Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Passage to Eureka (California, here we come!)

[Kyle]The best time to cross the Chetco River bar at Brookings was in the afternoon. We had a guilt-free lie-in and then headed to the fish shop for a lunch of fresh-caught fish and chips before departing.

Leaving Brookings

The sea was pretty calm at the bar and the swell didn’t start building until we were a couple of miles away. We hoisted sail, turned south and picked up speed. Eureka was only ninety miles away and we had twenty-five hours before we could cross the bar into Humboldt Bay, so we were in no real hurry.

We ticked off the miles and then gradually reduced sail more and more as the night wore on to keep from arriving early. By the time Maryanne came on watch at sunrise, we had slowed down to three knots. I handed Begonia over to her and went below to get a few hours sleep. A few minutes later, before I had fallen asleep, she popped her head in, “We’ve got no sails up!”

Yep. We had been under bare poles for a couple of hours. The wind was strong and almost dead astern, so it was a real luxury to pull everything down. I no longer had to deal with moving flapping, temperamental sails from side to side with every minor shift in wind direction and the fear of a crash jibe was gone. All Maryanne had to do was stay awake and steer, at least until the wind died down.

When I took over a few hours later, she had unrolled about half of the jib to keep us moving. We were now both awake for the rest of the leg to the Humboldt Bay bar.

Maryanne was making breakfast while I was outside at the helm. Up ahead about two miles away, I spotted a big plume of steam. It was a blast from one of the members of a small pod of humpback whales. I was cautiously excited. Maryanne was distinctly more nervous. She has been on edge around whales since the collision.

This pod circled around us in the course of their feeding, but never got closer than a mile. They were very active, though, and we got to see several breeches. It is an impressive thing to see the teardrop shape of one of these massive animals come clear out of the water, pirouette slowly with the long flippers waving like a dancer’s arms and then crash back into the sea in an explosion of white water.

They left us when we sailed into shallower water near the coast. We were right at the right time to enter Humboldt Bay at an hour before slack water. As we approached, a Coast Guard cutter was leaving. They do this a couple of times a day to check bar conditions.

As we passed them, they started to circle back toward us. I got that feeling you get when you see a cop going the other way in your rear-view mirror suddenly hit the brakes. Perhaps they were just turning around now that they’ve seen the bar. Nope. They called us and asked how long it’s been since we’ve been boarded.

“By the U.S. Coast Guard? Several years”, I responded.

Our number was up. They told us they would meet us once we crossed the bar and launched a rib (rigid inflatable boat) to give chase.

Once inside, they came alongside and two men boarded us. They were both polite and efficient and conducted their inspection as we continued up the bay with the rib following us. Maryanne gave the tour and answered questions while I navigated.

They seemed to be actually impressed by Begonia’s compliment of safety gear. They told us we had better flares than they did. When one of the guys asked to see our fire extinguisher, Maryanne showed him all five. He stopped her before she could get out the fire blankets. Later, when the other guy asked if we had PFDs (life jackets), the first guy pointed out that we were wearing them and added, “I’m sure they’ve got lots more below.”

We do, as a matter of fact.

They bid us good day and left us with a form with all of the right boxes ticked that we could show to the next Coast Guard boarding party to encourage them to move along.

We proceeded up the river to the marina run by the city of Eureka. We found an empty space and were about to tie up when a fisherman in an old boat who appeared to be on the phone to the harbormaster ran us off.

“You need to go to the Flumpta Megulain dock, up the river.”

“I’m sorry, the what?”

The Osaiah Gesubub gas dock, up the river.”

“Where is it?

“It’s the Omega Hartunian dock, half mile up the river.”

Oh, of course. Half mile. That, we can work with. We’ll figure out what the hell the rest of that was on the way.

We tied up to a likely candidate near the town center. It looked good from the river, but once we were tied up, we noticed that we were under the constant watch of a few unsavory looking people who looked like they may have been in prison when we left Coos Bay.

We were just finishing up out arrival checklist and resigning ourselves to cowering inside our barricaded boat for the evening when the harbormaster called us to tell us we were at the wrong dock. We were supposed to be two docks further along (at the Bonnie Gool Dock).

We untied and headed up the river to a park on the edge of town. We pulled up to a dock covered with teenagers fishing. We approached slowly enough to let them get their lines out of the water, but they still only moved off reluctantly, leaving us a dock covered with bait, fish guts and bird droppings. This didn’t feel like much of a better deal than the last spot.

The kids seemed more concerned about fishing than about Begonia, so we felt a little safer leaving her unattended while we had a walk around town to get our bearings.

It didn’t start off well. Our initial path into town took us past a couple of homeless shelters and motels that rent by the hour. What had happened to Eureka since the last time I had seen it? I remembered it being so much nicer.

After a few more blocks, it started getting that way. Overgrown railroad tracks and crumbling buildings gave way to galleries, bistros, microbreweries and bookshops. We debated popping into one place or another for dinner or at least a drink, but we were too worn out from the adjustment from our sea routine to our land routine, so we just decided to go home and call it a night, ready to explore properly after a good night's rest.

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