Thursday, April 30, 2009

To Astoria

Sailing with Dummies
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
by Mike

With an early start we hoped to make Astoria before dark. But not too early. They won’t raise the Interstate 5 bridge between 6:30am and 9:00am. We wanted to get there about 9:00, and we did. The bridgetender got the bridge raised for us shortly after 9:00, stopping some pretty heavy traffic. We sped through and continued down the river.

It rained most of the day, which made watching out for other boats and floating logs more work and less pleasure. However, the scenery along the banks of the Columbia is very nice. And passing ships and barges never ceased to be interesting.

We parked at Astoria around 7:00pm. The Minnow will stay here for a few days. While it’s parked here we hope to get the transmission and a few other things fixed on it.

Daily Cuisine:
Today was our junkiest eating day so far. We had leftover yellow cake and also about 15 cupcakes. These were all gone by midday. I made brownies later in the afternoon so we wouldn’t starve.

Some pictures of the Columbia River:

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

From The Dalles

Sailing with Dummies
Monday, April 27, 2009
by Mike

At 3:15 in the afternoon the wind blew from the northwest. Not too strong, but steady. It was cloudy and chilly. No rain, luckily. It was time to leave The Dalles.

We had called ahead and arranged for the Hood River Bridge to be raised for us at 6:00. We estimated that we should leave by 3:30 to get there by 6:00 (but that depended on the wind and current). The left transmission would still not go forward, so we untied the dock lines and backed the Minnow into the Columbia River.

The current was with us and the wind was against us. Still, we made it to the Hood River Bridge just before 6:00 and the operator was there to stop traffic and raise it for us.The Bonneville Lock was almost three hours ahead. Our plan was to anchor above the Lock, but we were making good time so we opted to continue on.

We entered the Bonneville Lock in twilight. The wind died and the echo was strong. After I finished a rip-roaring rendition of “In the Mood” the operator came out and yelled down to us from the railing above: “I used to play that in high school.” He then told us that his favorite march was “Stars and Stripes Forever.” Bob proceeded to play him a spirited version of “Stars and Stripes.”

When we left 30 minutes later it was dark. We went on for about an hour and then anchored for the night.

Daily Cuisine:
We ate good today. Meredith sprung for breakfast at the pancake house. Ken Patchett invited us to eat lunch at Google.

Additional Important Information:
Uncle Meredith is known in The Dalles as “Van” Valkenburgh. Every time I called him Meredith it confused people. They all call him “Van.” It confused Meredith when Ken from Google told him to park down by the white “vans.”

Even though he’s a lawyer he was a great host. He fed us a lot of times. He chauffeured us around town. He took us on a historic, narrated, scenic motor tour of The Dalles. He introduced us to some really interesting and nice people. And (yes this is the truth) he was on time or early every single time we met. Honest!

Monday, April 27, 2009

To The Dalles

Sailing with Dummies (Seattle to The Dalles Edition)
Saturday, April 25, 2009
by Mike

Another early start. The anchor was raised at 5:15 and we were off. At a SOG (speed over ground) of two knots. That sure wouldn’t get us to The Dalles by sundown. The Dalles was about 80 nautical miles ahead. At two knots it would take 40 hours. We started zigzagging and cutting corners to stay more in the shallow water with less current and we able to increase our SOG to 5-6 knots most of the time.

Midday we arrived at the Bonneville Locks. At a lock is where the water level changes. When a boat is going upstream they drain the lock to let the boat float in. The Bonneville Lock is 680 feet long and 85 feet wide. When the boat (or boats) is in, they close the doors and let water in from upstream. That raises the level in the lock and the boat rises vertically. In Bonneville the Minnow was raised about 64 feet in the lock, which was the level of the river upstream. Then they opened the other end of the lock and we drove out and continued up the river.

One interesting thing about locks is the echo. We think it’s important to play a baritone when in a lock. It works best when the water is really low. Sometimes the lock operators have comments about it. This time the operator was polite and ignored us. The time from entering the lock to leaving it was about 30 minutes. You can see more about our experiences in locks here: the red boat

As the day went on, the wind increased. We put a sail up and went faster. Then the wind increased and we reefed (pulled half of it in) the sail. We were going even faster. Then the wind increased even more and we took down the sail. With this big increase in SOG we ended up getting to The Dalles way before dark.

Between Hood River and The Dalles the wind was more than 30 knots with gusts of more than 40 knots. That’s where there were lots of wind surfers. Even though the water was in the lower 50s, there were lots of them skimming around the river like water bugs.

When we got there Meredith was at the dock watching us park. He had watched us coming down the river from the highway and met us there. That was a nice reception.

Daily Cuisine: Later that night Julie, Marilyn, Meredith, Bob, and I had a surprising evening. We went to Cousins to eat. It was quite an evening – one to write down on the calendar. The surprise? Meredith paid.

Up the Columbia River

Sailing with Dummies (Seattle to The Dalles Edition)
Friday, April 24, 2009
by Mike

We started early this morning. Our goal was to get as far upriver as possible. That would hopefully allow us to get to The Dalles before dark on Saturday.

The Columbia is about four miles wide at Astoria. Within a couple of miles we found that the Columbia was only about one mile wide. The current was faster, too.

Generally we found that the further upstream we went the narrower the river got. The narrower the river got, the faster the current got. The faster the current got, the slower our boat went.

It was after dark when we got to the bridges at Vancouver, WA. One was a railroad bridge and the other was Interstate 5. The railroad bridge had to be swung open for us to pass. Interstate 5 bridge had to be raised for us to go under it. After we got past the railroad bridge they had to stop traffic on Interstate 5 between Portland, OR and Vancouver, WA. Then they raised the bridge for us. I’m sure a lot of Friday nighters were not too happy about that.

We went a few more miles upstream and anchored for the night. It looked likely we would make The Dalles before dark on Saturday.

Daily Cuisine:
Breakfast was fried eggs, toast, and cinnamon rolls. It was cold enough I wanted to have the oven and the stove burning. The rest of the day we consumed bologna sandwiches, chips, salsa, salad, crackers, cheese, and some other things. I suspect Weight Watchers would not approve.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Waiting for Bob in Astoria

Sailing with Dummies (Seattle to The Dalles Edition)
Thursday, April 23, 2009
by Mike

Bob was due in Astoria sometime in the afternoon. That left time to tend to some maintenance and repairs. There were a number of things I wanted to get done, but most importantly I was determined to try to locate the pesky water leak on the left side of the boat. I found the leak at the bottom of the left rear bedroom on the bottom of the water heater. It took several episodes of gymnastics, but I finally got the culprit removed and then replaced.

Nothing much else interesting (oil changes, belt replacements, watermaker testing, etc.).

Bob agreed to scuba dive when he got there to check the bottom of the boat. He was in the 52-degree water for no more than 15 minutes (everything checked out ok). An hour later in Subway he mentioned that he must have really gotten cold since he was still shivering. Glad it wasn’t me … I hate cold water.

We plan to head upriver early tomorrow.

Daily Cuisine:
Bob was still eating at around midnight. He must’ve really been cold. (haha)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Columbia Bar

Sailing with Dummies (Seattle to The Dalles Edition)
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
by Mike

Today I got up early to head toward the Columbia River. In order to get to the Columbia River, I first had to cross the Columbia Bar. The Columbia Bar is a system of bars and shoals at the mouth of the Columbia River. Since 1792, approximately 2,000 large ships have sunk in and around the Columbia Bar.

The nearby United States Coast Guard station at Cape Disappointment, Washington is renowned for operating in some of the roughest sea conditions in the world and is also home to the National Motor Lifeboat School. It is the only school for rough weather and surf rescue operation in the United States and is respected internationally as a center of excellence for heavy boat operations. Approximately 16 bar pilots, earning about $180,000/year, guide ships across the bar, often approaching the ships by helicopter.

I decided to go it alone. But I wanted to do it in the easiest of conditions; therefore, I took off around 5:30am so I could cross the bar between 11:00am and noon. That’s when I thought it would be the calmest. High tide and not much current. The NOAA forecast called for the worst conditions to be at 3:15am and 3:30pm. Those were the times to definitely not be on the bar.

It was cloudy with no fog. Visibility was about 6 miles. Not bad. The wind was finally favorable so I even raised a sail. With all the plans complete I spent most the morning reading a book. About 30 minutes from the channel I began to make final preparations. I put on foulies over my three layers since I would be outside at the steering wheel during the crossing. Made sure everything in the boat was tied down, in case the water got rough. Checked the latest weather forecast on the radio and on the internet. No change.

Then I went outside to double check the outdoor chartplotters and set them up as needed. The right chartplotter was dead. The left chartplotter was stuck on a starting screen. The channel was 15 minutes ahead. I lowered the sail and proceeded on slowed engines and the channel became 25 minutes ahead. It turned out that I needed 20 of that to get things right.

After lots of tries, including completely removing the chartplotter and refitting all the connections, I gave up on the right chartplotter. I was just about to turn around and head back out to sea to buy more time, but didn’t like the thought of that. With time ticking away my desired crossing time might pass. Five minutes before entering the channel the left chartplotter finally booted up and was running. I switched control of the engines to the left helm and relaxed a bit.

The channel begins a few miles out (about 30 boat-minutes) from the Columbia Bar itself. There were two ships coming out as I approached the bar. Other traffic on the bar was a good sign. The swell from the northwest had grown throughout the morning and was now probably more than eight feet. Wind speed was 25 knots from the same direction so the wind waves were just mixed in. As I turned northeast into the channel it got rough. The period of the swell was short.

Continuing toward the bar the swell lessened and the ride got better. Both of the ships were out of the way so I could concentrate on watching the water. It looked normal to me. Crossing the area that is reputed to be the worst the ride improved to almost smooth. I thought, “this is it?”

I was getting distracted with the scenery, which is very pretty, when I noticed birds everywhere. Hundreds of them were in the water and in the air. Then the ride went from smooth to rough. The boat was tipping all different directions and started yawing back and forth. Then it took a strong swing to the left, stayed that way for a few seconds, and then headed back in the original direction.

That was it. That was my Columbia Bar crossing. It lasted about 20 seconds. Then the birds were gone and the water was even smoother.

I parked the Minnow at the Astoria Marina. Bob is flying in tomorrow and then we’ll head up to The Dalles to see Uncle Meredith.

Daily Cuisine:
Today was breakfast on the boat and McDonald’s for a late lunch. Supper was off the boat too, so it doesn’t really count.


Sailing with Dummies (Seattle to The Dalles Edition)
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
by Mike

The fog continued all night and all morning. And all day. Water temperature was high 40s. Air temperature was mid 40s – until late afternoon when it broke into the 50s.

I left Puget Sound through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and arrived in the Pacific Ocean proper around 2:00am. Giving Cape Flattery a wide berth, I turned left and headed down the west coast of the United States. I stayed about 8-10 miles off the coast of Washington. It was just outside of cell-phone range which cut me off from the world. That was nice for a change.

The fog limited visibility to about a quarter mile most of the time. By late afternoon I was near Grays Harbor, where I planned to stop and anchor for the night. It is kind of scary entering a new harbor in the fog. Also, Grays Harbor bar (the sand bar in the ocean) can be tricky sometimes where the tide meets the out-flowing current of water from rivers and does strange things in the changing depths. The weather reports forecast it to be “light-to-moderate” conditions on the bar.

I relied on GPS and radar to keep me in the right spot. And to keep me from running into buoys. Or other boats. It was desirable to keep the speed of the boat fairly fast to ensure good maneuverability in case a strange current appeared. So I had to trust the GPS and radar.

The channel leading into the harbor is marked with several buoys. Green on the left and red on the right (when returning to the harbor). The charts showed where the buoys were, and the GPS chartplotter showed where the Minnow was. I sat outside and peered into the fog hoping to see a buoy. Sure enough at about a quarter mile the shadowy image of a buoy started to appear. Luckily it was right where the chartplotter said it should be.

The rest of the buoys showed themselves as I continued down the channel. It was interesting that sometimes the buoys would disappear into the fog for a few moments, even when they were as close as 100 yards away. The buoys also have bells that ring as they bob in the water. They sound eerie in the fog. Probably they sound the same in sunshine, but it seemed like they sounded eerie. Hmm.

The anchor was set and I laid down for a nap around 6:30pm; I was tired. The fog made it really comfy and easy to drift off. About 7:15 I awoke with the sensation of sun shining in my eyes. That sure made me wonder where I was. I got up and, sure enough, the fog had lifted and the last hour of the day was sunny. After 24 hours of nothing but fog, it was nice to see the shore.

Daily Cuisine:
There’s still a water leak still hiding on the left side of the boat. That is the side that feeds the kitchen. So, with no water in the kitchen to wash dishes, I opted mainly for easy to eat food. It’s a nice way to justify being lazy. Some items from today’s menu were pop-tarts, popcorn, crackers, cheese, potato chips, tostito chips (and salsa), bologna sandwich (extra thick) and the rest of the oatmeal cookies. I’m pretty sure I gained weight today.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sailing with Dummies (Seattle to The Dalles Edition)
Monday, April 20, 2009
by Mike

This morning I didn’t even mind the cold. Well, okay, I minded it some. But I was more focused on getting last minute things done in order to take off. I was excited!

Checking around the boat, I found that the left water tank was empty and the left water pump was running. That’s 400 liters (more than 100 gallons) of water gone. A counter on a bilge pump on the left side of the boat showed 18. That means that it took 18 cycles of the bilge pump to empty the 100+ gallons that leaked into left side of the boat. I still don’t know where the leak is, but I turned off the pump and refilled the tank.

Eventually I got around to driving away from the dock. The wind was light, but it’s a tight fit so I was kind of tense about not banging the 43,000 pounds of the Minnow into other boats. Things started out well, I was edging my way forward with small bursts from the left and right engines. Then the left transmission refused to go forward. This was not good.

In order to steer the Minnow at slow speeds it’s necessary to use the left and right engines independently. Sometimes forward and sometimes reverse. It’s actually easy to spin the boat in 360 degree circles in the same place. To spin to the right, just put the left engine forward and the right one in reverse and it spins right around. To make a sharp right turn, do the above and stop the spin after 90 degrees.

Out of the parking place the boat needed make a sharp right turn. With no forward on the left engine I was forced to use Plan B. Plan B was a 46-point-turn. It’s not fast and it’s not pretty. Using the rudder and right engine back and forth a bunch of times, I eventually got the boat to turn “rightish.” The Minnow left the dock without touching another boat. Whew! (this took about 20 minutes)

Once the Minnow has some forward speed, it’s simple to steer using the rudder. So once clear of the marina and in open water it was simple to drive. My worries should have been over. Except that I needed to pull into the next dock area to fill up with diesel. It took two laborious tries, but 1.5 hours later I was back in the open water heading for openness of Puget Sound.

It felt great to be out on the salt water with fresh air. Few concerns and few boundaries. One of the first things I noticed, as I was coiling dock lines and putting up bumpers, was a big, grey, majestic ship. It looked like it was sitting still in the water. There were lots of soldiers lined up on deck. As I was finishing up the lines and bumpers I noticed it was getting bigger.

I rushed inside, hoping I hadn’t missed a radio call from the Navy ship, and checked its bearing and speed. Then I veered off 30 degrees to the right to give it plenty of space. It was going 14.1 knots. I was going 7.5 knots. Before long it passed me. I waved and took some pictures. After it passed me it veered 40 degrees to the right and gained speed. Oops.

Other than a friendly encounter with the huge, high-speed ferry boat, the rest of my sailing was uneventful (the ferry boat was nice enough to make a turn to avoid me, thank you very much). My plans were to make Neah Bay for and overnight anchorage. It was a beautiful sunny day in Puget Sound. Other than being cold, I couldn’t have asked for better conditions. Unless I would have asked for favorable winds.

Question: If I’m in a sailboat traveling from one place to another without the use of sails or wind, am I sailing?

The sun was bright ahead and I was expecting a gorgeous sunset. About an hour before dark I “sailed” into a fog bank. With Neah Bay two hours ahead I thought about struggling to anchor in an unknown harbor in the fog in the dark.

I opted to continue through the night. It felt great to “sail” (solely under diesel power) into the Pacific. Even in the fog in the dark, it felt great. Maybe tomorrow I will raise a sail.

Daily Cuisine:
Some people say the first day at sea makes them queasy. Some expect to be seasick for a day or two. For some reason I find myself wanting to eat a lot. Always health-conscious, I opted to begin with oatmeal-chocolate-chip cookies (rather than chocolate-chip cookies). As usual (Barb taught me this) most of the cookie dough was eaten prior to cooking. I must admit that I enjoyed the extra few degrees the oven brought to the inside temperature. Still ravenous from being at sea, I continued with potato salad, apple, bagel with cream cheese, banana (with peanut butter), cheese and crackers, popcorn, ravioli, and several diet colas.

Taking the Minnow out of Mothballs

Sailing with Dummies (Seattle to The Dalles Edition)
Sunday, April 19, 2009
by Mike

The Minnow sat wintering for eight months in the same parking spot. In Port Everett Marina, just north of Seattle. Shortly after arrival here, Josh and Melinda did a superb job removing perishables and gave her a thorough cleaning, inside and out. Then she sat, unoccupied. For eight months.

Friday I headed to Seattle to begin southward with the Minnow. When I got to the dock, I was pleasantly surprised to see a clean boat. The dock lines were all reasonably tight, and everything looked to be in good shape. The worst I could see was where moss, algae, mildew, and stuff like that had found some homes here and there.

There were several things to do to get the Minnow ready to go. I started with some simple things … checked the bilge pump counters, looked for leaks, got the shore power going, defrosted the freezer, turned on the fresh water pumps. Bob visited Melinda, and the Minnow, in January and reported that the fresh water pumps didn’t work. They still didn’t work. I decided to tackle the fresh water system in the morning.

Saturday morning I woke up cold. It was 59 degrees in the living room (I slept in the living room since it was about 10 degrees warmer than the bedrooms) and 41 outside. Heck with trying to plumb in frigid conditions – I got in the car, set the temperature to “oven” and tried to find a Walmart or a bookstore. After close to an hour, I found a Borders. It didn’t open until 10:00a. It was only 7:45, but I was warm!

It was late morning when I returned to the Minnow with groceries and a book. I proceeded to attack the fresh water system. By early evening both left and right water systems were working.

I’d enjoyed a plumbing festival that included several thrilling trips to marine suppliers and resulted in plenty of rewarding nicks and cuts on my hands. I had replaced both water pumps, replaced fuses, reset breakers, drained water, cleaned up after spraying leaks, removed and temporarily capped both showers and probably some other things. As it turns out, it was an unusually cold winter in Washington. Thus, the freeze damage.

Sunday morning was almost as cold and Saturday. It featured the discovery of more water leaks, more parts needed, more “isometric plumbing” and late in the day, the detection of a locked up transmission shifter. By Sunday evening I was getting eager to leave and get out on the water. This boat fixing is for the birds. Monday morning the Minnow will go to sea!

Daily Cuisine: In preparation for sailing I decided to “carb up.” That’s just an excuse to eat a lot, which I did. Pizza. Melinda took me to Lombardi’s and let me feed her for her taxi services.