Although I’m writing this on Friday the 10th, I’m not sure when I’ll get to post it. We’re at the Woodley Island Marina in Eureka and, while it’s by far the nicest marina we’ve been in so far, there are a couple of missing items: no bus service in to town and NO WIFI! It’s not even available on a pay-as-you-go basis. There’s just no internet access available. My computer can find a few networks but they’re all locked. So, we’ll probably have to walk to town to be able to post blogs, pick up e-mail, etc.
But you don’t want to hear about that, you want to know about our trip. Before I get into details, let me say it was a very smooth trip except for the fog and my total lack of planning, time-wise.
We left Brookings, OR on Thursday morning (9/9) about 10:15. There was no real hurry since the flood tide would be running until noon and we only were planning to go as far as Crescent City, some 18 miles or maybe 4 hours away. Well, we did reserve the right to go on to Eureka if things looked good and frankly, that was really our intention.
The Brookings bar was easy to traverse and we were out in the ocean by about 10:30 AM. The weather was nice: partly blue skies and reasonably warm. The seas were relatively calm. We had some long ocean swells but we expect that and they’re not hard to cope with. We both opted to go with the scopolamine patches this time, with Lulu even using a whole patch.
Once we cleared the bar I went forward and raised the main to stabilize the ride. In the past I’ve gone on at length about how much I like having steps on the mast for climbing to the top. And they really do make climbing the mast easy. But if a line is even slightly loose, one or more of them WILL grab the line and wrap it around the wrong side of the step. It took 3 tries to get the main up because I kept getting lines caught on the steps. I’m going to try the trick of running a light line along the outside of all the steps, connecting them together. This should make it much more difficult for the steps to foul a line but if they persist I will definitely consider removing them and reverting to a bosun’s chair rigged with a 4-part tackle (gantline) that I can use to haul myself up the mast a la the Pardeys.
Anyway, after several frustrating attempts, I finally got the main hoisted and we continued on our way. Because of some things I’d read and also discussed with Lee Perry, we had decided to use the close-to-shore route down. For those of you that use the “Pacific Coast Route Planning Map” by Fine Edge Productions, this is the route described as the “Inshore Route”. So far, on all our previous trips (Anacortes to Newport, Newport to Charleston, and Charleston to Brookings) we have opted for the “express route” which puts you 5-10 miles off shore in an area that is supposed to be mostly fishing and crab pot free. However, we’ve heard and read that conditions tend to be milder in close so we opted to try the “inshore route”. This route was more interesting but also a little bit scarier as I’m not used to being able to see land while we’re traveling and this route puts the land pretty darn close in a couple of spots.
We crossed 42°00’00”, which put us in California waters, at about 11:00 AM or maybe a wee bit later.
The first, and really the only spot on the route that I was a little dubious about was the passage past Pt. St. George, just north of Crescent City. Beyond the point itself is a reef that extends almost 8 miles out into the ocean from the point. At its end, to seaward, is an old lighthouse which is no longer in use.
Between the lighthouse and Pt. St. George are a bunch of nasty rocks. some slightly submerged but many sticking out of the water. The submerged rocks create breakers in the area. This area is called St. George Reef. There’s also a clear path between the point and the reef called St. George Channel. It’s advertised as a “viable shortcut in settled weather”. My general tendency is to avoid these shortcuts and opt for the longer, but safer passage around the outside. However, both Lee Perry and Gary Burton advised me that it’s a piece of cake and more than a mile wide. And we certainly had settled weather so I went ahead and plotted our course through the channel instead of going outside the reef.
One of the things I’m learning is to trust my GPS. I don’t trust it implicitly but, if it’s getting good info and I’ve done an accurate job of programming waypoints into it, it’s pretty darn reliable. The trouble is, it shows you where you are from a map view, that is, from above. What you actually see when you’re on the ground looking at all these map features from the common plane of the ocean’s surface, things just don’t look as clear as they do from above. I had to keep reassuring myself that we were going the right way when I saw this to port:
I kept repeating, “Lee and Gary say it’s OK, Lee and Gary say it’s OK, …” As is typical in these cases, items that look really close together when you’re a long way off have a tendency to move much further apart as you approach them, especially if your angle of vision changes as well. At one point as we approached the channel, I could see the St. George lighthouse off in the distance to seaward. There came a point when, if I were to chicken out, it would be too late to just hang a right, I would have to actually do a 180 and retrace my path until I was far enough north to head out to sea. But, it was a sunny day, the weather was settled and Lee and Gary say it’s OK, so on through the channel we went. Now mind you, I’m going through all this angst by myself because Lulu’s down below snoozing. The scop patch, while keeping her from getting sick, was doing its usual number of making her sleepy. No matter since all she could do if she was topside was reassure me that Lee and Gary say it’s OK. Well, turns out that Lee and Gary were right. It was OK. Matter of fact it was a piece of cake. I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.
After clearing the St. George Channel, we were in a position to head in to Crescent City if we wanted. But it was way too early to stop given the mild weather we were getting. And speaking of weather, this was another motor-sailing trip. For most of the trip the only wind we had was apparent wind, made by the fact that we were traveling through the atmosphere at 5 knots. We did get a wee bit of west wind and a tiny bit of north wind later in the night but never enough to bother unfurling the jib.
As we traversed the bight south of Crescent City, we started seeing crab pots. These can be a problem if you run over one. All you see is the float that is connected to the pot that is on the bottom by a line. Many are the boaters who have gotten one of these lines wrapped around their prop. This usually results in the engine coming to a dead and sudden stop. Then someone has to don a wetsuit and go overboard to cut the offending line off the prop shaft. And you’re lucky if there’s no damage to your engine and driveline. This is to be avoided at all costs. So we were keeping a good lookout. The further south we got, the thicker the floats became. We were doing OK but had to make a few course adjustments now and then. Finally the floats became so thick that all we were doing was dodging them. At that point we opted to head west and pick up the express route through the “crab pot free zone”. As we got a little further west, in to deeper water, the crab pots did indeed peter out. Thank goodness.
Things were going smoothly and Lulu kept trying to get me to go below and get some shuteye. Well, I wasn’t the least bit tired but figured that it probably was prudent to catch a nap now rather than wait until I really needed one. So, down below I went. But , since I wasn’t tired, I wasn’t about to get out of my gear and crawl into bed, so I just laid down on the settee.
As the afternoon wore on, the fog began to set in. We were glad to be on the express route at this point since we had no intention of going in to Trinidad and the express route gave us a little sea room which made the fog easier to handle. By the time we were opposite the mouth of the Smith River, the fog had set in with a vengeance. Visibility was maybe 100 feet or so. So, with the autopilot steering a much more straight-line course than we could, we sat back for the ride and hoped nobody came out of the gloom to smack us. We turned on our running lights and started ringing our bell every minute or so. The rules call for a 5 second blast every 2 minutes but I wasn’t aware of that at the time.
So here we are, tootling through the fog, ringing the bell every minute or so. Lulu’s down below snoozing again when I happen to hear something but I’m not sure what. I do a little look around and, is that an orange stripe off my port quarter in the fog? Now it’s gone. Now it’s back. Holy crap! It’s a full-on Coast Guard cutter and he’s trailing behind and to my port side maybe 100′ or so away, occasionally visible through the fog. I can hear something coming over his PA but it’s mostly unintelligible although I do hear what sounds like the word “sixteen”. So I key my handheld VHF and call them on channel 16 to find out if they’re hailing me. I’m pretty sure they are as it would be unlike the CG to just take a look and move on.
They ask all the usual questions: documentation number, number of people on board, our last port of call, our next planned port of call, when we plan to get there, my name, when were we last boarded by the USCG, etc. To this last question, I answered that we’ve never been boarded by the Coast Guard but that we had a voluntary inspection by the Coast Guard Auxiliary in Newport in July. They asked if the inspection turned up any deficiencies and I answered that it had not. They asked if I had running lights and I replied that they were on. They asked if I was using a sound-signaling device and I replied that I was ringing my bell until I started talking to them. This seemed to satisfy them. They said that they had picked me up on radar but couldn’t see any lights or hear any sounds so decided to investigate. They then wished me a safe voyage and headed off. I asked if they knew whether the fog was supposed to lift later or would we be facing this all night. They said that the “forecast calls for patchy fog but this sure doesn’t look patchy to me.” I agreed and we signed off and they disappeared back into the fog like a ghost ship.
A quick word in favor of voluntary safety inspections by the USCGA. If you’re a boater I would recommend you asking for a courtesy inspection. If the Auxiliary find any deficiencies you still have to fix them but at least you’ll know how you stand before you get a full-on Coast Guard boarding and inspection. I was told at one time that, if the actual CG sees your voluntary inspection sticker posted on your boat, they will often opt to not do one of their own inspections. I don’t know if this is true or not but this is the second time that we haven’t been boarded after answering the “when were you last boarded?” question the way we did.
We continued to slog through the fog the rest of the afternoon, evening and night. We took turns sleeping and standing watch. Standing watch consisted of making minor adjustments to the autopilot occasionally, looking around for other lights and ringing the bell. By the end of each watch we were cold and tired and ready to switch. I have to say that it is so nice to have the autopilot working again. It keeps a really steady course and it’s great not to have to hand steer, especially at night when it’s hard to see the compass. Lulu was reminded of this one time when she tried to adjust the autopliot, got it screwed up and then proceeded to hand steer until I relieved her 2 hours later. On previous trips we could at least find a star or something to steer by but with the fog, there was nothing but the compass (too dim to see) and the GPS (too far from the tiller to see really well.
Since we had originally been thinking we might stop in Crescent City and, since we wanted to traverse the Chetco River bar on a flood tide, we left Brookings mid-morning. But we didn’t stop at Crescent City. This meant we found ourselves off the entry to Humboldt Bay (Eureka) at about 1:00 AM. Would have been there even earlier except that, once I realized the timing, I slowed the engine down so we were doing about 3 knots instead of 5. I have GOT to do a better job of route planning. This is the second time this has happened. What to do? We briefly toyed with the idea of bypassing Eureka, rounding Cape Mendecino in the dark while we still had good weather, and then heading to Ft. Bragg. But a quick look at the chart showed Ft. Bragg was 100 miles from Eureka. That means we’d get there about 1:00 AM Saturday so we’d still be biding our time waiting to enter. And the wind is supposed to start picking up tonight so… . As far as I was concerned it was far too foggy and dark to enter a strange port so we needed to kill about 6 hours since sunrise wouldn’t be until almost 7:00 AM. The last time we found ourselves in this predicament off Brookings, we motored in circles for a few hours. But this proved to be sort of a sickening experience as we never got settled in to the sea motion since we were always changing direction. So this time we opted to motorsail at about 3 knots between 2 waypoints about 7 miles apart. No matter where we ended up along this line when the sun came up, we would be in a good position to enter Humboldt Bay. The worst part of this was that it was so freakin’ cold sitting out in the fog-damp cockpit. Ringing the bell made us have to sit toward the back of the cockpit where we couldn’t even use the dodger to get out of the cold breeze. Finally it dawned on me to break out the lung-powered horn. We could blow this from anywhere and it was actually a better sound device than the bell. The sound carried further, it was easier to sound it for 5 seconds and it sounded right. But, even under the dodger it was still cold. When I came topside for my final watch at about 7:30 AM, it was light out but still totally socked in. Since we had not seen or heard any other boats all night, I decided that we would start heading in. After all, we had a good route laid out on the GPS.
So we began heading towards the entry. We were still going pretty slow (about 3.5 knots) because I figured that the fog might lift later in the morning. As we got closer the fog was definitely not lifting. Oh, it thinned out a couple of times but mostly it was quite dense. I saw a small sportfisher at one point but the only other traffic we sort of encountered was some sort of ship. I could see its AIS (automatic identification system) image on the GPS and it looked like it was heading out of the entry channel just about when we were getting situated to head in. For some reason my equipment didn’t show its relation to me as in “closest point of meeting” etc. But I could see that it was traveling 5.5 knots and its course was veering southerly as it exited the entryway. I kept blowing my horn and, sure enough, I heard his horn as well. It was a very good feeling when the sound of his horn not only placed him south of us but started to diminish as he got further away. The AIS is supposed to tell the size, name, etc but this one didn’t have that info programmed in. This leads me to believe it was a smaller vessel that had an AIS transponder but wasn’t required to.
As we approached the bar, the fog lightened a little. I kept following the GPS path even though at times it didn’t look quite right (but it was right). The trip up the channel is pretty long. You have to follow the buoys and, since I hadn’t programmed this part of the trip into the GPS, we just had to search for, find, and follow the markers. During this time the fog got thick again and then lifted.
We opted for Woodley Island Marina which is across a bridge from downtown Eureka. We chose Woodley Island over the City docks because it had been recommended to us and because, after the really crappy accommodations in Brookings, we wanted someplace that had a good shower and nice bathrooms and I wasn’t sure the City dock would provide those. Not knowing where to pull in, we just grabbed the first open dock we saw. I nosed the boat in, Lulu jumped off with the bowline and, with the bowline cleated off, the boat proceeded to spin around 180°. An open boat was heading out about then and said that the flood was really wicked right then. No kidding! But we got tied up and were heading up to the office to find out where we should be when we got stopped by the security guy who took our info and told us we were assigned to F19. With the flood being so wicked, getting away from the dock and getting Lulu aboard could be a problem. But she’s so smart. She offered to untie the lines and set me adrift and then walk down to F19 to wait for me. Why didn’t I think of that? She had a fair piece to walk so I was trying to make my way upchannel very slowly. But, the flood was fast enough that, even just coasting I was going to get there before Lulu. The bad thing about entering a new marina is that, even if the docks are well-marked as to which one is A, B, etc., the slips are usually not marked very well from the water side. It’s anyone’s guess which slip is 19 until you have a chance to count them. Or, until Lulu is standing there directing you. To give her time to get there I went a little beyond the opening to F dock. When I got sufficiently far away I turned around. I tried to do one of the short-radius turns I’d learned but the current was fighting me all the way. I did get turned around and without mishap, but it wasn’t that easy. As I pulled in to F dock, our slip was the second one meaning that I had to make a sharp right turn fast. I didn’t like my first approach and backed out to try again. This time it went as planned and, at a little before noon, we were safely tied up. Oh, and guess who’s tied up on the end of our dock. The afore-mentioned Coast Guard cutter, the ghost ship.
We’ve started a tradition that says, after an overnight, or longer passage, once we’re all secured, we treat ourselves to a restaurant meal followed by a long nap. And so, that’s what we did.
We plan to be here through the weekend at least. But we need to get a prescription for Scopolamine and, since our refills have expired, a call to the doctor will be required. That won’t happen until Monday so it will probably be Tuesday before we get our drugs. I suspect, weather-permitting, a Wednesday departure.