Monday, October 31, 2005

Dispatch 4 Southern California

October 14 to November 4, 2005
We left Central California on Oct. 13th for an overnight ride around Point Conception, an often feared landmark of very high winds and rough seas, known in the Coast Pilot as the “Cape Horn of the Pacific” in a fit of hyperbole. Isn’t Cape Horn the Cape Horn of the Pacific? We had a perfectly lovely afternoon and evening of light winds (as predicted) and we rounded Point Conception at around midnight (as planned) with winds maximum 20 knots which is very comfortable. We had it easy and were thankful. Poseidon received an offering once we were at anchor and enjoying a glass of wine!

The trip around Conception was the usual marine delight with sea lions surfing the waves (we are not kidding, they body surf and seem to look to you in the cockpit for acknowledgement which we do by cheering—what clowns! Richard also had one doing somersaults while looking to him for encouragement while he was on watch), whales (humpback again), the usual porpoise visit and a new type of dolphin to us, we think they are called Common Dolphins. We had a ¾ moon—the first moon we have had in 8 nights of passagemaking—and it was stunning although it dimmed the stars somewhat until it set which was still OK with us as it lit up the night like a spotlight.

The guidebooks suggest that cruisers will notice a marked warmer climate around Conception as the coastline heads more eastward, the winds are more gentle, the swells less intense. We have had a variety of weather since rounding Conception. The water initially was not much warmer but has warmed to 63 degrees now. We’ve had a couple warm days and even a hot day as the winds briefly shifted to “light Santa Ana” winds (from the east blowing hot desert air to the coast). Overall though, we’ve seen many overcast days with temperatures in the 50’s to 60’s and have not yet packed away our fleece layers. We’ve also not yet taken the plunge to swim although there have been very inviting moments.

We went directly to the North Channel islands from Point Conception. There was a gale forecast the day after we arrived so we sought safe haven in the lee of Santa Cruz Island. There we sat out a one day blow (maximum winds in our anchorage were 37.7 knots and outside waters blew up to 45 knots) with 15 other boats. One boat in the anchorage dragged anchor twice. The first time he wasn’t even aware of it and a research boat with a dinghy in the water went out a half mile or so to knock on his boat and make him aware of his situation. The second time, he was dragging anchor in the full gale and, unfortunately, wrapped a line around his prop and called a May Day. The same research boat sent a dinghy out for him, cleared his line, helped him back and helped him set 2 anchors. The following day, the gale cleared and he was headed back to the mainland when he injured himself while setting sail and a third time, the research boat came to his rescue and took him off his boat to go to the mainland for medical assistance. Boaters are an amazingly helpful group as you shall see.

We moved on to Anacapa Island and anchored under some stunning cliffs while a thunder and lightening storm kept us on edge for a few hours. Luckily we and our electronics came through unscathed. The North Channel Islands are stunning and mostly wilderness. The landscapes are varied but the north shore of the two we saw were stark, cliff sided with beautiful arches and caves.

We took a hiatus from the wilderness experience to stay at a yacht club in Channel Islands Harbor for a few days where we kayaked and partied with a Canadian family we had met along the way. Their kids surfed in full wetsuits while the adults took walks—hmmm, youth, remember that?

Next we went to Catalina Island in the South Channel Islands. Catalina is a beautiful place, developed on one end with the city of Avalon and otherwise mainly wild. We stayed in a couple anchorages where we could see our anchor drop to the bottom in 25 feet of water and could watch the pretty fishes and kelp formations from our kayaks. We also walked on the undeveloped road/trails on the island and, despite overcast and cool weather, really had a marvelous time.

As we motored away from Catalina, we noted water trickling into our bilge and a few tense diagnostic moments later found a cracked muffler. As we were still closer to the island than anywhere else, we returned to take a mooring buoy and sort out our problem. We have had many adventures and seen the best of human nature in trying to get this particular problem fixed!

First, the harbor master at Catalina’s Isthmus Harbor came out to get us on our second attempt to leave the island when the muffler gave out for good and we had to sail into the bay. We got inside the harbor and he tied us to his boat and placed us on a mooring. For the next 2 days he checked on our progress regularly and helped in every way he could. Next, our friend Nancy, who Richard met in the BVI, was astonishingly generous; she drove all over the LA area to pick up what we thought was the replacement muffler, drove it to the Catalina ferry and gave it to the captain to deliver to us. Alas, that muffler was twice the size of the original and would never fit. Richard jury rigged a temporary fix over the next day and we motored back to the mainland (and had a 2 hour spinnaker run too!), to Newport Beach, to see if we could get the right size muffler. We had called ahead and found an engine store we thought had the right size muffler, and only had to find out how to get to the store to pick it up.

Newport Beach is a great spot for cruisers with everything anyone could want. The only problem is that it’s a huge place so getting around is challenging and time consuming to those of us without wheels. We tied up to a mooring and got moving in our dinghy around 3:30 with only the vaguest idea of where we were going. Shari, a woman kayaking by, chatted us up, found out where we were going and quickly gave us the directions on where to take our dinghy, where to leave it and which bus to take to the store. She then got on her boat moored ahead of us and insisted we take her bus schedule. We tied up the dinghy as instructed and Wayne was there tying up his dinghy as well. Upon hearing we were trying to make it to the engine store by 5, he offered to drive us there as he was heading that direction to go home. We gratefully accepted his offer and were stunned to realize how far it really was and humbled to realize that, without him, we would never have made it in time.

Wayne decided to wait for us as we picked up the part set aside for us figuring it should be a brief transaction after which he would drive us back to the dinghy dock. Meanwhile, his wife called and reminded him that the kids had a Halloween party really soon and he needed to get home. So when we emerged from the store he said, “Here’s what we’re going to do. I trust you guys. I’m going to take you to my house and then you’ll take my car back to the dock and I’ll pick it up later.” We were flabbergasted! He proceeded to do just that, briefly showed us on a map how to get back to the dock, handed us the keys, popped into his house and left us with his car. Well, we did briefly imagine all the errands we could accomplish with this new set of wheels, but, as the honest types we are, we headed right back to the dock, parked and locked up and headed back to the boat. What an expression of unbelievable generosity of spirit. We hope Wayne’s karma is fantastically good from now on! We got back in time to get ready for our own Halloween party with folks from another couple boats and had a great evening.

Apparently we have now achieved all the identifying qualities of cruisers. We suspected as much as we walked the 5 miles back to the engine store the following day in our shorts and t-shirts carrying our shoulder bags. This was confirmed as a man sitting by a store called out as we walked by, “So, you heading south on your boat?” Yup, we’re wearing neon signs by now.

Remember those pesky sea lions in Monterey? Well, there are some rivals here in Newport Beach. We noted a boat moored a few boats behind us was severely heeled over on its mooring whereupon we also noticed the 3 huge sea lions who had taken up residence on its deck. They were obnoxiously territorial when confronted so we have no idea how the boat owner is going to permanently discourage their presence, but we feel for him.

Did we mention that the first muffler was too large? Well, this next muffler was too small. Feeling like Goldilocks, we are waiting for the muffler from the manufacturer that is “just right” and meanwhile will head to San Diego with our fingers crossed. Betsy’s Mom is due to arrive for a visit in SD on Nov 4 so, suddenly, our schedule is not our own.

We have a punch list for San Diego, enjoying the last opportunity to do our repairs and provision in the U.S. before heading to Mexico. Stay tuned for more news from South of the Border. Hasta luego!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Dispatch 3.5 Morro Bay

October 6-13, 2005
For some reason, Morro Bay was forgotten until now (written April 7, 2006) and we loved it so much, it does deserve its own little dispatch. When we left Stillwater Cove, we traveled in the company of another boat for an overnight passage around Big Sur and ended up in Morro Bay. Big Sur is stunning and we had 25 knot winds for the afternoon and evening which made for some rowdy sailing, but, by that point, we were up to it. By early AM, the wind had died and we motored arriving at Morro Bay around mid-day.

Morro Bay entrance is marked by a huge rock, a lava plug, one of 7 in the area, but the most distinctive due to its location right outside the harbor. The entrance can be tricky; testimonial to this is seen in the pictures in the Harbormaster’s office of George C. Scott’s yacht being completely flipped by a huge breaking wave at the harbor entrance as it tried to exit the harbor. We found conditions benign on our entry fortunately. The harbor is referred to as a “mini San Diego”. On a much smaller scale the entrance follows the same curve around a barrier peninsula into an inner harbor which results in the harbor being very secure from waves; it was calm but had amazing currents ripping through as the tide changed.

We took a mooring buoy outside the Morro Bay Yacht Club and proceeded to spend 6 wonderful days in this tiny town. We watched sea otters bask in the kelp hanging off unoccupied mooring buoys, saw sea lions and tons of birds, especially on our walk around the barrier peninsula. We went to the weekly farmer’s market. We were enchanted by a local museum describing the estuary that is Morro Bay and the flora/fauna that abound. We were especially impressed with the sea otter pelt there for the petting; for once we understood the near decimation of this darling sea mammal for the pelt is exceptionally soft and thick. Morro Bay is a tourist town in the height of summer but we were there later than the tourist season so things were quiet.

Why did we spend 6 days there you might wonder? Well, we were having alternator problems. The day we left Neah Bay with our friend Bob aboard, the first thing that happened on the boat, even before we left the bay, was that the alternator belt shredded. Well, we can only imagine what our friend thought on his first experience on our boat in the first couple hours when something went awry. But he was a trooper and only commented that he was thrilled it wasn’t his problem to fix (i.e., not his boat) and Richard promptly put on a new alternator belt and away we went. When we were in Stillwater Cove charging our batteries by running the engine, again, the alternator belt shredded and, rather than being the pretty used one we started our trip with, this one was pretty new, having recently been changed. Something was definitely not right with Qayaq and, worse, we only had one more spare belt.

We waited in Morro Bay for the diesel mechanic to become available to help diagnose our alternator problem (yes, ONE diesel mechanic in town). Meanwhile, we ordered and received several more spare belts just in case and felt better about that. When Nick came to look at the boat, he decided that our alternator pulley was not large enough for a new alternator Richard had installed (but retained the old pulley as recommended by a mechanic in a Seattle store). So Nick went back to his shop, found a pulley that was right, came to the boat and he and Richard installed the new pulley together. This procedure took a couple days and a few hours each day mainly due to Nick’s tendency to like to talk—now we understood why he was so backlogged on his jobs. However, when all was said and done, he charged us $50 for the job, no charge for the part and we left with much greater peace of mind than we arrived. To date (this is written April, 2006), the alternator belt of that day is still intact.

Regardless of the reason we stayed for almost a week, we highly recommend a stop in Morro Bay as we were charmed by the place.