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San Francisco Bay is a very large body of water. It has dozens of cities that hug its banks. We headed for the City of San Francisco, which is on the south side of the bay. When we pulled into a place we had not sailed into before, we relied on the SSCA Bulletin and other sailing publications for recommendations. There is a good northern California yachting magazine called Latitude 38, which concurred with the SSCA and suggested Pier 39 as the place to stay for visitors. This sounded good to us and we went directly to Pier 39. This is a large amusement complex with shops, restaurants and tourist attractions. It also has a large marina, and it was easy to find.
We pull into the guest dock and I went to the harbormaster's office to check us in. There were no free days, and the cost for a slip was about $50.00 per day. I was shocked, but signed up for a week until we decided where to move. The facilities were very nice and there was excellent security, which they needed due to the central-city location of this marina.
San Francisco is unique in that there are almost no yacht clubs that grant reciprocal rights to visiting yachts. They hold everything in southern California in very low regard and do not want Los Angelinos at their clubs. There are no public facilities like the ones in Marina Del Rey. The San Francisco Yacht Club, the oldest club in California, has no guest dock and no reciprocal rights with anyone. Nor does the St. Francis Yacht Club. These are the clubs of the California blue bloods who speak to no one other than members of their club. These are elegant places, but were not available to us, so for now it was Pier 39. We were lucky that it had slips available, or we would have had to leave the City of San Francisco quickly.
I had an interesting encounter with the San Francisco elite and their private clubs while I was working for Coldwell Banker. I was sent up from LA to conclude a large financial transaction, a sale with a lease back of a downtown high-rise office building. This was a one hundred million dollar deal. I had a check in my pocket for thirty million dollars from Aetna Life Insurance, the buyer, as the down payment on the purchase. This meeting was in many ways just a formality, but was demanded by the San Francisco blue bloods. Coldwell felt that it required a lawyer, so I was chosen to go.
The meeting was at the Burlingame Country Club, which is one of those places where blacks, Jews, and Orientals are not admitted as members or welcomed as guests. I found my way there and was impressed by the lovely old-Spanish style building. The tuxedo-clad staff showed me into a magnificent oak-paneled room with a large table set for lunch. I was quickly joined by a dozen men, some of whom were lawyers and some of whom were the principles in the transaction. We had a beautiful lunch and everyone was cordial.
With lunch finished, it was time for business. I was ready to hand over the check. The person who was the host, as he belonged to the club, now stood up and said to me, "Mr. Levine, I am very sorry we had to eat here in the library, but you know we just cannot allow a Jew into the main dining room. I hope the meal was satisfactory." I was flabbergasted. How dumb could this guy be? He could have simply kept his mouth shut and I would have been none the wiser. I would have left feeling impressed with the elegant room and the equally elegant meal. I looked at him and said, "In view of your racial policies, Aetna chooses not to proceed with the deal." I stood up, took out the check and showed it to him, and then tore it up into many pieces.
I called LA and spoke to the person in charge of the deal, who luckily happened to be one of the few true gentlemen at Coldwell. I told him the story. He backed me up 100% and said I had done the right thing. The postscript to the story is that once that deal fell apart, a much better alternative came up for Aetna and they were very pleased about the whole thing. It is also interesting to note that the gentleman who backed me up at Coldwell is now worth several billion dollars and is the CEO of his own company.
So I was no stranger to the San Francisco private clubs and didn't even think of going into them for a place for Magellan.
It was our intent never to cook onboard while in San Francisco, which is one of the premier restaurant cities in the world. We went straight to the Eagle Café on Pier 39 for brunch. It was fabulous. This place has been here for over 150 years. The newer facilities were built around it. It was unchanged from the time I had been there as a little boy of five.
The restaurant guides for San Francisco are numerous and detailed. I purchased two and started to plan where to eat. We were going to eat out at different places every day. In a city far smaller than Los Angeles, there are three or four times the great eateries. In addition, many places are not only fabulous but are also inexpensive.
For lunch the first day we went to the Mekong, an oriental "hole in the wall" in Chinatown that cost $12 for the meal for the two of us. This food was incredible. The menu is very limited and changes daily; it is written on a blackboard in Vietnamese. We had dinner at Stars, a place consistently rated as one of the ten best restaurants in the world.
We were in restaurant paradise. The location of Pier 39 made it possible to walk to most of the restaurants as well as the museums and sights. So we didn't want to move, but we were unhappy about the stiff rent. In addition, anyone standing on the pier can easily see the yachts, so we became a tourist attraction. Our photographs were taken literally dozens of times every day. Some tourists would follow us with their cameras, clicking away as we got off Magellan, walked on the docks, climbed up the gangplank to the pier, etc.
After a couple of days, though, we decided we would bite the bullet, pay the daily fee, and stay at Pier 39. We loved sitting and watching the tourists from all over the world. We loved the ambiance of San Francisco. Clothes are important to all San Franciscans (as is true of Amsterdamers), totally unlike LA casual. This made taking a walk around the city a visual wonder, not to mention the hills, architecture, and parks.
On the third day at Pier 39, we woke up to find a lovely motor-sailer in the slip next to us. This was a wide-beamed boat designed for San Francisco and its environs. It would never leave the Golden Gate and confront the rough seas. It could sail after a fashion with its large mast and sails, but not well due to its shape and spacious cabins. It had two large engines and was more a powerboat to get to places quickly. On our way out to breakfast, we ran into her owners, Dick and Cindy Clayton, who invited us onboard for a Mimosa cocktail (champagne and orange juice), served elegantly with small and wonderful warm sweet rolls. We spent the morning with the Clayton's and ended going out to lunch with them to the aforementioned St. Francis Yacht Club, the most in and posh place in the city.
Dick Clayton turned out to be a very rich man who owns marinas all around the bay. He has a slip at the St. Francis as well as at Pier 39. He insisted that we stay in the slip he owns at Pier 39, which is in fact a dockominium. His slip is worth more than Magellan. Stay as long as you like, he insisted, a month, a year, it's fine with him. We objected politely, but not too hard or for too long, and accepted his kind offer. We became very good friends and spent a lot of time with Dick and Cindy in a variety of spots around the bay.
They invited us to spend the next weekend with them in Sausalito, a charming small city on the north side of the bay. Dick owned the marina, and we stayed at his yacht club in the marina. We attended a couple of parties and met many interesting folks. Without the entrée of Magellan we never would have been able to set foot in this very exclusive place.
We started to explore the vast bay in the next couple of weeks. We took trips down the bay toward Palo Alto for a couple of days, and we spent a day in Oakland. These places were interesting, but not worth staying at for too long. You can spend many years exploring the San Francisco bay and all of the anchorages and harbors, as most boat owners in this area do. This is what the Clayton's did. The idea of heading out to sea, even in a proper seaworthy vessel, was anathema to them, and to most people who live around the bay. Few boats from San Francisco ever leave the bay, except for the racing sloops. Every major yacht club owns a racing boat. They have sizable crews, with a professional captain, and one or two experienced racing crewmen. Al Huso would often fly up to crew on a race boat for one of these clubs. He was paid handsomely for the day. The day sailors from the yacht club are simply "gorillas," who go along for the ride. A gorilla on a racing yacht is someone who grinds winches and coils lines, and that's all. They have no racing skills other than supplying muscle power.
Winches are large stainless steel drum-shaped devices. They supply the power to pull on lines when setting or taking down sails. You take the line you need to haul in and wrap it three or four times around the drum of the winch. A long handle with a swiveling handgrip is inserted into the top of the winch. The grinder turns the handle on the winch. It is hard and tiring work. Then a second person coils the line as it comes off of the winch, or feeds in the line if a sail is being let out. That person is the tailer. On Magellan we did not have to do much winch turning as we were cruising. When racing you spend hours working on the winches as you are constantly changing tacks and changing sails.
On Magellan we had self-tailing winches, which eliminates the job of the tailer. They are not as fast, but are easier to operate, and have a better mechanical coefficient advantage, and are thus easier to turn. It takes far less muscle. These are expensive pieces of gear, but well worth it. Barbara could grind our self-tailing winches on Magellan. She was only required to operate a winch in a very few critical situations, though, as normally I was both the captain and the gorilla.
We watched the start and the finish of a number of yacht races while in San Francisco and always thought the only reason for the effort was the cocktail party which followed the race. We participated in the parties without the pain of the race. None of the yacht club members seemed to enjoy the experience or the seasickness they usually got on the rough seas outside of the bay. They had to ignore wind and sea directions to round a marker buoy quickly, thus exposing themselves to violent movements of their boats. Also, racing boats are built for speed, not comfort. They have small keels, called fins or skegs, and they roll and pitch far more than Magellan would in the same seas and conditions. You are fully exposed to the elements, and hence are almost always instantly wet, then cold, then freezing, and certainly uncomfortable. No thank you was my constant response when they offered me a place as a gorilla on a number of race boats.
The fact that Barbara and I had sailed up from Los Angeles, and were planning to sail on the open oceans made us celebrities in these yacht clubs. We were much in demand to tell about Magellan and our stories, and to sail on their race boats. They insisted I must be a good sailor as I sailed up from Los Angeles, which in their minds was a spectacular feat. That we did it on our own boat, without a crew, greatly increased their awe and admiration. Barbara and I couldn't understand what all the fuss was about, but I have to admit we enjoyed it. Racing is a whole other world from cruising, and we knew less than nothing about it. It is as similar to cruising as a bicycle is to a motorcycle. They both have two wheels, and there the comparison ends.
We took a few trips into the Sacramento Delta, once with the Sausalito Yacht Club, and twice by ourselves. California has a vast network of navigable canals and waterways which are used extensively both commercially and for pleasure. People have heard of the canals of Europe, but not of those in California, which are better maintained and more extensive.
The canals go all the way to Sacramento, the capital of California, which is two hundred miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. The Delta is a vast agricultural area and contains hundreds of square miles of vineyards. This is the largest wine producing area in the world, by far. It greatly exceeds the production in France. The wines are good to excellent. Those of Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties, just north of the bay area, are world class, and I believe often far better than French wines. The wine is not only great, it is reasonably priced.
The Delta is gold-rush country, and has many buildings from the mid-1800's, including hotels, restaurants, and country stores. All very real, authentic, historical, and interesting, but once you have seen one of these places, you have seen them all. You must motor, as you cannot sail in a canal, and you go for hours and hours looking at fruit trees, vineyards, and all kinds of fields of every manner of vegetable and fruit. It was pretty, but also very hot and dusty, and not what we had envisioned when building our sailboat. Also, it was tough because you had to be behind the steering wheel every moment. No autopilot on a canal. You must keep between the marker buoys, which indicate the deep-water channel, or you will go aground. Often the "deep water" meant that we had six inches between the bottom of our keel and the mud. It was tense motoring because you had to pay close attention to the numbered buoys. Sometimes several canals would intersect with many buoys, which you had to sort out. Getting it wrong meant needing a tow off of the bottom.
If you went below into the air-conditioned cabin it was comfortable, but then you couldn't see the scenic countryside. Sit out in the cockpit and steer, and it was too hot. The central valley of California, even close to the coast, is hot during the summer. The evenings spent tied up to a dock were better, as it cools down, but then there were a lot bugs from the fields of produce. The trip up the Delta with the yacht club was fun because of the socializing, but I didn't like the stops for mid-morning wake-me-ups, afternoon tea time martinis, and the profusion of cocktails that were served before dinner. In addition, there would be a different wine with every course, and then aperitifs at the conclusion of the meal. It was far too much drinking for us.
We saw all we wanted to see of the Sacramento Delta and the canals. We decided we'd remain in the bay for the duration of our stay in the San Francisco area.
We did have an exciting experience while we were in the Delta. We were tying up to a dock in a small town. I glided Magellan up to the wooden structure, put the transmission in neutral, and jumped off the boat to tie up the dock lines. I shouted to Barbara, who was behind the wheel, to put it into gear for two seconds without adding power. We had a failure of communication. She heard me say add power. Magellan took off from the dock, dragging the dock lines and leaving me on the dock. Barbara had never piloted Magellan in tight quarters before, but she suddenly had no choice. I tried to shout instructions to her, but she was too far away to hear. She spent twenty minutes getting Magellan turned around, alternating in forward and reverse and maneuvering to pick me up. Finally she got close enough and I jumped on board and got us docked. She was shaking and very nervous about what had happened, and it took her a while to calm down. But it ended well. Nothing had been damaged and Barbara no longer had a fear of handling Magellan in a tight space.
Most of the boaters in the Delta were not our cup of tea. One night we ended up next to a group of white supremacists. We stayed inside with our air conditioning, watched TV, and left early in the morning.
We stayed in the bay area for almost six months. However, eventually we got tired of eating out non-stop. The strange San Francisco characters started to get on my nerves. What had been charming was becoming annoying. We'd had enough of the picture-taking tourists and gawkers, and we were starting to be disturbed by sea lions. The bay is the home to many sea mammals, the largest being the sea lions. A sea lion is a very ugly animal. They eat lots of fish and do not smell good; in fact, their breath is vile. They were starting to come up to sun themselves on the docks at Pier 39. They were aggressive and mean if you came too close to them.
We had a farewell dinner with the Clayton's and other friends in Sausalito, provisioned, and took off. We had to plan the time of departure so that we could use the current going out just as we had coming in. There was an ebb tide, an outgoing tide, mid morning. We undid our dock lines and headed for the Golden Gate. The sun behind us illuminated the bridge in a strong golden glow of light. It was spectacular. Maybe that's how the bridge and the narrow opening to the sea got its name. We could see the cars going across the bridge, their glass and chrome sparkling in the morning light.
The current sucked us out of the bay the same way it had sucked us in. We had to be doing twenty knots over the bottom. We flew out under the bridge and then out to sea. We made the almost ninety degree left turn southward. We took turns steering and being glued to the radar screen. The radar alarm was going off every minute or two with the multiple targets of fishing boats, freighters, and naval vessels. We carefully plotted our course to stay between the shipping lanes northbound and southbound, staying out of the way of the big ships. We were in the "neutral zone," outside of the lanes the big ships would have to stay within. We finally had to turn off the alarm part of the radar, as there were too many targets and it was going off almost non-stop.
It was not difficult to watch the radar screen and plot our position on the chart because the shape of the land and our closeness to it made the identification of our exact location obvious. We adjusted course every minute or two to stay in the center of the neutral zone. Visibility was excellent and the radar was giving sharp images. You could tell from the screen which were large ships and which were fishing boats. This was exciting and not at all scary. In fog, big seas, or bad weather, it would have been an entirely different matter.
Suddenly, a large radar target came up on the screen. It was coming directly at us. It was in the neutral zone where it should not be. I estimated its speed at over twenty knots, which is illegal this close to a harbor. It should be doing no more than ten knots. It was now about ten miles in front of us, but at its speed and our speed closing in on each other, they would be upon us in fifteen minutes. I got on channel 16 on the VHF radio, identified Magellan and their location, course, and speed. There was no reply. I continued to call almost non-stop. No reply. After seven or eight minutes they were now in sight and coming on strong. This was a big ship. It's bow wave was enormous and would rock us around roughly for sure. We had no choice but to change course to avoid a collision, and did so at once. Due to the traffic in both proper lanes we couldn't move too far or we would be in trouble with other ships. I continued to try to reach this vessel to no avail. It had drifted slightly and was still coming towards us at the same high speed. I moved over even farther.
I was now frantic and angry. My transmissions on the VHF became stronger and more urgent. The huge orange hull was going to miss us, but only by a couple of hundred yards. We were going to be tossed around pretty good and I was not happy with the captain of that ship and what I knew was coming. When it was within less than a mile from us I looked with my strong binoculars and could see there was no one in the wheelhouse. It was on automatic pilot and no one was running the ship. It was outrageous to be on automatic pilot when you were so near to the Golden Gate and the congested shipping lanes.
I tried one more time. No answer. I then switched and called the US Coast Guard.
"Magellan, Magellan, calling United States Coast Guard, Urgent. Urgent, over." They answered at once and responded:
"United States Coast Guard to Magellan, we have been monitoring your transmissions captain, and we have the situation on our radar."
"Magellan to US Coast Guard, there is no one in the wheelhouse, there is no one steering that ship."
"United States Coast Guard to Magellan, acknowledge your transmission, no one is running the ship, describe the vessel please."
"Magellan to US Coast Guard, it is a Datsun car carrier from Yokohama and still no one is in the wheelhouse."
"Standby Magellan and maintain your present course." The Coast Guard now called to the ship, but there was no response. They called several times, no reply. They then called us:
"United States Coast Guard to Magellan, can you see the name of the vessel, over."
"Magellan to US Coast Guard, affirmative, it is the Orchid Sea from Yokohama."
"Roger, Magellan thank you, US Coast Guard over and out."
"Roger, Roger, US Coast Guard, Magellan over and out."
The Orchid Sea passed us a couple hundred yards away and her wake hits us and we roll from side to side violently. The rails were in the water with each roll. We were braced for the wake, and no damage was done, but I was furious. Then a large Coast Guard helicopter in orange and white landed on the Orchid Sea. As it was landing, the VHF came back on:
"United States Coast Guard to the Orchid Sea, stand by to be boarded, stand by to be boarded, you are now hereby impounded by the Government of the United States for unsafe seamanship. United States Coast Guard over and out." For the first time the Orchid Sea responded:
"Orchid Sea to US Coast Guard, no problem, no problem, no need to board our vessel, all is under control." The helicopter was already on board and the men were getting out. Too late Orchid Sea, and good for the US Coast Guard. I felt better knowing that the Orchid Sea was in for a substantial fine and real trouble.
Once the US Coast Guard is on your case for this kind of violation, they inspect the entire ship and tear it apart looking for contraband, and any defects in the boat and its systems. They don't let you go until you fix everything they want fixed and pay the fines. If they find drugs or anything being smuggled into the US they take the ship.
We continued on our way south with no further difficulties. It was now the autumn and the ocean can get rough along this part of the California coastline, but it was nice on this day. We stayed a mile or so offshore to be able to see the beautiful scenery. California Scenic Highway One hugs the cliffs of the mountains that plunge into the sea here for a hundred miles. This is the most winding highway in the entire US. It is narrow and a bit scary to drive on. You are often inches from the rock walls, and very close to the several hundred-foot drop into the sea. As beautiful as the drive is along this road, the view from the ocean is even more spectacular. The waves are crashing against the huge rocks; there are sea birds, seals, elephant seals, and dolphins, most of which you can't see from the highway. With the dark blue of the water against the forest green of the pine trees and cypress trees of the mountains, it is breathtaking. The white of the foam and spray of the waves adds to the rainbow of colors. We had picked up dozens of dolphins that were playing off of our bow and it was fun to watch the sea birds diving into the water to catch a fish. It was almost too much to take in and appreciate. We decided to pull into the port of Monterey, a fishing town.
We spent a couple of days at the guest dock of the busy and crowded harbor. We rented a car and took a side trip to Carmel to visit the many art galleries there. Monterey is a very tourist-oriented place and a few days there were more than enough for us after our Pier 39 experience. The sea conditions remained pleasant, and we went south, again hugging the coastline. Our next anchorage was at San Simeon, just north of Morro bay. This is a very quiet and lovely cove where the large trees of the forest come right down to the sand. The huge Hearst Castle stands out on the hills a short distance inland. There are beautiful Spanish-style buildings all along the beach near the sturdy concrete and steel pier. All of this was built by William Randolph Hearst to store his antiques and building materials for the construction and furnishing of his castle. The pier hasn't been used for dozens of years and the cove is seldom visited by anyone, but was one of our favorite anchorages along the entire California coast. There was a reason Hearst chose this place. We were alone in the serene beauty for two nights.
The weather fax printout indicated that the seas were going to increase in size and that the wind was going to pick up within the next 24 hours, so we pulled up our anchor and headed for Morro bay. It was much rougher than it had been on our entry into San Simeon, but not terrible.
We had called Pam and Larry from Monterey and told them we would arrive shortly and to have our mooring clear and available for us. As we pulled into Morro bay, there was Larry jumping into his dinghy to help us pick up our mooring. I felt good being back in Morro bay; it was kind of like home.
Barbara and I were very happy to be back in this kind of beautiful and quiet place, on our own boat, by ourselves. We discussed the last couple of months in San Francisco and realized that it hadn't been what we wanted. It was too much like the life we had left in Los Angeles, where the focus was on food and restaurants. It had been too hedonistic and shallow. The Clayton's had been so warm and nice that we had sort of lost track of ourselves and fallen into a socializing treadmill, where you have day after day of "fun" without doing anything of substance. At least in Los Angeles, this type of activity resulted in the securing of new clients; here there was really no purpose to it. We decided to try to stay focused on what we really wanted to do, which was to spend tranquil time together and to discover new parts of the world where we would see how other people live.
OK, good, we were back on track, and off to Mexico. Mexico was the obvious choice for our first foreign country, mainly because if its proximity. The places we were headed for were sparsely populated, so we wouldn't fall into the expatriate trap, i.e., of hanging around with other Americans in the bars of a foreign country, like Hemingway characters or whatever.
We decided to change the "hail" on Magellan from Los Angeles to Morro Bay. The hail is the city the yacht comes from. Magellan's stern now read Morro Bay under the name. The primary reason for this change was to improve our reception at foreign ports and yacht clubs. Boats from big cities are not generally treated as well as ones from smaller places. Also, having Los Angeles as the hail leads people to believe that you have money, and then you are overcharged for everything.
We spent a few days relaxing in Morro Bay. We gave up our mooring for good, and departed Morro Bay, feeling a little sad. We had a tearful farewell with Pam and Larry, provisioned, and set sail south.
We decided to go off shore forty miles, just to be out to sea a little farther than we had been before. We felt it was time for the experience and we were ready. We sailed down the coast uneventfully in the smooth, but large ocean swells. The deeper the water the longer and smoother are the swells. These swells of the Japanese current have been traveling for some five to six thousand miles. They grow larger the farther they travel. They also lengthen if there are no storms to whip them up. I estimated the tops of the swells were twenty to thirty feet above the troughs, but so far apart and smooth that you didn't notice them going up and down. They were lovely like this because we were in deep water. The shallower the water, the more unpleasant they become. They turn into waves as the water continues to shallow. Near the shore they develop white caps and then are breakers on the beach. These large swells were going to make the surfers of Malibu very happy in the next few days. We entered into the Pacific Missile Test Range and called Plead Control to advise them as required. There was no answer as usual.
We were fifty miles into the test range in the middle of the afternoon when the VHF came to life.
"Notice to Mariners. Notice to Mariners. Pacific Missile Test Range shall commence live missile firing in twenty minutes, that is two zero minutes. You are hereby notified to vacate the range at once. Extreme danger. Extreme danger. Vacate the test range at once."
Barbara and I were beside ourselves. We were smack in the middle of the test range. At our speed of five knots, it would take us ten hours to get out of the range, no matter which direction we headed. We quickly scanned the horizon and checked the radar screen. We were alone with no one in range to help us.
I was shaking, yelling, and very angry. I called Plead Control and advised them of our position, speed and predicament.
"Vandenberg Air Force Base, Pacific Missile Test Range to Magellan, we have you on radar, we have been plotting your course and speed. Live Missile firing will commence in one eight minutes. Over."
"Magellan to Vandenberg, well if you know all of that, you know I cannot get out of here in twenty minutes. Over."
"Vandenberg Air Force Base, Pacific Missile Test Range to Magellan, live missile firing will commence in one seven minutes. Vacate the test range at once, extreme danger, extreme danger. Over."
I was now yelling into the microphone and asking why they didn't advise us of this live missile firing last night when we checked in to Plead Control. No answer. I began to scream into the radio and demanded that they stop this test until we got out of the way. Their responses totally ignored everything I said. Their transmissions every few minutes were all the same, except that the time to launch was counting down.
"Vandenberg Air Force Base, Pacific Missile Test Range, to Magellan. Notice, notice, live missile firing will commence in 12 minutes, vacate the test range at once. Extreme Danger. Extreme Danger. Over." Then the next transmission told us 10 minutes to go, and the next eight minutes to go, and on and on until there was a countdown to firing. Their last transmission came in:
"Vandenberg Air Force Base, Pacific Missile Test Range. Missile firing in 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1,0, and ignition. Notice missiles away. Danger. Danger. Notice, notice, missiles away, missiles away. Over and out."
They simply ignored us and our pleas on the radio. They fired their missiles . That was the last radio transmission that day from Vandenberg and the Pacific Missile Test Range. At least I finally did talk to someone over there, if that was of any consolation.
Barbara and I ran up on deck, watching the horizon for the missiles, and here they came, four large missiles, which I assume were ICBM's. They were magnificent. We were surprised at how loud they are. Quickly they were overhead and then going down range past us. One of them exploded in the brightest and most spectacular fireworks display that we had ever seen. This did not calm our fear or nerves. We waited to see something hit the water, but it never did, as it must have exploded many miles away downrange and away from us. I needed a drink and so did Barbara. We each had a double.
Then it was silent. We were again alone on the very quiet and beautiful ocean with no more missiles or transmissions from Plead Control. But this had been an intense twenty minutes. We tried to put it out of our minds and busied ourselves with discussions and plans for our first sail into Mexico. We were extremely upset, double Scotch's notwithstanding. How could the Air Force do this to us? How could they allow the missiles to fly over our heads? We are American citizens! We had already learned that our government wouldn't have helped us had we been put in a Soviet jail, and now we learned that military schedules weren't going to be delayed for our sakes either (not to mention that the military couldn't be bothered to warn us in the first place). We felt really bad. We had always felt that American citizens were cherished, that our government would go to bat for any American in trouble. We had suffered a rude shock to our sense of security.
There was nothing we could do about it, so we started to make lists of things we would need: Mexican visas, a visa for Magellan, fishing licenses, etc. All of our boat documents had to be translated into Spanish. There were lists for supplies, lists for food, lists for provisions, and lists of charts and pilot books to buy. In addition, the projected itinerary of where we would go had to be finalized.
We sailed into Marina Del Rey in Los Angeles and stayed at the large guest docks after checking in with the harbormaster and being assigned a spot. We spent a few days working on the boat and doing repairs, polishing chrome, and oiling teak. We enjoyed working on Magellan and keeping her ship shape. You must enjoy doing this stuff or else living on board becomes a pain. Many yachties we have known gave it all up because they got tired of the constant need to keep the boat clean and seaworthy.
You cannot go south of the US border into Mexico before November 15th of the year. Before that there is too much risk of a hurricane. The Mexicans will not issue you a permit. As in any foreign country, you must abide by the local rules. If you attempt to go to Mexico without the proper documentation, they will not allow you to stay in port and will send you back out to sea, regardless of the conditions. So we needed to familiarize ourselves with the rules and regulations, and follow them to the letter. People who tried to cut corners paid a big price either in fines, or by being made to leave the country. One boat had to leave Mexico after just two weeks due to some defect in his documents. He was planning to stay the six-month season, but he had to leave after first paying a fine. The SSCA Bulletins had beat it into our heads to dot all the i's and cross all the t's.
We did whatever we could do to prepare to leave. We went to the Mexican Consulate and obtained all the necessary licenses and permits. This reminded us of dealing with the Russians because of all of the rubber stamps and required forms, but this time the officials were very pleasant. Still it was hard, and required a number of trips because we had to get extra copies of documents, and we had to run around here and there to get all the papers we needed.
We had the radar checked and serviced. The diesel engines were examined by an expert, and the all-important systems were checked out. There was work to be done on everything, which was a surprise to us, as we were on a brand-new boat. But the ocean is tough on everything and stuff breaks regularly.
We had a month before we could leave for Mexico, and we didn't want to stay in Los Angeles while we waited. We were anxious and a bit nervous, and we needed to keep busy. So we planned a sail to the Channel Islands, and then back up the coast to Morro Bay. We decided we would go a hundred miles offshore this time. This was the farthest we had been from land.
It was exciting. When we went farther out to sea, we encountered lots of dolphins. You always see dolphins while sailing, but they tend to stay for only a few minutes and then they disappear. Farther out at sea they stay and play with you for long periods of time. It was fun to watch them. We discovered that the more we talked to them, the longer they stayed and the more they performed. There is no question they hear you and somehow appreciate the conversation, because their jumps became higher and they spinned and cavorted in orchestrated performances. It is one thing to hear sailors tell you of their experiences with the dolphins, and quite another to see it for yourself. We would get up in the morning and look for our dolphin buddies to start their act.
One day we saw very few dolphins and were perplexed by this. Then, sitting on deck and having a snack, we saw a huge dorsal fin glide by us in the water. It was immense. It was frightening. What was that, we asked each other? It had come within a yard or two of Magellan.
We thought it was Jaws. As soon as we got to land we ran to the library to figure out what it was. It turned out to be a killer whale; their favorite food is dolphins. To this day, if I see a killer whale on a TV show it gives me the shivers.
That sighting gave us pause. Just how safe were we out there? What if we were in a life raft when one of those things came by, would we survive? Between the military maneuvers and the killer whale, our nerves were shaken. We found out that there is nothing you can do about a killer whale. The power of such a huge animal is more than almost any sailboat can withstand. There is virtually no creature in the sea that can contend with a killer whale. They attack almost anything except larger whales. If you are in a life raft and a killer whale comes upon you, you are probably whale food. There are many reports in the SSCA about killer whales attacking wooden boats and doing substantial damage to them for no apparent reason.
We also learned that dolphins too will attack just for the joy of it. They are one of the few animals that kill for sport. They don't eat half of what they kill, and their main killing technique is butting things to death. Because of their jumping and playing they have an unfair reputation for being nice. They are not nice, and will kill a swimmer in the water for no reason. Nevertheless, we sure did like to look at them while they played in and around our bow wake.
OK, we're in danger out there. Should we give it up? We decided we would not. We would become as knowledgeable as possible, prepare ourselves as best we could, and assume all would be well. I think that, in general, people worry and take precautions and avoid certain situations, but most of us don't really think anything bad is going to happen to us. If we weren't foolhardy, if we didn't try to defy nature by going out in bad weather, if we didn't arrogantly overestimate our abilities, we'd be fine.
We moved between Morro Bay and San Simeon. On one of the Friday night barbecues on the sand spit, we spoke to an officer of the Coast Guard cutter stationed in Morro Bay and received an invitation to visit his ship. The next day we went and had our tour. It was interesting to see what they used for navigation and running the ship. It was very similar to what we had on Magellan. Their water makers were identical except much larger. They even had the same survival suits, Bailey Suits, that we had. The same with the generators and engines. The most interesting item was the directional microphone with a white noise masking devise attached. This blots out any particular frequency and allows them to hear voices on a ship very distant from them as long as they have line of sight.
It was time to go south to Mexico. We headed south for Oxnard, then Newport Beach, and finally our last stop before crossing the border, which would be San Diego. It was on this venture past Point Conception that we had the nightmare passage described in Chapter One. It is curious how that terrifying experience actually increased our desire to press ahead with our adventure. It made us feel confidant (if we got through that, we could get through anything). We had faced insurmountable seas and wind and survived. We had been pushed to the edge of endurance and returned. We had faced the awesome power of the ocean and we were energized and anxious to proceed with our sail to exotic places.
Many stories in the SSCA and yachting magazines told of conditions less harrowing and horrific than we had experienced, where fishing boats and well-founded vessels disappeared with no trace. I know that could have happened to us if just one rogue wave would have hit us from a strange angle. We did have one big advantage over fishing boats, and that was the cocoon construction of Magellan. Because the hull was glassed as one complete unit, it would withstand most seas. Our hatches and portholes are small, and well founded with solid brass portholes and fittings that are deeply imbedded in the fiberglass. Our Achilles' Heel is the mast. If it is ripped off we could sink. And obviously if we hit an iceberg or something large and steel we could sink. But probably we would be fine in most conditions. We might get very sick, but we would survive. Hurricanes are another variable beyond calculation; if you are in the middle of one, nothing is guaranteed.
We did our final provisioning in San Diego and headed south. Crossing the international border into Mexico was exciting and special. We had crossed dozens of borders both on the land and on the sea, yet none had the effect on us that this crossing had. We were very excited, as this was truly the start of our quest to see the world. We thought of the last many months of sailing as merely a tune up for the adventure, which was now beginning.
Interestingly, no one gives a fig if you leave the US by sea. No one stamps your passport. No one tracks you or knows where you are going. It's a little scary because if the sea takes you, you are gone and that's that. No one searches for you.
The only way you can add any degree of protection is by having someone who will maintain some sort of contact with you. My contact was Al Huso via the ham radio. I would talk to him at least a couple of times a week and sometimes daily. We had a scheduled time and frequency every day to make contact. He knew where we were, sort of, most of the time. The frightening aspect of this is that even if he knew we were in trouble, there would be no one to come and help us.
The Mexican navy will not rescue a foreign yacht in trouble. The fishing fleet might give you aid if you gave them enough money. More likely they will kill you, take whatever they want, and then sink the boat. The United States Coast Guard only operates in US territorial waters, and then only a couple of hundred miles out to sea, as that is their fuel limit. They will not go into Mexican or Canadian waters to save you. The Coast Guards of most countries of the world won't do nearly as much as the US Coast Guard will do. Many places have no Coast Guard at all.
The fishing boats of New England continuously place themselves in harm's way by fishing in the shallow waters, where they look for cod, swordfish and other moneymaking species. They, however, do have a safety net. The US and the Canadian Coast Guards will respond to a Mayday with all sorts of equipment including fixed wing prop aircraft, jet aircraft, and helicopters. They have rescue tugs, destroyers, jump rescue crews, and the works. Almost anywhere else in the world there is none of that support available. And I don't mean to lessen the risks of those fishermen, because some of them die every year at sea. However, fishing boats do not have nearly the same kind of risk, danger, or aloneness that yachts face when crossing oceans. There is no safety net whatsoever once you leave the proximity to land.
We grew up with a comfort blanket of police, firemen, the Coast Guard, and every other agency, which will jump in with both feet to give help in any emergency (hence our shock and distress at the Pacific Missile Test Range's behavior). In addition, there is always the hospital emergency room in case of an injury. All of that would now be gone from the moment we went out on the oceans. We would be alone. There would be no one to call for help. Even if we contacted Al Huso, there would be nothing he could do except to give moral support or technical advice, or get a doctor on the phone to give medical advise. This gives a whole new spin to the concept of independence.
Strangely, all of this was euphoric in many ways. I felt totally and completely independent and free. We have discussed this with other yachties, and everyone else has felt this sense of freedom and euphoria as well.
We hugged the coastline closely from San Diego to Ensenada Mexico, our first port of call. This was to avoid the large number of fishing boats, both American and Mexican, that ply these waters. They tend to be a little farther out than we were and we therefore would not have to dodge their nets and long lines. If they see you on radar they let you know where not to go so you can avoid the nets, but it is best to avoid the hassle altogether if possible.
We felt excited pulling into Ensenada, our first foreign port on Magellan, even though we had visited Ensenada by car several times over the years. Ensenada is not an exciting place; it's a tourist haunt and fishing village. It's not the wild kind of town that Tijuana is, but it's closer to the Wild West than anything in California. Meaning that one must be careful of banditos, including the police.
One thing we had to keep in mind is that the Bill of Rights exists only in the United States and nowhere else. There are no Miranda rights, rights to see a lawyer, or really any rights at all. Your rights are what the local police say they are. It is therefore best to keep your nose squeaky clean, and not to get close to trouble. In many places I just walked away from an argument or problem when it was obvious I couldn't win, and the facts, truth, and justice were irrelevant to the outcome.
This stop was mainly to check into the country of Mexico. You must check in to every country at a point of entry, as soon as you can. If you sail past a point of entry and then go into a harbor or port you can be in big trouble. Ensenada sees all of the yachts coming south from the US and therefore is well prepared to take care of you. We anchored and headed out in our dinghy to the Customs House and Port Captain. The person in charge of any port or harbor is called the Port Captain, even if he's only a private in the army.
Some of the Port Captains we met in Mexico were unable to read or write, and they had no shoes. They were usually the most friendly and happy ones. As the harbor itself was very dirty, we decided while on the dinghy trip in that we would not stay in Ensenada at all. We checked in to Mexico, checked into Ensenada, and checked out of Ensenada, all at the same time. We had a meal on shore, and then we left.
Our final destination on this cruise was Cabo San Lucas. This is the pueblo at the southernmost tip of Baja, California. Baja is the large peninsula, which extends down the Pacific Coast of Mexico, and is separated from the Mainland by the Gulf of California. Baja California is mostly uninhabited and extremely rural except for a very few fishing villages. It is like Mexico was two hundred years ago. There are very few roads, and those which exist are mostly dirt and very poor. They wash out regularly and transportation is reliable only by sea.
It was time to bring out the weapons, flare guns and flares. I loaded them and put them in place, ready at hand. Not long after I had done this, the radar alarm went off, and we picked up a fishing boat approaching. I took the pistol grip pump action shotgun and went up on deck, just to say hello. I pumped a shell into the chamber. Hearing that special sound, and seeing me with the gun, the boat turned a quick 180 degrees and disappeared. Maybe they just wanted to sell us lobsters or fish. That is possible, but I didn't think so and I did not want to deal with them.