Neah Bay to Half Moon Bay

Posted by John

We declared it was time to start cruising in the last post. We had dropped anchor late at night next to our buddy boat, Slainte, on the Port Townsend waterfront. After a couple days there, we moved on, first with two nights anchored inside the Port Angeles harbor, then with one final night in the calm safety of Neah Bay, on the far northwest corner of the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State.

The next several days varied from excitement and disbelief that we actually were doing this, to three days of testing our ability to continue to function after very little sleep and the exhaustion of needing to hand steer the boat, 24 hours a day, in rough seas and 20 to 30 knot winds; to hours upon hours of running the engine along a gloomy, gray, nearly windless Northern California coast.

Pt Wilson_cr

This is the lighthouse at Point Wilson, in Port Townsend. It marks the first of two left turns that take you from the protected waters of Puget Sound, to the far side of the Olympic Mountains (in the background, with snow patches), to sailing southbound in the Pacific Ocean.

Obstruction Ridge_cr

We stuck with our buddy boat, s/v Slainte, almost all the way to Port Angeles. We’re motoring beneath Obstruction Ridge (background), in the Olympic National Park. Not long after this photo was taken, our engine alarm panel lit up with an over-temperature warning. This happens sometimes when we push the engine too hard, and backing off the throttle will clear the alarm. Unfortunately, that didn’t solve the problem this time. Only cleaning the raw water intake strainer, followed by a complete remove and replace operation of the burned up pump impeller, done in a rolling and bouncing engine room while Julie and Robyn got a couple sails up to keep the boat in control, solved the problem. We caught up with Slainte in the Port Angeles harbor.

Mt Angeles_cr

At least one of us might’ve liked to spend a couple nights in the marina behind the wall, but it was not to happen. We anchored in the harbor for two days, organizing the boat. Port Angeles, with the city wedged on a hillside between the sea and mountains, has always been one of my favorite places. Mount Angeles is in the background.

Moon over PA_cr

We wanted the moon to light our way all the way to San Francisco, but we were about a week late in getting everything wrapped up at home. We did take advantage of the full moon, however, rising here over Port Angeles, to get us to Neah Bay. We made a 3 AM departure, both for favorable tides, and to get out of the harbor before any morning fog formed, which had been heavy in recent days. Of course, half a night’s sleep eventually added additional cumulative sleep deprivation in the coming days.

Last night in Neah Bay_cr

Anchored close nearby, we spent one last night in calm, protected water behind the Neah Bay breakwater. We managed to top off our fuel and water tanks, but not much else was possible in the little fishing village. Our dinghy was already packed and stowed away for the ocean. The weather options looked like we could either start out rough at this end, and maybe beat forecasted bad weather in California the following week, or wait for most favorable conditions here, and get the bad weather on the other end. We opted to go for it now, and get the bad weather over with early. We planned for an 8 AM departure.

Little did we know at the time that we would get separated from Slainte by more than two days, and approximately two hundred miles. With no cell phone coverage, and well out of normal marine VHF radio range, we were only able to make contact again, to let them know how far behind them we were, by using ham radio to relay a message via the Pacific Seafarer’s Net through a ham radio operator in Hawaii. At the radio frequencies involved, 200 miles is too far for marine VHF, but was too close for HF ham radio. The HF signal will bounce off the ionosphere and travel thousands of miles across the ocean, but skip over closer receivers. It was my first ever ham radio voice call, but, luckily, successful. I even rattled off the phonetic spelling of Mysticeti like a pro, I think. We would eventually catch up to Slainte in Half Moon Bay.

Cape Flat North_cr

This is the end of the Earth in the Pacific Northwest. Cape Flattery is to the left, with Tatoosh Island, lighthouse and associated rocks to the right. Even in the photo, you can see the ocean swells.

Cape Flat South_cr

We are actually sailing on the actual ocean! Cape Flattery is at the base of the hill, with Tatoosh Island to its left. We’ve made the second of the two left turns and are headed south.

What happened over the next 48 hours I have no pictures to illustrate because I only have two hands and I needed them both for other purposes, such as steering the boat and hanging on during violent rolling, pitching and yawing. Let’s just say that a 10 to 20 degree roll of the hull is normal sailing, but a sudden 30 degree roll will knock things that aren’t bolted or strapped down onto the floor; and repeated sudden 40 degree violent rolls will empty closed cabinets that aren’t latched tightly enough. Fun.

With 20 to 35 knot winds and heavy seas, we could not get our Saye’s Rig self-steering system, (nicknamed Isaac) consisting of a small wedge-shaped sail and a long shaft extending to a trim tab attached to the rudder, to balance out in the narrow downwind range of wind direction, following seas and desired direction of travel. We were forced to hand steer 24 hours per day. This was very fatiguing, and we could not keep up the pace, even when trading off every 30 minutes. Heaving-to (slowing the boat to a near stop) a couple of times during the night, so we could get some meaningful sleep, seemed to be our only option.

Having heard many horror stories about Cape Mendocino, we wanted to pass it fairly far offshore. But once we found ourselves in 30 knots and rough seas again, with more benign weather forecasts close-in toward shore, we changed course to get us in to ten or twelve miles, rather than fifty to sixty. However, that eventually resulted in almost zero wind. From too much to too little. We finally rationalized that just because we were on a sailing trip, there was no reason we had to actually sail the whole time. So, engine on it was. With our hydraulic Simrad autopilot (tentatively nicknamed Sinbad) on the job, we could take watches acting more as systems monitors, rather than active boat wrestlers, and drone on toward San Francisco.

Calif Dreamin_cr

With sunglasses at the ready, Julie naps in the cockpit, perhaps dreaming of a warm and sunny California. Wait…this is California.


Having a nearly completely enclosed and protected cockpit, we slept up there, taking turns. If we sat in the right spot we could see everything we needed to see, including the AIS display (small, pale blue screen visible at the nav station inside), which is an invaluable tool when dodging ships at night. It gives the ship’s name and call sign, relative position, speed, direction, bearing, calculated closest point of approach and time of closest point of approach. Likewise, they can get the same information about us. However, we went for two days without seeing another vessel, visually, or on the AIS.

Hitch hiker_cr

We picked up a hitch hiker somewhere off Point Arena, CA. How he got that far out, we don’t know. We have different opinions on this, but I tend to think he was blown out there and needed a rest, maybe hoping for a lift back to shore.

South Farallon_cr

This is one of the Farallon Islands off of San Francisco. These are the kinds of things you plan carefully to avoid running into at night, when they are impossible to see visually.

Nav chart_cr

We spent our last day navigating around the Farallons, crossing the inbound and outbound shipping lanes, watching whales spout, and getting to Half Moon Bay, the ear-shaped cutout from the land at lower right.

Half Moon anchorage_cr

Anchored once again near Slainte, inside the breakwater at Half Moon Bay, CA.

Tracking: We did try out our Spot tracker. We’ve created a “share page” for this blog, but do not have it working yet. In the meantime, this link will show our last position: It should update each time we move.

If we are within range of an AIS receiving station linked to the internet, you can also see our current position at Search for Mysticeti.

Little Friend_cr

For our memorable little friend, hope you made it safely back to shore.

Cars–What are they Good For?

Posted by John

This post has been difficult to write. Every time I think I have something to say, it changes. Every time I think I’m ready to post it, I have no internet connection. When I do have a connection, I want to change what I’ve written. This is the last planned post before we find our way to San Francisco.

In our story so far, preparing for cruising has gradually relieved us of the daily obligations of our normal life on land. The last thing to go was our cars. One day we had three. Forty-eight hours later we had none. Our transition from land to water was complete.

So many people, including family, friends, neighbors and even people we just met and hardly knew, helped us get through this transition. Often, offering just what we needed at just the right time. Our primary car expired a few weeks too soon. Our backup car was already a big oil loser with several additional problems. When our third, backup to the backup car, gave up and wouldn’t move any more, I really felt that, suddenly, they all were good for absolutely nothing. But then, our favorite mechanic not only said he could fix that car in one day, he offered to buy our nearly 280,000 mile, 24-year old oil loser, “Whenever we were ready.” The primary car made it to the scrap yard under its own power without catching fire, but there was smoke. The mechanic bought the backup car. And the third car, with one promising buyer changing her mind and backing out, went to auction. Finally, our attention could be placed entirely on us and the boat.

With no car, our neighbor loaned us her truck, and we were able to move the last of the boat stuff out of the transitional “safe house” and onto the boat. It is all still a mess, with every conceivable gap of a space getting something squeezed into it, but at least we’re gradually reducing the number of things stacked on the deck. We know we have everything we’ll need somewhere onboard, but finding it will be the problem. I’m sure we’ll have time to organize later.

In spite of the complications caused by the cars, we managed to get away from the Port Ludlow area for a while last month and run up to the San Juan Islands for a few days. (I guess it was a vacation.) We did it as an overnight trip, leaving Port Ludlow on a Saturday night and motoring non-stop to Sucia Island, arriving Sunday morning. We wanted to see how prepared we were for running all night. I’d forgotten how different everything looks when you can’t see it.

While in the San Juans, we spent a night at Blind Island State Park. What appeared to be a baby seal, looking and sounding like you’d think a distressed animal would, tried to climb over the transom of our inflatable dinghy (see last month’s post). Maybe our dinghy smells like seal, and the little one thought it was his mother? Perhaps inflatables are easily confused for seals by other seals? Whatever the reason, the thought is slightly disturbing.

After the San Juan trip we had a final tune of our rig done, which was never completed last year when the boat was re-rigged and we had to have a new bowsprit built. Our SSB/Ham radio antenna is finally installed, but the wind generator we bought a few months ago is not. We did a quick haulout at Port Townsend to touch up the bottom paint, which was thin in places. We took advantage of being on dry land in the boat yard to load more heavy items, including six golf cart batteries we bought from Costco to beef up our energy supply. We hoisted them aboard with one of the new mizzen halyards. In last year’s re-rig project, we put in multiple new halyards, long enough to at least reach the water, if not ground level in the boat yard. The old halyards barely reached the deck. The new batteries are in the boat, but not wired up yet. This is one more thing to do, hopefully before we go. We’re getting used to living on the boat, but living on water is one thing, living on a boat propped up by sticks on land is something else again, unless, of course, you have a tree house fantasy.

We spent a night and a day at Shilshole Marina in Seattle to pick up mail for the last time and say good-bye to family. Our stay there included running power tools and bright lights late into the night. If you were on one of the boats near us, we’re sorry, but we have to take advantage of shore power when we have it.

Thinking we should check our fuel before leaving Shilshole, we were shocked to see the gauge on “E.” Was it broken? No, we’ve just used a lot in recent months and we weren’t keeping track. (The tank gauges are on the tanks themselves, under the floor, and are not easy to keep an eye on.) It was late in the day, but being summer, the fuel dock was fortunately still open on a Sunday evening.

We’ve activated a SPOT satellite tracker to update our current position on a viewable web map once per day. There should be (or will be soon) a link on a new page called something like, “Where are we now?” or “Finding Mysticeti.” But since it may not be posted at the same time as this post, it may not be up yet.

From Shilshole we motored to Port Townsend, arriving after 11 PM. We anchored on the downtown waterfront, within a cluster of barely visible sailboats. We slept in the cockpit in case we had anchored too close and had to move quickly. One of those boats was s/v Slainte. We should be sticking fairly close to them from here to Mexico.

Our preparations for cruising are done. Our journey southward begins now.

Sucia Island; entrance to Echo bay from Johnson Point; a nice hike around the south side of the island.
Sucia Island; entrance to Echo bay from Johnson Point; a nice hike around the south side of the island.
Snoring Bay, from the trail to Johnson Point.
Snoring Bay, from the trail to Johnson Point.
Just beyond buddy boat Slainte, and the Port Ludlow totem pole, lies an extensive fog bank where we tried the automatic foghorn for the first time.
Just beyond buddy boat Slainte, and the Port Ludlow totem pole, lies an extensive fog bank where we tried the automatic foghorn for the first time.
Early morning at the Port of Port Townsend boatyard, with its always eclectic collection of projects and interesting characters.
Early morning at the Port of Port Townsend boatyard, with its always eclectic collection of projects and interesting characters.
Painting day.
Painting day.
I guess it's more of a stilt house than a tree house, but a little odd to have cars and voices below you at night.
I guess it’s more of a stilt house than a tree house, but a little odd to have cars and voices below you at night.