Passage Home, Day 2

Miles traveled, day 1&2: 291!
Miles to Port Angeles: 4,196

Well we definitely found the Japanese current (Kiro Shio), and are loving the amount of miles we’re ticking off in a big hurry. We left Tannowa Yacht Harbor at 7:00 Wednesday morning and motored out until we found some wind mid day. We sailed out of Osaka Bay and took a left, discovering we still had another 45 miles of very heavy freighter traffic until we turned the corner towards Tokyo. About 6:00 we were wishing we had left a couple of hours earlier, as we were still being passed by freighter after freighter motoring at 20 knots in both directions. At one point we had four huge freighters within a mile, passing on both sides. Then miraculously, for some reason, they stopped coming out of the bay right at 7:00. It gave us a break to cross the outbound lanes and get far enough outside the traffic to feel comfortable as darkness set in.

Needless to say, these first two nights on passage have required our full attention. But we were past the worst of it by the time Rob woke me up Wednesday night at 11:00, so it hasn’t been too bad. I’ve learned a lot in four years about how to identify ships at night, and no longer fear that I’m going to make the same mistake I did in the Santa Barbara Channel on our first trip south when I thought a ship was an oil platform, that is until it started beeping at me! In the last three hours since we passed north of the entrance to Tokyo Harbor the ship traffic has decreased significantly, and at the moment our AIS only shows one ship within 20 miles of us. We’ll still keep a vigilant watch as long as we’re in Japanese waters for another few days, but the heavy traffic seems to be gone.

The weather has been crappy and rainy all day, but the rain isn’t packing gusty winds, so we’re just sailing along with it. The first two days were beautiful and sunny, so we won’t complain about one rainy day out of three. We’re all settled into a routine and I’m starting to work my way through veggies that won’t last much longer. Tonight it was a yummy chicken salad for dinner, even though the peppers, carrots and cukes were pretty soft.

Right before we left I sent out our last broadcast email and we received lots of notes wishing us a safe journey (thanks everyone). We were both of the mindset that this, our longest passage ever, was one to be endured. Rob had parsed it up into two pieces – a short 1,200 mile hop like the trip from Bora Bora to Niue, then a 3,200 mile trip like the Galapagos to Marquesas passage. Infinitely doable. Since reading the email from our friends Catherine and Neville of the boat Dream Time, my attitude has changed completely. Their very wise advice was “enjoy the journey with Yohelah, as before you know it, you’ll find yourselves swept up with land-living again and be dreaming of those quiet days at sea”. Better advice couldn’t have been given. I’m now not enduring the moments, I’m trying to cherish every last one of them, good and not as good.

Today on Yohelah we’re enjoying our last passage and saying “thanks Neville and Catherine for those very wise words”……


Eastbound Route

Miles traveled, day 3: 124
Miles traveled total: 415
Miles to Port Angeles: 4,100

Did I actually say yesterday that I was going to cherish EVERY moment? Hahaha. More foolish words have rarely been typed, even by me. I forgot the magic word: Lightning. And we had a night of it last night, that’s for sure. The storms were huge and the lightning was terrifying. There was so much lightning that it was impossible to keep track of which thunder went with which flash. The noise was absolutely pounding all night, as we motor-sailed in a circuitous route trying to avoid the worst of the storms as they passed by, managing once again to avoid a strike. We’re 140 miles offshore this afternoon, hoping to be far enough away from land to lose the convection, but we have no idea really how far out this weather travels. The winds are big today so that ought to keep the lightning quiet tonight.

Before we left Osaka our friend Yoshida-san showed us a plot of two other vessels that are currently sailing from Japan to the US who are reporting in daily on the Okira Net. One is headed for Alaska and the other for San Francisco. We were surprised to see that they were both nearly 2,000 miles out and still dead due east of Japan. We didn’t know at the time why the boat heading for Alaska was traveling so far east before turning northeast. After watching the weather charts the last few days, now we think we do understand. When we were researching weather for this passage, we focused more on the middle of the route, and less on the edges. The historical data from Buoyweather and the pilot charts showed that in July the passage would be relatively calm out in the middle, compared to even a month earlier.

What we didn’t dial in on at the time was the fact that the low pressure systems continue to push off the Chinese mainland. We don’t notice them at home in the summer because they get pushed north by the North Pacific high. What we think we’ve learned in the last few days is that if we turn north now we’ll just be traveling along with system after system. We hate the thought of giving up the free 1-2 knots from the Kuro Shio, but we’ve decided now to follow the path of the other two boats. The best course seems to be to travel eastbound until we get to the edge of the North Pacific high, then turn northeast. What we think we want to do is to ride a path between the lows and the high.

Tonight the third system of this passage heads offshore towards us, and this one is a doozy. It’s a 998 millibar low and should pass north of us over the next 36 hours. We’ll hoist our storm staysail this afternoon and tuck in the second reef in the main. Unlike last time when we were headed into Japan, though, we’re on the south side of this low so the winds will continue to be from the southwest and stay behind us. They’ll be strong, but with shortened sail we should be able to push on through. I’m listening to the Pacific Seafarer’s net on the SSB right now and there’s a boat sailing directly from the Marshall Islands to Seattle who is becalmed and drifting in the middle of the North Pacific high, so things could be worse.


Yohelah Is Here

Miles traveled, day 4: 135
Miles traveled total: 550
Miles to Port Angeles: 3,987


When I downloaded the North Pacific weatherfax this morning I noticed that exactly where our boat was they had placed a label. Instead of saying “Yohelah is here”, it said “GALE”. And it was a good one. We’re through the worst of it now, having been hove to for the last 4 hours or so. When the sustained winds were over 40 it was time to turn up, park the boat in a hove to position, and come downstairs. Right around 1:00 when I was getting ready to check in on the ham net we took an enormous wave over the bow, and suddenly where the dinghy had been there was now light coming through the forward hatch. The wave had snapped the lines that hold the bow of the dink, but luckily Rob had tied extra lines and it was still attached at the back. Our forward stanchion that had been trashed last year in Bora Bora when the speedboat parked on our bow is once again bent, this time out, at about a 70 degree angle.

The dink is tied back down with much heavier lines, but the inside of the boat is completely trashed. There is water everywhere. Every time we take a huge wave it finds its way in. The worst feeling is when we become weightless momentarily, not knowing how far down we’re going to go and how hard we’re going to hit bottom. We keep thinking it’s slowing down, and then we look up and it’s still in the mid 30’s. Guess we’ll be here for a while.

Cherish every moment, huh? Yeah, not so much. What I do know that I will learn on the first try, is that when Yohelah leaves the Pacific Northwest next time there will be a little envelope stashed in the chart table with enough money in it to put her on a freighter and ship her back home.


After The Gale

Miles traveled, day 6: 96
Miles traveled total: 646
Miles to Port Angeles: 3,956

We went 96 miles yesterday, but only 31 were made good in the direction of home. It was a long ugly day and we’re both glad it’s over. About 4:00 we noticed we were making ground to weather and the boat wasn’t sitting as comfortably in the waves any longer, so we decided the wind must have eased too much to remain hove to with just the double reefed main and it was time to leave. When we went outside the first thing we noticed was our US flag dragging in the water behind us – the flag halyard had parted sometime earlier. Then I realized the reason we were moving so much was because we had chafed through the reefing line and lost the second reef. The mainsail was laid up against the spreaders and we were sailing.

We both agreed there was still too much wind to shake out the second reef, so we decided to drop the main and hoist the trysail. An exercise that would take maybe 20 minutes in good conditions (when, of course you would never need to do that) took 2 hours. It was just becoming dark when the work was done and we were sailing slowly again. We took our night watches from inside while it poured buckets outside. The wind continued to ease, so the trysail wasn’t giving us enough power to overcome the seas and we were rolling gunnel to gunnel every few minutes. But neither of us wanted to go outside and deal with the jib, so we put up with it until daybreak.

This morning it was another 2 hours to reverse the process and get the trysail back down, the mainsail hoisted and the decks cleaned up. First thing we found when we went to roll out the jib is that the bow pulpit is completely bent up from the dinghy crashing into the lifelines. Luckily we’ve got a couple of inches clearance between the stainless rail and the roller furling unit on the jib and it will still roll in and out.

Repairs that need to be made outside when we both get rested up and the seas flatten out again: 1) re-tie dinghy into correct position; 2) replace bar on bimini support that came out; 3) reinstall bimini; 4) reinstall dodger panel that blew out in 46 knots of wind; 5) repair the reefing line on the mains’l. But that list is nothing compared to the cleaning we need to do inside. The boat absolutely reeks of saltwater infused towels, sheets, cushions, carpets and rain gear. The floors are all covered in salt water, there’s a quart of milk sloshing around the bottom of the refrigerator, and everything that once was on a shelf is now on a bed or the floor. Normally if we were near landfall we would save the cleaning until we were anchored and rested up. That’s not the case with nearly 4,000 miles to go.

There was one really good thing about yesterday, though. We both learned that we make a good team when things get really tough. All the frustration and unhappiness and discomfort never turned in to squabbling or arguing. We work together really well outside on deck, even during the worst of the weather. On one of the weather faxes I downloaded yesterday I saw another low pressure system developing over Japan. While I wait another 6 hours for the next set of forecasts from Hawaii for our area, we’re hoping to find out we don’t have to go through all of that again soon.


Another Day Another Gale

Miles traveled, day 6: 95
Miles traveled total: 741
Miles to Port Angeles: 3,871

Japan Seattle PassageAfter we hoisted the main and rolled out the jib we sailed along nicely for a few hours yesterday. Then the wind started to build again, and before we knew it the anemometer was over 40 once more. So back to the exercise of dropping the main and hoisting the storm sail. Funny thing is, the second time in two days sounded pretty horrible at first, but once we got into a groove and started fussing with things it was just kind of routine. Rob even took the time up on the bow to re-tie the dink so it won’t do any unauthorized traveling again. So hove to we were once more last night all night, but this time we weren’t trying to go anywhere and just sat through the worst of it. This morning the wind had eased back to the 30’s.

We’ve started sailing again, this time leaving the storm trysail up and rolling out some jib. We’ve still got quite a bit of wind and with the current we’re making over 7 knots east, which is just what we want. We’re looking at the weather faxes and see that we’ve almost accomplished what we were trying to do – the lows are going to start rolling north of us as the North Pacific high pushes west again. We might be done with the huge winds, as the next 3 lows coming off Japan are only 1007 MB, not the 996 that the gale was. As we approach the high we’ll turn north to keep from getting into the middle of it and becoming becalmed, hoping it doesn’t overtake us. At least that’s the plan right now.

While we were hove to this morning we had some time to clean up the inside of the boat, but now we just need some sunshine to dry things out.


Japan to Seattle, first week

Japan to Seattle, first week.

This first week has been an adventure. At the end of our first week we’ve done 836 miles with 3750 to go. Not bad considering we’ve weathered two gales.

No fishing so far, it’s been way too rough. The crew is doing well, all things considered. Maya seems bored and sleeps a lot. Except she wants to play at night, just when we want to sleep. We keep telling her how nice her life will be at the end of this passage with no more overnight passages for a long time. Certainly for longer than her memory is…

Our friends who have been in worse weather will chuckle at this, but there is nothing in this world like working on deck in 45 knots of wind, trying to get the staysail down, or hoisting storm sails. We are always double tied to the boat but with the bow moving up and down 25 feet, occasionally disappearing into waves, it’s definitely an E-ticket ride at disneyland (do they still have the same ticket system there or did I just lose everyone younger than I?) Teresa and I work well together in these conditions so it makes things easier. I also have to say that the second gale was easier than the first.

The boat is doing well. We thought everything was well sealed on this boat and the decks and house very water tight but it’s a different story when waves wash across the decks. The dorade ventilation boxes that are designed to let in air but not water get overrun, with water dripping in. Our time in the tropics has dried some of our sealant so we have a few port light frames which have started to leak. When we get pooped water comes through the aft hatch, although we’ve reduced it as much as possible. When we come in from outside we drip water everywhere, and more collects taking the wet gear to the shower. All this makes for a very wet boat interior. Mopping with fresh water dries things faster (OK, did you know fresh water evaporates faster than salt water?) but its a lot of work and the boat still feels really wet. Today things are starting to dry out.

Aside from the dinghy coming loose and bending a stanchion in a wave that sent water OVER the cabin top midships, we’ve had little breakage. A reefing line parted in the first gale and unfortunately sucked up into the boom. Our boom is around 18 feet and we needed to re-run the line before we could set our second reef again. I felt like McGiver when I fgured out how to use the remaining reefing line to pull the second back through the boom. If you’ve ever looked at the sheave box on a Kenyon boom you know the difficulty. But those problems aside, the boat has weathered the Lows very well. This is why we bought a 30,000+ pound cruising boat.

If you want more up-to-date information about our location and conditions than we supply on our website or via email, look on the YOTREPS website. We check in to the Pacific Seafarers Net every day at 0330Z (3:30 am GMT, UTC, or Zulu). After taking our report, along with the other 20 or so boats underway in the Pacific and checking in, they send in a report to YOTREPS. I don’t have the exact web address, but if you Google ‘Yotreps’ it’ll come up, should be domain. Once on the site search for Teresa’s HAM call sign KE7WWA and you should find our latest report. If you look around 9pm on the west coast you’ll see our conditions as of 8pm. Times very depending on PacSea’s submission of the report but they are usually pretty fast.

We always report in to the Pacific Seafarer’s net when underway. They have stations on the US West Coast, Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, Pitcairn, and a few other places I’ve forgotten. Someone can always hear us. They track all boats and send out inquiries for boats not checking in. They also provide phone links when propagation allows and we’ve heard them get a doctor on the radio to give advice to a boat in the middle of nowhere. They also help coordinate search and rescue efforts. It’s a good organization of vounteers, we appreciate their efforts. Another good reason to have your HAM license before going cruising.

So with the weather improving in our part of the Pacific we will continue to look in dismay at the number of gales east of us. Hopefully they stop coming off China soon and the North Pacific High re-establishes itself before we need that half of the Pacific. BTW, if you live on the west coast the weather charts are showing some prety stinky weather heading your way, just hard to tell right now whether it’ll hit Alaska, Canada, or Washington.

That’s it for now, we’re waiting for the weather to calm down a bit more so we can work on deck and stay dry. Might as well get ready for the next set of lows the Chinese seem to manufacture these days.


In A Fog, At Least I Think So

Miles traveled day 7: 115
Miles traveled day 8: 161
Miles traveled total: 1,017
Miles to Port Angeles: 3,631

It’s just after midnight and we’re sailing along beautifully. We still have the trysail up, but just because we were really busy today doing other things and didn’t get the mains’l back up. It probably sounds funny that we didn’t have time to hoist a sail when what we’re supposed to be doing is sailing, but the sun was out for the first time in 6 days and we were on a mission to get the boat cleaned up. Besides, with the trysail up, the full jib out, and the current pushing us along, we’re currently making 7 knots even without the mainsail.

The weather faxes we’re downloading from Hawaii are telling us that the lows continue to come off of China and Japan and are being pushed north of us by high pressure. We would like to start turning north but can’t do it quite yet. Today’s 72 hour forecast says a possible gale will develop just 5 degrees north of us if two of these lows combine and bump into a high. So we’ll just plug along here at this latitude and hope to continue being protected by the high pressure just south of us.

In a desperate move out of sheer boredom yesterday Maya made a run for the companionway and an escape from the cabin. It was funny but sad because just as she got out into the cockpit a wave broke right behind the boat, causing all kinds of noise and a big roll at the same time. Needless to say she literally turned tail and was back in her bed in just a second.

I just went outside to make a full horizon scan, which I do every 20 minutes, and I think we’re completely fogged in. Which is odd because the wind is blowing 17 knots. But the sky is overcast and it’s completely pitch black out. As I look out from the companionway it looks like fog out there, but it’s really hard to tell in the complete darkness. And whether it is or not, I’ll still be up and out there every 20 minutes checking the AIS, radar, and the horizon. I had quite a surprise last night after getting a bit lazy about making a check so frequently. We hadn’t physically seen a ship in 5 days, but about this time last night I checked the radar and saw one heading directly away from us, about 3 miles out, going really fast. It didn’t have an AIS signal, but a very clear radar return and when I looked outside I could only see the stern light. Which means it passed very very close to us when I wasn’t paying attention. We think it must have been military since there was no AIS and it was going so fast, which means there would definitely have been lookouts standing watch. Nevertheless, I won’t be missing my appointed time to check again, fog or not.


Between A High And A Stormy Place

Miles traveled day 9: 144
Miles traveled day 10: 159
Miles traveled total : 1,320
Miles to Port Angeles: 3,411

DSC_0106-1The forecasters keep changing their minds about whether the next set of lows north of us are developing into gales or storms. Either way, we’re stuck here between them and the high south of us. We’d really like to start turning north, but the lows just seem to be getting worse. Rob joked this morning that we may end up in San Francisco if this keeps up, but we know eventually we’ll get a break (won’t we?). The barometer tell us we’re sailing directly into the high right now, because it’s going up pretty quick, but the wind has shifted to the northeast and we’re sailing as hard to weather as we can. And of the two choices, becalmed is better than a storm.

With the high pressure we get relief from the rain and some nice sunshine, though, so that’s all good. And since the wind hasn’t been blowing from this direction very long the seas are relatively flat and we’re not pounding too much. The wind is forecast to turn the rest of the way back to the southwest this evening, so we’ll need to tack sometime tonight and turn back north.

Rob discovered yesterday right before dark that the top slug that attaches the mainsail to the mast has lost its webbing, so I had some sewing repairs to do before we could hoist the mainsail again. We thought we could just pull the pin out and resew the webbing without pulling down the entire sail. But, that was not meant to be. Once the webbing was sewn and the pin pulled back out to put back into the slug on the track we couldn’t get it back into the webbing. I had sewn it too tight. So we decided to just pull down the sail afterall and resew with the slug so we didn’t have to get the pin out or back in. What might have been a 5 minute job in Hasse’s sail loft took us well over 2 hours by the time we got the sail hoisted back up. But the wind has eased and we need the power of the mains’l once again.

Not much else to report. We haven’t tried fishing yet, but now with the improved weather maybe I can convince the captain to drop out some lures when the wind turns back behind us tomorrow. The water has cooled to the low 70’s, so I think we’ll be setting lures for tuna now instead of dorado.


Homeward Passage, Day 12

Miles traveled days 11 & 12: 207
Miles traveled total : 1,527
Miles to Port Angeles: 3,263

We’re sailing tonight with the jib out on the pole in front of the mains’l, making 5.5 knots to the NNE. Two days ago we had a difficult day trying to make miles towards home. The wind had shifted around in front of us, turning us to the southeast. We couldn’t point very high (sail close to the wind) because we still had the trysail up, but we decided to tack and see where it got us. When we were done tacking we were pointing northwest – a 180 degree turn. Not so good, so back we go, thinking it was because of the trysail. After we finished the repairs and had the main back up we tacked again, with the same results. What we realized was that the 3 knot current was no longer our friend and pushing us west in the light air, so back we tacked, sailing much longer to the southeast than we wanted, until the current eased enough to allow us to turn back again and point northeast. Of the 100 miles we sailed on Tuesday, only 44 of it was in the direction we want to travel – a very frustrating day for sure.

We need to make some ground north now because, dare I say it, the last of the lows coming off Japan is going by and the latitude we’re at now will be totally windless in another 2 days. We have no idea if the succession of low pressure systems was a normal spring pattern and is done for the summer, or if it continues on and we’re just getting a brief respite. That’s the problem with just passing through an area – it’s impossible to understand what the weather’s doing in a such short time.

What we do know now, though, is that the GPS is going to tick over to less than 3,000 miles to go in another day or two, and that’s a huge milestone. If we stretch it a bit we can convince ourselves that we’re a third of the way done with this passage. The weather’s been beautiful during the day, but it’s getting chilly now. The water temp is below 70 degrees, and a sweatshirt is mandatory attire when we get out of the sea berth at night for watches. There’s no moon right now so it’s completely pitch black outside, which still bothers me even after 4 years of passagemaking.

Tonight on Yohelah we’re making ground northeast….


Passage Home Day 14

Miles traveled days 11 & 12: 247
Miles traveled total : 1,774
Miles to Port Angeles: 3,051

The mileage reading above was taken at 9:00 this morning, and now it’s midnight and we have less than 3,000 miles to go! We’re sailing downwind tonight with the jib on the spin pole in front of the mainsail on the port side, with about 17 knots of wind coming across our starboard quarter. It’s a pretty nice ride, but we get some whopping rollers every once in a while and get thrown around pretty good. We’re making 6 knots to the northeast, which are all miles to the good. In another 4 or 5 days we will be half way there!

The latest weatherfax surface forecast for 72 hours from now shows absolutely no lows to the west of us, so now we’ve got to start watching the highs fill in and make sure we don’t get caught in the middle of one with no wind. We need to head northeast a bit and come up over the top of the stationary North Pacific high which is parked very firmly in front of the Washington coastline. Hopefully we won’t have to go too far north to keep wind. The 96 hour wind/wave forecast predicts right now that if we travel northeast up to about 48 degrees we could turn due east at about 155 degrees west and go right into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. But it’s way too far in advance to start working it out at that level of detail, since we’re still at 170 degrees east and that’s over 1,500 miles away.

Tonight I think we finally have to give in to the gremlins in our freezer compressor. We’ve been fighting problems with it since we left Majuro, and it’s been giving us fits for most of this passage. What Rob thinks is wrong is that when it was charged up in La Paz, Mexico after the last rebuild of the freezer box, it was overcharged. And perhaps now the excess coolant has finally made its way into the compressor. He has instructions from the manufacturer and has been bleeding off coolant, but it just won’t freeze anymore. We’re about to lose all the meat in the freezer, which is going to make for some very boring meals between here and home. I couldn’t find canned chicken at Costco in Japan, so we’ve basically got canned tuna for meat. Guess it’s time to get serious with the fishing lures since fresh tuna is far better and more interesting and versatile than canned. That first meal after we make landfall in Port Angeles is going to be pretty tasty. In the meantime I think we’ll be eating a lot of chicken breasts in the next two days.