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Getting to Grays Harbor

October 23, 2012

October 9

From Friday Harbor to Aleck Bay to Port Townsend each day opened and filled with the coppery warmth of a fall sun; a light wind, indolent and indecisive, got up from the north if it bothered to get up at all; the sea lolled in an oily richness. My wife visited on the weekend. We hiked dry, fragrant Cougar Mountain in t-shirts and rode the ferry into Seattle. “Can you believe this weather?” grumbled the ferry’s car attendant. “This just ain’t right.” Blue sky rose above the city scape as if it belonged there. There wasn’t a cloud.

For days, even weeks, the forecast discussion had been as redundant and ignorable as if its subject were San Diego. Then on Monday things changed. Now gone was the “ridge over Vancouver Island” that had commanded the sun to shine and instead I read of “a rapid return to typical, wet, fall weather.” Sprinkled throughout the text were unfamiliar terms like “low” and “front” and “trough” and, most disconcerting, “gale.” It was time, if not well past time, for southing.

Murre and I departed next day for Port Angeles, a quick run of thirty miles. This was a Tuesday and the first storm system was to make landfall on Friday. At three the next morning I took in dock lines and we departed again. In the bay we passed ships at anchor; high and cliffy and gleaming in their own light, they seemed rock-solid, safe as houses. Into the strait Murre ran dark and small under the stars and was greeted by a chill wind flowing west down Juan de Fuca. She pounded at the chop until dawn when the wind died.

Several tankers had passed quickly when the sky was clear and I could still make out Orion, The Dipper, the North Star. They made their approaches for Puget Sound or ports to the north or were headed from these back out to sea. But as the day dawned gray suddenly they were gone, the strait empty save for Murre and the tug, Jack Brusco, miles behind, whose heavy load made his speed more a match for our own.

By noon Murre neared Neah Bay, our last safe haven before an entry into the openness of ocean. We let it go by, and two hours later we had rounded Cape Flattery’s Tatoosh Island and toothy Duncan Rock where we collided with a flotilla of kelp. The Perkins lugged; the shaft rattled in its socket as if it were chewing a bag of gravel. Kelp had wrapped the propeller. I stopped the boat, backed down hard and the kelp cleared.

As I made the turn south the Jack Brusco approached enough to show that its tow, a dinosaur craning its neck as seen through binoculars in the half light of morning was, indeed, a massive crane on a barge. My computer showed it bound for San Francisco, due five days hence, ahead of us, I thought, but maybe not by much. The ceiling lifted enough to reveal the endless mountain tops of the Olympic Range. In a flat calm Destruction Island came and went as did the day and still we motored.

Just before night was full, I noticed the silhouette of a bird across the bow, like an albatross but heavier and with a heavy head, and slowly I realized that this was our first Brown Pelican since Mexico. I gave the engine a cup of oil and heated a can of soup for myself. I poured a glass of wine and watched.

By midnight the Jack Brusco’s course had taken him farther out to sea than our coastwise run. Without stars the night was wooly black. Pale phosphorescence trailed the propeller in a stream as if shot from a hose. Diving birds, murres themselves escaping Murre, traced dim, florescent arcs near the hull. After a time I saw at the horizon the amber glow of a distant city, which gave me pause; the glow appeared out to sea where no city could be. I checked the chart and our course, just in case. An hour later there were five such glows in a line to starboard, the loom of ships below the horizon on approach to the cape.

Before dawn we hovered outside the bar to Grays Harbor awaiting day enough to cross, and by eight we are tied at the Westport town fuel dock, having made 170 miles in 30 hours under engine.

“Here because of weather?” asked the fuel dock attendant.

The green and red buoys of the harbor entrance form a funnel, a cattle run of several miles leading to a coral that is a marina packed with fishing boats and a large percentage of the world’s population of sea gulls, all at full song this morning. The place smells of fish parts and guano. Boats are moving between the docks and the fish plant. Sea lions bark. The sky is lead, low, and streaky and signs of the restaurants and cafes in town flash OPEN in garish blues and reds against the gray.

“I am. And am hoping I’m not stuck here the winter,” I say, laughing. I am joking.

“You just might,” says the man. He is laughing, but somehow it is clear he is not joking.

Fishing boats of all sizes arrive during the day and none leave, and that night the wind comes south and the rain begins. I wake frequently. In my bunk and from the warmth of my bag I feel the storm that is upon us. Murre tugs at her lines, lays over in the gusts; rain lashes the fore deck inches above my head. But the boat is safe; we are safe. Each waking is followed by the realization of safety followed by a sense of pleasure, then relaxation and sleep.

By morning the flags of the harbor and the rain fly straight out. The harbor is full; the transient dock is full. At the Blue Buoy Restaurant I order a breakfast of eggs, potatoes, bacon and a full stack of pancakes by way of defense against the soaking cold. “Welcome to Westport winter,” says the waitress as she takes my menu. The storm drains are beginning to choke and the street gushes. The owner approaches. He sets a nearby table and then pauses to watch the day. “Welcome to Westport winter,” he sighs. I order more coffee.


  1. Lawrence Killingsworth permalink
    October 25, 2012 5:12 pm

    Did I miss a post where you talked about your stay in Port Townsend? One of my favorite places! I see you have posted several photos from there, but I can find no narrative on the crazy vehicle race you watched (participated in?) or your visit to Brian Toss, etc. I hope you also visited with Carol Hasse, legendary northwest sailor and owner of Port Townsend Sails.
    I’ve been out to sea myself, sailing on the schooner Liberty Clipper from Portsmouth to Charleston, so I could be missing a chapter in your Pacific Saga.

    • November 3, 2012 4:33 pm

      Hey Lawrence,

      No, you aren’t missing a chapter. I didn’t write up my very brief time in Port Townsend because…it was so brief. One day wandering downtown with Joanna,and when I returned on Monday to actually *explore* the shops and museum on my own, most were shut. Brian Toss was shut; the Wooden Boat chandlery was shut. Too bad. Already weather was changing, so I couldn’t stay.

      Very cools spot! Wooden boats of breat beauty everywhere.

      Sounds like you are having some grand sailing experiences.


  2. Lawrence Killingsworth permalink
    November 3, 2012 5:33 pm

    Thanks, Randall, I suspected as much. I just didn’t want to miss a single episode. I would have liked to drive over to the coast and visit with you and Murre when you were in our “neighborhood, ” but I sort of imagine you would probably have preferred to spend your limited time on shore with BWW Joanna. Just a guess…
    Keep on sailing and thanks, as always, for taking us along.
    When you have some spare time, I would invite you to visit my YouTube channel, drlmk88, for videos of my modest-by-comparison-to-yours sailing exploits.

    • November 13, 2012 7:46 pm

      Yes, Sorry I missed you too. That would have been fun. Bummed in that I also missed Alva, who lives up north. Didn’t plan that part of my trip all that well. Looking forward to your videos. Take car!

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