Baba BarAnn Around the Pacific


Chapter 18 - The Long Passage Home

Around the Pacific High

We left Hanalei Bay on July 15. Our first four days were hard on the wind, similar to the tough sailing we'd had from New Zealand all the way to Hawaii. When were we ever going to get some easy sailing? While beating to weather, the boat heels over at a sharp angle. You have to hang on to a grab rail or something else to walk even one step on the boat. Slamming into waves, it's easy to get thrown around the boat, picking up bruises. Life is darn uncomfortable on board.

To prevent falling out of bed, we constructed "lee clothes." A lee cloth is made from canvas, with the bottom side through bolted to the main salon settee where I sleep. The top side has three grommets and connects to the grab rail above the settee with three strong lines. I was concerned that the "weak link" in this arrangement might be the grab rail. However, I designed it to withstand significant stress. I'm sure two people could chin themselves on the grab rail without breaking it. On the passage from Penrhyn to Hawaii, Baba BarAnn fell off a good size wave and hit with a smash. I was thrown against the lee cloth so hard that one of the grommets ripped through the canvas. So I reinforce the grommets. Now, on the trip north from Hawaii, another wave threw me against the lee cloth. The grab rail, grommets, and canvas held just fine. Unfortunately, the settee is no longer firmly attached to the floor! Can you image the amount of stress on the entire system from such a wave?Fixing the settee is just another project that awaits our arrival in Seattle.

I also need to fix the autopilot (Autohelm 6000). Something in the gimbaled fluxgate compass goes wacky whenever we hit rough conditions. So that means that we have to steer by hand when motoring in anything but placid conditions. The biggest problem is the roller furling drum. It gradually became more difficult to rotate. Ten days into the passage it had become completely unworkable. After that we furled and unfurled our headsail the old fashion way . . . with a halyard.

During the first four days of the passage we really moved, averaging 158 miles per day. Then we hit a moderate sized storm that literally knocked the wind out of our sails. After hoving to for a few hours we found ourselves wallowing in the middle of a large high pressure system, without wind. For the next seven days we limped along, getting more frustrated by the minute, hoping for wind. Our daily mileage ranged from 125 down to an all time low of 58 miles on July 27. Not only were the winds light to non-existent, but they always came from our destination, the northeast. Turning on the engine wasn't the solution, since we can only carry enough fuel to motor for perhaps 600 miles. We still had 2,000 miles left. Due to the broken autopilot, motoring would require the most heinous, boring, and tiring task for a cruiser . . . hand steering. Finally we got lucky. On July 30, the fifteenth day of the passage, we finally got some wind from the right direction. After beating for 1,600 miles, we could finally point Baba BarAnn at the west coast of Vancouver Island and sail downwind.

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Traffic and Terns

Unlike any other passage we'd had, this one included traffic. After the first week, we spotted about one large commercial vessel per day. Usually we could talk to them on the VHF. Most the boats had radar but didn't have it turned on. They relied on visual spotting of boats to avoid collisions. We kept the radar on twenty-four hours a day, with an eight mile alarm ring. Whenever a boat came within eight miles a "beep, beep, beep" would warn us. Between fog and high seas, visual spotting of boats, at least from our low vantage point, was quite unreliable. Besides boat traffic, there was plenty of radio traffic.

We had scheduled daily radio contacts ("skeds") with several boats. We'd commiserate about the lack of wind or its direction, pass lots of weather information, and discuss equipment problems. Generally the skeds provided a little more structure to each day, and reduced the boredom inherent in a long passage. One night I tried to contact John on Kerikeri Radio, 4.445 Mhz, in New Zealand. Amazingly, he could hear me, though I was 6,000 miles away, just off the Canadian coast. Atmospheric conditions normally limit transmissions on four megahertz to 1,000 miles or so. A few days later on the Pacific Maritime Net, we heard from Sally on FellowShip. That was the only other boat with us in Penrhyn. Even though they were now in Tonga, they too had heard us talking on Kerikeri Radio.

One day we spotted a Japanese glass float, the size of a basketball. We scooped it up in a fishing net, cleaned off a hundred goose neck barnacles, and now have ourselves a nice conversation piece. I can't imagine that many of these heavy glass balls are still used on fishing nets. If one gets loose, it often finds its way into the Japanese current, and floats all the way across the North Pacific Ocean. As usual, the highlight of the passage for Candace and myself was spotting birds and marine animals. We saw many albatross, Leach's storm petrels, and a red footed booby. We saw thousands of small Portuguese man-of-wars, (men-of-war) floating by us. Typically they had a transparent "sail" about two inches high on top of their blue disk body. Our port of entry on Vancouver Island was Ucluelet, on the northwest corner of Barkley Sound.

On the last day of the passage, we hit some of the roughest conditions of our entire trip. Large seas, with waves up to eighteen feet, combined with northerly winds in the 40-45 knot range, (i.e. 45-50 knots TRUE wind speed, or 50-55 MPH) , hit with force on our port beam. At least we weren't trying to head directly into those conditions. With just a staysail and double reefed main, Baba BarAnn was nicely balanced. Two years earlier we didn't know how to handle these conditions, or what to expect. Now, it seemed almost routine.

At 4 AM, in the height of this storm, only seventy-six miles from Ucluelet, we had our scariest experience of the entire trip. We spotted a ship on our radar eight miles away, and tried to reach it via VHF radio, but no one answered. When we rose to the top of each wave, we could easily see her getting closer. I couldn't veer to port into the large waves and wind, and I didn't want to steer to the right, and cut in front of her. So I held our course. Closer and closer the gigantic passenger ship came. With my heart in my mouth, she passed just one-eighth of a mile from us on our starboard side (the wrong side).

The ship was five stories high and about 300 feet long. At the very last minute she altered course and missed us. Way too close for comfort! About two hours later, we were close enough to the Canadian coast to be in contact with Tofino Traffic Control. Like airport controllers, they monitor all shipping traffic on the coast via radar and radio. Once we checked in, Tofino Traffic alerted other ships in the area of our presence, and us of their presence. Without further incident, we arrived that morning in Ucluelet. On the passage from Hanalei, we had logged 2593.8 miles in twenty-one days and one hour, for an average of only 123 miles per day. We had experienced our longest (177.3 miles) and shortest (58 miles) days at sea. Our typical passage averages about 130 miles per day.

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Return to Seattle

Once anchored at Ucluelet, we couldn't believe how calm and quiet everything was. No more waves rocking the boat or thumping on the hull, Candace and I just stared at each other and listened to the sounds of silence. It was eerie. Our sailing trip around the Pacific Ocean was coming to a close and we were feeling many emotions simultaneously. Perhaps the strongest was a sense of accomplishment. There is also much uncertainty about the future. For the fall, we have many projects lined up, fixing up our house in Seattle and putting Baba BarAnn back in "Bristol condition."

Our cruising life was coming to a close and we were now starting a new lifestyle. Not wanting to rush back to Seattle and into the unknown, we left Ucluelet for a secluded anchorage in Barkley Sound and worked on the boat for a week. The hull was waxed; all nine self-tailing winches were disassembled, cleaned, and lubricated; all the metal was polished. The weather was beautiful. Although my fishing skills continued to let me down, we collected all the oysters we wanted. Candace made the best oyster stew I've ever tasted. Finally the time came to head home. We took our time, spending nights at anchor in Neah Bay, Sequim, and Port Ludlow. We arrived in Seattle on August 21, two years to the day since our departure in 1989. Before entering the locks in Seattle, we hoisted all the flags from the countries we had visited: Mexico, French Polynesia, Western Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, New Zealand, the Cook Islands, and Canada. We had also stopped in American Samoa and Hawaii since leaving San Diego in December, 1989. We had sailed approximately 15,000 miles.

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Future Plans

After spending the winter in Seattle, we plan to cruise to Alaska next summer, with a trip of two to three months, as far north as Juneau or Glacier Bay. Chuck and Bev on Carina are spending the winter in Seward, Alaska and will be heading south during the summer. We plan on meeting them near Juneau and then cruising back to Seattle with them. In the meantime we have many maintenance projects and short trips to the San Juan Islands on the drawing boards.

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