Our trip up the coast was largely uneventful and actually quite enjoyable. We came out of the Golden Gate on the ebb tide and got a good push under the bridge. We took the shortcut to the North inside Four Fathom bank, locally called the “potato patch” and headed towards Point Reyes. As we were coming out of the Golden Gate, we got a call from a sailboat that was also heading North. He asked if we had a report on sea conditions, and asked about places to stop along the N California Coast. We told him, but frankly were both surprised that the skipper would be asking those kinds of questions. I would not want to start a journey Northward up the Pacific Coast without having that kind of information in hand! More on this later.
There were lots of fishing boats around Point Reyes but there was good visibility, and little wind and swell. It stayed that way up past Point Arena, with conditions milder than forecast… winds consistently under 10 knots, waves/swell a very manageable 3-5 ft. We did run into pretty dense fog this first night, and for the majority of the voyage. We turned on the light bar, but could barely see anything with it in the fog. It was kind of eerie to see the diffuse circle of light against the fog, illuminating the sea surface for probably 10-20 yards in front of the boat, and nothing else all around. I was very glad to have the two radars, with one zoomed out to “see” the coastline and another covering the couple of miles right around the boat.
While we were waiting in San Francisco, I had been in touch with Captain Chris Couch, who helped me deliver our previous boat from Portland to Seattle. He wasn’t able to help me this time, since he was bringing a boat from Seattle down to San Francisco, but was extremely helpful with his take on the weather and optimal routing. He departed Crescent City the day we departed San Francisco, and we passed in the night somewhere North of Point Arena.
I was on watch early the next morning when we rounded Cape Mendocino. It is regarded as the most significant obstacle of the Pacific Coast, followed by Point Concepcion, which we cleared on the way to San Francisco, and Cape Blanco, which can provide a rude welcome to Oregon. The first sign that we were approaching the cape was the reduced boat speed due to the currents around the cape. We had been making 8.5 knots running at 1700 RPM, which yielded a fuel economy of 1.7 NMPG, about as good as it gets for us. The bottom cleaning we had before leaving San Francisco was really paying off. We cleared Mendocino with no problems and only slightly bigger seas. The wind by this point was a whisper at 5 knots or less, highly unusual for this area. The fog lifted and the adverse currents abated and we headed to Crescent City, where we planned to stop for fuel. Crescent City is unique along the coast as the only stop that doesn’t require a bar crossing. During this second afternoon, we heard one side of a distress call to the Coast Guard. We could hear that the boat in distress was the same sailboat that we had talked to on the way out of San Francisco. I don’t know what the problem was but there was talk of bringing that boat into Fort Bragg, S of Mendocino. Anyway, as we approached Crescent City, we called the fuel dock for an after hours fill up and got in around 6 PM. An hour or so later, we were back on our way, taking full advantage of this fantastic weather window.
On the way to Crescent City the computer powering my TimeZero chart plotter and backup radar died. The problem was the disk, which failed completely due to SMART errors. This was the second computer failure in a week! My other navigation computer had died from the same cause earlier in the the week. I was really surprised by these failures, because both of my computers had solid state drives, which I assumed would be more reliable than traditional magnetic disks. This reinforces the hard lesson of cruising… be prepared for anything and everything to fail! Fortunately, I had a complete spare nav computer ready to go. Unfortunately, I did not have two of them. I did have a spare hard disk for the second computer and was able to get things back working over the course of the next day. I was glad to get the radar running, because at every port/bar crossing there was some amount of traffic, including small fishing boats.
I was at the helm again as we rounded Cape Blanco in the pre dawn hours in thick fog. The seas built a little bit, but the wind was still light, and if you weren’t looking at the course on the chartplotter you would have never known that we rounded the Cape. It was now Thursday morning along the Southern Oregon coast, and today the swell built quite a bit, up to 10-11 ft at 10 or 11 sec according to the offshore bouy reports. The swell was largely on our beam, so the boat would rise up, up, up and over the top of the wave, and then come riding down, the other side with the stabilizers working really hard. Because it was on the beam, there was little pitching and no pounding, making for a pretty comfortable ride. As we worked our way up the Oregon Coast we listened to reports of bar closures due to the big swell. Again, it was very foggy overnight after clearing that afternoon, and when I came on shift we were approaching the Columbia River bar. Assen warned that it would get a little bit lumpy there, but the large swell had settled down and it was all but placid going around the bar. There was not much traffic either as the bar was closed to small vessels, but we head many calls to the Coast Guard asking if the bar was open. This morning we heard two distress calls from fishing boats that had run aground.
By the time Assen took the helm in the morning, we were finally in Washington waters, and it was actually calm enough to take a shower, which I gladly did. The easy conditions persisted all the way up the Washington coast. For most of the day, the fog lifted and we could see the shore as we ran along the coast about 4 miles off, more as we passed river bars. Late in the day Friday we were finally approaching Cape Flattery, where we would turn off the Pacific into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Around this time we heard another Coast Guard distress call, this time for a sailboat headed South about 26 miles off the coast with an engine failure. The Coast Guard offered to bring them in to La Push, but they wanted to go to Westport, significantly further down the coast. The Coast Guard called TowBoat US on behalf of the sailboat, but found that they would not go 26 miles offshore to do a 100 mile tow. Apparently the sailboat decided to continue on under sail with the Coast Guard checking in on them.
As the sun set we could see Tatoosh Island… but then the fog closed in again and we could not see it at all as we passed a half mile off. The winds started picking up from the S – SW and cleared the fog so that we could make a visual approach to Neah Bay. Here we started running into ebb current in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, slowing us down to 6.5 knots. As we turned into Neah Bay we had the highest winds of the trip at 20 knots, 15 as we dropped the anchor in the middle of the bay in sticky mud.
We slept for a few hours, from about midnight to 4:30 AM, got up and pulled the anchor a little after 5. Skies had cleared and winds were dropping from small craft advisory levels over night. Pulling out into the strait, we were riding the flood for the first couple of hours with some wind behind as well as some small wind waves. By the time we got to Port Angeles or thereabouts the tide had turned and we were working against it, making the poorest speed and fuel economy of the trip, a couple of hours at less than 7 knots. The predicted small craft advisory winds did not materialize and we came into Skyline with about 8-10 knots from the S.
Gwen met us on the dock, taking some pictures before helping to catch the lines. Soon we were all tied up and the journey was over. We celebrated with an arrival beer – one of the last Pacificos we imported from Mexico.
The trip up the coast took about 4.5 days, from Tuesday morning until Satuday afternoon. Our fuel stop was probably two hours and our overnight stop at Neah Bay was around six hours. We covered 796 miles and used 518 gallons of fuel, for an average fuel economy of 1.54 NMPG. We probably averaged about 8 knots overall.
Miss Miranda is back in her slip for the first time since September 2019. Over that time, we’ve been aboard full time for over 13 months, covering almost 7,000 NM and a lifetime’s worth of adventures. We’ll come back with a post summarizing the journey, but for now, we are going to enjoy the pleasures of being back on dry land!