Neah Bay to Astoria.
Updated: May 12
The weather window I was hoping for started closing, with our estimated arrival now being forecast only hours before a 40 knots gale would start coming in. Our options were either waiting until after the gale calmed down, or leaving soon with a forecast of 6 feet old swell and low winds.
We chose the latter: The forecast on arrival at the Columbia bar showed about 4 feet seas on 6 feet old swell. Nothing great, but these are conditions that Enfin can easily cope with. I can make it all more comfortable for everyone on board by deploying our passive stabilizers.
The stabilizers are heavy fish being towed at the end of deployed booms on each side. We don't use them very often, but they work real well and are of simple use. About 2 years ago I improved our system so that deployment and recovery could be done mostly using the 2 boom winches. I didn't want to try and handle the heavy fish in any kind of weather: This proved to be a very good decision and upgrade!
We left early at 05:45 in the morning. Di-Enid stayed in bed, though she moved to my cabin as its central and low position in the boat means it is more comfortable at sea than her Master cabin.
Back from a last walk with Princess, I finished readying the boat and set off towards the Pacific Ocean. On the way out, in the bay just outside the marina, I deployed the stabilizers. An easy job, even on my own.
As soon as we rounded the point, we encountered big old lazy swells, with some being of very decent size, and steeper than expected or forecast. The big swell against the current made for an interesting ride. The boat rode very well, but we'd shoot upwards on the face of the wave and then go for a long downwards ride on the other side.
I made a rookie mistake I hadn't done in a very long time by not eating a hearty meal before leaving, and soon I was feeling queasy.
The last time I got sea sick and had to continue to work was probably during my officer training in the French Navy: The west coast of France had the worse recorded weather in the last 50 years that winter, and we were out on small 44 meter boats in huge seas in Force 11 Beaufort winds. Temperatures were around -11c, which coincidentally is also 11f.
My silly mistake then, as a young invincible kid, was to go out and party until the small hours of the morning and joining the ship with almost no sleep and still slightly hangover.
It took me 24 hours to get back into my groove, all the while continuing to do my watches.
I have vivid memories of the boat slamming in the huge seas, rolling 40 degrees each side, seas foaming angrily all around us. As we'd slam into a wave, the boat would disappear in spray, which would almost immediately ice up on decks and everywhere.
Before GPS, we were navigating the dangerous rocky shores of West Brittany entirely by sight, which meant taking multiple bearings every 3 minutes to fix our position.
So my 4 hour watches went something like this: Fight the 40 degree continuous roll. If you don't hold something it'll go flying. With one hand you grab hold of the boat so your can steady yourself. With the second hand you grab your "regle de Cras" (French version of parallel ruler) and with the third, a pencil. Draw your bearing lines on the chart, mark the fix down and make sure everything is safe and secured before you go back out on the wing to take the next fix's bearings.
Step out on the wing, timing it between the huge waves and spray. Make your way to the bearing compass and break the ice on top so you can read it. Find 3 or more remarkable spots ashore and take their bearings. Lean overboard to be sick if needed. Run back in, humming the bearings and time mentally so you don't forget them. Check the radar for more bearings and distances, as well as do your anti-collision work and checks. Hum the extra info and get back to the chart table. Plot your fix on the chart, order a course correction if needed, and make sure it is being followed.
By now almost 3 minutes have passed so it's time to start the sequence all over again.
Luckily life on Enfin is a lot easier. We have a good modern autopilot, multiple GPS, electronic charts and more. The boat can follow a preset course very accurately and all I have to do is make sure everything is in order and check for marine traffic.
Our setup when navigating offshore is close to 12 hours/12 hours watches with Di taking the day shift and me the night. I then remain available at any time if Di needs me.
To give Di the most rest possible before her first 12 hours, I kept watch for the first few hours, and she took over about mid-morning. I then went for a nap, choosing the salon's settee over my cabin or the pilothouse berth. I can be up in the pilothouse in a few seconds if Di needs me.
The day was uneventful. As we pointed our bow South, we started taking the swell on our hip, with the passive stabilizers doing a great job minimizing the roll. Life on board was as comfortable as could be, even for little Princess who usually doesn't much like offshore passages.
To help her we'd given her a vet approved "happy pill" which calmed her down and soon she took over my berth, having cleverly realized it is one of the best spots on board at sea.
Di kept the watch until sunset, and I took over for the night. The first part of the night continued as the day had started, in a rhythmic comfortable roll and put-put of the main engine.
Then, around midnight I heard a loud noise from the starboard stabilizer, and noted an immediate reduction in speed on the GPS. I had been using a powerful search light to try and spot crab pots, but in the big waves the light was just insufficient to see all traps in time.
I slowed the boat to idle, switching the autopilot to "Auto" mode where it doesn't try to navigate the route but simply maintains a heading. Di came up having heard the commotion and change in engine tone and together we started assessing the situation.
Using the winch remote in the cockpit I was able to raise the fish and much easier than I expected we were able to untangle the trap's line from the fish before launching the fish back in. I was so happy to have rigged the fish on the boom's winches!
This happened another couple of times before I decided to stow the fish, and make for much deeper waters. Lesson learned: Stay in very deep waters. My route had a small section in only 300 feet depths, but as soon as we got in deeper waters we saw no more crab traps.
Another lesson learned: We will need a much more powerful search light. Our portable light seems powerful when tried in port, but just doesn't cut it in deep waters and large waves with half sunken buoys.
With the swells behind us, the boat remained very comfortable, even without stabilizers, so we didn't bother putting them back down when we reached deeper waters.
A testament to Nordhavn's built quality: The booms and stabilizer rigging had absolutely no damage. Yet another data point confirming our choice of a strong, quality built passage maker.
I had estimated the passage at an average of 6 knots, and during the first 12 hours the waves slowed us down, so I was starting to wonder if we'd make in time. Timing is about the most important thing when transiting the Columbia river bar.
Wikipedia's entry for the bar says:
The Columbia Bar is a system of bars and shoals at the mouth of the Columbia River spanning the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington. It is one of the most dangerous bar crossings in the world, earning the nickname Graveyard of the Pacific. The bar is about 3 miles (5 km) wide and 6 miles (10 km) long.
Yet, as usual, Enfin kept at it, and slowly started to make the expected speed. We have well over 5,000 miles on Enfin now, so we know that on longer passages we achieve 6 knots average.
We pointed our nose at the bar exactly on time, about an hour before slack, leaving us an hour to transit the more dangerous areas.
The bar was beautiful: The channel was very passable with only 4 feet waves, yet both sides had very impressive magnificent rollers and surf coming in. We were happy that we'd followed the proper way in as getting caught in that kind of surf would be very unpleasant to say the least. This is not a place to take any shortcuts.
As we rounded the channel near Illwaco we saw the USCG training boats on their way out to teach their crews heavy waves handling. A perfect day for it!
Once in the river everything got calm and easy. We made our way to Astoria West Basin marina, a place we are familiar with and had confirmed by phone had guest mooring for us.
We docked on a tie-end, and after connecting water and electricity went for Princess' first walk ashore in over 24 hours.
It was our third time doing that stretch of ocean. Enfin proved its blue water credentials once again and kept all of us safe and comfortable.
We've now got plenty of time to rest in Astoria before cruising the river until my trip to France.