Ralph and Sue Hampton
Ralph and Sue Hampton
Good News! 37VT63
LNVT owners 2002-2006
Ralph Hampton

The following stories by Ralph and Sue Hampton describe their purchase of Good News! 37VT63 in Sidney, B.C. and the subsequent cruise down the coast to Long Beach, CA in 2002.

The Thrill of the Yacht Purchase Chase

It was the second best day in a boat owner’s life. We had just walked down the dock for the last time after leaving good wishes with the new owner of our former 1986 51’ Sea Ranger motor yacht. It was a great first large boat and had served us well for 3 years including living aboard with our daughters for part of the time. We thought we needed to become landlubbers again in order to care for our elderly parents. However, during the year it took to sell the boat, improved health eliminated that need.

Now what? The first decision was easy – let’s get another boat. How soon – ASAP! What kind? Hmmm – good question. After much discussion, we decided to look for something smaller in the 38’-42’ range with one of everything instead of two of everything — one engine, one stateroom, one head, one shower, etc.

After a lot of review, we narrowed it down to Monk 40’s, Pilgrim 40’s and Lord Nelson Victory Tug 37’s – but we had never seen a LNVT in person. We flew to Honolulu to see what appeared to be a Monk 40 in good condition at a reasonable price. It turned out the pictures we saw were from its glory days. It was in sad shape now and the engine wouldn’t even start for the embarrassed broker. Oh well, 4 days in Honolulu is never a bad fall back trip!

Next we took the train for our wedding anniversary on a scenic ride to the San Francisco Bay area. We visited a supposedly great Pilgrim 40 that also turned out to be in poor condition. Same problem with good looking but old pictures plus the broker who spoke positively about the boat had never really seen the boat. That was news to us. Is a pattern developing here? Then we visited our first Lord Nelson Victory Tug. It was a great eye opener and the broker was more accurate in his representations. We loved the layout and everything about it although it was lacking in some equipment. We made an offer accordingly but it was rejected with no counter offer. So we thought well, we guess we aren’t supposed to have that one.

Now that we had it narrowed down to Lord Nelsons, we quickly made arrangements to visit Canada and see what seemed like a bristol Lord Nelson in the Sidney area of Vancouver Island, B.C.

The Broker there was outstanding. Everything was as represented. We made an offer and after a little back and forth over two days we had a deal for hull #63. The marine survey, separate engine inspection, and the other typical purchase details were worked out in a timely manner.

We were finally on track to be boat owners again as of June ‘02! As an added bonus, we planned to keep the boat up in beautiful British Columbia and cruise the area for at least the summer.

Delivery Day for Hull #63

Delivery day was finally at hand. We were really excited. For administrative reasons it was necessary for us to take possession in the US at Roche Harbor, San Juan Island, WA. Therefore our broker’s partner transported us the nine miles in a speed boat while our broker drove the tug over, leaving an hour or so earlier. The Customs Officer was new at the paperwork so it took at least an hour plus a 90-minute wait for his arrival since his supervisor forgot to tell him to man the auxiliary office in Roche Harbor that day. The boat presently was registered in B.C. We had to fill out extra paperwork in order to import the boat into the US and pay the import duty even though the boat was originally imported and documented in the US for its first owner. We would be the fourth owners.

Once that was done, our broker maneuvered the boat off the dock because the wind had come up and was directly pushing the boat to the dock. He didn’t want us scraping the boat up or crashing into the boats for and aft of us right off the bat. We appreciated that. Then he climbed over to the speedboat his partner had pulled along side. Once he stepped off we were alone and on our own as brand new boat owners again – a mixed feeling of exhilaration and the weight of responsibility.

We tooted our Kahlenberg air whistle at them as they sped off. We decided to cruise over to Bedwell Harbor on one of the Canadian Gulf Islands to check into Canadian Customs. Our first boating story was about to occur. We cruised in and I made a terrific port docking into the wind like we had owned the boat for ten years.

While I was up at the customs office overlooking the dock area, I happened to look out the window and noticed the boat was not in the same position I had left it. I begged permission to return to the boat temporarily. Upon arriving at the boat my wife informed me that as she was coming up on deck she discovered the stern was half way swinging around towards the other end of the dock. Fortunately, there was no boat there and the boat settled in to its new direction. The problem was that I was not used to tying the lines to the typical northwest dock construction. Instead of easy to tie to cleats, the docks have a raised horizontal board running the length of the dock. In the hustle of tying up to the board, I had tied an incorrect stern knot which loosened as the wind was pushing the boat off the dock and the line came undone. Fortunately the bow line was well secured. Memo to self, learn how to tie the lines correctly in Canada!

After finishing up at Canadian customs, we departed and enjoyed a leisurely cruise back to Tsehum Harbor where our marina slip was located. On the way, we experienced our first rip currents which really grabbed hold of the boat and moved us sideways as we went across it. The scenery was beautiful. As we neared Tsehum Harbor we were hailed by a sailboat. It turned out to be Peter and Alvy Newman, the former owners of our new boat who, unexpectedly, had fallen in love with a 33’ Hans Christian sailboat and they ended up buying it. They were sail boaters originally and wanted to return to that style of boating.

One nice thing about Canada is that they have a lot of boathouses. Our broker arranged for us to have one while we were in Canada. At night, it felt strange at first — like we were going to sleep in a garage. Being outside in the sunshine is much more uplifting but boathouses do keep boats clean. In preparation for entering the boathouse I lowered the mast for the first time. Then we docked and with a sigh of satisfaction went up to the brokers office and reported we had made it home without sinking the boat!

Shakedown Cruise in British Columbia — Day One

For two months after we purchased the tug we flew up to BC from Long Beach, CA every two weeks or so. We learned about the boat and electronics, moved on our personal possessions, and made short day trips close by to get used to a single screw boat and how the boat handled in general.

We also researched, and then hired a shipwright and contractor to install a combo washer/dryer, Corian countertops, and some shelving in the hanging wet locker. A mechanic also conducted some maintenance reserved out in the purchase agreement.

During this time we decided to take the boat to Long Beach, CA at the end of September. We hadn’t yet decided by what method this would occur but thought a shakedown cruise over several days up in BC would be a good intermediate goal. We were really looking forward to this event.

The day dawned full of beauty and excitement. At 0715 hours we cast off from our Canadian boathouse in Tsehum Harbor on the island of Vancouver with our two best boating friends at the time. Steve and Karen had flown up for a long weekend in Canada revolving around spending Saturday with us on the first day of our six-day shakedown cruise.

After 55 miles and approximately 8 hours we hoped to successfully dock in Nanaimo up the east coast of Vancouver Island. I had spent several hours plotting 16 course changes weaving through the Canadian Gulf Islands, through what we hoped would be the subdued narrows of Gabriola Pass, east out to the fringe of the Straight of Georgia, and around to the west perimeter of Gabriola Island to the port of Nanaimo. To lower the stress of our first day in a crowded docking environment plus scout out lodging for our friends, Sue and I had driven by car up and back on a prior month’s visit to BC. We thankfully made a future docking reservation in what looked like a packed out harbor so we wouldn’t arrive only to have no place to dock. That turned out to be a smart move.

Now we were off and running from our adopted home port of Tsheum Harbor with great friends, heading north, spying out the local sea otters, ducks, and geese. We noticed the different types of navigation aids built on cement foundations or situated on strategic rocks inset into the appropriate island location. Furthermore, we were enjoying this in our very own yacht, the Lord Nelson Victory Tug - Good News! We were surrounded by the beautiful island scenery with rocky shores and tall pine trees, all in the middle of the gorgeous and lake-like salt waters of British Columbia.

We were, for once, right where we wanted to be and looking forward to a day of great pleasure. Then after about thirty minutes the first unexpected event occurred. Just below, down from the helm in the passageway, I hear a commotion.

I turned the helm over to my wife and leaped down the few steps to assess the situation. Our friend Karen was pounding on the door and earnestly announcing that she was locked in the head! I thought to myself, this kind of thing is not supposed to be happening. The deadbolt was stuck in the closed position and the inside T-handle seemed to be sort of stripped and wouldn’t hold enough pressure to undo the deadbolt.

Karen then informs me she is slightly claustrophobic and I “have to get her out of there!” There’s nothing like encountering a little adversity when taking a vacation with friends to get better acquainted.

After a couple of minutes she says, “you have to break down the door but she will pay for it! Since I couldn’t envision Home Depot carrying rounded custom teak doors I wasn’t too keen on that option for obvious reasons. However, I made a mental note to do as she asked if all other measures failed.

Karen calmed down a bit when her husband, Steve, and I went outside on the deck and began talking to her through the outside porthole where she had her nose stuffed as far it could be to get as much fresh air as she could. Karen is a really great person and later told me she realized she had to get a grip on the situation. I was impressed at how she maintained her composure and coped with the situation – a true adventurer!

About 30 minutes later with Steve’s help, I finally got the deadbolt to slide open without breaking down the door and released her whereupon she gave me a big hug and was extremely grateful. It took a long time after removing the lock covers because of the shortness of the deadbolt-turning pin and my lack of a full complement of tools at the time. I have subsequently removed the dead bolt portion as our use of the boat is such that we shouldn’t really have a need to insure the head is lockable.

The next exciting moment comes when we arrive later than expected to the narrow Gabriola Pass. That means the flood current is in progress. According to Reid’s Nautical Almanac, at full flood tide the current is running at 7.7 knots. Fortunately that is the direction we are going and it should not yet be at full speed.

So…running with the current but only using around 1600 rpm our little tuggy Good News! ramps up to more than its maximum capable ‘over the ground’ speed with the Cummins 150 hp diesel. We flew through the Gabriola Pass at 10.0 knots over ‘ground’ speed – pretty exciting and much fun zipping along with the whirling water because with the chart, I knew where to go. It seemed to be just the right speed to keep the boat well under control. Steve was on the bow taking it all in and being a good lookout for any impending dangers. Sue and Karen were in the salon or cockpit enjoying the adventure from the stern view. Those double salon doors to the cockpit are a great feature for fully enjoying the yacht.

A short while later we were out of the pass, around the bend, weaved through some small adjacent islands, and found ourselves exposed to the weather on the fringe of the Straight of Georgia. This was more like Southern California weather: wind of 12-15 knots and 3-4 foot seas.

A little farther along we encountered the wind bringing some water spay over the pilothouse. I thought this was great fun because I could now try out the three power window wipers! Another item tested on the shakedown cruise.

When we arrived a while later in Nanaimo, the dock manager had us park the boat in a short V-angled spot I couldn’t believe. Their goal seems to be to not leave even an inch of unused dock space. Although nervous as a cat, my prior boating experience came in handy and I was able to figure out quickly how to approach the allotted space. Still learning to maneuver the single screw, I even remembered to give the single left handed prop a burst of reverse power to kick the stern towards the dock on the starboard side. Good thing people were there to receive the lines thrown by our friends and Sue! Good confidence builder though. Karen and Steve, along with Sue, were most helpful in fine tuning the docking and being good pals about the matter.

I had observed during the trip that the primary fuel filter vacuum gauge moved to the red area most of the way during the trip. I assume the filter needs changing but I have no red fuel canister to hold some diesel fuel to use to fill up the filter before tightening the cap. The marina manager says their fuel dock doesn’t sell them. After an hour of jogging/walking all over hilly Nanaimo I buy the last one in town I think. I go to the fuel dock to buy diesel and there are three different sizes to choose from to purchase!!! Oh well, I got lots of good exercise.

When I proceed to take off the Racor cap, I am surprised to find no filter in the top so I put one in. (That had supposedly been replaced by a worker back at the marina before we left). I start up engine and the vacuum gauge goes to red again. Thus I figure I need to change the secondary filter. (I learn later that step was incorrect logic because the secondary is not on the vacuum side of the piping). After that, same result. Conclusion, faulty vacuum gauge and I didn’t need to change anything.

Meanwhile, Steve and Karen took us out to a nice dinner in Nanaimo. It sure is fun to have good friends along on one’s adventures! They even got up early and came down at 0730 the next morning to assist Sue and I out of the tight fit at our dock and wished us well as we departed without them for day two of our shakedown cruise.

Shakedown Cruise in British Columbia To Port of Call #2 - Secret Cove

We needed to cross the twenty plus miles from Nanaimo on Vancouver Island to the mainland. The day began with a report of winds approaching 15 knots and 3-4 foot seas with a forecast of increasing winds. To head northwest across the Straight of Georgia or wait was the question. My wife, Susan, and I watched a couple of yachts in the fifty-foot or more range depart and decided to go for it. It sounded like some frequent So. Calif. weather that we were reasonably used to. Besides, we were on a shakedown cruise and we wanted to shake the boat down and find out as much as we could about her handling characteristics on this trip. Other boats at the dock in Nanaimo decided to stay and wait for better weather.

We are glad we departed at 0730. The weather increased to small craft warning status on the VHF that turned out to be 20-22 knot winds and 4-5 foot seas and white caps everywhere. The boat handled them great. We had water spray over the bow and pilothouse a few times due to the wind but the boat handled it well. We got to use our windshield wipers — great fun. We did rock and roll but not with unusual sharpness and it was good experience for us.

According to our inclinometer, I would say the average roll was 10°, medium was 20°, and a couple were 30° or more which were very uncomfortable but well within the boats tolerance. We discovered rolling in our new boat is like horseback riding; by learning to relax and letting our hips sort of move in an oval pattern while sitting on the helm bench as the boat moves, we actually enjoyed most of the ride. Our good autopilot is of great benefit too.

We made sure to go around a military exercise zone and avoid a few big tugs pulling big barges (sometimes more than one and up to three). Eventually we got close to our destination and entered a narrow inlet that looked like a secret inlet for the aptly named Secret Cove Marina.

We had called ahead and made reservations for our trip wherever we could to lower the anxiety about whether there would or wouldn’t be room for us at our desired destination. Since I was still learning to dock a single screw, I also asked if the marinas could assign us a spot that had a low level of difficulty if possible. Secret Cove did. The owner was there to greet us and we ended up deciding to stay for three nights because the location and amenities were so nice and because we just wanted to rest for a few days from all the preparation activity over the past few weeks.

While there, another boat owner gave me pointers on blowing up our 10’ Quicksilver inflatable dingy for the first time. Meanwhile a steady stream of people stopped by to admire the tug….until, an eighty foot or so 1929 yacht, gleaming with wood and brass and a huge helm wheel, stopped in and garnered everyone’s attention. It was beautiful and included a large crew who immediately began preparing dinner and setting the table for the passengers. There were lots of windows so everyone outside could see what was happening inside.

To Port of Call #3 - Snug Harbor

We needed to head out into the Straight of Georgia but this time not to cross it but to go south along the mainland cost to the Howe Sound area. Two boats had left and returned back to the Secret Cove harbor because of the winds and the waves. I learned they didn’t have autopilots and with their flat sterns were getting kicked around a lot.

So again, the question was do we wait for better weather or go for it. Every day it had seemed the forecast was for a small craft warnings. We were starting to get the impression that if you wanted to go anywhere in B.C. you had to get used to traveling in those conditions. Additionally, on the VHF weather channel it didn’t sound any worse than we had already encountered coming across the straight, plus we would be going with the wind this time. So we decided to go for it and depart while most everyone else hung back. One boat back at the harbor even radioed us for a weather report before we were out of range and we were happy to oblige. It made us feel proud of our tug that we could encounter those conditions with confidence now.

The ride down the coast was beautiful. Particularly when we entered the Howe Sound area. It is a very mountainous area and we could see snow on the most distant mountains. However, we soon encountered the most floating logs we had ever experienced. There was probably one every 5-10 minutes. Then about 30 minutes away from our destination of Snug Harbor on the other side of Howe Sound, I felt a strange sensation of heat come up into the pilothouse and saw the engine temperature gauge rapidly rising.

Although I had been doing periodic checks and everything was normal, now a quick check of the engine room revealed we had lots of yellow coolant in the bilge – not a good situation. Furthermore, I could not tell exactly from where it had come. Since we were now only about 25 minutes away, I decided to see if we could make it to port by keeping the temperature under control. I lowered the throttle to 1000-1200 rpm and opened up both engine access doors and the outside pilothouse doors to route wind through the engine compartment. That seemed to do the trick and the temperature immediately dropped. However, it fluctuated up and down for the next 20 minutes or so.

When we entered the harbor they informed us our assigned spot was on the far side by the little beach there. That meant we had to slow down to idle but that caused the temperature to rise plus there was no cooling wind anymore. We really sweated out the temperature rising the last five minutes it took us to get to our assigned spot. We also had to avoid two dead seals floating in the water and a telephone pole size log that made for an interesting first impression of the harbor.

Our snug space was a parallel spot where we would just barely fit behind a Pilgrim 40 in front of us, and what looked to be at the time under the bow pulpit of a sport fisher behind us. Fortunately they had sent down two workers to assist in docking. I dove the boat in slowly but quickly at an angle, backed throttled to stop our momentum with the bow about two feet from the dock; whereupon Susan threw the stern line to one person just as the engine temperature alarm went off. Then I cut the engine, quickly threw the bowline to the other person – and thought whew, we just made it – as the line handlers pulled us into place.

It was around 2 PM and I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening trying to figure out the problem. I could locate no hose leaks. I then suspected perhaps we had sucked up some seaweed in the intake as I remembered avoiding several clumps in Howe Sound and thought maybe I ran over some; or perhaps the new impeller had failed for some reason. I checked the impeller and it was fine but there was a piece of kelp in it. I tried to locate a mechanic for advice but no mechanic was to be found on the island. One mechanic did return my call but was working on the mainland an hour away. He suggested I take the dingy pump and back pump down the intake hose to blow out any kelp that might have entered. I did that and heard the air bubbles rise against the hull but couldn’t tell if it had blown anything out.

This fellow was really nice and happened to have his wife with him. She was coming back to the island the next morning and volunteered to bring me some extra coolant. With all the other items on my to-do prep list I didn’t bring extra coolant in addition to the partially filled bottle on board. As promised, she showed up the next morning. I reimbursed her for the coolant and she said she would check back later and give me a ride anywhere I needed. What great Canadian hospitality!

I put the coolant in and ran the engine for 40 minutes with no leaks and decided the problem must have been a plugged intake and the coolant had escaped out the plastic overflow tank. There is a grill on the outside of the intake but my depth sounder transducer is unusually large and situated such that it could have caught some kelp which could then have flared out in a ‘V’ with one side right over the intake.

Return to Tsehum Harbor

The morning esprit de corps on the dock reflected people spooked by the recent news of deaths on an overturned fishing boat + gale warnings north of Nanaimo and a small craft warning to the south (where we needed to go thru Porlier Pass). Nobody is choosing to leave but again, the weather sounds like what we had encountered before and seems to ease up in late morning. We decided to be bold and leave at 11 AM after I finish obtaining coolant etc. The skipper next to us in a Pilgrim 40 asks me to radio him with a weather report, which I did. The weather turned out better than the forecast report with only 15 +/- knot winds with 3 foot waves then decreasing to 10 kts in the middle of the strait. Again, the boat handled great. We got up to 9.6 knots over the ground through Porlier Pass at only 1600 RPM – pretty neat. We tooted the whistle to someone later and the weather inside the channel the rest of the way home was gorgeous. The engine ran great with no ill effects of having heated up. All in all it was a successful and adventuresome fact-finding shakedown cruise!

Planning and Preparation For The Big Cruise—British Columbia, Canada to Long Beach, CA

After several weeks of preparations and a six-day shakedown cruise we decided it was time to head home to California since we continued to hear stories of the cold and windy winter weather that would be coming in British Columbia. Once that decision was made we had to decide on what method? The choices were to truck it down ($5000 US) or drive the boat down. If drive the boat down, do we do it ourselves or hire a captain. Our really good boating friend, Steve, volunteered to be a 3rd person I thought prudent to have on board. Still, we pondered whether to hire a captain.

Our friend’s work schedule ended up conflicting with being absent from his job for the 8 or so days the trip would take. He had to withdraw his offer of crewing on the boat. However, he and his wife, Karen, agreed to be our mainland weather and communications coordinators for our friends and relatives — a very valuable service in our opinion.

We decided to hire a captain because 1) I was really busy at work and it is time consuming to plan the routes, buy the charts etc. to plan the trip in addition to all the prep work logistics I had been doing so far from our California home and 2) I had no local personal experience with harbor bar crossings that we might have to do in the Washington and Oregon areas if needed.

I learned during the trip the captain was worth the money in another way, I could really relax as the owner-skipper whenever I wasn’t on watch. I don’t know about other owners, but as the owner-skipper, I always feel I need to be alert even when my wife or competent friends are driving any yacht we own. That means I usually can never fully relax on trips. If I am on another boat, I don’t seem to carry that burden with me so that is how I know the difference.

Of course, we had to now locate and shop for a captain who was not only competent and a good fit for our personalities, but was also willing to take us and our dog, Skippy. Additionally, a Customs officer told us that we had to use a US licensed Captain if we were going to hire one to take us to the USA.

The range of cost varied greatly. The high end was $480 US per day. We ended up with a great captain who had 40 years of experience and charged $175/day. One nice result was I didn’t have to buy all the required paper charts. I did buy the west coast C-Map electronic chart for the chart plotter, which I would have done in any event. All captain prices were plus air fare to Canada and all food of course. Additionally, he was from Southern California, which made the flight arrangements easier.

We invited him out to breakfast at a So. Calif. dockside restaurant so both he and us could get acquainted and see if we each wanted to spend 8 or so days together. On the trip he told us that often captains prefer not to take owners because they are “unknowns” and could act unwisely. Captains often prefer to bring along a crewman with whom they are experienced in working alongside. We passed each other’s tests and we all agreed to contract for the trip.

The captain had a few rules that were non-negotiable and which were fine with us: no alcohol on board whatsoever, no listening to music or any tapes while on watch, and he is in charge. He required a $500 down payment and a signed contract. We were encouraged by his professional approach. We too prefer all understandings to be up front and in writing.

We had bought smoke flares, regular shooting flares, Sospender auto inflate life jackets with ‘D’ rings to tie onto tethers, other safety equipment, installed a loudhailer with fog horn capability, 250 feet of rear anchor line, purchased a missing handle for the manual bilge pump located under the galley cabinet, replaced the middle auto bilge pump, installed a new fuel pump, new raw water pump, the basket that goes in the raw water strainer, replaced instrument lights, re-read all the instrument manuals, changed the oil in the generator and the engine, stocked up on food, brought up my tools plus added a few like the ‘Robinson’ (Robbie) screw drivers that are so prevalent in B.C. (for square hole screws), located a really big Rambo type knife and fastened it to the bottom of the helm storage lid for quick and easy availability to cut things I could reach, purchased an extendable to 9’ tree saw (my idea) if needed to make cutting away kelp or fishing nets easier, located a skater/extreme biker helmet at a bike store (@ $25 cheaper than most other specialty helmets) at the captain’s suggestion to wear if I had to get in the water close to the boat in bouncy seas, brought up my snorkel equipment and wet suit, and purchased extra oil, coolant, drive belts, etc.

As the mechanic was finishing installing a new temperature sender the day before the trip that was part of the original purchase agreement with the seller, a hose leak appeared that had eluded both he and I on prior engine checks, only occurred at running temperature, and was the cause of our shakedown coolant loss we decided. He promptly replaced the hose. Other hoses had already been replaced but I purchased five feet of two different sizes of hose as a precaution.

One other, but very important, unexpected repair that came up was the bracket to which the mast stays are attached and which also support the upper deck railings. (We have stainless steel railings). I had just stopped running the engine for some reason and as I was walking towards the stern noticed the upper port bracket bolt had come lose and the bracket was at an angle. As I was examining the bracket, the lower bolt came undone.

15 years earlier the bolts that were used were one length size too small in my opinion. Only about 3-5 threads were holding the bolt and there were no lock washers. I immediately checked the 6 others on the other brackets and they all required tightening. However, to fix the two that came loose I had to remove the vertical corner wood strip inside the pilothouse because the inside nuts had dropped down slightly. This included drilling out the wood plugs. That bracket is crucial to supporting the mast in the rock and roll seas and must have come loose due to the rigorous seas we put the boat through in crossing the Straight of Georgia on our six day shakedown cruise.

Susan and I are Christians and believe the Lord was looking out for us to have the bracket and heater hose go out so strategically and conveniently just before we were to leave! Either event would have caused us great problems in the Pacific Ocean.

So everything was finally done except we needed to fuel up for the first time. As usual, nothing is ever easy. I had made wooden dowel dipsticks to check the fuel level because I have trouble seeing the level of the diesel on the metal dipsticks. They worked well and the line of wetness was easily discernible on the wooden dowels.

Upon filling the second tank, I was inside finalizing the securing of the first dip sticks but had forgotten to open the other tank dip stick holes and….I had forgotten to remove the lid on the overflow jar I place over the fuel vent. My wife was outside running the fuel nozzle. She said all of a sudden the fuel filling noise got quiet, she released the handle lever (fortunately) to stop the fuel going in to ponder that event when all of a sudden a fuel tank air bubble caused a large spray of diesel to shoot up out of the inlet all over her. She screamed, I ran out to see the nozzle that she had dropped lying on the deck and a second burst of fuel just coming up whereupon she screamed again. Fortunately she had her glasses on and her eyes were protected. Also fortunately, I had those square white absorbent fuel pads at hand and made quick use of them to soak up the diesel on the deck.

However, she was soaked in diesel and both of us were trying to calm down from the fright of the moment. We learned the smell of diesel fuel is really hard if not impossible to get out of clothes.

After we returned to our covered boathouse, it was time to pick up the captain at the local airport in anticipation of leaving on the Big Cruise the next morning. We were finally ready!

THE BIG CRUISE — Departure

Location: Tsehum Harbor, Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Departure morning dawned in a perfect manner – clear skies, friendly sunshine, soft winds, calm seas, and a nice mild temperature.

We (Skipper Ralph, First Mate Sue, First Dog Skippy, and our licensed USCG Captain) untied the lines of our Lord Nelson Victory Tug, Good News!, around 0730 hours. We backed out, turned the boat with the bow thruster, put the boat in forward gear, and we were off. The weather was perfectly mild and wonderful. We made it to the dock in Port Angeles, WA around 1300 hours. There were no customs people present because there were no boats at the dock. The Customs office is a ways away. I called, they said it would be awhile but wouldn’t commit to how long. So I tried the PIN number check-in routine via another phone number and obtained a clearance number over the phone. We could have done that out in the channel but I wanted to come into the dock because I suspected the voltage regulator was acting up because the tach was going crazy on the way over (back and forth or going to zero) and the alternator gauge was indicating charging was stopping and starting.

I turned my attention to reading the manual on the regulator. As I was about to leave to see if I could ask a mechanic in the local boat yard to obtain some advice, up comes a Customs Officer to board the boat. I explained I had obtained a PIN number clearance already. He replied, “If you are at my dock, then I have to inspect you and issue you my own number.” After that routine, I jogged around the marina to get some electrical advice that turned out to be: follow the ground wire from the regulator. I did and discovered the ground wire at the alternator, which was partially hidden behind the oil filter, had come loose. I pushed it back on, started the motor and everything seemed fine.

We were about to depart when an Immigration Officer arrived. I had asked about Immigration to the telephone clearance person and they said I didn’t need to bother with them. Good thing we were delayed. After more questions, Immigration cleared us too.

So we left and headed to the west and a little northerly out the Straight of Juan de Fuca. Based on stories we had heard, we thought perhaps this would be an uncomfortable part of the trip. However, it was one of the best parts. We headed into very long and slow three to four foot rolling swells. It was like going up and down in an elevator. The captain was on watch so Susan and I took some chairs, set them on the aft cockpit deck, poured a couple of Diet Cokes, enjoyed the beautiful outdoor weather and scenery while feeding crackers to our seven pound white Maltese dog, Skippy. We made sure Skippy had his sunny yellow life preserver on. We were right where we wanted to be and enjoying life. For dinner Susan cooked Chicken Cordon Blue TV dinners in the propane oven – pretty neat!

The afternoon turned into evening and around 2200 hours we ran into a thick fog bank towards the end of the Strait for about 5-6 miles. Good thing I had installed the Raymarine hailer foghorn that worked great as a companion with the radar as we avoided a handful of ships. Just before we reached Cape Flattery at 2300 hours at the end of the Straight, we came out of the fog bank and clearly saw the Cape Flattery light. We turned south and we were now truly heading towards Long Beach, CA.

The Captain said he would take the Midnight to 6 AM watch. I appreciated that as we had both been up since 5 AM. Susan had come down with a stomach problem and elected to stay up on the helm seat in the corner bundled up in blankets. I went down forward to go to bed and experience my first night of sleeping in a forward bed underway. I elected to sleep in my clothes and shoes with my Sospenders life preserver on in case I was immediately needed either by the captain or Susan. It was bumpy and noisy now that we were out in the open ocean plus it was dark and it just seemed like the right thing to do. After day two I relaxed a bit and slept without the life preserver on, but kept it right next to the bed.

Although tired, I was sort of still hyped up with my first long range experience so it took me a little longer than I expected to get sleepy but then I was out.

The Captain woke me up at 5:45 AM and he totally looked like he was wiped out and had been up for over 24 hours. He gave me our position and a near boat traffic report and was quickly off to bed in the pull out salon settee. I was refreshed and glad to take over for his sake.

The weather was relatively calm during the day with nice visibility. I enjoyed adjusting the autopilot and plotting our location every hour. I was doing engine checks every two hours the first day. The captain advised that after the first day he thought an engine check once every 6 hours depending on the watch schedule was sufficient. He was not an engine guy and left all of that checking to me.

All in all we had good seas the entire trip. The Captain said in the last 40 years he had never encountered such good weather over such a long stretch. Whatever the VHF weather report predicted, we were on the low end of the ranges or less. Every day he would bring this up. He wanted to know what my secret was in a joking sort of way. Who was I calling to order up this great weather? Finally I admitted I was praying about it each afternoon and the Lord was choosing to honor my request. For example, as we approached Morro Bay, CA, which was in a fog bank, the fog bank receded and the weather inside the harbor became sunny. Also the entrance bar there was at high tide and calm. Evidently it can be a little hazardous at times. When we crossed the bar it was a non-event.

We ranged from 1 to 20 miles or so offshore during the trip. Cruising at night was a great experience. We saw some wonderful moon rises and moon sets as well as the sunrises and sunsets. I had planned the trip so that we would have a full or mostly full moon during the trip. I thought that would be helpful at night. However, we learned unless the moon is towards the front of you, you can’t see what you are coming upon in the water. The water is really dark. That means it is a gamble or a big step of faith that you won’t run into anything hazardous. We had to just give up that anxiety and not worry about it. When we were in bed in the bow area, the water sounded like swish, swish with an occasional thud. We speculated the thuds were large bull kelp with those big float balls on the end.

One surprise was the importance of having a functioning raw water strainer basket. Just before we left I replaced the basket that had some holes in it, inside the Grocco unit. During the trip we had to stop the boat 3-4 times in mid-ocean to clean out the basket. Since the forward stairs in the boat have a removable hatch for access to the forward part of the engine room, the procedure was really easy. I would just spin off the lid, pull out the basket, step sideways to the sink in the adjacent head and rinse it out. Then put it back. I think I got the routine down to 3-4 minutes.

I would notice a slight rise in the engine temperature gauge, check the raw water strainer basket, and sure enough it had accumulated various things. One time it was baby squid; another time it was baby octopi, almost every time a brown substance would coat the inside that I think was plankton; another time small fish and bits of kelp.

Another problem resurfaced – the tach would go to zero and the voltage meter would drop, indicating the alternator was not charging. After trial and error, I determined that a wire must be 90% broken that leads into a sealed original wiring harness at the helm. There is a small trap door that opens and reveals all the wiring to the instruments. By rigging up two bungee cords to keep the trap door open I was able to correct the problem by getting the wire in just the right connected position. However, due to the constant motion of the boat, which caused the trap door to move, the connection would go in and out. Through applying pressure, I discovered wrapping certain wires together with tape helped for a while. Then I also had to fold various pieces of paper together to fine tune the matter by slipping them between other wires. All of that to say, this was a hassle that plagued us the entire trip. But, it did do the job. Interesting, since returning home, it didn’t act up for quite a while!

During the trip it was interesting watching the fishing boats. Sometimes they would be independent, other times they would cruise in an offset ‘V’ formation, other times in line. At night different ships have different work lights. The fishing boats usually had yellow lights. We also encountered tugs towing barges of various kinds.

When we came to the Columbia River at the top of Oregon we were about 5 miles out, it was night, and the ocean had what the captain calls square waves. Others might call them confused. In any event it was interesting to experience the impact of the river that far out. It is also hard to see the different buoys marked on the charts. It was a good thing we had radar!

The captain was from the old school and everything was by the paper chart. He did bring along a handheld GPS to double check his calculations and I used my mounted GPS. I learned a few navigation techniques on how to avoid obstacles as the Lat/Lon ticks off. For mostly my sake, I would load in the GOTO coordinates of each leg of the trip. I liked that.

After three days nonstop the captain was pushing to take a break. He recommended Crescent City, the first marina inside the California border. I agreed and I was glad I did. It is amazing what a 4-hour break can do towards refreshing oneself.

We fueled up at a high wooden piling fuel dock although we didn’t really need to. The dock cleats were high in the sky and I was trying to lasso them. Finally a strong and friendly fisherman with long black hair and some teeth missing came over from an adjacent 70’ fishing boat and caught the lines for us. He would be great in a pirate movie.

We were getting 1.4 to 1.6 gallons per hour of fuel burn at 1800 rpm. Much better than I expected. We walked for half a mile or so to a local market to buy some fresh fruit. We couldn’t enter the US back at Port Angeles with any fruit. We got sidetracked and forgot to fill up the water tanks however. They weren’t empty but a couple of days later we were running low.

We saw no pleasure boats in the Crescent City Marina until we left when one was at the fuel dock. Every boat that we saw was a workboat of some kind. The place was very friendly and reminded me of the Forrest Gump movie. Whenever any boat came by us at the fuel dock all work would cease. Dressed in their overalls and boots the men would stare at our tug, then give a thumbs up or make positive comments like great boat; beautiful boat, etc. The burly forklift operator even stopped unloading squid, came over and stared at the boat from atop the dock with arms crossed. Evidently a man of few words, he said after about four minutes: “nice boat”, and went back to work.

We left Crescent City around 1700 hours under a sunny sky and continued south. The next day we passed Cape Mendocino– the most westerly point in California. In the morning we finally encountered some seas to write home about — seven to nine feet with a couple of ten-footers. We were going with the waves and with the rounded stern and a good autopilot the boat had a great gentle motion and handled them well. We never got water over the bow on the entire trip. It was great fun. This lasted for a couple of hours, the wind subsided from maybe 15 knots to 8 knots, and then things went back to the usually less than four foot seas and often two feet.

Somewhere in the Humboldt area we saw rippled seas with a mirror finish current that looked like a river snaking through the ocean. There we encountered jelly fish at the edge of the current one to three feet below the surface for maybe 45 minutes. It was really neat.

After that, the California marine layer took over and we rarely saw the coast. We passed the San Francisco Bay entrance area during the day fortunately, and it was easy to maneuver around the few ships we encountered. There was some kind of a salvage operation going on and for what seemed like our benefit the Coast Guard put out a general security announcement to keep clear by one mile. This caused us to do a semi-circle around the three ships so engaged.

Meanwhile the shaft stuffing box was heating up to warm and warmer. I think this area was one of our engine stops mid ocean to clean out the raw water basket. Upon restarting the engine I would reverse the prop for a few seconds as a precaution to clear the prop in case we had hooked some kelp. After doing that the stuffing box temperature happened to subside. We were considering going in to Santa Cruz or Monterey to change the stuffing, but it was getting dark and we decided to keep on moving after the temperature subsided and stabilized.

Meanwhile we passed the beautiful Big Sur area at night - unfortunately. The lights from Monterey and a little down the coast were pretty though.

Occasionally dolphins would come by. I think the most were around the central California coast. It was sort of funny. Early in the mornings we would see gangs of them, anywhere from 35 to 50 or more, zipping along with their shallow arched forward jumping routine. They seemed to be totally focused like they were commuting to work to go find fish somewhere. Not one broke ranks. Then around 1030 hours or so they would come back the other way but peel off and play with the bow of the boat and act as if they had all kinds of time to play around.

We were approaching Morro Bay and had decided to make a shower stop if possible. It had been six days since we left and no one had showered since we were running 24 hours per day. It was three days since our stop at Crescent City and it seemed like three days was the magic number of days to not exceed without a stop. As mentioned earlier, we entered the bay with no problem.

On the way in there was a tugboat dock with at least two good-sized commercial tugs. One man working saw us, called out to his buddy and pointed in our direction. As they stared, the first guy gave us a big thumbs up as we cruised by. We were one of them for the moment! For the first time we experienced Tugboat specific camaraderie.

We came up to a fuel dock at the far end of the bay and the Captain let off with our Kahlenberg air whistle to get the attendants attention. The acoustics of the hillside seemed to make that whistle a real window rattler and definitely got people’s attention. After filling up with diesel we went back and tied up in the last 37 feet of available public dock space. No way would we have fit in our old 51 footer. The tug is a great size boat.

The captain knew that the Morro Bay yacht club was a short walk away and had showers. He asked them if we could shower there. They said yes and we were all happy as clams. He said he would have tied up at the yacht club dock but there were a group of sail boats from San Francisco doubled tied to each other so there was no room for us.

After that we ate lunch and answered questions from people walking down to the tug and asking about it. Actually we let the captain go outside and answer the questions. He was really taking to the public attention that the tug generated and we enjoyed letting him do it. We could listen quietly inside the salon. When we departed after 4 hours or so I noticed the captain took the boat as slow as it would go about only twenty feet off the main line of boats and restaurants to show off the boat. We sat up in the forward bow area and enjoyed the approbations too. It was a glorious and sunny afternoon.

After we departed the marina and crossed the bar, again with no problem, we encountered seals, maybe some otters, and for the first time, what I think were five pilot whales over the course of about a half-mile. They were black and maybe 10 –15 feet long.

Well, the afternoon turned into night, the night into day and the cycle continued for a day and a half until we entered the Long Beach Marina at around 2030 hours on Friday. We had passed the oil platforms in the Santa Barbara channel, the picturesque Channel Islands, and with what turned out to be a great Friday afternoon with good visibility — the scenic Los Angeles coastline.

The Captain decided to stay on watch through the higher than average number of freighters anchored outside the federal breakwater. When we got to within 10 feet of our assigned dock space and he was working the gearshift to maneuver into the slip, the transmission went out! We floated back about 50 feet and dropped anchor. I called the Long Beach Lifeguard boats that function as a sort of unarmed harbor patrol. They were on the scene in about four minutes and pushed us in to our slip.

We were sure thankful that didn’t happen out in the open ocean. This was another reason we felt the Lord was keeping us safe. So….182 hours (7 ½ days) after departing Vancouver Island we were home at last. Whew!

Epilogue: We ended up having the transmission removed and rebuilt for $2600 over the next couple of weeks. Evidently a large gear that slips into a larger ring gear was 99% stripped and was only hanging on by slivers of metal teeth. The mechanic figured that the engine had been started in neutral over time since the neutral switch was bad and perhaps the gears had been shoved into gear at too high an rpm over time while docking the boat. There was a ringing noise in the transmission that I questioned when I purchased the boat but the mechanic for the engine inspection felt it was just an idiosyncrasy of the boat – and at the time the transmission did work fine. Oh well, it’s a boat, things happen, and we did make it home safe and sound. It was a great adventure!

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