We are now one week from the start of the Great Siberian Sushi Run.
Roberta and I will depart Seattle on April 17 to move the boat to Roche Harbor, about 80 miles north. Although there are three boats; Sans Souci, Grey Pearl and Seabird, who are running to Japan, we will be leaving alone. Our goal for this short run is just to do a quick checkout of the boat. Once we arrive in Roche Harbor, we'll return to Seattle for a few days. If any work needs to be done, the mechanics will fly to Roche Harbor, and have four days to work their magic. On April 23rd, Roberta and I will return the boat, and start heading north.
The other boats are starting north a few days behind us. Each of the boats' schedules, at the start of our run, are being dictated by the final work on our boats, AND, the schedules of our guests.
Mentally, I divide the trip to Japan splits to two parts; the run to Southeast Alaska, and then the run from Southeast Alaska to Japan.
On the way to Alaska, all of the boats have guests on board, and the focus is on sightseeing, exploring Alaska, fishing, crab-potting, and overall fun. Whereas a 1,000 mile run through an area with high currents, narrow passages, and significant weather, can't be dismissed as "easy", it is well documented, and we don't expect any problems. The three boats will always be in close proximity, but will not make a conscious effort to run side-by-side. We'll rendezvous along the route for dinners, and "mosey" the same direction, but probably not see each other regularly. Our daily schedules will be dictated by the desires of our guests, and giving them a fun experience.
On June 7th, this will change. We'll meet near Glacier Bay in Alaska, wave goodbye to our guests, and form a tight group. For the 4,700 miles that follow, we shall be "connected at the hip". Guests will be swapped for skilled crew, some of whom are friends, and some of whom are professional crew. No one will be on any boat who hasn't logged many thousands of miles of sea time. We'll immediately be tackling a three day crossing of the Gulf Of Alaska, which will be the first of many passages that have the potential to test us and our boats.
The start of the GSSR is a bit murky. A few people have asked about "seeing us off" and assumed we'd be smashing bottles of champagne across the bow as we pull away from the dock. Nah… the departure is not as neat and clean as that. We'll have three boats leaving at three different times.
The past week has been filled with non-stop activity. We ran Sans Souci to Victoria Canada and back, just to give her a good shakedown. I have little to report from that trip, because the mechanics did their job well. We spent two days going from system to system on Sans Souci, looking for anything that still needed fixed, and couldn't find much of anything. We finished with perhaps a dozen tiny items, and a couple of major items. That said, even the major items are simple fixes, but they consume time, and at this point, time is a precious resource. One of the major items requires the boat to be hauled out again. We had a small leak fixed, at one of the stabilizers. It has been there from the beginning, and we've run 10,000 miles with it, so it certainly isn't slowing us down, but it should be fixed. This means a trip back to the shipyard. We'll get it done early next week. The other major fix requires nothing more than swapping a heat exchanger on my hydraulic system. Overall, far less work than I'd expected.
In addition to the above, there are some small tasks which weren't done prior to the checkout ride, that are happening this week. The largest remaining effort is on my monitoring system. I added several new sensors, so that I could monitor water and electricity flowing around the boat. These sensors are optional, and a pain to add, but they do help me know earlier in the process if something isn't right. When I was on the boat yesterday, wires were still being run, but we are almost done. My guess is that work of some sort will be happening on my boat, right down to the minute we leave the dock, but at this point, we really have everything under control. If I had to leave today, I'd be fine.
A couple other memories from the blur of a week…
We had a very interesting trip to the pharmacy. The owners of all three boats (all three couples) met with Mike Lafferty from Lafferty's pharmacy in Ballard Washington. Mike is assembling our medical kits, and is no ordinary pharmacist. He specializes in assembling medical kits for groups such as ours; people who are venturing somewhere where self sufficiency is critical. He spent hours answering our questions, and walking us through a long list of drugs, one by one. We discussed topics that were bypassed when I went to software engineering school, such as the pros and cons of stapling versus stitching to close wounds, and the effectiveness of suppositories in different situations. We all learned a great deal, and will be well equipped, but all hope that none of this knowledge will ever be tested.
The week was not all work. We set aside an evening to watch a documentary as a group. I had the DVD documentary "Westward in the 21st Century" about a 90' trawler which ran the same path as ours last year. I had deliberately stopped myself from watching the documentary prior to the group viewing. We loved it! Roberta and I had met with Hugh Reilly, Westward's owner, a few months ago, and we discussed his time in the Aleutian Islands and Japan, but never spoke about his boat. I had no idea of the history of his boat, or its unusual engine. The boat was built in the 1920s and used for decades to escort the rich and famous around Alaska. It then circled the planet, participated in WWII, and under Hugh's ownership ran another 20,000+ miles around the South Pacific. There are short segment, in the middle of the documentary, showing Westward traveling with two young grizzly bears which is incredible, and had all of us laughing. Japan looked wonderful. I could sense the excitement in the room as Japan was shown, and all of us were picturing our own boats in Japan, and our upcoming adventure. Unfortunately though, Japan and the Aleutians were only a fraction of the documentary. No problem, we'll be there soon, and see for ourselves what there is.
One side note to the week is that this was the first chance for the group to really get to know each other. Group chemistry can be a factor on a trip such as this. Sans Souci and Grey Pearl traveled together across the Atlantic a few years back, but we haven't really kept in touch since. This was the first time the six of us really spent social time together, and I'm pleased to report what I already knew: we have a strong and compatible group.
And, on a different topic…
I asked Steve Bradburn of Furuno to spend a morning with me, just training me on the use of my Sonar. Sans Souci has Sonar, which allows us to see around the boat, under the water. However, interpreting the displays has been frustrating for me. A few weeks ago, I discussed this with Steve, and we identified that my Sonar was set up incorrectly for what I wanted to accomplish. Most boats, with Sonar, use it as a fancy fish finder. It is very good at finding schools of fish. However, what I want is much different. 100% of what I want Sonar to do is to tell me the surrounding depth when I am in unfamiliar waters. In order to optimize the Sonar for shallow water, I had to make an expensive hardware change to my Sonar, which I did. As we explore the planet, I will be entering many bays, which are poorly charted. I want to be able to power on the Sonar, take a look around under the water, and instantly spot rocks or shallow spots.
I had expected Sonar to be easy to learn, and perhaps it is for some people, but not for me. I have trained many people in the use of radar, and virtually everyone picks up the basic skills within an hour or so. I don't consider myself a dumb person, yet after reading the Sonar manuals several times, reading everything I could find on the internet, and spending at least 10 hours or more actually attempting to use the Sonar, I didn't consider myself to have the basic skills.
Steve is a good teacher. We took the boat to nearby Lake Union and looked for shallow places to map out. That said, it was a frustrating morning. The more I grew to understand Sonar, the more I worried about if it could really do what I want. For instance, we spotted something under the water in the middle of a heavily traveled channel. We couldn't really pin down how deep it was. Was it 2' deep or 20' deep? Was it just a school of fish, or a rock? We watched for a bit, and it didn't move, but never really understood what it was. Steve's answer was reasonable. The Sonar did identify places that were clearly safe to go, and that's all I really care about. Whether the mysterious object in the center of the channel was a rock, sea weed, or fish was not as imporant as avoiding going there. In another situation, Steve showed me the screen, with virtually nothing on it, and said: "What do you see?" My response: "There's either nothing there, or the gain isn't turned high enough." He said, "Turn up the gain." I did, and immediately, things started showing up. After spending more time studying them from various views, we figured out nothing was there, and that I had turned the gain up too high. But it wasn't easy. He had been testing me. Whereas Radar concerns itself with only two dimensions, Sonar is working in three dimensions. You have to scan the surrounding area in one dimension (a broad horizontal look around the boat), looking around for things that might be interesting, then study the interesting bits as vertical slices, in order to really analyze them. Or, as Steven said, just don't go anywhere I have doubts about.
Probably the most annoying thing about Sonar was that it really doesn't feel like it was designed for the same purpose as I want to use it. Specifically, I only care about the ten feet of water closest to the surface. Unfortunately, these are the ten feet which Sonar seems to worry the least about. When asked if Sonar could be used to avoid collision with a container, or log, floating in the water, Steve had to admit that it was unlikely. When running at cruising speed, I'd need to be looking forward far enough that I have time to stop if I see something. When the Sonar is set to long distances, for instance 1,000 foot range, unless the Sonar is tilted to look downward, most of what it sees is the surface, which is then eliminated from the results, as it tries to clean up the surface clutter (all the waves and stuff on the surface).
I do believe I will be successful with Sonar, and that it can do what I want it to do, but I will need to be moving slowly. To move safely in shallow water, I will need to run extremely slow, and really study the areas close to my boat. So, the bottom line is, that I'm still a rookie at using Sonar, but I now have a better understanding of what it can, and can't do. It's going to take a many hours to master, but I'm now well on the path, and have nothing but time over the next six months.
And, as long as Steve was on the boat…
Furuno also makes Navnet 3d, a new navigation hardware/software package I added to the boat. I asked Steve about how I could upgrade it to the latest software release, and he offered to do it for me. He came back yesterday, updated the software, installed satellite pictures, and decided to show me some extra features. I had previously been impressed with the software, but Steve showed me features that blew me away. We got it running in dual monitor mode, so that it spanned two of my monitors in the pilot house. He then showed me how to overlay radar, which worked more smoothly than I'd ever seen, and then he flipped the screen into 3-d mode. Wow! I don't know if it is useful for anything, but it sure looked interesting. We then started splitting my two monitors into sub-windows, and had cameras, wind gauges, depth gauges, and multiple radars going. Very fun, and very cool.
He also corrected some bad information I was given previously. I had heard that my Sirius Weather System would NOT interface with Navnet 3d. Steve said that it would. On the negative side though, I tried to pin him down on chart availability for Navnet 3d. I only have charts covering our journey through the middle of the Aleutian Islands. I have nothing for Siberia or Japan. When I spoke with Furuno a month ago, they said that charts would be available in a week. Steve thought I would have them in a month, but my sense looking in his eyes, was that I will be happy that I am bringing plenty of paper charts.
At dinner a few nights ago, Braun Jones, of Grey Pearl, complimented me for the deep meaning in our GSSR logo. After saying "huh?" I had to admit to no such brilliance. Braun explained that he had been studying our logo and noted an interesting detail.
If you look at the bear, he is facing left. This puts him looking towards Japan. It also could be interpreted that he is facing the "wrong way", in that us westerners tend to read left to right, which happens to be the route that our upcoming voyage is normally run. There aren't many ships that have made the passage we're about to embark on, but those that have, run it left to right (east-bound). The prevailing wind and currents are eastbound. On a boat, there is a world of difference in the comfort of running with the current, and fighting the current and wind. It means the difference between a comfortable ride, and seasickness. It is for this reason that we've been dubbed "The Wrong-way Gang" and why we get questions from savvy boater friends like "Are you crazy?".
Perhaps the artist knew all this and never mentioned it to me…
This led to a discussion about exactly why we are going at this the wrong way. The Readers-Digest condensed version of which is that, instead of running 11,000+ miles to Japan, and having a multiple weeks long passage across the Pacific, we are going the "short way", of "only" 5,700 miles, much of which is well sheltered running, and all of which is fairly close to land. We'll pay for taking this short cut, with some uncomfortable days at sea, but overall, we still feel we made the right decision.
That's it for today! I'm off to meet with the group at a Visa processing office. As I've mentioned in the past, working out the logistics for getting everyone into Siberia is not easy. Today we'll push the ball a little farther down the field.
One week to go!