Sitting in the cockpit together, my wife Jill and I watched daylight slowly appear over the Washington coast as our boys, Porter and Magnus, slept soundly in the gentle swell. It was good to be out on the ocean again and even more exciting to be making the hop down the coast to the Columbia River. Similar to the previous three days in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, it seemed like beautiful weather would make the trip even more pleasant.
Our 1984 Grand Soleil 39, Yahtzee, chugged along under power and the mainsail was drawing any amount of wind we could find, with the hopes of an afternoon westerly wind coming in a few hours. Sure enough, by mid-morning specks of blue popped through the cloudy sky and by noon it was fully sunny. A northwesterly wind began to toy with us and we rolled the genoa in and out several times while it shifted up and down in velocity.
Finally, the wind filled and it was time to set up our big blue asymmetrical spinnaker. We brought it on deck, got it rigged and flying and shutdown the diesel. One of the most beautiful days of ocean sailing was ahead of us. In the building breeze, Yahtzee gained speed from 4 knots, to 5, 6 and then 7-plus. In the afternoon sun, Porter practiced walking on deck clipped on the jackline, and then he and Magnus played with their Lego trains in the cockpit.
Late in the afternoon, the wind kept coming and before making dinner we decided to douse the spinnaker. We had no desire to fly the sail at night, and since we’d been sailing so fast, we were actually way ahead of schedule to pass over the Columbia River Bar the following morning.
When the sail was stowed, we rolled out the genoa and sailed downwind wing-on-wing for hours. The swell continued to increase as sunset loomed and we surfed fast down the larger waves. Wanting to reach the bar on a flood tide rather than a max ebb, we rolled the genoa up and decided to sail with the just main through the night. This slowed us down a bit and Jill and I started our watch rotation when darkness fell.
She had the first watch and deftly weaved us through commercial fishing vessels to not disrupt them in their work. As is normal for me on passage, I fell fast asleep and was roused only by Jill’s gentle nudge when it was my watch. On deck the wind had calmed some, but the sea state was still boisterous. Yahtzee’s pace was a bit brisk, but I hated to slow her down because she was really in a nice groove.
Then, when I got up for my last watch the wind died and Yahtzee slogged along in the sloppy seas. When our boatspeed dipped to 2 knots, I finally turned the engine on and we motored the remaining miles towards the long entrance channel to the Columbia River. Much like the day before, the skies entering the Columbia were steely-gray. Fishing boats passed in and out and the Coast Guard gave a rather benign bar report for our entry. Even though we’d only been offshore for a little over 24 hours, the anticipation of making landfall was palpable. The excitement was accentuated by the sight of two orca whales as we entered the river and when Jill turned music on, we all couldn’t help but dance.
We landed at the Port of Astoria’s West Basin just after 9 a.m and almost on cue, the sun broke through the clouds. As we tied up and savored the joy of finishing a successful passage, Porter said it best. “Dad, life is good.”
Yes it was.