Sunday, January 29, 2012

Summer Trip Planning - Be Prepared!

While the MV Independence has cruised many uneventful miles, there are on occasion when things do happen.  Here's a recent log entry that describes a troublesome day.

August 8, 2006
It rained during the night and early morning.  Skies are completely overcast and gray with a threat of rain.  Weather radio reports a small front passing through the lower mainlaind.  Ugh, that's us.

We pulled up anchor and left Squirrel Cove at 0604.  Cruising through Desolation was fine, there was a 10 knot east wind blowing.  We're making good time to Thulin Passage and past the Copelands, making over 6.5 knots.  After passing Hurtaldo Point and really getting in to Malaspina Strait the wind picked up making for a very bumpy ride.  The view down Malaspina Strait is filled with white caps from this east wind.  So we decided to go down the west side of Texada Island thinking the east wind will not bother us as bad.  Algerine Pass had some of the roughest water, three foot seas or more and a fresh east breeze of over 15 knots.  Sure enough we got in the lee of Texada and the wind lessened until we came around Favada Point when we got slammed with the wind again.  At 0900 I noticed the bilge light come on.  I lifted up the engine lid and sure enough there was water in the bilge but it was going down.  Soon it came on again at 1140.  This I knew was not good.  We were opposite of the Texada mines wharf going headlong right into a 2-3' chop.  This time I went down into the engine room to investigate.  To my horror I saw the main exhaust hose filling up the bilge with water - a lot of water.  I shut down the engine to investigate and immediately we were beam to in the rough waters.  I checked the exhaust hose and there was about a one inch hole!  I came out of the engine room, sweaty, bloody (I cut my thumb badly), and scared.  When I demanded a can of beer all I got was shocked looks, a beer at this time?!  I drained the beer into a container and proceeded to cut the can to act as a brace and patch.  I then wrapped the can with all the duct tape I had to seal the hole.  The kids downed some sodas so I had those cans too.  I had to be careful because the whole exhaust hose was brittle, but I got it patched.  But that's not all.  While we were beam to in the seas, our tow line to our 19' Zodiac had come undone.  Only a thin line was keeping the Zodiac tied to the MV Independence.  So, I quickly found a new tow hitch snap and got it re-tied.  Dealing with a bouncing Zodiac and boat in rough seas was enough for me.

I made for Davie Bay along the west shore of Texada Island under slow bell and dropped the hook in 60' of water in the lee of the island.  I was mentally and physically exhausted.  I drank the beer from earlier, took a quick nap, and thought about our predicament.  After about 90 minutes, we continued on our way down Sabine Channel to our planned anchorage at Boho Bay off of Lasqueti Island.  The wind and seas had abated quite a bit.  We anchored at 1725 in 48' of water at high tide.

Every 30 minutes I checked my patch and found that it was indeed holding; only 3 drips every 10 seconds.  I could live with that.  It's a nasty day filled with wind, rain, and worry. Average speed 5.3 knots, 10:30 cruising, ending engine hours 5549.6.
We made it back to our home port in Olympia without any further incident.  The patch held the entire distance and never dripped more than 2-3 drips every 10 seconds.  When I grabbed the patch while safely tied up to the dock, the whole section of exhaust hose crumbled around me, except the patched area.  I looked in horror what remained in my hands wondering how we made it home.  You could not tell there was an exhaust hose.  The consequences could have been deadly.  We could have sunk, or the exhaust fumes could have over come us.

In hindsight I and the MV Independence were lucky.  Investigation taught me that exhaust hose lasts about 10 years, and metal exhaust elbows about 4-6 years.  The exhaust system is a highly corrosive system that contains hot seawater and exhaust and it deserves annual inspection.  Now as part of my spring routine I take a ball-peen hammer and pound hard on the exhaust system every 2-3" from the engine manifold all the way to the stern.  The hammer should "bounce" off the hose and make a high pitched sound on any fiberglass items (exhaust elbow, water muffler, etc.) and metal items.  Any "thud" or reduced bounce gets extra attention.  Besides hammering the hose and fittings, I look for any sort of "salt weep," rust, or discoloration.  I make sure I have some stiff aluminum sleeves available, plenty of duct tape, Marine Tex epoxy, a big mat of fiberglass, and epoxy resin so I can make emergency repairs.  Oh, and I always make sure I have a few cans of beer. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Summer Trip Planning - Part 1, Planning Tides & Currents

Happy New Year!  Now that it is 2012 it's time to start planning your cruising adventures.  What do you need to have to start planning a successful cruise?  Here's my list of essentials:
  • Tide and Currents book for 2012.  For me the absolute best is "Ports And Passes."  I will use a highlighter to mark those tides/currents that are important for me.  Every year I attend the boat show to pick up the latest copy.
  • Paper charts - at least I start to make notations on them, pencil in compass headings, mark caution areas, mark anchorages, and fishing spots - prawning, crabbing, bottom fishing, or salmon.  A paper chart will rarely fail you.
  • Electronic charting software - I really like "Navionics." I can use this to get distance and compass heading data on my Android tablet.
  • Electronic current software - I like "Currents" by Yoyana for my Android tablet. It has current data from Olympia, WA to Hope Island, BC.  The BC current data is not as rich as the US current data.  I refer to this to get "up-to-the-minute" information on what the currents will be where I am cruising.  Such as, am I fighting a current and how much, or am I going "downhill" and how much am I getting pushed?
  • An electronic spreadsheet. I make a list of cruising routes and alternatives, waypoints, events (slack tide), miles, departure and arrival times, estimated speed, and time for each day cruising. My whole itinerary is in the spreadsheet.  Then I can do "what if" planning by changing the time or speed for a location I can see how it will affect the rest of my trip.  I can also refer to past years.

Optionally, I will also use some cruising guides and Internet tools to understand what the current status is of marinas and locations (restaurants/bars, repair facilities, stores, etc.).  Here are some of my favorites:

Based on all of the above information, the next and foremost thing I start looking for is favorable tides and currents.  I plan my trip around this information and then request the days off for my trip.  The tides and currents can also dictate where I will go and for how long.  The last two years we have cruised to Desolation Sound and not gone further north because of balancing our time with tides and currents.  Considering the cost of diesel fuel these days, I believe you very much need to consider how you can take advantage of the the tides and currents to push you along.  Last year taking advantage of tides and currents I was able to reduce my RPMs, travel at nearly the same speed, and save lots of money.  I cruised at an incredible 1.38 GPH!  I saved over 0.4 gallons per hour using the tides and currents - that's $1.56 of diesel fuel every hour. 

For me, I have six major tide and current areas that I have to watch - not only for the cruise up but for the return cruise too.  Depending on the tides and currents they may dictate which route I cruise.  These current areas are:
  • South Puget Sound - from Olympia to Seattle (Dana Passage, Balch Passage, Tacoma Narrows)
  • North Puget Sound - from Seattle to the Canadian Gulf Islands (Central Puget Sound, Admiralty Inlet, Deception Pass, Rosario Strait, San Juan Channel, Haro Strait)
  • North Gulf Islands - from Montague Harbor to Nanaimo (Dodd Narrows, Porlier Pass)
  • Georgia Strait - from Nanaimo to Desolation Sound.  Although the currents are not that strong, any little bit helps and the currents combined with the weather can make for uncomfortable cruising.
  • Desolation Sound - from the Yucultas to Johnstone Strait (Yucultas - Yuculta, Gillard, & Dent rapids, Greene Point, Whirlpool, Discovery & Seymore Narrows, Upper & Lower Rapids)
  • Johnstone Strait & Blackfish Sound (Johnstone Strait, Weynton Passage, Chatham Narrows)
Finally as I have mentioned in previous posts, the tides and currents will dictate where and when I want to fish for what.  For example, no use halibut fishing on Taylor Bank in Queen Charlotte Strait when there is a good flood or ebb, you won't be able to hit bottom or stay on location.  Also there's a good chance you'll lose a lot of bait and gear.  I look for a neap tide to fish here.  If there are none, I'll aim for a slack tide.  I like to go "catching" versus fishing.

So when do I believe are favorable days based on tides and currents to head north?
For Puget Sound (South & North): June 4-5, 18-19; July 2-3, 19-20; Aug. 4-5 (Ride the ebb currents all the way to Friday Harbor.)
Desolation Sound: June 23-24; July 23-24; Aug. 21-23 (Early morning slack at the Yuculta's then ride the ebb all the way through Greene Pt Rapids, Whirlpool Rapids and Johnstone Strait.)

Fishing for halibut?  July 11 (PM), 27 (PM); Aug. 10 (PM). (Unfortunately the prevailing northwest winds tend to kick up in the afternoons, so halibut fishing might not be so lucky this year.)

Hope this helps your 2012 summer cruise planning.  If you got questions or comments, leave a comment or email me.  In Part 2 of Summer Trip Planning I will discuss routes, anchorages, customs.  In Part 3, I will write about getting your boat ready for a trip.  In Part 4, provisioning.  Again, if you have helpful tips or comments, let me know.  Happy Planning!