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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Route planning

It's a new year and, just so I don't lose track of our goal to set sail for warmer climes this summer, I decided to do a little bit of route planning the other day.  Here at the marina, our high sped internet connection is in the laundry room.  So, since I was actually up there doing laundry anyway, it seemed like a good time to work on some of the details of our planned trip.

There are several schools of thought on sailing down the Oregon and California coasts.  The first is the express route.  In this one the idea is to go out 60 miles or so and then aim straight for San Francisco or San Diego and skip everything in between.  The advantage is that you get to your destination fairly quickly and, if the weather kicks up you have lots of sea room to play with.  Some say that the ride is much nicer out there since the swells are more regular (though probably larger) and the seas aren't so confused by bouncing off the land.  You're also far enough out that you are less likely to feel the effects of places like the dreaded Cape Mendocino.  You may also be far enough out to avoid running into crab pots and fishing nets as well as other coastal boat traffic.  The downside is that, if the weather kicks up, you're a long way from a potential safe harbor.  The watchkeeping required for a 2-person crew can also be quite tiring on a trip like this.

Another approach is to travel 5-20 miles off shore and visit the more prominent ports every few days.  The advantage is that you're probably close enough to duck into a harbor if the weather turns on you and you get to visit a few ports along the way where you can catch up on your sleep.  The disadvantage is that you need to watch your weather closer since you're always fairly near to a potential lee shore. Also, even a couple days of 4 hours on, 4 hours off watchkeeping can get pretty tiring.  And you're right where the fishermen and crabbers are working and need to keep a good lookout for them as well as other boats and ships traveling the coast.

The final approach is called "keeping one foot on land" and basically consists of harbor-hopping down the coast usually no more than 5-10 miles offshore.  The downside to this approach is that you need to keep a really close eye on weather because you have virtually no sea room to play with.   You might luck out and be inside much of the fishing and crabbing areas but you might also be smack dab in the middle of them.  You need to keep a sharp lookout for shoals and rocks as well since you may be close enough to encounter some of these. On the other hand, you might get to sleep at anchor or at a marina every night and you only need to get a weather window that's large enough for you to make it to the next port safely.  This plan will definitely take you the longest amount of time of the three.

So, what to do?  Well, in our case we want to leave Newport as early in July as we can find a decent weather window.  No particular reason other than just to get this show on the road.  However, we don't want to reach Mexico until the end of the hurricane season, November 1st.  That leaves us potentially 4 months of travel time.   We could walk to Mexico in less time than that.  So, since we want to leave early and take a long time to get where we're going, the "one foot on land" approach seems to fit the bill.  We hadn't really considered this until we started following a blog of some folks we met here.  Mark  and Vicki (Sailing with Mark and Vicki) are from Corvallis and have been meandering down the coast since last August.  Following their blog has been a real education since I don't think I've ever read any other blog where they did as much harbor-hopping as these two.  Since we're looking for a slow trip down the coast, we're going to pretty much follow in their wake.  They also sound like they've been having the most fun of many of the cruising blogs I read.

So, with this general plan in mind, the next step was to start laying out a route.  First I'd go to Mark & Vicki's site to find out where they'd stopped and then I'd go to Google Earth to get a picture of what the harbor and its approaches actually look like.  Google Earth is so cool.  It's great to actually be able to follow our proposed route and be able to zoom in and out at will.  The feature that allows you to calculate the miles between waypoints also helps a lot in route planning.  So, here's what we're looking at for our first major leg of the trip: Newport to San Francisco.

We're planning stops in:

Winchester Bay, OR (maybe)
Charleston Harbor (Coos Bay), OR
Port Orford, OR
Brooking, OR
Crescent City, CA (maybe)
Trinidad, CA (mark & Vicki warn of lots of kelp flies but it still seems like a logical stopping point for us)
Eureka, CA
Shelter Cove, CA
Fort Bragg, CA
Bodega Bay, CA
Drake's Bay, CA
San Francisco Bay, CA

Once in SF Bay, we plan visits to various places such as Sausalito, Alameda, etc.  Also planning to venture at least part way up the Sacramento River.  We may try to go all the way to Sacramento but I haven't studied things enough to know whether or not that's a viable trip.  We have friends in various places in the Bay Area and the Northern California Westsail Owners' Rendezvous is being held in Alameda in early October so we'll try to make that. 

Putting together the list above afforded me the opportunity to pull out my Coast Pilot (#7) to make sure I was listing the stops in the right order.  As I followed the route I see many anchorages along the way that afford protection in certain wind conditions, but not in others.  We may take advantage of some of these along the way.

Once we get started on our SF to San Diego route planning, I will also be using some information that was in an issue of Latitude 38 magazine last fall.  They answered a reader's query about inexpensive cruising along the central and southern California coast.  We'll use their answer as another tool in our route-planning toolbox.

Anyway, the whole route planning thing is an enjoyable way to get started on the cruise before the weather allows the actual slipping of the mooring lines.  We have Google Earth, electronic charts in our Garmin GPS, paper charts, the Coast Pilot, maps, cruising guides, etc. to help us plan things out.  Hopefully you all will stick with the blog long enough to see the trip actually start to unfold.  In the meantime, get out your Oregon and California maps or log on to Google Earth and take a virtual cruise along with us.

1 comment:

Mark said...

We wish we could do the whole California coast again! You are going to have a great time, and July is going to be here before you know it.