The rain and wind have been pounding since early morning, and I ate so much yesterday that my stomach is feeling strange. I decided to stay inside and review what I learned about the bar crossing in my pajamas. If we are unable to enter La Push, we will have to continue sailing to Grays Harbor, so it is important to check the forecast for not only tomorrow, but also the next few days.
It is generally advised to avoid southerly winds when passing Cape Flattery and heading south. The southerly winds are expected to subside and northerly winds are predicted to last for more than five days starting tomorrow. Our friends on the aluminum boat heading offshore may also depart tomorrow morning. It appears that the “weather window” they have been waiting for is beginning. As this is our first time venturing out into the Pacific Ocean, it would probably be best to go on a day with weaker winds. Tomorrow, immediately after the winds shift from southerly to northerly, seems like the ideal time to set sail.
Understanding the tides
The difficult part is the tides, the rise and fall of seawater. There are different types of tides and it’s very confusing. When the water is at its highest point, it’s called high tide. When the water is at its lowest point, it’s called low tide. The ebb tide is when the water flows out from high tide to low tide, and flood tide is when the water flows in from low tide to high tide. There’s also slack tide, which is when the water stops flowing in or out for a while between the two. When we passed through the active pass last time, we just had to consider the slack tide, but bar crossing is a different story.
To cross the bar safely, it is recommended to do so during the flood tide, but this concept is hard to grasp intuitively. When entering the port, the incoming seawater helps propel the boat forward. However, when exiting during flood tide, it will be harder to make progress as the boat must navigate against the current, while the sails can’t be raised in the bar channel for additional propulsion.
However, my lack of understanding is not the issue here. What matters most is our security. I carefully write down the tidal times for the plan to enter the bar during the flood tide. Reviewing them on one page, I notice that these times are delayed by about an hour each day. For example, the high tide at La Push tomorrow evening is at 8:20 pm, but the next day it is at 9:30 pm and the following day it is at 10:40 pm. In other words, the flood tide, during which we can enter the port, is also gradually being delayed. On the other hand, the daylight hours are visibly getting shorter each day. It seems that we only have a few more days to enter the port during the day, while crossing the bar at night is not recommended, adding to the confusion.
I feel overwhelmed again by the feeling of being chased by winter. It feels like the window to Mexico is narrowing every day, and I get anxious. Will we get caught in a dangerous situation if we rush in this anxiety? I also have a vague worry.
I hate this fog and rain and the cold outside the blankets. I have a longing to be in a sunny and warm place, but the warm climate would be starting in California, and it is too far from here.
Departure towards the Pacific
There is an important task left before departure. It is to call the Coast Guard at La Push, our destination for tomorrow, and ask about the bar condition at our expected arrival time. The Coast Guard answered our call promptly and has a very friendly voice. “We are worried because it’s our first bar crossing.” I accidentally confided in a faceless civil servant of a foreign land and shared my feelings, finding comfort in his friendly attitude and helpful nature. “If you are afraid, you can request an escort from us.” Wow, are there really such kind people? Our friends from Astoria were right. We ******can request help from the Coast Guard even if the situation is not one where the boat sinks. Thanks to this, we’re no longer worried about having to go all the way to Grace Harbor due to a failed bar crossing in La Push.
We filled up on fuel just before leaving Port Angeles, but we decided to go to a fuel dock late in the afternoon. Our concern was that the engine might not start again after a few days of rest and we wanted to check for any unusual issues with fuel consumption. The fuel dock is located about half a mile from where we had anchored.
77 liters of diesel go into the fuel tank. We travelled for 20 hours at 2,000 RPM, which consumes an estimated 3.85 liters per hour, combining the day we first set off from Port Angeles and returned, and the day we sailed to Neah Bay. For a 40-foot yacht, fuel consumption is usually calculated at around 3 liters per hour, so it seems that fuel has been consumed a bit more. However, in order to accurately calculate the hourly diesel consumption, it is necessary to use a longer engine time as the basis, so we make a note in the logbook and underline it so that it is easy to find later.
We returned to our original position and dropped the anchor and went below deck, the smell of oil is strong and pungent again. When we open the engine room, there is black pollution inside the engine room cover and the liquid tray under the engine is full. When we asked Taejin, the official technician of Horizons, he said that the engine belt may have worn out and caused pollution. Before calling Chris and Rick, we have moved the flywheel around to tighten the engine belt, and I don’t know if that’s the cause.
We planned to leave early the next morning, but we didn’t actually leave Neah Bay until 8 o’clock. Even today, just before departure, we couldn’t shake off our uneasy feelings and ended up replacing the engine belt.
The fog that has been a problem for days is strangely fine today. We were hopeful that it would continue to clear after reaching its peak yesterday, but as usual, after an hour or so we are enveloped in thick fog again. However, now it is automatic for us to go inside and turn on the navigation equipment and bring the Boo-oh device up. In addition, with the radar and AIS, we feel much more secure. No more panicked neighbors in pajamas to worry about, so we can confidently use the Boo-oh.
What we typically see on AIS are large ships like cargo ships. It’s reassuring to see that these much faster ships can see us through AIS. On the other hand, radar can detect even small boats without navigation equipment. However, sometimes objects may not be visible depending on the range set, so it’s important to variate the range and check carefully.
The fishing boat in fog
I almost had a heart attack when I saw a small boat suddenly appear on our bow, not detected on radar. Then I saw the silhouettes of people standing towards their stern and pointing at the transom where two fishing rods were attached. In this situation, we should have turned towards their bow to avoid the fishing lines stretched out behind the boat, but we were flustered and missed the opportunity to do so. We passed quite close to them and were only lucky not to be caught in the fishing line. As we passed by, they pointed in another direction where we found another fishing boat. Maybe they are a group fishing together.
The thick fog made it almost impossible to see more than a few feet in front of us. Would these people still want to fish on a drifting boat in the middle of a heavily trafficked sea, risking danger? Or is this level of fog just a normal occurrence in this area?
The Big Left Turn
Heading west and passing through the narrow Strait of Juan de Fuca between Canada and the United States, one will reach the end of it and the land’s end village of Cape Flattery. From there, passing between Cape Flattery and Tatoosh Island and turning the bow to the left, one enters the Pacific Ocean and begins the journey south.
The Tatoosh Island, which is said to have a lighthouse, boasts an exotic landscape like in the video above, but even as we passed right in front of it, we couldn’t see what the island looks like because of the fog. We could only see a dark silhouette of the island. In this kind of fog, we couldn’t help but worry whether we should have turned outside the island instead of navigating between the mainland and the island.
As the Strait of Juan de Fuca meet the Pacific Ocean, the sea becomes rough and wild, crashing against the large rocks that emerge from its depths. The waves are turbulent as they struggle to find their way through the narrow channel. We are cautious to avoid being pushed towards the rocks by the waves and, under tension, we make the Big, Left, Turn!
As we turn the steering wheel to the left, Horizons follows and we have officially entered the Pacific Ocean. This moment is considered the most exciting for sailors on this route. The fog reduces visibility, so we don’t get to experience the dramatic sensation of seeing the vast ocean for the first time, but at least we could definitely feel the difference in the waves.
After entering the Pacific Ocean, the view of the coast.
As we enter the Pacific Ocean, the fog begins to lift slowly. Our engine speed is now around 4.5 knots, free from the influence of the currents in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We wonder if this is close to the true speed of our engine. The view towards the coast is also extraordinary, with bizarre-shaped rocks lining the shore and brown seals lounging on the low rocks in the sea.
On top of all the natural and man-made structures out of the water, there are always seals.
Swell Swell Swell
Horizons is rocking heavily so I release the autopilot and grab the steering wheel. Despite the fact that it’s not supposed to be a rough day, the waves are still on a different scale compared to what we’ve experienced before.
But then, out of nowhere, a strange burning smell begins to waft through the air. It’s different from the smell of oil from the engine and it doesn’t seem to be related to the white exhaust fumes coming from transom either.
As the smell becomes more distinct over time, we realize it is the smell of burning plastic. When we open the cockpit bench, the smell becomes stronger. On Horizons, the engine room is integrated with the space at the stern, rather than being a separate compartment, and the locker under the cockpit bench is also connected. Han has an idea and goes to the engine room. He finds that the beer box, which holds tools for changing the transmission oil, has become attached to the engine.
The box had been stored here without issue, but it appears that it couldn’t withstand the rough waves that were shaking the boat. Now, even objects in the saloon that had no problems before are falling to the floor. It seems that we need to find a different way to secure objects in the Pacific Ocean waves.
In the afternoon, the wind became clearer and we hoisted the sail. Although the wind was still coming from the direction of the bow due to the influence of the southerly wind, the angle was good, so we were able to reach a speed of 7 knots. In addition to the benefit of speed, the sail also stabilizes the shaking of the boat caused by the waves, so it is now comfortable to sit in the cockpit.
The only problem was that it took as long as 15 minutes to hoist the sails. One person was at the helm while the other went out on the deck to raise the sails. However, the deck system was not efficient, so the deckhand had to go in and out of the cockpit while wearing a life jacket and being tethered to the jack line. Not only was it physically demanding, but it also seemed dangerous to stand on the bouncing coach roof for such a long time doing this kind of work. Furthermore, Horizons has both the headsail and the mainsail attached to booms, so if we forget to properly secure them in the center of the boat and misjudge the waves, there is a risk of getting knocked out of the park by the swinging booms.
In an emergency situation, we would have to lower the sails quickly by releasing the halyards all at once. Without the assistance of lazy jacks, a system used to guide and contain the mainsail of a sailboat, the sails may flop onto the deck and spread out, creating a potentially dangerous situation. Another concern is that the main sheet does not pull and release smoothly, making it almost impossible to adjust from the cockpit. I get anxious whenever the boat heels because we may not be able to quickly release the main sheet and reduce the wind on the sail in the event of excessive heeling.
The big waves prompted us to reassess the storage inside the boat and identify the issues with the deck system. As the sea we will be sailing on is unlikely to be significantly better than this in the future, we need to consider how to make improvements.
We Are Scared
We have sailed 39 nautical miles from Neah Bay. It was a dynamic voyage, but not a long distance. And now, the denouement is near: Horizons is approaching La Push.
To be honest, we had been considering asking the Coast Guard for assistance long before our arrival. This was our first experience, so we had some (based on the Big Data and quite reasonable) doubts that we might overlook something or make a mistake. And we also wanted to know how the escort process would work in case the Coast Guard actually assisted us. However, when we arrived at the entrance to the bar channel, the situation was extremely calm, except for the impressive beer foam on the sea. We were at the optimal timing to cross the bar, the sky was blue, and as we approached La Push, even the waves became calm.
The entrance to La Push, the red buoy of the bar channel on the right
In this peaceful situation, it feels really out of place to call the Coast Guard, but we put our doubts aside and call on VHF 16:
“La Push Coast Guard, La Push Coast Guard, La Push Coast Guard, this is sailboat Horizons. Over.”
“Sailboat Horizons, Sailboat Horizons, Sailboat Horizons, this is US Coast Guard. We are listening. Over.”
The Coast Guard requested that we switch to channel 22A to continue communication, but our new radio, which we have not yet mastered the usage of, does not have that channel registered. As a result, we are continuing the communication on channel 16. This means that any boats within range of our radio transmission are listening to our communication.
On a tranquil afternoon, beneath the azure sky in La Push, there were nervous voices on VHF channel 16 that didn’t quite match the scene:
“US Coast Guard, Sailboat Horizons, we request an escort for bar crossing. Over”
“Sailboat Horizons, US Coast Guard, can you confirm if there are any special obstructions to bar crossing currently? Over.”
“US Coast Guard, Sailboat Horizons, no, there are not. Over.”
“Sailboat Horizons, US Coast Guard, can you confirm if there is a problem with the boat’s engine? Over.”
“US Coast Guard, Sailboat Horizons, no, there is not.”
We quickly add: “However, we are new here and have never done bar crossing before… we are scared!”
According to the instructions of the Coast Guard, after transmitting information such as the current boat coordinates, final destination, number of passengers, and type and size of the boat,
“Sailboat Horizons, US Coast Guard, are all passengers onboard wearing life jackets? Over.”
“US Coast Guard, Sailboat Horizons, sure!”
We wear the life jackets tightly.
Over, copy, roger… This is my first time doing a VHF communication in English and I am feeling agitated and confused by the terminology. I am even biting my tongue out of nervousness. This ridiculous VHF communication is being broadcast live on channel 16 for all ships tuned into this mandatory VHF distress channel. I’m feeling quite embarrassed and I began questioning whether it was a good idea to call the Coast Guard. I’m worried that our call may have resulted in the unnecessary deployment of resources of a foreign country. In hindsight, it seems that we could have safely crossed the bar in these calm sea and weather conditions.
I understand that it will take some time for the Coast Guard to input our boat’s coordinates, decide who will be dispatched, put on life jackets, start the boat, and come to our boat. However, it’s been 50 minutes since we called. During that time, the fog has set in and the sea has become rough. It was not what we wanted, but now the environment is less embarrassing to welcome the Coast Guard. Horizons is being pushed around by the waves and wind, so we’re trying to stay close to the initial coordinates we reported by inserting the gear occasionally.
We had arrived at the entrance to the bar in the best timing with good bar conditions today, but regretfully, we called the Coast Guard and ended up in this situation. Now it has become really difficult to cross the bar by ourselves, our embarrassment and confusion has turned into fear. Although it is a relief that professional La Push sea people will do the escort, would we be able to safely cross the bar following the difficult La Push bar channel even in this rough sea?