As time goes on, it feels like the situation is getting worse and worse. How much longer do we have to wait? Fortunately, communication has not been lost during this long wait. Even when there is no special message, the Coast Guard says:
“Sailboat Horizons, Sailboat Horizons, Sailboat Horizons, US Coast Guard.”
They simply send a message to confirm that we are receiving VHF. Then we respond to let them know that we are present:
“US Coast Guard, US Coast Guard, US Coast Guard, Sailboat Horizons. We are listening.”
It seems that there is no room for improvement in the phenomenon of tongue twister, as I have to repeat the same words.
“Sailboat Horizons, US Coast Guard, we are arriving soon.”
Look, they’re arriving!
The Coast Guard appears through the fog. Why the hell were we imagining a small rubber dinghy with two people on board to guide us through the bar channel? According to Han’s expression, that rescue ship was so impressive and grand that it could have easily been featured in a Hollywood war movie like ‘Midway.’ We were overwhelmed by the sight of the officers, who were dressed in navy uniforms and life jackets and carrying binoculars. There were two officers on the upper deck and three on the lower deck, all standing in a structured, orderly manner. We suddenly feel panicked about what we’ve done. One word of fear has mobilized these resources.
After being tossed around on the rough seas for an hour, we were filled with an emotion beyond relief when the Coast Guard arrived. They confirmed that we did not need towing and began escorting us. The professionalism and expertise with which they handled the situation filled us with gratitude and admiration, as if they were knights in shining armor come to our rescue. With the Coast Guard here, any doubts we had about being able to cross the bar in this rough sea are now gone.
The La Push bar channel runs between James Island and the jetty. According to the chart we studied beforehand, it’s safer to stay closer to the jetty where the water is deeper. However, we need to keep a safe distance from the submerged end of the jetty as it can be hazardous. These days, we can use GPS to check the depth and location of hazards in real-time on our phones. But in the past, people would navigate by using specific markers and landmarks on land, estimating distance to find a safe route. We follow the Coast Guard’s boat with diligence, like ducklings following their mother duck. However, we also practice what we would do if we were alone by comparing our current course, which is plotted on the GPS, to the actions we would take.
The Coast Guard also informs us of any hazards through VHF communications. We received a message about a dredging vessel operating in the area and, looking to the right, we see a small boat with someone working on it. We marvel at the manual dredging work in this small Indian village, but then a real dredging vessel appears in front of us. What we passed earlier was likely a fishing boat. Fishing boats appear to be present even in this narrow and foggy channel.
Safe Arrival In The Marina
The Coast Guard boat guides us to the interior of the marina. We were worried that we wouldn’t be able to secure a slip at the La Push marina because we haven’t been able to get in touch with anyone by phone or email for days. However, we find that there are many empty slips available and we head towards the dock that looks the most accessible. Reviews of this marina often mention that it is mostly used by small fishing boats, and recreational boats are not a major focus. The people who operate it are also described as being “laid back.”
A man with long blonde hair approaches us and takes the mooring line.
“Be careful, there’s a missing pillar here and it’s dangerous.”
As we dock, we see that one of the corners of the dock is indeed tilting. While I get off the boat and chat with this blond man, two Coast Guard officers board our boat. There is a tall and sturdy officer who looks like the commander, and a young rosy-cheeked officer carrying documents following him. The worried face of Han was seen behind their back.
“I heard that the Coast Guard boards the escorted boats and checks all the safety equipment, and if something goes wrong, they impose a large fine.”
This is what Han had said as we arrived safely at the marina.
The agitated arrival of our boat, accompanied by the Coast Guard’s rescue boat and five officers, and the relaxed action of the blond man taking the mooring line and securing it to the cleat seem out of sync. Feeling embarrassed, I just ask:
“Did you cross the bar by yourself?”
As always, the wind was dying down as we finished mooring.
“Oh, I live here.”
This is the first resident we met in La Push, the most typical indian town in our journey, with blue eyes and blond hair. It turns out that he had moved to La Push a few years ago because he enjoyed living there, and was currently working on fixing up a secondhand boat he had bought.
When I asked him about his experiences crossing the La Push bar, he said that it isn’t necessarily a difficult bar to cross, unless it is a day with strong southerly winds. The main issues are usually the shallow water and the rocks near James Island.
“Then would it still be okay to leave before the incoming tide?”
The voyage from La Push to next destination Grays Harbor was always a question mark for us. Even in the northwest US, known for its long distances between ports, this leg is especially long. It would take us approximately 15 hours to sail from La Push to Grays Harbor at a speed of 5 knots, assuming we stay on course. Due to the daily delay in tidal time, the ideal time for bar crossing tomorrow morning would be well after 7:00 am. However, with the shorter days, sunset has been brought forward to 8:00 pm. This means it will be challenging to arrive in Grays Harbor while it is still daylight.
A young couple approaches the blond man and greets him. The blond man introduces me to the couple as if we are friends, even though we have only talked for a few minutes. It turns out that this couple is also heading down to Mexico. They are stuck here in La Push Marina waiting for the delivery of their life raft, which is has been delayed, so they are killing time. When asked, they indeed confirm that they had planned to go offshore. Our boat, which set off without a VHF radio, is not an ideal situation, but I wonder what the circumstances are for departing without having a life raft ready. Did they originally planned a harbor-hopping voyage but changed their minds and decided to go offshore?
Just then, the two officers who had gone below deck with Han emerged to the cockpit. I saw their faces brighten as they stepped off after shaking hands with Han. Overwhelmed by their strong gaze and smile, I found myself shaking hands with them too. The commander went first, followed by the rosy-cheeked officer. Automatically and reflexively, I blurt out:
“Thank you, sir”
It is clear that we have passed the safety inspection, but I couldn’t help but wonder why the atmosphere was so friendly that we were even shaking hands with the coast guard. I go back to the boat with curiosity.
“I think it’s because of what I said last. I saw the young officer’s eyes shining…“
“What did you say?”
The Second Moment Of Tension
According to what I heard from Han, who was the only one on board when I was outside chatting, this is what happened:
Han was expecting some notice of the inspection, but none came. So he began to wonder if there were no safety inspections in the US. Suddenly, two sturdy officers appeared in front of him. “So this is the price of the escort…” he thought to himself as he greeted the officers in uniforms and boots on deck before he could calm his surprised heart at the rescue boat and the number of personnel deployed.
Han guided them below deck: They asked about the location of the holding tank as soon as they verified the yacht’s registration and hull number. The holding tank is a container that stores waste from the toilet rather than releasing it directly into the ocean. In most European countries, it is not mandatory for small leisure boats, but it seems that in the US, the absence of a holding tank or the lever being in the “discharge” direction can be a major issue. Our boat has a holding tank, but we were unaware of its function or how to use it, only knowing that it was located in the keel area.
The commander asks about the presence of stickers indicating compliance with regulations on the release of hazardous substances in US waters, as well as the expiration dates of fire extinguishers and safety equipment. The young officer records these on paper. Watching this process, Han regretfully realized that he should have taken the request for an escort more seriously and was overwhelmed with self-reproach. To his dismay, there were no stickers and they discovered some of the safety equipment, such as the self-igniting light, was not functioning properly, leading to even more terrifying moments.
However, the Coast Guard rather reassured him, saying it was a “routine procedure” and provided him with the necessary stickers. They also suggested using hand-held flare signals instead of the faulty self-igniting light, ending the safety inspection in a friendly atmosphere. Apparently Han couldn’t just send away these grateful people without thanking:
“I had only seen the coast guard in movies before, but now that I’ve met you in real life, I understand why people think of you as heroes!”
La Push Under The Moon
As the wind had died down, we decided to move Horizons to the empty, undamaged dock on the other side. As we were moving the boat using only the mooring line, Jason, the blond man suddenly appeared again and helped us out.
From him, we also learned that there were no showers on the marina, but there are some on a nearby RV camping ground. When asked about the marina’s restaurant, with all its positive online reviews, he replied,
“Well, there’s only one restaurant here.”
As we asked about the location of the marina office, he said,
“It’s no use going there. It’ll be closed.”
As we were unable to contact the Marina office, we asked how the boats that had to leave early paid their fees. The response was:
“Well, there’s no choice but just leaving.”
Despite Jason’s lack of enthusiasm, we were hopeful about trying the highly-rated restaurant run by 100% locals. We didn’t yet take a shower, but dressed in clean jackets and arrived at the restaurant with the appearance of civilized people. There was a long line of diners outside, indicating that the restaurant was popular and people were enjoying a full course dinner.
Finally, when we were seated at the table, we were disappointed to see that the fancy seafood platter was not on the menu. Instead, we were presented with convenience food like fish and chips and cream chowder, similar to what we had seen at bars. It took over an hour for our food to arrive, and the sun had set by that time. If we had followed local resident Jason’s advice, we could have cooked on the boat and enjoyed the sunset at a more scenic location.
After leaving the restaurant, we walked down a dimly lit road and followed the sound of the waves to the right. As we emerged from the bushes, we suddenly found ourselves on a rocky beach. The bright full moon shone on the waves and the horizon was still red. There were strange rock formations standing in a line like totems, creating a unique silhouette. I think these rocks are the famous Quillayute Needles. This beach was renowned for being one of the most beautiful on the northeast coast of the United States, and the scenery truly looked like something out of a dream.
After a tense and exhilarating day that included fog, the Pacific Ocean, waves, and the Coast Guard Escort, the fatigue of the night dissipated in the presence of this unexpected beauty. Strong winds are forecast from the day after tomorrow, so we had planned to stay in La Push for a few days. Now that we are considering exploring the neighborhood and going for a run after a long time, we feel revitalized.
On the beautiful and mystical moonlit beach, there are giant, white tree roots that look like the trees of a giant kingdom scattered here and there. The scenery in this place, where there are no signs of artificial objects or civilization, looks unchanged from a thousand years ago or now. The only difference would be that the people walking on the sand are mostly outsiders. It’s a unique feeling to visit this place using the most primitive form of transportation.
It’s natural to become curious about the Native Americans who called this beautiful place home. However, I couldn’t help but think that I have been trapped in the image of “Indians” imposed by outsiders. The foggy and chilly weather in places like Neah Bay and La Push may have contributed to this image. Without even realizing it, perhaps I had been searching for a “mysterious Indian village” like the “mysterious Orient” that some foolish Westerners aimlessly seek. As I realized this, I felt my face heat up.
Even if the spirit of the Native Americans had not been stirred, La Push would still have been a wonderful place to spend a few days, with its stunning seashore to stroll along, good running trails, and friendly local resident Jason, who we could have become friends with during our stay. However, we leave the next morning. We ended up not being able to pay the mooring fees unintentionally.
We wondered if it was the right decision to leave the most beautiful place we had stopped at so far, after just one nighttime walk, and we were still feeling the fatigue from yesterday’s voyage. However, if we didn’t leave now, we would have had to stay a few more days because of the strong winds, and the narrow window to Mexico that seemed to get smaller every day was becoming a burden. The later departure time for the bar crossing, the earlier sunset time, and the growing anxiety that would weigh on our minds..