Turning Tail

Sea Stacks near Cape Mendocino in sunnier times

I know it was the prudent decision, although I’m not sure if we could have made it without turning around.  Thursday morning we left Eureka to head south to Bodega Bay, a stretch that included that infamous Cape Mendocino about twenty miles into the trip.  Again, we motored south, with little wind to assist our passage.  About seven miles from the cap,e I took the helm and shortly after rolled out the jib, able to hold my course towards the buoy at the cape and a shallow spot on the chart I was attempting to avoid sailing over.  It only took about ten to fifteen minutes to roll it back in as the wind really started to pipe up.  We began to see why the cape has such a reputation, figuring we were experiencing a localized weather system generated by the landmass of the cape and the underwater shoals in the area.

We continued to beat into the weather, the wind increasing, the seas growing as northwest swells met the southerly wind.  The seas became confused, with large waves in a short period, and we would come off the top of wave only to meet another one.  Progress slowed from five knots to three knots, then two knots.  We clawed towards the buoy, somehow comforted by the sight of something man made in the madness around us.  First driving towards the buoy, then as we closed on it focusing to stay far enough away that we could clear it as we motored by.  Behind us, two boats we had met chatted on the VHF, one just entering the system we were in, another near shore, experiencing nothing but able to spot a windline on the edge of the system.  We slogged pass the buoy, continuing our slow progress south but growing increasingly concerned.  The system showed no signs of lessening, and Ventured was shuddering in ways we hadn’t experienced before.  Minion didn’t seem too phased, although I think he may have grown a little nervous when he dug a cushion off the bench and tried to huddle behind it.  But then he visited his food dish and chowed down, so he couldn’t have been feeling too bad.

Even Eyore was feeling a little seasick

More chatter on the VHF, and the two boats behind us turned around to head back to Eureka.  Having already rounded the cape, we didn’t want to give up our progress, so we pushed forward, continuing to absorb a beating.  Jenn was thrown by a wave while down below, falling but suffering no more than a potential bruise the next day.  We listened to the weather, and found the forecast changed from our departure, now predicting this weather till midnight.  We bore off the wind to ease the pounding and consider our options.  As we turned downwind the ride smoothed out, the waves passing below us rather than pounding our bow.  The wind felt lighter, as we suddenly sped up to over three knots with the engine in idle.  The decision was reached-p[-0 back to Eureka on a five hour downwind run, rather than continuing to  bash into the weather.  It was disheartening, giving up 26 miles of progress, having to sail that far back to Eureka, and knowing that we would have to again sail south to round Cape Mendocino.

On the plus side, we were finally going downwind even if we were headed north, and we had stayed at our slip back in Eureka long enough they had upgraded us to a weekly rate so we were paid for a few more days.  On the downside, I had left a line attached to the lifelines that caught our jib sheet, so we had to roll the jib back in and just motor north.  We did catch a break as the fog that had rolled in as we turned around cleared as we approached the bar crossing in Eureka.  A benign crossing between the jetties, and then the three mile push up the river following two previous GPS tracks until we reached our fortunately still empty slip where I executed a smooth landing.  Jenn was happy as her legs were weak from the day’s beating and I put the boat right next to dock and she was able to step onto it without making the leap I’ve occasionally forced on her.

We tied up the boat, managed a quick dinner and crawled into bed, sleep coming rapidly after a long day of physical and emotional stress.  Despite the rough weather, nothing broke, and neither of us suffered more than a bruise.  The next morning we met up with the crew of the two boats that turned around earlier than us and walked to the NOAA office next to the marina, where we found out about the Stratus Surge that had shot up the coast causing the weather we encountered.  Speaking with several boats further north, we heard they had also taken their lumps, our friends on Reisender deciding to duck into Crescent City rather than continue to Eureka.

Minion loves groceries!

After our visit, took blessed showers, did laundry, cleaned up the boat, dried our foulies,  and borrowed a truck to get more fuel in our jerry cans and stop for a few groceries as Jenn was down to her last diet Coke.  Sadly, Rainier Beer does not seem to be available here, but I remain hopeful I will cross paths with it again.  We did duck into a food c0-0p, spotting the remnants of the northern California hippie population.  We usually try to avoid the pricey stores, but the Grocery Outlet didn’t have wasabi for the fresh tuna one of the fishing boats on our dock so kindly gave to us.  Sushi for dinner tonight!

Wounds licked, we are looking at the weather and trying to calculate our next window.  It looks like tomorrow night, but if not we are likely in Eureka for another week waiting out some nastiness.  We are eager to get south for the warmth, reduction in nasty weather, and for some final purchases at the West Marine in San Diego, rumored to be a mecca of West Marines.

Time in Port equals boat projects and a blog post

For those following our progress on the Spot – check on on Thursday. We are currently sitting in Eureka, waiting for a weather window to continue our slow migration south. The forecasts are looking like Thursday will be the first day things are favorable for us, currently there are small craft advisories in affect for some of the waters just south of us until Wednesday night.

I think I see why the pump was leaking

So that means boat projects, yesterday I rebuilt the manual bilge pump, added sealant to the holes in the deck where the rigging comes down and is fastened (chainplates for the sailors reading along), and added some tension to the windvane lines. By evening I halfheartedly cleaned a drawer and the navigation station, but both need some more attention tonight. Or tomorrow. Time gets a little blurry with days in port. I also noticed an alignment issue with the windvane that I want to tackle today, but it is going to involve blowing up the dinghy or using the kayak, less stable and much wetter, but a lot less work to get off and on the boat. Between projects I look at the weather forecasts over and over, and talk to other cruisers about weather, departure times and the next destination. There might be a chapter or two of a book read somewhere in schedule, I need to work my way through my stack so I can start trading my paperbacks for new ones.

Minion is no help on boat projects

We did explore Eureka a bit on our first day here, but it involves a long walk across a bridge with no sidewalk which we aren’t dying to do again. We found the downtown area in decline, many closed businesses and sketchy people on the streets. There were some wonderful old wood houses but not much do besides walk by them and look at the outside. There is a newer area with a mall and Costco, but it would involve a long hike to get to. Sitting on the boat working on projects costs a lot less than going to town, and is more productive so we’ve been keeping to the boat. We do get a steady stream of wildlife here, pelicans, egrets, harbor seals and the ever present seagulls.

A pelican on the tug next to us

An egret takes flight

Spot On

For those of you tracking us via our Spot, someone was not paying attention when they were told that it only transmits for 24 hours than  needs to be set back into tracking mode.  That someone is now correctly informed and aware of the proper usage of the Spot and will try not to let lapses in our track occur in the future.  Please continue to follow along, we enjoy knowing our friends are with us in spirit.

On a slow boat to San Diego

Andy, with us in spirit.

So much for plans – I had thought we would be rolling into San Diego around now, give or take a few days.  At least we have made it to California!  Eureka isn’t quite San Diego, but it is supposed to be a charming little town, certainly a step up from Coos Bay.  I won’t miss the family with five children, several of which seemed to find it neccesary to just make noise for no apparent reason, crabbing off the dock mere feet from out cockpit for hours on end.  Jenn and Minion enjoyed a crab feed thanks to the genorisity of one of the crabbers, funny how he made the offer while I was off on an errand…

Jenn feels less guilty about boiling crabs after being pinched by one.

The trip to Eureka was what I would deem uneventful.  We left at midnight, sadly leaving Jerrid and Scott behind with a cracked muffler, discovered when they fired up to leave with us.  We motored out of the bay, and between the stone walls of the jetty in the dark, where I realized why the rough bar crossing lights had been lit in the marina.  It was mostly waves on the nose, and our bow rose high in the air several times but always settled fairly gently.  We did suffer a casualty, a plastic serving tray that came with the boat fell off and shelf and became several smaller pieces of serving tray, but I suspect it won’t really be missed and can be easily replaced.

Hours of this viiew, and little else

Once across the bar, we headed southwest till we were clear of the next point of land, and began working our way south once again.  As forecast, there was little wind, gentle rolling swells, and not so much in the forecast, copious amounts of fog.  I was able to thread two fishing vessels less than a mile apart, watching the radar, then the glow of their lights in the fog, and finally close enough to make out the boats slowly trolling for their catch. By dawn, we could barely see, maybe 100 feet around us.  It didn’t seem that we were missing much few as we motored on, rolling off two hour shifts at somewhere around 5 miles an hour under the constantly droning diesel.  The view consisted of water void of wind ripples rising up and down, patches of bull kelp, and birds that seemed impossibly small to be ten miles offshore bobbing on the swells.  Then suddenly, the view also included a whale’s back breaking the surface 100 feet or so behind us.  While amazing, it is also a bit scary, I’m not eager to have a whale, accidently or otherwise, bump the boat.  We saw it one more time, then not again.  It was a sureal view, the fog shrinking our view of a vast ocean to a very small visible patch of water.  We continued throughout the day, and into the next night, waiting for it clear.  As the night hours ticked off, I contemplated that a round trip drive to San Diego from Seattle and back would probably take about the same time as this short hop, but as Jenn pointed out, where would we live? Finally dawn arrived, and although the sky had cleared briefly for a glimpse of stars and sliver of moon, the fog remained with us as we approached the entrance Humboldt Bay.

Suddenly out of the fog a sailboat appeared, exiting as we lined up to enter the channel.  It really it a small ocean – it was Spica, a boat from Anacortes whose owner worked at West Marine.  They left a few days before us and we’ve exchanged phone calls but hadn’t caught up with them until now.  A brief VHF exchange to say hi ensued before I focused on entering a new harbor in fog so thick I could only see one jetty wall.  Using radar, GPS and Jenn as a mark spotter, we crept through the channel then made a sharp left and headed to the marina on Woodley Island where we had a slip reserved. Pelicans winged their way in and out of the fog, graceful in a somewhat gangly way.  Other new sea birds slid into view, making me wish our friend Melissa was along to identify and enjoy the change in species from now far away Puget Sound.

Jenn celebrates crossing into Sunny California!

Spotting our reserved slip, I spun the boat, calculated the wind and tide flows and managed a pretty decent landing.  I’m still a bit challenged docking the boat, but it is getting better.  It doesn’t seem such a big deal on the open ocean, but I am driving the boat into slips far more times than I anticpated.  I think the next step is to start practicing some anchoring.  A marina employee promptly met us on the dock to take our information, and after some naps we are headed up to the office to settle up, explore a bit and see if the Grocery Outlet in town has the same inexpensive wine and cheese as the ones back in Seattle.  Then it is back to the weather forecasts to plot our next move.  I’ve heard rumors of some northerly winds, so maybe we can finally hoist the sails and experience an ocean passage without the incesant sound of a diesel engine.

And then there were two (and Minion)

Round two of ocean voyaging has been completed.  We are now in scenic Coos Bay (sarcastic).

I think this may be the armpit of Oregon.  We are ducked in waiting for some better weather to try a long 35 hour jump to Eureka so we can tick off another state and start enjoying California.   We will be making this trip just the two of us, as David needed to return to Spokane to tend to his fledgling business.  It was great having him along to help us get started, but at some point it was going to be just us, so now is as good a time as any.  To help us ease into the duo cruising era, we have began to buddy boat with the guys we met in Newport, Scott and Jarrid on Reisender.  After docking next to them in Newport we are again tied next to them here in Coos Bay, and are discussing the run to Eureka together.  I’m also trying to fun down one of the guys I met at West Marine who is a couple days ahead of us on a San Juan 30 named Spica.

Based on our experiences so far, and the loss of the third crew member we look to be altering our original plan of a long non stop cruise from Seattle to San Diego.  We are now in harbor hopping mode, which helps us stay in better weather and lets us play tourist along the way.  We have to keep up the pace to make it to San Diego for the Haha, but don’t have to rush as we still have about a month before the start.  I would like to make in the next couple weeks, giving us a little time to provision and work on the boat in San Diego.

The trip from Newport to Coos Bay was pretty uneventful, other than a 4:30 am departure time.  We had a very smooth bar crossing, cleared the safe water mark and motored south.  We were able to sail on a nice reach for a few hours mid day, but then the wind clocked behind us and faded, so it was back to the engine.  We were a tad bit late on the tide with our arrival to the Coos Bay entrance, but it was still a smooth crossing.  After threading through some rather tight navigation markers we tied up just ahead for Reisender who had left about 7 hours ahead of us.  David began arranging a taxi-bus-public transit-plane trip home, while we chatted travel plans with Scott and Jarrid.  Today was spent with showers, laundry, a trip to the store where $4.19 loafs of bread made us decide to so with the tortillas on the boat, and a long walk to a chandlery for oil so I can do a change tomorrow morning since the motor has become a bigger part of the trip than I anticipated.  There may have been a nap and some reading along the way… no need to rush everything.

Jenn - "Ohh, free internet! Oh wait..."

We found a happy hour with free Wi-Fi and bargain $1.50 Hamms where I am able to make a couple posts to the blog.  We’ve also been checking the weather and looking at a departure sometime tomorrow of early Friday to get to Eureka before the weather sours again.

One final note – Jackie and Leif, can you email us?  Ventured at g mail, we’ve tried to send you an email and can’t get one to go through, we would like to chat about your trip down the coast.

Wednesday at 2:30 am, Neah Bay, put the blinker on and turn left.  In hindsight maybe we should have stopped, collected ourselves, double checked the weather and thought it through.  But listening to the weather on the VHF, it was okay, and I was raring to go.  And Thursday it was what it was all about, rolling out the big jib, reaching along, 6+ knots at times, whooping it up when the GPS ticked 8+ knots.  The excitement rolled into the evening and didn’t really put us on our planned watch schedule, but we made it through.  We continued on, around 80 miles offshore with nothing but water in site.  Nothing but water and pod of 50 plus dolphins, a couple Dahls porpoises, whales and even what we are pretty sure was a shark or two near the surface.

Dolphins off the port bow!

Yes, there was a swell but it was a gentle roll of up and down, the way I pictured the ocean.  Then Friday night, the wind picked up, the waves built up, and the real fun started.  We pushed through, with the forecast calling for 25-30 knots of wind.  Since I don’t have the wind speed indicator hooked up, all I can say is based on previous experience I would estimate it to be in the 25 range if not a bit more.  I apparently am the rare sailor that underestimates wave size, but the highest estimate from a crew member was 14 foot waves.  And of course, the wind was from the south, the proverbial on the nose.  We slogged through, still struggling with a watch schedule that worked well for us. We eventually hove to and just watched for any of the fishing vessels around us, their bright lights glowing on the horizon, and sometimes actually appearing and disappearing with the waves.

Minion doesn't need a lee cloth to sleep in bumpy seas.

Daylight rolled around on Saturday, and the wind died.  The seas were still large and fairly lumpy.  We gamely tried to continue, but struggled to make true progress south.  I think at this point we were already cheating back east a bit, as the forecast was still not favorable.

As the Saturday light faded, the wind strengthened.  We still pushed on, trying an hour on, hour off rolling watch schedule that wasn’t the right answer either.  Midway through the dark morning hours we decided to head for Newport, as the entrance was relatively easy and it wasn’t closed as several other harbors on the coast were.  We again hove to, this time under reefed main alone, but after I realized we were 12 miles off shore and drifting east at 2 knots, it was time to start moving south along with the east drift.  After several nights of being tossed around it was time for the iron genny.  We fired it up and motor sailed a course for the Newport entrance.  Shortly after dawn I hoisted the storm jib to help balance and give a bit more drive into the waves we were beating into.  I will say this, it does take awhile to get to shore from 80 miles out in the  ocean!

Finally,  midday on Sunday we sighted the buoys for the entrance to Newport harbor, dropped the sails, lined up between the rock jetties and drove in.  Ahh, flat water, the wind not blowing everything and the search for a dock.  After being told by the front desk of the resort with guest moorage they had no space for 37′ boat we were just starting to head for the other marina which was not as close to town when someone popped out of a sailboat on the transient dock and waved us over.  They helped us dock in front of them, told us the woman running the moorage was on vacation and the front desk of the resort didn’t seem to want to deal with guest moorage and offered us use of their card key for the showers.  Dock lines were promptly secured, shower bags and towels dug out of their stowed locations, and I soon stood under a shower wondering why solid ground was swaying back and fourth.

Still smiling, must be early in the trip.

So having been 80+ miles offshore, survived two nights of approximately 25 knot winds and 14 foot swells\waves, I have to say it wasn’t that bad for me.  I never got seasick, although that may have been in part to starting with a patch on (and for the record, they do wonky things to your vision, I was really struggling to read numbers on the chartplotter).  Jenn asked at one point if I was scared, and my answer was “No, I’ve read horror stories by cruisers, and these aren’t the conditions they describe.” Even if Jenn did have some moments of fear, she was a trooper, took turns driving the boat and did a great job staying awake and keeping us company while we drove. The difficulty is that once the bad weather starts, there isn’t a lot you can do but ride it out.  And covering 80 miles to shore at 6 knots is a long trip, not to mention you have to hit shore in a place with a harbor you can get into based on the current conditions.  Once we did get to shore, the bar crossing into the harbor was not nearly as bad as I was afraid it would be.

We have learned some things – I do need to get the lines run aft to the cockpit and lazy jack projects completed so we can raise and lower the main sail from the cockpit.  We hooked up the windvane while in Newport, and while we don’t have it dialed in and steering the boat yet, it will also be a tremendous help.  We also didn’t adhere to our watch schedule, and I think doing so would have benefited us.  We are here to learn and have fun, and so far both goals are being accomplished.

So this is cruising

I’m not sure this actually feels like cruising yet, but I guess by definition it is.  Our third night after leaving Lake Union, and our third spot to spend the night.  And we have already had a big boat project we didn’t expect.  So yes, this is cruising, but I suspect I’ll feel more like a real cruiser after a couple nights at sea once we finally turn the corner and head south.

After our night at Bainbridge Island, I met David in Seattle and we went back to the boat and started north.  It didn’t take long to decide we needed to pull into Shilshole and pick up a few last items, and also Stuart was kind enough to pick up a couple charts of Southern California that may come in handy and bring them down for us.  About this time the fun really began when I noticed that my likes to run about 10 degrees hotter than it should engine was running about 45 degrees to hot.  We limped into Shilshole and I sucked it up enough by a few gallons of gas just so we could stop at a dock.  After fueling up across from the very impressive tall ship Lady Washington, we snuck into a guest slip, unloaded the lazerrete and started in on the engine.  It was quite low on coolant so we filled it up, didn’t see anything else wrong, and set out for parts north again, about 7:00 pm, and quickly discovered we hadn’t fixed the massive overheating issue.  I should have made the call to turn around, but I spoke with a mechanic I know up north and thought if we could make it close to him he could take a look at it for us.  Originally we were thinking Anacortes, and had a nice southerly taking us north.  But after weighing some factors, like a lack of anchorages up the west side of Whidbey Island, the current late hour and the distance Anacortes, we decided to aim for Everett.

David had been up since 4:00 am, so he took a turn sleeping while I drove for a bit, then Jenn took the helm while I curled up in the cockpit with the instructions to wake me with any questions.  And she did, but I still got some napping in till I took back over to drive us into Everett’s marina section, with some nerve wrackingly close sailing to the Naval Base.  After passing it we spotted what looked like guest moorage, gybed  in the channel between the breakwater and dock, and slid right up to a side tie.  At 2:00 am it seemed a little late to tackle the engine so it was off to bed for everyone.

Tuesday morning we discussed possible problems and inspected the engine again with no luck.  David was able to use his autoparts account to get a pressure tester delivered to the marina.  Our working theory was the boat was loosing coolant out the heat exchanger or water cooled exhaust manifold.  Pressure tester in hand we began trying to figure out where the leak was occurring.  In the end we found one hose with a slight trickle of a leak, took it off and cleaned up the contact point, clampted it back down, and began running the motor.  After both idle and running in gear at the dock for over half an hour, the engine was running at normal temps, not even  the slightly high temperature it had been running at.  Fingers crossed, we cast off in mid afternoon, and finally started heading south.  So we could clear the south end of Whidbey Island and start back north again (I swear, someday I’ll be heading south for real.) Sadly it was a light northerly wind, so we motored to Port Townsend with me making frequent nervous checks on the engine temperature.  Although the gauge in the cockpit continues to read wildly high, the laser thermometer never showed more than the low 180s, right where it belongs.

Although I suspect I’ll remain skeptical and continue to check temperature for years, right now it looks like we may have not just solved the big overheating issue, but the minor one too.  I kind of wish we had found something more obvious wrong, although I’m happy not replacing a $400 plus part.  So a day of cruising, a night of moorage on the Everett dock and a leak pressure tester may be a pretty good deal for an engine that doesn’t overheat.

As we reproached Port Townsend, we heard small craft advisories on the Straight for tonight, with a 25 knot westerly forecast.  Suddenly a night in PT sounded pretty good!  We should be able to get a good nights sleep, stock up on a few last minute groceries and fuel up in the morning before tackling the straight which hopefully will have calmed down by then.  While I may change my mind once I get there, I’m eager to get out in the Pacific and start clicking off miles in the right direction.

For some reason WordPress doesn’t want to upload pictures right now, so I’ll try to catch up on them later.  Right now it is off to the fuel dock to top off, and out into the Straight.  This might be my last update for awhile, but if I get internet somewhere I’ll try to write another entry.