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Wednesday - towards Juan de Fuca Strait - 'washing machine' conditions overnight

Woken up by a noisy sealion nearby... Boat made ready... last check on gmails.. photos... last big hugs, before Steve, LaDonna and Rob helped with my lines and then we were away... motoring into the usual murky, calm conditions I've come to expect - the 'June gloom' I've repeatedly been hearing about...

A slight SSE wind near shore became light WNW a couple of hours later. I'm expecting strong NNW winds off Pt Conception which I'll try to stay well clear of, in the hope of rather less strong winds but I'm looking forward finally to getting sailing, although I hope I won't be forced S of W. There's a slight SW swell - nothing much.

A small fishing boat was laying pots in the shallows near land (depths up to just 20m are found for up to 5 miles or so from shore) - white floats with black flags waving above them - fine in calm conditions but not so easy to spot in rough seas. Some dolphins and birds had clearly found some fish off in the distance.

In the poor visibility, with occasional fog patches, radar is helpful and I'm keeping an eye out for small fishing boats (often without AIS) - and for the Blue whales that are supposed to be around here - would be great to see them! Santa Cruz Island is to the S - SW, with Santa Rosa Island beyond.

11.20 am A large group of dolphins came speeding by, headed towards shore - must know there's fish that way!

1 pm Had to fall off a building W-WSW wind.. Trying to motor directly into strong wind just doesn't work but by using some motor as well as sails, it's possible to make a fair speed closer to the wind, especially in swell! Hoped the wind direction would change for the better but it forced us to head NW. We've been running parallel to coast and wind is probably doing the same. But the sky has cleared - it's nice to see sunshine again.

6pm - Seas have been pretty rough up to now, with big swell and lots of 'white horses' but they're a lot smoother now, with no whitecaps and smaller swell. The wind has been from SW & has eased now to 10-13kt.. I wonder how long that will last - I'm expecting conditions to get stronger as we approach Pt Conception, 25 miles away.


Well that calm interlude was only brief - maybe we were in the lee of the Channel Islands just then? Fairly quickly, seas and wind built and we were in big steep seas and strong wind around 30kt, frequently up to 35kt. For some time I had the second reef in and we were doing fine, but when we were consistenly in 30-35kt wind I reefed down further, The description 'washing machine' was very apt - the boat was being tossed and knocked around all the time by the big steep waves and the wind was whistling in the rigging - all very unpleasant, despite a myriad of bright stars overhead!

A major concern was to keep well away from Pt Conception with added problems caused by the shipping lanes close by and San Miguel Island and its rocky islets not far off to the S, with the presence of oil rigs to avoid off the northern coast not helping. The strong wind forced us onto long, slow tacks - to N and SW. I used the engine to help keep as close to the wind as possible and push through the waves in an effort to get W, crossing the shipping lanes quickly when no ship was in sight.... but we made painfully slow progress.

I had to stay awake almost all night, with brief naps while sitting at the chart table, to keep us safe. The wind showed no sign of abating and it was difficult to maintain speed and head in the best possible direction. I'd hoped to heave to for some sleep but that was impossible without the sea room available. Eventually, by morning, the wind began to veer to the WNW and showed signs of easing - we were finally able to head almost directly W, although still into big, steep, often-confused seas. The forecast is for more of the same for several days to come but keeping S of Pts Conception and Arguello on a westerly heading should keep us out of the strongest winds and seas.

Written by : Jeanne Socrates