August 13, 2022
Let's back up a minute before I dive into blogging about "making the big left turn" and sailing down the West Coast into the Pacific Ocean and her gentle swells. The departure would have looked much different if we had a Time Machine. Much different. 1,000,000,000 times different. Ok. On with the blog...
After sitting for days in Neah Bay with nothing to do other than walk the same piece of road, we were antsy to leave. The weather didn't look bad, but it didn't look good either. We had a general sense of what to expect but wanted a second opinion. Cue advice from Max. We sent him the weather data and got, "Well, I wouldn't go, but I don't like rough conditions anymore." And something like "you won't die" (I'm paraphrasing). Sane people would stay and wait for a better window. Not us. Nope. We're going for it.
Armed with nerves and enthusiasm, we picked up the anchor and headed into the last bit of the Juan De Fuca. Wow. These swells are marginally big but manageable. We saw the lighthouse and made the "Big Left Turn," pointing us down the coast. This turn marked what we felt was the start of our journey to Mexico.
We went out, blasting into the ocean carried by the last Juan de Fuca tide. It was a little bumpy, but we chalked it up to the straight meeting the ocean swell. Our plan was to head out between 30-50 miles offshore. Far enough to avoid the dreaded crab pots and fishing vessels but close enough that we wouldn't spend an entire day going back into port. Our planned next stop was Newport, Oregon, about 2 days away.
We started our watches, and the winds began to build. But weirdly, so did the swell and wind waves. Hmmmm….this isn't exactly what we thought it would be. The boat started rolling from side to side with awkward waves almost immediately. There wasn't enough wind to keep the sails full, so as we rolled, we listened to the "slam! Slam! Slam" of the sails. This was life for the next two days, except when it wasn't.
This is when we started to learn what people don't tell you about offshore sailing. In fact, most YouTubers paint a vastly different picture of offshore sailing in the PNW with shorts, sunshine and fish just jumping on board. The boat moves constantly. There is not a little movement where you can still fumble around the boat. Oh no. Picture shooting out of the head (bathroom) and into the galley. Our world quickly shrunk to the cockpit, bed and toilet. Making food was out of the question. We'd have to survive on crackers, Gatorade and cliff bars until we hit land again. No big deal, we'll just sleep when we're off watch. Nope. Apparently, sleeping while the boat is rolling takes a skill neither of us has learned yet. Everything just became more complicated. Everything. Even sailing. We learned the forecast winds weren't enough to keep the sails full. When the wind grew to keep the sails full, so did
the waves, thus repeating the cycle of big winds, bigger waves. Lovely.
After 24 hours on board, with little food and even less sleep. I had enough. I popped my head out of the companionway and said, "I think I'm going to throw up and just want this fucking boat to stop moving for five minutes." Followed up with dry heaving and nothing coming out except tears from my eyes. I then declared my hate of all things ocean-related and likened the trip to a ride you couldn't get off of. Mark patiently waited for my tantrum to cease and then offered to stay up longer so I could feel comfortable. "Nah. I'll be fine". Down he went to try and sleep.
Our day passed with brief exchanges as we changed shifts every 4 hours. The shifts went by relatively non-eventful other than waves. Our lives had just become waves, and we were trying to manage daily life with the waves. But at hour 36, Mark got seasick. It's not a little seasick, but dead/useless/zombie-style seasick. We lost a container of M&Ms to the seasickness (and will never look at Costco-sized MMs the same again). He poked his head out and said, "I'm going to need a little longer. I can't really function". And that was the last I saw of Mark until we got to Newport.
We'd been lucky to this point. We hadn't had the dreaded fog. Hahahah. Cue fog on night two. Fog so thick that visibility was limited to a small circle around the boat. We were lucky that we'd only seen a couple of fish boats, and they were lit up like a city, so they were very hard to miss. But with the fog and the waves, I was in for a long night. A very long night. Exhaustion started seeping around 4 am, and I thought I had steered us in a 180-degree turn. But I didn't. It was just a wind shift from behind to directly in front. Why wouldn't we have to finish the crappiest sail by going upwind?
As my mood plummeted, the sun started rising. The light of day was making things feel better. Then the wind died off, and the wind waves, too. We were just down to rolling swell, albeit still decently sized. And Newport was in sight. We just had to cross that pesky bar. That annoying bar had a small craft warning with restrictions for boats under 24 feet. Ok. Seems fine. What does a bar crossing look like? What's a jetty tip, and what do 10-foot swells feel like? After several calls to the Coast Guard and one VHF call to a boat that had just exited, we crossed that bar. No matter what. We had fantasies of putting the anchor down and sleeping. One of us may have dreamed of getting off the boat and never returning.
Mark expertly helmed us through the bar with ease. There was a small whirlpool, which Mark doesn't remember, and a couple of tense moments. But it was really non-eventful. We were so excited to have sailed our boat to Newport, and we snapped a million pictures up the river. We motored past the marina to the GPS coordinates another cruiser had given us. Thankfully, there was only one other boat. We did it! Our first offshore leg was done. We snugged up the ship and went down for a well-deserved sleep.
After a restful nap, we were ready to get to shore and stretch our legs. The dog was prepared to get to shore and take care of business. So we dropped the dinghy and figured it was just like BC, and we'd beach it. Not so easy in old Newport.
We went to the dock our friends told us about and made the mistake of asking if it was ok to stop there. We got an emphatic no from the fisherman. No recreational boats on the North side of the river. We had to go to the marina. Ok, no problem. We went across the river and just tied up at the marina. Except there's no dinghy dock. That's weird, but ok. We walked around looking for food, but the options on the South side were limited to Rogue Brewery (closed) and the market (closed). No celebratory dinner for us. Back to the boat for some well-deserved relaxation.
The next day, we're back on the dinghy quest. We decided to find out where to land the dinghy at the marina. The ever-so-helpful staff told us there was no place to land the dinghy in the marina, we couldn't pay to tie it up, and no slips were available for the boat. She went as far as to say they'd impound the dinghy if they saw it on the dock. Ok great.
So, like any elder millennial, I went to social media to solve my problems. And it worked! Another FastPassage owner had their boat in the marina and told us to tie it up in their slip. We also managed to get a hold of the local yacht club, who graciously let us use their docks for the dinghy. Our dinghy woes had been solved….now back to this celebratory meal.
We spent the next few days walking downtown Newport and eating in the local restaurants. We'd been here years before and had an idea of where we wanted to eat and what we wanted to do. We had clam chowder at Mo's and got to the South Beach Market for more seafood. The one place we couldn't make it to was Rogue. We said, "Next time," and laughed. There will be no next time. We skipped the aquarium this time but did visit Mark's favourite garbage junk store masquerading as an antique shop. The winds picked up every afternoon, so we tried to return to the boat before that. It gave us plenty of time to look at the weather and fight over the following passage. We certainly didn't want a repeat of the first passage, but we did want to get some sailing in. We'd been here a week and were looking forward to leaving. Newport is a lovely town, but it's not cruiser-friendly. It's geared more towards fishing and land travel.
Finally, on the 22nd, we lifted the anchor and headed back into the ocean.
NM Sailed: 269