August 27, 2000
We arrived in Bodega Bay the previous evening (Saturday) and went about the business of prepping the boat for an early departure Sunday morning. After changing the oil, filling the water tanks, and the other sundry stuff that goes into preparing for an ocean cruise, we went to the Laundromat, hooked up the computer and check the weather for our upcoming route. We weren't all that pleased with what we saw. Sure, the ever present small craft advisory was gone for near coastal waters, but the activity in the 60nm range definitely had us concerned. The forecast for that area called for high winds and waves out of the northwest. As an old fisherman told us, what's out there will come in - and we weren't too thrilled with that possibility.
The morning rolled around with calm conditions and clear weather prevailing in the Bodega Bay basin. The small craft advisory flag that flies by the marina office was gone (the first time I'd seen that) and the forecast looked to have improved since the previous evening. In addition, there were many boats of all sizes going out to the ocean. Maybe things weren't too bad out there after all.
So we started her up, pulled in the lines and fenders, and proceeded out through the channel. Debbie and I weren't totally placated by the forecast though, particularly given our experience coming into Bodega Bay, and resolved to turn around and come back if the seas were grumpy. Normally I abhor turning around, but my memory isn't so bad that I couldn't recall why turning back could possibly be a very good idea.
Following the buoys that mark the channel in Bodega Bay we got our first indication that maybe something was stirring out there. A pleasure craft coming in called the Coast Guard station in Bodega Bay to tell them that they had a violently sea sick person on board. The Coast Guard convinced the skipper to dock at their pier. As we motored by the Coast Guard station, we saw the sea sick person being taken off the boat on a stretcher to an awaiting ambulance. Yup, you can ratchet up the old anxiety level another couple of notches!
We proceeded toward the open sea - but the resolve to turn around in bad conditions had just been reinforced.
As we made the corner and headed south out of the channel between the jetties, we were please to see that the seas weren't kicking up as they were when we came into this Bay. So far so good, but we never lost sight of the fact that things can turn ugly fast. Proceeding out past the approach buoy, we turned north-bound for our first leg on what we hoped to be the trip home.
The seas remained calm with a swell of 4-6 feet spaced far enough apart that it amounted to nothing more than a gentle roll.
As we proceeded on our route we shared the seas with the critters that we've come to enjoy. We saw the usual dolphins, seals and sea lions, and birds of all shapes and sizes. Not too far from Bodega Bay, we even saw our first humpback whale.
While the seas remained calm, somewhat soothing our anxiety, it didn't rid us entirely of what the next few miles could hold. If there's any common theme that we've come to notice in these 800 odd miles we've come so far, it's that points and capes usually have the nasty weather. And ahead of us lies one of the most notorious, Point Arena.
Stopping at these different harbors we've had the benefit of being able to pick the brains of the local fishermen. In the process, we had gathered a list of possible anchorage's should the need arise. As we traveled these miles toward Point Arena, we kept track of the anchorage's as we passed them. As it was when we started, we determined that we would turn around if things got nasty. Though we've picked up a fair amount of experience in these last few months, there's some that we don't wish to repeat. And getting kicked around in big seas tops that list.
Passing Point Arena turned out to be rather anti-climactic, though the seas picked up a little, they weren't bad at all. We passed outside the buoys that mark the lighthouse island, with only a few bumps (even though the winds were relatively strong) and proceeded on our way. As usual, shortly after passing the point the seas returned to their gentle (though large) swells.
By this time though, we were coming to the conclusion that we weren't going to make our intended destination of Ft. Bragg before dark. Ft. Bragg is a harbor on a river, with a very skinny entrance and an advisory that boats enter on high tide due to the shallow waters in the harbor. This isn't something we wanted to attempt in the dark. So we elected to head for an anchorage at Cuffey Cove that had been pointed out to us. By the look of the shoreline, it looked reasonably protected from northwest weather. So we programmed it into the GPS and made course for Cuffey Cove.
Unfortunately, the seas picked up as we headed that direction, once again putting us in a beam sea. We rolled as we had come to expect in such conditions, listening to things bounce around in the cabin and generally endured the conditions (what else were we going to do?).
As we came closer to Cuffey Cove we noticed that the seas turned from the northwest to a following sea from the west. We proceeded into Cuffey Cove carefully, as it was a cove full of rocks and kelp. The path indicated by the detailed chart of Cuffey Cove was exactly as advertised and we moved in to 25-30 feet of water and dropped anchor. The swells coming out of the west continued to roll the boat somewhat, but we could live with that for a night. We settled in, had dinner then made our way to the flybridge after dark to drink hot chocolate and gaze at the star-filled night sky. Yup, this was pretty cool.
Tomorrow we would make way for Eureka, Humboldt Bay. It was a long way to go, around two more notorious points (Punta Gorda and Cape Mendocino), but it was do-able. So far, so good.