Some nasty weather pushing past the Washington coast raised a pretty mean swell and the Coast Guard ended up closing the bar for a day before I could get back out to sea. I used the time to rest, cook a few big meals, and catch up on some preventative boat maintenance.
I spent most of this last passage about 60 miles off the coast. When you’re that far out, you don’t see much of anything except gorgeous, clear, incredibly blue water. The area I was sailing through got as deep as 9000 feet deep. Almost two miles deep! I literally spent two hours at one point with the sun at my back, just staring into the depths of the water. Its color is beyond my ability to even begin to convey. It’s blue, but like no blue I’ve ever seen before. There is so much nuance to it and a certain glow flickers in the shadows of the waves. The closest thing I can liken it to is staring deeply into someone’s eyes. I can tell there is a message hiding in there, somewhere. I guess I’ll have plenty of time to figure out what it is.
The lack of boats and land to keep me entertained and focused was more than made up for by the various ocean creatures that roamed around me.
I think my favorite thing to watch was one certain type of bird. They glide effortlessly across the tops of the long rolling waves and swoop and curl across them as they dip and fall. Very graceful and efficient birds. They look like gulls, but they’re shorter with longer wings and thick barrel-chests. I’m currently reading a book about a British mountaineer in the 60s who used a sailboat to access remote portions of coastline where he climbed and explored uncharted peaks. In the book he describes a bird (the "skua") that sounded really similar to these elegant, powerful birds I was watching. Once I got back to land, I looked for some pictures and they are indeed one in the same. They apparently migrate from the Arctic and Antarctic to more temperate waters during the year and are tenacious hunters and fighters. Some have even reported witnessing them fighting a bird 3x their size for a fish or taking down and killing a grey heron. A gorgeous, formidable bird that really seems to be at the top of some sort of evolutionary plateau.
The last notable sea creature I passed was a monstrous cruise ship that I could see as it peeked up onto the horizon perhaps 15 miles off. By the time it was 5 miles from me, I could hear its big engines churning and the water crashing off its bow. He came within a few miles of me and I couldn’t quite read its name, but later heard him hail the coast guard during some radio chatter when he was a few miles out. It was apparently the Golden Princess full of passengers headed up to Seattle.
My intention originally had been to pull into Coos Bay another 30 miles south along the shoreline, but on Thursday afternoon, the dreaded south winds returned with a vengeance and I spent the night beating to weather with a double-reefed main and my beloved jiblet pulling me along to the southeast. The wind slowly let up as day dawned and I was able to raise the genoa and shake the reefs out of the main. I figured I’d light up the engine to give myself a little boost so that I could cross the bar at slack tide which was around 11am. I had enough wind for the previous two days that I hadn’t run the engine at all for a while and evidently the running lights (which I run all night) had drawn the battery way down in that time. When I turned the engine over, I heard that dreaded rrRRRrrr rrrRrrr rrrrrrr of a battery that just wants to give up and go to sleep for a while. “Shit!” I thought. “Well, at least I was wise enough to switch over to the second battery bank; the first ought to have plenty of juice to start the engine, right? Wrong. You forgot to charge the first bank the last time you ran the engine.”
So there I was sailing along towards Coos Bay with no engine. Could I cross the bar under sail? Yeah, probably. Would the wind die once I crossed the bar and send me towards the breakers and the rocks? Maybe. Perhaps I’ll try to pull start the engine or crank it to life! After an hour of trying, I realized she was just a little bit too ornery to be started by a mere mortal like myself. “If only I had some solar panels,” I thought. I decided to divert to Winchester Bay on the Umpqua River as that was closer and easier to get to. I hailed the Coast Guard for an update on bar conditions and to ask their opinion on the feasibility of sailing in and anchoring without dashing Rascal to pieces on the rocks. They replied with, “Heck, we’ll just come on out and tow you into the dock!” That sounded a hell of a lot safer than the alternative, so with my hat in my hand, my pride swallowed, and Rascal breathing a sigh of relief, I sailed up to the channel buoys and prepared to be towed by the Coast Guard.
From the middle of the breaking waves of the bar and amidst a thick fog I saw a form begin to emerge. Lo and behold, it was a massive Coast Guard lifeboat. It was probably about 50 feet long, a hulking behemoth of welded aluminum and bombproof hatches and diesel might. They came up alongside me while I dropped sail and they threw me a big, thick towing bridle and in a flash, we were heading up the Umpqua towards Winchester Bay. They had no shortage of throttle to play with and the Rascal really got the ride of her life. She is a displacement hull, so her speed is limited by the wave she makes as she pushes water out of the way and, in theory, her top speed is only about 6.5 knots. With a couple of monster diesel engines pulling me along, however, she got up to 7.9 knots. You could’ve surfed on the wake she was making.
I’m leaving in the morning for Eureka in the lovely, sunny state of California. I expect it will take me a 2-3 days,and the weather looks ideal for trucking my way south (winds of 15-20kts out of the north). Another downwind run sounds great to me. I’ll plan to spend some time working on boat stuff for a day or two and then head down to the coast a little ways to meet up with some friends that’re hiking in that area on the weekend of the 10th. From there, I’ll finish the trek to San Fran and hopefully spend a week hanging out with friends, re-provisioning the boat, and eating as much delicious food as I can get my hands on. If you’re in the bay area and you want to meet up sometime between the 15th and 20th, let me know!
I started this blog to stay in touch with friends and share this adventure as I undertake it. There is something incredibly liberating and energizing about being able to sail alone, but I also really value the friendships and connections I’ve built and I don’t want those to suffer while I’m gone. I want to share this new life of mine with you all! I want to hear from you… and meet up with you along the way… and get suggestions about what to do... and answer your questions! Lots of folks seem to have questions about this voyage and I’m happy to answer them. Sound off in the comments on the bottom of this page and I’ll answer your questions during my next blog post.