Friday, September 2, 2011

Ten Days at Sea, sort of.

What This is About

Brigadoon at full tilt under sail.

Sailing with my Kerry

The Plans

Plans, plans and more plans were made as we prepared to take off on our longest cruise yet.  The idea was to spend ten days out on Brigadoon, traveling approximately 200 nautical miles, circumnavigating Puget Sound.  Our plan was to visit Port Ludlow for the Perry Rendezvous, continue to Port Townsend, cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca, visit Victoria, cross through Deception Pass, stop over in Oak Harbour or Penn Cove on Whidbey, and continue on south to Shilshole and back home.

The Planned Route.

And yet, those are just plans.  Just as "get-there-itis" has brought down many a pilot, it can vex sailors too.  Attempting to rigidly stick to a plan or schedule can force bad decisions upon boat and crew, leading to a less than optimum voyage, if not outright disaster.  As with all things on the water, the plans can change due to weather conditions, the crew, and the systems on the boat.  On this trip, many things changed.  We met many unexpected challenges, and yet were prepared for it none the less.

Eventually, we sailed this route, covering about 150 nautical miles.

Our Actual Route.

So with plans and contingencies in mind we set off on the evening of Thursday, the 18th of August, for the locks and our first stop, a loaner slip at Shilshole Marina from the kindness our cruising friends on Deep Playa, who are on their way to points south as I write this.  Kerry gave great directions as we motored into Shilshole, looking for our slip and finding it rather quickly with a , "There it is!"

I turned in quickly and we were shortly tied up, all snug, in Deep Playa's old slip.

Brigadoon rests quietly at Shilshole.

Setting Off

The morning dawned very early for us, as was the case the whole vacation.  We rarely stayed up terribly late and often found ourselves rising fairly early.  I was usually up and about around 7:00 AM in search of, or making, coffee.  Kerry usually popped up shortly thereafter.  After returning from finding coffee (chai for my Kerry) at the Purple Cow cafe just south of the marina, we started our plans for setting off.

Kerry plotted out our course on Rose Point (our laptop navigation software) while I busied myself with prepping the boat for casting off.  Our first stop after the slip was the fuel dock to pick up 20 gal of diesel to top up our fuel tank for the trip north.

The plan was to sail, as much as possible, from the north entrance to Shilshole, around Point No Point, around Fairweather Bluff, and arrive triumphantly at the Perry Rendezvous in a very rare (only six ever made) Pilot House version of Bob's Baba 35 cutter.

With a full tank we motored out of Shilshole and started our tacking journey against steady north winds.  The actual distance between Shilshole and Port Ludlow is about 25 nautical miles.  That, however, is a straight route, taking us around the major shipping lane that occupies the majority of Puget Sound.  We had to tack, back and forth, against the wind, to work our way north.

At one point, as we finally made it past Edmonds, Kerry said, "we aren't making much progress it seems."

Well, she was right.  It didn't seem that way but, we hadn't spent much time doing this yet.  Brigadoon was actually doing well, sailing against a steady 10-12 kts of northerly breeze and making good time at around 6 kts of boat speed.  She sails well pointing into the wind, even with her baggy saggy old mainsail.

Brigadoon, at full tilt, about 6.5 kts, tacking northward towards Whidbey Island.

I really like it when Brigadoon is galloping along, like an 11 ton war horse.  She is really in her element.

Soon we had made our way to the south end of Whidbey island, where the winds calmed a bit.  We ended up almost to Useless Bay (named because it's quite inviting but shallow and useless in a southerly blow, being open completely to the south).  But the wind was from the north and Whidbey was not going to share it with us.  Being in the island's shadow meant that we could see Point No Point but were making slow progress towards it.  With that, we decided there was no harm in motoring over there and into Port Ludlow for our arrival.

Engine Failure

Kerry took the wheel, driving Brigadoon northward, into the wind as I doused the mainsail.  As I stood on the pilot house, securing the mainsail to the mast, I could hear the engine running along and feel the boat rocking against the swells.  As I concentrated on the sail, I heard something funny.

I looked back.  Kerry looked a little confused.

"The engine sounds funny," she said.

The boat was rocking into the swells a bit, so I figured the changes in revs were do the prop partially coming out of the water.

"Keep her on course and I'll be right there," I replied.

Quickly getting the mainsail secured I headed down off the house and to the wheel.  Kerry turned to controls over to me as I tried to see what was going on.  The engine was running erratically, with revs changing up and down.  I pushed the throttle full forward, expecting about 2500 to 3000 rpm and, eventually, about 5 kts of boat speed towards Port Ludlow.

Instead, we ended up watching the revs on the tach drop to zero and listening to the engine die.  Attempts to restart her were for naught.  All I got was cranking.  No engine.  No start.  Nothing.

This, on our first day.

Besides, sailors of old made due without engines.  Right?

"Well, We Are a Sailboat Now."

That's what I said to Kerry as I quickly moved forward to get the main raised again.  My trusty and reliable first mate took the wheel as we transitioned back to being a pure sailboat, running on main and staysail.  Soon, we were indeed a sailboat, floating about, just south of Useless Bay, in barely any wind, trying to stay out of the shipping channel and not get run down by the passing freighters and cruise ships.

The first of many container ships we encountered in this journey.

This ship can kill you and not even notice.

The bow or killing end.  

You see, in the shipping channel, those ships are moving. They are big.  They are fast. They don't move for you.  You are expected to move for them.  Sailing under good wind, or with a good engine, gives you options.  You still have to keep out of their way.  They are still moving much much faster than you expect, but you have options.

With a dead engine and Brigadoon capable of a whole 3 kts of boat speed in these light winds, our options of navigating the shipping lanes easily or quickly were much diminished.  Kerry had her hands full but she was clearly up to the task; sighting approaching ships, calculating closing speed, choosing when to tack away from the channel and when we could be in it.  This allowed me to concentrate on why we didn't have an engine.

Diving In 

There I was, ripping the stairs out of the pilot house, pulling out the engine manual, sorting through tools and preparing to figure out why we didn't have an engine in the middle of the Puget Sound, alongside the shipping lanes.  This was all my fault, by the way.  I'll elaborate later but, right now, let's concentrate on what I tried to do.

Trusting Kerry to keep us safe and sailing, I started examining the fuel system.  You see, the great thing about diesel engines, especially marine diesel engines, is that they are so simple.  All you need is air, fuel, and compression, assuming the engine itself is mechanically sound (not all broken inside).

I dove into the fuel system, suspecting fuel starvation.  Working through the fuel system, I replaced the primary Racor fuel filter, bleeding it for air (there can be no air in the system for the engine to function), then moving on to the secondary filter on the engine.  I quickly got that off and found it mostly empty of fuel.  I changed that filter and attempted to bleed the air out of that one.  The manual, low pressure pump wasn't working so I tried another technique.  I used the decompression levers on the engine and cranked her over with the starter, pumping the air out of the top of the filter.  Completing that I tried an engine start.

Note: this was a try for luck as I had not completed the air bleeding procedure but, at the worst, it would mean no fuel delivery to the engine and just wasted cranking.

Turning the key, I poised my finger over the button and pushed.


Wait, it wasn't supposed to make that noise.  The engine would not turn over.  I suspected, for some insane reason, a dead start battery but, I had ample voltage on both banks.  It should, at least, try to turn over.



We are still primarily a sailboat.  So, we sailed.  The engine was frozen, or won't turn over and we need to get to Port Ludlow before dark.  Fortunately, Kerry had signed us up for Vessel Assist (the AAA on the water) so we started making arrangements for a tow to our slip once we got into Port Ludlow.

The crisis wasn't over but, we were dealing with it well.  We were under sail, making way, and scheduled for a meetup with the tow boat for our triumphant entrance to the  Perry Rendezvous.

The nautical tow truck getting us to our slip at Port Ludlow.
We made it to our first destination and were quickly nestled into our slip.   We shortly ran into Bob.  He gave me a great hug and welcomed us.  I had much on my mind.  With the dead engine, I had no idea what the rest of our trip was going to be like.  At least we were safe and at the event.

We weren't the only boat to have issues, or need a tow in.  Another Baba 35 had a coolant issue and ended up in the entrance to Ludlow with a cabin full of smoke.  We had listened to them on the radio as we worked our way in under sail.  At least we didn't have a possible engine fire.

Sorting Out the Engine

The next day we were able to engage Burton Gabriel of Gabriel Marine Services to come sort out our engine issues.  Burton was excellent.  He worked with me to go through the fuel system, educated me on what I needed to do to resolve this in the future, and discovered our problem.

The reason why the engine would not turn over was that the rear cylinder was full of seawater.  This was my fault.  I cranked the engine too long out in the sound and, since a marine diesel engine uses seawater to cool the exhaust, the water back filled from the exhaust riser into the engine.  We got it cleaned out and, with a few hours work, had the entire fuel system bled.  The engine struggled at first but, with some coaxing and cranking, the little Yanmar started up and ran well.   Burton checked over everything twice, declaring that the engine was likely fine and that we should have no problems making it to our next stop; Port Townsend.

It was two o'clock in the afternoon on Saturday and our trip wasn't ruined.

The Party

That night we made some new friends, shared a potluck, danced to Bob and his band and let some of the stress and worries go.

To Port Townsend

Sunday morning was filled with a little more relaxation, and planing our next leg.  With Kerry plotting our course, I cleaned up the boat and, with a little fretting here and there, decided that we could head out.  Two other boats were headed to Pt Townsend too, and one of them was the Baba 35 with the possible overheating issue, so we decided to keep and eye on each other on the way.

I spent plenty of time during the trip checking the Racor fuel filter and ensuring it wasn't clogging.  Each time it looked good, so we carried on.

It was a really good sail.  We got to practice some motor sailing along the way and eventually ended up under full sail, pointing hard into 15+ kts of north wind, working our way across the shipping lanes at just about 7 kts towards Point Hudson Marina in the town of Port Townsend.

Docking was a challenge.  There was plenty of yelling between Kerry and I (the good kind, just being heard) as we dealt with pulling into a slip upwind of a big ketch and ensuring we didn't drift down on her before we got the lines tied up.  We did well.  I'm proud of how well Kerry and I work together, how we handle challenges, and how we solve problems before they become a crisis.

After fifteen nautical miles in the sound we were tied up at our slip.

We were to spend three nights there.

Pt Townsend

While we were here, in this picturesque little town, we decided to engage SEA Marine, have a mechanic change the oil on the engine along with finding and engaging a fuel polishing service.

The view from the Pt Hudson Cafe while the fuel polishing service was done.

Internet access at the dock.

I wanted to know the engine was in top shape and that my fuel tank and supply was as clean as possible.  We were in a beautiful little town with great services available so we made the best of it.  While we had some great dinners, and wandered the various shops, hung out with our new friends, the engine and fuel system was sorted out.

When we were all done, the mechanic confirmed that, our engine was indeed sound.  I had a fresh oil change, in both the engine and transmission.  I also knew that the fuel was spotless, clean of all dirt, and the steel fuel tank was in "excellent condition."

So why did all this happen?

It was my fault.  You see, when we got the boat, we had a huge punch list of things we had to do.  I addressed many items but, aside from running the engine, knowing I needed an oil change eventually, and getting to know the engine, I didn't do what I should have done.  I should have changed every single fuel filter.  I should have changed the engine oil.  I should have had the fuel polished and the tank inspected.  I should have, I should have, I should have.  I didn't.  I didn't make the engine and fuel systems a priority and it cost us a lesson or two.   Granted the lesson wasn't that expensive... we didn't run aground, we didn't have a disaster but, this was likely completely avoidable if I had spent that thousand dollars before the trip instead of during it.

But now we had a clean starting point.  The engine was to perform and run like a well oiled clock for the rest of the trip and, by the time we were fighting tidal currents at the south end of Bainbridge on Saturday, I had no worries of engine failure.

New Sails for Brigadoon

While we were in Port Townsend, one of our friends had an appointment with Port Townsend Sails, owned by Carol Hasse. As Kerry and I watched Carol go over our neighbors boat, while we were getting our fuel system polished, I noted how thorough she was.  Kerry had seen her work in a display in the local chandlery store so we thought it would be a good idea to visit her shop.

Brigadoon's sails are quite tired. We had been discussing what to do about it.  Now seemed a good time to look at some options.  So we stopped by the sail loft and talked to all the friendly folk there.  Port Townsend Sails is an all woman operation.  The staff is amazing and, to top it off, they hand make every single sail right in that loft.  Many sail makers measure your boat and send an order to the far east.  Sometimes your sails fit when they are delivered and sometimes they don't. Sure a main may only cost $3,000 from them but, what if it doesn't fit.  At Port Townsend sails the main sail may cost us closer to $5,000 but, is made right there, hand finished, right in their loft and they ensure it will fit our boat, our use and our needs, perfectly.

It's very likely we will be ordering new sails for Brigadoon from them, even though it will cost about 30% more.

A Change of Plans

We had originally planned on heading north from here, possibly crossing the strait to make landfall in another country; to visit Victoria.  Kerry and I sat down and discussed the plan.  We decided that, even though we had the engine sorted out, that moving south was a better option for this trip. If something else came up, if our luck (mostly self created) turned south again, we should be closer to home than farther away.

With that we decided to head for the Port of Edmonds, then go through Agate Pass to Poulsbo.

The Nicest Trailer Park 

After our three night stay in Port Townsend which included great dinners, a higher level of confidence in our boat, and a quote for new sails, we slipped our lines and motored out of Point Hudson Marina onto a glass smooth sound.  We ended up motoring the entire way to Port Edmonds Marina and, despite all the local fishermen out hogging the guest moorage, were able to find a slip for the night.

Awaking early the next morning, almost suffocating on diesel fumes from a working boat that was idling nearby, we decided to get out of Edmonds.

Agate Pass and Poulsbo

We had often heard our friend John talk about rafting up in Poulsbo and taking advantage of the quaint little town with its fine collection of restaurants. We had yet to visit Poulsbo in Brigadoon, only having been there by car in 2010 when we visited the marina on our search for our boat.

Agate Pass sits deep inside Port Madison.  It is a narrow channel, only 200 yards wide and is topped by the bridge connecting Bainbridge to the Peninsula.  It was a great passage, being pushed along by a three knot tide.  We zipped through Agate Pass, scooted under her 70 foot-tall bridge and, after negotiating the twisting channel, found ourselves in the quaint nordic-esque town of Poulsbo.

We decided to spend the next two days enjoying the restaurants, shopping for stuff at Longship Marine, kayaking, and generally enjoying this quiet little town.

Longship Marine was a great find.  I had seen many ads on Craigslist over the last year from them.  I wanted to stop by and see what they had and, boy did I make out well.  While I was looking about in Longship, Kerry treated herself to a manicure and pedicure. She deserved it after all her hard work.

Finding Our Way

At Longship I made two great finds. The first was a replacement cockpit compass for Brigadoon.  Our original compass dome was yellowed and faded, the oil level was low, making it hard to see through the big air bubble; it needed a service badly.  We had a quote for $500-700 for servicing the compass and making it new again.  Then I found this...

Old compass on the left.  New compass on the right.
This is the same compass.  Actually it's a better model.  I found it for only $190.00.

Now to install it.  I had to pull the old compass and upgrade some wiring.  This is what was under the old compass.  It's supposed to feed a dome light for night navigation.

Those are wire nuts.  They belong in houses, not on boats.
These, left on the boat by the previous owner, went straight into the trash that day.
This is a properly wired lighting connection for the new compass.  No wire nuts.
The new Danforth White Express compass, installed.
Kerry loved this.  She hated the old compass. She struggled while driving the boat, trying to follow a course. It's funny how you can make a girl happy by getting her a compass.

Going Aloft

The other find addressed one of my concerns.  I had never been aloft on Brigadoon.  In the almost-year since we bought her, I had never been up the mast on my own boat. The reasons for this are many.

1) I didn't have a proper bosun's chair, nor climbing gear.
2) Kerry and I didn't feel comfortable winching someone up the mast with non-tailing winches.
3) A fall form 55' above the water the deck can be fatal.
4) There wasn't a pressing need.

What I found at Longship Marine was the ATN Topclimber.

The Topclimber allows a person to climb the mast in a safe and controlled manner, with no assistance whatsoever.

That afternoon, we spent some time trying it out.

First you run a static line up with the halyard.  Then you climb, very slowly, up that line.

It took me about 15 minutes of taking my time to get to the spreaders while Kerry chatted with a neighbor on the boat in the next slip.

It took a while but I finally made it to the top.

That's about 50' to the water and 45' to the deck.  It's a long way down.

Kerry gave it a try too, though she didn't go to the top just yet.

So now we can safely make it to the top of the mast.  I can deal with replacing all the incandescent mast lights with LED replacements.  I can rig a secondary halyard for a spinnaker.  I can go aloft, like a real sailor should be able to and I can do it safely.

Poulsbo to Shilshole

Getting out of Poulsbo was quite challenging.  Kerry had done a good job of navigating and taking the tides into account.  We had decided not to attempt to go back through Agate Pass as it would mean heading against a flood tide.  The currents are strong enough that, even at full engine, we may not be able to make it through.  The plan was to head south around Bainbridge Island, go out into the channel the Bremerton Ferry uses, and enter the sound and sail north to Shilshole.

There was no wind.

We motored.

Everything was fine until we hit the channel.  We were against the tide and didn't anticipate the strength of the current flow.  Oh, it wasn't bad, really.  We just went very very slow.  How slow?

This knot meter is reading five knots.

Mr. GPS says different.
We were fighting the incoming flood tide. So we just motored, through the tide rips that tried to spin Brigadoon around, slowly making way, heading out to the Sound.

The winds were dead south of Bainbridge so, with a little work of our iron sails, we headed out to good winds and a fast sail.  Soon, we were tearing across the Sound, crossing the shipping lanes, to find ourselves tacking into Elliott Bay, just outside the city. Brigadoon was really making way.  This is what she loves. It was a great way to end the trip.   We worked our way north, weaving through small recreational fishing boats that don't seem to care that they don't have the right of way over a sailing vessel.

Collision Avoidance

We also had to watch the shipping traffic. One such encounter was very challenging.  We had spied a large container ship southbound past Elliott Bay.  We were on a starboard tack (the wind coming from the right) and headed for her. The ship wasn't going to be a problem.  It was headed south at about 20-25 knots.  We had some concern at her blowing her horn at a large sailboat crossing her path.

"Gee, I'm glad that isn't us," I said.

I spoke too early.

In one minute the ship, blasting the horn again, was turning to port, towards Harbor Island, and directly into our path.  She was very close indeed and bearing down on us, directly on our bow.  I think I mentioned she was doing about 20 knots or so.

"We are tacking *now*," I told Kerry.

So we crash-tacked to starboard to get out of the ships path.  It took a bit, but we worked together as a team and soon, the ship was passing behind us.

The container ship that almost ran us down.

As that ship passed behind us, Kerry noted another container ship leaving Seattle and heading north for the shipping channel behind us.

"She sure is making a large wake," Kerry noted.

"Yes she is.  Let's keep an eye on that."

Fifteen minutes later, as I wove us through another flotilla of careening recreational fishing boats as they trolled for salmon, Kerry spoke up again.

"That wake is coming fast and it's big."

I turned to look. I have never seen a ship's wake so huge.  Now, people are prone to exaggeration and while it looked 20-25 feet tall, it was likely about 12-15.  That was still huge.  It was also coming fast. I estimated it was traveling about about 10 knots.  Kerry asked what we should do, as the wake was primed to hit us broadside.

I turned us away.  I let Brigadoon take the wake on her ample hips, letting the canoe stern take the ride.  We ended up surfing down that wake, and two others.  Brigadoon was lifted like she weighed nothing but she took it well.

"That is how this boat can handle following seas in the South Pacific," I told Kerry.

With that gone we continued to head north, tacking back and forth.  The conditions were strong, we were tired and making mistakes.  We had been sailing since nine in the moring and it was now close to four in the afternoon. It was time to get to Shilshole.

The engine started great.  We got the sails stowed and were shortly in our guest slip again, after dodging some stand up paddle boarders playing in the marina.


We treated ourselves to a  great dinner at Ray's Boathouse and turned in for the night.

Sunday and Home

Sunday morning dawned chilly and very foggy.  All we had to do today was get through the locks and back to the dock on Lake Union.

First you have to raise the railroad bridge.
This time we tied up to the wall.  

Usually, we have floated about, between the locks and the Burlington Northern Bridge.  Remember that engine failure earlier in the week?  What if it failed now, while the bridge was down?  What would happen is, if we couldn't get the anchor out fast enough, we'd drift down into the pilings or the bridge, likely tearing the mast off Brigadoon.

So we decided to tie up to the wall.  It was a great idea and one we will be doing again.

Then you get yourself loaded into the locks.
And you do everything the nice lock attendant says, exactly how he says it, exactly when he says it.
You raise a couple bridges.
And leaving the last one behind -- the Fremont Bridge in this case.
 You are Home

Actually home was with us all the time.  We were on our home; Brigadoon.

Where we ended our trip was at our dock, on Lake Union.

We had a great trip, even with the engine failure, the added expense, the almost collision with the container ship, the dodging of fishing boats, and surfing that massive wake.  The boat sailed great.  We think we know were we will get our next sails. We made some friends and learned a lot of really great lessons.

I think the one I learned is that I can count on Kerry when it really matters, we don't forget to love and respect each other when shit happens, and I couldn't be luckier to spend 10 whole days than to be with her.

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