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Old 08-02-2015, 10:44   #1
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Coastal Sailing in NW Oregon

Hi all, long time lurker but first time poster here.

I've been wondering, what would all of you more experienced sailors think is needed for doing coastal and near-offshore sailing up and down the Oregon and Washington coast?

Some background on me, I'm 22 years old and have been sailing here and there for about six years now on smaller boats (Biggest I've sailed was a Catalina 27). Last year, I finally worked up the funding to buy myself a 1971 Columbia 26 MKII in wonderful condition for a very nice price. However, all of my experience has been in rivers and lakes, with the vast majority taking place around the St. Helens area of the Columbia River. Since my experience has been exclusively inland, I'm curious, what more would it take to do passages up and down the coastline?

I understand that the Pacific NW has some of the nastiest waters to sail on in North America, but since this is where I am, this is where I get to learn. Any tips for a new-to-coastal-sailing sailor in Oregon?

Thanks in advance!
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Old 08-02-2015, 12:46   #2
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Re: Coastal Sailing in NW Oregon

OK, want to see if your boat is up to the task? Sail it to Ilwaco. OK so far? Sail it out through the banks to Bouy #3 and back on a flood tide. Do it again. Then sail down to Newport or up to Greys Harbor and back. You will have a pretty good idea. Oh, and do it with someone with experience at first.
My Captain friend (with 50 + years of experience) almost didn't make it back from Grey's one day. He was solo and learning to use his windvane. Go with a partner first, even to Ilwaco. It is a good safety net.
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Old 10-02-2015, 10:24   #3
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Re: Coastal Sailing in NW Oregon

Well... If I were you, I'd make a careful inspection of your new boat rigging and steering system. Also make sure that your safety gear is up to date. Long story short, make sure that your boat is up to it... Then watch the weather... Have an idea how much wind you will have, what kind of swells, their period... Be on the know... All that weather and sea conditions are available online. Then do a short test sail.
The problem with Pacific sailing is that conditions change rapidly and hourly / daily. Hopefully your engine works and it's reliable. You can always motor /sail back (boat is more stable with sails up)
Another advice is tack upwind and return with the wind in your back or broadside... That way you take the worst right off...
My experience in the Pacific is that it's usually good in the morning and in the afternoon it blows like he'll... But conditions change all the time. Also 6' seas not too bad if their period is long 18' or so nasty if short...
Be sure that you have all the hatches closed and reef at the moment you first think about reefing. Don't wait thinking that conditions will improve cause they will but it will happen hours from now. After the sun goes down it sometimes calms down...
Be careful and be prepared...

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Old 10-02-2015, 10:34   #4
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Re: Coastal Sailing in NW Oregon

The Columbia bar can be one of the worst anywhere. Get a lot of sailing experience inside, know your boat very well and know that it is strong. Get very familiar with bar and weather forecasts.... then go.
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Old 10-02-2015, 11:38   #5
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Re: Coastal Sailing in NW Oregon

Make sure your fuel filters, tanks are clean and your engine runs well. Nothing scarier than trying to cross the bars and experience engine failure.
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Old 15-02-2015, 20:21   #6
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Re: Coastal Sailing in NW Oregon

I commercial fished tuna and salmon from SF to Canada, I also made several coastwise trips between Alaska and San Diego on a WWII built destroyer. One navy trip heading south near Cape Flattery we had to slow to 8 knots to avoid structural damage. A carrier 100 miles further out was taking water over the bow. It all came about in less than 12 hours. The main point is: keep an eye on the weather.
There are only a couple places where it's easy to make land between Vancouver Island and San Francisco. Those are Cresent City and Drakes Bay. All the others have bars that are sometimes closed. If you have to go in, make the decision early. The few times I have overnighted in Humboldt Bay, Eureka, someone died on the bar. I've had a friend pitch pole across the bar but he and the boat survived (no mast, deck gear, etc.).
The prevailing winds seem to be from the NW. They blow heavy after a storm and gradually die down slowly over several days. A storm usually blows from the SW or S and puts another set of waves over the NW swell. The best time to travel is usually a few days after a low pressure goes thru. Sometimes in the fall and winter there are light winds over several days.
Wind makes waves. Learn to read weather maps. The guy on the weather channels must not have a window and only checks the weather when leaving his house for work. The weather forecasters are devoted to serving the most people, that means land users and east of the Mississippi. Most marinas have wifi. You have to hunt for good maps of the North Pacific weather patterns. I look to see how fast storms are moving and how close the lines are. Close lines mean high wind.
Be a wise and safe mariner. Know a safe way to port and have back up for your back ups. No ship or boat has been built to take the full force of the ocean. Forget those man against the sea articles in the yacht mags. They're mostly written buy fools that got caught doing something stupid. Watch out for all the debris from Japan. When cruising at night about 1977, about 20 miles off Eureka, I went between 2 old growth logs in a pitch black night. I didn't even see them until birds on them took flight. 5 feet either way and I wouldn't be writing this story.
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Old 20-02-2015, 01:45   #7
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Re: Coastal Sailing in NW Oregon

Some more thoughts...
The secret to a good Columbia Bar crossing is high tide, slack water. Or on any bar without stools. The deeper the water the less the swell is effected. If you have a outgoing tide and the usual wind coming in the waves can get really big and close together. I went out once at exactly the wrong time and for a 1/4 mile got quite a ride. Green water outside the wheelhouse windows. Sea foam somewhere above.
Also, look out for crab and maybe long line buoys all along the coast. At times it can be difficult to get through them.
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Old 20-02-2015, 08:05   #8
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Re: Coastal Sailing in NW Oregon

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lepke View Post
Some more thoughts...
The secret to a good Columbia Bar crossing is high tide, slack water. Or on any bar without stools. The deeper the water the less the swell is effected. If you have a outgoing tide and the usual wind coming in the waves can get really big and close together. I went out once at exactly the wrong time and for a 1/4 mile got quite a ride. Green water outside the wheelhouse windows. Sea foam somewhere above.
Also, look out for crab and maybe long line buoys all along the coast. At times it can be difficult to get through them.
I disagree. Having crossed the Columbia Bar for 4 years now, this may be good advice for a motorboat but is wrong for a sailboat. Why? Because the problem with the Columbia Bar is outgoing current meeting the swells from the west, causing large steep standing waves. If you try to cross the 5 miles or so during slack (which here is only minutes long) you will be caught in the ebb and likely have to navigate these waves (which can be steep, breaking and 20-30 feet high) Maybe a motorboat can cross the bar in 5-10 minutes, but a sailboat cannot.
Your best chances of avoiding waves is during the flood. A weak flood current is the best for leaving (ie neap flood), and mid flood is best for entering. Do not, however, favor the low/high tidal current changes.
Disclaimer- Dangerous waves can occur anytime on the bank. I am just a sailor on the bank, not an expert. I would advise anyone crossing the bank to go with somebody else first who has experience with navigating the bank.

BTW, I sail outside the 100 foot depth (usually the 100 fathom depth) to maintain safe distance from the coast and avoid the rips that seem to be close to the shore. No crab pots out here, but plenty of fishermen and their nets....
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Old 20-02-2015, 09:14   #9
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Re: Coastal Sailing in NW Oregon

Ravenhawk, I assume your Columbia 26 has an outboard motor, so you probably dont have a fixed fuel tank. I would recommend carrying more fuel than you normally would for river or lake sailing. The reason I say this, is that on the only delivery I did from Seattle to SF, I had so little wind that I motored almost the whole way. If you lose the wind when you need to get across a bar at the right tidal flow, you will need enough fuel to make it on time. The PNW is noted for nasty weather, but you can be drifting with no wind, when you need to get across a bar. Like all sailing you need to be prepared for all weather conditions. Make sure whatever fuel you carry is safely secured, and have a great time. ________Grant.
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Old 20-02-2015, 09:33   #10
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Re: Coastal Sailing in NW Oregon

I crew on a couple sailboats that sail on the estuary of the Columbia and cross the bar regularly under sail. We have sailed to Newport a few times on Olson 30's, and are gearing up for the Oregon Offshore in May. The lee shore can be a dangerous place, if you want to speak or crew with some folks who sail it regularly, private message me.
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Old 20-02-2015, 10:07   #11
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Re: Coastal Sailing in NW Oregon

About that Columbia 26: I own one. In some respects it's an excellent heavy weather boat. Stoutly rigged, heavy, high freeboard, smallish sail area. I love taking her out in nasty conditions. But one thing to consider is that outboard. Is you're mounted on the transom? If so, cavitation and flooding of the motor in heavy seas will be a problem. Might want to look into putting the outboard back into the cockpit well, much better for heavy seas. But the problems with this (which is why most C26's have moved the motor to the transom) is that there's only room for a small-ish engine there. Modern 4-strokes in the 8+ HP range typically won't fit.

Along with that I second making sure you have secure tanks, always at least half full so the pick-up doesn't suck air in rough conditions, and a good fuel filtration and water separator system
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Old 21-02-2015, 22:09   #12
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Re: Coastal Sailing in NW Oregon

Years back, we completed the ASA 104 Bareboat Charter course. (See ASAs website for the course curriculum.) The fiasco started at Harbor One on the Columbia River in Portland, Oregon on a Friday afternoon in June, and ended that Sunday evening in the same place. But, the training included traveling 112 nautical miles downriver, across the Columbia River Bar, 12 miles out to sea, then 112 miles back. In 50 hours. **** we were tired.

There were four "students" ages 45 - 77, and one inept instructor on a Pearson 39. The instructor was also the owner of the boat and the owner of the school, which is no longer ASA certified.

The trip was full of problems - running out of fuel, serious sleep deprivation (7 hours of sleep total), really heavy fog, and near groundings because the instructor forgot about low tide twice, and a host of other near misses.

Even though the instructor demonstrated a serious lack of planning, had zero common sense, and had a personality like a burnt fence post, motoring across the bar with in a group setting on a seaworthy boat was a good first experience. Probably because the seas were relatively flat, the sky was blue, the wind was fair and warm. I can't remember if we timed the crossing based on tides or not. (Probably not.) We learned a lot about "what not to do" on this trip.

You could contact Island Sailing in Portland and see if they offer this type of class or could put one together. Or perhaps someone in Astoria teaches the class. I would NOT recommend taking the class from the non-ASA sailing school in Portland.
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Old 17-03-2015, 16:42   #13
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Re: Coastal Sailing in NW Oregon

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I would NOT recommend taking the class from the non-ASA sailing school in Portland.
This is great advice. Do you know if it is the same school/owner that currently resides at Harbor 1? I have been cruising in the "ditch" for 4+ years and racing for one. I had long contemplated going to the non-asa school. But after looking at the costs it seemed better to pay just a little bit more and get the ASA endorsement. Your post confirms that!

Thanks,
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Old 17-03-2015, 18:07   #14
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Re: Coastal Sailing in NW Oregon

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This is great advice. Do you know if it is the same school/owner that currently resides at Harbor 1? I had long contemplated going to the non-asa school. But after looking at the costs it seemed better to pay just a little bit more and get the ASA endorsement.
Yep, same place. It was ASA certified at the time we took the course, but the old owner had recently passed away and the new owner had just barely taken over - like within a few weeks, I think. We got the ASA stickers for our book upon completion, but when we compared an actual ASA course curriculum with what "skills" we "learned", there was a huge gap. Now, what we learned was valuable in its own right, but we didn't get close to covering what was outlined in the course. And you are right, it was expensive. I don't know if that extra sticker helped decrease our boat's insurance rate, but Markel asked for "any certifications or licenses" so we listed all we had. (Getting our boat insured was no problem.)

I'd go with a reputable ASA school and then interview the instructors. Most schools have several instructors that teach the same course. There are all kinds of teachers out there - some good, some really bad. Some people truly enjoy teaching and get excited watching others learn and develop a passion for sailing, while some seem to enjoy watching others fail and are quick to point out how little you know and how smart they are. Seriously. We've had both kinds in sailing classes. But, we've managed to learn something from both kinds...even if it's what not to do. Best of luck and have fun out there!
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Old 18-07-2015, 12:41   #15
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Re: Coastal Sailing in NW Oregon

I took that same class. I had a rather different impression. I had already taken 104 and was only taking this to cross the bar and sail with some buddies.

I would say the class complemented 104 rather than substituted for it. I learned a tremendous amount about River and night navigation. I learned to go over the bar, and I learned how to use ocean safety equipment. I didn't learn the stuff from 104 about engine maintenance.

And, damn is that guy good docking a boat in close quarters at night.

For what it does teach, it is a very effective class.


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