Thursday, October 13, 2011

Santa Barbara

We're currently sitting peacefully in the Santa Barbara marina.  It's been a busy and eventful week with little sleep and much anxiety.
 
After the second of two storms swept through the bay area last week we made a run out the gate on Friday.  As sailors know, it's bad luck to leave port on a Friday but we threw caution to the wind and took a chance. 

We had an easy exit in sunny skies and made our final left turn down the coast.  The forecast called for light winds and lumpy seas, so we planned to duck in at Half Moon Bay if the ride was too uncomortable.  But by the afternoon all was well so we made the decision to continue on to Port San Luis -- a two-day sail away. 

Neither of us had done much sailing recently so we were a little rusty with our boat handling skills.  And, given that I was the only one on the boat that had ever done an overnight passage, there was an understandable level of anxiety with the crew.  As the night progressed the wind and swell increased, heightening the tension on board. 

We had a minor meltdown off Santa Cruz when the depth sounder suddenly dropped to 10 feet and the captain convinced himself that the chartplotter was leading us onto a beach.  It turns out that depth sounders aren't very accurate in really deep water -- like the Montery canyon.  I should have recognized this behavior since I'd seen it before on other boats but the combination of darkness and sleep deprivation resulted in an abrupt course change and upwind beat away from the coast.  I've been much more attentive to navigation since that first night.

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We were both happy to see the sunrise and had mostly uneventful although lumpy sailing over the next day and night until we finally approached Port San Luis where the wind shut down and a thick layer of fog fell over us.  We crept in to the anchorage using GPS and radar as the sun came up on Sunday morning, dropped the hook, and sipped coffee as sea otters played in the kelp nearby. 

The plan was to spend a couple days unwinding and visiting family nearby before making a late night departure for the Channel Islands.  Point Conception, otherwise known as the Cape Horn of the West, stood between us and sunny southern California sailing.  This landmass is best approached in the early morning to avoid the strong winds that typically blow around it.  It was a good plan, a prudent plan -- a plan we quickly scrapped when I checked the weather again.  The forecast showed two high pressure areas converging on Tuesday to create windy conditions along the coast.  We decided to get south as soon as possible so we went back to the boat, got some sleep, and pulled up the anchor on Monday morning.  We added a much welcomed crew member when my brother, Rick, joined us for the sail to Santa Barbara.

We sailed all through the night passing Conception around 10 pm.  We saw moderate wind and the forecasted 6-8 foot swells but the boat handled it without issue under a conservative sail plan.  I was expecting more weather as we rounded the cape and felt relieved that it didn't show. 

My relief was short-lived, however, as a few hours later the wind began to blow.  I turned off the autopilot and took the helm as the wind speed hit 30 gusting to 38.  Again the boat handled it well and an hour later the wind fell off as quickly as it came on, leaving us with moderate conditions again. 

As sunrise approached we were sailing along in flat water and a gentle southern California breeze.  We steered for Prisoner's Harbor on Santa Cruz island and dropped the hook.

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The next day was spent relaxing in the cockpit.  We decided to hang out here for the night, do some fishing, and fire up the BBQ.  Again, these plans were laid to waste when an evening NE breeze came up leaving us on a lee shore in 15 knots of wind. 

Staring at rocks off the stern as the boat swings in the wind is not a comfortable feeling.  So, we pulled up the hook and motor-sailed out into the channel.  I was betting on the wind dying off with the sunset so we sailed around in circles for a while waiting for the anchorage to settle.  If it didn't we were in for another long night at sea.  Luckily I was right and the wind died off as the sun went down and we dropped the hook again a boat length from where we spent the day. At least we could all get some sleep.

In the morning, after coffee and a hot breakfast, we pulled up the anchor again and motored off into the channel.  Rick had set up a ride home from Santa Barbara on Wednesday afternoon, so we made our way back to the coast and a snug berth at the harbor.  We plan to spend a few days here visiting friends and taking care of some unfinished business before sailing for Catalina Island.   But you know how it is with plans.

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