Let’s back up a minute before I start our story about “making the Big Left Turn” and sailing into the Pacific Ocean and its gentle swells. The departure would have looked different if we had a Time Machine. Much different. Now that that’s cleared up, on to the story.
After sitting for days in Neah Bay, with nothing to do other than walk the same piece of road, we were antsy to leave. The weather didn’t look bad, but it didn’t look good either. We had a general sense of what to expect but wanted a second opinion. Cue advice from someone more experienced than us. We sent him the weather data and got, “Well, I wouldn’t go, but I don’t like rough conditions anymore.” And something like “you won’t die” (I’m paraphrasing). Sane people would stay and wait for a better window. Not us. Nope. We’re going for it.
Armed with nerves and enthusiasm, we picked up the anchor and headed into the last bit of the Juan de Fuca. Wow. These swells were marginally big, but manageable. We saw the lighthouse and made the “Big Left Turn,” pointing us down the coast. This turn marked what we felt was the start of our journey to Mexico.
We blasted out into the ocean carried by the Juan de Fuca tide. It was a little bumpy, but we chalked it up to the Strait meeting the ocean swell. Our plan was to head out between 30 and 50 miles offshore: far enough to avoid the dreaded crab pots and fishing vessels, but close enough that we wouldn’t spend an entire day going back into port. Our planned next stop was Newport, Oregon, about two days away.
We started our watches, and the winds began to build. But weirdly, so did the swell and wind waves. Hmmmm…this isn’t exactly what we thought it would be. Almost immediately, the boat started rolling from side to side with awkward waves. There wasn’t enough wind to keep the sails full, so as we rolled, we listened to the “Slam! Slam! Slam” of the sails. This was life for the next two days, except when it wasn’t.
This is when we started to learn what people don’t tell you about offshore sailing. In fact, most YouTubers paint a vastly different picture of offshore sailing in the Pacific Northwest, with shorts, sunshine, and fish just jumping on board. In reality, the boat moves constantly. This is not a little movement where you can still fumble around the boat. Oh no. Picture ‘shooting-out-of-the-head-and-into-the-galley’ type movement. Our world quickly shrunk to the cockpit, bed, and toilet. Making food was out of the question. We’d have to survive on crackers, Gatorade, and Clif Bars until we hit land again. No big deal, we’ll just sleep when we’re off watch. Nope. Apparently, sleeping while the boat is rolling takes a skill neither of us has learned yet. Everything just became more complicated. Everything. Even sailing. We learned that the forecast winds weren’t enough to keep the sails full. When the wind grew to keep the sails full, so did the waves, thus repeating the cycle of big winds, bigger waves. Lovely.
After 24 hours on board, with little food and even less sleep, I’d had enough. I popped my head out of the companionway and said, “I think I’m going to throw up and just want this (expletive) boat to stop moving for five minutes,” followed up with dry heaving and nothing coming out except tears from my eyes. I then declared my hate of all things ocean-related, and likened the trip to a carnival ride you couldn’t get off. Mark patiently waited for my tantrum to cease and then offered to stay up longer so I could feel comfortable. “Nah. I’ll be fine”. Down he went to try and sleep.
Our day passed with brief exchanges as we changed shifts every four hours. The shifts went by relatively uneventfully, other than the waves. Our lives had just become waves, and trying to manage daily life with the waves. But at hour 36, Mark got seasick. Not just a little seasick, but dead/useless/zombie-style seasick. We lost a container of M&Ms to the seasickness (and will never look at Costco-sized M&Ms the same again). He poked his head out and said, “I’m going to need a little longer. I can’t really function”. And that was the last I saw of Mark until we got to Newport.
We’d been lucky to this point. We hadn’t had the dreaded fog. Ha ha ha. Cue fog on night two. Fog so thick that visibility was limited to a small circle around the boat. We were lucky that we’d only seen a couple of fishing boats, and they were lit up like a city, so they were very hard to miss. But with the fog and the waves, I was in for a long night. A very long night. Exhaustion started seeping in around 4 am, and I thought I had steered us in a 180-degree turn. But I didn’t. It was just a wind shift from behind to directly in front. Why wouldn’t we have to finish the crappiest sail by going upwind?
As my mood plummeted, the sun started rising. The light of day was making things feel better. Then the wind died off, and the wind waves did too. We were down to just rolling swell, albeit still decently sized. And Newport was in sight. We just had to cross that pesky bar. That annoying bar had a small craft warning with restrictions for boats under 24 feet. OK. Seems fine. What does a bar crossing look like? What’s a jetty tip, and what do 10-foot swells feel like? After several calls to the Coast Guard and one VHF call to a boat that had just exited, we crossed that bar. No matter what. We had fantasies of putting the anchor down and sleeping. One of us may have dreamed of getting off the boat and never returning.
Mark expertly helmed us through the bar with ease. There was a small whirlpool, which Mark doesn’t remember, and a couple of tense moments. But it was really non-eventful. We were so excited to have sailed our boat to Newport, and we snapped a million pictures up the river. We motored past the marina to the GPS coordinates another cruiser had given us. Thankfully, there was only one other boat. We did it! Our first offshore leg was done.