Rounding the “Cape Horn of the North Pacific”

The rigger has mounted a new, stronger traveler and the boom brake has been remounted with a new line.

Carsten has posted a portion of our blog regarding our crash gybe on Cruisers Forum, hoping to get some feedback and good advice from other, more experienced cruisers, regarding boom brakes, mounting etc.  As usual, the post has created a long discussion amongst several who truly are knowledgeable.  Carsten admits that he gets lost in their technical discussions and advanced mathematics on loads, angles etc.

The experts (and several of them are truly experts), agree that they have never before seen a brake line peeled back like a banana such as ours was.

One of the experts asked for pictures of the mounting of our brake and came back saying it was mounted too far back on the boom.  The installation manual says to mount if further forward, but the rigger in Denmark who mounted it said it was better to mount it as far aft on the boom as possible.  What do we amateurs know when discussing with experts?  We follow the expert’s advice- in this case, perhaps the wrong advice.

We also received some good advice regarding how to mount a preventer so it doesn’t come in conflict with the jerry cans we have on the foredeck

September 2 and both Capri and her crew are ready for ocean sailing again.  As we noted in a previous blog, San Francisco is not the easiest bay to enter and it also isn’t the easiest bay to exit (Vinni and Carsten sailing).  The wind generally blows directly into the bay under the Golden Gate Bridge.  Because of the high mountainous sides of the Gate, the wind accelerates in through the “tunnel”.  Since we really want to have an ebb tide, meaning the tide is flowing out of the bay, when we leave, we’ll end in the classic wind against tide scenario.

Wind against tide means uncomfortable choppy seas and even with an ebb tide, there will high swells coming in from the pacific.  The swells will also be raised even higher as they are compressed into the Gate.  There is no doubt that the exit will be both “sporty” and exciting (Vinni and Carsten sailing).

We picked a morning, very early when the wind is weak and push hard to make the bridge at slack water when the tidal currents are at their lowest.  Our plan works even though we can only make 4 knots; even with the engine revved up to 2400 rpms.  After a couple of hours, we can round the corner and turn southwards.  The sun comes out and warms the air, the light fog disappears, we have the wind from our stern, our sails are set wing-on-wing and life is good. 

Carsten goes below and takes a nap while I enjoy the fine sailing.

Our readers should understand that a high-pressure system here along the American west coast is an animal of a different species from the high-pressure systems we experience in Denmark.  In Denmark, a high-pressure system means clear skies, sunshine and little to no wind.  Along this coast, a high-pressure system brings fresh to hard winds that, coupled with a sea breeze from noon to 5 pm can reach storm strength.  In Denmark, we only see storm strength winds when we have low-pressure systems to contend with.

The weather gods (forecasters) have promised us winds of 15-20 knots, gusting up to 25 knots and swells averaging 2 meters.  Ha, ha.  The best laid plans of mice and men…….

As we expected, the advent of the sea breeze strengthens the winds and shortly after noon, we are sailing in a gale.  I call Carsten on deck to help reef the mainsail.  We are already in our second reef, but we need to go to our storm reef, the third reef.  Christ, I tired of sailing in gales and 3-4-meter high swells.  The wind finally dies down a bit as we approach Monterey, 14 hours and 100 nm later (average speed 7+ knots, which is fast indeed).

We  dropped the sails a couple of miles from the harbor entrance and now we know there is something seriously wrong.  Capri is only making 3.5 knots on the engine, even at 2400 rpms.  We put her in reverse and rev up to see if we have something caught in the prop.  It helps, but only a little.  We run for the marina as best we can at 2600 rpms, but make only 5 knots and Capris is shaking – something is very wrong.  As we tiptoe into the marina, Carsten announces that he will dive under the boat tomorrow and check the prop, drive shaft and cutlass bearing.

It is nice to be tied up in a good location, but Christ the noise throughout the entire marina.  The noise comes from several thousand (no, I’m not kidding) barking seals and sea lions.  They are everywhere and send their nights barking up a storm so they can sleep during the day.  We wonder if we will be able to get some sleep as just across from us 6-8 sea lions have become squatters in a dock finger.  They are barking constantly telling everyone that this dock is their dock.

The sea lions and seals make the docks their home
The seals and sea lions frolic and sleep in great piles on the beach
Kiss and play in the water
Or just snore the day away

The next morning, Carsten dons his scuba outfit.  He is a little apprehensive about diving down amongst all these sea lions – could they decide to attack him – or will they just be curious?  The harbormaster says no one has ever been attacked, but lots of divers say the sea lions can be very curious and swim up close to see what this strange thing is that is in their water.  Carsten is not happy but grits his teeth and jumps in.

After only a few minutes, Carsten is back up.  He has not had any close encounters (not the first, second or third kind) with seals or sea lions.  He has removed a small branch that was caught in the prop.  The propeller turns freely, so Carsten doesn’t think it has been damaged by my close encounter with a log up in Alaska.  He says the driveshaft looks OK, but it is difficult to tell if it has been bent.

All that was the good news.  The bad news is that the cutlass bearing is clearly worn and need to be changed.  This starts a long discussion.

Should we have it changed here or wait until we get to Ensenada, Mexico, approximately 500nm further south.  It certainly will be cheaper to have it done in Mexico: but will they do a good job?  Many Americans sail to Mexico to have major work done on their boats there, but I clearly remember the boat that pulled into Nuku Hiva without rigging or masts.  They had the entire rig renewed in Ensenada and the whole rig came down in light winds some 1500nm later out in the middle of the ocean.

When we sailed in the far north, we hit smaller and bigger logs a number of times.  As we’ve noted in our previous blogs, these logs are water-soddened and lie just under the surface, making it almost impossible to see them.  Every sailor we’ve talked to that has sailed the north says; it is not a question of whether or not you will hit a log, it is a question of how many times you will hit a log.  Worse, it is a question of how much damage you will do when you hit one.  Our pilot book says it a very good idea to bring a spare propeller with you when you sail the north.  That says something about how often boats experience serious damage.

Both Carsten and I have hit logs more than once, but I was the unlucky one that hit a thick log that ran under the boat and kicked around the propeller.  Carsten dove under the boat in Bella Bella and checked the propeller, which did not show any signs of damage.  Since my accident, we felt that Capri had lost some of her speed.  It became more and more obvious as we sailed further south.  By Crescent City, we were clearly moving slower and Capri had begun to shake.  We backed down hard several times and each time it helped, so we continued.  This time, the shaking is much worse and we decide that it is best to haul Capri on the hard and have the bearing replaced.  Replacing the bearing will also allow us to take out the driveshaft and truly check to see if it has been bent.

Monterey harbor has a small boatyard with a crane big enough to lift Capri.  As soon as the new cutlass bearing arrives, (a week delayed, as UPS lost the shipment), they lift us.  Our stinking and noisy neighbors, the seals and sea lions, keep us awake at night until finally I ’m forced to take a Melatonin (sleeping tablet) each evening so I can get some sleep.  If I had a stronger sleeping pill, I would have taken it.  Every morning, Carsten and I wake up after only a few hours’ sleep.  The seals and sea lions have been partying all night, barking like mad.  I’ve never known that these animals were nocturnal.  They spend their days mostly snoring on the beach.

Along the edge of our dock, the marina has installed an electric shock wire so any seal or sea lions that tries to jump up will get a nasty little shock.  These are intelligent animals, they have figured out which docks they give shocks and which ones they don’t.  Thankfully, they stay completely away from our dock.

They are strange to watch.  Truly elegant in the water when they swim and jump about, clumsy and ungraceful when they are on land.  The easily jump a meter out of the water, getting their front paws up on the dock and thereafter swinging their hindquarters up.  Once there, they sort of hump their way around.  The largest sea lions weigh several hundred kilos.  The harbormaster told us that this colony arrived a month ago and nothing would please him more than for them to continue onwards.  Once again, we are forced to barricade Capri’s bathing platform off with fenders to keep the seals from jumping up.  We saw many sea lions on Galapagos, but there are far more here.

Finally, our new cutlass bearing arrives and Capri is on the hard.  We have to drop the rudder to pull the driveshaft.  Once the propeller and shaft are out, Carsten and the shop foreman inspect them.  The propeller feathers easily, but it is obvious that one of the blades is slightly bent.  The same blade is not articulating fully out and now we know the reason for our reduced speed.  There is nothing to be done but to send the shaft (to be checked for straightness) and the prop to a propeller shop in San Francisco.

All this takes time, of course, and we miss several weather windows for our continued trip south.  Autumn weather is setting in and the low-pressure systems are getting closer and more violent.  We are now three weeks delayed because of the new traveler and now at least a week because of the cutlass bearing.  The prop shop will mean an additional week – crap!  This last repair is completely due to my lack of attention for a split second – bam, we hit a log hard.  Oh well – it’s only money as they say – but we have to dig deep into our pockets for all these repairs.

Late one afternoon, Capri splashes and we are ready for the trip south.

Naïve as I am, I thought that the worst was behind us, now that we are south of San Francisco – but – as I soon learn, the worst is ahead of us.  The shop foreman, an old salt who has all seven seas and then some and has made the trip up and down the US west coast more times than he can count (literally!), informs us that the cape at Big Sur is to be feared and that the next cape, Cape Conception, is cheerfully known as “The Cape Horn of the North Atlantic” (yes, this is Vinni and Carsten sailing).

Gee – just what we wanted to hear.  It is important to wait for a proper weather window and mostly it is best to pass these capes at night when there is no sea breeze to exacerbate the winds.  The best strategy is to hug the coastline, since the winds are often lessened by the coast.  Hugging the coastline means staying less than 5nm from the coast.  He knows what he is talking about and we intend to follow his advice carefully.  The weather patterns have changed with the coming of autumn and the windows are growing shorter and further apart.

September 20, we leave before dawn, motoring out into the bay where we meet 2+ meter high swells.  We now have a chance to put our newly repaired propeller to the test and we trundle along at 2000 rpms making 6.5 knots.  We are used to high chop from sailing in Denmark, but here the swells come all the way from Japan, making it a different experience indeed.  After an hour or so, we clear the point at the tip of the bay and turn south and now the swells and wind are coming from behind.  The day dawns and we are sailing downhill.

We stayed close, very close (only 2nm) to the coast as we rounded the Cape at Big Sur and the weather gods are smiling on us, promising calm weather the rest of the day. 

The cape at Big Sur

The good forecast means we decide to push onwards to round Cape Conception.  Evening comes and our old friend, heavy fog, shows up.  The fog continues to dense and we reach the pea soup stage.  Once again, we are thankful we have both AIS and radar.  We can only “see” what is in front of us on the radar screen.  Our radar is excellent, but is more than tiring to sail on “instruments”.  On this leg we not only have to keep an eye out for ships and fishing boats, but also oilrigs and even a missile platform as we close in on Cape Conception.

Sailing in-and-out between the oilrigs is like downhill slalom skiing

We been on the engine all night as the winds died down to nothing.  When Carsten comes up at 6 am for the morning watch, the wind picks up, now blowing 7-8 knots.  Dawn breaks and the fog begins to dissipate, so Carsten decides to continue with only our genua hoisted.  He says later that while a bit slow the sailing was idyllic and calm.  Until he rounded Cape Conception that is. 

Once we were around the cape, we were hit by acceleration winds and within minutes, we had winds from astern blowing up to gale force (25-30 knots).  Capri blasted along making 8.5-9.5 knots and surfed down the waves. 

Point Conception – The Cape Horn of the North Pacific

Cape Conception certainly lived up to its name “The Cape Horn of the North Pacific”.  Our passage showed just how important it is to pass this cape in a good weather window.  I can’t even imagine how hard the wind blows if there is a low-pressure system hanging around.

We planned to make port at Santa Barbara.  We called on the VHF when we were a couple of hours out only to be told that there was no room in the marina.  Our only choice was to continue onwards another 25nm to Ventura.  All told, we sailed 240nm on this leg.

We rested for a couple of days in Ventura before making sail for Ensenada in Mexico.  Once again, we are met by 2-meter high swells in the big bay and the first couple of hours we have to sail directly west before the swells have died down enough that we can turn southwards.  We are running only on the genua, since we know that the wind will die down in a couple of hours, but even with only the genua, Capri speeds along, making 8-9 knots.  We crossed the Vessel Traffic Separation at Santa Barbara and continued southwards along the Channel Islands.

Carsten has wanted to visit the Channel Islands, especially Catalina, but we have to forego this because we are over three weeks delayed.  We have to fly to Denmark and want to visit Carsten’s brother in New Mexico on the way, so we simply don’t have time for lazing along.  We admired the lights on the island as we sailed past in the middle of the night.

The winds die completely; we are motoring and will continue to motor all the way to Ensenada.  Our old friend, fog, envelops us as we sail along the Mexican coast (Vinni and Carsten sailing again).

We creep into Ensenada harbor at 3 am, peering through the fog for our assigned slip.  This leg has been 230nm.

It is taxing to enter unknown harbors at night and especially in dense fog.  It takes a while, but we finally find our slip and can tie up.  The marina guard shows up and bids us welcome in Spanish.  Neither Carsten nor I speak Spanish, but we can understand that we are not allowed to leave the boat until we have checked in and the veterinary officer has cleared us in.

Clearing in the next day is easy, although a longish affair.  Two of the marina personnel drive us up to Immigration and Customs.  They talk and joke with the authorities, translating when we are asked to show our passports and fill out diverse forms.  Mostly we are told to “sign here, here, and here”. 

All of the authorities are jovial, smiling and joking with each other and our harbor personnel.  One of our personnel, an extremely charming fellow, flirts outrageously with all the women, receiving only smiles and flirts back again.  Despite the process taking about 2 hours – it is relaxing and we have gotten a very good first impression of Mexico and the Mexicans.

Three days later, we’ve packed our seabags and we are leaving Capri on her own again.  Our neighbor, an 83-year old cruiser (still in fine form and the best of health) will keep a good eye on Capri.  We do feel we have docked at a marine old folk’s home though.  Our neighbor, as noted is 83.  The boat beyond him is manned by a “young” fellow of 96.  The boat across from us has a skipper who is “only 93”, as our neighbor says.  Further down the dock is a 90-something fellow who uses a walker to get around – seeing him climb aboard his boat is quite an experience.  Many American cruisers end up stranded here after sailing the Sea of Cortez for some years.  The climate and weather are wonderful, the Mexicans are friendly, health care is easy to find, good and cheap and everything here is generally much less expensive than in the states.  A pension goes a lot longer here than in California.  Not to mention the whole “mañana” culture.  Nothing is so important that it can’t wait until tomorrow.

We’ll write more about Mexico when we come back.  We will be in Denmark from October 13 through November 17.

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