Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Half Way to Baja

It has been quite a while since my last posting. My apologies for this to all who are following this blog. We haven’t got to Baja yet! Right now I’m at a marina in Los Angeles nursing an injured leg, which for about three months stubbornly refused to heal, but which is finally, in the last couple of week, starting to feel much better. As a result, Baja may be back on the cards at the end of this month, or it may have to wait until next fall. Meanwhile, I’ve been enjoying a lot of sunny, warm weather in LA, while reading about the extremes of winter weather in Oregon from a comfortable distance! So, my goal of “Sailing to Sunshine” has been largely achieved at this half-way point in the journey to Baja.

At the end of the last post, I left you at Moss Landing, just about to sail to Monterey. As a result of this last post, my friend Gary emailed me to say he had good friends in Monterey whom he wanted me to meet, who were involved with the jazz festival there, which was going to be happening the very next weekend. Karen and I did meet them, and as a result were given passes to the opening night, which was a wonderful experience. The yacht club there gave us three free nights at their dock and were very friendly, and the day we spent at the Aquarium was awesome. Since we were spending a lot of time sailing over the ocean, we were both amazed to see all the beauty and diversity of life going on beneath the surface as we sailed over it! It was a really enriching experience.

Alive sand dollars

From Monterey we sailed to Stillwater Cove, where we stayed for one night on a mooring buoy just off one of the most exclusive golf clubs in the country. This was a sheltered, beautiful bay.

The next day we headed for San Simeon Bay, where the Hearst Castle is. This should have been a 76 nautical mile overnight sail, but the winds were so light, and we so often had to tack into them on a zig-zag course, that it took us just over two days to get there (50 hrs) and we traveled 100 nautical miles. The slow speed of 2 knots (a knot is a nautical mile per hour, and one nautical mile (NM) = 1.15 ordinary miles) was partly because one of our battery chargers broke down, which limited how much we could use the generator to get power to our electric motor.

After one night at anchor at San Simeon, making it four days since we’d been ashore, we decided to row our little rubber dingy, “Double Dog Dare,” into the beach, so we could get onto dry land again for a while. Anchored one quarter of a mile out, it seemed like the waves reaching the beach were quite small, but as we got closer in we realized they were more like two to three feet. Still, it looked like we were in a little space of smaller waves between the larger ones, so we went for it. Once we were about twenty feet out from shore, more big waves were coming up behind us, so we jumped out of the dinghy to haul it ashore ahead the waves. We were expecting about three feet of water, but amazingly I found I was in over my head! “Get back into the boat,” I called to Karen. By the time we’d done this, unfortunately, the particularly big wave behind us broke right over us, up-ending the dinghy and throwing us into the surf! Karen grabbed onto the dingy and surfed into shore with the next wave. I swam ashore until I could stand up, and looked around and saw all our possessions floating just out from shore: my backpack, my Crocs shoes, the dinghy’s oars and seats, and a plastic bag of garbage we were bringing ashore to dispose of. What a sight! I spent a couple of minutes rescuing all these items, and pulling the dinghy safely up onto the beach. Everything was filled with sand, even the pockets of my jacket! It was then that Karen noticed her ribs were hurting, and she suspected she might have a broken rib. We headed up to a little building a little further along the beach where there were bathrooms, a parking lot, and an office. Knocking on the door of the office we found it belonged to a NOAA education officer called Carolyn, who gave us towels and some warm clothes to put on that she was about to take to the thrift store. These were very welcome, since the sun was getting low in the sky, and we were starting to get cold. A very nice couple, on vacation from Florida, also came to our aid. They had been cruising sailors themselves in the past, and had watched the whole drama unfold. By now it was clear Karen did have a cracked rib, and would not be able to get back into that dinghy and row back out through the waves to the boat. It turned out, though, that this couple were heading to Morro Bay that afternoon, which was also to be our next port of call. I asked them if they could take Karen to Morro Bay and check her into a motel there, which they were happy to do. So, now we had a plan. She would stay a couple of nights in a motel, while I sailed the boat to Morro Bay.

With some trepidation, I swam the little rubber dingy out into the surf, and pulled myself up into it, and started rowing with all my might. The boat was thrown back to an almost vertical position on the next wave before I popped over it, and again with the next one. With each wave some water had crashed into the boat. Finally, though, I got out past the steep waves, and even though the dingy was half full of water, I was able to row it back to the Witch of Endor, calmly anchored out there waiting for me. What an ordeal! When I pulled the dingy back on board, a whole lot of sand hidden in its various crevices, spilt all over the boat. I spent half the next day cleaning the sand off everything! Then, the following day, I set off for Morro Bay, and had a fair wind all the way, and arrived at Morro Bay about six hours later, and sailed in through the very picturesque bar, next to Morro Rock, and on to the yacht club, where Karen was waiting for me. This was the only leg of the trip, so far, that I sailed without Karen, but I found I actually enjoyed sailing by myself, for a change, and certainly found single-handing the boat to be quite easy.

Morro Rock from outside the habor entrance

We spent a few days in Morro Bay, while a local store ordered in a new battery charger for the boat. We had to walk a couple of miles to this boat store, and this caused my knee to swell up some, and my leg to get rather stiff. It had seemed like my knee had fully recovered from the bike accident in Santa Cruz, but apparently it had not. This leg injury continued to plague me from then on. At Morro Bay we met Greg, who was sailing down from Canada to Baja. I quickly became friends with him.

Greg and me next to my boat at Morro Bay Yacht Club

We sailed down to Santa Barbara just ahead of Greg, and spent time exploring this beautiful city with him. We were going to keep in touch by radio after we left Santa Barbara, but we were always too far apart to do that. The last time we emailed each other he was in San Diego, just about to sail to Ensenada, while we were still anchored in Cat Harbor on Catalina Island.

After sailing through the night from Morro Bay, we rounded Cape Conception just after the breaking of a gorgeous dawn.

Sunrise at Cape Aguello, just before Cape Conception

It was quite windy going around Cape Arguello, then the wind disappeared just before we rounded Cape Conception. We motored all day from there to Santa Barbara, and arrived after dark. It was a memorable day, though, for during that slow day motoring, we often had, for the first time, dolphins swimming with us. Also, just as the Charlie’s Charts cruising guide said it would, after Cape Conception the weather got warm and we shed our winter clothes and broke out the shorts and Hawaiian shirts.

In Santa Barbara Karen’s friend, Alma, and her daughter Christina, visited us on the boat and Alma mater drove us around shopping, took us to dinner and the movie “Dolphin’s Tale,” about a dolphin that lost its tail and had a prosthetic tail made for it by a caring marine biologist.

From Santa Barbara we sailed off to Santa Cruz Island, and anchored in Lady’s Harbor. This was such a tiny inlet that we had to use two anchors, one from the bow, and one from the stern, as there was no room to swing around at anchor. As the sun set the wind switched around and came funneling down the canyon from the shore. Our smaller stern anchor began to drag, and the boat came closer and closer to the rocky shore. I decided there was nothing to do but weigh anchor and get out of there, and at about 9 pm we headed off for Ventura Harbor.

Sailing out to Santa Cruz Island

Lady's Harbor just after we arrived

The wind blew like crazy for the first two hours, then disappeared and left us becalmed and slowly motoring through the night. With the dawn, again came our friends the dolphins, as we inched toward Ventura, and another luxurious stay as the guest of the local yacht club.

Soaking up the sun in Ventura. Looking out to the cockpit table

From here we sailed to Channel Islands Harbor to another yacht club, then on to Paradise Cove in Malibu, where we anchored offshore from some spectacular houses. It was such a calm anchorage, and such a warm afternoon, that I got into my swimsuit and went swimming in the bay. Next day we were off to Marina Del Rey, and the Del Rey Yacht Club, so we could attend a wedding in Karen’s family in Orange County. Finally we had arrived in LA! This yacht club was so luxurious that its lobby had a hardwood floor with the club’s emblem and burgee inlaid into it with different colored hardwoods. From here we sailed on to San Pedro, and Cabrillo Yacht Club, where I replaced all six of my electric motor batteries, at a cost of about $1,000. Karen’s daughter Sharon very kindly took us to get the batteries in her truck.

From here we sailed out to Catalina Island, and unlike our experience with Santa Cruz Island, our time there was very enjoyable. After one rolly night at anchor at Isthmus Cove, we took a mooring buoy the next morning and walked over to Cat Harbor. It was such an exquisite and peaceful harbor that we knew we had to sail around there. We did that the next day, and as we sailed around “Land’s End” at the west point of the island, we found ourselves among hundreds, or even thousands, of dolphins. They were around the boat, and everywhere, from horizon to horizon! It was amazing! We anchored in Cat Harbor in water so shallow that our keel touched bottom at low tide, but we were only a couple of hundred feet from the dinghy dock, which was very convenient. Also, so far into this very protected harbor, the water was so still it was almost like we were on land. One of the harbor masters took our folding bikes ashore for us, and there were bike racks there to keep them in. We ended up biking for miles around the island, including a spectacular ride up the north coast to Emerald Bay.

The Witch (dark blue hull) anchored at Cat Harbor

Cat Harbor from the old Wrigley Mansion, now a hotel, on the hill above the isthmus

We met a bunch of interesting people living aboard their boats in Cat Harbor. There was a school teacher in Avalon. And there was a young Jewish couple who lived on tiny 24 ft old wooden sailboat. She wrote articles about crochet for the New York Times and other newspapers and magazines, he had various internet businesses. They had been living there for about a year, buying in their organic food from Papa’s Organics, that delivered their produce and nuts and grains by FedEx to the marine store in Two Harbors. We placed an internet order for food this way, too, to get the feeling of what it would be like living there. It was pretty cool to get this big cardboard box of organic goodies, and row it back out to our boat in our little dingy! And there was a guy who was converting his boat to an electric motor. He came and looked at my electric motor setup, and a couple of days later we rowed out to his boat and inspected his. He had written a guide book about fishing and boating around Catalina Island, describing all the anchorages. He gave us a copy of his book. Then there was Laszlo, a Hungarian sailor, who’d sailed the Pacific and Indian Oceans before, and was on his way to French Polynesia again. He carved Tikis in the Polynesian style out of soapstone he found on Catalina Island. We received an email from him about a month later after he arrived in Fatu Hiva.

Laszlo on our boat with his boat in the background. He'd brought over a photo album showing his voyages around the world

There were coin operated showers and laundry facilities, and rather a nice café at Two Harbors, about a two minute bike ride up a dirt road from our dingy dock, and there was fresh water on tap at the dingy dock to replenish our tanks. We got so comfortable at Cat Harbor that we woke up one day, thinking we’d only just arrived a few days earlier, and figured out we’d been there over two weeks. We realized we’d have to leave soon, or we might never leave this paradise. So, with some sadness, we sailed around the back of the island to Avalon, where we spent two nights on mooring number one (of hundreds), right next the dinghy dock, in water so clear you could see every detail on the sandy bottom below the boat.
At mooring buoy one at Avalon on Catalina Island

Riding a fish at Avalon

Sailing back to LA from Avalon

My knee was continuing to be stiff and somewhat painful, so on the way back to LA I decided that I needed to take a break from cruising for a while to give it a chance to heal. Last winter I’d visited a marina in Wilmington which I quite liked. I phoned the owner/ manager of the marina, Barbara, and got permission to stay for a night or two and discuss the possibility of staying for a few months. It turned out that she liked me and my boat, and we worked out a flexible deal whereby I could just pay the extra liveaboard fee for the months I was actually living aboard. This marina was in the heart of the Port of Los Angeles, and we saw many container and other cargo ships come in and unload thousands of containers of merchandise from China to feed our consumer habits. It was an eye opener to see how much stuff we import. The Lighthouse Marina, though in this industrial area with its dust and noise, was a very nice, homey place. There was a courtyard with tables and chairs, barbeque facilities and culinary herbs and spinach growing in big pots for all of us to use. The bathrooms had orchids and other plants growing in pots in them, and classical music playing on a radio. Barbara also put decorations up everywhere for whatever the occasion. Lights and decorations for Christmas, of course, but she also had decorations for Presidents Day, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, etc. After a while we wondered what could possibly be next in terms of decorations, but always we found out! Over thirty years ago, Barbara’s husband went out to buy a car for her, and ended up buying her a marina as well. Since then she has run this little marina (of about 80 boats) and brought her individual artistic touch to it in many ways.

Lighthouse marina from our boat

After settling in at Lighthouse Marina, we took a trip to Eugene to pick up my car. We did a one-way car rental to Santa Rosa, where Karen’s car was, then took her car to Eugene. We enjoyed our ten days there a lot. On Thanksgiving we had a wonderful dinner at my friends Jessie and Michael’s place, with them and their son Mateo, and Jessie’s sister, niece and mother, Sarah, Oceana and Connie, who are old friends. Jessie and I had a lot of fun playing Christmas Carol duets on the piano, I loved seeing what an engaging little boy Mateo had become at just the age of two, and we all enjoyed Michael’s excellent cooking. After a few wonderful hours there, we went to a second Thanksgiving dinner at my very good friend Jenny’s place. Jenny is one of my oldest and best friends in America, and she has lots of very interesting friends who were at her dinner. It was equally a joy to be there!

Freshly harvested carrots on Thanksgiving day from my farm near Eugene. I gave some of these to Jessie and Michael.

Then it was back down to the boat in Los Angeles, to rest up in the Southern California sunshine, and allow my knee to heal. And that has taken quite a while. During that time I dealt with various maintenance issues with the boat, such as replacing a broken electric motor controller, worked on my Cosmology Theory (which you can read at www.markmason.net/cotheory.htm if you are interested), and my new book “Celestial Navigation Without Almanacs” (which has a web page at www.markmason.net/nav). Finally, in mid January, my knee started feeling much better, and I was able to gradually start hiking again to begin to strengthen it. I found a trail down to a rocky beach off a headland at Palos Verdes, nearby. It was a great joy to be able to hike in nature again, even if my knee was not totally healed yet. If I didn’t overdo it, the hiking actually made my knee feel better. Also, while hiking this trail, I met a man, Phil, who is a physicist at a major aero-space corporation, and who has taken an interest in my Cosmology theory. He told me about his website that explains how an albatross effortlessly soars for days on end, hardly ever needing to flap his wings. This is at www.howfliesthealbatross.com. I emailed him back about how much I liked his site, and mentioned that I had a theory he might be interested in. He read it, and has made suggestions about framing a paper on it for publication in a scientific journal. He has published about ten scientific papers himself, so his help with this should be invaluable.

We made a couple of trips out from Lighthouse Marina, including a week at Avalon on Catalina. While there we met up again with a couple we had briefly met at Two Harbors a couple of months earlier. We had been meaning to contact them, but hadn’t got around to it, when on our second last day there I was rowing ashore, and this woman on the dinghy dock asked if I could row her out to her boat where her husband was. I agreed, and thought I recognized her, and asked her name. When she said “Jan,” I said “Aren’t you the artist Karen and I met at Two Harbors a couple of months ago?” She was, and she suggested we have dinner together. I suggested our boat, since her husband, Glen, was working on their one. They went and got the best pizza I’d tasted in years, and we made soup and salad. We had a wonderful visit on our boat, and the next day we biked up to their apartment to visit them. She is Jan Vander Velde, who for about 30 years has been the artist in residence at Catalina Island, and has painted most of the artwork seen in public places there, including the murals on the tour buses. Before that she lived in Kenya, and told many stories about that, including meeting Karen Blixen, who wrote “Out of Africa,” and that much of the movie “Born Free” was filmed where she lived, while she was there.

LA Harbor

Sailing past the Queen Mary at Long Beach, during one of our side trips

Queen Mary at night from our boat, at the guest dock at the Shoreline Yacht Club in Long Beach

This, and the next few photos are of a pod of dolphins that swam with us for some time on our way to Avalon for the second time.

My leg being much better by now, I hatched a plan to continue our cruise down to Mexico. It was to sail down to Ensenada in March, and keep the boat at a marina there. I would live aboard there for two or three months and learn to “Hablo Espanol” a little better, while Karen would take a trip to Hawaii to visit her son. I would return to Oregon for the summer, then go back to the boat in Fall to haul her and have her bottom painted before sailing on to the Sea of Cortez.
To see if there was a good marina in Ensenada to keep the boat at, we decided to take road trip down there to check it out. It was quick and easy to cross the border into Mexico, and the drive down the coast was very picturesque, with gorgeous ocean views. In Ensenada we visited the two best-sounding marinas, and quickly found one of them, Cruiseport Marina was everything we wanted, and quite a bit cheaper than we had been paying in LA. Ensenada seemed very friendly and nice. We walked down to a local Mexican restaurant, with tables and chairs under an awning. Their fish tacos were 10 pesos each ($0.80), and included a variety of salsas, salad and a big bunch of cilantro to choose from to garnish them with. I could certainly live like a king here without breaking the bank!

$0.80 fish tacos in Ensenada, where fish tacos were invented

And talking about living like kings, as the sun set we walked around the “Zona Tourista” looking for a good hotel to stay at. We soon found Hotel Del Rey Sol (Hotel of the Sun King), which had beautiful Spanish style rooms, a hot tub and pool with little or no chlorine in them that we soaked in, free breakfast at their restaurant, and a free fast-track pass to get back across the border, all for just $63 for both of us. When we went to breakfast, the restaurant was a magnificent old colonial hall. The waiters were dressed in black suits and ties, and a pianist was playing jazz and popular music. It was like we were European royalty dining in a castle! We later found out this was Ensenada’s most celebrated restaurant, and that it had won many awards for its French cooking and unparalleled décor.
The next night we stayed at the Estero Beach Resort, a few miles south of Ensenada. For $83 we got a luxury room and balcony looking out through some palm trees to the ocean and beach just where an estuary emerges from a lagoon. It was the most magical tropical paradise view imaginable! We slept all night with the gentle roar of the ocean. With the break of day, we just lay in the king sized bed, entranced, for most of the morning, looking at this view unfold through the wall of glass that opened onto the balcony, as the sun rose and spread across the waves and beach and garden in front of us.

Our room at the Estero Beach Hotel, just south of Ensenada

On March 1, we left the Lighthouse Marina, and called the nearby bridge that we’d seen a thousand trains go across, and asked them to raise it so we could pass underneath. It was the first time we’d gone that way. Going under the bridge was a lot of fun, and saved us about four miles on our trip to Alimitos Bay Yacht Club. As we pulled into the guest slip at this yacht club, we noticed a sleek racing sailboat on the other side of the dock. It had a Columbia insignia on its sail, which was strange, because Columbia Yachts (who made our boat) went out of business many years ago. The skipper of this boat, Vince, recognized our boat as a Columbia 8.7 and told us about how it was his father who had started and run Columbia Yachts, and how he had recently revived his father’s company, and was making the Columbia brand again in Newport. The sleek carbon-fiber racer he had there, the new Columbia 32, was his first model. He gave up his card, and said to contact him if we had any trouble finding somewhere to stay in Newport Beach, his home port, and our next port of call. As it turned out, we were only able to line up one night at a yacht club there, at Balboa Yacht Club, and Newport Harbor Yacht Club had said they had no mooring buoys to spare. So I phoned Vince, and he said he’d see what was available at the club he belonged to, Newport Harbor Yacht Club. I wasn’t very hopeful about that, since that very same club had just told us they had no spare moorings that night. A few minutes later, however, he phoned back saying there was a mooring buoy for us, and a guest card waiting for us at reception! Just goes to show that it’s often not what you know that’s important, but who you know!

Vince's carbon fiber Columbia 32

From here it was on to Dana Point, named after the author of the classic book “Two Years Before the Mast.” Again there was a very welcoming yacht club there, and we enjoyed exploring the place.

Dog on paddle board out in the ocean near Dana Point

Click this photo to enlarge it to read about Richard Henry Dana Jr., who wrote "Two Years Before the Mast."

We had a perfect breeze sailing the 23 miles to Oceanside, but just after we’d sailed in through the harbor entrance, and were taking the mainsail down, the electric motor on the boat stopped working! After tying the mainsail to the boom, I unfurled the jib (front sail) again, and sailed the boat into the boat harbor. After rounding the breakwater, we had to tack (zig-zag) into a wind coming directly against us to get to the Yacht Clubs guest dock. Having no motor, I sailed up so the bow was close the dock then let off the jib and quickly furled it. Karen jumped off the bow onto the dock with the bow line in her hand. The boat quickly began to drift away from the dock in the wind. At first Karen tried to hold the boat with the bow line, but the wind was tugging the boat too strongly and it kept drifting away. I called out to her: “You won’t be able to hold it. Cleat it! Cleat it!” She heard this and got the very end of the rope around the cleat and locked on to it, just before it was too late! We were attached, and I was able to throw a stern line to her on the dock, and haul the boat alongside.

It was really annoying that the new electric motor controller I had installed had broken down after just six weeks! Fortunately the manufacturer in China air-freighted me a new one at no charge. The very friendly people at Oceanside Yacht Club let us stay there, at no charge, for the week it took to get the controller replaced, and then for four more days as a ferocious storm swept in, with gale-force winds, and passed. We felt so at home at that yacht club, and with biking around Oceanside, that it was kind of bitter-sweet to finally leave it. The Vice Commodore Karie and her husband Dave, the dock master, made us feel so welcome, and we met so many other lovely people there. I went out sailing with Joey, who is 95% blind, in his beautiful old Chris Craft 35 sailboat. He said, “Do you want to come sailing with me? The motor’s running!” I’m glad I did, since neither of the other two guys on board had any sailing experience, and Joey was blind! The wind was blowing quite strongly, and guess who had to sail that boat? Yes. Me! I had to get used to it in a hurry. But all went well, and we had a great sail out in the ocean, surging up to 7.8 knots in the stiff breeze, and got back safely.

We left at dawn for the 30 mile sail to Mission Bay in San Diego, and got there just in time to be allocated a guest slip by one of the marinas, before their office closed. Next day we sailed to San Diego Bay. As we entered the bay the wind blew up so strongly as we sailed up into the wind that even with the sails let out and partly flapping, the boat was leaning over so much that the leeward gunwale and part of the deck was under water, as we surged forward! After we docked at Southwestern Yacht Club’s guest slip, a member of the club told us that those winds were the strongest winds he’d seen in San Diego Bay in 30 years! In San Diego we got a new tire on the back of my bike, and brought provisions for our final leg: the overnighter to Ensenada.

We left Shelter Island Cove at San Diego at 11:30 am, pointing into a nice breeze. After leaving the harbor, we eased off onto a close reach as we laid a course to sail inside the Coronados, the first islands inside Mexican waters. We made really good time, sailing at five to six knots, until sunset, when the wind died down to almost nothing. We drifted along all night at about 2 to 2.5 knots, with the electric motor ticking away very slowly (without it we would have been lucky to be doing one knot!). When the sun rose we were getting close to Ensenada, and I started the generator so we could increase the boat’s speed to three knots. Early that day I saw a gray whale surface, which was a treat. During the night we had been hearing them blow, but couldn’t see them. We docked at Cruiseport Marina in Ensenada at 11:29 am on March 24, so it had taken us one minute less than 24 hours to get just under 72 nautical miles to Ensenada – an average of 3 knots. In the evening of the day after we got here the winds blew up to almost gale force again. In sailing from Oceanside and Ensenada, we had perfectly taken advantage of a limited window of good weather between two late-winter storms.

Everything has been wonderful at Ensenada, but that is another story for a later post!

So, goodbye for now from Karen and me!

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