S/V Tango. Log entries 2008-9

Part 11: Wrangell to Olympia
September 22-Oct. 7, 2009

9/23/09. The new Yanmar diesel engine is in place, almost all the wires, hoses, and controls are connected, and only a few details are left. The must-have exhaust elbow arrived this afternoon, and we were delighted to see that the muffler will fit without further surgery or re-orientation.

Gotta love a town where the Catholic Church is at the corner of Church and Greif Streets.

It's raining hard and blowing like stink. Tango wiggles on the jackstands when gusts blow through. Lincoln Rock Light, less than 20 miles south of us, reported sustained winds over 50 knots and gusts to 73. We're well past the good-weather window and into the rainiest month of the year. The novelty has worn off. We want to be on our way!

9/25/09. We're afloat again! The Travelift lowered Tango into the water and the harbor skiff towed her to the dock this afternoon. After completing a few more tasks in the engine compartment, we started the engine. It started instantly but soon quit. There was air in the fuel. We bled the fuel system and started it again, Same result. Start and quit. Peter found a small leak at the fuel pump where the inlet hose was clamped. When the pump wasn't drawing, a bit of fuel dripped. When the engine was running, the pump sucked air in and the engine died. He tightened the clamp and the problem was solved.

9/26/09. We started our sea trials at the dock with Tango tied securely. We ran the engine in neutral for a few minutes, revving it up and down, marveling again at how quickly it starts, how quietly it runs, and how smoke-free it is. Then I put it in forward gear and revved it up to see how well the transmission and prop shaft work. Same in reverse. Everything seemed good to go, so in mid-afternoon we motored out into Zimovia Strait. We ran for a couple of hours, anxiously checking all systems and, pleased with the results, returned to the dock. Peter pointed out that it was the first time Tango had arrived at Wrangell under her own power.

The new transmission is geared lower than the old one (2.36:1 vs. 2.0:1) so the engine runs faster for the same boat speed, but that's good. Diesels don't like to loaf. They last longer and work better if they are pushed hard. The Yanmar has a maximum speed of 3000 rpm and can run at 2800 for days. The old Westerbeke had a maximum sustained speed of 2500 rpm (theoretically—we never dared run it that high for any length of time). With the same prop, the Yanmar reaches 3000 rpm when Tango is just shy of hull speed in flat water. At 2600 rpm, it pushes her at 6.5 knots. I'd like to change the prop so that it runs at 2800 rpm at hull speed in flat water. Our prop has a 12-inch pitch (i.e., it would move the boat forward 12 inches per revolution if there were no slippage). A 13-inch pitch might be about right.

Another reason to change the prop is to get better “traction.” The Yanmar has much more torque than the old engine, even though the horsepower rating is the same. It spins the prop so fast when Tango is going slow and I power up to steer or brake that it's like burning rubber when accelerating in a car—lots of noise and action but not much traction. A larger diameter prop would probably help apply this extra power more effectively.

9/28/09. Bob Durnell arrived yesterday to help us sail Tango back to Olympia. We hustled to get last-minute supplies and fuel, then headed south. It sure felt good to be on the move again!

In the afternoon, five orcas crossed our path in southern Ernest Sound. The sun is bright, the clouds high and scattered, and the breeze at our backs. Life is good.

An hour before sunset, we dropped anchor in the little harbor at Meyers Chuck to rig for sailing, eat dinner, and prepare for a night crossing of Dixon Entrance.

Meyers Chuck, Alaska

9/29/09. We ran the engine hard all night, making 7 to 8 knots with the headsail up and a 15-knot following wind. The air was cold and clear, billions and billions of stars twinkling above, and little traffic. The three of us used a six-hour rotation schedule, two hours at the wheel, two hours as crew, two hours off. It would have been nice to have a fourth person aboard so we could have four hours off, but we were able to get almost enough rest.

Just after noon, we landed at the Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club dock and called Customs for clearance. We stayed for a few hours for boat work. The furnace stopped working, much to our dismay. We've come to depend on it! Although a friend claims that you're not really sailing unless you're wet and cold, we've grown accustomed to comfort. Peter called the distributor in Seattle and discovered that it was likely a clogged fuel nozzle, which couldn't be repaired, only replaced. None were available in Prince Rupert.

New cranes may help Prince Rupert develop as a freight terminal.

Giving up on the heater for the moment, we motored another 20 miles before anchoring for the night. Peter dove into the engine compartment and pulled the furnace fuel nozzle out. It was completely clogged. He left it in a solvent bath for the night.

We motored past the Lawyer Islands, flanked by Client Reefs and Bribery Islet.

9/30/09. Peter was able to use a bike pump to blow out the nozzle, but when he re-installed it, the furnace still wouldn't fire up—apparently the fuel filter or the pickup tube in the fuel tank is clogged.

The wind turned against us in the morning, rising to 30 knots on the nose, with choppy seas that dropped our speed to 3.5 knots for a while. Fortunately, the wind eased by mid-afternoon and the current finally gave us a boost. It rained a bit.

10/1/09. We got underway before 07:00 and motored all day in rain and calm air as we transited Grenville Channel, AKA “The Ditch.” It's a long, straight channel that has had monotonous low clouds every time I've gone through. If there's big scenery here, I haven't seen it yet. In mid-afternoon, we set anchor in Swanson Bay, where I performed the 50-hour service on the engine and transmission (oil and filter change, valve adjustment, prop shaft alignment). The used motor oil had hardly any color in it. What a contrast with the old engine, where new oil literally turned black the moment after it was poured into the crankcase.

10/2/09. Again, we started motoring as soon as it was light enough to see the shore. We kept speed up all day and landed at Shearwater Marine Resort near Bella Bella just before closing time at the fuel dock. After taking on 209 liters (< 1 gallon per hour at 6-7 knots), we tied up at the dock for the night so we could get showers, do laundry, have dinner, and plug in the little electric space heater. Although the day was beautifully dry and warm, the night (and especially the morning) will be cold. Inside Tango the humidity is high and condensation is a problem inside lockers, under mattresses, and in other areas where there isn't much air movement.

10/3/09. As the first light of a glorious dawn tinged the eastern sky, we pulled away from the dock to begin our next long passage. If the weather permits, we'll cross Queen Charlotte Sound overnight and be inshore of Vancouver Island within a day.

We saw two orcas and the spouts of several humpbacks as we rounded Kaiete Point and entered Fisher Channel. A 25-knot NW wind was in the forecast, giving us hope that we'd get some good downwind sailing. We unfurled the headsail for a few hours in a following breeze that was barely enough to keep the sail filled, but it died and left the sail flapping back and forth as Tango rolled in the erratic swells and chop in Queen Charlotte Sound. The day started with a beautiful dawn, continued with warm sun and clear skies until a gorgeous sunset and a bright full moon in a cloudless sky.

Tango's wake disturbs a a sunset reflection.

10/4/09. We made 118 nautical miles and landed at the dock at Port McNeill on Vancouver Island at 01:00 this morning. We stayed long enough to fill the water tanks and get some sleep, then got underway about 10:00. There was frost on the dock and the lawns this morning.

When we approached in the middle of the night, I was confused by this barge and crane in what I thought was the middle of the fairway into the boat basin. I spun Tango in a circle while we tried to figure out what was going on. Our spotlight showed that a reef of gravel stretched between the barge and the end of the breakwater. If the tide had been high it would have been invisible and we might have run aground on it. In the daylight, we saw that the breakwater was being extended. The reef of gravel was the base on which the crane was placing rip-rap.

Wanting to pass through Johnstone Strait during daylight, we kept the engine at 2800 rpm, 7 to 7.5 knots, and pressed on with helpful currents until the last hour before sunset, when we set anchor in Bear Bight at the east end of the strait. Johnstone Strait is notorious for foul winds and floaters—logs, stumps, deadheads, and miscellaneous flotsam that can cause the unwary boater great harm—but we had few encounters with driftwood.

S/V Maple Leaf, a 105-year-old yacht restored and turned into a charter vessel.

10/5/09. We had to get up at 03:00 and be underway before 04:00 to catch the right tide through Discovery Passage. By controlling the throttle carefully to maintain a speed of 7 knots over ground through currents that were sometimes helpful, sometimes adverse, we were able to pass over Ripple Rock right at slack. As we emerged from Seymour Narrows, we met a tug towing a barge headed into the gap. I was glad we were early enough to get through before he entered.

When I sighted the tug, he was on our port on a bearing perpendicular to ours that looked like a collision course. I could tell that he wouldn't make the right-angle turn into the narrows until he had pulled the barge to the center of the fairway, so I turned hard to port to cross to the other side of the channel. He immediately began his turn, tracking us as we crossed his path. He gave five short blasts of his horn, meaning danger! I was acutely aware of the hazard but it was too late to reverse course. I just kept the throttle up and it soon became apparent that we'd cross well before the tug reached our track.

A great blue heron does his yoga at Campbell River.

S/V Wildwood, patterned after Joshua Slocum's Spray, was built by her owner "in 23 Manitoba summers" before being launched six years ago.

Wildwood shows beautiful attention to detail.

At 08:22, we landed at the guest dock at Discovery Harbour Marina in Campbell River. Four hours later, after the tide turned in our favor and our shopping and showers were done, we resumed our voyage, planning to do another overnighter through the Strait of Georgia to Friday Harbor.

A Campbell River totem.

The night was beautiful, clear, and calm, with a moon just two days past full. There was a thin fog at water level that veiled the several tankers and freighters that we encountered during the night. We could see them on radar and make out their red, green, and white navigation lights, but their bulk was invisible until they were within a half mile. On one leg, we went 80 nautical miles on the same heading.

10/6/09. We landed at Friday Harbor and checked in with customs after another excellent passage. As we started the engine to pull away from the customs dock, the engine quit. It had air in the fuel again. One of the Racor fuel filters was clogged with black crud and the engine couldn't pull fuel through it. We had been running on the port tank, which we rarely use and which supplies fuel to the furnace. No wonder the furnace nozzle clogged! I switched to the other Racor and pumped fuel from the port tank through it to the main fuel tank, then switched to the main tank for the engine fuel supply.

We motored south through San Juan Channel, across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and dropped the anchor in Port Ludlow just before sunset.

Cormorants cover a rock at Port Ludlow.

10/7/09. Hoping to reach Olympia before dark (80 miles), we left Port Ludlow an hour before dawn. Through fair weather, we motored past Seattle and Tacoma, passed through Tacoma Narrows, and traversed Nisqually Reach.

Mt. Rainier hides in the haze.

We made it to Swantown Marina at Olympia half an hour before sunset and tied up at the guest dock, Tango's home for the winter.

The dome of the State Capitol marks Olympia's skyline.

Tango made 831 nautical miles in ten days, 132 engine hours, for an average of 6.3 knots. It may be a speed record for slow boats. It's certainly my personal record for passage between Wrangell and Olympia. We had great adventures and misadventures on this summer's passage. We're looking forward to more.

--Dennis Todd

Photos by Dennis Todd and Peter Ffolliott.

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