Velella's Drift

An account of Velella's voyage from Seattle to New York via Panama, 2009-2011

Guts and Weather

Newport, OR, shoreline

Newport, OR, shoreline

Our itinerary is shot, as we knew it would be as soon as we laid it out. But people want to know where you’re going to be, so.

This trip takes place rather late in the southerly sailing year, with many cruisers having winged south in early August instead of September. Unfortunately, the nice NNWesterlies that are supposed to be prevailing this time a year are few and scattered far between strong gusty southerlies, just for us. These southerlies are sucking around the edges of low pressure systems that are all related to this big damn storm in the Gulf of Alaska. It is incredibly obnoxious that the Gulf of Alaska is affecting our little sun-quest.

Hm. Southerlies. That sounds nice—at least warmer than the winds howling down from the North? Unfortunately no. For any armchair sailors out there who have never had the pleasure of sailing against a headwind, let me paint you a little word picture, if you will. Most of us have had the experience of going on a nice jog on a windy autumn day, feeling like you’re flying for the first half and barely noticing the wind, only to turn and head back directly into what feels like a wall of pressure forcing you to lean 45 degrees into it avoid being blown backwards as your feet leave the ground. This is what sailing south into a southerly headwind feels like. Except instead of dealing only with the whip and push of the wind directly back on you, you’ve got a gargantuan sideways up/down ocean swell (the kind sent as a special culminating treat from Japan), and opposing “wind waves” on the surface that can themselves become 4-6 feet tall (on top of the 8-10-foot ocean swell). All together, the motion feels like an erratically teetering top that’s lost its momentum to spin. And all the contents of your stomach are along for the ride (jf you’re lucky).

Choosing our weather windows has been the most difficult part of this trip for me. We have a professional router helping us to decipher the numerous and often conflicting models, but at the end of the day, it’s still up to us to decide what we’re comfortable going out in. Which quite honestly for me, isn’t much.

It’s a horrible call to have to make when everyone is chomping at the bit to leave. The last thing any of us want is a repeat of the (nine?) days we spent trapped in Neah Bay. Living offshore in the wind, waves, and miles of endless sea is one thing, but living on top of one another at the dock is almost unbearable. Nobody wants to stay another day, and it’s easy to think that “Ah, beating into strong headwinds all night in the fog and rain is better than being cooped up here. Adventure! What did we come for!” But the hair on the back of my neck stands up when I examine how many shipwrecks our route will take us over, and how few harbors along this “hostile” coast are suitable for refuge from a storm. So, I routinely come back to being the grouchy and inflexible Girl-Captain, pulling the plug and offering to pay for one more night of moorage and a pizza for morale, in order to spare us 12 hours of hell out there tonight. Let the winds tire themselves out while we’re tied up behind the sheltered breakwater, thank you.

Tomorrow the wind is supposed to clock to the east. A good time to run out on a comfortable morning reach, settle into our sea-living-rhythm, and gear up for another night watching the inky black nothing and feeling it all so much more vividly under a zillion undulating stars.



  webecomeus wrote @

you go, girl-captain! whip those boys into shape or make ’em walk the plank! aaarrrgghh. your eyepatch will be arriving in the mail any day now.

  Papa wrote @

Good call, Captain.

Trust your judgment, your crew, and your boat. In that order.

Take your time, especially in these early phases of your voyage. Keep faith. Your window will open. Make way when the weather allows.



  Brook Maurer wrote @

I’m cheering for you, Captain!! It sounds like your knowledge and your instincts are ” spot on “. And to your crew: Patience, dear Prescott, is a virtue. So proud of you all.

  janice wrote @

Great job, Meghan. Glad you’re in charge.

  Josh wrote @

I don’t know anything about sailing, but I have to second everyone above. This is a grand adventure, but we all want you to come back safe and sound.

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