Thursday, September 2, 2010

Cape Mendicino Smack Down

We left Eureka after a day in the friendly marina. Owen, crewing on Saben, and I did a walk into the fairly depressed town. There's some pretty cool Victorian houses from the lumber baron days., but a lot of obvious down and outs. Chris and Maria hitch hiked to the store in town!!!
Jeorgia and Saben in Eureka, CA
We left Eureka in the fog. I downloaded a couple of different GRIB (weather model files) covering our passage around Cape Mendocino and down to San Fran. The models looked good and so did the NWS weather text forecasts. We should be having 15-20 kts of northerly wind.
Leaving the Humboldt Bay bar, behind a local fishing trawler
We started sailing in light NW'ly winds and the fog. After an hour or so the fog lifted and the winds picked up  bit. We headed offshore and started rounding Cape Mendocino, about 17 or 18 miles offshore.  Winds were a nice 15-20kts with an 8 foot swell running. We were doing 6-8 kts and having a nice sail. As the evening went on the winds kept building. We took the first reef in the main sail at about 18kts of wind. This kept the boat sailing well. In  a while we were doing 9-12 kts surfing down the waves. The Furuno autopilot was driving and doing a great job. A hour later we were hitting the occasional 13kt surf ride. I decided to go back to the wheel and drive for awhile to test out how hard the steering might be. The moon wasn't up yet, so seeing the waves in the wind was a little difficult. The boat was steering really well. On each surf ride the boat feels like it is on rails. The helm is just a light finger to make any adjustments. At 25 knots we pulled in the second reef on the main sail and reefed the head sail. Soon it was gusting in the low 30 knots and I went back to driving. With the gusts and 10-12 foot waves it was getting more work to drive. I didn't want the autopilot to drive as I was concerned that we might broach (round up) at the bottom of one of the waves after a surf ride down. I really wasn't relishing the thought of driving all night, as it was only about 9pm at that point and when the boat starts going that fast Chris isn't yet comfortable driving. She'd rather be in the cockpit when the waves are towering above the stern. This makes driving easier for me because I can tell when a wave is coming by the size of her eyes.  The winds kept increasing and were gusting into the low 40s. It was now a consistent 35-38kts wind. The boat was starting to hit speeds of 13-14 kts off the waves. Too fast for these conditions. The boat then took off underneath me and I saw 15kts register on the knot meter. The bow wake turned to complete foam and engulfed the entire length of the rails from the bow to the stern. I could feel the boat dropping in the water from the speed. This was clearly too much.
        I had to drive, so this left Chris to manage the sails. She clipped her harness into the jack lines that run the length of boat. Staying real low, she crawled to the mast, positioned herself and started clawing down the main sail. It probably took 15 mins or more to get that sail down. It felt like an hour. While Chris was at the mast, I was trying to drive the boat as straight as possible to make sure we didn't broach. In these conditions that would have knocked the boat down and probably added to Chris' bruise collection. Once the main was down, Chris crawled back to the cockpit and we reefed the head sail down to postage stamp size. Things calmed down pretty quickly. The boat was doing 5 to 6.5 kts. Steering was easy and I put Otto (our autopilot) back to work.  Then started the work of cleaning up the deck mess. Chris went forward to the mast again while I kept an eye on Otto and the waves. She donated a couple of sail ties to Neptune and managed to get one around the mainsail. Otto was behaving, so I took a long line and went up to the mast to corral the main sail. I once saw a picture taken from an aircraft of a boat in the famous 1998 Sydney-Hobart race where so many boats and people were lost.This boat was in horrendous conditions and had the mainsail perfectly folded on the boom with a long lashing of single line with hitches in it. Something tells me they didn't do this with just one person. I got the line around the main, but most of the hitches ended up bunching up on each other. Oh well, good enough.
   We spent the rest of he night in these conditions. Tiring, but feeling pretty secure. We talked on the VHF to our friends on Saben who had rounded the Cape closer to the shore. They been hit with the conditions hours before we did outside, but now were in moderate conditions inside. It is interesting how you perceive wind speed and conditions. When the wind is increasing and you hit 28kts of wind, it sure feels like a lot and you know you need to be careful. When the wind has been in the 40's and it decreases to 28kts it feels like a nice time for an easy sail.  Sitting on watch
My Nexus instruments keep track of the maximum wind speed and boat speed. The left hand one shows the max boat speed in the bottom number, the right hand one is max wind speed in the bottom number.

When the sun came up we cleaned up the mess on the deck, set the double reefed main and started getting some boat speed on. Shook out the 2nd reef pretty quickly and had a great sail toward Bodega Bay. Chris made eggs, bacon and toast and we both felt a lot better. Chris made eggs, bacon and toast and we both felt a lot better. I've been down this coast from Seattle to San Fran 4 times now. I'm now  for 4 for 4 in getting hammered at one of the Capes in each trip.
Entering Bodega Bay
Later that morning we listened to some VHF drama. There was a Flicka 20 (like in 20ft long) single-hander that was offshore the Cape and in the same conditions we had had earlier. He set a sea anchor and was asking the Humboldt Bay Coast Guard to announce his position to all shipping, as he didn't want to get run down by some passing ship that missed his spec of a boat in the waves. After lots of discussion the CG didn't want to make any broadcasts. A little while later the Flicka, I think its name was Mayen, came back on the VHF to let the coasties know that his sea anchor had parted. This went into a long discussion of EPRIBs and rescue ports, etc. I called up the CG to have them relay to the Flicka that we were in the same conditions in that area earlier this morning and that the conditions inshore were much abated. Last I heard before we went out of radio range the Flicka was headed south again.

We spent the night in beautiful Bodega Bay and are off to Drakes Bay, Point Reyes later today.

1 comment:

  1. Okay, those are exactly the conditions we hope not to hit when we follow you down the coast shortly (like, hopefully tomorrow). Thanks for the report but YEESH!
    -Steve & Lulu