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We were now full-fledged yachties. A yachtie is a person who lives aboard his yacht full time and sails around from place to place. Someone who lives on a boat in a marina and goes to work every day is not a yachtie, nor is someone who takes a two-week cruise once a year. In the entire world there are at most one thousand boats cruising full time (the actual number is probably much smaller) at any given moment. No more that a hundred boats cross the Pacific Ocean in any one year. Fewer still make it to Tahiti.
As yachties, the care and maintenance of our boat was a primary concern at all times. At the first hint of any trouble, you fix the problem if you can. If you can't fix it, you get it to a boatyard as quickly as possible. Breaks and breakdowns have a way of escalating if left alone, and will cause a falling-domino effect where one thing after another will go wrong.
We were on one of our first trips to Catalina Island. We had gone around the backside, which is the side facing the ocean and not the continent, and anchored in a deserted and lovely cove. We decided to use an alternate method of anchoring, using our back-up anchor rather than our main anchor. We went about picking out the spot and going through the drill. Barbara threw the anchor overboard and we watched as the line paid out - and as the bitter end slipped overboard as well. Unfortunately, we had forgotten to tie off the bitter end, and lost the anchor and the line. That was an expensive lesson, and we never made that mistake again in all our cruising. The bitter end is the very end of the line and it's not attached to anything. It was bitter indeed to watch it disappear into the water. We had our main anchor and set it. The main anchor chain is firmly bolted to the bottom of the chain locker in the bow, and it is impossible to forget to secure it.
We enjoyed the quiet and natural beauty of the place. There were no other people or boats in sight. This anchorage can get crowded and busy on summer weekends, but during the week we usually had it all to ourselves. You can't see the mainland or any signs of people. You do see wild boar, deer, and buffalo on the beach because there is an abundance of wildlife, seals, dolphins and birds here. This part of Catalina is a nature preserve and is pristine and untouched by man.
We had a barbecue of steaks, corn, and potatoes. We watched a movie on the VCR and went to bed as the sun dropped below the horizon. With no smog out here the sunsets were unobstructed and magnificent. In the middle of the night, Barbara woke me up and said that she heard water. Of course you do, we are on the water. No, no - this is water inside of the boat; something is wrong! I got up to take a look to make her happy. I lifted up one of the hatches in the floor to look into the bilge, and sure enough it was full of water and just about to overflow into the cabin sole. The cabin sole is the floor of the cabin. The bilge is the area underneath the floor, which is designed to catch water seeping in. There is often water in the bilge, but a very little water, not this flood I was now seeing. I panicked. Barbara calmly told me to put on the bilge pumps. We had two electric pumps and one manual pump and I used them all. The water quickly emptied out, but within fifteen minutes it was rising again. I set the pumps on automatic and went back to sleep, deciding I would take care of the problem in the morning.
Barbara was much less comfortable with the situation and sat up all night watching the water level, and from time to time operating the manual pump. When I woke up it was obvious we had to go straight for the boatyard in Ventura where Magellan was launched and outfitted. We motor-sailed for speed, meaning that we put up the sails and sailed while using the engine as well. It took about five hours to make the short crossing, all the while continuously pumping the bilge. I knew this was something fixable, but I had no idea what could be causing the large influx of water. After entering the harbor, we motored directly to the boatyard.
I jumped off the boat and ran to call Steve for help. The boatyard was hauling Magellan out of the water by the time he arrived. I was upset that there was something wrong with the boat, but more upset because I had no idea what it could be, demonstrating how little I still really knew about boats. It turned out to be the stuffing box, which was leaking badly. This is a device through which the propeller shaft goes through the hull of the boat and attaches to the engine. This is the exact same design that was used on the very first boat with an inboard engine. It is, in fact, a box, into which is stuffed a type of flax, which is saturated with a heavy oil/grease compound. It is an archaic system, and I was displeased when I saw how it actually worked. I wanted something more high tech, only to learn that nothing was available, and even aircraft carriers have similar stuffing boxes.
The problem we had was a very common and standard one which occurs on most boats when they are new. The drive shaft must be adjusted to line up properly with the stuffing box. This is done at the factory, but must be re-done and re-aligned after the boat has used its engine for a while. The yard did the adjustment and we were back in the water the same day. I added another item on my list of things to keep an eye on.
As we were already well supplied, we headed out to Anacapa Island the next morning. This is an uninhabited island and is a breeding ground for sea lions and seals. We spent a few days at anchor just relaxing and looking at the fauna and flora.
We were becoming comfortable with our short trips back and forth to Catalina and the other Channel Islands. We felt it was now time to go further. Our first longer trip was to San Diego. This is only 120 miles south of Los Angeles, but required an overnight journey and sailing at night. We went for it and did fine. We pulled into the San Diego Yacht Club and stayed at the guest dock. All yacht clubs have reciprocal-rights agreements with other yacht clubs. If you belong to a yacht club, you have the right to stay at the guest docks of other clubs for a period of a couple of days to a couple of weeks at no charge. You also get to use the facilities of the club, which usually includes a shower, and sometimes a swimming pool and restaurant. Very popular ports of call will restrict you to a couple of days, and places in less demand will let you stay longer. Most yacht clubs like you there because you spend money at their bar and restaurant.
The Anacapa Yacht Club is located in the Oxnard Marina and we joined at the insistence of Al and Karen Huso. The main selling point was to obtain reciprocal rights to use the guest docks of other clubs. This is important to yachties, as public facilities for visiting boats are often poor or non-existent. In some places, public facilities are actually dangerous because of their location in a poor part of a harbor. Our yacht club members reminded me of the people at Coldwell Banker. We went for dinner there once and never returned. Al was accepted as a member only because of his racing skills and the fact that he ran their race team. We got in only because of Al. Once we had our burgee, the little flag you fly at the stern of the vessel to show you belong to the yacht club, we were uninterested in any further association with those folks. We also flew the burgee of the SSCA, an American flag, and of course our Magellan flag.
Whenever you pull into a new port or harbor you look at the flags on the yachts. If there is an SSCA flag, you know you have an instant friend. The sharing of information over cocktails became a regular part of our existence. People who become yachties are usually seekers who are looking for something more than society has provided for them, so we met more fascinating, interesting, accomplished, highly educated, sophisticated, and erudite people in this way than we had ever met in our land-bound existence.
The San Diego Yacht Club was a classy place, and we enjoyed it while we were there. We then moved on to the Coronado Yacht Club and then the Mission Bay Yacht Club. Each port had its own atmosphere and interesting things to see on the land. Upon our arrival in any new place, we explored and visited all the sights. It was fun, and every day was a new experience and thrill. We searched out the best restaurants in the area and ate ashore in a different place for every meal. This was a nice change from eating my cooking onboard.
When ready to move on, we would "top off" our supplies. We'd stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables and re-stock the canned goods and staples we needed. Quite often we would meet yachties who were doing it on a shoestring, and we'd give them our surplus produce, which they needed and appreciated. Usually they would reciprocate by having us for a home-cooked meal, but most importantly we had new and interesting friends from the exchange. Real friends, people who would help in an emergency.
When we were ready to leave any city or port, we untied our dock lines and took off for the next place. No one to tell. No schedules to meet. Do what feels right and good. We did, and moved around Southern California for a couple of months, enjoying every moment. We had not gone north of Oxnard. The farther north you go along the California coast, the rougher the ocean can, and usually does, get. The incident described in the first chapter took place in the stretch of water north of Oxnard and Point Conception. (See maps A & B.) We were now working up the nerve to go north of Point Conception. Our plan was to stop at each harbor along the coastline going north, with our objective being San Francisco. We wanted to sail in under the Golden Gate Bridge and spend lots of time in San Francisco Bay.
It was too early in the year to go north. The winter storms were just beginning to ease up. Timing is very important in sailing the oceans. There is the time of day to consider, and there is the time of year. You do not go out to sea in hurricane season. We met one wild character in Mexico who felt strongly that this was nonsense and he could overcome any weather conditions. He and his boat were lost at sea never to be heard from again. During my discussions with Al, he made it clear to me that it was now too early to leave for San Francisco. We would spend another month to six weeks in Southern California.
We decided to go to Santa Cruz Island and spend a week or two working our way around the island, doing all of the anchorages. I spotted a "Notice to Mariners by the US Coast Guard" posted in a ships' chandlery. A chandlery is a marine hardware store with all the special marine hardware, anchors, line, etc. The screws they carry are either stainless steel or bronze, as opposed to steel. The notice concerned Santa Cruz Island and the need to obtain a permit from the Coast Guard in order to visit the Island in the next couple of weeks. I went directly to the Coast Guard office and obtained the permit, giving them copies of our boat registration, driver's licenses, and US passports. We received permit #001.
We were ready to leave on Friday, but yachts never depart for anywhere on a Friday. This is a very old superstition, going back many hundreds, and maybe thousands of years. It is bad luck to leave on a Friday. Al, Steve, and many other people told me about this, and insisted we never depart on a Friday - ever. This is one of those free and easy things to comply with, so we went along with the superstition and never left on Fridays. The Old Testament forbids departures on Friday because you should not travel on the Sabbath (Friday night/Saturday) if you can avoid doing so. This was probably the source of the superstition.
It was Sunday, a lovely sunny day, and the wind was nice for sailing. We were moving from one anchorage to another, and were having a picnic on deck when a periscope came up out of the water about a hundred meters from Magellan. Its large polished eye turned and looked at us for a couple of minutes. It then submerged and went away. Barbara and I laughed, but thought it a bit spooky. The Navy and Coast Guard use this part of the Pacific Ocean extensively. You see Men of War steaming up and down the coast often. Usually they are too far away to identify or see clearly, and their dark gray color allows you to see only an outline unless you are very close to them. We were plenty close enough to see the periscope. We hadn't really thought about the ships under the waves before, but now we would.
The anchorages on the front, mainland side, of the island were nice to visit for a couple of days. We decided to go around the back side and spend time in a few places new to us on that part of the island. This was the side facing the west, out to sea, and looking towards the sunsets. Whenever possible we tried to position ourselves so that we could see the sunset, first of all because they are spectacular over the ocean almost every day. In addition, we wanted to see the green flash. All sailors delight in seeing the green flash. At the exact instant that the sun goes below the horizon, there is a bright emerald green flash of light. I don't know what causes it exactly. It has to do with the corona of gases, which are found around the sun. It is spectacular. The first time you see it you are amazed, and want to see it again and again. The conditions must be just right: clear air, no clouds, and an unobstructed view of the horizon. For some reason it is far easier to see it when out to sea than it is from a west-facing beach.
It is crucial to check a number of factors when selecting an anchorage. We had to pay attention to the depth of the bay or cove, the composition of the bottom and its ability to securely hold an anchor, the direction of the prevailing wind, and the protection it affords. The most important factor is the direction of the swells and waves. Any anchorage which is exposed to the incoming waves is not protected and safe. So on all of the Channel Islands you must usually avoid the northern sides of the islands, which are open to the elements and to the prevailing southbound Japanese current. If there is a storm coming in, it is usually from the north or west, and then you must avoid both the north and west facing anchorages. Places with partially submerged rocks are also to be avoided when possible. Charts indicate all the hazards, and require close examination and the use of good judgment when deciding where to anchor, and where not to anchor.
We swam, sunbathed, ate, and relaxed in the private environment of the beautiful cove we were anchored in. One morning we were fixing breakfast when I went out on deck to tie down a flapping line. I looked up, and saw that out to sea there was a flotilla of Navy ships. There were a couple of destroyers, a battleship, and a few other large vessels. I called Barbara out to see this spectacle. It was like pictures we had seen of the Second World War with ships on convoy.
Something strange came into view on the horizon. It was a huge metal structure being towed by several large boats. On the ocean, at sea level, you have a four-mile view to the horizon. If you are higher than sea level, then the distance you can see increases, but not very much. If the thing you are looking at is higher than sea level, the distance you can see also increases. From the deck of a cruise ship 80 feet above the water, you can see just less than six miles. These distances are short because of the curvature of the earth, which is more apparent when on the ocean. The closer this object came to us, the larger we estimated its size. We both thought is was almost a mile long. We couldn't tell how wide it was, but it was very wide, and several hundred feet above the surface of the water. It was far larger than an aircraft carrier. It was roughly rectangular-shaped, with a very complex texture. It had huge pipes, openings, stacks, and other things sticking out. We had no clue or explanation of what this object was, and stood there mesmerized.
Our attention quickly shifted to the destroyer coming directly at us at a very high speed. It was throwing up a large bow wake, spume, and spray. It had its warning horn sounding a loud and frightening whoop, whoop, whoop sound. It turned and stopped just a couple of hundred yards from us. It was now blocking our view. The loud hailer ordered us to identify ourselves, which I did on the VHF radio. The response was to not use our VHF radio and they would send a launch. Within a couple of minutes there was a proper launch coming to us. Without a hello they demanded our permit to be at Santa Cruz Island, our ship's documents and our passports. We produced them promptly. They examined them quickly and took off with a curt thank you captain.
After the large object being towed was out of our view, the destroyer took off at the same high speed it came in. The wake rolled us about our anchor line. Things that we were using to cook breakfast rattled and fell, but within minutes the sea looked empty again. It was as if the naval-military-something had never existed.
A couple of weeks later we were back at this same anchorage. We were aboard Magellan, and Karen and Al were aboard Potpourri. This was Memorial Day weekend and we were going to be joined by four other yachts for the long weekend. We filled the small anchorage. It was great fun, with a party on one boat or another, all weekend. The dinghies rowed back and forth between the boats all day long. One night there was a party on the largest boat, which was a good-sized powerboat with lots of space. After a couple of hours many people were four sheets to the wind, having had a few too many drinks.
There was a variety of people at the party, including some military personnel. Most would not say what they did, other than "in the military." I told the story of what we had seen being towed across the ocean a few weeks before. One military guy blurted out, oh that was a piece of the underwater submarine station. Others shut him up quickly, and then said he didn't know what he was saying. A couple of years later this story was confirmed to me by a drunk ex-submariner yachtie, who said that the Los Angeles Class subs virtually never come to the surface after they are launched, and were serviced and re-fueled in underwater pens just off the shores of California and Florida. All the information came from drunks, but we saw what we saw; a periscope did take a look at us and a gigantic structure had been towed around on the water.
On Sunday we were planning to go back to Oxnard early in the day to meet our friends, Fred and Cindy, for brunch at their new Malibu Beach mansion. We were looking forward to seeing the house, which we had heard a lot about. The wind and seas had been growing since nightfall Saturday. I discussed the situation with Al and told him we wanted to depart. He said we could handle it, but it would be a rough ride. The alternative was to stay put, rocking from side to side for three or four days while the storm came in and left. The smart move would be to stay put, but we really wanted to see Fred and Cindy's new house, so we took off for Oxnard at seven a.m. The first hour was OK. The next two hours were quite rough, with the wind and seas building quickly. We started off with full sails. First we took a reef in the jib, our large forward-most sail. Taking in a reef simply means rolling it in a little so that less sail area is exposed to the wind. The next step was taking a reef in the staysail, our smaller foredeck sail.
Then it was necessary to take in a reef in the mainsail. This required that Barbara steer the boat while I put on my foul weather suit and mountaineering gear to go up on deck to take in a reef in the mainsail, pronounced mainsil. This means lowering the sail down a few feet. The sail has ties sewn into it to tie the now loose flapping lower part of the sail to the boom. The boom is the horizontal aluminum spar, which is attached to the mast and holds the bottom part of the mainsail. There are ten tie points in a row along the sail. This is called a reef line. There are three reef lines on the mainsail. The reef line, the double-reefed line and the triple-reefed line. I was taking a single reef, using the lowest row of ties. I worked my way from the mast, aft, to the rear, tying each set in order, and going aft farther for the next set of ties.
At the third set of ties I came to, I had to reset my straps and hold-downs to new positions on the deck. Just as I had hooked on the last carabineer, a wave hit me and threw me off of my feet, off the cabin top, and into the scuppers, at the outer edge of the boat. I was soaking wet and hurting. I pulled myself back up and finished securing the reef in the main with the remaining straps. I was now expecting the waves to hit me and braced myself for each one. I didn't get knocked down again but I was wet and cold and happy to get back inside the cockpit dodger where I zipped down all the side curtains to keep out the wind and spray.
I then reefed down the jib to almost no sail out at all, and took in the staysail completely. We were doing almost the boat's maximum speed of about 8 knots, a knot being one and one eighth mile, so about 9 miles per hour. The sailing was exhilarating. We were in no danger. Magellan was handling the seas and weather just fine. The waves were strong and breaking over the boat, but causing no damage. The visibility was poor, but good enough. We were not going too far and our course would put us right into the harbor, although it needed to be corrected the last hour because we did not want to be in these conditions more than we had to. Missing the harbor by just a mile would mean an extra hour if we were downwind from the entrance. Being downwind would mean we would have to beat back against the wind, tacking to make headway to get into the harbor.
I went below to get a satellite navigation position, chart it, and compute our new corrected course. This took ten minutes and I set the new course into the automatic pilot. The wind continued to increase and the waves were now streaked with white foam and getting larger. Still no real danger, but it was becoming very uncomfortable. The last two hours of the trip was a bucking bronco ride. We were bounced around and very seasick. Every sailor gets seasick if the seas are rough enough for long enough., so this wasn't anything unusual.
We pulled into our slip in Oxnard and tied up the boat, showered, and dressed. We were to go to our lunch party. I decided to call ahead as we were going to be a little late, only to be told by Fred they had decided to cancel lunch due to the storm. Barbara and I felt foolish. We had sailed though a storm to get to the mainland on time to go to a luncheon. We learned a very good lesson from this experience: we would never make risky trips for a mere social engagement, even with dear friends.
A few days later Al called me to tell me what a good decision we had made to leave the anchorage when we did. It got really nasty and very uncomfortable for the couple of days they had to remain there and wait out the storm. While they were there they had to stand a twenty-four hour anchor watch in order to be certain their anchors didn't pull free and dash their boat against the rocks. I complained to him about our rough sail to Oxnard, but he reiterated that we had done the smart thing going back when we did. This made us feel less foolish.
While Karen and Al were sitting out the storm on that first day, they saw a small sailboat capsize in the ocean just a few hundred yards outside of the anchorage. There were several people in the water, in extreme duress. No one in the anchorage had a large enough dinghy or dinghy engine to venture out to sea in under those conditions. They immediately called the Coast Guard and sent out a Mayday. A powerboat heard the Mayday, was nearby and tried to help, but was unable to do anything in the strong wind and confused seas caused by the current, the direction of the swells, and the shape of the land near the drowning people. Al learned later that two people died and one was rescued in that incident. The ocean is not a forgiving place. You often don't have a second chance to correct your errors. The people on that small boat were out in conditions they should not have gone out in. Their vessel was not adequate for the wind and seas, and two of them died for that mistake. The single largest cause of death on the seas is misjudging one's skills. I can do it, I can handle the seas. If that small boat had not capsized just where it did, or had not been seen by a very alert and competent sailor such as Al, all three people would have died, and no one would have known what happened to them - just another boat missing at sea with all hands lost.
After two more weeks we decided it was time to go north as planned. We supplied Magellan with the usual fresh produce and departed Marina Del Rey where we had been for a few days. It was a beautiful sunny Southern California day. Blue sky and clear weather. We sailed north along the coast, hugging the coastline closely to look at the mansions and beach houses. We sailed by Fred and Cindy's estate. Most of these estates you can only see from the ocean side. We used our binoculars to get a good look at the many sumptuous homes.
By the time we were past Malibu, the wind had started to pick up. It was a warm wind, which was not a good sign as that indicated Santa Ana wind conditions. These winds can reach 80 MPH. They blow dust and make living on land difficult. On the ocean it would be hell. We started to reef the sails in advance of being forced to do so by the force of the wind. We turned on the engine and headed straight for Oxnard and safety. The trip north would be postponed until the Santa Ana's were over. The last hour or two was a rough ride. We stayed put in the fully battened down dodger. We knew not to venture past Point Conception in strong winds.
We waited out the weather and took off again for the north. Our departure was in the early evening to arrive at Point Conception at daybreak, which is the calmest time of the day. It is the easiest and best time to go around that large point of land that juts out into the sea (see map C). Point Conception is one of the most dangerous places in the world to sail. The pilot books all list the most dangerous places in the world, and Point Conception is usually listed as the third or fourth most dangerous after the Cape of Good Hope and the tip of South America, both of which the real Magellan sailed around in his circumnavigation. Steve and Rhonda attempted to go around the point a couple of times and gave up. We were very lucky that the sea was exceptionally calm as we went around. When you actually finally round the point, you can see that the water south of the point is dramatically smoother than the water north of the point. Many sailing guides give extensive advice on how to make it around. Large tacks, small tacks, and several other suggested techniques. We did a broad tack with our engine on full power and we lucked out with the calm seas. Al and Steve were surprised when they heard of our easy trip around this very dangerous point of land. Once past it the seas are larger, but we were past the real danger. Very few sailors in Southern California ever go north of Point Conception.
We planned to make our first stop at Santa Barbara harbor, docking at the Santa Barbara Yacht Club.
This was the first time we had sailed past Vandenburg Air Force Base and Space Station. We were most impressed with the many huge missile gantries and missile launch pads. We had been told it was impressive, but we were not ready for what we saw. There were a couple of large launch vehicles standing on the pads. There was also an all black space shuttle mounted on its fuel tank and with its solid rockets in place along side. We had been told about this but didn't believe it until we saw it. Vandenberg is larger than Cape Canaveral. Point Magu Naval Air Station is right next to Vandenberg and is the place where virtually all of the US missiles of all kinds are fired off and tested. Did you really think that the US put all that money into the development of the Space Shuttle just to put into orbit telescopes and scientists? It is a defense tool and is used as such, and those launches are not shown on CNN. From the land side you cannot even tell that Vandenberg is there at all. There is an entrance gate and guard station with a small sign and that's all that you can see.
There is a huge area of the ocean that is marked Pacific Missile Test Range. This is found only on nautical charts. No land maps show it, and therefore most people have no idea it is there. I was amazed when I purchased the ocean charts of Southern California and saw it for the first time. It is well marked and has in large capital letters the following admonition: "Notice to Mariners. You must contact Plead Control on VHF channel 23 to notify it of your intent to enter the Pacific Missile Test Range." We dutifully complied and called Plead Control as the chart tells you to do.
Magellan, Magellan, calling Plead Control, please come in Plead Control. We repeated this over and over again many times. We never received any answer to our call. No one else we knew ever received any answer to their calls to Plead Control either. It didn't seem to matter if you called them or not, but we always did when entering the Pacific Missile Test Range. It took us about fifteen hours to pass through the range.
The entrance to Santa Barbara Harbor was smaller than we had imagined it would be. The harbor was unimpressive, to put it mildly. We had intended to spend a week or two at dock there, and quickly readjusted our plans to a day or two at most. There were few restaurants within walking distance and the city was a long cab ride away.
We departed Santa Barbara and headed for Morro Bay, which is a natural harbor. A large rock, known as Morro Rock, juts out of the water at the entrance to the harbor. The rock is monolithic and stands about 1500 feet out of the water. It is a spectacular sight coming in from the sea. The charts and pilot guides have stern warnings of the danger of entering this harbor. They tell you to enter only in good weather and visibility, as the underwater rocks will sink your boat if you do not follow the channel markers and buoys carefully. We were lucky and had a beautiful day to go in. We followed the clearly numbered markers, keeping the red ones to the starboard, right side, and the green ones on the left, port side. There is a mnemonic the Coast Guard teaches you: Red right returning. Keep the red buoys on your right side when you are returning from the ocean.
We were soon in calm, smooth water inside of a very secure harbor. There was a quaint fishing village on the land and a barren sand dune filled spit, which was the natural breakwater that protected the anchorage. There were a number of boats lined up on moorings down the center of the long narrow harbor. We pulled over to the harbormaster's dock to sign in and get a mooring. He told us we were very lucky because they usually don't have moorings available, but one was just vacated yesterday and was free. We liked the look of the place and thought this would be a good place to spend time while going up and down the coast. We signed a month-to-month lease for a very nominal fee. He gave us a chart of the harbor and indicated our mooring to us.
We picked up the mooring, put our dinghy in the water, attached the outboard engine, and went to shore. We tied up at the dinghy dock and walked around the town. It was quiet, lovely, and charming. We loved it. There were a couple of nice restaurants, which on weekends were filled up with the tourists driving up and down the coast to visit the Hearst Castle at San Simeon. During the week they were almost empty, although this would change during the summer vacation months, when it's crowded all the time.
There are a number of art galleries, curio shops, and other tourist stuff, all done in good taste. We went to Dorn's Restaurant and had a very good meal, then back onboard Magellan. The harbor was very quiet and peaceful, not like Oxnard and Marina Del Rey, which have a lot of traffic and activity. There were a few fishing boats that would leave before dawn, but we never heard them at all. We did visit them in the afternoon to get freshly caught fish, lobsters and clams. There was a farmers' market where local growers sold produce picked that morning. These farmers supplied exotic produce to the LA market. I would come back onboard Magellan with something unusual, as well as loads of magnificent "regular" fruits and vegetables.
We would take our dinghy over to the sand spit and take long walks among the sand dunes. Morro Bay is a main breeding spot for the Pacific Sea Otter. They are very cute little animals which live in the harbor in and among the boats. We loved watching them frolic in the bay. The tourists flocked to take pictures and the otters would actually pose. Their food is shellfish, which is abundant in Morro Bay. Each otter has its own rock, which it carries around. They dive down and get a clam or other shellfish and swim to the surface, float on their backs, and break open the shell with their rock. All very cute, except that they have learned that it's easier to break open the shell on the anchor chain of the moored boats, or on the mooring chains. They like to eat at daybreak and so we'd usually hear an otter making breakfast with our mooring chain every morning at daybreak. We were usually up anyway and did not find this disturbing.
Seals also spent a lot of time in the harbor eating the cast-off scraps from the fishing boats. They played, jumped, dived, and were clowns who loved to perform. The occasional whale swam in for a look around and would then leave after a short visit.
The boat on the next mooring over was a home-made wooden trimaran, a boat with three hulls connected with outriggers. The owners, Pam and Larry, were two of the most charming and friendly people we have ever known. They were poorly educated and made their living by cleaning hotel rooms as maids. They became good and lasting friends. The few times we left Magellan for a couple of days to get some boat hardware from LA, they watched and guarded our boat. Once, when our daughter Tiffany was in school in Switzerland, Barbara began to miss her very badly. We decided to make a surprise visit for her birthday. We were able to leave on the next flight to Europe without worrying about our boat, thanks to the kindness of Pam and Larry. We unloaded the freezer and gave them all of our food, but they would have watched Magellan for us even without that; they never wanted any quid pro quo for their good deeds.
Every Friday night the live-aboards - yachties, Coast Guard crew members, and police - together with many of the locals, had a potluck barbecue on the sand spit in a small well-hidden cove. Pam and Larry showed us where it was, as we never had seen it in our travels around the harbor. We got to know the locals and it was great fun.
We had been in Morro Bay for a month or so and were very comfortable there, but we wanted to move on to San Francisco. We decided to keep the mooring for a while. We made an arrangement with Pam and Larry; they'd take care of it, sub-lease it during the summer, and have it ready for us when we returned from the north.
I watched the weather and the ocean conditions closely, looking for the best time to go back out to sea and north to The City on the Bay. When a good window appeared we quickly provisioned and left for San Francisco. We had a challenging trip up the coast, keeping the motor running full power all the way. We battled against the Japanese current, which travels in a large circle clockwise around the Pacific Ocean. It compresses against the West Coast of the US and gains speed and force. It travels south with power by the time it goes down central California. The current moves south at four-plus knots in good weather. We had to take long tacks to fight the current. A tack is going into the wind, that is, against the wind, at an angle. A sailboat cannot go directly into the wind. It must sail off the wind that is at an angle to the wind to make forward progress, headway. Magellan could sail fairly close to the wind, at about a 30-degree angle to the wind, which is exceptional for a single masted sailboat, and one of the reasons we were attracted to Tayana.
Without using the engine we would feel like we were going eight or nine knots, but in fact, due to the current going against us, we would cover only four knots over the bottom. The speed gauge would tell us nine knots, as it measures the speed of the water going past the hull. The speed gauge has a small propeller, which sticks out from the hull, under the surface of the water. It spins as the water passes over it. The gauge counts the revolutions per minute and converts that to a reading in knots per hour of speed. This is a false reading because it does not indicate the speed over the bottom. With the engine on we would actually go about seven or eight knots over the bottom and the speed gauge would read eleven or twelve knots. It is an interesting illusion, this artificial feeling of speed, but it feels good and is exciting. Under these conditions one rail is often close to being under the water as the boat heels over. Heeling over means the deck is at an inclined angle compared to the sea surface. When the rail is just touching the surface of the sea, the deck is at about a twenty-degree angle. You must hold on to something to walk around. The water rushes by. This is a great exhilarating point of sail. If the seas are reasonable, it is extremely enjoyable. We loved it in all but big seas, when the bouncing and jarring gets uncomfortable.
The distance to San Francisco from Morro Bay is around two hundred miles. If we were making five knots over the bottom that would take us forty hours. If the current is a little stronger, it could take sixty hours. You do not enter a large harbor such as San Francisco at night, unless you are compelled to do so, because it is too active and therefore too dangerous. You might run into a ferry or other obstacle that is difficult to see at night. It's better to heave to, that is, put the boat in a configuration where it looks like it's sailing forward, but in fact is going nowhere. You are marking time. Our goal was to arrive in the early morning, so as not to be forced to heave to in the confused swells and seas outside of the entrance to the bay, rolling around in discomfort. This rough piece of the ocean is called the Potato Patch, and the pilot books and charts advise you to avoid it.
The time that you arrive at your destination is sometimes just a matter of luck, given the variables of the sea, the strength and direction of the current, the speed and direction of the wind, and the size and nature of the waves. Our timing was lucky, and we were five miles outside of the Golden Gate Bridge at daylight.
A serious problem you encounter when entering any large commercial harbor is the big-ships traffic going in and out. Freighters, cruise ships, and container ships travel at about twenty knots. They are required to follow strict rules of the road and stay within very well defined traffic lanes. Northbound and southbound are each about a mile wide and separated by about a mile. The problem is that the big ships often do not follow the rules. Due to their speed they could easily run us down, which would be the end of the game. They wouldn't even feel it. Many foreign ships don't bother to keep proper watch, and they often have no one looking out for small boats. Consequently, it was up to us to watch out for them and keep out of their way.
We were now going to put our radar and radar alarm to good use. We always sailed with the radar on to its maximum range, which was twelve miles, way beyond the visible horizon. So the radar sees other ships long before we could see them. We also set the radar alarm for twelve miles - that is, when we were more than twelve miles away from land. The land sets off the radar alarm, so you have to set the radar for a distance less than the distance to the land.
When we got close to the shipping lanes we were on full alert. Our original plan was that I would be on watch for four hours and then Barbara would be on watch four hours. In reality neither of us could sleep under these conditions, so we were both on watch.
The radar alarm went off often. Usually there was a fishing boat or some small target. As we got close to the harbor, the land set off the alarm and then we had to adjust the alarm setting. Each time the alarm went off we jumped. After many times we jumped a little less violently, but we still jumped. As we approached ten miles of San Francisco, the alarm went off and the targets were very large ships. We watched them closely, and tracked their courses to make certain we came nowhere near them. This worked fine and we never got close to one on the voyage going in.
San Francisco Bay is a large body of water with a very narrow opening to the ocean. This is the place where the Golden Gate Bridge spans the harbor entrance. The tides control the flow of water in and out of the harbor. When the tide goes in, the current going into the bay sucks you in; you're caught in the strong inflowing current. The reverse takes place when the tide goes out. The flow and the volume of water is immense, and the current fast and very strong. A small sailboat such as Magellan does not have the power to overcome this kind of current. We would literally go backwards if attempting to go in to the harbor on an outgoing current. So we had to watch the tide table closely. We were in good position and the current was running in and would be strong within an hour. We pointed Magellan into the harbor and flew into the bay and under the Golden Gate Bridge. Going in with the sunrise under the bridge was a magnificent visual experience, not to mention the rush we felt from the speed generated by the pulling of the current.
There was something very special about sailing into San Francisco on our own boat. The majesty of the bridge and the sunrise on the water with the beautiful city in the background was certainly a thrill. But there was something more than just those physical sights. There was a feeling of accomplishment. We had sailed up a dangerous coastline, where so very few sailboats venture, and we arrived safely. This was our longest ocean passage so far, and it had involved beating into the ocean day and night. It confirmed in our minds we were now really sailors. We still had lots to learn, but we believed we could face the ocean and come out whole. We cautioned ourselves over and over not to become arrogant about our skills, but a rational assessment told us that we were capable and could sail. We had climbed the first hill and arrived at our destination. We were on our way.