We’ve waited a long, long time for this moment. We’ve dreamed about it, talked about it, and of course made playlists to have the perfect soundtrack for our southbound voyage from Seattle. And finally, we found ourselves out in the Pacific. A destination that I personally have a complicated relationship with. Even despite all of the years of wanting to be there.
Complicated. As in sometimes I have a good (well not so good) fear of big water (or what seems to be building to big water) conditions in the ocean. What am I afraid of? I’m not exactly sure. I’m a great swimmer. I don’t think we’ll sink. I don’t think I’ll drown. We have a Nordhavn, a tank of a vessel that is so solid, and so safe, and so well built (hint – my complicated relationship with the open ocean is part of why we own this boat). The sea storytellers and the boasters will tell you that this boat can do anything. That may be true, but I can’t. People love to talk about terrible conditions, about how they slaughtered 25 footers and 50 knot winds. About how they are so tough, and in their storytelling, implying that anyone who has concerns about these type of seas is weak. This drives me nuts. It also makes me hide my “concerns” and just nod along so as not to be labeled a lesser boater. A Nordhavn owner that has fear? Gasp. Is it shameful to have a desire to cruise the world but to also have some fear? I don’t think so. I think perhaps having a healthy respect for the ocean and a bit of fear will keep us out of trouble. So here I am, outing myself. Maybe that will help someone else who shares in my quiet concerns.
My concerns probably go back to our maiden voyage on Red Rover, from San Diego to Seattle, which featured huge seas and high winds off the coast of California. Head seas. Steep and deep and close together. Burying the anchor time and again. Uncomfortable. Not fun. Not the way to start with this offshore boating thing.
So, with that hard lesson in the books, we now work with a weather router, who I might add is fantastic. Not only is he accurate in his forecasts, but he is also understanding of my desire to enjoy this “pleasure” boating thing we are doing. And he has a magic weather fairy wand. I swear he does. Our friends James and Claire Ellingford, the former owners of N62 Pendana, would agree – as they are the fine people who introduced us to Rich Courtney, of MaritimeWX. We also try to not have the pressure of a schedule, allowing us to cruise when the sea conditions are most favorable.
With all of that said, we have been enjoying a mostly schedule-free stroll down the Pacific coast. Some highlights follow!
When we last left off we were on our way to Port Angeles. Arriving in PA, we were greeted by friends Jeff and Susie Petty of N40 Irene fame. Jeff and Susie not only met us on the dock but they also gave us the keys to their car to use while we were in town. In a word, they are FANTASTIC! Love the Nordie community (and love Jeff and Susie too!). We also met up with N63 Lady Di owner, Mike and his crew, who were going to run with us for a bit, but who had a schedule and thus decided to move along a little faster than we did. It was great fun to chat with them though and tour their stunning boat. We had dinner out with Jeff and Susie, hit the Safeway a few times, and enjoyed awesome local pizza while finishing up our final projects on Red Rover.
From Port Angeles, we ran to Neah Bay, out at the end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I manned the helm while Kevin ran around checking hoses, the stuffing box, and all kinds of other items that had been updated, changed or reviewed during our haul out. There were about a bajillion small fishing boats out in the patchy fog, Abby was also at the helm of our buddy boat, Epoch, and the two of us threaded our way around and through the boats trying our best not to disrupt their fishing.
We arrived late afternoon in Neah Bay, tied up, chatted with the local fishermen and walked the dogs. In the early evening, Laura Domela and Kevin Morris, our friends and crew of Slowboat fame arrived. Laura and Kevin had just finished their round-Vancouver-Island flotilla, packed up their boat in Victoria, BC, loaded the ferry and a cab and came to help us down the coast. Now that’s commitment and friendship! We all enjoyed amazing chili on Epoch and went to sleep, only to rise a few hours later to get this journey started!
At 12:30 am we untied the lines from the dock at Neah Bay and headed out into an inky black night. As we were carefully moving through the harbor, a giant bolt of lightening brightened the entire sky, followed by a low rumble of thunder. Was this a good omen or a bad one? I asked Kevin, “um should we talk about this?” The decision was made to continue as the lightening seemed to be an isolated incident. I’m pretty sure it was just the gods saying “get on with it!” We turned out of Neah Bay and into the Pacific with our 50″ LED light bar brightening the water ahead of us. Kevin climbed up to the flybridge to adjust the newly installed shade that blocks the light from the pilothouse, and focuses it forward as the swells began. Now in the past, we’ve relied on our natural night vision, radar and AIS to stay safe at night. We did install a FLIR camera during our haul out in September as another option for night vision. As we were debating the benefits of the light bar in the swells, we saw an enormous 50 foot (or more) log just ahead of us rolling toward us in the waves, illuminated by the LEDs. Debate over. The light bar is a keeper.
While the light bar gives us more visibility into what lies ahead, it has another “benefit.” I’m not sure it is actually a benefit. But it is a result anyways. The light bar attracts birds. MANY birds who seem to be attracted by the bait fish that rise up to the light. Or they think we are a fishing boat, like the many coming out of west coast ports, running with similar (but much larger) lights above their pilothouses. The combination of my anxiety about this departure and the hundreds of swirling seagulls in swelly conditions resulted in… barfing. Ah well.
The reason we left Neah Bay at 12:30 am was to time our entry to Westport, Washington with high slack. To enter Westport, as with most of the bays on the coast of Washington and Oregon, you have to cross a bar. These bars are created when rivers meet the sea and a delta forms offering shallow water and sometimes very large and confused seas. The Columbia River bar, for example, is quite famous for its sometimes scary conditions. The Coast Guard monitors these bars and will close them to boat traffic if conditions decline. Or they will place restrictions on the bar (no boats under 30 feet, etc.). Crossing the bar at high water slack is the best option. Crossing in daylight, particularly when you have never visited a harbor, is also a very, very, very good idea.
We ended up with a big unexpected head current, up to 2 knots, which slowed our two full displacement boats down substantially. We had heard similar reports of this current from another Nordhavn owner’s blog. At daylight we knew that we would miss the high slack. Bad news. The good news was that we would hit the low slack that evening, a bit before 10 pm. So we were breaking all the rules. We called the Coast Guard who minded their legalese and told us they could only “read to us from the Coast Pilot” for advice, versus providing advice. No thanks, we have our own copy. Another boat ahead of us told us that it was “rough but ok.” Hmm. I happily slept through our bar crossing which Kevin, Kevin and Laura handled mightily. Twelve to fifteen foot rollers accompanied us across the bar, in the dark, in an unknown location, into Westport. Now that we were across the bar, I was awakened and we went about the chore of trying to figure out where we were supposed to be tying up. We found the designated dock with some fishermen working on a large boat along the end tie. Upon asking for help with directions, they not so nicely told us to “find a spot and tie up already.” Where is transient moorage? “Never heard of him.” Nice. After finding a spot and tying up already, we enjoyed some beer and lasagna and after taking poor Zoe to shore (who had not peed since Neah Bay), we all went to sleep.
We spent a few days in Westport waiting for a weather window to continue south, and enjoying the town. Walks around town, a good time at the Englund marine store, eating southern/bbq/hawaiian combo food and fish and chips kept us plenty busy.
Finally, we were ready to run to Crescent City, CA, a 48 hour run from Westport. We delayed our departure until the late morning high slack, and had a far more favorable bar crossing leaving the harbor. Yes! The run to Crescent City was fairly uneventful except for a few key happenings. One – we mastered the art of slow cooking in the slow boat, stocking up the crock pot in the morning for an evening pot roast. The smell of the roast cooking all day was awesome in the boat! Two – Kevin M. and Laura saw a blue whale while Kevin J and I were sleeping. SO cool! This was the most northern sighting of a blue whale in the last fifty years. We know this as Kevin and Laura called to report the sighting. Exciting! Three – Zoe used the potty patch! Four – When I was on night watch late one night off the coast of Oregon, a bird suddenly hit the light bar and dropped down onto the boat. Oh no! A few minutes later I saw a bird trying to fly off of the bow and over the Portuguese bridge back toward the pilothouse. Hmm. Minutes later, a check of the cockpit camera showed two birds sitting in the cockpit. Hitchin’ a ride. We were concerned that these birds were injured but they moved around the back of the boat when we appeared.
Arriving in Crescent City, we tied up and inspected our bird friends who were nervous with our fender and line moving. Kevin eventually picked each up with a towel and set it on the dock, only to have both birds dive into, and under the water. They were water birds! Once Oregon residents and now Californians. We saw them again as we left the harbor, likely wondering why we didn’t pick them up for their own migration.
We spent 9 nights in Crescent City, waiting for a great weather window around Cape Mendocino and on down into the San Francisco Bay area. As we knew we would be there for awhile, we rented a car and enjoyed the sights! Crescent City sits at the northern edge of the California Redwoods – both National and State parks. We spent the week hiking, checking out local breweries, exploring beaches, walking, re-provisioning as necessary, watching the Seahawks games, making great food and hanging out. We also had a failed “waffle off” in which my beloved 25 year old waffle maker sadly was replaced by a brand new shiny one (thanks to Amazon.com). The intent was to pit the waffler with patina against the pricey fancy one. Perhaps sensing an impending loss in the waffle-off, the 25 year waffler gave up the ghost and refused to heat just as the competition began. Poor thing. On Sunday, the 29th we said a sad farewell to Kevin M., who had to go to… work. With our very happy thanks, Laura stayed with us and we went from a crew of four to a crew of three. A myriad of photos of our time in Crescent City follow.
Our original plan was to cruise to San Francisco and spend a week there on our way down the coast. As we had burned a lot of time in Crescent City, and had ultimately left Washington a little later than originally anticipated, we decided to skip visiting one of my favorite cities and move along to Monterey, California. On Monday morning, bright and early we left Crescent City for a 48 hour run to Monterey. The route of course included a skirting of both Cape Mendocino, known to be rough and rumbly, as well as the multiple shipping lanes into and out of San Francisco Bay.
Our 48 hours was smooth and lovely, with more blue whale sightings (Kevin and I both actually saw them this time!), many more humpback whale friends and an uneventful ride south. We were actually eating beef stroganoff out of the slow cooker and watching the sunset as we passed the dreaded Cape Mendocino in gentle swells. Just the way I like it!
We arrived in Monterey at about 8 am on Wednesday, October 2nd. What a beautiful town! After a little clean-up, showers, a nap and coffee in the sun in the cockpit, we headed out for a farewell lunch for Laura, who would be heading home to Airship, safely docked in Victoria. Abby, Scott, Kevin, the dogs and I already miss Laura and Kevin M. They were an awesome team to have along with us – from silly “Dad” joke sharing (must come with the name Kevin), to amazing dinners, to skillful navigation and captain-ing, to lots of margaritas (when not underway) and general fantastic conversation, we loved our several weeks together. We look forward to them catching up and cruising with us again later this winter!
Our time in Monterey has involved lots of sleeping, long walks through this beautiful town and along the coast, a great Seahawks game (go Hawks!), happy hour with the crews of iiwwii (80 foot Northern Marine) and Endearing (50 foot OA trawler), a trip to the incredible Monterey Bay Aquarium and a visit from Howard, a future Nordhavn owner that we’ve known for a few years. I have remarked to Kevin multiple times – I could live in Monterey and be a Californian. Sun is a wonderful thing to a Seattleite. On Sunday morning October 6 we left Monterey with Rich’s magic weather wand in hand – and have been traveling since then. We’ll cover this in our next blog post, but so far it has been smooth and fantastic. Definitely my kind of cruising. 🙂