Passage to San Francisco
July 27, 2000
it was . . . eventful.
There was the Yin
and the Yang.
and the Bad.
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
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.
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 wind 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.
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 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.
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