Now We’re Moving Along

Miles traveled days 34-37: 440
Miles traveled total : 4,584
Miles to Port Angeles: 621

We’ve finally shaken loose from the grips of the high that formed right in front of us two days ago. Just when we thought we could lay a rhumb line right into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, we were becalmed. The first night we knew we still had enough fuel onboard to motor for three full days and nights, so we turned on the engine. After about 18 hours the wind picked up enough to keep the sails full, so we sailed very slowly through the day yesterday. Last night on my late night watch when the anemometer began spinning circles and our speed over ground dropped to less than one knot, I rolled the jib and turned the engine on once again. Happily, though, this last run was very short lived. This morning when I got up at 5:00 the wind was up and the jib came back out, hopefully for the last time.

Right not we’ve got about 17 knots off our aft starboard quarter, and we’re making 6.5 knots directly towards home. This is good. And the forecasts all say that we’re going to continue getting wind between 15 and 20 knots all the way home. This is exactly what we’ve been waiting for, and what you get in the low latitude tradewinds that we’ve missed for the last 37 days up here in the North Pacific.

Our lesson this week concerned our SSB and GPS. When we left Japan we were in an area where few boats travel, which meant there was not a sailmail station within reasonable propagation range. Our connect times quickly reached the limit and we began to receive warnings from the Hawaii station that we were using too much server time. We emailed the owners of the system, who happen to live in lovely Friday Harbor, and they understood our location and the propagation challenges and kindly reset our time. They also looked at the server logs and noted that our transmit times seemed longer than expected. We downloaded their troubleshooting guide and quickly discovered that a setting in our software that controls the power of our radio was set far too low. So we turned up the power and viola, the time required to send emails instantly reduced by two thirds.

Coincidentally (or not), we started losing reception from our GPS every time we sent email. Then we would look at the chart plotter and see a big spike in our track, which is the line that shows where we’ve been. Finally one day when we had a very slow day of sailing, checked our mileage for that day and saw 148 miles, we knew something wacky was going on. Rob the detective quickly put all the pieces together. Our GPS antenna is mounted on the back rail of the cockpit, right next to the backstay (the wire leading aft that holds the mast up). Like most cruising boats, the backstay also happens to be our SSB antenna. So when we send email or talk on the radio, the RF (radio frequency) energy goes right up the backstay. Yesterday Rob hooked up our spare GPS antenna at the pedestal and now our emails go fast and we don’t lose our GPS signal to the chartplotter anymore.

Right now that plotter tells us that if we can maintain 6 knots, we’ll be tied up to a dock in Port Angeles four days from now. I can’t begin to express how marvelous that feels. Funny thing is, this hasn’t been a horrible passage, but we’ve received quite a few emails recently from friends who are sympathizing with us for having such a dreadful time. Really? Were our postings that bad? The only real thing this passage has been is LONG. Very long. OK, those two gales right out the gate sucked, but since then it’s just been long and tedious. Rob says that it’s been tough because we’ve never been able (until maybe today) to relax and say, “ok, now the weather’s settled and we can just sail”. We’ve had to watch the weather closely this entire passage, and in the end still don’t know how much we did or didn’t learn.

Today on Yohelah it’s time to start getting ready for a very welcome landfall…