Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sailing the Dreaded Washington/Oregon Coast

After purchasing our spare parts, stowing all the last minute provisions and going up the mast to replace our wind meter (which chose that week to crap out wouldn’t you know!), we were finally ready to make our way out to Neah Bay.  One last night of rest and then we  “turned left” on the 13th of September – ready and geared up to make our first official long passage together on Bella Vita. 

Heading Out
After we motored our way out of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the wind was conveniently coming from WNW at between 15-20 knots for the next 48 hours.  We made GREAT time, getting down to about Eugene, Oregon in very short order.  Many friends have asked us if we were seasick at all.  Not knowing if we would be, but knowing for sure how hard it would be if one (or both!) of us was, we decided to play it safe and take medication.  Big thanks here to Brett’s mom Bibi who brought us down some medicine that they sell over the counter in Canada.  We used it the first 3 days to make sure we had our sea legs and both felt 100% fine for the entire trip – a wonderful blessing. 

Since our family was VERY interested in our progress and safety, prior to departure I had figured out how to send email via SSB – which is very easy once you get it set up and working.  Thanks to this, we were able to let our loved ones know we were doing good and our exact coordinates every single day of the trip down.  Knowing THEY knew we were okay made ME feel much better – funny, huh?

We ran a watch schedule that allowed us both to get 7 hours of sleep.  From 8pm to 6am, we did 2 hours on/off, 3 hours on/off, and then 2 hours on/off.  Even with 7 hours total, you get pretty tired over time.  But I’m happy to report you also get into a rhythm of sorts after the first couple of days, so it’s not so miserable after that.  All other hours we just kind of took turns depending on what needed to be done, which happily allowed for more naps!

Beautiful Sunset
Sleep becomes a LOT more important when you are not getting it.  The best part about coming off watch is knowing you are only minutes away from glorious sleep!  I remember Brett waking up as I came off watch one night and groggily saying how jealous he was that I was going to be going to sleep – even though he had just been sleeping!   I don’t think I have ever appreciated sleep as much as I did on this trip.
The first couple of days we had beautiful wind and stars at night. During the day you can spend hours looking at the sea.  Waves are pretty amazing to watch and seeing how your boat travels in them is a never ending source of fascination.  Sitting on watch in the dark under the stars is amazingly serene.  The amount of stars you can see is absolutely breathtaking when there are no lights around to make them hard to see.  Just the stars and the sound of the water against the hull as you make your way through the waves.  The slow ride up and down as the waves travel under the boat is very peaceful.  Too bad it didn’t last!

Accidental inflation while
reefing the main - oops!
After the first 48 hours we received a weather report that things were going to pick up a bit.  We debated on heading in somewhere, but our weather router assured us we should be fine – that it wasn’t supposed to get over 25 knots.  Unfortunately he was wrong and while we still had wind from the right direction, it ended up picking up a little more than anticipated.  Soon we were triple reefed (soooo glad we had that done prior to departing!) and had the headsail completely furled in.  The winds stayed between 25 to 35 knots with gusts into the 40’s for about the next 30 hours. 

It’s amazing how 35 knots in Puget Sound differs from 35 knots at sea – what a wakeup call!  The waves are bigger and the combination of the waves and the swell make the situation much more difficult than in the straights.  It feels quite similar to what I imagine it would be like inside a really big washing machine. I admit to being slightly terrified when on watch during that period.  It’s hard to describe what it feels like to be sailing in the dead of night in the pitch black, under a triple reefed main, wondering just how big the waves have gotten because you can hear the noise, but you can’t see anything at all.   At that point, you just have to trust that the boat knows what to do and that it will handle the wind and the waves as it’s supposed to do.  Not much else you can do!

Warm clothes, lots of layers and cozy socks/slippers are an absolute MUST whether it’s nasty or not!  The temperature really dropped at night and being cold in the dark is NOT FUN!  I highly recommend having a lot of layers so that you are ready for whatever temperature occurs.  Expect it to be much colder than you thought it would be – even if you have an enclosure!  Also good…lots of comfort food and snacks!  We had Chex mix (thank you Lloyd!!!), pretzel crack (those wonderful peanut butter stuffed pretzel bites), candy and brownies!  On night watch it helps to have something to take your mind off how BORING it can be!  ;)

Waiting for wind!
By the time the sun came up on the 16th we were about even with Eureka, California and decided to make our way closer to land in the hopes of experiencing a little less wind. While I’m happy to report we did indeed get less wind, we unfortunately fell into no wind at all and so spent the next 12 hours motoring.  Talk about zero to 60 and back to zero!  UGH!

Whale sighting!  Unfortunately it surfaced RIGHT NEXT TO OUR BOAT (I’m talking inches!!!).  Whales are much better seen AWAY from your boat so you don’t hurt them and they don’t hurt you.  We’re still not sure what kind of whale it was, but I was down below when Brett shouted “Whale”!!!  Then we were both like, “wow”!  Then,”uh oh”. Then, “oh shit, oh shit, oh shit” (praying the whale didn’t take out our rudder as it passed by the back of our boat).  Thankfully the whale rolled to starboard (right) while we steered the boat to port and as far as we can tell we avoided hitting each other by the slimmest of margins.  The whole thing took about 10 seconds.  Absolutely crazy!  Never did see the whale again…
When you are bored, you take artsy pics!
After about another 12 hours of motoring the wind picked up again and we finally passed Cape Mendocino (near Humbolt, CA).  One thing we discovered on this trip is that while Bella Vita sails great dead downwind in the sound, it is a completely different matter to do so in big waves.  Way to much flogging of sails (which can cause damage), so we basically spent the next several days (yes, DAYS!) jibing back and forth making VERY slow progress south until we finally reached Point Reyes, just outside of San Francisco.

A welcome diversion on the way down was the dolphins/porpoises that love to play with the boat in the waves.  We saw them MANY times, always speeding along the side of the boat and then jumping out of the water after clearing the bow.  Beautiful – absolute power and poetry in motion.  But the highlight BY FAR was when we were almost to SF and there was a ton of phosphorescence in the water at night.  For those of you that don’t know, phosphorescence makes everything sparkle at night – like the dust that tinker bell spreads!  On our last night prior to Pt. Reyes, some dolphins joined us in the dark and they looked like torpedo’s – all lit up – as they swam through the water towards our boat.  Then it looked like something out of a Disney movie as they would explode out of the water and then dive under the boat again.  Fairy dust everywhere!  It’s something I will never forget – nature at its best!

Sunrise with the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance
Since we arrived at Pt. Reyes at about 9pm, we decided to pull into Drakes Bay for a couple of hours.  From what we had read, it’s best to cross the bar into San Francisco at slack tide, since opposing wind and tide can get fairly nasty – especially with all of the commercial traffic transiting a fairly tight seaway.  This was the first time we have ever anchored in an unknown bay in the pitch black and I can tell you it’s a little disconcerting to say the least!  Thankfully anchoring is something we know well so we soon had the hook down and fell into our bed (not our sea berth, which is in the main salon), for the first time in 6 days.  Heaven!  At least until 4am when we were up and at it again to make the bridge in time for slack.

Just before 9am we finally made our way under the Golden Gate Bridge – what an amazing feeling to know that we had successfully made our first big passage, which (from what many say) is one of the hardest lengths of water to cross in the world.  We were exhausted and euphoric at the same time – still loving our boat AND each other!  Phew!

That iconic bridge!
So what else did we feel?  To be completely honest I can’t think of one emotion I DIDN’T experience – joy, fear, elation, despondence, laughter, exhaustion and satisfaction all made an appearance at one point or another.   That moment when you wonder if you are CRAZY to be doing this is offset by the moment when you’ve never been so sure you are doing the right thing. 

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