Sailing down the Pacific Coast of the US. Bars, bars, bars. Is this post about drinking? No, it is about waves, jetties and shallow water when entering a bay, harbor or marina. We started going south from B.C. Canada toward Mexico at the first week of October. That is certainly the beginning of autumn with a different weather pattern. With a pro dominant Northern wind which is oké when going South. The bad thing, there are more depressions with high winds and a North East direction. The wind isn’t the bad aspect, it’s the waves rolling onto the shore that is the factor to be aware off.
So the Pacific is deep, 1000 meters and beyond and it goes back to zero in 30 NM. When entering a harbor, marina on the west coast in the state of Washington, Oregon or California it’s usual a shallow bay or cove, protected by side jetties, partly submerged. Sometimes a canal, 20-30 feet deep, dredged. The entrance is called a bar…..
So the buildup of waves, rolling in from the west, can be 12-18 feet and then also breaking and rolling. That is a scary thing to look at and definitely not something you want to be in.
Website and Coast Guard for Bars
So information is key, you can’t go and have a look and be safe at the same time. Luckily their is a site for Bar Observations (by the Portland Meteo Office). And almost every harbor has a local coast guard with info on VHF 22A. (Switch your marifon from International to US)
A lot off actual data can be retrieved from NOAA buoys. Look at the app NOAA Bouy Reports in Google or Apple store. A graphical interface makes things so much easier.
Strategy for Bars
The down site, it takes a week before clearing up, the sea needs at least 2 days to calm down. And then you need 2,5 days for your next 300 NM south and the next harbor. So if the bar is open hop on the back a southwards going depression and sneak in the next harbor before the next depression arrives. It’s all about “reading” the weather predictions.
When 40-60 NM outside the coast, waves are back to 6-9 feet (2-3 meter) with a wavelength of 12-15 seconds. And in the same direction as the 15-20 knots of wind. So for a Seawind catamaran that is more or less a “perfect” combination. We like the sound of riding down a wave, the goorgeling sound of water under the bridge deck, salon floor. When the wind dies down, waves are back to 3 feet.
Most Harbors in WA and OR are fishery harbors, we visited Port Angeles, Grays Harbor/Westport, Goos Bay/Charleston, Bodega Bay. In general enter at slack tide, high water. For instance Bodega Bay is really shallow. We spent 13 days at Westport, partly because we did a 4 days road trip to Eugene, but mostly because the bar was closed. We skipped the Columbia river, Astoria. Notoriously difficult at high winds and wicked currents.
San Fransisco Bay
More south we stopped at San Fransisco Bay, Santa Barbara and Catalina Harbor. More relaxed, better temperature. San Fransisco Bay is special because of the Golden Gate bridge crossing. We came in by night, because of the slack tide we needed and a full moon. We anchored down town. I appreciated the site of Patrick Twohy with a top recommendation for Aqautic Park.
In Santa Barbara the main thing beside relaxing and eating out, aka anything else then fish and chips, was a visit to the West Marine shop. Needed a few things including a new barber hauler line for my Jib.
Catalina Harbor is a unplanned stop because of a gail warning of the Coast Guard. So some extra time on a nice anchorage. Mexico here we come ….
Look at the Photo Gallery for more pictures.