Sailing Adventures – The Return Trip

After every adventure, whether short or long in time or distance, there’s a coming home. There’s a returning to a place, or a feeling of normalcy or of rest, that gives us a chance to contemplate our adventures and re-calibrate our perspectives of the world.

While I returned to the East Coast for two and a half weeks, my dad toiled in the boatyard. The mast got removed to re-run wiring and get painted, the bottom was sanded and also painted, and a variety of other little projects were also completed. So while I breathed a bit of that coming home feeling on my side of the country, I knew the adventure wasn’t quite over.

So I flew out once more to the West Coast to help out, but this time for the explicit purpose of bringing the boat back home, to complete the journey. The trip northward along the coast of California is a much different beast than the trip southward. Northward is against the prevailing winds and swells and currents, and includes a rounding of Point Conception where the coastline turns from an east-west direction to a more north-south direction. This is the natural division between southern California and central California, and the winds here can get fearsome as they wrap around the land. Many a sailor have waited out the winds at anchor in Cojo before attempting the trip.

The run can take anywhere between 24 and 36 hours depending on the wind speed and direction. I use the word “run” purposefully because it’s not just a trip. There’s a sense of urgency to it to go quickly before the weather changes or something happens. Luckily we had a good weather window and managed the trip in just over 23 hours. My dad said it’s the easiest trip he’s ever had around Point Conception.

This trip brought me a big new experience that I don’t remember from childhood; sailing at night. Obviously as a child we sailed through the night, but I was never an active participant in the journey. This time I was very much an active participant. Night sailing is something that few people ever do, even regular day sailors. It’s a magical experience, so I thought I’d try to describe it a bit. The following is an entry in my journal written soon after our return.

Night fell as cars disappeared into Gaviota pass on the mainland. Night sailing is a weird mix of constant apprehension, wonder, beauty, and cold. There's always the fear that you'll run into something that didn't show up on the radar, hit a lobster pot buoy that gets caught around the prop, or have to "buckle in" with your harness when the wind picks up suddenly and you have to go forward to drop the main sail... The wonder part of the trip includes watching the lights on land, trying to guess what they belong to, telling time by the changing position of the lights... The rolling of the boat over darkened water is reminiscent of riding a smooth conveyor belt. It's an odd sensation that the water is picking you up, carrying you, and forcing you along, whereas during daylight it very much feels like the boat is charging its way through the water. At night you don't have as much control, you have to trust the ocean to carry you where you want to go... The cold is numbing, wind in your face, eyeballs as wide as possible looking for pitfalls or floating obstacles. The cold seeps in past openings at wrists and necks and waists; up past pant legs and past socks. It's a soul-crushing cold because its the cold of wind and not of temperature. You can't shore up every crack and you can't put your back to it without relinquishing that little bit of control, that chance to see something in the darkness before it becomes a problem.

Once again, I’m deeply grateful to have had the opportunity to spend time with my dad out on the water. I’m also reminded that it’s shared experiences that help build connections between people and I’m thankful to have that as well. For now, I’m headed home to contemplate my adventures and re-calibrate my perspectives of the world!

Sailing Adventures – Part 4

We left off last time with a hike between Pelican Bay and Prisoners Harbor.

Day nine dawned sunny and windless. We took our time with breakfast and then headed out for an 8 mi jaunt down the coast to the western tip of Santa Cruz Island to an anchorage called Little Scorpion. Despite the lack of wind, our stubbornness meant turning off the engine and “sailing” down the coast at 2-3 kts with the sails luffing. By the time we got close to the anchorage the wind had come up a bit.

We took a couple passes through the anchorage, scoping out spots and then tried our stern and bow anchor dance. Unfortunately, the combined result of the wind, a steeply sloping bottom and an error dropping the bow anchor meant that we ended up laying perpendicular to the other boats in the anchorage. It was late afternoon, both anchors seemed dug in pretty well and we were tired, so we gave up and let it be.

Journal entry day ten: By the time we woke up, the anchorage had eight boats in it. One was leaving while at least three others jockeyed for their spot. It was ridiculous and claustrophobic and the wind was still blowing. The weather report said there was a small craft advisory for the western part of Santa Cruz Island and Anacapa Island. So we pulled up the anchors and went to find a better spot.

Unfortunately we got waved off at Scoprion Anchorage by a boat that had situated themselves in the very middle of the anchorage. So we continued down the coast to a little cove called Potato. It is completely surrounded by cliffs, with a small opening to get into the bay. A happily barking sea lion colony welcomed us. The winds and swell were from the northwest and straight through the small opening and into the bay.

We kept an eye on the wind and the swells, which kept building throughout the afternoon. Usually the wind and any wind-driven swells die down toward the end of the afternoon, but they didn’t this time.

Towards evening, with the swells still increasing and the wind still strong, Dad and I decided it would be safer and more comfortable to “bug out” and head back to Little Scorpion for the night. Unfortunately that decision wasn’t made until 8:30 pm.

Journal entry evening day ten: Dad pulled the anchor quickly and I fought the swells out of the cove at the helm. I got to the mouth of the cove by the time Dad got back into the cockpit and we literally weren't going anywhere. Momentary panic with the 6-8 ft swells, 15 kts of wind, and cliffs on both sides closing in. Dad reached over and gave her a little more gas, and then freedom. What followed was battling a broadside swell down the coast for about thirty minutes as darkness closed in... Coming into Little Scorpion in the dark wasn't much fun either, but I drove through the anchorage, Dad dropped the anchor and we called it good.

After getting settled back at Little Scorpion we let the adrenaline subside a bit while watching the star-filled sky. The Milky Way swept across the blackness and a few satellites raced from horizon to horizon.

Day eleven dawned bright and breezy and we were off early to get to Ventura by noon.

Journal entry day eleven: I found myself at the helm of Savant once again. All of the sails were up in 12 kts of wind and we were speeding over the water at 7 kts. We finally had enough wind for a decent sail and there was nothing that was going to get me to relinquish that helm. It was beautiful and magical and felt like flying. I could hear the propellor spinning freely, the pitch changing slightly as we got pushed over the crest of a swell or loitered a bit in a trough. We saw schools of dolphins and avoided oil platform "Gail".

We made it to the Derecktor boatyard in Ventura Harbor early and was greeted on the dock by Leonora who is organizer-extraordinaire for the operation. I wasn’t able to stay in town for the boatyard activities, but my dad was happy with the services that were offered, the environmental considerations, and their ability to come up with solutions when problems arose.

Our adventure was over and I was headed home. It’s a trip that I feel lucky to have been a part of, not just for the sailing itself, but being able to share it with my dad was a gift.

Windy Montevideo

The weather here in Montevideo is amazingly similar to that in Atlanta. It is very hot in the summer and a bit chilly in the winter. We’ve been told that it doesn’t snow here, but it appears to be very humid all year long. There were thunderstorms in the summer and it has been getting very windy as we get into the fall.

Montevideo is situated on the Rio Plata which means that it’s beaches don’t get a lot of surf and the water is usually a glassy calm. That is, until the wind comes up! When it gets windy it kicks up the surf on the beaches and throws waves over the Ramblas, making the cobbles slippery and running on them treacherous. I have even spotted windsurfers and kite surfers out on really windy days.