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  • Capt. Eric

No Go in Noyo

Leaving Eureka at day light, ready for a long day. The plan was to use the relatively good weather window to make our way South, with an overnight stop in Shelter Cove, weather permitting.

Enfin tucked in safely in Noyo Marina

Pretty soon Princess and I found the seas hadn't calmed as much as the various forecasts indicated. Nothing Enfin couldn't cope with, especially since the further we went, the more I could parallel the coast and have winds and waves behind us. Still, I wasn't sure what was going to lay ahead of us. Princess decided she'd go down and wait on the settee, her usual bad weather spot.

On paper Shelter Cover still looked possible as the charts indicated it offers good protection in NW winds. However, with the wind continuing to come up in the early afternoon, I started doubting and soon found out the waves were entering the cove in full, bouncing off the cliffs and making the place unsafe for an overnight anchorage.

My backup was simple: Open the engine up, so that we could do the remaining 40 miles to Noyo in the 5 hours of day light left.

Aided by the wind and waves, and the extra turn of the engine, we made it just in time with only minutes of day light left.

Full speed bar crossing at dusk, Noyo

The Noyo entrance bar is famous on the coast for being very tricky, dangerous and difficult. Many rocks are strewn either side of the West facing channel, with shallow waters turning the Pacific Ocean waves into surf and rollers.

Extract of a USCG video showing why the Noyo bar has earned its reputation

At its narrowest the entrance is just over 80 feet. As we came in a USCG 47 foot rescue boat was coming out. I hope it was for exercise, but these guys do encounter life emergencies on a regular basis.

It's narrow, even when calm. There are rocks everywhere

Crossing the bar at full speed, it was fairly easy to keep full control of Enfin, with the added pressure to have to navigate ultra accurately. Luckily, like all bars I've crossed on this trip, it is both very well charted and very well indicated. The channel has a tricolor sector light: Stay in the white sector to stay in the safest part of the channel.

West facing channel funnels the swells. Rocks everywhere and very narrow. Not an easy entrance

Then, without warning almost, the craziness of the washing machine at the bar is replaced with complete calm as you pass under the bridge and take a sharp right. Suddenly there is no more wind, no more waves, just a simple calm river cruise. Sitting on the dock there you'd have no idea there are 6 to 8 footers out there and 20 to 30 knots of wind.

Even in the calm of Noyo Marina, one can get a glimpse of what's out there

I had called Noyo Marina ahead from Shelter Cove as soon as I realized I'd have to make my way there. They confirmed having spots for me, and gave me a number of options. None seemed to work best, but I could grab an end-tie for the weekend and we could sort things out the following Monday. So I did.

Pleasant walk along the river

Not surprisingly Noyo Marina is rather used to boats being stuck there, and the biggest question anyone will ask is whether you're going "up" or "down". "Down" is universally seen as the better option, and I can understand why.

During the weekend I had walked all the docks at the marina, making a note of the apparently free berths that would also have 30 amps electricity. Armed with that list, Princess and I showed up at the office bright and early on Monday. Princess did her usual making friends with everyone, which I am sure helped us secure my favorite spot in the harbor.

A 40 foot starboard tie dock, with two 30 amps plugs available and my own private pump out station!

The only bad weather on the whole West Coast lingers over Noyo!

I kept a eye daily, and often more, on the weather forecast, which came in with depressing regularity. During my whole stay, I only saw the USCG station fly no flags for a few hours. Most of the time they were flying double triangles (gale warning) or when the winds dipped just a bit only one (small craft advisory). For the longest time the only bad weather on the whole coast seemed to just linger here.

Every day was simply "No Go" for Enfin.

Luckily the marina had weekly rate deals, proving very reasonable, so with no end to the bad weather in sight I just extended the first week into the second.

I had a couple neighbors come and go: The first was going "up" delivering an expensive fast powerboat from San Francisco to Vancouver. They came in with minor engine troubles, repaired, but lost the weather window. They went out nevertheless, only to be back very fast since they were getting"beat up out there". So they settled in with me, awaiting the next window on Tuesday.

Calm and tranquil

Unfortunately by Tuesday I had managed to catch a cold: Noyo is a wonderful little place, nestled down in the river valley, so when the sun comes out it gets warm. Yet when the fog rolls in, or simply in a windy shade it remains ocean water cold. Going from hot to cold constantly got to me, so I decided against leaving too soon. I'd get better before the next passage. A long one of almost 80 miles to Bodega Bay.

I waved my delivery friends good-bye. A good bunch, and soon they were replaced by an old center cockpit ketch that had used the same window to make it to Noyo.

The old industrial fishing zone with tourist attractions too

I kept an eye on the weather and told them repeatedly that the next best window would be on Saturday, with things starting to improve on Friday. To make it to Bodega Bay with a daylight arrival, an early departure would be necessary. They seemed very inexperienced though, and unsure of their boat, their engine, and their overall navigation abilities. Contrary to my delivery friends they didn't use the downtime to work on their engine, or to refuel, and then they decided instead to leave on Thursday night.

On paper not a bad choice, since the nights are often calmer than the days, but the big ocean swells pushed up by days of heavy winds don't just die out in a few hours so crossing the bar at dusk would mean getting out into the large waves without any real way of turning back. I wouldn't recommend running the bar at night in big seas unless you are very familiar with it. 80 feet width doesn't leave you a lot of leeway.

Friday's weather window started materializing itself. I had had time to get better, so I decided Saturday would finally switch the "Noyo No Go" to "Noyo Go!"

Even in the very early morning calm, the remaining dying swells were enough to keep you interested during the bar crossing. After beating up for a while, I was finally able to bear down and point my bow towards Bodega Bay.

Still in the calm before the crossing and the rollers

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