I arrived at the Shilshole Marina fired up. It had been eight months since I had done any kind of serious traveling by boat. It had been eight months of boatshows and classrooms, research and phone calls. It all seemed like fun at the time but then everything changed. I had been helping out a friend while trying to make a little money for the cruising kitty. Things didn’t proceed as planned (do they ever in business?). Renegotiations commenced and suddenly, I found myself sitting by the curb with an unusually wide open schedule. What does a lone sailor do in such a situation? I put the word out. A week later I was headed to Seattle, Washington, one of the west coast’s big three of sailing, for some ‘cruising’ … of sorts.
She was an 80′ motor yacht (best I could do on such short notice). Capt. Keith had rung me up and asked if I would assist in moving the big girl from Seattle to San Francisco. I hadn’t worked under another skipper in almost a decade. It was kind of a rule that I laid down after my last experience when the skipper tried to run us into an island and later, head-on into a ship. This was a very different situation. Capt. Keith was an old friend. We were both working big boats in La Paz, Mex when we met. Much later, he and his wife Joanie joined Dena and I on Low Key for a couple weeks in Fiji. This is a guy I trust but more importantly, we have a mutual respect for each other (guess he doesn’t know me very well ;).
My brother Rusty (who stole the show at the Share the Sail – St. Vincent last May) lives in the mountains above Seattle. I stopped in on him and his Ozzy babe Kylie. It was great to see them. They live in a little back house on a lake. It was there I discovered another kind of cruising – an amazing invention. The lake houses had docks that had detachable sections at the ends. The residents would cast off and, propelled by silent little electric motors, putt around the lake, kicking back in deck chairs of course, cooler for a footrest. I was dumbfounded by the brilliance of this idea. It made me want to live on a mountain lake … if just for a month or two.
I made my way to the boat. It was good to see Keith again. He introduced me to our third crew, 18yo Trevor. I was shown to my stateroom. The concept that the room was perfectly square only bothered me for a sec. After an arrival coldie, of course, Keith fired up the twin monster MTU’s and whipped the boat around to the fuel dock. On the dock was a greeting party – two babes complete with a bottle of wine. Before I could offer them a peek aboard my yacht and use of my corkscrew their ride slithered up, smooth-like, sporting two very suave looking gentlemen (who proceeded to pump diesel into their pretty little gas power boat).
The next morning we headed out to sea. Well, actually, we had another 110 miles until we would see the open ocean. We banged through the wind-chop, up and out to Neah Bay, the last good anchorage before you sneak around the often treacherous Cape Flattery to head south. Regardless of the odd circumstances, it was great to be out on the water.
Before I knew it we had the hook down at Neah, the sun setting over a pine covered mountain, sippin’ coldies, steaks on the grill, getting caught up with old and new friends. Sound familiar? No need to spend three million for this experience. Two water makers, separate freezers and the largest refrigerator I’d ever seen, a couple icemakers, real laundry machines, mobile Direct TV, and a bridge full of electronic gear comes at a price – that incessant humming and vibration in the background, 24/7, originating from the “boat would die without it” generator. Suddenly having to shower on the swim step seemed kinda fun.
Up early and back to sea we averaged an easy 11kts for the overnighter to Newport, OR. Although it’s never required to actually go outside on a power boat I did spend a few minutes at the bow getting reacquainted with my dolphin friends. I don’t think they remembered me.
We pulled into Newport and topped up the fuel. At our leisurely pace we had only used 600 gallons (I used 200 to circumnavigate). It was all very exciting there in Newport. There was a car show next to the trailer park but we opted for a shuttle into town. After a wharfside lunch and mini pub crawl we ended up back at the Rogue Brewery, a stones throw from the boat.
Keith and I spent the evening sampling the breweries finest brought out by the half-dozen in glasses set in baseball bats. (Confused? Plan your own visit). We dragged this nice couple that was touring the west coast in a VW campervan back to the yacht where Capt. Keith whipped up a gourmet dinner. We drank a couple cases of Rogue together and I passed out watching a recap of the Kelly Slater vs. Andy Irons battle for surfing’s top prize on the big screen. I think everyone had fun.
The whole boat shudders when the big MTU’s fire up. All told, there were two mains for propulsion, a generator for the house electrics and a generator for the bow thruster. We got underway. The Coast Guard, looking down from the high tower just seaward of the bridge, checked in with us and wished us a good trip. River bars can be a nuisance when waves are breaking across them but today the bar wasn’t bad. Not yet at least, bad weather was not expected until midnight.
It was a great day to be out with the sunfish, odd white tip dolphin and whales everywhere. We later had some fog and all the while, ominous clouds built on the horizon. The big bad swells came, just as predicted. Though not more than 12-15 feet top to bottom, they were big enough to make the boat a handful. I had the 0000-0300 watch, my favorite – really. Keith came on after me and seemed concerned. With millions of dollars worth of boat and gear that he was responsible for he had reason to be. An error message was flashing onto the dark autopilot gauge every few seconds. I hadn’t noticed. It was telling us that it was operating beyond it’s limits. Still, each time the big boat surfed off course the autopilot found it’s way back. The boat and I had been riding the swells together for three hours, alternately climbing and then surfing the steep walls of water. She seemed happy to me.
I woke up to calming seas. We spent another great day cruising down the coast finally pulling into Drake’s Bay just north of the Golden Gate. It was too late for any festivities, so after a coldie and some TV we passed out, exhausted from a long hard day of pushing buttons while kickin’ back in a phat captain’s chair in a big cozy pilothouse with the world’s best view. In the morning we motored in under the big red span and turned left. Capt. Keith deftly maneuvered that big keel-less boat down the narrow cross-currented channel, around some sharp turns and into a tiny marina. Daddy’s home baby!
Next month: if all goes as planned I’ll be reporting on a sailing adventure along the same route, though uphill (read: up current, up wind). Yes, I found a sailboat this time not that there is anything wrong with powerboats (of the full displacement, conservatively driven variety).