On Tuesday afternoon, Lulu and I, along with several other fellow cruisers as well as a handful of commercial fishermen, met at the National Weather Service office located right on Woodley Island. Bryan, the senior forecaster in the office, gathered us together to give us the latest forecast on the conditions for rounding Cape Mendocino on Wednesday. Seas-wise, the conditions couldn’t be better. Seas about 2′ or less and a long period ocean swell. The downside was that there would be no wind at first and later, when the wind came up a little, it would be directly out of the south, the direction we’re headed. Bryan also showed us a prediction on the bar conditions leaving Eureka. Everything looked good to go.
Doug and Jody on El Gitano were planning an early morning departure. Doug wanted to be crossing the bar by 0700 which called for an exit from the marina at 0600. Bob and Sherry on Ponderosa preferred to wait until daylight and were planning to depart the marina at about 0730. Lulu and I still had to settle up our moorage bill so we wouldn’t be ale to leave until after the office opened at 0800.
I pent several hours plugging waypoints into the GPS. I entered routes for Eureka to Ft. Bragg, Ft. Bragg to Bodega Bay, and Eureka to Bodega Bay. Had all the various options covered.
And, just to be safe, I also entered the waypoints and created the same routes on the MacENC charting software on my laptop. Then I did a dry run through the routes to make sure I hadn’t made any typos that would result in us trying to sail across jetties and such.
At 0500 on Wednesday, the alarm rang. Guess I could have skipped the alarm as Lulu was awake anyway. Seems she’d gotten all of 2 hours sleep all night. She laid awake worrying about us leaving the dock. In spite of her worrying, we are getting better at it all the time. I must not have had her same misgivings as I slept like a baby all night.
We got up, had some breakfast, applied our scopolamine patches to our necks, and started boiling water. We bought two 2-quart thermoses the other day. The plan was to fill one with coffee and one with (Lipton-type) chicken noodle soup. That way we could have some hot stuff along the way but wouldn’t have to light any flames. A gallon of water is a LOT to boil, especially on a propane stove.
While the water was heating, Lulu busied herself with stowing things belowdecks so they wouldn’t come loose in a seaway. She’s gotten very good at this. Meanwhile, I was readying the decks, checking the engine’s vital fluids, etc.
Eventually everything was stowed, checked and ready to get underway. I fired up the engine to let it warm up a little and went up to the office to pay the damages. The Woodley Island Marina is really quite reasonable. It only set us back a little over $12/day. And, once you’ve stayed 4 days, you get the weekly rate (which is basically the cost of 4 days at the daily rate). Our bill was something like $52.80 and we still had a few days coming to us just in case we turned back for any reason.
Nothing left to do but get underway. We looked over the situation, put the engine in gear both directions, while still tied to the dock, to see what she was going to do, and ultimately decided to walk the boat backwards about half her length before jumping aboard and driving her the rest of the way out. This way, when her stern started to swing to port due to prop walk, her bowsprit, which swings to starboard, wouldn’t take out the neighbor’s boat before we got enough way on for Siempre Sabado to answer her helm in reverse.
Well, I tell ya. I don’t know what Lulu was losing sleep about. The undocking went as smoothly as could be. We didn’t hit anyone. We didn’t do anything to make us look really stupid. And the whole maneuver went just like we planned.
Uderway at about 0815, we started following the GPS waypoints as well as the channel markers. Sometimes it was a little tough to see the markers because the fog would get thick and then lighten up and then get thick again. Fortunately, by the time we reached the jetties, the fog had lifted enough to take any drama out of the bar crossing. Of course, as soon as we hit open water the fog set back in. But we only had to spend a half hour or so blowing our fog horn before it lifted. Once in open water we hoisted the main (for stability and maybe just a wee bit of lift) and set our course for the first waypoint. By about 0930 we were completely out of the fog. The sun was shining, it was fairly warm, and we were on our way.
The big deal today was rounding Cape Mendocino. This massive hunk of and sticks out into the Pacific Ocean a good 10 miles. Because of this and the very deep underwater canyons adjacent to the Cape, as well as the very steep underwater bank just offshore of the Cape, the sea conditions can be really nasty as one goes around it. A lot of things are dubbed “the Cape Horn of this” and “the Cape Horn of that” and I’ve heard Cape Mendocino called the “Cape Horn of the US Pacific Coast”. Actually I doubt that anything is the equivalent of the real Cape Horn but I guess Cape Mendocino can create some really nasty conditions. So, of course we approached with a little trepidation. However, Bryan’s forecast called for easy conditions so were put a little at ease.
Well, we were rewarded for taking Bryan’s advice about when to leave Eureka. The conditions could not have been more peaceful. This is how concerned I was as we approached the Cape:
Yep. Sittin’ on a bucket so I could see better, reading a book, and occasionally looking up. And this is how the whole trip went. The seas were smooth and almost flat. The air was clear. The sun shone most of the time and it was tolerably warm. I’m not sure if the north-running Humboldt current is located this close to shore (we were 5 miles off Cape Mendocino) but some kind of current was negatively impacting our speed. In the past, with the engine turning 2200 RPMs, we could always count on 4.5 to 5.5 knots. But on this trip there were lots of times where our speed was below 4 knots. EVentually, as we got below Punta Gorda, our speed returned to normal levels.
While Lulu caught up on the sleep she’d lost the night before, I rode along, reading my book, drinking coffee, having an occasional bite to eat and just generally enjoying life. Mid-afternoon she rallied enough to make us a couple of tuna sandwiches. I mean, it was THAT smooth that making sandwiches down below didn’t even faze her. Just the way we like things.
I crashed for about an hour once in the late afternoon but got up in time to watch a beautiful sunset.
Now, the land mass the includes Cape Mendocino is huge. I didn’t appreciate how huge until I realized that we had been motor-sailing along for 10 hours and we still weren’t around it. For a little while during the night as we were sailing along the south side of the Cape, the swells got somewhat bigger but they were never uncomfortable. Lulu relieved me at about 2300 and I went below for some shuteye. When I got up about 2-1/2 hours later, the fog had set in a little bit. It wasn’t really enough to bother blowing the horn but it was a little disconcerting just the same. The fog wasn’t very thick as we had completely clear skies overhead. And the skies were filled with stars. And then, at 0330, the fog lifted and, except for a couple of small pockets, stayed lifted the rest of the night.
There was very little traffic on the water through the night. I had a couple of contacts with AIS-transmitting ships. One was bound for Chile and was about 10 miles further out than I was, and the other was bound for San Francisco and was also about 10 miles further out. That’s the kind of info you can get off the AIS system if the transmitters are programmed right. I wish the commercial fishing boats were required to have AIS transmitters. It’s so hard to tell what those guys are doing at night. They all sport these huge, incredibly bright metal-halide lights. Sometimes they point to where they’re going and sometimes they point backwards to illuminate the fishing gear. They’re so bright that it’s impossible to see past them to their navigation lights which, if they could be seen, would tell you what direction they’re headed. As it is, it’s anyone’s guess where they’re going. Are they coming towards me? Are they crossing my path? Am I crossing theirs? Are we both going the same direction? So, you keep watching, hoping that the angle between you and them will change indicating that you probably will not collide. Last night, on my first contact, the angle did not change or, if it did, it did it at an imperceptible rate. Normally this would mean that, if you’re not just paralleling each other, you’re probably going to meet somewhere. I’m sure these guys are the salt of the earth but I have no desire to meet up with ay of them at sea. After about an hour I finally realized that the only way that we hadn’t closed the distance between us was if he was indeed going the same direction that I was, and on about the same course and close to the same speed. After that, I relaxed a bit. But if I could just look at his AIS data and see which direction he’s going and at what speed, I could have relaxed long before.
About an hour before sunrise, I roused Lulu to come on deck. We were right on schedule. We’d be reaching the Noyo River (Ft. Bragg) entry buoy at 0730, almost exactly at sunrise. It looked like a pretty short trip once the entry buoy was reached so we prepared everything ahead. Tossed fenders over both sides and rigged bow and stern lines on both sides since we had no idea where we would tie up.
As we approached the entry buoy, we started encountering sportfishermen heading out for a day of tuna fishing. Seemed like the space between the red and green buoys was awful narrow. We made our turn to head under the Highway 1 bridge and in to the marina just as the sun came over the hill. RIGHT IN TO OUR EYES! So here we are, approaching the narrowest harbor entrance I’ve ever dealt with (well, not as narrow as Pleasant Harbor Marina in WA but that was only 100′ long, if that) and I can’t see a thing! I keep turning the boat so that the mast is between the sun and my eyes but I don’t have much room to maneuver. Meanwhile, traffic continues to exit the harbor and, of course, they can see just fine since the sun’s at their backs. I have the entire entry programmed in to the GPS but everything is coming so fast, even with the boat moving at a dead crawl, and I’m so far away from my track due to having to share the channel with other boats, that the GPS is all but useless to me. So, we’re under the bridge and I see a red marker on my right and a green on my left. Just right. Except directly in front of me is a scene right out of “Popeye”. There are buildings on pilings stretched all across my path.
I ask Lulu if she sees an opening and she says she doesn’t. Finally, she points out the red markers to starboard. We turn almost 90 degrees and head further upriver. Now the sun is finally out of our eyes and we can see again. But this is one seriously narrow channel. We manage to reach the marina without hitting anyone or pissing anyone off (or at least I hope not). Pull up to the first available slip and tie her off. Whew! At least it wasn’t foggy.
After checking in, securing our stuff and changing into street clothes instead of our passage-making togs, we asked the harbormaster about wifi and a place to get some breakfast. He tells me about a place “just up the road” called the Dolphin. They have wifi and serve breakfast. He also tells me about another place on the town side. We head to the Dolphin. Well, “just up the road” is close to a mile. Our breakfast (spuds, eggs and toast) consisted of tepid coffee, adequate eggs, warm, but not toasted “toast”, and the most appallingly tiny serving of home fries that you have ever seen. Both out servings together wouldn’t make a decent normal serving. My warning to those who may follow in our path: DO NOT EAT BREAKFAST AT THE DOLPHIN DELI! There are many more interesting places along Hwy 1 up the hill from the marina.
After “breakfast” we headed in to town proper and looked around. We’re now back at the boat and getting ready to head back in to town. I need to stop at Starbuck’s and post this blog, we need to stop at Rite-Aid to get the rest of the prescriptions that they couldn’t fill in Eureka, and we’re going to catch the 4:45 showing of Avatar 3-d. Yep, we’re the last people under the age of 80 who haven’t seen Avatar.
So, hasta mañana.
PS: didn’t have time to proofread this so cut me some slack.