We arrived at the dock in Eureka at 8am, very tired. On the way in we dropped a fender in the water and had to circle back to get it, another sign of tired minds. After docking we felt hungry so we ate lunch and then to settle our minds we watched a movie. At 12pm we went to bed and, as our shifts were four hours on four hours off, we awoke at 4pm, thinking it was morning. We were not allowed off the boat until Monday, two days away. But to be honest we were just happy staying on the boat. We still felt raw and tender, and holing up for a couple of days didn’t sound so bad. Then I decided to attack the leaking toilet.
What a mess! Fixing a broken head is like a rite of passage for sailors. Everybody has a story or two about some catastrophe involving these little bastards. The details are inexpressible, but suffice it to say that the plumbing in this head was original. We had purchased a rebuild kit, complete with all the gaskets and associated parts we would need. It wasn’t until everything was disassembled that I realized we did not have replacement hoses. The original hoses would never go back on. I took everything out in a bucket and left it in on the dock to soak in bleach and consider what it had done. Now we didn’t have a toilet, so the rest of the weekend was spent in covert operations off the dock to use the marina’s facilities.
I was worried the customs agent would be suspicious if he saw our toilet on the dock. He might ask the obvious question, “So how did you….you know…you know?” And I would lie and say we used the sink or plastic bags or something equally disgusting, or I’d crack under the pressure and collapse on the floor divulging everything. Rather than risk the interrogation, I carefully put everything back in place Sunday night. It was a delicate balancing act and one heavy footfall, or the passing wake of a boat risked a cascade of commode parts. In the end, the customs agent didn’t even come inside our boat, but was happy to stay in the cockpit and tell fascinating stories about his days working the border in San Diego. The complex system and various means used to transport contraband across the border made my toilet deception look downright ridiculous. The customs agent probably knew just by looking at my sweat-drenched forehead, but was too polite to say anything. And really what would have been the problem? Was he really going to prosecute us?
“Did you take your toilet apart and then try to fake putting it back together so I wouldn’t know you used the marina bathroom?”
“No…uhhh…we held it.”
“For two days?”
“Uhhh…I guess so.”
“So, you probably wouldn’t want me to tickle you right now, would you? Here comes the tickle monster…he’s gonna getcha.”
“Oh God stop, stop…ok ok we used the marina bathroom, just please, eeehehehe…for God’s sake stop tickling me.”
But as I mentioned before, he didn’t ask.
Eureka is a weird town. Twenty-five percent of the population is below the poverty line. This is contrasted by massive Victorian-style architecture that was favored by the lumber barons in the early decades of the 1900s. It has been said that Eureka has the best examples of Victorian mansions of anywhere in the United States, but most of Eureka’s inhabitants seemed to live under them, rather than in them. But everybody we met was friendly and welcoming and in the end we were sorry to leave such a nice place.
Another benefit to stopping in Eureka was that we were able to visit the redwoods. An hour North or South brings one to one of the largest stands of old growth redwood forest in California. We decided to hike around for a day and experience the enormity of these giants. It was impossible to get information from the tourist centre on how to access the parks or even how to get to them, so we were on our own. The town we headed for, which appeared to be smack dab in the middle of Humboldt Redwood State Park, called Weott, had actually been washed out in 1964. The Eel River had crested 30’ above the town’s main street. When the flood waters subsided there was nothing left of the town at all. I’d suggest the update their maps.
Not knowing this, we got off the bus at Weott and wandered around looking for signs of…well…anything. A sign, partially overgrown, located in a dusty pull-off, mentioned, in a casual way, the devastation of 1964. “Look for evidence of the old sidewalks,” it playfully suggested. Another sign pointed us down a beautiful winding road towards a visitor centre. A two mile walk through old-growth redwoods brought us to where we wanted to be.
As with most parks in the United States, the visitor centre was beautiful and totally interesting. One of the more interesting stories it told was of a man named Charles Kellogg. He found at a young age that he could imitate bird calls very well with his voice. In fact, it was later discovered that he could produce sounds in the 14000 Hz range. As a reference point, the human voice normally operates around 4000 Hz. He became so proficient and popular that he went on tour and was one of the leading recording artists of the day, circa 1930. He was concerned about the logging of the redwoods so he hollowed out a 12’ section of one large tree that had been recently felled and put it on a truck frame. He drove around the country in his “Travel-log” promoting forest conservation and singing bird songs. He was a well-respected naturalist and friend of Charles Lyall and John Muir, but he preferred being in the forest above all things.
After a week and half in the Eureka area we set sail again for San Francisco. The 250 mile sail down the coast was reasonably easy. Cape Mendocino had been cautioned to us, but we passed it without incident. We approached San Francisco under a blanket of fog, which started to lift as we passed under the Golden Gate Bridge.
San Francisco had been our only real destination since leaving the yard. We had been trying so hard to get down the coast before the end of September that everything had felt rushed. And now we had made it and it felt wonderful. We took about 100 pictures of the bridge as we went under it and pictures of ourselves with the bridge in the background and pictures of other boats in the bay and pictures of everything that we could think of, such was our excitement and wish to capture the feeling of having finally made it.
We headed for the Golden Gate Yacht Club, 35th Defender of the America’s Cup, where we would berth for the next three nights. As we approached the marina, the engine made a horrible screeching sound and smoke billowed from the engine room. Stunned, we stood there looking stupid for a second. The sound got worse and more smoke. We shut down the engine and pulled out the headsail. The entrance was too narrow to navigate in the headwind so we turned back. We watched the dock, the slip, our destination, recede as we headed out into the bay. We were so close…so close…