Astoria to the Golden Gate

Sausalito, California

In Astoria, our last stop before crossing the Columbia River bar and turning south, we found the weather forecast had changed from steady northwesterlies – perfect for a fast trip down the coast to San Francisco – to anticipated southwesterlies, combined with changeable and light winds to boot. Not so perfect. We monitored the weather forecast and decided to wait as we could see a building high pressure out in the Pacific that was expected to move toward the coast and bring winds back to the northwesterlies we wanted. After all the pressure and the push to leave Portland, here we were waiting in Astoria for a change in the weather.  But Astoria’s not a bad place to wait … nice showers, for one thing.
By Friday, the weather finally seemed on the cusp of a change for the better, and we left

Passing Buoy 2 means we're out of the river and in the open ocean...finally.

Passing Buoy 2 means we’re out of the river and in the open ocean…finally. Sea lions take advantage of the sunning deck provided by the US Coast Guard.

our slip at 0-dark:30 on Saturday morning. We made it as far as Hammond – not far at all as people who know the Columbia will recognize – and were turned back by a thick wall of fog that made it unsafe to continue. Visibility ahead stopped at the bow. So back to the dock for another couple of hours (and a short nap), by which time the fog had lifted. Once the fog was gone we good visibility all the way out and over the bar, leaving Buoy #2 on our right as the bow pointed south. Finally! We were on our way!

Ruth on watch in comfortable seas

Ruth on watch in comfortable seas

The first couple of days were uneventful. At times we motor sailed because the wind was coming from ahead. At least it was light. But by late Sunday night things got interesting. Just before midnight, 11:40 the wind veered around to the west and began building rapidly. The electric autopilot was overwhelmed and broke before we could disengage it. The abrupt wind shift forecast from SW to NW was accurate. We expected that and were happy to be able to sail on a fast reach for a change. What was unexpected was the gale force wind and the consequent sea conditions – steep, high, with one wave following fast after another. It was very dramatic to watch the breaking crests and blowing spume. At one point, we saw dolphins surfing inside the wave face, underwater and level with the cockpit, obviously having a grand time of it!

Following seas at seven knots. Windvane is steering

The conditions for a small boat were challenging, but we learned that we can handle it and certainly Velic handled it very well. We had only the small staysail up and the Aries windvane steering, while we took turns in 2-hour shifts through the worst of it. And though we ended up not deploying the Jordan series drogue, it was reassuring to know that we had it.

Boisterous seas from strong northwesterlies

Boisterous seas from strong northwesterlies.

By Wednesday morning the wind was abating and the waves had become longer and more regular, which improved the motion onboard. By Wednesday afternoon, the waves were low and very regular at 6 – 8 feet, and we were losing wind again. We decided to pull into Drake’s Bay, just north of the Golden Gate, to clean up the boat a bit, have a good meal and a night of uninterrupted sleep. Also, the timing of the tide meant an early Friday morning entry was a good choice. Drake’s Bay is behind Point Reyes, where there’s a Coast Guard Station, and from where the main radio weather forecast for northern and central California coast is broadcast. Although it was windy, there’s no fetch to speak of, so the waves are small and of no significance. The boat rested easily, and so did we.

Cockpit scene after some heavy weather sailing. Windvane is still steering, Yeah!

Cockpit scene after some heavy weather sailing. Windvane is still steering, Yeah!

Approaching the Golden Gate Bridge

Approaching the Golden Gate Bridge

Friday morning, we pulled up anchor and motor sailed past Bonita and Diablo Points to enter the small boat channel approach to the Golden Gate. It’s been something I’ve always wanted to do: Sail my boat under the Golden Gate Bridge. Well, we didn’t actually sail beneath the bridge, but we did pass under it, which is quite dramatic.

Directly under the Golden Gate Bridge; right at noon on Friday

Directly under the Golden Gate Bridge; right at noon on Friday

I sat on the forward edge of the cabin and took photos while Randy drove.

Into San Francisco Bay, heading to Sausalito. After the ocean it got hot fast in double layers of fleece.

Into San Francisco Bay, heading to Sausalito. After the ocean it got hot fast in double layers of fleece.

We decided to pull into Sausalito, finding a Schoonmaker Point Marina that is close to the Golden Gate and easy to find. Hot showers and lunch followed a few phone calls to immediate family. So here we are.

Nature’s Schedule

Astoria, Oregon

After weeks intensely focused on getting ourselves and Velic ready, of working our way down seemingly unending task lists ticking off projects, shamelessly enlisting the help of friends and family members, trying to stay patient with each other, and reminding ourselves that we WANT to do this, here we are in Astoria at last, pretty much set to go … and waiting.

Dockside chaos: What must go with us?

Dockside chaos: What must go with us?

When we had office jobs there were projects that had schedules and delivery dates. This project has an overall schedule, sort of, and what you could think of as a delivery date – the date we actually cross the Columbia River bar and head south would qualify. But there’s a difference between office-based projects with human schedules and deadlines and this one: This one depends on the macro weather patterns more than on us. And we have no control over weather. Weather is not something you can nag or cajole. And the weather has turned against us, at least for the next few days; meaning winds from the south, precisely the direction we want to go to get to San Francisco. So here we are, waiting in Astoria…. Not a bad place to wait, if you have to; good coffee, good seafood, iffy Wi-Fi.

Cockpit chaos: how much can go away?

Cockpit chaos: how much can go away?

But to backtrack in time a bit: We left our slip at Rose City Yacht Club in the afternoon Thursday, Sept. 10. The boat’s deck was a bit cluttered and the cabin below had stuff piled on every surface, but we were OFF!  We motored downriver against a light west wind, making a short trip to tie up at St. Helens, OR, for the night. Friends on Envoy joined us for the last part of the trip and hosted dinner aboard their boat – fresh-caught salmon and good company: We were happy to be away at last, and very happy to spend the evening with friends.

Sailing friends seeing us off from St. Helens. Thanks for the salmon!

Sailing friends seeing us off from St. Helens. Thanks for the salmon!

We arrived in the Port of Astoria’s West Basin marina on Friday afternoon (today is Tuesday). Since then, we’ve restored order to the chaos above and below decks, and completed some final small projects. Friends have been visiting over the past few days, some bringing special projects they had done for us, some bringing their willing hands. We’ve enjoyed seeing everyone who’s been able to come.

 

Jerry and Joy went out of their way to visit with us in Astoria

Jerry and Joy went out of their way to visit with us in Astoria

It’s especially sweet to see people knowing that we aren’t sure when or where we’ll meet next. I keep telling myself this is a big trip, but it’s defined and has a (somewhat flexible) schedule. We’ll get to hug loved ones again. We’re planning to go far, but not forever. And technology will help us to stay connected with people.

Marks helps organize and recycle all the packaging. Getting rid of extraneous packaging saves a lot of space.

Marks helps organize and recycle all the packaging. Getting rid of extraneous packaging saves a lot of space.

So here we are, watching the weather and waiting for nature to give us a break. As of this afternoon, it looks as though there will be a return to favorable northwesterly winds, perhaps as early as Sunday. Nature has her own schedule, and we adapt.

Final Preparations

A quick schedule update:

Dock-Chaos We’re still in Portland, aiming to leave Rose City Yacht Club this week and head down river to Astoria. Many projects and tasks have been completed. Yesterday I went aloft and took care of preventive maintenance high on the mast. There is a little bit of final buttoning up on some tasks and then load the boat. Ruth is buying groceries and provisioning the boat for the next two weeks. Randy: Don’t forget to fill the water tanks!

 

Friends and family have been tremendously helpful. Sailing friends Mike and Tim spent practically the whole day Tuesday helping get boat projects done. Experienced sailors, they know what is important and how to do it. Between boat projects and provisioning it feels like loosely managed chaos.

Cockpit-Chaos