Monday, October 24, 2011

A Princess and her Dolphins

Well, the pup (Princess Sophie) has definitely settled in to life onboard and we couldn't have ordered up a more intriguing first couple of passages for her.

Both on our return trip back to the mainland from Catalina Island yesterday and on our 30 mile journey today southward to Mission Bay, we were surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of Common Dolphins. They were playing up beside our bow, leaping along both sides of the boat, some up to 10 feet in the air. One fellow put on a spectacular show by jumping clear out of the water and then tail walking, over and over again. Another amazed us by leaping high and then turning sideways to fall, slapping its body on the surface. We wondered if this was just for the fun of it, or if it was a kind of dolphin fishing technique.

With all the commotion and acrobatics occurring around us, it didn't take long for Sophie to roust herself from her usual onboard snooze. We laughed when we saw her standing on her tip-toes, peering overtop of the spray cloths and scanning the horizon for signs of marine life. The show went on for hours and was highlighted by the little yellow throated warbler who was hanging out ondeck, and literally walked in front of her nose, while trying to find its way down into our cabin.

As we approached Mission Bay, coming closer to shore, we were keeping a sharp lookout for lobster traps. Our friends Tom and Jeannie had called our cell earlier in the day to report that they'd had to wind their way carefully through mine-fields of them on their way into the Bay. Our first sighting turned out to be a big old seal, floating lazily on its back on a pile of kelp, fins and tail held up in the air... waving at us as we motored by. Sophie eyed it suspiciously... such a new thing for her to be on high alert while onboard. "Welcome to your new life Sophie - ship's dog on wildlife watch."

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Avalon, Catalina Island

Saturday, Oct. 22nd 0230 hrs: It’s early, really early, but as usual when we’re planning on leaving at ‘sparrow fart’ (0400 hrs.) I can’t sleep. So, I’m up and thought I’d tell you a bit about Catalina Island (at least the part we’ve been visiting – Avalon Bay). We arrived on a Tuesday, just after a cruise ship left, and (lucky us) there hasn’t been another one since – it must be the ‘low’ season. I remember when I was here last in 2003 it seemed a cruise ship arrived every 2 or 3 hours and, when each ship ‘puked’ out its payload, the town was overrun by hundreds, probably thousands, of mostly over-weight, determined to buy every last touristy t-shirt, ‘get outta my way’ kind of folks.

This week we’ve actually been able to enjoy a town without that ‘influence’. The tourists have been ‘us’; the yachties who have travelled by small boat to visit. You can tell who we are. We’re the ones wearing white running shoes :-) and carrying cloth bags for our groceries and taking advantage of VONs special – 30% off on all wine and an additional 10% if you buy 6 (so of course we all buy 12). We smile at each other (unlike most of the residents who stare straight ahead as they walk, in case anyone might expect them to break into conversation or share a bit about themselves or their island). Dogs aren’t welcome in the heart of town, so the ‘princess’ Sophie must walk around it. That’s OK as there are several side streets with interesting homes and garden displays to ogle as we pass. Ironically, while she’s not welcome in the heart of town, not two blocks away she’s welcome right on the patio, under our table, while we eat our meal sitting right on the waters edge, in a dockside cafĂ© beside the ‘Casino’. Avalon has this large, round building (you can see it from a distance and the town’s famous for it) that was once a dance hall, then a Casino, and is now a museum and a hall that groups can book. There’s also the ‘Wrigley mansion’. It sits high on the opposing hill and was once the home of the Wrigley family. It’s now open for tours and operates as a bed and breakfast (altho’ local rumour has it that business may fold and the property revert back to the family). The town has much to offer in the way of tourist shops and the like, but it also has the mainstays (groceries, hardware, laundromat, and restaurants… lots of restaurants), and there’s a golf course as well as several walks the energetic can do. We walked clear out of town and up the road to the Botanical Garden and Wrigley Memorial. It was a longish walk but with lots of scenery and birds…and we’re glad we did it.

Probably one of the most memorable attributes of Avalon is the lack of cars and trucks as we know them. Most Avalonian autos are, in fact, golf carts. They’re carts that have been fixed up, suped up, and dressed up. One looks like an old, antique Ford… another like a Harley Davidson ‘something’. The majority are kind of junky and beat up, but they’re everywhere and they are definitely the primary mode of transportation on the island. You too could be driving one (for $40 an hour). We walked.

As the week progressed, so too did the population of boats in the harbor. By Friday (now yesterday) the mooring bouys were filling rapidly and our quiet and attractive ambiance was destroyed by weekend boaters determined to beat their competition for a preferred spot. Between the uncontrolled use of generators (for hours and hours and hours), the blatant disregard for neighbouring mariners displayed by some boaters determined to party all night, and the general increase in dinghy traffic, loud radios and general hullabaloo… it was easy to conclude… it’s time to go.

We leave in a few hours. It will still be dark, but that’s ok… as long as we’re able to let go our mooring lines (fore and aft) without tangling or otherwise getting caught up in them or the yards of kelp that accompany each bouy. But we’ll manage, and we’ll be ‘outta here’… and heading for Oceanside (about half way between here and San Diego). We’ll be in Oceanside Saturday night and Sunday and then we’ll continue south.

We plan on heading in to San Diego as the 170 boats on the Baja Haha rally are heading out on Oct. 24th. We’ll be busy in SD. Besides getting all our groceries and equipment (last chance for a big shop in the US), we need to get our Fishing License for Mexico, Mexican liability insurance for the boat, and an International Health Certificate (signed within 72 hours of crossing the border) for Sophie. As well, there will be cruisers to meet (Downwind Marine even sponsors a coffee and donut ‘meet ‘n greet’ on Wednesday mornings for cruisers heading south to meet each other), and last minute repairs or upgrades as required. We’ll probably be there for about 7-10 days before heading south to Ensenada, Mexico.

For now, we prepare to leave Catalina Island… a piece of history morphed into a cruise ship destination and a home to many. Been there, done that… time to go.
Bye for now. CJ

Monday, October 17, 2011

A few firsts...

Hi folks,

We've had quite a few landmarks this week..... we saw our first pod of Spinner Dolphins, our first Blue Whale and I saw the "Green Flash" (at sunset) for the first time. More important than any of this... we met our dear friends Susan & George here in Dana Point and were reunited with our black, curly & four-footed crew member the "Princess Sophie".  And finally, Carolyn found that Singapore Sling!!

Susan & George have been dog-sitting P.S. for the last 6 weeks. Although our our little pup is a hearty sailor and a great companion onboard, we realized that she would not have enjoyed this first and roughest leg of our southbound journey.

We had a fun couple of days exploring Dana Point with Susan & George and, being caught up in the moment, we only now realize that we forgot to take some photos of our reunion. We do have a nice shot of Sophie after she got herself moved onboard with all her essential sailing gear.

Sophie & friends in her bunk

As we were motoring south to Dana Point from Newport Beach, we saw a huge pod of at least 100 Spinner Dolphins migrating south. We watched for several minutes and they passed us by on both sides of the boat. See you in Mexico guys!!

Spinner Dolphin, heading south with pod
In the distance, we saw one leap completely out of the water, too quickly to get a photo.

One took the time to play in our bow wave.
 An hour or so later, we noticed a whale spouting a short distance off our port side. This was our first sighting of a Blue Whale. We saw only its back, as it slowly moved through the water, but it was enough to impress us with its massive size. At 30 metres in length and 180 metric tons or more in weight, it is the largest known animal to have ever existed.

Blue Whale swimming north near Newport Beach

Soon after our arrival at the Dana Point Yacht Club we met Vinnie, the resident club bartender. He has a  wry sense of humour, a varied and colourful background and an impressive wealth of exotic cocktail recipes committed to memory.  We realized that this was the perfect opportunity for Carolyn to make good on her promise to her dad...

Vinnie - Dana Point Yacht Club's highly skilled Mixologist

We set a date with Vinnie and came up to the bar at the appointed time. The creation of these two drinks was nothing less than a work of art in progress. After topping them off with the requisite marachino cherries, Vinnie told us the story of how he had come into the posession (albiet only a lone) of an original, leather-bound, pirate-map paper thin, copy of the official "Trader Vic's Cocktail Recipe Book".  He went so far as to tell us that the essential ingredient was a "simple gin", but try as we might, we could not get him to share the recipe! Even without the "umbrella", this turned out to be quite a delicious drink!

Trader Vic's special recipe

Hey Dad, these are pretty tasty!!
There are two yacht clubs here in the Dana Point harbour (Dana Point YC and Dana West YC) and we've been welcomed with open arms by members of both clubs.  We've enjoyed four days here and have had a few great meals.  Today, we rented a car and drove the Princess to Huntington Beach ("Orange County's Only Off-Leash Dog Beach!!")... well, we mighta picked up some propane and a few groceries while we were at it.

Tomorrow, it's time to go... we're planning on leaving early for Avalon on Santa Catalina Island. "26 miles across the sea...."

'til next time....


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

still looking for that Singapore Sling...

Once upon a time... and not so very long ago.. my Dad said to me "that's a good keel, I like it" as he inspected my newly acquired boat the SV Shannon. "Why is that Dad?" I asked, not too sure where he was coming from. "Well" he said, "you can hit rocks with it." Now that may sound funny to you (and it did a bit to me at the time) but I can tell you that... he was right. When I did hit that awful rock, the soft-fronted cruising keel on Shannon rode gently up it and then slid back down. Phew. As time went by my Dad continued to bestow short phrases of wisdom upon me. Like the time he told me to start using the auto pilot (I hadn't been using it you see; too darn lazy to set the thing up). Once I acquired a modern auto-pilot and started using it, I realized how right Dad was (again). Otto steers far better than I have ever steered. He's tireless, whines a bit but keeps right on steering anyway. We would be exhausted over and over again if it weren't for Otto. Recently, while getting Shannon ready for this trip, Dad said "You need to know how much the wind is blowing. You need a wind speed indicator." I've never had one of those things, never thought I needed one, even went so far as to purchase a hand-held thingy that I could hold up into the wind and it would tell me how fast it was blowing.. if I cared... Well, Dad'd been right so often I figured I better listen to him again... and so, I got one. Wow. Is it ever cool to know what the wind's doing and from where, Seems I was very (humanly) way over-estimating the wind strengths... and causing all kinds of related trepidations therefore and thereafter. If you know what the winds doing (and from where... especially in the dark) you can make all kinds of wise(r) decisions regarding sail size, trim, etc.... Thanks Dad... right again. And then, just before we left, Dad said, "when you get to California, put your feet up on the bar and have a Singapore Sling. " Well, he'd been right so many times I figured I better honour this request too, so I just wanted you to know Dad... I'm still looking for someone who remembers what a Singapore Sling is :-) and... who will let me put my feet on their bar... AND, I want you to know I will find such a person and a bar.... so thanks for being patient.... and, thanks for being my Dad... and thanks for the wonderful advice(s).... love you lots. CJ

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Goodbye Pt. Conception... hello sunshine...

Brilliant moonlight, shooting stars, and shades of baby blues and pinks.... What an amazing collection of memories these last few days hold.

We really enjoyed Morro Bay with it's funky restaurants, friendly people, VW bugs still sporting flowers, salt-water taffy, 'real' antique stores, unique characters (real people characters) like the fellow who is the cobbler (but was a boxer and has an amazing collection of boxing memorabelia in his shop), and the fuel guy 'Butch' who is a lot friendlier than the locals said he'd be (helped me with my need to fill our fuel jerry cans, and 'Mike' who works for the harbour and helped me dispose of some 'bad' fuel from another stop... and the guys at the Fish Market/Restaurant who served us wonderful oysters in the half shell with Chardonay while we listened to two older gentlemen making music and singing for us, and watching the fishermen unload some amazing fish (like Opa) from their holds right next door... folks like that. And we enjoyed meeting most of the members of the Morro Bay Yacht Club.. I say most because there were a couple of less than friendlies... but I guess most clubs have those and we can live with that. But, it was time to go... and so, at 2100 hrs. on Friday, October 7th we bid adieu to our friends Jeanne and Tom on SV Eagle, slipped our lines and slid away into the dark, heading out the estuary and into open water once again. We turned our noses south, tuned into the GPS and headed off onto our next new course.

It occurred to me there may be some of you who aren't familiar with what 'slipping your lines and heading out' entails for a trip such as this... so, if you'll permit me, I'd like to step to the side and describe a 'moment in time' that time of preparing... for us. I've already talked about all the kinds of general preparation required to leave any dock for any trip, but there are even more things that must be done before heading out on what we now call a 'transit'. These transits aren't just another short jaunt off to the next harbour. The territory between where we've been and where we're going can be docile or it can be hostile or it can be both; and no amount of carefully crafted weather forecasts can guarantee which it will be. Both boat and crew must be prepared for the worst.. just in case. To that end we have to secure all moving equipment (inside and out) and that includes the books, dishes, clothing, electronics, couch cushions (seats and backs) anything and everything that can fall or be thrown. Some say "imagine your boat being picked up and turned upside-down. What moved? Fix it." As well, we have to prepare ourselves. Getting dressed to go out on deck feels, by the time you're done, like you've just put on one of those fluffy snow suits we used to wear as kids... like the Michelin dough boy. First your fleece layer, then a wind layer, then a couple more fleeces on top, then your rain/wind jacket, then your PFD... then the flashlight for your pocket, your kleenex, your glasses, and finally that thing we love to hate... the dreaded tether. I've never yelled at an inanimate object as much as I've yelled at my tether. When I want to go forward, it holds me back. When I want to turn around it stops me. When I want to move quickly across two lockers, it stops me in mid-air... or trips me... And if I have to get out of my PFD in a hurry (like, you know, when you gotta go and it's taken way too long to get below to do so....and you're in a hurry)... it gets all tangled up to make sure you have no quick way of unlatching it from the two D rings it's supposed to be connected to and then it hides the other end that, at some point or other, you stuffed in one of your many pockets to get out of the way... I think you get the picture... Anyway, we're not done yet. Then there's the sustenance issue. No one, and I repeat no one, is going to cook when the boat is doing a topsy turvey dance act... so you have to pre-plan what you're going to eat over the next 8, 10, or 30 hours .. whatever it is. While on watch we snack on cereal bars and juice boxes... stuff like that (maybe the occasional red licorice or salt-water taffy :-).. so they have to be easy to reach. Also, from time to time we try to act like civilized adults and have a meal. They can range from pre-made sandwiches to those bags of frozen one-pot dinners we've learned to heat up in our frying pan while suspended from the stove by a 'bum-strap'. It's quite simple really... if you have four arms :-) Then there's the actual watch system. We haven't perfected it yet. Many have... and they recommend 4 hour watches, or 3 hour, or... well you know... it goes on. We're settling in with the approx. 3 hour watches (give or take an hour depending on how we feel) and it works pretty well for the two of us. We set up our one long couch as a single 'hot bunk' with a lee cloth that holds us in place. It is amazingly comfortable and once we figured out how to wake each other up, it's working well. We now have an 'alarm bracelet' for use when the 'sleeper' is refusing to wake up and/or can't hear their alarm. It's a dog collar (thank you Sophie) worn as a bracelet, with a long string on it that reaches all the way out to the cockpit. Then, if the person on watch wants to wake the sleeper up, they need only pull on the string. It's amazing how your arm gently levitating off your pillow will wake you up - no problem.

OK that's enough prep. Let's get on with the trip. We headed out of Morro Bay and turned our noses south. Our main goal was to get around Point Conception (described as the "Cape Horn of the Pacific") unscathed by early morning, and then to carry on to the Channel Islands Yacht Harbor where we would stop for a day or two. Our plan was almost flawless. We did round Pt. Arguello and Pt. Conception without any problems... and without any wind (another motor-sail trip) and it turned out we were making such good time (picked up a current I think) that we would be passing Channel Island Yacht Harbor at midnight.. not a good time to stop. So, as in almost every other passage so far, we adjusted our plans and decided to continue south. At 1100 hrs., we found ourselves at Redondo Beach (the longest beach I've ever seen) and guests of the King Harbour Yacht Club. Our transit was calm and beautiful. The days were filled with beautiful scenery, clear blue skies, warm sunshine and visits from various mammals and birds. Our nights were filled with brilliant moonlight, shooting stars and glorious starlight displays. It never actually got dark. The moonlight and starlight were so bright there was always a horizon to be seen... no darkness. And the moon sinking into the sea was every bit as dazzling as the sun setting.

Finally,this morning, as we made our way down Santa Barbara Channel, we were treated to the most spectacular display of colour I'm sure mother nature could conjur up. As the dawn light began to show, there were wisps of clouds starting to swirl with the winds high up. They began as clear grey and then slowly changed from pastel to brilliant oranges and blacks. Then the warm glow of the rising sun began to climb, the clouds turned to the softest shade of pink... all of them, backed by the clear baby blue of the morning sky. This pink and blue display covered the entire sky and lasted for over half an hour... My little camera will be unable to capture the clarity but I tried anyway... we shall see how the photos turned out. The best of course, remains in my minds eye.

We're here at the yacht club now and have met up with several other BCA (Bluewater Cruising Association) boats. SV Iridium, Tahnoo and Sea Fever - all boats from our BC bluewater cruising group - are here. Some will continue south tomorrow and the rest of us will follow. For now, we catch up on our sleep and prep our little home for the next phase. We're very excited. We meet our friends Susan and George in Dana Point on Oct. 14th (5 more sleeps) and they will have Sophie (ships dog) with them too. Can't wait to see them all.

Our plans for now have us at Dana Point from Oct 13 to 17ish and then probably over to Avalon on Catalina Island. We're going to hang back from San Diego until after the Baha Haha has left (Oct. 24th) as the docks are/will be chocker-block full with the over 150 boats collecting to do the group rally down the coast of the Baja from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas.

We all walked out for an amazing feed of sushi tonight. Now we're all back at our respective boats, tucking ourselves in for a well-earned sleep. I may have trouble falling asleep tho'... without the throb of the diesel engine, the whine of the whirling auto-pilot, the beeping of the AIS and the annoying and often irrelevant broadcasts on the VHF by the seemingly too young and/or 'not finished training yet' Coast Guard youngsters.
Oh well... I can but try. Good night... CJ

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

the best 24 hours yet...

We had a great time in Monterey... we met wonderful folks, shared some fun times with the Monterey Yacht Club members, did some touristy things.. and generally enjoyed ourselves very much. Kathy's going to write more about our Monterey experience... I'm still so excited about our run down from Monterey to Morro Bay that I'm just going to jump right in to it. So here goes..

When we started dreaming about this adventure, and preparing our little ship and ourselves for the day we might just push off... we also dreamed of warm (or hot) sunny days, sparkling diamond seas, and just enough wind to keep things interesting without being too onerous. Well, let me tell you... we finally, after all this time, found just that. We left Monterey in a light fog (yes, after living in fog for weeks you start to clarify just how foggy it actually is :-). We'd fueled up and wound our way out of the harbour doing our best to miss the islands of sea lions laying about on the water.. and we'd managed to miss the huge piles of kelp that also look like small islands. We motored around Point Pinos and down the coast fairly close to land.. it was just beautiful. We motor-sailed (main up finally) past Carmel and Big Sur... and then, as the day warmed up the fog thinned out and disappeared and the wind filled in behind us and... away we went. It was fabulous !! It was everything that you imagine it could be. We weren't racing along, we weren't careening down huge waves, we weren't having to hold on particularly strongly. But we did have a terrific down-wind sail and it lasted pretty much all day. We were travelling with other boats for the first time and that was neat too. We had friends ahead of us to our starboard (a mile or so) and others behind us... and we kept in touch by radio from time to time. And then, as the afternoon light began to fade, and the sun began it's glorious descent towards the sea, we got ourselves fed and dressed properly for the cooler evening. The winds did pick up a bit more. In fact we put a second reef into the mainsail (we usually travel with the first reef in all the time while we're 'in transit'), and semi-furled the jib. Eventually we furled the jib all the way in and just ran on the main... we were doing about 4 knots and that's just fine for night runs. As well.. I really like reefing the main in daylight before I have to fumble around in the dark. We carried on into the night, under an amazing starlit sky. The milky way was huge... and stole the show for hours. Cassiopious was with us all night too (thank you Fred for teaching me about old Cassy...). Every time I see this constellation I'm instantly transported back to the cockpit of Zephra where Fred and I spent many a good hour talking about life as we helped Jim deliver his yacht to Cabo. Fred told me about Cassiopious and she's been kind of a symbol for me ever since. Anyway, I digress. The sky was magnificant !! The moon came up bright as ever, stayed with us most of the night, and then changed to a burning glow as it sunk slowly into the sea and disappeared. It was one of those nights that will stay with me forever. It was the best of the best for night watches. We travelled all night and into dawn's early grey light, arriving just off the entrance to Morro Bay about 1020 hrs.. Our friends on SV Eagle had gone in before us and secured moorage at the Morro Bay Yacht Club (MBYC ironically the same initials as our own YC) and we rafted to them. We're here in the cutest coastal California town I've ever seen. It's like stepping back into the 1960's. It's just great.. and that's a 'good thing' as the weather our friends are having in BC is now sweeping down the coast and giving us rain and gusts to 35 knots... It's a good time to be snug as a bug and safe in harbour. We hope the forecasts are correct and the winds and seas will die down by the weekend, at which time we'll head back out and continue our trek south. We're excited about meeting Susan and George and Sophie (the ships dog) in Dana Point around mid-month. We were disappointed to learn that the Santa Barbara marina is under renos and we won't be able to go there.. but the good thing is there's lots of other places to visit :-). So for now my friends... adieu... I must get to work... chores await me. And... our friend Tom has found a place that sells his favourite beer in pitchers for $6 each... we must continue our culinary quest for the bestest and cheapest beer... and the bestest food (PS: there's an oyster place here... can't wait :-). Bye for now... Carolyn
PS: Our friends Jeanne and Tom have a very nice blog at . If you go there now, you'll see a photo of Shannon and their boat rafted at the Morro Bay Yacht Club.. and Jeanne's written a good piece on transiting from her point of view...