The Pacific Northwest Offshore (formerly the Oregon Offshore) is a 193-mile race that starts at the mouth of the Columbia River and normally finishes in Victoria, BC. 

However, in 2021 and 2022, the race finished in Port Angeles due to COVID requirements for entering Canada. The PNW Offshore is not your average weekend sailboat race, especially for a sailboat moored in the Salish Sea. For Nordic Sun II and crew, it was a 10-day, 600-mile round trip adventure, with 270 of those miles spent offshore.  

I have wanted to sail offshore for a long time and purchased Nordic Sun II, a Hylas 44 Mark I, to go offshore cruising when I retired a few years ago. But then the pandemic hit and some other life changes benched the idea of offshore cruising for a few years. It was during Winter Vashon 2021 that I asked some of my long-term racing crew if they were interested in doing the PNW Offshore again. We had all done the race before, in 2004, on the original Nordic Sun, a C&C 39. By doing the offshore, I could test the waters to see if I still wanted to sail off over the horizon. 

To get to the starting line took some boat work and a 300-mile delivery down the coast of Washington, to the Columbia River from Tacoma Washington. I started preparing Nordic Sun II long before the starting gun fired on May 13th.  To get my punch list of boat projects, the first thing I did was to read the Safety Equipment Requirements, commonly call the SER’s, for the race.  

The SERs contained 80 or so different safety requirements that the boat and crew would need to meet, in order to participate in offshore event. From this review, I noted all the things needed to prepare the boat and crew for the race. I will not bore you with a listing of everything I had to tackle to meet the SERs, but I will mention a few things, that I think were noteworthy. 

The first boat item that had to be fixed was my manual cockpit bilge pump. According the SERs my bilge pump could not share a thru-hull fitting with the self-bailing cockpit drains. Therefore, I had to re-plumb where the water from the pump exited the boat. As part of the re-plumbing task, I decided I should test the pump. I had never used it, since my electric bilge pump was working just fine. I’m glad I tested it, because I found it not working properly. The pump was old and was unable to build up enough head pressure to pump the bilge water up and over the anti-syphon loop. I replaced it with a new pump, which had no problem overcoming the head pressure requirements to pump it overboard.    

Have you tested your manual bilge pump lately? If you haven’t, it might be worth a quick test to verify it is in working order. I’m glad I found out my pump didn’t work at the dock, instead of discovering it was not working properly when the boat was sinking.   

Each boat participating in the race also needed to have an Automatic Identification System (AIS). AIS broadcasts your boat’s information, course and speed to others around you via a VHF antenna. This allows other boats with AIS receivers to see you electronically. Lots of times you can see a boat on AIS long before you can actually see them with your eye. I had already installed AIS a few years back in preparing my boat for sailing offshore, but from talking to other racers, they had to install AIS so they could do the race. 

Another requirement for each boat in the offshore race was to have a life raft with a current certification. My boat had a raft, but the certification had expired in 2014. I took it to Marine Safety Services in Seattle to get it re-certified. While dropping it off for certification, I asked them if it would be possible to be on hand when they unpacked and inflated the raft, during the recertification process and they agreed.

It was extremely informative to be there when my raft was unpacked and inflated. They walked my wife and I through all the equipment in the raft. Not only that, but they explained how to board the raft, and use the equipment inside of it. The knowledge I gained during the life raft certification process definitely brought down our anxiety level a notch, should I ever have to deploy the raft. If you ever have to get your raft certified, I recommend you be there when your raft is inflated to inspect it first-hand. 

Nordic Sun II’s life raft getting certified.

Another requirement for sailing offshore is having jacklines. The jacklines consist of two lines, normally webbing, that runs down each side deck from bow to stern. The line is used to keep you and your crew attached to the boat via a tether and harness. If you should fall overboard while being clipped in to a jackline, at least the boat will not sail away without you.

Some boats have a single set of jacklines, one running along each side deck from bow to stern. I decided to put on two extra sets of jacklines on my boat. One set ran along each side of the cockpit and the other ran from each side of the cockpit to the base of the mast.  The ones in the cockpit allowed crew to clip to it before  coming up on deck from below. This allowed them to move around the cockpit without unclipping. The other set ran from each side of the cockpit to the base of the mast, so it was more inboard than the other deck jackline that ran the length of the boat. Being more inboard meant it was virtually impossible to fall overboard, while being clipped to this jackline. The crew was glad for these extra short jacklines to the mast, especially when we had to put in a second reef in 30+ knots of wind and big seas during the race.

The author on deck showing jackline position.

Another requirement to participate in this event was to have an emergency rudder. As luck would have it, my boat came with a monitor windvane and a MRUD emergency rudder which could replace the self-steering water paddle. We mounted the monitor windvane and MRUD to the boat prior to leaving Tacoma, so it was ready to deploy should we need it. 

Nordic Sun II’s Monitor Wind vane and emergency rudder.

The last SER item worth mentioning was the requirement that one-third of the crew take the US Sailings Safety at Sea course Part 1.  The requirement meant myself and at least one other crew member needed to take the course. The course reinforced some of what I already knew about being safe on a boat. Additionally, it covered a number of other things I had never considered. The course contains 10 different units that cover topics like, lending assistance, communication, cold water exposure, safety equipment, signaling, and marine weather to name a few. If you are contemplating going offshore, or just want to be safer at sea, regardless of where you sail, I would recommend taking this course. I am now considering taking Part 2 of this course before my next trek offshore. 

With all the SERs requirements completed, one crew member and I left Tacoma Yacht Club heading for Columbia River. We departed six days before the race was supposed to start. The first day we motored to Port Townsend, then on the second day we continued on to Port Angeles (PA), where we picked up two more crew members.   

Leg two of our delivery from Port Townsend to PA started out as a motor. But then the wind blew in from Pacific Ocean, so we rolled out the headsail and started beating while the wind steadily rose. The farther we sailed the more it blew, and the bigger the waves got. Eventually we shortened sail by rolling in the headsail a several feet.  

With the increased winds, the sea state was starting to have big breaking waves. The bow was diving under the big waves often, sometimes so far that the boat would scoop up a ton of green seawater. So much so, that a wave of seawater, 1 foot high or more would rush down the deck, down the cabin top and then right up over the dodger. It was a rough, wet slough as we sailed toward our destination.  It was so nasty that it made me wonder why I was putting myself through this self-imposed torture treatment.  It was like riding the last part of the Splash Mountain roller coaster ride, at Disneyland, over and over again.    

Eventually we tack and were heading straight for PA.  When we were out a mile or more from our destination the roller furler line broke.  This caused the head sail to roll out. The additional sail caused us to be slightly overpowered, for final stretch to PA. We were glad when we cleared Edez Hook, at the entrance to Port Angeles’s harbor. This allowed us to lower the headsail in relatively calm waters 

It was a good thing I was meeting a couple of other delivery crew in PA, because that meant I had a car at my disposal. After we topped off the fuel tanks with diesel, the crew member with the car drove me to West Marine in Port Townsend to buy a new furler line. We spent the night in PA, licking our wounds, replacing the parted line and doing a few other boat tasks. We were now ready to sail the boat down the coast of Washington.

The next morning at 6 am we headed out of PA toward the Pacific Ocean and our offshore delivery leg of this sailing adventure.  We motored against the headwinds and incoming waves as we worked our way toward Neah Bay.  On our AIS we could see two other offshore participants, Equilibrium and Gone with the Wind gaining on us from behind. They both passed us just prior to making the big left-hand turn around Tatoosh Island. As each boat turned the corner sails went up. We were all beam reaching down the coast. I would say the race was on, but we only rolled out our headsail, since our plan was to catch the incoming tide at the Columbia River on Tuesday morning and it was only Sunday evening. 

As we sailed close to the shoreline, we could see the surf pounding the rock infested Washington coast. As the light of day slowly disappeared below the Pacific Ocean horizon, the temperature rapidly cooled. It was time to break up the crew into two shifts of two. Each shift spending three hours on deck, and three below, every six hours.  

We kept a sharp eye out for ship traffic and watched a few AIS targets pop up. Not all boats have AIS, therefore we had to be diligent  keeping a constant lookout for those non-AIS enabled boats, moving along the Washington coast.

It seems the work boats, crabbers I assumed, were the ones without AIS. It would have been nice if these work boats had AIS, but at least they were all lit up with their deck lights shining. The bright illuminating work lights made them very easy to spot, but did make it hard to tell how far off they really were. 

We spent two nights at sea and sailed all the way to the entrance of the Columbia River.  The sail was totally uneventful, which was a blessing after our experience sailing to Port Angeles. We arrived at the mouth of the river just as the sun was coming up. The bar was benign, as we motored across. By 7:15 a.m., just over 48 hours after leaving PA we were safely tied to the Ilwaco Marina dock.  

Entering the Columbia River at sunrise.

The first half of our offshore adventure was now in the books. I was glad I spent the time, effort and money to prepare Nordic Sun II for the race. It was an enjoyable delivery to the Columbia River from the Salish Sea. 

Read about Nordic Sun II’s PNW Offshore Race in the June issue of 48° North