Monday, January 5, 2015

Moss Landing at last

In mid-July Kitty and I completed Koan's move to Moss Landing. The trip up was stunning. We encountered lots of whales in San Simeon Bay, South of Point Piedras Blancas, and motored along that stretch enjoying the show.

Point P.B. still had more breeze than forecast, around 11 kts on the nose, but the sea state was manageable this time, so we pushed on. I will never get over the psychological imprint of that spot. It's truly a minor Mordor in my mind.

We passed it just before sunset and switched to taking night watches. There was a long swell running, but everything else was straight forward. I had an especially surreal watch around midnight, during which the fog broke for a few miles and I was treated to the most breathtaking sky. The milky way looked like hot coals, I shit you not. Then the moon rose over the mountains behind Big Sur. It looked huge and it was the color of a blood orange. I actually spent a few seconds staring at it trying to figure out what it was. I dragged Kitty out of bed to show it to her, but she wasn't as impressed (so sorry!).

Dawn came upon us just before Pt Sur, so we got to see that when we crossed it. We kept on motoring and things got interesting as we approached the Monterey headland, which has a huge kelp bed offshore. The wildlife started to multiply, and pretty soon we noticed what looked like explosions in the water. It turned out the Monterey Bay was experiencing a sardine hatch, and humpbacks had come in to feed. Watching the humpbacks do their thing while traversing the Bay was absolutely the coolest thing ever.

Moss Landing Harbor is in an estuary, so the sardine density was especially high at its outlet, and so was the whale density. It sounds crazy, but the situation was so jaw-dropping that we didn't get any photos. There were whales breaching right and left of us, within 100 yards. I kept thinking that they outweigh the boat by, oh, 50x, maybe 100x? If one were to hit us, we'd be goners. And on top of that, I wasn't quite sure how to observe the "do not harass whales" law which requires me to shut off my engine when within X feet (can't remember how many) when I obviously needed to go right through their midst to enter the harbor. So we plugged on, and kept our eyes open and just soaked it all up.

Neither of us had ever been to Moss Landing before, but we had no trouble finding the guest dock and the harbor master and arranging a slip. I think I might have slightly scared the guy though, as I walked in, reeling from 24 hours on a pitching boat, hair all crazy, wearing foulies, and a bit giddy from dodging whales.

And there Koan stayed for the next 4 months. Kitty and I paid her frequent visits, Jim and I took her out on a whale watching trip, Dan and Hucks came up and explored the area, and I generally fell in love with Moss Landing.

And then in December I passed Koan on to her excited new owner. I know she'll take good care of him and vice versa.

Let's see where the breeze takes me next...

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Uphill migration leg #2 attempt #1

On Saturday Kitty and took off from Morro Bay to try to sail up to Monterey. The small craft advisory had been lifted for exactly one day, and we figured we may as well make a run for it. We left the harbor at noon, and saw lots of whales and scared lots of birds as we crossed Estero Bay. Probably the highlight was coming very close to a pair of what we thought were gray whales, a big ol' one with a munched up tail, and a smaller one with a perfectly shaped tail. In fact, the tails looked so different that we're now wondering whether they were two different kinds of whales. Later on we saw a pair of pilot whales, as well. We crossed Pt Estero and started running into steepening swells. The motor started cavitating every once in a while and the boat would also go into crazy rolls without the main up. So we put up the main and soldiered on. We passed some incredible seaside mansion complexes south of Cambria, and saw some kind of brutalist/cubist probably military installation up on the hill above town. The more we made our way towards Pt Piedras Blancas, the stronger the breeze got, and the steeper the waves. Eventually the motor started to cavitate a lot, and our speed dropped to 3.5 kts at our usual RPM. I decreased the RPMs on the motor to try to help it out, but then our speed dropped to 2.5 kts. Things were getting pretty miserable, with 13-14 kts on the nose, and making only 2.5 kts progress, so we decided we may as well sail. Under full sail, hard on the wind we made ~4 kts SOG and 2+ kts VMG, so really there was no disadvantage there. We took one big tack in just N of San Simeon, then a big tack to a point about 3nm S and 2nm offshore of Piedras Blancas. At that point the swell got really steep and square, and, while struggling to keep the point at max VMG, I dropped it off a couple waves. The shudder was kind of terrifying, and I figured, if we're going to lose the rig, one of these drops will probably do it. We tacked back, aiming to pass just N of PB, and Kitty took the helm. I went below to check on the measurement for PB, and smelled intense gasoline smell. We don't keep any gasoline in the cabin, so the smell had to be diffusing in from the lazarette. When I looked in there I found the almost-empty tank, being light, had completely upturned during one of those falling-off-a-wave moments, and was draining into the lazarette, and the fuel hose to the motor had also disconnected from it, voiding its contents. Luckily there was only a quarter cup of gas sloshing around, and I was able to clean it up right quick, but the whole thing was disturbing. Around the same time, it dawned on me that at 2 kts VMG we weren't going to make it to Monterey by Sunday night, and, under the best circumstances, I figured we still had a lot of sailing before finding conditions flat enough to motor in. So a bit S of PB, we turned our nose downwind and started heading back to Morro Bay. We had an exhilarating run, while watching a gorgeous sunset, ate some munchies, and a couple hours later switched back to motoring, once our sailing speed dropped below 3.5 kts. Kitty went below for a quick nap, and I managed to drive the boat into a kelp in the pitch dark, since I wasn't following my outbound track. We pulled up the motor, slowly motored out to our kelp-free outbound track, and re-engaged the motor. Halfway across Estero Bay, around midnight, the night dolphins showed up to keep us company. I was feeling our mortality very acutely, in the pitch black, very foggy, very wet night, and the dolphins helped somewhat to cheer me up. There were half a dozen of them, doing their usual tricks, looking like torpedos, with their cylindrical phosphorescence trails. At one point Kitty told me to stick my head in the cabin, and I heard their clicking sonar, which is how they knew where we were, and never touched us. They're incredible. We got near the entrance of Morro Bay around 1:30am, and realized we could neither hear the fog whistle buoy, nor see the entrance buoy. Thank goodness for GPS, because the situation was completely hopeless. Kitty engaged super-navigator mode, and I took over from Otto as the helmsperson. Eventually we spied the entrance buoy, but keeping it ahead was a real ordeal, as it would appear at 20 degrees up from what I thought was the horizon for one blink, then 20 degrees below my horizon for the next blink, 4 seconds later. We were running some biiiig swells, in the middle of the night, in the soupy fog. Eventually we spied the glow of the breakwater light, and made for that, and then we looked for red can after red can, and followed them in. I counted that we used 4 separate GPS mapping things: Kitty's Garmin, iSailGPS, iSailor, and finally Google Maps to figure out which dock belonged to the yacht club. Eventually we pulled up to the dock, and we to sleep already. So... Koan's still in Morro Bay. And we've learned that we need to lash gas tanks, follow kelp-free tanks, and allow twice as much time if there's a chance we can't motor during an upwind journey. Phew!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Uphill migration -- leg #1

Koan has begun her trek North. Motivated by NWS LOX's promise of glassy seas and complete lack of breeze, we made a mid-week bum rush W-NW towards Morro Bay. After a morning of hauling gas cans until my shoulders burned, and at least 4 copies of the same checklist floating around on the kitchen table, Kitty and I departed on time, noon sharp on Tuesday. Not a minute too soon, as Harbor Patrol would have been there to kick us out for slip fee non-payment if we'd stayed a minute longer!

We motored the whole way, at probably 2/3 throttle on our little Honda 5 hp, and did chores and generally got the boat ready for the night passage. We had some breeze, probably around 10 kts, in the mid-afternoon, then everything quieted down as we approached Point Conception. We rounded at 7:45pm, and continued on a straight line to Pt. Arguello. Half-way between the two we noticed what seemed like an unusually high concentration of boats (2!) around what looked to me like a workboat mooring. We turned on the VHF as we were passing abreast, only to be greeted by a Coast Guard notice to mariners informing us that what we were witnessing was in fact a barge in the process of sinking. Too cool! Kitty claims it changed shape as we went by. I'm not so sure, but in any case, very interesting. And *no* mention of it anywhere in the CG news today...

It got dark shortly after that, and we found ourselves wondering what was causing the eerie glow behind Pt Arguello. As we rounded we were treated to the otherworldly view of a Vandenberg vehicle assembly building fully lit up, with a perimeter of extremely bright lights, in the fog. As we rounded the point we had some, ahem, navigational doubts, so we switched to waypoint (instead of eyeball) navigation for the night. We left platform Irene to port, and then everything was completely dark. Our biggest worry was the possibility of snagging a crab pot and burning the engine or mangling the prop in the process, but we seemed to miss the ones we came to see by a good 10 feet every time. We eventually had dinner and switched to our night-time tethered-to-jacklines-when-on-deck system. We started 2-hour watch rotation at 11pm, with me on 11-1, 3-5, and Kitty 1-3, 3-7. By my 3am watch I was seriously sore from helming against the big rolly swell, so I brought out Otto, the Raymarine ST1000 autopilot, who basically helmed for the whole rest of the trip.

By 7am, when I came back on deck, we were close enough to Pt Buchon to see the shoreline, and Kitty said she'd seen all kinds of marine life during dawn. We had breakfast, I saw a whale, and we saw a bunch of sea otters as we approached Morro Bay, where we docked at MBYC around 9am Wednesday morning. We took empty tanks and a bunch of personal gear off the boat, and put her on a mooring, where she awaits us for the leg further North. All in all, we made it look easy :)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Screw the headliner

A lot has happened since my last posting, and projects have been slow over the intervening months. But there is some progress to report, and still more to come soon. For today, I report on the successful venting of frustrations that was the removal of the headliner...

Koan's headliner I think was original. It was particle board with a pattern, painted white and screwed to the ceiling. The purpose was to hide the ugly fiberglass underneath, and the wires running between it and the underside of the deck. Unfortunately, deck organizers, cleats and cabin top winches had been installed through the headliner, making a bit of a mess. And of course, this hardware had been installed blindly, with no knowledge of where the wire was running. So, in order to back the hardware properly, and in order to inspect the wiring underneath, the headliner had to go.

 It was a bit disgusting, and soreness inducing, and here's the mess it made. But it came off. And look at the awesomeness it revealed! Mmm, bolts going right next to and almost through wiring.

Check out this cabin top winch installation. I think the odds of making this particular pattern while blindly picking a place to install a winch are astronomical!

So the headliner is off, all the wiring has been moved to run elsewhere, and today I cut all the backing boards for the hardware that needs them. I also painted the bare, yellowed fiberglass a nice gloss almond color, which takes away some of the harshness of having it exposed. Most importantly, the current situation, while cosmetically inferior, is infinitely preferable, as all hardware can be backed, inspected and serviced properly.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

New things to try on Koan

Since Koan doesn't have standing head room, everything belowdecks is done either sitting on the berths or kneeling. The cork I installed a few months ago didn't hold up at all, so I've decided to try out these gym flooring tiles. Bonus points that the best berth in the boat while at anchor, that is, the floor, is now somewhat softer!

I also finally finished connecting the GPS to the VHF, so that the VHF can transmit our coordinates over DSC in case of distress, and it can also be powered by the house battery bank. That meant I needed somewhere to mount the VHF so that the cable would reach, the device would have signal, but it would also be somewhat protected from the elements. The default solution tends to be the companionway, and I confirmed with Mike, who owns the Moore 24 that I race on, and who has the same Garmin 76 device, that the companionway works for signal. So I went with it. I really liked the strong but flexible Gorilla-style arms that I've seen on some of the Mini Transat Zeros, so I looked for something similar. I decided to go with a solution from the photography world, where 1/4''-20 thread tripod mounts are ubiquitous, and modern DSLRs weigh more that my GPS. I'm using an i-Stabilizer bracket to hold the GPS and it connects to a stainless steel gooseneck with a tripod mount on the top end and a female socket for the same size bolt on the other. The default position is up (and invisible from the cockpit) and then you can bend it sideways to make it visible, and presumably improve the satellite reception.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Ladies and gentlemen, we have solar!

A while back I ordered cheap, but allegedly accurate, digital voltmeters from ebay, and today I cut out holes in the tops of my battery boxes and installed them. I built them up so that they hook up to the batteries with little alligator clips, so they can be disconnected if need be.

I also moved the AC charger closer to the new location for the batteries, so that the cables run without tension. It's the big gray box on the right in the photo. Finally, I installed a PV7D solar charge controller, the little gray box on the left.
The improved battery situation.
The charge controller is fed by a cheap 20 Watt panel, also from ebay, mounted on a Sunsei articulating mount from the sale rack at West Marine. I finished the installation (14 AWG throughout, so the panel amperage can be increased in the future) yesterday and tested that everything works today. I'm pretty happy with it, except for the water resistance of the panel-side connections. It's pretty clear that this panel is not marinized, so my quandary is whether to wait for it to crap out somehow or replace it with something marinized and save this one for some sort of terra firma application.
The solar panel.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Pit and mast upgrades

The way things used to be:
a Garhauer stainless steel rigid vang and a wooden backing board for the pit control line clutches.

The pre-1993 Harken 150 cams for the pit controls were corroded beyond belief! Of the 6 cams on the pit board and the mainsheet controls only 2 were serviceable, one as was, one after a rebuild. Here's the carnage:

This is how it is now: 
A Seoladair Boomkicker fiberglass rigid vang:

and a Starboard backing board with new Harken 150 cams:

Lessons learned:
* the vang is a Boomkicker K0800. However, the K0800 mast-side fitting is made with bolts that are too big fit in the track of my mast (the original 1973 Proctor mast). The K0750 mast-side fitting uses #10 bolts that fit in the track, and Seoladair was happy to swap it out. On the boom side they have recently adopted female-style track, rather than the T-track they used before. In my case, there is already a 1 inch T-track bolted to my boom to fit the Garhauer vang that I wanted to use. They were happy to send me a car that fits that track. Finally, with the mast-side fitting at the very bottom of my mast, and the boom-side fitting almost as far aft as it can go, I still needed to hack off about 8cm of the fiberglass tension rods. But I love the way this has all worked out!

* I tried using a round-over router bit at the fastest RPM of our drill press to round-over the Starboard. No dice. It kicked and bucked. Not sure if the speed was too low or the material too finicky, but don't try this.