FINALLY! We arrived in Ventura / Oxnard which is south of Point Conception (or more correctly Concepcion…this WAS Mexico at one time you know) and south of the gnarlier parts of the Pacific coast. To try to put some numbers to what is a major physical and emotional accomplishment for us…..
From Ketchikan, Alaska to Ventura, California, we sailed 1617 Nautical Miles (1860 miles).
From March 28, 2013 when we left the dock in Anacortes, to September 10, 2013 when we arrived at the dock in Ventura, we have traveled approximately 3458 NM (3979 miles)!
A few more details of this last part of our voyage….
We had a great time in San Francisco, riding cable cars, visiting Fisherman’s Wharf, eating Ghiradelli’s ice cream – all the usual tourist stuff! Scootie even came to visit us one day so we walked the Embarcadero and watched the America’s Cup boats sailing out in the bay. The weather was great, though we never did see the Golden Gate bridge – it was enveloped in fog the entire time we were there!
After a week of resting, recouping, and touristing in San Francisco we left before dawn in order to catch the last of the ebb tide through the Golden Gate. Of course we were about 30 minutes late so the tide had already turned and had turned with a vengeance! We went under the bridge with about a 2 knot current against us and since we were close to the bridge supports rather than out in the main shipping channel, there were some pretty good tide rips. The engine was having trouble getting us out of the hole, so we quickly put up sails and made better headway. Once past the bridge all calmed down again, though we were of course now in the fog for the rest of the day.
We pulled into Monterey in the afternoon and we were greeted by a LOUD chorus of sea lions. They were everywhere! The harbor is protected by breakwaters that were covered with them, and most of the larger buoys also had groups of sea lons playing king of the buoy. It was a riot! We pulled into our slip, had a snack and zzzzzzz!
After arriving in Monterey we started checking the weather for the next two overnight passages that we’d need to do in order to get to Ventura. With plans to stop in Port San Luis and Ventura, that made for two 100+ mile days. There are other places to stop along the way, but in all cases that meant anchoring on exposed ocean harbors – not something we were too excited about. We’ve read and heard of lots of boats that anchor out, but we’re going to have to get used to anchoring on the ocean after having such wonderful protected anchorages up in the NW and Alaska. So, back to the passage planning…. A storm front was moving into the coast, pushing large waves and strong winds. We decided to sit it out in Monterey!
Playing tourist in Monterey is easy, just walking around watching the sea lions, otters, pelicans and people is pretty entertaining! We arrived on a holiday weekend, so we took a quick ride to Cannery Row via the free trolley. The place was packed so we quickly got the lay of the land and headed back to Happy Dance! The next day was Tuesday, and it was like being in a different place – a quiet place – with very few people..ahhh! We spent the day visiting the fishes and birds at the aquarium. The kelp forest and the open sea exhibits were really gorgeous, wtih huge tuna and tortugas swimming by the windows. We also liked the puffins, penguins, jelly fish and otters, and we were able to see an albatross up close and personal…very cool!
The rest of the week was mostly spent wandering and walking the trails – just enjoying warm weather and sunshine. There’s tons of history in Monterey so we read lots of historic place signs and envisioned what this place was like when it was the capital of Mexico!
One day we took the boat out for a day sail on Monterey Bay because we wanted to remind ourselves what it was like to just sail without a destination, and because we wanted to get better acquainted with our crew for the Baja Haha! James and Karina came down from San Francisco for the day so that we could talk more about having them crew with us on the 2 week trip from San Diego to Mexico. It was a fun day of sailing and we enjoyed having some fun company with us too!
We left Monterey in the afternoon so that we’d catch the tides and to time our arrival into Port San Luis the next day. It was a gorgeous sunny day with 10-15 knot NW winds as we pulled out of the marina into the bay. Unfortunately that ended in a huge fog bank that was sitting just off Point Pinos. We entered the fog and that was the last we saw of anything for 17 hours.
FOG! To understand my aversion to fog and especially fog at night, try to imagine driving your pick-up truck through an empty, pot-holed, hilly sand dune on a dark, foggy night. Stand in the back and reach through the cab windows to use the steering wheel and driving controls, and no fair using the windshield defroster; just look through the fogged up window. Now have someone continually spray you with cold water while you try to drive the truck using only the tiny GPS screen on the dash as your guide or by sticking your head out and looking out the side windows (heavier spray please). Try to keep your balance when you drive over those unseen hills and gullies, and listen for other foggy truck drivers out there too – they may be headed at you! Do this for 9 hours until the sun comes up or until you’ve fallen out of the cab cross-eyed…and there you have it! Driving a boat through the fog at night…UGH! (p.s., don’t try this at home!)
Now you may ask, what is the difference between sailing at night, and sailing at night with fog – you still can’t see anything right? Wrong! Boat lights are wonderful things, and it’s a huge comfort to be able to match up a light in the distance with the dot on your radar. When you’re in the fog, it’s always a bit nerve wracking to see those radar dots get closer and closer even though you know you have plenty of clearance. Okay, enough whining – I am just very very glad to be done with this (the Pacific coast’s most foggiest) section.
One of the coolest things we saw on this leg was the show that the phosphorus provided when the fish and dolpins swam by us. There were schools of fish that would all of a sudden cause the sea next to us to light up in beautiful neon blue! Then a dolphin would zip (and I mean ZIP!) by leaving a long trail under the water of light and bubbles…it was amazing to watch! The birds were funny too, as you’d see a light patch on the water floating along, then it would suddenly head down into the depths and disappear. The animals themselves weren’t visible in the dark, but the light paths that they left were amazing.
During our foggy night sail we had a bit of “excitement” when the engine RPMs suddenly reduced dramatically and then poof, the engine stopped! Not a good thing in the foggy darkness with 6′ swells on your beam and zero wind! We quickly deduced that the Racor filter gauge had been in the red (couldn’t see the gauge in the dark), meaning that there wasn’t any fuel getting to the engine. As “Murphy” would have it, this wasn’t our first rodeo on this problem! We’d never had the engine actually stall completely, but when using our newly installed fuel tank during the first couple months of our voyage we had problems with the Racor gauge moving into the red. While in Alaska, one of MSC’s finest helped us to solve (or so we thought) the fuel problem by removing a couple of wads of blue plastic curlicues that were leftover from drilling new holes in the blue plastic water tank to turn it into a fuel tank. Alas, this was another round of blue plastic curlicues that had been leftover to cause us a bit of a heart palpitation while traveling in the dark, 5 miles off the rocky coast of California. Luckily we hadn’t caused a vapor lock in the engine so we were able to switch fuel tanks and the engine started right up again.
Thankfully the next morning when we neared Port San Luis and had to start finding the entrance markers (not to mention the markers that guard the rocks), the visibility improved enough so that we could see the markers about 1/2 mile off. We pulled into the bay behind the breakwater, picked up a mooring ball, and zzzzzzz! 🙂
After arriving in Port San Luis, and enjoying a much needed nap, we were able to attack the fuel problem. The first hope was that the plug was right at the fuel valve where we’d cleared it before – no luck. We then took then entire fuel line off and blew through that to see if the block was there – nope. Third time’s a charm; we pulled the stand pipe out (the thingie that pulls the fuel from the tank) and blew that out, and voila! A lovely glob of blue curlicues….hopefully the last of them!!! We felt pretty good that we were able to find the problem and fix it without too much heavy lifting or boat yoga.
The next leg was one that definitely had our attention. From Port San Luis to Ventura is about 120 nm, and the route takes you around Point Concepcion. Most of the California coast runs in a general north-south direction, but the Santa Barbara channel runs mostly east-west. At the western end of the channel the coast makes an abrupt 90-degree turn. This transition point has a well-earned reputation for being very challenging, causing some early explorers to term the point as the “Cape Horn of the Pacific”. So…lots of planning and weather watching ensued (along with plenty of baseball analysis) as we sat bobbing on our mooring buoy listening to the sea lions and birds on the breakwater.
We left the Port San Luis harbor at 10pm in order to arrive at Point Concepcion in the early morning hours which tend to be the least threatening. As luck ( and lots of weather planning) would have it, the winds were light and the swell was less than three feet. There was a mixed swell coming from two directions at the Point, making for a bit of a rolly ride, but we couldn’t have been happier that it was essentially a calm sea. The week before when we’d started planning this leg the seas were in the 8-10 foot range and the winds gusting to 30. We’ll take calm seas, even if we were in the fog again!
After passing the point we started getting some wind on the nose and the fog let up. We also started seeing huge oil rigs on the radar, along with a bazillion dolphins! The oil rigs are a bit intimidating in the dark as the “blip” on the radar acts like a huge ship. We were able to easily navigate our way through the stinky maze of oil rigs, though when the sun came up and we could see the oil slick on the water it was completely sickening and sad to see. It’s a bit hypocritical to criticize the oil industry as we motor by on our diesel engine, but it sure seems like the area could be cleaner.
We started taking off layers as the sun came up and we finally started feeling like we were in southern California! Leaving San Luis we’d had layers upon layers for the overnight trip, and now we were much too hot! The sea life was also getting thicker here too – dolphins, whales, cormorants, pelicans, sea birds of every shape and size, and of course a few sea lions! We had dolphins on the bow for the last 5 or 6 hours so we’d take turns on the bow just watching and saying hi to all our dolphin buddies.
And then…finally….the end was in sight! We pulled around the breakwater at the Channel Islands Harbor entrance and there was Cindy waving hello!! So fun to have a welcoming committee after a long journey! We pulled into our slip, got plenty of hugs, and we were here!!
It feels a bit overwhelming when we focus on what we just did – two 50-something retired folk, learning the ropes as we go, setting sail 6 months ago, traveling from Alaska to California…wow. We feel like getting here was a big hurdle crossed for the rest of our cruising lives. We’ve faced some challenges, learned to communicate (guess that was a challenge..ha), and grown into happy, more self-sufficient sailors. Yep, we’re proud of ourselves and we’re so excited at all the adventures that are yet to be shared! Thanks for traveling along with us on this journey. We’ll be in Ventura for about three weeks, getting the boat ready for sailing to Mexico. Hasta la vista, baby! We’ll be back online soon.
A bit of trivia for your files…
A nautical mile is based on the circumference of the planet Earth. If you were to cut the Earth in half at the equator, you could pick up one of the halves and look at the equator as a circle. You could divide that circle into 360 degrees. You could then divide a degree into 60 minutes. A minute of arc on the planet Earth is 1 nautical mile. A nautical mile is 1.1508 miles, or 6,076 feet.
A knot is a unit of measure for speed. If you are traveling at a speed of 1 nautical mile per hour, you are said to be traveling at a speed of 1 knot.