Posted by: powellpjc | July 2, 2009

Portland to San Diego. Drive fast. See if it breaks.

 

I arrived in San Diego June 30th after 13 days on the chuck. This is what happened.

I left Astoria, the coastal port city of Oregon at 3 a.m., in a cool drizzle. I was a little nervous about getting underway in a crowded marina, alone and with a breeze blowing one way and the Columbia River current setting the other but it all went well.

I followed the river buoys to the ocean and after 10 miles of motoring I was close to the river bar. I put the engine in neutral and went below to make some coffee. I raised the sail (double reefed) and headed south west just as the eastern sky brightened. I motored over the bar during the beginning of the flood tide and it was silky smooth. I passed the last, ‘safe water’ buoy at 6 a.m. and listened to the sea lions bark and tussle over a tiny resting place.

The last buoy for a 1500 miles.

The last buoy for a 1500 miles.

It was great to be finally at sea. I let out a few whoops. The day was warm and the sea kindly. I’d taken a couple of gravol with my morning coffee but I never did feel sick. For me this is unusual but welcome. To be seasick is normal. If you are not seasick you are not more manly.

Underway.

Underway.

I tried various sail combinations and puzzled over the wind vane, the mechanical steering device. No matter what I seemed to do the damn thing worked. It worked perfectly. If there is a hero’s medal on this passage it goes to the wind vane. ‘Fleming’. Australian made.

The first night the wind began rising. Shit.

The gale comes looking for Pete Powell.

The gale comes looking for Pete Powell.

I lowered sail and set a course for offshore. Far offshore. I didn’t want to deal with fishing boats and inbound freighter traffic. Soon we were roaring along into the ink.

For the next 3 days the wind increased. I heard a weather report. ‘Gale warning’ it said. What the hell does that mean? There could be a gale, or, there is a gale and you are a jerk for being out in it. 35 knots of wind was the outcome and I took down all sail. We tore along at 6 knots with nothing but the mast providing windage. The wind vane didn’t care and steered like the champ it is.

Hiding behind 4mm of plexiglass.

Hiding behind 4mm of plexiglass.

This was the first time I’d sailed the boat in any kind of wind. How would things hold up? The sails were not new. The hardware had seen action. Anxiety leaked through the scuppers and drains and it was cold. Toque and winter jacket weather.

Hard to smile when you're shit scared.

Hard to smile when you're shit scared.

The wind was up but it was in the perfect direction for a run to San Diego so south we went.

The wind increased and away we went. I turned on my sophisticated chart-plotting gear and my AIS – so I could see any other maritime traffic (and hear, by alarm).

The waves caught me now and then. Pooped the cockpit.

The waves caught me now and then. Pooped the cockpit.

I went to sleep. For seven days it was thus. It was rough. I was bounced around the cabin just trying to make coffee or soup. Bruises and skinned knuckles are still healing. The toilet flooded. Then things started to break:

  1. one hanging locker door split off its hinges.
  2. the dining room table parted its anchors.
  3. port side shroud (a wire cable that helps support the mast) began tearing loose.
  4. the starboard side shroud soon followed. Moaning and creaking, it followed its port side mate.
  5. during some poor sail handling, the top four sail slides of the main sail split open, leaving the mainsail unattached to the mast. This is bad.
  6. I tried to start the engine during one maneuver with my brand new start battery. Nothing.
  7. I was unable to completely furl the headsail on my new roller furling gear. This was due to lack of experience by operator but the consequences were bad. I couldn’t slow the boat down as much as I wanted to and I couldn’t fix it with the seas that were running. Finger-crossing time.
  8. the cabin door to the quarterberth cut loose and smashed itself into two big and pretty pieces.
  9. the boom banged away at my new cockpit cover until it split the fabric it 4 places. Total operator error.
  10. there being little else to break and the carnage ended.
Dining room table upside down. Safer that way.

Dining room table upside down. Safer that way.

The first weld gives way. I am very nervous about my mast coming down. It is swaying like a calypso queen.

The first weld gives way. I am very nervous about my mast coming down. It is swaying like a calypso queen.

 

The wind moderated. The temperature climbed 5 degrees. Dolphins appeared. Whales on the horizon leapt into the air like watermelon seeds squirted from a farm boy’s lips. Why do they do this? Because they can?

Seas moderate. My spirits lift.

Seas moderate. My spirits lift.

I set my brand new hand line for tuna. This is called fishing, not catching. The lure, a tuna clone, looks good enough to me. Sautee some onions, take out the hook and I’d eat it. Tuna were not interested.

Looks good enough to eat to me. The tuna thought differently.

Looks good enough to eat to me. The tuna thought differently.

100 miles out of San Diego the USNavy paid a visit. The sky was a gray, ground glass and featureless blanket. I heard the rumble and then, dropping out of this geshtalt was the Lockheed P3 Orion maritime surveillance aircraft, purposefully overhead. I grabbed my handheld radio and tuned to the common frequency. Sure enough, he wanted to talk to me. After 6 passes and 100 gallons of avgas he knew my boat’s name and that I was the only soul on board. Mission accomplished.

Landfall at 05:30. San Clemente Island, California. Another whoop.

San Clemente Island. Land ho!

San Clemente Island. Land ho!

My chartplotter screen entering California waters.

My chartplotter screen entering California waters.

Then it got busy again. San Diego is a hell of a big naval port, after all. An amphibious assault ship was squarely in my path conducting vertical takeoff flight operations. I knew enough to steer clear of him. Then a guided missile frigate swept by to my left. The helicopters were continuous throughout the day. Grey, ugly Blackhawks with their silly landing gear permanently down.

Got it made now, brother.

Got it made now, brother.

Mast and skipper still standing.

Mast and skipper still standing.

 

Nightfall and the California coast proper. I followed the lighted buoys and range markers into the port. I had to divert a number of times to avoid kilometer-wide floating kelp beds (didn’t want to foul the prop or rudder) and tied up at a municipal dock at 10 p.m.

I phoned customs and they checked me in without a visit.

Sleep. Quiet, motionless sleep.

Made it.

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Responses

  1. Yippee! I salute you with a toast at 6 p.m. Thunder Bay time.

  2. Well done Pedrino.

    Now, if you are lucky, someone may join you. Everyone just wanted to see if you would cause an RFU (Royal Fuck Up) before they considered spending 14 days at sea in a tiny cabin with a limited supply of libations

  3. THis thing working again?

    • What’s the latest?
      dr

  4. your boat name is still not registered? or I cannot figure it out – you tease me with this possibility then … you know how impatient I am! Thank goodness you are used to tough weather conditions – years in TBay have paid off
    By the way, it has been wonderful weather in vancouver for my birthday week
    sure glad the skipper keeps standing

  5. Hey buddy congrats. Glad you made it. The trip sounded pretty hair raising. How long are you going to be in SD? Give me a call sometime you can call collect. Have a couple of Tots for me. You deserve it.

  6. Hi Pete. I can’t laugh any more because my stomach hurts too much. I’m glad you made it past day one and the US Navy with your mast still standing. I can imagine you in your took on high sea. I hope you had some Captain Morgan to celebrate the Gale winds. I wish I had been there but I still have a few decades of desert running to do. Keep up the good mast.

  7. Any photos of you throwing up into the ocean? Just got back from a fishing trip with Bro P. Unbeknownst to him he fished one day for 5 hours without a fly. Fishless for two days he was happy his “advanced conservation techniques” were still working. I understand Toulouse is joining you in SD. The next leg should be quite a ride. Sail on. JR

  8. “It’s the Captain’s mess…let him clean it up.”
    Bugs Bunny

    Mind the Colombian submarines.

  9. Well done Pedro.
    Any comment on: wail snot, spoof gun, water samples to Natnl Geographic, beak axe, Gilbert Burton or Nester on the final call at 727.

  10. Hey Captain Pete, glad you made it and I presume you are now refitting. Keep us posted as to your progress. Party at my house Sunday PM of Chuck’s wedding weekend. My sister and brother-in-law will be here so I will have to miss Chuck’s do. Willy

  11. pete wow.. you make us couch potatoes feel a little wee bit like an explorer…pullin for you phil


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