Ambassadors for all we America was. Apologists for all America is.

Spiritus goes South …

This entry details the journey South.

YAQUINA BAY OREGON TO HALF MOON BAY CALIFORNIA

We left Newport, Oregon on October 18, 2012 and needed to be in San Diego by October 28 to join the 2012 Baja-ha-ha fleet as it headed south to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

First, we had to cover 1100 miles of open sea along Oregon’s south coast and the entire California Coast.  We needed to average 110 miles a day.

The crew  of Spiritus for this part of the voyage was myself, Dean Major, who owns and runs Cutting Edge Canvas in Newport, Oregon, and Angela Sivers, a licensed massage therapist from Lincoln County, Oregon.  They also crewed in the shakedown voyage to and from Astoria, so both were now familiar with Spiritus.

We originally planned on leaving on the 15th, or thereabouts, but weather closed in and pushed the date back a few days.

We finally got a small weather window around the 18th of October, and left Yaquina Bay to head south along Oregon’s coast.  The original intent was to make a series of small jumps along Oregon and California.  Because we were forced to wait for the weather, we changed that to a plan to sail as far as possible before putting into a harbor.  The only limits would be crew attitude and fatigue.  We decided that as long as we were happy, rested and doing well we would continue sailing.

The boat was fully fueled and provisioned so staying at sea was not particularly problematic.

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When we set out, it was late afternoon on the 18th and winds were from the north at perhaps 15 knots with 6 foot following seas.  A very good start and close to the gold standard of “fair winds and following seas.”

We left against the dubious “wisdom” of some old salts (whose boats seldom left the docks even in good weather) that the window was not big enough and that the weather had changed for the fall and we were not going to be able to make it south.

For those of you who do not know sailing in the Pacific Northwest,  good weather still requires foul-weather gear for some cold temperatures so we bundled up.  The weather was also just so-so enough that we had fully prepared the boat for foul weather (don’t forget the name of the first cape north of Yaquina Bay).  She was geared up with safety lines,  jack lines, tethers for crew, a prepared life raft and immersion suits for all crew members.

Crew also had personal strobes, a waterproof handheld, man-overboard pole with automatic strobe, and a GPS capable of marking MOB point for return and search.

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Somewhere off Brookings, Oregon, weather began to seriously deteriorate.  We were unable to retreat north because of the wind direction.  This was now the evening of our second day at sea, the 20th, and by shortly after nightfall we had a sea state of 40 knot winds sustained with gusts to 45-50, and following seas of 12-14 foot height.

The boat is a strong boat so to this point we had pretty much sailed her but, now, rudder authority was hard to maintain when she would dip into a trough and both surf the downside of the wave and lose the wind in our sail.  We had her now sailing on a fully reefed main, mostly furled jib, and tied down mizzen sail.  We turned on the engine so that we could use the rudder when necessary to fight any tendency she might have to suddenly turn while surfing.  In other words, we were using the thrust of water from the prop to help turn the boat or stop the boat from turning if necessary.

A 28,000 lb boat with a 7.18 knot theoretical hull speed doing 12.2 knots is interesting to say the least.

We found ourselves in the unenviable position of being unable to turn across the prevailing waves from behind us to head for shore without risking swamping the boat by taking the seas abeam.  We were what I believe is best described as “running before the wind.”

The motion of the boat was as described in many writings … lifting up on each peak, “whooshing” as she settled into the trough.  She never buried her bowsprit nor (with one exception in three days) did a wave ever break over her stern.  We actually never had  to close the main cabin hatch even in the worst of the storm.

I can only describe the feeling sailing her in these conditions as, “you did not dare look backwards, because the sight of the wave following you would break your concentration and cause you to let the boat turn as you looked over your shoulder.”

The control of the tiller was somewhere between rowing a 28,000 lb. boat by hand and, when you had the rhythm right, gently holding the tiller as you anticipated the hull’s next move.  We also had a vibration that was fairly constant, which we finally figured out was the prop spinning because we were moving thru the water at or in excess of hull speed.

As the hours –and now day–wore on, fatigue set in, as well as we discovered that one crew member was not strong enough to physically handle the tiller.  The forces applied were simply excessive over the three hours necessary.  This reduced us to two people at the tiller.

We started looking for safe haven.  We were in moderate trouble.  When we looked at the charts, we decided to make a run for Bodega Bay and its shelter but when we turned shoreward, it became obvious we were too far south and again were taking high seas abeam.  We turned reluctantly south again.

We didn’t know it, but we were actually now at the south edge of the gale and by morning had moved into calmer waters and more moderate winds.

In the 40 hours plus of fighting the gale winds and high seas, the boat had sustained no damage other than a broken flywheel housing mount that caused the engine to shriek when idling.  We had fixed that in the storm with duct tape which actually held but did not help with an intermittent short in the ground to some of the boat’s systems that were connected to the mount.

We still had 25 knot winds but better seas and were making very good time south.  Weather looked “good enough” and we pressed our luck.  Everyone could steer again (as the force necessary had moderated), so we were back to three fully functional crew members.

We decided, as a crew, to press on and pass up San Francisco Bay.  But we were getting tired and needed to sort out some small boat issues.  We also planned to bypass Los Angeles so we needed to top off the fuel tanks.  We looked at the  clock and saw that we would reach Half  Moon Bay (south of San Francisco) by 20 miles or so about dawn at our current speed.

All I can say is we approached it out of the storm and out of fog and high seas right at sunrise.  We watched other boats leaving the bay as we neared it from the north only to hear them on the VHF turning back because of the conditions.  We thought the conditions were much better.  But, we were going south and they were going north.

Half  Moon Bay was beautiful and calm and a welcome respite.

HALF MOON BAY TO OXNARD CALIFORNIA

We used the short time there to fix the engine mount by manufacturing a new one.  We topped off the diesel tanks.  We had a problem with the head leaking but that could not be fixed but we worked around it.  Our handheld VHF was acting up so that no one trusted it in the cockpit.  That meant you could not hear weather on it or another ship’s hail.  The cure was to add an external speaker to the inside VHF set so that the person at the tiller could get info needed to steer and make weather decisions.  We didn’t have one in the ship’s stores.

Slept the night and left the next morning, determined to bypass Los Angeles Harbor because of the daunting amount of shipping and what we considered a high objective danger to a small sailing boat like ours.

We had better weather, but the winds began building again just after dark.  By the time we reached the Monterey Bay peninsula we were  forced to reef back to nothing but the main and a small jib (furler nearly all the way in).  Was funny going past Monterey as I had been a student at the Defense Language Institute there during 1967-68.  Seeing the city lights in the dark brought back a lot of good memories.  We continued south as the seas got no worse and no better.  We intended to pass Los Angeles harbor entrance (80 miles or so of shipping traffic lanes) starting at first light about a day later.  Instead, as we were still north of LA, we were hailed by a freighter who told us he only saw us visually and on radar when we lifted up out of a trough.  He suggested we were virtually invisible on the radar and might want to put in somewhere till the seas calmed a bit.

A hurried look at the charts told us we were only about 18 miles from Oxnard, and Channel Islands Marina with its wonderful breakwater out from the entrance.  We turned across the seas and ran for shore and safety.

Oxnard was an interesting change … remember we hadn’t stopped often.  We came in late at night and checked in and went to bed.  Next morning we found out …. “Gee, here I want a cold shower not a hot one like in Oregon.”  Our foul weather gear was suddenly hot and sweaty.  They have palm trees here …. duh.  It was a beautiful harbor and marina.  We were slipped right next to a brand new 44 foot Hunter which became a kind of visual reminder of the changes in sailing styles and equipment.

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More fuel but only 17 gallons to top it off this time.

Tested the handheld VHF.  Works but still possessed.  Added actual deck speaker for main VHF to help with crew and owner being spooked about whether or not handheld actually worked.  Re-fixed broken mount for flywheel housing. Fixed short in starter (or so we thought).  Did wash.  Dried out cushions and lots of stuff wet from spray and splash of last few days.  Fixed head again.  Washed glass in portholes.  Cleaned then so we could see out. Dried EVERYTHING!

Listened to weather.  Offshore winds dropping.  Dean went and actually looked at water off harbor entrance.  I repeat his cell phone call from the jetty, “Let’s go, NOW!”

OXNARD TO SAN DIEGO

It is only the 26th and we have two days to get to San Diego.  We can see the end in sight and we will be there before the Baja Ha Ha fleet leaves for Mexico.

I believe this leg was actually uneventful.  Nothing else broke.  The weather was beautiful as we left Oxnard and remained that way till San Diego Bay.  We pulled into San Diego just before dark on the 27th and the Harbor Police put us at the police dock (thank you God and San Diego Harbor Police).

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Weather now officially hot by Oregon standards and we were sailing in shorts.

SAN DIEGO TO ENSENADA

See the section called Baja Ha Ha 2012 for this adventure.  We were no longer alone after San Diego but part of 150 or so boats headed for Mexico.  The Baja Ha-Ha is an experience all its own and deserves its own description.

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