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Passage to San Francisco

July 27, 2000

Well, it was . . . eventful.            

There was the Yin

and the Yang.

The Good

and the Bad.

Spinnaker run off Oregon coast (58K) Big wave chasing Raven (64K)
And the Ugly
Casualties of a crash jibe (41K)

It was a fast trip – only 99 hours to cover 850 nautical miles, an excellent average speed. But during those four days we managed to pack in: a) a fast spinnaker run in gorgeous sunshine; b) 45 knot wind gusts at 3 a.m.; c) a crash jibe at midnight that broke two mainsail battens, grabbed a 5,000-pound-strength preventer block and peeled it open like a peach; and d) a storybook arrival at the Golden Gate on a magnificent sunny afternoon.

And how appropriate that we left on a nice, hot July 21st, my 55th birthday and the official start to my retirement. By 3:30 p.m. we had left our wives and friends at the dock and motored out of Gig Harbor for the 150-mile run to Cape Flattery and the open Pacific. All was tranquil on a beautiful afternoon until Raven reached Seattle, when the high water alarm went off with a screech. I took a quick glance into the deep water sloshing around the engine room, started calculating which boatyard was closest for a quick haulout, and wondered if this retirement/cruise thing was such a hot idea! But then we noticed that the water was fresh and hot, not salty and cold, and soon found that a hose fitting had broken loose from the hot water heater, pouring its ample contents into the bilge. A workman had left a fitting loose on a last-minute job, but in the end no harm was done. The comforting good news is we found that the emergency bilge pump has an enormous capacity to empty water out of the boat quickly!

Sunset over the Olympic Peninsula was red/orange gorgeous, as Ole served his first terrific man’s meal, of ‘Danish sirloin’ (meatloaf). The evening was quiet, and the crew started the watch rotation, with two guys always on duty on deck or in the pilothouse. But the next unpleasantness came quickly: after passing Port Townsend at 10 p.m. and starting to beat out to sea via the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Still under power, we planned to do it at night, when the usual westerlies (directly ‘on the nose’, opposing our course) die down. No such luck. Wind on the nose at 15 to 25 knots, short, steep waves and a fast boat with a shallow hull add up to pounding. All would be well for a few minutes as Raven’s sharp bow knifed through the waves, but then a big one would pick her up and she’d crash! down into the next big one and the whole boat would shake. And again, and again, and again . . . all night long. It seemed that the rig would fall down or the bow just must break off or something. But things always seem worse at night, and the boat could take a lot more punishment than the crew. I attempted to get some sleep, but the need to hang onto the berth by my fingernails as the boat was thrown around put paid to that idea. The on-deck watch’s teeth were gritted, the shorts and T-shirts were long gone, and the cold sea air brought out the heavy sweaters with foul weather gear and safety harnesses. Are we having fun yet?

We rounded Cape Flattery at 8 a.m., having made good time in spite of the pounding, hoping that as we turned south the northwest winds would allow the fun – sailing – to start. No such luck . . . again. The winds were too light, so we motored through a cloudy day about 20 miles off the coast of Washington. At least the sea was quiet, so the previous night’s horrors were forgotten.

Spinnaker in the sun (131K)By noon on Sunday the 23rd, it was time to raise the sails. Wind 12 knots from the northwest, sunny and clear, and no more diesel engine noise. What else could you want? We first tried the reacher, but the spinnaker was calling so up it went instead. Success! We were doing 9 knots, increasing to 11 knots as the windDownwind run (38K speed rose to 22 and Tom headed us 30 or 40 miles offshore. Then a jibe, and what a pleasure to close in on the southern Oregon coast with the blue, red and green spinnaker flying in the sunshine, as we started surfing over 11 and up to 12.4 knots. (Keep that number in mind as you read on.) Now the real fun starts.

Oops. A little extra wind in the spinnaker and a quick round-up, the track gave way, broke a block and bent a stanchion. Are we a little overpowered in the gusts, maybe? Down spinnaker and roll out the jib as we do a post mortem on the breakage. Still doing 10 knots with just the main and jib, and the wind kept freshening. Dinner in the cockpit with the sunset for entertainment. Coos Bay, Oregon abeam by 8 p.m. and not too far to the California border. But by midnight, we’re in ‘near-gale’ conditions of wind in the high 20s. Bruce watches the knot meter closely and declares the speed record under main and jib to be 12.4 knots (remember that figure?).

Zero-dark-thirty on Monday the 24th and the crew down below hears a loud BANG, foretelling the end of the world at the very least. We’re 40 miles offshore, so life jackets go on fast, and we head up on deck to see what the damage is. Mast gone over the side? Collision with a supertanker? No, just a 30-knot wind shift and a crash jibe with the boom flying across the cockpit totally out of control. And then another BANG as Raven jibes again before the deck watch can get her under control. The preventer, which is supposed to ‘prevent’ such accidents, is shredded and gone, but we can’t find any other damage until it gets light. Bruce gets it all under control again and calms everyone down. We’ve done 514 of our 850-mile passage as we pass Point St. George, Oregon. We roll up the jib, but Bruce certifies that we once again hit our standard 12.4 knots, this time under main alone.

Bruce and Ole on watch (67K)Later Monday, the wind dropped and so did our speed, so we started the engine and motorsailed for a few hours. Still less wind, so by 7 p.m. as we passed Eureka, California, the main came down, too. Turns out we had broken two battens and ripped a batten pocket during those crash jibes, so it was a good thing we got the main down before it damaged itself any further. Some nasty scrapes on the boom, too, as the running backstay block caught the boom on its way across and stopped anything worse from happening. And lots of major chafe on the main halyard, which could have worn through and dropped the sail at any time. All in all, a good decision to get it down. From now on, we’re a motorboat with a decorative stick coming out of the deck. We’ve decided to motor along as fast as we can, as we have plenty of fuel left, and try to arrive on Tuesday.

Good thing we did get that main down earlier, because the wind rose steadily out of the north Monday night until it was hitting 45 knots in the gusts! Boy, were we happy not to be carrying any sail that night. Those were Full Gale conditions, and it really wasn’t that dangerous under bare poles, but it sure sounded nasty with the rigging howling! Once again, sleep was hard to come by, as the seas continued to build under the influence of the big winds. By dawn Tuesday, we were seeing 10 to 12-foot seas, fortunately going in the same direction we were, and in bright sunlight. The autopilot, which had did virtually all the steering for the entire trip, did beautifully even in these tough conditions; we were all grateful for it. All day long, we rarely had less than 20 knots of wind. Tom had us close in on the coast Sun is out but the skipper is weary (67K) behind Point Reyes to get out of the bigger seas. His strategy worked, and it got more comfortable as the afternoon passed and we approached the Golden Gate.

Glorious Golden Gate (42K) Entering the Golden Gate with the late afternoon sun behind us was a truly moving experience. It is, indeed gorgeous, glowing red in the orange sunlight. The wind slowed again, and by 6:30 p.m. we were in our assigned slip at the Sausalito Yacht Harbor, in flat calm and a sunny evening. Our son, Paul, and his fiancée, Michelle, appeared at the dock to welcome us, and our pub dinner/celebration never tasted so good!


Friends who have sailed around the world tell us that the worst weather they ever saw was between Washington and California. We believe them now, even though we really did have good weather for a nice downwind passage, but it sure did blow for a couple of days. We were all impressed with how well Raven handled the tough conditions, the accuracy and power of the autopilot, and the very light damage we had in those high winds. And Signe was surely right to fly rather than sail!

Warm regards from sunny Sausalito . . . Jan

P.S.: As Blaise Pascal wrote in 1685, “I’m sorry this letter is so long, but I didn’t have time to write a shorter one.”

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