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Old 17-12-2015, 16:32   #1
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Sailing NORTH along California coast

I've been searching for stories or accounts of people sailing north along the CA coast - either from San Diego or from San Francisco. I've found indications that every year hundreds of boats make this trip south, yet I've only found 1 account of someone sailing north - a single handed trip on SV Nino.

I've search this forum and have found many requests from individuals about sailing north, and the most common response is always - DONT.

Is there a vast graveyard of boats somewhere south of Mexico where all these travelers are ending up?

I expect to be making this trip myself in a year or so, and I am trying to find information from those that have actually done it. Does anyone have any links or books they could recommend with articles about actual trips taken going north, or even north via Hawaii? (not books on planning - got most of those already)
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Old 17-12-2015, 22:30   #2
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Re: Sailing NORTH along California coast

This book is a good read of sailing north from SF to the PNW. He did it in a modified Coronado 27 so not the usual view from the bridge of 50' gold plater cruising guide.
http://georgebenson.us
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Old 17-12-2015, 23:23   #3
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Re: Sailing NORTH along California coast

I delivered my boat up from San Diego in June 2013. We did it in 2 hops from SD to Santa Barbara (with a stop for fuel at Two Harbors on Catalina Island), then after a two week wait in SB, we left at 0300 with confused seas as the wind was turning south, but came around Point Conception at 0700 with the surface looking like glass. Though we planned for these southerlies, it was generally not enough wind to sail on. Of the 76 hours for the total trip to Half Moon Bay, we sailed only 7 hours, including the spinnaker for about an hour. My suggestion is to find someone who is experienced sailing offshore the Pacific coast and knows how to read the weather. It would help if they know the ports, but you don't really want to head to shore at the end of each day as that would add a lot of time to the trip. You probably would want to make a run for it for as long as you can so you can just get it done as fast as you can. Another time, I singlehanded back from Monterey to San Francisco in 22 hours. Even when you plan it well, it is still a bash.

It's my understanding that there are even fewer safe harbors when going north of San Francisco, but others will chime in on their experiences in that direction. I've only been so far as Drakes Bay.
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Old 17-12-2015, 23:25   #4
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Re: Sailing NORTH along California coast

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Originally Posted by Dmk56 View Post
I've been searching for stories or accounts of people sailing north along the CA coast - either from San Diego or from San Francisco.
The Benson link is one I provide often in answer to this question.

The reason you don't read much about SD to SF is that it is NORMAL. Folks sail their boats down the coast from here, spend some time in the Channel Islands, maybe LA and/or SD then sail back up, spring to autumn. Too risky in winter: south winds with horrible north swells, or fronts coming through with S winds followed by howling northerlies --- not good.

While it can get windy around Pt. Conception summertime, there are techniques, all covered in Brian Fagan's excellent book, and many others.

It's simply California coastal cruising. I haven't but many of my friends with my boat, and similar ones, have.
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Old 18-12-2015, 04:13   #5
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Re: Sailing NORTH along California coast

It has been a long time ago that we did this in Jim's Yakee 30, but fwiw, here's how we did it. Left from Channel Is. Anchored behind the kelp in Coho. Carefully motored out at about 0100.....Next stop Moro Bay. Moro Bay to Monterey (and one year, to Santa Cruz) Santa Cruz to SF. All day hops. All close hauled. Two trips, iirc.

Same routing on our delivery trip from SD to SF with our Insatiable I. I got off the boat in Moro Bay with an inner ear infectiion, and the boat was delivered the next weekend to Emeryville.

It is all doable. Don't let the horror stories of Pt. Conception put you off. You will have predominantly northwesterly winds to contend with, and south setting current. Allow time for a day off to rest, if possible, it's kinder to self and crew.

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Old 18-12-2015, 09:38   #6
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Re: Sailing NORTH along California coast

I did it in June.


Delivery up the coast | Go-Sail.org
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Old 18-12-2015, 10:10   #7
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Re: Sailing NORTH along California coast

North of SF there are no safe harbors, horrible currents, rough seas, and mostly bashing to windward. Can be done,but very very uncomfortable. Choosing weather all important. Did i mention fog, rain, and high winds? Close in all you get to see are blank cliff walls. Further out, your too sick to care what you see. Some folks even go 500 miles offshore to get around this mess. Enjoy.
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Old 18-12-2015, 10:15   #8
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Re: Sailing NORTH along California coast

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North of SF there are no safe harbors, ...
The rest of your post was great, but this part is simply not true. That's why we suggested reading George Benson.
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Old 18-12-2015, 10:20   #9
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Re: Sailing NORTH along California coast

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The rest of your post was great, but this part is simply not true. That's why we suggested reading George Benson.
Actually, I am trying to think of a single post I have ever read from that person who has ever said anything positive about.....well, pretty much anything. So regardless of the subject you have to wonder if the summation is a true reflection of the reality, or just his normal way of expressing pretty much everything.
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Old 18-12-2015, 10:29   #10
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Re: Sailing NORTH along California coast

I think going north NOW would be a mistake, unless you are unusually seasoned and willing to wait for weeks for a 1-2 day window. I go north every summer, usually around August, up toward Alaska from Oregon and then back again. It's just the wrong time of the year. (is that positive enough )
(Tomorrow's forecast up off Washington is typical: Winds 34 with gusts to 47, Average waves 14 (read a good percentage 28 feet or greater))
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Old 18-12-2015, 10:30   #11
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Re: Sailing NORTH along California coast

I have done the run from Long Beach to SF twice and sailed about six hours in total the first time and then the second time when I got a point of sail,went out 70 miles just to keep the engine off and then tacked back, COG wasn't great for the time it took, but it was sailing. Never had a problem with Pt Conception up or down, stayed way off on the way down and on the way up Charlies charts recommends checking the SB sea wall to get a feel for the point conditions but found that an iphone with sailflow and timing to come around in dead of night ensured it was calm. I did Monterey to Santa Barbara or Ventura (and vice versa) in one big leg rather than ducking into Morro Bay etc.

In summary, mostly a long run on the engine.......
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Old 18-12-2015, 10:31   #12
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Re: Sailing NORTH along California coast

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The rest of your post was great, but this part is simply not true. That's why we suggested reading George Benson.
Ok there are some ports, but far and few between. What is available along the coast are roadsteads and not natural harbors. Rocky bottoms, currents, and gusty winds make these road steads real iffy.
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Old 18-12-2015, 10:45   #13
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Re: Sailing NORTH along California coast

We are based in Santa Cruz, and deal with this all the time on trips to SF, or down to So Cal and back.

In general the Summer wind flows north to south (parallel withe the coast) during the day, from noon until about midnight. On occasion, it can reverse, and if you are very lucky you can head north with the wind behind you. But for the most part, we make time headed north (motoring) between midnight and noon. If you make your legs longer than 12 hours, you just have to wait for times when the daytime breeze is forecast to be at a minimum.

Winter IS often a good time to come north. Most storm systems blow out of the SW. So if you pick a mild one, you can ride it up. Most people wait for a high to settle in for a few days, then motor up.
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Old 18-12-2015, 11:10   #14
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Re: Sailing NORTH along California coast

I have two friends that did the trip to Puget Sound

- one from La Paz nonstop 40+ days in a 32' sailboat. I talked to them every couple nights on the SSB. Misery!

- one from San Franciso 7-days non-stop in a Hylas 46 (? or 48?). They sat in San Francisco for over 2-weeks waiting for a weather window and then, when the weather window opened, hit it hard and sailed all the way with almost no motoring. Their slip in San Francisco cost them $1,000 for that two week wait.

I've made four trips south from Puget Sound and have met some very interesting characters going north. I've crossed every bar except Eureka.

- Swan 50 which left SF and I met him in Newport, OR with a blown out main and damaged toe rail from waves. This was their third trip north and the previous two had been uneventful. The bar was closed for another 24-hours.

- 55' Trawler (forgot the type) with a sliding pilot house door that had been ripped off by a breaking wave. They were out of San Diego and I met them in Coos Bay. The bar remained closed for three more days.

- Hans Christian 42 out of Los Angles who limped into Westport, WA a day after they closed the bar due to 18' breaking waves. We had come in the day before (heading south) in 15' breaking waves. He had planned to "ride the SW gales north" but when the waves 20-miles off shore hit 20' he came in. The SW wind was only 25 knots but the storm waves from the SW were interacting with the 6' prevailing NW swell and creating a mess. Six of us (five headed south) sat in Westport for three more days.

- Bob on Pantera, a home built and extraordinary 35' trimaran. Bob and my brother were cruiser friends in Mexico and Bob made the trip from Victoria, BC to Barra de Navidad (~2,500 miles) every year for over a decade. His boat has a 10 HP Honda outboard and 20-gallons of gasoline. Bob said he never had a trouble coming North - but he could sail at about 1.5x the apparent wind and seldom did less than 12 knots.

A example of the north bound problems:
We were headed North to San Diego from Cabo San Lucas in a 42' Tartan offshore race boat. We sat in Bahia Santa Maria, with 15-other boats all being taken north by delivery captans, four days because the 20-knot NW wind had created a very nasty short period wave train. Finally, on the 5th day the captain of an Ocean Alexander 72 went out at 4 AM (the wind and waves are supposed to die off after sunset and not build until after 11 AM) to "check things out." He limped back into the bay at 10 AM.

The waves were too big and too steep and had ripped a port light (bronze in a 3" thick fiberglass hull) out of the owners cabin at the bow. The cabin was flooding. While trying to turn around, a boarding wave ripped the dinghy out of it's chocks on the boat deck 10' above the waterline. We waited another two days.

A little personal insight:

I've done Puget Sound to San Diego four times in three different boats, the smallest being my 40' Caliber. I've done San Diego to SW Mexico and back twice. I've also done about 5,000 Blue Water miles in other boats. My closest friend has sailed his Norseman 447 from Seattle to Ft Luaderdale, Seattle to Puerto Vallarta, Hawaii, Seattle, and twice Seattle to La Paz. We do have some miles on our bottoms. We've both done a lot of heavy weather sailing at sea and have few concerns about our abilities or boats.

I chose to ship my boat, via truck from the Sea of Cortez back to Seattle. My friend has chosen, twice, to ship his boat, via commercial freighter, from La Paz to Victoria.

We both know that shipping/trucking our boats costs about twice what it does to sail north on their bottoms. But, that sailing trip from San Diego to Cape Flattery would be at least three weeks and possibly five or six. Saving $6,000 by spending 30 to 50 days pounding the boat to death and sitting in very expensive harbors, while waiting for the next weather window, is just not worth it.

The trip North up the US West coast can be done safely and comfortably but it will be time consuming and costly. I'd rather spend that six-weeks cruising in the San Juans.

If you have not been out there pounding north you can not imagine how unpleasant it is to be heading into a constant 5' swell and 3' wind waves directly on the nose. The boat speeds up going down the swell and slows down going up it and your body is constantly being accelerated and decelerated on a 10-second cycle. Even, or maybe even worse, when the wind is not blowing, the swell is always right there, always right in your face.

And, when you get a good sailing wind (East-South-West) you then have wind waves colliding with the constant NW swell making for very steep and unpredictable waves. The conditions are seldom treacherous but also uncomfortable. And, cold - in the middle of summer the water temp north of SF is 52 or less, as is the air. It is impossible to stay warm at night.

This is just the personal opinion of two guys with seven trips from Seattle to Puerto Vallarta, two back to San Diego, and 20,000 sea miles.

Sorry to be negative.
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Old 18-12-2015, 11:24   #15
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Re: Sailing NORTH along California coast

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Originally Posted by reed1v View Post
Ok there are some ports, but far and few between. What is available along the coast are roadsteads and not natural harbors. Rocky bottoms, currents, and gusty winds make these road steads real iffy.
I've got to disagree with that statement. During our four trips south we've stopped in:
Westport
Newport
Coos Bay
Pt Orford
Gold Bar
Noyo River

They are all deep water, well protected harbors and all within 30 hours (in our Caliber 40) of the next.

Between Noyo River and San Franciso there are three additional well protected anchorages.

South of San Francisco we've used Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz, Moro Bay, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Twin Harbors, Avalon, Newport Beach, Dana Point, Oceanside, Mission Bay. Again, all within 30-hours of the other.
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