View The Voyage of Red Dress: Hawaii 2009 in a larger map. Click on a boat for daily coordinates. Click on the line for a ROUGH ESTIMATE of daily distance traveled (in statute miles, not nautical).

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pamela's note

From the Foothills

I flew from Hilo via Honolulu and into Oakland Airport Friday, May 29th. My state of mind at the time was blissful after having an excursion of a lifetime, 14 days, 23hours aboard Red Dress, and then spending four days in paradise with my comrades doing what I love, working hard together.

My reentry was greeted lovingly at the airport where Nomi, Yael, Adam, and baby Oren showered me with balloons, banners, warm wishes, a basket of fruit, and tea and a delicious tart. The transition became possible and painless.

I set out for home in the foothills of Calaveras County, a way different experience than riding the high seas. I returned to my job at Calaveras Lumber Company, and joined my colleagues in the garden center to get back to work. They, Kris, Kandy, Sharon, and Lindsey, had sent me off on my trip without hesitation. I am so fortunate! Many thanks to the garden crew and to Mike, Eileen, and Pat for their excitement and support. Thanks to Chris in the office who collected all the communications from Nomi, good and bad, to relay downstairs.

Most importantly, I wish to thank Nomi and Bill for choosing me to crew on Red Dress. I had vicariously enjoyed Bill's previous voyage to Hawaii aboard 19' Chubby, a voyage that I now marvel at in disbelief. Bill's accomplishment of that voyage made me feel confident that I was in good hands, no, the best hands. I am fortunate beyond all measure to have been guided all these years by Bill's patient instructions and willingness to have me aboard. Bill is the perfect teacher and the best kind of sailor. The magic of Bill's helmsmanship is his intuition about all of it, the winds, the currents, the tides, and the boat. With extreme care, he oversees everything without fuss, with complete control and reason.

So the voyage is over, but the journey is never ending. Over the last few days since the docking of Red Dress, I have realized that I enjoyed the adventure not simply for myself.

I really wanted to share with anyone who was interested and excited. And you all were that for me. You were there with us. You made the voyage whole and complete. Many thanks, and may your winds always be pleasant.

Love to all, Pam

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tom's Photo Album

Parted spinnaker halyard.

Ferrying to Red Dress from the sea wall at Radio Bay.

Bill's up the mast, replacing the spinnaker halyard while Tom's below getting a hernia cranking him up with the winch.

Autopilot bracket pieces ready for epoxy, cut out according to the sketch on the napkin drawn up that morning during breakfast at Ken's House of Pancakes.

How exactly does this thing work?

Veteran cruising neighbors at Radio Bay. Craig in the trimaran has been cruising the world's oceans for last 30 years. The family next to him, mom, dad and their two teenage daughters were just completing their 2-1/2 year circumnavigation including passage through the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden and the treacherous Straits of Magellan.

Celebrating arrival at latitude 38 North and the final turn for home.

We're here to help...toss us a line.

Bill steering across the Potato Patch Shoal, 24' deep and six miles outside the Golden Gate.

Home at last.

Many thanks

The voyage of Red Dress was blessed with two great crewmembers and an incredibly devoted shore support team. Firstly, the boat crew: outbound Pamela Johnson and inbound Tom Johnson were no relation to one another other than they formed the Yin and Yang of the great mandala of the East Pacific Gyre drawn across the trackless ocean by winds and currents.

I knew Pamela was a tough gal from sixteen years of kayaking and sailing with her around the rough waters of San Francisco Bay and up and down the coast. She seemed to always remain cheerful and enthusiastic, even after a day of beating into 25 knots and being drenched with frigid spray every few seconds. But most importantly, she had the proverbial cast iron stomach, a rare tolerance for seasickness that allowed her to remain fully functional during the first three days of the trip which are usually the roughest and which did not disappoint on this trip either.

What I did not know is just how tough she really is. That discovery came during the three days after I found myself holding her limp, bloodied unconscious head in my lap. It’s hard to imagine the terror of coming-to and not knowing where you are, why you are on a small boat 1100 miles from land and how you got there. Yet during that 45 minutes or so of abject confusion and serious pain, Pamela never panicked or cried out or lost her calmness and strength. During the following 24 hours as the Coast Guard doctor tried to convince us that evacuation and immediate medical attention was essential, Pamela showed no inclination to abandon the voyage. Finally, after CG Search and Rescue determined that they had no appropriate means of evacuation available and that we were on our own, Pamela was clearly relieved that she would be able to complete voyage. After three days she was up and about, her usual cheerful self, reefing, trimming, cooking, and writing in her journal (which I have not yet seen). When we finally tied up in Radio Bay, Hilo, I had to remind Pam that we were obligated to make a visit to the hospital to get a complete evaluation. “Oh yeah, that,” she replied, barely recalling that the whole drama had actually transpired. She had moved on…1150 nautical miles to be exact.

Yin and Yang overlapped in Hilo Harbor for five days of feverish preparation for the return journey. Pam, the seasoned veteran, the graduate cum laude of the School of Hard Knocks, sporting the two-inch-long diploma engraved on her forehead, chatted with Tom, the somewhat nervous rookie, giving him sage and valuable advice as he was getting ready to step up to the plate and take his swings. The three of us repaired, fabricated, installed, rewired, replaced, restocked, repacked and cleaned aboard Red Dress in the stifling, breathless heat of Radio Bay from early morning to late evening each day, drenched in sweat but having a good ol’ time. Sadly at the end of the week Pam had to depart for Reality Land, leaving Tom to take over crew duties.

And take over he did. Never hesitating to leap out of a sound sleep in the middle of the night to confront the flying spray and wildly heaving wet decks in pitch darkness, he was always quick to take in reef or furl the jib when the wind decided to pipe up. During quieter times Tom provided a wealth of conversational material ranging from turgid theological topics, for which he was eminently prepared, to detailed discussions of how to ease into and power out of Turn 6 at the Infineon Raceway on his Yamaha FZ400, turning 14,000 rpm, elbows and knees scraping the asphalt as per his years of motorcycle racing. And aside from his sailing skills, which were well developed, Tom’s most important contribution was his unfailing cheerfulness of mood which proved essential in counterbalancing my wild mood swings. Turns out my mood was directly wired to the anemometer according to the following windspeed scale: 16 kts and above: ebullient; 10-16 kts: content; 6-10 kts: subdued; below 6 kts: severe clinical depression. Considering the numerous days of little or no wind we suffered on the return leg, Tom had his hands full keeping me from going over the edge. He was a damn good cook, too, rivaling Pamela and her shepherd’s pie in some instances.

And then there was the devoted shore crew, Nomi and Adam, who spent countless hours in translating the sailing gibberish of gybes and sheets, halyards and clews, isobars and boom vangs into actual intelligible English in order to provide the daily ration of feed for the media beast. Quite frankly, the voyage would have never happened without Nomi’s enthusiastic encouragement and complete support. Which came at a price, though. She managed to extract from me a promise that I would not even contemplate any further ocean voyages for the next seven years (at which time she hopes I will be too old and decrepit to try).

And a profound thanks to Rod Johnstone, the “J” in J-35 who sometime back in the mid 1970’s put his pencil to paper, without the aid of computers design software and simulators, but with some fortunate combination genius, intuition, experience and luck, and sketched out a most sweet sailing hull that was later to become three hundred J-35 production boats, one of which was Red Dress. One that can make a hundred miles a day on wind you can’t even feel, sail 180 miles a day in the Trades without ever touching a sheet or adjusting the tiller and yet will sail dead down in 30 kts of wind with a big following sea with only two fingers and feather light touch on the tiller. Every mile of the 4400 we sailed had Rod’s genius stamped on it.

Lastly, thanks to all the concerned readers for their best wishes and prayers, keeping the faith and providing much needed encouragement during the difficult days.

Love to all,


Monday, June 15, 2009

A Day to Remember

Statistics are not reality. Statistics show (graph at the left) that June is the second windiest month of the year just offshore from the Golden Gate. Reality appeared to us at dawn of our last day as if the sea had been transformed into a great dish of mercury, shimmering in profound stillness to the horizon. The only motion of the air was Brownian.

We had emptied our last jug of diesel into the tank the previous morning but despite reducing the engine rpm's to 1800 in an effort to squeeze out a few more miles, the calculus was grim: we probably did not have enough fuel to make it to Emeryville. Now that we were close enough to the coast to receive the marine weather reports, we listened intently for any possibility of the return to statistical heaven accompanied by 15 to 25 knot winds. None was forthcoming. The air had gone dead along the entire coast from Crescent City to Halfmoon Bay, 80,000 square miles of glassy calm. But as we morosely reviewed our dwindling options, a jarringly exuberant band of dolphins came bounding up to join Red Dress , rightly guessing that we were sorely in need of some comic relief and a good cheering up. The welcoming committee got on our bow, leading us on as if to say "Don't despair, follow us...and, oh yes, call the 800-number on your Vessel Assist card in your wallet (stupid)." So I did. Turns out Vessel Assist can deliver fuel as far as 50 miles offshore. So I cashed in 7 years of annual dues and gave Laura, the dispatcher, our course and position. "They'll be underway in 45 minutes," she assured. By 3 pm Craig came bounding out the mist at the helm of a 24' rigid inflatable, a big toothless grin on his face. Clearly, blasting across a boundless millpond with all three hundred of his twin Honda ponies screaming near the redline was just what he needed to make his Sunday afternoon. We were overjoyed to provide the jovial skipper with this unique opportunity. A few moments after emptying the 10 gallons of diesel into our tank and doing the paperwork, Craig's boat was but a tiny white spot on the horizon, bracketed by the very tops of the Golden Gate towers, just starting to poke above it. With our hydrocarbon account fully funded, we felt flush enough to unleash the full fury of our twenty-nine ponies, though to say that they were screaming would be a gross exaggeration.
As the sun got lower in the west and the Gate approached, a rich orange glow bathed the tumbling wooded slopes and raw cliffs of the Marin Headlands as they plunge into the depths without pretense of beach or coastal plain. Tom was clearly pleased to find us at sunset at the Point Bonita light and the final approach to San Francisco Bay (and doubly so, knowing that fifteen days of listening to my incessant sanctimonious pontificating about the right and wrong way to tie a bowline was mercifully coming to an end). As darkness fell inside the Gate, the City put on its finest jewels as if to welcome us. But the real welcome only started when Red Dress glided into her slip at 9:45 pm. She was stormed by a dozen or so rowdy revelers who would have shamed the Somalis with the rapidity of their seizure. Before I could cleat a dock line I found myself in the embarrassingly tight embrace of a comely woman who insisted on showering me with kisses. I protested not and even returned the favor as best my pathological shyness would allow. I was later flattered to find out that this woman was none other than the world famous nautical blogger, Naomi Teplow. The only flaw in this joyous scene was when little Oren, seeing his grandpa with a grizzled beard, burst into tears. But he was quickly calmed after returning to his mother's arms at which point the whole mob scrambled below into the cabin where a party ensued. Soon the tall tales, exaggerations and a scattering of outright lies about the voyage were flowing as freely as the champagne and Bristol Cream Sherry. Which just goes to show you that a day that dawns as a sailor's nightmare can be transformed by a cast of joyful characters, both toothed and toothless, by breathtaking scenery, and by late-night revelry into a day to remember.

Arrived Safely -- Last Day Update to be written by sailors soon!

Dear, loyal Red Dress Supporters,

They arrived in the Emeryville harbor safely and very happily at 9:45 pm last night, and were received with flowers, balloons, a sign, a chocolate cake, champagne, orange juice, and much joy and love by family and a few friends. We all sat inside the cabin and celebrated till almost midnight. It was wonderful, and since you couldn't be there, we will at least send some photos soon. Also, Bill and Tom will eventually send their own stories about the last day, which, surprisingly, turned out to be very special.

Thank you all so much for all your support and interest.

More soon,

Nomi and Bill

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Last Day???? -- Buoyed Spirits All Around!

On Sunday, June 14, 2009, at 11 am, Red Dress was 62 miles away from her barn, sitting in a perfectly calm water, with the Point Reyes coast looming in the distance, and the weather report coming from the local buoys telling of no wind whatsoever along the entire Californina coast...

So what are you all buoyed up about, you ask?

Well, at 37 degrees 56 minutes North, and 123 degrees 37 minutes West, our eager sailors were waiting for the "Triple A of Boats" (as I call it, never remembering the real name of this boat insurance company) to rendezvous with them and bring them fuel, so they can motor as fast as they can all the way HOME.

Thank God for modern technology and monthly insurance payments!!!

If all goes well we'll greet them tonight at 10 pm at the Emeryville dock.

I'll probably write once more to tell you how it all went, and Adam will hopefully enclose some photos of the valiant voyagers before they become all clean and civilized again!

By the way, they didn't catch any fish yesterday... The weather is overcast and cool, and last night there was a lot of phosphorescence in the water, which confirms the rumors of whales in the area, probably coming to graze on all this phosphorescent plankton. Our guys are aware of that kind of traffic.

Full gas tank and fast motoring!


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Day 15 -- Bummed -- No Wind AT ALL !!!

The gods are not angry, they are just absent. Who's in charge of the winds around here? Aeolus? Boreas? Zephyr? Where are you guys?!!! Well, I guess I better not complain, lest they start something bigger than our guys can handle. At the moment though, these homesick guys are motoring very, very slowly, in order to conserve fuel, and trying to make use of any miserly whiff of wind that comes along, but mostly there's none...

So, at 3:30 today, Saturday, June 13 (a-ha!!!) they were at 38 degrees and 2 minutes North, and 125 degrees and 26 minutes West.

They've gone 115 miles in the last 24 hours, by far their worst day. Going now straight towards the Gate at 4 miles per hour, they have 149 miles to go, you make the math...

I tried to cheer them up by telling them I've just finished baking Bill's favorite chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, which we'll all eat at the dock when they arrive, along with fresh squeezed orange juice (Bill's request) and/or hot chocolate and/or champagne. But this might be late Sunday night, so the tropical theme balloons, the fruit basket, and the hand painted sign might not be seen but only "felt with the heart" to quote Helen Keller.

Oh well, in the meantime they're trying to fish, but so far nothing.

I'll keep you posted.

Take care,