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Ships That Go Dark In The Night

Diane Cherry

Ricky T
Constellation
December 30th, 2018

Victoria to San Francisco

We finally set off from Victoria for Port Angeles to check into the US and begin our cruise. The check-in process, and getting our cruising license, took only a few moments. A walk up to the grocery store had us stocked up with the perishables we wanted. With a stop in Neah Bay to fuel up, we were on our way. We headed offshore about 80 to 95 nautical miles and pointed south. We had less wind than we had expected, or hoped, and although the first couple of days were very sunny, we had to motor-sail the majority of the way to keep the batteries up for the autopilot. The seas were very choppy and rough, so the autopilot was a huge blessing for us. And it did its job flawlessly. The first couple of nights were relatively clear and, with some moonlight, vision was not too bad. During the day we saw lots of sea life. There were many whales, but it was the dolphins that excited us. They came along side by the dozens and played with our boat for quite some time.

We had brought along a lot of snacks, including granola bars; trail mix, fruit bars and more. These snacks were welcome treats, but we did manage to have cooked food for most meals. I really think the meals were important to the overall well being of the crew. I did most of the meal preparation as I was comfortable doing so and it seemed to work well that way. I knew what food we had and where I had stored it.

It is challenging to cook while the boat tosses. We did put a grab bar in (on our boat it worked best being above the stove), which gave a firm hold point. We debated a strap to keep whoever was at the stove in place and opted not to. I was very glad of this when I had a pot of water on the stove and I was able to step back as a swell moved us and the pot slopped some of its water. I got a little on my leg, but not enough to burn me. I had tried undoing the lock on the gimble,  but found the stove rocked worse than if it was locked in place.

There were only relatively mild indications of any seasickness for a couple of the crew and these were fairly short lived. I was fortunate in not feeling seasick at all. Maybe all the days and nights anchored out in very rough conditions (English Bay, in good blows) was a good lead-up to the broken sleep and rolling boat conditions. Numerous times the boat rolled side to side and gave that stern swing that lets the waves kiss the edge of the rail before coming back to a more comfortable position.

With a crew of four, the watches were quite bearable, despite the rough ride at times. At the distance we were from shore, we saw very little in the way of other vessels. I think early in the voyage there was only one night when the AIS showed what turned out to be a navy vessel, and after the crew on watch contacted them, all went smoothly. What did become less comfortable (at least for me) was the increase in vessel traffic as we headed closer to shore to allow for our stop in San Francisco. The skies had turned cloudy so the nights were very dark. The addition of the RAM microphone in the cockpit (with the AIS shown on it) was a very good decision on our part. I did not have assigned watches, which worked out well as I did in fact do them, but it left me to be available when someone else needed a break, or when it seemed prudent to have more than one crew member on at night in particular.

Still, with the ships appearing so fast on the AIS, sometimes with and sometimes without any visual sighting of the vessel at all by us, the process was taxing. Mostly it was one night that this occurred and for that night there were two crew sharing the watch most of the night. Most of the vessels we contacted answered relatively quickly and advised us of their intentions, allowing us to maintain our speed and course and them to pass us as they intended. We did have one vessel that showed on the AIS and radar. We had to hail a number of times before getting a response. We were assured that the vessel was ahead of us, as we saw on our instruments, but heading in the same general direction as us and at a higher speed. The disturbing part was that we should have seen some light from that vessel even if only between swells. We had no visual and then abruptly the AIS and radar did not register it. Again, it took effort to get a response on the VHF and we were assured their AIS was “on”. We were offered a light signal off their stern but never did see it.

I recalled that many BCA members had said that fishing boats do not have the AIS on, and felt a discomfort in that the three of us crew members in the cockpit that night had the same feeling that we were not getting the truth here. After daylight the next morning, as we headed further towards shore, we had AIS indicating a vessel off our port side. The seas were less by this point and it seemed odd we had no visual on the vessel. It turned out that there were a couple of {rib?} boats doing research and perhaps too small to be sighted. They indicated they were leaving shortly and would not be coming near us.

One very comforting feeling about contacting the vessels to ensure we had been seen (in one case we were aware of them before they were aware of us), was that more than once we were asked if we were requiring some sort of assistance. One vessel commented they had heard a Coast Guard notice to be on the lookout for a blue and white sailboat. I wondered afterwards if one of the two radio nets we had been checking in with on our SSB had alerted them as we had not checked in that day. It is really interesting to hear the people checking in and how far away some of them are.

We had a blockage in one of our sewage lines from a toilet to the tank. We had actually ruined two joker valves from the pressure of trying to flush it through before we left the dock.  We tried numerous times to clear it by making an auger from a stay we had kept when the rigging was redone this past summer. I am (I think) blessed that I have a pretty tough stomach for this and, with help from our crew mate Les, ran the stay down through the line as far as I could get it to go. We had taken the line off at the gooseneck (vent). When this failed, I climbed down in the bilge (while we were underway) and took the line off at that end. There was a blockage of the scale that builds up on the inside of the lines from the salt water. The scale had loosened and compacted itself in the line.  I actually laughed when the blockage popped out like a cork, after we tied a knot in the piece of cable to make a better auger. There was a bit of slop after that, and once Les ran water through the line, we were able to put it back together and the toilet was functional. It took awhile to get it all cleaned up. It was nice to be back to two functioning toilets, oops sorry heads.

For me personally, and I assume it would be the same for many, living aboard for the past 3 to 4 years, working on many of the systems on the boat and becoming familiar with where things are and what they do, has been very helpful. I have lost count of the number of times I have cleaned up the bilges. I have worn out one of the three $5.00 pumps I bought at the hardware store. This particular one works almost like a giant baster. It is a good idea to walk about in your favourite hardware store to check out what might come in handy. Even sponges and a few empty water or vinegar bottles come in very handy.

I was called “boat mom” more than “Rosie the Riveter” on the trip. It brought a smile to us all!

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  1. Avatar Kitchen Albert says:

    Great to hear you are out there “getting it on you😂”

  2. Avatar Ken Christie says:

    Thank you for the descriptions of how you can do all these things. The boats Plumbing, monitor the Autopilot ability, the weather and storms, the sea state, the nearby ships, AIS that you all installed and verified, never mind the provisions, the living in small spaces, the way you could decide on the crew to help you, and so on. Then as well, the innovative solutions. You are amazing.

  3. Avatar Len says:

    Well Done Diane and Dave! Enjoyed your documentary immensely!