San Miguel Island
On the morning of departure from Half Moon bay, I woke up not able to even see the neighboring boats a few hundred feet away, the fog was so thick, so I settled back to wait for the afternoon sun to burn off the incredibly thick mist, as it always did farther north in Alaska and Canada. However by 1 pm the fog had moved just outside the harbor but still showed no signs of abating, so I decided to up anchor and investigate how thick this fog really was and if it was worth trying to push through. However, less than half a mile outside of the breakwater Darwind and I were enveloped in a thick blinding fog, full of the sounds and occasional looming shadows of sport fishing boats, so I decided to turn back before luck ran out and we ended up on a collision course with one of these invisible hazards.
Just as we were approaching the breakwater again though, we suddenly sailed straight out of the fog bank into the bright sunlight, so I turned around again, this time paralleling the edge of the bank on a west-southwest course out t sea, eventually curving around to the south and south-southeast as the fog thinned and eventually disappeared completely 10-15 nautical miles offshore. The rest of the day passed almost without event , with a perfect, steady 10-15 knot breeze over the quarter. However the whales I had sighted outside of san Francisco returned, and at one point I dashed up on deck in the middle of making lunch when I heard an incredibly loud spout, and saw two humpback whales pass either side of the boat, barely 20 feet away! I was deeply shaken by the close encounter, thinking again and again about what one of those leviathans could unwittingly do to my thin fiberglass shell, if it happened to bump into it a bit to hard or flick its tail jut a few feet too close! Only after the initial shock was I able to really appreciate how special the experience was to have been so close to such massive and beautiful creatures, and then I almost wanted it to happen again so I could better appreciate the moment!
|Close encounter with a humpback|
|Numerous daily visits by dolphin en route to San Miguel Island|
At last, we surfed around the point and swung around into the lee, where the swell died quickly, but the wind continued to gust just as strongly or even stronger over a narrow, steep, peninsula. Eventually, the lights of half a dozen boats moored in the anchorage of Cuyler Harbor came into sight, among them, my friends from Neah Bay aboard Mamaku. Eventually I managed to claw my way up into the teeth of hat was now a moderate gale into water shallow enough to drop the hook, and put out all of my chain before lashing the sails down as well as possible in the howling wind, and hunkering down below for a sleepless night watching the gps to check if the anchor was holding and trying to ignore the howling of the wind in the rigging and the incessant scream of the wind turbine.
In the morning, only Darwind and Mamaku remained tugging at their anchor chains, in what turned out be an incredibly beautiful bay, with tall cliffs, a long, white sandy beach, and even three tall, solitary palm trees. That day, Harry, Sarah and Jonty picked me up on their dinghy (my little packraft would have been useless in that much wind) and we went ashore to bask in the beautiful sandy beaches, take a short hike to the ranger statin on the center of the island’s flat plateau, and eventually back to their boat for some delicious curry made with mussels from the rocks on the beach. I stayed until later that night playing cards and trying to ignore the wind on Mamaku, until returning to Darwind for another restless night, although a bit better for having tied off the shrieking wind turbine.
|Sandy beaches and turquoise water of Cuyler Harbor|
The next day we spent in much the same way, exploring some caves down by the beach and taking a closer look at some of the elephant seal and sea lion rookeries on one end of the harbor. However, a weather report of a much stronger gale headed our way prompted the decision to head out for a more protected harbor on Santa Cruz Island first thing in the morning.
Santa Cruz Island
In the morning the wind was stil blowing strong and in order help to get the 150 feet of chain I had laid out up on deck, Harry and Jonty from Mamaku zipped over in their dinghy to give a hand, Harry at the helm motoring up the chain and Jonty and I on the bow hauling in the slack. As soon as the anchor was on deck, my helpers left to go pick up their own anchor, and I headed out into what I expected would be some pretty rough weather, –I was so confident that the wind would be howling even stronger than in the anchorage that I had left the genoa below, and had already tied in reefs in both the main and jib in anticipation–however even before I got out of Cuyler Harbor I had shaken out all of the reefs and by the time I had left the bay had even switched the #2 jib for the genoa! Apparently most of the wind that had been keeping us up all night was funneled over the low island at much higher velocity than what was actually blowing out at sea.
After leaving the San Miguel the wind picked up a bit more, and was down to just the jib for a few minutes when the wind funneled down the channel between Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz islands. It was in these higher winds that Mamaku finally caught up to and overtook the slower Darwind, and we passed close to get some great photos of each other cruising downwind at maximum speed. In the lee of Santa Cruz Island the wind died completely, so we motored along the beautiful and wildly carved sandstone cliffs, passing our intended anchorage, which seemed a bit exposed and rolly, to the eastern tip of the island where we found a sheltered anchorage.
|Mamaku (top) and Darwind cruising between Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz Islands|
With the boats swinging serenely at their anchors, Mamaku and I both launched our respective tenders and headed to the shore, where we all got very wet in the beach break and Jonty nearly flipped Mamaku’s dinghy on one of the bigger waves. A short sunset hike, and we were back on the boats for the first really quite nights sleep in a while–for me not since Half moon bay.
Of the next morning, while it was till calm, Harry, Sarah, and Jonty picked me up in their dinghy again to go snorkeling in the very clear water. At first I stayed in the boat, while they all went in, as I didn’t have a wetsuit and the water was still fairly cool from the California current sweeping down the coast, but I did bring a mask and snorkel to at least look over the side of the dinghy. However, as soon as I stuck my face in the water and this world that I had been sailing over but hadn’t actually seen was finally opened up to me, it didn’t take long for me to be drawn completely over the side in my board shorts. Once in the water I didn’t get out either because it was incredibly beautiful. Never having snorkeled or dived in more temperate climates, the swaying kelp forests mesmerized me and I couldn’t get enough of diving through these lush underwater ecosystems, where there were also a surprising number of bright, colorful fish darting around and through the kelp. After probably half an hour or more, I had to return to the dinghy with blue lips, and once out of the water couldn’t stop shivering for a long time, but it was definitely worth it!
Later that day the predicted gale hit and we were once again stretching out our chains and in the bigger gusts Darwind, with the jibs still lashed to the lifelines, was “sailing” back and forth, tugging violently at the snubber and showing quite a bit of bottom paint when she got knocked over by the gusts. At one point it seemed to abate for a bit so I made an upwind dash to the beach, when I played in the surf with the packraft for a bit before heading back out when the wind came back.
After bringing the jibs below, Darwind lay to her anchor much better, but it was still another agitated night, and I didn’t want to risk being blown out to sea while trying over to paddle over to Mamaku in my raft, so I stayed aboard the rest of the day, reaching a decision over the vhf radio to leave early the next morning for Santa Catalina island.
|Dawn departure for Santa Catalina Island|
Santa Catalina Island
Before dawn in the morning, I was up and raised the anchor myself (remembering with regret how easy it was with two extra sets of hands) and set sail, this time not as cautiously as from San Miguel, which paid off when once again the wind began to die just outside the very windy anchorage. This time Mamaku and I did not have such a beautiful run, and the wind kept rising and falling as well as changing direction from a close reach (almost upwind) to a wind-on-wing downwind, and everything from reefed main and #2 jib to spinnaker to motoring. Needless to say it was a very exhausting day, made more so by the fact that by the time we were approaching Santa Catalina it was already pitch dark with no moon, and I had to try and find a spot to anchor in the fairly crowded–though not too bad–anchorage which for the most part was over 60 feet deep. Eventually I found a spot in 50 feet near a derelict trimaran and dropped the hook before collapsing into my bunk.
Santa Catalina Island was the first populated island (except for the park rangers on San Miguel) that we had stopped at, and in the morning I met up with Harry, Sarah and Jonty ashore at the extremely touristy town of isthmus. I had originally planned to do some provisioning–I was down to a couple of onions and one potato as the only food on the boat not in a can, but after seeing the prices I settled for an ice cream. (Actually not too expensive and very good after weeks without any) We poked around the town for a bit, then went back to the boast to fill up some jerry jugs of fuel for what looked like an almost all-motoring 100 mile passage to San Diego. I was hoping to be able to avoid refilling here, but I was down to just a few gallons so it really was necessary, yet when I saw the price of an even $6 a gallon at the fuel dock, I almost turned right around! In fact, I actually did, since I had brilliantly forgotten my wallet so I had to run back over to the anchorage and borrow Mamaku’s dinghy to go get it off the Darwind. Walking back with 5 gallons of gas in each hand wasn’t very fun either, but at least now I wouldn’t be stuck with no wind and no fuel halfway to San Diego.
That evening I went on a short sunset hike with Mamaku crew up a steep hill where all of us realized how little exercise we had been getting the past month (or months for me) sailing down the coast, and scaring each other by shouting “snake!” every once in a while after seeing a sign warning about rattlesnakes in the area. For dinner, we were both low on supplies so we pooled our last few fresh items to make a curry, but half way through cooking the rice, Mamaku ran out of propane for their stove, so Jonty and I zipped back over to Darwind to finish cooking in on my recently–and at great effort–refilled stove.
San Diego/Mission Bay
I left Santa Catalina island on the Darwind around 1 pm, once I noticed that contrary to the forecast the was actually a fairly strong favorable breeze filling in, and sure enough for almost the rest of the day had perfect sailing weather out past the island, until by sunset the wind began to drop, until for most of the night I was alternately motoring in the absolute calms or setting the sails and getting some sleep as soon as there was enough of a breeze to work the windvane. In the end, the timing worked out just right, because I was motoring up the channel into the incredibly busy San Diego Bay just an hour or two after sunrise.
On entering this boy however, I was also entering a different world from the laid-back, small town or even larger Canadian towns and deserted anchorages. This world was dominated by an incredibly powerful force, which I had never really encountered before and so gravely underestimated: Bureaucracy. All of the anchorages were controlled by the Harbor Police, with permits required for some, and limited spots and days for all; the marinas were all extremely expensive and required insurance that I didn’t have; and every time I called one place or another a different person answered with completely different answers. After literally going in circles trying to find a place where I could actually put the boat, I tied up temporarily at the pump-out station of one of the marinas and sat down for some serious telephoning. At the end of which I had called every one of the dozen marinas in San Diego, with prices ranging from $30-90 per night, none of which I could afford, and dozens of called to the harbor police until I finally was able to reserve a 72 hour spot at an anchorage on the far side of the bay from the actual city, but at least it was somewhere to anchor.
On dropping the hook I was hit with a wave of heat even though it was only 9 am, so took a short siesta before packing a day bag and taking a bus across the huge sweeping bridge I had just motored under into the city. After wandering around the streets in the glass and cement canyons of the skyscrapers looking for some reasonable priced food, I got a delicious Thai curry-rice-pork-burger thing from a food truck. After that I got another bus to the marina district of the city where I was overwhelmed by the amount and quality of marine supply, rigging, and chart stores, and apparently just missed seeing the Mamaku crew as they rushed around doing their errands. (Quite a lot as they planned to leave for Mexico the next day) Eventually I ended up at a Starbucks, where the grandparents of some of my closest family friends in anchorage picked me up for dinner.
For the next nearly two weeks I was immersed in a head-swimming world of bureaucracy and wallet-draining supply runs while trying to sort out the tangled mess of Darwind’s documentation and insurance paperwork, adding another solar panel, and getting a surfboard. At the same time I was constantly being shuttled from one anchorage to another, at one point even having to sail 20 miles north to mission bay. Throughout this clusterfuck of phone calls, paper trails, customs offices, and dead ends, there were some highlights, especially in mission bay which was a much more laid-back surf community where I caught my first waves in years, and ended up meeting some really cool people who ended up inviting me over for dinner one night.