Finally, a weather window to leave Fort Bragg. And not only a break from the rough seas, but a forecast northerly wind. While Fort Bragg wasn’t a bad place, it didn’t have much charm, we weren’t docked with easy access to other cruisers, and its rain and cool weather was causing serious condensation issues on the boat. I was wiping water off the walls with a towel that I then couldn’t get to dry out.
We had resorted to running the diesel heater to try to remove some moisture from the air but I think it was being overwhelmed. So it wasn’t with the sadness of leaving some of the other ports that we fired up the engine and began winding our way back down the creek towards the bar crossing. Seeing it in the daylight did make it a bit easier, although maybe a bit more eye-opening actually seeing how narrow a channel we were passing through. It is a pretty short run to get clear of the shoreline and then we were back to the ocean swells.
I hope I’m not going to jinx myself, but I have yet to visit the rail to feed the fish on this trip. When I spent time on a fishing boat in Alaska, I would usually do some chumming in the beginning and then I would be fine for the rest of the trip, except for once when we were caught in a storm and I could not quit being seasick. When the mixed swells (NOAA speak for a washing machine on agitate cycle) after leaving Fort Bragg kicked in, I was feeling just a tad green. I managed to adjust before anything tragic happened, but the sea did let me know I’ve probably been more lucky than cured of the seasickness ailment.
One of the boats we met while in Fort Bragg, Deep Playa, followed us out an hour or so later, and checked in over the VHF about the conditions. We were still motoring along, which they proceeded to do as well. For all the boats we’ve met during our stays in the harbor, this is actually the first time we’ve been traveling within site of another sailboat. Watching the arc of their mast as the water pitched their boat from side to side really gives you a perspective you don’t need on how much rocking your boat is doing.
After a few hours of starting to wonder if NOAA stands for “We don’t know-a what we are talking about,” a northerly started to fill in. We tentatively rolled out the jib, started picking up a little speed, and decided to give sailing a try. I pulled the kill switch on the engine, and blessed silence settled over the boat. Well… not quite silence as there was a whole net set of squeaks and rattles we hadn’t heard with the motor drowning out all other boat sounds. I’ll take the sailing sounds over the engine any day, but we did discover, surprisingly, it is actually easier to sleep with just the sound of the motor. I’m not sure if it is concern over the noises you hear while sailing, or the variety of sounds your brain is sorting out, but we did miss the drone when it came time for sleeping. Not all the noises were from sailing, such as the shelf full of glass bottles clinking together. I’m sure they have been doing that the whole trip, we just never heard them before.
While we sorted out the new sounds, the wind started to pipe up. Deep Playa had continued to motor, and slowly passed us by, but I was happy to finally be sailing, even more so that it was downwind. There were large swells also coming from the north, but with both the wind and waves behind us the ride was fairly comfortable, as these things go. As the winds velocity grew, the boat began to get a bit squirrely coming down the waves, and I did something I don’t think I’ve ever done before. I slowed a sailboat down on purpose, by rolling in about half the jib. We were still sailing at six plus knots, really scooting along compared to our trip so far. I would not have wanted to be bashing into this weather, we’ve been there and it is not pleasant, but running with it was quite fun.
The wind continued into the evening and it was a beautiful night. The moon was already up as darkness descended, and one by one stars filled the sky. The moon was almost dead ahead, casting an undulating path of silvery sparkles leading us towards the horizon. We plowed on, the sounds of rushing water filling the cockpit, the sounds of bottles clinking, dishes in the sink rattling, and a variety of other hopefully not serious boat noises clunking, thunking and creaking down below.
We began crossing the shipping lanes off of the entrance to San Francisco Bay and the wind began to abate. Faced with potential large commercial vessel traffic, ebbing wind, the approaching Farallon Islands and lack of sleep from both the cold and boat noises, I doused the sail and fired up the engine. Jenn turned on the heater that blows warm air heated into the cabin and finally was able to sleep. I drove through the shipping lanes, and my fears were not realized as I only saw one large ship in the distance. Clear of the shipping lanes as marked on the chart plotter, I woke Jenn up, having given her an extra hour of sleep. I worked my way into the pilot berth and quickly dozed off, something that doesn’t always happen when you take your blessed two hours away from the helm. Jenn proceeded to avoid some large vessels, which we later determined in a chat over dinner with Dawn and Patrick from Deep Playa, were Canadian military vessels on exercise. Jenn dodged them like a pro, although I think I deserve some credit for my advice when she asked what to do if she saw a ship as she was taking the helm for her shift. “Don’t hit it” I mumbled as I focused in on the bunk I was aiming for.
I came back on watch near dawn, and looked over towards where San Francisco should be. There was a faint glow of light in the sky,
and a solid bank of white, more fog than I could imagine existing. I could see no signs of civilization as we passed one of the landmark cities of the west coast. The wind was pretty calm, but we went ahead and rolled the jib back out, and eased along in the three to four knot range. Jenn insisted the wind would come back up, we were well ahead of our schedule and moving almost as fast as the motor would take us, so I was content to keep moving forward. And sure enough, as the day progressed, so did the wind speed till we were back to carrying about half the jib and racing down the swells.
I’ve read and heard about surfing a sailboat for years, but never been at the helm of a boat that was doing it. Until now. I think I surfed more waves in a day than some Hawaiians do in a month. The stern would suddenly lift like an elevator rising, the boat surging forward, great mounds of white frothy water flying away from the sides of the hull. I could feel the push forward, watching the GPS speed climb, 7,8,9 knots, and at times almost alarming numbers such as the maximum 12.5 knots for the trip. Then the stern would settle as the bow rose slightly, and the wave would race forward and continue towards the horizon, soon lost in the overall rise and fall of the ocean. The boat would slow down, stumbling for a moment then regaining her feet (keel?) and climbing back to normal speed waiting for the next swell. At one point three waves pushed the boat forward one after another with no time to wallow between them, and suddenly my GPS showed me arriving at our 18 mile away destination in 2 hours and 2 minutes. Sadly it only flashed that for a moment and our speed settled back down. Still, we were averaging about 6.7 knots running downwind with still only half of the jib (and this is the smaller of the two jibs we have on board).
While the speed hurtling us towards our destination with a very satisfying velocity, we had one problem. Our arrival time of Sunday morning was calculated on a 4 knot average speed, and we were going significantly faster. So once again, we prepared for a night time arrival in a new port, something becoming a bad habit like the junk food I was eating before we left. GPS zoomed in, radar on, spotlight in the cockpit, we approached the marina, dropping sails about 3 miles away and returning the engine to life. A quick lesson was learned about just how much the sail steadies the boat as we began to roll side to side again until clearing a point that blocked the rolling swell. Deep Playa responded to my email inquiry about the entrance with a question about how we had caught up, and the advice that it was an easy entrance, like Shilshole back home. And yes, it was like Shilshole with no bar crossing, but again I found myself faced with a very narrow gap between pilings and a seawall, but with no swell to deal with it was fairly straightforward. We wound our way through the marina to an easy end tie the friendly harbormaster had given us, tied up about 10:30 pm, completing about 200 miles in about 38 hours with only 8 hours of motoring. By far the best leg of our trip in every way except sea life encountered, there was very little of it on this leg. Fortunately Monterey has an abundance of birds, seals, and an amazing aquarium to make up for what we didn’t see while sailing. The wind angles lined up almost perfectly with our course, we made great time and did not spend a fortune on fuel for this leg.
We’ll be in Monterey for a few days, while it is a bit of a tourist trap, we are enjoying the sights and having fun being in a town geared toward entertaining visitors, something we haven’t experienced in our previous stops.