Saturday, October 13, 2018

Off to the Oyster Festival

Saturday October 6th, a flotilla of four departed Budd Inlet bound for Oakland Bay and the Shelton Yacht Club.  Our route took us north to Hope Island then through the dreaded Hammersley Inlet, a transit fraught with danger:  shoals, grey whales, fast currents, and twists and turns of the topography.  Scott and Connie on Traveler (Passport 42) were chased out of Budd Inlet by Rick and Ada with Amanda as crew on Clara June (Freeport 41) and we arrived together at Hope Island at 13:45, halfway through the rising tide, timed so that if we ran aground in the narrow channel we’d soon float off.

Grey Whale in Hammersley Inlet
Rick had a new chart plotter at the helm so he led our two boats towards the way- north entrance to Hammersley Inlet, avoiding the notorious Arcadia grounding.  30 foot off the Hungerford Point #2 red channel marker, we edged into Hammersley Inlet feeling our way with the depth sounder.
We transited around the north shoreline, hugging land closely.  As Clara June rounded Cape Horn the VHF squawked with Rick’s voice, “Watch for the grey whale mid channel!”  I pulled back the throttle and put her in neutral as I edged to the side of the channel in time to see a beautiful gray whale arcing out of the water on our starboard bow.  It surfaced soon after off our port side then disappeared with a flip of the tail.  We continued on… amazed.

Hammersley is like a river, with the channel first on one side then the other, following the contours of the land.  The current was running with us and soon we caught up with two other SSSS boats making their way west.  Katie Braun, skippering WindWalker, had Dave Chance (Island Sailing Club instructor) aboard along with crew Doug Powell.  Alongside was Neil Mink, sporting a very nice beard and single handling his Morgan 27 Nasty Jack.  All together we were whisked westward at 8 knots, running with the current.

Nasty Jack
We encountered a minimum depth of 8 feet under our 6.5 foot keel at half tide as we headed toward Libby Point then Skookum Point to arrive at the final reach with good depth all the way into Oakland Bay and the Oakland Marina.  I hailed the Shelton Yacht club on channel 68 and got instructions to continue into the marina.  Traveler led the way into the tight marina and found a starboard tie right at the gangway, just barely squeezing into our designated slot.  We took Clara June to raft on our port side.

Traveler and Clara June
Soon afterward, Windwalker and Nasty Jack arrived and found space at the south dock.  Already present was Barry and Gloria on Soul Catcher (Maple Leaf 42) and Richard Bigley on his C&C Plus, Jolly Rumbalow.  Now we had six SSSS boats present for the late afternoon appetizer pot luck in the spacious Shelton Yacht Club clubhouse.   Thank you to whomever it was who brought the wonderful crab dip!  The Shelton folks made us very welcome.  Nice people.

Sunday we went to Oysterfest in a light drizzle and had a great time, eating way too many oysters, watching the shucking competitions, and listening to local music. Sunday night we had a little get together on Traveler and played music into the night.   
Soul Catcher and Jolly Rumbalow

Monday, up at 8, Traveler followed Clara June back down Hammersley, running with the current on a falling tide to get dumped into Pickering Passage with eddies, swirls, and upswellings pushing us on our way.   We ate eggs and toast once we reached the relative safety of Squaxin Passage and Budd Inlet.  Our transit time from Shelton to Oly Town was a mere 3 hours.

Would we do it again? Next year,  youbetcha!   The secret is to hang out at the oyster shucking competition tent 30 minutes after the event to be there when the judges emerge with twelve heaping platters of oysters on the half shell looking for volunteers to consume them. Me! Me!

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

S/V Traveler Goes To Work

Bachelorette Party!
Summer has gone by in a flurry of activity as we've spent countless hours on the phone and on the internet setting up Budd Inlet cruises for landlubbers who want short outings on the water.  Scheduling and accepting credit card payments is only half the battle.  The biggest (and most fun) part is taking those folks out on the boat.

We recently bought a small house on the west side of Olympia, fairly near the marina where Traveler has a slip on E dock.  We cleared tons of gear off the boat and into the little house until the boat was empty and the house was full. New PFDs and comfortable seats were pretty much all we needed to have the boat ready for a steady stream of visitors.  Calls came in and the calendar started to fill. Our new charter business was off with a bang.

Romantic couples cruise
We completed eighteen cruises by July 1st, did fifteen in July,  and twenty three in August.  Today we have a double booking that will bring us to seventy one charters completed this season. I guess I can say we've got the process down by now.  We know the ropes... or the lines I should say.
Friends and family

Rick and Ada ran this charter business on S/V Clara June, an Islander Freeport 41, for six years with great success.  We chose to manage this season's charters in that same proven method.  Starting off, we try to make our customer contacts on a personal level, eschewing online booking and payment technologies and instead steering new clients to have conversations with us over the phone.  In this manner we can get a feeling about what our clients are looking for and avoid over selling or under selling the experience.  Some people need to be reassured that it will be a relaxing and not a taxing experience, just a nice glide across the water.  Others want a more active cruise where they raise the sails and steer the boat, or maybe just see the drinks keep coming.

Can I bring my infant, my kids and my 90 year old grandpa?  Sure.  Can I bring a box lunch and a cooler of beer?  You bet.
Everybody gets to drive the boat

The day of the charter, we bring them aboard early, making sure they've used the restroom ashore, then note the wind and tide as we walk down the dock.  We climb aboard and all go below to view a chart of the area and hear a ten minute orientation and safety meeting which sometime stretches longer when they start asking about where we've been and how we've traveled so far.  I fit everyone with life jackets.  Non-swimmers and children have to wear them whenever they are above deck.  Other adults have the option to take them off.  We scoot everyone back up on deck and arrange them sitting on the front and sides of the boat in comfortable chairs.

CB blows the conch
With Connie at the wheel, I slowly walk the boat out of the slip.  Our prop walk in reverse pulls the boat to port.  We need to back out to starboard.  So I have to push her out by hand, swinging the bow around as I scramble aboard at the last minute, pausing for a second to wave bye bye and pretend that I'm not getting aboard.  Once she's in the fairway I take the wheel and Connie goes forward to button up the lifeline and bring out the conch shell which she blows heartily as we approach the turn out of the fairway between D and E dock.  We wave to neighbors on their boats and try to create a party atmosphere as we exit.  Connie leans out over the bow pulpit to look for oncoming traffic as I ghost the ship forward in neutral.  When I get the OK symbol from Connie, off we go!

Connie pulls in the lines and coils them, then brings the fenders and the boarding ladder back to the cockpit. Gotta keep it shipshape.  As we make our way out the narrow channel between the mud flats, we chat up the clients to get a feel about how they'd like the cruise to go.  Would you like to buzz through the downtown docks? or perhaps over to the log booms?  Is Sammy the seal sunning himself on the red buoy #6?  If so, we buzz by him/her for a photo.  Is there wind?  If so, maybe we head straight out, nose into the breeze and get the mainsail ready.
Fun activity for family visits

If no wind, we serve drinks right away.  If wind, I get the halyard ready then ask for help among the guests.  We put their strongest person (or youngest) at the mast and watch as they easily raise the first sections of sail.  The higher it goes, the more difficult it is until eventually most people can't raise it any more.  Then I show them how to sweat up the last few feet.

We tension the halyard the last few inches with the winch then drop the topping lift and off we go.  Eventually we cut across the shallows and get on a close reach.  I warn everyone on the front deck that the big green thing on the front of the boat will unroll and advise them to not let it knock their sunglasses off their heads.  Out comes the big Genoa and away we go, usually at a blistering 3 knots.

Half of the time, we just motor in the calm flat waters of Budd Inlet.  We bring out binoculars so folks can spot seals and eagles, then we serve them an organic fruit bowl or maybe some soft cheeses, salami, and crackers.  If they bring alcoholic beverages we serve these to them and keep it coming till they've had enough.

With wind, we grab the kids and let them steer the boat.  In really fresh wind, everyone takes turns at the wheel just to feel the power of the wind on the ship.  Big grins all around. Time for pictures.

When my clock says we are at the halfway point we tack her around and retrace our route back towards town.  Usually this part of the cruise is downwind, so everything calms down and people relax.  Connie normally comes forward with her ukulele and sings a few songs.  Sometimes I join her for a hearty rendition of "What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor."  If there is a birthday, there is a birthday song.  If there is an anniversary, there is the couple's favorite "falling in love" song.
Having fun messing about in boats

People get quiet as we enter the narrow channel approaching the marina. We bring out the fenders and lines and prepare for docking.  I check the clock to make sure the guests have received their purchased time on the water, then we slowly approach our turn at E dock.  Gliding in neutral I swing the wheel to port just when our cockpit lines up with that special sailboat on D dock.  At first it looks like we'll ram the dock but as the boat swings around its keel we normally glide in without loosing much paint.

Connie shreds it

Connie steps off with the amidships line and snags a cleat.  Then she takes the bow line forward as I step off with the stern line.  Our guests have a momentary look of confusion then they realize that they are done!  Nothing to do now but get off the boat.  We have a flurry of activity as people find lost sunglasses and wallets.  I remind them that they should probably take off the life jackets now.  Can't take them home after all.   There are handshakes all around, hugs even, and lots of group pictures.  About half the time one of those handshakes has a tip inside.

Blustery day in Budd Inlet
They tell us how they'd love to go out again, and I make sure they have our business card.  While one of us walks them up the dock, the other does an idiot check for items left behind.  At this point, with the guests gone, we normally open some beers and relax a minute, eating some left over fruit, cheese, and salami.  We talk about the cruise and how sweet everyone was.  We talk about the kids and the grandparents, and try to figure out who was with who.  It's a nice "after the party" time for us.  Then it's dish washing time, and we stow the seats and cushions and bring the dinghy around to the side of the boat to hoist it up in the air.  I gather up the trash and we head up the gangway, a little tired but pretty happy realizing how lucky we are to be able to do what we love to do and get paid to do it.

Mystic Journeys on Traveler has a website.  Check it out at

We do photo shoots!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Jordan Series Drogue Sold

Sold the drogue - 125 cones - 365 ft long - for up to 25,000 lb sailboat    $350.  It went fast after posting it on the Cruiser's Forum.    We got it in Mexico at a swap meet back in 2015 and I think we paid $350 for it there.

We added twenty more cones and some line to bring it to the length needed for our heaver boat.   Now it's sold to someone who is planning a trip to the South Pacific.
Never deployed, but has been with the boat for two years while we crossed from Mexico to Hawaii to Alaska.  Source was a
SailRite kit. Has heavy duty shackles, stout bridle, 365 ft of 5/8 to 3/4 line.  All new materials. All done to specifications.  Sized to fit our boat which is a Passport 42 ft at 25,500 lb.  I attach a 25 ft chain to the end as an anchor/weight.  Probably don't want me shipping that part.

Located in the Seattle area.  This thing is heavy (65 lb).

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Swallowing the Anchor So We Can Keep on Sailing

Traveler's Makeover
As you know, we recently had a sit down with our old friend Traveler and explained to her that the time had come for her to start contributing her fair share to the household economy.  Living on a fixed income amid rising prices, escalating housing costs, out of control health insurance, and soaring varnishing expenditures, we were forced to sell dear Traveler into service.  Yes, she's going to work.

This winter we brushed up her bottom, greened up her top sides, and painstakingly restored her teak and holly floorboards.  We've stocked up on PFDs, signed a bunch of forms, opened an LLC, and prepared for the summer onslaught of land lubbers tromping down the gangway to take pretty summer excursions on the "oh how the mighty have fallen" sailing vessel Traveler.  Where once she was the sort that crossed oceans, she now shuttles land based creatures back and forth across the flat backwaters of the most southerly Salish Sea.
The Other Woman

As a further insult, we've traded Connie's rental house in Tumwater for, as Zillow puts it, "A charming craftsman style home in the heart of West Olympia."  We've truly swallowed the anchor.

If our boat could read she'd cringe with jealousy at the words in the ad, "Refinished hardwood floors, warm colors add to the rustic character of this fine home." And she would say,  "Why, that sounds like me!  They've thrown me over for another... and an older woman at that!"

To make up for this gut-wrenching blow, we've given Traveler lots of attention, sprucing her up quite nicely, a face-lift of sorts.  Coming in the post are new glasses with little fishes and sailboats embossed on the sides.  We've got new cups and plates with non-skid rubber bumpers to keep everything in place even in the fiercest of seas (like that's ever gonna happen in Budd Bay) and we're shopping for jewelry for Traveler in the form of  a new silverware pattern with little anchors stamped on them.
Giles has oak floors, Traveler has teak and holly.

It's exciting buying a house, Connie and I together for the first time. We have lived in my house and we have lived in her house, but never in OUR house.  This new house at 1910 Giles Ave NW is older than either of us.  It's right in town, only ten minutes to the marina, and within walking distance to the CO-OP and all it's organic wonderfulness. And we've got lots of  good friends who live nearby.
Six coats of varnish on the floorboards.

As you know, it's a crazy world in the real estate market here in the Pacific Northwest.  We missed out on a couple of houses that we tried to buy but failed because our offer was not strong enough.  When we found this house we knew what we had to do... 1. put an offer in immediately and 2. use an escalation clause so our bid would top other offers.  We waited the weekend to see the outcome.  On Tuesday we saw we had captured first place, the multiple offers escalating 14k above asking price!

Oh Traveler, you've got to really help us now.  We spent a fortune on that other gal and now we've got to have a spectacularly profitable chartering summer.  We are all doing our part for the family finances.  Connie has a half dozen gigs coming up and I've got lots of old boating gear I'll be selling online.   

Come aboard!
As the weather warms, the phone calls become more frequent and slowly we are accumulating reservations for charters.  Three weeks from now we've got our first charter of the season when Connie and I will be happy as clams as we share some of the great times we've had sailing Traveler all those miles.  We'll serve out the ice tea in those little glasses with the fish or sailboats embossed on the sides, pass around the CO-OP organic fresh fruit salad, and sing a song together as Traveler's shiny green hull slides through the waters and her white sails billow with promise.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Bright Warm Light Streaming Into the Cabin

How wistfully we read the blog posts of our old cruising friends, those still making passages on their sailboats up and down the Gulfo de California in sunny Mexico.  They anchor in sandy bays and wake up to bright warm light streaming into their cabin.  Up here it is a struggle for survival with the constant drizzle, overcast skies, and just above freezing temperatures.  We've had to wear socks!

There was a rare week long period when it didn't rain.  That's when we repaired, sanded, and painted Traveler's bottom.  Since then, we've not had enough "no rain" days to do any exterior work on Traveler and it looks like this trend will continue another month.  We've contracted with a local mechanic to replace our propeller shaft and coupling but I think he's hiding out from the rain as well as the only progress I have seen is the absence of our propeller. 

On the home front, things are moving more rapidly.  I made the mistake of check-marking the little box in the website Zillow that announces that for a certain price, a buyer could "make us move."  Some folks from American Samoa, 7000 miles away, saw that little checked box and made us an offer.  We were not ready to move and were actually looking forward to having a little hibernation time in Connie's Tumwater house.  Now we are immersed in all the pesky details of negotiating the sale of this little house.  We are doing so without the guidance and cost of agents, saving a chunk of change in the process.  Can I tell you how unpleasant it is to put on the overalls and squirm under the house into the crawl space.  How about the fun to be had picking up rat poop and replacing soiled insulation in the attic?

Paperwork comes flying in attached to email messages.  We print it off then fall asleep trying to read the legalese.  Sign, initial, date. Scan it and send it off. Google the phrase "time of transfer", "encroachment", and "statutory warranty deed".  Heck, I just recently figured out the difference between port and starboard.

The good part about this sale is that we'll be able to continue to stay here for a little while as renters.  That will give us all of spring to look for another place to land while we try to get boat projects done to be ready for chartering season in June. 

I've updated the Mystic Journeys on Traveler web site finally.  Please go there and have a look.  Tell me if something looks too goofy.  Mystic Journeys on Traveler

We've got our LLC started and have started taking reservations for cruises this summer. Anyone reading this blog is probably a friend or family so I'd like to make you a special offer.  We are having a "Friends and Family" special for bookings in May and June.  It's a half price sale.  Book a cruise, or buy a gift certificate for a cruise (give it as a gift) and we'll slash the price in half.  How's that for raw capitalism?

Meanwhile, Connie has had a gig here and there.  We are still freaking out at what's happening to our country and what's happening to our planet. Both of us are relatively healthy.  Connie's kids are doing great.  We are enjoying the friendships that abound her in Olympia and miss the folks in Seattle that we used to hang with there.  As I lie in bed, I do continue to dream of those southern seas and the bright warm light streaming into our cabin.  Miss those days, yes.
Connie got a tea cozy for her birthday.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Into the Mystic

Normal people are making gift lists and shopping lists and ingredient lists for their favorite recipes, all getting ready for the holidays.  Connie and I... we're  making lists of boat projects... because we're hauling our boat out for the holidays. We're doing " Haul-i-days!!!   Ha!

Instead of wrapping presents like most people, we're going to haul old Traveler out of the water and wrap HER in plastic.  We'll fire up propane heaters instead of yule logs so we can patch the scrapes on her keel and repaint her pretty round bottom.  These last couple of weeks after moving into Connie's rental house in Tumwater, we've been carting stuff off the boat, down the dock, up the ramp and into our little pickup truck to haul over to the house.

Somehow or another over the last five years we've been able to pack enough stuff into the tiny little cubby holes and gargantuan lockers on Traveler to fill up a 1,300 square foot house.  Every time we go to the boat we unearth more treasures. As these items come off the boat, the waterline (stripe on the side of the boat where boat meets water) rises.  She's sitting so high out of the water now that I'll have to remeasure the mast height to see if I can still pass under the Agate Pass bridge without knocking off the VHF radio antennae.

Connie has this cute little rental house in Tumwater where we have set up residence for the winter.  We bought a bed and a dining room table and that's about it.  Coming off the boat, this house, while only 1350 square feet, seems huge.  We find ourselves using only three rooms, the head, the master cabin, and the galley.   Because we've spent the last seven years sharing a 53 inch wide bed, we went whole hog and ordered a California King bed from Tuft & Needle. After shoehorning it into the bedroom (master cabin) we find ourselves drifting around the big bed searching for each other through the night.  From the master cabin we dash through two totally unnecessary rooms named "living" and "dining" to find the kitchen where we've recreated Traveler's galley with the addition of a tiny table (settee) and a stand up heater.  The bathroom (head) is totally out of proportion with a tub big enough to submerge a small crew member.  Try as we might we can't stop putting TP into the trash can instead of the commode.  As you see, it's difficult to adjust to life on the hard.

We got the news this week from Sarah Krill at Swantown Boatworks that she's found a place in the yard for us to put the boat for three months.  November 30, two hours before high tide, we'll haul her out($388.50), give her beautiful bottom a good scrubbing ($126), and block her up in the yard where she can be until the end of February (at $325.50 per month).  Somehow or another we've got to motivate ourselves to be creative with tarps and get some deck work and painting done over the winter.
Folding up the big genoa

Here is the honey-do list:
Patch and prime the keel

Sand and paint the hull
Remove the broken anchor windless and put in a new one or fix the old one

Sand and paint the freeboard
Rip up the rest of the teak decking
Glass and paint the decks
Hunt down a couple of leaks and put a stop to that nonsense
Replace the propeller shaft
Do quite a bit of varnishing down below
Replace headliners where they are drooping

The only problem I can see with our proposed location in the yard is that it's awfully close to the area where they put the old derelict boats that are slated for destruction. The southwest corner of the yard is where old boats go to die. We've seen these old gems get pulled out onto the pavement where a backhoe can get at them, jaws snapping, hydraulic fluid dripping.  With three big dumpster/coffins ready, the executioner breaks up the vessels and loads the splintered wood and fiberglass into the containers destined for burial in the landfill. Sad.

We'll be just a few feet from that last resting place of so much nautical history.  I just hope the backhoe operator/executioner doesn't mistake our dear Traveler for a poor old boat who's moorage bills were in arrears.

You might be thinking that the title of this post, "Into the Mystic" is referring to the ascent, or decent, of old vessels into the beyond.  But no.

We, that is Connie and I and Traveler and monkey, are embarking on a journey into the mystic which is Mystic Journeys, our new charter business. Rick and Ada have finished up the 2017 charter season on their boat Clara June and what a season it was, with record business and countless great reviews.  Talk about going out with a bang!  We will be switching lives with those two.  While we move into a house, they will be moving out of theirs.  While we have moved out of Traveler, they will be moving into Clara June.  We go to work.  They go to play.  They are off to the wilds of Canada and we're navigating the muddy channels of East Bay downtown Swantown.
The next two boats headed for the wrecking yard

We've gotta figure out how to start a Limited Liability Company, take over a web site, setup accounting procedures, get a reservation system started, score a marina slip with curb appeal, and order matching nautical outfits with our logo and company colors.

We will offer.....
Day sails of 2 to 6 hour duration in Bud Bay and beyond.
Overnight cruises to picturesque islands and remote moorings.
Multi-day adventures in south, central, and north Salish Sea.
Dinners aboard, music, kayaking, crabbing, mast climbing, barnacle scraping, galley cleaning, dodging rain showers and tidal rapids, and white knuckle bouts at the helm when the squalls roar in from the south.

If you wanna be part of the action, give us a call and we can book you on a relaxed summer cruise next June, July, August or September.   Until then, we'll be down here in the boatyard, scraping and painting away.  You are welcome to join in on the fun either way

Monday, September 4, 2017

We Are Home

Hope Island, will be one of our six hour cruises next year
I'm not sure what home means, or where home IS. Whatever it means, I suppose we are there now.  For three months this summer we woke up each morning trying to remember exactly where we were.... presuming we were some place to the north of Olympia.  First we bumped around Puget Sound for way too many weeks, then we visited various islands in the San Juans, then we crossed the border into Canada and gunkholed our way up the inside of Vancouver Island.

106 days out, we anchored 60 times, many of those stern ties in steep terrain. We grabbed free reciprocal moorage 26 times thanks to our memberships in the South Sound Sailing Society and the UW Sailing club.  Our Washington State Park pass netted us 22 mooring balls or docks, well worth its purchase price.  Of course we used some diesel, by cruising in the no-wind summertime bliss of the Pacific Northwest, but we did have some sailing time.  The key there is to get into open water like the Strait of Georgia or the Strait of Juan de Fuca or to take advantage of the inflow daytime wind up fjords.

Ada and Rick on Clara June - Mystic Journeys

We ate lots of crab.  Also harvested shrimp and oysters.  Provisioning was not a problem as there are big stores in the big towns and little stores in the little towns and we were quite pleased with the variety and quality of foods in Canada.  We were pleased as well with the welcoming attitude of the Canadians.  It seemed to us that the default attitude in Canada was to just be nice... always. (Maybe they felt sorry for us given our current political situation...)

Back on G dock at Swantown Marina in Olympia we have some projects (always projects) to take care of before we leave for sunny California for a month at the tomato farm.  On our return October 30, Obrador, a band Connie played in for many years, has a show at the Rhythm and Rye that will be lots of fun. (It's a costume party!)  Come November we'll move into Connie's rental house so that this winter we will have a warm, dry place to stay, unlike last winter when we struggled with rain, rain, and freezing temperatures.

Harbor Days this weekend in Budd Bay out to watch the tug boat races with friends.
We've started the process of taking on the charter business, Mystic Journeys, from Rick and Ada, doing ride-along crewing with them to see how they manage their charters. This winter we'll be spiffing up old Traveler and morphing the Mystic Journeys web site to accommodate the change in owners, crew, and boat.

The other day we took out five friends for a three hour cruise on Budd Bay to watch the tug boat races.  From that experience I'm convinced our sailboat Traveler will do just fine running 6-Pack charters out of Olympia. There is plenty of room up deck, in the cockpit, and down below in the cabin.  She's a sea kindly, stable vessel who loves to have fun!

Come next spring we'll be offering skippered charters, two, three, four, and six hour cruises here in Budd Bay as well as overnight and multi-day trips. We'll offer dinner cruises, music cruises, kid's cruises, wine/cheese paring sunset cocktail hours, and just about any kind of cruise you can dream up. Nothing too kinky, though.  If our experience is anything like what Rick and Ada have been doing, we'll be jam packed during the months of July and August.

Like as not, our hair-raising adventures of these past years will probably mellow out somewhat over the next few seasons.  But we'll do our best to catch the boat on fire, run aground, sink her, run into nefarious characters, get ripped off, break the law, starve, feast, and break stuff left and right.  Connie will continue to play music when she can and I'll be immersed in boat and house projects.  Gosh darn, it's a good life.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

It's a Crazy World

This post is originally from October 2017 but I moved it down a slot so that other sailing/chartering posts would float to the top.......  sv

What a strange week it has been.  As many of you know, Connie and I travel to California most Octobers to enjoy the warm weather and help out with the harvest.  I guess now I should say we travel to California for the fire season and participate in evacuations.

Last Sunday night the wind picked up and by midnight was blowing 40 mph, knocking down tree limbs and rattling the roof with acorns and pine cones.  A ladder fell over, lawn chairs went sailing, and roofing paper started to tear off our structure.  We had to secure doors and windows in the middle of the night.  We went outside to see the deer out in front of our building in the only clear area, munching on a feast of downed acorns.  Sleep was illusive.
Fires down the valley

Monday we found out from neighbors that the windstorm extended south all the way to the Bay area.  Downed power lines sparked fires all down the valley.  It has been a strange year, climate wise, in California.  They had lots of rain early in the season that brought a bumper crop of grasses.  Now these grasses are tinder dry after months without rain and are prime for burning.  About mid-day our friend returned from a reconnoiter across the hills with the news that a fire had started in the valley below and was burning out of control and in our direction.  We quickly put together we we needed to camp out for the night (and some beers) and headed down the mountain. 

Once on the valley floor we could see the smoke in the distance.  Following that smoke, we found the fire and cautiously approached.  Connie wanted to go away from the fire.  Her son Ezrah wanted to get closer.  We compromised.  We sat on a back road watching a line of flame running up hill north of town.  Our place was to the east so we breathed a sigh of relief.

Now that we knew where the fire was headed we felt we could go back up the hill. We did so, made our report, had dinner, and went to bed.

Tuesday was smokey and we spent the day monitoring the situation and trying to get a little work done.  The wind had turned southerly and evidently had driven the fire north. All afternoon we cold hear and see big planes overhead headed to the fire to "bomb" them with fire retardants.

Wednesday was still smokey.  By mid afternoon a neighbor came by and after a quick reconnoiter on the overlook above the property it was decided that we'd evacuate again as the fire was marching up the hill towards our area.  The three of us, Connie, Ezrah, and Scott, loaded up the truck again and drove down the hill.  On the way out we could see huge plumes of smoke and flame just below us in the foothills. At the bottom of the hill we joined a mass of cars and trucks and lots of folks who'd been flushed out of their remote properties by the smoke. Strange it was to stand on a dirt road with all those folks staring off to the north where huge plumes of smoke rolled into the sky.  Reluctantly we drove south out of the valley to the nearby town of Ukiah, emergency crews passing us going north to fight the fire.

In town, we filled the truck with gas then tried to find a hotel room.  Everything was booked.  We found the Red Cross shelter at the local high school and decided that was our best bet.  By then it was night so we settled into the school gymnasium.  Connie and I placed two cots together and covered them with blankets we'd brought.  Ezrah made his bed in the back of the pickup truck.  We had spaghetti for dinner along with the other refugees and later sat in the truck drinking wine and listening to the radio for fire updates.

Imagine a gymnasium full of people sleeping, or trying to sleep, on cots. Snoring. Coughing. Crying. Some of the people there were young trimmers run out of their temporary jobs by the fire. Others had fled their homes before they were consumed by fire.  Many sad people.  It was heartbreaking.

The Red Cross volunteers were so kind and had lots of information for us about where the fires were and what roads were closed.  It turns out that just after we made our exit from the valley the main road was closed to incoming traffic and a mandatory evacuation was in progress.  We got out just in time.  As we listened to the radio of a press conference at the local command center I was impressed with the professionalism of each presenter.  Each person made their agency report briefly,  thoroughly, and calmly.   Support was available for everyone.  Shelters for humans and animals were available.  Text, email, and phone alerts were in place.  Help poured in from all over the state and the country.

It struck me that this is how government is supposed to work.  This was so NOT like what we see on the national scene.  Nobody was tooting their own horn.  No criticism, no raised voices, no negativity.

Monkey in a diving bell
The next morning after breakfast at the shelter we packed our things up and headed south down highway 101.  In the car, we finally contacted our friend in the hills and he told us how just before nightfall a slew of big planes brought in a huge dump of fire retardant and stopped the advance of the fire up the hill toward his property.  Later, he watched the fire retreat to the south as the wind changed with the evening.

We drove through areas near Calistoga where fields and building on both sides of the highway were burned to the ground.  We saw blackened property in Santa Rosa and live fires to the east being doused by helicopters hauling huge bags of water.  It was smoky all the way south into the Bay area where we see many people wearing masks as they walk the streets.

Now we are stuck in a loop where we check the California Fire website and see that our entry road back up to the farm is still closed, then we wait for the next report.  Today Connie and I took BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to the waterfront in San Francisco and had a nice walk around in the crowds of tourists to see the sights and hear the sounds.  Bombarded with sounds and smells, it was quite overwhelming.  In a few hours we'd had enough of the big city and took transit back across the bay.

After the stress of living with the fire, and the stress of fleeing south, and the onslaught of all this city culture we are all three on edge.  Tempers are quick to flare.  I, myself, feel tired and want to just sit in the sun somewhere and think about nothing.  The good thing is that we found a soft place to land.  Connie found old friends just south of Oakland CA who has taken us in.  Alicia and Darin are providing us with needed distractions in their safe and comfortable home.

Tomorrow we'll check the road closures again.  If we can't get back to the farm we just might have to give it all up and drive back to Olympia, two weeks before planned.  Fires are burning all across California and in other states as well.  These California fires are more intense and more widespread than ever before.  While we'd considered buying some property in northern California, these fires have convinced us to stick with a wetter climate in Oregon or Washington.  Honestly, with all these extreme weather related events,I think it's time to figure out where the safest place is for us to be and to start moving towards creating a secure homestead for us and our loved ones.  Seriously, we're looking toward digging in (like with land... dirt) and find a land based property that will give us shelter in the unforgiving future that is our new reality.
Connie at Fisherman's Wharf