Seattle to San Francisco on the HR 46 INDIGO

By Pete McGonagle, Partner

“Thank goodness for hard dodgers and windshields,” I thought. It was a pitch dark night as we motored into westerly, gale force winds and rain off of Dungeness Spit. While poking my head out over the hard dodger to check for lights, I was impressed by the shelter provided. Less than ten hours into a Seattle to San Francisco passage and the Straits of Juan de Fuca were making us pay our dues. Afternoon and evening gale force winds are the summer norm, seeming to block our exit from Puget Sound, and entrance to the vast Pacific Ocean. Promises of strong, fair Northwest winds along the coast as well as a schedule to keep kept us motoring along.

I was invited to join Les and Marsha Books aboard their 1998 Hallberg-Rassy 46. INDIGO was headed south for the winter. First stop the Bay Area. Also along for the trip were veteran sailors John Rouches and Joe Payne. Rounding out the crew and giving us all a big vote of confidence, was Todd Richard. Todd owns and operates Sound Rigging, Seattle’s premiere sailboat outfitter. Todd knows sailboats and his presence meant INDIGO was a well found, outfitted, and prepared yacht. Six experienced crew, three watches, and provisions galore, it doesn’t get much better.

Sailing vessel IndigoLeaving Elliot Bay Marina in light southerly winds, late in the afternoon on Sunday August 12th, we spent the first two hours underway talking about emergency gear, procedures, boat systems, and watch routines. Man overboard modules, inflatable pylons, ditch bags, survival suits, flares, EPIRB’s, and more…… Time to rig the jack-lines and ready harnesses. After this thorough familiarization, it was a final relatively motionless dinner. Enchilada soup. Mmmmm great. Especially with the jack cheese and salsa. Most of us were to experience this entrée a second time that evening..

Pt. Wilson is where it starts. Ebb current against Westerly wind. You know the routine. 2230 and it begins to really blow. I’m sleeping in the “V” berth and the first wave to come over the bow finds it’s way into the forward dorade vent. “Time to shut that one,” I mention to John as cold seawater drips on our bunks. Good luck getting sleep prewatch. John’s amazed that I’m able to continue sleeping/levitating in this most forward cabin as he heads for a settee in the salon.

2300 and it’s our turn. Let’s get some of those electronics dimmed to the point where we might be able to see. I decide to shift the engine into low gear. Hey, it’s a Gori prop thing. We’re making three to four knots over the bottom as walls of water try to push our land-loving butts back towards Pt. Townsend. Not much commercial traffic tonight. Nothing like a nice 4kw radar and chart plotter. I packed three pairs of shorts, foul weather gear, the jeans I have on, a sweatshirt, and a half dozen Hawaian shirts. I should know better. No matter how hot it’s been in Seattle, that watch cap, gloves, and fleece are a must for these trips. Three hours go by tolerably fast. Les and Marsha’s turn.

Sleeping/levitating is made far easier in another hour at about 0200 with slack water, then flood, and diminishing winds. Yes, our dues have been paid. Next stop Neah Bay to top off on diesel. We’re taking no chances. We can motor all the way with full tanks. A world away from Seattle, we spend less than an hour at this last harbor refuge. 1300 and Tatoosh is left safely aft of our port beam. Ah the wind. And it’s Northwesterly. This is what I’ve been dreaming about. In April, while delivering an HR53 to the Bay, we spent way too much time motoring with constant Southerly winds. This time we would be ushered by our friends Dacron and Nylon. And on this boat, it’s all done with buttons from the cockpit. Hydraulic furlers on the main and jib along with electric winches would allow even retiring, old Jesse Helms to singlehand…..All the way to Cuba.

Oh, we still manage to leave the cockpit’s protection. There’s a mainsail boom preventer to rig, cruising spinnaker to play with. And this we do. “Indigo’s” spinnaker boasts a beautiful blue heron. She usher’s us South in a marginal breeze. Not for long as increasing winds have us lowering the sock. Overcast day turns to night and we’re all beginning to get used to the motions of a quartering sea. The boat is surprisingly comfortable. Great sea berths, a well laid out galley, very usable forward head, and many other features are appreciated as we toast our Swedish friends. Teak decks, a raised bulwark, forward facing nav station, cabin fans, a good CD player, tricolor light, gimbaled stove, lee cloths….. It works very well.

In less than a day we’re off of Oregon and it’s Tuna time. Fifteen degrees Celcius and a VHF call from a commercial fisherman are more than enough encouragement. A rubber snubber, high test line, and a “Mexican flag” gig are left astern at 150 feet. First hit a half hour later. Good looking fish. Les get’s very excited and haul’s it in. “Where’s the gaff or net?” Not enough fish to hold onto that hook and we loose her hauling aboard. Next time we’ll have the gaff ready. That next time happens about three hours later. It’s a team effort that’s smartly documented by Todd’s video camera. A twenty pounder. The aft deck becomes a covered with blood as John, an experience dory man, expertly guts and cleans our catch. That optional 50 litre per minute fire pump comes in very handy when blasting fish guts and blood. Another wise option selection by Les and Marsha.

Marsha prepares broiled tuna for dinner and Les vacuum seals the remainder for future use. John consults Amanda’s “Essential Galley Companion” and is happy to confirm proper cleaning technique. I take what is to be the third of three hot showers during this trip. The forward head’s separate shower stall is perfectly sized for showers underway. With plenty of tankage and a watermaker to boot should we need more, I’m encouraged to “go ahead.” Never before have I shaved and showered while underway each day. Oh how my shipmates appreciate this new found hygiene. It’s always those little things that impress. A wonderful shampoo/ bath gel/conditioner dispenser secured to the shower’s aft bulkhead allows flawless metering of these products. This list of owner added acoutrements to “Indigo” is very long. I’m blown away by the planning and execution. It’s success is measured by our underway comfort and safety. Both very high.

By day we count distance as the capes and cabos are passed. We’re running twenty to thirty miles out. Sporadic cell phone coverage. The main is out to port with preventer rigged. The genoa is poled out to starboard with foreguy. As the wind builds and eases, we roll and unroll sail. Perfect and effortless control. Yes, I do sometimes feel guilty on a boat like this. No headsail changes on a pitching wet deck. Dolphins play and entertain. I never tire of their games and showmanship. Barrel rolls, swan dives and synchronized swimming. Bioluminescent nighttime wakes. You can’t find this kind of entertainment on television. Satellite, cable, or DVD. No way.

Thursday finds us approaching the dreaded Cape Mendocino, and her southerly companion Punta Gorda. We’ve all heard stories and I’ve personally experienced the increased winds these coastal bumps are notorious for. A review of the weather fax reveals compressed isobars in this area. A low over Central California and a high offshore. All the right ingredients. Stir once or twice and add some waves. Hold onto your reef lines. This day was to be classic. Joe cooks a wonderful breakfast. He’s a master in the galley despite the motion. His pancakes are far better than the “broached eggs and sole food” I’ve offered to provide. Sole food is the popcorn and other morsels which have accumulated under the grating, in the cockpit “sole.” After four days of snacking on watch, it’s there.

The day dawns with clear skys and twenty knots dead astern. We decide to try out the new staysail and custom “Les is more” pendant. With the help of Todd, and Carol Hasse of Port Townsend Sailmakers, Les designed and manufactured an ingenios pendant allowing the staysail to be tacked on the stemhead. See photo. This increases the staysail size and allows the staysail to be poled out when running. Breaking out this Hasse work of art for the first time, we hanked it on, hauled it up, and poled it out to port. With the staysail to port, genoa to starboard, seas and winds increasing, the main was furled. A very easy task with hydraulic in-mast furling.

I’ve never sailed with twin-headsails and had previously thought twin poles on the mast to be an unnecessary burden. I was amazed at how well INDIGO was steering. With all the sailarea well forward, she was being pulled vs. pushed downwind. I even let go of the helm for over a two minute period to experiment. She stayed her course. As the morning turned to afternoon, winds built to storm force with a maximum of fifty knots apparent registering on the anemometer. INDIGO surfed along. Not being a flat-bottomed race boat, we were surprised at her motion down the waves. “14.9” was our top speed. To take load off the rig and maintain control, we rolled in genoa. Again, a very easy task.. Slack sheet. Ease pole forward. Hit “GENOA IN” button. Tighten foreguy. Voila. Perfect control. Judging by VHF transmissions to the US Coast Guard, other sailboats in the area were not fairing quite as well.

As afternoon turned to evening, conditions eased slightly. No longer were waves roaring up from astern. The freight trains had become trolley’s. Time for more sailarea. Roll out some more Genoa. Let’s keep her going at over eight knots. The Golden Gate awaits. Our last evening offshore and probably our coldest. Amazingly the water temp is down to eleven Celcius. Heck, it was up to a whopping fifteen off Northern Oregon. Time passes quickly. Especially with microwave popcorn. Yes, it’s as much fun to make as it is to eat. I advised Marsha to go heavy on this item when provisioning. More sole food.

A good night’s sleep and John and I are up again at sunrise. My favorite time of the day. Pt. Reyes looms ahead. Winds are decreasing and it’s a gorgeous day. Channel fever is rampant. As winds diminish, we strike the staysail, unfurl the main, and contemplate the spinnaker. As we pull nylon on deck, the wind dies off to less than eight knots. It’s knot worth it. Abeam of Pt. Reyes, we fire up the Yanmar, pitch the Gori into high gear and motor towards the Gate. In relatively calm conditions we pass a fleet of sportfishing boats. We take the inshore channel and round Pt. Bonita at noon.

And there it is…..The Gate. What sailors southbound from Seattle dream of. Champagne is opened. Camera’s flash, and toasts are made. “Wouldn’t it be great to fly the spinnaker while going under the bridge.” Enough wind has filled in from the West. It’s doable. Champagne glasses are stowed and this well rehearsed sail deployment goes smoothly. Under full main and cruising spinnaker, we pass at under the ochre colored Golden Gate Bridge. What a sight. Immediately we’re greeted to the “Bay.” Dodging a large catarmaran sailboat and a tugboat, we’re hit by a strong gust. Marsha cranks over the wheel. I ease the spinnaker sheet, and “Indigo” surges towards Alcatraz. “I think it’s time to ditch the Heron, ” I mutter. Down comes the spinnaker sock before lowering the halyard. We gybe and set course for the Bay Bridge. It’s blowing a solid twenty-five knots and a trademark summer afternoon in San Francisco.

After changing out a batten, Les expertly maneuvers “Indigo” into a transient berth at South Beach marina. We spend the next two hours swabbing the decks, hosing off a week’s accumulation of sea salt, and packing our bags. We even manage to have a few beers in the process. A great shoreside meal is enjoyed with the crew. A wonderful celebration after a safe, successful passage. Todd and John decide to catch the Giants at Pacbell. Hey we’re docked right there. I throw duffel over shoulder and thank Les and Marcia for a great trip.

As I walk towards the BART station, I think, “that was fun.” It was enjoyable and safe because we were aboard a well found boat. The boat was extremely well prepared, and we had a very competent crew. This is what passagemaking should be like.