It has been a long while since I last posted my misadventures here on the blog. It’s not for lack of adventures – as I’ve had quite a few of those – it’s just been a deficit of time. Choosing between creating memories vs. posting about them wasn’t hard. And so I’ve been keeping my offline adventures strictly offline for the past year.
But on a recent sailing trip I was speaking with someone who’d seemed less than excited with the idea of day sailing in/around their local harbor. They’d seemed unenthused with the prospect of taking a boat out locally for a few hours, as if there was nothing interesting that could happen.
As someone who takes a boat out every weekend, mostly for day sails in my local area, I was somewhat surprised and might have taken a small bit of offense. Because, to me, every single sail is better than any single day riding the couch. Every day out on the water is a new experience. Not one time out is the same, even if the setting doesn’t change.
From shifty breezes to no breeze. From a crowded marina filled with paddle boarders, booze cruisers, and motor boats in summer to a crowded bay filled with jet skis, speed demons, and parasail boats. From a calm sea state to choppy seas. Each sail has its own unique set of challenges.
But every sail makes me a better sailor. Every sail fills me with wonder at just how small the jam-packed city of Los Angeles looks from just a few miles out. Every sail makes me appreciate just how amazing and beautiful the sea and sky and land are when viewed away from the glare of lights, the shadow of buildings, the smog, the noise.
So I cannot fathom how someone would find their time on a boat boring.
Not when they have the ability to see the amazing things that can be seen out on the water, just a short distance from the hustle and bustle.
Is this boring?
[A pod of young dolphins surfing the waves when the breeze suddenly kicked up to 18 kts and the sea followed suit.]
An Approaching Storm
A Beautiful Harbor
- While this may not have all the excitement of traveling abroad and discovering a new harbor, or fighting tides and currents in a more challenging one, it’s still pretty spectacular.
- And while it might not be as impressive as when regaling friends of your time spent elsewhere, just being able to experience something that not everyone has the ability or good fortune to, is pretty freaking awesome.
- So, even when light air and a confused breeze forces me to roll in the jib and turn on the engine, even when I have to sail further out to avoid the summertime traffic close to shore, even when little calamities occur that cause my heart to race, I am still appreciative of every single second on the water.
- Even if it’s only a few miles away from home.
- And I could never imagine a day where I wouldn’t jump at the chance to get on a sailboat even if it was just to sail around some “boring” local harbor.
I opted to join a group sail on Saturday versus trying to pull together a crew. I was super stoked because it was going to be on the 34 ft. Catalina versus one of the 22s. The forecast said that winds would be less than 5 knots, but we got lucky with them blowing between 5 and 10.
It was a clear day. So clear, we could see the Hollywood sign, downtown Los Angeles and even the snow on the mountains. And it was quiet. There were hardly any boats in the water during our five hour sail, and it was nice to just hear the sounds of the boat through the water and the wind in our ears.
Last week’s rain here in Los Angeles made for a wet and wild sailing day in the Santa Monica Bay. We headed out well past the breakwater to avoid the larger 6 to 8 foot swells inshore. But when the wind came up just past noon, we were able to get some nice heel on the boat and get our feet wet.
As I wasn’t the skipper in charge of the boat I took full advantage of my crew status and spent some time up at the bow, dangling my feet over the edge, lying back and looking up at the sails, checking to see if we were properly trimmed for the course we were on, and listening to how the wind and water sounded when we were and how they sounded when we weren’t.
It was a perfect day. We even briefly tested a symmetrical spinnaker to see how it would fly when we were headed downwind. I wish I’d had my camera at the ready for that. But I’d stowed it down below due to an unexpected drenching I got whilst lying on deck, getting a few moments of shut eye.
There wasn’t any marine life to speak of, but the views on land more than made up for their absence.
It was really nice not having to be in charge, getting to take in all the sights without having to worry about what was going on in the cockpit, and getting to have some time alone to appreciate being on a boat in the ocean on a gorgeous day.
I may never be lucky enough to have my own boat or get the chance to head out to sea every day. But I consider myself pretty fortunate to be able to do so just about every week.
And it seems there’s talk about a possible sailing adventure up in Santa Barbara in the new year. I already have my fingers crossed that my schedule and my budget will allow for it.
I’m not sure whether I’ll be going out next weekend as I really need to prep for the holidays and study for that Advanced Coastal Cruising exam I swore I would take before the end of the year. I’m just not sure whether or not I’ll be able to get by for an entire week without my sailing fix.
With wind and water like we have in So. Cal. can you blame me?
I have the good fortune to have one of the most beautiful bays to sail in – Santa Monica Bay – and so far it has been my favorite place to day sail. There is rarely any traffic out on the bay, the winds don’t typically get higher than 15 knots and the seas are usually around the 3 foot mark or less for at least six months of the year.
There are no currents to speak of, no reefs or obstructions, no lobster traps. So once you leave the breakwater in Marina Del Rey and enter the bay, it’s pretty much smooth sailing. The only decision that needs to be made is whether you want to head north to view the coastline up to the Santa Monica Pier, Pacific Palisades and Malibu or head south to watch the planes fly overhead, look at the oil tankers, pop into King Harbor or check out the Palos Verdes lighthouse.
And while the wind does tend to shift directions during the course of the day, it is often typically in your favor on the return, no matter which way you opt to sail.
With the shorter days my hope of reach Point Dume has been tabled, but spending what daylight hours there are enjoying the sea, the sun and sometimes the local marine life, is amazing. It really doesn’t get much better than this.
Coming back, you head into one of the largest marina’s in the world – and I believe it’s the largest in the U.S. During the sail (or motor sail) back to your slip, you get the chance to see some amazing skies and boats.
There is plenty of room for boat traffic, and during the marina’s off-season it is rarely crowded. So you may find yourself getting rusty about those rules of the road until the summer season rolls in.
But the lack of crowds does have the added benefit of letting you drive the boat and take a few snaps of the marina in front of you…
…and the setting sun behind you.
My crew and I had a great time on the water this particular day. The winds were steady, around 5-7 knots, with gusts maxing out around 10 knots. We were able to hit the Palisades and then turn around and head south to the El Segundo buoy before tacking back around and making for the marina entrance. Not bad for a four hour sail.
We were also able to make it to the dock and get the boat put away before it got dark.
As not all days on the water go as smoothly as this one did, I have really come to appreciate them when they do.
When I was invited to join in on the next Advanced Coastal Cruising adventure – I mean class – I was filled with both apprehension and excitement. I envisioned bouts of sea sickness due to heinous conditions and home sickness due to being away for three nights but also the thrill of being on the water for 72+ hours.
I was also slightly worried that my bad sinuses would result in snoring which would rouse even the deepest of sleepers and make me the crew member everyone wanted to shove overboard.
While the wind and seas were relatively calm for most of the trip – both a relief and a bummer – there were plenty of other challenges to keep me on my toes. The four hour on/off watch shifts to start with, given the fact that I could not manage to sleep more than one-and-a-half hours when I was off and was put to work logging and navigating by virtue of the fact that I spent my off-watch time hanging out in the cockpit.
If the sleep deprivation wasn’t enough to make things tricky, the fact that we ran into what felt like the world’s largest bed of kelp while taking a bearing on a distant light on land, causing us to have major drag on our keel and which resulted in a dive under the boat to clear the keel and rudder once we were on anchor the following evening, added to the list.
While it was refreshing – a.k.a. freezing – to dive into November waters in the Pacific, and exciting and disorienting to swim under a boat to check the rudder and keel while fully clothed, climbing into a dinghy was a whole other matter entirely. Apparently it is just as challenging as I’d feared. And my oh-so-graceful first step resulted in a bounce and roll that landed me in the icy cold Pacific. Fun!
It was even more fun to realize that I’d have to hang my clothes out to dry off the back of the boat for the six remaining hours we’d be on anchor. Yes, stealthily trying to tie one of my undergarments on the stern pulpit did not work out as planned. And when we were preparing to leave anchor, it decided – with some help from one of the crew – to jump ship.
Let’s just say that the rescue attempt was unsuccessful.
Which leads me to our next challenge. Our first attempt at a night crew overboard recovery was a breeze. We threw the life ring overboard with the strobe, and were able to do a quick-stop method of recovery under motor. It was a well-lit night, with no waves or swell to speak of, so visibility was good.
The next recovery attempt, in which our “man” – we later called Wilson – was thrown overboard upside down so the strobe would be underwater, to show us how it glowed underwater, sadly was unsuccessful. Firstly, the strobe didn’t end up underwater, so the “glow” never happened. Secondly, the quick-stop turn went the opposite way which caused the spotter – me – to lose sight of the man overboard for a split second. That was all it took to lose him. Thirdly, the moonlight was so bright on the water it rendered the strobe irrelevant as the sparkles were actually brighter than the strobe. Fourthly, the strobe died moments later, so even when the victim would have been clear of the moon’s brightness, there was nothing but reflective tape for the spotlights to catch. Fifthly, we didn’t click the MOB button (which also required a second step to activate) until a minute or two later.
After an hour-and-a-half of fruitless searching that resulted in a lost hat by one of the crew, we gave up. Even when sunlight allowed for miles of visibility in all directions. Wilson was lost. It was a hard lesson that left me in near tears due to the reality that someone can fall overboard and get lost at night in a way they wouldn’t during daylight.
Yes, I went out and bought a much stronger strobe after the class. And yes, I plan on buying multiple personal GPS beacons for passengers should I ever plan on night sailing in future.
On our return we were headed for a wall of fog. Fortunately it did not last long enough for us to have to alter our course away from the shipping lane crossing we had planned. And fortunately it wasn’t the most dense of fog so we had some visibility, were we to encounter other smaller vessels we could have avoided collisions. The horns, which we were required to use to signal every two minutes, were another story altogether. Our already frayed nerves were jolted with each and every blast.
Challenges aside – or perhaps because of them – it was an amazing trip. Sailing at night, when the winds aren’t overpowering and the ocean is flat is an experience I will never forget. The stars are so bright, the sky is so vast, and being away from the land to experience it, is something else.
We spent all of nine hours of the 74+ hour trip tethered to the land. I would have loved to have been in open ocean for the entire trip. (Yes, I may want to take the Offshore Passagemaking class some day.)
Our first stop was at Cat Harbor in Catalina, the morning after we set sail. Due to a night of light winds that required quite a bit of motoring, we didn’t make the harbor entrance until dawn. We stayed on mooring for two hours, which was enough time to have a quick meal, for me to get the only shower – yes there are privileges to being the only female onboard – set up a schedule for the watch system, and alter our plans to skip Santa Barbara Island and head straight for Santa Cruz Island.
Most of the time we were under motor, or motor sailing, though the winds finally came up enough at some point during that long leg of our trip for us to get some sailing in. (As it was around 36 hours, without referencing the ship’s log for details, the timing is a bit fuzzy.) And of course they got a bit heavier when I was attempting to sleep, resulting in my wish for a tether to keep me from being tossed out of bed when we were on a port tack.
We did end up losing the wind again at one point during the night, requiring us to go back under motor. It also seems that while off watch we had attempted to follow what remained of the wind and backtracked just a bit, crossing back into longitude 118 when we’d previously been in 119. This new change of location led us to aim for a waypoint we’d only previously passed at a distance… once or twice before. Yes, we became fast friends with this yellow buoy. No, I did not get a picture.
I think we were all relieved when we reached our destination of Santa Cruz Island and decided to anchor at Smuggler’s Cove. Navigating through umpteen lobster traps was fun. The prospect of navigating through them at one in the morning when we planned to depart was even more exciting. (Ha!)
We somewhat successfully dropped anchor, though we weren’t sure it actually caught. The amount of chain on the ocean floor might have been enough to keep us in place given the light wind conditions. It didn’t, however, keep us from swinging in circles for the five hours we set up for the anchor watch.
Opting to sleep in the cockpit was fun, though I’m sure it wasn’t as fun for those on watch while I was asleep. But I wanted to sleep under the stars for at least one “night.” Of course one of the crew – the school’s owner – opted to do a two-hour watch instead of just his one and wake the instructor for his watch. The instructor chose to wake the crew member on the schedule, which resulted in everyone letting me sleep.
Fortunately I woke up at the start of the final watch and shared the watch with the last crew member. I was glad not to have missed an anchor watch – the longer you stare at the nearby boats, the closer they seem to moving toward you, even when they’re not – but I was also glad that I was able to sleep for a total of three-and-a-half hours, two of which I’d slept solidly straight through.
The trip back (aside from the lost “crew” and the fog) was fairly uneventful. We set our course, we happily utilized the autopilot and the nav equipment, we checked our bearing against the boats in the shipping lane, we practiced towing the dinghy, we practiced with the drogue, we did some wing-on-wing sailing downwind and I flipped the bird at my nemesis, a.k.a., Point Dume, when heading back into Santa Monica Bay.
No, I haven’t yet taken the written exam. Yes, it took me quite some time to recover from the trip, though it only took me second of jumping up and down to get my land legs back and not have to suffer with that feeling like I was still on the water. Yes I am ready to head back to sea, to face even more challenges and have even more adventures.
Do I recommend this class? Absolutely. For me, were there any minuses? Maybe just the one – being a guy on a boat is much easier than being a girl when it comes to head usage.
What to expect: Be prepared to be tired. Be prepared to be amazed. Be prepared to work – this is not a pleasure cruise. Be prepared to feel like a dog in a dog run when on the tether at night. Be prepared to navigate – so if you do get a little funky when looking at charts take remedies early.
Be prepared to spot ships on the horizon when they look only like this…
Yes, that little dot was a ginormous and WELL-LIT ship with all sorts of deck lights on a night with a Gibbous Moon and great visibility. The other two were a lot less visible. At least until the one was close enough we could see into the bridge.
Be prepared to have an experience you’ll never forget.
It wasn’t all work, this class. Granted, things probably seemed a lot more silly due to the sleep deprivation I mentioned earlier.
For example, I found it absolutely hilarious when the owner/crew decided at around 4:30 in the morning while I was sleeping in the forward berth, to start up the macerator, which just happened to be located on the floor right where I was sleeping. Yes, the sound of the floorboard being removed woke me an hour-and-a-half before I was to be on watch again. Yes, I decided that I’d had enough sleep and went above to hang out.
And no, I am not being sarcastic. The idea that the middle of the night was the perfect time to dump the holding tank still cracks me up.
My lost undergarment and its attempted and failed retrieval was both hysterical and mortifying. A dinghy was launched to try and recover it. But sadly it had a burial at sea. Though as it was in the cove, I’m guessing it washed ashore at some point that day.
My failed attempt to step into a dinghy for the very first time still makes me chuckle. I knew it would be comedic. I knew I would be graceless. I knew I’d end up in the water. And boy did I spectacularly wipe out.
My irritation at other boats on anchor amused me and another of the crew. Attempting to sleep in the cockpit when at anchor wasn’t easy. The crew on watch was up and about, taking care of the boat, keeping busy. When they finally settled down, I was almost asleep when the sound of a nearby boat’s music woke me. I began to curse them for their inconsiderate ways, though their music was only at a moderate volume. I wondered how they could be so rude until I came to the realization that it was only 20:30 on a Friday night no less. (How rude of those boaters!) And yes, I questioned just how old I really was.
Our seemingly repeated passing of the yellow buoy had us all chuckling. Clearly the brain stops functioning as well as it should when deprived of sleep. Our decision to use it as a waypoint after we’d already passed it – albeit at a distance – and passed it again, was probably not our best decision. Though it did make me want to plant a flag, claiming it is ours.
And finally, Channel 16. Ah, Channel 16. Yes, it’s supposed to be the emergency channel. But in the night not everyone uses it as such. We were regaled with an international shipping vessel’s constant blabbing – which clearly was not an emergency – and hailing of another vessel. It drove us to near madness when every time our instructor tried to speak they’d launch into a new conversation. And no, our attempts to shut them up did not work – I’d rather not reveal just what we did. After hours of this back-and-forth it went from annoying to insanely funny.
As the title to this post says, it was the best class ever. I cannot recommend it enough to anyone and everyone who is even slightly interested in taking their sailing education just a bit further. While I did not get those heavy winds and waves I had expected, it was no less a challenging, exciting, epic adventure. And I have come to learn to love the autopilot function, something I’ve never used before, even when I’ve been at the helm for nine plus hours straight.
So we headed to Santa Barbara this past Saturday for an afternoon sail on a J24. The forecast promised winds of 10-15 knots and a small craft advisory was in effect for the afternoon. I was stoked. After my last visit which was a major downer due to winds so light that motor sailing wasn’t even an option, I was pumped.
We’d opted to charter the boat with a captain as I wasn’t entirely sure if the J boats had an outboard and given how tiny the marina is, I wasn’t wholly confident in my, and my crew’s, ability to sail into the dock. I’m glad we chose not to go it alone.
While the winds didn’t get to the levels promised in the forecast, except for some powerful, but short-lived, gusts that were definitely around 15 kts if not more, they were the most bizarre wind conditions I’d ever experienced.
As we’d only booked a four-hour sail, we didn’t plan on going too far offshore, though we’d have loved to sail to the oil rigs on the horizon. Our captain thought it best we stay closer inland in case the wind died. Our outboard was all of 2 horsepower. I think I could have paddled faster. I’m glad we didn’t have to use it for more than two minutes.
Anyway… At around 3 p.m., the time of the promised small craft advisory going into effect, the winds did pick up from their comfortable 5-7 kt range. But they weren’t consistent. So we’d be going at a good clip and all of a sudden the wind would die out and we’d have to re-trim our sails.
At a certain point things got so odd that it was impossible to find the wind for more than 30 seconds. We’d be head into wind, and the next moment we’d almost be in a run and the next we’d have no wind. We had a rather unfortunate accidental tack and jibe all within a matter of seconds when our wind completely tanked as our boat speed was in excess of 5 kts, and came at us from another direction. I was completely surprised and was mortified to think that the captain would see me as a novice helmsperson, when I had no idea what the heck was going on. (He later assured me this was not normal wind.)
About a half hour later almost the same thing happened, except that I noticed the rapid change in temperature and was able to grab the mainsheet before the boat stalled out. We had a cool wind that immediately changed to a warm, humid, light breeze, which told me that something was going to happen. Fast. And as we sat there in this cone of warmth, our wind indicator spinning in 360 degree circles, we noticed that just a few feet ahead the wind was blowing. Clearly we were having some interesting low pressure/high pressure fronts meeting, causing these bizarre conditions.
We opted to sail back to the marina and the captain thought it would be great to go in under sail to the dock. But as we were heading back to the marina (still encountering odd pockets of wind-free zones), the wind started gusting. One minute we’d be sailing comfortably, the next minute our rails were in the water, the next we’d be upright. Having to trim as often as we were to relieve weather helm and then to trim in to optimize sailing, we should probably have opted to go on motor as we made that final turn.
But our captain decided to chance it. And after six rather quick tacks, which were getting shorter and shorter, and bringing us closer and closer to potentially running aground in the shallow area that was in need of dredging, he quickly released the jib, pulled it in, turned on the motor, and dropped the main while I managed to do a final tack to get us to some slightly deeper waters in the center of the channel. What. A. Rush.
Like I said, thankfully I wasn’t the captain, as I probably would have freaked out myself and my crew. Of course if I was the captain, I would have opted to go in under motor.
Docking did not go entirely smoothly due to miscommunication about where we were docking, and then a change in the wind that caused us to blow away from the dock versus onto the dock which was its direction when we started our approach. So we opted for a new side tie on a dock that was downwind and while the captain made a rather large leap from boat to dock, it wasn’t necessary as we would have been blown in with the next gust.
I guess you could say all’s well that ends well. But after two rather odd sailing experiences in Santa Barbara (the first involved light wind, rolling swells and a passenger who immediately lost his breakfast on the thankfully light wind windward side of the boat), and much navigating away from the umpteen lobster pots peppered in the waters outside the marina/harbor, I am not counting it as one of my favorite places to sail. But I’m not counting it out just yet.
Hopefully in the near-ish future I’ll charter a boat and head to one of the nearby islands – Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, Anacapa, or San Miguel – and stay over for the night. But day sailing there has yet to wow me as much as day sailing in Santa Monica Bay.
Pluses: Gorgeous views, entertaining captain, awesome boat – those J boats sail nice and have fantastic rudder control – proximity to nearby Channel Islands, Brophy Bros.
Minuses: Lobster pots, small and tightly-packed marina, unpredictable wind.
And yes, that post-sail picture of the marina with those innocuous clouds and seemingly non-existent breeze, makes it seem like it was a perfect day on the water. Fun, yes. Quirky, definitely. Perfect, not even close.