Coos Bay Oregon to San Francisco – journal at sea

October 6, 2011. 7:03pm.

We’re heading back out to sea today after a few days break at Coos Bay Oregon. I already have a bit of sunburn on my cheeks from napping on deck. The wind has been excruciatingly mild all day, leaving us practically dead in the water. At about 11 miles from shore a tiny bird landed on deck. She was panting and seemed nervous to have humans so close. We threw bits of bread and seeds around the deck and put out a bowl of water. Within the hour she had a name, “Tallahassee”, was landing on our hands and feet, and exploring the forward and aft cabin. It’s getting dark now and I haven’t seen her in at least 45 minutes. I feel nervous for her.

October 7, 2011. 7:45am

I should have been asleep from 10pm to 4am so that I could be rested for the watch shift from 4am to 10am. That’s how it’s supposed to work. In reality I slept maybe 2 of those 6 hours. The other 4 hours I lay with my eyes closed begging for the wash of weightlessness that comes right before the dreams. But nothing comes. The hours from 4am to 7am are my least favorite. It’s cold and dark and I have yet to come to terms with my sleep deprived exhaustion. I also feel scared. What if the wind picks up and I have to bring down the head sail by myself in the dark with the boat rocking chaotically? Or reef the main with the wind trying relentlessly to send me over the edge into the icy ocean… With Drew asleep, it’s likely I’d never make it back on the boat. And then there are mornings like today where it’s not the heart racing fear of too much wind, but the anxious lost feeling of no wind at all. At 6:45am the wind completely dies. The autopilot starts screaming at me because without forward momentum he can’t steer. The GPS is no help either, it also relies on movement to indicate direction. If the sun were up I might be able to tell what direction we should be going but that won’t happen for another 45 minutes. I feel helpless and disoriented. I decide to start the engine so I can at least use the GPS to get back on track. It turns out that TIE Fighter has done a 180 and is floating vaguely north – exactly opposite of where we want to be. Just as I get us back on track the sun starts to peek over the horizon turning the water orange and pink. Seconds later spurts and splashes begin disturbing the water all around the boat as silvery slick bodies crest on either side. For the next 20 minutes I watch smiling as dolphins play all around me. And then it’s morning. The sunrise is beautiful, the sailing is easy, and all the anxiety of the dark hours is gone.

October 8, 2011. 8:33 am

As we crossed the California border yesterday morning, we saw a pod of grey whales – lots of blowhole spraying and tail surfacing. We could even hear their guttural exhalations as they came above water. Drew was the first to spot the whales, the dolphins too. He is much better at finding the sea life than I am, but I’m better at slaughtering and cooking the sea life…our talents complement each other. We spent most of the afternoon indoors, peeking out occasionally to check on the wind and to look for other boats. I baked bread and made soup, we watched movies and talked about how tired we are. Drew napped, then let me go to bed early (and sleep in until 5am). I had a deep nights sleep and actually feel fairly rested today. The wind has finally picked up a little after yesterday’s long hours of drifting along at 2 knots. Currently we are making around 5 knots. I’m hoping we make it to San Francisco by Monday.

October 9, 2011. 6:36 am

We had sea friends join us again yesterday. Early in the day was a pod of dolphins playing around the bow – this time the pod was much smaller but the dolphins were much bigger. It seemed to be a small family of bottle nose dolphins. I couldn’t stop giggling as the mother and tiny baby swam frantically through the waves in perfect synchronisity.

Then, in the evening when Drew went on deck to tie a reef in the main just as the winds started picking up before dark, I heard him yell “oh my god! Miya!” I ran upstairs to see what was wrong. A giant whale had surfaced not 20 feet from the boat. Drew was shaking with excitement and I was searching wildly, hoping it would surface again. And then, there he was, skimming just below the surface, pacing the boat, then lazily rising out of the water 10 feet off the port side. He was a massive baleen whale and was close enough that when be blew his blow hole we we could smell the air being released. Then he turned, sliding directly under the boat. The excitement took on a sudden slight edge of anxiety. I have heard of whales surfacing under boats and flipping them, or ramming the side, leaving large gashes for water to flood in. But just as suddenly he coasted out from under the boat, continued south and then surfaced once more out on the horizon.

Along with all the excitement of whales and baby dolphins, it was our best sailing day yet. We had sunshine and strong north-west winds, taking us smoothly in exactly the direction we needed to go, with our average speed around 7-8 knots. TIE Fighter also hit her record speed yesterday at 10.9 knots! We made about 115 nautical miles yesterday with only 150 left to San Francisco.

October 10, 2011. 3:26pm

My 4am to 10am shift this morning was my toughest one yet. It was pitch black out with no moon or stars and the fog was so thick I could barely see 20 meters in any direction so it would have been dangerous to stay inside checking intermittently. Instead I had to bundle up and sit in the pouring rain to keep watch for ships. I wasn’t on watch 15 minutes before the water started boiling with dolphins. Normally this makes me sit back and smile with contentedness…but this morning with the black hole of darkness and the pounding rain and the angry seas pushing the boat high then crashing it back down, the dolphins served to foster a horror film atmosphere that, in my mind, would undoubtedly end with TIE Fighter and all the crew dying savagely at the claws of a mutant sea monster.

We are making good time though, and should be in San Francisco by tonight. We are 35 knots from SF and the water has changed from rolling waves of bright aqua marine to a hectic, choppy, brown. We are both spent. For our sanity, I think we are arriving just in time.

October 10, 2011. 11:02pm

We crossed under the Golden Gate Bridge at 10:24pm. It was wrapped beautifully in fog and held the promise of a full nights sleep to come. We motored straight into aquatic park…now sleep.

October 12, 2011. 8:49am

The bad news is my computer is broken so all the pictures will have to wait until next week (I was watching a movie on deck when a wave came up into the cockpit and drenched me and my MacBook).

The good news is, even though my apple care had long expired the lovely young man at the Mac Store genius bar switched a few things around and they will be fixing it for free … As long as it’s fixable *fingers crossed*

Juan De Fuca Straight

N 48°11.183′
W 123°39.189′

Yesterday there was a weather advisory for high winds in the Juan De Fuca Straight so we decided to spend the day in Port Angeles catching up on day job work, boat projects and showers (my shower was unfortunately in a large room accompanied by 30 prepubescent children. It was traumatic for everyone involved).

I also went grocery shopping to provision the boat for the next big stretch down to San Francisco. It’s a little tricky to plan 10-12 days worth of meals, without a refrigerator, knowing that by day 6 all fresh produce will be dead and gone. I got a bag of oranges so that we don’t get scurvy.

We left Port Angeles at around 11am this morning. It’s my first time captaining for the day – I’m strict but fair. We are currently motoring up the Juan De Fuca Straight heading towards Neah Bay. We expect to be there by 9pm tonight, then we just wait for a good weather window to head out to sea. It’s super cold and the wind is blowing straight at us so we probably won’t get the sails up today. We are also out of water – this morning I had to make the coffee and tea with club soda. Regardless, we are both happy and excited to make it to the launching off point tonight.

Another bit of wind

N 48°15.520′
W 123°22.437′

Its been pretty cold since we left Vancouver on day one. Yesterday it was not only cold but also completely lacking any wind so we spent about 8 hours motoring, bundled up and remembering the glory of the day before – sunshine, perfect wind, and celebratory scotch. Today is still chilly, but the winds are better. We crossed the US/Canada border at 1:30pm with the sails up, traveling at about 6 knots! Now we head for Port Angeles to clear customs…


Crossing the US border


Port Angeles in the distance


N 48°40.281′
W 123°24.574

One of the jobs on the boat that I have taken on is “fish master”. So far I have been less than successful.

My experience, until recently, was limited to childhood pond fishing expeditions with my dad and some spear fishing here and there. I can’t specifically remember ever catching anything except for the summer in Mexico when I was 13 and speared a whole bag full of fish. Upon surfacing, my dad gently explained that angel fish aren’t especially good for eating, then stood next to me, helping me filet each one, and then frying up the 1/4 inch slivers for dinner. He was right, angel fish *aren’t* especially good for eating.

Now I am trying to figure out the whole “sea fishing under sail” thing. I have a couple of books, “The Fisherman’s Ocean” which is written by a Ph.D. oceanographer and takes a more scientific approach, and “The Cruiser’s Handbook of Fishing” which I highly recommend and has given me a ton of useful information. I also have a little book on fishing rigs that has helped me with the setup.

Drew has equipped me with all sorts of lines lures and swivels. Now all I have to do is catch us dinner. Currently I am running two handlines off the aft cleats on either side of the boat. One is a simple rope-snubber-rope-snap swivel-braided line ending with a spoon lure. The second is more complicated with rope-snubber-rope-snap swivel-braided line-Delta Diver-monofilament-flasher-monofilament ending with an artificial anchovy lure.

I figured by now I’d have piles of fish on deck, and my biggest problem would be how to wash the blood stains away…but like I said, not even a bite yet.

blood moon and a cockpit full of peanut shells

N 49°00.709′
W 123°34.970′

We pulled away from Granville Island dock at 4:28pm. We kissed and bounced and smiled at finally reaching escape velocity.

We sailed along with light winds for a while and discussed the possibility of sailing through the night, taking watch shifts and then arriving at Port Angeles by tomorrow afternoon. A few hours later the wind started picking up and we were making solid progress at 5-6 knots then the water started getting choppy and the VHF was saying possible gale force winds so we looked at the map and chose an anchorage near Porlier Pass – about 3 hours away – to spend the night. I settled in with some lures and fishing line while Drew intermittently tossed peanut shells at me. The moon rose red and the sky was patched with rainbow bursts. I think it’s a good omen.

Day 1: so far so good.