Barkley Sound to Newport
N 44º37.435 W 124º03.131
We are now quietly tied up in Newport Oregon following a wild couple of nights at sea and an exhilarating sail down from Barkley Sound. We had more wind and sea than expected, and the sailing was challenging, keeping us on our toes and steering by hand for much of the trip. We traded off on watches every hour or two, taking small naps between our times at the wheel and kept going mostly on adrenaline. After tying up last night, tidying up the boat and having pizza for dinner, we slept deeply.
Leaving Barkley Sound late Saturday morning, we motored slowly out of the Broken Island group under beautiful blue skies, a few high clouds, and a 3/4 moon on the rise. It seemed like an ideal set up for a beautiful trip at sea. Out of the islands the wind grew steadily and soon we were making 7 knots over ground, surfing to 9 knots, with all sails up. I had my camera out and rolled a little video, thinking I would document the trip.
After a couple of hours of this Douglas went to do an inspection of the engine and systems and reported back with alarm that we had a steady flow of water coming into our bilge, about the amount of a household faucet running near open. He started pulling gear out of the lazarette - a spool of crab line, dinghy oars, spare water, buckets. We hailed the coast guard to let them know that we were dealing with a situation and kept them posted as we searched for the cause. The winds and seas began to build and we stopped our search for the leak to reef the main and furl the genoa. Eventually we tracked the source to a leak in our stern anchor well. We were heeled pretty far over and water was coming up through the anchor locker drain and through a a seam in the wall of the locker, and draining into the bilge. Once we had reduced sail and our angle of heel the water stopped. We signed off with the coast guard and made our way due south.
Our next task was to engage our self steering system. We have a hydraulic auto-helm that we have used occasionally, but we prefer hand steering in the NW, there is so much traffic and logs in the water we seldom use the auto helm. Beneath the cockpit are two heavy duty hydraulic arms that can control the steering when set to a compass heading. After the drama with the water and dealing with all the gear and reefing sails we thought it would be a good time to engage the auto helm and set a course for it to steer as the night approached. I was at the helm, and Douglas turned on the system at set a course, engaging the trusty Alpha 3000. As soon as the auto helm was engaged it grabbed the wheel and instead of settling on the compass heading as set, which it had always done in the past, it began a quick and steady turn of direction directly to a heading that would set us on a crash gybe. As we heading for a stall out and the boat began to swing far past our heading I wrestling with the wheel and shouted for Douglas to shut the damn thing off. Somewhere in there I wrenched my back, I am no match for the hydraulic arms. We avoided the crash gybe but the close call made us lose faith in the auto helm until we could find calmer waters to set it. We continued to hand steer through the night.
It was our first all night passage on the open ocean. The seas continued to build and we started to see winds gusting to 34 knots, with winds in the high 20’s. Fog set in and obscured Vancouver island and the horizon in all directions. The wave sets became confused with wind waves and sea swell coming from slightly different directions. It was the beginning of an adventurous and slightly chaotic night at sea. Quite a different introduction to overnight sailing than either of us had envisioned but that we soon accepted as the way the trip south was going to go. We had sailed a handful of times in the open ocean off the coast of Vancouver and on our way to Alaska last year, and we had some experience sailing in the ocean around the British Virgin Islands, but those times the seas were ordered and we had large swell to ride through. This was an entirely different experience. Large seas, breaking at the crest, that would crash past us and be followed by a smaller wave from a slightly different angle, each pushing us in a slightly different direction, keeping us slaloming down the waves only to reset our angle for the next set. If we headed too low we risked a crash gybe, if we let the helm point up we’d quickly gain speed and the bow would race into the wind. We spent the night finessing the angle to head south for Newport while finding a sweet spot between a crash gybe and riding into the wind.
We had planned on a 3 hour watch system, but as the night wore on, we each tired after an hour an half at the wheel. We had set up a cocoon below, converting one of the settees to a sea berth, lining one side of the settee with bags of clothes and piling on a thick stack of soft blankets. After a couple of hours at the wheel and attending to tasks on deck we took turns diving into the bliss of deep sleep, wrapped in blankets, padding against the crashing and diving of Tumbleweed as we made our way through the night. The sounds of the hull being slammed by the seas, the wrenching of the mast and shrouds, pans and various bins of tools and parts rattling and crashing. Not a lullaby but neither of us seemed to mind. When we had our time off watch we fell into a deep but short sleep.
Night sailing far out at sea was so different than any experience I’d had sailing in the dark. There were no lights, no channel markers, no other vessels, the clouds had set in and hid the moon and stars and kept the sea a black void except where waves washed against the hull. On deck it was exhilarating and nerve wracking, at the helm I was completely focused and any distraction caused me to fall off course. There were no points of reference other than the wind, it was a game of sailing by feel, I think each of us got to the point where we reached a zen state of balance with Tumbleweed. When the sun finally rose it was above a blanket of clouds and the light rose slowly, going from a dim twilight to an eerie glow until the sea, horizon, and sky above were a multitude of shades of grey.
I was glad to have prepared meals for the trip in advance. Warming things in the oven or getting a bowl of salad together was about the most I was capable of, or interested in, organizing. Comfort food ruled the day - emmer salad, grated carrot/cabbage salad, potatoes rewarmed in the oven, soups. Lucille Ball’s “The Long, Long Trailer” is a good reference point for cooking below for much of the journey. Oven door opens, trays slide out, a bowl on the counter slides left to right as you begin to pour into it. For the next round I’m planning on individual servings packaged in foil that are warmed in the oven, then served from the foil and hence directly to the trash. I think I’ve made 4 casseroles in my life so I’m moving into new territory.
Approaching Newport the fog began to set in and we crossed the bar of the Yaquina river in heavy fog. It was at low slack tide, the seas were rough but there were no restrictions on crossing. I kept us angled pretty high to weather in the channel, the southern jetty was to our lee and no place to visit, all crashing waves and large boulders. In the fog we worked in from the outer buoy, lining up the green buoys with the channel. We later learned that the night before a sailboat coming in late had run aground, most likely they had not lined up the breakwaters. The gods were with them and they made it to the beach, running up on the rocks here would be a nightmare.
Once past the breakwaters the sea settled down and the winds calmed. Newport was a welcome marina, easy to dock and maneuver. A kind couple waited for us as we made our way to the dock, taking our lines. A couple slips down we saw Essencia, our friends Kim and Claudia from Port Townsend had arrived a few hours before us. A great welcome.
We’ve had a good week in Newport. My parents came to visit us and we took a few down days to wander the local beaches with them. A crowd of boats arrived around the same time as we did, most coming from Neah Bay. Most of the boats are heading south to Mexico as we are and there was a wealth of knowledge and exchanged information on the dock. A friendly, generous crowd sharing notes on weather, observations from their passages, plans on traveling south.
The next big adventure is rounding Cape Mendocino, it looks like it can be a gnarly body of water under the wrong conditions. We’ll be spending the next couple of days prepping for the next leg of the adventure, researching weather, studying our options. We plan on leaving with the next good weather window, heading out 100 or so miles to get beyond the “canyons” at Cape Mendocino, and make for San Francisco.