Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Searching for Dry Land . . .

. . . and Whales!
Internet access has not been as readily available as I had hoped but, finally, we are in a marina where I can get on-line. What an adventure we have had already and only a week into our two-month trip!

I last posted from Monterey Bay. We left there Friday morning, our destination Morrow Bay, some 100 or so miles south, by water. It was a beautiful, sunny day, with mild winds and just a few scattered clouds. In the afternoon we had enough wind to sail for a few hours, but the rest of the time we motor-sailed, even with the larger genoa that we had rigged in place of the regular jib (the front sail). Sea lions followed us out of the bay and played in our wake.

Heading into the night we readied everything for overnight sailing; we got our cold-weather gear handy, ate an early dinner, and moved into our two-on, two-off watch schedule. As the sun went down, however, the wind and seas began to rise. It got colder and darker and the seas rougher until I was scared enough to wake Mike a half-hour before my midnight-to-two a.m. watch was up.

Mike gradually reduced sail until we had no more than a small bit of the genoa no bigger than a baby’s blanket flying and still it seemed too much. We had a following sea with huge swells taller than our boat’s deck that often crested and broke behind us sending spray over the stern. The water was inky black with starkly contrasting whitecaps that nearly glowed under the half moon. The fierce wind gusted and changed directions almost constantly while howling through the rigging.

I huddled below terrified that any minute we’d be capsized, or something on the boat would fail -- like the engine -- and we’d be left floundering in the tossing waves or, worse, the wind would turn us broadside to the waves and the next big one would fill the cockpit & cabin with water. I didn’t forget my prayers that night!

To me the night was endless. Mike told me to try to sleep and I did lie down in the aft cabin but who can relax when in constant danger of being tossed out of the berth? And I had to watch the porthole constantly to make sure I could see Mike out in the cockpit. If I couldn’t see him I had to get up and go to the hatchway and peer out to make sure he hadn’t gone overboard. Wrapped up in multiple layers complete with balaclava (which covers the entire head except a small portion of face) and thick gloves he looked like an astronaut in a space capsule as he moved around checking the GPS, the wind-vane, and the sails.

Around 5 a.m. the wind finally began to calm a bit. I stood halfway up the ladder in the hatchway shrinking from the cold while Mike reported how well the boat had stood up to the rough conditions, the Monitor wind-vane hadn’t broken off and flown away in the wind, the engine hung in like a champ, and the genoa which is made of a lighter material than the regular jib hadn’t torn. He sent me below to look at the chart and see if there was a port closer than Morrow that we could duck into. Later that morning he wrote in his log, “Rough night. Enroute to Morrow but took refuge at San Simeon. Arrived 09:30 and slept.” I added my own note: “Deb terrified.”In San Simeon Bay there was no marina or other amenities for transient boaters so we anchored off-shore. I was able to use my cell phone to call my mom and check on my dad, who was still in the hospital but improving. We had a nice view of Hearst Castle high up on the hills.
The next day, Sunday, we left and day-sailed to San Luis Obispo Bay (skipping Morrow Bay entirely). Again we anchored off-shore and, although there was a water-taxi available to take boaters to shore, we were too late in the evening to use it so we simply stayed on-board. I called my mom again and as my dad had come home from the hospital that day I was able to talk to him. He sounded good! I also called my son, Rodrigo, and our housesitter, Richard, who said the cats are doing fine. Naturally, after talking to Richard and hearing the antics of the kitties I missed them more than ever.

We left San Luis Obispo Bay Monday a.m. and sailed all night around Point Arguello and Point Conception, also known as the “Cape Horn of the Pacific” for its notoriety in being a very difficult “crossing.” The Santa Ana winds, which are currently causing so much trouble and so many fires in southern California and northernmost Mexico, possibly helped produce the calmest seas in this area in recent history: gorgeous & calm mirror-like water, warm breezes until the deepest part of the night, and light winds. Not ideal for sailing, true, and we had to use our motor, but definitely my choice of conditions for standing night-watches. What a welcome difference from just two nights before!
All throughout the day on Monday we sighted whales, gangs of sea lions (many dozens at a time), and numerous dolphins which raced alongside of us and wove under and in front of our bow. At one point I lay down on the deck at the bow and dangled my arm over the side where a dolphin almost grazed my hand as it leapt above the surface of the water. I could clearly see them as they sped along under the water, sleek and shiny gray, and sometimes upside-down showing their white underbellies. What amazing, friendly, and playful creatures dolphins are.

We also saw a number of off-shore oil rigs – huge things they are, and lit up like Christmas trees at night. We located them on the chart and got a kick out of their names; “Irene,” “Gail,” “Hidalgo,” “Harvest,” “Hermosa,” and several standing all in a row are “Hellhouse A,” “B,” and “C.”
Now it’s Tuesday, October 23. We arrived at the Ventura Isle Marina in Ventura, CA, around noon, and it’s our first time on dry land since Monterey Bay – that’s five days. You can bet we have been happy with the amenities here; all the ones we’ve been anxious for: laundry facilities, a cute little marina shopping area with gift shops and restaurants (including one offering internet access), super-clean rest-rooms, and, best of all, showers. Ahhhhhhhh!

Dinner with Rodrigo and Dianna tonight (they live in nearby Camarillo), then tomorrow we head off to Catalina Island………check back in a few days for more of our adventures!

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