Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Graveyard of the Pacific

A real colon clenching entry in our Navigation group writing project, from John in PDX... 

Down the coast was uneventful. We had to motor the whole way. I (John) made lasagna for dinner and then came on deck for a 6 to 10pm watch. I then got up at 2am and started driving. The fog was really thick. We tried to revive the radar without much luck.

Fred got up around 5am because we were going to have to cross the shipping channel with no radar and no visibility. Paul was using the hand-blown fog horn and paying attention to what might be in front of us. Fred was monitoring ship traffic, GPS, and course. Laura was getting her beauty rest. I asked if anyone else wanted to drive. They all said NO!

The channel that you must sail thru at the Columbia River bar is notorious for being dangerous. It is called the Graveyard of the Pacific. Over 2000 ships and 700 sailors have been lost.

We located Buoy number 7 in the fog by almost running into it (something Fred has done before). We then contacted all ships coming over the bar and got a heading where we could run in between 2 of them and get across the channel. There was about a 1000’ container ship that was nearest to us. She gave us a heading of 71 degrees to miss him. She was going 24 knots. We were doing 6-8.

Fred kept coming up and admonishing me to keep it at a heading of 71 degrees.

Fred - ‘Keep this thing on 71 degrees or we will hit that ship’
John - ‘Shit Fred we are on the bar – there are waves and currents. I am doing the best I can.’

Paul blows his foghorn every 30 seconds. We hear boats all around us but we can’t see a damn thing. Visibility less than 50 yards.

Fred - ’71 degrees damnit’
John - ‘I am doing the best I can – do you want to drive?’
Fred – ‘Hell NO!!!!’

Fog horns really close now. All of a sudden we see lights 200’ off the water. The ship is taller than the fog. Then we see the freighter. We are within 50 yards of this monster. We are perpendicular to it about amidships. It’s really moving fast. And it looks huge!!! We are on a collision course to t-bone the damn behemoth with our bow. I looked it up later and I estimated it was around 1000 feet long by looking at similar ships.

Somehow, I think we were close to becoming a bug on a windshield.

Paul and John - ‘Shit!!!!’

I take the boat hard to port to avoid collision. Probably was pointing between 340-360 degrees (North). 50 yards is not very far. It's colon clenching time. Fred comes up to tell me to quit steering like a damn fool.

Fred - ‘You are not holding your heading – your going to get us killed’

Paul and I point to the monster in front of us. It looms large in the night.

Fred - ‘Holy shit!!! Oh shit, oh shit, OH SHIT’

He immediately goes back below. There are ships behind this one. He needed to be vigilant.

I remember seeing the stern of the boat at close proximity. I will never forget it. We avoided the vessel and calmed down. We had cheated death again. We motored the rest of the way up the channel on the south side without any other major problems. The fog cleared once we got a few miles inland and we pulled into the Astoria dock for fuel, showers and Bacon.


Emily Titesphinker said...

Great! My kind of post.

Tillerman said...

Miss Titesphinker, how nice to hear from you again. It seems like months since you dropped by. Some of my blogging friends were even starting to say that you weren't real, or paradoxically that you might be several people. Welcome back!

bonnie said...

Yikes yikes yikes.

Great entry.

Carol Anne said...

Here is my entry ... Bonnie made me do it!

The difference between a begonia and a double begonia

Carol Anne said...

Meanwhile ... YIKES! is right!

Annie R said...

Scary stuff. That's a great story! Thanks, John.

Any reason why you couldn't stand off until the fog lifted?

John in PDX said...

OK - I usually don't blog much but I admire people that do. I am not a great writer.

Because we are stupid. But I would sail anywhere with my stupid buddies.

We came out of Neah bay mid day the day before. We even shot The Hole in the Wall (Tatoosh Island) in the fog. Did I mention the hangover from the night before Neah bay? And the fresh oysters and salmon?

It's not that I mind standing off - I think the two days hove off in Eureka, CA cost me a third of my liver. But on the other hand we made it around Cape Blanco without 75 mph winds (the most western point in our 48 states).

Please don't take my stupitidy for inexperience.

Swiftsure 13 times
Oregon Offshore 11 times
J-30 Nationals
J-35 Nationals
Cal 20 Nationals
Oregon Bridge to Bridge
I can't count the number of races in the last 28 years in town.
We went yesterday - It was 17 degrees in the morning.

I have done 25 knots in a 70' boat that kind of scared me.

And despite all this I am still married to the best person in the whole world (I can't afford a divorce).

One of our current boats is a Cal 20. In case you doubt our level of commitment. Our sail # is 000. I will send Tillerman something one of my partners penned. Hopefully he will share it with you.

Tillerman - thank you for the kind words.

John in PDX

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