured area with an official escort. It is a bit of a hassle, but a workable solution. None of the State of Hawaii ports or marinas are constructed or operated with the needs of visiting cruisers in mind. The first consideration is for large commercial, next charter and other tourism boats, and third for local residents. Transients, even Hawaiians from other islands, are a distant fourth. We used bus transportation to visit Hilo and do some shopping.
On Thursday, we leisurely followed the trade winds from Hilo to Nishimura Bay (20-11.4N 155-54.3W) on Hawaii, then on Friday across the Alenuihaha Channel to La Perouse Bay (20-35.3N 156-25.0W) on Maui. We have seen La Perouse’s name, a French explorer, on nautical charts throughout the Pacific. Saturday, we made the three-hour run to Mala Wharf anchorage. We took our dinghy to shore for provisions and visiting, in Lahaina.
Monday, May 21, took us from Maui to what we think of as our adopted homeport of Ko Olina Marina. We had been gone 20 days short of a year, and traveled 13,497 nautical miles, or another half way around the earth. Our Pacific Ocean adventures now totaled 82,435 nautical miles between our 50 and 57 Nordhavns. We treasure our many adventures and look forward to the next.