Home > Humboldt Bay > GOOD READ: Night Crossings

GOOD READ: Night Crossings

Unpredictable.  Freakish.  Deadly.

Mariners at the mouth of Humboldt Bay have witnessed calm, glassy waters turn violent with no warning. Others saw the warnings but overestimated their ability to navigate the waves.

The stories in Jon Humboldt Gates’ book Night Crossings will have you clutching your life jacket and feeling humbled before the awesome power of the Pacific.

Night Crossings is the first pick for the Humboldt Herald book club.  Did you read it?  Got any harrowing stories of your own about crossing the bar?  Hell, just watching the waves from the jetty can be enough to have you running for your life, as recounted in the book’s introduction.

On the fun side, the book served as inspiration for a 2007 sand sculpture in the annual festival hosted by Friends of the Dunes.  Hit the link and scroll about half way down for photos.

  1. Anonymous
    July 15, 2011 at 1:03 am

    I would have gotten this mud
    and rip current book if there was a QR code. Instead, I looked on my Nook and read a book named War and Genocide in Cuba 1895-1898. Make August book of the month something downloadable.

  2. July 15, 2011 at 7:00 am

    The stories are dramatic and enjoyable, and paint a picture of Eureka in earlier days. The early “lifesaving station” sent rescuers out in what sounded like giant rowboats. High school students sailed across the bay to parties, bar pilots wearing ties jumped from tugboats onto dangling ladders hanging off cargo ships.

    Anonymous 1:03, I hadn’t realized words were fungible. To each their own.

  3. Curley
    July 15, 2011 at 7:20 am

    Great read! Everytime I’m out on the Ocean with all of my 21st century doo dads like VHF, GPS, Radar and Sonar I’m humbled by what superb mariners they were in the old days. God – people were tough then!

  4. July 15, 2011 at 7:29 am

    Many local books are probably not available for download. Some readers may limit their reading by such standards but the Humboldt Herald will not condone it.

  5. Ed
    July 15, 2011 at 9:02 am

    After reading this, I’m not going near that bar.

  6. skippy
    July 15, 2011 at 9:12 am

    Our Pacific Ocean is a powerful and deadly place, the vast and mysterious sea bringing fortune, peril, or fate turning in an instant. Night Crossings paints a few chilling stories for the reader comfortably planted on terra firma. Have you stood and watched the fury of our waves and swells pounding the beaches and jetty? Endless sets emerging from the North Pacific landing its flotsam and jetsam aftermath? Seen a sneaker wave rising up out of a calm ocean towering overhead?

    Yours truly has crossed the bar in calmer weather, been bowled over by waves at the jetty, and has sadly known fishermen lost at sea. Everyone has their story to tell. Yours truly remembers the 4 college students venturing out onto the stormy jetty in their VW Beetle before the gate was installed. They were easily swept over the side by the powerful breakers smashing into them. They survived. The Bug did not.

    (On a related note, Lynette has a local history site. She’s posted a nice picture and brief story of Eureka’s waterfront and the 1891 launching of the Ethel Zane 4 masted schooner. Clicking on her picture shows a surprising amount of detail of how familiar our waterfront looks after 120 years.)

  7. walt
    July 15, 2011 at 9:29 am

    I read the book some time ago, and enjoyed it. Reminded me of an adventure I had 42 years ago in warmer, calmer waters.

    A friend of mine and I took his dad’s little sailboat out into the ocean. It was a 14-foot catamarin with a lateen rig sail: one of those little things that are basically a trampoline between two pontoons. As we headed out of the marina, tacking into the wind between the breakwaters, the waves kept breaking on us and driving us back, closer and closer to the breakwater. I turned to my friend and said “This sucks. What do you usually do in a situation like this?” He turned to me, this time with some fear in his eyes, and said “I’ve never had this boat on the ocean!”. Lucky for us, this was Ventura and not Eureka.

    Eventually we made it out into the ocean, and about a mile out the mast fell over. With a lateen rig, the mast is stepped on a crosspiece between the front of the two pontoons, suspended under an aluminum arch. Turned out there was a little pin that came loose, and to put it back in, somebody had to hold the mast in a certain position while another somebody put the pin back in the hole. Holding anything steady standing on an 8 foot-long trampoline out in the ocean was a real challenge, even when I was 16. We were young and foolish, though, and thus indestructible. . .but that was an adventure we never repeated.

  8. tra
    July 15, 2011 at 9:36 am

    I read this book years ago, and was enthralled. I loaned my copy out years ago, but sadly, like so many loaned books, it never came back and I can’t remember who had it. Hopefully it’s been passed on to more readers, and isn’t just collecting dust in some attic.

    I don’t remember whether it was in this book, or in one of the Humboldt Historical Society publications, but the story of how many years and how many different tries it took to establish the North Jetty is amazing. Time and time again, the winter storms wold take the tens of thousands of tons of huge rocks and sweep them away like a child’s sandcastle.

    That, alone, should be a reminder of the tremendous power of the ocean at the harbor entrance, a force of nature not to be trifled with.

    Finally they came up with a certain shape of concrete block, something like a bent lower-case ‘h’ (I think they’re called dolos or something like that) that disperses wave energy better than anything else we’ve come up with, and finally they were able to establish the Jetty and keep the entrance in one place.

    And if you do walk out on either the North or South Jetty, BE CAREFUL and NEVER TURN YOUR BACK ON THE OCEAN. I have a close friend who was hit by a sneaker wave near the end of the South Jetty, swept off the jetty, and barely managed to crawl back up and escape with his life, lacerated and shaken. After hearing his harrowing account, and reading Night Corssings, I just stay the hell off the South Jetty!

  9. Plain Jane
    July 15, 2011 at 10:03 am

    I did the same, Tra, but bought it again to re-read. I loved his story about the “sneaker waves” and can’t visit the beach without being reminded. Knowing some of the people he writes about and remembering the events in which they were involved makes it a more personal experience, but a good read even for people who have never seen our little harbor.

  10. July 15, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    Back in the 70’s I commercial fished a 22′ Oregon Dory. I was ring-netting crab on a flat winter day. When I returned to the bar, it was flat as well. We usually crossed on the south side because it did not develop the breakers that the north side did. But there was a tug and barge coming out so I cut across the North side to go behind it. Just inside the North jetty ny brand new 85 hp Mercury outboard died. I managed to restart it but only for a few seconds, then nothing. The tide was turning and the swell was building. Luckily i managed to wave down a friend, Roger Atkins, who was also returning. He came over to get us and later told me that at one point he was in “full reverse” to keep from sliding down a swell into my boat. We got a line to him and he towed us out of there. By the time we got to the ‘camp grounds on the South jetty, the waves were doing a full “Hawaii 5-o curl right were we had been. It was hair raising but firtunately we lived to tell the tail. As I recall, I gave Roger a nice gift to thank him for saving our lives.
    Night Crossings tells of the hard times on the bar. Thannkfully there are good days too. Always RESPECT that ocean, its power, and what it can do.

  11. Goldie
    July 15, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    Oh please, do keep the stories coming. This past is always whispering in this town. The old bricks, the allies. buildings from before you were born. The bay, the sea and all the people who came before. Please more stories.

  12. July 15, 2011 at 9:49 pm

    Bitten twice by bookclubs—but this sounds like I should hit the library.

    current Humboldt did not show up in TODAY????Tagged onto old stuff.

  13. Anonymous
    July 16, 2011 at 7:17 am

    Maybe next could be Ray Raphael’s Two People One Place.

  14. Decline To State
    July 16, 2011 at 7:24 am

    Ray Raphael AND Freeman House. An excellent, historical accounting.

  15. Julie Timmons
    July 16, 2011 at 10:29 am

    “Night Crossings” is an excellent choice.

  16. Ed
    July 16, 2011 at 11:07 am

    I vote for FUP by Jim Dodge.

  17. Plain Jane
    July 16, 2011 at 11:16 am

    Affordable access to the books selected is hopefully a priority. Some books, Like Raphael’s “Two Peoples, One Place” are hard to find, expensive and we can’t all check it out at the library.

  18. July 16, 2011 at 11:26 am

    Plain Jane–I’ll check stock when I get down there this afternoon, but we usually have NIGHT CROSSINGS in stock at Eureka Books. If it’s local and available, we do our best to get it, no matter how difficult it is to track down. And if we know a group of people will be reading a particular book, we’ll try to stockpile used copies, too.

  19. Plain Jane
    July 16, 2011 at 11:35 am

    Great book store, Amy. But I was referring to Ray Raphael’s “Two Peoples, One Place.” Btw, I loved “Wicked Bugs” and was surprised that it would be so educational and entertaining at the same time. Brava!

  20. Anonymous
    July 16, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    Meanwhile WalMart is coming to town…

  21. Anonymous
    July 16, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    Right, sorry. And Freeman House. Thanks for the correction. I just picked up a cookbook: Alcatraz Women’s Club Cookbook. THink Eureka Books could stop up on those?

  22. July 16, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    Oh man–if we could find it, we’d get it.

    As for Two Peoples–the price on some of these books can be high due to small print runs, but we have them regardless–

  23. Seageezer
    July 16, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    When I first moved to Sunny Brae in 1994, my next door neighbor gave me a copy of Night Crossings as a welcome present. I loved it, and keep lending it to friends — although it seldom seems it come back. I am now on my fourth copy!

    The intro is a great cautionary tale about the power of sneaker waves, and it is always in the back of my mind when I visit the jetty.

    On the minus side, I am a novice sailor, and Night Crossings’ stories are probably a source of my reluctance to venture out of the bay.

    Another good local read is Bedlam on the Slew, by Hortense Lanphere, which chronicles life in and around the Lanphere-Christensen Dunes.

  24. Milt Phegley
    July 18, 2011 at 10:08 am

    The Alcatraz Cookbook has been reprinted and is available at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area gift shop at Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco. Also on their web site at http://store.parksconservancy.org/store/product.asp?cat=6&sub=1&product=775

  25. Milt Phegley
    July 18, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    An excellent history of the efforts to protect Humboldt Bay is part of “Saving California’s Coast: Army Engineers at Oceanside and Humboldt Bay” (Susan Pritchard O’Hara and Gregory Graves; The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1991). O’Hara received a master’s degree in public history in 1986 from the University of California, Santa Barbara; and is a native of Humboldt County.

  26. Susan
    October 27, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    So I absolutely loved Night Crossings. What is the next book for Book Club? I am reading Falk’s Claim now but would love more ideas for great books. Fantastic!

  27. Anonymous
    November 4, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    I Happen to know first hand the Two USCG motor life boat crews that put their lives on the line on the evening of the rescue of the Koala II. An incredible rescue that I will never forget as long as I live. I plan on purchasing three of Jons books Night Crossings, autographing the story of the Koala II, as I was there that night, and giving them to my grown children.

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