Our trip down the Washington and Oregon coast was beautiful and a lot of fun. The first day or two we encountered seas around 6 to 8 feet, but they were on our starboard quarter and with a gentle moment. I enjoy large seas from astern. As we got closer to Coos Bay our weather consultant advised us to turn in instead of continuing farther south, as seas were expected to build over ten feet with gale force winds. We arrived in Coos Bay late in the day, and tied up in light fog to the commercial fishing docks.
Coos Bay used to be the largest wood pulp export harbor in the world: that’s history. Like all the lumber towns up and down the coast, the lumber mills have closed due to the recession, shops are shuttered, and unemployment is high. On the docks, people were setting their crab pots and bringing in large crabs. Sea lions barked and swam about looking for a handout of tuna from the local fisherman. The docks themselves were a little shabby, and things were generally in disrepair. The next morning the winds began to build, and we retied the boat to stand off the dock, locked things up, and headed for town to pick up our rental car.
That day we drove to the Umpqua Valley, a beautiful up and coming wine region that specializes in white wines. The vistas are like northern California – rolling hills covered by brown grass and dotted with lovely live oaks. The sweeping views with a blue-sky canopy were gorgeous. As we drove the scenic wine tour road through the hills, we stopped at several wineries and talk with the vintners. The first night we stayed at a lovely B & B located out in the country among the hills, and the second day we meandered down the valley to Jacksonville, a town, which in its entirety, is listed on the national historic register. We stayed at the Jacksonville Inn, in a cottage a block off Main Street. The Jacksonville Inn was host to George and Laura Bush a few years ago, and is known for its great restaurant and wine cellar. The little town has many unusual shops and is well worth a visit if you are in the area. We decided to stay two days, so during the day we toured the wine country, and on the second evening we drove about 20 miles to Ashland, which produces what might be the best Shakespeare Festival on the continent. We saw Henry I, part one, and it was spectacular–well worth a visit if you travel to this area.
After five days in Southern Oregon we took off for Crescent City, California. The ocean was initially calm and we were greeted offshore by a pod of Humpback Whales that were as curious about us as we were about them. There is something special about looking into a whale’s eye as he/she passes by: you know they have intelligence. The trip took about 15 hours and we made landfall at dusk. The wind was blowing pretty hard when we turned toward the harbor entrance and cruised past the beautiful coastal rocks that characterize the northern California coast. The harbor was in a poor state of repair. We tied up at the work dock. Astern of us was an old wooden cruiser whose owners were taking it from Washington to Sacramento. The husband and wife team were working in Washington State as welders and living on the boat. Their work was finished there, and they took a job in central California, so they were moving their home south. Apparently they cruise the boat at 10 knots with no autopilot. Wow, that would be a rough and unpleasant experience in the heavy sea of this coast. We stayed here overnight and spent the next morning walking through the beautiful Redwood groves for which this area is so well known. If you have ever seen these beautiful giants, you know how they impart a sense of wonder and timelessness. I do not know how anyone could cut them down, but they do.
That afternoon we talked with our weather consultant and learned that we had a window of about a week to get to Santa Barbara before a difficult weather pattern was expected to settle in. With two days at sea to reach San Francisco, four days there, and two more days to Santa Barbara, we needed to get moving. So we pushed off about 6 PM for San Francisco. The trip south was better than expected, although I felt a sense of anxiety remembering my last encounter 40 years ago with the seas outside San Francisco. At that time I was a sailor in the Navy stationed aboard the USS Currituck, a 600-foot warship. We were bounced around like a toy in the notoriously heavy seas of Northern California. Our trip was relatively gentle this time, and we made the approach to San Francisco about 3 AM. We slowed our speed in an attempt to get there at dawn, but the currents were favorable and we rounded the separation buoys about 4:30 AM. It was very foggy, and three large ships were moving in our vicinity. We planned our course with the help of the shipping pilots who were stationed in the area. We dropped south of the buoy, tuned to VHF Channel 13, and talked with a large container ship and an oil tanker also coming into the bay. We set our course to follow the commercial fairway under the Golden Gate. As we moved into the final leg of our trip, we could hear the waves crashing on the rocks, but the fog was very thick and we couldn’t see anything. Finally we could see the Golden Gate’s fog lights as we passed under the bridge. What a thrill! After going under the bridge, I was surprised at how narrow the area under the bridge, which I always thought to be very wide. But when ships are passing under it, it seems very narrow.
After we were in the bay, we turned toward San Francisco and made our way to the St Francis Yacht Club. This is a beautiful and famous club right in the heart of the city’s Marina District. What a beautiful spot! The Palace of Fine Arts was just behind us, and the trendy Chestnut Street shopping area was just a few blocks away. That afternoon we walked around the area and dinned in the city. We rented a car the next day and drove to Napa Valley. Again we toured several wineries, but the highlight was meeting Michael Grgich at his winery, Grgich Hills Estate. The “Hills” refers to one of the Hills Brothers who invested in his winery after the Parisian wine critics selected him as the world’s top winemaker in 1975. He’s one of the giants of the wine business, and at 87 he makes a good argument for the health benefits of drinking vino. The next day we returned to Odyssey and visited with our niece and nephew who joined us for dinner. Laura is a Spanish teacher in the area and Ben is a transportation planner for the city. The next day Kathryn and her friend, Neal, flew in from NYC and spent the morning with us. After a short visit and lunch at the yacht club, we set off for Santa Barbara.
Our trip south was pleasant and relatively calm. We needed to make Point Conception by early evening in order to avoid some nasty seas. As we rounded the point, the winds picked up and were blowing over 30 MPH, but we were cruising parallel to the coast and after an hour or so we were in calm waters. We reached the entry to Santa Barbara Harbor about 3 AM. Santa Barbara is about the least user friendly place we have been: they will not reserve a space and when you enter the harbor you have to make your way through the marina and tie up at the harbormaster’s dock to register. At 3 AM and in tight quarters, this was a real pain. They assigned us a space, which, after we were almost there, they changed and we had to back out and then squeeze into another space on another dock. We had about 6 inches on the beam to spare. Anyway, we rented a car and drove up to San Luis Obispo and stayed with our friends the Klostermans in their beautiful home overlooking the city. Paul and Denene were medical school classmates of Rebecca. Paul knows the wine country like the back of his hand, so he coached us on the best places to see in the area. The next day we drove through some of the most beautiful places I have been in California: the Edna Valley, the Santa Maria Valley, the Santa Ynez Valley and the little towns and wineries along Foxen Canyon Road. This is a great place to explore if you haven’t been there. One thing about tasting the wine from all the regions down the coast in such a short period of time: you learn to differentiate and appreciate the different flavors arising from the different climates and soil conditions. After our little trip, we returned to Odyssey and met a lovely couple that invited us for cocktails at the yacht club. The next day we took off for the Ronald Reagan Library at Simi Valley, about an hour away. I put a few pictures of the library on the website, which pretty much tells the whole story. The next day, we headed for our homeport at Dana Point. This is another 120-mile cruise, so it took about 16 hours. We entered the harbor at about 11 PM. It was good to be back in a familiar setting. It was a beautiful day and lovely end to a great trip.
Since starting our trip on June 2nd, we used about 2600 gallons of diesel fuel and covered about 2300 miles (about the distance from Boston to LA).
We are now making our final decision about our next trip, which will either be across the Pacific to Australia or through the Panama Canal and around South America. We will make up our minds within the next week or two and let you know.