Crossing the bar

The Columbia river bar in a foul mood!: (Good illustration of the effects of a very long telephoto lens also — it’s rough but not as rough as the tele effect indicates.)

Some friends were going south from Seattle to San Diego many years ago in their new 56ft, very sea worthy, power boat. They had another couple on board that were not normally off-shore boaters.

After leaving Neah Bay, the weather got bumpy and finally the friends asked it they could pull in at one of the harbors that they could see on the chart.

Ethel said, “No. Not there. The bar is closed.”

The guest said, “You have booze on the boat. Who cares if the bars are closed?”

Ethel had to explain that the entrance to a bay or river that opens into a larger body of water is called a “bar”. In waves this big at sea, on the Pacific Coast, the only choices are to keep going south until conditions improve or to stop and wait for conditions to improve, or, if you could, you could go back into the Straits of Juan de Fuca to get to smoother water. You just cannot survive crossing the bar when it is like that.

The mouth of the Columbia River has one of the worst bars in the World, in bad weather. We were stuck there for several days in 1981. We were inside and could not leave, due to the bar being closed by waves from a big storm far to the NW, in the Gulf of Alaska.

Every morning, we got up before dawn to get the bar report on the VHF radio, because to make it to the next bay, we had to leave at dawn. Finally, one morning they did not even mention the bar. Did they forget or was it open?

We left and it was OK, but amazingly rough, for not even be worth mentioning. At one stretch, there were not big waves, but rather big hay stacks and deep, conical holes in the water. Appearing and disappearing like a giant ‘Whack a Mole’ game. Several times we had a 20ft deep hole in the water appear about 20 feet from the boat. Not a whirl pool, just a sudden hole.

Our guest, who was not a sailor, was below, sealed in the cabin with Janet, who was navigating as I drove and our friend Martin assisted in the cockpit. We were clipped in, with our life jackets on and kind of nervous.

The friend below, asked Janet, “What are they doing out there! Why doesn’t Dave steer into the smooth water?”

Janet’s answer, “This IS the smooth water. It is worse to either side.”

And those conditions were not worth mentioning.

As they say above. If you look carefully at the video, it is not as rough as it looks at first. The telephoto, makes it look like the boat is underwater at some spots, but it is just between big, foamy waves. Very nice footage, though.

Dave & Janet


1 thought on “Crossing the bar

  1. Uck! Not unlike what you and Janet have been navigating through these past many months….
    As you guys learned the hard way off San Simeon, I hope these skippers have their harnesses and lifelines on and secured!
    XOXOXO, Lindi & Patrick

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