Trouble At Cape Mendocino

The buoys at Cape Mendocino 460244, 46022 and 460213 are now back in service. There is NO other data for winds or waves from right near The Cape. Even if one or more of them should be put back in service, the record over the past few years is not reassuring, as one or more have often been out of service.

The reason for the out of service issues includes, going adrift, failing to transmit, being shot at, and taken out of service for lack of funds. Mostly going adrift, which has taken a year or more to get back in service. The weather is very bad around The Cape and putting a buoy back in service generally requires calm weather to do the job.

There are NO wind gauges near The Cape. The nearest ones are back behind the hills or 25 miles north up the coast, or 35 miles south back at Shelter Cove. None of these are useful because, contrary to most folk's notions, The Cape has it's own weather which is often at total variance to conditions further north, or even just below Punta Gorda and back down to Shelter Cove. In other words, you can sneak up the coast to right near Gorda Rock and suddenly discover that it is blowing 50 knots or more, but calm all the way back from Shelter Cove. And, calm in Eureka, less than 30 miles north of The Cape.

Cell phone coverage is non existent from about Ell River south around The Cape at least as far as Shelter Cove. This is a distance of about 50 miles. Cell phone coverage from Shelter Cove south is spotty until at least Westport, about 30 more miles south of Shelter Cove.

The weather radio channel #2 can be diffcult to hear if you are south of The Cape and near the coast line at Punta Gorda. The buoy reports, when they are available, are only repeated about twice an hour and are updated once an hour about 15 minutes after the hour.

If you cannot get around The Cape, then the nearest anchorage is at Shelter Cove which is 35 miles from The Cape. If you go up to Punta Gorda and get out in the open and cannot proceed, it is a 50 mile round trip back to the Cove and then back to Punta Gorda. The nearest harbor south of The Cape is Ft. Bragg, and it is about 40 miles south of The Cove. You want to think about these distances if you ever have to retreat from The Cape.

I once ran across a yachtsman with a 48 foot twin engine Offshore, who had been up to The Cape three times and had turned back each time. He was sitting in Ft. Bragg and had sent his crew home. We had a sister ship and by running up to Punta Gorda and arriving at grey light, we managed to get past The Cape the next morning. But, note this: if we had been 30 minutes late we would not have made it. The wind was climbing to 35 knots just as we got up next to The Cape and had been calm all the way up. To use this kind of trick you need a fast boat and have to be darn sure in your mind that it will be calm for at least 45 minutes, right after daybreak.

Resources and the lack therof at Shelter Cove and at Ft. Bragg.

Shelter Cove has a gas station up on the road, but no diesel and no fuel dock. There is an airstrip but daylight only and not if there is fog. The alternate landing is at Garberville about 30 miles inland, but there is no taxi service there. A dinghy may be required to get personel from the launch ramp to a boat anchored in The Cove.

Ft. Bragg (also known as Noyo River) has no fuel dock from the main boat basin all the way out to sea. There is gas and diesel at the skiff mooring area about 1/2 mile above the main boat basin. They have gas and diesel, but can only be gotten to by boats under about 50' in length with shallow draft and maybe at high tide. Diesel and maybe gasoline can be purchased from a fuel truck that you have ask for, and can be pumped to you from a couple of docks inside the river.

Ft. Bragg does not have an airstrip, the nearest is at Little River about 10 miles south, daylight only and no fog. The alternate is near Willits about 50 miles inland; no taxi, a bus maybe once a day.

There is Sonoma County bus service once a day from Willits to Ft. Bragg but not Shelter Cove. The AMTRAK bus should be in Willits in time for this bus. If you use the Sonoma County Airport Express you can catch a ride from Oakland or SFO to this bus.

The nearest airports with regular commercial service to them are at: Eureka, Coos Bay, Redding, Medford, Oakland, Sacramento, etc. London England(?). This area is really hard to get too. To get to Redding from Portland or Seattle, requires a multistop trip that may include Phoenix AZ. An automobile ride from Redding is another 4 hours or so.

AMTRAK has train/bus connected service out of Emeryville or Antioch transferring at Martinez and then a six hour ride to Eureka; with stops at Willits and Garberville. You know about the situation at these two locations from the information above. Be WARNED: you cannot buy a ticket from Martinez north on US 101 to Eureka or points in between. You have to have a ticket on the train first. You may be able to use the bus, if you have a ticket with a train portion, even if you did not actually get on the train(I do not know if this is true, and have not verified this). But, you cannot BUY a bus ticket without a train portion. This also is true in reverse if you want to go from Eureka to Martinez, you have to add some train portion onto it. This strange fact is related to a lawsuit that Greyhound brought against AMTRAK some years ago, but Greyhound no longer has a bus on 101 anyway. Don't think about this very hard, it might hurt your brain.

There are generally no one way car rentals out of Eureka, Crescent City, Ft. Bragg, or any of the other smaller towns in the area. And, that includes dropping a rental off in these places.


It takes about 16 hours to drive from Portland to Ft. Bragg and I recall an owner who brought us a generator set from Seattle on Memorial weekend and it litteraly took him 24 hours. Getting in or out of Ft. Bragg by car is an agonizingly slow affair. And what do you do with car when you get there or where do you get a car to drive out with. The only solution to that is to have someone drive the car back. I have friends who will come pick me up at the nearest airport and then we drive to Ft. Bragg or The Cove, where they drive the car back.

Commercial airline flights via United Express are available to Eureka and Crescent City. But service from the bay area to Ft. Bragg and Eureka is ok, but none of this applies if you are coming or going to Portland, Seattle(the NW).

Having accurate information as to the conditions around The Cape, both at present or the near past is now almost impossible. The only useful guides are some of the weather models, but that does not solve the problem of knowing the exact timing to use to make the rounding.

Shelter Cove is the nearest anchorage that is generally safe, but not if the swell is from the west or south. Frankly as for myself, I have decided that if I get near The Cape/Punta Gorda and the swell is low enough and safe, I am going to anchor in one of a few places that I have scouted out over the years, that have uncharted sand bottoms, between The Cape and Punta Gorda, and wait for the wind to die. I have done this before and have decided that I will do it again. If you have to anchor in rock, like in this area, you need to have a line attached to the crown so you can pull the anchor out backwards, if it gets stuck.

Minor Issues

Tsunami events and damage in the marinas. Ft. Bragg had serious damage from the Japanese Earthquake of March 2011. It will not be repaired until August 2014. It could happen again and it would be almost impossible to get back to Ft. Bragg in time to take a yacht, that had been left there, to sea to protect it from such damage. I had a client's boat in Crescent City during the event caused by the Kuril Islands Earthquake (2006). The harbor was badly damaged, but my client's boat was deep inside the inner basin and luckily was not damaged. Crescent City had a minor one in April 25, 1992 caused by a 7.1 quake off The Cape, the harbor has had 31 minor to major such events from 1933-2008.

Earthquaks: even minor ones could change the water levels over any rocks in the vicinity of Cape Mendocino. A major one could result in changes like those in Prince William Sound in Alaska, where the bottom uplifted in some places by 35 feet and much of The Sound has not been re-surveyed since or charts updated.


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