The Start: The Graveyard of the Pacific

The start of our adventure was really marked by us cutting our dock lines at the marina, where we had lived for three years.  We literally cut the dock lines (with a machete), because one of many sailor superstitions directs that failure to do so will cause you to return with the  journey unfinished.  And, as one new sailing friend said so well, “I would not say I’m superstitious, but I’m definitely stitious.”  

We left our neighbors, our jobs, and the comforts of routine, and took Mapache for her complete makeover in the Port of Ilwaco Boatyard.  We hauled her out of the water and got to work sanding, grinding, epoxying, painting, polishing, caulking, drilling, tapping, splicing, soldering, sewing, cussing, and high-fiving.  There were lots of early mornings with late nights.  Our daily wardrobe was coveralls and facemasks.  But there were occasional breaks, when we made friends with fellow paint-and-sweat-covered workers.  

We shared music through the barn wall and occasional beers with Mauro, Silviano, and Arsenio.  We shared tools and stories with Craiger, Ken, and Todd.  Doug always seemed to know when we needed a distraction, rolling up in his minivan with a head full of enviable experiences.  We dreamed big about circumnavigation with Randi.  We learned about the fisherman life from Nick and Rob. And we came to respect the career of the solo person making a living off of their own skills, strength, and luck in Poseidon’s domain.   

Three months flew by, and at 2 a.m. on the morning of Mapache’s splash date, we realized the task of fitting all of our belongings into Mapahce’s belly was impossible.  To be fair, we had intended to sell most of our belongings at a semi-annual marine swap meet in Seattle, but COVID-19 prevented that.  Seeing that we needed to find a home for so much, we put off the splash date.  We took the extra time between Craigslist and creating free piles to finish a few more boat projects.  Finally, we were ready to get the boat back in the water.  Then, Rob’s father unexpectedly passed away.  

We splashed the next day with friends taking video and cheering us on.  But a through-hull fitting started leaking as soon as we touched water, and the device broke when we attempted to tighten it.  Back on the hard at the boatyard that evening, we lamented with the boatyard crew over a few beers.  Our morale was low but our instinct to fight on persisted.  So, with a quick through-hull replacement, we unceremoniously splashed a few days later.  We said final goodbyes to some good friends, sad that the pandemic prevented us seeing them all.  And then we waited, with great suspense, in Astoria, for the right time to cross the Columbia River Bar.  

I have read the numerous memorial plaques and visited the Columbia River Maritime Museum multiple times.  I was very much aware of  the bar’s nickname, “Graveyard of the Pacific,” and its valid basis.  We tirelessly scrutinized the weather reports, we questioned seasoned bar-crossing alumni, and we picked our date with the graveyard.  

A few days before, a new boat named Heavy Metal tied up next to us for the night.  We were immediately drawn to the name.  It was a private fishing boat owned by two people who had a zest for life, motorcycles, boats, and travel.  We, of course, got along fabulously.  We explained that our first major destination is Mexico, and we all shared stories of Mexican trips pasada.  Later, we waved goodbye to our kindred spirits without knowing their names or having any way to contact them.

We left on our chosen date, and as we neared the main event, we saw Heavy Metal fishing along the shore.  Rob, half joking, radioed “Heavy Metal, this is sailing vessel Mapache, do you copy?”  A recognizable voice responded, and we literally cheered.  One, we had verified our radio worked and, two, we had a final chance to stay in touch with Heavy Metal’s crew.  They saw us and said, “Looks like a good day to go to Mexico.”  A few minutes later, Heavy Metal was alongside, escorting us to the bar’s edge.  We waved to them as they turned back upriver, and, for our first time, we headed into the big blue.  The formidable bar was as flat as glass and the sun was shining. It was indeed a good day to go to Mexico.

We currently sit off of the San Francisco Bay, thankful to have now passed the next most storied part of our route to Mexico—Cape Mendocino.  That cape is the western-most point of the California coast, taking the brunt of the Pacific Ocean’s force and whipping up tall waves and high winds.  We also rounded that without event and reached the famous manmade landmark of the Golden Gate Bridge.  We passed through the “gate” and tied up in Point San Pablo Yacht Club’s guest slip for almost two weeks (thank you to the gracious club members), so that we could get back in a car and make it to Rob’s father’s memorial, allowing him to rest in his own grave of sorts (he asked Rob to spread his ashes).  

We are now getting ready to head back to sea.  I intend to continue catching you up on the events that were lost to my seasick brain until now. 

Mapache pre-makeover

Sarah grinding off the old bottom paint

Rob looking his part as Mapache’s foreman

Us after a long day working on the boat

Mapache on the lift, heading back to the water

Crossing the Columbia River Bar

Behind us is our bar escort, Heavy Metal

San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge

Through the Gate

12 thoughts on “The Start: The Graveyard of the Pacific

  1. Great post, impassioned beginning. Wishing you both the best of luck on your journey. I look forward to your next post.

    Calm seas,
    Dan, the ex-CTL computer guy.

  2. Good to hear you’re on your way and past the dreaded Bar without mishap! Enjoying reading your blog. The Laidlaws on this side of the world are all following your adventure
    Just the Pacific next
    Stay safe.
    Ian and Barb

  3. I’ll be following along too. Great read as well as outstanding pics and vids. Looking forward to your next post. Wishing you both smooth sailing and safe adventures! Pete Thompson (CTL tech/Mgr)

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