Similar experience level when I left Gig Harbor in Puget Sound
headed for San Diego
in a Tartan 42 that I was skippering. I knew I was a very good inland heavy weather
sailor because I had crossed the Straits of Juan de Fuca and Georgia
many times in a lot of boats in big gales and breaking waves. I knew I could handle big currents due to years of sailing the San Juan
and Gulf Islands and from the south end of Puget Sound
all the way north of Texada. I knew I could navigate having been a racing navigator for years.
I thought I knew how to deal with the ocean having done many of the old Swiftsure Lighthouse and then long course races.
Here is what I did in the last two years before heading off into the Pacific for San Diego
and then Mexico.
- three trips out to Neah Bay and Bamfield which gave me even more experience with ocean speed tankers and freighters and dealing with big rollers and swells. It turned out (after several trips to San Diego) that the most important experience was the downwind sailing wing and wing or with a spinnaker
from Cape Beal to Pt Wilson. That 100 NM run really shows you what the trip south along the US coast is like. It provides a great shake down for your equipment
If you can comfortably fly a kite or wing and wing from Beal to Port Angles or Race
Rocks you can deal with anything along the US West Coast
- Sailed from Neah Bay to Cape Scott on the north end of Vancouver Island. We went out 85 miles and pounded north for several days to make sure we and the boat was ready. The nice thing about the west coast
of Vancouver Island is that there are a lot of places to duck in for cover or a rest (which we did twice).
- Sailed downwind from Cape Scott to Cape Beal on the outside to again practice the downwind / downswell techniques that you will need for 97% of the trip from Cape Flattery to Cabo San Lucas.
- Sailed from Neah Bay west for 24 hours and then turned around and sailed back to Port Angles. Again, practice in the NW swell and wind
and the downwind down the Straits.
- Signed up as volunteer crew on a 53’ high performance cruising sloop
going from Annapolis
non-stop to Virgin Gorda. That was a very instructive 9-day trip and really increased my confidence. I discovered I loved being 700-miles offshore
and I did love the deep blue sailing. We crossed the Gulf Stream
at night in a full gale and driving rain – no seasickness and no qualms.
- Sailed every chance I could get in bad weather so I could test my staysails, storm jibs, trysail, and heaving to. I probably sailed in ten full gales in the two years before we left – just for practice – often single
handed. I wanted to make sure all my equipment
worked perfectly and I could do all the necessary rigging
in the dark with no light.
- practised important underway maintenance
while underway in adverse conditions, e.g. change a fuel filter
, bleed the injectors, replace a fan belt, replace a fuel
line, rig a line to control the boom after a crash jibe takes out the mainsheet attachments, untangle a snarled genoa furling
line, pickup a spinnaker
than dropped in the water
. I had done all of those things several times while racing other peoples boats but I wanted to be sure I could do them on my boat.
- practised a lot with the radar
e.g. CPA calculations, tuning radar
, searching for close in objects, navigate long stretches in busy water
, Pt. Wilson, Rosario Straits, with only the radar while tracking those big fast tankers. This practise and confidence was essential on all four trips I've done from Cape Flattery to San Diego where I've spent at least 150 hours in fog
with less than 1/4 mile visibility.
- practised a lot of night time sailing and motoring in heavy traffic from Seattle
to Port Angles and up the Rosario Straits. Practise talking to those big ships and to VTS. Practise reading navigation
lights on other ships / boats at night and calculating CPA. There is a lot of big fast traffic, and slow confusing fishing
traffic off the US West Coast and you must be comfortable figuring how & where the are headed and how fast they are moving. Even when we try to minimize the overnight legs going south to San Diego we end up with at least five overnights.
An advantage for me was that I retired 15-months before we left the first time and I devoted 40-hours a week to getting ready.
You will find that sailing in the Straits of Georgia
and Juan de Fuca are much more difficult than sailing from Cape Flattery to San Diego. You just need to test yourself and your boat in ever more challenging situations than approximate the North Pacific
situation 100-miles west of Washington
I also spent a lot of time studying the summer weather patterns along the US west coast:
- downloaded GRIB and WeatherFax files and tried to predict conditions
- downloaded buoy data for the same area I did the predictions
- compared the results
- several times a week I compared the Pt Reyes weather fax info with actual conditions
- learned how to easily call up NOAA NBDC data to get real time US west coast buoy weather data (actually did this a lot before the Neah Bay – Cape Scott trip because the Brooks Penninsula and Cape Scott scared me to death)