Rainbow Tug Fleet: The Great Loop
Rainbow Tug Fleet: The Great Loop
The Rainbow Fleet rendezvous in Ketchikan, Alaska. Among our ranks are Don and Anne Gordon of Punta, Florida, Chris and Judy Boyle of Pompano Beach, Florida, and Greg and Monica Clark of Jupiter, Florida. The Gordons have had previous boating experience on their previous boat, a 42' Krogen. Chris Boyle is well suited for this journey having been a transatlantic sailor years ago. My wife Monica and I are the East Coast dealers for American Tug, with years of boating under our belts. The Rainbow Fleet so named as to reflect the array of colors (blue, yellow, and red) that make up our group.
July 1, 2002
Our first stop is Ketchikan, Alaska, where we acquire provisions for the first stage of the voyage of our lives. We have named our trip the Super Loop because it will see us from the untamed wilderness of Alaska, to the tropical beauty of the Caribbean, and finally to the majesty of the Great Lakes.
We begin our adventure with a shakedown cruise starting from the American Tug factory in LaConner, Washington, and after sailing through the inside passage to Alaska, we will return to Washington some two months later.
Leaving Neah Bay, Washington around September 1st begins phase 1 our voyage. We will cruise down the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California ending in San Diego.
In phase 2, we will set out from San Diego around November 15th and head south for Mexico, Belize, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Panama stopping about the 1st of February.
In phase 3, after a few months respite, we will resume our trip commencing with passage through the Panama Canal in March. From Panama we will journey east towards the Windward Islands, maintaining a course south of 12 degrees latitude for the hurricane season.
Phase 4 sees us venturing north for the Bahamas and Florida.
Back in American waters, we will begin phase 5 of our voyage, traveling along the eastern seaboard, up the Saint Lawrence Seaway and into the Great Lakes. To complete the Great Circle, we will sail down the Mississippi and conclude our adventure in Florida.
This epic voyage for our sturdy little American Tugs will see us log some 15,000 nautical miles, exposing the limits of our maritime skills. Visiting diverse and unique cultures and lands; we will forever be enriched for having made such an undertaking.
Back to the present, and the grandeur of Alaska, for which I will attempt to describe but fall far from the mark. The cloud enshrined mountains of Misty Fjords National Park with its snowcapped mountains reaching for the sky, such that one does not know where the earth ends and heavens begin. Far below, in the coastal marshes, fierce but nurturing grizzly bears scavenge for food with their cubs close by. Upon rocky outcroppings, seals bask in the sun and amuse themselves in the breaking tide. Further out, mighty whales break nature's silence with forceful gasps for air, before return to the unknown deep. Soaring above the bald eagle dances in three dimensions as it seeks out its next meal. With such magnificence all around, we are at a loss for the words to describe how it feels to be immersed within.
We have been traveling at an average of 9 knots for 6 hours a day, each evening anchoring in a new cove. Frosty Bay, Red Bluff, and Fools Inlet are among the coves we have lain the night. We are constantly amazed by all that nature has to offer in beauty and sustenance. Crab is plentiful, and there doesn't seem to be a night where we haven't had our fill. Then we settle for the night, taking in all the slender of the wilderness and the nocturnal sky.
Next week I will write of Glacier Bay, Skagway, and the rest of Alaska.
Hello again, its me Greg Clark.
Allow me to digress for a moment from our voyage and write about our equipment and provisions.Our means of conveyance is the American Tug 34', a very stable ride because of its wide beam of 13'3". We make good headway the Cummins diesel 370 hp engine, and our range is vast with enough tankage to accommodate 400 gallons of fuel, 150 gallons of water, and 45 gallons of waste. What makes this trip enjoyable are all the creature comforts in the design of the American Tug. The pilothouse has great environmental controls with air conditioning, window defrosters, and heat (especially helpful in Alaska). The forward cabin is well laid out with a queen size berth, plenty of storage space, and a full size shower. This boat is definitely a live aboard. The saloon and galley is almost endless in its offerings, with a large refrigerator/freezer, double sink, washer/ dryer, water maker, further storage, and if that wasn't enough a pullout queen size guest bed. It is amazing how quiet this boat is when underway or when running the Onan generator. For our runabout we have Boss Boat dinghies, an all fiberglass boat that resembles an inflatable, equipped with a 15 hp Mercury outboard. Launching and retrieval is a breeze with the electric stern davit, making for pleasurable little jaunts without a second thought.
We are well equipped for any occurrence with plenty of space everything, which also means we are running a heavy boat. We guess the load is 26 to 27,000 pounds. Therefore the upper levels of performance are reduced so that our top speed is about 18.5 knots and the high cruise is around 14.5 knots. The 8-knot cruise is around 1500 rpm at 4 gallons an hour.
While traveling through Stephens Passage, on our way to Juneau, we spot an iceberg. This being our first encounter with an iceberg we naturally flock towards it to investigate. After scaring away several of the seagulls who used it as a temporary perch we took photos of each other around the berg.
While anchored in Funter Bay we are joined by Dave and Eddy Lee Scott, fellow American Tug owners and veteran Alaskan travelers. Amongst the stories and conversation Dave tells us of the many coves and fishing spots that are on the list of "Must See". Dave and Eddy Lee then invited us on their tug for a fishing lesson. With our newly acquired fishing skills, and Dave there to guide us, we caught six salmon. The following day we parted Dave and Eddy Lee and headed for Glacier Bay. Unbeknownst to us, Glacier Bay National Park has a restriction on the number of pleasure boats in the bay at any one time; luckily for us, another group had cancelled their reservations. After attending a mandatory lecture and short film on rules and safety, we were allowed to proceed into the park.
Mist enshrouded Berg Bay was our first stop. After navigating through the challenging entrance, we found ourselves in the midst of some twenty-five whales. We shutdown our engines and drifted for about two hours, just gazing at the whales.
The following day the rain was replaced with sun and good visibility, perfect for visiting the glaciers. The Lamplugh Glacier has my vote. We could close, to within a quarter of a mile, where it was possible to really experience the power of the glacier. The brilliant colors were clearly visible, and we could watch with our naked eye as the glacier would calve (break off) and descend to the water below.
Later that afternoon we anchored in Reid Inlet, and went ashore to look for a grizzly bear. Apparently, this bear has a daily routine of following a particular trail to the inlet below, which it then swims across to cliff that overlooks the bay. On the way back from our search, we noticed many beautiful wildflowers in bloom. When we arrived back at the shore, the receding tide had revealed an area at the base of Reid Glacier with ice hunks the size of a house. We decided to investigate. The cold radiating off the face of the glacier was numbing. After taking several photos, we returned to our awaiting tugs.
Watching Reid glacier from a distance now I noticed that a particular part of the ice looked rather unstable. I made a comment to my fellow boaters of my observation, and no soon had I done so than that particular area calved and a piece the size of our boat fell into the water. A mini tidal wave radiated from the point of impact, making for quite an impressive show.
Fog descended upon Glacier Bay the next day hindering our sightseeing, so we turned to halibut fishing. We found a shallow spot off Muir Inlet and attempted to see if our luck from previous days had remained. We found our answer; Dan and Ann caught a 15 lb. Halibut, Chris hooked a 53 lb, and Monica and I caught a 20 and a 28 lb. Our freezers are full!
Our stay at Glacier Bay over, we head south to Hoonah for a day to provisions. Some of the locals told us of an excellent place to view grizzlies. The local bear population has apparently exploited the ample food supply at the dump. These guys are huge, some as big as a pickup truck.
The next stop on our tour of the inside passage, and the furthest point north in our trip, is Skagway. Skagway is a pleasant tourist town at the base of many imposing mountains and glaciers, and it has one of the most picturesque marinas in the area. We took the White Pass and Yukon Route Train to the Chilkoot Pass. I have a new appreciation for the determination and desperation of the prospectors of old after seeing the unbelievable terrain that those people had to cover on foot.
This marks the end of our exploration of the inside passage, and means we must head south for the lower forty-eight. On our way back, we stopped in Bishops Bay and visited the hot springs there. Some ingenious folks built a nice shed and a concrete spa around the hot stream coming out of the mountain. Truly a soothing experience.
I will write more about the return trip to Washington and the subsequent trip down the Pacific Coast to southern California at a later date.
Hello again, it's me Greg Clark,
Onboard my American Tug 34 "BrownEyes" with my wife and first mate / navigator, Monica. After our splendid journey through Alaska and coastal BC, we returned to Anacortes, Washington. A quaint town north of the Tomco factory, where we perform some maintenance and re-provision for the next stage of the "super loop," from the Pacific Northwest to Central America. With our boat show schedule (Newport, RI, Annapolis, MD, and Ft. Lauderdale, FL) pressing us for time, we venture out of the Puget Sound and head south. We leave behind our fellow Rainbow Tug Fleet members and boating buddies Chris & Judy Boyle aboard "Alyssa," and Don & Anne Gordon aboard "Annie."
Preceding our venture out have been horror stories of blustery rolling seas and dangerous sandbars at the few available harbors. To say the lease we are a bit apprehensive about our trip down the Pacific Coast. With some trepidation with what's to come, we traveling through the San Juans (the numerous islands that dot the protected waters of the Puget Sound) and out to the coastal waters of the Pacific. Heading south along the coastline we arrive at Neah Bay to top off our fuel; by now it is afternoon and the choppy seas of the Straits of Juan De Fuca have given way to a cool marine wind. With a favorable forecast we castoff heading south. The next morning, contrary to what I've been told, the water was like glass. Much of my fears had been put to rest, when that afternoon a strong breeze began to blow. Within a few short hours, we were assailed by 5-6 foot following seas. This, however, was nothing for our American Tug, the autopilot had no problem with the conditions and our wake was as straight as an arrow. After some 135 nautical miles we make port in Tillamook, Oregon. Little did we know of the monotony to come. For the next six days we had from 20 to 35 knot winds and thick fog without end! Our boat is heavy because of all the supplies, gear, spare starter, alternator, water maker, and a 500 lb dingy with the supporting davit system we carry. In addition, our ever nearing boat show dates cause us to cruise at 15 knots (not the most fuel efficient speed), so we are having to carefully choose harbors that are not affected by these NW winds so we can maintain a high fuel levels.
A great marina and a nice little city are to be found in Eureka, California. When we checked into the port we were offered the use of police confiscated bicycles, which made for a pleasant exploration of the city. The other nice surprise was the cost of dockage (or moorage as they call it on the West coast), only $8.50 with electricity! Our next stop was Morro Bay, a real pleasure to motor into. A slight lift in the fog allowed us to view Morro Rock with its plentiful supply of pelicans as a welcoming committee. That night we docked at the Morro Bay Yacht Club. Our next stop was Half Moon Bay (just south of San Francisco) where for the first time in days we actually saw the sun. We ate at a sushi bar about 3/4 of a mile from the Bay on a hill overlooking the ocean. I am intrigued with boaters like us, you spend 10-12 hours out in 10-foot swells and fog, then when you dine on land you request a seat by the water.
For the first time our autopilot is overwhelmed by the seas so I take-up the helm and chart plotter while Monica gets the laptop with navigation software and the paper charts. If you can't tell we like to know where we are. All our navigation aids inform us of a clear path; ALL STOP! My heart jumped a beat, because less than a 1/2 mile away I spotted a reef not on any of our charts. After inspecting the charts and software again, we realized that our reef was moving, in fact it was two large Gray Whales. These great creatures, each more than twice the length of our American Tug, passed within 100 feet of "BrownEyes." Before we could get our camera, however, they had traveled out of sight.
Later that same day we passed Point Conception, which has a reputation of large and confused seas; however, we hit it right with seas less than 3 feet and a thinning fog. We then pulled into Oxnard and contacted Anacapa Marina, where we had made prior arrangements to have the Rainbow Tug Fleet hauled and stored on the hard. For now its back to the east coast to prepare for the coming boat shows.
Greg and Monica Clark
December 4, 2002
We have returned to Oxnard to launch "BrownEyes" and prepare for our Mexican adventures. Alyssa and Annie were launched a week or so earlier and were awaiting our arrival in San Diego. Our boat had the blues! Some boats that were stored next to us had their bottoms sanded resulting in a fine dust that settled on our deck. When this dust mixed with the morning dew a messy paste was adhered to the superstructure. After a putting our backs into a few good scrubbings and exposure to some salt spray, "BrownEyes" was as good as new.
For the next two weeks we were joined by our good friends from Newport, Rhode Island, Mike and Sherry Pare. Mike is the owner of Newport Marine Electronics, and does almost all of the electronic installations for us. He was looking forward not only to his destination of Cabo San Lucas, but also being able to play with one of his creations, something he admittedly seldom has the opportunity to do. Now don't get mad at me for this, but I am not one to ingest every page of my electronics' manuals, so having Mike onboard was a real learning experience.
After joining the awaiting Alyssa and Annie off the harbor entrance, we headed south for Mexico. Chris and Don are always trying to slow me down and take advantage of the American Tug's fuel-efficient speeds. I on the other hand like to cruise at the higher end of the spectrum, so as usual I pulled head of the pack. Once entering Mexican coastal water I had to call the Marina Coral in Ensenada. After my attempts to stumble through some broken Spanish, the dock master decided to use his perfect English to conduct our business.
The process of clearing aduanna (customs) and immigration is quite different in Mexico. The process takes you from Immigration (a sign-in and small fee), to the Port Captain (where you fill out a form), then to a Mexican Government Bank (where you wait in line all day), and finally back to the Port Captain to verify the funds transfer. This took us one excruciating long day to complete. Most marinas will do this "paper cha cha" for a nominal fee of $25 to $50 and worth every last penny.
Ensenada is a modest town in size and very friendly and easy to get around. A large portion of the locals spoke at least some English, making it fairly easy to get by with very little Spanish. To celebrate our first day in Mexico we went to town for our first Margarita. Leaving Ensenada the seas were rough and mostly following.
Our harbor for that night was the relative quite of San Quintin, which has a challenging entrance laced with sandbars and the occasional rock. We contacted Chris and Don, who by now where behind us by two hours, both though they would run all night. Left to ourselves we watched as the Pangas (small fishing boats) come in the harbor. We waved one down to see if they had some pesca (fish) to sell us. The fishermen were very friendly, although they spoke no English, unfortunately they only had Stonecrabs. Well, we'll suffer through this. We passed the fishermen a 5 gallon bucket and they filled it to the brim with large crabs. The asked for $15, we gave them $20 and 4 beers. The Panga men, using a simple sign language to bridge the communication void, told us that we had chosen a pour spot because of strong currents. They had us follow them across a shoal that according to our charts was less than 4 feet deep; in reality, it was about 40 feet. Don and Chris called on the vhf and decided to come in and have crabs. It was very dark and they were unable to duplicate our GPS track from our plotter even though we gave them coordinates every 100 yards. Better to be safe than sorry.
Up and away at "0 dark 30" to more difficult going. The seas were rough for most of the trip to Cabo San Lucas. The most interesting spot along the way was Turtle Bay, where we stopped to replenish our fuel. There we found a large steel pier some 15 feet above the waves, with the most archaic fueling procedure. After determining adjustments for wind, you drop anchor some 150 feet or so and then back toward the pier, where you are cross-tied by two stern lines. They then through you a smaller line with a fuel hose attached at the other end. You pay in much the same manner, except instead of a fuel hose you find a plastic bottle where you stuff your cash. Fuel runs about $280 per gallon, and I'm afraid your credit cards are only as valuable as the plastic they're printed on. While I fuel the boat, my crew (Mike, Sherrie, and Monica) went into the poverty stricken town. Upon my prompt return, I learned that the town was less than pleasing to the olfactory sense, and everything was covered in a coat of dirt. The scenery is sand, rock, short bushy trees, and the occasional cactus.
We left Turtle Bay for Cabo San Lucas, our next fuel stop. This time I dropped back on the throttle to 8 knots where the burn rate is about 3 gallons per hour. We ran our first all-nighter and it was spectacular. The seas were fairly calm, about 4 foot following and quite comfortable. At 2:00 am, the sky was lit up with more stars than I had ever seen, with the near clockwork 30-second separation of shooting stars.
We arrive in Cabo San Lucas for some R & R. There is a monopoly on fuel in Cabo, and the fat cat on the block is Pemex (a.k.a. the Mexican Government). The rates were $220 per gallon plus a 15% charge for use of their dock and a 5% fee for use of a credit card. We found these additional fees and charges objectionable, but with little other choice, we paid them. The fuel was black in our dual Racor filters, and although it burned alright it gave off smoke.
Cabo is geared towards the boating tourist, the marina was well kept, but a street away day becomes night and the poverty and dirt of the city become all too evident. There are vendors everywhere from dawn until 11 at night; they think nothing of using their children (average age between 5 and 10 years old) to sell gum or some other trinket. Chris and Don left for La Paz, while Monica and I remained for 5 days with our friends Mike and Sherry before they had to fly back to Rhode Island.
When we arrived at La Paz, we found it is not a typical tourist town. Rather there is large cruising community, mostly comprised of sail. We spent Christmas and New Years in this pleasant town with plenty of marine supplies and a plethora of great restaurants. The weather by now was cold and windy. The decision was made to forego the Sea of Cortez and instead head south towards central Mexico. After a stroll to the local internet café, for some weather reports (local forecasts are very difficult to find), we found that the 240 nautical mile trip to Mazatlan had a favorable weather window. Chris and I grasped at the opportunity and headed out at noon in 4-foot seas.
For the duration of our trip to Mazatlan we maintained the same 4-foot seas. Upon arrival, we found a warm, touristy, but nice city with spacious hotels and resorts. We stayed at El Cid Marina, a first class marina and resort. Although it was lovely, once again my boat show schedule began to weigh upon me, and I found myself once again head of "Annie" and "Alyssa."
Along the way south, we visted Isla Isabel, located some 86 miles south of Mazatlan and 15 miles off the mainland. Isla Isabel has been National Ecological Preserve for 20 years. Birds are everywhere! It is home to frigate birds, blue and yellow footed boobys. The anchorage was very rough and we were constantly jostled with rolling waves. This prompted us to use our flopper stopper anti-roll gadget, which somewhat helped.
We arrived at Puerta Vallarta and stayed at Marina Vallarta, a nice marina surrounded by restaurants and little shops. Unfortunately, our time here was cut short. In our month long absence we leave "BrownEyes" in the watchful hands of Dave and Peggy aboard their mega yacht "Que Sera." We will resume our adventure on the 22nd of February.
Greg and Monica Clark