San Diego, slightly busted

After an 86 hour run, with just one brief stop in Oxnard for fuel, some extra oil, and a stop I couldn’t resist as I walked back to the boat for some fresh donuts, we have arrived in San Diego. It was a fairly uneventful run, all in all, and I don’t have the chip from my camera with me as I write this from a happy hour with free wi-fi, so I’ll have to update with pictures later.

We left Monterey at 1:00 am – trying to time the dreaded Point Conception rounding for an early morning arrival.  Despite several interesting sounding stops along the way, our intent was to run non stop to San Diego.  We anticipated a roughly three and a half day trip, and the forecast was for some useable wind to get there.  Of course, that was the forecast.  Reality proved to be more of the same, with only about seven hours of sailing.   We did sail for a bit after motoring out of Monterey, our favorite stop of the trip.  But the winds died down, and it was back to the motor to try and keep our speed up.  The wind started back up, right on the nose.  We powered on towards Point Conception, with our speed dropping and our arrival time trending towards mid day, rather than our planned early morning when winds were supposed to be lightest.  After our Cape Mendocino adventure, there was quite the feeling of trepidation about this rounding, and the later our arrival time showed on the GPS, the more I began to worry.  The wind was building, and while the seas were not large, they were slowing us up and our progress was again down to the 2-3 knot range.   The coastline eased by, remarkably empty of civilization.  As much as waterfront property is valued, it always amazes me how much of the coast line is empty.  These are the type of thoughts that cross your mind as you take your turn at the helm and watch nothing go by and less than five miles an hour.

Dusk on Friday evening found us in some fog, and a vessel hailed us on the VHF to make sure we aware they were close by.  We assured them we could see them on radar, and I was somewhat assured knowing they had seen us on their radar.  As we ended the quick conversation, our friends from Indigo hailed us.  It was a bit of a broken transmission but we were able to hear that they were heading into Morrow Bay, a stop we would have considered if it wasn’t for our desire to reach San Diego.  It was good to hear from them though, and know boats we’ve met are around us.

Finally, in late afternoon on Saturday, we began to approach the cape.  I spotted a couple fishing boats close to shore also approaching for a rounding, and began to slide towards shore to follow their path. After a closer inspection of the chart on the GPS, I decided I might want to stay a bit further off shore without their local knowledge.  But after watching them round I decided to head in after all, for the view of the lighthouse on the point.

As we approached, the wind died, the waves flattened out, and we rounded under the most benign conditions imaginable. As a very light wind came up the Santa Barbara channel, I swear I smelled oil.  I called Jenn up to confirm, and after we sniffed the engine to make sure it wasn’t us, we agreed it was coming from the ocean.  I had just read an blurb in Lattitude 38 about the significant amount of oil that seeps out of the ocean in this area, I guess it is enough to actually smell.  Of course, after rounding we also began to spot the oil derricks everyone says to watch out for.  I’m not so sure what the fuss is about, between the size of them, radar and the amount of lights they turn on at night I can’t imagine not being aware of where they are.  Seeing them lit up at night is actually in an odd way rather pretty.  Or maybe I’m just having Burning Man flashbacks.

Our other welcome to Southern California was a small school of dolphins that cruised by and played for a few minutes before continuing on their way.  We’ve seen them a handful of times now, and it never gets less fascinating.  I look forward to seeing them further south with the stories of huge schools.

We were now traveling almost due east, as we motored up the Santa Barbara Channel, land to our port, oil derricks scattered to our starboard, both lighting up the night.  Another fairly uneventful day, and as darkness fell we were crossing the shipping channels near Los Angeles and Long Beach.  The wind had picked up enough to sail, and I had been fooling around with the wind vane enough to try engaging it.  While there is quite a bit more testing to do, it was holding a straigher course than I usually steer (I get distracted at the helm).  After watching it for long enough that we were convinced it was working, Jenn and I looked at each other and asked “Now what do we do with our selves?”  The answer quickly became drop the sails, and start motoring again when the wind died once again.  There was some shipping traffic to dodge, while avoiding Catalina Island.

Around 7:00 am a small bird landed on the rail while I was steering.  It fluttered a few times trying to grasp the tubular railing, than settled in for a ride.  Minion lay several feet away, under the dodger, oblivious to our new passenger.  It was not a sea going bird, lacking webbed feet for swimming, and looked a bit unkempt.  I gave a quick peek at the chart plotter while trying not to let the distraction alter my course, and calculated the nearest land at about 18 miles away.  I got a bit to close trying to get a good look and the bird flew up to the bow, where it continued to chill out while hitching a free ride.  Eventually Jenn woke up for her turn at the helm and I pointed out our passenger.  We tried to feed it some bread, but I never saw it eat any.  Periodically, it would take off, fly a couple hundred feet behind the boat, then flap back up to us, sometimes dipping to inches off the water.  It continued with us to near Point Lomas, marking the entrance to San Diego.  We didn’t see it wing off on its final flight, but we felt good for giving it the rest we felt it needed.  Or maybe it was just a lazy bird freeloading its way south.  We will never know.  What we do know is Minion is not good at hunting birds.

As we arrived at Point Lomas, so did the fog.  Painfully, when you reach the point, you still need to continue a couple miles south to round a navigation buoy, then turn back north to enter the harbor.  It was foggy, cool, and frustrating, so close and yet so far, and the promise of sunny southern California unrealized.  As we entered the channel to find the marina we had reservations at, I saw a huge sailboat sailing towards us.  I grabbed the binoculars and checked it out – Stars and Stripes!  An old America’s Cup boat, I’m sure sailing tourists around, but an impressive site that geeked out the sailor in me.

Using our joint navigating skills, Jenn spotting buoys and me driving the boat, we made our way to Harbor Island West Marina where Jenn had set up a reservation during moments of cell phone service 15 miles off the coast.  We had perhaps the scariest moment of the trip for me as I tried to dock the boat in our assigned slip.  My docking skills have been improving, but a combination of a narrow fairway, some wind, tidal movement and not knowing exactly where the slip I was docking in conspired to leave me kinda of bouncing off some (very fortunately) empty slips while drifting towards the end of the fairway, which did not have an opening.  Because of the way the sailboat handles, it is very difficult (impossible for me with my current skills) to swing my stern to starboard, which is what I desperately needed to do.  Jenn dashed for the boat hook, which should probably standard on deck docking equipment in the future, and we were eventually able to get just far enough off the piers that I had enough clearance to spin the boat as we drifted closer and closer to the boxed in end of the fairway.  Finally pointed in the right direction, we crept back and managed to enter the slip, which was only a foot or so wider than the boat. 

Safely tied up, we went to the office to check in, and were informed we had been given a rather discounted rate.  We were encouraged to tell our friends to join us here, but not how much we were paying per night.  With key cards for the marina in hand, we returned to the boat for swimsuits and promptly headed for the hot tub, a welcome warmth in the unexpectedly cool San Diego weather.  We had saved our longest passage for our last trip in the US, and while longer overnight passage surely await in the future, it felt good to complete this passage and arrive at our destination.

After 1400 miles of sailing motoring we feel pretty good, nothing more than some fatigue from a couple long nights and some lingering frazzled nerves from the failed initial attempt at Cape Mendocino.  The boat has held up well, with the excpetion of the engine needing some TLC.  On the last leg I began to notice a couple little issues, and have parts on order to replace a fuel lift pump, put a new gasket over the front engine timing plate cover, and install the proper cooling hose.   We are also due for an oil change, and I’m a bit suspicious of the water pumps but I’m just going to keep my eye one them for now.  Still, for the original engine and a 1976 boat, it held up like a champ while being run so much in a short period of time.

According to the GPS, and I wouldn’t put this as the complete gospel truth since I didn’t notice the logging feature till over halfway through the trip and logging threshold was set to traveling at 3 knots per hour, we traveled 1415 nautical miles in 285 hours and 37 minutes at an average speed of 5 knots per hour, and hit a maximum of 18.7 knots per hour.  That last number I’m particularly suspicious of, I think it was a combination of the GPS moving several directions at once and getting a false reading. 

 

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