Eureka bar crossing on December 2nd
14 December 2006 | Eureka, CA
When we left the dock in Eureka, Steen swore that this would be the last bar he would cross, even though this would not be much of a bar crossing since it was just after high tide, and there was only about 10 knots of wind out of the north, and a 6 ft west swell.
As we completed the 3-mile trip down the Humbolt Bay channel and started to line up on the ranges for the bar channel, we saw sizable breakers on the shoal on the north bank. Good day for a surf board we noted; (how true that was, we were soon to find out). The "rough bar" warning light was not flashing, which was a first for us. The warning lights had been flashing every day in both Winchester Bay and in Coos Bay with some level of warning and restriction. As we lined Radiance up on the channel we noticed that this channel was much deeper then the other bar channels we had crossed. The depth sounder read 55 feet, which must have been why the channel did not have a "rough bar" warning at all. Steen made a comment like 'maybe that they only turn the bar warning lights on to check the light bulbs'.
Then, with about 300 yards to go before clearing the tip of the jetties, the first swell rolled under Radiance. She rose confidently over the 5 ft swell and continued outbound. We, however, lost a little of our confidence in a no frill crossing. At this time the Coast Guard rounded the south jetty one their way in, in their 47ft cutter, which was not ideal since it is nice to have the entire channel to yourself. The Coast Guard however quickly maneuvered to the side of the channel just outside the jetties and slowed to let us out.
Then, the next swell rose out of nowhere. This was bigger and steeper than the first one. Radiance burrowed her bow into the wave which slowed her down quite a bit. As we slid into the trough behind this wave we could not see the Coast Guard cutter; all we could see was wall of water in front of us. Radiance was given full throttle as we went up the face of the wave. The Coasties must have gotten a good look at our bottom paint as Radiance cleared the crest with her bow pointing to the sky. The engine water intake (and therefore the prop) came out of the water when we went down the back of the wave.
With the momentary lack of cooling water, the engine sent a plume of hot exhaust into the cockpit, but a quick glance at the temp. gauge said that all was well in the engine room. At this point, Angela, holding Malou in her arms, gave the Coasties one of those 'we do this every day and what a nice day this is' kind of friendly waves.
We were now right at the tip of the jetties and the waves just kept on getting bigger. The next one was maybe 12-15ft, but worse the top was sloughing. It is not a good thing when a wave on a bar starts to have foam on top. Steen said a few quick words of encouragement to Radiance and up we went. We made it, there was a big sigh of relief. We were now past the jetties. This is where the channel takes a 50 dgr turn to the south. But there was now way we were going to turn our beam to these swells, so we continued to hit straight out into them. Steen was sure that we had missed the bar warning sign and that the Coast Guard would board us as soon as we got out in calmer water. Instead, the cutter headed in and disappeared behind a wave.
Once we got out in about 150ft of water things started to settle down and we called the Coast Guard to thank them for keeping an eye on us.
Do not ever expect a bar crossing to be uneventful.
Even though there is no 'rough bar' warning, call the Coast Guard and ask for the bar conditions.
Do not cross the bar on an ebb tide if there is a large body of water behind the bar entrance, because the tide currents will run fast.