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Published: June 28th 2007
Harry handles the seas.
Sailing in following swell is completely different from facing the swell - a totally new way of looking at the elements.
Harry took the midnight-3am watch from Bodega Bay to Eureka, and I got into bed to rest. It’s hard to sleep when we’re under way, even if the seas are calm. We still rock quite a bit, and the roar of the engine is beyond that white noise that might be comforting. Also, it’s freezing cold and without Harry to warm me up, I never got warm enough to drift off.
When I came on at 3am, I first grabbed a handful of crackers and scooped peanut butter right out of the jar with each one. This was the best thing I’ve ever eaten. My body was screaming for food. I felt like a hole had fallen into my belly and it kept getting deeper, I was so hungry. Harry told me he’d had some Pringles, and I wondered why he hadn’t eaten the whole can. I was feeling like I could eat the cockpit.
That 3-6am watch was so hard. Conditions were still very calm, but the temperature had dropped considerably and I just wanted to sleep. The iPod really kept me going: Paul Simon, Jimmy Buffet (with all his boat/sailing songs), Lyle Lovett, Norah Jones (except
Look, Mom! We're still ok!
Crossing the bar at Humboldt Bay into Eureka.
her new song, “Sinking Soon”, which freaked me out) and Nanci Griffith. The coolest thing ever did happen during my watch, though. I watched the moon set over the port side of the boat, and the sun rise over the starboard side. Then, an hour later or so, I saw a large pod of killer whales, maybe 8 or 10 of them. We’ve seen a lot of sea life out here, and the smaller folks, like the dolphins, always play around the boat forever, splashing and darting underneath and around the bow. The Orca’s, however, were very professional sea creatures. They wanted nothing to do with us, and passed from the port side to the starboard side, about 200 feet in front of the bow, without so much as a wink in our direction. Their dorsal fins were so tall I thought they looked kind of dorky. Of course, I’d never TELL them that.
Harry took over and I finally slept. He didn’t wake me for my watch at 9am, and I finally crawled out of the bunk around 9:30. Everything was still so calm, it felt like a different universe from the day before. I made us a bacon-cheese scramble, with coffee cake (Calories! Calories!) and we were actually able to enjoy the food without scrabbling around for a handhold.
The early morning of Thursday was very nice. The skies were overcast, and at some point in the night, the wind had clocked around from the NW to the South, so we were getting a nice gentle push from behind now. Also, the swell had followed suit and we were, for the first time, experiencing following seas. While the swell remained modest (2-4 feet) the following seas were just perfect. We’d be lifted by one and carried forward, then set down until the next one came along to do the same thing. It reminded me of carrying Shayla when she was tiny.
The only thing about the gentle following seas that made the ride uncomfortable is that the exhaust from the diesel engine was hovering around the rear of the cockpit, like a fussy mother.
Naturally, conditions just don’t stay the same out here. By 1pm, the swell had grown impatient with this sentimental little game and we were no long using the autopilot; it takes a lot of strength to guide the boat when we’re being pushed so hard from the stern. We have to keep the bow pointing in the right direction because the power of the push from the waves could cause us to broach, which means the boat turns on its side, the wave pushes us over and we’re calling our friends Coast and Guard to pluck us from the water. The strangest thing about high following seas is the way the massive and fast water pushes on the rudder. Standing at the helm and holding the wheel, I can feel the water wrap around the rudder and shove as hard as it can. My arms and shoulders were starting to get tired from the effort of steering, so I was glad when Harry took over for his watch.
For the rest of the day, as we fought our way to Eureka, Harry controlled the boat in those high following seas. Today, his arms are sore. We finally came to the jetties of the Eureka bar entrance at about 4:30pm. I was feeling really nervous about crossing the bar, which is something I’m sure you’ve read about in the papers before. People get wiped out crossing bars. They’re dangerous places to be, because there’s river current rushing out to sea and sea tides/current rushing into the channel. Where these two Type A waters meet up, chaos lives. The waves can be very high, winds pick up and the channel entrances tend to be narrow, which causes the waters to funnel into higher speeds. I radioed ahead to the Humboldt Bay Coast Guard station and requested a bar report. They said there were seas of 2-4 feet and 20-knot winds at the bar. Since we were still three hours out when I’d radioed, I called again as we approached. Conditions hadn’t changed, and since this was our first bar crossing, we really had no way of knowing if this was a fair time to cross or not. In customary fashion, the Coast Guard wouldn’t give a value report when I asked if it was a good time to come in: “That’s at your discretion, ma’am. All I can tell you is what the conditions are.”
Our conditions turned out to be safe. As we approached the bar, we saw a little skiff at the entrance, darting back and forth and hovering there. As we got closer and entered the channel, the skiff took off and we could see that it was a Coast Guard boat, and it darted around the North Spit to the Coast Guard station. Like a little fairy godmother, watching for us to come in. I just love these guys.
We found a slip at Woodley Island Marina, and I was barely able to get the boat into the right spot since my brain had wandered off. (We were both operating on about 3 hours’ sleep.) Thus concluded 36 consecutive hours of fighting the ocean. This is our longest stretch so far.
We paid for the slip, took showers (Harry told me that he had to grip the rails in the handicap stall to keep from falling over, so acute were his sea legs.) and had a weird dinner at a cafÃ© at the marina.
I ordered the grilled halibut, but instead of potatoes or rice, could I please have extra vegetables? The waiter looks at me and says, “Oh, we don’t have any of that.” I knew my brain was total mush by this time, but I was pretty sure he was talking nonsense. “Any of what?” I asked him. “Any vegetables. We don’t have vegetables here.” I know I stared at him for a long time because Harry stepped in and said something about extra salad, then. Which was apparently fine, because when he brought our meal I had lettuce and grilled halibut. What kind of a restaurant doesn’t have any vegetables in the kitchen? I wondered about getting some olives and onions from the bar, but since I could hardly move I changed my mind and just ate the lettuce.
We edged to bed by 8pm and were out like rocks until 6:15 the next morning.
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