There is probably a lot of advice out there written to help people learn how to get safely ashore in a dinghy. Particularly on a beach with breaking waves… but neither of us had read any of it, to our detriment. Thankfully, we are all still intact physically if not quite mentally.
After being happily onboard Banyan, and not setting a foot ashore since we left Morro Bay 5 days previously (6 for the girls and Cameron), we got serious about setting our feet on hard ground in the beautiful Channel Islands. Our first stop, San Miguel was not an option as landing’s are not allowed due to “unexploded ordinances”… hum… think I’ll take a pass. Not only that, but sneaking ashore was not an option either due to masses and masses of seals basking in the sun.
These same seals thwarted any would-be attempt on the island of Santa Rosa as well. Our anchorage there was not ideal with windy conditions and a fairly open aspect to prevailing winds so…off we went heading east to the southern side of the island of Santa Cruz, hiding from the north westerly winds and swell that had carried us all the way from San Francisco. It was a glorious passage, the seas and wind were very mellow. Cameron and I were able to put our foul weather gear aside and bask in the sun a bit while sailing easily along to our new destination.
We found a good little anchorage on Santa Cruz called Coches Prietos where we tucked in for the night. Incidentally this was on Monday night of Memorial day weekend. The only boat in the anchorage (the first time we’ve shared an anchorage with anyone here) said that there had been 10 boats in this tight little spot the night before! That evening we played card games, watched “All Creatures Great and Small” and had a hearty dinner in celebration of finally reaching warmish weather.
We did hear on the forecast, and noticed off our bow, an odd southern swell (sets of 4 or 5 “rollers” every couple minutes) rolling into the bay which was completely exposed to the south. These swells kept the boat moving, not uncomfortably, but it’s an unusual direction and they broke right onto the “inviting” beach next to us.
Having not made too many beach landings at all, we warned the girls the next day that there was a distinct possibility that we would all be soaked. We only took items we were willing to get wet but the desire to play on the beach outweighed the chances of getting dumped so they mustered up their courage..and so did we.
As we approached, the very beautiful turquoise water seemed to just fall off toward the beach after which you could just see the top of a crashing wave. From our vantage point at the top of the swell of water it looked like a 5ft drop broiling with white water below. “Are you sure this is safe?” I asked Cameron who was, at the same time turning the boat hard to starboard and heading 180 degrees away from the beach. We approached again, not wanting to be beat and hearing in our heads the description of this beach landing in our cruising guide (Charlie’s Chart’s) as being very benign and quite easy. Well, we gave it another go and came round again and went for it.
None of us fully recall what happened in entirety. I recall Cameron telling the girls to hop out. The girls immediately obeyed their Captain and hopped out with me right behind them. Adelaide was up to her hips in the surge and I fell to my knees next to her, then grabbed her by the life jacket and unceremoniously dragged her to dryer land and went back for Isa who had also fallen and was chest deep next to the boat. I grabbed her by the top of her jacket and tossed her ashore while Cameron struggled with the dinghy, somehow keeping it from going upside down and over the top of any of us. We all stood a good while in complete shock and wondered how on earth we were going to get off the beach and back to Banyan! I had a very strong urge to get right back into the boat and get the unpleasantness over with. The girls, not plagued by this thought proceeded to recover quickly. Adelaide was off in search of natural treasures while Isa only recovered once we pulled her wet jeans off and she had a bit of time to process the trauma. Once clad in her undies and Daddy’s fleece, she became enthralled with all the shells, bones and treasures to be found on the beach.
After a good lunch, much treasure hunting, a hike up the road and a great deal of watching the surf to learn it’s rhythms, we decided it was time to attempt the return trip. We took our time, prepared the boat and the kids close to the shore to await our window. Miraculously we got the girls in the boat, Cameron and I steadied it in knee deep water. I jumped in to start the engine as Cameron moved us further out. The engine fired on first pull, while Cameron, waist deep in water, kept the boat steady. Once started, he then hopped in and took us as fast as safely possibly back to our sanctuary, Banyan. It sounds smooth as I write it here, but at the time it felt rather frantic, as the engine wouldn’t stay in reverse and after popping out several times I finally held it in gear with one hand and gave it a bit too much gas with the other while listening to Cameron’s calm but firm directions the whole time and trying not to dump anyone out of the boat by putting it into forward while the throttle was sky high.
Cameron and I had a good stiff drink and a shower when we got home and the girls got to veg out in front of a movie. We decided that there is probably a lot written about beach landings, or maybe not. But, either way, safe and dry landings probably just come with time and experience. In the horse world we talk about “feel” a lot, it’s something that can’t really be taught, it comes with time on a horse. This “time” gives you the ability to make split second decisions based on rapidly changing feedback. This seems to be the deal when making beach landings. It’s a skill learned over time. I just hope we will not have to get soaked too many more times in the process. Thankfully our Captain is cautious and kind and I have decided that from now on my new criteria for landings has mainly to do with water and air temperature.
As I write this we are safely and snuggly anchored in the Santa Barbara Anchorage where we have come to celebrate Adelaide’s birthday and do a bit of provisioning. We will head quickly down the coast to Long Beach were I have to fly out for business. I have a research trip to France with one of my clients who is building a new winery, then back to Napa for a few days to walk vineyards before returning to Banyan. The girls and Cameron will stay in a marina and have the company of Aunty Kim and Cameron’s Parents who are coming in to spend time together and help out while I’m away.
Much Love to you all and thanks for all your comments!