Summer Cruise Part 1: St. Helens to Port Angeles

Installing the Cape Horn windvane


This post is a recap of our summer adventures with a lot more detail than the few brief posts we managed over the summer. This post is long overdue and will be long so we will break it up into several posts and try to include some pretty pictures to make it interesting. We left St. Helens on June 28th, only 2 weeks behind schedule. Projects completed in the weeks before departure included sewing a dodger and bimini, installing a wind vane, installing a new LED anchor light, installing a solar panel, installing an anchor windlass, and lots of other smaller projects plus countless trips to West Marine, Sexton's, and Columbia Marine Exchange (all a long long way from St. Helens).The anchor light should have been a simple one-hour/one-trip-up-the-mast job except a wire broke and fell down in the mast when removing the old light turning it into a 4 day job with more trips up the mast than we can remember, but in the end we got it done and we are now very good at climbing the mast.


We departed St. Helens at 8am under sunny skies and with a bottle of champaign given to us by Brad, the marina manager. Our trip down the river was uneventful. We motored the whole way, wanting to get to Astoria as quickly as possible. We anchored one night at Eureka Island and two nights at Tongue Pt where we made some final preparations like hoisting the dinghy on deck. Then it was on to the East Basin in Astoria where we offloaded a bunch of stuff we thought we had room for but didn't and took on some additional provisions. We had experienced some small rpm fluctuations on our way down the river so we tracked down some additional fuel filters in case we had some gunk in our tank. We planned to depart at 7am to catch the slack tide between ebb and flood but in the morning the water was lower than expected due to a minus tide so we delayed departure until 9:30 to ensure we had enough water under our keel. This meant that we were fighting the flood the whole way across the bar, so in the end we were running about 4 hours behind by the time we made it past the last buoy and into the Pacific Ocean.

How we remember our first night out!


Unseasonal south winds were forecast so we were hoping to do a lot of sailing and head directly to Neah Bay, but there was no wind so after we finally got across the bar we continued to motor on a NW heading to get some miles between us and the coast. By late afternoon the forecast south wind materialized so we were having a nice time doing 5 knots sailing wing and wing with our new wind vane doing the steering. Yippee!! We were finally sailing in the ocean!! It was pretty chilly even sailing downwind but the seas were calm and we were having a great time. At dusk it started to drizzle but we were visited by a large pod of dolphins that swam with us for about an hour!! During the evening the wind had shifted to the west so we were on a reach with staysail and single reefed main. It was dark so we couldn't see the sea state but we had more swell now and we were taking some occasional spray in the cockpit. After dinner Devon took the first watch which was pretty uneventful. I (Rowan) came on watch at about 10:30pm and within about 15 minutes the wind became strangely warm and began to clock around, with the wind vane steering we were suddenly heading south! I had just disconnected the vane and started hand steering when we were hit by a squall. The skies opened up and dumped what felt like several inches of very cold rain in a matter of minutes and the wind increased dramatically. This was our first time sailing on the ocean, our first time sailing at night AND, our first time sailing in a storm. Putting in the second reef at this point would have been very difficult (lines are not led to the cockpit and we don't have spreader lights) and we were definitely over powered. I called Devon up on deck to discuss our options. Not being able to see the sea or the sails (it was raining too hard for our spotlight to be much help with either) we decided to drop the sails and motor. Devon then went back below to get some sleep. At this time the wind was still building and coming out of the northwest so it was pretty much straight on the nose. The seas continued to build and throw us about. Waves were coming from two directions, mostly from the northwest but sometimes there would be a roar from the port side and a wave would hit us on the beam knocking us over, throwing a bucket of salt water in my face, and tossing me about the cockpit. I was tethered in and not in danger of going overboard but it was hard to maintain control of the helm while also trying to keep my feet. I don't know about the crew being fearless but I can say our tiny ship was tossed!!

This is about how competent we felt that night!


Meanwhile Devon was below trying to sleep in the v-berth. After being thrown into the ceiling several times he decided to relocate to the main cabin (what they say about the ends of the boat being uncomfortable at sea turns out to be true). We were taking waves on the port side so even without lee clothes he was able to sleep (or at least rest) on the starboard settee.Moving about the cabin was difficult due to the jerky (bordering on violent) motion, plus, much of what had been in the lockers was now freely roaming about the cabin sole. At one point he was moving through the cabin and grabbed a handhold to steady himself when the boat rolled, suddenly he found himself across the cabin with the handhold still in his hand but it was no longer connected to the boat. Fortunately he landed on a settee.

By about 2:30am I was completely exhausted (both physically and mentally), soaked, and chilled to the bone so I called Devon up and he took over at the helm. Down below I was trying to get our propane heater lit but the wind kept blowing it out. Lighting the heater requires holding down a button to turn on the gas while lighting the gas with a BBQ lighter, then setting down the lighter and closing the front and securing it while still holding the gas button while the thermocouple heats up. This was challenging as it required two hands and I had no way to brace myself and had to drop everything several times to grab on when the boat rolled. Starting the heater the first time was tricky, but when it would blow out and I'd try to relight it I'd have the added challenge of trying to prevent the very hot glass door from bashing open and closed. Eventually I gave up and just tried to sleep. Meanwhile Devon was up in the cockpit battling the storm. The wind was still mostly from the northwest and the mixed swell was from the SW and NW. The rail went into the water a couple of times, and the inclinometer was pegged at 45 degrees. The worst wave broke over the bow and swamped the cockpit (and dumped a little water in the cabin), and almost dislodged the dinghy on deck (it shifted several inches). The big waves are really difficult to navigate in the pitch black, all you can really do is hang on and try to keep the boat on the right heading.

I don't remember what time I came back on deck but around 4am it dawned on me to switch the radio to the NOAA station. We had listened to the 9am forecast while waiting to depart from Astoria but we had failed to listen to any subsequent forecasts, one of our many rookie mistakes! According to NOAA there was a small craft advisory for winds and hazardous seas in our area and it wasn't forecast to improve until late that afternoon. We had both been up pretty much all night, we were cold and exhausted, and it was obvious we were not going to make it to Neah Bay nonstop. It was time to duck in somewhere and rest; our best (only) option was to head to Grays Harbor, about 40 miles north of Astoria. I thought we were well north of Grays harbor since we had been underway for over 18 hours but we checked our position and it was only 35 miles to the SE of us so we plotted our course and made for Grays Harbor. Our new heading was SE and we ran with most of the swell and had the wind behind us. The following seas pushed the stern around a bit but it was much more comfortable and we were able to make great time. It was still a lot of work at the helm and Devon stayed at it until it got light. He is my hero 🙂

At about 6 or 7 am I was at the helm again and the seas were quite a sight to behold! I really have no idea how to estimate wave height but the waves seemed to be around 10 feet. The waves were more like big lumps of water coming from two directions. One would come up from astern and lift us up, we seemed to pause at the top and had a great view of the ocean for a few seconds and then the wave would pass us and leave us in a canyon of water. Then another would come but from the starboard beam and I would try to get us turned in time to take it on the quarter. While I was navigating the waves Devon came shooting up into the cockpit with the manual bilge pump handle in hand and starting madly pumping the bilge. He had peeked into the engine room and his heart just about stopped, the bilge and engine room were flooded! The prop shaft was rotating under water and spitting seawater everywhere. After about a minute or two of electric and manual bilge pump action the lower part of the engine was in free air again. The problem was the following seas, and our transom hung rudder.The waves forced water through the steering cable fairleads in the steering quadrant compartment. After this the electric bilge pump was left on to deal with this and it was able to keep up with no problem. The bilge pump was off in the first place because it tends to cycle and we were worried it would burn itself out, but we had no high water alarm. Another rookie mistake!!

Conditions calmed quite a bit as we approached Grays Harbor around 11am, luck was with us and we arrived on the flood so the bar was a piece of cake. We found moorage at the Westport Marina and got some much needed rest. Looking back at our log book there was a significant drop in the barometer from 29.90 inHg at 2116 hrs to 28.70 inHg at 2236 hrs, a drop of 1.2 inches in 1 hour and 20 minutes. We checked the weather archives and buoy data for that night and found the following: winds 25 gusting to over 30 knots, a small craft advisory in effect with a gale watch to the north, seas 6-8 feet with a 5 second period and wind waves 5-6 feet which equals combined seas of approximately 8-10 feet with 5 second period. Probably not too bad for seasoned sailors but more than was forecast and more than we were expecting! That afternoon we were surprised and pleased to see a couple from our yacht club (Sauvie Island Yacht Club | Portland, Oregon) pull into the marina. Ron and Wendy on s/v Best Revenge were on their way up to Barkley Sound. We had some really good after dinner conversation with them, and they gave us some advice on the approach to get into La Push so we wouldn't need to do another overnighter getting to Neah Bay.

Despite the pounding and stuff flying across the cabin the list of damage was short: a broken handhold & a lost chainpipe cap. We didn't have the shank of the anchor secured well enough and the cap's tether snapped, unfortunate because the cap was bronze and will be difficult to replace. But the worst loss, almost tragic really, was the french press. It made it through the night but broke the following morning and it would be over a week before we could find another. It was tough but somehow we persevered. We also had the nasty suprise of finding the solids tank of our composting toilet had been flooded. The wave that almost took out the dinghy must have made it through the solar vent, down the pipe, and into the tank. The result was wet, sloshy, incompletely composted poo. Not fun. Not fun at all.

The rest of the trip up the coast was much less eventful. We stayed in Westport for 3 nights, cleaning up the cabin and doing laundry. We had discovered a leak in one of our lockers and most of our clothes and towels were soaked with saltwater and had to be washed. Then we hopped up the coast to La Push, dodging crab pots along the way, and spent a few days there waiting on weather. La Push was interesting, it is a tiny reservation town on the Quillayute river that few cruisers visit.

A google earth view of the mouth of the Quillayute River


The entrance to the Quillayute river was a little nerve wracking, you come from the ocean into this little river mouth surrounded by huge rocks. The approach requires you to steer into what looks like a dead end before making a sudden turn to starboard and heading up the river to the marina. We actually made one attempt but got spooked because the daymarkers didn't look like they were where the charts said they should be. We went back out, took another look at things, called the Coast Guard to confirm there had been no changes, and then made it in without incident. The setting is beautiful and there is a nice RV/camping park on the beach where we were able to shower. The marina is pretty industrial, mostly occupied by the local commercial fishing fleet. There is only a tiny convenience store in La Push so we took the local bus inland to Forks. We didn't really need anything (besides a french press) but we were bored. In Forks there are many, many reminders that the Twilight movies were filmed there. It is an odd place, it feels like a blue collar timber town/small city but there are Twilight tours and Twilight souvenier shops on every other corner. We didn't find a french press but it was a fun diversion.

The view of James Island to starboard when departing La Push.


Prior to running into Ron and Wendy in Westport we had never considered La Push as a viable stop, it looked shallow and tricky and we didn't know if the marina took transients. It still isn't high on our list of places to stop but it's good to know it is an option. I would recommend calling ahead, the marina is pretty full of fishing boats and a lot of it is very shallow. The fuel dock is self service so after hours fueling is an option as well (gas and diesel). Although our experience was generally a positive one we did read a very negative account of a sailor's visit to La Push. His interactions with the people of La Push seem pretty extreme, all I can say is we certainly had a very different experience. You can read about his story on page 67 of the November 2012 issue of Latitude 38: Latitude 38 eBooks – November 2012 .

Fogbow over Neah Bay

Finally on July 10th we departed La Push and made it to Neah Bay. We entered the Strait of Juan de Fuca under power and in the fog, which lifted by the time we made Neah Bay. After 3 days anchored in Neah Bay waiting on weather (are you sensing a theme here?) we finally made it to Port Angeles where we ran into some friends of ours from St. Helens. They had left St. Helens after us and went directly to Port Angeles. A trip that took us 13 days they did in less than 40 hours!! Oh well, I suppose we have more stories to tell.

Next stop: the San Juan Islands…..



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s