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Logs & Stories - September 2001
San Francisco Bay
9/26 - "We arrived in Berkeley last Thursday, and moved to Richmond on Sunday in order to visit with another boat from Seattle that has two children aboard (and their parents). We're working on the boat, doing laundry, catching up with mail (hopefully -- some stuff arrived yesterday at a local address and I'm hoping I can get it tonight or tomorrow), etc. Not much exciting stuff is happening, which is kind of nice. It's a lot sunnier here than in Bodega Bay or Tomales Bay, which is also nice."
9/29 - "We're back in Berkeley, tied up to the Berkeley Yacht Club's dock. We are in the middle of numerous post trip chores. The cruising lifestyle never lacks for chores to be done, that's for sure."
Still in Tomales Bay
We'd planned on leaving today after adjusting the steering and stopping at the local store for ice and groceries, but both tasks took far longer than planned, and we wouldn't have gotten going until 2pm, too late to comfortably make the 30-mile passage to our next destination, Drakes Bay, a fairly exposed anchorage immediately south of Point Reyes.
So instead we went to another of the many bays and easy anchorages in Tomales Bay. I swear a person could spend a month in here, moving every few days and having a series of delightful and interesting experiences. Grab your atlas or California map and take a moment to look at this place. It's at the northern end of the San Andreas fault, where the edge between two massive tectonic plates leaves the land and moves into the sea. It must be the third largest protected body of sea water in California after San Francisco Bay and San Diego Bay, and it's virtually undeveloped, a fact which just amazes me. Only 35 miles north of San Francisco, you'd think it would be dredged annually, lined with docks and condos, but it's been left in about the same state it was a hundred years ago after loggers removed the indigenous oak trees and planted European grasses in order to create a cattle economy It appears that the cattle economy is still in existence, for you can see the animals grazing on the hillsides. We've been told that most of the cows are in the milk business, not headed for the slaughterhouse. Interestingly, locals refer to the basic unit of organization not as dairy farms, but as dairy "ranches" instead. Clearly we're in macho territory.
The water of Tomales Bay appears to be divided into two climates. The eastern part of the bay looks to be the drier, with hillsides reminiscent of Eastern Washington. To the west, the climate appears wetter, with trees in the ravines near the beach, and nappy-afro shrubs and bushes in other places The paved ribbon of Highway 1 runs along the eastern beach through small rural communities and clusters of houses; the west side is almost completely undeveloped, with a sparse few houses visible from the water. Fog dominates the weather. We've been here four and a half days at this point, and have been limited to only about six hours of wonderful Californian sunlight Yesterday had several of those hours, and was so pleasant, in fact, that we spent a time sunbathing on a beach, Karryn fitting into a bikini she bought years ago.
Today, after our visit to the store in Marshall along the eastern shore, we returned to the west side just opposite to find anchorage at a place uncreatively named Marshall Beach, and were almost immediately invaded by a hoard of schoolchildren and their teachers, all in kayaks, and all threatening to ram Seafire as we anchored. After settling in, we left the boat and hiked up a dirt road to the top of the hill, increasingly encased in fog, until we reached the top and looked down at a dairy ranch looking cold in the mist. How many generations of humans have lived there, I wondered, pulling teats and wishing the sun would appear? On the way back down the hill, Jackson and Naomi discovered one of the more amazing wonders of a dry climate -- dirt clods -- and spent the remainder of the hike creating a series of explosions immediately in front of them.
We're starting to get really itchy to leave and return to civilization -- this place is sufficiently remote that cell phones don't work. The biggest single challenge is likely to be the bar at the entrance of this bay, with its 8-foot depth and breaking waves. The breakers were bad enough today that the fishermen came inside to practice their sport. We're hoping tomorrow's adventures are minimal.
Sorry for the long silence. We've been either too busy or too fatigued to write.
We're currently anchored in Tomales Bay, a particularly wonderful piece of real estate about 35 miles north of San Francisco. The bay is 13 miles long and a mile wide, a wonderful shallow, protected anchorage. We're near a place called Marshall, just a post office, small store, a place to rent kayaks and a boatyard. The place is full of friendly people. Yesterday was Naomi's sixth birthday, and we spent the day celebrating with a couple who live here, Dave and Tamara, who also happen to have a Searunner 31 (smaller sister-ship to Seafire) anchored nearby. We spent today visiting with William Rodarmor, Robert Lafore and his daughter Beca, all of whom we'd met in Tahiti thirty years ago, along with Robert and Beca's partners Joanie and John. It's wonderful that our shared experiences of so long ago create a familial sort of bond.
The West Coast Pilot suggested coming in here was a bad idea due to the wave-prone bar at the entrance, but after the encouragement of a number of people we decided to make a stop. Upon passing the bar (uneventful; the sea was calm), we suddenly realized we weren't sure how to navigate through the various sand bars and shallows between the entrance and our destination, so we went back out and asked a couple of kind fisherman for their advice. Yes, we do have a chart, but the channel on the chart looked insane and the fisherman confirmed this to be the case and suggested a more reasonable path.
Again, my apologies for the long silence. During the passage I was too busy to write, and Karryn too seasick to send email (this involves a series of magic steps which only she knows, and the use of both the PC and Single-Sideband Radio). (Ed. note: I was not too seasick. However, I would have been after being down below reading small print for thirty minutes!!) After the first two days of wonderful reaching in 10-15 knot breezes, we then had two days of a gale in southern Oregon and northern California (see below), followed by another two days of motoring into 10 knot southerlies until we arrive in Bodega Bay, California in the evening of September 9. Mom and the kids met us there and spent a couple of days resting and working on the boat until Mom and Robert departed on September 12. We'd originally planned on sending Robert home via train or plane, but after the transportation system was shut down due to the violent activities on the East Coast, the drive home was the only alternative.
We spent the day after their departure rinsing the boat -- the deck and sails as well as the section of bilge which had been impacted by the leaking boot. Bodega Bay was terrific. The dock we were on was populated by friendly fishermen and locals, and had an ever changing array of transient cruisers passing through to warmer climates, each with an Oregon coast tale of fear, bravery and kindness.
We've been amazed at how cold it is here, a weather system largely consisting of heavy, bone-chilling fog and occasional periods of sunny, warm weather that highlight the spectacular beauty of this area.
Later in the afternoon of September 5, NOAA began forecasting a minor gale between Coos Bay, Oregon and Crescent City, California. They anticipated 30 knot winds, with 5 foot swells and 5 foot wind waves, making 10 foot waves whenever the random nature of wave interaction caused the two patterns to coincide. The Boys wanted to keep going through it since it seemed of manageable intensity and duration, but being good gentlemen opted to let The Lady among us make the decision. The alternative was to duck into Newport, Oregon, and have a restful visit with Yvonne and the kiddies. Not at all a bad thing to do. One of the considerations we discussed was that we still had over 400 miles to go (more than half the distance of the voyage), and would only have Robert on board until September 12.
The wind died during the early hours of the morning when Robert was on watch, so when I came on deck at 7am on September 6, I started the engine and motored in the direction of Newport. Karryn was up at 9am (she'd taken the watch from midnight until 3am, a tiring but wonderful period due to the illumination of the full moon), and without seeming to be too stressed about it decided we should continue. Good, The Boys thought: We get to test the gear and our manhood without being terribly serious about it.
Around noon the wind filled, and we spent the afternoon gradually reducing sail until by about 3pm we were under staysail only, in about 22 knots of breeze with the wind-vane steering nicely. The boat typically sailed at 6-8 knots, accelerating to 11-12 when surfing. Things continued this way through the night, and into the next afternoon with little to note other than the amazing beauty of the seas. At night under the full moon and at day with the sun overhead, the light reflected off the torn up water giving it a shimmering, metallic appearance. Magic.
The next day, September 7, we passed Crescent City at noon and anticipated the wind subsiding. It didn't. Soon after, it kicked up enough that we replaced the 160-sq ft staysail with the 75-sq ft. storm staysail, began hand steering and started the engine to help keep the boat aligned on the waves Since we expected the gale to die shortly, our strategy was to keep the boat moving and run through the steep isobars as quickly as possible. The wind steadied in the vicinity of "a bit too much" (a boat then in Humboldt Bay, just southeast of us, later reported a top gust of 52 knots), but the waves continued to build and break more frequently. The boat continued to perform well, with the only complication being the rubber seal (the "boot") in the transom used to keep water from coming through the hole for the quadrant (a bronze fork-like part which connects the rudder to the steering apparatus). The basic problem was that the boot wasn't doing its job; it had been leaking in the following seas we'd had since leaving Neah Bay, and continued to do so increasingly as the waves built. Robert and I had been bailing several times a day; not a big deal, more of a minor pain in the butt.
The wind continued to blow hard into the afternoon and the waves continued to build. We were 18 miles off the coast, but Cape Mendocino was directly downwind, so I was having to steer by heading squarely down the wave faces of the big ones, then heading up to clear the Cape in the flat spots. Robert was sitting in the cockpit, spotting waves as I drove. He was covering the speedo, but from the feel we were typically motor-sailing at 7-8 knots, with surfing speeds in the mid-teens. I was becoming concerned that the conditions would either maintain or worsen as evening approached, and with the loss of light in the two hour period between sundown and moonrise steering could become difficult. I'd occasionally look around and see some monster breaking wave, with the foamy part maybe fifty feet across and ten feet tall. "Glad we weren't in that spot" would flash across my mind. And then we were. A set of three thirty footers rose from behind us, and as if nailed by a series of flicks from the hand of God, the boat three times in rapid succession accelerated with amazing intensity and came flying down these monster waves in a totally controlled s-shaped path, starting on each wave squarely, then heading to the right slightly as we entered the trough, bows probably eighteen inches above the ocean as Seafire planed on her underwings. The sense of barely controlled power was overwhelming.
Immediately, my concern was to slow the boat down. We throttled back, and I discovered that at 3-4 knots Seafire wouldn't get attached to the waves, but instead would gently receive them and let them pass by. Robert, with his usual methodical competence, went about setting the drogue, a Paratech 72", with ten feet of chain and two hundred feet of line. This was a non-trivial task, where failure could mean entangling the rudder or losing a finger or even a hand. Within a half-hour, at about 6:30pm, the drogue was set and the boat moving 3-4 knots guided by the windvane. Grateful to have things under control, we felt as if the wind had let up. And then a short time later, unbelievably, it did -- completely, with only the monster waves remaining as evidence of the gale. We'd reached the end of the steep pressure gradient. The waves began smashing the rudder about once our forward speed dropped to near nothing. The wind creepily increased a little, to maybe ten knots. We had maybe a half hour of light left. If the gale moved over us, the wind would increase and we'd be back into the nasty stuff. If the wind stayed down, the monster waves would kick the snot out of us. We had a brief "what now?" conversation, and then it became obvious: pull the drogue and run like hell. As the sun set, we turned on the engine, and Robert drove the boat in reverse as I pulled in the drogue. Again, a challenge to keep the line away from the rudder and the propeller while keeping all of one's fingers attached. I was impressed by the loads: I kept nearly getting yanked off the boat (yes, I was wearing a harness, and it was tethered to the jacklines). Once we got going, Robert went below to rest in order to recharge and be able to drive after I burned out, and Karryn stayed in the cockpit and spotted waves until the moon reached full illumination at around 10:30pm. I stayed in the cockpit motoring until 1:30am, when I retired, completely fried, and Robert took over. I was amazed that we continued to feel the influence of the large swells well into the next day.
Seafire arrived in Bodega Bay (50 mile N. of San Francisco) at about 6 p.m. on Sunday evening (Sept. 9th). Karryn and Bill plan to stay there for a few days.
Yvonne and the kids have met up with them in Bodega Bay.
Robert (Lester) had planned to fly home but now that the planes are grounded due to the recent tragedy's he will drive back with Yvonne or take a train.
They briefly ran into gale force winds between Blanco, OR. and Pt. St. George.
All is well.
"Hey, it's Saturday afternoon about 4:40 or something like that
and we are motor-sailing South passing Shelter Cove which is Oh, about a
third of the way between Mendocino and Pt. Arena - we are wet and the sun
is finally out - we are trying to get down to Bodega Bay by tomorrow night
because we would love to have real showers, clean underwear and all those
kinds of goods things you associate with civilization. Ah, more news later
- I am finally feeling better after having been seasick ...... because
of the gale we had yesterday, and so maybe I'll actually venture
down below for more than five minutes at a time other than sleeping
We are just past Newport, Oregon heading south. We are very busy sailing the boat in reasonable conditions. Currently planning on making "one shot" down the coast. Wind expected to rise to 30 knots tonight but still from the Northwest for the next two or three days then switching to Southerlies. Making best time/distance possible. All aboard working on staying well rested for the next exciting portion of our journey.
Up until passing the Columbia River a short time ago, we typically were sailing in the company of other yachts. A racing boat which appeared to be an IOR design from the early '80's, when that rating rule produced boats far faster and more seaworthy than earlier years, came out of Neah Bay shortly after us and gradually worked up from behind over the course of the day. Our boat, Seafire, doesn't hit full stride in under about 15 knots of wind, and in the prevailing 8-10 knot breezes the other boat was just a little faster. During the night the wind picked up a bit, and by sunrise the IOR boat was no longer in sight and we'd found several new traveling companions, all of which disappeared into the mouth of the Columbia.
Karryn had the 8pm-midnight watch last night, and a near-full moon rose at around 9:30. Her watch was mostly uneventful, and she was a bit sleepy until coming across a motor-sailing boat on a collision course. Robert volunteered for the most sleep-disturbing watch, from midnight to 3am. This turned out to be the best period, with full illumination from a spectacular moonlit sky, only wispy clouds on the horizon. He also had the best winds and the top boat speed of 10 knots. I came on for the 3am-7am watch, just when we were passing Grays Harbor and were surrounded by maybe a dozen vessels, a mixture of yachts and commercial traffic. Things quieted after that, with the highlights being accidentally running through a clump of kelp at about 0545, and a beautiful sunrise an hour later.
It's currently 1545, and we're sailing under sunny skies in 10 knots of breeze. Everybody seems to be having a great time.
"We've been in Neah Bay four days now, and are ready to depart. The weather wasn't favorable until yesterday, but we weren't fully prepared until late in the afternoon and didn't want to be entering the ocean with only a few hours of daylight remaining. During our stay here we've been able to get the boat fully set up, having assembled the drogue and other elements of the safety gear, reworked the reefing system and corrected a few defects in the rigging which could have caused problems later. After all those months of working primarily by myself, it's been nice to have Karryn's and Robert's experienced eyes finding things I'd missed.
A couple of big boats (50 footers) left yesterday, and I was a bit disappointed not to be able to sail with them, but last night four more yachts arrived so it looks like we'll have good company. A Swan 50 left about an hour ago, far enough ahead that we'll have something good to chase after. Spirits are high and everybody is itching to go. The weather report predicts 15-25 knot northwesterlys with 8-foot swells, with similar conditions continuing for the foreseeable future. Oughta be fun. Real fun. Don't you wish you were here?"
"We're still at Neah Bay waiting for the right weather window, which looks like it will come through tomorrow. I'd like to be able to make a stop in central Oregon to connect up with Mom and the kids, but this is totally a function of how the weather plays out. We're fortunate that Robert's schedule is somewhat open, so we can be flexible and safe.
We spent yesterday alternatively conversing and working on the boat while anchored in the middle of Neah Bay. The work has mostly been focused on getting the safety gear together and packing things properly so that we aren't faced with a blizzard of projectiles if we find ourselves in rough weather. This morning will be spent similarly, and this afternoon we're planning a trip into town for groceries and exploration.
A minor gale rolled through last night, with winds around 20 knots and pounding rain. The radar antenna has altered the typical sounds of the boat in a breeze, adding something of a low note to the high pitched sounds of the rigging, so I got up twice (at 1:30am, then again at 5:30am) to sit in the cockpit and watch things. We're starting to discover the additional uses for the cockpit mounted GPS: I was able to use it to confirm that we weren't dragging (I normally just take bearings on the lights around us).
Everybody on the crew seems to be having a terrific time. (Karryn adds: But we're not puking yet, either!)"