We left our grotty dock at the very first hint of morning twilight. The fog was fairly thick, so we felt our way out of the harbor squinting through the mist-covered plastic of our cockpit enclosure while relying heavily on our radar to do the real seeing.
Once we passed the end of the breakwater, the smooth water of Humboldt Bay gave way quickly to six-foot ocean swell. The swell was accompanied by no wind whatsoever. Since we were heading directly into the swell, which was really killing our speed, we kept an engine running to get through it.
After safely exiting Eureka, Kyle celebrated by eating a delicious cake (kindly provided at the tasting at 'Taste' from the night before
I was worried it wouldn’t materialize at all, but about a mile from making the big turn to the south to parallel the coast, the wind went from nuttin’ to sixteen knots. We shut down the engine and were able to easily make nine knots with even a couple of extra reefs in for good measure.
As we rounded Cape Mendocino, the wind gradually picked up into the low, and then the high twenties. The wind was almost dead astern, so we rolled up the jib to keep it from flapping around in the turbulent spot behind the mainsail. Damn, that’s annoying.
Maryanne went for a nap just as we approached the cape. We crossed Eel Canyon, then Mendocino and Mattole Canyons, each separated from the other by an underwater ridge. The ridges must have wreaked havoc with the underwater currents, forcing them upward to clash with the ones at the surface. The ocean was a fairly organized two-swell pattern in the deep water of the canyons, but a big washing machine full of pyramid-shaped waves coming seemingly from every direction at once over the ridges. My only consolation was that we were going nice and fast in the right direction.
The wind gradually picked up some more until it was regularly venturing into the low 30s. Since we were running away from it, we only saw 20s on board. Begonia was now spending most of her time above ten knots and was regularly surfing above fifteen. That was faster than the waves were moving, so I was getting the regular experience of watching the waves come from behind, pitch us forward, stop, and then go astern. A few of the crests were breaking, which caused us to slew around a lot and made the autopilot command the use of a lot of rudder. I’m afraid of that now, so I took the wheel and disconnected it.
The fastest I saw us get was 16.4 knots through the water, 18.8 over the seabed. We were probably above thirteen for a whole minute then. The bows both made huge, arcing waves that came through the trampoline and landed on the cabin top as we slowed down coasting up the back of the wave ahead.
Okay, this was too fast now. I wanted to get the mainsail down because I was worried about the slewing causing a crash jibe, but knew I wouldn’t be able to going downwind with it plastered against the mast. Rounding up would have made the wind over the sail jump to near forty and would require a turn across the steep seas. I knew this sort of thing happens around here and that it was probably a short-term local effect, so I just decided to ride it out sitting on the edge of my seat, watching the waves and trying to steer as straight a line as possible.
Maryanne had asked for coffee when she woke up. I had to get her in ten minutes, but I was afraid to leave the seat to wake her, much less make her some coffee. With five minutes to go, the wind fell into the teens and I cautiously engaged the autopilot so I could sprint down and wake her. When I got back, the wind was five. I put the kettle on and it was down to two from dead ahead by the time she came up the stairs. The big waves coming up from behind were now crumbling into breakers in their new headwind.
I was very wary of this. We were losing steerageway, but I wasn’t about to put up more sail only to have the wind go back up to thirty in ten minutes. I was hovering waiting for the hammer to fall. Maryanne told me to stop worrying and get some sleep. She would deal with it.
I must have been pretty tired, because I actually did fall asleep almost immediately. She waited an hour, then started putting up sail. An hour later, she took it all back down again. Not because the wind picked up again, but because the useless sails flapping in the still air were driving her crazy. A short while later, the vibra-bed started up as the engine below me was started. We had a couple of hours before we needed to resort to that, but since it was already going, I embraced it and the noise and vibration put me right back to sleep.
It turned out to be a good thing she started the engine when she did. A tropical storm by Mexico was sending big waves up the coast and causing a counter current near the shore that we ended up fighting. We spent most of the night struggling to maintain three and a half knots toward Fort Bragg. We barely made it to the entrance of the Noyo River at the tail end of the flood.
The entrance to the Noyo reveals itself as a tiny bay amongst the cliffs. At the back of the bay lies the very narrow slit covered by a high bridge. We rode the swell into the river, taking great care to stay on the very narrow beam of the tri-color entrance light. Once inside, we dodged the light, passed under the bridge and motored up a river that was perfectly flat and protected from the swell and weather outside. It was lined either side with fishing boats backed by all of the support structure for them: ice houses, wholesale buyers, processing plants, and restaurants. It suddenly felt like we were in a 1950s fishing village.
At the far end of the navigable part of the river lies Noyo Basin; the marina where we tied up behind one of the only other sailboats amongst a sea of commercial fishing boats.
Safely entering the Noyo River, Begonia finds a temporary home among the local fishing boats