Crossing the Pacific from Mexico to Hawaii we sailed a greater distance than driving from L.A. to New York. Yet unlike driving across the country, our progress wasn’t gauged by state lines crossed, or towns reached. Sailing across the ocean can be a fairly monotonous existence. Being stuck on a small boat completely surrounded by water for over 3 weeks might sound like it would get old pretty fast. But the ocean is always changing and every day you are faced with a new problem that has to be overcome to keep the boat safe and moving in the right direction.
Our progress couldn’t be gauged by landmarks, since there were none. The only indication we had that we were making ground to the west was that the sun started to set later and later each day. Progress through time was marked by days passed since the storm we weathered, or days since we were completely becalmed for a night. It was the events like these that stood out along the way and made the voyage really memorable. So here are some stories from our voyage, detailing some of the highlights, those day marking moments that we really remember.
We left from Santa Rosalillita, Mexico at midday on the 7th of January 2015. Sailing west through the night to make it the 60 odd miles out past Cedros Island and into the open pacific was our first challenge. In the days leading up to our departure there had been strong offshore winds which would have been perfect, but as luck would have it, the wind all but died the day we left and we had a challenging and sleepless night of adjusting sails and steering on different tacks.
Dawn came as we sailed out into the open ocean and the wind came from behind so we were able to hold a steady course with the windvane. We caught our first fish this morning, a Big Eyed Tuna. It was an easy sail all day until the sun finally sank down under the horizon in front of us. Looking back in the dusk light with the clouds tinted pink, we saw could just make out the mountains of Cedros Island. This would be our last glimpse of land for the next 3 weeks.
I had been nervous before leaving on this crossing, imagining the big storms and huge seas that we might encounter and how I would fare in the face of them. Well as it turned out, thinking about going was scarier than actually doing it. After the first few days had passed and the initial shock and adjustment of being out of sight of land wore off, things seemed to get easier and easier. Maybe easier isn’t the right word, but we started to feel more and more comfortable and became resigned to our situation and more confident in ourselves when the weather showed its teeth.
When we started we were at 28 degrees N latitude. The north east trade winds that would help get us to Hawaii start blowing at about 20 degrees N latitude. This meant that instead of pointing straight for Hawaii as the crow flies, (or maybe the albatross in this instance) we had to travel almost 500 miles south to get into favourable winds. It was slow going. We had really light winds and periods where we were completely becalmed for almost a whole day. On top of this we weren’t even heading in what felt like the right direction. To literally have the wind out of our sails so soon after leaving was really mentally challenging. We had charged off out to sea on this great adventure and then to be stuck with no wind and so far still to go was pretty frustrating. After a windless night of drifting in the wrong direction I decided to start the engine and get us underway moving SSW towards the trades. Our fuel capacity only gives us a range of about 350 miles and by the route we were taking, Hawaii was 2500 miles away, so I had to use it wisely and I can’t say that it didn’t play on my mind to be running the engine for 100 miles so early on in our trip.
One evening we saw a bird circling the boat. We were about 400 miles from land at this stage and i guess we were his only option for a bit of a rest. After scoping us out for 10 or 15 minutes, he came down and landed on our bow. He found a spot clear of the sails on the bow pulpit and stayed there with us through the entire night. Even when I would tack and the sails flapped back and forth as we came through the wind, he would hang on. Birds out here must not be as scared of people as they are on land. As day broke about 10 hours later, he took off and continued on his way to where ever it was he was going. Although we didn’t really do anything, it was fun to have the company and help out our little buddy for the night.
During one of these calm nights on our south bound course we were visited by a pod of dolphins. These are not unusual visitors for us, but this time was different. Firstly they came during the night, which doesn’t usually happen. I think the full moon above us had something to do with this. Then second and best of all was the brilliant phosphorescence in the water all around us. The seas surface was smooth like glass, and the boat made a brilliant green wake that would glow and then slowly fade and dissolve as it was left behind. Peering down over the edge of the boat was as if we were hovering over a glowing torpedo show as the dolphins would dart and swirl all around us each marked by their own bright green trail of phosphorus. Macy and I sat on the foredeck and watched for almost an hour. Every so often the torpedoes would align under the water and then break the surface as one sending bright green spray like fireworks accompanied by the “woosh” sound of their blowholes as they took a quick breath. We could really appreciate that we were witnessing something that not very many people get the chance to see. It took our minds away from our slow progress and made us think of where we were and what we were doing. Sometimes its easy to get too caught up focussing on the end goal and its seeing things like these dolphins that help bring you back to the moment.
By day eight we had made it down into the trade winds. It was a big moment for us being the first time since we left that we set our course more west than south. We were finally pointing for Hawaii. I had always imagined what sailing in the trade winds would be like, building a picture in my mind from stories and books about people that have done it before. I had pictured that there would be groomed swell lines traveling with the prevailing winds and the sailing would be smooth and easy going. Well this wasn’t the reality we found. We had the wind, but along with it were 3 different swells, all moving in different conflicting directions. This resulted in a very confused sea that had us bucking around in a really uncomfortable motion. Sometimes as they neared, two opposite swells would hit each other merging into one larger than normal wave that would break across the whole boat. It took a while to get used to this and to have faith that the boat would hold up alright, but it wasn’t before long that we discovered a few weak points in our vessel. It was about this stage in the crossing that we had our first little scare.
In the dark one night we were hit by 2 heaving swells that rattled the boat throughout. Soon after Macy discovered a mystery trail of water in the vanity area. We tasted it to see if it was salt or fresh. Salt. But how had it gotten in? The bilge water was no higher than normal and the hatches were all sealed shut. My mind raced and I nervously considered that those 2 large waves with all their might may have done some damage to the hull. God knows it sure sounded that way.
I quickly dove into Macy’s cupboard, throwing her clothes all over the cabin floor in an attempt to get to the source of this leak. Yet even after emptying everything, the cupboard floor was as dry as a bone. So this wasn’t where the problem lay, but with Macy watching I now had a different set of problems on my hands.
Again my mind raced, could it be a broken thru hull fitting? Had the drain hose for the anchor locker worked it’s way loose? The boat lurched once more on a passing swell and the stream of the leak flowed stronger. Our eyes darted around, what could be causing this? Then Macy spotted water running down the bulkhead wall. We traced it up into the corner near the ceiling. The boat bucked again and sure enough water came running out from a small gap behind the chainplate that anchors the forward side stay on the port side. This was the first of a number of leaks that we had to manage for the remainder of our sail. I tried a multiple times to silicone the gaps around the fittings in question, but the water on the deck was so persistent for the entire trip that the silicone would never get a chance to dry. By the time we made it to Hawaii we had buckets, cups and towels catching and blocking little streams of water all down the windward side of the boat.
After a few more days we started getting used to our new life sailing in the trade winds. We were reading the motion of the boat and moving around the cabin with more ease. At meal times I noticed that our bodies had adapted an automatic gimbal of sorts, just like our stove, as the boat rocked neither of us would spill a drop of drink or loose a bit of food as we tilted our cups and plates to be level at all times. As the days went by the wind increased, especially at night, and I constantly felt like I was going on deck to shorten sail. This went on until we found ourselves in 30 knots of wind with ever building seas and no sail left to pull down as I already had the jib rolled in and the main had its 3rd reef pulled in long ago. The windvane was doing its best to keep us pointed in the right direction, but even with the sheet eased right out, the main was still catching the gusts and rounding us up into the wind, heeling us over to the point that the underside would become exposed to the oncoming swells. Every time that this would happen we would be left with almost no speed in the trough of an oncoming wave. They didn’t hit us as breakers every time, but when they did we could feel tremors vibrating through the cabin floor as if we were experiencing a small earthquake. Sometimes they would slam into us with such force that it really felt like we were being knocked sideways. The rigging would howl as the wind gusted through it, sending vibrations down through the chainplates that would shake the whole boat. It really gave us a sense of how vulnerable and exposed we are out here, and while I’m sure the build of the boat is stronger than I gave it credit for at that moment, I was suddenly aware of not pushing it too hard and trying to keep a cautious mind when making such decisions. As time went on these instances became less dramatic for us, but this being our first real blow it really got the blood pumping!
At times I have caught myself gaining a false sense of security while sitting in the nice warm dry cabin on watch in the middle of the night. Upon going on deck to look things over, the harsh and sometimes very confronting reality of where we are, and what we are doing really sinks in. Imagine this: you climb up the steps out of the cabin and the first thing that hits you is the wind, you not only feel it, but you can hear it howling and shaking the rigging far above. There is also the roar of rushing water, but you can’t tell if its the surge of the boat flying along or the crashing whitewater rolling past either side of you. Looking up you try to register what you’re seeing, there is a flash of white atop a big dark lump that is blocking out all of the stars on the horizon.
A large swell is bearing down on the boat from behind. Surely you’re about to be swamped. Holding on tight to whatever there is to grab nearby you wait for the crash, but somehow the stern rides up and over the oncoming wave. At the top, the horizon shows itself again and you can see out for miles in every direction. But the boat is now fully exposed and the wind hits it with all its force. She strains and heels over at 45 degrees with all of the load on the sail, then broaches around broadside and falls into the valley in front of the next oncoming swell.
This all happens in the first 10 seconds of being on deck, while you are still standing in the relative comfort and safety of the dodger. Then there is still the matter of venturing out into the weather, climbing over the steering lines that run from the windvane to the wheel drum, and making your way back behind the steering pedestal. Being sure to keep one hand on the boat at all times, you quickly check the compass and instruments, then make any adjustments that are required. This whole time you are bracing yourself for a dousing of water from one of the many waves that send whitewash cascading over the decks and into the cockpit. Keep in mind that all the while you are way out in the ocean, over 1000 miles from land. If either one of us were to fall over the side, the chances of slowing the boat down in time to turn around and attempt a successful rescue are very slim. Maybe a bit of “out of sight, out of mind” security in the cabin isn’t always a bad thing.
Apart from sighting a few ships as we sailed away from the Mexican coast, most likely traveling between California and Panama, there were only a few instances at sea where we felt we had to be on high alert. There are 2 shipping lanes of which I knew that we had to cross at certain stages along the way to Hawaii. One was the Great Circle Route between San Bernardino Straight in the Philippines and Panama, which we crossed about day 5. The other was the Honolulu to Balboa route, which we ran almost parallel to, for a few days towards the end of week 2. We have AIS (automatic identification system) on our VHF radio. All ships must transmit a signal that the AIS can pick up and when one gets within a set range an alarm will sound letting us know to be on the lookout. The AIS gives you information about the ship, what speed its doing, where its going, etc. This is great for peace of mind when you are in the vicinity of a shipping lane, apart from one little problem.
Our AIS didn’t work.
It had run flawlessly on our way down the coast. Yet those first few ships that we passed as we were leaving Mexico were well within range to be picked up by the radio, but it registered nothing. The next 4 ships we came across were in the daylight on day 5. None of them showed up either, but at least we passed them in daylight. I feel there is a much higher chance of being run over at night, as all that we have to alert them is our small masthead light. All ships have radar, which would surely detect us, but thats only useful if one of the crew is looking at it, and the few occasions that I attempted to call the ships on the radio, all with no reply, didn’t give me much faith that anyone was paying attention apart from their auto pilot. Needless to say, I became rather paranoid during these periods that we were close to the shipping lanes and when we did sight one I would keep a close eye on it until it was well past us heading over the horizon.
This brings us to the most challenging night that we experienced the entire crossing. The trade winds had been blowing strong for a few days, we were managing fine but it wasn’t exactly comfortable. Then on this particular afternoon as the day was growing late we watched the sun sink down behind an ugly looking bank of clouds. We sailed on with nervous caution, as you could feel in the air that something was brewing.
At 10:30pm we were hit by a 25 knot squall from the SE. I had only just gone below after having trimmed the main and poled out the jib in an effort to keep moving in what had become very light air. All at once it started pouring rain and the wind hit and lay us right over. Macy was in bed and slept through everything. I ran on deck and furled the jib, and eased the main to stop us heeling so much. Then I got us set back on course with the wind vane. I was soaked, and as I was finishing up I noticed Macy’s shampoo sitting in the cockpit locker. I instantly stripped down and had my first fresh wash since starting this crossing almost 2 weeks ago. It wasn’t warm, but I sure felt good after it.
Following the SE squall and torrential rain, the conditions eased for a moment, just long enough for the boat to wander almost 180 degrees off course. Then it hit all over again, with just as much fury as the first time. The clouds were exploding with huge flashes of lightning all around us. The boat was instantly backwinded and we had to rush on deck to do a 360 in order to get going the right way again. We reefed down to the 3rd reef point as it was gusting near 30 knots. We managed like this for about an hour until it died and we were left completely becalmed.
Looking back, I guess we were in the eye of the storm at this point. Visibility became quite clear and I could make out the glow of a ship’s lights just over the horizon. I went below to dry off and tidy things up and about 15 minutes later went back up for another look. The glow was getting bigger, the ship was off to our port bow. Then something else caught my eye, to starboard I saw a slow but bright strobe light. At first I mistook it for lightning, but it was persistent, and upon further inspection I realised it was getting closer! We are totally becalmed rocking back and forth and potentially about to shoot the gap between 2 ships, what are the chances of this in the middle of the night in a storm 1200 miles from the nearest land?
I decided it would be a good idea to start the engine so we could at least navigate out of their way if need be. Ignition on, push the starter button……and nothing. The lights dimmed, but that was it. We hadn’t run the engine for 5 days and we had been sailing under an overcast sky most of that time. While the solar setup that we have is really good, it does need sun if we expect it to produce for us. Up until this point it hadn’t missed a beat, but we have pretty much had perfect sunny days ever since I installed it.
The strobe was getting nearer and seemed to be moving quickly. I put a call out to “All Ships” on the VHF to see if anyone would respond and if I could get some answers as to what these lights were. No response. The strobe swooped past on our starboard side maybe half a mile off our beam, and then took off into the wind far behind us, fading behind the swells and into the storm at a surprising rate. I still have no idea what it was. I never saw a boat outline. I thought it could be a swell or research buoy, but then it moved at such speed, that that couldn’t be right. It was weird. We kept our course pointing well north of the other lights which had by now crept back over the horizon. I went down to rest and Macy stayed up to make sure they didn’t get too close.
It seemed like no time had gone by, but it must have been about an hour when I was woken up, hanging in my leigh cloth on what seemed like the wrong tack. A gale had whipped up from the NW. This gale was more fierce than the first one, the rain pelted so hard that it stung even through our clothes. The lightning was now right above us and when it flashed it was followed almost immediately by a huge clap of thunder that sounded like a shotgun going off. We spoke briefly about what would happen if the boat were to be struck by lightning out here. It was intimidating to say the least. Once again we were backwinded and not doing well. We both went on deck, Macy steered while I adjusted the sails to have us running off with the wind to the south. It felt like our only option, to try and hold our course to the west was near impossible with the amount of wind blowing, so we just went with it in hopes that it would blow itself out before too long. We were coping fine, but our problem now was that we were sailing across the bow of the slow moving mystery ship that would not respond on the radio.
Luckily it wasn’t long before the gale eased and we were once more able to set a safe course above the ship, pointing towards Hawaii. We passed the ship port to port not long after. We speculated that maybe it was some kind of research vessel. It was strange to see something this far from land that was moving so slowly. The strobe light is still a complete mystery.
Morning came a few hours later and the wind shifted back around to the NE. It seemed as if the wind was eager to make up for lost time as it blew at 25 knots for most of the morning. When we first set out from Oregon 25 knots of wind was enough to make us pay close attention, but 25 knots is not so much an event, as just something that we deal with now. The hum in the rigging is not as frightening as it once was, and reefing the sails has become a well practiced chore.
Looking back to the east we could see the dark wall of cloud that we had just sailed through. It looked as though it was still as dark as night underneath it. Ahead to the west there was a patch of blue sky and we were hoping for enough sun to give the batteries a boost so the engine would start and we could charge back up to full with the alternator.
We caught an endless supply of fish on our way across. Macy was definitely the instigator in putting the lines out, often 2 or 3 at the same time. We would yell “fish on!” when we heard the line running and be as eager as each other to reel it in. Often we would hook 2 fish almost at he same time as we must have sailed through a school, this would really keep us busy. We caught Big Eye Tuna, Skipjack, but my favourite had to be the Mahi Mahi. We became so spoiled with fish that I think at one stage Macy actually complained about it! First it was too much lobster in Mexico and now too much fish in the Pacific, she”s a hard girl to please!
It was Macy’s cousin Ty and his family that had set us up with all of the fishing gear, and I must say that the thirst for blood must run in the family. Macy had the touch when it came to getting the fish onboard. For some reason mine would always make a grad escape just as I got them to the boat. By the end of the trip I think it was Macy 5, Quintin 1.
As soon as we got to Hilo we got hamburgers.
We were able to get the engine going in the afternoon after the storm that we went through. Hawaii was starting to feel within reach. There was a lot of talk about our ETA, our guesses based on our current boat speed or the most recent weather fax information that we had received. We have a single side band receiver onboard that we can tune into get weather faxes from pretty much anywhere in the world. Different areas use different frequencies and are broadcast according to a set schedule. Using an app on our iPhone the fax like sound from the radio is deciphered into a synoptic weather chart that we can use to predict what conditions we are about to experience. This was a good and bad thing. It was great to know that we were in the latitudes of consistent trade winds, but sometimes we would see a big scary low, with all of its isobars stacked close and tight together. This would leave us feeling pretty anxious about what might be headed our way.
As it turned out we had a really easy rest of the trip. It was fun watching the icon of the boat on the GPS getting closer and closer to the islands. We celebrated Macy’s mum Kathy’s birthday on the 24th, and then Australia day on the 26th. When the sailing was good like this we would pass the time by reading books or playing chess. Macy is an amazing cook in the galley. I was forever surprised by what she could make out of the limited ingredients that we had. I’d hate to think what I would have been eating if I had have done this trip by myself.
We had some beautiful sunsets on these last few days of the crossing. Something had changed in the air. It wasn’t as dry as Mexico and it was warmer and more friendly than the middle of the pacific. Perhaps we were sensing the islands just over the horizon.
The day came that we thought we would see land.
When we said goodbye to Cedros Island we were almost 70 miles out to sea. We were sailing straight towards the tallest volcano in the world. Mauna Kea, the volcano on the big island of Hawaii, stands tall at over 13,000 feet. Surely we would see it soon. We ticked off the miles, 100 out, 90 out, 80 out….
It was late in the afternoon and we were supposedly only 40 miles away from the island and we still couldn’t see it! There was heavy cloud and haze ahead that might be blanketing our view, but still, after sailing over 2500 miles, 50 miles seemed pretty close. We nervously joked that maybe the GPS was wrong and we were actually just out in the middle of nowhere. That wasn’t a fun thought, we didn’t have very much water left.
That evening the volcano revealed itself, contrast by the orange glow of the setting sun. We learned later that the island has a thing called vog. Its a volcanic fog that causes a haze that hangs over the island and this is why we had so much trouble seeing it. What a feeling! To see land, now only 40 miles away and know that we had made it all the way across an ocean. It was a great sense of accomplishment and we celebrated with our last bottle of wine that we had been saving for this moment.
The only issue now was that we were about 6 hours away and this would see us arriving at 1 in the morning. It was a hard call, but I didn’t feel comfortable arriving somewhere new in the middle of the night. Especially since we didn’t know where to anchor, or what the holding would be like if we did. Although we wanted to be at anchor more than anything, we made the decision to stand off out to sea until morning, when we could arrive in the daylight.
As the sun came up, the wind died out and we turned on the engine to take us in. As we were nearing the harbour we motored through a pod of humpback whales. There were spouts and tails everywhere, and then shooting up from the depths only 150 feet in front of us a huge whale breached completely out of the water! He was bigger than our boat! Surfacing again he started to wave his side fin in the air and slap it in the water. We both scrambled to get our cameras and started shooting photos as the auto pilot steered us closer. It soon became apparent that he wasn’t going to move and we were going right for him. I ran back and threw the wheel to starboard just as the whale realised that were were there and splashed off in the other direction. We only missed him by about 10 feet!
We motored into the harbour between the channel markers and finally came to rest, dropping the anchor in Reeds Bay. It was a nice feeling sitting below and the boat being perfectly still. We had made it.
Not really sure what to do next, we made breakfast and tidied the boat up a bit. Then we pumped up the dinghy and prepared to go ashore for the first time in 24 days.
The days prior to us pushing off from Mexico to cross the Pacific were a little hectic. Macy and I were ready to go, but we lacked supplies of food and water to last us until Hawaii. Our friend Geoff suggested that he could drive us into Guerrero Negro to stock up, but this meant leaving the boat at anchor for the night by itself.
No problem, we knew of a protected anchorage behind the point at Santa Rosalillita, so we sailed down there. we had anchored here on 3 or 4 occasions before and I felt like this was the safest place along this stretch of coast to be leaving the boat.
The morning that Geoff came to meet us was not ideal. Overnight the wind had started to blow 25 to 30 knots offshore and even though we were only about 100 meters from the beach, the wind had chopped the surface up to the point where there were breaking waves all around us. We had experienced this wind a few times over the past 5 weeks. It is a strong northerly that is caused by all of the warm air from the Sea of Cortez needing to escape somewhere. It blows across Baja bringing all of the dust and dirt with it and each time lasts for about 3 or 4 days. Its uncomfortable, but at least its warm.
I was a little hesitant leaving the boat in the strong strong wind, but I was confident that we would hold. The anchor had been set for over 24 hrs and I had shackled our second anchor onto the chain about 60 feet behind the first one. The idea is to give us extra hold and to add a bit more weight when the boat is pulling hard. With chafe gear in place we locked up the boat and braved the wind swell in the dinghy, getting soaked as we took waves over the bow the whole way to the beach.
Guerrero Negro is the biggest town within reasonable distance to us, but with that being said, the selection of products to choose from for our crossing was pretty poor. There were 4 or 5 Supermercado’s in town, all stocking the same things. We had originally planned to make it to Cabo and be doing our big shop for the Pacific crossing there, but since plans change and we didn’t get that far, this would have to do. We did our best with the very basic selection of food that was on offer. Mainly non perishable hints like canned food, pasta and rice. We missed a lot of things that would have been nice, like canned tomatoes for making pasta sauce, or a better variety of fresh produce and meat. We came away with what you would expect in Mexico, lots of tortillas, beans and rice. I also have a weakness for chocolate and stocked up as best I could with Mexico’s sub par candy selection. So not the best supplies, but many people have done it worse off than us. I guess we won’t be craving tacos of burritos for a while after this, lucky there isn’t much Mexican food in Hawaii.
We stayed the night in town in a hotel. It was nice to be in a stable bed and be able to stretch out, although I couldn’t completely relax knowing that the boat was bucking around in the wind back in Rosalillita. I understand now why my dad used to have sleepless nights in Australia when a storm would roll through the harbour where he moored our boat. You are really putting a lot of trust on an anchor and a bit of chain!
We did laundry and had fresh water showers for the first time in 5 weeks. I hadn’t been bothered by not having a shower on the boat, we get to swim in the ocean most days, but that isn’t quite the same. To get all of the salt off really did feel good. The Hotel had wifi, so Macy and I spent the evening looking up weather info for the Pacific and researching different tactics as far as which route to take out to the islands. I found a lot of info about people sailing from Mexico to Hawaii, but none of people crossing in January. March seemed to be the most popular month. We shot off some e mails to check in with friends and family and then turned in for the night.
We slept in late and enjoyed having a real bathroom and some space to spread out right up until the last minute before we had to check out. The afternoon was spent picking up the last few things that we needed around town. We only just made it back to the boat before sunset. To my relief the wind had abated a little bit and the boat was still there, holding strong. It took 3 trips in the dinghy to ferry all of our stuff out to the boat. the last of which was done in the dark. Then we had the arduous job of packing everything away. It was daunting, there was so much stuff spread out in the cabin that I wasn’t sure it would all fit in our lockers!
It’s funny, I have dreamed and pictured myself doing an ocean crossing in my own boat since I can remember, and now that we are here on the eve of finally doing it, its not like I had imagined it would be at all. I had pictured myself leaving from a marina, having just gone over the boat with a fine toothed comb. The batteries would be fully charged, I would have spent the last week or so looking over weather patterns and route planning. The galley would be stocked with a well planned meal schedule and the boat would be in perfect condition, leaving no stone unturned.
Instead we had hitched a ride to a dirt road town to stock up on whatever it was they had to offer. We did an evenings worth of route planning and bought some last minute tequila. Of course we had gone over the boat making sure she was fit to go to sea, but this wasn’t too much of a task and almost seemed a bit too easy. I think having lived onboard for 3 months now, we have come to know the boat inside and out. Every noise, should it be a pump turning on or something on deck banging, instantly registers with us and should we hear something strange we are right onto it. While it hasn’t been the meticulous preparation that I had imagined, I feel relaxed and confident going into this because over the past few months we have gotten to know the boat so well that there aren’t really many questions left as to what she is capable of and how we can handle her. I’ve been told that the hardest part of doing an ocean crossing is just pulling up the anchor and going, and now there is no more procrastinating, thats all that needs to happen to be really doing it.
It was a shock to have the boat back to ourselves. We had been sailing with guests onboard for the last 4 weeks. On a 30 foot boat that doesn’t allow you much space to get away and have some peace and quiet. Don’t get me wrong, I loved having our friends onboard, but now that the pressure was off we were looking forward to slowing the pace down a bit and just hanging out in one place with no agenda.
We left Alejandros the next morning and sailed north, back up to Punta Maria. The bay inside Punta Maria was beautiful, there was potential for surf, nice beaches to explore and above all it offered a relatively sheltered anchorage. Having anchored off of surf breaks so often over the past few weeks, we were pretty keen for a few good nights sleep where the boat might sit still in a calm bay. We arrived at Maria just before dark and settled in for the night. We spent the next 2 days doing nothing. We took care of a few chores, went for a swim, made food and relaxed in the sun.
There is a small rocky point that sticks out into the middle of the bay inside Punta Maria. It is just far enough around the bay for the ocean swell to refract in and hit it making for a fun little point break. On the beach inside the little point stand the remnants of an old fish camp. The point is called Punta Diablo, and from a boat it is very easy to miss. We had been in here twice before over the past few weeks and sailed straight past it. Now that we were able to spend some time and look around in greater detail we realised the potential of Diablo and moved the boat to anchor in close and get the feel of he point. There wasn’t much swell for those first few days, a little longboard wave on the low tide when the sand was exposed in front of the rocks, but that was it.
One morning we decided to go for a walk down a long beach that stretched off to the south. We must have walked 3 or 4 miles to get to the end of it. Along the way we saw a ton of birds of all different sorts lifting clam shells up into the air and dropping them on the hard sand to break them open and get to the meat. Packs of coyotes would wait patiently in the sand dunes behind the beach in hopes that an unsuspecting bird might land close enough for them to pounce. As we walked by the coyotes ran for the hills. All of the coyotes we came across were very timid, I guess the Mexicans don’t cut them much slack.
At the end of the beach was a small headland that stuck out with sand dunes rolling up and over its back. We climbed the dunes to get a glimpse at what might be on the other side and to our surprise we found a bustling little camping community!
Looking down from on top of the dunes we counted 10 or 11 cars all set up with camping gear huddled together on a flat spot behind the little beach at the bottom of the cove. There was a small right breaking from around the headland and peeling all the way into the little beach in front of the camp. There were some other cars camped up in the surrounding dunes overlooking the beach.
Here we are, thinking that we have just walked for 2 hours to the most remote place we could imagine and we stumble upon 30 odd people all set up with their pop up campers and fold out kitchens. It was a bit of a spin out. We walked down into the camping area to meet some of the people and find out where we were. It was called Punta Cardone. We were starting to realise that a lot of the good waves around here were not on the larger more prominent headlands. More often they broke along a little notch in the coast or down a small minor point, all of which we had previously sailed straight past.
We quickly became friends with Jesse, Josh, Geoff, Matt and Sarah, a group that were down at Cardone for the week to celebrate Jesse’s bachelor party. Although it was small the wave looked really fun, so we decided to bring the boat down and anchor off of the point the following day.
That night we could feel the ocean in the anchorage at Diablo, the wave there looked bigger, but lacked any shape as the tide was still too high. We set off for Cardone and sure enough as we sailed around the corner and came in view of the lineup it looked awesome. The surf was much bigger than the day before and lined up all the way to the beach. We anchored wide because the tide was dropping and I wasn’t sure if the swell would continue build.
We surfed for the whole day. The wave started breaking in front of the rocks around the back of the point. It was a pretty hollow critical take off that you had to race to beat a section that would shut down before the wave mellowed out a bit and wrapped around the headland, peeling all the way into the bay. It was the best surf of the trip, sets a little overhead and a good vibe in the water.
All of the people that we met down here were really friendly. I think that because of the effort involved to get to a place like this, it takes people of like minds to want to make the journey and usually their motive is to try and escape the crowded waves of Southern California. For this reason everyone kept it pretty mellow in and out of the water, there was a lot of mutual respect all around.
In the afternoon we took the dinghy ashore to go and have a beer with our new friends. Getting in and out of the beach can be a pretty nerve racking experience. Our little inflatable only has a 2 horse outboard and this particular day we had to make it through the impact zone of a 6 foot lineup. There was no way that we could go as fast as the waves, so our only hope of making it in was to try and time the break in-between the sets, then just punch it and hope for the best.
We got lucky and made it through the impact zone no problems, but before we got to the safety of dry sand another set started peeling down the point. With our heads down, we gunned it for the beach, but it was no use, we were going to get run down. At the last minute, after making it as far in as possible, we swung around to point the bow up into the first wall of white wash.
We made it up and over without taking too much water onboard, but we had no power on the other side because the water was too aerated from the passing wave. we were getting pulled towards the beach sideways, eyes wide looking at the next wave in the set. we managed to keep the dinghy upright as the waves washed us in, but i’m sure it wasn’t very pretty to watch. I hope no one on the beach was judging our boat skills based on this.
Getting back out to the boat once the sun had set posed another whole set of problems. The swell had built, but after a few beers so had my confidence. we had a bunch of gear we were trying to take with us, surfboards, a dry bag and wet wetsuits.
It was nearing dark so we couldn’t really see the sets coming. We had to count the number of waves in each set, there were 4, then when the 4th white wash would hit us we knew we had a small window in which we could make it out to the channel. Macy was going to paddle her board out, while I took the rest of our gear in the dinghy, the theory being that this would be our best shot at shooting the gap through the impact zone.
All went well until about half way out to the channel the engine died. I was too far out to turn back, yet not far enough to be safe. I was a sitting duck. I fumbled frantically to get the engine going, finally after a few pulls it fired. I looked up and turned just in time to see a wall of water bearing down on me in the dim post dusk light. Its hard to say what happened next, I went at the wave full throttle, threw my board off to one side and kind of rolled off the other as the boat was climbing the wave. I think I was trying to get enough momentum for the boat to punch through the lip and end up on the other side. Well reports from the beach are that the dinghy did a backflip under the lip and out into the flats with the motor still running and all of our stuff flying out into the surf. I popped up and saw my board floating between me and the prop of the upturned dinghy. I Instantly thought I had run over Macy, but luckily she had seen the writing on the wall and paddled the other way.
Everything got washed into the beach where Geoff, Jesse and Josh were waiting to help us. After salvaging most of our stuff, we took the outboard off and gave everything to the boys to mind for us for the night. Macy and I walked the dinghy out into waist deep water and started to count the set waves again. This time we didn’t have any of our stuff to slow us down, but we also didn’t have an engine. We jumped over the 4th whitewash and into the dinghy. I started rowing like crazy as Macy sat in the back keeping an eye out for any oncoming sets. By now it was so dark that we could only see a short distance, but time was ticking by and we were nearing the safe waters of the channel. Then we heard it break, the crash of a set hitting the rocks around the top of the point. I tried to row faster but I was already going as fast as I could. The first wave came into view, bending around the point and it was too close to call wether we were going to beat the it to the channel or not. It felt like the faster i rowed, the slower we went. The wave was getting close, the white water thundering towards us.
“Stop looking, just row!” Macy yelled.
We climbed up the face and the corner of the lip as it crumbled caught the back of the dinghy and spun us around, but we floated up and over the back of the wave, safe. There were 3 more coming, but we had time now to make some more ground away from the impact zone and out into the channel.
Although the surf looked fun the next day, I had a project on my hands. While we were in Oxnard I had learned how to clean the carburettor on the outboard, but this was going to take my mechanic skills to a whole new level. Its kind of a fun part about living on the boat and going to these out of the way places. It leaves you up to your own devices and forces you to be self sufficient and save yourself. I have learned a lot since we first set out, but I have been most taken by learning the basics of our little engine. What was completely foreign to me wasn’t that hard to figure out after a bit of time and research. I was lucky this time to have the use of Jesse’s tools and a bit of encouragement from the guys to stay persistent, and after a few hours I had the little 2 horse running again. It was better than ever, I mean looking back it must have needed a clean, it didn’t just cut out in the surf for no reason.
The time came for our new friends to head home. It was the start of the holiday season and there was a bit of a changing of the guard taking place in the Cardone camp. We decided that we had had our fun there too and that it was time to cruise back up to Maria for a bit of peace and quiet. Christmas was just around the corner, and we wanted to be somewhere to celebrate on our own, a bit more removed from the crowd.
We sailed back to our old anchorage off of Punta Diablo.
It was mid afternoon the next day when we noticed something in the water as we looked back towards Cardone. It was too far off to make out what it was, but as it got closer we could see a paddle reflecting the sun as it passed through the air, left, right, left, right…
It was Geoff from the bachelor party. He had kayaked up from Cardone to say hi. It turned out that he had decided to stay in Mexico after the bachelor party took off. Having no obligations to tent to at home, he thought since he was down here that he would take the opportunity to explore a little bit more.
Years ago Geoff was a professional rock climber and was part of a team that invented and developed pendulum swinging from structures using climbing ropes. He had some amazing stories of things he had done. Needless to say he isa bit of an adrenalin juncky, he loves the outdoors and does not shy away from a challenge. Having spent most of his life in the mountains, being on the coast and in the ocean was fairly new to Geoff and it was fun watching him push his limits in the time that we spent with him.
When Geoff paddled away from us that afternoon to head back to Cardone, he had a bit of an error in navigation and paddled 5 miles further than he had to, all the way to Punta Lobos. It was a real scare for him as he didn’t get into the beach until after dark, and even then he was unsure as to where he was. He found some campers at Lobos that gave hime a ride back to his truck which he didn’t get to until almost 5 hours after leaving us!
It goes to show how easy it is to miss these points from the water, they can be very discrete.
One morning at Punta Diablo we were visited by a friendly fisherman named Mario. Based out of Punta Cono (the next point north), he fished for lobster and dropped traps north and south of that area. He would check the north traps one day and then the south traps the next. In this fashion we would get a visit from him every other day and soon became expectant of his visits. Mario and his worker Servino would stop by the boat with lobster or fish and upon their request we would trade them a hat, some old sunglasses or some cookies for their seafood. Little by little we got to know more about each other and Mario made every effort to be a great help to us. Towards the end of our stay we were running very low on propane and after telling him of our troubles, he returned the next day with a full tank of propane for us.
Geoff and his dog Jack moved camp up to Diablo just before christmas. While in the water surfing one day I met Sean, who was down here for christmas camping with his wife Maurine and their 6 year old daughter Lacey. I was surprised to learn that they were friends with my buddy Jon who took us out for lunch in Oceanside. Small world.
This was our family for christmas. Sean and Maurine had brought a christmas tree with them which Lacey decorated with sea shells and sand dollars. We got some fun surf on the point in front of their camp and had a few beers around a camp fire that night. Not a christmas that we were used to, but thats what made it so great.
In his spare time, which there was no lack of, he got right into building and improving his camp using discarded junk and litter that there was no lack of along the shoreline. During a weeklong flat spell this grew into almost an obsession or a challenge for him to see what he could create using the things that he would salvage from the beach. He built wind blocks, a grill for his camp fire, a rake to clean up with, a hammock to store his food in. It was a great use of what limited resources he had, and at the same time was an improvement on the sorry state of the beach. This got Geoff thinking and he instigated a full beach clean up, getting all of the campers in the area to pitch in and help collect all of the trash that they could and sort it into piles that might be useful for locals or people traveling through in the future. The difference was amazing, and it felt really good to be part of an effort to keep a special place like this clean and free from
In the trend that Geoff started, together we managed to make a hose to transfer Mario’s propane into our tank. We had bought a fiberglass propane tank before we had left he states and we didn’t want to part ways with it, so after Mario delivered his propane to us we still needed a way to get it from his bottle into ours. I was advised to buy a male to male propane hose before I left, as they can get you out of a jam when you are in a third world country. Of course I shunned this off and now here I am in desperate need of one.
In Geoff’s combing of the beach he had come across an old propane hose and regulator. Using this and the one that we had on the boat, we managed to join the 2 with and inner tube and some hose clamps to make our own male to male propane hose. It wasn’t pretty, but it did the job, and thats how we re supplied our cooking fuel for our voyage across the Pacific to Hawaii.
We spent New Years Eve around a camp fire with Geoff and some other campers that had settled in at Diablo.With no waves for almost a week, we started diving and spearfishing on the reefs close to shore. We soon found that with the abundance of marine life that it wasn’t too hard to dive in and catch lunch or dinner when ever we felt like it. A favourite on the menu was lobster, which we could find hiding in the seagrass and help ourselves to each day. Not a bad existence. It was a really nice place and we were getting very comfortable, but when you become this way, your mind tends to wander, and we found ourselves talking often about what lay ahead for the Moondog. Feeling restless, we made an exit plan to leave Mexico and head for Hawaii. Our only problem is that we were in a pretty remote area and we needed to resupply before we could do an ocean crossing. Thats when Geoff offered his services.
We have so much to share but no way to share right now.
As our time to cross the Pacific gets closer we are gearing up with what we can in these little villages and making a plan.
We look forward to posting our stories and photos of the trip since we have left California when we get to Hawaii.
Baja is truly beautiful. Rich with ocean life, and barren on land. We have many stories to share.
For now, happy holidays! May you be blessed with time off, a few cervesa, and the best for the new year!!
Feliz Navidad from Guerro Negra, Baja Norte, de Mexico
The wind sustained into the night, the night that we were supposed to meet Kale at The Wall. The plan to meet Kale there had been made during a 3 minute phone conversation with no research what so ever as to what sort of anchorage is at The Wall let alone if there was even beach access. To make matters worse we had the devil wind to deal with, and Kale wasn’t due to get in there until about 9 or 10pm.
We were lucky to have a few friends keen to visit us while we were in this remote area, and they managed to put the pieces together so that they could tag in, tag out with each other. Person A would fly into Baja and rent a car then drive to where we were. Then the next day Person B would drive the car back to the airport and be able to fly back to the states. Simple as long as everyone stuck to the plan that was made weeks earlier. This is where the problem lay.
There was no way we could meet Kale at The Wall. It was a really exposed point, great for surfing, but terrible for anchoring a boat, especially at night in 30 knot winds when you have never been there before. That was not going to happen.
We stayed put in Rosalillita which as the crow flies is about 10 miles north up the coast from The Wall. I don’t like to let people down, but surely when Kale arrived at The Wall he would look around and be able to put the pieces together that we were in the only safe harbour nearby and come looking for us. As with Trevor, we had arranged to make contact with Kale when he arrived on the VHF, Ch.68.
9 o’clock came and went, then 10. We were running through every possible scenario of what could have happened to him.
Did Kale buy a VHF radio?
Did he get detained at a federalie check point?
What if he missed his flight?
Maybe he will just stay at The Wall in hopes that we show up the next day?
The others went to sleep but I stayed up sitting next to the radio, calling out to Kale but getting no answer. I was half stressed about what had happened to him, and half guilty that I hadn’t come through on my end of the plan. I continued to put calls out for him until almost 11pm. I’d all but given up and was about to turn in when the radio crackled. No voice, but definitely some static that wasn’t caused on our end. I ran back and tried him again. I got the crackle as a reply. I couldn’t hear him, but maybe he could hear me. I started giving directions in hopes that he would clue on to where we were. 5 more minutes went by and I waited, then another crackle. “is this Kale?” I asked into the radio. I got back a loud “Yeeeeewww!”
He had made it! After going to The Wall and realising it was a no go, he drove 12 or 13 miles in the dark along the beach at low tide to make it up to Rosalillita. I told him I’d jump in the dinghy and meet him on the beach. As I jumped out and was pulling the dinghy ashore I looked up and thought, “who is this skinny guy, he doesn’t look like Kale?” Wearing a sombrero with his head down the figure walked towards me, and then FLASH!
It was Macy’s brother Jake and he had just blinded me with his camera! What a surprise to have Jake here as well as Kale! I got caught up with their trip down and loaded their gear into the dinghy, then we set off out to the Moondog. This was rad, I knew Macy would be stoked!
We all had a beer to celebrate and then went to bed, then only a few hours later at 4 am, it was back to shore in the dinghy to drop Mark in at the car so he could set off on the 7 hour drive across Baja in time to make his flight back to the States. Tag in, tag out.
When Kale and Jake surfaced the next day we got filled in on all of he news from home and they opened their bags bearing supplies and gifts from some of our friends in Bend. Among the gifts was an amazing piece of artwork that our good friend Adam Haynes did for us. I have always loved Adams style of art and admired his amazing ability and to have a piece that he made just for us to take across the pacific on the boat and then keep forever is really special.
That first day with the guys was still incredibly windy. We spent some time exploring the town, which didn’t take too long, then we set out across the sand dunes towards the back of the point that sheltered the harbour. We found a semi protected little wave peeling into small beach that was hidden down under the cliffs of the point. The call was made to take the boat around there and since the swell was pretty small we could anchor out behind the wave and go for a quick surf to wash all of the dust off. Between waves Kale and I discovered an old lobster pot trap that had been washed up on the rocks. We took it with us back to the boat in hopes of fixing it up and trying our luck with trapping some lobster.
We set sail north that evening in the easing offshore wind as the sun was setting out to sea behind Cedros Island. Our plan was to make our way back up to Punta Blanca and then slowly work our way down all of the points back to Rosalillita.
I originally thought that the Seven Sisters referred to seven point breaks lined up next to each other, but we were later told the story of a gringo that had visited the area many years ago. He had been camping out on one of the Mexican ranches, surfing the nearby waves and living off what the ocean had to offer. Well this rancher had seven daughters and the gringo got caught messing around with not one, but all of them at one time or another. He was quickly run out of the area, but tales of the Seven Sisters made it back across the border and to this day people come down here to surf the waves that the old gringo surfed while he was getting to know the rancher’s daughters.
We made it to Punta Maria just after midnight, yet another night time anchoring effort. We had pulled into this bay on our way down the coast with Mark and it stood out as probably the most picturesque of all of the points. Anchored in 30 feet, you could see the shadow of the boat on the sandy bottom through the sapphire blue water. There were 3 or 4 white sand beaches to choose from each spaced by the rocky cactus covered landscape that Baja is renowned for.
We went snorkelling and briefly explored the edge of the bay, but decided that we had better set sail to make our way further north while we still had some daylight. We made it to Punta Cono that evening and for the first time in a while safely set the anchor in the light of day. We had caught a bonita on our sail up from maria which we chopped up and put in the lobster trap as bait. We set the trap off the end of the point and then took the dinghy ashore to watch the sunset from sand dunes that form a ridge line dividing the bay form the Pacific Ocean.
The next day was Thanksgiving. we got up early to retrieve our trap, we scored 3 lobster.
There is an outpost at Punta Cono for a pretty substantial lobster operation and we didn’t want to be seen by the Mexicans taking their bread and butter. When we got back to the boat we hung the trap off of the side dangling in the water so as to keep our catch hidden out of sight. I’m not sure how big of a deal it would have been to be catching lobster, but we didn’t want to tread on anyones toes. Not a minute after we had climbed back on board, a panga came buzzing around the point and headed straight for us. We waved hello to the two men in the panga and they slowed down and pulled along side. Macy and I had saved some old wet weather gear, the yellow oil skin type, to trade or give to some locals down here. We didn’t need it and it seemed a shame to just throw it out when we were in the States. We conveyed that we wanted to give it to the fishermen, and they smiled and nodded. Then one of them reached down into the bottom of the panga and lifted up a big lobster. “Quanta?” he asked. Taken aback I kind of panicked and said “cinco”. I handed him a bucket and he put 6 lobster into it then handed it back. In asking for 5 I had hoped we could have 2 tails each for thanksgiving dinner, but the friendly Mexicans gave us 6, I guess we had a bonus one now, lucky us!
We had a feast that night. Carne asada, lobster, fish, wine and beer. I haven’t celebrated many thanksgivings, and even though we didn’t have a turkey it was my most memorable one yet.
The swell report that the boys had brought with them was calling for waves on the coming weekend, so we set off once again heading one more bay north to Punta Blanca in hopes to surf it again, this time without the wind. We arrived to flat water, so while there was still daylight we set the lobster trap out off the end of the point.The next day the swell arrived, but Blanca can be a fickle spot that needs all of the stars to align for it to start doing its thing. Everything looked good apart from the tides. For the wave to break the whole length of the point, which is about 300 meters, there needs to be a negative low tide. Without it the face is a bit flat and there are sections that are impossible to get through.
We surfed all day and had a great time anyway, I mean you can’t really complain having more lobster than you can eat and then the next day surfing your own private point break with only your friends around.
Between surfs we went in and explored the coast. there was a colony of seals living just around the top of the point. In from them was a lone cactus where it seemed like animals came to die. There were skeletons of all sorts, pelicans, seals, coyotes, we even found a dolphin skull and spinal column on the beach below. Was there some alpha predator here that we didn’t know about?
Surf travel on a boat is a constant compromise. Often where there are good waves, there won’t be a safe or at least comfortable spot to anchor the boat. We found this to be the case more and more the longer that we stayed in the Seven Sisters area. After 3 days of rolling around on anchor, the swell seemed to be dying so we made the call to start back tracking towards Rosalillita to see what we could find.
Before we left, Kale and Jake went on a mission to see if they could recover the lobster trap that we had put in the water 3 days earlier. We had used a one gallon plastic milk bottle as our buoy. It was unlikely that it would have survived the battering of the swell over the last few days out at the end of the point. They searched and searched darting in with the dinghy between set waves that were still had enough size to do some damage. Just as they had accepted that it was gone, Jake got a glimpse of the blue line that we had used to tie the buoy to the trap. After another set passed they went in close and Kale dove off to swim down and see if he could dislodge the trap, which was now pretty much up against the cliff, much further in from where we had dropped it. Another set was coming but Kale was close to getting it free, if he let go they might lose sight of it for good. Jake had to retreat to deeper water in the dinghy, but Kale hung on and wore the set on the head, getting pulled back and forth with the surge of the waves and bashed by the whitewash at the base of the cliff. I can only imaging how scary that would have been, and we are a long way from anywhere if one of us gets hurt. But hats off to Kale, he was committed to the cause, that the lobster trap was coming with us even if it almost killed him. He eventually got it free from under the rock shelf where it was jammed. It didn’t look like it did when we had last seen it, all bent and twisted out of shape, but it was coming with us and provided a good little project for us to resurrect it once more.
Everywhere we went in Mexico there was an abundance of pelicans. They would gracefully glide along above the unbroken swells and when we were at anchor they would dive bomb fish all around us. The desert here is a dead inhospitable place, but the ocean on the other hand is teaming with life and in remarkably good condition. Aside from some localised cases of pollution around the towns and fish camps, I was impressed with the healthy abundance of marine life that we saw.
We towed a fishing line out the back when ever we were sailing and by the end of our time here had hooked near to 100 bonita. They are almost a pest. You can’t throw a line in and not hook one, its a shame that they aren’t better eating. we threw most of them back, but used some of them for lobster bait, and ate some as fish tacos when we were in a pinch for fresh meat.
Having friends onboard I felt a little responsibility to make sure that each day was entertaining and we found something fun to do. Its a pressure that I brought on myself, but it was always slightly weighing on me and so because of this we once again made short work of the coast between Punta Maria and Rosalillita since there wasn’t any swell to make the points turn on. On the sail south we caught a yellowtail, the first sashimi grade fish of the trip.
After a nice dinner of fresh fish, we spent the night anchored in the bay in front of Rosalillita town. In the morning we went to the small store that had the slow wifi to get some more beer, and to check what the surf was doing. While we were waiting for the surf report to load we met a few guys that were camping down at The Wall. We got talking and they assured us that with the outlook for the coming week that that would be our only option for waves in the area. The call was made and we hurried back to the boat with hopes of making it down there in time for a surf before the sun went down. The surf was terrible, but its funny what you will go out in when you are wave stared for a few days, going stir crazy on a small boat. The Wall picks up any hint of swell in the water making it the most consistent place around here, but also the most crowded. It was the first time since we had been in Mexico that we had to wait our turn to catch waves. I guess we had been pretty spoiled. Because the swell was so small we were able to anchor in the semi protected bay behind the outcrop of land that the waves broke on. It was another night of rolling to sleep, but we were surfing again so it didn’t matter. We stayed at the The Wall for about 3 or 4 days, getting some fun surf, but not really what the Sisters are known for.
The time came to sail back to town where the boys were due to tag in, tag out with my friend Rick who was doing the same car rental routine that the boys had done with Mark. When Mark had gone home, we gave him strict instruction to pass on to Rick regarding the days in which he was meant to fly in. At this stage we were still just hoping that Mark had even passed on the message, otherwise Jake and Kale might be staying with us a little longer than expected.
I have known Rick since high school and if you can count on him for one thing, it is that he will always be late, no matter what the situation. I called it a day out, but waiting for Rick that night it was no surprise when he didn’t show up. Since we were anchored back in Rosalillita we went into to the slow wifi to see if he had written us an email with some answers. It turned out that he had missed his flight, so after changing his ticket and then juggling the boys outgoing flights so they would be a day later, he was sure that he would make it the following day. There is something fun about only having very basic communication and just going with a plan, hoping that every one does their part so things to work out.
Rick pulled up on the beach at about 10 pm the following night. It was a smoother rendezvous than when Kale had arrived, because we were able to get an email off to Rick the day before giving him pretty detailed instructions about how to find us. Another 4 am dinghy ride in and we said goodbye to Jake and Kale. Rick had some up to date swell forecast information with him and the outlook didn’t look good. We were about 5 or 6 day out from the next pulse of swell, so we decided to sail out to Cedros Island. Macy and I had been on this stretch of coast for over 2 weeks now, and watching the sun set behind Cedros every evening got us thinking about what might be out there. We left in the afternoon and it took us about 15 hours to sail the 60 odd miles out to the island. It is very mountainous and its magnitude is really impressive once you get up close. Our charts told us that there was a town there with enough facilities to resupply and so forth. It wasn’t quite what we had expected. Dilapidated buildings, decaying roads, trash everywhere. Its what I would expect a town to look like after it is hit by bombers in a time of war.
We found a few supermarkets that stocked some basic goods that we were able to buy. No bank, no restaurants, no fuel. We did our shopping and then hurried back to the boat and got underway. The town just didn’t have a good feel about it.
If you live on Cedros Island it is likely that you are either a lobster fisherman, or you work in the salt processing facility. On Baja they mine huge amounts of salt that is then brought out to Cedros Island in barges to be processed and then put onto ships that take it off around the world. It seemed like a pretty good gig as far as jobs went for the locals. It was pretty obvious when we were in the town who worked at the salt plant, judging by the cars that people were driving. There were only nice new looking trucks, or ones that were on their last legs. we even saw a guy have to get out and push his car into a parking spot, I think he was missing first and second gears.
By the look of it there were a few sheltered anchorages at the top end of a bay on the southern end of the island. We set off motor sailing south, taking a wide berth around the salt plant. As we came around the point at the south eastern end of the island we were hit with a moderate western breeze. As we pressed on into the bay the breeze grew in strength, to the point where we were reefed down beating straight into it trying to get to our anchorage. It once again became in issue of making it there before dark and to make matters worse, the bay was full of lob set traps. The buoys were floating around all over the place. We had to make sure to pass down wind of them because often there was a lot of slack on their lines to the traps and there could be up to 20 feet of rope floating just below the surface to windward of them.
The wind was really unpleasant and our sheltered anchorage didn’t really turn out to be that way. We got a good holding and spent the night, eager to explore this remote end of the island the next day.
There were a few small fish camps out here and some very basic roadways connecting them together. through the valley of this corner of the island there was a river bed that looked as if had been used as a road fairly recently judging by the tire tracks in it. All around were very steep mountains of loose shale type rock. Some small cactus grew in the sheltered areas, but it was overall very exposed to the elements and pretty baron because of it. We followed the riverbed up into the mountains and slowly made our way through a pass and onto the west side that was facing out into the Pacific. Walking around here made me understand more what was behind the extreme winds we had been experiencing. This Island being so grand, stuck out into the ocean attracting any passing weather and funnelling it over its mountains and down its valleys. Things could change quickly out here. Overall, Cedros wasn’t the most forgiving place to be visiting on the boat. the steep hillsides continued their gradient straight down onto the water, making it very difficult to find a good anchorage as it was so deep close to shore around most of the island.
We spent one more night anchored back on the east side just north of the town. Then at 4 am we set off to sail back to Rosalillita in hopes to make it there before the sun set that afternoon.
About half way across we sailed through a pod of grey whales. They were huge, maybe 40 to 45 feet long. Without and effort they would surface for air and then slowly sink back under leaving massive boils in the water behind them. At one stage we were surrounded by them, with big boils in front and to the starboard and a big whale diving just off our port side all at once. They are amazing to look at, but kind of make you nervous at the same time because the are 1 and a half times bigger than the boat and while I’m sure that they don’t want to hit us, if we happened to upset one of them I bet they could do some damage.
As we arrived back on the other side near town, we noticed a lot of white wash breaking along the point to the north of us. We anchored in Rosalillita and checked the chart. The point that we had seen was called Alejandros. I set an alarm to wake up early so we could sail up there and try to get a surf before the tide filled in. We arrived the next day just after breakfast and it was going off. There were a few people out which gave some perspective as to how big it was. This was the first real point we were going to score since being here at the Seven Sisters. It was 6 foot on the sets and a really mellow vibe amongst all of the people in the water. There are a few palapas on the beach which traveling surfers can rent out by the night. The point is fairly sheltered from any wind that might blow it out while still copping a fair amount of swell. We surfed here with Rick for 3 days. At night we were anchored pretty much just out in the ocean. I let a lot of scope out but there was no getting away from the violent rolling that the boat was doing all day and all night. By the time the sun set at night we were so surfed out that getting to sleep was never too much of an issue.
Rick put the word out with the people that were camping there that he was looking for a ride to Loreto where he was due to catch his flight home in a few days. No one was coming to tag in, tag out this time. He found a young guy that was heading that way so when the time came we dropped Rick on shore one night and said our goodbyes. He slept on the ground and then made an early start the next morning with his ride. I have heard from Rick since and it sounded like the drive from hell. About an hour into the eight hour car ride, the driver started feeling ill and came down with a bad case of food poisoning. Rick was forced to take over driving and by the sounds of it was torn between having some compassion for his sick passenger and driving like a maniac so he could make his flight. In the end he made it, but i’m not sure that those 2 are on speaking terms anymore.
We set sail from Oceanside in the evening. The plan was to try and get to Ensenada by lunchtime the following day, which should allow us time to clear customs that afternoon. We had pretty light winds all the way down the coast to San Diego.
About a mile north of the border we passed 2 navy ships that seemed to be standing by or on a training routine of some sort. We could identify them using our AIS (automatic identification system) on our VHF radio. Looking ashore as we crossed the border it was very evident where the United States ended and Mexico began. The busy lights of Tijuana push hard up against the border and then there was an empty black buffer zone on the States side the stretched for a few miles before patches of lights slowly filled in more and more as they sprawled closer towards San Diego.
I had the feeling that we were much more on our own than we had been before. I don’t know if it was my imagination running away with stories that I had heard about the corrupt federalies, or maybe the finality of the safety blanket of America that was marked by the navy ships we had just passed. This felt like a real adventure, out of our comfort zone with no idea of what lay ahead.
Then as if right on que as we sailed into Mexican waters we were hit with a 20 knot offshore breeze. The boat heeled against the wind and we quickly reefed the sails and set the windvane. Then we were greeted by a friendly pod of dolphins that stayed with us for about an hour, guiding us south as they surfed and played in our bow wake.
As the sun rose it became clear that we weren’t going to make it to Ensenada before the customs office closed. So we set our sights on getting to Islas De Todos Santos in time for a surf before dark. Todos Santos, as most surfers know it is one of the most famed big wave spots in the world, but lucky for us it’s also a really fun point break when the swell is small. We dropped the anchor just off the edge of the break and with about an hour to spare before dark we jumped in and had our first surf in Mexico not even a full day into the trip.
After the surf we sailed across the bay to Ensenada and anchored the boat in a corner of the big harbour. When we woke in the morning and prepared to go ashore to do our business at the customs office, we were surprised to find that 2 huge cruise ships had come in overnight and tied up right next to us. How we slept through that I don’t know, but the Moondog was dwarfed in the shadow of the two massive floating cities.
Clearing customs was quite an ordeal. The Mexicans assured us that they had made it easy for travelling yachtsmen by putting all of the offices of the people that we needed to see under one roof. If this was easy then I’d hate to know what it was like before. We went back and forth between counters, trying to communicate in broken spanish and waiting for answers that seemed to send us back to the counter from which we had just come. Mark spoke decent spanish which definitely worked in our favour, but none the less it took the better part of the day to get the all clear. I guess if you go in expecting it to take that long, then it would be less frustrating and any time saved would be a welcome bonus.
While we were clearing customs we purchased fishing licenses, and that afternoon once we had weighed anchor and had sailed clear of the harbour, we put a few lines out the back and almost immediately stared hooking fish. Heading across the bay between Ensenada and Islas De Todos Santos before we turned south was amazing. It was late in the afternoon and we saw everything from boiling bait balls of fish to dolphins and seals. We even saw a big grey whale swim through group of feeding seals that were tossing fish in the air and shaking them in their mouths to kill them.
The northern part of Baja has a huge amount of kelp growing in its coastal waters. We made it to our anchorage that night at Punta Santo Tomas. Mark was on the bow with a flashlight to help navigate our way through the kelp beds and into shallow and sheltered water where we could drop the hook. While the kelp is an annoying hazard, it does provide a good buffer from surface chop caused by the wind if you can anchor on the leigh side of it.
We had organised to meet our friend Kale at The Wall, which is a surf spot at the southern end of the Seven Sisters, a section of coast midway down the west side of Baja that is renowned for its sand bottom point breaks. I had slightly underestimated the distance down to this area and it kind of put us under the pump to make it down there for our rendezvous. With this being the case we really did well to get as much out of each day as we did. Typically we would sail through the night arriving at our next desired stop in the early hours of the morning. This was not ideal as anchoring in an unfamiliar place at night is always feels a little sketchy, not being able to see potential hazards and locate the most protected spot in the anchorage. None the less we fared well and had no drama anchoring at night. After a few hours sleep we would then explore the area and maybe surf if there were any waves on offer.
Then around dusk we would up anchor and set sail another 60 to 80 miles down the coast to the next spot. It was kind of a shame to have to rush through this stretch of Baja, but we had made a plan and since there was no way for us to communicate out of here, we had to stick to it.
In a light breeze, on one of our midnight sails, we ghosted along through what looked like underwater clouds illuminated from below. We ran up on the bow to look over the edge as we silently cruised along and saw thousands of tiny glowing jellyfish. There were so many it almost seemed like we were starring into a reflection of all of the stars above in the clear nights sky.
Mark had never been sailing before and it was fun having him on board with his fresh and excited outlook towards things that have become the norm for us. While he was benefiting from learning all of the names of things on the boat and how it all worked, I enjoyed having him there just as much. In teaching him I gained a kind of confidence that I hadn’t felt before. It was as if I sometimes surprised myself with what I knew and what we were capable of on the boat. I guess this trip had been a dream for so long that to be doing it still feels a bit surreal.
One night we made a big push and sailed until about 3 am to reach Punta Blanca, the northern most point of the Seven Sisters. After getting the boat secure we went to bed exhausted and fell asleep hoping that there would be waves in the morning.
Mark heard it before we did, a shout from far away “Mooooondog!”
He woke us up and we tuned the radio in to Ch 68 and sure enough, we had stumbled upon Trevor and his friends on what was the last day of their stay down here. They were camped on the cliff overlooking the bay in which we had anchored. There is a lot of coast to explore around here and I’m told that by car this point is one of the harder ones to get to, so it was awesome and kind of a fluke to actually find them like this.
When we went in to say g’day we were stoked to find that our friend Scotty was traveling with them too. He had driven down his old Subaru and he was worried that it might not make the distance. Along with the basics he had packed everything from a spare axel to a spare radiator with him just in case he needed to get himself out of trouble. Better the devil you know I guess.
We had some fun little waves out the front of their camp, but it didn’t last long. From across the bay we could see huge dust clouds blowing in the air and a line of dark water with whitecaps rushing towards us. The El Norte wind, a strong northerly that blows at about 30 knots and usually lasts for 3 or 4 days. It is solely a winter phenomenon, occurring every few weeks and is caused by traveling winter highs to the north of Baja settling and creating a steep pressure gradient with the low pressure south of the peninsula.
Its an uncomfortable wind no matter if you are camping or out on a boat. There is just no escaping the dust, it gets in everything! The other bummer is that the El Norte kills the surf because of the direction that all of the points along the coast are facing.
With there being no surf worth waiting around for we decided it would be best to keep pushing south towards The Wall and give ourselves plenty of time to spare to meet Kale. Sailing with the strong off shores was a challenge. We tried to hug the coast so we could get a look at any potential surf spots that we might want to come back to check out.
The landscape along this part of Baja is very mountainous and this had some dramatic effects on the wind. We would get a break from it momentarily while we tucked in behind a headland or a cliff, but as soon as we ventured out across the mouth of a bay we would get blasted by the wind howling down out of the valleys. Every time I shook the reefs out of the mainsail when we were in the shelter of land, I knew it wouldn’t be long before I was back up there putting them in as another hot and dusty gust was just around the corner. We finally made it to Santa Rosalillita, the only sort of town in this area.
Rosalillita is a small fishing village with one dirt road and 2 shops that sell basically the same limited assortment of canned food and basic produce. One of the shops sold beer and was home to the worlds slowest wifi. The deal was that the wifi only worked if the store lights were turned off, so we figured our best luck was on a sunny day when more natural light made it into the shop. As slow as it was, it was still enough for us to send an email or 2 out on the few occasions that we stopped in here, and if you got sick of the wait you could walk inside and grab a beer.
Anchoring in the bay in front of the town was like spending the night in a wind tunnel. At one point I wasn’t sure that the dinghy with its little 2 horse outboard was going to be able to push us against the wind into the beach.
While we did stop for 2 nights at Catalina, we really didn’t find it that appealing after being out at the Channel Islands. Catalina seemed really busy and any decent anchorage was taken up by mooring balls that cost $30 a night to tie up to. If i’m going to pay $30 a night to tie up I at least want power and water.
Needless to say we didn’t stay long, and started making our way towards San Diego after just 2 days. With no destination in mind, we sailed towards the mainland and started to make some inquires into the cost of marinas and the facilities near by. This stop was our last chance to get the boat set up to go to Mexico and ultimately on to Hawaii, so we wanted to make sure where we pulled in would cater for all of our needs. After a few hours and a lot of phone calls, we settled on Oceanside as our best option.
It took 13 hours to sail there from Catalina, seeing us arrive at 10 pm. We motored into the harbour and did a lap of the marina looking for the guest docks. After a few passes with no luck we found a vacant slip and tied up, hoping that who ever belonged there wasn’t coming back before we woke up in then morning.
Upon finding the guest docks the next day with no trouble, we quickly moved the boat into a slip of our own. I had a list of things that I wanted to work through before we went to Mexico so I made a start on that, while Macy called her cousins who run a few car lots in Oceanside, to let them know that we were in town. They gladly leant us an old pick up truck which was a great help for us to run around and get all of our errands done.
Since we’d left Oregon there had been a concerning vibration in the prop shaft that I wanted to get to the bottom of. Across the road from the guest docks was the Oceanside boatyard and marine store, so I walked across to see if someone there could shed some light on it for me. One thing led to another and before I knew it the we were hauling the boat out of the water. The boatyard is across the street from the harbour so the travel lift has to stop traffic while it carries boats to and from the yard. It was quite a sight to see the Moondog up in the air getting driven down the road!
Our problem with the prop shaft turned out to be a bent prop blade, which lucky for us, was the easier fix of the many possible causes of that problem. We ordered a new prop, upgrading from our 2 blade to a new more powerful 3 blade version.
While we were waiting for the new prop to arrive we took advantage of our time on the hard to check a few other items off of our list. re-bedding the rudder log, fixing gel coat cracks, replacing zincs and touching up the bottom paint to name just a few.
While we had been staying at the guest docks, a local sailor named Glen came up to see what our deal was. With the wind vane, solar panels, jerry cans of fuel and 6 or 7 surfboards on deck I guess we stand out a little bit more than the average day sailer. We filled Glen in on our story and mentioned that we were planning on being in town for a week or so getting the boat ready to go into Mexico. Glen was impressed and being a fellow boat owner could understand our haste at wanting to keep moving so as to not run up a huge marina bill. At this he very generously offered us the use of his slip, as he was planning on taking his boat out to Catalina for a few weeks. What a nice guy! This was another example of the great reception that the Moondog has had as Macy and I have made our way down the coast. We really appreciate everyone getting behind us. We are quickly learning that when you are cruising a little bit of help from people here and there really does go a long way.
There are so many seals in Oceanside harbour its ridiculous. I always got a laugh out of watching them lie around in the sun. There was plenty of room but they would all cram together onto one finger of the dock and almost sink it with all of their weight. I would have thought them to be a pest, but it seems that they were somewhat of a tourist attraction.
Both Macy and I have spent time in this part of Southern California, so it was fun to get to visit her family, our friends from the past and get to go surfing at some of the spots that we used to go to years ago. My friend Jon Peck who I lived with years ago, took us out to lunch one day. It was great to catch up with him and meet his wife and son for the first time. Although a lot has changed as time’s gone by, catching up with old friends and seeing that they are happy and well is really great.
After about 10 days in Oceanside we were feeling pretty good about the state of the boat. All systems were operational and after the haul out we knew the bottom was looking good and there were no loose ends to take care of. All that was left to do was our food shop for provisions. Although we had high hopes of finding taco stands and coming across small remote villages that could provide us with some authentic food, we didn’t really know what it was going to be like once we crossed the border so we decided to cover ourselves and buy as much food as we could physically fit on the boat. Once we had it all loaded onboard the water line was about 3 inches lower than normal!
Our friend Mark, who is a photographer and all around good guy, was going to be joining us for the first week of our sail into Mexico. It was our first experience with having company on the boat for any length of time. The exercise of making room on board for Mark really forced us to have a look at all of the stuff that we had brought with us. It’s hard to imagine what living on a boat will be like before you go and do it. You have a tendency to want pack all of your modern comforts from home and enough clothes to cater for every possible occasion. We both had way too much stuff.
Life gets really simple when you live on a 30 foot boat. You tend to get a few extra wears out of clothes that you would normally put in the wash and the any useful item gets prime position on a shelf or in a locker, everything else is just taking up space waiting for a “just in case” type situation that may never arise.
In this regard quality is much more important than quantity. You need to be able to make due with what you have, so what you have needs to be able to last. Taking a step away from our normal lives and starting life on the boat has made us realise how little you really need to get by and that the programmed consumerism that we are used to is not the most efficient way to live.
After a thorough clean out we ended up sending a box of things back to Oregon for safe keeping. Living on the boat really is a case of less is more.
Mark met us in the afternoon of Monday the 17th of November and we spent some time getting him familiar with the boat and taking care of the final few chores that needed doing. Just before pushing off we got a visit from Macy’s cousin Ty and his family who gifted us some much needed fishing gear as well as some know how on how to use it. It was early evening, that we cast the dock lines and heeded out of the harbour and into the Pacific, headed south for Mexico.
We left Oxnard early in the morning with the wind behind us at about 5 or 6 knots. What looked like it would shape up to be a good sailing day didn’t last for long, not an hour out of the harbour and we found ourselves completely becalmed. We fired up the trusty Yanmar and continued our course through the oil rigs of the Santa Barbara channel and on out to Santa Cruz Island.
Santa Cruz is the largest of the Channel Islands and the last in the chain, apart from Anacapa which is a rocky spine that lies SE to the rest, very picturesque yet not too boat friendly. We had heard a lot of good things about the Islands, Santa Cruz in particular. It took us almost 6 hours to putt our way out there. During that time I got to trial our new boom by rigging up a hammock between it and the spinnaker pole. Not too bad to be swinging above the water as the auto pilot steered us towards our destination.
As we drew near, the magnitude of the island really hit us. It is huge, with its towering mountains and rolling bays. The marine life started to become much more prevalent too. We motored into a massive bay on the NE side and aimed the boat towards a large flock of birds that were hovered around and sitting on the surface. When we got closer to the birds, we saw seals and pods of dolphins all feeding together on big bait balls of fish that would skitter across the surface all around. It was strange to be so close to the hustle and bustle of busy populated Southern California one day and then be in a place where nature seemed to be thriving the next. Maybe this is what the coast of California was like 100 years ago?
We didn’t waste much time finding a fun little left hander to anchor off, and surf the rest of the day away. At dusk we anchored in Prisoners Cove, one of the few places on the island where there is a wharf and some development on the shore. We tucked into the corner of the cove and spent the night in the sheltered waters getting lulled to sleep by the sounds of the cobble stones rolling over each other along the shoreline in the gentle surge.
The next morning saw 20 knots of wind blowing past us out in the channel. This was a great opportunity to test out the new boom in a decent breeze while making our way around the eastern end of the island to a sheltered anchorage called Yellow Banks.
We set out into the channel with a double reef in the main just to be cautious. There were a few creaks and groans coming from the boom and its fittings, but it seemed to be holding up ok. About an hour into our sail the wind backed off slightly and we needed to gybe to set our course back towards the island. I opted to “granny tack” around into the wind and in the process shook out the reef and put the whole main up. I wanted to put it under a bit of pressure and see how it held up. We ran with the wind for a few more miles and then hardened up to come around the corner of the island. As we did so the sail filled and heeled the boat over to port making us really take off. It was still blowing 15 to 20 knots so I had the jib furled in about half way to reduce some sail area, but kept the main working and let it lean us over until the toe rail was under water. We charged across the swells at 7 knots for half an hour, before easing up on things mainly due to the wet conditions on deck.
The wind really eased as we rounded the corner of the island and became more sheltered in the leigh of its hills. For this reason Yellow Banks was a great anchorage in these conditions and we were comfortably anchored here by mid afternoon. I have been told that there is a good right hander off of the point here, but unfortunately it needs a south swell to work which only happens in the summer time.
We still had fun filling our days hiking around the hills and valleys that funnelled down to the beach and swimming around the boat. In the few nights we were there a number of other sail boats stopped in, most of which were from Canada on their way south to the calm warm waters of the Sea of Cortez inside the Baja peninsula.
Macy and I made friends with a young couple who were out at the islands for the weekend on their little power boat. We invited them onboard for dinner which soon turned into a fun night of drinking and storytelling. Maybe even some dancing by the girls, I don’t really remember…
Needless to say the next morning left us feeling a little hazy. Mace and I decided to explore the backside of Santa Cruz, so we set off under sail in the morning sun before we had even had any breakfast. It wasn’t long before Macy went below for a rest so I set the auto pilot and found some shade in the corner of the cockpit to do the same thing.
We normally use our wind vane self steering device to keep the boat on course, but in the light winds that we were experiencing we opted to use the auto pilot, as there was not enough breeze to make the wind vane effective. The auto pilot is great in light conditions, yet is easily over powered when the wind or swell pick up too much, so with both methods we have self steering pretty well covered.
Sometime early in the afternoon we approached the more exposed western end of the island, and came across a tiny isolated little beach nestled between a cliffy point and a huge island rock only about 100 meters apart. It was a tight entrance, but nicely protected once we were inside. We anchored and stayed for lunch, discussing the possibility of staying overnight. Macy was feeling pretty under the weather and I was ready to stop, but the cove felt just a little too risky for our liking. Facing the ocean, the wind and swell conditions could quickly change and being in such a tight spot didn’t give us much of a chance to save ourselves if something was to go wrong. We looked at the chart and picked a few different options further up the coast to try for before dark, and off we went again.
The wind had picked up over lunch, so we left the cove with a double reefed main and only half of the jib out. I was hand steering a course straight out to sea, with hopes that we could eventually tack and be able to point a course around the far end of the island. The further out we went the more the wind seemed to come around the beam making our course almost parallel with the coast, and putting our proposed anchorages upwind and out of reach. It soon became apparent that all of this wind was rushing out of the channel between Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Island, which lay slightly to the NW.
It was blowing a steady 25 knots, gusting 30 and I was starting to accept that we weren’t going to make it back to Santa Cruz Island before dark. The only option was to aim for Ford Point, a little anchorage about 6 miles along the coast along the backside of Santa Rosa. This meant crossing the channel and pointing hard on the wind for over 20 miles and there was only just over 3 hours of daylight left.
It wasn’t fun, but the boat sailed beautifully. The sail we up seemed to match the wind perfectly and the boom was never a worry at all. At times the boat was so well balanced that I could leave the helm long enough to change my jacket and get a snack, and she kept sailing right on course. We got to Ford Point exhausted, just after sunset. On the chart with this wind, it looked like a protected anchorage in the leigh of the island, but we soon found that small bay inside of the point is right below a valley that was funnelling the wind out into the anchorage stranger than anything we had seen all day!
We had the anchor set right on dark and went below to make a cup of noodles for dinner, as thats about all of the cooking we could manage. Just as the water was boiling the anchor started to groan and vibrate.
We were dragging.
Its almost pitch black out, freezing cold, the wind is gusting 40 knots through the little bay and all I want to do is hold my warm cup of noodles and lie down in my bunk.
We had to start the engine and try to motor back over the anchor so it would be easier to pull up and the reset. The wind was so strong that the boat was being blown sideways and even with the engine going flat out we were having a hard time turning ourselves back into the wind. Eventually the anchor dragged off into deep water and we managed to pull it back on board, then we fought our way against the wind back to where we had dropped it before. We were navigating back using the tracking line on our GPS as it was too dark to see any landmarks around us. It was unnerving getting into position as the sound of the shore break seemed much closer than it had before. We got close enough, the depth sounder was reading 32 feet deep, so I let the anchor go with all of our chain and about 40 feet of line. No need to back down on it as the wind took care of that. When it all firmed up and dug in we swung hard into the wind and luckily this time stayed put. We reboiled the water and enjoyed the best cup of noodles that I have ever had.
The boat swung around in the strong wind for the next few hours until sometime after midnight it finally let up. It was a restless nights sleep as we had never dragged anchor before, and I had one eye open most of the night, paranoid that it might happen again.
Ford Point is home to a rather large sea lion colony. We woke to the sound of them barking at one and other, and when we got up on deck to see what was making all of the noise we were shocked by the number of them. There must have been 50 or 60 sea lions crammed onto the small beach just a few hundred feet in from us. They are huge animals, and seeing them on land is quite comical. They are so heavy with all of their blubber that they can only crawl about 10 or 15 feet at a time before collapsing on their bellies exhausted. Others seemed to be digging themselves into the sand maybe to dry off or get out of the sun. The young ones were playing in the shore break and I couldn’t help but think about what a nice snack they would make for a passing shark. I think I might stay out of the water today.
The wind was much more manageable than the day before. We sailed back along the coast of Santa Rosa, and headed up into the channel towards The top side of Santa Cruz Island. It was hard to believe we were in the same channel as the day before. Macy threw a line out and hooked our first fish of the trip and made us fish tacos for lunch. We sailed past the famous Skunk Point, a really good right hand point break on its day, but again its a summer time spot needing a south swell so we pushed on across the channel.
The front NW side of Santa Cruz Island is made up of huge sea cliffs. Rock walls hundreds of feet high that plunge vertically straight down into the ocean. It was a calm day so we were able to sail the boat right up against them, again giving us a feel for how big the island really was.
Part way along this Cliffy section of coast is a place known as the Painted Caves. Here we found a cave in the side of the cliff with the waters surface as its floor. It was about 50 feet high and 20 feet wide with all sorts of different colours on the walls and the ceiling made from different layers of rock and the colourful lichen and moss that had grown there. We anchored the boat in 80 feet of water and launched the dinghy to go and explore the cave. There were a ton of seals around here that lived in the cave and on the rocks all around it.
Macy and I motored around and approached the cave slowly. It was scary taking our little 2 horse dinghy into a black hole in the side of a cliff. we had been told that if you go far enough back so that the ceiling of the cave almost bumps your head the cave starts to open up again and there is a huge dark cavern to explore.
Well, we didn’t even get half way to that stage and both gave each other the look that we’d seen enough and turned the dinghy around. While that was exciting for us, i’ll leave the real splounking to someone else.
We sailed back past Prisoners Cove after our caving adventure, completing our circumnavigation of Santa Cruz Island. There was still enough light left in the day to push on to the little left that we had surfed when we had first arrived at the islands about a week earlier. The wind had died completely and we were motoring towards the break when we saw another sail boat heading for the same spot but from the opposite direction. We arrived a few minutes after the other boat and we cruised around to check them out before dropping our anchor. It was a guy and a girl the looked to be about the same age as us. We waved and smiled as we dropped the hook, then I paddled out to surf with the guy and Macy took the dinghy across to meet the girl. Trevor and Maddie on their boat the calico. We all soon found that we had a bunch of friends in common, and after a fun surf met up on their boat for dinner and a few drinks.
Trevor and Maddie have a Catalina 36, which is a whole lot roomier than the Moondog. Macy was wide eyed looking around their cabin. The spacious galley, the 2 separate sleeping quarters, the extra storage space, the giant cockpit. It was a very comfortable boat and we really enjoyed getting to meet and hang out with new friends. They taught us some new card games and shared some stories of their time in Mexico. We were eager to soak up as much as we could as we would be sailing down there in only a few more weeks. Trevor told us of his plans to be down there around Thanksgiving time to surf around the Seven Sisters, so we made a plan to try and meet up with him down there. We would monitor the same channel on the VHF radio once we were in the area and hope to hear where he was camped.
Maddie is creative and a very good artist. In the morning they stopped past our boat to say goodbye and gifted us some fun “daily blessing” cards with little notes and art to match that we have found at times to be quite funny and ironic. We then set sail south for Catalina Island and eventually San Diego.
See more of Maddie’s creativity at www.maddiejoyceart.etsy.com
We limped into Oxnard (Channel Islands Harbor) with our broken boom after having motor sailed all day with the jib from north of Santa Barbara. Oxnard was where I had bought the boat 18 months ago. I lived aboard for several months there getting her ready to go cruising. In that time I had made a few friends and I was looking forward to catching up with some familiar faces this time around.
Our stop in Oxnard was originally intended to be only for a few days, but after looking into how to go about fixing or replacing our boom, this quickly blew out. To repair or replace it? It was an important question that we had to figure out before we took action.
Paying by the night to be in the marina was always in the back of our minds, so we didn’t want to waste too much time figuring out what to do. On the one hand our broken boom had all of the fittings fixed in place and was ready to go if we could just splint it back together. But we hadn’t done an ocean leg yet and it had already shown weakness. Australia is a long ways away, given this opportunity wouldn’t it be smarter to replace the boom with something more solid that we knew we could rely on when we needed it?
The call was made to replace it, but where do you go to find a new boom? A brand new one was out of the question, but finding a second hand one surely couldn’t be that difficult, 100’s of boats got chopped up and dismantled for parts every month in California.
Well after about 30 phone calls and no leads, splinting the boom was starting to look like our only option. Then we were turned onto a large second hand boat surplus store in Costa Mesa called Minny’s. We gave them a call to confirm that they could help us and then rented a cheap little hatch back and made the 2 and a half hour drive south to check out what they had.
This was the answer to all of our problems, we would be back under way in no time.
We left Oxnard in the dark early in the morning, in hopes to beat the LA traffic and be in Costa Mesa right as Minny’s was opening their doors. Beating the LA traffic, who were we kidding? What a trip to go from sailing down the californian coast, feeling alone and free, discovering deserted beaches unknown to us and going where the wind would take us, to being in grid lock traffic, 7 lanes deep, surrounded by concrete. The fast paced anxiety of changing lanes and getting cut off, but ironically going less than 5 knots, our cruising speed on the boat. I really can’t believe people do this every day to and from work. Something seems wrong here. We arrived at Minny’s At 11 am, two hours after they opened. Macy and I spent the next 2 hours pulling down every potential boom and small mast that they had in their racks to weigh up our options.
After narrowing our options down and going back and forth over the pros and cons of what we had to work with, we were both starting to get a bit discouraged. This was our one great hope, yet none of the options seemed to meet our needs. What seemed to be the perfect boom would measure up too short, or one the right length would have a goose neck that would need so much modification it was in-comprehedable. We looked into pulling parts from some to fit onto others, but always seemed to come up short.
Fed up, Macy went out the front of the shop to sit on the steps and I went in for one last look, unable to accept that our one chance at a new boom wasn’t going to work out.
While I was going over what I already knew wasn’t going to work for the 10th time, Macy overheard the lady at the checkout counter talking to a customer about an online boat surplus she helped run for a boat wrecker up in Long Beach. Once the customer had left Macy probed the checkout lady for more details on the wrecker and what our chances might be of finding a boom there.
I walked back to the car, disheartened by our fruitless attempt to find a replacement boom, and Macy was there, beaming at me with a business card in her hand. I soon found that she had just called Steve the boat wrecker in Long Beach and that he had told her that he had plenty of booms on site and was sure that he could find something that would have us on our way.
We negotiated the northbound traffic and arrived at Steve’s wrecking lot about an hour later. It was like a scene from Mad Max. Following his directions, we had turned off of the main road and wound our way down several alleys, each one getting narrower and narrower. We passed abandoned boarded up shop fronts, trash and dust blew up in swirls around us as we moved into an area that was walled both sides by 8 foot high chain link fencing. At the end of that last alley was a huge open dirt lot, burned out car bodies, old semi truck cabs, an assortment of abandoned household goods and off to the side, a driveway that led to a yard filled with 8 or 9 shipping containers, all surrounded with junk on top of junk.
We parked and walked toward the driveway, there were boat parts everywhere, it was chaos. There was a Mexican worker grinding something apart while wearing a snorkel mask, crates of things were piled 6 or 7 high all around us, it was a maze of salvaged yachting surplus that I guess only Steve knew the way around.
Steve was the nicest guy. He greeted us with a huge smile and although he was busy, he stopped what he was doing and was more than happy to help. We spoke to him briefly about our boom dilemma and what we were looking for and he quickly showed us our options.
Steve is a sailor and owns a 50 foot yacht of his own that he has been fixing up to go cruising on over the last few years. Judging by all of the bits and pieces in his wrecking yard, he must have his boat really dialled with the best of the salvaged gear that had passed through his yard over the years.
We settled on a boom that came from a 36 foot yacht. It was too long for the Moondog and the end fittings weren’t going to fit our gooseneck fitting on the mast, but that was no problem. Steve asked his snorkel masked worker to cut and grind the end fittings from another boom so that we could chop and change to come up with something that would work.
We got talking about sailing and what else we might need while Steve gave us a tour of the rest of the yard. We wound our way through several different containers all jammed full of boxes upon boxes of surplus. It was the sort of place you could spend 2 weeks looking around and still not see everything. As we walked around Steve would pipe up “do you have one of these?!” and then throw something at me that he had just grabbed from under 3 boxes. As much of a mess as the place seemed, Steve knew exactly where everything was and before long I had my arms full of all sorts of gear that he had found for us. We scored flares, fire extinguishers, clam shell vents, and swim steps just to name a few things.
We went out to the tiny hatch back to figure out how to tie a 14 foot boom onto the roof and I posed the question of how much all of this was going to cost. Steve had really hooked us up and judging by the prices that I had seen at Minny’s I was bracing myself for the damage. Steve thought for a while and then looked at me and said “ I think 50 bucks will cover it”
What a legend!, We left there feeling really lucky that we had stumbled upon Steves boat yard and met such a cool guy. It really was a little gem of a spot.
Our next stop was Chino to pick up a solar panel that I had found online, and then we had to make it back up to Oxnard. We must have looked pretty ridiculous in our tiny car with a huge pole tied on top with straps through the windows. I would have felt self conscious but the people of LA must see so much weird stuff that no one seemed to bat an eyelid at us on the freeway.
The next few days were spent at the marina customising the new boom and mounting our new solar panel on the stainless steel stern arch that we had put on the boat just before we left Portland. Since the new boom was from a bigger boat, it was all around a bit more chunky and solid which I really liked. I feel like going overkill heavy duty is rarely a bad thing.
My friends Frank and Jamie were a great help, giving us lifts around town and lending us their tools so we could get the boat set up and get out of there before adding up too much of a bill with the marina. It was fun getting to spend some time with the friends that I had made over a year earlier and I got the feeling that after meeting Macy, they understood what had drawn me up to Oregon for the last year.
There was a swap meet put on by the marina while we were there. We picked up a few useful things including an old sea anchor. I’m not sure that we will ever need it, but it was cheap and will be better than nothing if the situation ever arrises. The day before we left, Jamie gave us a memory foam mattress to put on our bunk in the boat. We both agreed that we had never had such a good nights sleep, I don’t know how we got by without it before!
With everything back in working order on the boat, it was time to keep moving. In all of the the time that I had spent in Oxnard working on the boat, I had never made it out to the Channel Islands. So we said our goodbyes and set off to see what the islands had in store.
We sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge with the last of the incoming tide. The sun had set and we were doing our best to navigate by the channel markers, but they were really hard to find hidden in the dense fog. It was rather disorientating sailing in a cloud, seeing ships come out of San Francisco bay from angles we didn’t expect and having channel lights appear right beside us, undetected before hand.
The wind increased as we neared the bridge, and we hugged the north coast to stay close to the entrance to Horseshoe Bay, which is right underneath the inside of the Golden Gate. It was blowing 25 knots under the bridge and into the marina. Macy started steering as I took the sails down and we docked the boat. The nights sleep was sound, aside from the fog horns that seemed to go off every 10 minutes.
It was fun to wake up and actually see the boat moored under the iconic bridge, especially since we didn’t have a visual as we passed under it the night before. Our friends Tyler and Lauren Manson came by to visit with their 2 year old son Finn. The boys joined us in the afternoon for the short sail around the corner into Sausalito bay. We had decided to anchor out off the town to be closer to the shops and to save on paying marina fees.
It was cool watching Finn’s reactions as we sailed the boat slowly in the afternoon breeze. You could see a mixture of him taking it all in, yet trying to figure out what was going on all at the same time. I recall doing similar afternoons with my dad when I wasn’t much older, and the memories really stuck. Maybe it will be the same for him.
Our short time in Sausalito was mostly spent socialising, with a few necessary chores thrown in. Fuel and water were running low, so we topped up our tanks. We also drove into SF to pick up some new house batteries. The state of the old ones was driving us nuts, because of the constant run of the engine to keep them charged.
Macy supplies a local surf shop with handmade hats she crochets as we sail. We stopped by to drop off an order with some boards to sell, knowing she wouldn’t use them on the trip. While we were there a little quad fin fish caught her eye, so we went there with 2 boards, and still left with a new one. Much smaller, it would be easy to store on the boat and a fun addition to her quiver.
My 2nd cousin Katie and her family live in the area. It was fun to show them the boat, and they very generously took us out for dinner. It was fun catching up with our friends and family for a few days, but we were getting itchy feet and were keen to keep moving south and get away from the city.
After making one last trip to shore to have breakfast with our friend Haydn and pick up some last minute supplies, we pulled the anchor and caught the tide out of Sausalito towards the bridge. Things were pretty mellow, 10 knots of wind and the gentle push of the current, made us relax, but that was short lived. As soon as we rounded the point out of Sausalito the current strengthened and the wind came howling from under the bridge straight on our nose. I ran on deck to get the sail down yelling to Macy to keep the bow into the wind, but it was no use. We had been sucked into a whirlpool and were spun around backwards while still being sucked out to sea!
The sail came down, but didn’t land on the deck, we were side on to the wind which was all of a sudden gusting 30 knots. Laid over on our ear trying to gather the main back onboard. Macy had stopped steering a course and was now just concerned about keeping us off the rocks which we were still moving backwards towards against our will. She fired the engine and gave it some revs and after a while we broke free from the grip of the current and got the boat facing back into the wind. Although the middle of the channel looked even rougher than where we were, we angled out towards it to allow some breathing room between us and the jagged shoreline to the north.
It took another 2 hours to make it out to sea, away from the turbulence of the SF entrance. Sailing under the Golden Gate is a box ticked, but with the dense fog, gusty wind and wild currents, it might be a place I visit again by car.
Glad to be back out in the ocean, we have our sights set on Point Conception, about a 2 days sail away.
The trip down to Pt Conception was fairly uneventful. We travelled through the night and had moderate winds until we were sailing off of the Vandenberg airforce base, about 8 miles north of the point. Out of nowhere the wind increased from 12 to 25 knots and really kept us on our toes.
At the Vandenberg base there is a huge missile launching silo that towers above all of the other buildings. The whole thing seemed pretty spooky with its uniformed concrete structures situated above the rugged cliffs amongst the small shrubbery, the only thing that the harsh conditions here will let survive.
Rounding Pt Conception was a milestone for me. It was late in the day, the wind seemed to ease a little and the lighthouse on the point was lit up by the golden glow form the afternoon sun. There are a lot of famous surf spots around here that I have read about over the years and I had always imagined what it would be like to see the famous point in real life.
Almost as soon as you pass Pt Conception, there is Government Point and it is here that the coast takes a 90 degree turn and heads straight east. We came around the corner and were immediately out of the wind. Not far up the coast from there is a really nice anchorage and since the sun was about to set we cruised over and dropped the hook only a few hundred feet from shore nestled behind a cliff that had a nice little right-hander peeling along it.
We went to bed that night excited to see what the morning would bring.
It was such a nice change to be on anchor away from the city in a new place with almost no civilisation around. While Southern California is far from undiscovered, cruising its coastline was all new to us, and when we were lucky enough to find an anchorage all to ourselves it was easy to imagine that we were pioneering somewhere new. I don’t know, maybe I have been sitting on the boat for too long.
For the next week we sailed along the coast towards Santa Barbara, stopping for a night or 2 at the places we liked most. A certain pressure seemed to have lifted after rounding Pt. Conception and it finally felt like we were settling into cruising mode, more than missioning down the coast.
We had only provisioned for about a week when leaving Sausalito, so before too long it was time to up anchor and set sail for a town. We had our sights set on Oxnard and with a tail wind and a running swell we were soon on our way out into the Santa Barbara Channel.
There was a fresh breeze, about 15 to 20 knots and we were sailing with the full main up headed straight down wind. I didn’t bother with the jib, as it was having trouble staying full behind the main and poling it out to the other side seemed like to much hassle at the time.
The swell started to build as we got further into the channel. I was looking at the Main considering putting a reef in when the boat lurched on a wave, veering off course and backwinding the sail. I saw it coming but before I could grab the wheel it was too late.
The main tried to gybe, but was stopped by the boom vang that I had attached to the toe rail as a preventer. It pulled tight with so much force that the boom snapped clean in 2 right where the vang was hooked on!
What a shock! The loose end came crashing down on the cabin top, the sail was twisted and flapping wildly in the wind. The boat rounded up and put us side on to the swell. As i ran up on deck I was thrown off balance and forced to grab at anything around me to keep from being tossed over. Hanging on with one arm I struggled to contain the broken pieces of our boom and get the sail down without doing any more damage.
Macy had started the engine and steered us back on course. We looked at each other in disbelief, trying to get our heads around what had just happened. What were we going to do?
What did this mean for us now?
We motored to the first safe spot we could find to drop the anchor and we pulled the sail off the mast and lashed the bits of boom hard to the deck.
We motored on for a few more hours until we found a safe cove to stay in for the night.
There’s no lack of excitement on the Moondog, thats for sure. We were aiming for Oxnard still, now a day late, and a new plan would have to be made from there.
It felt great to wake up knowing that we were tied to the dock.
The sail down the coast to SF was pretty mellow. we had a moderate tail wind most of the time. Passing Pt. Reyes was cool as it is such a dramatic prominent piece of land jutting out from the coast. Once around that SF is in sight and the pressure to make it kinda comes off.
Just after Pt. Reyes, we were about 10 miles out from the coast when an entire seal colony came swimming past us heading north. We had officially entered the “Red Triangle” which is the area out and around SF that is notorious for great white sharks. Looking over the side the water seemed to be blacker and I could imagine a big shadow looming up out of the darkness from under the boat. I made sure to hang on extra tight when having a pee off the side! I can only imagine that the seals are aware of this and were swimming so far off shore with a safety in numbers mentality.
Macy and I were discussing how we weren’t looking forward to being in a big city, so just before SF we turned hard for the coast and anchored the boat off of Bolinas. It was about 3 in the afternoon and while it wasn’t the most protected anchorage, the swell was small and it was out of the wind so we thought it would be ok.
After packing the boat up a bit, we dove over the side and paddled in to the surf with our longboards and had a fun little session on the mushy rights that break into the lagoon. It was our first surf of the trip and we were really having fun so we stayed out until after the sun went down.
Then I looked back out to the boat.
It seemed a lot further out than when we had jumped off to paddle in. Not because it had dragged anchor, but because the sun had set and all of a sudden the water seemed a lot darker and scary thoughts were entering my head. We walked along the beach to what we thought was the closest point to the boat, and then went for it. I has trying to be a good husband and wait for Macy, but she was spent after paddling in and surfing for a couple of hours. I made her grab my foot and I paddled as fast as I could, fuelled by fear all the way back to the boat. Its amazing how fast you can go when you’re scared!
Columbia River to Ft. Bragg
As the sun was starting to set, we sailed clear of the Columbia River shipping channel and the turbulence of the bar and set our course south.
I was fumbling with our wind vane self steering gear trying to get it set up in the fading daylight so the boat would steer herself through the night, freeing us up to take care of other chores and hopefully get some rest. Every time I had it close to working a rope would jump out of a roller or the boat would buck on a swell and I would lose a half tied knot. I finally had it, then I noticed one of the steering lines jammed in the roller of the servo rudder. I’d be dammed if I was going to re-tie the whole thing again, so I started pulling at the line as hard as I could. After three or four tries I gave it one last big go and the rope came free so quickly that I punched the stern pulpit with all of my might!
Lying on the cockpit floor in agony, sure that I had just broken my knuckle, I glanced up and could see the wind indicator at the top of the mast holding steady. The wind vane was working, but not after causing me a lot of pain.
We sailed through the night in a steady 15 knots of wind taking turns to keep watch for fishing boats and make sure that the Moondog was staying on course. With the sails balanced I didn’t have to touch the wind vane all night. It really is one of the best things that we have bought for the boat, having to hand steer 24/7 would be a nightmare!
The wind was forecast to stay from the north for the next few days and we were keen to take advantage of it and make it as far down the coast as it would allow.
On the coast around the Oregon and California border are 2 capes. Cape Blanco and Cape Mendocino. These along with Pt Conception are the 3 places that we have been told to treat with caution as the winds can blow up to twice as strong as forecast and they are renowned for having some scary seas.
On day 3, Macy and I were high fiving each other after passing Cape Blanco at about 30 miles out. We had been sailing a consistent 6+ knots since we left the Columbia and it didn’t feel like it was going to let up. “Why pull in to shore?” we were asking, with this sort of run we were feeling like we might even make San Francisco on our first leg!
Well, that afternoon things changed.
It was about 4pm on Tuesday the 30th of September when we first got an indication that the wind might pick up. We were 50 miles north of Cape Mendocino and still about 30 mile off shore when I noticed that for the first time in days the wind vane was having trouble keeping the boat on course. As the wind grew stronger, the boat would take off and then round up. We were over powered with too much sail up.
I have been told many times that if you think you need to reef your sails, then you already should have. I was about to learn the lesson that those people had tried to spare me. It was blowing 30 knots and we had about 1/3 of the jib out and I was wrestling with the main trying to get the 3rd reef point tied down. It was all set and I was back in the cockpit when the boat lurched on a wave and the main slam gybed across. The wind had thrown the sail across so violently that the slugs that hold the front edge of the sail in the mast were ripped clean out of their track! The mainsail was now flying free and wild up in the rigging attached to nothing but the halyard holding it up there. Normally when you let the halyard off to lower a sail it slides down neatly onto the boom, not this time. The more halyard I let out, the more wild the sail became.
The seas are now running 6 to 8 feet, Macy is fighting trying to get the boat up into the wind so I can contain the mainsail and I’m trying to get some sort of grip on it while at the same time trying to hold on for dear life as the boat bucked and rolled in the swell. After what seemed like an eternity the sail was down and lashed to the boom. There was no way that we could put it back up in these conditions as we would have to take the whole thing off the mast and re-thread each slug into the track. When its blowing like it was, that just didn’t seem like task we could tackle.
We set the jib with only about a third rolled out and with a few adjustments managed to get the wind vane to steer again. Cooking dinner didn’t seem possible with the motion of the boat so we settled for “cup-o-noodles” and bread to fill the gap. We had to hold on as the boat surfed along down the swells sometimes hitting 11 or 12 knots. Maybe we could try and sleep.
The boat was tipping back and forth, side to side so much that we were getting thrown out of our bunks. We found that it was much better to just set up bed on the cabin floor, as from there you can’t fall any further.
I didn’t sleep that night.
Several times the boat took off down a wave and then broached at the bottom. This turns us side on to the swell and we would get slammed by crumbling white wash. The whole boat would shutter and groan, while the wind vane would fight to get us back on course. The whole time we would brace for another possible impact. It was maybe a good thing that it was dark because I couldn’t really see how big the seas were. When I had to open the cabin door to go out and check on something it was like entering a whole different world. Lying on the cabin floor there is a bit of an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality going on, but when you stepped out of the safety of the cabin, the severity of the situation really hit you.
The noise was what struck me first. The wind was howling at 40+ knots and the sound was defening. Then as I stepped out of the shelter of the dodger the spray / rain that was in the air would sting my face and freeze my skin as I would hang on with white knuckles while simultaniously trying to ease a line or check the instruments near the steering wheel. Huge cascades of rolling white wash crashed past each side of the boat, and on one occasion a wave broke right into the cockpit while I was standing there saturating me head to toe.
Not long after 2 am the surfing and motion of the boat was becoming so out of control that it didn’t feel safe to run with the gale any longer and we decided to heave to. This is when you back wind your sails (in our case just our jib), with your boat facing into the wind and then you lash your steering wheel down in the direction opposing the pull of the sail. The result if that the boat will basically jog up into the wind and ride over the swells with a much more gentle motion than when you are running with the waves.
Macy was a real trooper all night offering her help and keeping the cabin as organised as possible in the rough conditions. Once the boat was set, I took my wet clothes off and lay down on the floor and just listened as the boat survived the waves that were marching past her. Macy looked at me with a straight face and said “nice honeymoon”. I don’t know any other girls that would just take a situation like this in their stride. Macy is awesome and I feel really lucky that she married me.
The remainder of the night was pretty mellow. We didn’t really get to sleep, but we were able to rest in more comfort than we had been in before. As the sun started to shine some light through the cabin windows above us, I was debating if it was a good idea or not to get up and see how big the waves looked in the daylight. With the new day the wind had eased slightly, now blowing 30 knots and gusting slightly higher. I can only guess but I would say the seas were in the 10 foot range, maybe bigger. The boat had handled the night well and I wouldn’t say we were scared now, just more uncomfortable.
My heart sinks, it sounds like the mast just snapped! The boat shook from stem to stern and the rigging is now making an awful racket, shaking violently above. We both rush into the cockpit and my eyes go straight for the mast as I had feared the worst. To my relief its still standing (I was probably being a little over the top, but I was feeling pretty strung out at this stage). Then we notice the jib. The roller furling line that was tied off to limit how much sail we wanted to let out had just snapped under the pressure it had been under all night and the sail had let itself fully out! This is the second time in the last 24 hours that I am faced with one of our brand new sails flapping around uncontrollably and now I have to figure out how to save it and get it under control.
There is still far too much wind to trim that much sail, so we started the engine and let the sheets out a bit in order to ditch some air so we could round up and get the jib on deck. In the valleys of the waves we start to round up but then when the swell passes under us and we reach the peak and the wind would become so strong that it just blow us back the other way. There is just no fighting it and we are forced to dump the sail into the ocean and then muscle it back on board over the lifelines. Maybe having the weight of the water on it made it easier to control, i’m not really sure, but once the sail was on deck I lashed it down with one of its sheets and then clawed my way back to the safety of the cockpit.
So now we have no sails, its gusting 30+ knots and we feel like a cork bobbing around in a 10 foot sea just hoping that the next wave doesn’t break on us. I take the wheel as Macy goes down below to check our position.
The GPS is down.
Through the night we must have run our batteries flat and the sat nav lost power. Upon starting the engine the GPS fired back up buy would not respond to any satellites, therefore no position.
We have no sails and we don’t know where we are.
No problem I have 2 hand help GPS units onboard, we can pull our Latitude and Longitude from one of those and plot our position on a chart.
GPS 1- flat batteries
GPS 2- flat batteries
This is not good.
Then Mace comes up with the brilliant idea of using the compass setting on our iPhones to tell us our Lat and Long.
Bingo, we’ve go it. Hold on that can’t be right…..
Through the night we were blown 40 miles off course and are now 70 miles out to sea relying on our motor to get us in which in these seas putts along at about 3 knots. Thats over 20 hours of motoring just to make the coast! I don’t even think we have the fuel for that.
At this stage, with no other options we point east and start the slow putt back to land. Motoring across the swell we are rising and falling over some huge mounds of water. Every once in a while a wave would break, hitting us in the beam, throwing us off course and soaking the boat. Because of these waves, the auto pilot that we usually use while motoring was not up to the task and we had to hand steer. Wearing full wet weather gear on top of a lot of warm clothing, we took turns for 8 hours before finally pulling the hills of Cape Mendocino up over the horizon. I can’t tell you the relief it was to have land in our sights after spending that night in the storm. There was a light at the end of the tunnel.
We continued to motor, aiming for Shelter Cove which is a protected anchorage just south of the cape. After a few hours we had to change plans because the swell was pushing us sideways to the south as we made our way in. The next closest port was Noyo Harbour, just south of Fort Bragg. Although it was a bit further, going to Noyo turned out to be a blessing in disguise because we were able to tie up to a dock, wash down the boat and our gear, then make the necessary repairs to get us back under way.
We tied up in the small fishing marina in Noyo harbor at 2 am, 19 hours after we had dumped the jib and started our retreat for the coast. What a great feeling to tie on those dock lines, go below into our still cabin and collapse exhausted into our bunks.
We were safe.
Thanks for reading.
Q & M
Although the tide was running out across the Columbia Bar, we decided against doing a crossing at night as we were unsure of the conditions and it had been stormy in the days previous and it didn’t make sense to take any unnecessary risks at this early stage of our trip.
The Columbia River Bar is known as the graveyard of Americas west coast and we did not want to add any numbers to her tally. We pulled into the Astoria marina just after dark and safely tied up to the fuel dock ready to fill up our tanks in the morning and get the Moondog squared away for what we were anticipating to be 3 or 4 days at sea.
While in Astoria we had a delivery of a new mainsail and jib from Cliff Hunter. He had taken some measurements on the boat a few weeks before and had rushed our order through so as to coincide with our departure date. The delivery didn’t make Portland, but lucky for us Cliff keeps his boat out in Astoria and was willing to deliver them to us there as he was going out to spend some time on his boat for the weekend. Cliff is probably the friendliest sail rep of all time. On top of delivering our sails to us en route, he was also there to help us tie up, eager to share his local knowledge of the notorious Columbia Bar and he offered numerous times to drive us around town to pick up last minute supplies and left us a surprise of the best Apple Fritter doughnuts to share at sea. He knows how lovely a good surprise treat is when it is late and you are on watch, tired, and looking for excitement.
Under Cliff’s suggestion we pushed off the dock at about 2pm to start motoring out towards the mouth in hopes of timing the start of the outgoing tide and crossing out into the ocean with maximum water over the bar. With our new sails up and a bit of wind blowing, we were feeling pretty confident as we left the marina. About half an hour later, after passing another three ships, the wind started to pick up gusting to 25 knots and it soon became apparent that we had way too much sail up. No worries I thought as I casually started to pull in the roller furling line. The drum on the forestay spun twice around and the fully jammed. The head sail wouldn’t budge in or out. The wind gusts hard and the boat goes right over on her ear and starts to round up. I lunge for the mainsheet to let it out and dump some air, but in the process i let go of the wheel and the boat goes right up into the wind. My brand new crispy sails are now flogging themselves stupid all the while making a scary and defining noise.
I’m sure the fishermen in their tin boats that were scattered all around us were shaking their heads wondering who let us out of the marina on our own.
We managed to back wind the jib and let the sheets off as we turned past the wind and the noise stopped as they filled with wind and we turned and ran downwind for the entrance to Warrenton, a little fishing marina that we are familiar with having moored the boat there this past winter. It would be a chance to get out of the howling wind and into some shelter to figure out the sails.
Once in the entrance I ran up on deck, as Macy steered, and managed to un-jam the roller furling. Given the gusts that we had just been through and the up coming bar crossing we decided it would be smart to put a reef in the main and partially furl the jib so as to not be over powered. Feeling a little bit on edge and considerably more alert we made our way back into the channel.
During this whole fiasco the tide had swung and we were now being sucked out towards the ocean at 9 knots! We were heading across the bar whether we liked it or not.