Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Finally cruising, and loving it!

Virginia sailing south!
Waiting for a weather window paid off big time. Insted of making small hops down the coast, we were able to jump from winter to summer in just a few days. The stars aligned on Feb. 8 and Virginia and I left Newport and headed south.

It was also a good time for our friend, Paul, to join us. Paul is an amazing mariner. As a young man he served in the U.S. Coast Guard, then he worked as a crab fisherman in Alaska, then sailed his own boat, a 38-foot Atkin Ingrid, down the West Coast to Mexico, Central America, through the Panama Canal, Caribbean, and up the East Coast. He was also a professional skipper and for about the last 10 years captained a research vessel in Alaska. He is now the owner of another Atkins masterpiece, a Valgerda, the 19-foot faering that I built.
Paul at the helm of Oceanus.
Having him aboard was a huge confidence booster for Virginia and me. It also made for a sweet watch schedule -- four on, eight off. We learned a lot from Paul and can't thank him enough for helping us sail south.

The three of us decided Sunday (Feb. 7) that we would leave the next day. Paul arrived about 10 a.m. Monday and we started getting ready. Virginia heard the Coast Guard restrict the bar to 40 feet and under and called to us that we had to leave before they closed it all together. We cast off and headed for the entrance (or in our case, the exit) to Yaquina Bay. With picture-perfect breaking waves on either side of Oceanus, we were the last vessel to cross the bar before the Coast Guard closed it at 11:15 a.m.

Once on the open ocean, however the seas were less threatening at about nine feet at 12 seconds or so, sunshine and the wind at our back. We motored through a minefield of crab pots. With Paul at the helm, Virginia watched for pots to starboard and I watched the port side. We headed southwest until we were in about 60 or 70 fathoms of water -- too deep for crab pots -- then we turned south.

The wind was out of the southeast and light. We put up the mains'l and motorsailed, an effective strategy in our old CCA boat because as the boat heels over the water-line length increases, increasing the speed potential of the boat. For two days we motorsailed this way and averaged 7.5 knots.

The first night was clear and not as cold as we expected. Far from any artificial lights, the stars shown bright. During my four-hour watch, which started at 2 a.m., I saw six meteors. I looked at the ocean and knew this was what I was meant to do.

Around noon the next day we sailed into California waters as we crossed latitude 42. It also meant we didn't have to worry about crab pots anymore, since crabbing was closed in California.

On our third day, the wind died and the swell dropped to its smallest of the voyage. With the calm came fog. We motored through it with a bubble of visibility that extended only 50 feet around us. A fur seal watched us pass as it reclined in the water with its flippers and head extended above the surface to save body heat. Paul, came on deck, grabbed the air horn from its pocket in the cockpit and headed to the foredeck to stand bow watch.

The fog persisted into the night. During my early-morning watch I shut down the engine and ghosted through the fog under mains'l only at about one to two knots. With no engine noise I could use all my senses to guard against colision with another boat. While we don't have radar aboard Oceanus, we do receive AIS (automatic identification signals) from other vessels equipped with an AIS transponder. Most commercial vessels have them. I watched the screen and saw several signals around me. I also heard chatter between fishing boats on the VHF radio, most of it in Spanish.

One of the fishing boats picked me up on their radar. The VHF crackled to life: "Sailing vessel heading south at North 38 degrees 23 minutes, what is your intention?"

That was my heading and my approximate position so I answered. "This is sailing vessel Oceanus. We're making for Bodega Bay and don't have radar. Over."

"I can see you on my radar. We will stay well south of you. Over."

"Thanks." I said. "Out."
Bodega Bay, setting of Hitchcock's "The Birds."

In the morning the fog lifted and we motored toward Bodega Bay. It took most of the day partly because we kept 20 or 30 miles offshore, first to avoid the crab pots and then to stay well clear of rocky headlands.

As we approached land we saw the swell breaking on the cliffs west of Bodega Bay and more breaking seas on a rocky reef guarding the entrance to the bay. We followed the bouys into the bay and tied up at the fuel dock. We were in California.

Drake's Bay, the real one. Don't believe anyone who tells you Drake spent the winter in Oregon.
We spent a day tied up in a slip at Spud Point Marina and then sailed to Drake's Bay just north of the entrance to San Francisco Bay. We anchored just after sunset and we were the only boat in the bay. We spent a night there listening to the wind howl in the rigging, but the water in the bay was calm. The morning was sunny calm and beautiful. What a magic place: elephant seals and birds on the beach and dairy cows grazing on the pastures above the cliff tops. I wish we stayed for a week, but we needed to push on.

We decided to skip San Francisco because the Coast Guard reported 20-foot breaking seas across the entrance to the bay. As much as I wanted to sail Oceanus under the Golden Gate Bridge that dissuaded us. We headed to Half Moon Bay instead.

It took about seven hours of hard sailing with 13-foot seas and 20-knot winds. One hour we covered 10 knots surfing at about 12 knots much of the time. What a great boat!

We stayed in Half Moon Bay for two nights and then left for Monterey early in the morning so we could get there before dark. Two sea otters playing in the middle of our assigned slip served as a welcoming committee.

Virginia and I with Steinbeck, my favorite author.
Monterey was great fun. Sunny and warm most of the time although we did have wild wind, rain and thunder one night. Paul stayed aboard for a full day and played tourist with us, seeing Cannery Row, a museum and the house where Robert Lewis Stevenson stayed for a few months. The next day Paul jumped ship and caught a train back to Newport.

The fishing pier at San Simeon with Hearst Castle on the hill above.
Virginia and I left Monterey Bay early morning on Feb. 21 headed to an anchorage in San Simeon Bay. We passed through a Sea Otter Refuge zone and much to our delight there they were! Otters were our near constant companion the entire way. At first glance they looked like a piece of drift wood floating along until we got close.  Then we saw their fuzzy heads watching us. We anchored that night in San Simeon Bay where we could see the famous Hearst Castle high on the hill.

The rock at Morro Bay.
We left San Simeon the next morning. By early afternoon we entered Morro Bay, a tiny bay behind a huge, gnarly looking rock. We spent the most peaceful night of the voyage tied to a mooring ball at the Morro Bay Yacht Club.

Once again we left just as it was getting light so we could round Point Conception before dark. This point marks the change from cold air and water of central California to the warm air and water of southern California.  It also has the reputation of being the "Cape Horn of West Coast." Many boaters have their hat handed to them trying to round Point Conception. We were lucky and enjoyed a beautiful day and near perfect conditions. We rounded the point without any problems. In fact, it was so calm that Virginia went below and made lasagna, which we enjoyed after we anchored for the night in the Cojo Anchorage.
Point Conception from the Cojo anchorage.
The following day we raised anchor and headed south in WARM air. Instead of four layers underneath our foul-weather gear, we had on, first, sweatshirts and then switched to just t-shirts. Hundreds of Pacific white-sided dolphins passed the boat all day. The water was so clear and calm that we could watch them as they swam underwater next to the boat.

We entered Santa Barbara Marina in the afternoon. We saw a smaller sailboat hard aground just outside the channel so I entered slowly and was careful to stay between the red and green markers. I watched my depth sounder go from 21 feet to 10 feet to 4 feet in less than 30 seconds and then we were hard aground right in the middle of the channel. I tried backing us off to no avail. All of a sudden a strong ebb current pushed us crossways to the channel and heeled the boat over about 40 degrees. The water was boiling around us. I went from annoyed to frightened. After about a minute I felt the boat slide off somewhat and right itself. I put her into reverse and was able to gently back off what must have been a hump of sand in mid-channel. I aimed for the center of the next two buoys and we entered the marina without further problems.
The amazing Santa Barbara courthouse.

We spent a week in Santa Barbara. That's about five days longer than we intended, but we were tired and both caught a nasty little cold. Hey, we're cruising now, plans are made to be broken, right?

The Aquarium connection

The Oregon Coast Aquarium is following our adventure on their web site as part of the Oceanscape Network. If you would like to read more about our encounters with marine wildlife look here.

If you want to track us go to