By David Steele
WE DID IT! Two months and 800 nm from San Francisco Bay to Neah Bay, the entrance to Puget Sound. 134 total hours in nine legs, six of which were overnight passages to time bar crossings. This was a big deal for us because Darlene gets very seasick on the ocean and any medication knocks her out, which means she was sleeping most of the time while I singlehanded, but we made it to our cruising grounds and new adopted home.
In researching our harbor-hopping trip North from S.F. Bay to Puget Sound, most comments on the internet were dire warnings about how hard it is to go against wind and current, how the weather could be dangerously severe, and how difficult and hazardous the bar crossings are.
We found only ONE guy who posted a positive experience harbor-hopping North, saying that it can be pleasant if you don’t have a deadline, choose your weather windows carefully, and time your bar crossings for slack tide before flood. Here’s his article, which we found very helpful-
We originally planned to break up the trip into thirteen legs, expecting to take two to three months. We left S.F. Bay on April 23, 2019 and arrived in Neah Bay on June 17, 2019, making the trip in nine legs, each one day or less apart. We took our time, planned our weather windows carefully, and spent a total of 47 days in port resting and exploring cool coastal towns.
On April 22nd we left our guest berth in Marina Village, Alameda, to anchor in Richardson Bay, planning to leave the next day. Here’s our itinerary with some comments on each passage and stop:
Leg #1: April 23, 2019: 60 nm, 8.5 hours, from Sausalito to Bodega Bay: Raised anchor at 5:00am to catch ebb tide out of S.F. Bay and encountered a stretch of 8-12 foot swells until we passed the Potato Patch created by the ocean swells meeting the ebb tide. Even bashing into these waves we made 9 knots all the way out of the channel. We re-fueled then tied up in Spud Point Marina. This was our first time in beautiful Bodega Bay and we loved it, wondering why SJSC doesn’t cruise here as it’s an easy day trip. Jeff and Carol Olmstead surprised us by arriving the next day and we enjoyed hanging out with them, an unplanned, warm send-off for our trip.
Leg #2: May 1, 2019: 88nm, 15 hours from Bodega Bay to Fort Bragg: Our first overnight passage to time entry into the Noyo River for high tide to make it past the short but shallow channel to the marina. Weather conditions were great and it was an easy passage except for the wind and waves picking up around Point Arena, which ended up being the most severe weather of our trip, with winds up to 30 knots and 4-8 foot short period waves causing lots of bashing and water over the bow. Spray reached as high as our solar panels and main boom over our high center cockpit cover, which was a first for us. Later we discovered the anchor jumped the bow roller and gouged the hull area underneath.Easy entry through Noyo Bay in settled conditions and as soon as we passed under the Highway 1 bridge we felt transported 100 years back in time. Quaint, scenic, historic, small town and marina, mostly a working harbor of fishing boats created by a breakwater along Noyo River. We walked 15 minutes to a nearby shopping center and had breakfast to celebrate and after catching up on sleep we enjoyed exploring this beautiful spot on the CA coast.
Leg #3: May 4, 2019: 97 nm, 19 hours from Fort Bragg to Eureka: We carefully chose a good weather window to get around Cape Mendocino, which we heard was even more challenging than Point Arena. While it’s a huge cape and took us 5 hours to get around it, the weather and wave conditions were great and it was a comfortable passage. We had to slow down to time our entry into Humboldt Bay for slack tide, and getting over the bar was easy. Eureka is a lumber town and looks very industrial from the waterfront area. We refueled at Englund’s, right next to our guest berth at Eureka Public Marina, which as a challenge because it was a high pier that mostly accommodates commercial boats, with a small floating dock, no more than 25 feet wide for smaller recreational vessels. The good news is that we discovered Englund’s, a fantastic marine supply store with locations along the CA and OR coast that we would visit again and again. During our stay we walked to re-provision at Costco and Target, and enjoyed the scenic waterfront and historic downtown area.
Leg #4: May 12, 2019: 68nm, 9 hours from Eureka to Crescent City: We were the only boat on the transient dock in Crescent City Harbor. Walked into town to re-provision at Safeway and enjoyed exploring this scenic, final CA stop on our trip. Looking ahead to our next leg to Coos Bay, OR, the weather window was a week away or more, so we decided to cut our stay short to hop 20 miles to Brookings, OR. While we liked Crescent City, we didn’t want to stay there that long if we had a choice.
Leg #5: May 15, 2019: 22 nm, 3.5 hours from Crescent City, CA to Brookings, OR: We were excited to finally leave California and be in Oregon. We timed our entry into Chetco River for slack tide and it was an easy passage and entry to the Port of Brookings Harbor, another marina created by installing a breakwater along the river. Beautiful, scenic, friendly, we were the only transient and on a mostly empty dock of 30 slips. This particular dock didn’t have power, a first for us, but not a problem as we have 1200 amps of battery capacity and our solar panels, wind generator, and genset if needed (we typically can anchor 3 days at a time before turning on the generator). We loved Brookings and the locals were great, one guy even offered to lend us his truck for our stay, which wouldn’t be the first time we received such a generous offer on this trip. Lots of wind and rain as multiple weather fronts came and went, which made us appreciate the occasional clear day for drying out and exploring without our foulies.
Leg #6: May 28, 2019: 88 nm, 15 hours from Brookings to Coos Bay: An overnight passage timed to cross the Chetco River bar and enter Coos Bay at slack tide. Smooth passage and easy crossing of both bars. We had a favorable weather window to continue North so decided to stay for a couple of days, long enough to catch up on sleep and explore a bit. Coos Bay is scenic and interesting and we would have liked to stay longer, but we were told our next stop, Newport, is “not to be missed,” so we were excited to see what he meant and were not disappointed.
Leg #7: May 30, 2019: 82 nm, 15 hours from Coos Bay to Newport: Another overnight passage timed to exit Coos Bay and cross the Yaquina River bar into Newport and both bars were crossed easily under settled conditions. Forecast was favorable but this was a challenging, long, wet slog. On this leg we learned that when making the trip North, the wave heights, direction, and periods are far more important than wind speed and direction. We can motor sail against 30 knot winds without slowing down, but even 3 foot swells can be challenging when they come from different directions (cross swells) and are short periods of 4 seconds or less. A long trip is easy when the autopilot does the work, but with cross swells and occasional larger waves, I had to take over when the autopilot couldn’t keep up and had steer quite a bit. But it was worth it, we LOVED Newport! I geeked out with the Pacific NOAA headquarters (one of five worldwide) with two huge research ships visible from our transient dock. Then we took a walk and five minutes later discovered the University of Oregon Hatfield Marine Science Center, a very cool mini-version of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. And speaking of aquariums, the Pacific Coast Aquarium, one of the ten best aquariums in the U.S. was a 15 minute walk from our boat and we were excited to go there, but ended up skipping it to catch a short weather window to continue North and the long term forecast didn’t show another one for 10 days or more. We were at South Beach Marina, across the Highway 101 bridge from the scenic waterfront area and downtown Newport, so we took the bus and enjoyed exploring, finding another Englund’s Marine Supply and picked up a few more essentials.
Leg #8: June 5, 2019: 113 nm, 22 hours from Newport to Astoria: Great conditions, very comfortable overnight passage timed to cross the Yaquina River bar out of Newport and enter the infamously dangerous Columbia River bar at slack tide, but being a 5 mile long bar, it wouldn’t be slack for long. We ended up surfing much of the way across the bar, similar to going downwind in San Pablo Bay. Required concentration and hand steering, but was uneventful. We loved Astoria, a very scenic town with a lot of maritime history and an amazing maritime museum. I was shocked to discover that the few gouges in the bow created by the anchor jumping the roller in heavy seas around Point Arena had expanded by further upwind pounding into a 14-inch gash that went all the way through the hull into the anchor locker. I was able to find a local guy to repair it and made multiple trips to Englund’s (love that place!) for screws, tools, and parts to fix some loose stanchions (had to drill out and extract stainless screws that were fused to the aluminum supports). We planned to stay for a couple of weeks to rest up, enjoy the town, and get mail/packages forwarded, so we had time for some boat work. The Columbia River is huge, interesting, and excellent cruising to Portland and beyond, which we would like to do someday. The locals seemed very proud of their town and again, one friendly liveaboard on our dock offered to lend us his truck during our stay.
Leg #9: June 16, 2019: 180 nm, 27 hours to Neah Bay: Our final and longest passage, we decided to skip Gray’s Harbor/Westport and go all the way to Puget Sound. After two months we were both ready to get out of the ocean and reach our destination. Long, but very comfortable passage. Neah Bay was a very pleasant surprise- beautiful, scenic, friendly locals, great general/grocery store just across the street, small but nice selection of restaurants, and a highly regarded museum that we regretfully decided to skip to make it to Puget Sound for Darlene’s birthday. Surprisingly, despite the guide books, there are no designated transient docks or berths at Makah Marina, but the harbor staff always have empty spots for visitors where permanent berthers, mostly fishing boats, are out to sea for extended periods. The bay itself has plenty of room to anchor and during our visit only one boat was anchored in the whole bay. We could have anchored and stayed longer, but we preferred to rest up in the marina and have easy access to re-provisioning so we could finally reach our new home and cruising grounds in the San Juans, Puget Sound, and British Columbia.
Distance Traveled: 798 nautical miles
Total Legs of Trip: 9
Total Days: 55
Average Speed: 5.95 knots
Hours Underway: 134
Engine Hours Used: 134
Total Fuel Used: Approximately 105 gallons
Total Cost of Fuel Used: $378.00
Percentage Under Sail (without engine): 0%
Percentage Motorsailed: Close to 100%
Average Wind Speed/Direction: NW 10-15 knots
Average Wave Height/Direction: NW 2-5 feet
Highest Wind Speed Encountered: 32 knots (Point Arena)
Highest Wave Height Encountered: 12 feet (exiting S.F. Bay)
Total Days in Port: 47
Total $ Spent for Transient Moorage: $1,816.60
What We Learned Going the “Wrong Way” Up the Pacific Coast:
- One day harbor-hops from S.F. Bay to Puget Sound can be very comfortable if you take your time and choose weather windows carefully.
- Wave heights, periods and direction matter much more than wind speed and direction for a comfortable passage. Favorable conditions are wave heights less than 3 feet, periods 6 or more seconds apart, with little or no cross swell.
- River bars are not a problem if crossed at slack tide in settled conditions.
- If you don’t/can’t catch the river bar at slack tide, always cross on a flood tide in either direction, never on an ebb tide (see leg #1).
- Often repeated guidance is to contact the Coast Guard for the bar report before crossing, which we did, but they will give you the same information available online or by radio. So the green light to cross the bar is that it is open as they will close it if dangerous, but they won’t provide navigational advice other than facts to avoid liability problems. Here’s the online bar report- https://www.wrh.noaa.gov/pqr/marine/BarObs.php
- Cell reception is available along most of the coast except the most remote regions. We traveled 5-10 miles offshore and had cell reception most of the time.
- Weather forecasts are not an exact science, but with judgment and interpretation you can pretty reliably know what to expect. Always assume the reported gusts might be the sustained winds, with possible higher gusts, same with wave heights.
- For weather forecasts we used Predict Wind’s departure planner extensively and was happy with the results- https://forecast.predictwind.com/ but also double checked with NOAA, Sail Flow, and Bouyweather. Sail Flow is great for easily getting a wind/wave forecast for a specific area, as does Bouyweather, but the latter provides a long-term 16-day forecast that we found useful.
- Coastal harbors in Northern California, Oregon and Washington go out of their way to accommodate transients and the locals tend to be proud of their town and are very welcoming, helpful and friendly if you are friendly and appreciative of their town as well.
- When beating into wind and waves for long periods, securely close all hatches, vents, ports, etc. We had water entering through the forward solar vents and a clamshell vent we use for our shower. One solar vent is toast from the salt water. If we didn’t close a hatch or port securely we would find leaking later. Sailing S.F. Bay for 35 years and trips to Monterey didn’t adequately prepare us for ocean passages!
To follow our further adventures cruising the Pacific Northwest: