Sailing away with Nikk and Jan

Archive for October, 2012

26 Miles Across the Sea

Twenty-six miles across the sea
Santa Catalina is a-waitin’ for me
Santa Catalina, the island of
romance, romance, romance, romance. Four Preps 1958

I have to confess that the tune and lyrics to that song were stuck in my head for way too long. Oliver Sachs calls these ditties that go round and round in the mind “brain worms”. Leaving Monterey on Thursday October 18 we expected to land on Santa Cruz Island, the Channel Island nearest to Santa Barbara, stay a night or two, then sail to Santa Catalina Island, 70 miles away.
As soon as “Santa Catalina” became fixed in my brain, so did the song. Do any of you experience the strange phenomenon of having a song pop up in your mind when hearing or reading a phrase associated with the song? And it doesn’t go away unless you supplant it with another song, which has to have a very catchy tune or it doesn’t work. And then, guess what? That tune stays fixed for way too long. So….off we went out of Monterey Bay, with sea lions doing water ballet, the water calm and friendly, and a ditty about romance stuck in my brain.


But all things change, and as soon as we rounded the cape containing Pebble Beach Golf Course, no more calm, instead winds of 20-25 knots right on the bow, and 2-3 foot choppy waves, causing the boat to bound up and down, and water to spray over the bow and right onto the windscreen. Even worse, we could only motor about 1-2 knots over water, and were seeing the same trees on the shore for over half an hour. At this point Nikk gave up, turned the boat around, and we had quite the fast sail up the coast we’d so slowly passed before, and back to Monterey. Our disappointment was eased somewhat by an evening stroll down the harbor to Cannery Row, a very filling dinner at a Mexican restaurant, and a waddle back along the harbor to the boat for what we hoped would be our last night in Monterey. We heard that 4 of the 5 boats that left in the morning to head south had to turn back. The only boat that didn’t was much larger than ours.

The next morning we left at 6am, in the muted light before dawn, with fishing boats all around us heading out for their workplace on the bay or ocean. Fog pressed in, with visibility of a quarter mile, and our eyes raptly peering at the fog and at the radar. Rounding the cape by Pebble Beach once more, there was no wind, just fog, and eerie light shining through the fog from the now sunny inland areas. In fact, there was almost no wind, contrary to predictions, and once again we motored and motored, on past Morro Bay about 1 am, and down to Point Conception, a much-feared area for sailors and boats in general, where the land turns inward to the east, and winds usually howl. Not so for us, the seas were only long, three-foot swells as we came around headed for Santa Barbara before sunset of the second day. We hoped we could get fuel and moor before the light failed. We didn’t get fuel, had to wait until the next day to take on about $130 worth, but the harbormaster checked us in, even though it was Saturday night, and came aboard to put a little fluorescent pellet in our toilet, which would show if we flushed anything from the head into the marina. We found that the marina is huge, the nearest marina toilet was about a quarter mile away, maybe farther, so there were many forced marches to the bathrooms in order not to use our holding tank.
The next morning we found out two huge yachts moored across from us had been burglarized overnight. Despite that, Santa Barbara looks like a wonderful town to visit or go to college, with scenic vistas of ocean and mountains and palm trees all around. The Breakfront Restaurant served brunch on Sunday morning out on a patio surrounded by Bird of Paradise plants. The whole marina area is filled with restaurants and shops, walkways and piers, and like Monterey, lots of boats whose business is tourism. We sailed out of Santa Barbara around noon, headed for Santa Cruz Island, and Smuggler’s Cove.


The Channel Islands are supposedly lovely, I wish I had some pictures to put up on this site, but we anchored in Smuggler’s Cove right at sunset, left at 5 am, sailed and motored across to the fabled Santa Catalina Island, sailed down almost the whole eastern side of the island, and arrived at Avalon at sunset, just in time to pay $28 to tie up to a mooring ball in the harbor. Here is a picture of Nikk handing his credit card to the Harbor Patrol.


Channel Island National Park is a link to go to see some beautiful pictures of the Channel Islands that I didn’t get to take.

We dug a steak out of the freezer for Nikk, and I polished off the last of the mac and cheese with green beans and tomatoes, supplemented with green salad and ginger snap cookies for dessert. Not our typical restaurant fare, but tasty all the same. Once again we went to bed at 9pm and got up at 5am, and I composed a song, sung to “9 to 5” by Dolly Parton.
Sleeping Nine to Five
Jan has nightmares that aren’t pleasant.
Sleeping Nine to Five
Nikk’s dream gives him lots of presents.

In case you wonder what we do all day out there on the ocean when there’s not much sailing going on, sometimes it’s composing cheesy song lyrics! Wish I could report that there was a lot of romance on Santa Catalina Island, perhaps on shore in the hotels, mansions, and condos there was, but on our boat it was two tired sailors who ate dinner, drank wine, and fell asleep as soon as our heads touched the pillows of the v-berth. I did get one picture as we left the following morning for San Diego.


The wind was behind us all the way to San Diego, which meant motor sailing, in order to reach San Diego Bay (60 miles away) by sunset. Balance was flying the mainsail, yankee and staysail, really clipping right along, even went over 7 knots a few times, which is great for this boat. I am so glad we have the radar, because we could not tell Point Loma, the entrance to the Bay, from other landmarks until we were within a few miles. The radar kept us on course, letting us set the auto helm to steer until the last 10 miles before Point Loma, and then see the lighted buoys we needed to find to motor the 10 miles up the Bay in the dark to the marina. Strange end to the day, motoring past downtown San Diego, with its huge buildings lit up with megawatts of electricity, past milk jugs with glow sticks inside them, attached to lobster pots right next to the shipping channel, then suddenly lots of little speedy watercraft with Navy men wearing glow stick armbands, headed out to sea with a cutter and helicopter following along to do who knows what night exercises. More motoring past huge Navy ships docked at gigantic piers (we definitely saw where some of our tax dollars are going) and finally we found Pier 32 Marina up a little dredged channel near a wetland.

This is a wonderful marina, with pool, spa, boater’s lounge, restaurant, and very helpful staff. We’ve been here for a week exploring the area, doing boat projects, getting our paperwork in order for entering Mexico, shopping, and sometimes just relaxing. There are quite a few people here living aboard, and we were lucky enough to be here for the end-of-the-month potluck up in the boater’s lounge and out on the deck overlooking the marina. One day we borrowed bikes for free from the marina and biked down to the Living Coast Discovery Center, which sits right in the middle of an area with marshes, tide flats, and the mouth of Sweetwater Creek, a very important native hunting and fishing site before they were supplanted by ranchers and then development. In fact, this whole area of National City where the marina is located was once part of a 26,000 acre ranch with citrus and olive groves, and cattle. The Discovery Center was home to a huge art project which took over 7000 pounds of collected beach trash from southern Oregon and turned it into art with a marine theme. Here is Nikk in front of one of the sculptures.


Living Coast Discovery Center

It certainly has gotten me thinking about how much stuff I use that is made with plastic, and trying to use less. One time I tried to go a month without buying anything plastic, it was very difficult. But many birds and animals are suffering because of ingesting plastic, or getting tangled in it, and I would like that to lessen or cease.

Another long blog, and in two days we leave for Ensenada and the long trip down the Baja California coast (in Spanish, baja means lower than, or inferior, as well as “south”, so Mexico prefers using Baja California, but now that I’ve said this, I know I will type Baja because it takes so much less time!) I’ll try to blog from Ensenada, then we will be disconnected from phones and internet for a while, back to life as it was before the 90’s, while we stay in lagoons and sheltered coves.

Tales of Three Bays and Two Voyages

If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water. Loren Eiseley

That’s one of the quotes from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and sums up our experience there yesterday. It’s possible to wander for hours, almost overwhelmed by the beauty contained in the 28-foot high kelp forest teeming with fish, the new Jellies Experience, which really is a psychedelic tour of these ephemeral, wildly-colored ancient creatures, and the movies and talks in the auditorium, especially the Mysteries of the Deep, which has video taken by the submersible going down into the 12,000 foot deep canyon in Monterey Bay and recording the startling animals seen far below. As we journey by motor and sail on the surface of the ocean I often imagine the teeming life going on under our boat as we pass over, unseen by us unless it surfaces for brief moments.




This segment of the trip started last Thursday in San Francisco, with rain greeting us right after anchoring in Aquatic Park and paddling ashore in the kayaks. The lure of chocolate was strong, since we were right below Ghirardelli Square, so off we went to sample and purchase way more chocolate than was good for us. Restraint over the past week means we still have some chocolate bars left to nibble on while on the next leg of the journey. Part of the reason we have chocolate left is due to the amazing meals we’ve enjoyed. Here is a brief summary: red snapper with butter/caper sauce, saffron rice, broccoli and sourdough bread at Nick’s Lighthouse Restaurant at Fisherman’s Wharf; Pan Asian Singaporean food at Straits, near Powell & Market, delicious vegetable curry, seafood risotto, shrimp and mussel pad thai; pumpkin curry soup, penne pasta with walnut pesto sauce, mahi mahi with garlic mashed potatoes and fried kale at Flavors in Half Moon Bay; crepes with caramelized onions, spinach, mushrooms and brie at Crepes of Brittany in Monterey at the marina; smoked salmon panini with tomatoes and fresh greens, and a salad of greens, caramelized walnuts, goat cheese and balsamic vinaigrette at Paluca Trattoria again at the Monterey marina where we’re berthed. I have cooked some meals too, but nothing that compares to the gastronomic delights mentioned above. Even though dining out gets expensive, it supports local restaurants, uses mostly local ingredients, treats us, and let’s me give readers ideas for meals. Since I have no mortgage, no car, no utility payments, and very few other expenses except marina berthing, I can treat us to meals with no regrets. And we got to visit with my cousin Pat and her daughter Beth, who works finding homes for the homeless in San Francisco, when we dined at Straits, and do more visiting with Marian and Jan (my former mother-in-law and sister-in-law) at Flavors.

Nikk and I spent all afternoon Friday traipsing around downtown San Francisco; walking up to the top of Lombard from Fisherman’s Wharf, down the “world’s most curvy street”, continuing on Lombard up to Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill with it’s 1930’s murals of workers, down, down the concrete and wooden steps, past lovely gardens, on into the industrial area near the Embarcadero, where we found Sue Bierman Park on the waterfront and also found about 100 Amazonian Parrots, the remnants of the flock documented in the book and movie “The Parrots of Telegraph Hill”. Their noisy squawking made it easy to spot them in some bedraggled trees. Another 100 more are said to be in San Bruno now. I was thrilled to find them! The day ended with two cable car rides up and down the very steep hills of San Francisco.



Sailing out of the Bay was made more interesting by the presence of about 150 swimmers in the Bay, in a race at 8am from the St. Francis Yacht Club to Aquatic Park. I can’t even imagine how cold that water feels, since it was about 57 degrees according to our water sensor on the boat.
Unlike the two gray days in SF, the weather was sunny and crisp for the six-hour sail to Half Moon Bay, and no big ships to dodge, either. Sailing/motoring to Monterey Bay on Sunday was another matter entirely. The forecast said “patchy fog”, so off we went at 7 am, into the fog with our eyes glued on the radar. The sun kept trying to break through, creating mysterious, scintillating patterns of light.

It wasn’t until afternoon when we had almost reached Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay at about 1pm, that Sol shone full on us, and then the NW winds began, tossing the boat on 6-8 foot seas. Sailing over the 12,000 foot deep trench in Monterey Bay made the waves even more ferocious, which is counter to sailing reasoning, perhaps it was the strengthening winds. We had to hand steer the last few hours, but finally made it past Point Pinos and the lighthouse/rocks, and into the relative calm of the Monterey marina just at sunset. The loud barking and moaning of the sea lions perched on the pilings nearby kept us company all night long.


Today was laundry day, and also repairing the low oil pressure sensor (with time off for the delicious lunch), blog writing and finally at 4pm it’s time to explore low tide in the kelp beds with our kayaks. The high pressure system has parked itself for another day, creating high winds for tomorrow, so we will not leave until Thursday. We’ve found another boat to sail with us to Morro Bay. With every marina we get closer to Mexico.

Family Trees and Other Trees

     The great gift of family life is to be intimately aquainted with people you might never even introduce yourself to, had life not done it for you.   Kendall Hailey                                  The Day I Became an Autodidact

      Families are like fudge…..mostly sweet with a few nuts.   Anonymous


The past few weeks Nikk and I have driven to Portland from Eureka and back (Sept. 23-30), “sailed” from Eureka to Alameda (Oct 1-3), and moored at the Grand Marina in Alameda to do boat projects and visit with the Quant side of my family (Oct 4-10).


For those interested in the mundane world of boat projects, here is what has been accomplished despite the distractions of family, exploring Alameda, and sunny days in the 70’s:  check oil in the transmission and check the alternator belt (so far it sounds just like maintaining a car), change the raw water impeller, shop for gear, fill the propane tanks, mount solar lights on the railing, put a grab rail on the dodger (the cover over the cabin top), install a new light over the counter, clean out the seaweed-filled engine strainer, then discover a cracked engine mount (disaster) but thanks to my cousin Al, whose boat is moored here at Grand Marina, find Mario, who welded it back together again for only $30.  Luckily attaching the engine mount and aligning the engine went off without a hitch thanks to an old board that Nikk hadn’t thrown away and could use as a pry bar.

I’ve been able to spend a lot of time reconnecting with my cousins and Aunt Marge, my mother’s one remaining sister, who is 89 and still lives in her 1895 Victorian home in Alameda, thanks to the cousins taking turns staying overnight and hiring help during the day.  We even found that Cousin Shel’s son Jeremy and my son Jesse look a lot alike, much to everyone’s surprise, especially  Jesse’s and Jeremy’s.

A family potluck at the Alameda house brought together all the cousins and even some grandchildren of cousins.  All the cousins but one live within a 30 minute drive, and Al has a boat moored here at Grand Marina and is often here getting ready to sail to Mexico in November.

Pat, Shel, me, Al and Cor iand the lemon tree

Alameda is a lovely place to visit, with a small-town feel despite having 70,000 people.  Serious settlement began around 1871, when the railroad arrived, and there are still many Victorian homes surviving from the late 19th century.  We have spent many happy hours and dozens of miles walking around Alameda, viewing architecture and plantings.  The victorians remind me of NW Portland, but seeing hibiscus, bougainvilla, and bird-of-paradise plants in yards are sure signs that we are much farther south than Portland.


While growing up in Metzger I spent a lot of time down in the “woods”, in the forest of cedars and firs, with Ash Creek flowing through and making several ponds.  Now it’s almost all houses, but my mind loves the peace and stillness of any forest to this day, and I was excited to visit the redwoods in the Lady Bird Johnson Grove in Redwood National Park while on the way back from Portland to Eureka.  Trying to get a picture of a redwood without a wide-angle lens reduces the grandeur, so I found a gigantic burned-out trunk with subtle colors.  It could be a home for elves, though a tad drafty.


Much to our surprise, cousins Shel and Al took us on a hike through forest near Lake Chabot, in the Oakland hills, ten minutes over the hill from the Oakland Freeway, and minutes by foot from urban sprawl.  Portland has miles of trails to hidden gems of natural beauty, but I hadn’t expected to find an oasis of oaks, willows, redwoods and eucalypts surrounding San Leandro Creek, which flows with rushing water over huge boulders and creates waterfalls in the spring.  Lake Chabot lay at the mouth of the creek, a reservoir created in 1875, and used as backup water for the East Bay.

Lake Chabot at sunset


This blog has almost no mention of sailing, does it?  Balance got to sail on the leg from Eureka to San Francisco Bay.  We left around 11 am, after waiting for the fog to lift, and in a hurry because a gale of 35 knots was expected by late afternoon for over 10 miles offshore, and down to Point Arena.  We made it past Cape Mendocino by 4pm, staying 4-6 miles offshore most of the time.  We kept waiting for the NW winds that were forecast to arrive, seeing no other boats, finally on the second day the winds picked up to 14-18 knots from the NW and Moo was steering heroically, until after Pt. Arena swells from the gale up north caught us and caused wild careening from side to side.  Moo didn’t like it and neither did my stomach, luckily we only had a few more miles to go and we were on the calm seas leading up to the mouth of the Bay by just after sunrise.  A few hours later and things got scary just as we crossed from north to south to enter the Bay;  a destroyer decided to pass a tug pulling a container ship, we barely made it in front of the tug and behind the destroyer.  These are the moments that try our seamanship on a tiny boat like Balance, especially with the confused and choppy waters leading under the Golden Gate Bridge, but it was two happy sailors that finally sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge and onward across the Bay to Alameda.


Now we “sail” over to Fisherman’s Wharf tomorrow morning, to anchor in Aquatic Park for a couple of nights, then down to Half Moon Bay and Monterey, and off for San Diego and preparations for sailing in Mexico at the end of October.  While in San Francisco I hope to see some of “The Parrots of Telegraph Hill”, if any of the flock still remains that was documented in a book and movie of the same name.

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