THE OREGON COAST STORM

This weather fax shows the 998 ml bar low with the 2 deepening lows that forced us between 2 gales.

August 29, 2003

Saturday night had been a rather exhausting night watch with winds to 37 knots, the sea in a confused state, so Marv & Gord started the next day very tired. We were about 60 miles offshore south of Oregon and north of the California coast. I got up to a sight of about 50 dolphins playing in the boat wake. There were several different kinds of dolphins including the "spinner" that twirl and flip in formation, jumping clear out of the water with their humorous antics. There were dolphins in everywhere you looked, with pods swimming over to the boat from all directions to join the fun.

By noon, wind and waves were building at an alarming rate and it was evident that we were in for a rocky ride as an unforecasted storm unveiled itself. Winds were gusting over 40 knots so the mainsail was dropped, then after reducing foresail, it was also rolled in completely. But the wind, blowing from the north, kept getting stronger and soon was a sustained 50 knots over the deck. Meanwhile frothing threatening surges of water rolled down on us at heights well exceeding the top of the solar panels mounted at the back of the boat. The self steering could no longer handle the huge waves so Gord took the helm. Ascension slid down the steep waves that looked like double black diamond ski runs and were now well in excess of 40 feet high. In the trough of the waves, the boat would broach as the stern was pushed sideways. 

Under bare poles, the boat was reaching speeds to 19.5 knots, as recorded on the GPS, and wind at the tops of the waves reached 75 knots. At this point the windex was blown clean off the mast. In an attempt to slow the boat down, drogues were cleated to the stern, consisting of 350 feet of 1 1/2 inch houser with an anchor  attached and dragging behind the boat. By now I was tied down in the cabin which was like being in a washing machine. I sat clutching my lucky jade dolphin charms saying a silent prayer that we would all have enough stamina to carry us through. 

The noise was unbelievable; the terrifying sounds of howling winds that sounded like a freight train coming through the boat, the crashing and clanking of dishes in the lockers and the thunking and shuddering and screeching of the rigging. Things were flying around the cabin and I was very busy trying to catch and secure items that projected through the air.

Meanwhile, Gord kept his cool and remained totally focused on keeping the boat in control. He hand-steered Ascension for 12 hours straight navigating the boat down huge swell and breaking surf, across the waves to prevent it from pitch-poling and then steering up and over the waves at an angle that would provide the least chance of a total knockdown or even a roll-over. I looked out the hatch and all I could see was a wall of water behind Gord. We broached time and time again but Gord managed to drive the boat off as the waves burying us completely over the deck and the cockpit filled with water. Gord was standing to his knees in water. All I could see from inside the cabin was the river of water over the hatches, the side windows often under water, as the boat violently slammed from port to starboard.

In the midst of this life threatening situation, it was the strangest feeling to see dolphins playing in the frothy iridescent, translucent tops of the waves having a great time sliding down the gradient blueness of the water. It was almost comforting, knowing that there is a different perspective to the conditions we were in. In fact, the whole scene was very spectacular...The seas looked like a molten Grand Canyon exactly like a clip from the "Perfect Storm."

We were in constant contact with the coastguard giving them our location and trying to obtain a weather update. When we were told that the storm would last another two days we had to start looking at alternative options. We heard several Maydays and were alarmed that one came from Reaction, whom we had spoken to earlier on the passage. They are a 35 foot Peterson sailboat also from Canada. They were only about 15 miles from us and we felt so helpless that there was nothing we could do to help. Their crew of 4 were requesting an airlift off the boat. A Coast Guard chopper was being sent to search for them. There was also a 41 foot ChoyLee Sailboat that had abandoned the boat and were being rescued. In addition, it was reported that the Epirb of 60 foot fishing boat had been deployed.

After consulting the charts and books, we decided to try and alter course to see if we could make it into Crescent City, about 6 hours away. It was a very long 6 hours but luckily we had that option available to us.