September 5th- 16th
Newport, Oregon is a vastly under appreciated city. If you haven’t been…..go! All of the better known beach towns on the resplendent Oregon coast; Cannon Beach, Tillamook, Seaside, even Lincoln City…….have the advantage of proximity to the major population centers. But for my money, I would spend the extra travel time and visit Newport.
The Port of Newport operates a bustling waterfront. The Marina (where we were moored) is connected to an RV park, a fishing pier and a boat launch. Throughout the facility are fish cleaning stations, and there is a constant coming and going of fisherman and crabbers at the tables. Cleaning their catch: Dungeness crabs as big as a plate, salmon, tuna and rockfish.
Newport is home to the Pacific Maritime Heritage Center, Marine Science Center, and the Oregon Coast Aquarium. It hosts two splendid beaches. It is also home to the Yaquina Bay light house, the tallest lighthouse on the Oregon coast. Which is located on the Yaquina Bay Recreation area; a state park, that enjoys added federal protection and funding from the National Park Service..
The bay front is lined with shops and amazing seafood restaurants. All of the restaurants that we tried were fantastic and most have their own seafood counters. The fish is fresh everyday! For my money though, leave the bay front and cross over the Yaquina Bay bridge to the crab shack at South Beach. A nondescript building located on the dusty side of Hwy 101, with a gravel parking lot and a few picnic tables on the side of the road. Trust me……this is the place! Finally, but by no means least, Newport is home to the Rogue Brewery! Seafood, fishing, sailboats, beautiful parks……and beer?….. It is a marvelous town!
Julianne’s parents, live 25 miles north in Lincoln City. We spent a few days visiting with Jan and Leigh at their beautiful water front home; playing games, resting, reading, shopping and enjoying beautiful breakfast at a favorite spot; the Nelscott Cafe. Soon though, we were getting antsy to be back on the boat and continue on our way! But there was not any wind. A ridge of high pressure was keeping the wind dead calm and the seas flat.
While we were waiting in Lincoln City, I called our friend Patrick. Patrick is the broker, who helped us buy Epiphany and he is trying to line us up with moorage in La Paz. He is a super nice guy and has become a friend. Patrick and his family spent a couple of years cruising in the sea of Cortez. He is a competent and accomplished sailor.
Patrick had never actually sailed the Washington, Oregon coast. He began his trip south from San Francisco, which is where they had purchased their boat. But he knows many people who have and knows enough about the area to offer us some good advice. “If there is good weather, you need to go. Save your desire to go sailing until you get south. Go get on your boat, start the motor and get the hell out of there while you can!” It was good advice and we took it to heart.
Saturday we had an early dinner with Jan and Leigh on the bay front in Newport. They dropped us at the boat in plenty of time to ready the boat for a Sunday morning departure. Unfortunately the weather turned nasty and left us stranded at the pier. Twenty four hours later on Monday morning, we were up bright and early to try again. But the weather was still poor and the Coast Guard had closed the bar. Finally, around 1PM and low tide, the authorities opened the bar to vessels 25 feet and more. We motored out between the jetty, passing the coast guard cutters on their way back in. They gave us a thumbs up, to let us know that we would be ok. Up ahead in the middle of the channel, the dredger was hard at work, keeping the channel clear as huge eight foot rollers broke perfectly, curling in a sea of foam, as they smashed against the jetty on both sides. It is very disconcerting to sea giant breakers, perfectly formed as in a surfing movie, rolling and curling and smashing , just 100 yards to your sides. They can stand a boat straight up and throw in back, upside down, from whence it came. But the coast guard know their business and the channel did its job. We passed through the calm between the breaking waves, over broad six feet rolling swells, across the bar and into the Pacific ocean once again.
We were determined to make some progress. We had the advice from Patrick in our ears as we motor sailed out into a fair afternoon breeze. Soon a NW wind was blowing hard enough for us to sail and best of all…..we could let Wilson drive! We set our watch schedule and settled into the routine of being back at sea. We were going to bypass Coos Bay, making it to California waters before we pulled in again! Crescent City at he least, but we were hoping for Eureka.
The sunset came quickly and spectacularly. With our rotation, I always get the sunsets and Julie the sunrises. I think that I get the better end of that deal! Julianne made dinner and we sat in the last light of the day, watching the sea rush by as we sailed south into the night. After dinner, I cleaned up and bedded down in the cockpit to get some sleep, Julie was on watch until Midnight.
I awoke to an amazing phosphorescence display! Phosphorescence at sea is caused by the bioluminescence of various sea creatures, organisms, bacterias or blooms. It is the phenomenon of light being generated, without heat or friction. It usually manifest itself in blues and greens. You can see it in the wake of boats and ships, schools of fish can create a river of color behind them and it can be very helpful in locating and identifying incoming torpedoes!
There was a beautiful green tail marking our wake and stretching off in the distance behind us. Alongside the boat, individual cut stones of emerald jewels floated by; some as big as grapefruit. They appear real, and lifelike and obtainable in every way. A river of riches just beneath the surface! It is not hard to imagine sailors of old, out to make their fortune, and believing what their eyes saw; reaching in vain to scoop the jewels from the sea. Always just beyond reach, they would stretch farther, reach deeper, imagining the wealth awaiting them, only to fall into the icy waters and drown. It is easy too then, to imagine their shipmates, returning home, to have conjured stories of malicious Morgens and Sirens who, with false promises, had lured men to their death.
At 2AM We passed Crescent City, 20 miles to the east. I was elated to be in California waters and wanted to wake Julianne to share it with her. But she was sleeping too soundly, and I did not have the heart to disturb her. Wilson had been driving for the majority of the night and the evening passed very pleasantly. Three watches later, we crossed the bar into Humbolt Bay and motor sailed the 4 miles north to the city of Eureka.
Eureka is the largest coastal city on the west coast between San Francisco and Portland, Oregon. The area was built on the backs of the timber and fishing industries and of course……gold! The Marina at Eureka is located on Woodley Island, just across from town. Victorian era houses and buildings, share the street front with early western false fronted merchant buildings. It looks idyllic and with the proximity to the Redwood forest it should be.……..it’s a shit hole!
The heydays of timber, fishing and gold are long gone. The largest employers today are the university, the city government and the hospital. You can see and feel the effects of the meth and heroine pandemic on the streets. There are certainly nice folks there, and I wish them well. But I don’t think that I will be going back anytime soon.
We departed with the tide two mornings later. We were within striking distance of a major milestone; San Francisco was just 200 miles to the south! But the intimidating mass of Cape Mendocino, with it’s notorious reputation for mistreating sailors, lay in between us and our destination. As we broke out of the jetty and across the bar leaving Humbolt Bay. The Cape was already visible to the south.
Cape Mendocino is located on California’s “lost coast”. It is a massive headland jutting out into the Pacific and it is the western most point of the state of California. The surrounding waters and weather are constantly at odds with themselves….. and with the Cape. Ocean swells travel the full width of the Pacific ocean, only to be repelled by the massive cliffs; split in two, pushed off both north and south. The currents and tides suffer the same fate, an abrupt rejection to their intentions, as they are sent spiraling off in the opposite direction from which they had arrived. Southerly winds from central California collide with Northerlies, come down from the Pacific Northwest. It also sits squarely on top of a triple junction: the three geological plates; Gorda, Pacific and North American all collide just off of its shore. Linking the Cascadia subduction zone and its volcanic activity with the seismic violence of the San Andreas fault. Basically, its where hell likes to come when it wants to bust loose!
We sailed southwest, wanting to give the menacing leeward cape plenty of room and to avoid the turmoil of the confused waters in close. For the next twenty four hours, that cape would be on our port beam. At times it seemed as if we would never get around it!
We had wind immediately, and there was plenty of it! It would continue to grow throughout the day. And there were swells too. Big 7 foot rollers from the west, lifting us up and over while three foot wind waves crashed our starboard quarter. The wind, seas and currents all grew more angry as the day turned to late afternoon and early evening. We were down to a third reef in the main and our staysil, as dark set in. The cape was still sitting on our port beam, visible now, only on radar. We were getting abreast of her, but we were no where near to rounding it! We had a conundrum the seas were really rough and the wind was howling. If we continued on this course, we would have to tack in the middle of the night without visibility or really knowing what we were getting into. If we continued on this course, we would be much further west than we needed to be in the morning as the state of California turns dramatically east past the cape.
We decided to jibe and see if we could cheat the wind and “point” where we wanted to go. We were already wet and cold and uncomfortable when we jibed. It only got worse! The wind was howling now, hitting 24MPH gust, the swells were on our starboard quarter and four foot wind waves were on our port beam. We had seen some uncomfortable conditions before, but Mendocino was something new. Nothing was stable…..or predictable: 8 foot swells could produce a 12 foot set, 18 MPH winds gust suddenly to 25mph, 4 foot wind waves send a six footer to curl against the beam. There was water in the rails constantly, the wind was howling in our ears. Crashing sounds emanate from below decks, as now even things that were tied down, crash upon the floor. Cabinets burst open, dumping their contents upon the deck………and it is cold! The ocean spray does not let up….comes in from every direction. The wind and currents are too strong for Wilson, we have to steer. We marvel at Epiphany and her ability to navigate this turmoil, but decide that it is too much for us. We come back across the wind and settle onto or earlier course. We are able to convince Wilson to steer again and stop to catch our breath. We have not slept.
Finally I bring the sleeping bag up on deck and try to nap. It is two hours until my watch. Perhaps I dozed, it is difficult to tell. You are never unaware of your surroundings in that situation. The wind and seas continued their torment so I gave up and took the helm from Julianne. She went below to sleep and I took over for the night. I had brewed a whole pot of coffee, so I hunkered down with Wilson, held onto the life rail and settled in to ride it out.
What do you do on a mid watch, when it is far too rough to leave the cockpit and let your wind vane steer? You talk to yourself, you sing songs, you try to remember old stories……. What do you do on a mid watch, when it is far too rough to leave the cockpit and let your wind vane steer AND your bladder is full from a whole pot of coffee? You get down on your knees and pee in the cockpit! If you are lucky, you won’t get any on you!
The fog began to roll in about 1am and I noticed a problem on our chart plotter. We were on the edge of the shipping lanes and we were being chased down by a super tanker: Romulus. Romulus was overtaking us from behind and gaining quickly. She was going to catch us in the next couple of hours. Her closest point of approach (CPA) kept fluctuating, but it was always too close for comfort. I decided to watch for an hour and see what happened. The wind and seas remained as they were, this was by far the most weather that we had experienced! At 2 am…….Romulus! Less than an hour away now and the CPA was a quarter of a mile! I had to wake Julianne!
Julianne got dressed and came up on deck. We decided to jibe and turn back east. We were nervous, because of how rough it had been the night before but we had to get away from Romulus.
We made our maneuver. Luckily the extra hours going south had given us some clearance. We were going east, when we wanted to go south, but we had enough room to keep this course until the sun came up! Forty five minutes later, Romulus passed two miles behind us, dead astern. With the thick fog, she was only visible to us on radar. But we knew she was there and were glad to be rid of her! Romulus.
The easterly heading was once again, even rougher than the southerly course. I have compared some of our earlier experiences, to being in a washing machine. Well, this was a big industrial size washing machine…….on roller skates! Julianne decided that it was too rough and dark and dangerous. She was going to sleep in the cockpit in the sleeping bag. I was glad to have her close.
She climbed into the bag, rolled over and was trying to doze, when a monster wave tossed the boat, launching her from her berth and into the bottom of the cockpit! Where she hit her head hard! She was stunned, and I was worried, but I could not let go of the steering. Eventually she shook it off and got back up. Note to self: when trying to sleep on deck in poor conditions; never have both hands inside the sleeping bag and always use the excess line of your tether to tie yourself against the side!
Just before dawn the weather let up a bit and the fog lifted. The day began to reveal itself. Slowly visibility grew and the coastline became clear…….There, on our port beam still, stood our nemesis; Cape Mendocino! To be sure, it was the opposite side from that we had seen leaving Eureka on the morning before. But the constant presence was disheartening……………”go away !” I heard Julianne say.
We had taken longer than we hoped and we had been thoroughly Mendocinoed! But we were around! Unfortunately, San Francisco was now too far to make in a day and too close for a full overnight. We determined that if we made 6 knots steady and in a straight line, we could make Bodega Bay by night fall. We stowed the staysil and started the motor and turned south. We do not like motor sailing very much. It is loud and monotonous and Wilson can’t steer! We had 12 hours in front of us. We gave up on our watch schedule, each relieving the other whenever someone wanted a break. The day was pretty, and while the seas remained big…..there was none of the malice that existed the night and day before. At some point in the afternoon we realized that the Cape was no longer visible astern. That was cause enough for a Coors light!
We did not make it by sunset. It was dark and we had our running lights on, as we rounded Bodega Head and motor sailed into the bay. A windy, narrow channel leads you into the harbor. It was well lit and we navigated our first night time harbor entrance without mishap.
Bodega Bay is beautiful and the town is cute. The next day, we walked all the way around to the other side of the bay. Where we split a late breakfast at The Tides restaurant and Inn. The Tides, and Bodega Bay’s, claim to fame, is that they were the setting for the Alfred Hitchcock thriller; The Birds. Random! The walls of the restaurant are lined with news clippings and movie memorabilia . Afterwards, we hiked back to Epiphany, showered in the marina showers and enjoyed the warmth of the day. Mendocino already fading from memory.
The next morning we motored out in the early fog and turned south again. We travelled south, using only our instruments to navigate. The fog was soup thick and you could only see a few feet in any direction. Finally, we were able to make our turn to the east. We continued east as the day began to warm and the fog began to lift. And slowly then……on the horizon and above the fog, the red towers of the Golden Gate Bridge! Two hours later the bridge was fully visible. As was Alcatraz beneath it and the cityscape behind. As I steered beneath the bridge in the noontime sun, I let out a spontaneous “whoo hoo!” And heard it echoed back from Julianne who was on the bow filming. We were both grinning widely as we dropped our mainsail outside the harbor and motored into our slip at San Francisco Marina. A major milestone! We had left the PNW behind. We were finally in San Francisco! We cleaned up the boat and stowed the gear in record time. There is a time an a place for everything. This was no time for Coors light! We broke out a bottle of Sipsmith and toasted our success with Gin and Julies. We remembered to toast Neptune and share a dram with him too! We had made it safely to the Golden Gates. Southern California with its warm weather and fair sailing was close! But still to come, and in between us and the land of milk and honey, lay our biggest obstacle yet. Point Conception! Known as the Cape Horn of the Pacific, it has all the attributes of Cape Mendocino and then some! And it was waiting for us. But we would think about that later. Today we celebrate. It was time for a second gin!