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Friday, January 22, 2010

Alphabet soup

I promise to write something better than this pretty soon but for now,
this glimpse into the "simple" life of a sailor will have to do.

I got my new VHF radio the other day. The old one still worked but it
didn't have DSC. Plus, New Horizons came out with a new VHF with DSC
and AIS! Now I've been wanting AIS ever since I first heard about
it, so, considering the old VHF was getting a bit long in the tooth,
this seemed like a no-brainer. Well, when I was going through the
installation procedure, imagine my surprise when I discovered that the
VHF would communicate with my GPS via the NMEA protocol so I could see
contacts on my chart plotter. Now all I have to do is contact the FCC
to get my MMSI number, wire the whole shooting match together and I'm
good to go.

For the non-sailors or the KISS sailors out there:
DSC: Digital selective calling. This is used to call a specific boat
on the VHF radio by contacting it directly rather than just sending
out a broadcast and hoping they answer. It also contains info on my
boat so that any distress calls sent out from my radio will contain
information about me, my boat, emergency contact numbers and, once I
tie the two together, my GPS coordinates.
MMSI: Can't remember what the letters stand for but this is basically
the "phone number" of my boat which other folks with DSC would use to
call my boat specifically. This is also the identification number the
Coast Guard would use when a distress signal comes in from our boat.
AIS: Automatic Identification System. This is so cool. Basically,
ships over a certain size are now required to carry AIS transmitters
which send out a signal telling who they are, what direction they're
headed, speed, contact information, etc. Now, instead of wondering
whether or not that big old freighter on the horizon is headed for you
and whether or not he knows you're there, you can see his position,
etc. on your chart plotter. You now know who he is, where he's headed
in relation to you, how fast he's going, whether or not he's going to
hit you and if so, when, and/or how close he'll come if neither of you
change course. Very cool.
GPS: Global positioning system, but you already knew that.
NMEA: A marine electronics industry protocol which allows various
gadgets by different manufacturers to communicate with each other.
FCC: Federal; Communications Commission, but you already knew that, too.

OK, I've killed enough time at the library (Lulu's sewing on the boat
and needed me out of the way). Time to go to the Post Office and the
to the store to get the wire I need to perform the above miracles.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Meanwhile, back in Newport

Been raining like a big dog so far this week. Last Thursday, when I
went to the Aquarium to clean the otters' toys, it was raining
sideways. Didn't waste any time watching the staff feed the pinnipeds
that day. Got the toys cleaned and got back to the boat ASAP.

Yesterday, on a suggestion from our friends Rod & Jennifer Hill, we
went to the Newport Library to see if we could get library cards.
They have a 3-month visitor card that costs $5.00 or, since we are
paying for a slip at the marina and are, therefore, residents, we are
eligible for a regular card. Libraries have changed a lot. Sure they
still have books. But you should see the collection of DVDs they
have. Movies, TV shows, travelogues, how-to videos, etc. They also
have books-on-CD as well as a fair collection of music CDs. So I
guess we'll save our collection of DVDs and books for when we're away
from here and use the Newport Public Library's collection in the
meantime. Ben Franklin had a great idea when he came up with free
libraries. I'm continually amazed that they exist.

A new item in my keeping busy arsenal: tomorrow I'm going to spend the
day at the Aquarium helping to tear down the traveling exhibit (Odd
Water). The animals are being shipped to other aquariums and we'll
soon be stripping the whole exhibit down and rebuilding to house the
new Swamplands exhibit scheduled to open in May. Meanwhile, Lulu
starts her stint of volunteering at the Hatfield Marine Science Center
next week. Not sure how all these crossword puzzles are going to get
done with us running around doing other stuff. Guess we'll just have
to work twice as hard at them. Or not.

We've added a plexiglass insert to our companionway to brighten things
up down below. We already have plexiglass drop boards so now, we just
slide the hatch all the way open, lay the new plexiglass panel over
the opening and we're pretty protected from the weather while still
getting all the natural light afforded by a seemingly fully-open
companionway. Woo-hoo!

Route planning

It's a new year and, just so I don't lose track of our goal to set sail for warmer climes this summer, I decided to do a little bit of route planning the other day.  Here at the marina, our high sped internet connection is in the laundry room.  So, since I was actually up there doing laundry anyway, it seemed like a good time to work on some of the details of our planned trip.

There are several schools of thought on sailing down the Oregon and California coasts.  The first is the express route.  In this one the idea is to go out 60 miles or so and then aim straight for San Francisco or San Diego and skip everything in between.  The advantage is that you get to your destination fairly quickly and, if the weather kicks up you have lots of sea room to play with.  Some say that the ride is much nicer out there since the swells are more regular (though probably larger) and the seas aren't so confused by bouncing off the land.  You're also far enough out that you are less likely to feel the effects of places like the dreaded Cape Mendocino.  You may also be far enough out to avoid running into crab pots and fishing nets as well as other coastal boat traffic.  The downside is that, if the weather kicks up, you're a long way from a potential safe harbor.  The watchkeeping required for a 2-person crew can also be quite tiring on a trip like this.

Another approach is to travel 5-20 miles off shore and visit the more prominent ports every few days.  The advantage is that you're probably close enough to duck into a harbor if the weather turns on you and you get to visit a few ports along the way where you can catch up on your sleep.  The disadvantage is that you need to watch your weather closer since you're always fairly near to a potential lee shore. Also, even a couple days of 4 hours on, 4 hours off watchkeeping can get pretty tiring.  And you're right where the fishermen and crabbers are working and need to keep a good lookout for them as well as other boats and ships traveling the coast.

The final approach is called "keeping one foot on land" and basically consists of harbor-hopping down the coast usually no more than 5-10 miles offshore.  The downside to this approach is that you need to keep a really close eye on weather because you have virtually no sea room to play with.   You might luck out and be inside much of the fishing and crabbing areas but you might also be smack dab in the middle of them.  You need to keep a sharp lookout for shoals and rocks as well since you may be close enough to encounter some of these. On the other hand, you might get to sleep at anchor or at a marina every night and you only need to get a weather window that's large enough for you to make it to the next port safely.  This plan will definitely take you the longest amount of time of the three.

So, what to do?  Well, in our case we want to leave Newport as early in July as we can find a decent weather window.  No particular reason other than just to get this show on the road.  However, we don't want to reach Mexico until the end of the hurricane season, November 1st.  That leaves us potentially 4 months of travel time.   We could walk to Mexico in less time than that.  So, since we want to leave early and take a long time to get where we're going, the "one foot on land" approach seems to fit the bill.  We hadn't really considered this until we started following a blog of some folks we met here.  Mark  and Vicki (Sailing with Mark and Vicki) are from Corvallis and have been meandering down the coast since last August.  Following their blog has been a real education since I don't think I've ever read any other blog where they did as much harbor-hopping as these two.  Since we're looking for a slow trip down the coast, we're going to pretty much follow in their wake.  They also sound like they've been having the most fun of many of the cruising blogs I read.

So, with this general plan in mind, the next step was to start laying out a route.  First I'd go to Mark & Vicki's site to find out where they'd stopped and then I'd go to Google Earth to get a picture of what the harbor and its approaches actually look like.  Google Earth is so cool.  It's great to actually be able to follow our proposed route and be able to zoom in and out at will.  The feature that allows you to calculate the miles between waypoints also helps a lot in route planning.  So, here's what we're looking at for our first major leg of the trip: Newport to San Francisco.

We're planning stops in:

Winchester Bay, OR (maybe)
Charleston Harbor (Coos Bay), OR
Port Orford, OR
Brooking, OR
Crescent City, CA (maybe)
Trinidad, CA (mark & Vicki warn of lots of kelp flies but it still seems like a logical stopping point for us)
Eureka, CA
Shelter Cove, CA
Fort Bragg, CA
Bodega Bay, CA
Drake's Bay, CA
San Francisco Bay, CA

Once in SF Bay, we plan visits to various places such as Sausalito, Alameda, etc.  Also planning to venture at least part way up the Sacramento River.  We may try to go all the way to Sacramento but I haven't studied things enough to know whether or not that's a viable trip.  We have friends in various places in the Bay Area and the Northern California Westsail Owners' Rendezvous is being held in Alameda in early October so we'll try to make that. 

Putting together the list above afforded me the opportunity to pull out my Coast Pilot (#7) to make sure I was listing the stops in the right order.  As I followed the route I see many anchorages along the way that afford protection in certain wind conditions, but not in others.  We may take advantage of some of these along the way.

Once we get started on our SF to San Diego route planning, I will also be using some information that was in an issue of Latitude 38 magazine last fall.  They answered a reader's query about inexpensive cruising along the central and southern California coast.  We'll use their answer as another tool in our route-planning toolbox.

Anyway, the whole route planning thing is an enjoyable way to get started on the cruise before the weather allows the actual slipping of the mooring lines.  We have Google Earth, electronic charts in our Garmin GPS, paper charts, the Coast Pilot, maps, cruising guides, etc. to help us plan things out.  Hopefully you all will stick with the blog long enough to see the trip actually start to unfold.  In the meantime, get out your Oregon and California maps or log on to Google Earth and take a virtual cruise along with us.