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.

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