Friday, September 30, 2005

Dispatch #3 Central California

September 7, 2005 to October 3, 2005
California, just like we pictured it, beautiful scenery, abundant wine, liberal intellectuals, great food, expensive. We landed in the promised land (San Francisco) and immediately began hemorrhaging money at a Sausalito marina. It also was conveniently located near West Marine ($$$$!) and a lot of cute shops which we were better able to resist because, well, glass and other breakable cute items are not welcome on a boat, let’s face it.

Once again our friends have been incredible. After our delightful visit with both crew Bob and his wife in Sausalito and into town via ferry to take in the Museum of Modern Art, we moved our boat to Richmond in the East Bay which was far less expensive, a very nice marina and close to another boating friend. He lent us his ancient and personality filled Toyota pick-up (greater than 300K miles, Detroit eat your heart out) to run around town in and so we did. We hung out with him, his wife and 2 young children for a few days and did boat projects (the boat looks even tidier than ever, the cockpit shower is hooked up and functional, and we hopefully won’t be getting backwash into the cockpit in following seas with check valves on the scuppers, and all the lines have little bags to be stowed in while underway, clearing up a problem referred to as spaghetti in the racing world).

We decided to enjoy BART, the wonderful rapid train system, to go into the City for another day. We truly appreciated what Seattle doesn’t have, desperately needs and should have started building 15 years ago—a rapid transit system. We walked along the waterfront and saw all the tourist attractions, took obligate pictures of the sea lions on the pier and kept a weather eye toward the Bay as the Big Boat sailboat race series was underway. We found a fabulous lookout along the waterfront pier to watch several spinnaker runs of the maxi sailboats and several one design class races. At one point a boat got so close to the pier they had to bring their boom in to avoid brushing it. As we both now enjoy racing, it was a fantastically fun afternoon for us. We topped it off with a visit to Ghiradelli Square (oh, yes, that was so predictable) and a waterfront meal before heading back to the boat.

Next we headed to Hillsborough for a visit with one of Betsy’s friends from med school and her husband and children. We arrived in our borrowed truck and hoped the neighbors thought we were the gardener as they live in this stunningly renovated home on a hill. The visit was wonderful and full of stimulating conversation solving all the world’s problems if only anyone would listen to us. They had a beautiful terrace and pool which we enjoyed visually but didn’t really jump into because it is, actually, cool most of the time here in September, at least for us.

Back to the boat after our land weekend we went to Angel Island, a beautiful park in the middle of the San Francisco Bay with fantastic views to the City, Alcatraz and everything in the Bay. We enjoyed a gorgeous walk around the island and some of the history of the island which included being used as an immigration station especially for Chinese immigrants (mainly to delay their entry), a military facility during several wars, a quarantine station with a hospital.

Finally after 2 weeks we moved on from the Bay area, eager to see what else the coast would show us. We moved about 20 miles down to Half Moon Bay and saw whales just before rounding the point. The anchorage was filled with hundreds of pelicans and gulls. My goodness pelicans look prehistoric—definitely rivals for that reputation to our beloved blue herons in the NW. We enjoyed walking a gorgeous coast trail down to the town of Half Moon Bay and otherwise had some quiet boat time. Next we traveled 40 miles to Santa Cruz. On the way we saw the whales again (female and baby so we thought they might be the same pair) and one of them came up with mouth wide open vertically about 4 boat lengths in front of us to about 1/3 of her length, feeding we presume and thus likely a humpback whale—wow, where’s that camera when you need it?! We also saw the most bizarre sea lion behavior. We’ve seen so many sea lions in both our sailing and kayaking lives that we thought we’d seen it all, but on the coast, we found gangs of sea lions traveling together and porpoising, moving just like porpoises, in fact Betsy dubbed them porpoise wannabes. 10 or more would be swimming in a group and half of them would surface then a few other couples would surface, sort of their own water ballet. We could only figure that maybe this was a fast swimming technique for them, but it was really amusing to watch. We kept a sharp eye out for elephant seals as there is a refuge and breeding ground for them on this coast, but even though we pulled in around the point where their refuge is, we didn’t see any. It was a stunning place anyway—wild with waves breaking on rocks all around—OK, we were nervous and got out of there pretty quickly.

Santa Cruz is a delightful place. How could anyplace do anything but make you smile when the first glimpse of it is of an amusement park? The harbor is flanked by beautiful huge beaches and behind the western beach is Seabright, an active amusement park and boardwalk. The people were friendly and fun. We walked all over town including through the amusement park (nostalgia for all those summer vacations for Betsy). We did not ride the roller coaster although Betsy was sorely tempted! We also found an organic farmer’s market and got some produce and beautiful swordfish for dinner. True confession—we didn’t swim, in fact we have yet to swim. Somehow digging out our wetsuits to go play in the surf when we’re usually shivering in our fleece at day’s end just hasn’t moved onto our itinerary. We look forward to water warmer than the 50’s further south.

One evening back at the marina, there was a festival happening. The celebration was to a sea goddess and apparently had an Afro-Brazilian history so there was a gathering on the beach of 20 drummer/percussionists along with their costume clad dancers. Large baskets of flowers were brought down after a good long time of drumming and dancing during which much of the audience joined in. The baskets of flowers were loaded onto 2 decorated sailboats along with the entertainers (those were some loaded down small sailboats I assure you) and the boats went out to sea to give their offerings to the goddess (throw the flowers into the sea we guess, but we didn’t see that part). It felt like a quintessential California experience—spontaneous, somewhat inexplicable, totally inclusive of everyone and most any behavior, beach-based and really fun.

Next we visited Capitola, a truly cute place just a few miles from Santa Cruz. It’s probably a mob scene resort town on summer weekends (judging by all the “Don’t even THINK of parking here” signs along all the streets), but being there on a weekday in late September, it was darling. Much of the architecture is Victorian and the setting is on another gorgeous beach. The stores contained the usual crafts, surfer gear, art galleries, ice cream parlors, but there are also two winery outlets that have daily tastings. We weren’t really there at a time of day that was conducive to participating (I can hear the uproar, and what time of day is not?), but we’ll mention it for those of you who might be planning a visit to the area.

The next great stop was Monterey. We took time to do the Walk of History through town past adobe buildings that date back as early as the late 1700’s. Monterey was once the capital of Alta California (as opposed to Baja California), a part of Mexico just after they gained independence from Spain. In 1846, it became a part of the United States and 2 years later gold was found here and the gold rush was on. We certainly enjoyed learning more about this local history.

The weather here is so idyllic, it’s just hard not to be happy. There’s fog many mornings that burns off and then it is clear and sunny and in the 60’s to 70’s (a little cooler than usual we are told). There is one problem for the boater in Monterey and that is the ubiquitous sea lion colony. The sea lions have just populated the whole marina and waterfront. When we pulled into the slip we had been assigned, Betsy was going to get off on the port side of the boat to tie the lines, but, when the large female sea lion who was stationed on that finger pier was just not showing signs of leaving and was barking and getting agitated, Betsy decided that starboard would be just as good a side to tie up the boat. The sea lion finally dove into the water and spent the next 10 minutes barking irritably at us, but we were in. We were serenaded nightly by the sea lions under the wharf and generally had our fill of these “adorable” marine mammals.

The area is also home to a large population of seals, pelicans, gulls, and we could only imagine how rich the fish population must be to support all these animals. One marine mammal we continue to think is adorable is the sea otter. We went kayaking in Capitola and visited the local sea otter who watched us warily but continued grooming without moving despite our presence. In the Monterey marina, the sea otters float in the fairways and the restaurants advertise dining and watching the sea otters play. Monterey is in approximately the middle of a large marine sanctuary that stretches from outside the Golden Gate bridge to south of Monterey and the preservation efforts seem to be effective from the rich wildlife we’ve seen and the beautiful clean water.

We are now in Stillwater Cove, anchored off the seventeenth and eighteenth holes of the famous Pebble Beach golf course near Carmel. We’ve been enjoying beautiful weather in an absolutely stunning location waiting for the winds to stop being gale force so we can continue down the coast past Big Sur. Stay tuned for more.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Dispatch 2: The Journey Begins: San Francisco

September 9, 2005
Our true voyage started on August 31, 2005. We had been laid up in port in Seattle for 3 weeks completing an unexpected repair of one of our structural bulkheads. We chose to look at the experience as our first “repair of the boat in various foreign ports” as many define cruising. As it turned out it was our home port complete with great friends who brought us meals and lent us their cars and lent sympathetic ears to our plight. We worked 10 hours a day to get the work down and finally left feeling much better about the boat.

We headed to Neah Bay to await the correct weather in which to leave for San Francisco and to await the arrival of our friend Bob who was our 3rd crew member for the passage to San Francisco. We had a very benign trip through the Straits of Juan de Fuca, mostly motoring in fact, an unusual circumstance. We arrived in Neah Bay to find another boat waiting to do a similar passage and while we waited 2 more boats arrived with similar agendas. We immediately started comparing notes on weather maps, weather routers and plans and finally all ended up leaving the same day, August 31.

The day was sunny with wind from the North, but we were delayed leaving for the day by waiting for Bob and then by an alternator belt shredding and needing to be changed which Richard did in about an hour while Bob and I drove the boat. We motored out to Tatoosh Island to make the turn down the coast and were rewarded with gray whales blowing and diving and a spectacular wild coastline. It was evening and we settled in for the night still motoring as the wind died completely. It was strange to be out on the ocean doing such a familiar thing: motoring. The seas were pretty tame and the crew was figuring out their sealegs. Richard was happy from the beginning, Betsy started on medications before we even left port and Bob was unhappy to find out the first night that he was affected by the seas and the medication took most of the first night to work.

Our trip had variable winds, all from the North or Northwest, for the first 4 days and we had one other night we motored rather than listen to the sails bang back and forth as they filled with wind then emptied on the ocean swells. We flew the spinnaker (a big colorful sail that works for downwind sailing in generally lighter air) for over 24 hours as well as another 12 hour period due to light winds. Meanwhile, we made good time mainly due to the motoring which moved the boat at a steady pace. We traveled up to 80-100 miles offshore (out of sight of land the whole time) until time to turn into the Bay Area. As a result we saw a ton of fishing boats the first and second nights and then spent 48 hours without sighting another vessel.

We saw what we thought were sunfish basking on the surface, also a few more gray whales. We were treated often, almost daily, to a porpoise show. They come upon the boat out of nowhere, and crisscross the bow in pairs or more, swimming under the boat and generally being playful until they’re suddenly gone. It absolutely cheers the soul to have their brief but spirited company and they made an appearance at night quite often which was great distraction for the sole crew member sitting in the cold. At night the porpoises are outlined in phosphorescence so you can see their complete outline as they dart through the water gracefully. There were not many birds: albatross, shearwaters, including one who circled the boat several times eyeing our lure for fishing that was just below the surface (and fortunately did not try to take the bait!), and a few gulls as we got closer to land.

The sun was out every day but our last and the stars were incredible at night—so many of them and so beautiful. We were out during the new moon so the moonlight was not there to dim the stars.

On 4 September off the coast of California near Cape Mendicino, sailing in light air, we caught a 10# tuna just around midday after trailing a fishing line off the stern for 3 days on and off. That was quite a lot of excitement for Richard and Betsy, confirmed non-fishermen and healers by nature. Here was this bundle of muscle, a beautiful fish fighting for its life in our cockpit and bleeding messily. We tried our technique of pouring liquor down its gills (tequila) and it seemed to work to subdue and then kill it. Then Bob (the true fisherman in the crowd) did the fillet work. We had lunch that day of tuna prepared in butter, lemon and tarragon and dinner of marinated tuna in soy sauce, oil, sesame oil, garlic and ginger. Both meals were delicious. The boat maintained an eau de tuna smell for several days which was not quite as delicious as the meals.

Also on 4 September off the coast of California while ghosting along in light air, we experienced the strangest vibration in the hull of the boat, much like the sound/feel of starting a large diesel engine that was out of alignment that lasted for 5-10 seconds (an eternity). We were freaked out, checked every system on the boat, worried we’d hit something but knew we were in 1500 fathoms of water (9000 feet!) and felt no change in our momentum. We thought it might have been an earthquake, and, sure enough, we e-mailed Bob’s wife and another friend that night who came back with the information that there had been an offshore earthquake at that very time at that very place of 3.3 magnitude. We were about 5 miles from the epicenter. How strange is that?

Finally the last 36 hours of the trip, we got to experience mother nature in more of the ocean form we expected. Winds were predicted to be 10-15 knots for a couple days, then 10-20 for a couple, then 25-35 (up to gale force). We knew we were about 3 days from San Francisco so we were eager to get there before the gale winds arrived. The winds piped up the first day to 15-25 and by the second day were sustained in the mid to high 20’s with gusts to 30 to 33, but luckily all from the North/Northwest (so downwind sailing). The seas grew too, we thought, 8-10 feet and life was rather rocky on the good ship Qayaq. Most disconcerting was the difficulty sleeping due to all the motion. The sailors were well capable of dealing with the conditions, the boat did beautifully, but resting was nearly out of the question. Betsy finally collapsed in hysterical laughter the last day describing her attempts to sleep on the floor (the least motion part of the boat) and sliding from one side to the other on her back like a bug, trying to brace her legs on both sides. Well, you had to be there, or not.

We arrived at Drake’s Bay, 25 miles outside San Francisco on 6 September around 4 PM. We dropped anchor, did a bit of boat clean-up and fell exhausted into our berths for a 2 hour nap. After dinner we fell immediately to sleep again for 10 hours. Today we drove to San Francisco in very light wind, motoring right up to the Golden Gate bridge where we picked up 10-12 knots of wind and sailed our boat under the bridge, popped champagne while taking pictures. The bridge was classically partially shrouded in fog (the top portion). We landed in Sausalito at around 2 PM.

So ends the first ocean passage of Qayaq and the beginning of our cruising life. We so appreciated the help of our friend Bob, a great and experienced sailor, who joined us for his first ocean passage and enjoyed it thoroughly. He was so easy to be with despite the boat being pretty small for 3 people. Having a crew of 3 meant that we all got more rest (other than the difficult conditions) and enjoyed the passage that much more. We are sure we would not have caught the tuna or known what to do with it without him! Our current plans (always subject to change) are that we will be in the Bay area for possibly a couple weeks and then coastal cruise south down the California coast, getting to San Diego in early November.