Passage: Florence, Oregon, to Eureka, California
(including stops in Port Orford, Oregon, Hunter’s Cove, Oregon,
and Crescent City, California)
(Reminder: We are still working to catch up on previous parts of our adventure. This is a description of part of our U.S.-coast passage, which took place this past fall.)
After Florence, Oregon, we sailed overnight to Port Orford. We did not time it well, traveling faster than anticipated with big swells and winds pushing us around Cape Blanco. (You might recall that was where we picked up our first seabird refugee.) We arrived in Port Orford before dawn, and gingerly tucked into the very edge of the bay—just enough to get out of the rocking seas. We anchored and, after the intense night rounding Cape Blanco, enjoyed a deep sleep, knowing we were safe even though our only clues of where we were was a faint marker light, barely visible in the wildfire smoke, and our GPS and radar. We woke up the next morning with not much more visibility, due to the persistent and thick smoke. We took the dinghy to shore in search of a warm breakfast and some extra engine oil, as our engine had started a small leak. The leak was not alarming, just the engine working out some kinks after running more than it had in some-20 years.
The water at Port Orford is beautiful—turquoise and clear, which was a sharp contrast to the gray and opaque air surrounding us. We could see hundreds of bright-orange and red starfish, as well as spiny urchins. Part of the reason for such clear and life-filled water in a busy port is that the marina is completely on land. A huge crane conveys ships up and down the steep cliff that overlooks the bay.
We stretched our legs with a quick walk into town and found oil at the town dollar-store, thanks to a tip from the gas-station attendant, as well as a filling breakfast at a local greasy-spoon. We found our boat again through the smoke (see video of that below), and we got underway to our next destination, a small bay amongst the sea-stack rocks for which Oregon’s coast is known. The anchorage we chose was Hunter’s Cove.
The sea stacks of Oregon’s coast are beautifully ominous. I like to call them “rockbergs,” providing a landscape that is both intriguing and threatening. Much like icebergs, sea stacks are formed from great forces of nature. Many are the result of lava flowing to sea and cooling into hardened basalt, then, as sea levels receded, wind and waves formed them into their current, towering haystack shapes.
We arrived in Hunter’s Cove just before sundown, anchored easily, made and ate dinner, and again fell quickly and deeply into sleep. (This is also where we picked up our second sea-bird refugee.) A big swell rocked us awake early the next morning, and we accepted the wakeup call to move on to Brookings, Oregon. As we approached Brookings, we decided to take advantage of the favorable seas, rerouting to cross the Oregon-California line and dock in Crescent City, California.
Our arrival in Crescent City was well-timed, and we tied up to the transient dock in the late afternoon. The marina there is fairly priced and well-maintained with wide dock-space and decent showers and laundry facilities. Many cruisers had suggested that the town does not have much to offer, but Rob and I found the opposite. With our first dinner at a cute and tasty restaurant, located on the spit between the beach and the marina (Schmidt’s House of Jambalaya), to discovering two craft breweries in town (SeaQuake Brewing and Port O’Pints Brewing Co.), to the grocery and auto supply within walking distance and an Englund Marine store in the marina, we were sold. We also managed to make three new friends at the marina, two of whom were also headed to Mexico, and one with incredible life-stories, including a real message-in-a-bottle connection. We happily waited out a storm in Crescent City, then set out one night, in order to make our next new port in daylight. We shoved off with the help of the two new cruising friends and the expectation of fairly calm seas. But 10-foot seas greeted us just past the protected bay. Mapache bucked like a tortured rodeo bull.
There are several respected sailing weather applications that we use in addition to NOAA’s website. On our way down the Oregon and California coasts, the forecasts from each rarely aligned. Until our departure from Crescent City, we had deferred to the proprietary applications, but our experience on that night pushed us to trusting NOAA in U.S. waters over all others. That night—and for the rest of our trip down California’s coast—NOAA’s predictions were the closest to reality. That is not to say we will stop using the proprietary applications. Those applications have turned out to be very useful in Mexico, where NOAA’s forecasts cover broader, less focused, swaths of the ocean.
I remained calm in the rodeo ride, but after 30 minutes, Rob decided that the constant and intense hand-steering required by that sea was not something he wanted to endure on our 18-plus-hour tour to the next stop of Eureka, California. We agreed to turn around. That required some timing, some skill, and some luck. We waited for a big set of waves to pass, knowing that there would be a small break before another big wave rolled up. Rob then turned the wheel, making sure not to over-shoot the turn, ensuring that the next wave did not broadside us (which has a greater potential to roll boats). We were back at our spot at the Crescent City Harbor District marina within two hours of our initial departure. I am sure that our friends did a double take when they saw that Mapache had reappeared the next morning.
We ended up waiting out another storm system in Crescent City (foreshadowed by the waves that had kept us there). Our second attempt was uneventful. However, we arrived at the entrance channel for Eureka, California, in the dark and at a low tide, but I have already written about that thrilling experience.
They say that people learn best through experience, and it seems that Mapache’s crew is hell-bent on applying that learning technique. Maybe it is because I am happier when overcoming challenges, when things hurt to find the sought success. I am more comfortable and happier when pushing to finish a long run through the mountains, as compared to a relaxed jog around the park. I enjoy a walk that is slightly too far to get to a nice restaurant (we call those “Sarah’s death marches,” with my repeated encouragement of, “just a little further, guys!”). Thus, the getting to the next place is part of the enjoyment of our trip, especially when it is uncomfortable in the moment.
After crossing into Humboldt Bay, our time in Eureka was enjoyable AND easy. A friend and former Eureka resident once remarked to me that “Eureka has a reputation of being a little trashy, but the scenery is beautiful and the people are the best.” I could not agree more with her second and third points. Humboldt County, California, is a beautiful slice of the world. It is bordered by the Redwood Forest on one side, with rivers and bays feeding the ocean on the other. It is picturesque. And the people are just as beautiful.
The first person that I met when we stepped foot on the Eureka Public Marina dock immediately offered to let me use his bathroom key while we waited to get ours from the harbor office. Another day, after moving to anchor, that person, Paul, graciously watched my backpack so that I could go for a run. I came back to get the backpack and, with it, a six-pack of craft beer from a local brewery. Then there was Joe and his dog, Max, who came up to say hello and find out our plans. We soon found out that Joe had sailed our planned course to Mexico a couple decades prior. Joe offered valuable advice and the use of his car while we were in town. Tim wandered up soon enough, inquiring about our solar panels because he planned to install his own for when he takes his boat to Mexico (it seems every sailor in these parts feels the call of Mexico). Then, Tim was offering knowledge to us, including the best spot to anchor for free nearby. Another evening, we came out of the boat to find Steve and Rudy checking out our rig. They immediately invited us for beer at Steve’s 1960s wooden boat. We sat in the beautiful cockpit chatting about Steve’s adventures circumnavigating the world on foot (he hitchhiked around the entire world in the 70s) as well as his sailing adventures and Rudy’s mountaineering path. By the end of it, Steve had given us beer and two of his books, and the two explorer friends had entertained us with some solid real life stories. Rob found more new friends at Humboldt Jiu Jitsu, and I visited old friends, Nate and his dog Indy, who had relocated to the area.
Eureka and Crescent City are yet more examples of places where cruisers’ warnings were wrong. Many had spun warnings of prevalent theft- and trash-filled streets in Eureka. But that simply was not the reality we encountered. The information flow from one cruiser to another, to another, turns one negative comment into a town’s whole story. The telephone game is a dangerous one and often results in missing good spots and good people.
We peeled ourselves away from Eureka with a feeling that we were leaving a piece of our hearts there. And perhaps Poseidon felt that too, because, within two hours of our departure, I heard our engine alarm sounding and we found what our engine had foreshadowed in Port Orford—our bilge was filled with oil. We shut the engine down and, again, returned to our place of departure. That day, we enjoyed the most pleasant and consistent wind of our whole trip along the western U.S. coast. Mapache sailed peacefully back to Eureka. We repaired the engine and enjoyed some bonus time with friends. Double takes have treated us well.
Clear, life-filled water of Port Orford
A view of what would be our boat at anchor in Port Orford, if it was not for the wildfire smoke
Finding Mapache through the wildfire smoke at Port Orford (sped up to decrease boredom)
Oregon’s sea stacks, barely visible through the smoke
More of Oregon’s sea stacks
Welcome to Crescent City, California!
Rob eating at our favorite restaurant in Crescent City, Schmidt’s House of Jambalaya
Conversations with the unruly squatters at Crescent City Harbor District marina
The Eureka Public Marina
Rob cleaning the oil out of the bilge
Mapache on anchor in Eureka