To me; the inshore-vs-offshore routing decision, based on the four trips Ive made and the three trips my dock
mate has made, comes down to which risk do you want to assume. Or what scares you more?
- Being stuck 24 hours from assistance in large dangerous seas with no place to hide and no hope of escape from worse than expected adverse conditions.
- Being stuck in heavy traffic and low visibility but always within six hours of a safe harbor to which you can retreat if conditions deteriorate more than expected.
Here is a summary of what my dock
mate or I experienced:
- Early September - Rounded Cape Flattery with reasonably good forecast
and headed WSW to get a little distance off the coast. Eighteen hours later, and 70 miles offshore, the weather forecast changed rather dramatically. Strong SW winds and 20 swells were forecast for the Washington
and Oregon coastal and offshore waters to begin in 24 hours. We headed directly for Westport and crossed the bar inbound just hours before it was closed. During the next three days we met three other sailboats that had retreated to the same harbor all of them caught by the sudden change in the forecast. The last guy in, (single hander), was headed north but said the seas got so big that his autopilot
could not deal with them.
- Early September (10 years later) - Rounded Cape Flattery with reasonably good forecast and headed WSW to get a little distance off the coast as we were headed non-stop for Monterrey, California
. Twenty-four hours later and 90 miles offshore the deteriorating 48-hour weather forecast started sounding rather ominous for the Southern Oregon-Northern California
offshore area. Forecast was 35 knots gusting to 50 and 16 seas to last 48 hours. I continued to monitor
the forecasts from Pt Reyes, VHF
, and Saildocs grib files. Thirty hours after passing Cape Flattery we decided to make a run for the safety
, Oregon where we spent three days. Thirty-six hours after pulling into Newport
the buoys North of Mendocino REPORTED conditions were NNW 35+ knots and 16 seas for more than 12 hours. South of Mendocino NNW 40+ knots and 20 seas for more than 18 hours.
- early July headed 200 miles offshore SW of Coos Bay and had great sailing with big smooth oceanic swells. We saw no traffic while hundreds of miles off the coast. Eventually we had to turn back toward the coast where we enjoyed 40+ knots and 12 breaking seas for 12 hours while about 100 miles offshore. It was great sailing in a Tartan 42 SORC boat with a strong, experienced crew. The forecast had not included any such winds or seas.
- late September about 40 miles west of Point Arena we enjoyed 35 knots gusting to 50 and 10 breaking seas for about eight hours. We thought about taking a break in Bodega Bay but talking to fisherman north of Arena and friends just entering Bodega Bay we learned that neither of them had any winds over 10 knots. The NWS forecast made no mention of any forecast or reported winds such as we were experiencing.
- late July about 40 miles SW of Cape Mendocino we had nine hours of very strong NE winds and steep choppy seas. Boats very close to the Cape and others a hundred miles out reported light winds.
- My friend in their Norseman 447 with a very strong and experienced crew twice did the offshore route
direct from Cape Flattery to the Golden Gate. They were more than 200 miles out in early and late August. Both of those trips included over 12 hours of 50+ knot
winds and more than 15 breaking seas. Both events
were well forecast as gales with a chance of storm force gusts. In both situations the boat was more than 32 hours from a safe harbor when the forecasts were upgraded and in neither case did the crew think they could make harbor before the weather caught them.
- During my inshore passages, less than 50 miles or eight hours from harbor, I have had five (5) very close encounters with trans-oceanic ships. In one case the container ship passed us at 100 yards in the middle of the night while overtaking us at 18 knots. The USCG had heard us desperately hailing the ship in VHF
13 and 16. Eventually the USCG told us to fire a white flare at the ship.
- We have encountered large fishing fleets in heavy fog
and at night many times while 50 to 100 miles off the coast. Those guys are oblivious to a sailboat and it is very difficult to anticipate their short-term turns and headings.
- We have encountered long strings of fish trap floats while 25 45 miles off the Northern California coast. Those strings can extend for miles and are impossible to see at night.
- We ran aground on a 100-yard square kelp raft about 40 miles off the Northern California coast. We were sailing in beautiful 25-knot winds with nothing in sight and came to a slow and gradual stop with the full sails still pulling hard. We left the sails up and full and during the next 30 minutes slowly worked our way through the kelp.
- Late September we left Newport, Oregon for a non-stop run to Monterrey. We left at mid-night and motorsailed in fog with mist for the next 24 hours. The visibility never exceeded ¼ mile but we also never saw another vessel on radar
or by eyesight.
My long winded point is that inshore and offshore each have their risks and complications and neither guarantee and easy or uneventful passage
Is the security
of many harbors to duck into worth the extra effort required to stay close to shore, the extra miles and time taken on that inshore route? This value judgement is subjective and and can only be made by YOU!
It is easier and quicker, and probably more fun, to head offshore and get the job done if you enjoy sailing beyond reasonable expectation of assistance.
So the bottom line is which risk is more scary?
REMEMBER - I've done the trip four times and never once, never ever, regretted being out there nor did I have any serious concern for the safety
of my boat, my crew, or myself.
My friend on the Norseman 447 has had more dramatic experiences than I but he to has never regretted being there and only, very occasionally, had some minor concerns about safety. He has sailed from Seattle to Mexico three times, the US east coast
once, and to Hawaii
twice and always says the worst conditions are Cape Flattery to the California Channel Island.