Saturday, July 27, 2013

Crossing The Columbia River Bar : Day 2

Entering the Columbia River Bar.  Note the bandaid ...
yah thats from the sunburn.
The Columbia River Bar is known as the “Graveyard of the Pacific”.  This small patch of water where river meets sea is one of the most violent and unpredictable pieces of ocean in the entire world.  Most high flow rivers have their power diffused by a large delta before they meet the ocean.  But, because of the Columbia River’s unique geography, the river shoots out into the Pacific like a fire-hydrant.  This creates an area of about 6 miles at the mouth of the river where the conditions can go from glasslike to 15ft standing waves in a matter of minutes.  If you don’t cross the bar at the right time then you’re in for a roller coaster of a ride ...

I’ve been hearing horror stories of the Columbia River Bar for my entire life.  As a sailor, I have had a lot of anxiety over crossing the bar.  Since records started, over 2,000 ships have met their end in the raging waters of the bar.  I’ve had nightmares of what would happen to me in my little ship once I finally found the courage to do the crossing myself.  I’ve been very content staying in the relative safety of the river ...

So the chance to do the crossing for the first time on someone else’s boat with a captain that had done the crossing dozens of times before ... this was like a dream come true.

At 9:00am Mike, Sam and I threw off the dock lines and took Pama over to the fuel dock to top off all of our tanks for the voyage north.  We knew we would be out there for at least 20 hours and with any luck would be rounding the head of Cape Flattery and entering the Straights of Juan de Fuca the next morning.  Just a little over 100 miles of ocean to cross ...

... but the first hurdle is crossing the bar.

After we left the marina in Astoria we had about 6 miles to cross before we reached the beginning of the bar.  Up in the cockpit we had the music going and were in high spirits despite the overcast conditions (although my face was probably very glad for the overcast ... by burn from the day before had begun to blister).

I took out the charts for the bar crossing and quickly got down to refreshing my navigational skills.  It had been almost 8 years since I last used the dividers ...  I took reference readings and GPS readings whenever we neared a buoy and then tested to make sure I could plot the point on the chart.  I was happy to find that I hadn’t become too rusty!  Thank you Coast Guard for teaching me so well!

I started to get into the routine of charting our location, setting a waypoint to the next buoy, finding a magnetic bearing and then testing myself to determine how accurate I was.  After I had repeated this a few times, I was pretty confident in my skills again.  I noticed we were in the middle of the channel close to the final jetty before the open sea.  The waters were fairly calm ... just 1-3ft little rollers.  I turned to Mike and asked him how far until we reached the bar.

“The Bar?  We’ve been crossing it for the last 15 minutes ...”

Huh?  This was terrible bar that I feared?  Where were the 15 foot breaking waves?  I was expecting to have a white knuckle grip and a heart trying to escape my chest ... instead I was listening to Jack Johnson while drinking a Pepsi and leisurely plotting points on a chart ...  I guess waiting for the right conditions really does pay off!  The farther out into the bar we headed the more the seas began to build ... but nothing over 4 feet swells with a very comfortable motion.  I smiled to myself.

I was crossing the bar.  The monster that I feared had been put to rest.

About 30 minutes later we were approaching buoy #7.  This was the mark where we had decided to change our course and begin heading N/NW out to sea and up the coast.  I looked behind me as the Columbia River began to disappear into the vista of the Oregon Coast and quickly vanished into the hazy overcast and fog.

And then it hit me ...

I am on the ocean.

For more information about the Columbia River Bar and it's history Click Here.

Until Next Time

Stay tuned for the rest of the adventure!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Sailing From Portland to Friday Harbor : Day 1

Last year I was introduced to a man named Mike who has a beautiful 43 foot sloop in my hometown of Portland.  It just so happens that Mike sails up to Puget Sound every summer he can to spend a few weeks exploring the amazing islands and towns around the Salish Sea.

Well a few months ago, Mike got in touch with me and asked me if I would be willing to crew for him on his journey from Portland to Friday Harbor this July.  I, of course, jumped on this amazing opportunity to learn first hand how to do this voyage from someone who has done it many times before.  The Portland to Puget Sound trip is a popular one for mariners to undertake ... and it has always been high on my list to do once I have a capable boat ...

... and it would mean crossing the Columbia River Bar and sailing on the open ocean!!!!

For weeks leading up to the journey I fussed over what gear I would need to buy.  Foul weather gear, harness, tethers, vests ... everything that would make me safe and comfortable on my first ocean sailing experience.  I had dreams (and some nightmares) about what it would be like hours from land in the middle of the night with only the blackness of the ocean around me.  I couldn't get the trip out of my head ...

And now it's here!!!

Today I met Mike and the other crew mate Sam at Hayden Bay at 8:00am.  Me and my duffle bag made our way down the ramp and boarded Pama, a 43ft Finnish ex-racer from Japan with beautiful lines, teak decks, and a new stylish dodger.  She is a truly stylish vessel.  I have never sailed a long journey on such thoroughbred class of ship.

The S/V Pama underway to Astoria!
Mike greeted me with a handshake on the dock.  Sam, an ex-coastie, looked as delighted as I was to be sailing on such a fantastic voyage.  I was looking forward to honing my navigation skills again ... skills that have grown rusty from years of dead reckoning navigation on the river.

The first leg of our journey was to make it from Portland to Astoria.  The trip down the mighty Columbia River would take about 12 hours at an average speed of 6 knots.  Unfortunately the wind was blowing directly from the west - so the entire river portion of the trip would be done under the "iron sail" (that's the engine for you landlubbers).

Still, the trip was very exciting.  Sam and I took turns at the helm and identifying navigation buoys while Mike got some shut-eye below decks.  How he slept, I have no idea ... the winds quickly built to around 20 knots right on our nose and we were soon bashing our way through 3 ft standing waves.  It was by far the roughest I have ever seen the river.  Combine that with the fact that there was a hazy cloud cover, and our trip began very cold.  Good thing I had packed for any situation ... out came the gloves, sweatshirt, and cap.  Where was the beautiful 80 degree weather that was forecasted!?

About 2 hours later, Mike reappeared on deck.  That's when it because obvious that he was hoarding all of the good weather.  The minute he was back on deck, the river calmed, the wind died down, and we were soon stripping off our unnecessary layers and basking in the sun.

The rest of the trip saw more sun, unpredictable winds, great sandwiches, and many stories swapped between the three new companions.  The trickiest part of the entire journey was deciphering the 20 year old river atlas onboard.  This truly magnificent book was literally falling apart ... but for the most part guided us safely and accurately to our destination.  There were only a few "mystery" buoys that we were unable to locate on the ancient crumbling pages ...

The Bridge at Astoria, OR
By sunset we were sailing under the bridge at Astoria.  Just a few miles beyond lies the Columbia River Bar - but that challenge is one we will face in the morning.  For tonight we are moored up tight against the Astoria docks.  Upon arrival I discovered that the sunblock I had put on in the morning obviously didn't last through the entire 10 hour trip ... I was burnt so bad that even as I lay here I can feel the heat radiating off of my face.  Seriously ... the only place on my face that isn't red is where my sunglasses were.   I look like some sort of red and pink version of a raccoon from a some messed up Disney cartoon ... Oh well.  Lesson learned.

Tomorrow I'll shower in the damn stuff.

After the boat was secure, we wandered aimlessly looking for a place to sign in only to encounter closed shop after closed shop.  We asked a friendly Astorian if there was a place nearby for a drink and some food and were directed to a little tavern on the hill.  After ordering a beer and avoiding glances from the locals (who were most likely jealous and awed by my glowing red skin), we set down to the task of enjoying a nice meal after a long day ...

... and then the karaoke started.  Thats right people ... even Astoria is consumed with the karaoke craze.

It was awesome.  And no - I didn't sing anything.  The act of witnessing such a spectacle was much more entertaining.  Oh ... and there were old life rings and bras hanging from the ceiling.  No joke.

My pilot berth where I am currently snug and writing this entry .... I love it.
So tomorrow morning we will wake up, cross the bar around 10:30, and begin our 19 to 26 hour journey on the open ocean.  Obviously, I won't be able to update until I get back ... but trust me, I'll have a ton to tell you!  I will have spent an entire night out on the Pacific ocean.  We have no working auto helm, so the 3 of us will be taking turns standing watch and hand steering Pama all the way to Friday Harbor.

Wish me luck that I don't get seasick ...

Until Next Time,

6 Month Update : About To Take Off :)

Hello everyone, and yes - I'm still alive ;)

I have been absent from writing on here for a very simple reason, but one that takes a bit of explanation.      Originally I stopped writing because I have some very exciting news.  However, I was waiting for the right moment to announce this news to everyone.

Well, at first I waited for week.  And that week turned into two weeks.  Then a month.  And now I have been waiting for 6 months - and still the "right time" hasn't shown up.  SO, even though it's not quite the time I was hoping for, I have decided to share my exciting news with you anyways because I'm not really sure how much longer it will take.

So here's the news.  I have a new boat!

First the sad part ... yes I have sold Aramis.  But don't worry - she has gone to an AMAZING couple who has already carried on her legacy and rebirth and are making sure that she remains loved and well used.  I'm pretty sure they have taken her out every single sunny weekend so far this summer ... I couldn't have asked for better new owners of my beloved Aramis.

But why did I sell her?!  And what is my new boat!?!

I sold Aramis because I couldn't justify having two boats.  I am now the proud owner of a Mariner 31 Ketch named Whisper.  She is a BEAUTIFUL boat and has every single quality I've ever dreamed of in my permanent live-aboard-and-sail-around-the-world boat.  She has a deep full keel, beautiful lines, ketch rig, lots of headroom, and is a proven blue-water boat.

I'll do a background and history on her soon ...

So why was I delaying this news ...?

Well, Whisper needs a lot of work before I can live aboard her.  So ... I'm not living aboard a sailboat at this moment.  As the blog here was based around me living aboard a boat I was "waiting" until I had restored Whisper enough to live aboard her before announcing the good news!  However - in order to devote my time and money to my new Mariner 31 I need to sell my floating home and this has proven to take much longer than I expected.  So for now Whisper is sitting at the dock and I am waiting for my floating home to sell so that I can devote my time once again to living aboard a sailboat.

So the future is VERY bright for the In Search Of The Sea project.  I now have the boat that I can accomplish my goals and dreams with.  Now all I need is to finish her restoration ...

Until Next Time