Captains Log - 3rd August 2017 - The Great North Pacific Orca Adventure

1115 Local time, 44 29 North 124 33 West

Four men are sitting in the cockpit. One man declares if he catches another fish he will be completely unbearable. Another man dryly comments that he already is unbearable. The undulating seas off the Oregon coast are filled with laughter from all four.

What happens when you take four men with vastly different backgrounds and experiences and form a team to tackle one of the reputed toughest stretches of offshore sailing. Four men who are largely new to each other as a team.

This is an expedition that will take the freshly minted team North from San Francisco, sailing underneath the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, turning right and then heading North along the California and Oregon coast before turning right at Cape Flattery and heading to Canadian Waters around British Columbia and Vancouver Island. This is an expedition of some 1,000 miles and 10 days at sea

The team is thus:

Jani - a tough resourceful Hungarian man with a kind thoughtful nature and an easy sense of humour. He also happens to be a brilliant chef and a brilliant engineer.

Pete - a man with the driest sense of humour and a twinkle in his eye as he pulls your leg. Resolute, stoic, resourceful and who also happens to be a vastly experienced sailor who has spent his whole working life on the sea as a high ranking US Naval officer.

Ellis. Think Tigger. Then 10 x it. Enough energy, enthusiasm and humour to make anyone smile. A captain of the media industry who has spent a lifetime working the rich, famous, glamorous and influential.

And your writer, the Captain on Team Aretha, For this expedition heading North to some of the most stunning cruising grounds in the world, I’m privileged to be joined by this team of wonderfully diverse people.

For two weeks before the team arrive, I have been head down on maintenance work to get Aretha ready for this expedition. It has been a year since she has been sailed on a testing passage and much needs to be done to ready her. Whilst I am head down in work on Aretha, my wife Nichola is working equally hard arranging life raft servicing, identifying customs clearance procedures and satellite communications whilst we are at sea.

Jani and Ellis arrive 36 hours before departure and after a meal and a good nights sleep join me in the final preparations. Engine and generator servicing, filling propane gas bottles and other boat maintenance jobs fill the day. Pete arrives in the afternoon and the team all meet for the first time. 

We head out for supper at the local Italian and to allow the team to get to know each other. I am the common link. Jani I have sailed with for the past 15 years. He has met Pete and Ellis just once before. Pete was on his own yacht, Wayward Wind when he sailed the World ARC at the same time as me and has not met Ellis before. Ellis and I met only recently and is planned his own family sailing adventures.

We hit our bunks early - we have a big day tomorrow and want to be well rested and ready to go. 

We all wake early and make use of the hot showers and final bits of work using wifi and the few remaining boat jobs. Jani cooks an omelette and over breakfast I introduce the team to the concept of our values and hand out the first values prizes and begin our daily questions routine. Ellis kicks us off with the question: “What am I grateful for”. The answers flow easily and thoughtfully.

We have final safety briefings at 0900 and by 0935 we slip lines and are waved off by my good friend Neil who has lovingly looked after Aretha every week we have been in San Francisco and who was here to take our lines when we arrived last year.

It is a bright morning. The California sunshine is warming the blue skies and we motor out of the marina. Just past the marinas in Sausalito, we hoist the full main and unfurl half the genoa. We can see the breeze line ahead of and we head towards the City, with Alcatraz Island to our port side. The Golden Gate Bridge comes into sight marking the start of our entry into the Pacific ocean. We sail to the City side of the Bay and tack giving us a clear run under the bridge under sail. With iPhones and Facebook Live capturing the moment, Jani steers us under the bridge and out to sea. We are officially at sea and it has begun.

Our expectations for seeing wildlife are high. Reports over the past few days from local friends have told us about the many whales around here. For the first hour. Nothing.

Ellis spots something on the water. Our eyes all swivel to where he is pointed. It takes a while to focus on where he is looking. It’s seaweed. Pete casually comments “ you can look at the seaweed over there if you like, but I’m going to watch the whales jumping over here”.

For the next 6 hours until the light starts to fade we are treated to the most spectacular displays as these huge giants of whales play around us. Some ambling on the surface within 50 metres, some leaping clear of the water, some with the classic shot of their tails pointed towards the skies. It is breathtaking and we can barely leave the decks. They are interspersed with their smaller friends, dolphins and sea lions.

The weather forecast for the passage is the best it can be. This section of coast normally has 30-40 knot winds tearing down from the North making for tough upwind sailing. Our passage looks to have either very light winds or Southerly winds with light downwind sailing. The first evening is damp as the heavy fog that San Francisco is famous for shrouds Aretha and reduces visibility to some 100 metres at best. We have our lights on, radar watch and a constant look out on deck. We are running a watch system of 3 hours on, 6 hours off for the crew with me being available whenever needed.

The first night at sea is a calm one as we motor sail North and by morning time, the smell of fresh coffee and a cooked breakfast by Jani gives us the best start to the day.

The next four days all blur together woven together by an array of highlights and the masculine camaraderie of a fresh team bonding together. Some highlights in no particular order….

  • Jani and Ellis catching a huge blue fin tuna. Estimated at some 18 pounds, Ellis was reluctant to bring it in initially as he thought it was a shark. Once we established it wasn't going to eat, us, we landed it and within minutes the testosterone levels went through the roof as we carved and ate fresh sashimi on deck. Later in the day, Jani and Ellis engaged in healthy competition to see who could make the finest fresh tuna dishes. Pete and I were the undisputed winners benefiting from the taste and flavour explosions created by our wizards in the galley. By Day 4, we’d add to the fish tally with a 3 pound Oregon salmon. Sashimi followed as before and I think I have the cooking honourslater today for this king of fish.
  • Enjoying the wildlife and seeing huge albatrosses soaring low over the water and around Aretha.
  • The wind and sea has been remarkably kind to us and we have had extremely benign conditions and have been steadily motoring our way North and expect to round Cape Flattery in two days time.

The undisputed highlight though has been the camaraderie and banter between these remarkable individuals. There are no ego’s on display - simply stories, shared experiences and laughter. The bonds that have been created in such a short space of time have created an environment where we are all sharing stories, challenges and opportunities for the future - helping and supporting each other. The daily questions written by my daughter Bluebell feature morning and evening - last nights one of “How have I invested in my future today” opening up many avenues of conversation.

We have much ahead of us still and the next instalment will no doubt be rich with tales as Ellis is keen to scale the mast in the rolling 6 foot swells. Video and photos will capture the moments.

Being a boat, we aren't without our boat issues. We snagged some fishing gear this morning on our propeller and thankfully managed to clear it without having to dive under the boat. Our inverter (which turns power from the batteries into your usual household power to charge iPhones and iPads) has stopped working. When I shared the news with the crew, Petes dryness brought humour to the situation …”Well Captain Cook and Columbus didn't have an inverter and it worked out ok for them”!

From a happy freshly minted team onboard Team Aretha, Out.