Tuesday, October 25, 2011

First Gale

We are in Ft. Bragg, California after coming through our first gale on Silhouette. It came as a complete surprise. After leaving Newport, we continued south; but not much was happening in the way of wind, and we motored most of the way from Newport to Crescent City, with a brief sail when the winds filled in temporarily around Cape Blanco. Newport is nothing if not rich in marine life, and I think I saw my first albacore leap out of the water as we left that area. We also (positive ID) saw a Mola mola and circled the boat around for a close-up look at this clumsy, dinner plate-sized fish with a ginormous dorsal fin. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocean_sunfish  It was only the second time I've seen one!
We decided to stop and anchor behind the breakwater at Crescent City for a good night's sleep before continuing on, and we left again early the next morning. Again, there wasn't enough wind to sail; the weather was clear and sunny. The forecast was for rough weather further south on Monday and Tuesday (this was Friday), so we decided to bypass the port of Eureka and try to make it to Drake's Bay (just around the corner from the Golden Gate) by Sunday morning. As we passed Eureka that night (still motoring in calm conditions), the forecast was for 10-20 knots within 10 nm of Cape Mendocino (ideal sailing conditions for Silhouette) and only 25 knots from 10-60 nm offshore. (We'd been in 25 knots before on Silhouette).

The wind was just starting to build to 12-13 knots when I got off my first watch at 10:00 p.m. We set the headsail, and Patrick was able to sail through his watch, as the wind continued to build to 20 knots, rounding Cape Mendocino with no problem. Ironically, our problems began south of the infamous cape. When he woke me for my next watch at 2:00 a.m., the wind was 25 knots. We were only 12 miles offshore. Patrick tried to nap in the cockpit while I took my watch, but the wind continued to build to 30...35 knots. We partially furled the headsail and finally, furled it all the way and ran under bare pole to slow the boat down. The boat's hull speed is 7-point-something knots, and we were doing 9.0-10.0 knots surfing down some of the waves. Under a bare pole, the boat was a little too slow (4.0-5.0 knots); but because the gale had not been in the forecast, we hadn't hanked on the storm staysail ahead of time, and Patrick didn't want to send one of us out on deck in the dark to do so. Lesson learned. The strong gusts were beyond my beginner's ability to steer well; the strongest one recorded by our anemometer was 43 knots. A few waves splashed into the cockpit, and there was spray everywhere. Although the wind vane was still handling most of the steering, Patrick frequently had to jump up to hand steer or adjust the vane. When the wind shifted from the northwest to the northeast, and we were beam to the swell, even Patrick had a difficult time with steerage. Since we didn't have a storm staysail set to hold us into the swell, he started the motor, which did the trick. The wind vane was able to self-steer with the motor holding us into the swell.

Silhouette performed beautifully in the gale. My only concern was that we didn't have enough sea room and would be blown ashore before the winds died down. Patrick assured me we had plenty of room, at least until daylight when we could put up a sail. About an hour before daylight, the wind lessened to 20 knots. We put up sail again at daylight. About an hour later, it was 12-13 knots, and by the time we motored into Noyo harbor at Ft. Bragg in clear, sunny conditions, the whole experience seemed surreal.

The rolling log fuel dock we remembered at Noyo from our trip up the coast had closed. The only fuel dock there now is at Dolphin Isle marina, which is too shallow for our draft. It can only handle boats with a 3 ft. draft or less. The fishing fleet now has to truck in fuel to fuel their boats. (The smaller guys do it with jerry cans.) We are moored in Noyo Mooring Basin, which can barely handle our 5 ft. draft. We actually changed slips to a deeper slip so we wouldn't be sitting on the bottom at the minus tide coming up tonight. We have been in Ft. Bragg since mid-day Saturday due to gale warnings further south; we are planning to head out again tomorrow.

This isn't Patrick's favorite marina with its lack of facilities (the strength of the Internet signal varies with tidal height since the moorage is down in a basin and all the motels (whose Wi-Fi we are using) are up on the hill. There are no showers*, which motivated us to move the shower installation project up on the project list: Silhouette now has a hand held shower! However, I am loving my stay in Ft. Bragg, where I have college friends and extended family. I went huckleberry picking with my friend Cyndy yesterday, and I'm getting ready to make huckleberry pancakes for breakfast. 

* We later discovered there are showers at Noyo Mooring Basin:  key available in the office.

This post edited and post-dated from a previous email.

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