First, for any SF Bay area boater, before considering an Alaska trip, it is important to internalize that the trip to Anacortes and back is certainly twice as long and theroetically much harder than the round trip from Anacortes - Alaska's Glacier Bay - Anacortes. And the theory held true on this adventure as well. We had much tougher sea state on the outside trips up and back than on any day north of Anacortes. Mind you, we picked our travel windows carefully all around, which meant that we were never knowingly put ourselves in harms way. But I have to say that the preperation for departure for the north and south delivery segments was the most thorough of the entire adventure. I'm happy to report that like the northbound segment, our southbound trip home to our little slice of Mare Island Strait went very well, all around. I was delighted with the captains and crew both ways. And I am over the moon happy with how well Ciamar performed on what was absolutely the toughest, most brusing cruising of her 'young' life.
Here's the story of our trip home. Photo gallery for the trip is at the bottom of the post.
The trip home, from Anacortes, started at 0-dark-thirty so that we would be entering the Strait of Juan DeFuca at first light and be able to run the entire straight with daylight, and, reach the corner at slack tide. Well, that part work, but in doing so we were concerned about the wind against wave chop that we would get, and we got it. Once we were far enough south of Anacortes that we started getting the effect of the Straight, the sea stood up on us and we slapped against a couple meters of square water almost for the entire 10 hour trip out to the corner. We head out, about 30 miles or so as we steered a straight line / shortest course to Cape Mendocino. This strategy worked beautifully. We were trying to get to the Cape and then to Point Reyes before those locations were forecast to whip up to nasty conditions.
But after a day or so of smooth running, we developed a low fuel pressure indication in our port engine. And as soon as we started to work on it, the engine gasped to a stop and we were unable to restart it. Since we were just coming by the Columbia River entrance, we decided to turn and start heading for Astoria – 4 hours away given how far offshore we where. And Quinn and I set about debugging the engine issue. A couple hours later, and after an early morning ‘phone a friend’ call with our engine savior Chuck from Admiralty Diesel in Mare Island, Chuck has talked us through debugging the situation and the procedure steps to reprime the engine’s fuel and restart. The engine started up right away on the first crank, and after confirming normal operation for about 30 mins we turned away from Astoria and started returning to our course.
Unfortunately, we had now sailed right into the Columbia River current effects and were now headed back out into another sea of steep, square waves. For about the next 10 hours, give or take.
After being up so long due to working on the engines just as I went off watch, I got to sleep through much of the rough stuff. But as dawn broke, we discovered that we had lost our anchor to crashing waves and that our bow light was only still there because it was hanging on its power cable. It’s mounting hardware had been completely ripped off. We were fortunate to be starting to see the sea settle down as the sun rose higher and we waited for a calmer period to retrieve the bow light and Quinn and I rigged up a temporary mounting that we used for the rest of the trip.
Fast forward through many, calm, uneventful hours and it finds us approaching Bodega Bay on our way to Point Reyes, with a setting sun and a building following swell. In under 30 mins we had seen the following sea rise up from a meter to as much as 4 meters. It appeared that it was going to continue to grow, so we decided to change course and duck into Bodega Bay long enough so that we could make a Point Reyes rounding in the daylight. By the time we cut inside of Bodega Bay’s outer reefs it was pitch dark. But, it sure was comforting to bring Ciamar around from her downhill ride to now quarter into the swells heading back north to the Bodega Bay channel entrance. I had not been there before, so it was interesting to enter that tiny channel, in a moonless night, in 20 knots with a stiff current running.
That would be fine, but to also make it ‘more fun’, there were people arrayed all along the channel shining their headlights / flashlights / spotlights at us to get a look at the yacht as we came it. Sometimes, the only thing that I could reliably make out was my very high speed, state of the art radar with its <50ft minimum effective distance. I used that feature then for sure.
After making it to the fuel dock for a ‘safe harbour’ tie up, with a few tips from the delivery captain when I missed the turn, we had a devil of a time tieing up in 20 knot cross wind. I’m thinking we took four to six tries at it. But we made it. Tied up and took a few hours nap before heading out again after the weather suggested the sea would settle down a bit, and we would not get to Point Reyes until first light.
On departure, we had acceptable conditions on the way out that also allowed us to speed up quite a bit to get to Point Reyes faster to take advantage of the favorable sea state we were seeing. Since we were running this trip non-stop, and had not topped up fuel anywhere, I did some fuel measurements and calculations again to make sure we could burn a lot more fuel to go faster without running too low. We could, and we pushed up from our normal 8kt cruising speed to 10k/12k until we smoothly rounded Point Reyes and were pointed home to the Golden Gate. At which point, we slowed down again.
As it turns out, we finished the trip with 300 gals of spare fuel, not counting our 200 gal emergency reserve. So, at 8 knots, we did the 110 hour trip with about 30 or 40 hours of fuel left over. I found that frankly impressive, and rather unexpected.
Ciamar was in a "zone this whole trip". And she got us back to our slip safe and sound after one truly epic journey.