Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Railroad to Nowhere - 1201

Abandoned Dredge

We are finally taking road trips out of Nome.   Our first trip - the road to Council which doesn't reach Council just up to the river crossing that will take you to Council.   75 Miles of road and we passed two cars.  Busy Day. 

Railroad to Nowhere
100 years ago the bridge connecting this railroad to the outside was washed out, stranding these locomotives on a track owned by a failed company. 

Pictures, at least mine, don't do this justice.

This is the end of the trail, unless you are comfortable crossing a river in your truck.  We passed. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011


Jannelle with her self designed b-day cake.

Matching Candles.

Winter Work - Blocks

The Kitchen Table Workstation

The bronze bearings.

Precipice has 23 blocks.  (Pulleys for you landlubbers)  They are made of wood and have monel bronze pulleys, bearings, and plates.  After 30 years they need to be refinished and cleaned up.  I like these blocks because I can fix them anywhere.  The drawback is weight.  This winter they are going to be stripped of the epoxy coating and refinished.   Hopefully ready for another 30 years. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Getting Knocked Down - A Response to Bad Weather 222 Sept 2007

A reader responded to my offer to tell of a knockdown and asked to hear our story.  Our story is even more important following the deaths of two sailors during the Chicago to Mackinaw race in Lake Michigan, our home body of water that we cut our teeth on and eventually logged over 20,000 miles in.  Lake Michigan, or any of the Great Lakes really aren't lakes - they are inland seas.  Lake Superior is known for it's fall storms of tremendous fury that last for days most often remembered in the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald.  These fall storms come to Lake Michigan also, but most recreational boating is over by then.  The danger of Lake Michigan is in the summer Thunderstorm.  Every weekend the weather service puts out warnings of possible thunderstorms on the water.  If you are going to sail Lake Michigan, you are going to eventually run into a storm.   It began as a calm day, the returning final day of a four day extended sailing weekend.  We had all our sail up and were moving just enough to maintain steerage.  It was so hazy, that even though we were only several miles from our next stop, White Lake, we could barely see the harbor entrance, like being stuck in a high school shower room.  Our only warning was a soft, low rumble that seemed to come from right over us.  I was acting captain at the helm, so I called preparations for wind and the girls and Deb went below and we put the companionway boards in and closed the hatch.  Our boat at the time, an older model Catalina 27 is now considered a heavy boat.  The only weakness against the Cat 27 crossing oceans is the cavernous companionway opening that is just begging for a big wave to swamp the boat.  Our first step in trouble was always to close that weakness up.  Rachael and I stayed above, clipped on our harnesses and furled our big Genoa which was just hanging limp as the wind had completely died.  I felt sorry for my wife below in this muggy heat as Rachael went to the mast to begin lowering the main.  WHAM !!!!!! It was like the entire sky fell on us.  I have been in verified 70MPH winds and this wind made 70MPH feel like good kite weather.  Our keel was completely out of the water, our spreaders and main were in the water and all 7000lbs of our sailboat was literally skipping along the water sideways.  Rachael was right next to me and could not understand me even if I yelled.   We pulled out our sea drogue and Rachael monkey crawled to the bow with our double clipped tether, clipping and unclipping alternating clips as she moved on our nearly vertical deck.  She tried throwing the drogue to windward and in doing so stuck her head over the narrow bow and into the wind.  She had her hair in a bun and as soon as she was in the wind it undid the bun, and tore out the tie holding her hair in place.   I will forever have the image of Rachael struggling with our Sea Anchor/Drogue and her hair streaming perfectly horizontal from her head like it was being tugged on by some invisible presence.  Rachael figured out that she was only going to get the drogue in the water by throwing it downwind and finally got it to fill with water.  It was as if we had been a bucking bronco subdued by a lasso.  Our boat swung bow to the wind, righted itself and even though the wind was screaming through the rigging, the water was actually being blown flat.  Less than a minute later the wind completely died again.  I checked our GPS.  In five minutes, we had gone just under 1 nautical mile.  The storm crawled its way up the dunes and left us sitting becalmed, hearts pounding.  I really feel for the families of the two sailors that died.  I have heard a lot of nonsense about the excessive risk they took sailing when they did.  I was back in West Michigan last winter and one of the biggest culture shocks I had to re adapt to was the incredible speeds we all push our little tins with wheels.  These two deaths are the first in the 100 plus years of the race.  I wonder if an 300 mile automobile race that ran for over 100 years could claim that safety record?  This brings me to my final point.  We don't sail in a race boat.  Our Catalina 27 is considered a heavy boat compared to what is called a modern sailboat coming off the assembly line - but our Bristol Channel is only three feet longer but weighs three times as much.  Over 22,000 lbs.  Everything is built at least twice as strong as it needs to be.  Not to say that it is immune to the sea in any way.  We just are not sailing in a boat that we are pushing to the limit.  We sail like big chickens that reduce sail or heave to immediately and use ALL the safety gear that we have (and practice with and know how to use that safety gear).   If you want to go fast, you have to start making things lighter, and sails and rigging taller.  The modern thought is that with professional weather routers (which we heartily recommend) and a fast boat you can avoid bad weather.  We don't buy it. Bad weather will eventually find you.  Prepare for it. 

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Nome to Cordova picture fix

 Bianca on Deck - Sailing in the Bering Sea means survival suits and multiple layers.

 Jannelle getting ready to put up the mainsail.

 The entrance into False Pass, and our first view of the Aleutian Islands

 The entrance into False Pass is very shallow, with strong tidal currents.  We entered just as the tide was changing in our favor.  Initially we had 25kts of wind and 3kts of current against us.

We spent Five Days in False Pass waiting for the wind to die down for our sail to Cordova.  We met Mark and Nancy, famous high latitude sailors with their steel ketch Tamara.

 As we neared Prince William Sound, the sun came out.

 Green, TREES, Sun, Warm Water.

 Dedicated watch keeper.

 A pod of Orca.

 Bianca at the Helm.

 We anchored at Double Harbor for the night.  Our eyes were still adjusting to the green.

We went for a swim from the boat for the first time since 2008 when we decided to turn left instead of right when leaving the St. Lawrence Seaway.

 Sun Hats!


 The Town of Cordova, winter home of Precipice 2011-2012

We constructed a cover frame and installed shrinkwrap.  Cordova gets more rain than West Michigan, which is saying something.

 We were lucky to meet Kim and Kirsten of S/Y Sol, from Denmark.  They have cruised the equivalent of two circumnavigations, most of it high latitude.  They hope to make the Northwest Passage next summer.  They also helped us get our plastic cover on during the short break between rainstorms.

Shrinking the Plastic around the Frame

Precipice all snug and ready for winter.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Leaving the Bering Sea

Precipice has left the Bering Sea, and we are not going to miss it. The majority of our time in the Bering Sea since we sailed into it two years ago has been spent sailing in rain, 6-8 foot square waves, and temperatures in the mid 40-50 degree range. It is very much like sailing Lake Michigan . . . in December. We made it to False Pass next to Unimak Island in five days from Nome. We are waiting here until a front passes through tomorrow morning and then we will be on our way to Prince William sound. It is beautiful in the Aleutian Islands and it is great to finally be here after a lifetime of imagining what they are like. Everyone has their sea legs back, and it feels really good to be moving in Precipice again.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Back from the USSR

Precipice is sailing home. We were able to visit two other towns besides Providenya and we did about 25 miles of walking. We had an amazing time in Russia and felt welcomed there. Our check our procedure was just as lengthy as our check out procedure, but they did come down to the boat and we didn't have to go into town going to office to office as some more southern countries (like Mexico) require you to do. The border guards were efficient and friendly. They also provided a"free of charge" 24 hour guard of Precipice. We could leave the boat behind and not worry about somebody messing with it. The biggest bummer of the stay was we were not allowed to have visitors on the boat because technically our boat is an extension of US territory and the visitor would have to have a US visa to enter. People from the town were also not allowed to take pictures of our boat. We weren't allowed to take pictures of our guards either. We did get to visit and have tea in several peoples homes and were warmly welcomed. The day before we left we got to visit the local school and found it clean and well maintained. Of all the buildings in town, the school was in the best condition. The principle gave Deb, a teacher for 15 years, a tour of some classrooms and the children were well behaved and polite, if not even a little shy. We should be back in the USA tomorrow morning. It will be interesting to observe the check in procedures of our own country compared to Russia.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Precipice is in Russia

We have been cleared to be in Russia and are tied up in Providenya. At one point we had 12 people at the wharf in order to process our entry. We had a port captain, border guard, customs, immigration, a doctor to check our health. I had to fill out everything in triplicate and sign and stamp it, they then filled out more and signed and stamped it. Everyone was dressed in official clothing and hats. Sue helped with translation and filling out paperwork. It all took about three hours. Every one was friendly, and some even smiled. Everyone is healthy, our crossing went well, and we look forward to meeting more people here. We now are in our beds, our guard is on the wharf watching over us, and we are ready to sleep.

Rolland for the Trowbridges

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

From Russia with Love

Precipice is sailing toward Russia. We had our bad weather right off, a short bit of 25-30kt winds followed by a night of 20-25kt steady winds. Waves never got more than 8ft tall, but were very square and we were beating into them. When we sail into the waves the deck and us get wet. Our first 24 Hours we sailed all but 9. We took on crew for this trip, our guide for Russia, Sue. Sue has done two sailing trips on the Bearing Sea on a Russian sailboat and is a great hand to have on board. We are all getting much more sleep than we are accustomed to on passage. In a couple of hours we expect another low to pass over us, and a repeat of last nights weather. We hope to be in Russia tomorrow if we don't break anything tonight. Our Propusk (paperwork that allows us to travel within Chukotka) unexpectedly allows us to visit the city Anadyr as well as Providenya. We are excited. The adventure continues.

I have received many messages goading me to blog more. I have been glued to Precipice getting her ready for this trip and whatever else we end up doing this year. The Northwest Passage is tough on a vessel. Every thing seems to be working good, with just a few bugs to work out. Our engine, rig, sails, and hull are all ready for travel.

It is really good to be back under sail again, and back in our home.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Iditablog, my thumb is sore.

Seeing the end of the Iditarod has been a lifetime goal.  I think Jannelle and Bianca lucky to have experienced it.  During the Iditarod the population of Nome swells by 30%.  Nome doesn't have that much extra living space so many people open up couches and kitchens for visitors.  It is easy to pick out the visitors though, they are the ones wearing "technical" winter clothing, special boots and hats like it is cold here or something (the week before the end temps got to -30F).   Nomites just wear what they can grab on the way out the door.

Jannelle petting a dog that just ran 1100 miles

You would do this too after running for 10 days straight.

It is spring time by the calendar.  The ocean is still frozen and the snow keeps falling, but the days are getting longer.  We are getting 18 hours of sun every day now, and still adding 6 or more min. every day.  One of my main tasks has been repairing sails that have wear and tear from  5000 miles of sailing and three gales.  Much of this work is handwork, work that cannot be done by sewing machine.  I have been reinforcing the wear areas of our sails with leather.  This means that I am pushing a needle through 11 layers of sail, two layers of web strap, and two layers of leather.  This has led to a sore thumb from my sailors palm pushing against my needle.  I have broken over 20 needles in the last month.   

This is the same corner as above all the stitching has been redone, webbing straps installed to support the corner ring, new edges sewn on, and leather hand sewn in to protect the new edges.  

Much of the work cannot be done by sewing machine.

All the corners of the sails are getting reinforcing web straps sewn in, and protective leather sewn on.

All the sails get laid out and inspected carefully.  This is our 
Mainsail.  I have ordered material to build a new one.  

This is our largest foresail.  

It is a good thing that room had a door.  We are measuring for the construction of an asymmetrical spinnaker.  Even though we had to contend with three gales (sustained winds over 35kts) this last season, we had the sails to handle that.  What we really missed is a large light sail for the light wind days that turned our 10 day trip from Newfoundland to Greenland into 16 days.  

This is our apartment turned into sail loft.  Bianca spent many hours helping me restitch our Staysail.

This is our sailrite LSZ-1.  Sailrite is one of those rare companies that provides phenomenal customer service.  They have helped me countless hours on the phone from Skpe calls in Newfoundland to Satellite calls from the Northwest passage.  Thank you Eric for all you have done to take care of me.  This sewing machine has paid for itself many many times over.  

I also managed to find the time to hand sew a ditty bag (sailors bag) for the pastors of our house church (and friends) back in Grand Rapids who pretty much babysat me while I did technical teaching for six weeks.  Thank you Dan and Carrie!  

Every stitch is by hand.  It takes about 70 hours of palm work to make one of these bags.

We have managed to sneak some needed goof off time in there.  We took a 70 mile snowmachine trip up into the mountains.

If there is something to climb, climb it.  This is Jannelle halfway up a crane to inspect a birds nest.

Every day after school, Bianca watches one of Deb's co worker's babies.  She also manages to get her homework done at the same time, I guess.

Bianca won an award for the Iditarod theme section of an art contest.  It also came with a $50 dollar check. It is a slippery slope when you start making money off of art.  

Jannelle won the "Student of the Month" in March for the Junior High School.  We were invited to a school board meeting where a teacher gave a speech about how caring and hardworking our daughter is.
We had to agree.

Jannelle took a class on Native needlework and made a pair of sealskin baby shoes.  She also is taking a Junior Lifeguard class, learning CPR and rescue skills.  

This is Deb and I dressed for the climate.   We could have turned right when we left Newfoundland last year and have easily made it to the Bahamas for the winter.  We are glad we didn't.