Friday, June 6, 2014

California (2014)

On the afternoon of March 12th, Saviah went back in the water after a week in the boatyard at the Baja Naval Marina in Ensenada.  A few hours later, just before sunset, we had everything stowed and pulled out of the harbor to make the 60 mile passage to San Diego.  It was an uneventful trip, motor-sailing in the light NW winds and flat seas, and we arrived at the police docks in San Diego around 6 am.  The customs officers arrived 30 minutes later and cleared us into the country.  There was no boat inspection required, just a little bit of paperwork, and we were done.  Saviah had officially returned to her home country.

After the sun came up, we set off for the familiar docks of the Harbor Island West Marina. We had done quite a bit of sightseeing on our previous stay three years ago, and this time our focus was on taking care of some boat projects.  It had been a long time since we had been to a chandlery with the prices and selection available in the US, and we were looking forward to updating a few things.  We did find time to spend a day walking along the waterfront and touring some of the classic sailing ships and the maritime museum as well. 

marinas at Harbor Island, classic sailing ships on the San Diego waterfront

During our many trips to the chandleries, we bought new fire extinguishers and flares to replace our expired ones, a new strobe light, and many other odds and ends.  We also needed to get some new charts and guidebooks since our journey up the coast would involve stopping often.  Another project was to clean out the storage lockers and cubbies on Saviah to get rid of stuff we didn’t need and also swap out our anchors.  Our primary anchor was still a 55 pound Delta that was too big for our boat and a pain to pull in by hand.  Our backup was a knock off CQR that was the only one we could find in American Samoa, and we were never able to get it set.  The flukes on our 35 pound Danforth were stuck in place, and no amount of pounding was able to break them loose enough to function properly.

We were excited to learn that Enterprise still has their $10/day weekend special, which we took advantage of several times going up the coast.  We picked up a car, loaded up the trunk with boat stuff and drove around to several of the second hand stores, including the huge Minney’s store 90 miles north in Costa Mesa.  We were able to trade our old anchors, charts, guidebooks and other stuff that we no longer needed.  In the end, we ended up with a 45 pound Bruce anchor as a back-up and a 45 pound Delta for the primary, some extra cash and a lot of extra room in the boat.  While we had the rental car, we drove out to Cabrillo National Monument on Point Loma to see the lighthouses and take in the views.

We spent a week in San Diego and then left on March 20th at 5 am for the 80 mile sail to Catalina Island.  Our speed wasn’t quite fast enough to make it to Two Harbors before the sun went down, so we took the first mooring buoy that we could find along the east side of the island.  It took about 30 minutes to get all of the lines secured in the dark, and the next morning we untied to make the short hop up to Isthmus Cove.

This part of Catalina Island is very different from Avalon, the bustling harbor we visited three years ago on our way down the coast.  The small town of Two Harbors is located on the narrow strip of land found between Isthmus Cove to the north and Catalina Harbor to the south.  Since it is not far from LA, it can get crowded in the summer, but it was quiet during our stay, and in the offseason, you get five days on the moorings free when you pay for two. 

Catalina Island

The weather was sunny and clear for our first few days, so we hiked around, exploring the many trails in the area.  The island is quite steep and the trails along the ridgeline around 1,500 feet provided some great views.  We could clearly see the California coast, 20 miles away.   Unfortunately, the forecast didn’t look good for the coming days, so we took advantage of our last day of calm weather to make another hop up the coast.  We had considered going to LA, but the transient dock at Marina Del Rey was under construction for the entire month, so we made the 85 mile sail to Santa Barbara instead.
Saviah slipped the mooring lines at 6 pm and arrived in Santa Barbara the next day around noon.  The seasonal anchorage was closed until April 1st, so we took a slip in the marina there.  It was a bit expensive, so we hoped to stay for only a few days before continuing on our way.  The next leg of our journey would be the 100 mile passage to Morro Bay, which involves rounding Point Conception, a notoriously windy point with rough seas.  We needed a window of calm for this trip, and it became obvious that our wait would be much longer than the few days we had planned. 

Santa Barbara marina

Other than the expensive marina, Santa Barbara is not a bad place to be stuck waiting for weather.  It is a beautiful city with a paved coastal trail that goes for miles both east and west of the marina.  The trail was perfect for running, and we made it part of our daily routine.  There were nice beaches in both directions as well, and downtown was only a 20 minute walk away.  We even rented a car again and drove through the Santa Ynez Valley, visiting the quaint towns and enjoying being off the boat for a couple of days.

Santa Barbara

We ended up staying in Santa Barbara for 11 days before we had a decent weather window and headed out at 4 am on April 3rd.  Our plan was to sail 40 miles to the Cojo Anchorage, just east and in the lee of Point Conception.  We would then anchor there for the rest of the day and head off again at midnight to get around the point in the wee hours of the morning when conditions are usually the lightest.

Point Conception
As we neared the Cojo Anchorage, the seas were benign, and it didn’t make sense to stop.  We continued up the coast monitoring the weather and rounded Point Conception at noon on a beautiful calm sunny day.  We continually waited for the wind to increase and seas to build, but it just didn’t happen.  The same calm conditions persisted for the remaining 60 miles to Morro Bay, although the temperatures are getting colder as we make our way north, especially after the sun sets.  Night watches seem very long, and it is hard to stay warm, even wearing three jackets. 

We arrived around midnight, and Di called the Coast Guard station to check the entrance conditions.  With the all clear, we proceeded into the bay at high slack tide, dropped the hook in 15 feet, and got a good night’s sleep.  We knew there was a large shoal area west of where we anchored that dries at low tide, but in the morning we were surprised to see how close it was.  There was a bird standing on the ground about 30 feet from Saviah’s stern.   We turned on the depth sounder and it registered around 6 feet, meaning there were only a few inches of water under the keel.

Since the tide was rising we weren’t concerned, but there just wasn’t much swinging room in the bay, which was crowded with boats on mooring buoys.  If there was a good blow, we could get into trouble pretty quick.  So we rowed into town, checked in with the harbor master, and then went down to the Morro Bay Yacht Club to talk to them about staying on a mooring buoy.

Morro Rock and Morro Bay

The Morro Bay Yacht Club has moorings available for transient boats, as well as hot showers, so we moved over later that afternoon.  It was a good decision because the temperatures are getting colder and access to shore side facilities is hard to resist, especially without a water heater on board.  The yacht club members were very welcoming and even invited us to join their Friday afternoon happy hour.

Morro Bay was a good stop for us.  We enjoyed walking around town and on the beach that stretches for almost six miles north of Morro Rock (the 576 foot high volcanic plug that sits at the entrance of the harbor).  We also spent some time rowing around in the protected bay where they have a dock, which is nearly sinking from the weight of all the sea lions.  One of the babies was really interested in us and nearly boarded the dinghy.  We also saw sea otters for the first time.  There are dozens of them in the bay, and for much of the day, they can be found close to shore in the kelp beds.  They wrap themselves up in the kelp so they can sleep without drifting off.

We stayed in Morro Bay for three days before there was another round of good weather offshore. We untied the mooring lines in the middle of the afternoon and made the 100 mile hop north to Monterey overnight.  This was another nerve racking trip in dense fog that set in several hours out of port and only cleared when we neared Monterey around noon the next day.  Shortly after the fog set in, one of two radar reflectors, which are mounted to the upper shrouds near the top of the mast, fell down and almost landed on Di in the cockpit.  The hard plastic shattered into hundreds of sharp pieces and flew all over the boat, inside and outside.  It was a close call, and we made it a priority to replace the cable ties securing the other radar reflector as soon as we were in port.

We took a slip in the Monterey Municipal Marina and really enjoyed our stay there.  There is a coastal trail leading from the marina past the pier at Fisherman’s Wharf, with dozen of shops and restaurants, and then further to Cannery Row, where there was a huge fishery before the business collapsed in the 1950’s due to overfishing.  Beyond that, the trail continued along to nearby Pacific Grove where the harbor seals and their pups lounged on the beaches and beautiful pink wildflowers lined the coast. 

The marine life in Monterey Bay is prolific.  In the middle of the bay is Monterey Canyon, one of the largest underwater canyons in the world, at over two miles deep in places.  Its depth and nutrient availability provide an excellent environment for all sorts of whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, otters, and others.  There were sea otters swimming around Saviah in the marina and even lounging on the dock next to her.

After waiting for weather for a while with no window in sight, we rented a car to explore the coast.  We drove through Big Sur, where Highway 1 winds high along the cliffs that drop straight down hundreds of feet into the ocean.  Another day was spent visiting the north side of the bay to check out the town of Santa Cruz, with its beachfront amusement park.  We then drove inland a bit so we could squeeze in a half-day hike in the Santa Cruz Mountains. 

After almost two weeks in Monterey, we had a short weather window that would allow us to make the 65 mile sail to Half Moon Bay.  It wasn’t ideal, but if we left in the middle of the night, we could take advantage of the calmer conditions and arrive before the next strong blow.  We left Monterey at 2 am, motor-sailing with NW winds at 5-10 knots.  As predicted, the large westerly swell from a storm system off Canada had finally made its way to the California coast.  We started seeing long rolling 10-12 foot seas, and as we approached Half Moon Bay, the wind kicked up to NW 15-20.

The approach to the harbor has several reefs to be avoided, which were easy to see with the massive waves breaking on them.  It was a bit nerve wracking approaching the entrance in the large swell, which was with us all the way to the harbor breakwall.  Once we rounded the jetty, we reached the flat water of the harbor and doused the main, finding a good anchor spot just west of the marina breakwater.  After the anchor was set, we unloaded the dinghy and rowed to shore to check out the town before the winds picked up.  We made the four mile walk to town along the coastal trail.  It was foggy and cold, but a beautiful trail with wildflowers starting to bloom.

Half Moon Bay

We spent four nights anchored out and then set off for San Francisco Bay on April 24th.  It was only a 25 mile trip to the Golden Gate Bridge and the protected waters of the bay.  As soon as we weighed anchor at 5:30 am, a dense fog rolled into the bay, and we could no longer see the breakwater behind us, or even the navigation lights flashing on top of it.  We let the anchor out again and waited an hour before it thinned out enough to see the harbor entrance.  The winds and seas were fine, but the fog kept us on our toes throughout the trip.  Around noon, we could see parts of the Golden Gate Bridge that was mostly shrouded in fog, but as soon as we passed under it, the skies cleared and the wind picked up to 15 knots from the NW.  We unfurled the genoa and had a great sail through the bay.

Before leaving Half Moon Bay, we were weighing our options for moorage in the Bay Area, which can be really pricey, when Andrew saw an ad in a sailing magazine for the Brisbane Marina. We called and found out that it was only $10/day, the cheapest we have paid anywhere in the world.  Since Andrew’s brother Adam was coming to visit and we would be staying for at least a week, we decided this would be a good place to stay.  We sailed past San Francisco and then headed about 10 miles south of downtown.
Our arrival in Brisbane was a little off, and we transited the dredged channel at low tide.  Our depth sounder read 6.3 feet, so Saviah’s keel was just barely above the mud bottom.  The afternoon winds had kicked up to 20-25 knots, but luckily the 200 foot guest dock was empty giving us plenty of room to pull alongside and get settled.  We liked the Brisbane Marina, which had all the amenities, but it was a long way from anything.  It was a 40 minute walk just to get to the bus stop, so getting groceries was an all-day affair.

We were planning to rent a car for Adam’s visit, so we decided to just tack a couple days on to the beginning and run some errands.  Other than grocery shopping, there was another boat project to do, which was upgrading our propane tanks.  We weren’t aware until recently that our fiberglass propane tanks had been recalled and the company went out of business.  We could still have them filled south of the border, but back in the US we weren’t having any luck and our propane was running low.
Since our propane locker was custom built for these unusually sized tanks, a conventional tank wouldn’t work, but we were able to find some steel tanks at the nearby West Marine that fit fairly well.  Disposing of our old ones was a bit harder.  None of the landfills would take them since we weren’t residents of the county.  After dozens of phone calls, we eventually found a hazardous waste site about 15 miles south that would take the old ones and dropped them off.

We were looking forward to Adam’s visit, and he finally arrived on May 3rd for a one week trip.  He had never been to the Bay Area before and had a list of places he wanted to see in San Francisco and around the region.  The day after he arrived, we headed south down the coast and stopped in Monterey, did the Seventeen Mile Drive through Pebble Beach and Carmel, and then continued along Highway 1 down the coast through Big Sur.   We spent the night in San Simeon and the next morning did a tour of the Hearst Castle, which is the 90,000 square foot mansion built by William Randolph Hearst  between 1919 and 1947.

Highway 1 along Big Sur, lone pine at Pebble Beach, Hearst Castle

After San Simeon, we headed back north to San Francisco to explore the city, visiting many of the well-known San Francisco icons, including Coit Tower, Lombard Street, Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, Chinatown, and a few museums as well.  The weather was fairly nice, so we did some hikes around the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

The weather in the bay then took a turn to cloudy and rain, so we set off to drive inland through the Napa and Sonoma area north of the city.  We had a beautiful drive through the vineyards and also made a stop in Muir Woods and Sausalito on the way back. 

Napa Valley and Golden Gate Bridge

A week flew by, and after dropping Adam off at the airport, we reluctantly shifted out of tourist mode and into passage mode.  We prepared Saviah for our next hop up the coast.  The ports become fewer and farther between on this stretch, and we hoped to find a long window and cover as much ground as possible.  Surprisingly, it was only a few days before we had what looked like a great window, and off we went with our target port Newport, Oregon, 470 miles away.

sailing out under Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge and by Alcatraz Island and Point Bonita Lighthouse