More first timer north

Port San Luis Harbor, the sea surface- still, smooth. Sea lions barking from their perch on the jetty. After coffee we slipped the line looped to the mooring ball ring and motored north 24 miles.

Humpbacks and sea lions were feeding off the entrance of Morro Bay.

The guest dock at the yacht club was available. We were side tied, registered, deposited our dock fee, the crew walked up to the business district. The Shine Café is not to be missed.

Speaking on the phone to Passage Weather my router was amused, he had thought the best tactic when slipping north past Point Conception was to tuck inside, my decision to go 18 miles offshore in his judgement is where more difficult conditions can be encountered.  I explained that fewer tacks meant there was less chance for error, maintaining steady boat speed would get us north with all due haste. My router laughed sympathetic to my judgement, the point of the matter is the tactic worked.

The router had much to discuss about the nonstop 110-mile leg from Morro Bay to Monterey. Due to incoming weather north off Point Sur it was agreed I would depart tomorrow by 1400 hours. Conditions for this leg were forecast to be difficult, three different swells, one predicted to measure 8’, from three different directions would be converging making the motion of the boat uncomfortable. My router thought our best chance was to pass Point Sur at midnight, winds were forecast to be low, but off this part of the California coast predictions are made with less confidence.

Communications would be intermittent, cellphone signals are sketchy in this remote area, texts could get through if not too far off the coast, voice calls almost never. Here too is where VHF radio broadcasts switch from Coast Guard Station Los Angeles to San Francisco. On my charts I had marked all known emergency anchorages.

Given the hurricane driven southern swell the router advised if I was unable to maintain my course north to retreat to San Simeon. That was the fallback plan, retreat, regroup and then retry. If I were able to slip past Point Sur, the remainder of the passage to Monterey would require much less of boat and crew. And once again because of the low-pressure system setting up in the North Pacific the router advised this was our one and only best chance to make Monterey before this window closed.

The main was raised and we were able to motor sail until off San Simeon. Wind dropped to dead calm. West of our position there was a fogbank, then its leading edge overtook us, it would be pitch black soon.

Our attention turned to the chartplotter and I confirmed the autopilot was steering to our first waypoint off Cape San Martin. There was no traffic on the display, but I was only using AIS, the vessel was not equipped with radar. Visibility was estimated to be 200 meters or less. An encounter with an undetected vessel was unlikely. Standing watch was intense, our vessel yawing into the confused seas was wearing on the crew.   

As desolate and empty as this stretch of coast might be, as unlikely as it would be to encounter any traffic, even knowing all of that, this is the one time in the whole of the summer where radar would have proven its worth.

The Yanmar burned a tick less than ¾ gallons per hour. A large pod of dolphins joined our boats northbound course, contrail like bioluminescent streaks appeared as the dolphin chased the bows wake throughout the night. By this time while we were standing watch in drizzle. My crewman had not spent a night at sea before, I could not leave him to stand watch alone, not in these conditions, not tonight. I brewed coffee, brought out snacks, checked and rechecked our heading and coordinates then fixed the time and position on paper charts.

Approaching Point Sur, the AIS transponder signal of a seagoing tug pulling a barge could be seen on the chartplotter. I radioed and after a proper back and forth I worked out a plan with the pilot to pass port to port, keeping a good mile distance apart.   

By Point Lobos visibilities were in transition, first the light of dawn, the fog giving way to overcast, sunrise was monochromatic, black then gray, feint blue silhouettes along the shoreline.  

Seaweed was sucked into the raw water filter. We shut the motor down long enough to clear the debris. I checked fluid levels visually inspected the engine, all seemed shipshape, restarted the Yanmar to resume making our way north atop an undulating sea.

On wing at dawn a Laysan albatross, a true pelagic bird was nearer to shore than is common buzzed our boat while skimming the seas surface hunting for breakfast. With a wingspan measuring seven feet, the unanticipated encounter with the winged aerialist was auspicious, a sign, having gone seafaring off the coast was all to the good, the sloops presence intriguing, as legend has it the albatross possesses the soul of a mariner, and when spotted by a sailor will bring them good luck.

Sleepless the crew spent, relieved to be out of the cold foggy night, one hundred and ten miles north, this marathon leg was completed at noon, total time from Morro Bay to Monterey was 22 hours.

Taking a guest slip at the harbor crew fixed early afternoon supper aboard, drank more Irish. Spirits ran high knowing the most difficult stretch of coast was behind us. A pair of weary sailors were in our bunks asleep before sunset.

Passage Weather agreed staying over in Monterey one more day to rest fit with the forecast. Tomorrow was not promising for sailing but looked favorable for motoring as the seaway was lying down and winds were predicted to be light. To make Emery Cove I needed the Yanmar to give her crew 16 hours.

Departing Monterey at first light we pushed north. A pod of killer whales were just off the entrance likely hunting the resident sea lions. Seas were rolling but smooth, there was no fog, we could see our way along the coast, stand watch, eat, drink coffee, bring the passage to a proper end.

Night fell as we neared Half Moon Bay. The fishing fleet was out west of us with working lights shining on the black horizon. The sky was overcast but not cold. We transited north steering buoy to buoy. Approaching the entrance near midnight, the final port of call, the welcoming sight of a fog veiled Golden Gate Bridge, after such a long series of days working our way north, after all the changes and worries a passage puts a crew through, it changes a sailor’s perspective, the most common sights are made with new eyes.

Even if on arrival we would be slowed to a crawl in the teeth of a monster ebb, that would be the fact of it, how I had mistimed the entrance in the wee small hours of the morning bucking a fierce ebbing current, my navigational error the results of eagerness, a testimonial to the returning sailor’s impatience, where the point of the matter I’d argue is that we had lived to tell and had made it back.

Aside from a refrigerator compressor failing, autopilot pully belt breaking, and one overlarge cockroach put to an untimely death there is little else to tell except for perhaps the brand of Irish the skipper and crew had sipped to such fulsome abandon. 

I remember getting the boat secure at the dock, my crewman getting picked up by his impatient lover, my getting out of my gear, crawling beneath the bed covers, and then the incessant dreaming, and then more dreaming, the same wanting dream.

No sailor can shake off the want of returning to her, none that I know can forget her bustling harbor, it isn’t possible to cast such beauty out of our memory. The serenity at midnight, the lapping sounds of waves against the hull, held close sleeping in her arms, the temptation is sure to be too full of want and desire, the balmy nights too sweet, the lure of Avalon’s pleasure too pure.

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