This month a group of us will be delivering a 45-foot sailboat from San Franciso to Seattle. I have never cruised on the West Coast. Can you tell me how you have to go out from the coast to escape the Columbia River effects on the ocean?
Mark Matthews repsonds:
Thanks for the question. There are a number of things that you should know about this route in terms of weather and geography. I’ve made the trip the ‘easy’ way—from Seattle to San Francisco. Although our trip took place in early October, which was still in-season, the pasting we took along the way was just one of the things that impressed me about this stretch of ocean territory. It can definitely be a boat-breaker. You should be advised that this is an area that you can’t be over-prepared for, and a place you shouldn't transit too late in the summer.
For starters, the Pacific Northwest has a deserved reputation for packing heavy-duty storms that can leave an ill-found boat or crew singing the blues. The Pacific Northwest isn’t like the East Coast with the many harbors and safe havens along the way, nor is there anything that provides sanctuary underway like the Intracoastal Waterway. On the West Coast, there are long, lonesome stretches in between ports. And even if you do make to the infrequent stop-over ports, you'll find your coming and going largely governed by tide and swell state. If I remember the Charlie’s Charts Cruising Guide correctly, it advises something along the lines of "If the weather is nice, take advantage of it and keep on going. If the weather turns nasty, don't even think about trying to cross the harbor bars, you have to keep on going."
Besides the weather, one thing to bear in mind are the bar entrances along this section of coast that make this area one of the most feared in the world. Thousands of boats and ships of all types have foundered at the mouth of the Columbia River, which has earned the nickname of ‘Graveyard of the Pacific,’ and entering many of the harbors along this coast also means crossing a river bar. Consequently, it’s not unheard of for sailors to truck their boats between San Francisco and Seattle whether heading north or south.
For more information on how far the Columbia River’s current stretches out into the Pacific, I’d refer you to books you should already be consulting for this trip, namely the Coast Pilot, pilot charts, a cruising guide for the region. We used Charlie’s Charts coming down, although there may be other guidebooks to consult as well. I’d also refer you to an article on our site Sailing to San Francisco by Liza Copeland and Crossing a Harbor Bar by John Kretschmer
Here’s hoping you have a good passage.