Sunday, September 18, 2005

Passage to the Columbia

Following are notes from our passage from Port Angeles in the Straits of Juan de Fuca, to Astoria, on the Columbia River in Oregon. This is the first overnight, offshore passage we have made in Indigo
Friday, 8 am, Straits of Juan de Fuca: North of us, there is another huge Trident submarine, with its dark whale-like hull just above the water, and its conning tower perched forward. Yesterday, when we came closer to another submarine just like this one, we could make out people on the deck of the tower – they were tiny, the submarine was gigantic. Again, there are two coast guard cutters accompanying the submarine.

Friday 2 pm, Approaching Neah Bay: The names of rivers and towns on this edge of the Olympic Peninsula have fine, idiosyncratic names that engage mouth, tongue, and teeth: the Pysht River, Tatoosh Island, Hoh Head, and town names like Sequim, LaPush, and Queets.
Saturday 4:30 p.m, fourteen miles off of the mouth of the Quinault River. The sky is perfectly clear, and the sea is as calm as could be – a low, rather confused swell, and no real wind. We’ve had these perfect conditions since we left Neah Bay at 6am this morning. Seabirds dot the surface, which is a perfect pale Wedgewood blue, the sky slightly more cerulean.

Saturday, 7:30 pm, The sun has gone down, and we are entering the time called “Nautical Twilight” – after sunset, but when there is still enough light in the sky to navigate. There are half a dozen boats in sight, which are beginning to turn on their work lights and running lights and masthead lights – a confusing array. Just as it begins to get really dark, we see the huge full moon rising up above the coastline fog. We are giddy with our good fortune – no real darkness tonight.
Stars begin to appear, and we are busy trying to match the boat lights with the targets on our radar. A shooting star rips across the sky. Strangest of all is a brilliant orange light, low in the southwest, looking in the misty fog like the masthead light of a ship very close, with a very tall mast. We both see it, and know there is no ship close by. Hours later, Mac thinks this must have been Sirius, the Dog Star, but for a moment we think we have seen the nautical equivalent of a UFO.
Sunday, 2:00 am, fifteen miles off the mouth of Willapa Bay: Our progress has been too good in these excellent conditions, and now we have to reduce our speed so that we won’t reach the entrance to the Columbia Bar before slack water. There is no real wind, so we can’t heave to. We try turning the motor off and drifting, but the boat wallows sickenly in the six foot swell. So we are underway again, but now just puttering along under four knots. Moonlight still bright, the fog stays distant, and there is almost no boat traffic.
Sunday, 5 am, twelve miles off Long Beach; We’ve traded off watch, and each gotten a few hours of sleep, and dawn is just an hour away. But we have finally encountered dense fog, and we don’t ever see the tugs, barges, fishing boats, and freighters we pass, just hear their engines when we are at the closest point.
Sunday, 8 am – We are approaching the first in the long string of buoys that mark the Columbia River entrance. We have three knots of current against us, and a mixture of swell and wave that is distinctly uncomfortable. Dense fog, lots of boat traffic.
Sunday, 9:30 – We are well into the marked channel, still in fog, and picking our way from one buoy to the next, avoiding the tankers and barges and little sports fishing boats. At the moment when Mac begins to doubt our sanity, we encounter a small sailboat crewed by two plucky and very competent “kids” (well, they are much younger than we are) who we met several days ago, and who have made this same coastal passage without the aid of radar or electronic charts. They are happy to follow us now, and rely on our ability to “see” the other boats.
Just then, the fog lifts and we can see the Astoria Harbor ahead, and off to our right about a hundred yards breaking surf where the strong currents meet the sandy shore of the Columbia River Bar.


Blogger Owen said...

Congratulations on successfully completing that incredible sail. I know that the Columbia River Bar is one of the most dangerous in the world.

I also love that early morning shot of the sea and the sun and sky.

September 22, 2005 9:58 PM  
Anonymous Cory Bolton said...


We now feel like sailing celebrities since being described as "plucky and very competent". :)

And wow, your mention of "Strangest of all is a brilliant orange light, low in the southwest, looking in the misty fog like the masthead light of a ship very close, with a very tall mast" brought back a strong memory. I saw that too not long after sunset, and took evasive action, thinking there was a massive ship nearby, but with no further signs of it. About an hour later, both me and Nancy saw it, so I knew I wasn't hallucinating. I would really like to know what that was.

Cory & Nancy
"Fairweather Friend"

PS We still hate fog.

September 27, 2005 9:01 AM  

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