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Friday, December 28, 2012

Mysterious Winter Sailing!

Yes its a very peculiar sailing day. I'm almost the only one out here sailing over the seas in the falling drizzle. I'm coming up to the seals on the R2 buoy near the anchored ships a mile out at sea. Its really strange - the wind is blowing from the east so its creating small waves in the face of the westerly swell! Very strange indeed! So in other words there are waves coming from the east and waves coming from the west! When I left the marina, since the wind was coming from the east, I thought that by heading south I would have the 'weather gage' (advantage) by sailing the first half of the journey in the harder direction (as I thought the wind was coming more south easterly). Then on the way back, I thought the wind would be blowing a little behind me (from the south) and across my beam so I would have full control over what direction I wanted to go. But on the contrary, I seemed to have a very easy sail heading out and a harder sail coming back in! What really happened was that when I turned around, I found myself sailing a more difficult tack into the wind on a close reach because the wind was coming more north easterly. What a shock! On the way back there was a Hans Christian sailboat passing me to starboard. It looked like he was coming back from Catalina Island. They are really strong boats - made to handle heavy seas with a stern pointed like the bow. How beautiful it appears, with full sail set, sailing over the waves! The white sails stand in direct contrast with the dark grey clouds behind it. I pulled in a little harder on the ropes controlling the sails (jib lines). I thought about some of my friends reactions to wanting to come sailing with me. Its interesting because some of them didn't want to go sailing these days because its too cold. But my response to them was: "Are u kidding me! This Is the best sailing! Lol! I wear two jackets and have hot chocolate made to warm up my innards and hands ! Ha ha! Its great! =D" I mean, here I am going four knots through the gentle seas. Little birds are shooting across the small waves! The wind is blowing about ten knots (MPH). Its drizzling here and the water is beautiful and mysterious. I can't really explain it except that its an amazing feeling! After a while darkness came upon me and the boat. The mysteriously dark grey skies and strange watery world I was surrounded by, were now cloaked in darkness and now the only horizon in view were the lights way off on land. They sparkled over the water and waves. As the dark waves passed under the boat, the heaving seas were silhouetted against the shore lights. With two jackets on, a baseball cap, a snow hat over that and a cup of hot chocolate in my hand, I was nice and snug! But take those off and the wind chill sweeping through the sails and over the deck would be enough all by themselves to make you immediately cold. Tacking hard into the wind back and forth a few times finally allowed me to enter the harbor. What a beautiful day/night it has been on the water! Maybe some day you can join me and see for yourself how amazing it is. :-) ~Albie PS: thanks for leaving a message. I would love to hear from you!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Opposing Forces.

       Night Sailing!

      Check this video out

    •  Opposing Forces.

    • Tonight out at sea, every ripple on the water glowed from the phosphorus -  a magical green color as the boat motored through the waves. It was beautiful and majestic and it has been a year or so since I remember seeing it.
      Last time I remember it, I was sailing through dense fog at night and could see nothing except the magical looking green light streaking through the water as dolphins made their way like torpedo's to their destinations.

    The wind had died about an hour ago and I now motored through the waves back to the harbor. I was going to get back in the Marina and then turn off the engine and wait for the wind to come back out. But as I came down the harbor entrance toward my dock, the wind gave no trace of coming back. So I kept on going till I got near Chase Burton Park and then killed the engine as I saw the wind making patterns over the dark water.

    I was thrilled to turn off the engine and to watch the wind fill the sail again and be off. There's nothing quite like sailing with the wind. Its quiet and beautiful but must be watched and nurtured to make sure the boat stays on course with just the right amount of wind powering it. Otherwise without careful maintanance the boat will end up going in circles. Eventually I got it all balanced perfectly and could take a few minutes out and go sit on the bow and watch the boat and I glide through the dark mysterious wind blown water on our way around the marina.

         After an hour and a half, I took the boat up to G - Basin and turned on the engine again as sailing up this stretch of water meant battling the wind head on the whole way. Last week I had run out of gas and had been forced to sail up this against a strong tide and opposing winds that were not strong enough to even beat the tide. So though it had appeared like I was moving forward - I had actually been moving backward with the strong current! As I was grinding my teeth in slow agony to try and beat the tide and get home I thought about it in a philosophical way. Here I was making every effort to get ahead and every inch that I actually won was HARD earned. Life is like that. Sometimes it gives you joy and beauty and everything you want on a platter but other times you have to struggle for every inch you get and in the face of imminent failure. But you must press on. In the case of the ocean - the sea will get you if you give up. I'm so blessed writing this now as it encourages me in a financial situation I'm in right now that feels very much the same.

    Interesting thing is that after persisting through the the head winds, I eventually got to a place where the land caused the wind to come from a different direction and gave more power to the boat. And in time the wind became stronger too and then getting back was not as hard. So this also can be understood that after a certain mount of persistence, life will often change and SUPPORT you instead.

    Thankfully tonight the engine purred like a cat and all these heartaches from last week were just memories. Tonight the engine caused the bow to push through the opposing forces and soon I turned the tiller hard and the boat rounded up into the slip. Ah - now to put the sails away and then heat up some hot chocolate! I couldn't wait!


    PS: Thanks for your comments! :-)

    Monday, November 5, 2012

    Catalina Gale: Part IX The Last Two Hours...

    After Eight Hours In the Gale:

     I tried to let Brad rest as long as possible but when I saw the blue Whale wall, I cried out through the raging wind:

    "Brad! We're nearly back!"

     Soon his head popped out of the hatch and placing the doors back in, he climbed up the very steeply sloping cockpit and joined me on deck. After clicking his harness into place, he looked around. I was used to the loud hissing of the wind beating across the water at forty miles an hour but I'm sure to Brad (after resting in the semi peaceful cabin for a couple hours) the sound was startling. Besides this, I know he was interested to see how the huge waves were towering from behind us now.

     "Brad we're going to need to let out the mainsail." I cried above the roar of the waves. "The wind is starting to come from off our back quarter."

     Brad looked at the sails and the waves with a grim face. "If we're not careful, the force of the wind will tear off the mast." He almost yelled. "But you better do it! We don't have a choice."

     Quickly, but carefully I let Brad hold the tiller while I let out the main sheet and sail. We were thankful when the sail and mast held against the furious wind that was now blowing from astern. Atop a giant mountain of a wave, Brad looked forward as I pointed to the Blue wall of Redondo beach. He looked at me with a happy grin. But the war was not over yet! I had been losing strength and was so glad to see Brad come back on deck. I was feeling very sick and had almost begun to care less what the waves were doing beyond my peripherial vision. I had enough strength left to focus on steering the boat through the waves in front of me but that was almost all the strength I had left. Now that Brad was back, its as if I came back to life again! With pleasure I handed the tiller back to Brad to take us in.

     We still had a little ways to go with huge waves still bearing down on us but we were so close to safety we could taste it. All I had tasted up to this point was a non stop deluge of salt water in my face, mouth and eyes each time we passed through a waves white foaming water. Now we were almost home! I still could not believe we were this close. An hour ago I was not at all sure we would make it back. It had only been five hours back when I had prayed and found Gods peace. Home had seemed like a thousand impossible miles away.

     And though it was not all that sudden, to me time had seemed to speed up. Redondo's bell buoy appeared among the foaming waves. The huge waves pounded with fury into the stone breakwater to our left. And then we about surfed in the entrance on this cresting wave. With a simple turn of the tiller the boat heeled dangerously to broadside along the wave as we sped into the still waters of Redondo Beach harbor.

     Suddenly, all was an impossible stillness - like...heaven! No more falling and lurching up and down twenty foot waves and feeling the wind whip across your face at terrific speeds. The peace was startling and so sudden and so majestic. We all seemed to breath freely again. Inside all of our hearts the confirmation we had made it home safely was now spoken. I pounded on the hatch and then opening it, we all began to laugh at the terror we had just passed through.

     "This has been the worst day of my entire life." Max yelled laughing.

     "Well at least you now have one!" I laughed back.

     Later in the jacuzzi at Brads marina, we all sat and laughed in amazement of what we had just survived. The spa water was so hot and relaxing - we couldn't believe we were there! Only an hour ago we had been cold and wet and battered. The warm water was quickly taking off the years of stress and white hairs we had added to our bodies in the eleven stressful hours it took us to cross the channel. The Catalina Gale had been implanted in our minds for all time and we all knew it!


     PS: Thanks for your comments!

    Monday, October 8, 2012

    Catalina Gale: Part VIII, Overlooking The World, Atop a Huge Wave

    Opening up the hatch was like opening up Pandora's Box. The wind outside was gusting past 40 miles an hour and the howling of the wind in the sails and the huge monstrous waves crashing against the boat was frightening.

     I went outside feeling like I was entering a war. Immediately I found myself literally having to hold on for dear life as I had to CLIMB up the cockpit to reach the tiller. The boat was healed over 45% at least. I climbed into position and clicked my life tether in.

    Brad's face was pale white and I honestly had never seen him like this before. I carefully moved into position to take over the steering. I could tell Brad was very cautious in giving over the tiller as one wrong move and the boat would be capsized. But Brad's need of rest overcame everything else and he moved down into the hatch. "Watch for the the blue whale wall of Redondo Beach." Brad said firmly before closing the hatch. "We're not too far off now."

     I nodded in agreement and looked around me. But with the huge seas all around me, I very much doubted I would ever see that wall. Still it gave me an objective and an understanding of where we were - as honestly I had only the faintest clue. Suddenly Brad was gone and I was alone to face the seas alone and the lives of all my dear friends was now completely in my hands. Taking a firm grip on the helm, I soon realized that holding onto the tiller was hard. The pressure of the water and waves against the rudder was intense. It took a lot of strength to keep the boat on course. The waves were huge 'mountains' all around me. I could see the next line of waves coming at us with cascading white foaming tops high on their peaks. All I could do was try and aim the boat for the least menacing waves. We headed down the trough and the world was lost all around me. Only the tremendous size of the waves surrounded me. I remember one dangerous looking one in particular that was steep and cresting and thinking that it would be all over if I was forced to take that wave on.

     Fortunately we passed it on by - as we did most all of the worst looking waves. I still believe that this was a matter of my efforts mixed with chance. And somehow afterward I knew God was watching over us too. At the top of the next wave, suddenly I was met with tons of water and spray. With the fierce wind hitting the boat, as we got towards the top of the wave, we sped right through the top of the wave and crashed right out of it and landed with a bang on the opposite downward slope. I knew this could hurt the boat and I wondered how much it could take! I tried desperately with all my being to stop this from happening and four out of five times I was able to slow the boat down enough so this wouldn't happen. Despite all my efforts I could not prevent it every time, however. And as this all happened, water flew over the bow, washing right into my face. My tongue could taste the salty water in my mouth. At first the taste was welcome as the salt took away some of the over-taste of throw up still left in my mouth. As far as the wet cold water, I didn't notice it too much because of my layers of clothes and the sailing wet gear Brad had let me use over top of it. In fact I was quite warm - except for my cold hands gripping the tiller. And so it went on for another two hours like this.

    At first, the little sleep I had gotten had taken most of the seasickness away. But after a little time with all the continuous heavy motion, I began to get sick again. But throwing up was not hard as the boat was often angled at forty-five degrees and all I had to do was 'aim and fire' right into the ocean - so to speak and continue on. Actually, throwing up made me feel better - for a while. But the sickness seemed to always come back and soon I had nothing to throw up and I was just dry hacking. Still, I was in control to the best of my ability and there was really no other choice if we wanted to live. And then I noticed the mountain range near San Pedro. Very soon after this, I saw the orange fishing buoy (I had seen at night on the way out toward Point Vicente) show up atop of a big wave far in the distance. I now knew we were near Redondo Beach. This gave me a lot of hope!

     At some point I began to notice that the waves were coming from behind instead of aiming themselves at our bow. I'm not exactly sure when this happened, as I was feeling very worn and fatigued after an hour an a half of all of this. I almost didn't care anymore as I was beginning to lose it. But at least I still held on and aimed the boat in the right direction. Suddenly I looked behind and noticed a huge breaking white wave looming up behind me. I knew that if it caught up with us it would swamp the cockpit and tons of water would enter the boat. Already half a foot of water was in the cockpit floor, flowing back in forth with the motion of the boat (the water was half mixed with gasoline too - as the smell was horribly present. Hours ago Brad and I had tried to figure our where the gas was leaking from. The gas tank was clearly closed - so it was a bit of a mystery really). But that was the least of our problems. Thankfully the hatches were all closed and most of the water would not get in. But still I was fearful. I tried my best to aim away from the wave that was looming from behind but it followed us like a guided missile and soon the boat rose up to its ugly white head. As soon as I expected the horrible drenching, suddenly the boat's stern rose right up on the white water - hardly letting an inch of water come in!

     I was so ecstatic thanking God we had escaped it! We were closing in on Redondo Beach as I suddenly saw the blue whale wall Brad had spoken of. I could only see the wall on the top of the big waves though. It was kind of like being atop a big hill looking over the world.

    Sunday, September 16, 2012

    Catalina Gale Part VII: Reality of a Storm

    Skipper Albie continues:

    "It was at this time that Brad asked me if I would go into the cabin and get my wet things off and get some rest because he was going to need me in a couple of hours. I told him I would and was actually very happy to go in even though I really wanted to support him. At this time we had become aware of our own danger just being in the cockpit and we had buckled ourselves into the lifeline that Brad had so wisely set up before the trip.

    Now I went below, thankful that Brad at least was buckled in. The first thing I noticed was that the table had fallen again and that everything had fallen all over the floor.
    The cabin was such a disaster. I couldn't believe my eyes. And on top of that, Brad Jr had decided that the floor with all the mess was just the place for him to lie down (even though there was plenty of room in the v-birth for him and Max. This puzzled me greatly, but I was too sick to disagree and even too sick with so much up and down motion to do ANYTHING except lie down. I didn't even take any clothes off. I felt warm and that's all I cared about. I lied down in the V-birth and rested. I had no energy to do anything and just lied there listening to the sound of the boat rising up and down the waves and to that of my own thoughts and that of my stomach.

    Sometimes I would even get sick just lieing there and throw up again. This time we would all pass and use the big gray bucket. It sounded like a throw up festival. First Brad Jr would throw up, then me then Max. Twice I even heard Braddock outside throwing up too. I never heard Louis though. He had some cloth over his face and I thought he was fast asleep, but I found out later he was really awake!

    Now the sounds of the boat were extremely interesting. The wind was so powerful in the main sail that it made a whir or a purring sound not unlike that of an engine. I was amazed at the sheer intensity of the wind. I had never heard this much wind in my life. Then the lurching of the boat was quite amazing. This was so similar to that of a rollar coaster. Two weeks later when on Screamin' at California Adventure, I took the coaster in strides (hardly thinking it a big deal at all) having felt the very same motions for 10 hours on our trip. The boat would go up then down then lurch to this side then that. Then up steeply then down steeply with a thud. Sometimes it would come down with such a crash that I thought we had hit a rock! But no - we just carried on. As long as the 'purr' of the 'engine in the sails' carried on, we knew all was well. Then we hit down and crashed again. This time it smacked with a violent shudder from the bow to the stern. It felt like the boat had been completely out of the water - even with a thousand pounds of weight down in the keel. I almost didn't want to look in the cabin floor as I was almost positive I would see water seeping in through the floor boards as a leak seemed so likely. But again - no. We just carried on again. The 'engine' would purr again in the sails and I would try to sleep. Once in a while the purring would stop and the boat would seem to lie dead in the water. But not even giving a minute and the boat 'engine' would start right back up again and the wind in the sails would move the boat back on course.

    By now my wet socks were making me cold, so I happily took them off and put my feet in my daughters pink but warm sleeping bag.
    I fell asleep a little and wondered if an hour had passed or even two hours. It only felt like an hour, but things were so strange I can't remember. At any rate Brad had had enough and opened the hatch calling for me.
    I quickly rushed to put on my socks and opened the hatch to go out on deck. Just taking the hatch cover off and suddenly I was hit with the loudest wailing noise I had ever heard. It sounded like a war was going on outside. I literally was terrified of going back outside. The wind was screeching, the waves and water were moving and pounding against the boat, the sails were vibrating and the whole boat was heeled over and I would have to climb sideways out the door just to get out there..."

    PS: Thanks for your comments!

    Thursday, September 6, 2012

    Catalina Gale: Part VI, Nightmare at Sea

    Captain Brad Continues saga:

    After this close call, I suggested that Albie take a break, so that in case the worst was not over, he could regain some of his strength. As for myself, I was feeling chipper enough, but knew that I was not going to last forever under these circumstances. It was such a relief to know that I had Albie to relieve me when I couldn’t take it anymore. I am quite sure it would have been far more terrifying to be alone and even further out to sea like many single handers that have sailed around the globe alone.

    I was determined to steer “Canta Libre” until she and her crew were safely inside the shelter of the Harbor. I was holding the tiller with white knuckles, as it was almost ripped from my grip on more than one occasion from the tremendous force of the Ocean surging underneath our hull. I eventually began to shiver uncontrollably from the combination of being soaked to the bone and from the wind chill over eight or more straight hours. One usually resists throwing up as it is rarely a pleasant experience. More often than not, it is followed by a period of relief and then eventually subsides when it comes to matter of sea sickness. This time that was not to be the case. Despite years of working and being in some of the worst seas on the planet, I could not stop yakking, and no relief seemed to be in sight. I remember that for most of my life, I was completely and I do mean totally immune to motion sickness. I hate to admit it, but I would actually laugh and make fun of friends and acquaintances alike that would succumb to its powers. I guess this was time for payback. I will never ever make fun of anyone ever again, guaranteed. I was so weakened from the cold and dehydration by this time that I would be physically useless should any emergency arise. I ran through the hypothetical in my mind, that even if the ship were to begin sinking, I don’t think I would have lasted for more than a few minutes. Time to get Albie. As I cracked the companion way hatch open slightly, I tried to yell out for Albie to come relieve me for a while. Instead a faint croaking whisper emitted from my lips. The hydrochloric acids from my stomach had taken a toll on my throat and vocal cords. Despite this, Albion not only heard me but was quick to respond. It was trickier than I expected to be able to hand off the tiller to him without the boat being tumbled over. The timing had to be perfect, and it was. I had been anticipating this moment for hours now as I stumbled into the safety and shelter of the cabin, I was not prepared however for what I was about to witness. The entire interior of the boat was the unequalled example of chaos. The table was dispatched from the wall. Every item to have at one time been stowed in its place was cast on to the cabin floor and walls and corners. Intermingled throughout were perceptible chunks of vomit. My son Brad was seemingly passed out on the floor, although I do believe I saw his hand move in a gesticulation resembling a wave, perhaps to briefly acknowledge my presence. Louie was propped up against the starboard side with his head covered. Max was huddled up in the V-birth. No one seemed worried or concerned as to the situation, so I figured why not join the club. Besides, I had only one thought on my mind: To get dry, and lie down and rest. Even if it were only for a few minutes. I feebly, but as quickly as I could manage, stripped off my sopping wet shirt, and found a damp one to put on instead. Ah! To be seemingly dry. There is nothing to be compared to that feeling. I was feeling a hundred percent better already. I found a wonderful spot to lie down that had amazingly been left vacant by everyone else. I just barely fit, but it was otherwise perfect for what was next on my list of priorities, sleep. Although my whole body was being flung around to and fro as a result of the bow of the boat plunging into waves just to the other side of the thin fiberglass walls that surrounded me, I could not be dissuaded from the thought of closing my eyes and drifting off into a state of ecstasy. No sooner had I laid my weary head down when a compelling amount of water erupted through a gap in the forward hatch and descended down upon me in geyser fashion, drenching me with chilly cold salt spray. Well, being dry for one and a half minutes is better than not being dry at all. I tried to ignore the irratic showers of cold water that seemed to aim themselves at my face, but it was not an option. Every time a particularly big wave would engulf us, it would find its way to say hello to me inside the v-birth. So much for sleep and shelter. That’s roughly when I realized that I was still sea sick despite all. Max was watching me with empathy, as he generously handed me his personal barf bucket, that he had been hugging up to that juncture. I noticed that it was far from empty --- to hydrate myself unless someone had a bottle of 6% saline solution and an I.V. needle handy. I looked up and saw that he had a peculiar look in his eyes. It was a combination of him trying to be polite and respectful to his elders, and desperation all at the same time. And that’s when it dawned on me. I was hogging his bucket. So we kept passing it back and forth taking turns at fairly quick intervals to vomit, and then vomit some more. At around this juncture in time, I heard Albie calling out “Were not far away”. I climbed out into the cockpit again, just in time to see some huge following seas pushing us towards shore. We were virtually leapfrogging towards the rocks. Just on the other side of the rocks was the safety of the Harbor we were so earnestly longing for. But we were not safe yet by any means. We were surfing so quickly down the front of each wave that we would have to time the entrance like clockwork. If we turned too soon, we would be dashed on to the rocks. If we turned several seconds too late, the same would result. We changed our direction of sail to a quarter reach, so as to gain both a little more control and speed, and seemingly flew past the safe water buoy labeled RB, and in-between the red and green harbor entrance buoys, past the demarcation line. The British and most other parts of the world are under the AYALA-A system. When we fought the Revolutionary war back in the 1700’s we would switch the buoys around at night, so as to confuse the British ships, and make them crash into the rocks. To this day the United States and its influences are still under the AYALA- B system, which is the opposite of the British. Remember this next time you are sailing into port at night time in a foreign country. This means that as you travel clockwise around our country, the red navigational buoys are supposed to be on the starboard side of the ship (Red Right Returning). Just to make it confusing though, this does not apply to the inter-coastal waterways, or the Great lakes. Well, all history and navigations lessons set aside, we were safely home Alas (At last). The Harbor Patrol boat came out to escort us in. One of the officers had bet his Commander $20.00 that no one would be crazy enough to venture out in these conditions. I think he came out to get us just to win his bet. Regardless, when they heard we had just crossed all the way from Catalina, they were speechless. Of coarse we were glad for the assistance; since the waves had ripped our engine completely off the transom of the boat. Now that is some violent sea conditions! May it rest in peace.

    Friday, August 24, 2012

    Catalina Gale Part V: Caught by the Wind!

    We left Catalina at 8:35 am.

    We had calm seas for the first half mile from Two Harbors (Catalina). Bigger swells came and then waves pick up to three to five feet. Winds were gusting 20 - 30 knots while we were behind Catalina island. This was about two or three hours. During this time I remember looking at the waves with awe as they sloped upward, every fifth or sixth wave breaking white. Braddock Jr. was out in the cockpit for a long time talking with me. Then Max came out for a while and took a picture of the scene. To our left was Catalina. I could see an anchorage as far off as maybe a mile as well as a sheer cliff and a giant jutting rock that protruded out into the sea. The island looked so green, soft and peaceful, it was quite a contrast to the large angry breakers confronting us wave upon wave. I watched the shore, gazing my attention upon it at least every five minutes just watching to see if we were passing the anchorage and the giant jutting rock. The anchorage, with its sailboats nestled in near the shore, was now well behind us. But the large jutting rock just seemed to be laughing at us as it didn't seem like we were ever going to pass it! Brad was concerned about our course since we had been 10 degrees off now for an hour or so. I kept thinking of ideas of how to get our boat to go closer into the wind or a way to tack and use the angle of the wind to our advantage. As it was, the wind seemed to be coming in the exact direction we were wanting to go and it made it very hard on us. However, after about an hour and a half either the wind changed a bit, or we did and we were able to steer close hauled as near to the wind as we could. This also helped keep our reefed mainsail from catching more pressure in it's sail than it could handle, because the wind was easily doing 20 - 30 MPH for sure by this time. I didn't get seasick for about an hour or two - but I didn't realize it was because I was sitting in the same position and hadn't moved around any. Brad went up on deck after he had taken an hours rest down below, and took down the jib - which was causing me a lot of stress due to the tremendous stress on it from the wind. With the jib down and the mainsail reefed we were doing so much better. But for Brad all the crazy tossing of the boat on the waves and him having his eyes off the waves made him get sick. I noticed his beard looked like it had salt water on it, but then realized he had thrown up over the bow. Brad then tried to make the jib into a storm jib by knotting down most of it. But he felt unsuccessful and came back into the cockpit. Later I examined the knots he had used to tie and lash the jib and was quite amazed. I've been practicing knots for a long time but couldn't make out his masterful knots! I told him later how amazed I was by them. And him having done all these knots with the boat tossing everywhere too! Ok, so then Brad came back to the cockpit.

    Some hours had passed by now and we had come far north of the protection of Catalina in our journey at 1-4 knotts (depending on how we caught the waves). The waves were easily ten feet big if not bigger. We were passing through the shipping lanes now and every once in a while a huge ship would cross in front of us. I was watching the angle of the ships as I saw them on the horizon. Then I noticed a tug boat at an awkward angle to our own pulling a huge ship with large cables a quarter mile behind it. I must have not seen it as it was at an odd angle and the waves periodically hid it from view. When the angle did not change I began to get really concerned. I knew it was on a collision course with us and unless one of us changed course it would not be good. Brad encouraged me to come about and head back until the ship had passed. With the waves so big it would be a real challenge. But I carefully judged the next wave and after it had passed under us I had a minute in the trough to come about. So I did. The boat changed direction and I steered up the safest part of the wave. But as we came up over the wave the wind came so hard down on us it wouldn't let the main sail or the boom flip to the other side. Brad shared with me later that we didn't have enough power to get fully across the wind. So now the tug boat and the ship were on a direct collision course...

    Captain Brad continues:

    "The seas were so big that the sun was able to penetrate through them at an angle usually unwarranted for this part of the Pacific. The result was that the waves began to take on a slight hue of green and white. These are known as the infamous green water waves that legends and disaster are frequently made of. I was confident that things could not get any worst, when Albie began to yell something in a loud voice trying not to be drowned out by the gale force wind. Even though I was literally right next to him, all I could make out were the words “Ship” and then something about “run us over”. Instead of asking him to yell louder, all I had to do is look up in the direction he was pointing. Barreling down on us from the North was a 500 ton Foster tug with a massive steel barge in tow. We just could not imagine anyone else being caught out here in this nasty storm. What was even more unbelievable was the fact that the vessel was unmistakably what in nautical terminology is known as CBDR or constant bearing, diminishing range. In laymen’s terminology, on a collision course with us! Unfortunately, not only were we crossing within the freighter zone for commercial traffic, but even if we weren’t, a vessel restricted in her ability to maneuver has supremacy even over a sailboat according to the International rules of the road, otherwise known as COLREGS. In other words, time to get out of the way, and quickly! On Albie's command we initiated the procedures to tack. There was only one problem. The boat was not responding to the tiller. NOOOOOO! Not now! But refuse it did. The steel ship was getting a lot closer by now. I’m sure the Master of the tug had tried to hail us on channel 16 VHF, but we decided to leave it off so the batteries would not be depleted in case of an emergency. I was actually glad we didn’t turn the transceiver on, because odds are we probably would have heard a lot of obscenities from the Tug Boat Captain by now. We were barely able to maintain steerageway as we clawed our way towards home, but did not have enough forward momentum to bring her about (to tack). We could have adjusted our sail and our course to accelerate, and then attempt to tack again, but there was no longer time to even think about that option. Things were getting very close now. Unfortunately, ships don’t have antilock disk braking systems, like a Ferrari convertible. In fact sometimes it may take a ship of that size over a mile to come to a stop. With a big barge behind there was not much recourse for the tugboat but to just run us over, and literally keep going. As the feeling of despair became more eminent, we again looked towards his vessel. He was trying to take evasive action by dramatically changing course so as to go behind us. “I hope he has enough room” I was thinking. Our only other option was to jibe, but I was certain that an attempt to do so would rent our mainsail to shreds, or cause serious damage to the standing rigging, which was already hanging on by a thread. --- After this close call, I suggested that Abie take a break, so that in case the worst was not over, he could regain some of his strength. As for myself, I was feeling chipper enough, but knew that I was not going to last forever under these circumstances. It was such a relief to know that I had Albie to relieve me when I couldn’t take it anymore. I am quite sure it would have been far more terrifying to be alone and even further out to sea like many single handers that have sailed around the globe alone.

    Check Next week for the continuation of the story!

    Thanks for your comments!

    Sunday, July 29, 2012

    Catalina Gale Part IV: Monstrous Waves!

    Captain Brad continues:

         At the crack of dawn we got on the cell phone right away to call the guys. “Hello? Yea, you all need to take the tent down immediately, and …..What’s that!?“ To our shock, not only were they awake, but they had already broken camp. Furthermore they had also hiked with all their gear into town, and were in fact in the proximity of the pier. They were waiting for us! Man, the Navy S.E.A.L.’s could definitely use these guys. We got everyone on board, and ate an improvised breakfast (this would unfortunately not be the last time we would see our food as we quickly gulped it down), so as to gain an immediate departure. We checked the weather one last time for good measure. This time it was predicted for breaking seas, and very high winds. But not until the evening. We could already see the tops of the palm trees moving from the wind as it attempted to blast through the narrow isthmus, but it was otherwise a beautiful sunny day for all we could tell. For good measure, we lashed everything down, and set up a jack line to snap into, incase we should have to leave the safety of the cockpit. We also reefed down (tie it down so it is smaller) the mainsail, so as to prevent the boom from injuring someone, assuming it would be inevitable to do so latter anyways judging from the increasing wind.

     Even with the shortened sail, we made surprising good speed as we zipped out into blue water. The truth is that I hardly got any sleep during the night, even though I had felt exhausted. It was starting to catch up to me.  I told Albie that I was going to lie down for a few hours, so that I would be rested incase things got worse latter. As it turns out, later was not far away. I was just about to drift off to sleep when I could feel the bow of the boat being jolted with increased violence. I could overhear Albie telling Max that the boat was refusing to stay on our course. I climbed out into the cockpit, and was interested to see that the surface of the ocean was covered by whitecaps. The wind was strong enough that with our jib sail still up, it was impeding the bow of the boat from heading up. I put on my upper body harness, and clipped into the jack line before leaving the safety of the cockpit.  I began to make my way forward but was immediately forced onto my hands and knees, in order to keep from being thrown overboard. With some difficulty, I was able to pull down the fors’l (for-sail), and lash it off to the lifeline. This being accomplished, the little ship was now capable of heading up a little further into the wind, which allowed us to get back on course. Unfortunately, during the brief time that I was on the foredeck, the pounding of the bow in to the weather began to have its effect. It was not long at all, as I was hanging on with both arms and legs to the stanchions, seasickness began to overcome me. The wind was powerful enough that even with the jib down, the boat was heeled (leaning) over a good 25 degrees. I remembered the words “One hand for the ship” meaning that at all times you are supposed to hang on to the boat no matter what else you are doing. And hang on I did. As I yakked over the windward side of the vessel, the chunks flew straight back towards Albie, who was at the helm, carefully keeping the boat on a close reach. If the boat fell off the wind at this time, I would easily get thrown overboard, and harness or not, it would no doubt result in injury. I thought some of the vomit had hit Albie, but with so much spray and wind it was hard to say for sure. My Son Brad was out in the cockpit for quite a while, but only Albie and I had upper body harnesses rigged up. Twice we felt the boat toss and lurch so hard that we both looked over apprehensively at Brad who seemed relaxed and calm despite the building madness, as he was resting on the starboard side. If the boat were to capsize suddenly, he would be thrown into the drink, no question, and the vessel was starting to respond as if she might do just that. We suggested that he retreat into the safety of the cabin, which he obediently did. Well, this was certainly not a good start to our return voyage.

    I kept looking back earnestly at Catalina wondering if we should not turn back. However, by now we could not find any shelter on this side of the island, and besides, we were already at least a quarter of the way across the channel.  I was disconcerted that the swells began to get steeper, and the frequency (how often the waves would hit us) was also increasing. I just kept vomiting as the weather worsened, and began to feel my energy draining, despite the adrenaline and exhilaration of the wind and the building seas. The little boat began to really get pounded from the steepness of the seas. It was as if we were driving into literal solid walls of water. And it was relentless. Most people can never appreciate the power of the substance otherwise known as H2O. --- While being a liquid, seawater actually weighs in excess of 8 lbs. per gallon, or 64 lbs. per cubic foot. That is of course when it is stationary. When it is being driven by the wind, its power and weight becomes exponential. Then add on to that the force of it breaking down on top of you as it swirls and collapses upon its self, well you really don’t want to be in its way at this point. But of course it was too late to choose to be safe and dry at home watching TV.

         As the vessel fought to climb over these ever increasing mountains, we could all feel the entire hull shudder from the violence. Upon the pounding of each consecutive wave, the fiberglass would literally bend and twist under the great pressure. My concern was mounting as my thoughts began to consider the gravity of the situation we were in. Just how much punishment could this little ship take anyways? Certainly not much more. What would we do if she began to break apart?! I did not want to even consider that possibility. Of course that’s when I did what any logical person would do.  Pray. “Lord, please don’t let the mainsail give out. Just help us get these young men back safely.” I began to feel this huge burden of responsibility for the safety of these young lads, especially since their Moms had entrusted us with their well being. To our amazement the waves just kept getting bigger and bigger, and BIGGER. It became ever more urgent to steer the sailboat with the uttermost skill and accuracy. The seas were starting to get confused (like a washing machine). If the helmsman misjudges even a single wave, it could be all over in less than a second. When the waves get that big proportionately to the vessel, it becomes necessary to pick the exact course of the sailboat as it weaves in between the breaking whitecaps. It’s like playing the video game Pac-man, where little goblins are trying to devour you, and all you have to do to avoid “game over” is to out-maneuver them. At the last minute some of the waves would be bigger than anticipated, and rouge waves were coming upon us from our quarter as well, just within the peripheral vision, and sometimes looming over us seemingly out of nowhere. This was just a little too intense. ONE mistake, and I mean only ONE, and the boat would be thrown sideways (known as broaching*). That is a guarantee to be knocked down (on to your side), and possibly rolled over and over, while taking on water, and most likely resulting in the mast snapping off. And of course that would be getting off easy. The balance is to maintain enough SOG (speed over ground) to be able to get over the top of the crests of the mountains of water, but too much speed and it subjects the boat to pressures beyond its ability to withstand. The result is that it can and will break to pieces.  Speed is obtained as you surf the boat down the back side of the wave. Unless the vessel is turned gracefully at the exact moment it is arriving into the bottom of the trough, the bow will dig into the oncoming face of the next wave, resulting in what is known as pitch poling. This is an even more horrific scenario, where the boat literally attempts a somersault (usually not successfully). The boat comes to a screeching halt, and is then propelled backwards, jamming the rudder off to one side, or snapping it off altogether. Then you go sideways, and …..yes you guessed it….refer to the previous paragraph pertaining to broaching*.    

    As Albie and I took turns at the helm battling against the unmerciful conditions, we were both awestruck at the sheer monstrosity of these waves. In-between waves, when free falling down into the trough, we would literally be obscured from everything around us, including the wind. It would seem for just a brief moment a repose from the elements, almost serene you could say (that is besides the gargantuan foaming waves all around us). When cresting over the top of the swells, the wind would suddenly unleash on us with a scream consisting of white salty foam being sprayed into our eyeballs at an estimated 50 of so miles per hour. The mainsail and mast were straining under a ridiculous amount of force."

    Captain Albie: " That about says it all! I just couldn't believe I was seeing twenty foot waves out here only coming back from Catalina! I had heard of waves this big, but to see them in real life was just amazing and scary at the same time. You would not believe how much fear was building up in me. I couldn't even see getting home safely anymore. That just seemed like a dream to good to be true. After talking to God at this point, I felt this unbelievable peace and knew I was in His arms. I must say one last thing. Even though I was feeling SO sick, I remained on deck to help Brad in any way I could. Looking out at the ocean,it was terrifyingly
    beautiful - if that makes sense!
    I will leave it at that. But stay tuned for part V! If you haven't signed up your email to stay connected to the blog-sight - do so! That way you will be the first to know when the next section comes out and can finish reading the story!

    P:S Thanks for your comments!!

    Thursday, July 19, 2012

    Catalina Gale - Part III Ignorance of the Sea.

    After having sailed all night and arriving at Catalina in the morning, we docked and let the three teenagers, Braddock, Matt and Louie off to find a camping spot.

    Brad continues:
    "But they were denied with the explanation that only an adult could make the reservations. In the meantime Captain Albie and I were busy getting our boat “Canta Libre” settled in for the night on her hook (anchor). We made our way onto the beach using a system of lines to comically pull ourselves back and forth from the sailboat to the beach in a little toy inflatable that as it turns out would barely - and I do mean barely - float under our weight. We would have to refill it with lung fulls of air after each short embarkation since as it turns out; it also had a very significant leak. While we did not seem to have avoided getting soaked in the process, we were fairly successful in getting the sleeping bags and other camping essentials onto the shore in relatively dry condition. At last we had made landfall. Now our greatest concern was that the weather forecast had taken a turn dramatically for the worst. The following is the entry of the Captains log accordingly: "It was now predicted for gale force winds the following day with 20 foot seas."

    We walked into town to talk with the Harbor Master, as well as some of the more knowledgeable locals to find out what they advised under these circumstances, being intimately familiar with the Isthmus. They informed us that because of the direction of the intended wind, Two Harbors would be converted into a lee shore, meaning that if we stayed where we were, we were likely to experience 10 foot breaking waves which they believed would undoubtedly throw the sailboat on to the rocks no matter how well we were anchored. If they were trying to scare us, it worked. They further informed us that the only safe option was to sail all the way around the West end of the island to Catalina (“Cat”) Harbor. We did the calculations, and deemed it about the same distance to just sailing home instead. The only problem is that we had just got there, and were too tired to just pack everything up and leave. When I spoke to my wife on the cell phone she wisely commented that if the storm was going to kick in, it was not a good idea to attempt a crossing at night, since it was far more dangerous if someone fell overboard in the dark. Besides it was such a beautiful evening, it was difficult to be worried about such things for the present. Since the young men were not allowed to pay for a reservation, we were all going to sleep on the boat, but I decided to at least try to speak with the people in charge of the campgrounds. They were kind enough to hint that even though their offices were closed, and therefore could not accept money for reserving a campground, that in lew of the approaching storm, we were welcome to go ahead and set up camp anyways for safety sake. How awesome is that! There are still some decent people on this earth when it comes right down to it. We spent the remainder of the evening hiking around and then set up camp on the side of a hill overlooking the harbor and Albie's little ship. We were in a wonderful mood, despite the uneasiness of what might follow in the wee hours of the morning. The one peculiar thing that I remember from that evening was a group in an adjacent campground trying to light their camp fire with gasoline. However, the fuel would consume itself, and the fire kept going out. This caused them to take action by pouring even more fuel onto the now simmering coals. To their amazement (but not to ours as we watched) there was suddenly a huge ball of flame - gasoline having a flashpoint of -40degrees Fahrenheit - and as everyone ran around trying to put out the miniature, but growing forest fire, the gas can itself began to engulf itself in flames. We couldn’t help but be entertained and bewildered at the same time as everyone in their group began to attempt to extinguish the fire with bottles of what appeared to be Evian drinking water - which was causing the gasoline to splatter, and to spread even further. I had just recently completed an advanced fire fighting training course at the Navy Base in San Diego for fires on board ships, and tried to advise the group that water was not always a good idea when extinguishing a type B fire. To our surprise, they not only rejected our advice, but were visibly upset that we weren’t minding our own business. We ended up making our own campfire, as well as some exquisite hot chocolate while we gazed off towards the horizon at the distant glow of greater Los Angeles where over 12 million souls were either asleep, or no doubt too busy to stare back. We were in a different world out here on our little rock, so peaceful and serene, without a single worry. That is what we thought anyway, but as we continued gazing up at the stars and the clear night sky, we noticed a particularly dark mass of clouds meandering across our view. It seemed just moments before the stars were devoured by this ominous presence, until everything was pitch black. Even the lights of L.A. were extinguished. This did not look good at all. No Sir! Albie and I began to discuss some of the options in case the storm hit us during the night, which looked likely. We decided to move the boat over to a mooring ball as close to the protected side of the isthmus that we could maneuver into. We explained to Braddock, Matt and Louie that it was paramount for them to monitor their cell phones in case we had to leave in a big hurry, rather than be trapped in the harbor by huge breaking seas. As I squirmed my way into the quarter birth (sleeping space), I found that I could barely fit. I had no room to turn on to my side, or to even take a deep breath for that matter. Definitely not for the Closter phobic.  Not to worry, as I heard the rain begin to pitter patter down on the cabin top of the boat, I was just extremely glad to be warm and dry. AAAAh! Good night everyone.

    Captain Albie continues:

    "Yes, it was a good sleep. Having little sleep from the night before, crossing over to the island, I was very tired and slept soundly. In rethinking it all though, I wonder why I let Brad sleep in the quarter-birth? The main birth would have been much better. I only had to drop the chart table and put out the cushion that goes across it and Brad would have been much more comfortable! But all this is in hindsight. Also I don't remember the weather report indicating 20 foot waves for late sunday night. I do remember hearing 40 knot winds. But after hearing these reports often and having been out in seas that were supposedly reported to have 40 knot winds, I didn't take it too seriously. I expected some five or so foot waves but could not imagine it could get much worse than that. But this was my ignorance of the sea! I may have sailed in areas where up to 40 knot winds were PREDICTED, but to actually sail where 40 knots winds WAS - is entirely different!


    Thanks for your comments!!!

    Sunday, July 1, 2012

    Catalina Gale - Part II, Darkness, Increasing Winds & Then Dolphins! No Signs of A Big Gale Coming...

         We finally cleared the breakwater wall and got on our rhum line (straightest possible line of travel) towards the isthmus, bucking gently into the swells on a close reach. The further you get out, the darker it gets and you begin to wonder if you were sane to decide to go out to Catalina at night. The Shipping Lane was coming up too - as if I needed the extra worry about being hit by a big ship in the dark!

    As we got further out toward Catalina that night, the wind came up and we bucked through bigger waves and stronger winds. It was a lonely watch at 3 am in the morning while everyone was asleep and you're out there by yourself watching the dark seas and white caps breaking on the waves. I had the luxury of taking a couple hour nap earlier in the evening. Still, early in the morning one feels very sleepy but the seas at this time of night - approaching Catalina - were worth watching. But everyone was sleeping down on the v-berth or cabin berths as I moved the tiller to starboard and then to port a bit as each wave tried to knock us slightly off course.

    Captain Brad continues the story:
    "Our heading was 170 degrees magnetic. It is important to distinguish between magnetic and true headings, since there is about 14 degrees of variation (difference between true and magnetic) in this part of the world. This phenomena being the result of unknown influences or disturbances on the earth's magnetic field. Deviation is another type of error that can have a devastating effect on a ships compass as well, but usually results from metallic objects on the boat itself, that throw the compass off. This could be something as simple as a set of binoculars or a tool set down in close proximity of the compass, to an even stranger situation with ships that are made of steel. While the vessel is being built in the ship yard, if it is sitting in a position from east to west, it will actually become magnetized accordingly, and will always remain that way no matter which way it is facing while on the ocean. These are some of the many things that a prudent mariner must familiarize himself with not to find himself drastically off coarse. One degree off on the compass can be the difference between arriving home safely, and ending up on a reef in the fog. But enough about the technical stuff.

     Needless to say it was the ultimate night for sailing, and it was a great chance for us to clear out thoughts of those things left behind, as the land became more and more distant, and the millions of stars, normally obliterated by the prevailing city lights all of a sudden began to portray themselves in all of their magnificence. Wow!

    After some time elapsed, we began to take watches (turns). I can easily remember some of my most profound nights of rest being out on the ocean with the fresh air and the gentle lulling of the sea, rocking me into the most blissful R.E.M. imaginable, but this night it was a little different. With all the excitement of the adventure, it was hard to sleep too soundly for fear of missing anything. Soon this turned out to be the case at dawns early light, when the damp grey darkness began to reveal both earth and sky with prevailing hues of golden colors, which then in turn quickly transformed to shades of green and blue. Now I understand what must have inspired poet Robert Frost when he wrote one of his well known thoughts:

    Natures first green is gold, her hardest hue to hold
    Her early leafs a flower, but only so an hour.
    As leaf subsides to leaf, so Eden sank to grief.
    So dawn goes down to day, nothing gold can stay

     I can’t be sure, but I believe that Frost was trying to help us realize that there are certain moments in life that God grants us that are just incredible, but that they rarely last for long, and it is sooo important to appreciate them while there is still time.  That’s how I was feeling sailing upon the Pacific Ocean with my son, his friends Matt, Louie, and my good friend Albie, who I consider like a brother.

         Just when I thought things couldn’t get better with such a sunrise as that, we began to see and hear dolphins playing in the wake of the boat. As the day continued to materialize, we began to witness more and more of them, until it became literally impossible to count them anymore! They seemed to have great interest in us as they would take turns darting over to jump and splash all around us. We saw a particularly thick pod of them feeding in a team effort upon a giant ball of smelt (fish) which were literally boiling on the surface. The scene was complimented by squadrons of sea gulls and pelicans dive bombing on to the bait fish, pushed up so close to the surface and to their advantage by the attacking dolphins below. We called all hands on deck to see the spectacle. Braddock and Max took it upon themselves to jump into the freezing cold water to interact with the Dolphins first hand! They told us later that they could literally hear the high pitched communications from the dolphins as they darted back and forth in immediate proximity to both of them. From our vantage point in the cockpit of the boat, we could see they were literally surrounded by the porpoises the whole time with Catalina as the backdrop. The island was definitely beckoning us by now and after retrieving the lads from the icy water, we continued towards the green isle, past ship rock, and into the sheltered waters of Two Harbors. We briefly tied up to the pier, while the three amigos ran up past the harbor masters office to secure a camping spot, just before the place closed."

    Next week, come back to check out Catalina Gale - Part III. Thanks also for your comments!

    Columbia 22, 1969

    Sunday, June 17, 2012

    Catalina Gale - Part I, First Mistake.

    "It was in fact, a week or two - perhaps even a month after the horrific storm - that this lesson dawned on me. But its REALLY important and not one of those lessons you ever forget!!" ~Albie

    Captain Brad begins our tale: "It all started more or less when my cell phone rang the other day. Rrrrring! Kinda like that, except right in the middle of something important. Not good timing, but what is this....the caller I.D. displaying the words “Son”. Oh, cool! A call from Braddock no less. “Hey Son.....What’s that? Did I remember that I promised to take you and some friends to Catalina for spring break..... Uhhhhh, oh yeah. I mean....of course not!”          As soon as I got off the phone the thought occurred to me: “No problema”. Since I live on a sailboat, all I had to do is get everyone on board by Friday, undo the dock lines, and start heading the vessel west, by south west, right? Of coarse there’s the small consideration that the engine needs to be fixed. Oh yeah, and the other small non-sequitorial factor that the rudder (for steering the ship) is not working either. And then there’s the minor issue that my wife Brigitte completely vetoed the whole idea, since she didn’t want our home to be missing for a few days, as she legitimately had a bunch of commitments going on that she could not change at the last minute, and unlike me, actually remembered that she had them. Then there’s the.... okay, I suppose you get the idea. 
         That is where things got seemingly really complicated. I mean a man does not ever go back on his word, right!? After all, that’s part of what makes us real men is our integrity with others, not to mention before God Almighty. But then again, I did forget to look at my calendar, and I’m sure my Son will understand. I better call him back with the bad news......wait a minute.....what am I saying, I can’t possibly let those guys down! What was I thinking (actually I guess technically, now you know what I was thinking).      But what else could I do.  And that’s when the thought occurred to me to call “Captain Albie”. If only I could convince my friend to drop everything and allow us to use his sailboat for a voyage across the channel at such last notice. That was this weekend! A brief phone call latter, and suddenly I felt the warm fuzzies all over. Not only did Albie not blackmail me (which he could have easily done at this juncture) but instead said that he was himself wanting to go to Catalina, and only needed such an excuse to go, such as my phone call for example.“Yeah!”

          Well, there was certainly no time to waste. A lot of preparations needed to be done. More than the average Land lubber (lover) could ever imagine. We had to fix the outboard engine on the sailboat, make sure that it was running perfect for the expedition. Inspect and tune the rigging to minimise the chance of a de-masting (the mast falling off), scrub the bottom of the boat. Get the provisions, get extra fuel. Gather the correct paper charts. Do all the calculations for the navigation. Go over all the emergency gear like the flares and radios and extinguishers. Get extra type II life jackets for all personnel, and that was just the beginning of the list. And that’s about the time I decided to check the weather. Not tooooo bad, but it was forecast for a chance of rain late on Sunday. I called Captain Albie to notify him of this issue, and to see if he might want to postpone the trip for a sunnier weekend. Come to find out, he had made some really HUGE sacrifices to be able to take us at the last minute, and would definitely not be able to go the following weekend. I spoke to Braddock who in turn inquired with his friends Max and Louie. They all conveyed unanimously that a little rain was not reason at all to postpone an expedition.  Well, that was that!
           It was starting to get fairly late by the time we had all convened at Marina Del Rey Harbor. We stowed all of our individual gear as best we could on to the trusty Columbia 22 foot sail boat. ”Canta Libre” was her name (which means to “Sing Free” in Spanish). Then after some last minute arrangements we again checked the weather broadcast from a repeater tower on Mount Wilson (with no significant change from before).    

    It was finally time to set the little ship free of her birth as we began to motor out towards the open ocean. In typical fashion, our schedule suddenly changed when the engine began to sputter, and then stopped all together. It started back up a couple of times, but was definitely being un-cooperative. Ironically, the little outboard had been nothing but both faithful and reliable up to this point, so it seemed inappropriate to be too upset about this small misfortune.
                  We had to decide if we should break out the tools and begin to fix the auxiliary while drifting, or to turn back to the slip to make repairs, and then of course there was option number three….. We were on a sailboat after all!  With the catabatic winds beginning to subside, we knew some offshore breezes were waiting for us not too far away out on the open ocean. After all, didn’t folks sail to the far ends of the earth without an engine for thousands of years? And so would we by least the 30 or so nautical miles to Catalina anyway's, God willing! As we were tacking out of the last hundred yards or so of Del Rey (“The King” in Spanish), little did we know that the true King of Kings and Lord of Lords was about to gift us with some of the most spectacular dolphin interaction just a few short hours later, but then again, I shouldn’t get ahead of the story, now should I.
          We finally cleared the breakwater wall and got on our rhum line (straightest possible line of travel) towards the isthmus, bucking gently into the swells on a close reach..." ~Captain Brad

    ~Captain Albie: Did you notice a few things that we did right? Yes, we packed all the right things and we were careful to check the weather. Now comes the question...did you notice what we did wrong (and didn't mention)?

    Well, in attempting to do the right thing we even checked the marine forecast before leaving. But what we didn't mention and what we did wrong was that we didn't check the marine outer water weather report! It was in this report that we may have got our first clue of a gale approaching Catalina on Sunday. It was in fact, a week or two - perhaps even a month after the horrific storm that this dawned on me. But its a REAL important lesson and one not ever to forget!!

    So stayed tuned to see Catalina Gale part II next week!

    Thanks for ALL your comments. They are most welcome! :-)

    Saturday, June 9, 2012

    The Winds Ticket Home - Another Story of Sailing Without an Engine.

    "If I was lucky, I would just have enough time to make it back to my slip before the wind died completely at 11pm. From experience I knew that the wind that was currently blowing was my ticket home."

    This evening I went out with a good wind off the starboard bow. Of course, since I don't have an engine, I did a lot of tacking out of the basin. The wind was pretty constant and full of energy and its pretty hard to imagine such a good wind begin to fail. Which is why I had high hopes to get out to sea this evening. On one tack, I passed an interesting boat called 'The Star'. I suddenly realised that I really liked the word 'star' and that if I was going to name a boat, I would call it something with 'star' in it. Perhaps 'Northern Star' for instance! Anyway, soon the sun had set and the evening sky became dark. Usually after sunset the wind can become sporadic and die down. But tonight the wind increased instead! Which really made the sailing nice and it was very pleasant to fly along the waters edge at a good clip and watch the lights glow as they were mirrored off the wavy dark glass like surface of the water. For an hour I tacked up and down the channel toward the sea until I finally come close. And then I noticed the strength of the wind decreasing slightly. Its not like the wind makes it all that obvious either. Its just little subtle things like the sail luffing suddenly for no apparent reason, or it just feels like the boat is going slower. Tonight my clue was the surface of the water. I noticed that there were calm patches on its face instead of the constant wind blown effect it had all evening long. Yes, the wind still be could be seen on the water, but more like a 'river' as it blew down through one area on the northern side of the channel. So I thought: 'Oh, this will just pass, and the wind will come out again.' This is what I was really hoping! But then I realised it was after 9:30pm and this was the winds first time to calm. If I was lucky, I would just have enough time to make it back to my slip before the wind died completely at 11pm. From experience I knew that the wind that was currently blowing was my ticket home. So I forced myself to listen to reason and come about. After all, if I went out to sea and I was wrong, it would be hours before the little puffs of wind would bring me back in. Getting back in my slip at 2am was not exactly all that appealing of a risk. So with sails now flying out in front of the boat on a run, I cruised back through the marina. After about fifteen minutes, the wind came back out like it had been before and I was happy with the speed the boat and I were going. Having to make a little diversion so that I could make sure I got my four hours in for my captains licence, I then sailed down my basin to my slip. As I turned the corner to enter, the wind died for the night! I guess that was perfect timing. I had really cashed in my ticket for a ride home at just the right time this evening and it was all because of those little clues and the knowledge of the winds general behaviour at this season of the year.

    Any questions? Feel free to email me at

    Thanks for your comments!!

    Monday, May 28, 2012

    Wait a Second, Am I Sailing to Hawaii?

    Visions of sailing across huge expanses of sea, seeing cloud formations form over days and weeks and of course feeling that amazing feeling of seeing an island slowly develop on the horizon are reasons why the dream stays alive. Some things are worth the pain attached to them. Let me explain:

    Today, when I left my boat slip, the wind was blowing perfectly - not too hard to make me reef down the sails for a gale but just fast enough to make us sail fast. The wind and air is usually cool enough to get me wearing a windbreaker but today the wind was warm and I only put my cap on. The air felt comfortable and it was beautiful sailing across the wind blown water. The sails pulled the boat gently on its side and we sat on the seats on the high side and switched every time we tacked the boat in the other direction. We were now on a close reach, and passed the Coast Guard Ship and the blood red triangular flag was blowing indicating a Small Craft Advisory. But even though there were quite a few gusts that came blowing through, I was fairly sure the worst had hit last night. The evening before the boat had been shaking with the howling wind and I wasn't even at sea! I mean the boat had only been tied to the dock and was still rocking. Predictions were from 25 - 35 knot winds and five to seven foot waves at sea. You know this is not the end of the world and squares up to be just a light gale. But be that as it may, sure enough, this early afternoon, four to five foot waves met us out at sea. Dotted here and there all over the water were breaking white caps. The sun was shining bright and the ocean reflected its glory. The sea was this amazing deep aqua green, clear and bright with the sun rays glowing over it. Over its top, the sea was decorated with cascading white caps and further out the sea were shades of darker blue. It was so beautiful, it reminded me of Florida - on the Caribbean side.

    We headed north toward Santa Monica Pier. The waves were big, bumpy and fun. The wind was strong and we were healed over quite a bit. I jumped up on the cabin top and carefully made my way to the bow. I wanted to sit up there on the bow pulpit and watch the waves go by. They would be fairly interesting seeing them close up - especially as they were five footers. I was even looking forward to the occasional spray! But I could not stay there for long. No matter what I did I could not get the boat to balance out like I usually do. I usually am able to get the boat to stay on course by itself by loosely tying down the tiller when on a close reach. But the sudden gusts and increased speeds of wind made this very difficult. So I had to give up sitting at the bow and come back and manually take the tiller.

    In a while we had reached the Pier and came about. We headed back to Marina Del Rey with the sails out on a beam reach. The sails were now out half way and it was exciting to see them catch the wind. The waves hit the boat broadsides as we passed through the troughs. Suddenly far out over the sea, I could see beautiful cumulous clouds that looked like they had broken up. They looked like cotton candy or loaves of white bread out on the distant horizon. And with the amazing Caribbean like tone on the water, for a second I felt like I was in a different place sailing across the Pacific with my heading for Hawaii!

    The image is imprinted on my mind. I guess deep down I would like to really make that voyage and the vision of it found a way to remind me. My friend asked if it was possible for me to sail my boat to Hawaii. I seem to get this question often and my answer has always been that I believe my
    Columbia 22 is capable of the trip but that if I did decide to do that, I would want to replace all the shrouds, turnbuckles and stays with super strong new ones. But, though this is true, I honestly am still deciding whether I want a different boat or use the one I have for such a trip - if and when such a trip is to happen. I guess this is one of the reasons why I want to get my captains license - beyond monetary reasons. I really favor the experience I have to go through to get my license. Its been my dream for a long time to sail across an ocean and see new places and explore the world. Visions of sailing across huge expanses of sea, seeing cloud formations form over days and weeks and of course feeling that amazing feeling of seeing an island slowly develop on the horizon are reasons why the dream stays alive.

    But over time big doses of reality have presented themselves to me about this dream. And although the beautiful images of the dream still grab me, the scary aspects still give me the creeps! I mean living a life often filled with damp and cold and storms that crash and lash out for days on end are things that are okay to read about but entirely different to experience in real life. And I guess, having sailed through a huge storm in real life a few years ago left some lasting impressions on me. The sea can be this amazing place even when angry. Its like nothing you've ever seen before. But it can scare you to death - very literally. And make you throw up over and over again like you never have in all your life.

    Ok, so now that we're on the subject of sea sickness for a brief moment and how this relates to sailing to Hawaii, let me share a little with you: When I first started sailing in the mid 1990's - I'll be honest - I got sick at sea fairly easily. It only took me being an hour out for me to start feeling queasy. And sail me over to Catalina island and I would have to go down in the cabin and sleep or else I was going to throw up. But now after having sailed so long and regularly each week, I generally don't feel sick most of the time. I still do believe there is a threshold my body can stand before I start feeling seasick again. in the last few years it used to be that I started feeling queasy again when I went out at sea for longer than I usually did (after four hours) or got in waves bigger than five foot. This used to be a trigger for me and I remember pressing it whenever I went for a longer sail or went out in a gale. But it seems that I have broken through this threshold as now I can be out for an extended period of time in ten foot seas and quite enjoy myself!
    However, even now, make me do work down below for half an hour where my eyes can't follow the ocean waves and its over for me! I think I found out my tolerance level for work below decks while I was out sailing for hours in the fog. Not being able to see anything except the outside of my cabin and eventually I got dizzy and disoriented. I think this is the same thing that happens when you work on a boat and feel the waves but can't see what's going on. Perhaps I stretched my tolerance level, on my last two trips in the fog - but I can tell you it was not fun and I haven't even explained the dangers of sailing in fog! So getting back to sailing to Hawaii. One big reason you have to watch out for sea sickness is because when you start feeling this way, you begin to get despondent and simply start not caring what happens to you. You feel so sick and horrible - what could be worse! I mean, here I was with twenty foot waves creeping up on me from the stern and I only needed to get a rogue wave or one coming from a different direction to capsize us - or at least wreak havok upon us and because of my sea sickness, I couldn't seem to care enough to even glance back and check. I was just holding on to the tiller for all I was worth just doing what I knew I could do - steer. And that's all I could do. After ten hours my energy had all been zapped, my face was flushed and I was trying to just throw up over the side again and get it over with! So that's exactly what I'm talking about. With that to look forward to, its a little bit of a dream killer! But as I looked out to sea this afternoon and took in the scenery, breathing in the windy air, I could feel fresh fire on the vision of sailing to Hawaii. And I guess for this reason it will never die. Some things are worth the pain attached to them!


    PS: Your comments are most welcome - thanks!

    Sunday, May 13, 2012

    The Boat Engine that Failed and the Sails that Said: 'I Think I Can, I Think I Can!"

    ~Sailing without an engine - sometimes you win, sometimes you lose but what I learned saved my life!

    One weekend we sailed over to Catalina island. After some hiking and camping the first night, my friend and his son wanted to do some scuba diving the next day. It was a little windy and cloudy that day with four foot waves off shore. We anchored in a hundred feet near a natural reef. My friends went over the side and I decided to get my bearings. Finding three things that wouldn't move, I then could see if the anchor was holding or not. While I sat watching, I then had an idea to get the jib sail ready (as we had motored out to the anchor spot). This was instinct as I trusted my sails more than an engine and wanted a plan B in case anything happened. After watching for fifteen minutes to see if the boat moved and being convinced the anchor was holding, I went down below to take a few minutes nap. About fifteen minutes later, I woke up and saw one of my friends back from his dive. My other friend was still out diving when I then decided to take a scan of my three bearings. Two of them seemed fine but the third was off - way off. This gave me some alarm and I looked at the boat and my surroundings trying to see exactly what was happening. Everything seemed to be fine except that one bearing. In fact, the longer I looked at it, the more I realized the boat was getting closer and closer to it every second. Suddenly it hit me: this was not just an optical illusion and we were moving closer to shore and fast! Something had to be done and quick.

    "Brad - the anchors dragging!" I yelled running back to the stern. Quickly I fired up the engine and kicked it into high gear. I was hoping to counter the drag on the boat. I then encouraged Brad Jr. to haul up the anchor. But after attempting to, it was caught on something and would not pull up. So I let Brad take the engine, while I tried, but I was no more successful than he. We were still losing ground and I was beginning to worry. No matter how hard I revved the engine, I could not seem to break the anchors hold on whatever it had snagged on and if this wasn't bad enough, I couldn't seem to stop the drifting closer and closer to shore. It made no sense to me. If the anchor had snagged than why were we moving? Or maybe it was caught with kelp all over it and was too heavy to haul in? This last scenario seemed to hit more on the truth than anything else. I wished more than anything that my friend was back from his dive and here now as he was a better sailor than I and would know what to do next. But he wasn't and something needed to happen now! The engine was on high churning the waters behind us - yet the situation was not getting any better. Suddenly it got worse as the engine died and no matter what I did I could not restart it again. Did it run out of gas? No. More choke? No. Less Choke. No. Choke in? Nothing worked. As Brad Jr and I watched the shoreline, we coud see the ugly rocks approaching fast. In five minutes or less we would be swept by the waves right up onto those rocks.

    "Call for help!" I yelled to Brad Jr. "Its channel 16!"

    I had one more idea but I needed to have Brad call just in case my idea didn't work. Quickly he got on the radio and dialed in the Harbor Master. Meanwhile, I got out my knife and went up on the bow and pulled the anchor one last time with all my might. It was like a huge boulder was attached to the other end! Then I cut the anchor. At last we were free from its clutches. But now no power - except for the sails. I had less than a minute to get them up and thankfully I had made them ready to unfurl. With quivering hands, I pulled up the halyards and with the nasty rocks looking me in the face , we suddenly pulled out of there and took off to sea on a good breeze. The Harbor Master zipped right past me and wouldn't have even known I was the one in trouble! We waved them down anyway - so they wouldn't be more confused and after they came over and asked if we were ok, they offered to bring me in to a mooring ball as the engine had stopped. On the way, we were able to pick up my other diver friend Braddock - who saw the incident from the top of the water and said that when he came back up, the boat was gone! Looking to the left a quarter of a mile, he saw us so close to the rocks that he thought it was over for us for sure!

    So sailing without an engine has its ups and downs - that's for sure. This story was one of my ups - as far as my sails coming to my rescue is concerned, But last week when I got becalmed for two hours in Marina Del Rey till after midnight was one of my downs!

    I know you can see the value of having the sails ready and set in case of an emergency. But really, learning to sail without an engine gives more experience and knowledge than just this. it stretches you to be a much better sailor. The first thing you will learn is how to sail in and out of your slip with sails alone - a very handy thing if ever your engine fails. Besides that - I enjoy it much better. Being aware of the seasonal changes of the wind during the day and night is definitely something worth knowing too. I often see sailboats leaving the harbor with their engines on when a perfectly steady wind is blowing. I'm guessing they just think the wind generally stops blowing after sunset, so they motor out. True, it does generally stop after sunset - for a LITTLE while. Perhaps for half an hour but then it comes back. After this, you have a couple hours of wind before the GREAT CALM happens. In the winter this calm is at 9:00pm and in the summer it's at 11:00pm. So this means that if your not using your engine - make sure you get back before then! After this , the night winds tends to be very sporadic.

    Can you believe, that just today, I saw the most beautiful Benetou sailboat - probably a forty footer - call out the Harbor Patrol for an emergency, when all that happened was that their engine died and they were nearing the shoals. Still with a good five minutes left before touching the shoals, they could have just easily raised the jib or main sail and rode away! Okay, I guess its possible that all the sails were raised through electrical means and that this was down too, but I mean, there had to be some manual override - exactly my point for writing this article! I'm not really against engines. But knowing how to go back to basics when things fail is really my point (whether using an engine or what have you).

    Here are some additional tips when sailing at night. When sailing with or without an engine, always make sure you have navigation lights and a couple flashlights handy, an extra lantern and a fog horn. After escaping being run down by big party boats many times, I'm glad to tell you one of these will help save your life! One night I put out my lantern, flashed my lights, turned the boat so my navigation lights were obvious and the party boat still didn't see me! So I finally blew the fog horn a couple times and that worked! Thank you God!

    Now if the fog horn did not work I could have gone on my VHS radio and hailed the boat on channel 16 and then used my oars to seriously get out of there! I know, yes you would have put on your engine by that time. And that totally makes sense. But if it dies on you, rowing a twenty foot boat and larger is actually possible and will get you somewhere if you're persistent. I mean try it. Get out your oars someday and in a spot where you're not blocking anyone try rowing for ten minutes. The reason I say ten minutes is because rowing can at first seem a really big waste of time. But pick a spot on shore and really watch if you are able to move past it or not. You should be able to go about one mile an hour - which is really slow but you should see the difference in ten minutes. In a real life situation - if you get out your oars soon enough - you should be able to pull away from a possible collision - and at the least turn the boat in a circle so that the oncoming boat sees all your navigation lights and that you are moving and there. Seriously, if your engine ever fails, this exercise could save your life! I'll tell you, one year on a nice evening, the wind started kicking in and gusting and I did what every normal sailor does and took down my sails after getting safely into the harbor. My engine then proceeded to die and for the life of me I couldn't figure out why. So what to do now with the wind gusting twenty knots down the channel and with the inevitable just waiting to happen! I needed to figure something out fast! Well I tried raising my sails, but I couldn't get into the wind like I wanted and with the gusting winds, the mainsail just got stuck. So did the jib. You'll be happy to know that even with the mainsail three quarters up and the jib only up partially, I was able to crawl away from hitting the docked boats and get back to my slip. But it was scary and REALLY stressful! Now from plenty of practice, I know how to sail into my slip even in a storm and using an engine is just one more plus.

    Sunday, April 29, 2012

    Putting Up My Mast - What to and Not to Do!

    "We couldn't hold it any longer as we could feel the heaviness of the mast getting the better of us - and fast! We let it down as best as we could and thankfully Victor was able to lower it with the rope and pulley so it didn't crash. If it hadn't been for the pulley rope it probably would have come down with a bang! As it was, it came down at a 45 degree angle to the bow and the top end of it was sitting on another boat owners dock box."

    Today, I knew I was going to try and raise my new mast. But I only had myself to do the lifting and that mast is 29 feet of heaviness! I mean, It took my friend Danny and I just to lift it from my car to my boat - but to raise it, would be far more difficult. I suddenly thought of my friend Victor who might want to help me and so I called him. Before I knew it, Victor had called his best friend Sean, and now there were three of us! With a little leverage, the three of us might be able to haul the mast up. Once down at the marina, I got to the task of attaching all the shrouds - except the back stay. The 'new' mast had once been attached to a full keel, Columbia 25. That Columbia 25 had looked very similar to a Catalina 25 - with a flat deck and all. Because my deck was not flat and there was a foot higher cabin top to it, I figured I needed to add a foot more to the shroud rigging. The last time I raised my mast, the starboard lower shroud had been too tight and as the mast was being raised, it snapped the shroud as if it wasn't even there! So I thought that giving the shrouds some extra 'breathing room' was a good idea at the time. Also, my mast was four feet bigger than my old 25 foot mast. After having talked to a boat builder, he told me that a mast could be x1.3 the length of my boat. So if my boat was 22 feet than it can be 22 feet + (1/3) of that - which is about seven additional feet. So adding 7 feet to 22 equals 29 and that is the exact size of the mast. Thank you God for helping me get just the right size - for at that time I hadn't a clue! So now my mast will be maximizing the size limit.

    Before raising the mast, I secured the bottom of the mast with heavy rope so that it wouldn't slip and so that it would stay near the mast step. We also needed to raise the boom and secure it on all sides with rope. We would then use the boom for leverage. Passing a long halyard through it from the top of the mast and securing it with a knot at the booms end, we then continued to pull the rope from there and secure it from the boom to the stern. Then taking another halyard from the top of the mast down through an pad eye on the booms end (this time without a knot at the top of the boom) led it to the pulley at the stern of the boat (this halyard we would use to pull the mast up). After this we were then ready. Sean and I would lift the mast up from the mast top end, while Victor - at the other bottom of the mast end - would haul the rope attached to the pulley and make sure the mast went in at the step.The first time we lifted the mast, we got it up a little but it wouldn't go any further and we wondered why. I then realized I had attached a rope to the mast securing it to the bow and had to take that off. Then we got the mast up three quarters of the way and again it wouldn't go any further. This time we realized the back stay was snagged on something and it wasn't free and clear of the port spreaders. So I took it off and unwrapped it and attached it better and then we tried again. I lifted and then Sean went in front of me and lifted and then I went in front of Sean and lifted. Again we got it fairly high (and the boom gave us a lot of leverage) but when the mast got up three quarters, the port and starboard shrouds were not tight enough and the mast began to sway. We couldn't hold it any longer as we could feel the heaviness of the mast getting the better of us - and fast! We let it down as best as we could and thankfully Victor was able to lower it with the rope and pulley so it didn't crash. If it hadn't been for the pulley rope it probably would have come down with a bang! As it was, it came down at a 45 degree angle to the bow and the top end of it was sitting on another boat owners dock box. We then thought that the boom leverage was causing us to fail, so we took it down. Unfortunately without the leverage it provided, the mast seemed to double in weight! And later we realized it wasn't the boom that was causing the problem - it was the extra foot I had added onto the shrouds (they were way to loose). My estimation to add that extra foot to the shrouds seemed to make sense in theory but in real life it somehow was wrong.

    So now the mast (instead of lying straight across the bow) was now lying at a weird angle across the bow. It seemed we were creating enough of a sensation that my friend Sergio came out of his boat to help too. Still we could not bring it all the way up! Sean, Sergio and I lifted again but we were getting tired and only got it up a little ways. My friend Brian, who owns a boat near where we were lifting, came out and decided to help pull the halyard attached to the pulley so that Victor would be free to lift too. One would have thought that with the four of us it would be a piece of cake. But without the boom to create leverage, it was very heavy and we failed again.

    Altogether, we had let down the mast slowly on the halyard three or four times now. My other friend Augustino came out to give us some advice. He wanted me to give it up, paint the mast while it was still down and lift the mast up with the big crane that is at the dock. But I disagreed and said no, as I wasn't willing to give up quite yet, and besides, I didn't have a $100 to afford the crane either. The negativity was beginning to get the better of us, but we gave the mast one more go, with the six of us. This time a miracle - we got it up! Once it was up, we all held the mast in place at the mast step, trying to get it to fit in the step. It was a very tight fit, so we kept having to move it around until it finally dropped in. At this time we also realized that the shrouds were too loose and I quickly tried to get the slack out of the shrouds but it was really hard as I had to use pliers and I was under a lot of pressure to get it done fast. After getting the shrouds tightened a little, Sergio pulled the back stay tight and tied it down so that the mast was now secure. It had been very stressful for all of us holding the mast up and when we were finally able to let it go without the mast potentially falling, we could all take a deep breath again! We were at last victorious and my friends at the dock departed back to their boats.

    My friend Victor, Sean and myself who had come down to get the mast up, now went to a restaurant to get something to eat. After they got some coffee and I some hot chocolate with our meal, Sean and I could barely sit down we were so sore! My whole body ached. The hot drink was nice and I was thankful. We all agreed - we had come an inch from giving up. So that's the story from beginning to end. The only thing I haven't mentioned is how I was able to secure a mast for only $200! That was a feat in itself as new masts are probably more like $2000. My lowest price before finding that really good deal was $500. But asking around at the dock yard where they pull the boats out of the water, gave me a nice lead to a man who buys old boats and cuts them up to sell the parts. But for the amazing price, I had one more cost - that of time. I had to wait a month or so before it was convenient for the man to come down to Marina Del Rey and deliver the mast.

    So in the end, I believe it pays to have faith in yourself that you can achieve more than you think you can, to have faith in God and step out believing He will help you connect all the 'dots' you can't see yet. To watch and see without our biases if God is helping you or warning you, to be positive because negativity will drown your aspirations even before you begin, and to be persistent because without it you will never accomplish hard things.

    ~By Albie
    PS: Thanks for all your comments!

    My new Mast!

    My new Mast!
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    Welcome to Sailing with Albie!

    I made this blog because I wanted to share my adventures at sea with all of you! Some of you may be wishing they had their own boat or just want to 'get away' even if just at home on the web. So each week I decided to write down my feelings while out at sea and share them with you. If you enjoy them, please feel free to come back here weekly and see what's new. Also please share the blog with your friends and with those who you know like sailing!