Apologies for the long post! Get some coffee or snacks – better yet, a beer. OK here we go!
We left Bodega Bay on July 5th at 6 am. Even though we were anxious to head north, we really enjoyed the extra time with our family and hanging out in the relaxed area of Bodega Bay. Bodega Bay was planning it’s annual fireworks display for that evening, and we would have had a front row seat! But the weather is our new boss, and we have to mind it.
The predictions looked favorable for a few days; 5-15 knots of NW winds with average wave/swell conditions. We thought it would be a good idea to take advantage of the mild weather and take an extended trip and head to Eureka (Humboldt Bay). With our average motoring speed of 5 knots, the trip would take about 36 hours. It would be our first real overnight passage and we were ready.
The weather was somewhat foggy as we left Bodega. There were at least 10 sport fisherman who zoomed by us on the way out of the bay – a good sign. The commercial fishing fleet has a mandated closure right now, until July 15, so they are all in port.
The conditions were what we expected during the day, and we were able to put the sail up to give us a boost and add to our stability (less rolling) for a while (I did take some video with my gopro camera, I will post as soon as I can, still learning). I made quesadillas for lunch, which is high end cooking for us while we are underway! We experienced a beautiful sunset. We decided on 2 hour watches through the night, and Ralph took the first watch at 9 pm. I went below and tried to sleep in the sea berth we’d set up, which has a lee cloth attached so we wouldn’t roll out of the bunk inadvertently. The conditions had gotten more lumpy and although I’ve felt good for quite a while, I got pretty seasick. By the time it was my turn for watch at 11 pm, I was feeling awful, but felt better after relieving my stomach of the day’s food. Ralph looked at me with concern – “are you going to be OK?”, he asked. I said yes and pulled myself together for my first night watch. (Side note – Ralph said that he could see the Ft. Bragg fireworks show through the light fog during his watch.)
I had packed a snack grab bag before we left and I had my ipod packed with my favorite upbeat tunes. I noticed right away that there was a lot of phosphorescence in the water, and that really mesmerizes me. The fog had rolled in, so really all I could do was watch the radar and make sure our course was adjusted correctly on the autopilot. I cranked up the tunes and my two hours went by really quickly – I really enjoyed myself.
When Ralph went below to rest, he suggested that we try to sleep in the quarter berth, which is in the rear quadrant of the boat next to the engine room and is where store things like extra sails, our storm sail and extra bedding. He had made a place to lie down with things on either side to wedge us in. I tried it out and was able to conk out pretty quickly after I set my alarm for 3 am.
I woke up on time, got dressed and fixed some soup quickly for both of us. Ralph took his turn sleeping and again, I enjoyed my watch time. I listened to a book on tape and music, watched the water for phosphorescence and I enjoyed seeing the sky get lighter. I even got a peek at a few stars and Venus when the flog lifted for about a minute. After Ralph got up, we had some oatmeal and talked for a while and then I went to take my rest. Before I went to sleep I saw the sun shining through the port light and I smiled. I have to admit that I am pretty tired of fog.
The next thing I was aware of was Ralph waking me up and saying that we had to “talk about the conditions” – well, that didn’t sound good. I got up and out to the cockpit as quickly as I could. In the hour I had been sleeping, the winds had doubled (it was about 8 am at this time) and we were nearing Punta Gorda, but it was still 10 nm away. Punta Gorda and Cape Mendocino are known as the most significant navigational challenges on the west coast, at least as stated by the US Coast Guard. Ralph said that he was concerned about how much worse things might get, since it was still morning and was supposed to be calm. We decided to watch conditions for a while, but within the hour we had winds up to 40 knots, a few large waves and fresh chop that was killing our speed – at times we were down to 1 knot progress. We decided that we had to turn around, so Ralph pulled a big u-turn and we headed south. Meanwhile, our dinghy was trying to get away from us, so we spent some time re-securing it to the swim step on our stern.
It’s a big difference going with the wind! We discussed heading for Mexico. Instead, we scooted to Shelter Cove and were there by noon, in the fog again, with about zero visibility. We decided that we would need to get more fuel for the next attempt to round the cape, and our guide book said there was some available on the bluff of the cove, above a boat launch ramp. We anchored and settled ourselves, and then I called the launch ramp facility on the VHF to inquire about fuel availability, still not really able to see anything on land. The dispatcher informed us that fuel was 5 miles away (turned out to be round trip) and there was no sort of delivery service or anything. We have two fuel cans on board that are 5 gallons each – they are pretty heavy when full.
We decided to just hang out and get some rest before deciding what to do next. We could head further south to Ft. Bragg to get fuel, but that seemed like a bad choice. There was no cell coverage in the area, so I couldn’t get to any of my weather applications, but we listened to the NOAA forecast on VHF. The weather would be too heavy to head north for several days. Additionally, as we witnessed firsthand, the conditions around Punta Gorda are typically more severe than forecast due to it’s unique undersea geography (the meeting of 3 tectonic plates, forming undersea canyons), so we would wait for the mildest conditions forecast to attempt again.
That afternoon, two fisherman approached us. It turns out that they had heard our radio call and were offering assistance. We told them we were still trying to figure out what to do, and they wished us luck. Later on we took the dinghy to the beach and walked up the hill. Shelter Cove is essentially a vacation town, where people come to wind down and fish. It’s an absolutely gorgeous area. While there we saw several black tailed deer wandering around. On top of the bluff there was a small store and a restaurant, so we knew we would be OK here for a while. I called our family at home, collect, from a pay phone to let them know that we were OK, but wouldn’t be in Eureka for a while.
The next day, while we were still trying to hatch a plan, the same fisherman came by and asked us if we had resolved our dilemma. I said we were planning to take our fuel cans to the beach and get a ride to the gas station, and they said, “Let’s go!”. We met Gary and Tom at the beach, and headed off, sitting 4-across in the front seat of Gary’s pick-up. We stopped by Gary’s home so that they could unhook their boat and set aside their catch for the day – king salmon and ling cod. To our delight, they cut up a couple of fillets for us! What wonderful guys – we were floored by their kindness. We got to the gas station and there was also a small grocery store there. I filled up my backpack with fresh fruit and veggies and we headed back to the beach. Once back aboard Toga, we emptied our fuel cans into our fuel tanks. Gary and Tom offered to pick us up again the next day for more fuel, and then we got to meet their lovely wives as well, Nan and Betsy. Nan gave us a tour of the area, including the nearby black sand beach and the beginning of the Lost Coast trail heading north. She even drove us around so I could try to find a cell signal – no luck – by Betsy let me borrow her phone so I could check on our kids. Back aboard Toga again, we repeated our fueling. Gary and Tom even checked on us the next day, Wednesday, but we were OK on fuel. We can’t say enough about these people; we are very grateful to them.
The weather was lightening, and we decided we would leave on Thursday or Friday. We were puttering around aboard on Wednesday when I heard an “Ahoy there!” outside. I went above and was stunned to see our friend Sue from San Pedro on a kayak! I shouted to Ralph and enjoyed the puzzled look on his face when he saw who was visiting. It turns out that Sue and her husband, Dick, were on their way down the coast from Canada when they saw a post on facebook from my aunt that we anchored safely in Shelter Cove. I was so surprised and delighted that they decided to stop and visit. Sue even brought us beer in case the situation was desperate aboard! That night we met on the beach and we all had a great pizza dinner together in town. It was so nice to see our friends. Meanwhile, we planned for an early Friday morning departure.
On Thursday, Ralph was giving me some engine maintenance lessons when I saw a sailboat behind us in the anchorage – we had been alone all week except the fishermen coming and going from the launch ramp. Right away I recognized Andante and her skipper, Dennis, who we met on the way to Bodega Bay in the fog. After Dennis got anchored, we rowed over and invited him to dinner. It was really nice to catch up over tacos, and Dennis was planning to head out early Friday, like us.
We went to bed early and roused ourselves at 1 am. The evening had been unusually warm, and it was still warmer and dryer than usual and there was only light fog – yeah! We pulled up the anchor and took off to the north.