Out the Gate, and Back Again – Part 1


In our last post we wondered “Is all this necessary”, referring to that pile of charts, plotters, guides and more on our table before our sail to Monterey Bay. As it turns out it was, but that wasn’t a bad thing at all. All that effort charting our course out the ‘Gate’ of San Francisco Bay and down the coast to Santa Cruz and Monterey meant safety, comfort, security and confidence – plus a ton of incredible sailing!

So, here’s the whole tale of our trip. This is a long one, so prepare yourself! Can’t be helped though – there’s just so much to tell!  Oh, and many of the pictures are links to the online albums on Picasa, so don’t forget to click on them too. So, back to the start – in the Bay.

Our plan from the beginning was to pass by Half Moon Bay and sail straight on to Santa Cruz in one run. This is only because we’ve been to HMB before and were excited to get to where we were going. Plus we’ve done HMB, and had our sights set on the beyond. To do this, we would have to leave VERY early, knowing it would take a minimum of 12 hours to get there. Our goal was to make it to Santa Cruz before dark, not because sailing in the dark is such a problem, but because arriving in an unfamiliar harbor in the dark kinda is. To make it a tiny bit shorter, we decided to depart from Ayala Cove on Angel Island in the Bay, a location close to the Golden Gate Bridge, cutting a solid hour or more off the trip. We loaded the boat with supplies at our slip in Emeryville, filled the water tanks and headed out to Ayala Cove. But, as these things go, we immediately noticed a problem.

While moving the boat from Emery Cove to Ayala Cove, we had discovered that our autopilot – the very useful piece of equipment that steers the boat so you don’t have to for hours on end – was NOT working. We poked, we prodded, but no solution presented itself. Facing the imminent expense of a full replacement, we had a choice – cancel the trip because “Otter” (as Lydia refers to it) doesn’t work, or go anyway and deal with the problem later. For this trip – certainly not a days-long passage through nights and days across an ocean – we responded with a resounding “Oh yeah, we’re going!”

But then, problem number 2 reared its ugly head – a diesel leak inside the boat. Sitting at Angel Island, we had kinda noticed a smell. Assuming the engine had been running rich and that was all, we went to bed that night fully planning to leave by 5 am the next morning. But, waking up the next morning, the smell was still there, and strong. Christian poked around and found it – a pool of diesel a few inches think just under the Racor fuel filter – ugg! We’re not goin’ anywhere today!


Angel Island - Click for full album

The good part of this was that we had the pleasure of spending a full day at our favorite spot on SF Bay, and the girls took full advantage of it. They kayaked and kicked around on the beach, while we worked a few kinks out of our still-new outboard and dinghy, and of course cleaned up that diesel spill and aired out the boat. By the end of the day, the diesel was sopped up, the dinghy was hummin’ and the girls were pooped – back to the plan! Set the alarm for oh-my-gosh-30 the next day.

We ‘slipped the lines’ by about 530 am that next morning and passed under the Golden Gate as the sun began to rise. We had timed our departure for the tides, knowing that the best tide for passing beneath the Gate is neither during a strong ebb (when the tides are receding) or during a strong flood (when the tides are coming in), rather during a slack (the time between ebbs and floods) or at the end of an ebb. We had also examined the weather forecasts for the days ahead – winds were predicted to be modest (good), ocean swells were to be small (good), and cloud cover and the marine fog were minimal (also good). And so, with the rising sun and the receding fog, we passed under the gate on our first ‘solo’ coastal sailing experience. We were elated!

Even with the modest predictions, the water outside the gate was its typical self – a bit more windy than planned, and a bit more swelly. It’s just like that out there between the sand bars that form the entrance to SF Bay. But we were impressed with Dragonfly’s solid feel as we passed over each swell, and learned quickly to keep those swells at a bit of an angle as we encountered each one. With that approach, we comfortably rose up the front of each roll and settled gently down each sloping backside, rather than crashing through them like we were storm troopers. Alas, one missed heading and we did take a few a bit too straight-on – all was fine with the boat and us, but we did wake up the, until then, sleeping girls. Sorry!

Under the Bridge - Click for full album

Under the Golden Gate Bridge - Click for full album.

After that excitement, we all just settled in to an incredibly comfortable motor-sail south toward Santa Cruz. We lost our wind (as the forecast said we would), but had just enough to keep our sails full as assistance to our engine. This lets us run the engine at a lower RPM and burn less fuel. The alternative would be sailing along at about 2 – 3 knots, perfectly fine if you’re not concerned about arriving anywhere at any particular time. On this day, we did have a schedule, so on with the motor!

Along the way, we just enjoyed ourselves. The girls, who usually like to spend time below in the cabins of the boat playing and watching DVD’s, found that they had to spend more time in the cockpit with us or risk seasickness. The swelly conditions along the coast are just different from what their stomachs are used to on the Bay. But we have a big dodger and bimini (like a windshield and awning) protecting our cockpit from wind and sun, making for a truly lounge-like space. We made balloon animals (uh-huh – more like balloon-what-are-those??) and played other stuff like that for hours. Watching the ocean also turns out to be a lot like watching a campfire – you get sort of sucked in and just begin staring at it. The water ripples, bubbles, swells, and changes all the time. It’s truly mesmerizing. So, with balloon-aliens, water-staring games, and driving the boat (curse you, Otter!), who has time for anything else? The time passed amazingly fast.

Soon, we were approaching the Pt. and Island of Ano Nuevo, a location I remember from my past as a student scientist at UC Santa Cruz. Ano Nuevo is a protected coastline and island that is used by large groups of Elephant Seals, Steller’s Sea Lions and many different bird species. The island is a research station as well, with old buildings in ruins from days past and newer buildings for researchers. Long ago, I went to the island to assist in the rescue of 2 baby Steller’s Sea Lion pups who had been abandoned by their mothers. I told the girls the whole tale as we sailed past the island now, remembering that day 15 years earlier pretty clearly, considering!

Just after Ano Nuevo, the ‘party’ got going, so to speak. Swells started building a little, and the wind kicked up too. On a sailboat, the wind is vital  – of course – but too much can be dangerous. When this particular party kicked up so fast, we needed to reduce the size of our sails, called furling and reefing. The furling was fine – that’s rolling the sail at the bow (the jib) so less of it is out to the wind. The reefing of the main sail, um, didn’t go so well at first. Let’s just say we haven’t worked out all of the literal kinks in the lines involved, and we felt the brunt of that at that moment. It all worked out fine, but before it was over we had lost forward movement and been turned sideways to the swells, at the ‘mercy of the sea’ as they say. They were only 8-foot swells, but still, a bit tossy-turny when you have no control. I quickly powered up the engine and turned us back into the swells while Christian went forward to the mast to work out the reefing kink. After that, we were back in business. Still, though, losing control even for an instant was a good reminder for us to keep on our game. Pay attention!

We paid close attention as we passed Long Marine Lab on the cliff tops just north of Santa Cruz, the site of many years of my student days back at UCSC. Then we rounded Pt. Santa Cruz and came within site of the actual town, complete with its long pier of restaurants and shops, amazing ocean-front homes, and, of course, the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. I can’t even describe the girls’ excitement at seeing the Boardwalk through the binoculars – “that’s big!” they exclaimed.  Then, with a call on the VHF radio to the Harbormaster at Santa Cruz’s ‘Small Craft Harbor’, we were assured a berth for Dragonfly as well as safe entry through the jetty walls into the harbor. We passed through (me again recalling more days past spent kayaking in and out of that very point), pivoted Dragonfly 180 degrees, and came to rest on a side-tie spot at the very center of it all. Just as we landed, a furry Sea Otter surfaced with his latest meal just 5 feet from the boat, and the girls rushed to deck to watch. Christian and I looked at each other and smiled like little kids – we’re here!

Next, Part 2 of our story…

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Out the Gate, and Back Again – Part 2

Monterey Trip – Part 2


We spent threes nights at our berth in Santa Cruz, taking the time to go to the beach, eat at the adjacent Crow’s Nest restaurant, and, of course, go to the Boardwalk! It’s funny how different your time at a place is when you don’t have a car to zip around in. We limited our attractions to ‘things within walking distance’, but luckily were in the center of it all anyway. Our first morning there, we set out for the walk to the Boardwalk. After the fact, I can report that we would definitely have made this trek differently if we had known the half of it. First, our end-tie spot was on the opposite side of the harbor as the Boardwalk – not a big obstacle, but one requiring a walk up one side of the harbor, across the bridge that crosses it, then back down the other side. No problem: we were fresh and excited. What we should have done after crossing the bridge was keep walking along the streets to the Boardwalk. But we didn’t do that. We had been told by a harbor employee that you could get there also by walking along the beach, and wouldn’t that be much more fun??

Uh, yeah. Except for the river and point of land that intersect the beach halfway to the Boardwalk, our plan might have worked! But, as it turned out, there was this imposing spit of land that we could see as we neared it, thinking to ourselves “now how is this going to work?”. The land jutted out just enough to end in the surf zone, so passing around it would require a quick run through the shallow surf water. No biggy, we supposed. So Christian and Anna went first, darting around and out of sight with what seemed like no problem. Lydi and I started to go for it, but Lydi’s just so short! She started getting wet up to her knees before we even got close. So we went back and regrouped. Just then Christian called me on my cell phone. Turns out that concealed from our view on the other side of that spit was nothing less than a river! A shallow one, yes, but a river nonetheless. “Go around.” he said. He and Anna would brave the river outlet while Lydi and I clambered up the side of a cliff to the roadway above the beach. We then walked the rest of the way to the Boardwalk on our own, crossed an old railway bridge-walkway and finally made it there. Christian carried Anna on his shoulders through the river and got wet in the process. But, we found each other again, and all was well. In fact, it was fine all along of course, but as I said – we would have done it differently if we had known. 🙂

Santa Cruz! - Click for the full album.

Santa Cruz! – Click for the full album.

The Boardwalk was a blast, and well worth the effort, though. We did rides, cotton candy, arcade games, the works! It was a bit loud, crowded, and expensive too, but we’ll forgive it. The girls loved it, bought souveniers, and generally exhausted themselves. At the end of the day, we stumbled out, considered our ‘getting back to the boat’ options, and promptly called a cab. The best $11 we ever spent!

The next day we just lazed around, walked to the beach, played, and relaxed. Now that’s our kind of vacation. The beach next to us (on the SAME side of the Harbor as us) was perfect for the girls, and was right next to a little cafe/deli for lunch and other yummies. It also boasted free WiFi, so that put right at the tops of our list. By the end of that beach day, Lydi had mastered digging sand holes and leaping in the surf, while Anna took on body-surfing with gusto. Christian brought her out into the water, teaching her about surf and how to bob over it or duck through it, until eventually she was riding it! The cold water didn’t even phase her, or Lydi either. Crazy girls!

The beach in Santa Cruz - Click for Full Album.

The beach in Santa Cruz – Click for Full Album.

The next day, we packed up everything, hauled the dinghy and outboard onto the boat, the kayak too, and stowed all of our other goodies for the short sail around the corner from Santa Cruz Harbor to Capitola’s Soquel Cove. We had heard good things about this little cove, which was touted to have a great mooring field (an area of mooring balls that we can secure the boat to rather than anchoring), and gorgeous scenery. So we waved good-bye to Santa Cruz and our regular Sea Otter visitor, and cast out toward the open Bay waters. After no time we were arriving at Soquel Cove, radioing the harbor master and getting the run-down on securing a mooring there. This place is just amazing – they send a guy out on a dinghy to greet every arriving boat to help you tie off to the mooring ball and to give you a little introduction to the area. Loved them!

After we were settled, we immediately realized that Soquel Cove was special. The scenery was stunning – gorgeous cliffs topped by homes, a quaint fishing pier, the cute Capitola water front with its pastel-painted B&B’s and ecclectic collection of restaurants all served as backdrops to our front-row seats on the wildlife action. We didn’t mind the bit of roll in the anchorage, or the high-ish wind that came up later in the afternoon. We were cozy and comfy on Dragonfly, and getting from the boat to the dinghy dock on the pier was just that much more exciting! We spent our time in Capitola exloring some shops, eating out, and of course playing on the kayak and dinghy. The mornings were stunning – foggy skies, glassy water, misty air, and silence all around. We kayaked in and around the huge kelp forests on either side of the mooring field seeing Sea Otters, Harbor Seals, and Sea Lions up close.

Capitola's Soquel Cove - click for the full ambum.

Capitola’s Soquel Cove – click for the full ambum.

Then we noticed the action as the day progressed and afternoon approached – animals were gathering, and we caught our first sight of Bottlenose Dolphins 10 feet from the boat. “Over there…and there!” Everywhere we looked there was sea life, diving, leaping, splashing. It is a true feeding frenzy of the marine variety. Sea lions surrounded us on all sides, coming to just a few feet from our boat, surfacing for a breath – “Puff!” – and diving for more. Big brown pelicans numbered in the dozens, circling above, then diving head first from 30 feet up, landing in the water with a crash, then gulping down the prize. And dolphins mingled, circled, then disappeared for minutes at a time. They raised their flukes above the surface of the water and brought them down with force, slamming the water, and stunning the fish beneath it. All of these animals were after the same prize, but there appeared to be plenty to go around. For hours this show continued. For the entire time, we just kept our eyes glued to the scene, and shouted “Over there!”. This place was so spectacular that we vowed we would come back to it on our way back from Monterey up the coast to SF again.

On to Part 3 (Monterey and back to SF)…


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Out the Gate, and Back Again – Part 3

Monterey Trip – Part 3


By Saturday, it was time to head farther south to the town of Monterey, a 20 mile sail across the mouth of Monterey Bay, basically from one tip to the other. It would take us about 4 hours if we kept up an average boat speed of 5 knots, which turned out to be NO problem. The challenge on that day was the swell – the same kind that had harassed us coming into Santa Cruz days earlier. They weren’t so large (about 6 feet), but there wasn’t much space between them and they were coming at us right on the beam (the side). If we wanted to sail straight to Monterey from Capitola, we would basically be rocked from side-to-side over and over again for 4 hours straight – not good! We’d all be feeding the fish in no time!


A bit of sailing, this time in much calmer water.

So, to smooth out the ride, we were forced to head a bit into the swells, off our desired straight course to Monterey, then correct away from the swells, off our course on the other side, then back again, essentially zig-zagging our way across the Bay. ‘Otter’ (did I mention we fixed it in Santa Cruz?? We rooted around until we found a wire that had been split in two at the connection point deep down below our helm. We connected that and Viola! “Otter” was alive again!) so ‘Otter’ was a bit slow in handling the swells, so it was back to hand steering anyway. Christian took this on and eventually was like a cowboy riding a bronco – tackling each swell as it tred to buck us even more off course. He did good!

Then, Monterey grew closer until we were able to see the Monterey Bay Aquarium from just off shore. We continued to just east of the aquarium to the entrance to the harbors of Monterey. Our choice for berthing was Breakwater Cove Marine, the relatively tiny marina closest to the aquarium. They provided us with a side-tie berth on their ‘ADA Accessible’ dock – basically next to the fuel dock and with a ramp for access. Entering the Harbor, we were greeted again by a sea otter, this time a mommy with the cutest baby sea otter you can ever imagine – in fact possibly the cutest thing we have ever seen! Just a fuzz ball being dragged around by his mom – oh! The jetty we rounded to get into the harbor was also covered by sea lions of all shapes and sizes, barking up a chorus to each other. As we docked, we noticed that the area was particularly teeming with young sea lions, and we soon realized that this was the season for sea lion weening, so they were newly on their own and sort of just hangin’ around the docks waiting for inspiration. During our stay, one even climbed onto our transom platform (the back platform of our boat) and looked at us little cute brown eyes. Eventually it left, probably bothered that the boat was so crowded with ‘two-legs’.

Monterey - click for the full album.

Monterey - click for the full album.

As it turned out, we had a great spot for walking along the Cannery Row waterfront to the Aquarium the next day. If you like studying ruin of buildings from days of old, this is the place to be – the buildings of Cannery Row are there in remnant form, showing hints of the very different history of this place. It was about a mile of very easy walking, so we were there in no time. In true ‘let’s take this trip easy’ style, we planned on taking two days at the aquarium, rather than rushing through the whole thing in one day. That place is getting big, and we didn’t want to loose interest before we got to the sea horses! So Day One was dedicated to the ‘Rocky Shore’ section – sea otters, tide pools, penguins, and Lydi’s beloved ‘Splash Zone’! On our way out we signed Anna up for the aquarium’s ‘Underwater Explorers’ experience for the next day, which would offer Anna a chance to actually SCUBA dive! Day Two started with that – Anna packing herself into a high-tech dry suit, learning how to breath off a SCUBA tank, then diving in the aquarium’s huge artificial outdoor tide pool. WHAT AN EXPERIENCE!

Monterey is about the rocky tide pools, SCUBA diving, amazing sea life, sea fog, and clam chowder. Where in Santa Cruz it’s all about the beach and the surf, Monterey is nature. Our experiences in the two places reflected these differences – beach and boardwalk in Santa Cruz, tide pooling and nature watching in Monterey. Capitola, while not geographically in the middle, seemed very much for us to be a perfect middle ground of the two. A bit of great beach mixed with stunning wildlife displays. That’s why on our way back, we indeed did return to Capitola and spend two nights there just relaxing some more. That’s when I captured the best shots of dolphins and sea lions feeding near our boat, when Christian donned his wetsuit and tried to swim with the dolphins (he DID see a baby sea lion pass under him), Lydi braved the cold to take a little swim, and Anna solo kayaked around the mooring field.

But then it was time to head home. From Capitola, we had an 80 mile trip to get back to our marina in the Bay. Again, we wanted to make the trip in one leg (sorry Half Moon Bay – it’s not you, promise!) so it was up at 4 am,  slipping the line off the mooring ball at 430 am, and leaving the anchorage in fog enshrouded pre-dawn dark. Christian stayed on the bow and communicated with me at the helm via our head sets, telling me where to head to avoid other mooring balls and boats as we cleared the field. Then came the passage through the kelp forest via a narrow channel of clear water. Straying off the path would certainly mean tangling kelp around our rudder and propellor and dragging down or even stopping the boat. Christian didn’t really feel like going for a swim to clear that mess so early in the AM. After the kelp, it was a matter of following our chart plotter to our turning point in deeper water, then just staying on course. Navigation at night is very much an act of faith – in your chartplotter, in your belief that there isn’t anything floating in your way that you might clunk into, and in other boaters holding up their end of the safety bargain too. But faith can be helped a bit by prudence – we moved much slower, we watched every hint of light or shadow on the water, and made sure other boats weren’t on a collision course with us. One particular set of lights was persistent – they seemed to be going left, then right, then head straight for us, allbeit very slowly. Eventually, the lights were moving fasting, and were on their way to us. Doing the prudent thing, we hailed them on our VHF “Vessel off our port bow, this is the vessel to your starboard, over.” A voice came back “Go ahead”. Us: “Just wanted to check your course – we intend to slow down a bit and let you pass our bow.” The voice: “Roger, thanks.” Us: “Dragonfly out.” We slowed, the fishing boat passed well off our bow, blinking his decks lights at us in thanks, then we resumed our previous speed and were off again. So official!


Then, the light began to appear around us. There was no sunrise, per se, just a slowly brightening dome of fog around and over us. It was beautiful and almost surreal. All this time, the girls slept on, eventually waking up at 7 am, coming into the cockpit in their jammies and life jackets, rubbing the sleep from their eyes. We had left Soquel Cove almost 3 hours previous and were on our way up the coast, but with the fog blocking our view of the coast, we could literally have been 500 miles out to sea. Nothing around except us and a few sea birds appearing out of the shroud once in a while. Anna and Lydi had to just trust us that we were taking them to Hawaii instead of back to the Bay!

We relaxed as ‘Otter’ did his work, listening to music, reading, marking entries in the log book, making balloon creations, watching DVD’s, and watching harbor porpoises swim by. We raised a slab of our jib (forward sail) to add stability to the motion, but there was never enough wind to sail by, so the engine hummed the entire way. It was, in sheer hours, a long time, but it really didn’t seem so long. The time again passed smoothly and steadily until, before we had expected it, we were on our approach to the Golden Gate Bridge. This, we knew, was going to require all of our attention – San Francisco Bay is a major shipping port, so traffic passes in and out of it all day long. They are big, fast, and WILL NOT get out of the way of a little sailboat. But, all was fine, not a single ship appeared out of the fog as we sailed (finally, some wind!) under the bridge.

After having motored the entire way up the coast because of the lack of wind, we discovered once we entered the Bay where all the wind had gone – it was there in force! Blowing from behind us at up to 30 knots, the wind rocketed us across the Bay in record time – FUN! What a way to arrive. We quickly approached Emery Cove Yacht Harbor and, deciding we hadn’t had enough of the actual sailing yet, we sailed down the channel and into the harbor under with the main up and flying. Once inside, we doused it, turned into our slip, tied off, and then… sighed. We did it! It’s the ‘There and Back and Again’ story for us, just regular people with a passion for sailing, cruising, and exploring with our girls. The things we saw, the experiences we had, the challenges we faced and overcame were like nothing else – incredible. We – all of us – felt so good about the whole trip. We were, yes, happy to be getting home, seeing our doggy and kitty again, doing laundry! But we all agreed – that had just been one amazing trip.


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Is all this necessary?

So we decided to go to Monterey this summer. Big deal, you might say. Get on the freeway, follow the signs, take the exit that says “Monterey”. Simple, right? Ummm, well, we’re not going there by car. We’re going by sailboat. Dragonfly will be dusting off her ocean cruising legs and taking us there in her 42-foot style, but of course she’s just a boat, so we’ll have to be in charge of all the planning. Thus the picture above. To get from San Francisco Bay to Monterey Bay by sailboat there is, to say the least, some planning necessary. It’s a new adventure for us, and promises to be epically beautiful (we’ve heard), but still the planning. The ‘map’ you see is called a ‘chart’ in nautical terms, and it shows us everything about navigating the waterways out under the Golden Gate Bridge and along the California coat. It tells us water depths, locations of stuff to avoid (or risk damage to our dear boaty), the exact spot where we might expect to find the place we want to go, stuff like that. It’s not rocket science, but it certainly is very nautical. We whip out the ‘dividers’, ‘parallel rules’, the tide charts and the like to plan the route we will take. We have to plan on staying out of the way of very large cargo ships as we exit the Bay, and we want to stay close enough to shore for comfort and trip distance while staying far enough out to avoid annoying stuff like kelp and pesky sharp rocks. So, thus the picture…

Tonight, we wrote out the list of boat projects we must complete before departing the Bay this summer. It was a bit long, to say the least. Our boat is very well setup, a seasoned cruiser with all the bits and pieces one typically wants from such a beast. But of course, we want more. The list includes everything from “fix that annoying hole in the forward watertank” to “call England and ask the guy about our toilet”. Now that’s something I never thought I’d say! But alas, it, and all the other items on the list, must be done if we would like to be comfortable, safe, and responsible. Boat projects are fun, though. It’s just like improving your house – a hassle, a bit expensive, but definitely worth it!

So, back to the charts, tide tables and dividers. We’re not just goin’ to Monterey! We’re goin’ there in style! 🙂

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Everything looks so small from up here!

So, we were lucky enough the other day to break something ELSE on our boat. I know, that doesn’t sound like a lucky thing, but wait, there’s more. Remember the last post? The one about the engine that decided to stop responding to our every command, and we had to limp into the marina. That worked out fine – we bought a new shifter/throttle control and installed it the next week – no harm, no foul. So this time, we were out on San Francisco Bay sailing with Christian’s parents – Tutu and Papa Michael, as they are known to Anna and Lydia – when the mainsail decided to suddenly collapse from the top of the mast and fall down to the boom. That’s not so good. We figured the shackle at the end of the halyard (the rope that pulls the mainsail up the mast for sailing) had either broken (and it was a brand-new shackle, too!), or we had done something stupid when securing it to the sail. Either way, when such a thing happens, the halyard ends up jammed at the top of the mast, with no way to pull it back down other than climbing up there to get it. Did I mention the mast is 60 feet tall? Up the mast we went!

Of course, as we all know – boats or no boats – any new project requires a new tool. This was no less the case here. Enter… the bosun’s chair, a wonderful device that one sits in as one rides up the mast to the top. We bought the forum-recommended chair – the super-elite-professional-comfy model that has a weight capacity suitable for the standard African elephant. We read up on the safety procedures – always use double lines, for backup; tie one line to the chair’s attachment point with a bowline knot (don’t rely on the shackle) and the other to a safety harness secured on your body, again the bowline knot. After the puchase and the prep – we were ready – yesterday, we went up the mast! That is, I (Jen) went up the mast, and Christian hauled my butt up there. Ray, the boat-owner in the slip next to us, pulled and secured the backup line while Christian worked the winch on the main line, and slowly, inch by inch upward progress was made. I was only about halfway up when I realized that this was going to get exciting before it was all over. Even then it looked like everything was impossibly far down. But…don’t look down, right?

Eventually, I was at the top. Wow – the view was gorgeous. And absolutely serendipidously we timed the moment at the top with the very moment of sunset (from up there, anyway).

At that point, it was just a matter of grabbing hold of the before-mentioned halyard shackle – which I then could see broken at the pin entry point (maybe we didn’t do something stupid after all?) – and hold on as Christian and Ray slowly lowered me back down. But before they did, I took a moment to just look around. My god – it was stunning up there. The breeze swayed the boat gently, which at the top of the mast felt a little more dramatic. And looking down, things were just impossibly small. Only 60 feet up and the boat looked like a little toy! The girls are smiling up at me in the top picture – they are the tiny green and red dots you can barely see. So I just took that moment to breath the air from up there… it was pretty amazing.

Then I said – okay! I’m ready to get the hell down!

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Look Mom – No Engine!

Once in a while life hands you an experience that helps keep things in perspective. Just such an experience occured for us the other day, and it had just the right effect. We were sailing (yeah!), and arguing (not yeah!) about financial concerns (read: medical leave = less paychecks = oh my, the bills still have to be paid = grumpy people), which basically made for sort of a bad sail. So there we were, coming back into our marina early, worrying and fretting, when the unexpected fell right into our laps and took our mind off all our troubles. Thank you, life.

On this day, we were doing just as we do after any typical sailing day – coming back to our marina by following a long, narrow channel of water surrounded by very shallow water all around. At most times during the day, the water surrounding the channel would be far to shallow for our boat, which drafts almost 6 ft (the boat has a part under it called a keel that projects down underwater to a depth of 6 ft), so we’re always careful to stay between the markers (one of which is in the photo above) the whole way. This day, we had good wind and were having a great time sailing down the channel straight downwind, rather than motoring the whole way. So, as we approached the end of the channel, where there is a 90 degree right-hand turn to enter the marina, we fired up the engine and began preparing to lower the one sail we had flying, the forward jib. That’s when it happened. The transmission didn’t shift out of neutral. It was running fine in neutral, humming and spitting it’s cooling water, sounding completely normal, but just when we needed forward throttle because with the sail no longer up we didn’t have the wind to propel Dragonfly anymore… nope, sorry, not gonna happen.

When this happened, we were about as close to another channel marker as that marker is in the picture above, and had no desire to bump/crash/collide into it with our lovely boat. Plus, the tide was coming in, so the current was pushing us toward the shoreline. And, of course, there was that wind I alluded to earlier, which was, coincidentally, also pushing us toward the shoreline. Oh, crap! Instantly, we dropped the anchor, hoping to just stop the boat and assess the problem with the engine. Christian ran forward, kicked the anchor free of its roller and lowered it, hoping it would set in the loose mud at the bottom and stop us from drifting any farther toward shore. But we were too close to the channel marker – the one I mentioned earlier – and even if the anchor set, we could still swing around to the marker and collide with it. The wind was up – gusting to 20 knots – so swinging around on the anchor was a definite worry. So, we raised the anchor and raised the jib (the forward sail), taking advantage of that good wind to sail ourselves away from the marker and farther away from shore. The only problem … we were also in that shallow area surrounding the channel. At any moment, we could enter water that was too shallow for our boat and get stuck in the mud.

That’s pretty much how it went for the next few moments – I (Jen) sailed the boat in circles, hoping to stay in deep water, and Christian ran around the boat with tools. You might be wondering, what’s the problem? Isn’t this a SAILboat? What’s so important about an engine? In a word – docking. It is simply not fun to dock a 42 foot sailboat using the sails. In fact, under most circumstances it is downright dangerous! The engine gives you fine control, forward and reverse propulsion, and all that stuff. It’s a good thing, a necessary thing. Even with that in mind, we considered the option of docking under sail. We thought it through, planned our strategy, and decided that if we couldn’t come up with some way to get the transmission to shift, we’d just give it a try. Oh, what fun!

Just then, we hit bottom. It’s mud, so there wasn’t a crash or crack or anything dramatic. There was just a kind of “smudge”, and we stopped. Again, oh crap! I think this is the only time in this whole incident when I started to worry. Being stuck in the mud, bombarded with little wind-driven wavelets, no recourse but to sit there and call for help – yuck! But we did still have wind, so why not spin the boat around and sail right off that shallow patch! So, with little fanfare, that’s just what we did – thank Poseidon. Back to sailing in circles working on the the original problem – the transmission. Christian, of course, came up with a work-around. He would shift the engine manually from in the engine compartment down below. This is hard to imagine, but try this – it would be like if Christian had to crawl under the hood of the car and ride there shifting the car using a screw driver while you sat in the car pushing on the gas pedal. Weird, but it worked!

We motored this way into our marina and all the way to our slip. As we neared the slip, I killed the engine so we could drift into the slip (we had no reverse to stop the boat normally, so drifting was it) and two kind nearby boat owners caught our lines, securing Dragonfly to the dock. Done! We did it!

At this point in the evening, the girls wandered up from the cabin where they had been watching a DVD and were shocked to find that anything had happened at all. Just when we though all hell was breaking loose, we find out that it was no big deal down below. Too funny! Later, we had to a take a minute after all of this to think about what had happened. Sailing and operating a large boat takes skill, yes, but, more importantly I think, it takes the ability to learn from your mistakes. So yes, we considered such things as ‘Had we caused the problem by not maintaining the engine?’ No – it just happened. ‘Had we reacted in the right ways?’ Yes, pretty much. ‘Was there something else we could or should have done?’ I should have watched the water depth better to keep us from hitting the bottom. Otherwise, we couldn’t think of anything. In the end, we had come through this minor emergency unscathed, and frankly we felt pretty damn good about it. And you know what? Gone was the worry we were arguing about earlier, that fretting brought on by too much time obsessed with the wrong thing. In truth, we were doing just fine, making the right decisions, seeing ourselves through the minor emergencies in our own lives, just as we had just done on the boat. Just when we needed it, life threw us a bone – a little perspective, a little realigning of our outlook. I for one feel much better. Thank you, life.

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Boat Cards

People who spend a significant amount of time on their boat inevitably meet other people out there doing the same thing. In fact, there’s quite the camaraderie that emerges simply through the common bond of owning and playing on a boat. You meet new people, get along well, and decide to keep in touch, maybe ‘raft up’ again some time. Passing along contact information is a necessity, of course, but scrambling around for a piece of scratch paper is oh so much of a bother. So it has become a common practice for people on boats to keep a personal business card with them to hand out in just those situations. They’re called “Boat Cards” and we now have them! Can’t wait to hand the first one out…calling all sailers!

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