We departed Barkley Sound at 0600 amid a fleet of sportboats leaving Bamfield. The fog was thick, with visibility of about 200 feet. The boats were anxious to get to the salmon hunting grounds but held an orderly distance until outside the mouth of the inlet, where they roared off at 25 knots to the offshore areas 25 miles away.
We departed for Newport OR, intending to check back into the county after six months in BC. This distance was about 280 miles. This was our first offshore leg in the Gallant Fox. Although we had previously sailed about 2,500 miles offshore, it was as crew in another boat. When there are just two of you, sailing your boat and your home for the last five years, on the ocean, the stakes become quite a bit different. We had determined a course that would take us between 14 and 25 miles offshore, at about 124deg.30” longitude. This course was outside the crab pot line, but inside the freighter line, which runs at about 125deg.
This section of the trip would had three legs - from Barkley Sound to Newport OR, to Brookings OR (180 miles) to Eureka CA (82 miles). Upon arrival, in Eureka on 8/16 we traveled over 2,200 miles since departing Seattle in January. Following are some comments on trip planning, navigation, crew roles and watch schedules, tourism, and some entertaining encounters along the way.
There are many ways to plan a trip down the West Coast. We decided upon a mix of single night offshore trips, mixed with a bit of long days coast hopping. The reasons for this are simple - the avoidance of crab pots and the desire to have a bit of tourism. Crab pots run in the tens of thousands from WA to CA, in the 10-70 fathom range. (The Douglass guide published in 2003 indicates the crab pots stop at about 300 feet - 50 fathoms - but we saw them set out to 460 feet - almost 76 fathoms and as far offshore as 15 miles). These pots are terrifying little propeller traps, marked with hard to see floating balls stained dark brown by the ocean. They appear to be everywhere, If you travel at night through one of these fields, you will snag a line on your prop, and that can really ruin your progress. At night or in dense fog when visibility is limited, the crab pots are impossible to spot in time to avoid them, so we prefer staying well outside the crab pot zone. When we have to transit inshore below 50 fathoms, we plan it at daylight when visibility is good, with two folks (that’s the entire crew) on watch.
We work with paper charts - bought from Bellingham Chartplotters - a 4 part black and white ¾ reduction. These charts come in big folios and you can just take them out and mark them up. We plan each course upon them, with appropriate headings and course changes. We have a chart plotter, but rather than rely on electronics we use it mainly to just back up the charts. That said, it helps a lot with close inshore navigation and the GPS interface is spot-on accurate.
We traversed three jetties on this segment of the trip - these are long ocean breakwaters, since the above ports are basically the mouths of river opening. We do not like jetties, both in Newport and Brookings we had to fight our way thorough fog, sport boats, and trawlers, all competing for the narrow center line in the jetties, since they are sometimes not fully dredged and have lots of rocks to hit on the side. We departed Newport with 50 feet of visibility. Why? Well - it was sunny when we left the marina, and 1/3 mile away at the jetties it was dense - it is just like that out here.
Radar was invaluable on this trip, and at times in the night we would be tracking up to eight targets within a 4-mile radius, mostly fishing boats on the move, trolling for salmon, or stationary and pulling prawn traps.
We followed the recent discussion in CSBB on MARRP and ACS, and after further discussion with a poster who knows a lot about this stuff, I upgraded my five year old system with a grease pencil to better mark the targets on the screen…..
Like any cruising couple we have established roles - sometime ours do seem a bit different then most. My wife - MS - is the navigator, and she takes this job very seriously, Prior to departure, the course is plotted on the charts for the entire trip. Alternative ports are identified. While underway, she marks the chart with our actual position and makes appropriate course changes (or leaves me a post-it note about what to do and when, on my watch). Often, she will update our course every hour, to account for the tidal drift. This drift was impressive, and at times took us inshore about one mile in five for some areas of the coast. Also, MS drives the boat into and out of the marinas and slips. It seems a bit rare to us to find women who take this much responsibility. Here are a few examples of things we have seen that seemed a bit odd, sort of along this line of thought….
In Newport we saw a 25,000 pound sailboat getting blown down the dock fairway sideways in 18 knots of wind - the bow had gotten blown off while the helmsman tried to back down the fairway.. His little 4 1/2 foot tall wife was trying to fend the boat off a piling with a boat hook- they bounced and then got off. At the same marina - we watched a skipper cast off the lines from the boat, and then run immediately to the helm to take over from his wife. In Brookings, we watched a 45 foot boat land - there were TWO male crew at the helm, yet they sent a tiny 5 foot tall waif to leap off the boat to handle the dock lines to land the boat by herself…..
When we got our first boat the broker gave us some of the best advice we have ever received - let the woman drive the boat, and let the larger, stronger man jump off and wrestle it into the slip. This has worked out well for us, and we do not understand why men want to always take control, while the woman could probably do it better if given some task other than deckhand….
We have met a number of skippers out here who started out as a couple, but are now singlehanders - maybe if they gave their wives a little more control of the important things, let them build skills, there would not be so much shouting going on…..
My role - I cook, clean and make the drinks…..
We keep a pretty informal watch schedule. I am sharp in the morning, and MS is a bit more of a late night person. During the day, we sort of take turns watching, just hanging out, one on and one off, usually for a couple of hours - unless there is a crab pot threat, when we both watch. At 1900, MS will go to sleep to 2100 hours. I will sleep from 2100 to 0000, then take over from about midnight until 0300. And so on - during the day we each get two hour naps. This seemed to work out well for us, and we thought we could probably sustain it long term. The problem is, the nights along the coast are very stressful - you are almost always tracking a target at night and/or moving through fog. There is also the inherent terror that us newbies have of sailing blindly into the night - there are a lot of things to hit out here and we have found that radar does not pick them all up (like, the smallest of the sport fishing boats - another reason to stay well offshore, where the boats must be bigger)….
We spent a week in Newport - the moorage rate was $117 and included electricity and internet. We were used to paying $40 a night for a basic dock with no amenities in BC (for those of you not in the know - BC stands for “Bring Cash”). Fortunately, there are so many great places to anchor in BC, we only spent 10 nights in marinas in BC in six months, after we left our winter quarters in Sidney in late March. We loved Newport - the marina had a shuttle, we went to the Aquarium, which was first rate, toured the old town, and resupplied extensively. I even went for a jog along the nature trail - first real exercise in four months.
Brookings was just an overnight stop - we did not even get off the boat. It was memorable because we were boarded by the Coast Guard for a safety inspection. We learned that they board and inspect all boats “that are not from there“ - especially those from out of the state of Oregon. We passed - good thing I kept that old brass bell on board - yes, they asked to see it. But now we are here in Eureka - it is great. The rate for four night was $56 - including power and internet. We have rented a car and will tour this area - lots to see and do….
When crossing the “Forbidden Zone” opps - wrong movie - my apologies to “Planet of the Apes - I mean the Precautionary Zone, in the middle of the straights of Juan De Fuca - a whale broached 10 feet from the boat - yes - I mean ten feet, we could see the barnacles on his tail - whale watching will never be the same.
We had an 0100 encounter with a longliner 25 miles offshore the WA Coast - we changed course - he changed into us - we changed, he changed - we ended up shining a spotlight on him and hailing him repeatedly on the radio - finally he moved off in front of off, after saying he would pass to the stern…
By the way - the fishing boats we encountered in WA waters were not very friendly, orderly, and disinclined to chat about their course or give way - even when we were trying to get out of their way (they have right of way and they enforce it). Alternatively the fishing boats we encountered in Oregon were friendly, orderly in their movements, and answered the radio - big thumbs up for Oregon professional fisherman….
A 35 foot sport fishing boat roared at us broadside at 20 knots at 0600 18 miles outside the Columbia River - a tuna boat charter heading offshore 25 miles. I had just come on watch. I hailed them at ¼ mile - no response - at 200 years I grabbed the horn - at 100 yards they veered off to pass us 100 feet astern - the paying passengers drinking coffee on the stern, like this was a normal thing to do…..
Well - there was no wind - I mean no wind on this whole 550 mile leg. We saw 12 knots for less than two hours. The seas were very calm, a bit rolly in places. We roared on at 2700 rpm doing about 7.5 knots. We would like to sail, and left with forecasts that should have given us that opportunity - well - sailing is like that sometimes. You spend 10 years thinking about sailing down the coast and then you end up driving. We don’t believe this north coast is anything to mess with though, and did not loiter around waiting for wind..
We will see about the next leg…..