Monday, October 31, 2016

Santa Cruz Island

[Kyle]At the anchorage in Bechers Cove on Santa Rosa island in California's Channel Islands, we had a slow day of watching lounging in the cockpit. We watched the shadows in the hills behind change as the sun tracked its way through the sky and the mini-dramas of the birds floating in the kelp. We followed that with a good night's sleep, which left us feeling fully recovered from running the boat for 48 hours straight to get there.

A slow and easy sail - occasionally stopping to clear kelp from rudders

We left a few minutes after sunrise for what we knew would be a slow 25 mile sail to our next anchorage at Prisoners Harbor on Santa Cruz island. The wind was hardly there, but the islands had effectively blocked the swell. This allowed the sails to maintain their curved airfoil shape without constantly filling and collapsing, which allowed us to move at a nice, peaceful crawl on a beautiful, clear day. We stayed in the warmth of the cockpit enclosure reading to each other while enjoying the gradually changing view of Santa Cruz's cliffs as we slid by.

When we finally reached Prisoners Harbor, we found another boat in our intended spot to the wast of the pier, so we found good holding to the east. Our all-day crawl left just enough time to watch the sun set behind the hills and prepare for the next day before darkness fell.

Sea Lions hang out on their backs all day
and we relax along with them (from the boat)

Santa Cruz - day WOW!

We both had a night of weird dreams that kept us up half the night. I kept thinking we were in the boatyard with a million things to attend to. Maryanne dreamt I was in a bad motorcycle accident. When the first light of morning started coming through the hatch, it was way more appealing to stay in bed than to get moving, as I had originally intended. No worries, we had a short day planned, so it getting up late wasn't a huge deal.

We were underway respectably before noon.

The wind was still nearly nothing, but we were only going eleven miles to the eastern end of the island.

We were transitioning from motor to sail when we spotted what looked like a tide rip ahead. It could have also been where the wind started creating ripples in the flat sea.

Fist Dolphin Visit of the day brings a crowd playing at our bows

We unfurled the sails and started slowing the engines in preparation for shutting them down. Just then, I saw three dolphins coming over to play in our bow wave. Oh, we love dolphins. They always seem to stop whatever they are doing to come over and play. We ran to the bow and that's when it hit us. The churned up water way ahead that we thought was a tide rip was actually the turbulence of HUNDREDS of dolphins stretching over a mile!

Maryanne (the marine biologist, remember) thinks one group were probably herding fish into shallower water by the beach at Prisoners in order to make them easier to catch (but admits that is a guess). Eventually they all seemed to leave what they were doing and pass right by us.

..And then the larger crowd joins us and put on quite a show in all directions

It was incredible! We were completely surrounded by hundreds of them. I have never even come close to seeing that many dolphins in one place in my whole life at sea. We had just sailed through the North Pacific Annual Dolphin Conference and they had all joined in as our escorts!

We still had almost no wind, but the noise bad turbulence they made made it sound like we were hearing surf landing at the beach. It was L.A. Traffic of dolphins!


We were too slow for them, so they eventually went on their way. The wind picked up and we had a nice, fast sail to our next anchorage at Smuggler's Cove. Smuggler's is beautiful - surrounded by high, yellow hills that turn orange in the late day light.

Safely arrived at Smugglers Cove
Some time to relax and enjoy the calm before we wait out the storm

Perfect days of sailing like this are rare and beautiful. We slog through all of the miserable times for a day like this.

We spent a whole day at Smugglers, where we enjoyed Bald Eagles and beautiful views. The last forecast we had been able to pick up called for high winds and rain all day, so our plan was to hunker down behind the hills and have an indoor day reading and cooking comfort food.

It didn't turn out to be so bad. The clouds held off until afternoon, making for a perfect climate inside the cockpit enclosure. Instead of an indoor day, we spent our time pottering around doing minor maintenance and tidying up.

We were just starting to think about donning our wetsuits and going for a swim when the clouds moved in and it started sprinkling. That effectively killed our motivation for that. Back to plan A.

It wasn't until 1 a.m. that the weather arrived. I had set our anchor alarm with a small radius so I would know if were starting to swing in a different direction than we had laid out our chain. It woke us by screaming at us. (Literally. The alarm noise is of a screaming chimpanzee). We resisted the strong temptation to spring out of bed, but instead checked the display to see if we were swinging or if we were really dragging and which way. The distance to our set point increased for a bit and then decreased again. Whew! Swinging.

We were almost asleep again when the screaming started again. This time, we could hear the wind picking up and feel Begonia yawing around when she came to the end of her rode and the bridle turned her to face the anchor. Perhaps I'd better get up this time and have a look.

I turned on the wind instruments. The wind was about 15 knots, gusting to 24 or so - not too bad. I went outside in the rain to see what I could see. At the bows, even though it was really dark, I could clearly see the vee of our bridle going from each bow to where it met our anchor chain in their middle. From there, I could see the first half of our chain as it receded away toward the anchor. All of this was because brilliant bioluminescence lit everything up as if we had strung glow sticks the whole length of our rode. All of the breaking crests of the little wavelets around were also lit up. We seemed to be holding fine, so I went back inside.

Since we had no cell service with which to pick up a detailed forecast or get a good look at a radar picture, I tuned in NOAA weather radio on the VHF just to see if anything new had cropped up since the last time we had been able to check the weather two days ago.

As I figured, the forecast was over a much to broad area to be of any use to us. It basically said, "Entire Pacific Ocean: winds of variable strength and speed, changing to winds of other strength and speed..." Okay. The only helpful information was the buoy reports, which said the waves were higher to the west, from where the storm was approaching.

We had a few flashes of lightning, the rain picked up for a while and then began to decrease. The pull on the chain lessened and its weight pulled it toward the sea floor and Begonia back toward the anchor.

Leftover swell woke us again just before sunrise. Begonia pitched and rolled in at least two difference wave trains. Oh, well. We had to be up to start our next leg anyway.

On to the Channel Islands

[Kyle]I knew the wind was forecast to be all over the place, so I tried my best to be philosophical about it when it wouldn't behave as I liked. After leaving Morro Bay, we crept along so slowly that we had only made it to Point Arguello (fifty miles or so down the coast) by the next morning. The wind filled in reliably from dead ahead and we spent the whole day making long tacks back and forth, slowly making ten miles or so each time.

In the planning phase, I had originally thought that it may be necessary for us to slow down and wait for daylight before arriving at our planned anchorage at Santa Cruz island in the Channel Islands. By noon, we were still tacking across the Santa Barbara shipping channels and it was apparent we were in for another night of sailing.

The wind was calming down enough that I changed our plan to the more accessible open roadstead anchorage at Bechers Bay off Santa Rosa island. It is bigger and posed fewer hazards to entering in the dark. We crept in on a flat sea and found a lot of kelp in our chosen spot. We gingerly searched around using spotlights for a clear spot to drop the anchor. While doing so, I got some wrapped around the starboard prop and it stalled the engine. I was able to restart the engine and unwind it with reverse.

We found a spot and were able to get the anchor down, but it was necessary to find a path through a few small kelp patches in order to lay out enough chain to set it. Wile doing so, I discovered that with just a little power, the fronds were no match for the machinery. Sorry, kelp.

Bechers Bay, Santa Rosa Island

We awoke in the morning to find we had the whole bay to ourselves, with the sound of the waves lapping the beach. I went outside to find Begonia resting in the middle of a big patch of kelp. I was able to avoid starting an engine by pulling up most of our anchor chain by hand to pull Begonia away. While leaving the anchor set, I was able to dump the chain in a big pile nearby. In flat conditions, the weight alone should be enough to keep us in place without needing to pull on the anchor. This left us free to enjoy the views and the birds and the sky and the fish and even the kelp as we readjusted to a more normal diurnal sleep pattern.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Morro Bay Area

[Kyle]From San Simeon, we spent the day making the short hop to Morro Bay. We left at first light, put up the sails, and went rocketing down the coast, propelled by a warm tailwind coming off of the hills.

That lasted for just about a mile before we sailed into light headwinds. As soon as we changed all of the sails around, the wind died completely, then came from it's original direction. We'd put the sails back again and the wind would come from some third direction. This repeated itself about every thirty seconds for hours as the current pushed us down the coast while we rolled and slatted our way along. When we finally couldn't take it any more, we yanked everything down and started an engine.

About ten miles from the Morro Bay entrance, the wind came back and seemed to stay put. We put the sails back up and shut down the noisy motor. The wind speed increased and increased. We reefed and reefed again in an attempt to keep our speed out of the scary range. By the time we turned into the entrance, it was howling and we were glad it was time to pull all of the sail down.

An early departure
and before long Morro Bay greeted us with its famous rock
.. and yet more Sea lions and Sea Otters

Since the current is very strong in the estuary and reverses four times a day, we opted to pay the nominal fee for a sturdy mooring ball rather than have to go to the trouble of setting two anchors and being worried they would hold.

Ten bucks a day got us a spot right in the middle of the waterfront right next to a dock that had been set aside as a raft for the sea lions.

We deployed the dinghy and went ashore to meet the harbor master and pay our fees. Afterward, one thing led to another and we found ourselves pretty much exploring the whole town before returning to Begonia. We had planned a day for it later on, but Morro Bay is charming, but it's also not a very big town, so we crossed that one off the list early.

Morro Bay waterfront, full of fishing boats and tourist opportunities
the beginnings of a Maritime Museum, and Begonia at sunset

While Begonia stayed moored in Morro Bay, we spent our second day taking busses out of town.

Morro Bay has the coolest bus stop ever!

Our first stop was the slightly larger town of San Luis Obispo. I had been there once for the day many years ago as a freight pilot and remembered it as being nice. It still is.

We started at the mission, which served as one in a chain of missions running up and down the coast. The associated museum had some interesting displays, particularly about the indigenous population before the mission's intervention.

We then left to wander the streets, navigation by going in the direction that seemed most interesting at the time. After a while, we found a tourist office and popped in to see what we may have missed. It turned out to be not much. The guy laid out a walking tour of the sights that took in pretty much everywhere we had already been, and then suggested we went shopping.

St Luis Obispo - famed for the Spanish Mission,
it also has a picturesque creek walk
and (for some reason) Bubblegum Alley!

Since it was still early, we decided to go back to the main bus stop and get a ride further afield to Pismo Beach, with a goal of getting a late lunch there.

We walked along the crowded streets and along the beach. We browsed several menus, but nothing really jumped out at us. We took a long walk along a boardwalk through a state park connecting Pismo Beach with the next town, Grover Beach. By then, it was getting hot and we were getting pretty hungry. A quick search on the internet turned up a highly reviewed Mexican restaurant just up the street. It turned out to be not so much a restaurant as an order-at-the-window kind of place with a couple of plastic tables out front. We ordered and were given so much food that even I had a hard time finishing it all. I liked mine better than Maryanne did, so I finished hers as well. Not bad for food out of a window.

Pismo Beach and the boardwalk on to Grover Beach

We checked the bus times for the trip back to Morro Bay and discovered we would either have to get stuck for an hour at an outlet mall on the way or we could just skip the first bus and part walk/part run all of the way to the mall and just make it. Oh, yes, running on a full stomach on a hot day! We just made it, giving us our extra hour in Morro Bay instead.

That gave us enough time for a tour of the harbor in the dinghy. We passed by the sea lions (which are best viewed from upwind) and went in search of some sea otters doing cute things, which is pretty much every thing they do.

On the way back, we stopped by a Gemini that we had seen when we paid our fees the day before. Sitting on the dock enjoying the sunset were the owners, Kevin and Karen. We introduced ourselves and mentioned that we used to have a Gemini. They invited us to join them. We swapped stories for a bit. When they asked us what the name of our boat was, a flash of recognition came across their faces, "You're THE Kyle and Maryanne, from Footprint! We're have your checklist!"

How funny. That's the third time we've been recognized by people who were previously strangers. We may be bordering on micro famous. Kevin invited me aboard to get my opinion of his latest drive leg repair. It seemed good as new to me.

How strange it was to be on that boat. I haven't been on a Gemini for a while, but I found that my feet and hands automatically knew where to go without my having to think about it. I kept having to remind myself that it wasn't Footprint and to not get weirded out by the fact that the knives are in the wrong place or some such thing.

We stayed until is was good and dark and then made plans for Kevin and Karen to come to Begonia for dinner the next night. They sent us back with home made pumpkin cake (delicious).

A dinghy trip to the Sand Spit to see the birds

We were up reasonably early the next morning to take the dinghy to the beach opposite the town for a walk around to the harbor entrance. We then crossed over to the town via a tour of the mooring field (Maryanne had been keen to see the skateboard museum). We had a long walk on that side and then returned to Begonia to prepare for both dinner and our next sail.

On on for a tour of the southern end of Morro Bay town (and the skateboard Museum)

Kevin and Karen arrived and then the whole harbor promptly disappeared behind thick fog. We all ate in the cockpit while listening to the sounds of a waterfront we could all only occasionally see. Some of the noise was from a band they knew. They had promised to make an appearance, so they left us to prepare for our next day's departure, and to finish off the last of the carrot cake they had kindly brought along for desert.

San Simeon

[Kyle]After Monterey, we left for the overnight sail to San Simeon. We untied from the dock and were accompanied out of the harbor by sea lions and kayakers while curious sea otters watched from the water and curious tourists watched from Fisherman's Wharf.

As we headed north in the bay towards Point Pinos, we were surrounded by so many sea lions and sea otters that it was hard to know where to look. Joining them were harbor seals and a few small pods of dolphins. Several tour boats were milling about. It occurred to me that this was the perfect place for such enterprises as they hardly needed to leave the dock before being able to produce views of all of the animals people bought tickets to see.

As we rounded the point and entered the open Pacific, the sea lions and otters thinned out and we started to see humpback whales.. and the fish of which Monterey Bay has the second highest proportion of in the world: Great White sharks. They're around almost everywhere in pretty scarce numbers, but I had never seen one in the wild until now. Now I've seen about a dozen! They were mostly minding their own business. At first, we thought they were more dolphins until they got closer and we could see their tails. Falling in is always bad, especially in water this cold, but with these guys around, you may not make it that long.

We turned south along the coast and shut down the engines. About a minute after that, the wind decreased until it was just enough to push us. That would have been fine, but the storm we had ridden out in Monterey left a long swell behind. As our mast swayed back and forth as we rolled over them, the sails would fill, collapse and back, over and over again. We were still moving, so they were helping more often than not, but the banging and shaking did a real number on my nerves as I sequentially worried about every single piece of the boat until I got to the end of my list. Then I would start all over again...

As we crossed Carmel Bay, we came apron several large rafts of kelp that had broken free in the storm and drifted into deep water. We alternated between dodging patches that we could see and using a boat hook to free ourselves from those we didn't. Night came, which freed Maryanne from being able to see any kelp as she took the first watch.

Sailing South along this wild coast and enjoying the sunrise

By the time she woke me, the wind was up, the sails were quiet, and we were moving smartly. We arrived at San Simeon just after daybreak and set our anchor right in front of the winery in the middle of the little cove between the point and the pier. Hearst Castle could be seen atop the hill above. Only a little of the swell was making it around the point to Begonia. There was just enough for a gentle rocking on board, although, by the time it got to the beach, it would have been too much of the dinghy. We contented ourselves with a day in and simply enjoyed the views.

Views of Hearst Castle while we rested in the Bay