We were all ready to leave Portland right after our party, but the weather gods were not in agreement. Although the weather in Portland was beautiful, the first of the fall weather was brewing on the sea. We ended up staying 10 more days – at the public dock that was only intended for 2-day visits. Oops! But although a number of other boats came through, we never had the feeling that we were preventing anyone who wanted to use the space from doing so. One night while we were there, something a bit unusual happened. At about 2am, we heard a huge bang as if a cable had broken, perhaps one of the shrouds holding up the masts or one holding the dinghy on the back davits. We looked around the boat for a while to see what could have happened, but found nothing. We did notice that there was a guy fishing on the dock. Now fishing on this dock is not unusual, but 2am is an unusual time to do it, and he was using a net rather than a fishing pole. It turns out that he had used an M80 to stun the fish and was scooping them up as they floated to the surface. Dan pointed out to him that it was also rough on people in nearby boats, and he apologized and sheepishly faded into the night.
We spent some time looking for a few people to crew with us on the way down the coast, helping to divide the time up on watch. While it’s not particularly difficult, it can be very tiring to split a 24-hour watch with only two of us. We asked around, we posted on some web-sites, we networked, we begged, and we eventually found two people who were not only interested, but also available to join us. Bruce is a “retired” photographer who has recently moved onto a sailboat and begun to form dreams of his own to go cruising. Rich has been sailing for a number of years – but on other people’s boats, which is a far more economical way of doing things!
We finally left Portland on Wednesday, 9/28. We left at 6 in the morning, with the hopes that we could get to Astoria in time to fuel up before the fuel docks closed for the day. We were hoping to get over the Columbia Bar on the morning slack tide. Unfortunately we were slowed down for the first few hours due to some really thick fog. We used our new radio’s hailer to generate the appropriately timed fog whistles, which was gratifying. We took turns out at the bowsprit, watching and listening for other vessels. Our efforts paid off in an uneventful voyage. But the fuel dock attendant had left for the day by the time we arrived. Fortunately, we realized that the slack tide was more like 9:30 the following morning instead of 7:30 as we’d thought, so we were able to fuel up in the morning and make a smooth passage over the Columbia bar.
The Columbia Bar is notoriously dangerous. It was once known as the “Graveyard of the Pacific”. The Coast Guard declares it off limits to small vessels regularly. But if you time things properly, it’s easy and painless. This was a wonderful experience for Bruce on his first crossing, and we hope that he will follow in the custom of making well-considered choices!
The first day at sea was beautiful: blue skies and glassy waters. The down side to glassy waters is that this means there’s no wind. So we had the sails up for a while, but ended up motoring much of the day. Friday morning we had a large school of Dall’s porpoises dance around the boat. They stayed with us for perhaps 15 minutes, coming to the surface in pairs and small groups. Several did high leaps in the air, getting fully airborne and doing a half twist before coming back to earth. It was spectacular! Eventually they tired of us and moved on, but we’ll remember their joyful dance for a long time.
The weather changed and got a bit blustery. We all got a bit uncomfortable, some more than others (Rich has apparently upgraded to an iron-clad stomach). Early Saturday morning, a small stowaway joined us: an owl, perhaps a spotted owl. By this time, we were probably 30 nautical miles off-shore (that’s more like 35 miles to land-lubbers). He was wiped out and landed on the deck in front of the pilothouse windows for a break. Here’s a picture of him. After an hour or so, he got fed up with all of our attention and photography and decided to leave. But once he was airborne and saw that we were the only game in town he tried to come back. We were far outpacing him, though, so Dan slowed the boat down and he caught up to us. After a few circles, he landed on the pilothouse roof, and sat on the awning for another couple of hours. Once again he flew off and once again he quickly regretted his choice, so he landed a third time, this time settling a bit further forward than his first perch, and not so much in view of the pilothouse windows. Over the course of the next 36 hours, he shifted to more protected places but grew steadily more bedraggled and we all began to worry about him. Kathy named him Owliver, and we tried to toss bits of meat to him, but we never saw him even glance at any of it. Eventually he flew off, very early Monday morning, as we approached the Golden Gate Bridge. We’ve all read stories of a sparrow or booby bird taking a ride on a sailboat, but this is the first owl any of us know of with a nautical story to tell.
Before Owliver left, on Sunday morning, we woke to find another stowaway. A female mallard duck was standing on the back deck when Kathy got up, and Dan asked “notice anything unusual?” Turns out, he didn’t really mean the duck! Some time in the middle of the rocky night, our life raft bounced its way out of the cradle and deployed itself somewhere off the coast of Cape Mendocino. Bummer! Now our to-do list for San Diego is headed with “buy new life raft” instead of “get life raft serviced”. The duck didn’t stay very long, although she did seem to appreciate the spinach leaves that we tossed out to her.
The waters calmed down over Sunday night, although the winds are still coming from the south. We decided to stopover in San Francisco for a few days until this group of low-pressure regions pass through and the winds return to the more typical northerlies that we’ve been counting on. Right now it sounds like Wednesday or Thursday will be better. Monday morning around 7am we crossed under the Golden Gate Bridge. The sunrise was beautiful, and here’s a photo to prove it. We’re currently anchored near Sausalito, but are feeling a little transient. We may just move the boat to Oakland tomorrow and who knows the day after. Apparently it’s “Fleet Week” in the SF Bay, and most of the dock space is already full. Rather than pulling into a dock, we may just anchor and take the dinghy to shore when we need something.
The routine of switching shifts is working out quite well. We’ve divided the 24-hour day up into two 6-hour daytime shifts and three 4-hour nighttime shifts. Each person sits one shift three days out of four, and two shifts on the fourth. Dan & Kathy have been keeping each other company during both of our shifts, but we still get (almost) 8 hours to sleep together. It’s nice to see the four of us pulling together to accomplish the work that needs to be done – not just watch, but also kitchen chores and other stuff that comes up, and presumably when we start sailing there will be sail trim as well. We all bring different experiences to the game, and that adds a nice collaboration to the mix.
We’re really all hoping to *sail* from here to San Diego!