Sailing Adventures

Strategies for transiting the U.S. Pacific Coast northbound

If you are considering bringing your boat north from Southern California to the Pacific Northwest, here is some information that may be useful.

There are two primary regions to consider. Southern California, south of Point Conception, is generally easy cruising. You can find weather windows regularly to go north as far as Santa Barbara. There are lots of easy stops where you can get off the water without much of a detour.

Once you round Point Conception you are out in the real stuff and timing your legs becomes much more critical. Each leg will be longer and in some cases there are no escape options other than to go further offshore and hope for the best.

The Hatfield Marine Science Center has a good website that shows ocean currents. Sometimes you can catch a back eddy that helps counteract the Japanese current. However this means running close inshore so you are dealing with crab pots. Our preference is to run outside the 100 fathom line. This gets you out past most of the crab pots.

Of course this depends upon your strategy. If you are planning a fast trip, it is generally best to go well offshore but stay inside the major shipping lines. This typically means 20-50 miles offshore. However if you are planning day hops you will want to hug the coastline more or you spend all your time going out and back in again.

I suggest planning your trip north after the winter storms and before the Pacific High forms in the summer and starts blowing hard from the north. March/April/May are your best bets. Another option, surprisingly, might be February. It seems that every year there is a 10 day +/- lull in the weather in Feb when we see a lot of boats passing our home on the Oregon Coast in decent conditions.

For a fast run we would consider these stops:

Santa Barbara, CA is a very nice marina near the downtown. OR continue to the Cojo anchorage just inside Point Conception (where you can actually look right over the low land to see the conditions outside.)

Half Moon Bay, CA just south of San Francisco is a nice marina with good restaurants. Or there is a good protected anchorage inside the first breakwater.

Fort Bragg is NOT a safe harbor for larger boats, especially if there is any sea running. It is a very narrow, shallow entrance through steep rock sides and has a sharp 90 degree turn to starboard between a rock and a hard place. We took N46 Four Seasons in once but swore we would never do so again. Better to stay well offshore of Cape Mendocino.

Crescent City, CA is an armpit marina but there is a decent anchorage there for a quick sleep.

Coos Bay, OR has a good bar but the Charleston marina is quite a ways off the ocean and is often crowded.

Newport, OR has a good bar with a Coast Guard station nearby. It is only one mile inland to Southport marina which has a long face dock for transients, typically the best fuel prices on the North Coast, and a Rogue Brewery overlooking the marina.

Westport, WA is a less reliable bar and the marina is further inland. It generally has plenty of room for transients.

Neah Bay, WA is a pretty rough marina but I've never minded after the long slog up the Coast. They always have room. From there you can time your transit up the Strait of Juan de Fuca to ride the strong currents.

Given average weather conditions, you probably need 10-14 days to make a fast passage from San Diego to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I'd recommend having a third crew member onboard as the long runs uphill can be pretty tiring.

On the other hand, if you have lots of time, there are lots of other nice places to stop along the way. Our last trip south we buddy boated with Rick and Nicki Hudson on N40 Skookum and did almost all day hops all the way to San Diego. Upon request I will compile a list of stops we made on that trip.