Friday, November 14, 2014

Stranded: A Tale of Feast or Famine

I am learning that sailing as a form of transportation is truly a lesson in "feast or famine". Please let me attempt to explain just what I mean...

Yesterday was such a lovely, enjoyable day. We anchored off La Punta de La Ventana, an unpopulated point and beach just southwest of the southern tip of Isla Cerralvo, across the Canal de Cerralvo (Cerralvo Channel), in 20 feet of crystal clear, blue water. Our location is 30 miles as the crow flies to La Paz, but more like 50 by boat, and God knows how far by road. (There aren't a LOT of roads out here.) We grabbed our mask, fin, and snorkels and swam to shore, walked the beach, and investigated a saltwater pond isolated from the ocean by a short strip of beach. The we returned to the boat and watched puffers, tangs, triggers, and angelfish swim under us. (Apparently, they like the shade our hull makes.) Idyllic. Since we were alone, we swam naked and showered off our swim platform. Perfect. The day was followed by a nice sunset, and amazingly, Brad discovered free internet (not password-protected like most wifi) from a place called Brazos Abiertos (Open Arms). It is slow but it gets the job done... eventually! We can't figure out where the signal is coming from, but we are eternally grateful! Thank you! Life doesn't get much better than this. A veritable feast indeed!

That was yesterday...

I think I mentioned the dichotomous situation that sailing sometimes presents, didn't I? Seriously, sometimes you are damned no matter WHAT you do. Murphy's Law, I guess. If you need to get to an anchorage or a marina before dark (due to the hazardous nature of the approach for instance), these are the most likely scenarios: (a) the wind is SO STRONG that you are afraid you will break the rigging so you decide to not even leave, or (b) the wind is just the right amount but is coming from directly upwind or downwind (which means if you try to sail you have to execute so many tacks that your VMG (velocity made good) is such that you won't make it to the destination in time), or (c) the wind is SO LIGHT that you have to motor at high speed (resulting in exorbitant fuel consumption) to get there.

On the other hand, if you have all the time in the world and have several anchorages to choose from and therefore want to sail regardless of wind direction, then naturally, there is NO WIND and either your engine dies or your transmission fails. And that, my friends, is where we find ourselves today, right now, right here, as I write this. (What else do I have to do at a time like this anyway, awaiting rescue?) The engine works fine, but the transmission and the propeller are not communicating. Catch my drift (literally)???

We had left our pretty anchorage not more than 15 minutes previously when the engine started lurching strangely. It took us a while to figure out that we had no propulsion since it didn't quit all at once. Luckily, we were in 60 feet of water so we deployed 200 feet of anchor rode to hold us while we diagnosed the problem. Brad pulled out our new hookah diving system and dove under the boat to make sure the propeller was soundly attached and not fouled. That was not the problem so much back and forth troubleshooting ensued wherein I would run below deck to the engine and watch the driveshaft turn while Brad rotated the prop followed by running back up to the back of the boat to discuss the next test. This went on for 20 minutes or more. After that, Brad got out of the water and went below to the engine and found a whole bunch of metal shavings under the driveshaft. Not good.

Then we start trying to call out. Big problem. My Mexican sim card is almost out of minutes. I manage to make one phone call to Steve, our boat outfitter, but of course I get voicemail. Aaargh! I get in a couple of text messages and one return call from Steve and then the phone goes dead. No more minutes. Brad's T-mobile phone has no service here. We are getting desperate. We are too far from the anchorage to pick up the wifi signal we had before. Brad digs the satellite phone out of our ditch bag (the abandon ship bag for when all hell breaks loose). He tries calling a couple of marinas in La Paz but either they can't hear him clearly or they can't understand his English or his Spanish. Very frustrating!

Meanwhile, I am busy trying to communicate with the outside world too, but via radio. Have I mentioned before that either (a) there are hundreds of boats around you and the subsequent radio chatter is overwhelming to the point where you feel like you are going to scream if just one more boat leaves an open mike? or (b) there are NO boats around and you are totally alone no matter how many times you call on the radio. And I do, over and over again. I try calling Andante and Mabrouka, two boats from Seattle who are also heading to La Paz and are large enough to tow us. Channel 16. Channel 22a. Channel 69. I do so at first about every five minutes and then later about once an hour, three times on each channel with only silence as a response. I even try three channels on the SSB in the hopes that Andante would have their SSB turned on. But to no avail. (Why oh why didn't we all stick together, I ask myself. Buddy-boating is comforting, especially when things go to shit!)

We are all alone, even though we can see people on the beach in the distance, they cannot help us
as (a) they don't speak English (and even though we DO speak Spanish, we can't understand their rapid-fire answers), (b) they are too far away to hear or be heard, (c) even if we could communicate with them, they don't have the resources to tow us fifty-plus miles to the safety and repair facilities of La Paz. I have also seen numerous boats heading south in the far distance, but I don't want to trouble them since they are going the wrong way.

Brad has a few bright ideas. The wind is now up to 10 knots so we sail back to the anchorage. Back to that awesome free wifi! Finally, something is going right! Brad also realizes we have free towing with our Falvey boat insurance, so then he called them via Skype using wifi. After numerous, numerous phone calls, the insurance hooked us up with Fernando, the general manager of a boatyard in La Paz. With our Skype account, we can call out but no one can call us back, so we are still having communications problems. After several hours, Brad's persistence pays off and he finally manages to add more minutes to my Mexican sim card using the wifi. Hallelujah! Countless back and forth calls ensue (especially due to the calls getting dropped so frequently. Gotta love Mexican cell service!).

As Brad continues to work the problem, I sit out on deck in the afternoon sun and write this. I'm trying NOT to think about how much these satellite phone calls are costing us, not to mention how much the towing charge and the repairs are going to be when it is all said and done. And I suppose the insurance company will raise our rates if for no other reason than the nuisance factor of us begging for help. Best not to think of that just now. I'm just hoping that no storms come along and cause us to drag anchor and run aground in this wide-open, exposed anchorage. Again, it's best not to think about that just now...

I've run out of water and creative juices, so it's time to go back in and get a status report...

After much gnashing of teeth (probably on both sides), Fernando comes by car to see our situation in person. Or tries to. It is dark now and he can't find us even though we have our boat lit up like a Christmas tree and we are the only boat in the bay. Brad spends over three hours trying to reel Fernando and his mechanic in. Fernando asks us to get our dinghy ready to come get him, so this keeps us occupied for a while since we have to take our dinghy off the roof. We wait. And wait. We eventually give up and hoist the dinghy back out of the water and get ready for bed. But wait! Someone on shore is flashing a light at us. Could it finally be them? It is! Kudos to Fernando for not throwing in the towel!

Brad retrieves them from shore and they come aboard and inspect the situation. The diagnosis: the key that secures the driveshaft to the transmission has disintegrated and the whole shaft has shifted backward about one quarter inch. The boat must be towed and hauled out for repairs and cannot be fixed at sea without elaborate and extremely expensive measures to prevent the boat from sinking while the driveshaft is realigned. It's now 10:00pm so nothing will get done tonight.


It is the next day now and despite numerous promises and phone calls, we are still without a tow. Fernando has offered to tow us in late afternoon and into the evening with an arrival time of about midnight. Not good. The insurance company and Brad would like to wait until early tomorrow but we don't know if the La Paz people will accept that. Still waiting...

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Hair Out of Place

Actually, nowadays I have a whole head of hair "out of place", so I apologize for misleading you with my choice of title for this piece. Apparently full disclosure and total honesty are not my strong suits!

It all started out well enough. You see, I enjoy trimming my hair myself and have been doing so for years. Mind you, I'm not talking about a full haircut, but rather just a little trimming here and there to stretch my salon-styled haircut just a few more weeks. (Yeah, I am one seriously cheap muchacha!) I do this with just a Fiskars scissors and a comb and have had pretty good results over the years. This time, however, I left my Fiskars at home. Instead, I have at my disposal a Wahl hair clipper. I've never used an electric clipper on myself before, but I figured "how hard could it be???" (An old family inside joke. Ask my nephew-in-law about that sometime.) Having nothing better to do and no hair salon in sight, I figured why the heck not give it a go?

As I said, it all started out well enough. I attached the longest guide comb that we have to the clipper and went to it. It turns out that the #4 guide comb is considered a half-inch cutter. (I didn't find this out until after the fact, when I went online to research purchasing additional guides.) Regardless, I knew from just looking at it that it would cut way too short but I figured I could make do with it by just holding the clipper "just so" vertically and by not actually letting the tips of the guide comb touch my scalp. This strategy worked pretty well and I was happy with the results on the top front half of my head. Great swatches of hair went flying and rained down all around me. It was kind of fun creating all of this chaos and I giggled gleefully with the excitement of it all!

Next I had to tackle the sides above my ears. Right side - no problem! (I'm right-handed.) Left side - BIG problem! (Note to self: left side vs. right hand. They just don't play well together!)

By now you have to realize that I'm quite a few minutes into this thing, what with all of the studying of my progress in the mirror and all. You know the old adage: measure twice, cut once, right? So there was a whole lot of that going on, and now the clipper was getting heavier and heavier in my hand and my wrist was getting a tad tired. It would have been a piece of cake if I was ambidextrous, but alas, I am not. And thus, the trouble began...

As I came in on the approach to the left side, my wrist drooped lazily and the next thing I knew, I'd gouged a deep trench from front to back above the left ear. I mean it was really short! Damn those electric gizmos! It was all over almost before I'd started!

Well there was nothing for it now but to redo the whole job up to this point and cut the rest of it within an inch of its life just to attempt to even things up a bit. And wouldn't you know it? I think I just made things worse! How could that be, you ask? Well, I'll tell you. I discovered that at my birth I was visited by not just one cow, but by a whole HERD of cows who licked the top of my noggin viciously, with fervor and demonic glee! Unbeknownst to me, my head is literally covered with cowlicks. I kid you not. Now that my hair is at most about an inch long, it sticks up in all kinds of wicked directions, making me look like some crazed axe-wielding dyke! Not my best look.

I finally had to admit defeat, got smart, and summoned Brad to rescue me and cut the back of my head. (No. The HAIR, silly, not to decapitate me. Although at this point this option could save me months of embarrassment and hat-wearing.) If you had the misfortune of reading my haircutting story from our boat trip to Alaska three years ago, you would know how big a risk this was for me. Anyway, Brad was sufficiently contrite from those past offenses and did a fine job this time. Thank God! (Hey! He couldn't do much worse than what I'd done to myself. Oh wait. I take that back. Actually, he COULD do much worse. And has! But I forgive him now. Sort of.)

I am happy to report I have learned a valuable lesson from all of this. When it comes to using electric clippers, it's better to put them in the hands of a third person, no matter how competent at hair-cutting you might think you are. No more self-mutilation for me!

Now, on to Brad's haircut. Let's see just how far the trust goes... :-)

P.S. No pictures will be posted for obvious reasons!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

A Tale of Three Cities

Although we've been to quite a few towns and cities along our way down the coast, I've chosen to focus on only three: San Francisco (and surrounding area), Newport Beach, and San Diego. I'm not trying to disparage other state's population centers by omission, but hey, these are my favorites so far, so sorry everyplace else!

San Francisco

When you sail down the Pacific coast, this is the first really big city you come to. This area has a lot to offer: plenty of stores that sell everything you could possibly desire (provided you have access to a car), the big city venue and bazillions of tourist traps and tours, sporting events, cultural activities, and museums and parks, and a terrific transit system.

The sailing here is fantastic! The only time the wind ISN'T blowing is usually in the early morning. Otherwise, it is cranking! And there is plenty of wide-open spaces to sail in. The sailors here really know how to sail too. As a matter of fact, they usually sail directly from their slips and return to the docks via sail too! Motors don't get much of a workout here. I'm telling you, these guys are crazy! They come in so fast under sail, I don't see how their boats aren't covered in dings! Suffice it to say, it's impressive.

Downtown San Francisco as seen from Berkeley
If you like crowds, the downtown San Fran area is for you. I considered getting off the bus at the downtown pier but it was truly a mob scene, so I thought better of it. You could probably spend a month staying downtown and still not see and do everything. And if you ate at all the restaurants, you would surely be a couple of sizes bigger by the time you left.

I was also impressed by all of the parks scattered throughout the area, some big, some small. And there are plenty of biking/walking trails that go for miles and miles along the waterfront. Just about everywhere you look around the waterfront, you have a great view of people zipping back and forth kite-surfing or windsurfing or sailing in the sparkling water of the bay.

One thing I wasn't too crazy about was the fog. The area is plagued by it, especially the entrance to the bay. Often the downtown and the Golden Gate Bridge are engulfed in it, many times all day long! This keeps the temperatures cooler than in the rest of California. This could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your preferences. To me, it smacked a bit too much of Seattle weather.

Berkeley, a suburb on the east end of the bay, was where we spent most of our time while we were there, partly because we were waiting for mail but mostly because moorage was less expensive here than anywhere else in the bay area. (Yeah, we're tightwads.) Although we did get access to a car one day (thank you, John and Cindy from Namaste!), we didn't see any other areas so I can't report on any other suburbs. All I can say is Berkeley is NOT a pretty town. It served our needs for provisioning and exercise while on land, but okay, I'll be frank: the town is just plain ugly and on the dirty side. (Note to Berkeley city council: You guys really need to step up your game!)

The beach and dock at Angel Island

Angel Island State Park north of downtown San Fran and Alcatraz Island is a fun place to visit. It has a beach, a restaurant, and numerous historical buildings that make a walk around the island both interesting and informative. For sailors, it is a great place to spend a few days walking or biking around after being cooped up for days. The current is very strong there so using the mooring buoys bow and stern is imperative (and pricey!).  It's NOT a good place to swim around your boat as you might not make it back aboard! This is a crowded place on weekends, so be sure to visit during a weekday.

Newport Beach

Hands down, this is my favorite place so far. No question about it. (I don't know how any other place could beat it, but I'm willing to consider alternative sites should they present themselves.) This place has it all: beaches for surfing, beaches for those who prefer no crashing waves (on the harbor side), beautiful neighborhoods, palm trees, warm temps, tourist shops and activities, and all the usual city stuff! I heartily recommend this to all of you as a getaway destination for your next vacation. They have weekly and monthly vacation rentals that are RIGHT ON THE BEACH! An absolutely unbeatable location!
Ocean-side beach at Newport Beach

The ambiance here is fantastic. There's a boardwalk for bicycling or walking or rollerblading that runs the length of the peninsula which makes the protected waters for the large harbor possible. At least in September, the boardwalk was easy to enjoy since it wasn't too crowded. Everyone we saw along it was happy and enjoying life. The city has one long beach on the ocean side which provides the surfers and the paddle boarders and body boarders with lots of fun waves to ride and fall off of. The sand is clean and well-maintained and there's plenty of parking for those who aren't living right there or in the harbor across the street.
Activities abound here! You can standup paddleboard, kayak, surf, sail, and parasail. Pretty much any watersport is available to you. There are also several fishing piers on the beach for the anglers who don't want to hire a boat-fishing expedition. There is a ferry service that runs from the mainland to the peninsula which seems to be quite popular and is quite reasonably priced. (I timed it and it only took 6 minutes to catch a ride on it so perhaps driving around takes longer and that is maybe why everyone does it.) The end of the ferry ride on the peninsula side terminates at Balboa Island, a tourist trap with a small ferris wheel and assorted cool rides for the kiddies and some tourist shops and restaurants. (We ate at Azar's which I can highly recommend. The toasted veggie sandwich was to die for!)

Boat rental shop next to the ferry terminus at Balboa Island Park, Newport Beach, CA.

You can rent a boat and invite your friends and you get to be the captain. Kind of scary to those of us who own boats, but I am sure it would be a lot of fun. Or you can watch other crazy boat drivers if nothing else. We enjoyed watching the little kids learning to steer their prams. (I'm glad the front of those prams are blunt!) Anyway, it's a great place to people watch. You can also watch sea lions and see interesting-looking boats.

Sea lion sunbathing on a little-used boat at anchor in the harbor
We were lucky enough to get free moorage on a buoy at the Newport Harbor Yacht Club. This was the nicest yacht club I have ever had the privilege to visit and everyone was very nice. The club had its own private beach on the harbor side. When we dinghied to their docks, this put us on the peninsula of Newport Beach, only two blocks from the beach. The houses on the peninsula were very eclectic and interesting so we did a fair bit of walking here to see what we could see.
The Google power cat to be used as a support boat to dive the deepest points of the ocean.


Sadly, we only spent two days and three nights, but I sure do wish we had stayed longer. We barely scratched the surface and I am so sorry I didn't get to go body boarding. I highly encourage you to give this place a visit! If you like water, I am SURE you will like it here!

San Diego

Our view of San Diego as we approach the bay.
We will be staying here in San Diego about one month. We've been here about a week so far and I am absolutely loving it. We are docked at Harbor Island West Marina on the far end of what is actually a peninsula in the middle of North San Diego Bay. Shoreline Park is just across the street from the marina. It's great for jogging and watching boats in the bay, helicopters hovering over the naval air station across the water, and the hustle and bustle of downtown San Diego in the distance. The only other businesses on this peninsula are the Hilton and the Sheraton hotels down the street and a few yacht brokers and restaurants.

Brad and our SUPs at Spanish Landing Park
Across the water to the north of our docks, there is a sandy beach at Spanish Landing Park. We used our SUPs yesterday to get over there for a brief frolic on the beach while we let our arms rest. (Didn't I mention that California has parks everywhere? Love it!) The wind was rather strong so it was a hell of an arm and core workout just tooling around the marina, let alone crossing a bigger body of water with more fetch. (Not to mention dodging the big boats and their wakes going by, which is always a challenge even in calm weather.)

We have been blessed with meeting some wonderful people on this trip and we are so very grateful. Debbie & Morris Adams on Impulsive have been a really big help. They have taken us to Von's (a Safeway clone), the locksmith, and Walmart on two separate occasions in their Ford Explorer, and tomorrow they are taking us shoe shopping. What a luxury it is to have friends with a car and who are willing and able to take us with them! (You people with cars are so very spoiled!) And Mike and Jan Powers on Rapture have buddy-boated with us from Monterrey to here. You can't imagine how comforting it is to have another couple of people to bounce ideas off of. They are from Seattle area as well and have a relative who might let us use his car. We also met Deborah and Peter Morrison on Limit Stalker who are from Oak Harbor but are now keeping their huge steel trawler down here now. They also offered use of their truck as well, so maybe we can sneak in a Costco trip with one of them one of these days. The generosity is greatly appreciated! We also found out that some people who used to moor their boat on B-dock at Elliott Bay are only a couple of slips away from us. Friendly faces abound!

It was Mike's idea to get a month on the dock at Harbor Island West and I am sure glad he encouraged us to join him. This marina is cheaper than Cabrillo Isle which is where many of the Baja Ha-Ha participants are staying. But it has all of the amenities so I feel like the proverbial pig in caca: hot tub, swimming pool, sauna, and showers. They even provide the pool towels so there's less laundry to do. Oh, and the laundry is nicer than the one at Cabrillo Isle, so that is nice too.

To get to the mainland and the nearest shopping, it's a short dinghy ride, past the Navy's anti-submarine warfare command center across the water to the west of our dock, and around the corner to get in the America's Cup Harbor and the public dinghy dock. The shopping here is limited but there are a few restaurants along the boardwalk and a few fishing supply stores and whatnot. (That's why for the "good stuff", having car access is "the bomb!")

The weather here is fantastic. No rain in sight. Just blue skies above and water below. And temps in the 80s. And surprisingly, the humidity is only around 40%. Not muggy like it is in Miami so I couldn't be happier.

We are trying to split our time up between doing some boat maintenance and re-provisioning chores and having fun. I'm hoping that the list of to-dos will go down so we can avail ourselves of some of the amenities San Diego has to offer. There are plenty of tourist things to do so we will have to be choosey.

Friday, September 19, 2014


Yes, you are correct. I made up a word. It's my attempt to capture the way my experience when we were anchored in Monterey Bay. I think it works. You be the judge...

We had a pleasant enough stay - four nights - at the Monterey Marina, but at 35 bucks a night, it was reaching a little too deeply into our pockets. So, like some of the other boats in the Coho Ho Ho rally, we anchored out on our fifth night in the bay. (By the way, one of the main reasons we stayed so long in Monterey was to wait for our cohorts who were lagging behind us by several days. I'm not saying it's their fault, I'm just blaming them.) 

It didn't take too long to realize why the guidebooks recommended docking rather than anchoring in the bay. (Note: Our buddies who had already spent a night at anchor didn't mention a thing in warning to us. Hmmm. Friends? I think not!) This anchorage is the rolliest I've ever had the displeasure to drop the hook in! It was so bad that my water bottle kept flying off the shelf by my head and crashing into my gut. I learned fast (can you believe it?) and after the second time, I moved it to the floor for the rest of the night.

The side-to-side rolling was truly unbelievable. It made it quite impossible to sleep. I lay there just waiting for it to stop or for the alarm to go off. It was a lot like when I went on glacier climbs and I would just lay there, unable to sleep, waiting for the alarm to save me from myself so we could get on with the business of climbing that mountain. The anticipation. The worry. The unsuccessful counting of sheep. Aaah! (Here, it's not the mountain I want to climb but the coast we want to sail around.) It was so rough and bouncy I couldn't believe we weren't back trying to round Cape Blanco, where I had to sit on the floor to put my pants on! We were tethered to the floor of the bay for gosh sakes, so why so rough???

So with nothing else to do, I began thinking. (Yes, dangerous, I know.) I began wondering why some people tolerate this disturbing action better than others do. Could it be that babies who were rocked in one of those cradles that rock side-to-side actually find this motion reminiscent of when they were first out of the womb and safely cradled near their mother's nurturing side? Could that be why this motion has the opposite effect on me, because to the best of my knowledge, my parents didn't own a cradle like that? Would my brother or sister know? Did Brad's parents use one and that is why he takes so well to this? Is it too late for remedial cradle training??? Well anyway, it's just a theory...

Then I thought, so this is what it must feel like to be a blade of sea grass in the surf zone, about 10 or 15 feet from the beach. The unrelenting motion of the water lifting me higher and higher as it pulls me in toward the sandy beach, stretching my tether to the max, then briefly the tip of my blade experiences the feeling of weightlessness as the rushing water reaches its apex and seemingly stops for but an instant before it abruptly sucks my undulating blade back out to sea with a rush and a gurgle. My, what a ride! But wait! Let's do it all again and again, ceaselessly, but with a slightly different rhythm and flow rate just to keep things interesting. And let's do this minute after minute, hour after hour. And don't forget to throw in a rogue wave every ten or twenty minutes just to really shake things up!

I don't like being a blade of sea grass!  So glad to be out of there!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Gay's Pictures from Seattle to San Francisco

Bet you have been wondering why I haven't included any pictures. It's because I can't seem to get my iPhone photostream to download to my computer so I can't get them on my blog. Technology can be so darn frustrating sometimes! Anyway, Brad has found a workaround for the time being. Here is a link to my photos. (Some of these will be duplicates from ones I already posted on Facebook, but others won't be.) At some point, I hope to be able to share the videos I've taken, but that will have to wait until another time...

Try this link to see my pictures and be sure to double-click on the first one so that you can see the captions on the right of each picture:

Saturday, September 6, 2014

BART and the Ticket for Idiots

Today we took a ride on BART, Bay Area Rapid Transit. Being a newbie can be difficult. It was nice to have so many helpful people volunteer to steer us in the right direction. If they hadn't, I wonder where we would have ended up?

First, we had to buy tickets. Do they have manned ticket booths so you can talk to a live person? No. Instead, they have credit card vending machines that are terribly confusing. We managed to find a roving attendant who told us we needed to take the Richmond/Fremont line, then transfer at the MacArthur station to the SFO/Millbrae line and then get off at the Powell Street station. He also told us to buy round trip fares because they are cheaper than buying two one-way tickets. $7.80 per person. He pointed us toward the vending machines and off we went.

There were two vending machines, side by side. Just about when we are about to reach the front of the line for the left machine, it proclaims itself "out of order". Literally. (I didn't know machines could self-diagnose like that. Who knew???) So everyone from the left line shifts to the right line. Each person in turn ahead of us efficiently purchases their tickets lickety-split. So fast indeed that we can't watch and learn how it works. Damn!

Now it's finally our turn and there is a line 10 or 15 people deep behind us. The pressure! Brad sticks in his credit card. In response, it displays a confusing set of options, such as "add 1 dollar", "subtract 1 dollar", "add 10 cents", "subtract 10 cents", and a few other options I don't have a chance to read. I'm expecting something like "choose your destination" or "choose 1-way or round-trip", not simple mathematics! Brad starts pushing buttons, adding dollars, and then realizes the total says $22. WTF??? He quickly hits cancel and we are back to square one. People behind us are getting restless: Places to go and things to do.

Brad reinserts his credit card. This time we realize the system defaults to $20. Hmmm. How convenient for them! So we need to buy two round-trip tickets for a total of $15.60. Brad doesn't see the subtract 10 cents button, panics and just subtracts four dollars and hits okay. The ticket pops out. He reads it. It states that it is good FOR ONE PERSON ONLY! I ask him "What the hell, Brad? What about me? And why did you pay more than double for it???"

We get out of line, much to the relief of the folks behind us. We look at the turnstiles and see they require each person to insert a card. Damn! I guess that verbiage on the ticket doesn't lie. What to do? Brad goes back to the end of the ticket line we just vacated to buy another ticket. I'm thinking "I refuse to buy another ticket, damn it, just because they have a sucky, confusing vending system and we panicked!" So I hunt down the roving attendant who helped us earlier. Fortunately, he says this kind of thing happens all the time because of their confusing vending system. I couldn't agree more. He motions for Brad to come over to the information booth and give him our ticket. The attendant puts the card in a reader, retrieves 40 cents from some secret hiding place (a placard on the door to the booth says attendants have NO MONEY), and issues us a handwritten paper ticket outlining our route and the fact that we purchased round-trip fares for two. He then explains we must not lose this ticket and that we must present it to an attendant at the exit booth so that we can bypass the turnstiles and proceed through the emergency/handicapped gate. Things are finally looking up!

I LOVE public transportation, especially when it works like clockwork like it does here. The train was waiting for us and whisked us away immediately. No waiting. Then the transfer at the MacArthur station went well, and the Powell Street exit worked perfectly for our needs. It landed us right at the food court at the Westfield Mall downtown and since we arrived hungry, it couldn't have worked out better. And the paper ticket got us out the exit area without a hitch.

On our return trip, we showed the information/exit booth attendant our paper ticket so they would let us in, bypassing those pesky turnstiles again. We proceeded down to the train platform, obviously confused, trying to figure out which side of the platform we should be standing on. Another kind soul waiting for his train told us we were about to get on the wrong train and steered us toward the correct platform to stand on and which train to transfer to. We then got on the right train and got off at the right transfer point. Again, we just stood there confused yet again, trying to figure out what platform to approach. This time the conductor himself opened his side window and stuck his head out and yelled at us: "Do you two want the Richmond train?" I said "Yes, we're trying to get to Berkeley!" He replied, "Well get on quick!" (Geez, I wondered, do we have idiot tattooed on our foreheads or what???) Anyway, all the help was much appreciated.

Finally, we got off at the downtown Berkeley station where we had to show the attendant our handwritten ticket yet again to get past the turnstile exits. As I pulled the paper out of my pocket, Brad told the attendant, "Here's our ticket for idiots!" The guy just looked at me stone-faced, having none of it, while his partner started laughing. I sensed this wasn't going well, and quickly realized I had produced the Big Bus tour ticket we used earlier (for our tour of San Francisco) for his inspection, NOT the BART ticket. As I hurriedly pulled out the correct one, the attendant finally grinned. He and his buddy couldn't help but agree, "Yep, that's the idiot ticket, all right. Have a nice day!"

Friday, September 5, 2014

Land is Underrated - Crew is Overrated

This trip has made me realize just how much I LOVE LAND! It is solid and doesn't rock (unless there's an earthquake). Land has a lot going for it: mountains, valleys, beaches, cities with lots of people to talk to and every kind of store to buy every kind of thing that you might want. Landlubbers really take this for granted. They should appreciate the options available to them more than they do.

Ocean, on the other hand, has its pluses too, like bioluminescence you can see at night, dolphins, whales, seals and sun fish that frolic on the surface occasionally. But it is also a desert of saltwater with frequent fog at its surface so that you can't tell the sky from the water, and big waves that threaten to knock you over and scare the living crap out of you!

So at this point I think it is safe to say that I am still solidly in the landlubber category. Perhaps with time, I will turn into the true sailor/adventurer that Brad is hoping for... Time will tell...

As for crew, this adventure has lead Brad and I to believe we don't need crew, especially inexperienced crew. We realize we didn't really take the interviewing process seriously when we contemplated this journey, and perhaps we could have done better if we had. Anyway, I want to discuss this topic for those of you may be contemplating an off-shore trip in the future so you don't make the same mistakes we did.

Consider this: Crew aren't house guests. Crew aren't employees. Crew aren't slaves. Crew may or may not be friends. So how do you really treat them? This is a question we wrestled with the whole time we had them aboard. I don't have an answer for this. It is difficult to strike the right balance. We were polite and tried to be firm and clear in what we expected from them and overall, I think we got along okay, but it was a struggle.

Brad and I like our space and our privacy so we realize we are better off as a twosome. We had reserved the storage space and hanging locker for the crew. This meant we had to store the spinnaker on the back porch, which meant it got all wet from the salt spray and you couldn't get into the lazarette without moving this cumbersome, wet monster somewhere (where?) out of the way. It meant we had to store all of our clothing and outerwear into one small hanging locker that was stuffed so full the door wouldn't close. Irritating. Claustrophobic! We left LOTS of the clothing we wanted to bring for this potentially year long voyage because there simply wasn't room. We told the crew just how limited the storage would be days beforehand. Then Natalie shows up in Anacortes with THREE rather large duffel bags full of clothing for a two-week cruise. Brad and I just looked at each other. WTF? Fortunately, Tolga only showed up with one medium duffel and a daypack. Naturally, he had nowhere to put his stuff because Natalie had already used up all the storage space!

Here's an important consideration: I would suggest only considering crew who own their boats and who have done an extended trip OFF THE GRID. Living aboard at a marina just does NOT count. If they haven't dealt with power consumption and water conservation issues, then they will only cause you grief. Case in point, when Natalie and Tolga were brushing their teeth, washing up, or doing dishes, I would be in the salon wondering if they were drawing water for a bath! I often found the bathroom counter sopping wet with water streaming across the floor. What was going on in there??? In one day, seriously - one day, they used 60 gallons, emptying our port water tank! This was after repeatedly instructing them on how to conserve water. Amazing! A typical water usage rate for this latitude is about 5 gallons per person, so this tank should have lasted the four of us three days. At the rate they were consuming water, if our watermaker broke, we would only have water for TWO days! (We have two tanks.) Fortunately, my clever husband finally found a solution! He swapped out the galley faucet for the swim step faucet which requires you to push and hold the button to get water to dispense. It was like magic! No more wasted water. Of course, it was inconvenient to use, so as soon as the crew left, we put the faucets back. Oh happy day! To a lesser extent, we also had wasting power issues like leaving on fans and lights when no one was using them anymore. Since we motored most of the trip, this wasn't that much of an issue, just a bit of an annoyance, but we ignored this to keep the peace.

Experience off-shore is what makes a crew member valuable. They need to understand how to prevent oversteering, how to hold the boat directly into the wind, how to use the chart plotter and the autopilot, how to keep awake at night, how to preserve their night vision, what is required to effectively keep watch, how to effectively handle collision avoidance. Suffice it to say, these were issues we had with our crew. We knew up front that neither Natalie or Tolga had off-shore experience but thought because they had Puget Sound sailing experience that this would be enough. It wasn't. And it takes longer to learn this stuff than we realized. Neither of us felt safe enough to leave them alone on night watch so we made sure one of us stayed up with them to handle any problems that arose, so we might as well have just done it ourselves.

Another issue was communication. Natalie is Russian and Tolga is Turkish. While they spoke good English, it was often difficult to understand them and some of our terminology was a complete mystery to them. We often found ourselves thinking we understood each other when later it became obvious that we clearly didn't. Most of the time this wasn't a big deal, but it could be disastrous if it leads to broken equipment.

Crew, on the positive side, can provide comic relief and camaraderie. Every morning, Tolga would hit his head on the ceiling when exiting his bunk. He apparently has a very hard head because the "thunk" each morning was quite loud. Why, we wondered does this keep happening? Tolga said it was because he doesn't have an early warning system! (He is bald.) That one really cracked me up! Especially considering how quiet Tolga is. He is very reserved, so a joke from him was really something!

One time, when the thought of going below deck to make myself something to eat made me queasy, Natalie offered to make me a sandwich. I fell in love with her in that moment. She was very good about volunteering to do things and was good about helping to provision the boat so Brad and I didn't have to pay for everything. Natalie also had a great attitude and always looked on the positive side.
Also, it is nice to discuss your common suffering, so having another soul to talk to and compare strategies for survival is a wonderful thing.

I can't say Brad or I really bonded with either of our crew, but we all managed to tolerate each other as best we could. No foul language was used and no yelling ensued, so overall I guess we got by. But be aware that an extended stay together in a small boat will eventually cause some personality conflicts. Even best friends get a little old with constant contact! Just something to keep in mind for you would-be cruisers out there.