We left Neah Bay at 10:30 am on Wednesday, September 2. The forecast for the week ahead predicted light southerly winds gradually shifting to light westerlies, then progressively stronger from the north as we sailed down the coast. We motored out of the bay with the mainsail up and soon had the jib up, motor off and were sailing at 6 knots.
As we passed Tatoosh Island a ferocious squall blew down on us causing very steep choppy seas and 35 knots of wind. We reefed down and rode it out over a 2 hour period. It was not fun. Over the next 48 hours we encountered a number of these squalls, though none as intense. Each was accompanied by rain showers and they happened day and night. Some had lightening, some didn’t. We sailed, motor sailed and just plain motored to get through most of it.
|Leaving Neah Bay|
For the first 24 hours I was terribly sea sick. I had not had a bout of seasickness since we left Mexico 4 years ago so was taken totally by surprise. Luckily, the heaves and retching only lasted a day, then the second day I took it very, very slowly spending as much time as possible lying flat on my back in the sea berth. The winds were quite light, but the seas were very rough with waves coming from every direction and Ka’sala was tossed about. I was still able to hold my watches, but Doug was really having to look after us both. Not much was eaten – the first day of what we jokingly called “The San Francisco Diet”! I’m afraid the first part of this passage was a bit of a miserable blur for me.
By Friday, I was pretty much back to normal, but neither of us was feeling 100%. We did have about a dozen hours of sailing at 5.5 knots, wing on wing, which calmed the movement of the boat through the waves, though we paid for it dearly when the wind completely died around midnight, leaving us once again in terribly confused and rolly seas. We discussed the possibility of going in to Crescent City in northern California to get some rest before continuing, but when we got a favourable forecast on Saturday morning, just south of Cabo Blanco, we decided to continue. This forecast called for the higher winds we were expecting, but the peaks were predicted at 25 knots. We felt these winds would give us a reasonable and fast passage to San Francisco after rounding Cape Mendocino.
Saturday was a lovely day, sunny and warm with a good sailing breeze. By midnight the winds were 30 knots and, over the course of the next 36 hours, we rode gale force winds peaking to 50 knots an hour and steady at 40 to 45. There was no room for fear. We had to live in the present. Doug had configured Ka’sala, initially with a double reefed main and reefed headsail, but very soon we were flying at 7+ knots under postage stamp jib alone. The sea state was acute. Waves rose at least 14 feet in the air, crested, plunged, tumbled, and roared. They slapped the hull sideways, pushed Ka’sala over their crests and we surfed down the other side like any Mavericks pro. Ka’sala had become a 34+ long surfboard and she took these steep, close together wave conditions in her stride.
|Beaufort Scale - wind at sea is reflected in knots, not kilometers|
The monitor, our self steering device, was crying and moaning through her pulleys. One of us had to sit behind the helm with one hand on the wheel to help guide her through the seas. At certain points the stern of the boar reared up and I would look straight down the bow into the trough of the following wave. At another time, dozens of dolphins joined us, rushing our bow, hurling themselves out of the waves and under our keel. We could see them clearly in the translucent seaglass green swells, their taut grey and white bodies like torpedoes. I have a very clear picture in my mind of looking behind to see a roller coming toward us with a half dozen of these amazing sea creatures cascading down inside the break above us as it plummeted down.
During the day, the sun shone, shattered and sparkled the light in the crests of the waves. The night moon was so bright it did the same and millions of stars crowded the sky to look on. The froth and spume of the collapsing waves were outrageous shades of clean white, sea foam green and irredescent blue. I was absolutely awestruck by the beauty of the element we found ourselves in. Was I scared? No. Not once. Yes, it was living life right on the very edge, with very little margin if anything at all went wrong – but other than riding it out there wasn’t much we could do. One of us always had to be on deck, so we were alone with most of what we saw while the other tried to rest in the sea berth below. As I am writing about it now, it seems like I may not have even been there – that it was some kind of dream. But the reality is I was there. I did live it. The proof is that we are anchored here in Drake’s Bay, five hours away from San Francisco. We did it!
|Riding the Gale|
The strong winds slowly subsided as the day progressed on Monday and we gradually added more sail. Three hours before we reached Drake’s Bay we were motoring along with the mainsail fully up, recharging our batteries. Under a starry sky and a brilliant slip of a moon we dropped our anchor among a small fleet of tiny fish boats behind the majestic bluffs at about 5am. We could smell the land all around us, including the familiar scent of cow dung. Cow dung? That would be explained the next day. Meanwhile, the dawn soon followed and we enjoyed the bracing cold rush of a much anticipated victory beer before crashing into our bunks. We had expected a 7 day passage. Instead, it took us 5 days and 20 hours to get here – 6 days if we had continued in to San Francisco. By far the majority of miles were made in the final three days.
|Ariel view of Drake's Bay - light at top centre - we passed along the topside and rounded the craggy point pictured below|
Ah, but not everything is perfect. We have been infested with a plague of cannibal black dung flies that seem to be able to transmogrify our screened portlights and sneak into our hair. They don’t bite or sting, but they lurk and land and are really quite disgusting creatures. We have become quite proficient swatting them with our Mexican “matta moska” backed up with citronella.
We spent the first day at anchor cleaning up Ka’sala and it was very satisfying work. Despite our rough passage, we had no breakage or loss. I used one of the fresh water jerry cans we carry on deck to scrub the salt out of the cockpit. We had taken the kayaks off the carriage roof and had lashed them to the sides for the passage. This configuration worked out splendidly and there wasn’t even any water inside them when we flipped them back on to their racks. Everything was damp, so we had lines drying, as well as wet weather gear, cushions and pillows. No water had come inside the boat, but the nights held heavy dew in addition to the salty spray and breeze – everything felt sticky and damp. We had produced enough hot water by motoring the last couple hours to have wonderful showers in the head. We have learned over the years how to be efficient with water and yet come out feeling totally clean and refreshed, not to mention a sparkling toilet! I also used some of the fresh water to wipe down the inside of the boat. By the end of the day we were back to rights, bobbing on the anchor, enjoying a bottle of wine and our first sit down dinner in the cockpit since Port Townsend – tacos with all the trimmings.
Today we had planned to anchor a little closer to the shore so we could launch the kayaks and do a bit of exploring, but there is a steady wind today and the waves crash on the beach making landing unlikely. There are also tendrils of fog on the bluffs, looking to spill over. So we are satisfied to stay aboard, catch up with our reading and journals, make Ziploc bread and generally relax. After looking at the tides, we will haul anchor at dawn tomorrow morning and hopefully sail under the Golden Gate Bridge – avoiding the Potato Patch – of course!
Postcript: We arrived in San Francisco at noon on Sept 10 and are currently on the docks of the St. Francis Yacht Club.
|St. Francis Yacht Club, San Francisco|
A Word on Communications at SeaWe have a Pactor Modem (Mode 3) and a Winlink address. This allows us to send and receive email, as well as download grib files and other weather-type information through the world wide network of amateur radio operators (HAM ). In order to be part of this group you have to have a radio license which requires passing an exam. Doug has this license and under his supervision I am able to use it. Winlink is managed by a slate of volunteers who generously donate their time and access to their equipment over HAM to connect us with family and friends, as well as allowing us to receive important safety information. In order for it to work we need to be able to get good “propagation” over the air waves. This generally means tuning in to the waves and finding an available station - usually in the evenings after the sun has gone down. Sometimes it takes an hour to get a good connection, sometimes it happens right away and sometimes we can’t connect at all and have to try again at a later time. The speed of the sending and receiving of the “traffic” varies from painfully slow to lightening fast. The body of a message must be svelte – no pictures, no bounce-backs, etc. We have been accessing stations all over North America and have focussed on a few favourites that seem to give us the best connection and speed.
I was able to post to my blog while we were at sea through Winlink. On this passage I certainly didn’t want to write more than the bare essentials as, for the most part, it was very rough and it’s hard to type in these conditions – eyeballs rolling around in your head and fingers mis-keying! I had promised family I would let them know how we were progressing, but I was also concerned that if I missed a post, for whatever reason, family and blog followers may be worried that we were in peril. In a way, it is a blessing and a curse! So in the future, if you are following our progress when we are at sea, know there are many reasons why we may not be able to post every day.