Route Planning and Weather Forecasting

The next phase of our adventure will take us down the Pacific coast from our home port of Anacortes, WA to San Diego, CA where we will join the CUBAR rally onward to Mexico.  The trip is something like 1200 NM, and we are allowing ourselves about a month to complete it.  Our planned departure is sometime around September 20th and we want to be in San Diego no later than October 23rd.  The transit of the coast is considered “downhill” because the prevailing winds and waves are generally from the Northwest, and thus behind us.  However, our departure is late enough in the season that the weather patterns may begin to shift from the relatively mild summer conditions dominated by the East Pacific High to the fall/winter conditions where low pressure systems move through the waters every couple of days.  This has had us become even more serious students of weather forecasting and analysis.

We are thinking about the trip in two phases.  The first is transiting the Washington and Oregon coast to San Francisco, a journey of about 700 NM.  We hope to make this a nonstop passage, which should take about 4 days – at 8 knots we can cover just under 200 miles per day.  The alternative, of course, is to make stops along the coast, making for shorter runs.  However, each of the stops requires making a bar crossing (where a river meets the ocean) which has to be at the right time, considering both tides and time of day.  Furthermore, the route would be nearer to shore, where crab pots are a major navigation hazard.  Making the nonstop passage will allow us to run further offshore (hopefully) avoiding the crab pots and the bar crossings.

The offshore route does require a good four day weather window.  We decided that we would get professional help with the weather by engaging a weather routing service.  Our weather router will meet with us initially to understand our route and look at the optimal departure date, and will then consult with us on a daily or as-needed basis to review conditions ahead.  We have identified some ports along the coast that we might stop at if conditions deteriorate.  These include Newport or Coos Bay along the Central Oregon Coast and Brookings or Eureka along the Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast.  From all that we have heard and read, the major navigation hazard along this section of the coast is Cape Mendocino, just South of Eureka, which can be rough even in periods of settled weather.

Having a weather router will be a huge help for our first big trip down the coast, but we still need to continue to improve our own weather analysis skills.  Last year we took an excellent online weather course offered by the Seven Seas Cruising Association taught by Lee Chesneau, a well known and respected marine weather expert.  The course was a great introduction to marine weather and focused on how to use the many products produced by NOAA in order to plan a safe voyage.  Another resource that I’ve found incredibly helpful is a membership-based site called Attainable Adventure Cruising (https://www.morganscloud.com/), which offers a step-by step guide to collecting and analyzing weather data.

The Pacific Briefing Page from the Ocean Prediction Center

The amount of marine weather resources available on the internet is truly amazing, but of course, it all requires connectivity.  So, from a planning perspective when you have a good connection, everything is good.  When you are at sea or otherwise away from connectivity, things get a bit more complex.  This year we installed an Iridium GO!, which is a satellite modem.  It allows us to communicate, and particularly, retrieve weather data, at sea, although at VERY slow speeds.  We bought that in combination with a weather software package/service called predictwind, which allows us to download and view weather data in a map-based format using what are called GRIBS (Gridded Binary files).  I won’t talk in detail about GRIBs here.  Suffice it to say that they are the outputs of weather models from NOAA and other agencies that provide weather predictions over space and time.  This is just one tool in the arsenal, though.  The national weather service provides both analysis and forecasts that apply some human interpretation to the model outputs.  The two that I have been looking at lately are these:

Ocean Prediction Center Pacific Analysis https://ocean.weather.gov/Pac_tab.php

This is a one-stop shop for analysis and forecast maps.  I look at each of these, focusing on the surface, wind and wave, and wave period and direction forecasts.   These give a sense of what is going to happen over the next couple of days.

National Weather Service Eureka Marine Forecasts https://www.weather.gov/eka/marine

This page has links to the marine text forecasts all the way down the Pacific Coast.  These include a synopsis about general conditions in the region and forecasts for winds and sea state over the next 5 days, essentially a verbal interpretation of the various forecast maps.

PredictWind weather routing

The other thing I do is use the predict wind offshore application to download the data along our route.  It shows a simulation of the boat moving down the coast over time, allowing me to see what conditions we might encounter along the way.

One tool that I really like is the Probabilistic Wind Speed Guidance Page from the Ocean Prediction center https://ocean.weather.gov/prob_guidance.php?model=gefs&basin=pac&cycle=00&plot=15&loop=0#top

This allows you to look at a graphical representation of the probability that the wind speed will exceed a value that you set.  White or blue/green represent low probability (good), while reds represent high probabilities (not so good).  It has a loop that goes out over two weeks, and also allows you to look at data for sea state. 

Probabality that winds will exceed 15 kts on our departure date

Our goal is to learn from our weather router on the first segment of the trip down to San Francisco and then use our own knowledge and skill to make our way down the California coast.  We see this as being a series of shorter hops, and hopefully more benign conditions, at least after we get around Point Conception.

Do you have any favorite weather planning tools or services? Let us know in the comments section.

The Advantage of Bikes When Border Crossing

We are currently in the middle of our few weeks at home in Anacortes. This morning we hopped back on the ferry to visit our friends on Orcas Island for the weekend. Reboarding the ferry reminded me how we realized what a fantastic advantage our folding Dahon Mariner bicycles are.

Our bikes tied to the car deck on our journey back from Sidney.

When we were delivering Miss Miranda to Sidney BC last week we took the bikes to use as transport around Sidney and back home from the ferry in Anacortes. Little did we realize they would greatly expedite our re-entry into the US from Canada by allowing us to exit the ferry car deck first and go through the bikes only Customs lane. We were off on the road home in 5 minutes instead of the hour long wait that foot passengers, and probably cars as well, have to endure.

Looking out to land from the car deck. The other couple were the only other cyclists.

They also allow us to explore towns in a much greater range than walking. I plan to get some carrier bags so I can use them for provisioning, as I don’t really like cycling with a heavy backpack weighing me down.

Picture from the Dahon website of the bike folded up.

When we aren’t using them, the bikes compact into rectangular shapes about 2 by 3 feet each and we store them in the lazarette or in the cockpit bungeed down with a cover. They are sturdy but easy to lift. We’ve had them for 7 years and they show no sign of rust, even though we haven’t done routine maintenance with any kind of regularity.

Their only downside is the single set of 7 gears. They really don’t work well for significant hill climbing, so maybe won’t be my choice for getting around San Francisco when we stop there!

Back to the Boatyard

They were expecting us at the boatyard. No valet parking however.

We are here in Sidney, BC waiting to meet with our project manager for our final visit to Philbrooks before heading South down the Pacific Coast. We planned this visit earlier in the year, knowing that we could not get all of the work done before taking the boat down to Seattle for Opening Day in May. Therefore, we prioritized the work we thought needed to be done before Alaska and that which could be done afterwards. And, of course, we knew that unexpected items would turn up on our Alaska trip…. and man,were we right about that.

Waiting for her “spa days”.

The work list contains a mix of preventive maintenance items, repair or replace items, and a number of upgrades. Here are some of the things we wanted to do specifically related to cruising in Mexico:

  • Solar panels. We are adding about 1000W of solar on the pilot house roof. We had originally hoped to have these in place before heading to Alaska, but they got bumped to this visit.
  • Flopper Stopper setup for at anchor stabilization. We have heard that many of the anchorages in Mexico are exposed to swell and thus quite rolly. The flopper stopper is a rig consisting of a pole that swings out from the port side of the boat with a line that goes down to a plate deployed into the water. The plate has slats in it that allows it to sink easily, but not rise, thus minimizing side to side rolling. Many Nordhavns have this setup.
  • Interior DC fans. We do have four zones of Air Conditioning on the boat (which is one of the preventive service items) but we want to minimize our use of it, because it requires either running the generator or being connected to shore power. Therefore, we are going to place 8 fans in the salon, pilot house and staterooms with the goal of maximizing air circulation.
  • Sun Shade for the boat deck. When we put the dinghy down, there is a large amount of usable space on the boat deck. We will rig a sun shade to maximize the use of the space.
  • A second autopilot system. We already have redundant GPS, Chart plotters, and radar. We think it is also important to have a back up for the autopilot.
  • Replace galley refrigerator and convection/microwave oven. We planned to replace the refrigerator, which is a 20 year old domestic refrigerator and a real energy hog. We did not anticipate replacing the convection/microwave until the beginning of this trip, when the touch panel of the existing unit failed. It mysteriously started working again, but just to be sure, we will replaced it while we can.
  • Upgrade the engine room cooling system. Engine room cooling has been an issue with many Nordhavns. With a dry stack exhaust system, there is a lot of heat that needs to be removed via air circulation, and without proper circulation, the engine room can get quite hot… sometimes hot enough to impact the reliability of some components. The typical specification is that the engine room temperature does not exceed the outside air temperature by more than 20 degrees. We don’t meet that goal even operating up here in the Pacific Northwest, with very cool seawater for the keel cooler and low ambient temperatures. So, we are going to follow the lead of other Nordhavn owners who have installed extraction fans up in the stack to pull the hot air out of the engine room. We will also replace one of the existing blowers that failed on our Alaska trip.
  • Haul the boat out of the water and look at our propeller and bottom paint and do any service required. We didn’t hit any ice or logs of significance so we believe the propeller is in good shape but want to be sure.
  • Maybe… figure out a stern anchor solution. We have heard that a stern anchor is somtimes helpful in open anchorages in order to keep the bow pointing into the prevailing swells. We have a spare main anchor (a Fortress SX-55) that we have used once as a stern anchor, but the time taken to assemble it and drag the rode from the foredeck storage box makes it very inconvenient to use as a stern anchor. It would be nice to figure out a way to have a smaller anchor that is easy to deploy from the back of the boat.
When the boat is hauled out it is in a cradle like this. The first time we came to Philbrooks we actually stayed for a night in the boat when it was in this position! A bit tricky climbing on and off.

I think that does it for the “planned” work. Some of the repair or replace items that came up on our trip North include:

  • Patch the tube on the dinghy. We were in Prideaux Haven going to our favorite swimming hole and preparing to anchor the dinghy next to a large rock. The rock had numerous oyster shells that were exposed at low tide, and we drifted into one that made a two inch gash in the tubing.
  • Replace the motor on the diesel heater. We rarely use the diesel hydronic heating system in the summer, but needed it on one 40-something degreee morning in Alaska. Of course, it didn’t start. Some great support from Sure Marine Service in Seattle helped dignose the problem, which was the motor. The diagnostic tool? A rubber mallet. “Start the system, and rap the motor with a rubber mallet. If it starts up, you know you have a bad winding and the motor needs to be replaced.” Yup.
  • Replace the Furuno GPS. We have three separate GPS sources on the boat including this older Furuno GPS, which connects directly to a Furuno RD-30 display unit to show speed over ground, position, wind data, etc. When we were crossing Cape Caution on the way up to Alaska, the GPS stopped transmitting data… of course when the seas were up and the boat was moving around quite a bit. No big deal to switch to another source for the NAV equipment, but time to replace the old unit. I elected to replace the receiver only and still have it connect to the RD-30, and from there the NMEA bus.
  • Replace the generator injector pump. I mentioned this in an earlier blog post and actually got a replacement pump sent into Petersburg. However, the fuel leakage had decreased to an acceptable level, and seeing that a miscue in removing or replacing a connecting clip would have serious consequences, I wimped out and elected to have Philbrooks do this.
  • Add delay switches to the windshield wipers. This one sounds odd, I know. The boat has four wipers, one across each piece of the pilot house windshield. The wipers are needed for rain, obviously, but also for clearing salt spray in boisterous sea conditions. Each of the wipers has a separate 3 way switch for off, low, and high speed. In all but hard rain (which we had plenty of in Alaska), the low setting is still too high. Thus, one will be constantly switching the wipers on and off. Trivial, but annoying when running in crummy weather. We should have done this before going to Alaska, but it was only when we got up there that I realized just how much of an annoyance this was, and how easy it is to fix. Just add $$.

After a full day of meeting with the various departments at Philbrooks, everyone has a good idea of what needs to be done, enough so that we have established a tentative pick up date… September 13th. If all goes well we will take the boat back to Anacortes, load it up and start heading South on September 20th.

The Final Leg

Well, today is the day. About 22 NM from Roche Harbor back home to Skyline. It was another beautiful summer day, and Roche Harbor was hoppin’. It was quite an experience just maneuvering through the marina and around the line of boats waiting to check in at the Customs Dock.

Peak season, and Roche Harbor is busy!

As we were exiting the harbor a Kenmore Air flight landed in the channel right next to us.

I’ll bet the passengers were surprised to see us up close.

Lots of boat traffic back and forth but a nice easy ride through the Islands. Gwen and Miranda took it all in from the foredeck.

Sunny, but OK, not hot. Blankets help.

It was an uneventful trip right up to the very end. We arrived at Skyline at the peak of the flood tide, and the currents at Burrows Passage in the way in to Skyline were as big as I’d ever seen – 4+ knots. What I didn’t realize, but should have, was that there was a fair amount of current getting into our slip, which combined with a bit of wind, kept pushing us off the dock. Not so easy to swing the back end of a single screw boat against wind and current. It took several tries but we got tied up with no contact or damage.

Home at last

Crossing the Strait of Georgia

The Strait of Georgia lies between Vancouver Island and the BC mainland, and can be quite challenging to cross. That’s not the case this morning.

A beautiful morning on the Strait of Georgia

It’s a beautiful morning in the Strait, with light winds and flat calm seas. Next stop Ovens Island after transiting Gabriola Pass into the Gulf Islands. We’re on time to hit it right at slack.

The (jarring) Return to Civilization

Continuing our Southward journey, our plan for last Friday was to travel from Lagoon Cove to the Octopus Islands.  That meant an early start in order to arrive at the Okisollo Rapids at or around slack water.  As it turned out, currents on the way down were favorable and we got there a bit early, upon hearing from another boat that conditions were mild through the rapids, we decided to transit both Okisollo and nearby Hole in the Wall rapids and proceed on towards Desolation Sound.  As soon as we entered Calm Channel, we realized that we were back in civilization, with an exponential increase in boat traffic.  And it seemed that all of it was headed towards Squirrel Cove, a convenient anchorage on the way to Prideaux Haven from the North.  There were more boats in Squirrel Cove than we have ever seen before… I counted nearly 50.  Our friends Kevin and Alison on N55 Red Rover greeted us on the way in and told us that there had been even more boats there the day before.  This was quite different from our experience over the past couple of months, when we were often alone or shared an anchorage with just one or two other boats.  

I counted 40 plus boats in Squirrel Cove, more than I had ever seen before

We had a similar experience visiting Prideaux Haven, the main anchorage in Desolation Sound Marine Park, and Miranda’s favorite.  We have fond memories of sunshine and warm water from visits as far back as seven years ago.  This is arguably the most popular anchorage in the area, and is always crowded.  Like many of the spots in the Desolation Sound area, anchoring often requires a stern tie.  A stern tie is similar to a Med mooring, in that you drop your anchor and back up towards shore, fixing a line from the back of the boat to a spot on shore.  The boat is oriented perpendicular to the shore, and the tie limits the swing, allowing many more boats to fit into an anchorage.

Stern tied to one of the new pins in Prideaux Haven.

BC Parks and the BC Parks Forever Society have undertaken a project to install stern tie pins in Prideaux Haven and other locations around Desolation Sound (http://www.marineparksforever.ca/sterntie.html).  This makes it much easier to stern tie, and preserves the trees along the shore, which had served as the tie points before the pins.  Here is a picture from the Waggoner Guide (the “bible” for NW boaters) showing the locations of the stern tie pins, which are clearly marked and have a length of chain hanging down from the pin to make it easy to access regardless of tide.

Nifty map of stern tie locations from the 2019 Waggoner Guide.

Unfortunately, when we came into Prideaux, very few boats were actually using the stern tie pins.  This was quite different from our earlier visits, where most boats were stern tied even without the convenience of pins.  There were many large (50’ or greater) boats swinging at anchor, very close to each other.  Furthermore, in many spots, the anchored boats made it impossible to actually get in and use the stern ties.  We eventually found a spot that we could squeeze in and stern tie, so all was good, but we wondered why the other boats were not making use of them.  Gwen thought it would be a good idea for the Waggoner Guide to include some information about how to stern tie in addition to listing the locations of the pins.

My conclusion after touring the area in the dinghy is that the area where most of the new pins were placed (South of Eveleigh Island) is where boats that did not want to stern tie came to anchor.   Honestly, I was a bit suprised that so many large boats were anchored so close together (some only a boat length apart) without using the stern ties.  All fine unless the wind picks up. Kevin and Allison from Red Rover were here a couple of weeks ago for the annual summer concert and reported anchor dragging carnage when the wind came up in the middle of the night.

Lots of big boats swinging in Prideaux.

Anyway, we enjoyed a relaxing couple of days at anchor after so many long runs down from Ketchikan. From Prideaux, we traveled down to the SYC Outstation at Garden Bay, and as I write this we are preparing to depart for Ovens Island in the Gulf Islands, across the Strait of Georgia.

Dueling Fogust posts!

Miscommunication at the editorial board meeting the other morning. We decided that the fog was worthy of a post. I thought Gwen was going to do one at Lagoon Cove. Not seeing anything I dashed out a post myself, without realizing that Gwen pulled the fancy trick of “scheduling” the post.

OK, so which one do you like best? We’ll tally the number of likes for each of us and the winner will receive a potentially valuable prize (and bragging rights around the editorial office).