“I thought you were older.” I get that a lot, I thought to myself. I had flown into San Diego to deliver a new 43‘ Beneteau up to Brookings, OR. People trusting you with there life’s dream have a right to be cautious with the person they entrust with the task. They were the nicest couple. They had never read Lats and Atts - I didn’t know if that boded well for our little adventure or not. I guess we were going to find out.
The plan was to do an overnighter to Marina del Rey, CA the first weekend and then start a week long trip to Brookings a week later. I took a casual interest in the weather for this first leg. I was already watching for patterns for the big second leg. For the most part, we don’t get much weather in my sailing area between Ensenada, Mexico and Point Conception which is just uphill of Santa Barbara. Yes, the current and wind flow mostly southbound with the coastline on the Pacific side of the states.
We did our first food shopping trip together. We topped up the fuel tank and got ready to go. There was an issue with the GPS/radar/plotter/cockpit light. The Beneteau guys were great and got their electronics guy down pronto. He figured out that we just had the wrong monitor set as master.
We headed out. It was motorsailing the whole way. We got introduced to watch schedules and how we would respond to different situations. On the late night watch we spotted some lights. Small, clear red flashing lights moving quickly across the horizon than stopping suddenly. I naturally assumed UFO’s. We moved in closer of course. About the time Joe thought he could hear helicopter rotors I could just make out a large dark shape on the water between us and land. Then the radio lit up. I won’t detail the whole conversation but basically, it was the Navy conducting maneuvers on the main coastal boating lane between San Diego and LA. It was explained that their boat was purposely dark and underway and would not be changing course for any reason. We had to take the long way around. Many international navigation rules were broken but I’m sure it was in all of our best interest…
It was quiet after that and I had the watch that took us all the way in to our slip in MdR at sun up.
Five days later I was back aboard. The crew had fully assembled. It was myself, the parents and their hot 23yo daughter. I know what you’re thinking … nothing like that happened. We had a more pressing issue though. My steady crew had a weather concern. It didn’t come from their skipper. To me it looked like a perfect time to go, just as a small front was rolling through. That would give us a couple, three precious days of flat water on this leg that is traditionally known as being a somewhat brutal upwind adventure. The concerns came from ‘dock experts’. You know who I’m talking about. Guys who never leave the dock (which is fine) but step up and give you their expert opinion (which is unfortunate). Crew morale is a precious thing on a boat.
After a nice dinner we got the pretty boat underway. We talked about what to expect. We would see some rain, some lightning and some wind in the early part of the adventure but the seas would be low which would make for fast uphill work.
The lightning was so close I felt the pressure concussion. The radar filled itself with a very dense patch of rain just ahead. I did not see a thin spot to aim for on the radar so we stayed on coarse and motorsailed through it. Seems I had brought my trusting crew straight into an “exciting situation” - something I try not to do until the second night. The max wind indicator would later tell us that we had 41.9 knots. It was enough to get a flat boat to round up against it’s will with just a reefed main up. The crew moved up under the dodger to stay dry (and, I suspect, aboard). The option to ease out the main was covered up. I made my way back to the helm. The autopilot was hard over. I put it on manual and got the boat steered off the wind to ease the pressure. This can actually keep you under the hard part of the squall for longer but it got the boat to flatten out. The wind had already started decreasing. We took another reef (yes, yes, ‘reef early and often‘) and got back on course. Roller reefing masts (and to a lesser degree, booms) are unfit for safe, comfortable cruising … in my opinion.
It was beautiful when we pulled into Santa Barbara the next morning to top up and to confirm our fuel burn estimate. My crew had weathered the squall unbelievably well. I did not see the usual gripping fear look that appears in the hours after the sea reaches up to test a crew’s resolve to be out there, their commitment to share her waters with the greats that have come before them. No, it was that smile that you get when you’ve weathered something exciting and when you’ve accomplished something. And they had. I confessed that they weren’t likely to see those conditions again on this trip.
But it was better than that even. We rounded Pt. Conception, Pt. Arguello, Pt. Sur, The Farallons off S.F., and Pt. Reyes without much beating at all. It was actually clear at the Farallons. It’s always been foggy there when I’d passed before. We had suffered unusually fine weather for a northbound delivery. Still, we pulled into Bodega Bay for fuel and to stay the night.
Why not get right back out into the perfect weather? That is what I prefer. Buoyweather.com was telling me that if we waited then our rounding of treacherous Mendocino would come at a calmer time. I’ve tried a lot of weather sites. No one has done more accurate predictions for me than Buoyweather, all over the planet.
We did encounter some chop around Pt. Arena which, in a flat boat (read: fast downwind) can be bumpy. By bumpy I mean that, even when cracked off the wind for motorsailing, the boat will launch off a swell and land flat, shaking everything from the mast fly to your uncles shark-fin nose-ring.
When the VHF radio comes to life and is unusually clear and loud I start out assuming that it is the USCG. No one has more powerful, well tuned gear than our friends at the CG (thankfully). “Sailing vessel on approach to Chetco River this is USCG Chetco River.” Another boat answered. This was soon cleared up. We answered a bunch of questions. I never take it personally. They (safely) practice on non-threats in non-critical situations.
Joe took the helm for the ride in. It couldn’t have been darker out. I explained how we were going to take the approach one aid-to-navigation at a time (ATON). He would have preferred to have the picture be more clear. This is something that takes a lot of practice. I wanted to emphasize that the entrance was new to all of us. We had to trust the charts and pick up each light as it came. This was the US where ATON’s were very likely to be in their reported locations. Still, I had called the Coast Guard earlier that day to confirm that the bar was safe to pass. The report was good and there were no reported buoys off -station. The bar had a lighted range on the hillside which we also used to recognize the center of the channel. Joe brought us in with no incident.