Anacortes WA to Portland OR in January
Over 300 nautical miles
I am just returning to land now after a challenging winter delivery from Anacortes WA to Portland OR. Fortunately I was accompanied by my friend and shipmate Don Stier. Don has many miles on and offshore and in addition to his experience with diesels he has an iron stomach. Both of these things are important with powerboat delivery.
It took 3 days for us to move the Tayana 42 pilothouse trawler the 300 plus miles out, down, and around the west side of Washington. The weather as you might expect this time of year on the NW coast is often less than ideal. In addition the dramatic weather, there are only a few places to retreat to and of those few places only a few times a day you can enter their dangerous bars.
Our adventure began at the Brown Lantern in Anacortes where we ran into the renown sea writer and sailor duo Andy and Stephanie Schwenk. When I mentioned we planed to cast off at midnight Andy informed me that the marina the boat was in would be locked by now. It being friday and already passed the bed time of any broker that might be convinced to let us in we had to find another way. As my friend and the former purser aboard the tall ship Lady Washingon said on our arrival to PDX and upon hearing the first telling of this sea story "any sailor worth his salt can get into a locked marina".
Piece of cake…
Once on the boat with our bags of gear and provisions we set about watering up, checking oil, and lashing furniture down. Yes power boats have furniture. After running the engines for half and hour and checking the transmissions we were off to catch the ebb. The Western Star had two beautiful recently rebuilt bright red Ford Lemans below the spacious parquet dance floor that was her main saloon. This large space turned out to be more of a skating rink later in the weekend for her stocking footed crew.
Once under way and having rounded Lopez Island's southern Iceberg Point we began our watches on the now flat calm Straight of Juan De Fuca. With a crew of two sleep is work and socializing is minimal. I slept in the birth on the bridge and Don took the first watch. The boat we were delivering was recently sold and therefor had nothing aboard. We had to buy a pots and a pan before we left. Unfortunately we forgot something…a lighter.
Neah bay for ice-cream and a lighter.
This is going to be interesting
Its now 13:00 Saturday and we are reassessed the weather. The forecast of a nice 5 to 10 knot breeze with a casual 7 foot swell had changed. That evening the moderate easterly was going to veer 180 degrees and we were going to be contending with a 25 knot westerly and the sea state that comes with it. This wasn't my only concern. We were going to be transiting the waters the where Makaw people fish. Unlike commercial crabbing the indigenous peoples aren't restricted by the opening and closing of the fisheries. Last year we scraped some formidable competition off our transom by sailing into a particularly dense field of floats during the Oregon Offshore race up the Washington Coast. This was different, we were in a powerboat and with the wind forecast to pick up from the west there was the real danger of fouling our props with a lee shore. There was hope though. A few years ago the tugboat companies got together with the crabbers and designated crab pot free lanes up the west coast. When I went to load their waypoints into one of our plotters I noticed there were a few phone numbers posted on the PDFs of the charts illustrating these lanes. I called a few numbers and raised a fisherman who, surprised that his number was still on the resource, said that commercial crabbing was only open 12 miles north of the Columbia River and the native fisherman would be putting there pots in 30 fathoms and deeper. I had to ask if I heard him correctly. I have always see pots in water less than 200 feet. He confirmed what I heard and I thanked him happily for the information. This was good news for us because the forecast was for the easterly winds while we were going to be navigating the northern part of the coast and meant we could hug the coast without fear of crab gear and take advantage of the reduced fetch that would reduce any chance any seas could build.
Tatoosh Island to port
I haven't hugged the coast that close since we sailed the area in my Moore 24 during another Oregon Offshore years ago. We didn't cut between any rocks this time though. Somewhere not far south of an island called Destruction Island the wind veered 180 degrees in one hour and in a very short period the seas came up. Both Don and I have many miles offshore in sailboats and none of that experience can prepare you for the drastically different motion a powerboat has with waves on its beam. We were rolling 20 degrees side to side and quickly. It was black as a cows insides as we crashed and rolled down that isolated coastline. The lights of the plotters on the bridge meant you couldn't see anything outside. You also couldn't sit in the helmsman's chair and even with your legs spread wide you had to hold on the dashboard's fiddle until your hands and legs were sore. Somewhere in there when trying to chase down the banging sounds coming from every end of the boat and devise different ways to lash cabinet doors shut, the range started to slide out of its home. The only thing stopping it from sliding all the way out and dancing all over the parquet floor was its propane hose. But this wasn't the only dangerous and heavy object wanting to dance that night. The two golf cart house batteries that were installed in the shelving opposite the galley had shifted and knocked open the louvered doors hiding the fact that, to my distress, they were not strapped down like they are supposed to be but were only held inlace by a short fiddle. That was enough. I try to get boats moved as quickly as possible to keep down costs for the owner and this isn't always comfortable but we cant risk the crew and the boat to do it. We disengaged the auto pilot and turned to head into the building waves and out to sea. The swells at this point were 10 to 15 feet high. We dropped the revs to the minimum that the autohelm could steer in an effort to slow our progress into the mine field of crab pots the darkness hid in the deeper water offshore we were now heading.
As I recall this is where my poor proud sailors stomach couldn't take anymore and the apples I had been eating left me. I can count the times I have been sea sick and every time its dark and rough. I should have known it would happen and taken something but its good to be reminded what a terrible feeling it is and that we all have our limits. We continued west until we were about 40 miles offshore before things laid down enough to allow us to turn back south. The closest harbor south was West Port, a small fishing port with a bar opening to the west. Bars are dangerous because the rivers that create them produce shallows and strong currants and both of these make waves shorten and break. The only way to negate or reduce this is to time your crossing around the flood. The weather was going to deteriorate in the next 48 hours and make continuing the passage impossible for at least a week so we pointed our bow at the columbia river's buoy number one and adjusted our speed to arrive on the next flood.
When we approached the bar we saw that that old fisherman was right. There were crab boats everywhere and crab pot floats less than a hundred feet from each other. It took both of us watching to see them before they were under our bow. If they did get under the boat all we could do is put the engines in neutral and watch for them to come out the back. We were about 12 miles out and in 300 feet and the end of the ebb was really confusing the seas so paired with our dodging and weaving the boat was rolling a lot. Even when we were on the bar and in the channel there were floats everywhere but an hour into the flood and the seas laid down. Two hours later and we were shooting up the Columbia River at 10 knots and it was looking like we were going to make last call.