St. Patrick’s Cruise and Snooze to Langley, March 2015

The Snooze and Cruise to Langley was full of wind both days, and full of rain on Sunday.  I may have mentioned this before, but I seem to have small craft advisory mojo.  Four of the last five overnights that I’ve planned group cruises ended up in an advisory.  These are some die-hard cruisers and only one cruise was cancelled, mostly because my boat/home was still recovering from the last one and I just wasn’t ready to mop up again.

With just the jib out, my heavy old boat was screaming down the waves at 7.5-8 knots – numbers I’d never seen in the 8 months I’ve had her.  This was the first big downwind run I’ve done with her, and the quartering waves played havoc with my steering most of the time, but the new autopilot performed admirably and I was very happy to have it. It was an odd feeling to have my stern lifted up and peer down at the bow below me, but it was exhilarating at the same time.  My crew, Micah and Shai, were undaunted and having a good time and I was happy for the company.

Festive Crew!

Festive Crew!

As we approached the south end of Whidbey Island, I saw a couple of boats off to port and wondered if that was the rest of our cruising fleet (4 boats had left before me).  When I stood up and looked around the dodger, I realized it was more like 44 boats, all heading directly at me, close hauled and maximally heeled over…every single one having right of way.   Well, this was going to be interesting. I knew there was a race that day because I had seen the mass exodus from the dock. This was the

CYC Scatchet Head race and I had friends out there amongst those tipping triangles.   The boats were approaching in waves, with about 4 boats directly in line with each other, separated by another pack of four a few hundred yards away on either side and behind.  It looked as if I was entering a mine field and there wasn’t much I could do about it.   I varied between a deep broad reach to the north east and a beam reach due east as they were making a hard drive to the south east.  I was able to parallel one line of boats, then cross before the next line came, only to do the same with the next wave without having to jibe.  Finally we were out of the mine field and entered Saratoga Passage. We later learned two boats had been dismasted in that race.

Downhill Run Through The Race

Downhill Run Through The Race

The wind and the waves were still prominent inside the passage, but there was only one ferry to dodge.  Just around Gedney (Hat) Island, the wind became abruptly still, and turned 18o degrees in what seemed like seconds. It was as if we crossed and invisible line and our screaming southernly became a light northerly which explained why the sun stopped following us and rain clouds approached.  The wind was so mild,  we rolled up the jib and continued by motor the short distance to Langley.

I hadn’t been to the Langley marina in a few years, and not since they put on their addition. There’s a long linear dock outside of what what the breakwater used to be, adding a D and E dock with a connecting ramp to the older portion of the marina.  Langley is long known for being able to fit any amount of boats into the marina, and we had called ahead with our boat sizes, so they were ready for us.  As the last to approach, I realized that I was going to have to parallel park which I had not done with the Challenger before.  I was pretty nervous, probably more because there were 10-12 people standing on the dock waiting to help than because of the actual docking.  It went much better than expected, being able to use my starboard prop walk to my advantage for the first time.   I’ve been a port side tie in Shilshole since I’ve bought the boat, but I have an authoritative starboard prop walk which makes getting out of my slip in a north wind somewhere between a challenge and impossible, and any reverse when coming into the dock just takes me farther away.  But in this situation, as I put her in reverse and goosed the throttle, my stern moved to the dock as if I had thrusters and I was delighted.  Then, cheers and a round of applause went up, and I didn’t know if it was because I had done such a good job, or just that I had done a better job than they had expected.

New Dock Addition at Langley

New Dock Addition at Langley – We Filled It

Regardless, it was warming to have so much good will to greet us, and to have witnesses for a good docking. Our band of six boats and about 25 people took the big uphill trek into town and found the elusive Mo’s.  I’m not sure Mo’s Pub and Eatery were prepared for the likes of us with our leprechaun hats and flashing green beads, although they had been given a heads up by Jeremy, who had organized the Windworks boats.  After a few libations we made the downhill march back to the marina where it seemed at least 15 or 16 people had invaded S/V Cambria. Ever the gracious host, Mark provided the perfect boat gathering for new and old acquaintances to get together and talk about boats, cruising, and all things nautical.

Sunday was definitely a different day, with a stiff, cold breeze from the north and a record breaking rainfall for that day, beating the previous record of 1.2 inches in 1974 to a whopping 1.57 inches.   It seems we felt every drop of that 1.57 inches on The Challenger as it pelted us from behind, making the dodger an inadequate shelter.   The waves were still large and we were once more surfing downhill, but in much less pleasant conditions.  I was again very happy with my autopilot purchase (thank you Sands Marine!) and stayed huddled under the dodger for the 5 hours it took to go 23 miles despite my speed over ground consistently reading almost 7 knots.  It was a day to be happy about an uncomplicated landing, fleece blankets, a hot meal and a diesel heater.  These small craft advisories seem to be getting old hat but the rain never gets less wet.  At least this one was predicted before we left, unlike the last one which made my boat interior resemble a shaken snow globe.  All in all, there is nothing like an overnight flotilla!

From Curtains to Blinds- A More Streamlined, Private Option

Old Curtains and Tracks

Old Curtains and Tracks

When I first viewed my boat-to-be, I was impressed with the amount of light in the cabin. For a monohull, and especially an old one, it seemed airy and bright and was one of the things that made me fall in love with her.   Although I scrutinized the details of the inside of the cabinets, lazarettes, bilge, and oven, the curtains escaped my attention since I considered them a frivolous, easy change that could be ignored in the short term.

Old Curtain Track Above Port Light

Old Curtain Track Above Port Light

Once I moved aboard, I saw the situation more clearly.  The curtains were thread-bare and stained like something found on a mummy.  Above the galley a section of fabric was held together with masking tape. The tracks were brown plastic strips held onto the walls with rusted screws. The curtains only slid on their tracks with the utmost effort and it quickly became irritating to open them each morning and close them at night.  There was no real privacy onboard through the thin, gauzy barrier, and something needed to change.

I researched a few different options for tracks for the windows, but they all looked similar to what I had, and I hated the look when the curtains were open. I ruled out the one-way vinyl window film because I felt that I still wouldn’t feel I had my privacy, didn’t want to lose any of the sunlight during the day, and I didn’t want my neighbors to think I was pimping out with mirrored windows.

Eventually, I settled on the idea of blinds.  I searched online for days comparing options and prices and decided that the cordless cellular blinds were the way I wanted to go. Options include light filtering vs. blackout blinds, single or double cell,  top down/bottom up, and cordless with a half dozen or more color options.  Even If I didn’t live with a cat whose favorite game is to bat around a rope, I felt cordless was more desirable, and due to the size of the head rail system, I stayed with single cell (outside mount – inside mount is for homes with deep window wells). I chose a light filtering blind in a cream color that matched my headliner. I found the Super Value Cordless Single Cellular shades from were on sale and a good deal.  With 5 blinds of varying customs sizes from 46″ x 14″ to 28″ x 14″, my total, with shipping was $228. That was about $50 for the bigger windows and $40 for the smaller window.   I also purchased stainless steel screws for another $20 because the included screws weren’t for the marine environment.

While I waited for my order, I started the process of the removal of the current system.  The tiny screws holding the existing plastic track in place were rusted flat heads.  After an hour or so of unsuccessful attempts with my smallest screwdriver to unscrew them, I resorted to using a small cat’s paw tool which I have had since my old house restoration days, with a queasy feeling in my stomach.   It seemed barbaric in the situation, and I occasionally had to use a hammer with the claw to get the old rusted screw out.   The wood around the rusted screws was stained, and so was the wall under the tracks.  I lightly sanded the thin mahogany veneer where the tracks were, cleaned the area, applied Orange Oil and hoped for the best. I filled in the holes with color matched wood filler, but the perceptive eye will always pick out the discoloration of the old track. To do more was going to be a major project, and I was one month in to ownership and not willing to strip/sand/bleach the walls just yet.

Straight and Level are Different

Straight and Level are Different

Once the blinds arrived, I ran into another dilemma.  As with an old house, level and straight aren’t always the same thing.  Do you hang them level with the window or the boat?  I am a symmetry person, so this was a big deal for me, and an inconsistent headliner put in before my purchase made it harder. I settled with using a standard measurement above the top of the windows despite what the ceiling was doing.  The head rail was larger than I had envisioned and I had a moment of panic because of the ‘no refund on special order’ policy.  As I tentively tried to hang the first, and largest of the shades, I realized that the distance between the top of the window frame and ceiling were perilously close, and in some cases, just not going to happen.  The headliner braces weren’t put in by a person with a tendency for detail, symmetry, or consistency.  I found a few open, pre-drilled holes, usually near the hull, with nothing in them, just sagging into the field of my new shades, and finished screwing them in to gain just enough room for the head rail. If nothing else, I had improved the ceiling.

Blinds with Clean Modern Privacy

Blinds- Private and a Cleaner Look

I have installed blinds, including top-down/bottom-up blinds before, and I can only say that people on land with relatively vertical walls have an easy job.  After a few hours of contortions and cursing, the brackets were in place and the blinds snapped in.  This was the pivotal moment.  The blinds came up and down nicely, and all fit the ordered dimensions.  A quick trek around the outside of the boat at night with the lights on showed that they provided complete privacy.  From the inside, they looked modern, with clean lines, and also blended in well with the headliner color.  But the best view was to have them opened wide in the morning, where almost all of the available window space let light in, making a grey Seattle winter day a little more cheerful.

Fully Opened Blinds

Fully Opened Blinds

The best part was that I could go from privacy to full light in seconds instead of the time it took to try and coax the curtain slugs through their tracks.

Quick Solution to Bottom Atachment

Quick Solution to Bottom Attachment. Notice the Old, Discolored Track with Filled-in Holes.

The next hurdle was to devise a way to attach the bottoms so that they wouldn’t swing on the sloping walls, but were still easy to undo each day to let the light in.  The provided holders were of a more permanent variety meant for blinds installed on doors. This took several days and even more consultations with friends for brainstorming. The eventual solution, although not glamorous, was to run a cord through the bottom rail (the hole for the bottom mount was already there), with a loop on each end attached to tiny cup hooks placed in an old track hole whenever possible. The result is an easy way to attach and unattach the bottom of the blinds. I prefer them up when sailing/motoring so that if I need to run below I have the advantage of an mostly unobstructed view outside, and so I don’t have to fasten them to keep them from swinging.  I have friends that used the same basic blinds, but used magnets on the bottom rail of the blinds and a magnetic strip to keep them anchored down.  From what they’ve said – they feel it was a great improvement over the old curtains and they used the same company.

Although I can still see the ghost of the old tracks, the blinds look streamlined and tidy. They provide complete privacy at night, and during the day allow 95% of the available window space to let sunlight come in, an invaluable commodity in Seattle during the winter.

As seen in Three Sheets NW.

Submarine Surprises II

People have knack for different things.  Mine seems to be attracting small craft advisories.  Four of us were heading back from the San Juan Islands with 35 knots of wind from the south on our nose and the accompanying waves. None of us were well experienced in that much breeze, and it was white knuckle sailing for this crew. But, we could sail faster than we could motor, so we trudged on, soaked with spray and not daring to go below to avoid getting seasick.


About 15 miles from our destination of Seattle we noticed a Coast Guard Cutter headed in our direction. I had heard nothing on the radio, and it seemed unusual that they appeared to be headed straight for us. My crew kept asking if we should tack. Confident in my rules of the road and a little tired and irritated at the situation, I said “No, we are under sail and they are overtaking. We are clearly the less maneuverable boat, and not in the shipping lanes, and they have no business getting that close to us unless they are planning on boarding us!”. Eventually, the cutter was so close to our stern I could see that the helmsman had a brown mustache. I decided my reasoning lacked some important detail and that I needed to figure out what was going on.


I went below to hail them on the radio, and realized with shock that the VHF was on channel 14, not 16, and had no idea how long.  Yikes! I switched over to 16 and hailed the cutter to ask about our situation.

The answer was, “We’ve been trying to hail you for some time. We are escorting a submarine and you need to be 500 yards away”. I asked for a moment to figure out what to do and popped back into the cockpit relay this to the crew.

Sure enough, we were able to spot the black ‘sail’ of the submarine now, as well as a second cutter we had not been able to see behind the other. Really? I’m getting grumpy. We are under sail in a rented boat in a small craft advisory, outside the shipping lanes, and you are not only practically invisible in the waves and gloom, but could just go under us and we’d never know! Now I not only have small craft advisory mojo, but also submarine mojo!


Tacking was going to be a royal pain, not only because of the unfamiliar boat and the wind, but because we were on a great course to get home now, so changing course meant more tacking later.  We managed the course change and headed away from the submarine, but it would be a little while before we were 500 yards away. Frustrated, I headed back down to the radio and hailed the cutter again.

“We tacked, that’s the best we can do right now. Is that OK?”

The response was a very heavy sigh, followed by “That will do”. I thanked him and went back above, before I got seasick.

For the remaining hours we sailed, we heard the cutter hailing other boats to no avail. It would seem that either no one could hear their radio, or could leave the helm long enough to answer it. Or, in at least one case (Me) they weren’t on the proper channel.

Now I have a handheld VHF to keep in the cockpit, no matter what boat I am on. I will also steer away from CG cutters just in case there is a submarine nearby!