Astoria, Force 10

By the afternoon, the wind was blowing 20 knots at our dock. It built steadily overnight until we first saw 53 knots on our anemometer the next morning.

Astoria, Force 10

They could only stand on top of the breakwater for a couple minutes. Note the clumps of spindrift in the air.Michael Robertson

We left Port Angeles, WA the morning of Wednesday, September 25, bound for Astoria, OR. Our goal was clear: get across the Columbia River Bar and into safe harbor as early as possible Friday morning. Any later and we knew we'd be caught in a tangle of powerful storms bearing down on the Pacific Northwest, fueled in part by remnants of Typhoon Pabuk that had threatened Japan. At 0400, after 45-hours underway (many of them spent trying to sail in confused seas and fluky winds) we crossed the bar.

When we tied up in Astoria two hours later, day was breaking and both rain and the barometric pressure were falling. By the afternoon, the wind was blowing 20 knots at our dock. It built steadily overnight until we first saw 53 knots on our anemometer the next morning. We double-secured our solar panels, unplugged the dinghy, put on our mainsail cover, deployed all our fenders, and doubled down on the dock lines. Pieces blew off surrounding, untended boats. Tarps whipped themselves to shreds.

Saturday afternoon we intercepted a bar pilot when he arrived ashore after bringing in a tanker.

“What’s it like out there now?”

“It’s blowing 40, 17 to 19 foot waves, but the worse is yet to come, we expect 25 to 28 foot breakers tomorrow.” He turned to point back on the ship he’d come from, “That’s the last one, the bar is closed.”

We walked a couple blocks up empty 12th Street sidewalks, looking for a respite from the rain. Inside Lucy's Books, we told the proprietor we’d just learned the bar was closed.

“Really?” she asked, looking up the bar report on the computer in front of her. “Wow, it’s red, closed, I haven’t seen that for a while.”

The next day was worse and we drove (in my sister’s car) out to the foot of the south jetty in pouring rain to see things for ourselves. The wind howled and spindrift raced over our heads. Sheets of spray pelted us from above. Atop the breakwater and looking out, it was nearly impossible to discern the six-mile-long bar, the ocean was simply a mess of breaking waves all the way to the horizon.

Sunday night after dinner was the peak. We holed up in my sister's second-floor hotel room beneath the Astoria-Megler Bridge. Out the window, we could see Del Viento's mast in the marina a quarter-mile away, fixed at a 20-degree heel. At about 2000 hours, everything erupted and intensified for 10 minutes. The rain grew heavy and blew sideways. The wild, raging river was blown nearly flat and huge, sail-like tarpaulins, attached to bridge girders 250 feet above the Columbia River, blew free and disappeared downwind.

Things have since eased. It’s still breezy in Astoria and the rain comes and goes, but the bar is back open, the seas are calming, and it looks like we’ll leave here this evening, bound for Eureka, CA. And we do need to keep moving, the season has changed and more storms are on the way, marching southward from the Gulf of Alaska.


I__n our twenties, we traded our boat for a house and our freedom for careers. In our thirties, we slumbered through the American dream. In our forties, we woke and traded our house for a boat and our careers for freedom. And here we are. Follow along at