Thursday, June 12, 2008

Shiriri Saga # 21. The Big Ocean.

The voyage down the coast.

The waves are enormous! Off Cape Flattery the wind picks up from the usual North-West quadrant and we begin a roller coaster ride on enormous swells that lift us high in the air. We then steer down the slope with our hearts in our mouths. In the trough, the wind goes light, and then the wave slides under us and we are back on the windy crest once more. These are not wind waves, but swells that have travelled many hundreds of miles from a storm in mid North Pacific and are now feeling the shoaling off the cape which serves to make them shorter from crest to crest and higher ( at least 20` high). We have cut the corner too close as we pass the cape.

We have read in advance about this passage down the coast and two theories have emerged: stick close to land and dodge into a harbour when the weather gets worse or you need a rest, or go 100 to 200 miles out, away from shoal water and capes and treat it as an offshore passage. We choose to sail only 30 miles off shore and keep our options open. Partly, we are afraid of deep water but also concerned that the available harbours along this coast are difficult to get in and out of because of big waves and shoal, sandy shores. Like most sailors from the Pacific North-West with it`s Inside Passage, we are unaccustomed to open ocean sailing and this trip down the coast is our first major introduction to it. Unfortunately, these West Coast waters are rated the fifth most dangerous in the world, so if we hit a rough patch we will have a very steep learning curve. We have chosen a middle path, and that will be a problem for us up ahead.

Once well past the cape and in deeper water, the waves settle down to only eight feet or so. - still difficult for us, as Shiriri wants to slew around on each wave crest and she requires a careful hand on the wheel. We will all learn eventually to make a slight correction just before she tries to turn, but in the meantime the crew works hard to maintain course.

It is cold out here so we don our survival suits for the duration of the voyage and settle in to steering due south so we will slowly edge away from the south-east trending coast of North America. Night presents another problem. Because the waves are catching us at an angle on our quarter and making steering difficult, Gwyn and Heather cannot manage it in the dark. We must all take our turns on watch so others can sleep ( there is no more anchoring for the night,) and so we decide on another compromise: we will stop the boat for the night by heaving-to ( reducing sail and swinging the boat around so she just gently rests close to the wind and is more or less stopped.) The helm is lashed and the person on deck only has to watch for other boats. We are tired and desperately need our sleep but by stopping at night we have chosen to double the length of time we will be out here in these turbulent conditions. So, the more likely the weather will be to change and the more exhausted we will become. We all feel sickly from the motion and the standard anti-nausea pills leave us sleepy. This is not fun!

Over the next few days we sail past the coasts of Washington and Oregon states and actually pass the notorious Cape Blanco in a calm, under power. We have yet to learn not to tempt the Gods however, and start talking about San Francisco and getting out of our survival suits. Only one more big bulge in the coastline to negociate: Cape Mendocino!

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