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Old 10-01-2018, 19:12   #1
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Winter on the pacific coast

[I want to move a 39 foot sailboat down the coast from Seattle to Charleston in Southern Oregon. My plan is to move from harbor to harbor. The question is "Are winter conditions going to prohibit traveling?" Obviously I will avoid storms and high seas etc.

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Old 10-01-2018, 19:18   #2
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Re: Winter on the pacific coast

I don’t know about the west coast, but here in Maine you’d better have all your ducks in a row and be hunkered down in a safe place till spring.

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Old 10-01-2018, 19:30   #3
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Re: Winter on the pacific coast

Wait for a high, rising barometer, wait a couple of days.
If it's still high or even better still rising, go for it and boogie !
Alternatively, wait for May or later.
A northwest wind, blowing for a couple of days is your friend.
Just make sure it will be there as long as you are traveling.
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Old 10-01-2018, 19:39   #4
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Re: Winter on the pacific coast

I don't wish to appear condescending or insensitive,so please forgive my slow delivery here. Anyone who as spent a significant amount of time in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) is possibly chuckling here. If you ever have the good fortune to travel far enough south, specifically, turning east at Point Conception, approaching Southern California, you can disregard this comment.

The PNW, even in summertime, experiences rapid and dramatic weather changes caused by low pressure systems cycling through the Alaskan and British Colombian waters. You specifically called out a winter time scenario. Not at all user friendly. Therefore, not securely predictable. Meaning, what happens if you are absolutely sure of yourself and the condition of the boat, AND THEN, something happens, such as a fuel contamination issue causing you to run at lower speeds than you had intended. Or, perhaps, a sudden low sweeping down from the Gulf of Alaska, creating headwinds (remember, the direction of the wind and seas may not reflect the course of the low pressure "up there" in the higher altitudes.

So, I propose the selection of "tiny steps", choosing target harbors that are very close, monitoring the weather reports in a paranoid manner, assuming that Murphy's Law has some relevance, and burning appropriate incense, sacrificing available virgins or offering tasty libations and fresh oysters to propitiate the spirits, and do your damnedest (spelling?) to get south as fast as possible. And next time, leave earlier.
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Old 10-01-2018, 20:18   #5
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Re: Winter on the pacific coast

Roy covered it well. But you have to think BOTH stragetically (a few days ahead) and tactically (day to ay harbor hopping).

I did that trip coming north in August 2016.

The CRITICAL issue is the condition of the bars at Lapush (if you go there, a long day S of Neah Bay) and Grays Harbor (a looong day S of Neah Bay - 12 hours) and then the Columbia River!!! All S of there to California are small bars, all treacherous in any running seas, often closed. Charleston, too, at Coos Bay.

I wouldn't do it in winter. Ever.

I've posted our log (with charts) here:

Travels with Aquavite: San Francsico Bay to British Columbia 2016
Stu Jackson
Catalina 34 #224 (1986) C34IA Secretary
Cowichan Bay, BC, (Maple Bay Marina) SR/FK, M25, Rocna 10 (22#) (NZ model)
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Old 10-01-2018, 21:06   #6
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Re: Winter on the pacific coast

Winter - Not if I could avoid it. Wait for better weather or at least the stable week in the spring between winter regime and summer regime.

Check out the NOAA buoy data.

National Data Buoy Center

I once got caught in a late winter gale. 45 kt winds and 18' seas.

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Old 10-01-2018, 22:09   #7
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Re: Winter on the pacific coast


I drove a 35 ft PocketCat uphill from Crescent City CA to Portland in early November 2017. Charleston Harbor was one of the ports we had to lay over in to ride out the gale force storms at the time.

If you can wait, wait. Seriously, the Oregon coast is one of the least forgiving coast lines out there. The Columbia will shove you out to sea like a toy tossed in the river. There is a reason that bar has destroyed over 2,000 boats in the last Century.

You will have real 24+ hours of 7 knot speed runs between safe harbors, if they are even open when you arrive. If being the key word.

If you have anything go wrong, the next storm will get you before the next harbor is open. It's not a joke to say, "it's dangerous" beyond just typical words.

We made the run with 30 gal of diesel lashed to the cockpit, and skipped Newport for refuelling, as the window of time closed on us, leaving us in a hammer down run to the Columbia Bar before the next storm hit. Refueling at full speed in stormy conditions at sea isn't fun.

I used to live on the Oregon Coast for two years, I wouldn't suggest this trip until a multi week "warm up" spell happens, and even then, you are going to have huge waves from the Gulf of Alaska pushing you as the winter "surfing" season runs from November to May.
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Old 11-01-2018, 08:21   #8
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Re: Winter on the pacific coast


Wait until June (at least) and go before October. that three-month window is the only time to venture outside the Straits, and there aren't enough 'duck in' harbors to save a 30-foot boat. The ones that are there are tricky.

stay within the 4-month window. trust us.
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Old 11-01-2018, 08:34   #9
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Re: Winter on the pacific coast

A few years ago Cruising World had an article wherein they interviewed 5 famous cruising couples that each had over 200,000 miles under their belts. Only two of the couples said they had ever been in what they considered survival situations due to weather/sea conditions. They were both somewhere between Neah Bay and Cape Mendocino when they were afeared for their lives. I do not remember the seasons though. I went south from Neah Bay in mid October a few years ago and would not do it again. I was 100 miles offshore though as surfing in over bars in big seas is pretty scary to me in my old age. We were in 60+ kt. Winds for 16 hours in September last year south of Cape Mendocino. I could only imagine what the seas were like out of the lee of the cape. I actually feel my boat capable of surviving in any sea conditions barring a collision, or giant freak, breaking wave you read about on occasion. But it is the mental toll that is greatest even if nothing unexpected happens to your boat. After the September 2017 trip from Channel Islands, Ca, to Humboldt Bay my 61 year old wife said she wasn't going to beat to windward along difficult coasts anymore. Which gives me pause and I now am pondering selling my boat, as it is expensive to own a boat that cannot take you where you want to go. If she told me that 40 years ago we probably would not have stayed married. But I have more invested in my marriage than my boat, both financially and emotionally. Plus, I love her, and only love being on my boat. I ramble because I was dropped on my head as a youngster, or so I imagine.
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Old 11-01-2018, 08:48   #10
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Re: Winter on the pacific coast

Not a good idea. Listen to Roy and others who have sailed this coast. We've done the trip from Portland north and back 11 times. And from Portland to Mexico and back. Fast changing weather, closed entrances and rough seas are likely what you will face. Wait until the Pacific high builds and gives you fast and comfortable runs south.
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Old 11-01-2018, 09:02   #11
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Re: Winter on the pacific coast

I think if you are fairly new at ocean travel. Winter is a bad idea. The Pac coast can be very brutal, and hurricane force winds are not unusual at all.
The next problem is "harbor hopping". It's not a great coast for that as distances are too far. Add to that it can take a day getting in and out, the bar crossing are treacherous at times, and it hardly seems worth it.
Pick a good weather window in spring early summer get it done. Still may be a challenge then.
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Old 11-01-2018, 09:32   #12
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Re: Winter on the pacific coast

I did that trip (ending in San Francisco) during the "good" period.

Listen closely to the people telling you not to do it. There just aren't enough easy spots to tuck into, and if you're planning on tucking into those, you're way too close to shore. This is not a coastline you want to be close to when things go South.

If you decide to go anyway, go at least out to 125W to stay off the coast. Plan on bringing a drogue, a sea anchor, a life raft, and other survival gear. Look at ORC Cat 1 SERs and ask yourself if the boat is up to snuff. I've done enough offshore racing to know that those SERs, while they seem burdensome, are not there without reason.

True story: on my trip down--in June, '14--gales appeared out of nowhere and lasted for days. I don't know how big the waves were, but I passed a bulk carrier going North, and it was plowing into waves that were as high as its bow. Spray was hitting its bridgedeck! I was sicker than *****, and the alternating surfing and plowing motion of the boat, even towing a drogue, was unbearable. It was like shaking a rock in a coffee can, and I was the rock. The autopilot burned up trying to steer in the waves (I was singlehanding), and by the third day I was lying on the cabin floor, staring at the EPIRB and trying to talk myself out of pulling the trigger. I called a friend on the satphone. We ran through a checklist together and decided the boat was in no real danger. The only real question was how much personal discomfort I could take. I bucked up, got my ***** together, and hand steered for two days straight into Newport. I was there a few days fixing my autopilot before I continued on to San Francisco, which is yet another tale of woe.

Long story short, I'll never do it again alone. I wouldn't do it in Winter for any reason, and my advice to most people is to just say no to this accursed coastline until at least June.
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Old 11-01-2018, 09:46   #13
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Re: Winter on the pacific coast

What kind of boat is it? My boat is in Seattle too. If you're dead set on doing this, I'd go with you in February. Chances are it will be awful, but we'd most likely survive. Just getting out of the Strait can be punishing--at any time of year.
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Old 11-01-2018, 09:53   #14
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Re: Winter on the pacific coast

1962 Columbia 29 MKI #37
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Old 11-01-2018, 09:56   #15
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Re: Winter on the pacific coast

I keep my boat very close to the mighty mouth of the Columbia River. I live the conditions you consider sailing in. Don’t even consider this voyage until mid April as even then it can be life threatening.

You would be well advised to look into trucking your boat down the coast if you really need to get your boat south before spring as the cost of trucking may seem cheap compared to the sails, gear, and people you risk injury to.

Unlike other’s who have chimed in here, I personally would go offshore at least 150-miles and only turn east to approach the coast very near the latitude of your destination and this course only if my life depended on getting south before spring.

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