Category Archives: Performances

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Sleepless Nights

Beating

Windward and Northbound

The shrill howl of the wind in the shrouds kept waking me. We were holding at Cojo Anchorage waiting for the winds to drop. Passage north through Point Conception was timed to advantage our trip north on this chance.

Winds finally dipped but not until we’d hoisted anchor and strapped our safety harness on. We sailed close to the wind due west. One beyond Government Point we were exposed to a much more moderate sea than we’d expected to find. Winds remained down at 20 knots steady from the northwest.

For two hours we kept our course offshore fourteen to eighteen miles until we turned back pointing now toward Point Arguello twelve miles north of Point Conception. Once tacked we were ready to gain precious miles of latitude up the coastline. Within ninety minutes we’d sailed ten miles. Since the day before when we’d left Santa Barbara sixty-eight miles behind us we’d gained not one degree of latitude.

We’d been anxious about rounding Point Conception. Stories of mariners halted by heavy weather had haunted our minds. We’d amplified these tales of sailors who had come before us. We’d taken seasickness medication and strapped our safety harnesses on. I was at the helm and my first and only mate stood at the ready on the mainsheet.
solitude at cojo

Solitude at Sunset

As is true of most sport there is a degree of danger. Batters are hit by balls, gymnasts twist ankles or worse… in all sport when stepping up to the plate whether or not you win or lose the game has the potential to injure those on the playing field.

For twelve hours we made more miles north. We had to tack back out off the coast several times. The first three hours gave way to a less fraught sea state. Winds eased for some of this period. Within three hours range of Port San Luis the afternoon breeze kicked up and the mix of chop and ocean swell made for an uncomfortable sloppy passage.

The boat seemed all the more capable. Our confidence by now greater than before we’d started off this morning. We still remained humble to our task. Based upon the seas we’d transited this morning we believed we could sail the boat through what was kicking up in front of us. We had that much determination. Doubts remained at the ready.

Much more sailing is ahead. Conditions have deteriorated and we are holding until Sunday afternoon in Morro Bay. Next leg is 24 hours north nonstop. This is a chunk of coast with few places of any kind to anchor. Most are described as suitable for emergencies only. We’ll take turns at the helm while the other crew member sleeps. One hour here, one hour there, neither member of the boat is to be left alone too long.

pelican on wing

Alone on Wing

Our passage on this leg will test physical endurance. Winds are expected to be on our nose, seas to eight feet in height, and surface chop short and average. The risk is if this sea surface chop steepens it can make northward progress more tedious and weary perhaps even sicken the crew.

For now we are on a mooring back and forth to town to get exercise and purchase provisions. We’ll sleep and catnap in preparation for Sunday. By midday Monday we’ll hope to tuck into Monterey while we wait for the next chance to complete our passage from Catalina Island back to San Francisco Bay.

I expect we’ll find more pleasure than peril in the next one hundred and eighty miles. With each mile sailed we gain a degree of experience, slightly more surefootedness, a sense we are skillfully making our way. Then, like that even that slight bit of hubris is examined for its power to entrap and trick a crew into unanticipated mishap.

Stay humble, keep a hand on the wheel and the mind focused to the task. Making a safe passage requires a persistent unwavering humility. Even with all of that in this sport where anything can happen to a boat and her crew a healthy dose of circumspection may not be enough.

buoy off montana de oro

A View Back from Where We’d Sailed

Edited Red Star

Character

Sweet Seas Avalon

Jeanneau Sloop’s Southernmost Mooring…

Avalon, Santa Catalina Island

Moitessier 1958, Sailing to the Reefs, “The deterioration in the weather was sudden and without warning— it was just a simple call to order to remind me that winds are not always favourable and that fine weather never lasts for ever. As always when I am obliged to move about on Deck at night in a squall of rain, I came out of the cabin swearing that God’s providence is a myth.”

To one degree or another admitting where our talents lend our sailing advantage is a must. Knowing what we are best and worst at is to keep our wits about us.

I am quick to change sails as the wind builds. Although I’ve suffered from sloth and torpor and been meted out punishment for the inaction.

Point near Avalon

Long Point, Catalina Island

The Length of the Trial

In preparation for the passage north from Los Angeles to San Francisco I’ve noticed a particular form of grit seeming to have been found inside. I’m determined that I will return my sailboat to her home port. I have suffered bouts of grave doubt but have fended off the demons for the moment.

Characters

Character Enhancer Seated to Left

An old now deceased sailing companion had brought his Tahiti ketch from Baja back to San Francisco’s Bay View Boat Club many times. Carl’s strategy was simplicity itself… patience.

Rather than have his will broken, rather than attempt to advance to his destination he opted to rest, wait, and pick his spots rather than have Mother Nature punish his boat or his backbone.

Carl exercised patience and judgement. His sailing skills were sufficient to the task. Pragmatism and common sense was perhaps his greatest talent—-but hardly his only. Of course he had made careful study of the weather patterns along the West coast. He knew as much as his mind could hold. Tides, currents and where the next place to anchor north of his present position was built into his plan.

dolphins on bow

Escort Services

I had once ignored Carl’s advice and in my haste wasted hours beating against a current. As the current slackened a fresh and rested Carl joined me in San Pablo Bay for a sail back to San Francisco. I arrived exhausted. Carl returned unruffled and rested.

We will see what we see in the next few weeks. I’ll pick my way north with my sage sailing friend in mind. I’ve a good twenty days to make a trip that ought not take more than three under the better circumstances. Toss away two rough days waiting at anchor to advance one good day seems sensible.

In that light provisioning and a second hand that can abide the captain’s strategy will bring the capable sailboat safely home.

Edited Red Star

 

Don’t Cry for Me, Catalina

Catalina Four

Paddle Board- Bikini- Beach

Sailing from San Francisco to Avalon, this was the long planned passage, a tribal escapade, journeying to the harbor of the living-breathing Santa Catalina Island—- a offshore destination where exists an alter paced island ambience— the much admired oak barrel aged amber liquids bottled and called booze, in all things swaddled in near nothingness called a bikini; mingling amidst the sun-gilded bronzed visitors and residents who have by happenstance roved here to this storied island— separated by nothing more than mist and fog bank—- one half-day’s sail from the buzzing Southern California megalopolis— where by arm’s-length from the mainland reside the formidable sum of forty million of western civilizations quirky and traffic hazed.

Catalina Six

Running with the Big Dogs

I pet my peoples dogs, admired their dinghies. I relished the glorious knowing transcendence, our group-oversharing, our unyielding sanguinity— a fair-weather native birthright, people tested in gridlock but unbent (until fenders have clashed,) a citizenry resplendently aglow with a can-do- window tinted willingness to rise against all ill-tempered obstacles identified as too hot or too cold. All our thermal moderation, all evidence of material insufficiency, all former physical attributes once celebrated as character traits vanished by American Express fueled scalpel and suture. This is not self-help on steroids, this is what only a modern day banking system- financialized surgeon enhanced imagination can buy. Chins, cheeks and noses are chiseled into appealing compliance. Veneers for teeth, fitness centers for a cursory quick do over of gut or bicep. Hair and nail salons are cheek to jowl from Yreka to El Centro. My people start the day in circuit training end the day on a yoga mat. Kale salad and our first of two hibiscus infused martini’s are sipped at sunset with more often than not a second or third present-life-partner. The brilliant oranges and atmospherically moody ozone and carbon enhanced reds bring to climax another Left Coast Topanga Canyon sunset.

Lacey in July

Performing the Mightiest Little of Dogs

My sailing began on the Alameda Estuary. In 1980 I had come off the road from constant touring. I had weathered five years out of state crisscrossing the nation chasing dates playing my juggling act to infinitesimally diminutive audiences. I heard the call of home. Born in Oakland and raised in the Bay Area. Northern California of the seventies and yet to be written eighties was fern bars, funk bands doused in magnums of Napa sparkling wine. We were the world’s glitzy, garrulous— glamorously libidinous. A person born in California tested the complex multidimensional iterations of the sprawling romantic endeavor described more or less as love.

Catalina Seven

Summer Winds

Decades, children, homes all came and went. Some vanished, some were sold and some simply moved out. All the while I was playing the streets of Fisherman’s Wharf a swelling population compounded like some interest bearing retirement account. The long wet winters are memory. A dryer and warmer climate has taken hold. We don’t much like to do dreary, wet or cold. It’s so awful we invented Palm Springs to help the most averse among us to not have to ever have to suffer such inconvenience.

Catalina Two

Cozy Lagoons Nestled in Hillsides of Prickly Pear

And to this leading edge of all that is left of the era of enlightenment, as we all sort through the digital catastrophe, the computer chip disrupted economic rollercoaster madcap E-ticket ride to mostly rags or in some few circumstances riches here at this island outpost I arrive to take measure of my fellow countrymen. I am here to shoot my curiosity arrows into the heart of others minds, to gauge temperament, to discern what remains of what we have in common. In less than one year three historic sized conflagrations have leveled thousands of buildings, terminated the lives of good people helping to shape the expectations of what Tesla, lithium and solar panels can bring to our fragile future. Dusk is spent rocking gently at anchor. I see you fellow citizens. I see your spirit, I see our challenge. I want to shake your hand, hold you in my arms and convince you that we can do this. Together, we can do this, starting here and starting now. Come September and my return to my harbor… it is time.

Edited Red Star

Still Earning My Stripes

welcome mat

Welcome to Wayfarer World

Christina and Garrett are members of the Ventura Yacht Club. Garrett’s father had lived at the club since before he was married and started his family. Garrett was born, raised, and then had his own children and by fact of residency is the club’s most permanent fixture. Garrett has lived aboard his entire life. His son and daughter, one in the United States Marines, and the other an aspiring wildlife photographer and college student have known no other home than the families 40’ sailboat. Three generations have spent their lives right here. Garrett’s wife from the day they vowed understood the terms by which they would live their lives.

This was the stout stock and first souls we met walking the initial steps on terra firma in Southern California.

 

Varley's Gulf Star 50

Gulf Star 50 

Morro Bay Yacht Club

We were steered in the Ventura Yacht Club direction north of here while still in Morro Bay. A club member had been out harbor hopping up and down the coast with his ketch rigged Gulf Star 50. Refinements included a 600 gallons per day watermaker and Cummins turbo diesel for punching the 17.5 ton sailboat to weather. Talk about shipshape! The skipper spent some 320 hours reskinning, sound-dampening and fireproofing the engine room and workshop.

The Newport, Oregon native started out in the music business. Tom pulling the wild card from the deck of his life concocted a sound blended with sunshine and a less fully employed pace. For some years the gigs were fat and sweet, his music and touring was all upside, but as the wheel turned the smoke filled one night stands became more grind than grand he finally closed the backstage door for the last time.

The Evergreen State College alumni had no more stomach for the long hops and short stops. Today Tom, wife, dog and sailboat devote the lion-share of their days exploring the Channel Islands. A professional mariner, Master licensed, Tom hires out now and then to deliver large fine yachts from one port to another. Tom’s part bard and poet and one-hundred percent hard scrabble. According to the dog in his life Tom Varley is something more than a ordinary-run-of-the-mill good man. Tom’s dog was canine blessed having partnered with a real human being. Dogs are never wrong about character.

Tom's Dog

A Real Sweetheart This One…

I spoke with two licensed ocean sailors from the Ventura Yacht Club. Including Tom Varley the three all had distinct opinions about how to approach an ocean passage. Jeff, a delivery skipper, who along and his wife have sailed for personal pleasure to Mexico and across the Pacific. Their Passport 40 is a capable circumnavigating sailboat. Passport owners possess seafaring confidence. As the veteran offshore sailor explained he’s got a plan when the weather gets heavy, it’s a plan he’s tested and proved to work. The anvil willed mariner invited me aboard. He demonstrated how to shorten sail fast. We went over the tactic aboard my boat and where modification and changes might make more sensible and efficient work of this task. Smaller sails are necessary for higher wind speeds. Going to weather (upwind) in 30 knots for days on end without strain to boat or crew is necessary. Like most other blue water veterans Jeff possesses a Darwinian sensibility. Survival of the fittest comes to mind while examining his hands, beard and brains. He is nobodies fool and goes to sea intending to make it back to port come what may.

Weather Fax

Weather Fax Machine

The other gentleman I chewed on time and crackers with sailed a C&C 37’. Lighter displacement, larger mast, a spirited racer/cruiser design- one of the most popular sailboats of its era. I had spoken about ocean sailing and this yacht club member quickly disabused me of this misstatement. I had not been ocean sailing I had been coastal sailing. Even though he had sailed his boat to Mexico, had for decades sailed to the Channel Islands by his reckoning he had never been far enough off the coast to describe his experience as ocean sailing. There were two reasons; first, a boat and crew setup for ocean sailing is prepared to meet a different set of challenges. Second, an ocean sailing boat because of the vast distances back to land can’t get off the water and escape the forces of heavy weather. The club member explained he didn’t mind facing difficulty for part of a day but he couldn’t stomach the notion of having to ride out a storm for day upon night and day. Below the surface the man tamped down on the swamp of his emotions. There wasn’t much more he could say. The club member had that look behind his eyes. The expression was something of a game face. Sailors are not the type to bellyache (with one notable exception…). The coastal sailor knew what he was up for and not up for and that was his reality. Coastal sailing was plenty. Enough said.

Tenacious

Naming the Unspeakable

Smooth sailing… that’s the aim. The part that isn’t so smooth, the part that tests character, sets its mark right there beneath your ribcage— between the “trust and know and doubt and fear…” In some instances the distance between is as tight a spot as you are likely ever to face. Sailors have to account for the mettle, the God given spine they inherit. A sailboat will tease the unavoidable fact of your fear right out of you. A rough day at sea is truth serum. I got some big time respect for small craft offshore warnings and plenty to spare. Feel free to borrow mine, there’s buckets more where that came from.

Times wasting mate. There’s a head to repair, bilge pump to replace,  a new rigging splice to make— a chart to study. Smooth sailing mates… smooth sailing

Edited Red Star

Ode to Practicality

 

knowing better

Compact but Powerful Anti-Bucket Brigade Member

Fixing toilets and bilge pumps is in the let’s getaway and go cruising deal. You want to go sailing then you want to become a crackerjack marine toilet repairman. You want spare parts and hand tools at the ready. When the time comes you want to make quick work of the chore and put the whole stinking mess into one part of one piece of your morning.

People unfamiliar with the sailing world need to be brought up to speed on this odd new quirky corner of the sporting world they’ve stepped aboard. First off wear non-scuff white soled shoes. Don’t ask why  like some rotten spoiled child— just, do it. Second if you use the toilet don’t put anything down that toilet you didn’t eat or drink. I am not a man of faith  but believe me toilet paper flushed down a head cannot bring any good to the future career of a toilet repairman looking to get off early. If you find yourself in a relationship with a marine toilet for heavens sake have an able bodied seaman explain how  your personal human plumbing works and  this dang completely odd marine toilet thing interfaces when the two mysterious waste elimination systems are joined together while enjoying a romp upon a storm tossed sea. You will be surprised to learn that there is nothing simple about the urgency of having no reliable or workable place to go.

knowing better three

That is a lot of Broken Toilets right there…

Bilge pumps are all about getting water inside your boat to go outside. The physics of bilge pumps has to do with lift. You are lifting water and every gallon you lift— repeat after me— weighs seven pounds. It doesn’t take long to figure out that lifting ten gallons of water is the equivalent of lifting???  You see what I mean? So I have a particular passion for keeping my electric bilge pump in first class (it does the lifting-I’ll do the sailing) condition. I want that puppy shooting water out of my boat with wild abandon. I want my bilge pump thirsty. I want this beast wanting and ready. About the only thing a non-sailing passenger needs to understand about the technology of bilge pumps is that it isn’t the pump it is the location of the pump and the natural inclination of the designer of sailboats to place the bilge pump in the most impossible to remove and replace location that can be devised. If designing a boat is difficult then designing a serviceable location for a bilge pump is virtually impossible. If you want to have a real conversation about the circumstances of the human condition I would recommend locating a veteran well driller and listening to what they have to say about the whole task of lifting water in sufficient and reliable enough quantities to make property viable and human beings anywhere near happy. I presume that the engineering that goes into keeping a brassiere in top working condition constitutes a very close to the same kind of hands-on challenge to those engaged in the deployment and use of such vital lifting devices.

knowing better two

Floating Repair Station

There are of course a whole host of systems and devices that for no reason whatever that you or anyone with half a brain you trust can understand seem to keep working in spite of all the forces in nature arraigned against them. Cotter, clevis and hairpins come to mind. Gaskets and exotic high pressure oil and waterline hose fittings are in this category. The cutlass bearing is a book unto itself. If you don’t know the difference between standing rigging and running rigging don’t ask. Just replacing one of your two or three water pumps on your exotic diesel engine can require a call to Chase/JP Morgan Bank. We’re no longer talking waterline we’re talking credit line.

This quagmire of technology once mastered is what you will bet your life on while for no fault of your own having decided that what you really needed to do was sail two or three thousand miles across ocean so that you might not feel quite so utterly misanthropic. Just so you know not fifty years ago most sailors solved most of what I’ve just explained by using a device known as a bucket. This is a handy-dandy all purpose device that may be used in the event that all else fails. One more caveat about karma, thoughts as things, manifestors and self-sufficiency. A sailors willingness to use a bucket in the event that all other possible devices have been rendered out of working order is in inverse emotional resistance to a certain person you are close to who has spent most of the past twenty urgent minutes prior to breaking down and finally resorting to using the bucket repeating over and over again these magic words— I should have known better…

Edited Red Star

Sailing South on the California Coast

nightfall

Long Days at Sea

Diablo Canyon the earthquake fault sited nuclear power plant was off our port side. All the world along the west coast while running south is off to the east. Further south is Port San Luis Harbor. The harbormaster offered a mooring ball. Our evenings stopover tethered us to the furthermost southern and western point of the anchorage. No matter. Exhausted we ate and were soon on our bunks. My wife Eileen joined us in Morro Bay.

In the morning we took more fuel on and motored south into fog. Visibility was less than a mile but more than just past our nose. More sea lions and more whales were breaking the surface of a becalmed Pacific.

mermaid

Flirting with the Girls

Pismo Beach, Vandenberg, Point Arguello and Point Conception were all to our east. Pastel shoreline, hillsides and cliffs were airbrushed in transparencies of gray and veiled white mists. Until near Point Conception there was not much sea surface swell or wind. Even as we made safe transit southward the ocean was well down from what is common. Not one mile further is Cojo Anchorage. We put our plow hook down in 35 feet of water. As the wind kicked up using the windlass plenty of scope was spun out. I took compass bearings then for an hour checked our location to make certain the anchor wasn’t dragging. We would sleep on the hook but with the wind more than fresh I rested with one eye open. Throughout the night I was up to check we were safe. Somewhere between four and five-thirty while I had fallen hard on my pillow the pleasure yacht and fishing boat we shared Cojo with had both departed. I’d heard nothing.

Sunrise Santa Barbara

Cojo Anchorage Sunrise

I made coffee. We pulled our anchor and were underway within 30 minutes at exactly oh-six-hundred-hours. Over the VHF radio we were warned that weather was coming. We’d make for Ventura Harbor and by our calculations just ahead of the devil. We could eat while underway.

Predictably we got tangled in kelp while making our way to deeper water.  The mess got wrapped around the fin keel, rudder and prop shaft. Six to seven knots now was four point five to five knots. The devil does have a fated way of messing with you. We’d make safe refuge to Ventura two hours later than had been calculated.

By late afternoon the VHF radio was abuzz with one mariner or another visited by grief. The surface state of the ocean was more of a problem than the wind velocity. Short and steep can be hell on a small craft and crew. We were running with the building seas. Richard on the helm was tossed off by one violent flick of a rogue wave that had twitched our stern. I’d been going over the entrance to the harbor on my charts. We’d have to come broadside to the waves to get into the channel at the entrance. As we made our final mile into Ventura the waves settled some, they almost ceased to misbehave. Our raucous and roaring waters began lying down. Once in the secure embrace behind the jetty the grip of nature released and our minds could wander from more than wind, wave, hull and sail.

Pt Conception

Point Conception as Hearthrob and Obstacle

Two days out of Morro Bay. We had arrived in a port in the southland. The passage down the coast, the three hundred and fifty miles we’d traveled would be made good. The page would turn. Richard would fly from Burbank tomorrow. A new chapter was dead ahead. For the moment rest, food and restoration of our inner reserves was the order of the day.

More…

Edited Red Star

Two Hundred Miles Downwind

Morro Bay Amel Ketch

Tranquility as harbor

Coffee, always hot black coffee. No cream and no sugar, no thank you. Still even with a cup of fresh brew the skipper and crew were both bone tired. Anchor was hoisted at the top of the day. Deeper water was found as we dodged the kelp taking a course south and west . The jib was unfurled . We set course for Morro Bay twenty miles south.

Here would be our first chance to set foot back on land for more than just fuel. The harbor in Morro Bay would be the boat’s keeper. Her now worn crew needed to stand down. After two days we needed to tie the boat to a dock and once relieved of duty not consider for one second about the change of weather or state of the ocean’s surface. Shore side leave was the order of the day.

We docked at the Morro Bay Yacht Club. I dropped the radar reflector and hoisted the burgee of the Emeryville Yacht Club. Sweet Seas and crew were welcomed guests. We showered and shaved. Down the Embarcadero along the waterfront we took a stool at Windows on the Water. I drank one martini before and a glass of red wine with my fresh shucked oysters, garden salad and chunks of sliced bread. I was back aboard on my bunk and asleep before ten bells had sounded.

Richard Santos Best

Richard Santos- Longtime friend and crew

In the morning the ketch rigged vessel Spirit came alongside the pier. Her captain Tom Valery hailing from Ventura had come from a mooring ball to the dock to spend the day cleaning his 50’ Gulf Star. The one time Newport, Oregon native and musician now attended to an evolving set of new careers. The witty eyed sailor had plotted a post high pressure-high stakes musical career for the chance to go drifting from port to port in pursuit of his own next chapter.

There was a weekly Wednesday night barbecue at the club. Beef, turkey, salmon and veggie burgers were on offer. Six bucks got you all the fixings plus homemade side dishes whipped up by the clubs talented cooks. Conversation ran the gamut from dragging anchor to near misses in dense fog. The sailors with real sea time logged could not be worried about the inherent risks that come with going to sea.

vest

Skin in the Game

Seafarers understand the compact they’ve entered into. There is not much else to say. What choice does a mariner have? By my reckoning there are some risks in life that are best categorized as necessary. You stick your neck out because you’ll never live with yourself if you don’t. Rough weather is not much worse than a bad marriage, traffic citation or a beat up pickup truck with a broken starter. They’ll all make you cuss, drink whiskey and pile on more regret to the pile of mistakes you’ve already been carrying to this fated point in your life.

A yacht club is a collection of stalwart women and men who have some notion that a boat affords them a chance to take a chose shave with their life. There are all sorts of distracting dreams and destinations in the mix, but regardless of the aim or final port there remains the matter of surviving the getting there, even relishing that passage, making the voyage with skill and grace no matter the circumstances. Somewhere in the thing we know as sailing is a soul who needs to see an end to putting off the unavoidable.

gulls and seals

Time spent ocean sailing over the course of my thirty-eight years has been low. Most of my sailing has been in protected waters. I’ve done enough time offshore to have seen plenty. This stint is my longest yet. We’ve arrived in Morro Bay having now logged two hundred miles. Now we are just more than halfway. By my count I’ll have near nine hundred sea miles under my sailboats keel by the time I arrive back at my home port. By that time I’ll have a more intimate view of what my boat and what parts of my insides I’ve not flushed out into the open prior to this challenge. Sailing the coast of California turns out to be both a beautiful and hard won task.

More…  Edited Red Star