September 15th – October 2nd, 2019
Its starting to feel like fall, we got to get out of here! On September 15th, 2019 we officially left Anacortes making an overnight stop at Spencer Spit on Lopez Island before heading for the coast. The trip from Lopez Island was a rather uneventful full day of motoring. We left Spencer Spit just before sunup and set the hook in Neah Bay just as the sun went down. Spending one rainy day in Neah Bay checking the weather and filling up the fuel tanks one more time before our big departure.
Day 1- September 18th: The forecast for departure day was favorable but with light winds. We set the alarm for 0430 and pulled anchor at 0530, motoring in the dark around the corner and into the swell. While neither of us are prone to sea-sickness we were anticipating big swell, so we abstained from alcohol the night before and did not make coffee that morning. There was enough excitement in the air to wake a hibernating Grizzly Bear. We motored until day break when the wind started to fill in from the North and we sailed into increasing swell. Just off Cape Flattery we spotted a thresher shark catch a salmon and saw whales on the horizon. As we made the big “left” the swell was building to 10-15ft and coming from two directions, coupled with the light north west winds around 10 knots, made for a difficult and uncomfortable sail. Elise got sick at around 1400 but was able to sip a mug of ginger tea and soon got her sea legs. Austin was able to keep his food down but was lethargic and had little appetite all day. The further off shore we got the steadier the wind and swell became. We had many more whale sightings throughout the day. At one point Elise woke Austin up from a nap on a possible collision course with several humpback whales. “What do I do” Elise said, all Austin could say was “Try not to hit any”. There were whales in all directions and you could see them going up and down in the peaks and troughs of the swell. Elise was able to steer clear and avoid several close calls. During the night the wind went calm and we were forced to motor. Keeping the boat from rolling and the sails from slamming back and forth is not only a matter of safety but of sanity.
Day 2- September 19th: Grey skies settled in and the wind became steadier. We began to really figure out how to operate the Hydrovane self-steering system. We named her “Ginger” for her ability to help keep watch when the human crew are sea sick and tired as well as for her red hair (or vane). We were able to make a more southerly heading with the wind increasing and more regular swell. Over the night the wind died down again and we motored for several hours.
Day 3- September 20th: Chasing down a dying breeze we did our best not to “race” but with PredictWind and unlimited download on the IridiumGo! we kept downloading new forecasts and drove for the pressure, getting as far as 100 miles from shore. As the night came on, we were seeing gusts into the 20’s so we shortened sail and headed back towards the coast. By the morning we were motoring yet again.
Day 4- September 21st: We motored unit mid-morning when the breeze started to pick up above 10 knots. With the swell, we found we could not sail effectively with less than 10 knots. While sailing in the San Juan Islands, on flat water we could easily sail at speeds of 6 knots with only 10 knots of wind. The true northerly wind had finally set in and we were making good southerly headings. By mid-morning the conditions were just right so we put up the asymmetrical spinnaker and reached out to sea. We were flying! It felt so good in 10-12 knots of breeze to be doing 7 knots speed over ground (SOG) finally, the boat felt fast. With Ginger steering the boat we were euphoric! This is what we had been dreaming about. The sun was finally shining and we stripped off all our layers. The wind grew with our excitement and we were soon taking the spinnaker down before we could even get our clothes back on. As the sun set, we gybed back towards land and the wind started to calm. The motor came back on at about midnight as we came into a fleet of fishing vessels, many not transmitting on AIS (Automatic Identification System). This allows us to see other vessels on our electronic chart display, it gives us information like; vessel name, speed and direction of travel.
Day 5- September 22nd: Around 0400 Austin was on watch and was getting more and more frustrated with the lack of wind and the amount of motoring we had been doing. He was starting to feel the oncoming Southerly winds forecasted for later in the day. We didn’t have an autopilot so whenever we were motoring, we had to hand steer. At night this means hours of staring at the compass and constantly turning the wheel to keep the boat going the right direction, constantly combating the swell. Austin was starting to get worried we would run out of fuel and not be able to make it to our next contingency port in Eureka, CA. He yelled down to Elise, “I’m turning around, we have to go to Coos Bay to get fuel”. Elise was a bit confused by the rash decision but neither of us had enough sleep to argue so we set the jib and started sailing north towards Coos Bay. As daylight came on, using the sat phone, Elise texted her father Don that our plans had changed. He had a clear enough head to start working on alternate ports because going to Coos Bay meant sailing north a little over 40nm from our current position. He suggested Bandon, OR which turned out to be closed for the season and Elise found Brookings, OR on the chart plotter. Brookings was about 40nm South of our current position so Don researched the bar, which turned out the be “the safest bar in Oregon”. Brookings would now be upwind but in the right direction. After some debate and a cool off we decided to turn back around and head south for Brookings. Austin was a bit reluctant as it meant sailing upwind but after some sleep it became clear it was the best option. All throughout the day we were hearing coast guard radio reports about Coos Bay; first there was a 50ft fishing vessel aground in the bar and up against the breakwater, later breaking up into pieces and a possible man overboard that was eventually called off. The radio reports for the Brookings bar was: winds calm, swell 1-3 ft. We sailed for an hour or two tacking a few times, but the wind was coming directly from our destination. One of the most important calculations for sailing is, distance over speed equals time, when you move so slow and have to travel great distances timing is everything. It became clear that if we were going to get to Brookings in daylight, we had to make our best speed over the shortest distance possible. So, we motored straight for Brookings, directly into the wind and rain. When we were about 10nm from the Chetco River Bar at Brookings, the skies cleared and the winds calmed. It was the picturesque bar crossing of the Chetco on a Sunday evening. We only planned on getting fuel and staying overnight at the dock that Don had prearranged for us.
Brookings Stopover: Our one-night stopover in Brookings quickly turned into an 8-night stay in this sleepy fishing town. As it turned out we had pulled in just in time, there was a building Northwesterly gale off Cape Mendocino. Cape Mendocino is notorious for step swell and high winds. We made the best of cheap dock fees and warm weather, doing laundry, provisioning and completing several small projects around the boat. We made our first woven floor mat out of a derelict crab pot line from a fisherman in Brookings. The teal fibers making a mess of the boat as we pulled and wove the line into a fancy knot. We are probably the people who should live on a schooner since we are such knot nerds, but we like speed to much! Walking on the sandy pacific beach with big waves made us feel like we were really on our adventure. The docks were full of sport and commercial fishing boats except for one transient dock that was pretty much vacant. Atica was tied next to a green pirate looking boat that looked to be set up for cruising and the for-sale sign indicated that one mans dream had ended here in Brookings. The only other boat was a Lafitte 44 named Molotov Mairin. The owners Tree & Morgan had also come into Brookings to wait out the gale on their trip from Seattle down the coast. We had a good time with them on the dock having dinner on each other’s boats and talking about sailing and boat projects we had each completed. Our last day in Brookings was a full-on rain and thunder storm and we spent the day cooped up inside making bread and brownies and playing games.
Day 6- September 30th: After spending much longer than anticipated in Brookings we were eager to get back on the water and continue on to San Francisco. We were up with the sun to motor across the bar and out to sea, Molotov Mairin leaving the dock just behind us. With little to no wind we motored through some haze towards blue skies. The wind started to fill in from the South and we were able to sail upwind for a few hours before it shifted to the NW. That wind persisted and we sailed through the night.
Day 7- October 1st: We sailed all day until about dusk when the wind could not keep us moving in the swell any longer. The motor came on and would remain on until we reached San Francisco. We motored into the night encountering several yachts headed South. We had a pretty close call with one power yacht coming north just as we were rounding Cape Mendocino. Elise woke Austin up saying that she was seeing the boats lights alternating between red and green. Not good since we don’t show up on AIS and the boat seemed to be turning on an autopilot course around the point. Elise made a drastic course change for several minutes just to make sure we didn’t get close to the other yacht. We saw some kind of porpoise playing in the wake of our boat that night, it was lit up like comet by bioluminescence all around it.
Day 8- October 2nd: We motor… Seas calm, winds calm, skies clear and sun warm. We shed layers of clothes with every hour as we moved further south. We saw humpback and fin whales off the coast, some feeding and some that looked to be playing. We both saw two full breaches out of the water off Drakes Bay. Around lunch time we could start to see the Golden Gate way off in the distance. It felt surreal as we got closer and closer, something we had been thinking about for so long was finally happening. We couldn’t believe it, as the mast cleared the Golden Gate Bridge, a whale came up out of the water off our starboard bow, as if to say “Welcome to San Francisco!”