Rounding Cape Mendocino
After the UPS medication delivery fiasco we were stuck in Eureka. The weather deteriorated significantly, with high seas warnings to 30 feet and wind in in the 30 knot range. We watched the weather each day looking for a break - on Wednesday we walked up to the Eureka NOAA weather office and talked to the nice weatherman. He said he thought we could leave the next day - the wind would drop into the high teens and the seas to 13 feet. This did not sound like a good weather report to me, but it was the best for the next week. We left the following day, surfing out the bar on six foot swells in a foggy overcast mist - two hours later the bar was closed to traffic because of breaking high seas of up to 10 feet.
Mendocino lived up to its reputation. It was like being in a washing machine for 6 hours. We heaved up and down, side to side 30 degrees as we pounded through the rolling chop with a single reefed main. I got sick not once, but twice - fist time in 3000 miles. We had initially intended to head way out to get past Mendocino and its accompanying point of land. NOAA had recommended that we stay within 5 miles of shore to avoid the high winds and seas that were still building offshore, and to tuck inside the cape after rounding the point to play the wind eddies which were spiraling inside the cape area - this was very good advice. We rounded Cape Mendocino and the smaller cape - Point Arena - before the chop died town to under 10 feet. All in all, we had a good trip around, considering the horror stories we have heard from other cruisers going around this area. We rounded Point Reyes and overnighted in Drake’s Bay - which turned out to be the best anchorage we found in all California.
Drakes Bay to Half-Moon Bay was a 45 mile day trip in generally flat seas and light fog. We wanted to cross the separation zone leading into San Francisco Bay in light, because of the anticipated heavy traffic. To our surprise, we only saw about three boats the whole day - we see more traffic sailing on Puget Sound on an average day.
The pictures we had seen of the anchorage behind the breakwater in Half Moon showed a wide open anchorage. Naturally, these days it is filled with skanky, derelict boats on permanent moorings. Some of them, half-sunk. We shoe-horned into a space behind some floating wreck near the pelican-guano-covered breakwater and waited for dawn the next morning. The fog was thick and the fog horn on the breakwater nearby serenaded us all night long - one long, loud toot every 10 seconds or so. The fog was even heavier the next morning - we had about 50 feet of visibility when we left for Monterey, 63 miles distance.
Monterey was a great stop - we could have stayed there for a week. We toured the aquarium, and had a walking tour of the old adobe houses, and the CA state Capital - the old capital where the first constitutional convention was held. They had a great fish market at the end of the pier. The rate was about $30 a night for our 40’ boat.
We rounded Big Sur in 15 knots and had a great sail until it built to about 30. While reefing down to the second reef in rolling seas I fouled the reefing line on a mast cleat. Not realizing this, I proceeded to crank it in until I realized that something was wrong and fouled. We are finding out that sailing on the ocean, in big swells and rolling conditions, is completely different from Puget Sound. Anyway - I ended up creating an override on the single line reefing system inside the boom. The sail would not reef further down, and would not go up. Not ever having taken apart the reefing system inside the boom, I really did not even know how it was put together. I rigged a backhaul for the mail and manually reefed it down, though without good tension, and we proceeded to San Simeon., 90 or so miles away.
The approach to San Simeon was the first one we had to do in the dark. We have refused to do this, carefully planning our trips to arrive sometime during the day. It was a white knuckle ride into the anchorage, even though it was the easiest approach we had on the coast. Things look so different at night - there was the lights of the cars, the lights of the pier, the lights on the shore, and two little navigation lights somewhere in there. The radar helps, but you don’t know if you are going to get run over by some buckaroo in a sport fishing boat. Fortunately, the three boats anchored there were well lit up, and we anchored about 300 yards off the shore in rolly conditions.
I was up at first light - 0600 - disassembling the rigging in the boom and repairing the reefing system - this took about 1.5 hours - it became clear when I finally got the boom schematic out. We departed to Port San Luis Anchorage at 0830, about 56 miles away.
This was a generally good trip. The last few miles we ran into a weather system creating extremely high winds. We ended up motor sailing into 37 knot winds when rounding into
the port - actually a breakwater that sort of sticks out into the ocean behind a bluff. They had great moorings though. The wind really picked up on us here - reaching about 30 knots in the anchorage - probably in the 40-50 knot range from where we had just come. A low and high pressure system were colliding north of the desert, creating these very hot, high winds. We remained here for three days, waiting for the weather to settle down to round Point Conception and Point Arguello, 56 miles away.
Point Conception is not a crossing to be taken lightly. We waited three days to get a good window, and proceeded around it in very light rolly conditions with a bit of fog. Coho Anchorage was the worst anchorage we had in CA - really just a roadstead tucked behind a headland. it’s a bit like anchoring out in the ocean. We left for Oxnard at first light, about 0600, after a very tough night at anchor.
Oxnard At Last
We had struggled with where and how to put the boat when we were in Southern CA for the month of September. This problem was solved when our good friend Jake and Vicki got us a slip at their marina - the Royal Corinthian Marina in Channel Islands Harbor. This place was GREAT - paradise. Everybody was so nice, coming by and chatting. We made friends with another cruiser -Lee Phillips - who took us to his yacht club, as did Jake and Vicki. We spent three weeks here refitting the boat and catching up on deferred projects. On September 28 we departed for Catalina to hook up with Jake and Vicki at Cherry Cove, 56 miles distance.
Catalina is a very historic place - Natalie Wood drowned here after falling out of a dingy drunk and at night, and not being able to get back on - a somewhat barren rock 18 miles offshore from Los Angeles. There is no anchorage, only many mooring fields. You use a front and stern mooring in a field that looks just like a dock system without piers. You motor down these rows of closely packed boats, grab a pickup stick and put your bow hawser on, then pull like hell running towards the back to pull up the stern line, which is connected. All the time the wind is trying to blow you onto your neighbor, about 15 feet away. Very exciting. Jake and Vicki made us a wonderful dinner. We adjourned to our boat to watch the show for a bit - since everybody was whizzing around in dinghies, swimming in the water in scuba next to the rocks, or paddling a dingy - all in what looked like to me a Wal Mart parking lot for boats. Ahh - Southern CA boating, you got to love it……..
On to Ensenada
We left Catalina at 0730 for the 130 mile trip to Ensenada. The sun was shining, the waves were flat, there was no fog. About two dozen power boats leaving Catalina passed our bow and stern, all in a big hurry to get home to LA before the wind and water picked up. We set the sails for about 4 hours, moving along in 12 knots of wind before it died. At one point when motoring, we hit some big bit of kelp which fouled the prop somewhere about 12 miles offshore from San Diego. I had to dive on the prop to free it. In Northern waters this might have been a bigger deal - here the water was warm, clear blue, and not very rolly. I put my wet suit on and looking somewhat like a stuffed olive jumped in and freed the prop. Glad I had bought that wetsuit.
We made good time to Ensenada, passing the row of US military vessel guarding the border. This impressive array include an attack submarine and its support boats - all on picket duty protecting San Diego. We motored by without incident and crossed the border into Mexican waters. It was an uneventful night offshore, with the exception of almost flooding the boat.
I had always read about how folks can leave their pressurized water on and flood their own boats. Nahhh…this could never happen to us. About 1900 hours, just as we were changing the watch, the bilge alarm went off. I had installed this about three years earlier - this aqualarm system monitors a number of engine and boat functions - I verified that water was coming out of the engine, then opened the bilge and noticed that the pump was sucking out a bunch of water - I tasted it and verified that it was fresh. By this time MS had found that a washrag had fallen off a hook in the forward shower compartment, and the shower had been on. It had flooded the pan, and drained into the bilge - about 15 gallons of water. This was a good lesson learned - our new rule is fresh water pump is off when underway on the ocean. We arrived very early in Ensenada, and hove to six miles of the coast at 0400 to wait for dawn. We motored in past the fishing pangas, tugs and tows and miscellaneous traffic, to arrive at Ensenada about 1100, about 3400 miles since leaving Seattle in January.
A few thought on the Trip
We just talked to a nice couple who came down the coast in September, 70 miles offshore, and were slammed for three days by high winds and seas. This was inevitable, when choosing September for an offshore passage of the West Coast. Statistics put together by Pathways Navigation School in Seattle show that late July and August are the safest times to travel, in the 5-20 mile range offshore. Yes, you might get lucky, but then you might not. Our trip had a lot of fog, not a whole lot of wind, and seas generally under 15 feet combined. With lots of very flat periods. This was OK by us since it is really a long way, at least by our standards. If we had to do it again, we would go offshore about 30 miles in August and do 3-5 days at a time, just to get it over with.