June 08, 2012
So, we are finally on our way “North to Alaska!” (Randall thanks Karen and Bill for reminding him of this hearty gold-rush song. I reserve judgment until he has learned a few more words than just half the chorus…) As planned, we left Hanalei Bay by 10 am on Thursday (June 7th) with Peter and Margarete bidding us a cheery farewell. The previous afternoon, they had kindly given us a beautifully wrapped loaf of German-style bread so we were very grateful for their thoughtfulness.
After hauling the 66 lb (30 kg) anchor down to the floor of the main cabin (there is no reason to have it potentially pounding around on the bow), we sailed downwind with just the jib, in exactly the wrong direction for Alaska. Our goal was to sail down part of the famed Na Pali coastline before turning northwards. This seemed like a simple objective but we did not take into account the confusing winds as we entered the wind-shadow of Kaua’i. After raising the full mainsail in the lightening wind, we found ourselves turning in useless circles until we finally had to start the engine and motor towards the mouth of the Kalalau Valley. This is the valley around the head of which we had recently hiked so we were keen to see it from both directions.
Having satisfied ourselves with the spectacular coastal views we turned northwards and with 2,348 nm to go on a direct course to Sitka, we motored out of the island’s lee. Then we found the wind a little stronger than forecast and for an hour or so we were heeling sharply and bouncing along at a rather frantic 8 knots. It was efficient progress but not particularly comfortable as we were clearly over-powered with the full sails in 20 to 25 knots of wind. Just before Randall could put a reef in the main, one of the fishing lines started screaming and I watched a good-sized fish leap from the water. Sadly, as fast as we were going, by the time Randall started to haul in the line there was a disappointing tug and the fish had cut itself and the lure free. Since we had heard from Daniel on Allie Cat that he had caught a mahi mahi the day before, this was particularly galling to fisherman, Randall.
Still, by 3 pm we had reefed the main and settled down to a satisfying 5 to 7 knot pace heading N to NNE. The easterly trade winds were allowing us to sail at a reasonably comfortable angle to the wind and to the 6 to 8 ft (2 m) waves so we were able to start to relax and settle-down to the passage routine. At least, we should have been able to.
One of my responsibilities is to keep track of water in the bilges (area where water can collect under the floorboards). We have fairly shallow bilges and when we are heeling hard, excess water can slosh up from under the floorboards on the downwind side. This is not a good thing but has rarely been a problem. Tregoning’s bilges stay beautifully dry when she is at anchor and she usually takes on just a little water when underway. By Thursday evening, I was a bit anxious to see that one of the three electric bilge pumps was automatically activating every hour or two which was highly unusual. My conundrum was whether to deal with this as casually as possible (although as “designated worrier” my mind raced with potentially catastrophic consequences) or whether to suggest we return to Hanalei and wrestle the anchor back up on deck.
I told Randall that it was unusual but manageable and had a restless first-night’s sleep wondering how to find out the source of the water. Without knowing the water’s source, the concerns were that the leak would get worse or we might burn-up a bilge pump, as happened to Michael on Touch Rain when their Alaskan passage was marred by a leak into the anchor locker. Still anxious on Friday morning, I manually pumped the bilges as dry as possible to try to find the water source. It was definitely saltwater so I was relieved that a drinking water tank was not leaking. I thought that the mostly likely problem was that one of the bilge pumps was back-siphoning water or, more seriously and more difficult to find, a thru-hull fitting had developed a leak.
Finally, I detected a steady and unaccountable dribble of saltwater from the roof of one section of the bilge (i.e., trickling down from just under the floorboard). I reported this location to Randall and within 30 seconds he had traced it back to a small, unused hose. In fact, it was a seawater coolant out-flow hose left over from when we had removed the aft, non-functional air-conditioning unit. Normally the thru-hull fitting where this hose had discharged its contents was above the port-side waterline but with our heeling on a starboard tack it was sufficiently submersed for water to be siphoning through it into the bilges. Randall performed a quick fix with a hose clamp and one of the solid wooden cones we carry for sealing holes and hoses, and finally everything looked much, much better. The bilge water accumulation rate is back to its modest, tolerable levels and I am sleeping much more soundly.
Now the bilge issue is solved, most things seem to be functioning well, including us so we have been able to pay more attention to the wildlife. By our second day, we have seen a few wedge-tailed shearwaters, red-tailed topic birds, frigate birds, and one black-footed albatross. We also briefly saw the spouts of at least two whales. Hannes and Sabine, who are about 10 days (1,000 nm) ahead of us, reported by email that they were surrounded at one point by 50 whales so we can only hope to be as lucky.
Given that we will predominantly be sailing north on this passage, I thought that I might periodically relate our latitude to places on both coasts of North America and in Africa/Europe. Our target, Sitka is at 57° N, about the same latitude as northern Newfoundland and Aberdeen, Scotland. At midnight last night, we crossed the Tropic of Cancer (23.5°N) which crosses the southern tip of Baja California, just north of Cuba, and through the Sahara Desert and southern Egypt. As you can now perhaps imagine, we have a long way to go.