Northbound Pt 4


Northbound – 2008  Part 4

April 13, 2008



Shortly after I was relieved from watch, and lay in my bunk,  I detected a change in the ride and thus knew that conditions had changed.  And, oh, had they!   In fact,  I would refer you back to the first post – Northbound 2008.  I wondered, later if I had “jinxed” us!!   As we got closer to the Mendocino Escarpment, our conditions became more animated.  (Don’t you love that word?  Captain uses it, as it seems less intimidating ((to me??)).)  Recall how I earlier talked about these places along the coast that have their own mico-weather systems?  Well, Cape Mendocino is at the top of the list (along with Point Conception).   Cape Mendocino is one of the biggest gates on the lower western USA coast.  It is the most westerly point of the lower 48 states, after Cape Flattery.  In fact, it can seem as if the entire ocean is coming upon your beam when, at some point the Cape is right on your opposite beam.   It is possible that you will be protected from the cape in both southerly and northerly transits, but at some point, you must go around “the corner” – Cape Mendocino.   And as we approached this area, the conditions started building.  In fact, these were the conditions forecast for Sunday night – long after we were to have  passed.  So, here we were with some of those conditions I mentioned in the first post, that we like to avoid.  Ha!  That’s what I get for being so chatty!! 


We experienced short choppy seas.  We often refer to them as “chippy/choppy”.  A very non-technical term, for getting your brains scrambled.  The seas were those square waves I mentioned.  They were approximately 4 to 5 foot waves every 4 to 5 seconds or so.   You may relate to the conditions if you have ever four-wheeled over large rocks/gravel.  I also think of it as being the popcorn in a popper.  To look at the seas they aren’t that exciting…but you must hang on, must brace yourself, and must practice patience.   Captain slowed the boat down to about 4.5 knots, in order to lessen the  general stress of the up/down/splash on the boat, and on us.  With the engines on the other side of the stateroom bulkhead, I can easily identify a change in the RPM’s.  So it was actually three reductions until we got to something that seemed less stressful.  And as you may have noticed I have not provided a picture of the conditions.  It is a bit difficult to hang on, focus the camera, and get the boat or the waves to sit still…well, you know what I mean.  I do want to stress that we were not in any danger or voyaging during hazardous conditions.  They are just conditions we try to avoid. On another note, the auto pilot handled the conditions like a breeze.


I arose at 0630 and proceeded to hang on.  It was just animated enough, that we didn’t even try for coffee or a real breakfast.   We snacked on energy bars to hold us over until we got to port.  Finally, after we got around the corner and pulled in closer to the coast we got into more protected waters.  It still wasn’t worth it to either of us to make coffee, though we both wanted it.  And really, there was not much difference in when we went around Cape Mendocino than our southerly approach.  The conditions at the cape weren’t that different since the conditions weren’t that big and and we had picked up our speed.  We had been running in an adverse current, and our increase in RPM’s and “speed”, in the last couple hours, had us running at about 7.7 knots.  The speed increase was due to wanting to get over the river bar in a timely fashion, knowing it would be in the ebb when we arrived.


We made it in good time to cross the Humboldt  River Bar.  We went in on the ebb with about a knot of current against us.  There was about a four foot following sea which allowed us to do minor surfing as we crossed the bar.


Humboldt Buoy 2


 And yes, you are all smart and remember the part about crossing bars on the flood – the perfect scenario.   We were grateful we were able to get there as we did, as it was a pretty simple ride across the bar.  And, believe me, I know what I am talking about!


On our first trip down the coast from Astoria, OR, we found ourselves arriving at the Humboldt River Bay much later into the ebb.   It was a case of either us staying out for hours or moving on, neither of which we felt we could do, under the circumstance.  For “fun” I will cut and paste my memories of that trip.  Just to set the scene, this was day five into my first coastal ocean voyage.  The first day had been quite exciting, as we crossed the Columbia River Bar.  The day of the Humboldt River Bar crossing was a gorgeous day.  And instead of anchoring at Trinidad Head, we decided to forge on another 2 hours…


            “….Our goal had been Trinidad Head, where we planned to anchor for the night.  We got to our destination in really good time, mid-afternoon.  According to the Coast Guard at Humboldt Bay it was passable [Even then I knew to ask, “But will it be when we get there?”], so we decided to voyage on and get some more miles under our belt.  Two hours later found us at the mouth of Humboldt River Bar well into the ebb.  This will be more meaningful to our sailing friends, but in case no one gets it, I will try to recall what it was like.  The ebb is when the water is rushing out to the sea and the sea is rushing in and they come crashing together over the bar.  As we were about to make the crossing the Coast Guard called to inform us of conditions.  I don’t believe they felt that they could make judgment on whether we should cross the bar, at that time, but I felt I could hear caution.  We entered the bay straight on.  Bruce told me to hang on (as if I needed to be told)!  I stood at the chart table, holding on to the rail through the crossing of the bar.  The waves were as high as 12 feet and were one after another directly on our stern.  Therefore, I was either looking straight down into a very particular shade of green water, or looking up at a particular shade of blue sky. After a couple up/downs I decided to just close my eyes and pray fervently.  Meanwhile Bruce is at the helm with all his expertise and telling me to “Hold on, Babe, just hold on”.   I have now been told I have more bragging rights.  All I can say is don’t talk roller coasters to me.  I did  the Humboldt River Bar on the ebb!!!  J  By the way, after we got over the bar, the bar was closed and a “hazardous conditions” report was broadcast by the USCG…”


And on that night, six years ago, we went to a wonderful restaurant in Eureka called The Sea Grill.( If you ever have the opportunity to dine in Eureka, we highly recommend it.) The entire evening my brain saw the table as being on a slope.  It seemed so real to me, I often reached out to catch the wine glass which “should” have been sliding off the table, but wasn’t.  See what I mean by having your brain scrambled?


We have vowed to avoid such experiences in the future and have basically been successful.  Our crossing the bar this time was really quite uneventful.   We had four to five foot following seas and wind of  fifteen to eighteen knots. 


After  we were well into the channel, I took over the helm while Bruce washed down the decks.  Removing the salt water off the decks makes the decks safer to walk on, as the salty water creates slick decks.  Also, washing the decks insures we don’t track the salt water into the house.  After the freshwater washdown, he put lines out and fenders down.  Usually, I put down the fenders, but sometimes after times of “animated seas”, the lines get a bit tight and I have difficulty loosening them.  So, it was nice that he put it all out.


We had called Woodley Island Marina earlier in the morning, and they had room for us and assigned us a slip.  Nice!  We pulled right into our assigned slip, tied up, and checked in.   Though we were both pretty scrambled, tired, and hungry from the trip, there was still work to do.   Bruce got out the hoses and did a thorough washdown from top to bottom, while I secured the flybridge and shut down the electronics (depth sounds, Auto pilot, GPS, VHF, and chart software/computer), and put the house in order. I am pretty efficient at securing for sea, but was a bit surprised at the items that “got underway” in the cabinets.  It was all about the short chop.  When we have guests aboard I try to give the airline attendant speech, “Please use caution when opening the cupboards as items may have shifted during the trip”.  We always secure and take care of D/V before we walk away.   She took care of us, so we take care of her.   And, after all was secured, we walked up to the restaurant and had a hearty meal.


And thus, dear friends, we are safe and secure, tied up in Eureka, CA.   The wind is blowing up a stink, but we are safe and sound.  We see a possible weather window sometime next Tuesday or Wednesday.  Bruce calls it a potential weather window, and I call it a potential peep hole.  It looks to be another window like the last, and after this other window closed down twelve hours earlier than forecast I am a bit hesitant to believe them.   But we already have Plan A and Plan B.  No problem! 


The monument, below, is dedicated to the those lost at sea.  It lies against the shore here at Woodley Island Marina.




We are very happy to be here.  We have gotten around three of the four major headlands that are required to get into the Strait of Juan de Fuca from San Francisco Bay. The last major headland is Cape Blanco, on the Oregon Coast.  We are about one-third of the way, and are very happy to have that much of the trip behind us.  Stay tuned for the next leg of our trip – Northbound – 2008.




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