Columbia River Bar Crossing and Ocean Transits South…#12 – Part 1

Part 1 of 2, Columbia River Bar is dangerous and you are alone in the ocean. Find out what planning tools we used for the safest passage.

The Harbor at Ilwaco WA is a fishing Harbor. Life is hard being a commercial fisherman or a charter fisherman.  The alarm clock goes off early, with a hard days work ahead of them.  As a guest in this marina, we heard people mulling around, warming up engines, visiting about the previous days catch, maybe discussing where they might go that day, as they departed the marina around 4-5 am.

With a pleasure motor yacht “Angelique” in the harbor and on the main dock for everyone to see, we got lots of questions and looks every day. I’m sure they are wondering about us and our reasoning for docking in such a marina. We wanted to spend our time close to the bar as we could get while planning our trip, waiting for perfect weather window, working on a few maintenance and repair items AND eating sea food, of course! (Thanks Dennis Sackhoff for the great location)

“Where a River and the Sea eat ships”

The Columbia River Bar is one of the toughest crossings you can face. With the changing of ocean swells and winds, the Bar can become life-threatening within 5 minutes. Over 2000 ships have sunk in and around the Columbia bar sense 1792. Because of this the Columbia River has acquired a reputation worldwide as the Graveyard of the Pacific”.  The Astoria Journal and a NY Times special article posted in Feb. 26, 1988 outlines similar risks. Where a river and the sea eat ships” So planning is the utmost important task.

col river bar pic
Wiki Page about Columbia River Bar

First Learn: If you are planning or want to do this bar crossing and have never done it, PLEASE do some studying, reading, asking others that have done it, classes etc. DO NOT do this without understanding the water currents, winds, waves, tides, etc.

We belong to the Columbia River Yacht Club in Portland OR. One of the awesome things about the club is that we can share knowledge with each other. Dan and I went to classes held by other members that have done it often and very knowledgeable about it.  Thanks Capt Ron and Ashley @ Zephyr NW  and Pete Grillo for putting together the CRYC class book about “Going North”. We continued our planning to make sure we were doing the best options.

anchor pic

BTW, Dan is a retired US Navy Captain, has tons of experience and started boating at the age of 4 . He understands the risks with any bar crossings and does the work to learn and does not assume he knows it. 

Our planning: We wanted to do a one time jump to San Francisco, so we started watching ocean and weather conditions from Astoria to San Francisco for future dates. First we determined that our weather window needed to be 3 days (72 hours) based on the cruising time (listed below) We also had to watch the timing with the Columbia River Bar. We figured out options to stop along the way if weather changed or issues came up.

  • Wind/Wave/Weather Ocean Conditions:
  • Windy – Shows winds and waves on ocean area graphical view for up to 10 days out. There is a Phone app but shows only wind
  • We were looking for light winds that are not on our bow for the best conditions.
  • Buoyweather  – Lets you pick a spot and see a forecast for winds and waves at 3-4 various points along the route.
  • We were looking for less than 6 ft waves at 8 seconds or longer intervals. Again, not on our bow
  • Predictwind app – Phone app that lets you see offshore ocean area wind and wave combination display for 10 days out. Watching for same conditions.
  • Garmin BlueChart phone app  – to get the distances and times for our runs
  • We planned 9-10 knots and with 2-6 hour safety cushions on arrival times.
  • We identified ports along the way that we could pull into early if any need arose, but stayed focused on being ready and achieving our goal of San Francisco.
  • Bar Crossing Timing: 
  • We used the built in tide and current tables in the Garmin Blue Chart phone app to find the best times and dates.
  • We were looking for flood tide near the peak incoming slack water for smooth bar crossing in and out.
  • Good conditions = Flood tide, ocean level is rising, river current speed slows.
  • Bad conditions = Ebb tide, ocean receding, river current speed increases.
  • Networking:
  • Advice from knowledgeable/experienced friends (Ken Williams and Ron Micjan) about the planning process to understand their thoughts on conditions.
  • Materials from Class, as mentioned above, “CRYC Going North book”

Vessel Readiness – BEST decision is, do before you leave. We wanted any known issues that could cause problems taken care of before we headed out. You are on your own in the ocean. No timeline is more important than getting your stuff fixed before you leave.

  • We had some identified repairs and maintenance that needed to be done. (ken helping with our fix)
  • Stow items, lock cabinets, etc. if it can move, it will.

Crew – Number of crew members depends on time you are gone

  • We spent time determine the speed and distance to understand the length of time we would be out in open ocean.
  • Ilwaco to San Francisco Bay – 10 knots / 600 nm = 60 hours non-stop
  • We needed at minimum 1 more crew, Don’t leave with not enough crew, you get tired and make mistakes, not worth it.

Fall back plan – Good to have one if ocean, vessel or crew issues arise.

  • Our option was to stop at Newport or Brookings. We called ahead and made sure we could arrive if needed.

Provisions – The ocean can change quickly and having food, snacks and drinks ready to grab it the best solution, especially if you have guest crew.

  • I had Chicken Pasta salad, sandwiches, fruit, nuts, snack bars, coffee, pop. (drinks with caffeine is good) Easy to grab or warm up without cooking

***Disclaimer*** This assumes you have the correct safety gear, seamanship knowledge, captain of your own vessel or hired one, understand your own route/layovers and the workings of your own vessel. This is not an all inclusive “how to” guide. This is what we did. You take responsibility for your own risk and decision as we did for ours.

With all this planning, our “actual adventure” will be in Part 2. The article was just too big to put all of it into one blog. REMEMBER to say tuned... you will see, what it was like during our travels, what the sea was like, how we survived, videos and pics AND our surprise “stow-away” guest. Coming soon! 

**All my blog posts are public and can be shared if you know someone that is interested.

Blessing to you all from Angelique with fair winds and following seas!

Our Most Favorite Things… #11

I might not be Oprah and give away all my favorite things on a show, but I hope you find our favorite things useful. Dan and I pulled this list together after talking about some of the things that make living aboard our boat easier or more fun! Cause we like FUN! We split it most appropriately… Angela 7/Dan 3 items.

“Things that meet our needs and best value for the item”

#1   I’m going to start with one of my “MOST” Favorite items. My really good friend Molly Bradely gave me these on my last week in Portland. To be honest, I didn’t think they were that cool, they were just shopping bags. BUT these bags are what got me writing this article. They are so simple, but sooooo awesome. I have them folded up and kept in my backpack or purse so I always have them with me. There were so many places where we were out in town and purchased something, we were able to put in one of these bags. Why are they cool, you ask?….. because I don’t have to carry & toss away paper or plastic bags. (reduces the waste on the boat) They are small, compact and once opened are much easier to carry than those icky grocery bags. They are stronger and I can put them on my shoulder too. They come in all colors/patterns and different sizes. I  LOVE THEM. Boaters this is a must have, Buy some! “BAGGU”

Purchase @ baggu.com or Amazon, I think local stores carry them too.

#2    My next item is a bit more expensive I almost didn’t buy these because of the price, but couldn’t find a better option.

Storage racks for my galley wall. I have a blank wall on the far side of the Galley and about 3.5 inch of depth space. I wanted something that was easily adjustable and could hold some things I would normally put on my counter, cooking oil, salt/pepper, vitamins, cutting board, etc. They needed to stay put while underway so I didn’t have stow & then put back after we arrive, repeating each time we move. Love the extra storage and convenience.

Purchased from: Storables in Bridgeport Village, Elfa utility mesh pantry door/wall rack.

#3    Another item for underway, but is only used for that short period of time while we are underway. Boater know that any cupboard, cabinet, fridge door can fly open with enough banging that happens while underway. I found these and bought a couple length and didn’t know exactly what I would use them for, but so happy I did.

They are amazing adaptable, movable and able to hold in place… I use them on our fridge doors to hold them from popping open underway. We have also used on the dingy when we were caring multiple fishing polls. We had a spot to lay them down behind the seat but couldn’t secure them. With these gear ties we could secure them and undo them easily. I’m sure there will be other uses too.

Purchased from: Home Depot – Nite Lze Gear tie – multiple colors and lengths.

#4   After I purchased the wall racks (#2 fav thing) I was looking for something to put my butter in that was plastic w/lid and I could put in the baskets and the lid wouldn’t come off when I picked it up.

I’m really happy with this purchase. The lid stays on good, it can come off if held too long or shaken while only holding lid. So as long as you are just moving it and aware… it works great; covered, clean and off the counter.

Purchased from: Amazon – prepworks butter keeper by progressive.

#5   The next items wasn’t a exactly a purchase in the most recent times. It is a string backpack. I have used them for years when we travel places. I can fold them flat and put in suitcase and bring for hauling stuff while on vacation. I guess you could use a regular backpack but this one is tiny. I have a couple of them. They are so handy to carry my wallet and those BAGGU’s in (#1 fav item) and anything we buy along the way. Cheryl Williams had borrowed one of mine when we were walking around town, she liked it so much she bought one of her own. Hence, made my fav items list.

Purchased:  you can find at many place you travel, travel stores and on-line.

#6   A Folding legged card table. This one happens to be made of wood and antique.  We have used it for all kinds of things. In the pic you can see I’m using it in the salon to write my blog. We have played card on it on the back desk and in the salon, we have even eaten dinner on it. We can put it on the dock if we want to use it for potluck with other boaters… and so many other uses. I plan to put a couple coats of varnish on it to keep it beautiful. I can’t go without say something about my Mothers custom made diary cover, which you can see in the pic. I love it and treasure it always! I keep notes in it so I can write these blogs.

Purchased from: table is from Craigslist (I think) one of the on-line for sale apps. Notebook cover is custom & I’m sure very expensive…. ♥♥♥

#7  We have 4 heads on Angelique, all came with these rusty/pitted gold/silver stubs that stuck out of the wall with nothing on them. I’m sure years ago they were some type of soap dish holder. I wanted liquid soap containers to hook on the the wall and a cup to put your toothbrush/paste in. I hunted on-line for months. Some of them were so expensive $80,$90,$100+ dollars a piece. Not spending that kind of money X 4. I found these that are more reasonably priced. They were approx $24 each. They stay put underway and are very useful and handy for everyone.

Purchased from: Amazon, Brand CRW.

Excited for next weeks Blog….Discussing our trip from Ilwaco, WA to San Francisco Bay. We have a couple cool videos to share. We will talk about the weather, our planning, how we all did on the trip and a special surprise… “A Stowaway

NOW for the last 3 items, Dan’s Favorite Things. Do I say “the guy things??”

#8   Blink Cameras, Dan purchased these first for our house a couple years ago. They are a web based camera that has a phone app. You can use the app to turn on/off and watch the video clips that it takes of any surveillance.  As we were getting prepared to leave on our boat, Dan purchased some for Angelique. The app will also let you adjust the length of video, wait time before recording, sensitivity etc. You can also move the location of the cameras, if needed. He loves them and finds it a bit more comforting that if someone were to board our boat we would see who they were and have a it recorded.

Purchased from Blink.com

#9   After buying our boat we quickly found out that we had issues communicating with each other while docking, anchoring, etc. We decided we needed headsets like we have seen others use. BUT, I didn’t want ones that I had to push a button to talk, I have my hands full when trying to step off with lines. I also didn’t want one that I had to attach to my belt…didn’t want it coming off while I was moving around.  So, cordless, hands-free with no other unit to worry about. The hunt took a while to find and we certainly didn’t want ones that didn’t work. (reading the reviews helped) if we were going to spend money on them they had to work well. These were a bit expensive, but they work great! You turn each one on and then one person pushes a button to sync them together. You can adjust the volume and no hands required.

Purchased from: “My Team Talks Headset” from Seadog Boating Solutions LLC.

“We call them our Marriage saver headsets”

#10   The last and final item is USB outlets at the helm. These are regular outlets that have USB slots in them. We put two at the helm. We use them not only for phone charging but to charge our “marriage saver headsets” too. Along with other items that change up with USB cord. We get good use of these! Thanks Ken Williams for suggesting them.

Purchased from Home Depot or any other hardware/on-line store

As we wrap up our list of most favorite items Dan wanted to squeeze in one more simple one.  # 10.1  ZIP TIES.. all sizes, colors, lengths, etc. we use them for tons of stuff. So many that we can’t list them. Have a good supply on board. You can buy a big assorted jar of them or various sizes at Home Depot or Harbor Freight.

Thanks so much, I hope you find them as useful as we have.

Cheers from San Francisco Bay

US Coast Guard & Navy interactions with Angelique….#10

I am amazed how you just never know what could happen while cruising. There is so much that could happen to you or witness something happening to others.

Based on the title… “you guessed it” we had an encounter with the US Coast Guard. These wonderful folks are on the water to help you in so many ways. They are the Maritime law enforcement keeping the waters safe (drugs/law enforcement etc). They also have a vast knowledge of the water and can advise you if needed, can bring pumps if you are taking on water, search/rescue for lost vessels, towing of vessels and of course conduct vessel safety checks.

“They saw us coming and thought what a nice looking vessel.. lets go have some fun!”

As we pulled into Neah Bay the Coast Guard was hanging and watching as we arrived.  They called us and asked to board for a safety check. (this is common practice) Which, of course we were fine with. They agreed to let us anchor first, which turned out to be for the best. The waters, waves and wind were really strong that day. They had a hard time getting close enough to board us without crashing into us. The pic shows them attempting to board on our stern. They eventually came starboard of us and boarded from one of our side doors.

They boarded with two officers, one a more junior agent called a striker, (non-rated enlisted which is striking to be and aviation mechanic) he was keeping notes, while the other more senior agent went around with Dan and asked to see all of our safety items. We passed with 100% within 20 minutes. They were very happy and explained how some boats they board are in really bad shape and they could spend up to 2 hours with them on safety. I was happy about “Dan my safety man” after all.


~Now for the Navy encounter~

A few days prior to the Coast Guard boarding us, we were heading to Roche Harbor from Bainbridge Island. As we were making our way along our path, Dan commented that he saw something up in front of us and thought it was a submarine……. of course I said “no way” Yes! it was. It was an US Navy submarine and his entourage escort service. It was one of the coolest events we have ever seen.

Please forgive the lack of good quality photos as I magnified as much as possible. 

This coast guard boat is moving around checking out any non-military vessels. As the Sub and protection vessels are cruising towards their destination.

Coast Guard came very close to us

When the Coast Guard approached us he pulled out his hailer/megaphone and talked to us. Asking us how many people on board and to make sure we remained on the same course & speed we were currently doing. Obviously, so we don’t interact with them.

I heard from a reliable source…. that once they see your boat, they have high-powered technology that can give them any data on you that they want within minutes. My source told me “they will get in your pants….” 

You can see in the pictures below that there were two big boats on either side of the sub. They have big wall like structures that block attacks if one were to occur. Dan said that this was not in place when he was on Sub’s, most recently started after 9/11.

The Sub was heading back to Naval Submarine Base Bangor on the Hood Canal. It is a trident missile submarine from commander submarine group 9, where Dan was the reserve unit commanding officer from 1999 to 2001.  We don’t know which sub it was because that is what they like, unidentifiable.  Dan of course sent a pic over to the group, which they are always thankful for, especially the crew that were on the sub at the time.

We are always grateful for these life experience. Hope you enjoyed the pics.

Stay tuned for “Oprah’s Angela’s Favorite Things” Blog.. I might include a couple of Dan’s too.

Blessings to you all from Angelique MV