Ah, the ignominy of it all

Opus has had her share, or even more than her share, of mechanical problems. And, while I’m willing to get my hands dirty and pitch in, there are only so many things I can do alone. For instance, I won’t climb the rig solo – I want someone there to help. That means not being able to replace the wind instruments.

Opus and I were planning to do a long trip this past summer up to Alaska and back. We actually did make it to Alaska, but just barely. She broke on the way north, shearing the bolts that connect the engine to the prop shaft. On the way south again, she broke her vee drive. We did make it home, eventually, after a bit of an adventure.

Last month she did the bolt-shearing thing again, despite having been certified as Ok by 2 different mechanics. Enough is enough, and I set out to find a shop to fix this problem once and for all. We settled on a boatyard but then came the problem of how to get her down there. It broke down into three stages:

  1. Get Opus out of the marina she’s in and into open waters.
  2. Get Opus from there to the vicinity of the boat yard.
  3. Get Opus into the boatyard.

The second stage was the easy one – sail her. We’re now in late October, the winter sailing season is setting in, and there’s plenty of wind to work with.

First stage was also, seemingly, doable. Jury rig a repair that would let the engine work for about 15-20 minutes to clear out of the marina.

Third stage would have to be handled by a tow since the approach to the Marina we convoluted and narrow, but that’s doable.

Unfortunately, things are not going to plan. The flange from the vee drive still had parts of the sheared bolts in it, so they had to be removed. In order to do that, the vee drive had to be removed to gain access to the bolts. And then it had to be re-installed, and therein begins the tale of woe. It simply would not go back on. After two days of fighting with it, the decision was made that Opus would have to be towed all the way to the boat yard. Unfortunately, the wind was not feeling at all cooperative.

Wind conditions that would have been fun and exciting to sail in are not good for towing. So Opus sat at the dock for day after day, hoping for the wind to abate. We finally got a weather window open on a Friday, plans were made on Thursday night, the tow boat showed up at 10am and we were quickly on our way. The weather gods took pity and the crossing was completed in about 7 1/2 hours, arriving at _a_ marina, but not _the_ marina, at 17:30, friday evening. Arrangements had been made to stay until Monday, and we’ll get another two for the approximately 2 miles to the repair boatyard.

The last part of the first tow took us into the northern entrance of the Swinomish Channel, through a railroad swing bridge, and under some power lines that took a bit of close examination of the air clearance. We figured that at the high tide, I would still, barely, fit under them. We weren’t quite at high tide when we arrived there, so we had a little bit extra margin. After that it was under some more, higher, power lines and then an uneventful cruise down the channel. Coming into the dock without power and no real way to stop had my heart rate up a bit, but the tow captain managed the energy perfectly and Opus glided up to the dock, where I jumped off and only had to do the tiniest pull on the lines to get her completely stopped, then walk her along the dock to tuck in tight against the line of boats and leaving room for another boat behind me.

Now we sit at the dock for the next few days until she can be lifted out on Monday and they do a thorough going over on the engine to get it to stop doing this bad stuff. They’ll also be doing some electrical work because the charging system for the batteries does not seem to be working properly (noted on the way down here to the intermediate marina), and a few other oddments.

By the time this is done, Opus is going to feel like a new boat. I hope.

Coming home from the Rendezvous

I didn’t sleep well last night. Opus was too warm and stuffy, but the mosquitoes were far too numerous for me to leave any windows or doors open. I preferred stuffy to being bled to death in my sleep! As a result, I was definitely not at the top of my game for the trip home right from the beginning, unfortunately.

Once again, it was a parade of C&Cs with the occasional odd duck interspersed such as the impressively large motor yacht that had also been staying overnight at Telegraph Harbour. There was really, “clumps” of departures for various destinations. I was part of a group headed for Porlier Pass, about 10 miles away. As with the trip from Nanaimo to Thetis, I had wanted to sail as much as possible. However, it ended up being too much work for my state and I motored most of the way. The headsail got fouled three times during one tack before disgust and frustration head me furl it up for a bit.

The tide was coming in as we passed through Porlier Pass, pushing Opus through the gap at a brisk 6-7 knots. I figure the current was running at about 2 knots plus about 4 knots of boat speed. On the outflow side (Georgia Strait), were the standing waves that the chart symbols warn you of. While not very big compared to Opus, they certainly did push her around a bit and it reuiqred brisk and lively helming to keep her on course. That zone was only about 100-150 meters long, but I can see how I wouldn’t want to deal with it in a small boat. It would definitely be worth waiting for slack under those circumstances.

Once clear of the outflow, it was one more attempt at sailing, this time successfully for the next 7 miles before the wind dropped, which was expected. Between being tired, and having been on the helm for 4 hours already, when the “TTD” (“Time to Destination”) indicator read another 4 hours to go, with SOG (“Speed Over Ground”) showing 2.9 knots, it was time to fire up the engine and proceed with a bit more alacrity.

Two things of note occurred. At one point a distress call came in and, reluctantly, I turned to respond. They were about 10 miles away, which was 2 hours at my speed, and in the wrong direction. Fortunately, for me, there was a boat that was further away, but faster, and they responded as well, freeing me to head on home.

The second thing was the disparity between customs into Canada and customs into the USA from the water. Both countries use apps on my phone to file the paperwork. For Canada it’s ArriveCan and for the USA it’s CBP-Roam. Even using that, Canada requires me to tie up to the customs dock before I then have to call in, though the process is a bit more streamlines since they have all the paperwork already submitted. US, you can submit as soon as you’re in their waters and they will, generally, clear you while you’re still out on the water. None of this “We won’t talk to you unless you’re docked” business. It was a welcome relief not to have to dock up twice!

Anyway, Opus is home once again. Today is going back down to her to clean her up, take more stuff off, etc., only to load her back up again for the next cruise, and then prep her for racing season!

A Gathering of Likeness

This past weekend was the annual C&C Rendezvous, a gathering of C&C yachts from the area. All in all, we had 25 yachts at the gathering at Thetis island — thank you to Telegraph Harbour for hosting us!

Because Opus is kept in the United States, I had to determine where to go through customs on the way to the gathering. I elected to go to Nanaimo the day before and go through customs there, then go to Thetis Island on Friday. The trip up to Nanaimo was thoroughly unpleasant — single-handed motoring straight into the teeth of the wind and waves for the slog up the Georgia Strait, and arriving at Nanaimo completely knackered. It lacked only rain and cold to make it one of the most unpleasant legs I’ve had in a long time.

Arriving in Nanaimo, I tried calling in to Canadian Customs while still 30 minutes from the dock. I had to wait on hold for 10 minutes before talking to an agent who, when informed I was still 20 minutes out, informed me that they couldn’t talk to me until I was at the dock and then hung up. So, I putted to the dock, jumped off, tied her up, called in, waited on hold for 10 minutes, answered 4 questions and was cleared into Canada. Why in the world couldn’t we have done that while I was still out in the bay? Don’t misunderstand, I’m not blaming the customs officer – they have to follow the procedures given to them. Anyway, immediately undock and move back out the way I had come, across the bay, and into the mooring field for the night. The moorings at Mark’s Bay, btw, are a great deal. $14.00 for the night!

Next day dawned bright and clear and beautiful and I resolved to sail as much as possible. Being single-handed, I usually will just sail on the headsail as it can be managed completely from the cockpit. Sure enough, there were a few other sailboats headed towards Dodd Narrows with their sails up as well, and we threaded through the ferries and other traffic plus the anchored freighter and a few logs floating in the water just to keep it really interesting.

We all arrived at the narrows just before slack time, which was perfect. One by one, the sails were furled and the parade continued onwards. I had wanted to try sailing through the narrows, but it was so busy, plus there was a Tug boat patiently and politely waiting for us all to pass before he went through with his long log tow, that I decided to power through. I was last in the parade, other than the tug.

About a mile past Dodd narrows, I hauled out my 140% genoa again. Ahead of me, others also started putting out sails. With the engine off, I checked behind me to make sure that the tugboat wasn’t going to catch up. No, we were slowly leaving him behind, so I turned my attention to the boats ahead of me.

5 boats headed to the east side of Thetis, 2 boats headed to the west side. West side was where I wanted to go, so the race was on! Relatively quickly, I and another left the 3rd boat behind. Not a word was spoken by any of us, but I think we all knew the game was afoot. I was either holding on or slightly catching up to the lead boat as we sailed down. All too soon, unfortunately, the entrance to the narrow channel I needed to use came up, and I turned out of the race to furl sails, put out fenders, and set my lines. When I looked over, the other boat, too, had done the same thing and, for the first time, I could see her in profile. She was, indeed, another C&C and was obviously headed to the same rendezvous.

The rendezvous was definitely enjoyable. I met a lot of other C&Cers, made a number of excellent contacts. I’ll post more about it in my personal blog (“Captain’s Corner”).

Next entry, the return home.

Shearwater to Campbell River

Or at least that was the plan…

Having done some simple preventative maintenance (oil, belts, filters) while waiting for Patrick, and then boarding him, we were ready to be on our way from Shearwater to Campbell River, our next marina stop, with a few anchoring stops before we reached there.

First night was slated to be at the end of Fitzhgh sound, either Fury Cove or one of the other safe harbours while we waited for good conditions to round Cape Caution. Note, however, that weather reports were good for the next few days. This will be important as our tale unfolds.

About 5 or 10 miles north of Fury Cove, which is at the mouth of the Fitzhugh Sound, the engine suddenly stopped. As long as it was out of gear, it ran fine. Put it into gear and it would stop immediately. Upon investigation, the engine room was filled with smoke, with no fire, and we eventually traced it down to the V-drive. Yes, the same V-drive that had caused the problem going from Prince Rupert to Ketchikan. Yes, the same V-drive that had been rebuilt in December. We were to find that the problem this time was far more serious, but that is getting ahead of ourselves.

With no other real recourse, we hoisted sails and continued onwards out into Queen Charlotte Sound. At first it was exhilarating, topping 7 knots. But, as predicted, the winds soon died down to a whisper. We continued on into the night, three hours on duty, 6 hours off, trying to make some way in the light winds, with me sleeping bundled up in the cockpit in case something else went wrong. I wanted to be right there…

My logbook shows speeds like 2.8 knots, 3.3 knots, 2.26 knots. Then, around 03:00, the wind pretty much dropped to nothing and we were posting speeds like 0.74 knots, 0.21 knots, before jumping up to around 2 knots for a couple of hours and then subsiding to 0.9 knots, 0.2 knots, etc. That was to be our fate throughout the day, posting speeds of of less than a knot for hours on end. Around 18:00 we finally climbed up over 1 knot again. However, with winds forecast to drop to nothing once more, the channel narrowing, and night drawing close, we once again called for a tow and were towed into Port McNeil, arriving at 03:30.

When a mechanic was finally able to come out and look at the system, we found that there were angle grinder cuts into the casing, and that the casing had worn through in one spot, letting out the lubricating oil. This hole was in a place that was, basically, impossible to see unless the drive was removed for inspection, and certainly was not there when we performed the earlier fix to the flanges. Further, it appears that it was worn from inside the case as nothing on the outside of the case has any scarring from rubbing.

So Opus is sitting in Port McNeil now. We contacted the V-drive manufacturer (Walter Machine Company in New Jersey) and they are sending out a factory refurbished unit for us to install. They’ve been delightful to work with.

Frustration, depression, anger, all emotions that are coursing through me at the moment. The mechanicals on Opus have let me down so many times and each time that we think it’s fixed, it finds a new way to screw me over.

Lest you think that it’s a maintenance issue, I’ll say that I’ve been religious about oil changes in both the engine and the v-drive. The V-drive was removed from Opus and serviced in December.

Patrick elected to return to his business, understandably, since we had no ETA on repairs. Hubert is able to remain for a few days, but he also has a deadline. Hopefully the repairs will be effected before he has to leave and he can at least make the trip to Campbell River, if not all the way home with me. Otherwise, I’ll be single-handing Opus home from Port McNeil.

Both Patrick and Hubert have been great throughout, shouldering their share of the trip and keeping a good attitude throughout. They’re welcome back any time!

Port McNeil to Campbell River would be the first long leap. It’s shorter than the Ketchikan to Prince Rupert leg I single handed by about 3 hours. After that, though, things become a lot easier, especially since I’ll be in my “home waters”. The legs are shorter and the navigation familiar to me. In fact, I probably don’t even need a chart plotter or charts from there on, though I am certainly not going to do without their aid! Still, I’ll hope that Hubert can finish this trip with me. It all depends on how fast the replacement v-drive gets here!

Prince Rupert to Shearwater

Originally I had intended on taking Opus from Prince Rupert to Shearwater single handedly. This would have been a multi-stage process over the course of a week or so. The first leg would have been Prince Rupert to Hartley Bay at the end of the Grenville Channel, a grueling 16-18 hour trip. After a couple of days of recovery, another grueling leg from Hartley Bay to Klemtu, another few days recovery, and then an easy day from Klemtu to Shearwater.

However, due to the goodness of Social Media, at the last moment (I was due to depart the next day) I found a crew person to make the trip with me. This necessitated delaying departure for a few days, though the delay was worthwhile to be able to share the duties and, therefore, have no recovery days.

Hubert boarded on July 3rd and we moved over to Pillsbury Cove to anchor for the night because there weren’t any moorages available. After carefully picking our way through the shallows at the entrance, with Hubert at the helm, we anchored deep in the cove, though we could still easily look out at Prince Rupert Harbour. I knew my ground tackle (i.e. “Anchor” would hold no matter what came up, but I had some concerns about the comfort overnight. Fortunately, those concerns were needless as we lay at anchor and the waters were calm. We headed to sleep early as we had a very early start planned for the next morning.

When we woke up, fog lay heavily upon the world, with visibility measured in tens of meters — the first time this trip that I had seen fog so thick, of course. Fortunately, since the distance was relatively short, we could wait, though we would be unable to take my preferred route and, instead, would have to take the longer route. At around 9:00 AM, the fog seemed to be lifting , and we cautiously felt our way out with radar probing the area around us and our chart plotter keeping us safely in the deeper channel. Once out of Pillsbury cove, with the range on our radar set large enough to see the two shores, we headed southwards down Prince Rupert Harbour, keeping an electronic as well as organic eye out (thank goodness for Radar and AIS!)

Fog was to dog our stern almost the entire way to the end of the Malacca Passage, including a concerning encounter with BC Ferries “Northern Expedition” in thick fog. We could see him on our radar and AIS, but weren’t sure if they saw us, so we called them on channel 16. They didn’t answer. So we called them again. They didn’t answer. Despite calling them with continued urgency and frequency (to the point that the coast guard got involved), they never answered our hails, we never knew if they knew we were there, and we took evasive action, to the best that we could – though our speed is paltry compared to theirs. They passed less than 1/4 of a mile from us, in fog thick enough that we could see, maybe, 100 meters, and never answered a single radio call.

We arrived at our destination, “Captain’s Cove” and anchored for the night in the same place that we had anchored with Quijote on the northbound trip. We woke to an absolutely fabulous day and headed south, ostensibly to Ire Cove, with a “stretch goal” of McMicking Inlet if we felt really good and making good time at Ire. However, upon reaching Ire, we felt really good, discussed it among the crew, and elected to keep going. And we did, traveling from Captain’s Cove to Shearwater in one overnight trip. Hubert was a joy to have aboard and we arrived at Shearwater after navigating via Radar fixes, chart plotters, and ded reckoning, in good spirits and still feeling like we could take on even more.

We had arrived in Shearwater early, and weren’t due to pick up our third crew member, Patrick, for a few days, so had the opportunity to run about and enjoy the delightful Cow Bay Marina for a few days before the next part of the journey.

A bit more on preparations…

Although I already covered a bunch of the preparations I had made, this is a bit more about the ones I hadn’t mentioned.

Because of the length of this leg and the fact that it was an overnight, fatigue was a real concern. We tend to be at our lowest ebb around 4am, something I’ve encountered a number of times before in my career in computers when pulling all-nighters during “crunch times”. My approach to combating this was two fold. The first is not to overdoes on sugar/carbohydrates. I didn’t want to add on a “sugar crash” to that low ebb. To combat that, I had mostly proteins in the form of beef jerky to eat, along with some dried fruits (very high in sugars… I know) for the occasional “shot in the arm” if I needed it. As a last resort, I also had some Red Bull and some caffeine tablets at hand. That was the first prong of the preparations – the physical.

The second half was dealing with the psycho-emotional aspect. I had pulled some books on tape from LibreVox to listen to and keep my mind engaged. In addition, I set a repeating alarm so that every 15 minutes an annoying alarm would go off that would require me to take off my glove if I were wearing one, and acknowledge the alarm. Trust me, over the course of 18 hours, that alarm became QUITE annoying as it always seemed to be going off when I needed to be doing something else. So, between the alarm, and listening to “Around the World in 80 days” (seemed an appropriate title to me!) I kept my mind awake.

Other things was to make sure that I had enough sleep. You can’t really “bank” sleep, I find. but you can make darn sure that you’re not already at a sleep deficit when you start out and that’s important. I also ate well just before my last sleep period so that I had a bunch of calories stored up. I find I can go for quite a while without sleep (not that it’s a good idea), as long as I have enough calories — and “enough” calories means a lot more than I normally would eat. My guess is that I burnt through 3,000 to 4,000 calories during that jaunt in keeping myself awake. If you’re a scientist and can give me actual information on caloric needs under those circumstances, I’d love to hear from you!

And, yes, I know that wasn’t a healthy way to do things, but it works for me and was only for one night. I’d get a lot more advice on how to do it in a healthy manner if I were going to do that sort of sailing for an extended period of time.

Other things I had planned for was my routing. I was, intentionally, not in the major shipping routes. This meant that I could, theoretically, let Opus drift and take a 15-20 minute power nap if I needed to. I also had a few “outs” I could use to hole up if I absolutely had to anchor and get some longer sleep or avoid some unforeseen weather, though navigating into a sheltered lagoon through a narrow passage at night when I’m fatigued would require a lot of motivation for me to undertake.

Route between Ketchikan and Prince Rupert

The yellow lines are the tracks from Prince Rupert to Ketchikan (northeasterly yellow line) in which we had the mechanical break down east of Dundas Island, and my route back from Ketchikan (route to the southwest). Where it suddenly bends East Southeast is where I took the option of the shorter path because there wasn’t any wind. Otherwise the path would have stayed on the west side of Dundas island, hooked underneath “Knee Hill” and traveled almost due east to get to the Venn passage. Without the wind, I took the more direct/shorter route (by 5 miles, but that’s an hour of travel under motor!)

Some of my outs were in the shallows on the east side of Annette Island, Brundig Inlet, Morse Cove and Foggy Bay. If I passed Brundig Bay, however, it was pretty much “have to go all the way”, so seeing Brundig at my stern quarter was a “decide whether to continue or hole up” moment that took some serious soul searching and checking if I was good to continue.

Obviously, everything worked out and we made it. I’ll be using much of those same procedures for the next jump from Prince Rupert to an anchorage at the south end of Grenville Channel – about 70 miles, where I’ll anchor for a couple of nights to catch up on sleep before doing it again to get to Klemtu. After that it’s easier times with the longest jump being 50 miles or so.

Oh what a night!

(by Frankie Valli)

It was the first leg of the long journey home, Ketchikan to Prince Rupert. This blog entry will detail the journey itself while the next one will detail the preparations for it.

The journey encompassed approximately 91 miles and took a little over 18 hours, all solo and hand steered. I departed the docks at Ketchikan at 17:30 and docked at Prince Rupert at 11:24 the next morning.

After departing the docks and moving to mid channel and checking for traffic, I let Opus drift while cleaning up the decks. I didn’t want anything out on the deck that might trip or trap me if I needed to move about later that night. This meant neatly coiling and stowing the dock lines and fenders, mainly, since everything else had been done before departing.

It was a warm, sunny day, and I was dressed in T-shirt, shorts, sandals, and of course my PFD. There wasn’t any real wind to speak of, though predictions were for it to freshen later that night. A bit of foreshadowing there…

Motoring down the channel, the Speed Over Ground(1) was well below what I had hoped for on average, but that was to be expected since the tide would be coming in and the current against me for a few hours before it turned and started to push me back out.

I was taking a different route out than we had coming in, in the hopes of encountering some winds later on. Opus is faster sailing than she is motoring, if there are decent winds. Thus, the route would get me into open water sooner, but added about 10 miles onto the journey.

About 15 miles into the trip, the channel opened a bit and I got my first taste of the swells coming in from Dixon entrance and Hecate strait. They weren’t much, maybe a meter at most, with an occasional one being 1 1/2 meters. It was a welcome change from the rougher chop I had been pushing through. The swell manifested itself more like a fore-and-aft rocking sensation, which is quite peaceful and comfortable.

A little further down that channel, I encountered a fleet of gill netters. Until I got close, I didn’t realize that’s what they were. I had passed a bunch of other boats anchored in some shallows, and thought these were more of the same. it was only as I approached that I noticed the white floats and red end marker and realized I needed to give these folks a wide berth. Thank goodness I encountered them during the day. I’m not sure I would have seen the nets in the twilight. Although, I would have given them even more wide a berth if it were night out, and I would also have seen the lights that signaled they were fishing(2) from a lot further away than I saw their net floats. Sorry fishermen, for getting so close!

Sunset was to be around 22:30, giving me about 5 hours from setting out to get out of the narrow waterways where things like logs might congregate. I wanted to be clear before it got dark and they would be difficult to see. Sure enough, the sun drooped below the horizon, the sky turned into all sorts of beautiful colours and there the sun got stuck. What do I mean by “stuck”? You know how when the sun drops below the horizon and the sky turns all those pretty colours of pinks and blues, and then they disappear and sky goes dark and stars begin to appear? Well, that didn’t happen. The colours just stayed there… and stayed there… and stayed there.

It was after midnight now and the colours were still there, so I took a picture:

Midnight Sunset

That’s looking north westerly. It was a bit darker than the picture shows. I guess my cell phone enhanced the image a bit, but I was still surprised by how light it was. I never needed a head lamp to see what I was doing. I thought that twilight-ish was going to keep me company through out the night, but the clouds moved in around 2 in the morning and then it got dark. I made sure my radar was on, my nav lights were lit, and my radio turned up loudly since it’s down in the cabin and I was up in the cockpit. Still, I was, intentionally, not near the shipping channels, so I really wasn’t concerned about other boats – though I did encounter a few early on.

As I reached the area where the winds were supposed to be, there was not a single puff, and all my flags were streaming straight back. This meant one of a few things:

  1. There was no wind
  2. The wind was from directly ahead
  3. The wind was from directly behind and slower than I was traveling.

In any other case, the flags would have been streaming at some angle to the boat. Cases 1 and 3 were utterly useless to me – I would make more progress by motor than by sailing. Case 2 was useful to me if there was a strong wind, which I would feel on my face and didn’t. Conclusion: there was no wind, despite the predictions.

As a result, I elected to put one of my options into effect and cut across and to the north of Dundas island as it shaved a few miles off the travel. Not as many as I had wasted getting to that point, but at least some, and at 5 knots, every mile is 12 minutes saved.

A few times I had to idle the motor and attend to necessities such as refilling my water bottle or taking care of the end product of eating and drinking, but for the most part we kept plugging along through an incoming tide and then it switching to an outgoing one. The incoming didn’t really help me any, but the outgoing one did shave about 1/2 a knot off my speed. That might not sound like much, but it was 10% of my speed and, again, every little bit helps or hurts!

Daylight came back up while I was heading along the east side of Dundas Island, which I could see on my radar (and of course, knew where it was due to the wonders of electronic/GPS navigation!). As my little world expanded again, I saw that I was in a bank of mist with greatly reduced visibility, of which I had been unaware at night. Immediately, I got out the air horn and started making the fog signals – 1 long (4-6 second) blast every 2 minutes. If I had thought that setting an alarm and having it go off every 15 minute throughout the night had been annoying, it held NOTHING compared to these air horn blasts.

I think there are boaters out there that take these sounds to mean “Hey, come home in on me at full power!” as that’s what at least two boaters did early that morning. No horn signals from them, just a sudden boat headed towards me. Fortunately, they, too, were sailboats, so we had plenty of time to turn away. Still, it would have been nice if they had been sounding fog signals too so that I knew they were out there. I miss my AIS receiver and transmitter that broke just before this trip. That _might_ have told me that they were there – if they were transmitting AIS signals.

The entrance to Venn passage was chock-a-block with sticks and kelp and a few logs. I was quite glad I had planned the trip so that I arrived at this last bit of water during daylight and could visually navigate around them. Eventually coming out the other end of this winding, narrow, shallow, passage, Prince Rupert met my gaze. Calling into the marina, they had a slip open and ready for me. All I had to do was put out all the lines I had taken in at the beginning, ditto for the fenders, and dock. It was even nearing slack tide, so I didn’t have to contend with their infamous currents. Just back into the slip, tie her up, clear customs, and thence get some rest.

Customs was easy – just calling in. They asked me a few questions and, as I had nothing to declare, they cleared me over the phone. No inspection or anything, and then it was time for sleep. I could afford to do Marina paperwork later when I woke up.

One other note I went through three outfits during this sail. I started in T-shirt and shorts, switched to thermals and long pants and shirt plus a windbreaker, peaked at thermals, salopettes, sweater, neck gaiter, and coat with rain hood and sailing boots, and ended up in t-shirt, salopettes (’cause I was too lazy to take them and the sailing boots off), sun hat, and sailing boots. It was a climatically varied night!


1. There are two speeds related to boat travel. The first is Speed Through Water (STW). This is, literally, how fast the wind or motor is pushing you through the water. The other is Speed Over Ground (SOG) which is a measure of how fast you’re actually getting somewhere. Imagine, for example, that your STW is 5 knots and there is no current. In that case, STW and SOG would both be 5 knots. Now imagine there’s a current moving at 5 knots against you. Your STW is still 5 knots, but your SOG would be 0 and you wouldn’t actually be making any progress. If the same current was with you, your SOG would be 10 knots.

2. A vessel fishing at night needs to display a red light over a white light that can be seen 360 degrees around the fishing vessel. In addition, they display a second white 360 degree light that indicates the direction of any fishing gear extending 150 metres or more from the vessel

Last night in Paris.. I mean Ketchikan

Tomorrow night is the big day. 80+ miles, single-handing, hand steering. It’s what this entire week has been leading up to and for which I’ve been preparing. Still, it’s a little daunting to think about. Daunting, anxiety-inducing, and yet also with a large helping of curiousity and excitement for the challenge ahead. Still, it’s important to go into it with open eyes and with pre-thought.

The weather here in Ketchikan for the last two days has been awesome. It’s like Ketchikan is putting her best sunday go to meeting clothes on in an effort to entice me to stay. What it does do, though, is offer a temptation to get to Prince Rupert early since the days are so beautiful. It’s important not to give into the temptation and go off half-cocked, though. Discipline and careful, methodical, preparation.

Today was rigging a bunch of things as well as creating a clean cockpit. Most importantly were the jack lines. These are lines that run along the deck. You tether yourself to them and they allow you to move forward and aft. If you are, for some reason, knocked overboard, the tether keeps you with the boat. Since there’s noone else on the boat to turn around and come back to me, it’s important that I stay with the boat.

The second thing to rig was a way to get back ONTO the boat if I go overboard. I’ve rigged the boarding ladder so that I can bring it down if I need it, even if I’m in the water. Until I yank that lanyard, though, it’s securely on the boat and won’t come off.

I’ve also rigged lashing for the dinghy that can be released quickly. Though, in truth, if I have to release it in an emergency, I might just cut the lashings since, at that point, I’ve determined that Opus is sinking. What’s a few cut lines in that case?

I’ve also been attending to the little tasks such as refilling the water tank. It really didn’t need to be refilled, but there’s a comfort in knowing that Opus is full. In addition, it helps with stability by adding weight below the water line.

I’ve looked at the fuel gauge and it reads 7/8s of a tank. You would think that would mean 7/8 * 25 (Opus’ tank has 25 gallon capacity) but of course, nothing is that simple. The fuel tank doesn’t seem to be a regular shape. Thus, there is more fuel in the top 1/8th of the tank than there is in the bottom 1/8th. By carefully monitoring how much fuel is put in, I’ve determined that at 3/4, Opus has about 16-17 gallons of fuel instead of the expected 18. At 0.71 per hour of fuel consumption, that’s more than 20 hours of operation. So why don’t I top it up?

The simple answer is because I don’t want to be storing partially filled fuel jerry cans on the deck. I want them either full or empty, not in between. I may, about 1/2 way along the trip, refuel from my ready supply (5 gallons) jerry can. That is an additional 6 hours of operation, so there’s plenty of fuel handy.

For people concerned about spillage, there is none. I use a shaker siphon (self-priming siphon) to transfer the fuel. As long as I hold the can so that it can’t slip and there is enough room in the fuel tank for the entire fuel load, no spillage is really possible.

I’ve been toying with three possible departure times because of trying to balance various factors. The first factor is safety. I’m not fooling myself that this trip is “safe”, but I’m trying to minimize the risks. The second factor is speed. The faster I make the transit, the less time I have to spend at the helm. The third factor is waterways. I can’t transit the shortcut waterway unless we’re at 1/4 to 1/2 tide rather than low tide – and I’d prefer the tide be coming in. Lastly is when the destination will have a berth available for me. My nominal check-in time is 15:00. I can probably check in before then. However, it does me no good to arrive too early because I won’t be able to dock. I’ll end up having to float, remain alert, and avoid traffic when what I really will want to do is simply take a nap.

Oh, did I mention that I also have to go through Customs? So add on some time to do that too.

Did I mention that I really don’t want to be docking when the current is running fast — and it DOES run fast at Prince Rupert, reaching as high as 5.5 knots on Monday. Considering my cruising speed is 5.5 knots with a maximum of just over 6 knots (at greatly increased fuel consumption), you can see the problem, I think… I want to arrive at slack tide!

So the departure depends on balancing all those factors (other than safety – that always has priority). As I get more accurate wind forecasts as we get closer to departure, the departure time wobbles. Right now I’m looking at three possible departure times:

17:00 Sunday, 21:00 Sunday, 05:00 Monday

We’ll see which one I eventually go with.

As usual, I’ll have the tracker running for those people with whom I’ve shared access. Keep your eye out!

Prepping

I had a full crew coming northwards, at least from Shearwater onwards. Due to various events and constraints, I’ll be single-handing Opus back south again. As you might imagine, the configuration of a boat for single-handing is very different than the configuration for a crewed boat, especially when the boat does not have an autopilot and must be hand steered.

The first consideration is doing everything you can so that you do not have to leave the cockpit. Leaving the cockpit has two effects. First is that there’s no hand on the wheel and so the boat will ply its own course. The second is the greatly increased risk if you should go overboard. There’s no crew to turn the boat around to come back to get you.

I’ve been reconfiguring Opus for single handing. Some of it is obvious, such as repairing the broken safety line, adding jack lines, and a tether. Next is making sure that I have a clear way to get to any point on the boat while still tethered in. There will be no untethered excursions for me!

The next thing to consider are the prosaic ones. Since the first leg is a 16 hour transit of high-80 to low-90 miles, consideration needs to be given to bodily needs – food, water, and the removal of used up food and water from the body. No autopilot means that when I’m in the head, there’s noone guiding the boat. When I’m at the galley, there’s noone guiding the boat, etc. In both those cases, it means the boat is idling and drifting.

I’ve added two net bags at the helm to hold water bottles and/or snack containers to minimize the amount of time I may have to leave the boat adrift.

And then, lastly, there is the reconfiguration of myself. Due to tides and winds, optimum time to depart is approximately 21:00 or 22:00 PDT (20:00 or 21:00 Alaska time), which should get me into Prince Rupert approximately 14:00 the next day – peak high tide time. That means I’ll fight the incoming tide to Ketchikan for about 2 hours, then be able to ride it out, then get to Prince Rupert in time to ride the last of the incomming tide in through Verney Channel. However, this means reconfiguring my days so that I’m active throughout the night and the following morning and early afternoon. That’s what I’ve been doing the last couple of days – swinging my day around. It’s not a comfortable process, but it is necessary.

Once I reach Prince Rupert, I’ll probably sleep for a day or two before starting the next leg of the trip. It is a bit more of a “normal” day, so I’ll be swinging my time back to a regular diurnal schedule while in Prince Rupert. Somehow, that’s easier. I think we’re evolved to naturally gravitate towards being active during the day.

Tomorrow morning will be about doing all the final engine checks and topping up the fuel tank. Opus has a rather small fuel tank – only 25 gallons. that’s good for about 32 hours of run time. I probably have enough fuel in the tank right now to do the crossing, but “probably” doesn’t have that warm fuzzy feeling. I’d hate to have the engine quit in a narrow, shallow, channel due to fuel starvation, so I’ll make sure the tank is topped up before I start.

I’ve also planned three different routes from Ketchikan to Prince Rupert. They branch off from each other at various places in order to give me options to make best use of wind, waves, and tides.

Lastly is the mental preparation – how to keep myself alert and functioning. This is a multi-pronged strategy. The first consists of something to do to keep my mind active. This is audio books to listen to while helming through the night and day. I have those downloaded onto my iPad, which is also my main display at the helm as it mirrors the chart plotter at my navigation desk in the cabin. And, yes, I do have a boat-supplied, waterproof, power supply to the iPad. The pad’s internal batteries would certainly not last a full transit of this length!

The second prong of the strategy is having a recurrent alarm going off every 15 minutes that I have to take positive action to quiet. Thus, even if I do nod off, I’ll be woken within 15 minutes. This alarm will be served by my cell phone, which also will be supplied with power from the boat. The cell phone also serves as a backup navigation system, running Navionics, if the iPad, for some reason, fails to charge. Then, of course, there are the usual requirements such as logging every hour, to help keep me busy and alert.

So that’s what I’ve been up to lately. Stay tuned for more preparation entries tomorrow.

Ketchikan

June 23

Ketchikan

It’s been rather a long time since I posted anything. I could make claims to having been quite busy though, truth be told, I probably could have found time here and there to make entries. Instead, accept this one as a compendium of all the entries I meant to make.

I suppose the biggest thing to discuss is the termination of Opus’ trip northwards. To do that, there’s a bunch of context that needs to be given.

We bought Opus in April of 2021. Excepting this trip, Opus had made only a few trips under my command, and sat in the Marina for quite a long time getting worked on. Her engine needed a lot of work, a heater was installed (and de-installed, and re-installed and tinkered with and… etc. It still doesn’t work properly). Various leaks were tracked down and sealed. They say that a boat is a hole in the water into which you pour money. Opus continues that proud tradition, unfortunately.

We intend to take Opus into the Vic-Maui race in 2024. That’s a 2,300 mile race from Victoria, BC to Maui, Hawaii. This trip to Alaska was supposed to be a step towards that, proving out her systems on a long trip while still not being in the middle of the ocean beyond help if something went wrong, and stuff did go wrong, for sure.

We haven’t fixed all the leaks, and rain has kept us from continuing to work on that. The dinghy is also leaking water, which meant we were unable to tow it. It was “safe” in that it wasn’t going to sink, but it was certainly going to add more drag than I wished, and was uncomfortable to use without bailing it. The heater wasn’t reliable (and often didn’t work at all), which is an ongoing issue. Slowly – too slowly – things were being worked on, but I’ll be the first to admit that Opus was/is not in optimal condition. She still needs a lot of work.

The straw that broke the camel’s back, however, came during the trip from Prince Rupert to Ketchikan. That was intended to be a 3-day journey. First day being from Prince Rupert to the Dundas Island, still short of the U.S. Border. 2nd day was to be a cross over the border to Foggy bay, staying there overnight on sufferance from the US Border Services, and then the third day being the final trip into Ketchikan to clear customs. Unfortunately, as we were closing in to Dundas Island, Opus lost power.

We jury rigged a GoPro onto the boat hook so that we could inspect the underside and determined two things. The first was that the propeller and prop shaft were still on the boat. The second was that even with the engine in gear, the prop was not turning, though the engine was.

Compounding this problem was that I was sick with a combination of (later determined) a reaction to some food I ate, which then got me sea sick as well (I had taken sea sick medicine, but thrown it up earlier). Being in a cramped location, trying to work on the diesel engine, was not something I ended up being physically up to. Fortunately, we’re a sailboat and have alternate means to continue. Two of the crew (Kay and Karenn) took terms at the helm while third crew (Sam) aided and then took over diagnosing and trying to fix the problem.

It was determined that the prop shaft was no longer attached to the V-drive. Let me explain that a little more. The shaft that comes off my inboard diesel engine faces towards the bow. If we hooked a propeller onto that, then the propeller would be facing the bow instead of the stern. We need to make the shaft do a 180 degree turn to face backwards towards the stern. This is the function of the V-drive. It is connected to the prop shaft via two flanges that are held together by three bolts. It was determined that the bolts had all failed and there was no longer anything holding the prop shaft flange to the V-drive flange.

As we pitched and rolled in the waves, Sam and I tried to effect repairs together and then Sam by herself. Unfortunately, we failed to be able to extract the pieces of the bolts from the flanges and thus had no way to bolt the two pieces back together again. Meanwhile, Karenn and Kay continued to helm us under sail as our first, then our second, planned stop faded into our wake.

Approximately, 22:00 or so, it was suggested that we make a final call to the coast guard asking for a tow. We had alerted them earlier to our problem1 and they were standing by. After our call this time, they dispatched a boat from Ketchikan, which took us under tow. At 01:30, they nudged us against the bar harbor dock and did a boat inspection to make sure of things like floatation devices, number of flares, fire extinguishers, etc., met coast guard regulations. Finally the crew could turn in for a rest.

The next morning the harbormaster was knocking. He wanted to know what this boat was doing tied up to their temporary dock, and so I told him the story. After doing that and notifying him that we were currently unable to move under our own power, he agreed to let us stay there temporarily, which we ended up doing one more night, though not without one more problem due to tides.

The tide that morning was going to be low enough that Opus might well become grounded. Her keep is strong enough to take her weight as long as it’s concentrated up and down. I basically “sewed” Opus to the dock using every dock line I had and running the line back and forth between her “toe rail” and the dock so that she’d stay upright. However, upon measuring, it turns out that there was a depression directly below her – she never actually touched bottom even though her depth meter was reading less than 9 feet (her minimum depth to float).

Meanwhile I had set out to find someone to fix Opus. This took a bit but we finally found a mechanic that was willing to come out to look at her. Between him, his assistant and me, we worked on it all day and eventually had to completely remove the V-drive to effect repairs. Finally, at 18:30, we were done. It was a lot of labour, a couple of bolts in various sizes (so that we had whatever size was needed), but once again the propshaft was connected to the engine.

Unfortunately, that was not the full extent of the damage. It would be several more days before I had completed all the repairs on her.

Meanwhile, the crew had decided to move on – they could no longer continue the voyage with Opus. This left me with yet another problem. How would I get Opus home? So I sent out word on various boards that I was looking for crew. I’ve had a couple of responses. However, I’ll give you the words of one of these exchanges so you have an idea of the troubles I’m having:

Them: Wave/Request to check mutual interest

Me: Hi, which trip are you interested in?

Them: Prince Rupert to Vancouver

Me: ** Asks for contact information so we can discuss details **

Them: Hi, Kevin, I’m in Ontario now I don’t know how long it will take to get here from bc but I’d love to hop on your boat and go to Europe or something like that.

As you can see, they had no interest in the trip that was proposed. That is typical of the interactions I’ve been getting recently.

And so now I’ve been planning and preparing Opus for the journey southwards uncrewed – just me and the ship making our way over 600 miles back to our home. It’s daunting and scary, for sure. It starts with a 16 hour trip back from Ketchikan to Prince Rupert. 16 hours of me on the helm, steering and managing the entire boat, non-stop, over 80+ miles. Then I spend a few days in Prince Rupert recovering before another 70+ mile leg, whereupon I anchor, and recover for a few days, then another 70+ mile leg to Klemtu. After that things get easier.

However, anchoring comes with its own challenges. Opus’ windlass is underpowered for the anchor and chain we’re using on her for this trip. Thus, to bring the anchor up, I’ll need to man three stations – the helm, the bow, and the chain locker. This will mean I’ll need very protected anchorages as there will be times that the anchor won’t actually be holding the boat, but I need to be away from the helm to bring it up and stow it, plus adding my muscle to the mechanical power of the windlass, plus making sure that the anchor rode and chain are distributing themselves in the chain locker. With a crew of me and one other person, that can be a 20 minute job. With just me alone, I’m guessing it will be more like a 45 minute process.

I have the route planned and so now I’ve been concentrating on rigging the boat for single-handing. That means getting the entire boat secure, rigging attended to, and most of all planning how I’m going to eat and drink while under way. If Opus had an autopilot, that would be easy. Turn on the autopilot and take my hands off the helm. Unfortunately, getting Opus’ autopilot re-installed was not a high priority for this trip. Thus, no autopilot. Somehow I’ll have to be able to prepare meals under way, consume them, and still keep the boat pointed in the right direction. It’s going to be boil-in-a-bag meals at best during the day, or simply high protein, high energy snacks and drinks while at the helm.

Other repairs I’ve had to make:

  1. Replacement of the starboard safety line. I have no idea how this broke. It happened when I was asleep. Unfortunately, there are no facilities that can handle making a new one here since it requires a heavy-duty press to swage fittings onto wire. I wanted to replace the wire safety lines with dyneema ones anyway. Unfortunately, they don’t have dyneema of the proper size here either, so I’ve had to make do with nylon line. It’s not as good as wire or dyneema because of how it stretches, but it’s a lot better than no safety line at all.
  2. Rigging of jack lines. These are the lines that run along the deck and to which you hook a tether that either will not allow you to go overboard or else keeps you with the boat if you do, rather than letting the boat continue on without you. If there’s a crew, they can come back to get you. If you’re single-handing, well, the boat won’t be turning around to come get you on its own.
  3. Replacing the hardware that has gone missing because things like the running back stays were not properly stowed. I don’t blame the crew for making a mistake. It is, after all, my responsibility to teach them. I DO blame them for not asking about it. Considering the back stays are part of what holds the mast up when it’s under tension, they are kind of important…
  4. Ensuring that the repairs that were made are up to the strain. To that end, I’ve taken Opus out and run her engine for hours both at normal cruise RPMs and also at very high cruise RPMs to test the repair. I’m happy to report that she is running more smoothly than she was prior, though there’s still a fair amount of work that should be done on the engine when possible.
  5. Oil, oil filter, and fuel filter changes. Although diesel engines could likely run with mud as lubrication, it’s not good for it and will hasten the day that the engine decided it ain’t a-gonna run no more, no more, and is sent to the old engine’s home.

So the big day is approaching. Weather is favourable for a trip this coming Monday. I’ll be setting off some time before midnight on Sunday and then arriving in Prince Rupert a bit after noon on Monday. This will allow me to make best use of tides. There doesn’t look to be much wind, so it’s likely to be a motorboat ride the entire way, so I need to make sure that the fuel tank is full. With a fuel burn of 0.71 gallons/hr, and 25 gallons in the tank, that gives me over 30 hours of operation, which is well more than I need for the 16 hour transit.

I have three night’s reservation in Prince Rupert, so that should work out well enough. If necessary, I hope I can extend that further.

Anyway, I’ll try to keep up more on this blog as things progress. I find myself both anxious and excited by the prospect of bringing Opus home solo. Hopefully the excitement is real and the anxiety is just pre-performance buttterflies. I’ve helmed Opus for more than 16 hours before, though that was in the protected waters of the Georgia Strait. Solo past Dixon Entrance and part of Hecate Strait is a bit more complicated than that.

1I have a membership in BoatUSA for towing, which I got specifically for this trip. It turns out that BoatUSA does not have any tows available in the Ketchikan area. They did coordinate discussions with the Coast Guard, which was about all they could do. Apparently they do have resources in Juneau if we had been up that far.