Columbia River Bar Crossing and Ocean Transits South… #12 – Part 2

Our journey south, through the Columbia River bar and 60 hours of ocean travels to San Francisco Bay. Get more technical planning in Part 1


We left Ilwaco WA at approx 7 am on Monday morning, with our projected arrival in San Francisco Bay at 7 pm Wednesday evening. We were all very excited but a bit nervous too.  We were planning to get through the Columbia River Bar and out in the ocean for a 3 day/2 night trip safely. We didn’t know how the 60 hour run south would treat us. Would we have engine issues? Would everyone feel okay without getting motion sickness? If anything could go wrong, a 60 hour run in the ocean would do it. As mentioned in Blog #12 Part 1, we know that the weather can change quickly at any time either way.

After all our prep and planning, and the check list completed, our hopes were high to make it all the way. We had our fall back plan in case we needed it. We had decided, Newport or Brookings Oregon were our possible stopping points and felt that after we passed Brookings we were committed to SFO.

We had one additional crew member aboard, our son Chase. He added the extra eyes, ears and help with engine checks throughout the 60 hours. (engine checks info below) We were very happy to have him join us.

Day 2, worn-out faces

As we headed out the mouth of the Columbia River, we seemed to be doing just fine. We only had 2 dredge boats in the channel to pass. All went well because we weren’t juggling multiple boats from different directions. If we had other boats or large freighters coming or going at the same time it could have been much more difficult. In that case we would have opened the conversation on VHF channel 16 and establish direction, passing plans and to which side we would pass on. Just telling the other boats what the plan is helps and they all are thankful to eliminate the confusion that can lead to mistakes. We just followed someone out and turned left and started our adventure.

First day was about what we expected with waves that were predicted 4 to 6 foot from northwest. We had an additional 3 foot swell straight from the west over lapping the waves, this was unexpected. It didn’t cause any issues, just created a bit of odd movement as we traveled.

On our first night watch, Dan took the evening shift at around 10 pm and I slept. Around 2:30 am I took over from Dan, he did his turnover on what had happened, where we were at and anything to watch out for and then I sent him off to get some sleep.  We took turns sleeping on the sofa in the Salon, so if there was an issue, either of us could easily call the other to help. Chase spent time late at night with Dan and than early in the morning with me. This was the first time I had completed an overnight watch by myself with radar, AIS (Automatic Identification System) and Garmin chart as my only tools, no visual. My experience for the most part was pretty boring. I did have one radar identified object ahead about 4 am that wasn’t moving. It was straight ahead, I kept moving slightly to my port side as we got closer to it. As we passed it I could see the tall mast with bright lights on it in the dark night and fog. I had just passed a fishing boat on the starboard side of me. I was far enough away, but it is kinda intimidating when everything is so dark and black and I can’t see a thing and then all of a sudden BAM…a bright lights appears, it was a shock even though I knew something was there. I did my turnover back to Dan around 6:30 and took some more sleep.

I would like to mention that eating is just as messed up as sleeping, you are hungry at odd times. I found it nice to have something to drink and snack in the middle of the night to help keep me awake and alert.

Second Day we had lots of fog. By the way…. fog is our friend! It might not seem like it but, fog equals little wind which equals good water conditions.

Angela at Helm with about 1 mile visibility

We did have a small amount of wind that was going with us which gave us waves from our stern. (Perfect conditions) Visibility was variable from a 1/2 mile to 2 miles. This was the foggiest day of all three days.  We saw a lots of fishing boats off the Oregon coast, we also had pretty good cell coverage for most of the day, which wasn’t the case on the third day. We were approximately 20 miles off land at the dips and 3 miles off land at each point, considering a straight shot down the coast.

There isn’t much to watch all day long except the large birds that are either sitting on top of the water or flying around. Sometimes the birds will wait a long time before moving as we were heading towards them, kind of funny. Mid day while cruising Chase and I saw a very small bird on the window. He looked like he was trying to stay put on the boat but was getting blown off. We found him an while later on the side deck and took this video. He didn’t seem to be too frightened of us and hopped around up to us.  He flew off shortly after this video.

It was a little bit of entertainment with a lot of sitting and watching. A few hours later we saw the same small bird on our back deck. He had flown in the open window on to the deck and was hopping around, calm and just enjoying our deck. We just couldn’t believe this small bird was so far away from land. (20 miles at the time)

We enjoyed the distraction and Dan thought Chase and I were too funny getting excited and entertained over the small bird. We really did need to keep focused on our jobs and get to our destination. Chase was responsible for the hourly engine checks. These are extremely important, so much can go wrong when the engines run for a long time. If something does go wrong you want to find it quickly which reduces the damage or clean up caused by the issue.

An engine room check log was made and Chase would check hourly, with exception of a few hours in the middle of the night. They had baseline measurements from previous cruising to compare against. We watched:

  • Engine operating temperatures such as
    • coolant
    • exhaust
    • power steering
    • transmission
    • hydraulic pump
  • We also would check
    • oil pressures
    • transmission pressure
    • fuel filter vacuum
    • voltages
    • inspect for oil leaks

All these were done on both port and starboard engines and the generators. A lot of inspecting to assure we stayed in good shape.

The second night Dan and I did the same switch off as we did the first night. It seemed to work well, so we kept it. Happily as the hours passed, the waves kept getting smaller. All went well.

On the third day early in the morning Dan and I had a scare. Dan was driving and we both heard this horrible noise. We both jumped up and started looking at the controls and it sounded like engine noise was increasing quickly and it was a very loud roar. We had no idea what was going for about 45 seconds.  We then could hear what the issue was. It was probably an F-15 jet flying over us on full afterburners!! We couldn’t see them or hear them well because of the regular engine noise and maybe the fog & ocean changed the tone. Our hearts were pounding and we were grateful it wasn’t the boat making the noise. We can giggle about it now, but we were both very frightened that something big was happening to our engines.

The day was still filled with fog as we passed Mendocino point CA. All of a sudden, the water became as still as a lake. No swells, no waves, just easy running. It was very welcomed but an odd feeling of such calm water.

Later that day we spotted the bird, he was still on the back deck, we were so surprised. Now he had a friend. There was a not-so-colorful bird of the same variety that had joined him. OR maybe we just didn’t see him before. Dan suggest that they might need some fresh water. So I tossed some out on the deck and he quickly drank up some.  We knew we were going to have to say good bye at some time. We were still quiet a few miles from shore, so we let them stay for a while longer. But as we were a few hours from San Francisco and much closer to shore we put them out the door and off the enclosed back deck in hopes that they would fly to shore. They could have easily stayed with us on the top fly bridge or on the side decks. But they didn’t, they flew around the boat a couple times and then they were gone. Our little stowaways from Oregon were now California bird residences. I hope they had a nice time with us. We enjoyed them, it was something else to think about and watch while we were cruising the ocean blue.

We had a good cruise into San Francisco Bay. As we got closer to the Golden Gate Bridge the fog lifted and gave us an awesome view and nice pictures as we moved underneath her.

Heading towards the Bridge
Heading under the Bridge
Looking back at the Bridge

We were very proud and happy that we made it with out any issues. Dan made Chase and I cute little certificates for our successful run. I was glad we made it the whole way and we were safe with no issues.

We docked in Sausalito for a few days and had a nice time before moving to a private Yacht Club, St Francis Yacht Club right in the city. Thanks to our sponsor Jaren Leet for getting us the awesome moorage for a week.

I will certainly feel more confident with the next long run and know I can do it.

Thanks for your continued support! I hope you all get a chances to stretch your comfort zones with challenges. You will amaze yourself with the accomplishment and feel good after completing it.

Enjoy your adventures and conquer your fears, whatever they might be!!

Cheers, Dan and Angela on Angelique.

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!

People we meet & “The Strait of Juan de Fuca to Columbia River Bar”….#9

Whether it is “Friends or Family” from home or someone we’ve just met. Life on a boat is filled with people you meet and people you greet.

“People & Places are the best part about an adventure…..We get both!

Meeting new people is always so much fun, you get to learn about them and their boating story. Below is Bob and Deb that we met on the docks at Eagle Harbor Marina. 

They have a 65′ Hampton Endurance that they had built special for them…. impressed! They took multiple trips to Shanghai China to over see the building of their Yacht. Bob has a great blog site too.. you can check it out

Didn’t realize I was in the photo too…. haha
I made just a little bit of food!! someone needs to get control of me

While we were at Eagle Harbor we had our friends James and Jeffery from Seattle visit too. They came for the evening and we had a great time catching up. They were happy to see the boat, oh and us too!

At Roche Harbor we had our Boat Broker over for dinner. Andy Aaron helped us buy our Hatteras we have today. He has become such a good reference for us with all kinds of contacts/connections and such. You can find Andy at Emerald Pacific Yachts I’m really not a person that promotes salesman…but Andy is different, he is very honest and upfront with us and anyone else he works with and has been nothing more than professional which has continued after the purchase.

One day later, Evan Tozier joined us to help bring the boat south to Ilwaco WA. This was our stop over before heading to San Francisco.

We had a pretty good run down the coast of Washington. We started our departure early Tues 8/7 from Neah Bay. About 2 hours into our run I noticed one of the engines sounded funny. Dan took an engine walk-through and noticed that the starboard transmission was leaking oil. Analysis needed to be done to figure out what was happening.

“We have more lemons, please come help me drink all this Lemonade!!”

We spent 2 hours coasting down the ocean with one engine just in gear as Dan attempted to identify & fix the transmission leak, which I’m proud to say he did. The issue was an O-Ring on the transmission pipe was leaking. Dan dis-assembled it and put a thicker O-ring on the pipe and it seems to be holding well. We arrived in Ilwaco WA later than we had hoped, there was no light at all, the sun was down.  We made the decision to anchored just upstream from the Ilwaco harbor entrance.  The next day we got an awesome slip, thanks to another friend Dennis Sackhoff, which we know from CRYC, Columbia River Yacht Club. He let us use one of his slips because we helped him in Roche Harbor, his boat was parked at Roche Harbor Marina and I heard a beeping coming from his boat as we cruised by in our dinghy.  We called him and he asked us to investigate. Come to find out that his dingy radar was still on and giving a warning beep. So we climbed up and turned it all off for him.

“It is what boater do for each other”

Here is a snip of our trip on the ocean. This shot was a pretty calm day. As we got closer to the Columbia River Bar it got rough and dark quickly. We were very careful over the bar with all the many cargo freighters and a couple dredging boats, Dan did well, of course.

AT the Helm, juggling our approach through the Bar.

I’m glad we are safe and made it. Oh and BTW, I put my Scopolamine patch on (motion sickness) behind my ear and was fine the whole trip! I only use 1/2 of a patch! I’m so happy!

We got a couples dinner when Sarah came to visit and pick up Evan. We taught another couple “Enloe 500” game.

And thank you to the many people we call fiends, we couldn’t do this without you and we are lucky you can help us drink all our lemonade!

Next Blog teaser = Watch for the “US Coast Guard and Navy interactions with Angelique…#10”

We are blessed, Dan & Angela