Summer Cruise Part 3: Neah Bay to San Francisco

No wind but at least the fog is gone!

It was foggy and flat calm leaving Neah Bay (despite the forecast of 5-10 knots from the NW) so other than an hour under sail in the afternoon we motored through the day and night to Westport. We were hoping for a good weather window that would allow us to go non-stop to San Francisco but it was not to be. Instead we waited in Westport while gales were blowing off Cape Blanco and Cape Mendocino. Finally after 6 (long) days in Westport the forecast was looking good so we departed the morning of 8/14. It was foggy and calm for the first few hours but then we had a nice NW wind and made good time. Most of the night we were running under a double reefed main and staysail, making about 5.5 knots. During one of Devon’s watches the starboard preventer let go a few times when the stern was pushed around by a wave and we had a few accidental jibes. This can be a very bad thing, but fortunately with 2 reefs in the main it did no damage. I was woken up by the sound though and came up top to check out the situation. Since I was up already we decided to drop the main and continue under staysail alone. The problem with the preventer was the line, we had rerouted the preventer to stop it from chafing the dodger, but it wasn’t long enough so we used some three strand we had on board. It turned out that the three strand was too small for the rope clutch to hold it well. When I started my watch around 5am we were making great time with just the staysail. The wind was howling pretty good and there was a big sea running. Overall it was a bit of a rowdy ride. As it got light the wind eased just enough so we were still making 4 to 5 knots but everything just mellowed out a bit. I was noticing the self steering seemed to be having some trouble holding a course and was requiring lots of adjustment. Adjusting the vane helped but the problem would recurr. Then I noticed the lines that attached the windvane to our steering quadrant had some slack in them, I figured they must have slipped in the cam cleats but tightening them didn’t help so I looked under the helm seat and found that the eye bolts that attached the windvane control lines to our steering system had sheered off!! Well that explained the problems I was having getting the vane to steer a straight course! I have no idea how long it had been broken, maybe ‘Imi Loa had been steering herself for hours. It seemed like it should be an easy fix but we needed some hardware so I checked the charts and decided diverted to Newport. Devon came up on deck shortly after, he was suprised to hear about the eye bolts but agreed that Newport made sense. The wind continued dropping throughout the morning and afternoon and when we were about a mile from the entrance to Newport it died altogether so naturally we decided to start the engine. Devon turned the key and nothing happened. Well not quite nothing, we could hear the starter solenoid engage but the engine didn’t even try to turn over. Devon quickly found the problem; the cylinders were flooded with seawater!! We knew immediately what had happened: the waves had forced water in through the exhaust and into the engine. We have a high rise exhaust elbow and vented loop above the water line but the pressure of the following seas was enough to back water up all the way to the cylinders. We’ve heard of this happening and had considered putting a ball valve on our exhaust but with the long list of projects it just never got done. Fortunately no harm was done. Devon drained the water out of the muffler and manually rotated the engine a little at a time until the water was forced out. Then she fired right up. She ran rough for a minute or two then it was like nothing had happened. The valves are fine, no water got in the oil, and she is continued running like a champ so we got lucky on this on this one.

View of the marina from the Yaquina Bay Bridge.

Once we got to Newport we headed across the Yaquina Bay Bridge and caught a bus to Englund Marine. We arrived in Newport on 8/15 and departed on 8/17. While there we installed the ball valve on the exhaust, replaced the eye bolts on the steering quadrant (and got a few for spares), and had dinner at the Rogue Brewery of course! The marina in Newport is pretty nice, it seemed to be part of a (state?) park that included RV camping. Pretty good showers, nice and clean. One note regarding the marina, about a month after our stay we received a bill for our two night stay, even though we paid in person when we arrived. A phone call to the marina quickly resolved the issue, it turns out that when checking in I provided our Coast Guard documentation info but when they walked the docks they took down our Oregon registration sticker number and didn’t realize we were the same boat.

Heading back across the bridge with supplies.

We got a late start out of Newport waiting for the tide to come in. It was 10:30 by the time we cast off under sunny skies with a light west wind. By noon we were able to shut of the motor and enjoy a nice sail under jib, staysail, and main. Unfortunately by 5pm the wind had gotten light and flukey so we were back to motoring. Considering our fuel supply and lack of wind we decided we would stop for fuel in Crescent City. Our ETA was around midnight so I called the fuel dock before they closed to inquire about tying up at the fuel dock until they opened and was told it would be fine. It was interesting entering Crescent City at night. They have range lights otherwise we probably wouldn’t have tried it. With the range lights, the chart plotter, and navionics running on the ipad we had no trouble getting into the harbor. That’s not to say it wasn’t stressful, but it was without incident. Almost. According the the sketch in Charlie’s Charts the docks at Crescent City are kind of like an upside down capital Y. As you round the inner breakwater the Y is ahead of you, the left (near) side of the stem of the Y is the commercial fuel dock and the far side is the recreational fuel dock. Now making sense of what you see on a sketch and what is in front of you can be tricky, especially at night. and especially with lots of flood lights shining down into your eyes from commercial activity on the arms of the Y. We were both very focused on navigating past the several charted rocks to get to the recreational fuel dock. Gradually we both became aware of a small light moving along the dock, it seemed to be keeping pace with us. We also realized that through the background noise of our engine and whatever machinery was in use up on the dock we could here a voice yelling. Devon immediately brought the engine down to idle so we could hear better. The woman up on the dock was an employee trying to get our attention to warn us that we were heading into some rocks! It turns out that the recreational fuel dock was no longer there due to damage from the Japanese Tsunami. So we turned around and headed to the commercial fuel dock. This was the only time we have ever tied up to a commercial dock and it was interesting. It was huge, probably 10 feet above our heads and in the dark it is confusing figuring out how to tie up. The whole thing was just a mass of tires being used as bumpers/fenders and a few floats. Plus the flood lights were shining in our eyes. Someone up on the dock yelled for us to toss our lines up and he cleated them off (they were barely long enough). I climbed along the tires (and maybe a log or two?) to a ladder and climbed up to the dock. It turned out that the guy who caught our lines was the same guy I spoke with on the phone. He had church the next morning so he decided to come out at midnight to give us fuel so he wouldn’t miss the service. That was pretty amazing that he would go out of his way like that. He could have just said we needed to wait until he got out of church (now that I think about it I don’t think they are even open normally on Sundays) but he didn’t say anything about that when I talked to him on the phone. Between the lady who warned us off the rocks and the fuel dock guy we were impressed by the staff at Crescent City. We could have continued on that night but we were tired so we decided to stay at the guest dock and get some sleep. The next morning (8/19) we slept in and didn’t depart until almost noon.

From Crescent City south to SF Bay we had some really good sailing. We did a little motoring when the winds died but for the most part we were under sail with some great wind (and some pretty big seas). I remember one time I had just started my watch, Devon went below and I was just settling in with the Cape Horn steering when we had a train of big, steep waves come through on the starboard quarter. It had us heeled over to port probably 35 to 40 degrees, each time ‘Imi Loa started to right herself another wave would come and push us back over. I was really glad the Cape Horn was steering! If I had been at the helm I would have been oversteering like mad trying to keep us on course but with the windvane steering I was able to just hang on and enjoy the ride. That night we had some pretty strong winds, when I started my watch we had just the staysail out but as the wind built our speed was consistently hitting 6.5 and 7 knots so I decided we needed to slow down. The furling system on the staysail and jib are early Schaefer systems without extrusions, just a wire luff in the sail. The system is just a furling system, not a reefing system, but since we were running downwind our sailshape wasn’t too critical so I decided to try reefing the staysail. It took probably 20 minutes of alternately easing the sheet and hauling in on the furling line but eventually I got about 50% of the sail rolled up. Even with just that scrap of sail up we were still doing 4.5 knots!

The next day we had some real excitement when we were visited by a pod of humpback whales 15 miles off of Bodega Bay. For about 20 minutes we had 7 or 8 whales swimming on all sides of us within a boat length. Awesome doesn’t even begin to describe it. They weren’t doing any acrobatics, it seemed like they were just curious about us, and they would gently surface next to us over and over again. There was at least one pair (a larger and a smaller so maybe a mom and her adolescent calf?) and then several individuals. Of course we were a little bit scared but mostly just amazed and in awe. No, we didn’t get any pictures or video. I said that as soon as I went for the camera they would be gone and I was right. This was on our last day out and it happened to be my birthday which was pretty awesome!

That afternoon the winds started dropping and we were nervous about missing our window to get through the gate and into the bay on a favorable tide so we dropped the sails and started the motor. We had checked the tides and wanted to be through the gate by 5:30pm, we calculated that if we motored at 5 knots we would make it in time. So we motored past Point Reyes, past Drakes Bay, past Bolina Bay, around the SF approach buoy/traffic circle, and started down the main ship channel toward the Golden Gate Bridge. We started noticing the water was getting very choppy with steep waves that seemed inconsistent with the winds and that we weren’t making very good time. That’s when we realized we were fighting an ebb current. We double checked the tide/current information and found that somehow we had arrived just before max ebb, exactly what we were trying avoid!! We still don’t know what happened, we had separately looked at the tides and decided the best time to arrive would be 5:30pm. We must have looked at the wrong column, I guess we will just have to chock that one up to sleep deprivation. There was no way we were going to try to get through the gate at max ebb, the current was forecast to be over 4 knots! It would be like crossing the Columbia River bar at max ebb. So we had no choice but to turn around and head back the way we came. We spent the next 4 or 5 hours just motoring around. It got dark and very cold and windy. It was eerie being in the pitch black ocean but so near a major population center. Way more unnerving than being in the open ocean. We kept looking at the clock trying to decide when we could turn around and head back in, we wanted to turn before the flood but not too early. Finally (and I have no idea what time it was), we turned around and made great time with the wind behind us. We didn’t have the energy to hoist the sails but we put the transmission in neutral for quite a while and were able to sail under bare poles and maintain steerage. I guess it still doesn’t count as sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge does it? We were both extremely exhausted and cold by the time we dropped the anchor at 1:30 am. We had been underway for 60 hours. That’s really nothing for a passage but we really hadn’t gotten any rest, we were never out long enough to get into a good rhythm and we were always close enough to the coast and shipping lanes that we had to be constantly vigilant when on watch.

Being visited by whales and finally passing under the Golden Gate Bridge, not a bad birthday!! Oh, and we anchored that night at San Francisco’s aquatic park on the waterfront where the Americas Cup World Series officially kicked off the next morning.

And that is the story of our summer cruise, but here are the top 10 things the crew of ‘Imi Loa learned this summer:

10) Check the weather often

9) Don’t believe the weather forecast

8) Install a high water alarm (or at least look in the bilge on a regular basis)

7) Don’t count on your cabin heater staying lit in 25 knots of wind

6) Whales are BIG!!

5) Six days in Westport is five days too many

4) Bioluminescence on a moonless night at sea is a magical sight to behold

3) Have faith in your boat, she can take more than you can

2) When at the helm in the open ocean and sleep deprived, that telephone pole you are about to run into is probably just the mast

……….and the #1 thing the crew of ‘Imi Loa learned this summer…………… should always (always!) disconnect your tether before stepping off the boat to tie her up (especially when the wind is blowing the boat off the dock)!

Devon and Rowan

s/v ‘Imi Loa


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