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  • Capt. Eric

Astoria to Neah Bay

We left Astoria West Basin in time for arrival at the North Jetty at the mouth of the river at 07:36, the anticipated slack tide. Clearly we weren't the only boats to aim for that time and we had a number of fishing boats going down river with us as well as later on a fleet coming out of Ilwaco Marina in Washington state. There was something reassuring to see all these professionals having reached the same conclusion on what time to pass the bar. The bar is said to change conditions in a few minutes, and the most important part of staying safe in this most dangerous passage is timing. Time it wrong on a strong ebbing (outgoing) tidal flow and the waves and rollers will be waiting for you. With currents at up to 8 knots, a boat like Enfin would have a hard time fighting back up and would have no choice but take on the big famous rollers head on.

The fishing fleet heading out at the same time as Enfin

Even on a great day like this with the US Coast Guard confirming the bar was "unrestricted" we could see rollers on both sides of the channel, so the name of the game is to stick closely to the channel.

Rollers just outside the channel

We had about 4 to 6 feet old swell with cross wind waves making the conditions a little messy but by no means dangerous for us. The boat was passing waves gently and smoothly but rolling and pitching doing so. For the comfort of all onboard, and especially little Princess I decided to deploy the passive stabilizers.


Enfin's stabilizers are the "old" type, which in marine terms often means simple and reliable. They consist of a couple of "fishes" -heavy steel planes- that are dragged from the end of our lowered booms.


Enfin's Starboard stabilizer "fish" stowed while not in use

The secret to good passive stabilizers is to have a good setup, and Enfin comes with a passive stabilizers that are fully integrated in the boat's original design by the naval architect that designed the Nordhavn 40. All rigging and setup is factory installed, not some add-on by an enterprising tinkerer.

On top of that I've further improved it to ensure the rigging and the "fishes" can be lowered and raised without much effort. The most important part being that both fishes can be raised and lowered using our main boom winches so that no crew has to physically handle the weight of the units, just guide them/hold them for safety.


Enfin's Starboard stabilizer fully deployed

As soon as the stabilizers were deployed, Enfin's motion changed and it made the passage much more comfortable for all aboard. A rested crew is a good crew, so the stabilizers are a great addition to a boat like ours.


There is a debate as to whether to have passive stabilizers or active ones. Active stabilizers are fins that resemble small aircraft wings underwater -one on each side of the hull- and provide stability by angling the fins up and down as calculated by a gyroscope and computer. That means they need to have a shaft going through the hull, therefore need regular maintenance. They also need substantial power, often in the form of a hydraulic system, so now the boat must have a whole hydraulic power source on top of the existing machinery. That too creates "maintenance opportunities" as "Lugger Bob" -the diesel and boat mechanics guru- calls them. Active stabilizers appear to be amongst the most maintenance prone system onboard those boats that rely on them. Even when not in use they add drag to the hull and slow the boat down.


Another Nordhavn 40 with active stabilizers (and a fly-bridge)

Their big advantage is that they are "push button" so no one has to deal with any rigging, lower any booms or raise/lower any heavy fishes. There is much to be said for that.


I'm a big proponent of passive stabilizers as there is literally not much to go wrong, the system is rock solid and simple. No extra maintenance is needed at haul-out and all maintenance is similar to sailboat rigging so fairly easily done and easy to source. When not in use the fishes are stowed away and not dragging, so we do not lose any speed.

Their main disadvantage in my opinion is that whilst you can lower them in almost any sea conditions, it is much better and safer to recover them in smooth waters to avoid having heavy fishes swinging wildly in the air.

Enfin's setup has the winch wires connected directly to the fishes to reduce that risk, but we will do our best to find shelter to raise them.

As an ex-sailor, the rigging part is rather simple: Anyone with sailing experience will understand the system in no time.


Just as the weather forecast along our route -weather routing- had predicted, the seas and wind continued to calm down during the whole day before picking up a little again but this time from our stern, helping us on the way. The day went by slowly, with the engine purring as the background music of the day.


We were treated to one of those beautiful sunsets you seem to get only at sea.

Waves and seas calming down at sunset

Di and I split the day watches about 1/3rd me and 2/3rd her, while I did the whole night on my own, getting back to a well needed rest at sunrise to let Di continue the watch-keeping.


The Captain and Princess taking a nap. I stay close to the pilothouse so Di can call me should she need to

As morning came we altered our course towards the San Juan de Fuca straight and soon well protected Neah Bay welcomed us. After 32 hours on passage it was good to see land and calm waters.

Well protected Neah Bay

We had called the marina in advance, and they said to contact them on arrival on VHF channel 68, which I did. Getting no answers on VHF I raised them by phone again, and after some long delays we were assigned a dock at the port of Makah Marina, which leases dock space to Salmon Bay Resort for recreational boats.

Both are situated within the Makah reservation. From their website:


The Makah Tribe has called the spectacular Neah Bay, Washington area home since time immemorial. The name Makah was attributed to the Tribe by the neighboring tribes, meaning “people generous with food” in the Salish language. The meaning still applies today, as we invite you to visit our community to enjoy the natural beauty and learn about our culture and history.

Makah Marina is mostly for professional fishermen and Enfin is about the only non-fishing recreational boat at the moment.


First things first: Di took Princess ashore for a long and well deserved walk while I connected the boat to shore electricity and water, as well as went to pay for our stay.














There is a small take away restaurant at the marina store, so we took the occasion to enjoy some fresh sea food. A great end to end our trip from Astoria and begin our visit of Neah Bay.


Dock neighbors were cutting freshly caught fish so Princess got lucky and got a nice chunk just for her!


It doesn't get fresher than this!

With all of Enfin's crew well fed, and the boat safe and secured, we all went for naps, with a sense of achievement. Arriving here isn't just the navigation feat of crossing one of the most dangerous areas in the world combined with some serious offshore passage. It is a very sentimental marker for both of us. We are now back officially in cruising mode, and -fingers crossed with more good medical news- intend to resume our full time cruising as life allows.


We've arrived.

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