Puerto Ballandra and Isla Coronados

We left Puerto Escondido the morning after the big Norther turned out to be nothing much, at least at Marina Puerto Escondido.  Over the course of the morning, the winds came up a bit and by the time we left they were around 15 knots from the N.  Not a problem for us.  Our run for the day was a short two hours to Puerto Ballandra on Isla Carmen, which was reported to have good North wind and wave protection.  We planned to sit out the next Norther there, due in a couple of days.  

Coming out of Puerto Escondido and turning N into the channel between Isla Danzante and Isla Carmen we could see that the seas had been raised a bit by the presumably stronger winds farther north, but wind speeds were still low at around 10 knots or so.  Things started picking up after an hour or so into the middle of the channel.  The winds were now more in the 15 knot range, we were starting to see whitecaps on the waves and the seas were building into at least the 5-7 ft range.  Soon it started to feel like practice for the Baja bash, with the boat pitching into the occasionally large waves.  We had a few instances of “bow slap”, where the bulbous bow on the boat comes out of the water and then slams back in.  It’s quite noisy but otherwise harmless.  We were taking lots of spray and were very happy that we had invested in interval wipers.  They got a workout keeping the salt water off the pilot house forward windows.  At the very end it got quite sporty, with the winds exceeding 20 knots and lots of wind waves on top of the swell.  We were happy to pull into Puerto Ballandra, which was indeed well protected from the swell.  

Looking out the entrance from inside Puerto Ballandra anchorage.

A couple of weather lessons learned for me were: 1) If there is a Norther in the Sea, even if your local area is unaffected, it is going to create some swell.  2) With the fetch, 15-20 knot winds will cause the seas to build quickly.  Nothing that we experienced was remotely close to dangerous and was not even uncomfortable.  However, the motion did cause Gwen to have a mild bout of seasickness – enough to have her hang out in the salon where there was less motion. She had made the mistake of reading while underway while it was rough.   Our goal is really to avoid even conditions like this.  I think we may have been a touch too eager to get off the dock.

There were two sailboats tucked into the N end of the bay when we arrived but we had enough room to get into the NW corner next to them.  The bay has excellent protection from waves, but not so much from the winds, which funnel right down the hills to the North.  We hardly needed to back down on the anchor – the 20+ knots of wind did it for us.  It looked like we were catching the Norther a day late.  We saw 25+ knot winds in the anchorage for several hours.  We were also experiencing some rolling from swell wrapping around the point.  When the wind died down a bit we decided to put out the flopper stopper and got it almost ready to drop in the water when, yes, the winds kicked back up.  We pulled it back in, untangled the lines and got it dropped quickly in the next calm period.  Things were all comfy after that.

Alone in the anchorage, for a while.

The next morning the two sailboats that we shared the anchorage left and we decided to move to a better position at the head of the bay.  Of course by this time the winds and a tiny bit of swell were coming from the SW so we knew we would need to reset the anchor again before the next Norther kicked in on Sunday.  After getting set we had a lazy day exploring in the dinghy, reading, having a “Bloody Michelada” with lunch, playing a bit with fishing gear and Gwen going for a late afternoon kayak.  It was a bit cool and cloudy in the morning (by Mexico standards) but the sun came out in the afternoon.  

Because this area is so close to Loreto, it has clearly been quite picked over for shells. The few we found on the beach were quite aged, along with a fair amount of dead coral. There are some good shallow rocky areas that are supposed to be good for snorkeling – perhaps we will try them on our way back down in a month or two. We didn’t walk deeper into the island – there are big horn sheep and an active hunting lodge nearby, and a very marshy swampy area between the beach and the hills.

We were able to join the monthly Nordhavn 50 owners call.  We had enough cell signal from Loreto across the way to join the Zoom video call. 

After a peaceful night we began preparing for the Norther, bringing the dinghy and kayak back on board and resetting the anchor with more than enough scope for the expected winds.   

Speaking of resetting the anchor, I’d like to touch on the topic of Anchoring Etiquette.  Do a google search and you will find many articles on anchoring etiquette, that is, how to safely share an anchorage with your fellow boaters.  The general rule of thumb is that the first boat into an anchorage deploys their anchor as they see fit and other boats have the responsibility to anchor such that they do not collide with that first boat.  It is often not as straightforward as it sounds as you are trying to optimize depth and protection from the prevailing conditions.  It gets more complicated – power boats tend to swing differently than sailboats, and how much your boat swings depends on how much and what type of anchor rode you put out.   I’d like to propose a corollary to the general rule of thumb.  Please don’t anchor immediately upwind of me when we are expecting a Norther. 

The chartered catamaran anchoring on top of our anchor.

Some time after we reset the anchor another boat came into the anchorage and came by to ask how much chain we had out.  It was very good form for them to ask, and we told them how much chain we had out and that there was good holding off our starboard side.  What did they do?  Anchored directly in front of us.  Now the winds had picked up a bit, but were nowhere near the 30 knots we would see later in the day.  If they dragged anchor, they would be right on top of this.  I got on the hailer and expressed my concern telling them that I hoped they were well set because they were right on top of our anchor and would tangle with us if they dragged.  Eventually they called us back and after some discussion moved over to a (perfectly fine) spot to the west of us.

We happily settled in for lunch when another boat came into the anchorage.  This was a boat that was in the anchorage when we arrived but then left.  They, too, dropped right in front of us, even though there was room on our starboard side.  They realized that they were too close and moved, but then came back… splitting the distance between us and the sailboat that had come in earlier.  At least in this case, if they dragged, they would slide between us.  They came by for a visit by dinghy later and we learned that they were accomplished sailors, having come over from Europe via the Pacific and had been out cruising for 9 years.  That gave us confidence that they knew how to anchor their boat securely.  It seems to me that coming into an anchorage, particularly in windy conditions, the best thing to do would be to drop your anchor perhaps even with the boats nearby, and then fall back behind them as you let out your rode.  This way, you swing clear and don’t have to worry about dragging back on your neighbors.

We all sat through about 48 hours of the Norther, with winds up to 33 knots and swell coming into the anchorage and breaking on the beach.  When it finally settled down on Tuesday morning, we all cleared out of the anchorage, with us heading for Isla Coronados, an extinct Volcano only 8 miles north of Puerto Ballandra.  There was still some residual swell left from the Norther and the winds were up into the 10-15 knot range.  Apparently my memory for lessons learned is short.

Picture perfect west side anchorage. There were a number of pangas bringing tourists in for day trips.

The main anchorage at Isla Coranados is on the West side of the Island, with a big white sand beach North of a long sandspit and a small Islet to the West.  The other anchorage is South of the sandspit in the shadow of the 900+ foot volcanic cone.  We approached from the South and went around to the main anchorage though the narrow and shallow pass between the sandspit and the Islet.  It was exciting in the choppy conditions and heading over to the anchorage, it was clear that we would have no shelter.  So around back to the South side where we anchored in 25 ft of crystal clear water below a low bluff.  The anchorage was open, so was exposed to swell wrapping around the point.  Out went the flopper stopper again to smooth things out.  It was blowing about 15-20 here for a while before things calmed down in the evening.  We did spend a pleasant afternoon on the beach and Gwen explored the paths that are part of the park system.

There are beautifully laid out paths all through the area.

We went to sleep with the lights of Loreto to the SW, and woke up in the morning seeing the fishing fleet working the dropoff just to the south of the anchorage.  We decided that this was not the place to ride out the next norther, so got ready to head on up to San Juanico.  It was very cool picking up the anchor in the crystal clear water.  We could clearly see the chain laid in a nice straight line along the bottom, and as we retrieved it we could see where the anchor had buried itself deeply in the sand, with only the shank visible.  It was reassuring to see how well the anchor dug itself in!

San Evaristo and Weather in the Sea of Cortez

After a surprisingly windy and choppy night at Isla San Francisco, we headed North and across the San Jose Channel to the protected anchorage of San Evaristo, a fishing village on the West side of the Channel.  This was the second time that we were surprised by these Westerly winds that arose in the middle of the night and could reach 25-30 knots.  It’s not good to have those conditions anchored up against a “lee shore” meaning that the wind is blowing the boat towards shore.  The anchorage at San Evaristo opens to the East, so would not be a lee shore.  As we were heading up the channel we encountered some pretty localized westerly winds up to about 25 knots.  Because the wind was blowing across the channel there was no fetch for waves to build, so lots of whitecaps, but no big deal.  It was still blowing when we turned into the anchorage.  We at first sought shelter in the North cove, which was protected from the North and somewhat from the west. The cove had a small shelf with easy anchoring depths in the 20-25 foot range but then sloped down to 50 ft or so further out.  We also realized that while the wind was (temporarily) coming from the west, the swell  was coming from the South, which was exposed.  We were not satisfied with where we were sitting, so we moved over into the northern part of the main cove, with much more swinging room and shallower depths.  The beach here was lined with houses and pangas were actively coming and going to unload their catch at a buyer setup in a tent on the beach.  

I was wondering about the unexpected westerly winds that we experienced both in Isla San Francisco and again in the morning here at San Evaristo.  The guidebooks that we have describe these as Corumuel winds, said to be mostly in the La Paz area and Elephantes, said to be mostly in low lying areas in the Northern Sea.  In both cases, nighttime winds from the cool pacific air crosses the penisula into the Sea.  Since the weather forecasts cover such large areas, these localized events are not called out, and we didn’t see obvious signs of them from the low resolution wind maps that we have been downloading on our Iridium GO! 

A screenshot of the PredictWind Offshore app. The outline in the center is Baja California, and the little white dot represents where we were when I took the screenshot. Wind speed is color coded as shown on the scale at the bottom of the display This is a low resolution map, which can be downloaded reasonably quickly on the Iridium GO!, but it doesn’t highlight the significant Westerlies that we have been experiencing.

So, I downloaded one of the higher resolution wind forecasts from PredictWind and saw that it did, in fact, predict these localized westerly winds.    The model showed the wind we experienced in the morning, and predicted an overnight Westerly in San Evaristo that night.  And sure enough, we experienced several hours of 25 knot winds overnight.  It was noisy, but since we were protected from the west, we had no waves/swell, and therefore, not a problem. Now we know that it is worth downloading these higher resolution wind forecasts, even though they take about an hour to get at the snail’s pace of the Iridium GO!.

This is a screenshot showing the higher resolution forecast map. You can see that this one highlights the “hot zone” of Westerlies.

More of these westerlies were predicted through the week, so we planned accordingly, looking for anchorages that would have the best protection for the conditions.  We decided to leave San Evaristo the next morning and continue North.  Honestly, it felt a little weird to be anchored here in what was people’s front yards.  We didn’t even go ashore.

We experienced these localized winds three more times heading up to Puerto Escondido, and each time the forecast was pretty accurate on the start and duration and the maximum wind speeds.  And, armed with this information, we selected anchorages that seemed to have the best protection from the West.

A good old Norther forecast for the end of the week. We planned to be at Marina Puerto Escondido before this one arrived.

The other weather pattern that we were already familiar with is the Northwesterly winds that funnel down the Sea of Cortez pretty regularly in the winter months.  These occur when there is High pressure in the Great Basin of the US and lower pressure down in the Sea.  These are called Northers, and bring 25-30 knot winds that can last several days.  We had already experienced a number of these during our month in La Paz.

This is a “gust” map showing the crazy winds we’ve been experiencing today. This is from the web-based version of the app that requires a pretty good internet connection, which we have here. Deep red and darker is not so good… The winds were actually significantly higher than forecast.

A quick update – the Norther is here with a vengance. We arrived at Puerto Escondido on a lovely calm afternoon. The slip they had reserved for us was way too small, so they put us on the long breakwater dock… on the outside. When the Norther hit, we realized that was a BIG mistake. We saw 25 knot plus winds all day with gusts exceeding 33 and probably 3 ft wind waves. We have all 13 fenders out, and several of them look like they are about to pop. If the winds drop down at all, we will see if we can get quickly around to the other side of the breakwater dock.

Much Better!

We left the windy, rolly anchorage at Port Orford this morning heading for Brookings.

As you can see, winds are way down from the 30+ we saw yesterday and the swell is long behind us. We are not making 9.7 knots consistently, but rather surfing down the swells.

Crew is happy, listening to newly discovered Storm Weather Shanty Choir.

Experimenting with post by email feature.

Communication at Sea

Looking at our cruising budget, a surprisingly big chunk of it is dedicated to communications. I wrote earlier this summer about internet connectivity in Alaska (https://mvmissmiranda.com/2019/07/30/cellular-data-and-connectivity/), and here I review our current inventory of communication tools (with a few comments from Gwen).

Internet/Cellular Data

We have several Cellular data providers, described below:

  • T-Mobile – OnePlus plan that when we started, claimed to provide unlimited data in the US, Canada and Mexico. Of course, since we signed up, they have placed constraints on the data, limiting the high speed data in Canada and Mexico, and we have heard, limited the amount of time that the service can be used in Mexico… likely not the 6-7 months we will be there. Reading the T-Mobile website, I see that they have revised their definition of “unlimited” data to be unlimited 2G data, rather than the unlimited High Speed data that was advertised when we signed up. And our cell phone carriers wonder why we hate them. Between our 3 lines and a couple of new phones, our bill is over $200/month.
  • Verizon – Unlimited pre-paid JetPack plan. This has actually worked well for us at our home in Anacortes. For $65/month we get unlimited data at pretty good speed on our Verizon Mifi device. This is our only internet service. It does not work at all in Canada and Mexico, and we learned this summer that it works only in Ketchikan and Juneau Alaska.
  • Google Project Fi- Probably the best plan for use internationally. Base rate is $20/month and then we get billed for data usage, topping out at an additional $60/month for up to 15 GB of high speed data. No problems in Canada, no problems (we’ve heard) in Mexico.

Satellite Data

Iridium GO!
  • Iridium GO! is essentially a wifi hotspot that connects to the Iridium satellites and transmits data at, wait for it, 2400 bps. I have to go WAY back to my early computer days to remember serial modems that were that slow. On the plus side, it was relatively inexpensive to buy, and allows for email, text messaging, calling via your existing phone, and weather data retrieval. We bought ours from PredictWind (described below) and have an unlimited data plan at cost of about $120/month. We did use it a lot in Alaska for texting with Miranda and some other cruiser friends. There were a few times in fjord areas with high stone walls where it didn’t work and also varied with the level of the tides in Alaska, but neither of those issues will exist in Mexico. Our phone number on the Iridium does start with 82, so if you get a mysterious call beginning with that it could be us, so answer it!
  • Garmin inReach is a similar, less capable device that rides on the same Iridium satellite network. It costs less than the GO! and data usage charges are about half that of the GO!, but we find the capabilities to be extremely limited – position tracking, which we like, and text messaging, which is barely adequate. It does, however, have an SOS capability, which we hope is a good safety feature. (Gwen did find many interesting stories on the Garmin website of real rescues that occurred for mariners using the Garmin SOS feature, although all were in US waters). The only reason we have it is that it is a CUBAR requirement for fleet communications. Data cost is about $65/month.
Garmin InReach.

Weather Tools

PredictWind Offshore with our route to San Francisco
  • PredictWind Offshore is the tool we use in conjunction with the Iridium GO!. It allows us to plot our route and download weather data (GRIBs) that covers the route. We can see forecasted conditions, get routing recommendations, and look at different departure time options. It takes care of connecting with the GO! and retrieving the data. I find PredictWind to be an OK tool, but it is far from a comprehensive weather planning tool. It does a fine job of retrieving and displaying the GRIBs, but has almost no capabilities for retrieving the many NOAA forecast and analysis products that I use to supplement the binary data. In the next section, I will describe my solution for retrieving these products. This is costing us $250 annually.

Email Tools

UUPlus… not the most modern, but very effective
  • There are several ways to use email to retrieve the NOAA forecast products. NOAA has an ftp email server that you send a request to, and it sends back text or graphical data for the specific product requested. There is also a service called Saildocs that does something similar. The issue is sending and receiving email over a satellite connection. The Iridium GO! comes with a very rudimentary email solution that only works on IOS devices. We used it this summer in Alaska, and found it to be completely inadequate for any serious use. In looking for a better solution, I discovered that there is a niche industry that supports long range cruisers by providing email services customized for low bandwith connections, first using SSB radio, and more recently, using satellite data connections. One that I have started using is called UUPlus, which basically sets up an email server on your local computer, connects to the Iridium GO! and sends highly compressed messages that are decompressed and forwarded on their servers on the other side. It has a handy feature of being able to fetch multiple NOAA weather products at predetermined times so you don’t have to sit there and wait for the very slow satellite transfer. I really like it… but it is extremely pricey at around $30/month. We are giving it a 3 month trial on the way down to Mexico. The primary use underway will be for weather data, but it will also be useful for email communications when we are away from cellular and/or wifi service (which I assume will be fairly regularly). We can also use email to make blog posts, which otherwise require pretty high bandwidth connections.

I am afraid to add up the total costs here, but you can see that it is a pretty significant chunk of our cruising budget. Part of that is that we have all of the underway data sources as additions to our existing land-based services (e.g., T-Mobile, Verizon). We also have a fair amount of redundancy (e.g., both Iridium GO! and Garmin InReach, multiple cellular providers).

We will evaluate the services we actually use after we have some time in Mexico and likely eliminate some. For example, I could see eliminating the InReach services as soon as we finish CUBAR. I would also consider eliminating the PredictWind subscription, and using the email-based weather retrieval services in conjunction with one of several free GRIB viewers. I don’t think we will do anything about our multiple cellular plans.

Weather Hold

We knew what we were going to hear when we spoke with our weather router yesterday, and he confirmed that we should NOT depart today. The weather for the next 5 to 6 days in the North Pacific is ugly.

The predicted map for Wednesday if we left today.

The basic message for maps like this is that orange and red are bad. The lower right corner of the map also mentions that predicted wave heights to go along with the very strong winds would be over 3 meters (that’s over 9 feet for those who have forgotten the metric system). Yikes!

As much as we want to get going, we don’t want to risk our lives and our boat. Not to mention guaranteed seasickness. So, we are holding. The weather does look like it gets good toward the end of the week, so we will talk with our guy again on Wednesday. We also will continue to watch all the weather metrics ourselves.

I’ve been mourning the loss of our trusty wagon.

We spent yesterday transporting most of the rest of our supplies and stuff to the boat and stowing it away. A few days ago during a very windy day we had a disaster that made this all a lot more challenging. Our wonderful wagon that has transported groceries and boat parts for long hikes in port was resting on the dock in between loads when it was caught by the wind and sailed right off the dock into the waters of the marina! Our dockmate tried to catch it but no luck. We fished for it where it went in, but the tide was high. We are currently in the moon cycle where the tides don’t change nearly as much and remain pretty high, so we have not spotted it at the bottom of the bay.

But – our friend Sarah came to our rescue at our goodbye dinner on Thursday! She very generously gave us her red wagon. So I have been putting that to good to use. I think I am even going to name it. If you have any suggestions don’t hesitate to tell me.

This is our christmas tree stowed in a bilge in our stateroom.

We are using all the hidey holes for storage we can find on the boat. This long and narrow one works for the Christmas tree parts. I still need to figure out where to put the ornaments. We will be in Puerto Vallarta for Christmas and Miranda is determined that we have a tree just like always!

Preparing to depart for Mexico (still)

I am writing this on Friday, September 20th, which was to be our departure date for heading down the Pacific Coast to California and then on to Mexico with the 2019 CUBAR Rally. Well, things have not gone quite according to plan, and it is kind of a long story, so go grab a beverage, sit back and relax (or go read something more interesting).

I am sure that many wise and experienced boat owners have said something along the lines of “Never have major boat work done just before a big trip”… I think we now know why. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we put Miss Miranda in the yard right after returning from Alaska with what somehow became a lengthy project list. The good news is that the vast majority of the work was executed flawlessly and we are very happy with the improvements. The bad news is that a couple of items were not quite right, and they are critical. I know those same wise boat owners also said “Make sure you do a sea trial with the yard before leaving to ensure that EVERYTHING was completed to your satisfaction”. Good advice. Why didn’t I think of that?

The biggest issue that we discovered was a problem with the newly installed fuel flow monitoring system. This is intended to display the engine’s fuel usage and economy while underway. On diesel engines, fuel passes through the engine and about 20% is actually burned. The system uses sensors that measure fuel flow to the engine and back from the engine and from that computes fuel usage. While on our way back to Anacortes, we noticed that the fuel burn readings were very erratic while we were running at a constant RPM, and that the engine RPM was varying slightly… but enough to be a concern, as it had never happened before. To make a long story short, the sensors installed were undersized for the engine.

We found another issue as we were fueling up for the trip. We let the fuel level on the boat get really low on the way back from Alaska so that we could have the tanks inspected. They were in great shape, and the fuel was polished and returned to the boat. We measured the remaining fuel to calculate how much we needed to take on using our “tank tender” system. All went well until we came to the starboard aft tank, which measured as empty. We started filling the tanks and almost immediately got fuel flowing back from the vents. That is obviously not what is supposed to happen. I crawled into the lazarette and discovered that the sender from that tank had been broken off. The empty reading was false, and the tank was actually full (or very close).

The broken tank tender fitting.

The yard’s response to these issues was great – they arranged to have a technician come to us in Anacortes to do the repairs. Fortunately, I was able to secure a pair of the proper fuel flow sensors locally, because they were on back order from the Maretron factory. So far, all good with our tech scheduled to arrive on Wednesday morning.

Then I made a very unpleasant discovery in the engince room. There was a line of red fluid across the floor which seemed to be coming from the wing engine. It turned out to be Automatic Transmission Fluid from the gearbox. Not good.

Uh oh…..that is not supposed to be there.

The mechanic arrived on Wednesday and took care of the fuel flow sensors and the tank tender, and then turned his attention to the fluid from the wing engine. The diagnosis was bad main seals (that go around the propeller shaft), and the bad news was that it was not possible to replace the seals or rebuild the transmission. We had to either buy a new transmission or put a drip tray under the transmission, keep a large supply of fluid on hand, and hope for the best. Lenny, our technician, had replaced these units before, and assured us that he could replace ours pretty quickly. It turned out that a shop down in Everett had one in stock, so off went Gwen for a little ride to pick it up. It was late in the day by the time she got back, so we planned for an early start the next morning.

A brand new ZF/Hurth V drive for Miss Miranda’s wing engine.

Of course, nothing goes quite as planned… the old transmission did not want to come off, and in the struggle to remove it, Lenny cracked one of the mounting plates. Furthermore, I was told that Lenny needed to get back to his regular clients and would have to leave, finished or not, at the end of the day. Some discussion with the transmission shop led to a solution for removing the old transmission, but involved yet another trip to Everett for Gwen.

More parts for the V-drive

Lenny was finally able to remove the old transmission and got the new one painted while we waited for Gwen to return. Amazingly, he was able to install the new transmission, align the prop shaft, and test the wing (at the dock) and still make his 4 PM ferry back home. Lenny is an outstanding marine technician, and we greatly appreciate his mechanical wizardry.

As all of this was happening, we had a call with our weather router, who suggested that we delay our departure until (at least) Sunday to avoid a frontal system moving across the Washington offshore waters. We were not unhappy about this, as all of the unexpected repairs had put us behind schedule in loading up the boat.

We got out on the boat for another sea trial on Friday 9/20. It was all good news. The wing engine worked flawlessly, and the fuel monitoring was much more consistent, with no more RPM variation.

Fuel flow monitoring… it works!

Now we are busy with the final preparations and waiting on the weather window. We have another call with our weather router today (9/21) to determine if we are still on for a Sunday departure.

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.

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.

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).

Fogust

Now that we are well into August, the fog that is typical of Alaska and northern British Columbia has become a usual morning and sometimes all day, occurence for us. The locals call this time of year “Fogust”.

Looking out from Blunden Harbor. Fog banks roll in and out with regularity now.
Departing Blunden Harbor in the early morning. Heavy fog in the anchorage.

We use radar and lots of peering into the mist to navigate. Sometimes we have to call up other boats on the radio to clarify intentions to avoid collisions, but for the most part its not been a problem. It can be quite stunning to see whisps of fog lying over islands with sun shining above.

Fog was prominant for our crossing of Cape Caution. We had a long foggy but calm day, and ended with an overnight stay in Blunden Harbor. ONce we entered the bay, the sun came out and the fog remained outside.

Blunder Harbor is the site of a former First Nations summer village and we can still see signs of the long house and the shell midden on the beach. The First Nations group still uses the site but doesn’t live there any longer.

The beach at Blunden Harbor. There are remains of a long house in the grass above.
More remains of the longhouse.

It was too windy for kayaking but we did a dingy trip up the long inlet to see if we could cross into the hidden lagoon, but found the entrance too shallow and some overfalls which would have made for an exciting ride. It was beautiful in the sunshine though after a day of fog!

Can’t really see the overfalls here but the narrow entrance has a very shallow bar that we decided not to brave.