Monday, October 1, 2007


Here we are in Eureka, California. Hard to believe that we’ve sailed from Kodiak to California – we’re starting to feel far afield. Also starting to feel that we’re in foreign waters. The tension and dispossession in the air in even a fairly bucolic California town like Eureka is stark to observers fresh from the Great Land. Won’t want to say much more about that for fear that I’ll get on a rant. The one thing that I will say is that I’m very sympathetic to all those Californians who have sold out in the last couple decades and moved north to drive up Washington real estate prices and clog up Washington highways for a change. Who wouldn’t, in their place?

This stretch of the coast presents us with a bit of a chess match – harbors are scarce, so we listened to the VHF forecasts carefully and plotted the distance to different safe harbors as a series of lows approached. We had a great two day trip down from Newport, Oregon, logging 145 miles straight-line distance noon to noon on the first day, with a 25 knot northerly that had us cooking along at seven and a half or eight knots for hour after hour. Only blot on the record was tangling with a ship at two in the morning. Good lesson learned – we were concentrating on a sail change and weren’t as aware of our surroundings as we should have been. The ship ended up less than a mile from us (or us less than a mile from them?), and we had a bit of a chat on the VHF, the tug standing by for them coming up and giving us the ship’s name (the Jeannie Star, of all things) when they wouldn’t respond to a hail by coordinates. We had a full moon, and there’s nothing more intimidating than being in a small boat and seeing a ship come progressively closer until it turns from a group of lights to a clearly visible silhouette looming above you and you’ve been so intent on getting the spinnaker pole down that you’re not quite sure of their course or what action you should be taking to get clear of them.

* * *

We had a great stay in Port Townsend after our soggy passage down from Baranof Island. Got lots of pressing jobs done on the barky, including an apparently successful re-seal of the cap rail forward and some hardware. The deck leaks that denied us the use of half of our boat on the way down from Southeast Alaska appear to be a thing of the past. We also had a good time visiting with different friends while in P.T., the highlight perhaps being a visit from our good friends Jennifer and Jason and their growing brood. Jennifer and I and our friend Jebbers were roommates in Anchorage the winter that Alisa and I started dating, and we have great memories of that winter when we had jobs that were semi-respectable and interesting and a great group of friends for an endless round of x-country skiing and bar hopping and ice skating and parties. As I was taking this picture of Jennifer and her two kids and Alisa and Eli all sitting together in the salon I was thinking about that carefree winter and how improbable this picture would look to us then if we’d been able to see it, and also how inevitable and necessary. God, what a jump forward the last ten years have seen!

This is Alisa provisioning for the trip south from Port Townsend. Order will be constructed from this chaos!

When we planned this part of the trip from Kodiak we imagined that we would just get one hundred miles offshore from the Strait of Juan de Fuca and blaze all the way south to San Diego in one mighty whack. But once we were actually beginning the run down the west coast with the dual overriding tasks of taking care of both Eli and the barky while on passage, we figured why not stop into Newport after two days sailing from the Strait and catch up on sleep. Which we did, and we had a great time visiting with Alisa’s colleagues from the local NMFS lab and our good friends from Kodiak, John and Patty Mahoney, who are currently living in Eugene. When I was telling John about our tough trip down from Baranof Island, I told him that part of the difficulty was just being new to passage making, and that we expected things to get easier as we gained experience. “Oh, if only that were true,” he answered. Here’s the entrance to Newport.

Newport is the southernmost port on the West Coast where we have resident friends, so we’re going to have to begin to make some new friends as we go. Conveniently, we find that we’ve joined a fairly widespread migration of cruising sailboats heading south for the winter.

When we pulled into Newport there were four other boats at the transient dock that were also headed south. All were about our size, all looked shipshape. Two of the boats pulled out the next day, both with rookie crews that were suffering their share of lumps on the way, but were gamely carrying on. Pacific Northwest boats seem to have a tough go of it when finally setting off on the big trip, since they have to jump into ocean sailing right away. We were looking for a San Francisco chart in the local marine supply store when we met a young couple on the perhaps inaptly named Tenacious, a lovely ketch with well varnished wooden spars that was tied up two slips away from us. For two years they had been living on board in Astoria, Oregon and preparing for a cruise to Baja. “We’re having a change of plans,” the woman explained to me, “and we can give you some charts for south of here.” They were both in their late 20s or early 30s, and were, improbably enough, wearing their inflatable PFD/deck harnesses in the store. After making it 90 miles south from Astoria they had decided that sailing was too slow a way to get to Baja, and they were making arrangements to leave the Tenacious in Newport for the winter and fly down to Baja. One of the charts they gave us was for the Humboldt River and Eureka, which was a huge help in getting in here.

Alisa chatted up the older couple from the next boat over at the dock and came back to Pelagic with their story. They had the boat built in P.T. and spent untold hours preparing for a long cruise, including doing all their own canvas work and making their own sails. On their way south lost all electric power, which put the kibosh on radio (no communication), chart plotter (no navigation, except for the no-detail small-scale charts they carried as backup) and engine (no go for the get-over-the-bar-and-go-up-the-river routine that characterizes every port in Oregon). And he broke a rib in a fall and developed possibly complicating blood clots. The Coast Guard towed them into Newport and when Alisa met them they were waiting for him to heal up and eyeing the approaching end of the season for getting out of Oregon. Dreams of palm-shaded anchorages and the earthly version of paradise were fading into a reality of a winter tied up behind the Rogue brewery in rainy Newport. But they were showing a brave face.

And when we arrived in Newport there was a message on our cell from Karla, who Alisa had met in P.T., and who was sailing south with her dude. They anchored next to us in Neah Bay, the last stop in the Strait of Juan de Fuca for outbound boats. In her message Karla said they’d gotten beaten up on the outside coast and were in Willapa, Washington and were reconsidering their trip south.

It’s been quite an eye opener to see so many sailing dreams coming so quickly to grief. We’re on the very end of the good season for making the passage south. The more experienced and more organized cruisers are likely already gone, with the less sure hanging on at the back end, and the steel door of the season liable to slam shut with the first week-long delay from gear failure.

We, meanwhile, are feeling with every fiber the necessity of getting south. When the north winds blow and the foam builds on each side of the bow as we surf down the waves with the jib poled out and the main reefed and prevented and herds of Pacific white-sided dolphins all around I exult in the progress we’re making. But this is also one of the great foggy coasts of the world, and when the cold mists inevitably follow the beautiful sailing days and we stand watch down below by looking at the radar screen because we can’t see a damn thing on deck, and we wear three layers during the day and four at night and put Eli to sleep wrapped up in a cocoon of polar fleece, I know that we’re not nearly so south as we need to be. Alisa and I have both spent our adult lives identifying with and reveling in the north, but now we’re bent on palm-fringed dreams of our own, and the south is the place for us to be.

* * *

We listed out all the jobs that we’d like to get done during our impending haul-out in order to have the boat ready to set out across the Pacific. The list runs beyond 80 items, and we figure a month will be needed to get a reasonable minority of that work done. It’s all routine maintenance and small problems that we’ve been meaning to get to forever. I figure that a solid month of maintenance will be our annual routine for as long as we’re cruising Pelagic, in addition to the few hours here, few hours there routine that makes up much of our time afloat. Right now we’re trying to figure out where we might haul out.

Meanwhile, if you’ve read this far then you’re enough of a fan to care that a story about our Alaskan sailing is in the October issue of Cruising World magazine.


  1. Alisa, Mike & Elias, It's your cousins Renee & Chris in Long Beach, NY. We are keeping up with your journey & wish we were there with you. The story & picutres are wonderful & yes, we sometimes worry. We were in Eureka a few years ago & drove down the coast to L.A. We hope you stop in Shelter Cove, it's beautiful. Black sand beaches. A small fishing village. It's south of Ferndale. We love you & you are always in our thoughts. XOXOXOXOXOX

  2. woohooo!!! I'm going to purchase my first copy of cruising world! wonder if I can find it at the Safeway here in Seward... glad to hear you guys made it down to CA. Sending big hugs to you & Alisa & Eli.
    love Shiway & Dave

  3. Allissa, Mike and eli, Good to hear your having a good time in San Fran. No biggie getting there right? those naysayers are weenies. Where will you be in december? I might come to visit. Remember, a miss is as good as a mile. catch you later,