Cheechako offers great advice!
If you are comfortable and happy sailing from Townsend to Cattle Pass at 2 PM in West 25 knots and then turning around and sailing back to Townsend in the dark and dying breeze you are getting close to being ready for the WA-OR-CA coast.
Better yet sail out to Neah Bay - then head
east from there about 6 AM. That will give you a sense of sailing downswell in light winds. As the afternoon sea breeze kicks up around noon or 1 PM you will get a sense of sailing downswell in increasing winds.
Hold your course all afternoon as the wind
builds to 25 knots from astern and the swell continues to build. It is 73 NM to Port Townsend so you should arrive there around 7 PM at about the peak of the evening wind.
Continue on SE about 35 NM around Marrowstone Point and down Admiralty Inlet to Eagle Harbor. That will give you the experience of sailing downwind in the dark and in heavy traffic. Going into Eagle Harbor at OhDark 30 with ferry
traffic and lots of confusing lights will give you a good sense of entering a coastal port in the dark after a long an tiring sail.
Even better would be to start in Banfield on Vancouver Island and round Cape Beal headed for Neah Bay about 8 AM. Once in the middle of the Straits head
more toward Port Townsend. That would add 37 miles to the first leg and really expose you to oceanic swells
Once you are really comfortable with those Strait of Juan de Fuca exercises you are probably ready for the coast.
I sailed back and forth and up and down the Straits for 25+ years and have not experienced worse conditions anywhere between Cape Flattery and Zihuatenejo, Mexico
and Virgin Gorda.
If you can deal with the worst of the Straits you are pretty much ready for anything. The TWO BIG differences between the Straits and sailing south from Flattery are:
- the USCG may be many hours away
- the safe harbors you can duck into are many hours away and may close before you get there
Minor Observations based on personal experience
- I was a hard core
board sailor who didn't bother launching until the winds hit 25 knots. For many years we drove 90 miles to Klein Spit (east end of Dungeness Spit) to sailboard several afternoons a week in July and August because the 25 - 35 knot
West winds and big swell arrived like clockwork between 4 and 6 PM.
- We did the Cape Beal to Townsend trip as an training exercise in Mirador one year. It was one of the best sails
I've ever had. We set the spinnaker
about 15 miles east of Cape Beal and carried it all the way to Pt Wilson. We set the sail in 12 knots apparent from dead astern and eventually saw 27 knots apparent from dead astern with 8' swells. We had to gype twice which really increased my confidence in how my foredeck equipment
forecasts in the Straits are iffy due to localized wind and tide patterns. The general sense of the wind is usually correct but the local situation is often far different.
My brother and I left Sydney
on Vancouver Island headed for Townsend in early April aboard his Tartan 42. The US WX forecast
was SCA with west 20 to 25 in the PM with building seas. The Canadian forecast
was for a little more wind and a little higher seas. By the time we passed Discovery Island (~ 2 hours) the Canadian forecast had gone to gales with gusts to 50 and 10' seas. The US forecast had not changed.
Half way across the straights we were experiencing full gales with gusts well above 55 knots. The seas were way-steep, very short period, and way overhead while breaking badly. We had to make a bottom turn on almost every wave to keep from stuffing the bow at 11 - 12 knots and then carefully turn back down as the next wave caught up. As a result we ended up getting too close to Dallas Banks where the big east going waves experienced a bottom coming up from 60 fathoms to 6 fathoms in a half mile.
Several waves broke into the cockpit
, soaking us and flooding the cockpit
. The Tartan 42 does not have a vertical companionway
so there was no change of water getting into the boat but we sure got soaked - in 42 degree crystal clear sunshine!
The US forecast never did acknowledge the gales and Smith Island never reported more than 25 knots.
We arrived at Pt Hudson
marina wet, tired, and exhilarated - the Tartan had been a dream to sail and we had great fun in manly conditions.