Tag Archives: Coastal Sailing

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

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.

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Edited Red Star