San Francisco to San Diego. An account of the passage.
22 November 2010 | San Diego
On the evening of November 8th, Avocet departed San Francisco Bay, bound for San Diego. On board was Pat Fox, Brian Schleiker, Chris Cardin, and myself.
As Pat and I waited for Brian and Chris to arrive from Seattle that morning, we tended to the usual last minute tasks. The tanks were filled, weather checked and we said our goodbyes to friends and neighbors. Mike, Amie, and Ally of S/V Peregrin, also out of Seattle, stopped by to see us off as well as pick up Brian and Chris from the airport. Unfortunately, a mechanical problem with their flight forced Brian and Chris to take refuge in a SeaTac bar for a few hours. While a little behind schedule they did arrive that afternoon and in good spirits. With all crew accounted for we were underway by 6:30pm.
'Surreal' is the word that comes to mind as we motored down the Alameda Estuary towards the bay. It was as if this event was now a thing of it's own. It had it's own momentum, it's own agenda, and I was just along for the ride. Feeling a little uncomfortable, I reverted to what I'm best at and what I felt I could express some sort of control over. I made dinner.
Conditions on San Francisco Bay were calm as we motored towards the Golden Gate Bridge. The city was beautifully lit, the chicken roasted in the oven, and I was more than a little sad to be leaving. The old Furuno radar, however, was not impressed. It blew it's fuse and decided it was not going to participate in the passage. Even now, we've yet to come to some sort of agreement and it continues to sit there, unwilling to do anything useful.
The last minute decision to leave for San Diego and subsequent push to ready Avocet didn't leave much time to really consider what I was doing. With no time to spare on emotional preparations, I reminded myself that I had done this just one year before and everything worked out just fine. I had left Seattle, made new friends, found work, a grocery store, and a place to do my laundry. One year later, I like those friends and my job. I know where everything is in that grocery store and the best time to do my laundry. It's not easy to leave that behind.
As we motored under the Golden Gate Bridge, the city lights began to fade. We hadn't done much in the way of preparing to sail. The main halyard was still shackled to the boom end, the jib neatly packed, along with it's sheets, and all other halyards were still led away from the mast in their dockside,
"non - mast slapping" position - All those things that should have been readied before leaving the dock. I think I was not so subconsciously stalling. But the chicken smelled great.
Soon enough, we reached the remains of the ebb current meeting the ocean swell and Northwesterly winds and the seas were getting steep and sloppy. Darkness, rough conditions and bad luck led to the main halyard flying free and wrapping around the backstay. After a few attempts, we managed to untangle the halyard and raise the main. The chicken was done.
Next up was the jib. We ran the sheets, unpacked the sail, and with one arm around the headstay and another around a stanchion, my stomach unpacked itself. As unpleasant as it was, it was pretty cool seeing the bow rise ten feet out of the water and then plunge in to the next wave, bringing my fouled face to within inches of the Pacific Ocean. It was almost as if it was saying "Hi Jeremy! Remember me? Now that you know where you stand, let me wipe that up for you." I no longer cared about the chicken.
After I managed to collect myself for a bit we got the jib raised and trimmed. The engine was shut down and we were finally sailing. Meanwhile, I was hanging my head over the rail. . . admiring the phosphorescence. . . as Avocet began rolling away the miles towards San Diego. The chicken was still in the oven and I still didn't care.
The next four or five hours went by with very little input from me. I can't thank my crew enough for handling the boat while I alternated between restless sleep and hiding my head in a bucket. By early morning, with the help of some more aggressive medication and a bucket by my side, I was able to stand watch. The rest of the crew got some much needed and well deserved rest. I finally got around to pulling the sad remains of the chicken out of the oven. One breast had been removed. I'm glad someone got a chance to enjoy it before it reached it's mummified state.
That first night was rough - much rougher than it should have been. While my crew, my friends and family, performed phenomenally, as captain I had not. I am not as much ashamed of getting sick as I am of looking back when I should have been focused on what was ahead. There is a time and place for everything. Lesson learned. Again.
The morning sun rose to a day of great sailing in fifteen to twenty knot winds and an even five foot swell. Monteray Bay fell away as Avocet trucked along on a beautiful downwind run. We all began to settle in and enjoy the passage, the sun, the wind, just not the smell of diesel. A check of the bilge revealed raw diesel and it didn't take long to find the leak. The main tank fill hose had rubbed on the edge of the tank and split. With a full tank and rough seas, a fair amount of diesel had worked it's way up the hose and in to the bilge.
We repaired the hose and discussed our options, last of which was to pump it overboard and only to be considered if it endangered the crew or Avocet. While we had a few buckets, none could be sealed well enough and the risk of diesel sloshing around the cabin or on deck was less than appealing. Chris suggested we work on "draining" all of the beer, wine, and rum bottles and using them to contain the errant fuel oil. While it may heve been the most enjoyable solution, in the end, we decided that Avocet's deep bilge was containment enough until we reached port.
As the evening of the first day at sea approached, the winds eased and the ocean calmed. The trusty old Perkins grumbled to life and we motored through the night. While the drone of an old diesel tractor engine isn't the most preferred noise on a sailboat, it does make for a happy battery bank and sufficient power to run the watermaker. By the following morning we were back to a full charge, topped off water tank, and quite a few miles closer to our destination.
Dawn came on Wednesday with building winds. The engine took a rest and we were in for another great day of sailing. Winds were a solid twenty knots, seas a little bigger than the previous day, and we were on the quintessential downwind run towards Point Conception. Charlie's Charts mentions that Point Conception is often referred to as the Cape Horn of the Pacific. It is a point where winds, currents, sea temperature, and land masses all change. It can be completely benign or dangerous and unpredictable. The common consensus is to either hug the shore line and get around in the quickest manner possible or give it a wide berth of a couple hundred miles. Either way, pay close attention to the weather and treat it with respect.
The forecast was calling for a gale warning in the area Northwest of San Miguel Island, about fifty miles offshore of Point Conception. Putting yourself close to a lee shore with a gale blowing is typically not the best idea but the winds were forecasted to be moderate around the point. Putting in to San Luis Obispo Bay was a tempting option but we felt we could get around and skirt the area of the gale warning before it was in full effect. It was also a more appealing option than beating back in to the increasing winds for days to go offshore and around the entire area.
That evening, we made our way around the point under a double reefed main and working jib. With the winds approaching thirty knots and building seas we set up for a chicken jibe (essentially a 270 degree tack) in to Santa Barbara Channel. Waiting for a lull in both seas and wind, the crew worked together flawlessly and Avocet came up and tacked beautifully. Unfortunately, the jib sheet shackles released. Both of them. The jib flogged insanely and shredded the clew before we could get it down. Those shackles have since been reduced in rank to "paper weight" status and I will be using a bowline from now on.
The storm jib was bent on to replace the damaged working jib and soon we were on another great run down Santa Barbara Channel. The gale blew itself out relatively quickly late Wednesday night and early morning Thursday came with dissipating winds and calming seas. It wasn't long before we were back to motoring.
We reached the eastern tip of Santa Cruz Island by late morning and the wind came back with a vengeance - building to a sustained thirty knots from the North in a matter of minutes. The main got two reefs, the storm jib went back up, and Avocet was reaching along nicely. We learned later that Anacapa Island recorded peak gusts of forty-four knots. We didn't know it at the time as Avocet seemed to take it all in stride.
The winds eased again by mid afternoon and the rest of the day was spent reaching in an idyllic ten to fifteen knots of wind and calm seas under a full main and genoa. We reached Catalina Island in time for a very impressive sunset. With a warm breeze, gentle seas, great crew and cold beer, this was the good life. The evening pattern continued and the winds dropped with the sun. Once again the old diesel moved us along towards San Diego, a destination that was rapidly approaching.
Every passage has it's challenges and things never go completely as planned. Often enough there are times when it is unpleasant. Sometimes it is just miserable. But without fail, I always feel a touch of sadness as the journey nears it's end. We all began to reflect on the past days and I was pleased that even the difficult times were viewed in a positive light. "Mexico isn't far. . ." "The weather is great for a run to Hawaii. . ." "Maybe we should just keep going?" I think we all were a little more than tempted.
We would reach the approach to San Diego Bay by late morning the following day so we prepared for our last night at sea and upcoming arrival. A few more beers were had, good food eaten, a bottle of champagne put on ice. Laughs, unwavering smiles, a hint of sadness and the occasional mention of Mexico, along with a full crew ready to sign on for the next passage, all made me proud. We had grown as individuals and had grown as friends with a deeper understanding, appreciation, and respect for each other. Not only would we arrive safely and with Avocet intact, we would arrive closer and as better people. I couldn't have asked for anything more.
I awoke the following morning to the silenced Perkins, Dad at the helm, Avocet on a leisurely run under main and genoa, and Point Loma in sight. A smell of a great breakfast roused the whole crew and we enjoyed the last few hours of the passage in warm weather and sunny skies.
As we motor sailed in to San Diego Bay, Navy and USCG helicopters flew overhead and two Navy fast boats cruised by. I did a quick mental check of all my documents to assure myself everything was in order but the authorities had little interest in us.
While the narrow channel was busy with every kind of marine traffic, we managed to find the way to our mooring field with little trouble. More as a testament to good crew with an accurate boat hook than my close quarters maneuvering skills, we even managed to pick up the mooring on the first try.
We had arrived in just under four days. The champagne was poured, toasts were given and smiles were seen all around. After we took some time to take it all in, we began our last duties of the passage. The sails were flaked and covered, the helm secured, halyards led away from the mast. The dinghy was launched and the trusty little Honda outboard fitted to it's transom. We went about making ourselves presentable and after a great meal of Lamb burgers, grilled plantains and pineapple, got ready for our first trip ashore. After all, it was Friday night in San Diego and we were a bunch of sailors who had just reached port. But that's a story for a different time. . .
A time and place for everything.