On The Road Again

July 23, 2011
This is it!  After nearly 3 years of planning, scheming, and working, not to mention spending beaucoupe dollars, we are ready to cast off the dock lines, cut the chains that bind us, sail over the blue horizon or whatever spins your crank.  It seemed at times that we would never get through the long, and always growing list of things to be done, but reality finally set in – if we didn’t pull the plug this year it may never happen.  So we bit the bullet and paid our money to join the Baja Ha Ha, told everyone we were off this year without doubt, and jumped out of the proverbial airplane and trusting the parachute would open.  And open it did, our only concern was what sort of landing we would have?
Our empty slip
Intrepid mariners
Leif, our son Christian and his friend Ryan set off from Bellingham, Washington on 23 July bound for San Francisco, a distance of some 700 odd miles, hopefully making landfall in 5 to 7 days, depending on Boreas (the North wind). We had poured over the weather reports, digested the grib files, talked to everyone who would listen and went for it.  We cast off our lines with mixed emotions, said our goodbyes to Bellingham, headed for the fuel dock and then pointed our nose west.
Cape Flattery
 For dinner the first night we nominated Christian as the chef and he turned out a pretty darn good chicken and mash concoction.  That night was spent under engine since there was little wind and a beautiful daybreak found us at the entrance to the Straits of Juan de Fuca.  We had motored since leaving Bellingham and the seas had been flat calm with only the Pacific swell coming down the strait.  We turned left at Cape Flattery and gradually the wind filled in and we had a very pleasant sail down the coast, noticing La Push and it’s off lying rocks, quite interesting from about 5 miles out.  As the day wore on it became apparent that the boys were going to get a taste of some real sailing.  The wind built until it was a pretty steady 20 knots from directly astern.  It was a bit rolly and we took a couple of friendly ones on deck which prompted us to start shortening sail.  The boys had a pretty rough night and Ryan was a bit worried so the next morning we put into the Columbia and went up to Ilwaco.  This is a small fishing town and it had definitely seen better days but the docks held us firm and there was no movement so everyone had a good night’s sleep. 
The next morning dawned clear and the weather forecast was promising so after a good breakfast ashore got some more fuel and cast off.  It was certainly a lot faster going out of the river than coming in and it seemed smoother as well.  That is one entrance that I would not like to attempt in any sort  of a blow.  The wind remained in the 15 knot range for most of the day allowing us to sail goose winged, Ryan was a little intimidated with the fine edge you must walk to keep everything ful,l so  Christian and Leif traded off the helm.  Ryan was then appointed the chief cook and bottle washer and did a fine job of both.  The boys had the fishing lines out but other than washing the lures not much happened.  That night was a bit rolly making sleep difficult and with the wind directly astern and lighter, it was tricky to keep the sails full in the dark.  We had many fishing vessels off to port, at first we thought them small town because of the glow in the sky caused in no small part by the sea haze.
The following day the wind continued to build and by the afternoon we were back goose winged and Leif decided that since everything was going well to take advantage of the lull and get a bit of shut eye.  On coming back on deck he looked astern and noted the streaks in the seas plus the boat seemed to be accelerating down the waves.  A quick glance at the wind speed showed that gusts were coming at over 25 knots!  The boys were having a great time and said that they hit over 12 knots at times, scary to say the least.  It was quickly down with the spinnaker pole, rolled up about half the headsail and a reef in the main, even at that we would plane off the larger waves.  The NOAA radio forecast for Cape Blanco south was 30 to 40 knots and nobody was game for that kind of wind, and especially since a goodly portion would be at night we opted to put into Coos Bay or Charleston to be exact, to wait on better weather. 
It was an exciting sail down the Oregon coast, past the big sand dunes, with the strongish wind directly astern.  We were able to parallel the coast and wanted to make Coos before dark so we kept the boat moving quickly.  We picked up the sea buoy easy enough but the winds were  in the 25 knot range and the entrance seemed narrow.  Dusk was approaching and already some of the buoys were flashing, the boys were a bit concerned and so was Leif.  Just when we were beginning to doubt ourselves, a boat comes roaring out of the entrance, the Coast Guard, making it easier for us to establish our course.  And to top it off, a Coast Guard helicopter comes out as well, passing directly overhead.  First thought is “What have I done now?”   We were all a bit concerned that we had contravened some law but the cutter and the chopper went out to the entrance mouth and stood by, perhaps someone had asked for assistance, we never did find out.  Once inside the entrance darkness quickly fell and the boys had their first taste of a night entrance.  With all the lights it was confusing and the channel into the marina is narrow but well lit.  With the GPS in the cockpit life was much easier than in the old days.
We had a couple of days wandering around the small place, you could not call it a town, and public transit being what it is - we were pretty well stuck there.  The forecast still remained on the snotty side of things and the boys had job commitments so it was with a heavy heart Leif saw them off by cab to catch a bus into Coos Bay.  Getting from Coos Bay to anywhere is a very interesting exercise and getting from anywhere there is just as interesting.
Leif cooled his heels and did boat projects, keeping one ear on the VHF radio listening to the weather hoping for an improvement.  While the marina was comfortable and the staff did their level best to make one’s stay pleasant there were some unsavoury characters about.  The reason became apparent when there was a fire ashore, not far away, with lots of black smoke and some flames.  A rather dubious chap came up to me when I was watching and said it must be one of the meth labs as that is where they do their cooking.  Oh, just lovely.  At least that explained why half the dock seemed to be talking to themselves and the other half walking rather mechanically up and down the gang plank.
With the boys gone the big question was how to get to San Francisco, so it was time to call Jackie.  What a great sport, she flew to Portland, rented a car and drove 4 hours to Coos Bay to do a trip she really did not want to do.  Did I mention that getting to and from Coos Bay was fraught with difficulty?  We took the rental car back to the airport at Coos, picked up some extra groceries and took a cab back to the boat.  We had a weather window starting the next day and wanted to be ready to sail.
Typical West coast views
August 2nd dawned lovely with clear skies and light winds out of the north.  After fueling up we went out the entrance and turned south.  It was a great day to sail with the N wind at 10-15 knots and we went past the dreaded Cape Blanco and then Cape St. Georges in fine style.  This continued for most of the next day but just at sunset the wind suddenly picked up and blew 20-25, giving a very rough ride as the seas seemed much steeper and closer together than the wind would warrant.
All through the night we had to hand steer the boat as neither the wind vane nor the autopilot could cope with the seas.  It was difficult to get any type of rest down below so we just hunkered down in a corner of the cockpit with our lifejackets on and tethered to the jack lines.  This is one of the very few times that we had ever felt the need to don  lifejackets although we had tied ourselves on the jack lines on occasion. 
All through the next day the wind stayed in the 25-30 range with the same ugly seas.  We subsisted on hot soup and whatever nourishment we could grab quickly and rush back topsides before the mal de mer took hold.  One small highlight was spotting a whale fairly nearby, and as it dove had a great view of its wide tail.  We were desperate to make the entrance to San Francisco on the correct tide but it soon became apparent that this was not going to happen.  The next best idea was to anchor in Drakes Bay, under the lee of Pt. Reys.  This should be a fairly easy manoeuvre, even with the wind and seas as we would get a lot of shelter behind the headland.
But wouldn’t you know it, we have fog, thick fog, visibility was greatly reduced.  We should have picked up the light on Pt. Reys at least 10 miles out.  We kept staring into the darkness, willing it to shine through the fog.  At times like this you start to second guess your navigation, even with the GPS which has been a Godsend. It wasn`t until we were about 4 miles off the point that there was a slight gloom through the pea soup.  Rejoice, we weren`t lost after all.  The wind seemed to be taking one last swipe at us and the seas seemed to grow even wilder, plus we were about to enter the shipping lanes, oh great!  Thanks to a navigation system called AIS we were able to see two ships coming towards us, the first, the Triton, was within a couple of miles.  We radioed them and said that we were having difficulty manoeuvring but would pass in front of them.  It was well that we contacted the ship as it had not seen us on the radar because of the sea state, as we got close they did eventually see our lights and we safely passed across their bows, although I must admit they seemed very close to us indeed.  It was amazing to watch them pitch in the seas and to see the water go cascading down their decks.  She must have been a fishing trawler as they had on enough lights to illuminate a small city!
This is California weather?
Once in the lee of the land the wind abated somewhat and the seas rapidly diminished, boy that felt good, now all we had to do was find the entrance to the bay.  There was 1 green light we had to find and then it was easy to enter the bay.  Ah, there it is, with Leif navigating down below using the GPS and Jackie steering it should be a piece of cake.  We were using the GPS to give us our course,  first the light is on the left, good, then on the right, not so good, then it is on the left again, good then Jackie yells that there must be 2 lights!  Panic attack, there is only 1 light shown on the charts, how can there be two?  What was happening is that there is a lag between the GPS course and what is actually happening – we had been literally going around in circles!  This gives a whole new meaning to the old saying “When in trouble or in doubt, turn in circles, scream and shout!”   Finally we put the laptop up on deck where one could see it from the helm and crept into the bay in very thick fog, but at least the water was calm.  Jackie wondered just how much damage she would do if we ploughed into something at 2 knots.  We dropped the hook, did a bit of tidying up, had celebratory rum and crashed.  It had been a long 36 hours of hand steering in some of the most uncomfortable seas we had ever encountered.
The next morning dawned clear, but overcast, and we were alone in the anchorage.  We set off to catch the tide going under the Golden Gate Bridge.  This was a moment to remember, at least for us, as it signified an important milestone in our trip and we had made it safely.  Also we had high hopes that the weather would improve, could we put the cold and fog behind us?  Only time would tell.
The Golden Gate Bridge
Safe at Pier 39
As we passed under bridge, partially obscured by the incessant fog, we crossed into the bay proper and it was like magic, for not only did it become a bit warmer but the sun shone.  San Francisco revealed itself in all it’s glory, Alcatraz, Sausalito, the Bay bridge, Telegraph Hill, the Transamerica building, what a sight for sore eyes.  We had booked into Pier 39 Marina for 3 days so we could be in the thick of things and just as we were pulling in who should be on the dock but our friends, Jack and Janice, who would join us on the leg to San Diego.  They had literally just got out of the taxi from the airport, timing could not have been better. 
We had a great time in San Francisco, visiting some of the sites we had missed in the past and it is always so much more fun when you have a group.

We were also able to meet up with a very old friend, Ilene, who we had not seen for at least 10 years, only the odd contact by email.  It was great, she had not changed one little bit, if only we could be so lucky! 
Arf Arf

OMG the Sun!
 The time literally flew and it wasn’t long before we were headed to Trader Joe’s to stock up on food, not to mention the Two Buck Chuck, to see us through to San Diego.

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