We left Cojo Anchorage as soon as we could in the morning. The short hop of 26 miles due south to San Miguel Island only took a few hours. By late afternoon, we had finally arrived in the Channel Islands!
We anchored in Cuyler Harbor - a beautiful little bay surrounded by high bluffs that blocked the wind almost completely. We quickly changed out of our 7 layers of ocean sailing cold weather gear and into tee shirt and wind breaker. I dropped the dingy, mounted the outboard, threw a few items into a backpack and we headed to the beach for some exploration.
I should mention here that I had never actually beached the dingy before - I had only gone from boat to pier and back... that was about to change abruptly. As we approached our designated landing spot, I recall mentioning to Joni how deceptive the distances looked - just then the stern of the raft rose abruptly and I yelled "Hang On!". A big wave caught us just before it broke and swept us up onto the beach at about 15 mph.
We landed wet but intact - the problem was that now we could not get off the beach. We tried a couple of times but the surf was at least 3 feet high and pushed us tumbling back each time. There was a much calmer section of beach about a mile away but surf was crashing over the jagged rocks and flooding into sea caves between us and the calm beach. I tried but could'nt pull the dingy and the outboard over the rocks. So in the end, we pulled the dingy high up the beach, tied it to a piece of driftwood and started hiking up to the ridge of the island - about 800 feet above us.
It was then that I realized my hiking boots did not make it into the backpack, so I had to climb in the shower slippers I had so thoughtfully put on in anticipation of stepping lightly off the dingy and onto the warm island sand.
I'll spare you the details of our 5 mile cross-country hike, except to say that the flora was gorgeous and that I kep t wondering how long we could survive on 4 cheese sticks and a bottle of Merlot.
When we finally looped back down to the beach, it was a huge relief to see the approaching dingy from Wiggle Room, a neigboring boat that had sailed down from Morro Bay at the same time as we did. They had become worried by our long absence and kept a lookout. Wow! I cannot thank them enough.
This area has an intimidating reputation for high winds, big swells and lots of fog. In the 19th century it was known as the "Cape Horn of the Pacific".
That may be a bit of an overstatement but Joni and I had avoided talking about this portion of our trip in detail to each other out of nervous anticipation.
We left Morro Bay just before dawn and fully expected that rounding Conception would be serious business. We had about 60 miles to cover and Pt. Conception was right at the tail end of the trip. Our plan was to motor sail as fast as possible to get close to Conception before the wind built up too much and then complete the rounding during daylight. (after our wild ride down the Big Sur coast, we REALLY did not want to be caught out after dark at Pt. Conception)
The day started out foggy and chill with a bit of a breeze. But as the morning continued and the fog lifted a bit, the wind dropped to less than 10 kts and seas were flat calm. I had no problem at all with motoring the whole way around ;-)
We reached the shelter of Cojo Anchorage just before sunset. It was an eerie place. After such an unexpected calm passage around Pt. Conception, it felt as if the storms were just waiting for us to fall asleep. Cojo is what is known as a refuge anchorage - there are absolutely no facilities and it is only used to escape the rough conditions at Conception. By the time we arrived, the winds had clocked around to the southwest and the normally sheltered anchorage was left exposed to big rolling swell. To ease the violent motion, we anchored in the shallow water inside the kelp line - only a few hundred yards off the breaking surf. The wreck of a beached sailboat was washed up on shore nearby to remind us that shelter from the storm was not always possible.
I could not sleep well that night and got up several times to check that our anchor was holding. I had to hold on with both hands to keep from being pitched about in the dark. When I opened the hatch to look outside, the moonless night was pitch black and I saw the most amazing night sky - more full of stars than I have ever seen. In the water around us, every movement left a phosphorescent trail of pale green light. Predators moving beneath the surface created dim pools of light that were interrupted with shimmering flashes of green whenever something came to the surface.
Awoke slowly and all alone to a beautiful sunny day shining on the small ranchero at the head of the little San Simeon bay. Just a short day sail of 19 miles today so we hugged the coast line and arrived in Morro Bay by lunch time.
The huge rock dome at the entrance to Morro Bay was visible from 10 miles away. As we entered the harbor it became apparent that 4th of July weekend was a very active time for this town. After hailing the harbor master on the radio, he directed us to call the local Morro Bay Yacht Club (MBYC) for a mooring.
As it turned out, everyone at MBYC was amazingly friendly and helpful. We met "Bill" on the dock and he told us to raft up to a 45 ft. cruiser that was laying over for repairs. Bill assured us the skipper was aware that anyone could raft up, but he introduced us just the same to "Bruce", the delivery skipper of the big cruiser - who said just to toot our horn when we got close and he'd be standing ready to take our lines "with a smile". During our time here at MBYC we met a dozen people - all of them just as friendly and willing to help cruisers on their way.
We joined the rest of the club for happy hour that evening and met the crew of Wiggle Room, another boat heading out to the islands. We talked about the brisk ride down the Big Sur coast over a couple of Pacificos and all agreed that we should sail together around Pt. Conception (a fortuitous decision as you will see a couple of postings later).
On this day, we learned the difference between "vacation" and "adventure" (sorry - no photos). We did not know where our next anchorage would be but had heard it was important to clear past Point Sur (about 25 miles down the coast) before the mid-day winds filled in. So we motor sailed out of Monterey just after sunrise as a fresh breeze quickly picked up.
By late morning we were sailing nearly dead downwind as the fresh breeze had changed to a steady 28 kts from the Northwest with gusts into the 30's. We did not even bother reefing the main and just dropped it early instead. The swell behind us had built up to about 10 feet with 3-5 ft. chop from the wind on top of that and we could see green water through the tops of the waves just beneath the breaking foam at their crest. It was very impressive!
I changed tack to set the waves off our stern quarter and had to hand steer to keep from broaching. But even with only the jib and mizzen we were still going too fast. Boat speed was consistently 8.5 kts or better; surfing down the waves we would accelerate even faster. After hitting almost 13 kts while surfing down one big one, I decided to reef the remaining sails. This would require that we turn the boat into the wind in order to reduce the load on the sails. I turned while cresting a big wave and as we came about, the noise and apparent wind increased violently. I'm sure the whites of my eyes showed as brightly as Joni's but Tradition naturally assumed a stable hove to position as we quickly reefed both sails and turned downwind on our way again.
Arrived in San Simeon Bay just after dark and dropped anchor in the small cove. The stars we absolutely amazing! We could see the milky way and all of the constellations... too bad we were so tired.
Day 4 - Road Trip to Big Sur
In the morning I discovered a set screw that holds the engine control casing in place had popped out. In all the excitement to pivot off the dock yesterday, I must have been pulling up on the gear lever much harder than I realized. A few minutes with a screw driver resolved our mechanical problem (but now I have one more point of failure to worry about).
Our plan was to spend an extra day in Monterey and take a short road trip to see the redwoods in Big Sur. We walked to a nearby car rental lot and were headed down Hwy 1 toward Big Sur by mid-afternoon.
The view of the rugged coastline was absolutely spectacular and would prove to be the highlight of our day trip. When we reached the Pfeiffer Grove State Park, it turned out that many of the trails were closed for repair and the remainder were crowded full of families on camping vacation. The place felt more like a theme park than a forest. We took a short walk to see a nice little waterfall, soaked our feet in the stream and were ready to head back to Monterey for a good Thai dinner in town.
Day 5 - Monterey & Ready for Sea
Our original plan was to leave in the morning for the long sail down the Big Sur coastline that would keep us at sea overnight for the first time. But the weather report called for high winds and it did not take too much convincing for us to decide that an extra day in port could be put to good use. So Joni worked on the computer to finish her Masters final while I checked out our anchor lines, put a reefing line into the mizzen and puttered around the boat. In the evening we walked down to the nearest Starbuck's to provision an extra couple pounds of French Roast and had a good Mexican dinner in Cannery Row.
A slow, foggy start in the morning had us ghosting along at 3 knots; dodging kelp beds and watching for sea otters. But as the sun burned off the fog, conditions would become much more like the ocean sailing we would soon encounter.
After forming a weather barrier to the sea for several hundred miles, the coastal range of hills opens up a low gap on the eastern shore of the Monterey Bay that allows the hot air rising in the interior Salinas Valley to draw in the cool ocean air, creating what the Coast Pilot calls the Monterey Wind Gap.
By noon the sky was cloudless and the water took on the color of a deep cobalt blue. Wind had picked up to a steady 25 kts and the streaks of foam that blew down the face of the swells rolling in from the ocean to our west seemed to sparkle. Beautiful sailing conditions! We reefed and then finally dropped the main. Sailing for hours at 7.5 kts under jib and mizzen alone, we reached Monterey in the early afternoon.
We pulled into the marina and tied up on our port side to an empty dock while I hailed the harbor master to arranged for a slip. Even in the shelter of the marina, the wind was still strong enough to make a howling sound in our rigging - and it had us pinned against the dock, unable to cast off. Big, expensive cruising boats behind us, a rocky retaining wall about 50 yards ahead at the end of the slipway and a gallery of tourists watching from the rail on Fisherman's Wharf right alongside of us. It was a situation designed to reduce my meager supply of Style Points.
After some important marital discussions, we put out extra bumpers all around and Joni stood on the bow with a line to hold the bow tight. I cast off all other lines, turned the wheel hard to port and put Tradition in forward gear. As I revved up the engine, our stern began to pivot into the wind and away from the dock. When we were at nearly 90 degrees to the dock, I quickly changed to reverse as Joni let loose the bow line and we backed away from the dock smartly. As soon as we had a few yard clearance, I switched back to forward and gunned the engine to complete our 180 degree turn.
I was feeling pretty proud of myself as we turned down the next slipway towards our assigned slip... until I tried to slow the boat down. Something in our little docking drama had damaged the engine controls. I no longer had a reverse gear and when I pushed the gear controls into forward, the throttle accelerated in parallel - and so did the boat. I had no choice but to shut off the motor and look for another empty stretch of dock... so much for Style Points.
Luckily, our crash landing was fairly soft. After checking in with the harbor master, the harbor tug tied onto our side and towed us over to our slip. Not the most graceful way to end a great day of sailing. I was worried about the damage to our boat, but we decided to leave repairs until the morning and treat ourselves to a good dinner and the first hot shower in 3 days.