On our 2003-2005 circumnavigation of the Pacific Ocean, we ended up in Port Angeles, Washington in late October. We had left Kushiro, Japan on June 15, 2005 and had traveled hard, but weather rules all in those seas, and waiting for weather windows for safe travel tends to eat up time. By the time we reached Port Angeles, the fall weather pattern was well established and good sailing windows for the last leg down the coast to the Astoria, Oregon seemed to be non-existent. It is only a little over 200 miles, but the tricky parts are getting out the Strait of Juan de Fuca without getting spanked, then getting in over the Colombia River bar when the tide is right and bar conditions allow a safe entry. We waited a week and a half, closely watching the weather. A window seemed to open so headed down the Strait, but the next weather fax indicated things had changed so we turned around and went back to Port Angeles. Jobs were awaiting our return, and our youngest who had accompanied us on the cruise was couch surfing as he had flown home from Anchorage in September to start college. So we decided to truck the boat home – it was quick and convenient, but seemed a shame to have traveled over 20,000 miles then not get to sail in under the Astoria bridge and “close the loop”.
So now at last, poised at the southern end of Vancouver Island was our opportunity to close the loop. The window to get down the coast was short, just two days of light north winds before a blow came in from the south. We left Bamfield, BC in the early morning in calm seas and light fog to cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca. In the summer the prevailing winds blow form the west down the Strait, and build in strength throughout the day until by late afternoon, gale force westerly winds are common. When the strong westerlies meet the outgoing ebb, steep choppy seas develop and it is no fun (if by chance you are traveling on the Black Ball ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria, BC, be sure to take the morning ferry – your stomach will thank you).
We arrived in Neah Bay, Washington by early afternoon, dropped the hook to get a few hours rest before heading down the coast, and were under way again by 9:00 pm. While we prefer to travel by day, sometimes it is just not possible, and on this leg the most important piece was to arrive at the Columbia River Bar at the proper time. The bar must be crossed at slack water or on the flood. We have made a night entrance before and swore we would never do that again, so that meant two nights at sea to make an 8:30 am arrival at the entrance buoy just past low water slack at the beginning of the flood.
We had idyllic conditions, 10-15 knots of wind from the north and calm seas. The first night the full moon lit our way, and on the midnight to 3 am watch, accompanied by my Ipod, I contemplated all the other coastlines I have watch slip by as our little ship makes her way. So many memories, so many wonderful experiences and people we have met. By day 2, smoke filled the skies, and in the early morning hours the forecast southerlies arrived (about 12 hours early). By dawn we had 25 knots from the south and boat speed was down to less than 2 knots – thank goodness we had built in extra time (this has happened before), and we arrived at the entrance buoy right on time. It was a relief to turn and put the wind on the beam and start up the channel. The flood kicked in and we scooted along at about 6.5 knots with a triple reefed mainsail and staysail.
By mid morning we had passed under the bridge and closed the loop on this adventure. We spent two nights in Astoria, then caught the flood up the river in the morning. It is 86 miles from Astoria to Portland, which is usually a two day trip by sailboat, but if you catch the flood you can ride it all the way up and make it in one long day. We had planned on going all the way, and were making great time, but as we passed under the Longview bridge the engine began to knock. Dan immediately switched fuel tanks (we have three) and the knocking stopped, but we took it as a sign that we should stop, so we tied up at the Rainier, Oregon public dock. Dan suspected water in the fuel had caused the knocking, and that fuel was the oldest, but since the other two tanks were nearly empty, that meant we needed fuel. There is no fuel dock in Rainier but there is a Chevron within sight of the dock so we loaded up a couple of fuel jugs on a cart and headed out. Too bad that Chevron doesn’t sell diesel.
The laid back, tattooed attendant with numerous missing teeth (so this is what 4% unemployment looks like) noted that the Shell station near the bridge sold diesel. It was about a 2 mile walk, and although we hitchhiked, apparently no one wants to pick up scary looking retirees with fuel jugs. When you walk you really see the scenery – was there always so much roadside trash? I felt like I was in El Salvador. At last we reached the Shell station and got our diesel while chatting with the obviously stoned attendant. On the walk back (no one picked us up in that direction either) we lamented about how differently that would have played out in Mexico. We would have arrived at the first station, and if they didn’t have what we wanted they would have went and got it for us, or certainly drove us to the next station and then back to the boat. I know this because it happened to us more than once.
With clean fuel procured and in the tank, we left the next morning. It was a good reminder of why we don’t usually stop at Rainier. Derelict boats tied to the dock, sketchy folks urinating off the dock (guess it is a long way up the ramp to the bathroom), people pawing through the trash cans for returnable cans and bottles – gosh it’s good to be home. You just don’t see that stuff outside the USA.
Just a few hours later our home marina came into view, and friends on the dock we were waiting to take our lines. We will pick up our old life where we left off, with the same jobs and routines we had when we left. In a few short weeks it will all seem like a dream and we will be fully ensnared in the trappings of life here. But there will be more adventures to come, I will think of this only as a short pause. Thanks to all who followed the blog, and I hope I have inspired you to begin your own adventures, whatever they may be.