06. Neah Bay

The transit dock at Port Angeles marina is packed. We searched for an empty spot all the way to the dead end of the dock, but there were none available. The tight space of the dock makes it difficult to turn the boat around, and the combination of our boat’s long keel and the wind vane attached to its stern make it challenging to maneuver.

A boat with a single propeller tends to veer to one side when reversing and ours veer to left. We repeatedly moved forward and backward at the end of the dock trying to make use of this effect to turn the boat. The owners of nearby boats looked on with concern as we struggled, some offering to help by holding a line, but one person was hostile and shouted at us. “What do you think you’re doing!” I don’t want to fall into prejudices, but inevitably he was from a large fly bridge power boat, as often happens.

Unfortunately, it seems that these types of unpleasant conflicts often involve large fly bridge power boats. They are often the ones that sail unnecessarily close to other boats on the open sea, creating large wakes, which can be bothersome for other boats. These boats may be operated with autopilot on, at high speeds and without much attention to the surroundings and attitude of “just avoid me”. While sailboats without mechanical propulsion have the right-of-way, it is always advisable to turn the bow and give way for the sake of safety when encountering this type of boat.

After we finished mooring, we noticed an intense smell of oil inside the boat. Upon inspection, we discovered that the drain plug was locked but the engine oil had significantly decreased. There was also white smoke, which is a new and unusual symptom. It seems that the captain has no choice but to open the engine room every morning from now on.

Departing Port Angeles once more

I learned from friends here that when mooring, it is always best to have the bow pointed towards the exit. The transit dock is long, with the entrance located in the west and a dead end at the opposite end. We can either moor facing the entrance or back in. Although it may be tempting to simply pull into the dock and moor the boat after a long and tiring voyage, it’s recommended to take the extra time to turn the boat around so that the bow is pointed towards the exit. This is especially important in the case of an emergency, as it’s easier to quickly and easily make the way out of the dock.

I now understand that maneuvering a boat that is not facing the entrance could be challenging, even in non-emergency situations. This is particularly true on windy days, when the prevalent westerly winds in the area can make the maneuver difficult, as we were confronted with during our early morning departure when our boat was moored at the end of the dock with no outlet, forming a 90 degree angle with the entrance. The wind was coming from the entrance and pushing our boat towards the dock.

As we were about to leave, narrowly avoiding colliding with the surrounding boats and trying to turn the boat around, the fly-bridge power boat from yesterday suddenly emerged from its slip, scaring the living daylights out of us. He couldn’t have not been aware that our boat had the engine running for quite a while and we were turning against the wind, ****yet he suddenly emerged right in front of our bow just as we were about to depart. We could do nothing but wish him a ‘good wind’. According to the forecast, the westerly wind will be blowing all day today. This wind will slow the speed of the boat as it blows from the bow throughout the entire journey to Neah Bay.

Yesterday was an ideal day to set off, but today there is fog and drizzling rain. However, our boat is now equipped with a VHF radio on board. The effort we put into returning to Port Angeles to get it will pay off in the long run. Regardless of what happens, we can now call the Coast Guard for assistance. We felt secure, despite the poor weather, until about 9 hours into the journey when we were suddenly surrounded by a thick fog.

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Unavoidable fog

One of the challenges that continuously appears when reading reviews of people who have gone sailing in this area is the fog. The horizon becomes invisible and everything appears monochromatic and gray. The sun glasses constantly become fogged up but it seems that using sunglasses with polarized lenses helps improve visibility slightly, so I could not take them off.

The captain’s first action was going down to the chart table and turning on the radar first. As an offshore yacht, this boat is equipped with radar. The bulky monitor, reminiscent of 80s sci-fi movies, displays the radar, which sends out waves that bounce off objects and return, allowing the radar to detect them. The fluorescent green dots on the screen show the approximate size and movement of all the potential hazards around the boat. One person often went below to check the radar screen for any nearby objects.


A passing ship on our bow

It is heart-pounding to rely on the radar screen to track the movement and direction of the surrounding boats while not being able to see ahead. We also send out a sound signal towards any ambiguous dots. “Bu-ooh-“. This is the first time we actually use the sound spray signal, but after seeing a dot change its course after we send out the signal, we started using it more often. “Bu-ooh-, bu-ooh-”

Most metal cylinders with compressed air can no longer function once they are depleted, but fortunately our spray is in a form that can be charged with an air pump, so we didn’t have to worry about running out. With thick fog obscuring our view, we keep ourselves busy by taking turns standing watch and going down to the chart table to check the radar or recharge the spray using the air pump. The sky gradually becomes visible and before we know it, the fog clears and we are now facing a headwind.

Finally Neah Bay

Although it was a headwind, it wasn’t directly in front of us so we thought we could gain some speed if we hoisted the sail. However, the waves were hitting us and sea water kept coming into the boat, causing it to rock violently. We had not yet secured the jack lines. We had expected to not encounter rough seas before heading out to the Pacific and had delayed some of the more serious boat preparations until reaching Neah Bay. Although it would have been advisable to set the staysail and reefed main sail, our previous experiences had taught us that hoisting and lowering the sails on our boat would take too much time and seemed dangerous in the current sea conditions.

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Instead, we partially opened the genoa, the only modern sail system on this boat that can be easily unfurled from the cockpit. We sailed against the wind and approached Neah Bay around 7:00 pm before sunset.

As the clouds that had obscured Neah Bay lifted, an even more mysterious rock formation came into view. At first, I thought it was an artificial concrete structure, but I later learned that it was a natural stone. It resembled a giant sea lion and only added to our excitement. We still couldn’t believe we were here!

Neah Bay is a Native American Indian reservation located just 5 miles from the village of Cape Flattery, the most northwest point in the contiguous United States. It is home to the Makah tribe, who have lived in the area for thousands of years. The Makah museum is said to be a great place to learn about their culture and history. However, due to Covid19, the town has been closed to visitors and only anchoring was permitted for a long time. We would have been very disappointed if we weren’t able to visit the town.

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Upon entering the anchorage, we were greeted by a vast area for anchoring. However, there were some areas of heavy seaweed and a few submerged shipwrecks that needed to be avoided. Additionally, we had to be cautious of numerous crab pots floating and consider the area where the boat will need to turn as the wind shifted. To find the best spot, we consulted a chart and used the coordinates from our trusty guidebook, which were saved on the plotter. The wind was blowing fiercely, making it tough to communicate between the bow and the helm. But with a little bit of shouting and teamwork, we finally managed to secure the anchor. And as always, the wind only calmed down once the anchor was set.

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https://www.charts.noaa.gov

From a distance across the expansive anchorage, we could see our friends’ aluminum boat, which had departed from Port Angeles before us. We had met this boat during a time when our voyage was uncertain due to engine problems. Compared to our boat, which lacked even a reliable radio, their well-equipped and elite boat had impressed us. They had mentioned that they would likely have to wait for a long time in Neah Bay before heading offshore and hoped that we could meet again if we managed to fix our engine and set sail. From what we could see, it appears they have been confined on the boat for days as their tender was still on board. Seeing a familiar boat brought back emotions for us. After leaving Port Angeles, which we thought would be the end of our voyage, we finally arrived in Neah Bay, navigating through the fog, gusts, and waves with our unreliable engine.

“We must have a party today!” The captain enters the saloon with excitement, eager to prepare for the long-awaited party on the water. The boat is stocked with an abundance of fresh food and an assortment of wines that we collected on our night walks to the supermarket. The anchorage area is relatively empty, with only a few boats anchored at a distance. The conditions are ideal for us to celebrate and have a great time.

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We bring out the antique oil lamp from the saloon and hang it under the boom, unfold the table, and fill the cockpit with music from the Bluetooth speaker. After being docked at the marina for over two weeks, it feels amazing to finally spend the night at sea. The table is set with a variety of carefully prepared dishes and wine, and the fog enveloping the village of Neah Bay is illuminated by the town’s lights, creating a breathtaking view alongside the stars and galaxies above. We have finally arrived at the final port in the Juan de Fuca Strait, Neah Bay! It’s truly the best night.

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The fog enveloping the town and the stars above

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