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60 Foot Waves, Oh My!

And so it began. We had timed the weather perfectly. Two weeks prior to leaving, we checked the predicted weather on PredictWind, which makes forecasts using several different models. Weather that is seen two weeks out is going to be wrong--period--but it does give us an educated guess about what the weather may be at a given hour on a given day. There's a 95% change it will be correct if you're only looking ahead three days. Two weeks before our planned departure of Sunday, August 27, the weather was optimal. It revealed the wind exiting the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which is a true rarity. Almost always, it is blowing in from the west, meeting an ebb tide half the time. This combinaton causes a condition called "wind over waves" and it can be a very uncomfortable ride that I did not want want on our first journey towards the open ocean. I shot off a text to Nancy, our crew with expertise, to see what she thought about leaving Port Townsend a day early. I didn't hear anything back for a couple days, but she joined us for a pre-trip meeting with Behan & Jamie of Sailing Totem. As we looked at weather models for the early departure that I proposed, Nancy said, "It looks spectacular!" Jamie called it "unicorn weather". Darn right! We decided we would lead, not follow, on the Coho-Hoho Rally, as the rest of the boats had set a departure time of 6:15am on Sunday, at almost low tide, I might add. At a gathering of the Coho captains and crew on Friday night, I mentioned this to Bob, one of the leaders of the rally, and told him my concerns regarding the weather for Sunday, as well as the low tide (-2') coming out of Boat Haven, which could be a problem for larger sailboats. Bob didn't share my concerns. Nevertheless, on our boat, we decided to skip the big Sunday morning send off and accept the blessing of the fleet in absentia, in order to capitalize on the optimal weather conditions.

Saturday 2PM came fast, as you read about in my previous blog. For Rochelle, it came really fast. She was able to save grocery shopping time by having provisions delivered by Safeway on Saturday morning, but it was a mad rush to get everything stowed properly. There was no time for laundry, a shower, or any other fussy last-minute preparation that she might have preferred. We left promptly at 2PM and headed out into a northerly wind, swooping around Vancouver Island and exiting the Strait of Juan de Fuca from the east. Ideal, just as planned. Swell was maybe two feet, no wind waves. Wind on our stern and 90 miles to go to Neah Bay. No Strait of Juan de Puke-Ya for us.

We arrived at Neah Bay at about 1AM and planned to anchor. Rochelle was on watch at that time with Nancy close by. "Watch" is a shift of a few hours at the helm, allowing others on the boat to be free of responsibility for the safety of the boat and get much needed rest. We had decided that Rochelle and I would doublehand the trip, alternating watches for the complete 24-hour cycle of a day, even though we had Nancy aboard as crew. She would serve as our expert consultant to make suggestions, offer sage advice, and help us out if we got into a pickle. It was important for us to experience doublehanding since that is the way we would be sailing after Nancy returned to Port Townsend. The person is responsible for the boat and all those aboard. While Rochelle was on watch upon our arrival at Neah Bay, I was awakened to assist in anchoring. It was dark. The winds had shifted to the south and were quite strong. Rochelle was at the helm and I headed to the bow to drop the anchoring task. I had my handy "Russian-made" headlamp, which lit up a derelict boat with no lights directly in our path. "Boat ahead! "Go to Port! Port! Port!" We narrowly missed that boat. In the night darkness it was absolutely invisible. The derelict owner must be looking for an insurance payout. The wind was whipping by, at least 20 knots sustained from the south. We dropped the anchor fast, paying out ample scope, while trying to stay pointed into the wind. Rochelle pulled back on the anchor to set it and we all went to bed.

About 8AM, we awoke excited to get going and make The Big Left Turn into the Pacific Ocean, but first we wanted to top off the diesel tank. We were hoping our next leg of the trip would take us all the way to Crescent City, California, without stopping. This was enticing to us because is is one of the few ports on the Pacific that does not have a dangerous river delta bars. We had strong southerly winds that morning, making it very difficult to get up next to the fuel dock since the wind was pushing us off of it. And then there were the fishermen. We would come to learn that most fishermen seem to despise most recreational boaters and will do whatever they can to make life hard for us--or maybe it's just me. This Sunday morning in Neah Bay, for whatever reason, this fisherman kept moving his boat around the dock, switching spaces. As soon as we would think he was on his way, we would make our approach to the dock, and then he would swoop back in to block us. I'm going to go on a limb here, but some of those recreational boaters are in government and make the rules we live by. Do you really want to make them mad, Mr. Fisherman? Anyway, we were able to get on the dock, thanks to the helpful attendent and Karma's bow thrusters. We took on about 15 gallons of diesel and tipped the attendent $5 for the assist.

Skies in Neah Bay were clear as could be, but as we left the harbor, we were met with intense thick fog...Typical! We turned on the radar and started steering by red blobs. As we got a little way out into the Pacific Ocean, the fog cleared and we saw our first wildlife of the trip, a humpback whale in the shallows to port. On this trip, we would almost begin to think "ho hum" at the sight of yet another humpback whale, but this first one was truly thrilling. We reached the last channel marker and made The Big Left Turn. Our new experience was beginning...The Pacific Ocean. This was an important milestone for us, and we talked about how proud we were to have done what many only talk about, that is, we actually left the dock on our big adventure.

There is a wave height buoy just off the coast near Neah Bay and last spring (2023) that buoy actually registered a 60-foot wave. This information had been niggling in the back of my mind for some time and was actually something of a fear of mine. What do you do with a 60-foot wave, a 30-foot wave, or even a 15-foot wave? Months of worrying about this one aspect of ocean sailing, and as we turned that big corner, we were presented with flat water-- mirror-like, actually--with not a single ripple to be found. We had that for three days straight, along with a measly five knots of wind on our stern. Ahh! The joy of sailing; oftentimes involves an engine. The engine, the current, the tailwind carried Karma quickly south almost to Crescent City, California without a single challenge.

Oh, there was this fishing boat that approached us to port, with four Native Americans who offered to sell me salmon. It wasn't a big boat, maybe 22 feet, quite small considering we were 20 miles offshore. I just turned my head to look at another fishing vessel on our starboard, much larger at 200 feet, to verify there was plenty of space between us. I turned my head back to the small fishing boat selling fish and he was gone, completely gone, nowhere to seen, not on radar, NOWHERE. Did he sink? About that time, Rochelle was coming on watch, and I told her what happened with the little boat. She replied, "Take that patch off right now!" Apparently, the Scopolamine patch we were using to control seasickness (completely unnecessary in the flat water we were experiencing, by the way) also occasionally provides very vivid hallucinations. Nancy had just told Rochelle about an experience she had on her boat with a crew member with the Scopolamine patch. Apparently, the crew member was having a full-on conversion with relatives and when they tried to remove her patch, she became angry and belligerent. I immediately took the patch off, hoping that I was used to the wave action by now and wouldn't be needing it anyway.

The night before we arrived in Crescent City, the wind picked up to 13-20 knots sustained on our stern, and the waves steepened to two-meter swell from the northwest. This rocked the boat quite a bit. I was on watch from 7PM to 12 Midnight, when Nancy came up and took over watch for an hour before Rochelle came on for her watch from 1AM to 6AM. It was a rough night, but surprisingly easy to sleep in our Rochelle-made lee cloths. When I came back on watch at 6AM, we were getting close to Crescent City and the waters were littered with crab pots. Luckily, crab pots are picked up by radar, so I focused intently on the radar screen and found that is a big NO-NO. Seasickness triggered almost immediately. Just nausea, but it could have been much worse. My go-to cure of watching the horizon cure didn't work because it was still dark. I found closing my eyes and thinking good thoughts actually helped, but if you're on watch, and watching intently for crab pots, closing your eyes is a problem. I just had to push through it for two more hours until we would arrive Crescent City. As we approached Crescent City, a few things became very apparent. The sun had finally risen which turned the sky bright red and not in a good way. Crescent City was busy fighting surrounding forest fires and smoke was thick, almost as bad as Washington fog, and to top it off, Crescent City is surrounded in rocky islands and outcroppings AND crab pots galore! We made it in safely but decided to anchor out in the bay first, as we weren't sure of where we were going in the marina, and it was still very hard to see. We all slept until 11AM when we got up and docked Karma in the safe marina to wait for a good weather window. A big storm was coming, and we didn't want to round Cape Mendicino with that mess. One Coho boat had arrived the day before, and another would arrive a day later. We were happy that for three days, we got to hang out with SV Perception and SV Kealani and do resupply type things such as filling up the fuel tank a whopping 67 gallons of diesel while waiting for a better weather window. And Rochelle finally got to do that laundry she had to forego back in Port Townsend.

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