When last I reported our location, we were leaving Santa Barbara, prepping to explore the Channel Islands again. It seems eons since that time! Whenever I sit down to plunk out a post it always seems like I have absolutely nothing to say… then, three pages later I’m cutting and slashing to keep it manageable. Well, this time, knowing all our adventures I’m going to have try to channel Hemingway and his ability to be so descriptive yet brief – wish me luck…
We left Santa Barbara with Cameron’s sister Kim as crew and sailed straight for Cueva Valdez, an anchorage on the Island of Santa Cruz. We were hoping that it would be a safe harbor in the current brisk weather. It was. It was also empty, which was lovely. The next morning we shot off for the day to the painted caves. We had tried and tried again to see these caves, but weather had not been hospitable. We anchored in desperately deep water (100ft) and I stayed aboard while Cameron, Kim and the girls boarded the dinghy and headed into the cave. While they were away I thought to relax but the heightening winds and the big seas kept me quite alert, taking our position against the land in a few places to ensure we were not moving. The anchor chain was also making some dreadfully loud and morose noises now and then. I was relieved when the crew returned.
Cameron and I traded places and I headed to the cave for round two. It was amazing. The water was so clear we could watch seals diving below the surface and fish darting here and there. As we rowed deeper into the cave it became eery. The sounds of the seals barking and beating the water echoed off the walls and ceiling. The sounds vibrated through our bodies and seemed more like geologic events than animal sounds. We slipped through a narrow opening into the deepest part of the cave and even our flashlights couldn’t penetrate the darkness. The seals were swimming all around and the noise they made was deafening. By this time our adrenaline was up and the girls were pleading to turn around. I rowed out of there pretty fast with heart pounding. It was an exciting experience.
Onboard, Cameron and I weighed anchor… or at least we tried. We were caught. We pulled up what anchor chain we could. When there was still 100ft left to pull up, the boat halted with such force we all looked wide eyed at each other. I had never felt Banyan move in such a marked way. The decks seemed to buck under our feet when we hit the end of the chain. It took us over an hour in rising winds and seas, Cameron at the bow and me at the helm moving around in all different directions to free the anchor. This was all after Cameron had read me an excerpt from a book about anchoring. It described the possibility of ripping the windlass right out of the boat when the chain gets caught under a rock and a wave surges the boat up. The windlass is a motor and special winch that pulls the anchor and chain up. The last thing we wanted was for the front of Banyan to be ripped off in high seas. But, we got through it with patience, persistence and caution. We were very relieved when it was all over.
We passed a few more nights on Santa Cruz. We hiked, swam, beach combed and played on the quiet island. We said goodbye to Kim at Prisoner’s Harbor where the ferry took her back to the main land. After two quiet nights at Prisoners, we rounded the western end to Smuggler’s Cove, spent the night and headed off to the Island of Santa Barbara early the next morning.
We arrived at the only anchorage on Santa Barbara Island near dusk. When we set anchor behind the small windswept island there were only two other boats in the anchorage. Within 1 hour, there were over 35 recreational fishing boats all around us. They would scream in and drop anchor faster than anything. We were the only sailing vessel in the whole anchorage that night and by the time we woke up, they were all gone.
We briefly explored the barren, isolated and lonely island of Santa Barbara. It didn’t take much time. There had only been 60 visitors this whole summer. It had a fascinating history, ripe fodder for a juicy novel about family life while homesteading on an inhospitable island with no natural water source. Evidently the rabbits completely took over the place when they weren’t being blown into the sea by the gale force winds.
There is a seal rookery on the south side of the island. We decided to take a detour on our way back to the boat to see if we could see any baby seals. We stayed far away as we didn’t know the area and were reluctant to hit an unseen reef. We spied a few sea lion pups then resigned ourselves to turn back. Right then a juvenile sea lion arrived near the boat and started in with the most amazing acrobatics. We were in awe and once I had snapped way more photos than I needed, I started taking video. It was quite a show, see it here at our YouTube Channel.
Early the next morning we set out for the north end of Catalina to relax for a few days at Emerald Bay so we could ease in to the world of wi-fi and phone calls. On our way there, we saw two HUGE blue whales. And now I have to relay to you a fun occurrence that we experience now and then. Imagine if you can that you are below decks with the girls doing something, anything, and then you hear Cameron yelling with excitement from above decks “GIRLS! GET UP HERE!!” We come hurtling up the stairs in a cluster to see what it is. This time it was those huge Blue Whales moving impossibly slowly but surprisingly quickly. They crossed our bow, breaching dark blue then skimming below the water with an almost white glow. They turned and crossed our bow again, showing their tails and spouting from their blow holes. It was a little nerve-racking as we wondered if we should slow down or change course. In the end, they slipped in front of us easily and it was a jaw dropping moment to see the largest mammal on the planet.
Off to Newport Harbor we went after our quick stay on Catalina. We had ripped our staysail a few weeks before and there is a really good used sail shop in Newport called Minney’s that we wanted to check out. It was quite a culture shock pulling into the tiny anchorage area allocated to “transient vessels” in the busy Newport Harbor. We were crammed between Lido and Balboa Islands with fancy and falling down boats gill to gill. As we were sailing in, I got a bit of internet service, we had received a message from a distant cousin who lived in Newport! Within 15 minutes we had connected with him over the phone, within 15 hours Cameron was getting a ride from him to Minney’s and within a few days, we had a lovely dinner with he and his beautiful family in their home. It was such a pleasant surprise! We also got to spend some time with my cousin Celia and her husband Jerry who live in nearby Huntington Beach. We spent a very relaxing day poolside and were extremely well fed.
In Newport we did the prerequisite walk around Balboa Island followed by a Balboa Bar at Dad’s Ice Cream Shop. We also tried out a bunch of stand up paddle boards and bought one! I have to say that we were happy to weigh anchor and head out though. Although it was a lovely place and we had a great experience with the people, it was extremely crowded and it is a world unto itself. We headed out under cover of dark on our way to San Diego.
As is usual at the beginning of an all night passages, Cameron was pretty pumped with adrenaline. He stayed above decks to take the first shift while I went below to get some sleep. At 2:30am he woke me and I scrambled up bleary eyed. There were a few fishing boats on the horizon but that seemed to be about it. He took his time making sure I was comfortable, happy and plied with hot chocolate and midnight snacks before heading down to sleep.
I always have this notion that I’m going to get lots of reading done during night shifts, but having complete and ultimate responsibility for our home as it hurtles through the dark water is a bit unnerving… even to me, a non-worrier. There was no wind as is usual on this stretch from LA to San Diego so the sails were put away as we motored along. The wind came up after a while so I put out the Genoa a bit. I was feeling rather proud of myself for doing this all on my own when I noticed an odd light. There had been many lights from other boats that had vanished as the boat sailed off, or had come closer as we over took them while they fished. But this light was not moving and it was just odd. It was hard to tell that it was actually a vessel until I was quite close…then I realized that it was a big, big ship. It’s strange to come upon big ships that are not moving and it was dead still with only a few lights on. The wind had died again and I was thinking I might have to maneuver around this ship so I pulled the flapping sail in and turned a bit away from it. It was about then that I heard on the VHF radio “this is Warship 18 calling the vessel off our port bow at location (and then she rattled off the GPS coordinates which were like gibberish to me at the time). I was off that big ships port bow. I pretended like this was not for me because…the ocean is huge and how could she be calling to little o’le me. I scrambled around to make sure I was in no way motoring at the large dark silhouette. After a bit I noticed a few other very large ships that were very dark with almost no lights. Some would get all lit up then go completely dark. Most were not moving at all but every once in a while one would move quickly. Then I was hailed again. It was unmistakable this time, so I hailed back. I have never actual spoken over the radio, but I did my best. But, she didn’t seem to hear my reply. Getting more worked up, I scrambled down the companionway and shook poor Cameron awake with the words “There is a warship hailing us.” Needless to say he popped up pretty quickly.
For the next hour we felt like we had been shrunk and dropped into the playing field of that Battleship game.
We were in a quagmire of warships, at least 5 huge vessels were all around us. They were active on the radio, talking to each other and other boats in the area. We realized that they were essentially trying to avoid other vessels while they played their war games. One was a foreign vessel running flight exercises off it’s decks. At least two were air craft carriers. Cameron went back to bed bless him and I stayed up to keep weaving our way through. When the sun started to rise I was happy to fall into our bunk as he came up to take over. It had been a stressful night!
The next day all we had to dodge were kelp beds and other small boats as we made our way into the San Diego Bay on the Saturday of the Labor day weekend. As we sailed into Shelter Island Harbor we heard an interesting announcement on the VHF telling all vessels to avoid the exact area we had gone straight through due to military operation and underwater explosive exercises! It would have been nice to have gotten that announcement in Newport before we left!
We have been welcomed into San Diego with open arms. Even before we had tied up to the harbor patrol dock to pump out and get our inspection for the long term anchorage, we were hailed by another vessel. They spied our “cruisey” look, asked us where we were from, where we were bound and offered to help in any way. A second boat pulled onto the dock and we got a similar outpouring of friendship. In the anchorage we quickly made friends with the other cruising boats and we now feel like we have a wonderful community.
I hopped off the boat for a trip up to Napa to work soon after we arrived. The wine grapes are coming in hot and heavy and thankfully I timed my trip very well to help with the challenging decisions that harvest requires.
Back in San Diego I was joined by my sister Karen and her daughter Jolie as well as her in-law’s the Minton Family who live nearby. We have just wrapped up a fun and very full week of all that San Diego has to offer.
Next up, I head back to harvest in Napa and further North. It’s time for me to buckle down and focus on the 2015 vintage. When I come back, we will have just less than a month to tackle our “Pre Mexico To Do List” before we head south. Thankfully Cameron’s family will be in town so we will put them to work!
Until next time,