Log #2: Channel Islands Summer Shakedown
Tuesday, JUNE 8, 2005 -Silver Gate Yacht Club, San Diego
Back in San Diego, June Gloom settled not so much in typical grey cloudy mornings but in our hearts instead. Chuck’s mom, 94-year old Marcella, passed away the day after we arrived home. Later in the month, a celebration of her feisty spirit, independence, and love of adventurous travel in the company of family and friends helped to soothe some of our grief.
Friday, JULY 1, 2005 - La Playa, San Diego
The July 4th holiday sneaked up on us and we decided to spend it in our traditional fashion - rafted up in La Playa (an anchorage right near our Yacht Club) with front row seats for San Diego Bay’s triple fireworks extravaganza. On one side was Limerick, brother Bill and sister-in-law Sue’s catamaran, on the other was Mary and Scott Gossler’s Pleiades Lady. The weekend was filled with visits from lots of friends, good food, and mega$bingo at San Diego Yacht Club.
On Saturday night, Linda’s son Joe, on summer break from University of Oregon, went with us in the dinghy to join the floating audience at Humphrey’s Concerts to see Lyle Lovett (the three of us had seen Keb Mo a few weeks earlier). It’s a jovial crowd that gathers in the waterway next to the seated, ticketed fans - jostling, nudging, bumping and hanging on to each other in freeloading camaraderie while enjoying the music in small power boats, dinghies, kayaks, paddle boards, inflatable rafts, anything that floats. People bring their dinners, dogs, guitars, beach balls, binoculars and barbecues. The only downside to these free concerts is the occasional urgency of needing a bathroom - extricating yourself from the floating mass and rowing or motoring to an appropriate dock takes a bit of time as Joe found out.......
Wednesday, JULY 6, 2005 - Leaving San Diego
In the same early morning hours that Linda’s sons were headed to the airport (David was taking Joe to catch a plane for Boston and a 5 week Berklee School of Music performance program), we were leaving our slip for Part II of our Shakedown, returning to the Channel Islands for the rest of the summer.
We again hopped up the coast (rather than do a direct overnight ) beginning with a night in Mission Bay.
Thursday, JULY 7, 2005-Mission Bay/Oceanside/Newport Beach: Like Chocolate for Water
We motored northward in the early windless morning a few miles offshore to avoid the extensive kelp beds. Just past La Jolla we were excited to see huge numbers of bottlenose dolphins in several pods heading straight for us, as many as 75 in each group! As they leaped out of the water toward us in their transit south, we felt as if we were on the wrong side of the nautical freeway at rush hour, traveling in the oncoming traffic lane!
After a beautiful afternoon sail, we entered Oceanside harbor at 4:00 p.m. The water was chocolatey brown and even looked a little viscous; it had a peculiar smell, like marine decay. The condition was caused by “Red Tide”- which is neither red nor a tide - but a huge proliferation of microscopic algae often occurring in the summer in coastal waters. It can bloom and grow in such profusion that it affects the color of the water and, depending on the concentration and type, can poison fish, birds, and marine mammals. During these times, shellfish often become toxic for human consumption, leading to the old folk tale that you shouldn’t eat shellfish in months with no "r" in their names! But at night there is magic - - the algae bloom intensifies the phosphorescence in the water, creating a circus of moving underwater lights. Near the shoreline, the black plane of shallow water was etched with neon like a living x-ray film, pulsing with ghostly striations, sparkling milky ways, and shimmers of darting fish and other small creatures. Glowing concentric green rings spread outward on the surface from tossed pebbles. Around the boat, deeper water flashing with intermittent streaks of light as far as you could see evoked memories of darkening backyards twinkling with fireflies on hot summer evenings back East - and the same sense of childhood delight and wonder!
A great sail to Dana Point was followed the next day by our entry into Newport Beach. We threaded our way into the diverging channel past a fork here, an island there, past restaurants and large houses obscured by even larger power boats parked in private docks in front of them. As we approached the small quadrilateral anchorage area south of Lido Isle, we realized it was the location of a race course for 50 Sabots in a regional youth competition and the committee boat sat right where we wanted to be. We patiently waited for the race to end. Saturday night is party night in Newport Beach and we had lots of activity around us once it got dark. Booze cruises plied back and forth in the main channel (no where else for them to go) and a few little “jitney-like” boats with overhead awnings filled with happy music-blasting, dancing, singing, cellphone talking teens circled around us. A young couple in a small open power boat anchored, drifted too close to us, interrupted their romantic activities, reanchored, and resumed where they had left off. After listening to their anchor being reraised and relowered the fifth time within the hour, I decided they should look for “Lover’s Lane” somewhere else and shone a flashlight down on them. They got the idea and jetted off. The next morning we left Newport Beach, crossed the Channel, and arrived at Catalina Island in the afternoon.
Tuesday, JULY 12, 2005 -Catalina to Santa Barbara Island
The day was windy and foggy as we motored around the southern end of Catalina from Avalon (a departure from our normal northern route) and then headed northwest to Santa Barbara Island. Lots of fishing boats were sniffing about but there aren’t any anchorages on this end of the island. We passed Church Rock and Sentinel Rock - names that challenge the imagination conjured up by someone who never passed a Rorschach Test.... probably still better than calling them Guano Rock 1, Guano Rock 2, Guano Rock 3, etc.
Wednesday morning dawned Charley Charley (ham lingo for Clear and Calm) but didn’t remain that way. Two fellow Silver Gate Yacht Club members, Jubel (Pete and Venda) and Mis-Behave II (Steve and Debby) , who we had been encouraging to make a trip up from Catalina Island, sailed in and anchored about noon. We were excited to see them and arranged to pick them up in our dinghy to bring them ashore for a hike at about 2 p.m. after the National Park Service supply boat left the pier. At 1 p.m. the wind started to come up and by 2 p.m. was blowing a full 25 knots - conditions not conducive to dry dinghy trips or comfortable hiking. Sometimes timing is everything - we had a very nice non-visit since they departed early the next morning.
Over the next few days, in much improved weather, Chuck and I revisited our favorite hikes and lookout points on the Island, observing the big change in life stages of our wild friends. In one month’s time since our last visit, an obstreperous colony of bachelor sea lions had commandeered the Landing Pier and its surrounding rocky ledges. They bellowed indignantly when we climbed the ladder to the lower dock and peered down at them over the railing. A few feet away we could see every eyelash, tooth, whisker, toenail (flippernail) , wound, cut and scar. Around the island, sea lion pups were at least doubled in size and gathered together in nursery school groups, curious and playful.
Seagull chicks were as big as the parents by now and chased them around relentlessly, nagging to be fed. When we hiked past them, they would run and stick their head in a bush, the strategy being “if I can’t see you, you won’t be able to see me”. The pelican rookeries were empty. Lots of new young birds were in the skies and feeding on the water.
Sunday, JULY 17, 2005 - Santa Barbara Island to Santa Cruz Island
We were hoping to get to San Miguel Island by now but the weather reports had been calling for small craft warnings for the past few days. San Miguel, the outermost and least-visited island, gets battered by strong northwesterly winds, rough seas, fog, and severe weather from the open ocean (and the harsh influence of Point Conception). You just have to find the right weather “window” to get up there and anchor in Cuyler Harbor. We loved visiting this island a few years ago, highlighted by the day-long hike to Point Bennett, the largest pinniped rookery outside of Alaska and one of the largest concentrations of wildlife in the world. Here, in the company of a biologist who had been monitoring it for many years, we looked out on to an enormous stretch of beach where over 30,000 seals and sea lions (5 species) breed and haul out each year. A spectacular and unforgettable sight (and sound)! So instead we went to Smuggler’s Cove on Santa Cruz Island (California’s largest island), situating us further north and closer to San Miguel if that weather window were to open.
We left Santa Barbara Island early and motored in the overcast morning to finally reach sunny Smuggler’s Cove, anchoring in front of the olive grove on the hill, a remnant of the old ranch and agricultural community that existed in the 1880’s. The evening was warm and beautiful and we had a great dinner on Decadence with Capt. Dave, Gary, and Lindy, whom we had met two days earlier at SBI. Our plan was to leave early the next day - in the middle of the night, actually. Since the wind is usually calmest (or even nonexistent) in the night and early morning, this would be a good time to try to get to San Miguel Island.
Monday, JULY 18, 2005 - Santa Cruz Island to Santa Rosa Island - We’ve been slimed!
It was pitch black at 2:30 a.m. when we pulled up our anchor and headed west following the coast of Santa Cruz Island, heading for San Miguel Island. There was no wind and the night was calm. We saw nothing but bobbing anchor lights as we left Smuggler’s Cove and passed Albert’s and Coches Prietos Anchorages further to the west. (We stopped one summer at Coches Prietos - meaning “Black Pigs” - and were ambushed on the hiking trail by 3 or 4. Our initial reaction was fear since wild boars can be dangerous; we soon discovered they were just good-sized piglets expecting a handout from boaters who came ashore. Currently Santa Cruz Island is being rid of all the feral pigs by hunters from New Zealand in an effort to restore the island so hiking is prohibited.)
But how quickly things change out here! By daybreak we were passing Gull Island and crossing the Santa Cruz Channel with a reef in the main and dressed in our foul weather gear and safety harnesses. The westerly wind on our nose was 20-25 knots and getting stronger and the rough sea was filled with “white horses”. We decided to abort the attempt to get to San Miguel for today and ducked into Johnson’s Lee on the southern end of Santa Rosa Island (supposedly the island’s best anchorage). Out of the wind, the water was as placid as a lake - not a ripple! We guided Jacaranda into a clear finger of water between thick kelp beds and dropped the anchor. The day was sunny and warm as we eased out of our foulies into shorts and T-shirts - it felt like we were in Catalina!
To our starboard was a sandy beach with elephant seals that made us giggle whenever we heard their deep gurgling sounds, like a drain emptying. To the port, we could still see whitecaps streaming by offshore and watched two humpback whales breaching, diving, and slapping their flukes. We were settled in!
But I repeat - how quickly things change out here! Suddenly, about 5 p.m. the wind started to build and by 6 p.m. it was howling at 40 knots. Coming over the island, the air was very warm, almost hot. We sat under the dodger, secure but vigilant, enjoying the strange blustery heat and watching the transformation in our surroundings.
Now, there are certain inanimate things that the wind makes animate, like a beautifully crafted sailing boat.....and like kelp. As the wind increased, the kelp awoke from its watery sleep on the surface and began to stretch and flex like hands and fingers arising from the water, twitching in motion. Soon, like a supple climber, it grabbed the anchor chain, handhold by handhold, and ascended to the bow, and on to the deck.
Suddenly Chuck uttered those three dreadful words - “We are dragging”. Now the verb “drag” may have special significance to transvestites or chronic anemics, but to sailors it means one thing - our anchor was no longer holding on the bottom and we were drifting. It also meant that we would have to get the anchor up and drop it again. Fighting 40 knots of wind, we pulled the anchor up as the kelp monster climbed on deck like a pirate boarding a galleon or a feudal warrior scaling a castle wall. Chuck was on the bow fighting the oncoming intruder with his machete as the chain slowly filled the locker below (at the foot of our bed - technically, forward of the v-berth), bringing with it loads of kelp as well. Meanwhile, decapitated kelp was blown back on to the boat everywhere.
Finally we moved the boat forward and dropped the anchor again in 40 feet of water, letting out 300 feet of chain. This time it took and held us firm. Luckily this episode happened while we still had daylight! We spent a watchful night as the wind abated at 11 p.m. but switched 180 degrees when the island wrap kicked in, pushing us into the middle of the kelp. “Kelp bed” took on new meaning since that’s where Jacaranda slept that night. When we awoke at daybreak, there was not a breath of wind. We were totally surrounded by kelp but were able to use the windlass to winch in enough chain to just get us over the edge into clear water so we could start the engine! As we did this, the wind appeared again. Chuck was at the helm and held us in position in the 15 knot breeze while I alternated between unclogging the anchor chain of more kelp as it came up at the bow and running below to flake the chain in the locker. Finally we were outta there!
But we had been slimed - kelp was sticking to everything - to the deck, toe rail, windlass, spinnaker poles, lifelines, etc.- - think large vats of cooked spaghetti dumped on the boat and drying everywhere. And below, the inside of the chain locker at the foot of our bed looked like a nori farm. Soon the smell was pervasive. The scented candle I lit just mingled with the odor to create a new fragrance - “Vanilla Seaweed” - a delicately strong yet sweetly pungent stench.
Tuesday, JULY 19, 2005 - Santa Rosa Island to Santa Barbara City
Santa Barbara City was a nice daysail away from Johnson’s Lee and we knew it would afford us a fun recuperation and comfortable place to clean the boat. Our assigned slip was next to Cheerio where Coloradoans John and Susan were living aboard for the summer. They made us immediately welcome and incorporated us into their “neighborhood”, giving us the locals’ lowdown, introducing us to their friends, inviting us to dinner, and driving us to Trader Joe’s. One evening, along with Dave and Ella on Betelgeuse, we walked to a nearby park for a Flamenco concert. The marina is well situated for enjoyable forays onto the pier or downtown which are easily accessible by foot or free trolleys. Shower and laundry facilities are clean and convenient. The docks are also interesting because commercial boats are intermingled; we met several crab fishermen and were fascinated by their business, lifestyle and bountiful catches. Hundreds, no thousands, of rock crabs were packed in colorful plastic crates lowered into the water next to the boats to keep them alive until they could be taken to market the next day. Multiply one fisherman’s haul by the number of other commercial boats multiplied again by several days a week and it’s unbelievable that the sea could yield so much abundance!! We also learned from them that Johnson’s Lee had a reputation for being unsettled and unpredictable and that our experience there was not surprising. “Yup, that’s Johnson's Lee”, fisherman Ron responded, “Shoulda gone snug up against the cliffs where we go” but of course they have huge cutting spurs on their props and just power through the kelp beds like they don’t exist.
After a delightful few days of socializing, relaxing, cleaning the boat, and reprovisioning, we said goodbye to new friends and left to return once again to Santa Rosa Island - but this time to the north side and Becher’s Bay.
MORE PHOTOS: In the "Photo Gallery" for Passage Note #81