June 13, 2010 – At Sea, 46º 27’N, 124º 16’W
By Herb McCormick
We’ve been thrown for a loop near Labrador, gobbled up by the Gulf Stream, roiled off Rio, pounded in Patagonia, and plastered in sight of Point Conception. At various times on the voyage Around the Americas, like an unlucky letter, we’ve been spindled, folded and mutilated by contrary currents, wicked winds and stupendous seas. Oh yes, we’ve been slapped around plenty, so much so that photographer David Thoreson has a pithy, concise name for it: “nosebleeds.” If the weather can be thought of as a schoolyard bully, we’ve had more lousy recesses than the biggest nerd in class.
And now, with 27,000 nautical miles behind us, at long last once again off the coast of Washington, and with the finish line in Seattle just a few days away, wouldn’t you know it: one last nosebleed.
On Sunday afternoon, the core crew of Ocean Watch – along with scientists Michael Reynolds and Axel Schweiger, and sail-maker Carol Hasse – were bouncing and flailing their way north towards the Strait of Juan de Fuca in yet another substantial northerly and a long, sometimes breaking northern swell. Though by late afternoon the Strait was just a little over a hundred miles away – after all this time, that ain’t far – there was no question it would take a long night to get there.
But waiting another day was out of the question.
The reason for that is twofold: In this final week of the voyage, we have plenty of appointments scheduled and in place, including a quick stop in Port Townsend on Wednesday and a return to Seattle on Thursday at midday. For once in our AtA lives, we ARE going to be on time. Um, we hope. But the forecast for offshore waters in the Pacific Northwest for the next several days indicates the present northwestly flow, spinning around a big high-pressure center, is going to strengthen, not weaken, as the week progresses. So, it was time to go, Joe.
Leaving the Columbia River, of course, involves a transit over the notorious Columbia River Bar, and after a quick layover in Astoria last night – and what a cool, little waterfront town that is, even though the locals joked that yesterday’s sunny day constituted the whole of “summer” – conditions were better than average to make a run into the Pacific. Indeed, the cool, cloudy skies this morning were more indicative of an average Astoria day, but when the Coast Guard issued a bar report at about 9 o’clock this morning that indicated 15-knot winds and 4-6 foot seas, we were soon underway.
Once into the bar itself, the winds and seas seemed moderately higher, but with mate Dave Logan doing the piloting, Ocean Watch crossed back into the Pacific without mishap. However, as we tacked north into the open ocean, both the breeze and the seaway became more aggressive, and before long we were watching a movie we’d already seen too many times before.
The good news is, Ocean Watch knows the drill, and once around Cape Flattery at the entrance to the Strait we should have an ideal angle to bear off and enjoy the trip’s final stages. But that’s a story for a different day (hopefully, tomorrow!). Until then, excuse us while we search for the Kleenex.
-Herb McCormick with photographs by David Thoreson
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