Realities of seasonal Seattle - San Diego run

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Cap’nJack

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Seattle
I’m an offshore vet who has made many ocean passages, but on sailboats. I am looking at making the switch to a trawler, and while I feel qualified to choose the right boat if I only do a yearly Seattle to Alaska run, I have limited trawler knowledge when it comes to crossing oceans (2 years of Puget Sound cruising with a North Pacific 36).

My question for the group is, how reasonable is it to head south in the late fall and then back north in late spring? I am doubtful about the practicalities of this…I would not do this in my 40’ sailboat, as the voyage from San Diego back to Seattle is pretty miserable. Can anyone here with West Coast voyaging comment on how large a boat is optimum for a couple, and what kind of stabilization is best?
 
No first hand knowledge but a lot of second hand from asking the same question (I'm in San Diego) - I'm sure more knowledgable folks will chime in. As (it sounds like) you know, the passage north from SD to Seattle is one of the more serious coastal passages out there given the paucity of safe harbors & thousands and thousands of miles of fetch. I met a guy who had done it several times with a family of five in a big new-ish Nordhavn (60-something, fin stabilized).

I'd look seriously at a two-boat solution instead - I suspect you could pay for two conformable coastal cruisers for the price of a boat fit for that repeated passage. You'll be paying $5-10k each way just in fuel, and multiples of that for everything else.

There's a really good, obsessively detailed youtube series that outlines the journey and necessary preparations:
 
I don’t think it’s realistic for most people. It’s a lot of offshore miles, and the northbound trip is against prevailing weather.

If you and your spouse both love passagemaking, embrace the inevitable rough days underway, and have fun with the periodic weather/mechanical delays wherever they occur, you might be able to pull it off. But most of those people end up wanting to see new places and don’t just go up and down the west coast.

My experience is the southbound trip is great, filled with improving weather and following seas. I did the northbound Sea of Cortez-Ensenada “bash” in February and it wasn’t nearly as fun, partially because my wife didn’t want to do it, partially because it was against the weather, and partially because it got colder every day! I’m not looking forward to the rest of the bash up to the PNW, and I can’t imagine doing it every year for pleasure. There’s a reason sailboats often get to WA/BC/AK from Mexico via Hawaii!
 
It is not something that hardly anyone would choose to repeat annually once they make the run. The miles, cost, weather, time commitment (including unforeseeable weather delays) and lack of good stops make it something most people do only because they have to, and not because they want to.

You can eat up a chunk of your cruising season making the run if weather doesn’t cooperate, which is another reason to minimize the number of times that you do it.
 
First, San Diego is a wonderful city. But is a lousy cruising destination (as is all of SoCal). There just isn't much to do so I'd question the attraction. There are only so many times you can go to Catalina. For me, the juice wouldn't be worth the squeeze.

I've done the run northbound many, many times. Chuck Hawley once told me that April is the windiest month along the coast which surprised me. He explained that the winds are strong and don't lay down. He's right - it's a tough month to move a boat north. But after that the summer patterns set in where the bad seas manifest in the afternoon so you can scoot close to shore and knock down a good chunk of the chop. So you have hours of tough head seas each day vs all the time. Makes a difference and is approachable for a certain breed of cruiser. What is that "certain breed?" I've met a few diehard sailors who think nothing of making very long transits. The guy who runs the Baja Ha Ha makes the run from San Diego to Cabo to Puerto Vallarta to Antigua (Caribbean) every year and has for 30 years. And I've met a few others like that, including a couple women-captains. I could see being that type, but I enjoy my wife's company.

But to answer your question. The boat for such an excursion is a big, well found boat. Something in the 60-ish foot range or larger. The more waterline the better to reduce effect of chop. I personally think the ultimate couples boat is the Nordhavn 57, but I was recently aboard a Nordhavn 63 and it seemed like a well proportioned boat too though I don't know if it's a fast as the 57 which could easily do 200 miles per day. Another option would be a largish sportfisher such as a Viking 60. These boats are definitely built to take on head seas. There's a cost in fuel and those engines are dang expensive anytime a mechanic touches them, but they are a helluva boat.

To my mind, it's a doable run but I don't see the reason to do so - not enough in SoCal to draw me there. I'd consider keeping a small sailboat in San Diego though. Great day sailing.

Peter
 
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I'll echo Peter's comments about boating in SoCal being a native San Diegan. And if you were planning on boating in here the past two winters you would have been disappointed as the weather was very poor all winter long. It's still not great but at least the rain has stopped. During the summer, if you aren't in a rush there are the Channel Islands to visit which are a bit more remote and wild than Catalina, but there isn't much else within reach to see.

The two boat solution probably makes the most sense and I wouldn't position the other boat down here but perhaps in the SOC or some other location with better winter weather like FL. The great thing about keeping a boat in the off season in PNW is the good availability of yards where it can be kept in on the hard and indoors if you prefer. However, keeping the warm weather boat in shape during the summer might be ,a challenge, especially in Mx. And both locations have hurricane issues to deal with, so there's that as well.

Another option is to go for a smaller boat and have it trucked up and back when needed. I ran into a guy in Catalina with a custom 38-40ish boat which looked like a new Lindell. He said he did just that for many years before settling down in SoCal. You would need deep pockets as now that transit probably costs $18k each way.
 
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I've only made the pacific coast run once and it was south bound, but I'll offer something.

From San Diego to Seattle you will find safe harbors at a maximum distance of about 100NM, with most distances roughly half of that.

At every one of these harbors you will see 20' recreational fishing boats leave the harbor to spend a day out fishing. But they pick their weather.

There is no reason you could not travel in either direction and harbor hop safely and comfortably. Just pick your weather, and your season to minimize your stuck in port days.

You do not need a gigantic expedition boat. You need time to pick your weather. You need to harbor hop because it's a heck of a lot easier to get a one day favorable weather window than a week.

I harbor hopped southbound and loved it. Only once did I get in a bad situation, and that was my fault.

Going North up the Baja can be difficult, as every one has war stories of that trip northbound. But... The baja is different. There are only two all weather anchorages in almost 900 miles. California, Oregon, and Washington are completely different. Similar prevailing southbound winds, but leaving San Diego does not commit you to going all the way to Seattle. It only commits you to the next harbor, and then the next and so on.
 
I've only made the pacific coast run once and it was south bound, but I'll offer something.

From San Diego to Seattle you will find safe harbors at a maximum distance of about 100NM, with most distances roughly half of that.

At every one of these harbors you will see 20' recreational fishing boats leave the harbor to spend a day out fishing. But they pick their weather.

There is no reason you could not travel in either direction and harbor hop safely and comfortably. Just pick your weather, and your season to minimize your stuck in port days.

You do not need a gigantic expedition boat. You need time to pick your weather. You need to harbor hop because it's a heck of a lot easier to get a one day favorable weather window than a week.

I harbor hopped southbound and loved it. Only once did I get in a bad situation, and that was my fault.

Going North up the Baja can be difficult, as every one has war stories of that trip northbound. But... The baja is different. There are only two all weather anchorages in almost 900 miles. California, Oregon, and Washington are completely different. Similar prevailing southbound winds, but leaving San Diego does not commit you to going all the way to Seattle. It only commits you to the next harbor, and then the next and so on.
Kevin - as you know, like yourself, I'm one of TFs most vocal proponents of going with a modest boat - most any boat can make the trip. The OP question had two pieces of information that led me to a different recommendation than my normal "mind the weather, take your time, and have a good time."

First, the OP doesn't have a boat and asked about the largest boat a couple can comfortably handle.

Second, OP wants to "commute" between the two locations. I made the assumption that he doesn't want to spend weeks hopscotching down the coast waiting for weather. There's only so much to do in Coos Bay and I doubt it needs to be a twice per year stop for an unspecified period. A larger, more robust boat can make the trip much more expeditiously and reliably from a time perspective.

To me, OPs question is a bit different than the standard question about cruising a boat. I will use myself as an example. We have gone quite a ways on our 36 foot Willard. But headed up the Caribbean next year will be a stretch and could easily mean a wait of well over a month for a suitable weather window. That's fine because she's the perfect boat for our ultimate use in Florida. But if we were going to make that type of trip regularly, would be unacceptable to have to be so ultra careful about weather.

Peter
 
Kevin - as you know, like yourself, I'm one of TFs most vocal proponents of going with a modest boat - most any boat can make the trip. The OP question had two pieces of information that led me to a different recommendation than my normal "mind the weather, take your time, and have a good time."

First, the OP doesn't have a boat and asked about the largest boat a couple can comfortably handle.

Second, OP wants to "commute" between the two locations. I made the assumption that he doesn't want to spend weeks hopscotching down the coast waiting for weather. There's only so much to do in Coos Bay and I doubt it needs to be a twice per year stop for an unspecified period. A larger, more robust boat can make the trip much more expeditiously and reliably from a time perspective.

To me, OPs question is a bit different than the standard question about cruising a boat. I will use myself as an example. We have gone quite a ways on our 36 foot Willard. But headed up the Caribbean next year will be a stretch and could easily mean a wait of well over a month for a suitable weather window. That's fine because she's the perfect boat for our ultimate use in Florida. But if we were going to make that type of trip regularly, would be unacceptable to have to be so ultra careful about weather.

Peter
I understand completely my friend. Your reasoning is completely sound. Your adventures in your Willard are a prime example of the "go now" mentality that we both advocate for.

If I had more robust budget my Bayliner would not be my first choice.
But... I'm under way this morning in the Sea of Cortez, not sitting in my old office at work watching others adventures on youtube dreaming of the day.
 
I’m an offshore vet who has made many ocean passages, but on sailboats. I am looking at making the switch to a trawler, and while I feel qualified to choose the right boat if I only do a yearly Seattle to Alaska run, I have limited trawler knowledge when it comes to crossing oceans (2 years of Puget Sound cruising with a North Pacific 36).

My question for the group is, how reasonable is it to head south in the late fall and then back north in late spring? I am doubtful about the practicalities of this…I would not do this in my 40’ sailboat, as the voyage from San Diego back to Seattle is pretty miserable. Can anyone here with West Coast voyaging comment on how large a boat is optimum for a couple, and what kind of stabilization is best?
Some years ago we were under contract on a nice Nordhavn berthed in San Diego. The boat was jointly owned by two brothers who for 3 years had done the SD to AK round trip. They decided this annual pilgrimage was too much stress given weather delays and they did not enjoy SoCal cruising on a slow boat. Thus they put the vessel up for sale and were looking for a smaller vessel that could easily cruise at 12 knots or so.

Having done the west coast myself years ago I could understand their reluctance to do this trip as a yearly pilgrimage.

Your post would be a bit easier to answer if your budget, mechanical skills, free time and anticipated cruising years in front of you were known. In any event, good luck and walk lots of docks.
 
Budget is fluid...$500-800K for a full time liveaboard. I'm retired, my wife is still working, so she will need workspace and communication gear. She will work while underway in Puget Sound - Alaska waters, but not while on open waters on the West Coast. I'm very mechanical, and have fixed just about everything you can repair on a boat. I expect that I have about 6-8 cruising years left in me.
 
No first hand knowledge but a lot of second hand from asking the same question (I'm in San Diego) - I'm sure more knowledgable folks will chime in. As (it sounds like) you know, the passage north from SD to Seattle is one of the more serious coastal passages out there given the paucity of safe harbors & thousands and thousands of miles of fetch. I met a guy who had done it several times with a family of five in a big new-ish Nordhavn (60-something, fin stabilized).

I'd look seriously at a two-boat solution instead - I suspect you could pay for two conformable coastal cruisers for the price of a boat fit for that repeated passage. You'll be paying $5-10k each way just in fuel, and multiples of that for everything else.

There's a really good, obsessively detailed youtube series that outlines the journey and necessary preparations:
Thanks for the thoughts and the YouTube link. We have thought about the 2-boat path. At this point I need to get our sailboat sold.
 
I don’t think it’s realistic for most people. It’s a lot of offshore miles, and the northbound trip is against prevailing weather.

If you and your spouse both love passagemaking, embrace the inevitable rough days underway, and have fun with the periodic weather/mechanical delays wherever they occur, you might be able to pull it off. But most of those people end up wanting to see new places and don’t just go up and down the west coast.

My experience is the southbound trip is great, filled with improving weather and following seas. I did the northbound Sea of Cortez-Ensenada “bash” in February and it wasn’t nearly as fun, partially because my wife didn’t want to do it, partially because it was against the weather, and partially because it got colder every day! I’m not looking forward to the rest of the bash up to the PNW, and I can’t imagine doing it every year for pleasure. There’s a reason sailboats often get to WA/BC/AK from Mexico via Hawaii!
I've done lots of offshore passage making in sailboats, but not in a trawler. There was a Nordhavn rendezvous here in the Puget Sound, and I talked to a few of them. As expected, a few had done the passage, and none of them enjoyed it. None of them plans to do it again for all the expected reasons.
 
Coming up the coast can be a crap-shoot any time of the year. We came up in a 42 Uniflite capable of 28 Knts, with twin 550 hp Cummins, but ran mostly about 18. Some days were brutal some not. Sat a week in Ft Bragg, Couple in Morrow bay. This was in August. I don't advise running at night. There are things out there that at the least will go bump. Whales, containers, logs. W stopped each day for the night, fueled, and asessed the boat. You will also want to set a watch for checking your mechanicals, as stuff happens.
 
From San Diego to Seattle you will find safe harbors at a maximum distance of about 100NM, with most distances roughly half of that.
From Pt. Conception to Cape Flattery, I would not say there are 'safe' harbors every 100 miles. There are harbors, but many/most are easy to enter only in good weather. Some are impassible even in moderately bad weather. To harbor hop, you have to wait for good weather, and believe and trust in the forecast.
 
You will also need to get the harbor bar reports from the uscg.
 
From Pt. Conception to Cape Flattery, I would not say there are 'safe' harbors every 100 miles. There are harbors, but many/most are easy to enter only in good weather. Some are impassible even in moderately bad weather. To harbor hop, you have to wait for good weather, and believe and trust in the forecast.
Actually most of the way there are safe harbors ever 50 miles or so, I just chose 100 as a round number, a maximum.

This is recreational boating. Going from harbor to harbor means picking good weather days, and timing the tides properly.

Trusting in tomorrows forecast is a pretty good bet. The problem comes in when people pick marginal weather and get caught be a weather system that did not deteriorate or move as quickly as they wanted it to. Rarely does bad weather come in early, but it often sticks around a day or so longer than anticipated.

My opinion remains, and this goes for anywhere along any coastline. Recreational boaters have the ability to only travel on good weather days. We, myself included, get into trouble when we let other factors pressure us into bad decisions.

So many here on TF post from the standpoint of being delivery captains, and I would argue that they are not thinking as recreational boaters, because they have different pressures. I respect their experience but they tend to look at things as professionals, a world of difference from a cruiser.

First a delivery captain chooses safe or unsafe as a go no go criteria. Recreational boaters should choose comfortable or uncomfortable as their criteria, a much more conservative standard.

Second a delivery captain has external pressure to get the boat moved, and that pressure influences their decisions. A cruiser has a vague plan of getting somewhere but how long it takes is unimportant. They have no place better to be.

Every time I have had my butt kicked on the ocean, every time, has been because I let a external factor pressure me into a decision I regretted later.
 
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Actually most of the way there are safe harbors ever 50 miles or so, I just chose 100 as a round number, a maximum.

This is recreational boating. Going from harbor to harbor means picking good weather days, and timing the tides properly.

Trusting in tomorrows forecast is a pretty good bet. The problem comes in when people pick marginal weather and get caught be a weather system that did not deteriorate or move as quickly as they wanted it to. Rarely does bad weather come in early, but it often sticks around a day or so longer than anticipated.

My opinion remains, and this goes for anywhere along any coastline. Recreational boaters have the ability to only travel on good weather days. We, myself included, get into trouble when we let other factors pressure us into bad decisions.

So many here on TF post from the standpoint of being delivery captains, and I would argue that they are not thinking as recreational boaters, because they have different pressures. I respect their experience but they tend to look at things as professionals, a world of difference from a cruiser.

First a delivery captain chooses safe or unsafe as a go no go criteria. Recreational boaters should choose comfortable or uncomfortable as their criteria, a much more conservative standard.

Second a delivery captain has external pressure to get the boat moved, and that pressure influences their decisions. A cruiser has a vague plan of getting somewhere but how long it takes is unimportant. They have no place better to be.

Every time I have had my butt kicked on the ocean, every time, has been because I let a external factor pressure me into a decision I regretted later.
I agree with the generalization of 100 miles. Morro Bay/Port San Luis yo Monterey is about 100 miles. Monterrey to pillar point is around 70 miles. San Francisco requires a hefty diversion to get in to. Sure there are stretches between harbors that are much less, but there are a couple that are not. You have to plan for them.

As far as using delivery experience as a yardstick that isn't wholly transferable to recreational trekking, I understand the point but will push back a bit. Makes perfect sense to take your time, be ultra careful with the weather, etc. Its how Cheryll and I did only 2500 miles in 6-months fo cruising. For comparison, the last time I did the same route as a delivery skipper, I made it from Dana Point to Panama Canal in 14-days, roughly 3000 miles.

The OP wants to reposition his boat 1000+ miles twice a year. Maybe the first time is a fun run where you stop all over, but that takes many weeks - will quickly become a delivery. External factors for a delivery? I can think of no factor more pressing than wanting to travel in daylight hours only. It's just not realistic and in my opinion, it's less safe than running at night when the weather is decent. From a safety perspective it makes little sense to arrive at a bar entrance in the afternoon when the winds are highest. During the summer months, winds die down dramatically at night. Smoothest part of the day. I personally believe there are very strong safety/comfort reasons to run 24/7 (weather permitting). Making nightly stops for personal reasons is a choice, and may be needed for a short handed crew, but to say it's inherently safer is not how I see it. If you want to stop and see a certain port, great. Makes perfect sense - this is where a delivery differs substantially. But in my opinion, on this coast, the safest way to make your way north is to run when the weather permits - and not stop until the weather stops cooperating. The exception would be short handed crew who for whatever reason cannot run 24/7.

Peter
 
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I agree with the generalization of 100 miles. Morro Bay/Port San Luis yo Monterey is about 100 miles. Monterrey to pillar point is around 70 miles. San Francisco requires a hefty diversion to get in to. Sure there are stretches between harbors that are much less, but there are a couple that are not. You have to plan for them.

As far as using delivery experience as a yardstick that isn't wholly transferable to recreational trekking, I understand the point but will push back a bit. Makes perfect sense to take your time, be ultra careful with the weather, etc. Its how Cheryll and I did only 2500 miles in 6-months fo cruising. For comparison, the last time I did the same route as a delivery skipper, I made it from Dana Point to Panama Canal in 14-days, roughly 3000 miles.

The OP wants to reposition his boat 1000+ miles twice a year. Maybe the first time is a fun run where you stop all over, but that takes many weeks - will quickly become a delivery. External factors for a delivery? I can think of no factor more pressing than wanting to travel in daylight hours only. It's just not realistic and in my opinion, it's less safe than running at night when the weather is decent. From a safety perspective it makes little sense to arrive at a bar entrance in the afternoon when the winds are highest. During the summer months, winds die down dramatically at night. Smoothest part of the day. I personally believe there are very strong safety/comfort reasons to run 24/7 (weather permitting). Making nightly stops for personal reasons is a choice, and may be needed for a short handed crew, but to say it's inherently safer is not how I see it. If you want to stop and see a certain port, great. Makes perfect sense - this is where a delivery differs substantially. But in my opinion, on this coast, the safest way to make your way north is to run when the weather permits - and not stop until the weather stops cooperating. The exception would be short handed crew who for whatever reason cannot run 24/7.

Peter
Wonderful prospective as normal Peter.

Every cruiser is different I suppose. you like to run 24X7 and Vicky is just not comfortable doing that, so we choose daylight cruising.

Hmmm external influences I suppose.
 
Wonderful prospective as normal Peter.

Every cruiser is different I suppose. you like to run 24X7 and Vicky is just not comfortable doing that, so we choose daylight cruising.

Hmmm external influences I suppose.
You also have a faster boat, so the maximum distance you can cover in daylight if necessary is higher.
 
Wonderful prospective as normal Peter.

Every cruiser is different I suppose. you like to run 24X7 and Vicky is just not comfortable doing that, so we choose daylight cruising.

Hmmm external influences I suppose.
Understood. No way Cheryll would do it northbound.

I made a mistake 20-ish years ago. Cheryll and I took a month off from work and brought Weebles from San Francisco to the Channel Islands, close to 3500 miles. It was September/October so weather was beautiful and we ran nonstop from Monterey to channel islands, maybe 240 miles. 40-ish hours. Cheryll got tired and frankly a bit afraid of the dark. She was mad as a hornet (I hid the sharp objects). Lesson learned.....

So when we brought Weebles from San francisco to Ensenada, we added a third crew - a good friend. Weather was beautiful (late September again) and we did the 500 mile run nonstop in 3-days. It was a lot of fun.

We also hopped a ride with another cruiser from Chiapas to Costa Rica, another 500 mile run with two couples. Weather was nice and we also had a great time.

On our way down, we've done a handful of overnight runs and it's gone just fine, but we don't make a habit of them. I thank goodness for Cheryll - if it were me. If just keep going and not stop. Frankly, I do like running 24/7 - I'm hardwired to just keep going - sort of a delivery skipper DNA. So having Cheryll has been perfect for me. It's been a lot of fun so far.

Moral(s) of the story: waiting for weather makes all the difference in the world. And having at least three people on board also makes it much nicer.

And I no longer need to hide the sharp objects....

Peter
 
I would like to throw in my two cents. I have also made the trip both ways up & down the west coast several times over the last 50 years as a captain on vessels under 100 tons & I agree with what every one is telling you, they all speak the truth. However, I have developed one key bias based on those experiences, and that is to have the right designed vessel under you makes a huge difference.

I would recommend that you go with a 36+ to 60 foot "full displacement diesel trawler" design. Any trawler type boat can do the trip, if weather is perfect, but I have found the full displacement design just does it better, in my humble opinion. Not as fast, but handles the seas on a trip like this with aplomb.

Now I am not sure of your budget, (selling your sail boat, now is a good time to do that) as bigger boats get real expensive in every way very quick.
(we all would love the Norhaven 57 or 63, or possibly the KK-54 or maybe KK-58, etc.- but often we can not afford it) . Hence, we often find we need to compromise to a vessel in the 40 to 50-foot range sizing that are full displacement vessels & the costs are more manageable.
.
But to give you an example on a more modest scale:, I have a Kadey-Krogen 42 full displacement single engine diesel trawler & it does this type of trip well, as it was designed for open ocean passage-making.
That will allow you to cruise comfortably at 6 to 8 knots & with a single engine it is more economical & usually that design has the prop protected by the keel & a watch birth in the pilot house. So running 24 / 7 is easier to do.

I used to live in San Diego, & now live up in the Ventura / Oxnard / Camarillo - Southern California area near by the Awesome "Channel Islands National Park". -- I have found there is still lots of great boating - (sail or power) - up here in the C.I.N.P. area & still a lot more to do here in the over all Southern California waters than just going to Catalina, (which is still fun & also not to far away).
When I was doing my sailing from San Diego to Catalina I found due to schedule at work I only had weekends & found it can be a course of sailing right in to the teeth of the usual winds so tacking was needed & transit time were significantly increased & it can some times be an up hill slog. But docking your vessel up in Santa Barbara, Ventura, Channel Islands Harbor or Marian Del Ray, Dana Point, etc. is an easier run to the channel islands than it was from San Diego.

I would be happy to meet with you, if your interested & If you want you do the drive up the 200 miles north bound up the 5 to the 101.
I'd be happy to give you a tour of my boat & show you some key system & explain the difference between a full displacement trawler & a semi displacement trawler & sail boat for your education. You can bring your wife to show her the galley & watch birth, & see the other amenities, etc.

You can message me through the TF.

Good luck with your boating dreams.
Alfa Mike
 

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