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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: http://fms.ws/ae_SS/37.49839n/122.48807w. 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 www.marinetraffic.com. Search for Mysticeti.
For our memorable little friend, hope you made it safely back to shore.