We departed Port Angeles at 07:20 on Tuesday, September 22 under overcast skies with good visibility. The forecast was for wind 15 to 25 knots from the SW off Cape Flattery. We neglected to consult the long range forecast. Our mistake, and, later, we paid for it.
We reached the red J buoy at the entrance to the strait at sundown, shut down the engine, hoisted the genoa and mainsail, and sailed on a course of 240 degrees true, making as much southing as we could in the light southerly breeze, sailing through the night in mostly clear weather. Late the next day we were about fifty miles offshore and forty miles south where we encountered some long-liners. To avoid the fishermen, we tacked back in toward the coast, still in light wind.
As is our custom, we reefed the main as darkness fell. Later that night, the seas and wind began to build as we took down the genoa and put up the working jib, then handed the main, then took down the working jib and put up our new orange storm jib. We continued to beat into the increasing southerly winds, now accompanied by driving rain; need I mention that I became violently seasick and would remain so for the next three days?
The gale was driving us North, back toward the strait of Juan de Fuca but we had plenty of sea room, I judged, and were in no immediate danger. As we were on the edge of the controlled traffic lanes, we contacted Tofino radio and notified them of our condition and position.
At about this time, our radar reflector carried away in the 30 knot winds, making us practically invisible to the commercial traffic. Tofino kept up a dead reckoning plot based on hourly position, course and speed reports from us. They advised us of nearby shipping and contacted vessels approaching our position, warning them to keep a sharp watch. Our new AIS receiver warned us of vessels that might approach close enough to be a danger and we were constantly on the radio trying to avoid collision in the low visibility conditions. We heard the captain of a Greek bulk carrier advising Tofino that they had us in sight "approximately four hundred feet off our starboard beam"!!! Laura looked out the portlight to see nothing but a black steel wall, seemingly, close enough to touch.
For three days we were driven north, from just south of La Push, WA, to just north of Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Almost a hundred miles. At its worst, we were in forty knot winds and twenty foot seas with six foot wind waves: VERY uncomfortable.
The wind began to die down on Saturday afternoon, September 25th, and at 18:30 we fired up the engine and, in fifteen to eighteen foot seas, motor sailed with the storm jib still up back toward Neah Bay at the entrance to the straight of Juan de Fuca. By the time we got there, the wind was down to ten knots but the seas were still huge. Fog rolled in and the last several hours were in visibility of less than a quarter of a mile. Tofino Traffic warned us of the out bound crab boat "Wizard" and the in bound cargo vessel "VPL Vietnam". We spoke with and saw "Wizard" a mile distant. The much larger "VPL Vietnam" came up behind us and passed much closer but we never saw them, though we heard them tell Tofino they saw us on radar.
As we approached Waasah Island, we could hear the surf and by the time we could see it, it was startlingly close. We groped our way into the lee of the island and behind the breakwater into the harbor at Neah Bay where we tied up among the fishing boats at noon on Sunday.
Chuck's seasickness gone, we walked off the docks and had pizza for lunch, resolving to check the long-range offshore weather forecast more closely.
The aforementioned forecast calls for favorable (and light) northerly winds for the next several days beginning tomorrow so we expect to depart, along with several other sailboats that have taken refuge here, in the morning. Meanwhile, as we wait for the wind to shift and the seas, still thirteen feet, to moderate, we are doing laundry and airing out the boat. Later today we will walk over to the grocery for more fresh provisions. In the morning we will top off the fuel tank and check the weather again before we depart.
"The sun'l come out tomorrow..."
Chuck , Laura and Bree