Monday, October 4, 2010

Seattle to San Francisco (2010)

We left Elliott Bay Marina on September 9th after two weeks of scrambling to finish last minute boat repairs, buying provisions and getting everything stored on the boat and saying goodbye to friends. We stayed the last night with our good friends, the Arthur’s, and in the morning Eric dropped us off at the marina and helped us shove off. Everything we had planned and worked toward over the last four years was finally coming to fruition, and with that came many mixed emotions. It felt surreal and exciting, and at the same time sad. We were now unemployed, sold many of our belongings, had rented our home, were leaving behind family and friends, and embarking upon the trip of a lifetime.

leaving Seattle and sailing up the Puget Sound
We stopped in Port Townsend and Port Angeles before we made it to Neah Bay where we did some final provisioning and waited for a weather window. Neah Bay is on the Makah Indian reservation near the northwest point of Washington State and geographically a good spot to stop before heading down the coast. The marina is almost exclusively used by commercial fisherman and fishing guide boats and occasionally as a last stop for recreational boats before heading offshore. Although the marina was well protected from the weather and we were able to do our last minute provisioning, this isn’t a place we would want to spend much time. Fortunately, we were only there for two days before we got a decent weather window.
Neah Bay, WA
Originally, we had planned to take an offshore route and head out 100+ miles and go all the way to San Diego in one leg. When we left, the wind and waves were high offshore and calm inshore for the next several days so we decided at the last minute to take an inshore route and make as much progress south before the weather changed. When we left we had calm seas and winds, but it was a weak high pressure system, so we knew that it would most likely change in a couple days.

And change it did. We had covered a good distance the first two days and were now about 140 miles from the California/Oregon border. Unfortunately, on the third day the winds from the south had built to 25-30 knots and seas were up to 10 feet. When we would come down one wave, the bowsprit would get buried in the next wave and the spray blown back into the cockpit. We were soaked and cold and starting to get a little crabby. We were also making very slow progress into these headwinds. We checked the weather and the same conditions were expected for the next four days. We decided to heave-to that night and get some rest. The next day we would head toward the Umpqua River, about 30 miles away, and look for a protected area to wait for the wind to calm down and change back to a prevailing northwesterly.

We had limited navigational information for the Umpqua River, but we knew there would be a place to moor about eight miles up the River. We were pleasantly surprised to find Winchester Bay, just inside the mouth of the river, which had plenty of moorage and all kinds of services for a fraction of the price we were used to paying for in Puget Sound.  We stayed in Winchester Bay four days and got the diesel heater going so we could dry out the boat and warm up. It rained every day, so we spent most of the time inside reading.

After four days in the marina, the forecast showed another good weather window and so we headed south again. We had following seas and winds the whole way to San Francisco and got some good sailing in. It only took us four days to get there. The last evening before pulling into San Francisco Bay we had a full moon and a starry night. This was the first night we could see stars since leaving Seattle over two weeks ago. 

Entering a large city like San Francisco at night can be quite a challenge. There is a lot of commercial traffic going in and out of the city and it is difficult to judge distances at night so we were constantly plotting our position on a chart and double checking it. At one point we decided to head a little south to get around what appeared to be a tanker off our starboard bow. Eventually, we realized that it was the lights from San Francisco 40 miles away.
We decided we would both stay awake that night and help each other navigate since we could pull into a marina in the morning and catch up on sleep. We took the sails down and motored under the Golden Gate Bridge at 6 am and headed into San Francisco. We called around, but none of marinas were open, so we pulled into the closest one and tied up at the fuel dock to get some sleep for a few hours before they opened. We checked the weather on the VHF before we laid down and found out that it was going to be the first day of a three day heat wave. We were so excited to be here!