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Preparing to Haul North

June 16, 2012

From Hanalei Bay, Kauai.

Readying for a passage has all the charm of packing for a business trip. Your flight is a red-eye, as usual. It’s late when you dig for the suitcase. Your brain moves with resentment between counting out underwear and the next day’s as yet unassembled presentation. That’s for doing on the plane. There will be no sleep for you. Where is the deodorant? Don’t forget the laptop. Did you remember to book a hotel?

The morrow will contain adventure, but it is attended by a sense of dread.

That’s how I feel about this passage.

First there’s the weather, the main feature of which is the North Pacifc High, a great mass of still air as big as Texas that sits between Hawaii and the US. It cannot be gone through; it must be gone around, and to do so Murre and I will likely have to sail due north to the latitude of Vancouver before we can bare east for the continent.

A typical year could look like this: out of Hawaii we’d be sailing close hauled on brisk northeast trades. It’s a wet, rough ride euphemistically called the “barf run” by cruisers. These winds could hold out as much as a week, but each day they’d grow lighter as we press north. As we approached the western flank of the high and at roughly the latitude of San Francisco, we’d enter what are called the “Horse Latitudes” (origin uncertain), a transition zone between the trades and north pacific weather. Wind here would be light and variable, especially if we were too far east, too close to the high. Further north we’d encounter the northwesterlies coming down out of Asia and Alaska that should carry us on a run to the coast. These northwesterlies are typical winds, not “trades”–they aren’t that steady or predictable; rather they are called “prevailing”, which means, in fact, that wind could come from any direction. Making so much northing would put us squarely into the high latitudes and into the train of lows that march from Japan toward Alaska all year. Our chances of seeing a strong blow in this region would be good, even in summer.

This is a surface analysis weather chart of the North Pacific for June 16, 2012. Note that Hawaii is located in the lower middle right and is easy to miss given the chart’s scale. Today the North Pacific High, denoted by a large “H”, is north and east of the island chain and west and south of San Francisco. It is not yet as far north as is typical at the height of summer. Today there is a long stream of strong southwesterly winds blowing from its northwestern edge toward Canada. Also note the very large low pressure system, “L”, in the gulf of Alaska.

And it’s going to get cold. After a year in the tropics where typical attire includes shorts, just shorts, blasting winds in the 30s and 40s will surely get my attention.

Then there’s the debris. Dr. Nikolai Maximenko of the International Pacific Research Center’s School of Ocean and Earth Sciences writes, “The March 11, 2011 tsunami in Japan swept millions of tons of debris into the ocean. At the moment, anomalous…debris is already washing onto the US/Canada west coast but up to 1.5 million tons of debris may still be drifting in the North Pacific. Since the tsunami the debris has dispersed over a vast area so that, typically, only one object at a time can be seen. Satellites and airplanes have serious difficulties with detecting such debris on the high seas, and visual observations from ships remain our most reliable source of information.” The “anomolous debris…washing ashore” referenced above includes one abandoned ship, one 60 ton concrete dock and one Harley Davidson, all between April and June of this year and all widely reported upon in the media, but the catalogue of items remaining ranges from innocuous bottles and bits of styrofoam to TVs, refrigerators, rafts of wood, steel drums, fishing boats, shipping containers, other floating docks, other ghost ships. Collision avoidance is a major issue.

One of many, often conflicting, charts of tsunami debris dispursion.

A concrete dock washed up on the Oregon coast earlier this month.


General information:

Latest debris charts:

What NOAA has to say:

Finally there’s how late in the season it has gotten. My first plan had Murre and I departing Hawaii in mid May; that was pushed back to June first, and it is June 16 as I write this report. Granted we are now anchored in Hanalei Bay and plan to weigh for the big ocean tomorrow, but there is a burden that comes with being so late.

The delay was due almost entirely to preparations and the complications of preparations. Given the unique challenges associated with this passage, especially the potential of collision with heavy debris, I’ve added to Murre’s kit. Things like radar–a new, high tech, Lowrance broadband radar that is famous for seeing little stuff close in. And a Switlik liferaft. And an Imperial cold-water immersion suit, also known as a “Gumby” suit.

The radar was the biggest problem. Its bracket would fit any mast, so said the sales guy in Honolulu. Any but mine I learned too late. I had to fashion a new one from wood and fiberglass, twice. And the radar dome was worryingly large and heavy–I took to calling it the wedding cake–for Murre’s small mizzen, so more supporting shrouds had to be added. Other projects had less to do with this passage and more to do with a year on the water. Much of the boat was revarnished and painted. Leaking deck fittings were removed and recalked. The propane box was rebuilt mere moments before it disintegrated; the main boom was removed, explored for rot, repainted, the hatches removed and rebuilt. Luckily my father-in-law, Peter, has a shop, which he kindly donated and where I worked for the better part of two weeks. Back at the boat I painted the engine, the fuel tank, changed the oil in the transmission, refreshed frayed running rigging. I’ve scrubbed the bum, bought 300 pounds of canned goods, taken on 70 gallons of water.

On Friday Murre and I moved to the north side of the island.

Now we are ready for departure. Ready in the sense that there is really nothing left to do but depart.

There is a knot in my stomach. My wife reminds me it is the same knot that forms prior to every passage. But it just feels bigger. I’d give anything to exchange this for a business trip red-eye.


I made several friends the month in Nawiliwil, amongst them two notable singlehanders. Right next to Murre was Deja Vu, built by Jonathan Reid in South Africa many years ago and sailed extensively by him in the South Pacific before his “capture” in Kauai. He’s recently published his memoirs in DAYS OF DEJA VU available on Amazon.

Another was the camera shy Australian, Jim Mackey, who set out to singlehand the globe non stop four years ago. Off Cape Town he came on deck one morning to find his wind vane paddle missing. Then he hit a submerged object. So that was the end of “non stop” ideals. Any hard data we have on tsunami debris drift we owe to Jim, for he was the guy who, last December, sailed his small boat from Honolulu to Midway placing drift buoys along the way for the University of Hawaii. He will also depart for the North Pacific, then later this year, it’s south to Cape Horn and home. This photo of his boat, THIS BOAT, is the closest I could come to a photo of Jim. But he has a grand sense of humor. For example, “What was I thinking calling my boat THIS BOAT. Can you imagine me on the radio to the coast guard in an emergency? Me: ‘May day, May day, THIS BOAT.’ Coast Guard: ‘Which boat?'”

Photos of the month’s work…

  1. Sarah Carlisle permalink
    June 17, 2012 2:47 am

    Good luck Randall, you Mom & I will pray for a safe passage! love Mama Sarah

  2. Lawrence Killingsworth permalink
    June 18, 2012 4:32 am

    Wishing you fair winds and following seas and no debris.

  3. June 14, 2013 12:41 pm

    wow, what a nice surprise to see the mention, hope the trip is going well!!
    Jonathan Reid 🙂

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