Out the “Gate” and Turn Left

Sunny.  Warm.  Windless.  Two out of three isn’t bad, I guess.  Although, Our Hero is under the impression that this is a sailboat adventure – not a motorboat one.  Unfortunately, the vagaries of Mother Nature transcend all man-made plans.  This is the first of many “sailing sagas” that will chronicle the good, the bad, and the ugly of cruising under sail to Mexico and back on the good ship No Moss.

It seems like ages ago, but it’s only been 19 days.  I left Redwood City (Westpoint Harbor) with Paula aboard as crew on 12 October 2015 – just as planned.  The trip up the bay to Horseshoe Cove (Presidio YC) was sunny, warm, and essentially windless, thus not enough to sail without help from the engine if we wanted to get there in reasonable time.

The next day (13 Oct) we motored out under the Golden Gate Bridge and cut across the main shipping lanes to stay out of the way of the big ships.  There was enough wind to fill the jib but not enough to sail without the motor, so it was back to motor-sailing in order to “get there” (Princeton Harbor, Half Moon Bay).

Arrival in Princeton Harbor was uneventful (always a good thing), and we took a vacant berth on the commercial side with all the fishing boats.  No Moss was “the rose between two thorns.”  Here Jay and Judith met us and we went out to dinner.  Jay was joining the boat as crew from here to Marina del Rey.  Judith took Paula home.

The next morning (14 Oct), Jay and I motored past the breakwater and took the shortcut along the beach instead of turning west and following the marked channel.  This worked well except it put the swells on the beam and made for another rolling ride.  Putting up the main to stop the rolling was an exercise in futility since there was virtually no wind to fill the sail and steady the boat.  Our next stop was Santa Cruz harbor; we made better time than planned and arrived a little after five.  This gave us time to tie up, sign in, and shower before it got dark.

The next day (15 Oct) was a short leg from Santa Cruz to Monterey harbor.  There was no wind to start across Monterey Bay, but then the wind filled in from the west at 10-12 knots and allowed us to reduce the engine rpm and save some fuel.  We saw only one distant whale spout, so the viewing of marine mammals left a lot to be desired.

Our next port would be Morro Bay and require an overnight run since it is about 106 nm.  We left Monterey Harbor (16 Oct) and motored into the wind and swells to Pt Pinos, turned left and motor-sailed until turning left at Cypress Pt.  Just after the turn, we crossed paths with a small pod of dolphins that were very focused on feeding and essentially ignored us.

The wind would come up for a while and we would sail with the engine off, then it would drop, and back on went the engine. Talk about frustrating for a couple of sailors!  We ended up motoring most of the way from Cypress Pt to the Morro Bay breakwater.

A funny thing happened to Our Hero on his way into the cockpit to take over his watch (helm duties) sometime after midnight.  Glancing down while stepping onto the cockpit sole, I noticed a dark object lying there.  A tired mind interpreted the shape to be a dropped sailing glove, so I reached down to pick it up and it squawked and jumped away when I touched it.  Very strange behavior for a “sailing glove.”

It turned out we had an intruder.  A small black(?) seabird (about the size of a robin but with webbed feet) had taken refuge in the cockpit unknown to Jay who was at the helm at the time.  Jay went off watch and I left the bird alone to rest.

Later, it tried to get out of the cockpit, so I picked it up and gave it a toss into the air.  I have to assume it flew away because it was too dark to see.

Arrival at Morro Bay Yacht Club (17 Oct) was marred only by the fact that there was no vacant dock space.  This required rafting (tying to the side of another boat); something I have never done before this.  With help from Jay and the guys on the other boat, we managed to complete the rafting process with no damage to boats or crew.

After the ordeal of an overnight run with watches of one hour on and one hour off, we agreed to take a “day off” in Morro Bay and get our energy levels back where they should be.  After all, we’re in “cruising mode,” right?  This was especially important because the next leg would be our longest yet:  another overnight and then some to arrive in Channel Islands Harbor.  This leg included the infamous rounding of Pt Conception sometime after midnight.  (Note to the Curious:  Pt Conception is notoriously windy and often referred to as the Cape Horn of the California coast.)

Leaving the Morro Bay breakwater (19 Oct), we headed west until reaching Pt Buchon where we turned left.  The swells and wind were on the starboard aft quarter with the wind gradually building to 18-20 knots with occasional higher gusts.  Yay!  We are actually sailing and have turned off the motor.  In fact, we have put the first reef in the main and partially furled the jib (i.e., reduced sail area to compensate for the stronger winds and make the ride better).

We were “smokin’ downwind” and managed to cat-nap when not at the helm checking our course and keeping the Hydrovane (wind vane steering system:  like an autopilot but doesn’t use electrical power) “honest.”

With the swells (4-5 ft), wind waves (2+ ft), and the wind behind us, we were averaging 6-7 knots and surfing down some of the larger swells at 9-10 knots.  Yee-haw!  What a ride – until rounding Pt Conception.  And then the wind gradually died and we went back to the old stand-by of motor-sailing.  Little wind in the Santa Barbara Channel after Pt Conception is common and to be expected.

After 26.5 hours underway, we arrived in Channel Islands Harbor, checked in at the Harbor Police Office, and tied up at our assigned spot on the long guest dock.  We were tired and glad that challenge was behind us.

The next morning (21 Oct), we left the breakwater and headed slightly east to pass Port Hueneme and Pt Mugu on our way to Marina del Rey.  When Pt Mugu Naval AirStation was abeam, we were approached by a fast-moving RIB (rigid inflatable boat) patrol boat with only one person aboard at the wheel.

He came alongside and said we had to clear the area because there was a “live fire” exercise about to begin and the offshore waters out to five miles had to be free of vessels.  I told him we were proceeding to Pt Dume, and he said fine – just keep going (or words to that effect), then zoomed off.  As for us, onward in spite of bullets, bombs, or whatever might come our way.

With jib furled and main down, we entered the Marina del Rey breakwater and eventually tied up to the long dock at Burton Chace Park (location of the city guest docks).  I flew the flags from the starboard spreader to celebrate Jay’s successful completion of this part of the cruise.

Jay left the boat here because he had to get back to work; his landscaping business required his professional attention.  From now until reaching Marina Los Cabos, Mexico, I would be sailing singlehanded – something I have done many times before on prior cruises.

Now that we had met Jay’s schedule, I decided to slow down a bit and try really hard to get more into “cruising mode.”  It’s that elusive and rather ill-defined state of mind and body where one makes a conscious effort to slow down and save fuel (for one example among many that will come to mind later).

Thus, I decided that the next stop would be anchoring off Island White in San Pedro Bay.  And, I might even spend an extra day (or two).  Well, there is good news and bad news about that decision.  Good news:  I got the rest I needed.  Bad news:  the anchorage was plagued with the wakes of passing boats and ships.

I left the Marina del Rey breakwater (23 Oct) after a stop at the fuel dock.  The first course-change took place at Pt Vicente.  After that, the wind was up and down like a yo-yo on a string, but at least the swells were behind me.  Eventually, upon reaching Pt Fermin, the wind steadied from the west at 12knotss and I was able to fly the jib to get some extra boat speed.

Soon the anchor was down and set to make that a fairly short day – and most welcome.  The exciting part of the day was dodging the ships that were passing in and out of the Los Angeles and Long Beach breakwaters.  Now I could relax in the somewhat protected lee of “Island White.”  It’s not really an island.  It is a drilling platform that has been camouflaged to look like an island with non-descript buildings and a tower to conceal the drill rig.  This was done to keep the condo owners along the shore from looking at “industrial ugly.”

At anchor, I flipped the switch to turn on the wind turbine to keep the batteries charged.  That worked fine until the wind died.  However, the biggest irritant was the incessant rolling.  It reminded me of the ferry wakes one encounters when anchored at Paradise Cove off Tiburon in San Francisco Bay.  But, eventually, I got somewhat used to it and managed to rest and complete some of the small projects that had been put off.  The extra day was good for that.

To get to Oceanside requires another overnight run because there just aren’t enough daylight hours in the fall.  Up came the anchor (25 Oct) and I was off like a herd of turtles.  With only 51 nm to cover, speed was not of the essence, so pottering along at 3.5 kts was a reasonable thing to do.  The idea was to arrive in Oceanside at eight the next morning when the Harbor Police Office opens and one can check in.

The night passed uneventfully with two exceptions.  First, the boat was slowing down but the engine rpm was steady.  Hmmmm.  Looking over the aft railing with the flashlight in hand, I spied a rather enormous clump of seaweed that had been snagged by the windvane rudder.  Not wishing to waste fuel dragging seaweed from Long Beach to Oceanside, I put the transmission in neutral and slowed to a snail’s pace.  I repeatedly used the boathook to tear loose segments of the clump, and finally succeeded in removing it all.  Back in gear at 1200 rpm, the speed increase was amazing – seaweed can be a real drag.

What was the second thing?  Well, just about midnight a fast boat looped behind me and came up on my starboard side – with blue light flashing!  Of course, the bright spotlight shining in my eyes made identifying the visitors all the more difficult.  At first, I thought it was the Coast Guard, but the uniforms weren’t right.  I slowed down to idle speed and the boat paced me as I was inundated with question after question.  What are you doing out here?  Where are you going?  What’s your name?  (etc., you get the idea).

Finally, they were satisfied that I wasn’t a single-handed terrorist attack; they had prefaced their questions by stating they were doing a “Homeland Security Inspection.”  I was told I could proceed ( . . . thank you very much) and asked if I had any questions.  Yes, I did.  “What’s your unit?” I asked.  “Sheriff’s Marine Patrol” was the answer.  “What county?”  “Orange County.”  And that was that.

Entering the Oceanside breakwater at the desired time was anti-climactic.  I was assigned to the long dock in front of the Jolly Roger restaurant.  Fortunately, it was one of those back-water, once-hoppin’ places that had seen better times, and was now patronized mostly by locals and seniors; it was quiet at night.

I left behind the Oceanside breakwater (27 Oct) and motor-sailed with jib unfurled under a clear sky.  It would be a seven-hour run to the San Diego harbor entrance (abeam Pt Loma).  Jib furled, jib unfurled.  Engine rpm up, engine rpm down.  This is getting old real fast.  With the rolling ride, one learns to compensate.  Here’s the typical pose to keep from sliding left and right with each roll of the boat.

However, the last two hours before slipping into the harbor were downright stressful.  Large kelp patches and more fish/crab trap buoys than you can imagine.  It was like a bad dream.  Turn left.  Turn right.  No, turn farther right!  Phew!  Just missed that one.  Needless to say, it was a great relief to finally enter San Diego Harbor and just have to watch for/worry about other boats.

Darrell Allen, president of Suncoast Yachts and the broker from whom I bought No Moss, was kind enough to offer me a free slip in Kona Kai Marina for three nights.  I needed a shoehorn to get No Moss into the slip and the marina has seen its better days – yet the slip rates are horrendous.  I was sure glad I didn’t have to pay to stay.

I used all three days to advantage and took care of a number of things (refueling, visit to West Marine, etc).  Everything I needed was within walking distance of Shelter Island (site of the marina).  Darrell came down to look at No Moss on the last day and was suitably impressed with the work I have done to upgrade the boat.  He said he’d be more than happy to broker the boat for me should I want to sell it.  That’s quite a compliment from one of the premier Island Packet brokers in the U.S.

A two-hour run down San Diego Bay (30 Oct) brought me to the Navy’s marina, Fiddler’s Cove.   This is my chosen jumping-off and returning spot when cruising to Mexico and back.  So, here I sit (2 Nov) wrapping up this first saga chapter after a busy few days of provisioning and minor repairs/upgrades.

Next stop is Ensenada.  I’m not looking forward to some extra hassle with the Mexican bureaucracy, but with a little help (stay tuned on that one . . .) I’ll check in to the country and then it’s big-time cruising mode.

I hope you’ve found this saga to be of interest.  I expect to write the next one in Puerto Los Cabos (around the corner from Cabo San Lucas) or Mazatlan since I doubt that I will have wifi access along the Baja coast.  Until then, thanks for good thoughts and well-wishes.

Signing off for now,

Neal

(aka Our Hero or The Captain, your choice!)

Ed: Neal Doten is a member of The Club at Westpoint and an active boater. In addition to these delightful travelogs, Neal provides advice and guidance to boaters undertaking coastal cruising especially those looking for adventure on the Mexican and Central American shorelines. You can contact Neal by completing the contact form below.