First timer goes North

Avalon August 2018

Avalon kept tugging at my wanting. How balmy tranquility tucked into a snug harbor on a mooring ball becomes a summer fling you cannot jilt. Before dinner we motor to the dinghy dock and walk Pebbly Beach Road out and back to Lovers Cove. We slip into the Lobster Trap for dinner and drinks. After we take the dink back to our sloop and dig into our bunk. This is how the want of a never ending summer on Santa Catalina Island ruins a good for nothing sailor.

Long range weather forecasts were pressing on my timeline. I had purchased the services of Passage Weather to route my 1997 Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 36.2 north to San Francisco Bay. The professional router advised moving north 100 miles to Santa Barbara to take advantage of a window that once closed he warned may not open again for weeks.

From Avalon our first leg was north to Marina del Rey. We dropped guests off. The following morning, we motored west to Channel Island Harbor. Late in the afternoon we hoisted sails and powered into steep chop, motoring would have been arduous. Pushing off from the guest slip after getting groceries we sailed to Santa Cruz Island taking a route south of Anacapa Island. Running out of sunlight we set our anchor in Prisoners Harbor. A rookie mistake by the way, I’d passed Smugglers Cove, while here there was a swell wrapping around the headlands making the night uncomfortable. For all that bit of hell on anchor at sunrise we aimed precisely magnetic north to Santa Barbara. Every mile north is hard earned.

Eileen returned to Los Angeles by train. That late afternoon a crewmate arrived to help bring the boat back to San Francisco. Provisioning as men without spouses are wanting to do is accomplished without the divine guidance of our better halves.

After dinner I was on the phone back to Passage Weather confirming forecasts remained unchanged and that I should depart at dawn and point west up the coast to Cojo Anchorage.

Afternoon breezes filled in, the last 8 miles the sloop beat into a raucous windblown whitecapped chop. A sunny blue sky brushed with brilliant white clouds aided morale, the pounding against the sea was met with good cheer.

Point Conception, fortress like, impermeable, impassable, almost impossible loomed in our worried minds. Banging into a blustery afternoon to anchor at her entrance acting out a dress rehearsal for the big show that was schedule to open at dawn tomorrow.

The weather router followed our progress tracking us with the AIS transponder aboard. Connectivity in Cojo is plenty good. That evening my router texted, “Sweet Seas, departing first light, no matter the conditions hoist anchor and be underway by 0600.” 

The weather router had urged me in Santa Barbara while speaking on the telephone to put trust in his sailing instructions and depart as planned, to not freeze up and remain on anchor in the morning at Cojo. I remember his last words, “Conditions may seem extreme when you depart, but they are forecast to moderate before increasing in the afternoon when a small craft advisory is scheduled to go up. You must leave as planned. Is that understood?”

By this time in the trip, I had put 800 coastal miles under my keel. Near all had been sailed reaching and running. Ahead, the uphill challenge, saving the stoutest part of the voyage for the end, forced to confront the Pacific Ocean dead on the nose, addicted and softened by lulling about in Avalon I had time to imagine all manner of sailing catastrophe, seasickness and profound regret for having ever dared to believe I could get my moderate displacement sloop safely north to home port. “What were you thinking?” I could never quite shake off the bite of doubt.

Perspective

Former Emeryville Yacht Club commodore Linny Martinson and her husband Marty aboard Perspective had been on a mooring ball north of us in San Luis Rey Harbor. As we arrived in Cojo they departed south for Santa Barbara. Winds in our rigging were howling, the noise kept me awake, I was up and down in my bunk, I tracked Perspectives progress by AIS and when they arrived off Point Arguello radioed Linny about 0300 hours, to get an update on sea state and wind pressure. Marty was asleep below. Linny at the helm running downwind reported 30 knots with gusts even higher. Making good progress by 0500 hours I stood on deck spotting their navigation lights as they passed running downwind bound for Santa Barbara.

I ate a bowl of oatmeal, another cup of coffee, I swallowed more Dramamine. My routers voice ringing in my ears, “no matter the conditions, hoist anchor, you must leave as planned.”

At first light, 0600 hours we got the hook up, trimmed the shortened sails to close hauled heading west out like lambs into the teeth of Point Conception. Never tacking, sails drawn in tight, traveler eased. By 0830 hours we were eighteen miles offshore careful to stay away from the oil rigs. Chop was short and steep, swell was to 6’, winds had been easing all morning and now blew steady at 22 knots gusting enough to test my faith in what a clevis pin could withstand. Crew had found their sea legs, we were holding up, we remained tentative, on guard but in good spirits. Tacking over now we headed north for the first time since Santa Barbara close hauled the bow pointing high in the gusts, enough I could tell that we would clear Point Arguello. By noon we were making our way back to San Francisco in the firm hand of a fair blow and lively but manageable seaway.

Northbound with Crew at Helm

All the morning Sweet Seas had sped close hauled to her homeport at over 6 knots. Much of the afternoon was spent reaching toward the Bay of San Luis Obispo, sheets were eased by Lompoc, the boat rising and falling, a hefty steepening swell on the beam, the trim sloop plunging ahead romping, on this point of sail she was making good progress, a steady 8.5 knots.

Taking a mooring ball at San Luis Rey Harbor by 1600 hours we had completed the 60-mile passage in 10 hours. Exhausted but exhilarated, I recorded in my log that Sweet Seas had been generous to her crew providing us with an unforgettable day of high intensity sailing.

A weary but chatty crew spent the night drinking a bit of the Irish, making dinner, raving about our days sail, going over the charts, preparing for tomorrows 24 mile jump north.

As the most experienced sailor aboard, I had to be the skipper of record if my claim to bringing my boat north was to hold up, if I could prove by firsthand experience that I could muster the skill and stamina. I would need more time at sea with her to learn more, to grow my confidence, to test our relationship. The boat is a good one, this sloop wants the same as she gives—treat me with skill, pull on my lines, I will take you where you wish, I’m eager to go, I’m fresh and fast, today you made your boat happy, today something has changed, I won’t soon forget…   (Pause)

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