Out the Gate, and Back Again – Part 1

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In our last post we wondered “Is all this necessary”, referring to that pile of charts, plotters, guides and more on our table before our sail to Monterey Bay. As it turns out it was, but that wasn’t a bad thing at all. All that effort charting our course out the ‘Gate’ of San Francisco Bay and down the coast to Santa Cruz and Monterey meant safety, comfort, security and confidence – plus a ton of incredible sailing!

So, here’s the whole tale of our trip. This is a long one, so prepare yourself! Can’t be helped though – there’s just so much to tell!  Oh, and many of the pictures are links to the online albums on Picasa, so don’t forget to click on them too. So, back to the start – in the Bay.

Our plan from the beginning was to pass by Half Moon Bay and sail straight on to Santa Cruz in one run. This is only because we’ve been to HMB before and were excited to get to where we were going. Plus we’ve done HMB, and had our sights set on the beyond. To do this, we would have to leave VERY early, knowing it would take a minimum of 12 hours to get there. Our goal was to make it to Santa Cruz before dark, not because sailing in the dark is such a problem, but because arriving in an unfamiliar harbor in the dark kinda is. To make it a tiny bit shorter, we decided to depart from Ayala Cove on Angel Island in the Bay, a location close to the Golden Gate Bridge, cutting a solid hour or more off the trip. We loaded the boat with supplies at our slip in Emeryville, filled the water tanks and headed out to Ayala Cove. But, as these things go, we immediately noticed a problem.

While moving the boat from Emery Cove to Ayala Cove, we had discovered that our autopilot – the very useful piece of equipment that steers the boat so you don’t have to for hours on end – was NOT working. We poked, we prodded, but no solution presented itself. Facing the imminent expense of a full replacement, we had a choice – cancel the trip because “Otter” (as Lydia refers to it) doesn’t work, or go anyway and deal with the problem later. For this trip – certainly not a days-long passage through nights and days across an ocean – we responded with a resounding “Oh yeah, we’re going!”

But then, problem number 2 reared its ugly head – a diesel leak inside the boat. Sitting at Angel Island, we had kinda noticed a smell. Assuming the engine had been running rich and that was all, we went to bed that night fully planning to leave by 5 am the next morning. But, waking up the next morning, the smell was still there, and strong. Christian poked around and found it – a pool of diesel a few inches think just under the Racor fuel filter – ugg! We’re not goin’ anywhere today!

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Angel Island - Click for full album

The good part of this was that we had the pleasure of spending a full day at our favorite spot on SF Bay, and the girls took full advantage of it. They kayaked and kicked around on the beach, while we worked a few kinks out of our still-new outboard and dinghy, and of course cleaned up that diesel spill and aired out the boat. By the end of the day, the diesel was sopped up, the dinghy was hummin’ and the girls were pooped – back to the plan! Set the alarm for oh-my-gosh-30 the next day.

We ‘slipped the lines’ by about 530 am that next morning and passed under the Golden Gate as the sun began to rise. We had timed our departure for the tides, knowing that the best tide for passing beneath the Gate is neither during a strong ebb (when the tides are receding) or during a strong flood (when the tides are coming in), rather during a slack (the time between ebbs and floods) or at the end of an ebb. We had also examined the weather forecasts for the days ahead – winds were predicted to be modest (good), ocean swells were to be small (good), and cloud cover and the marine fog were minimal (also good). And so, with the rising sun and the receding fog, we passed under the gate on our first ‘solo’ coastal sailing experience. We were elated!

Even with the modest predictions, the water outside the gate was its typical self – a bit more windy than planned, and a bit more swelly. It’s just like that out there between the sand bars that form the entrance to SF Bay. But we were impressed with Dragonfly’s solid feel as we passed over each swell, and learned quickly to keep those swells at a bit of an angle as we encountered each one. With that approach, we comfortably rose up the front of each roll and settled gently down each sloping backside, rather than crashing through them like we were storm troopers. Alas, one missed heading and we did take a few a bit too straight-on – all was fine with the boat and us, but we did wake up the, until then, sleeping girls. Sorry!

Under the Bridge - Click for full album

Under the Golden Gate Bridge - Click for full album.

After that excitement, we all just settled in to an incredibly comfortable motor-sail south toward Santa Cruz. We lost our wind (as the forecast said we would), but had just enough to keep our sails full as assistance to our engine. This lets us run the engine at a lower RPM and burn less fuel. The alternative would be sailing along at about 2 – 3 knots, perfectly fine if you’re not concerned about arriving anywhere at any particular time. On this day, we did have a schedule, so on with the motor!

Along the way, we just enjoyed ourselves. The girls, who usually like to spend time below in the cabins of the boat playing and watching DVD’s, found that they had to spend more time in the cockpit with us or risk seasickness. The swelly conditions along the coast are just different from what their stomachs are used to on the Bay. But we have a big dodger and bimini (like a windshield and awning) protecting our cockpit from wind and sun, making for a truly lounge-like space. We made balloon animals (uh-huh – more like balloon-what-are-those??) and played other stuff like that for hours. Watching the ocean also turns out to be a lot like watching a campfire – you get sort of sucked in and just begin staring at it. The water ripples, bubbles, swells, and changes all the time. It’s truly mesmerizing. So, with balloon-aliens, water-staring games, and driving the boat (curse you, Otter!), who has time for anything else? The time passed amazingly fast.

Soon, we were approaching the Pt. and Island of Ano Nuevo, a location I remember from my past as a student scientist at UC Santa Cruz. Ano Nuevo is a protected coastline and island that is used by large groups of Elephant Seals, Steller’s Sea Lions and many different bird species. The island is a research station as well, with old buildings in ruins from days past and newer buildings for researchers. Long ago, I went to the island to assist in the rescue of 2 baby Steller’s Sea Lion pups who had been abandoned by their mothers. I told the girls the whole tale as we sailed past the island now, remembering that day 15 years earlier pretty clearly, considering!

Just after Ano Nuevo, the ‘party’ got going, so to speak. Swells started building a little, and the wind kicked up too. On a sailboat, the wind is vital  – of course – but too much can be dangerous. When this particular party kicked up so fast, we needed to reduce the size of our sails, called furling and reefing. The furling was fine – that’s rolling the sail at the bow (the jib) so less of it is out to the wind. The reefing of the main sail, um, didn’t go so well at first. Let’s just say we haven’t worked out all of the literal kinks in the lines involved, and we felt the brunt of that at that moment. It all worked out fine, but before it was over we had lost forward movement and been turned sideways to the swells, at the ‘mercy of the sea’ as they say. They were only 8-foot swells, but still, a bit tossy-turny when you have no control. I quickly powered up the engine and turned us back into the swells while Christian went forward to the mast to work out the reefing kink. After that, we were back in business. Still, though, losing control even for an instant was a good reminder for us to keep on our game. Pay attention!

We paid close attention as we passed Long Marine Lab on the cliff tops just north of Santa Cruz, the site of many years of my student days back at UCSC. Then we rounded Pt. Santa Cruz and came within site of the actual town, complete with its long pier of restaurants and shops, amazing ocean-front homes, and, of course, the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. I can’t even describe the girls’ excitement at seeing the Boardwalk through the binoculars – “that’s big!” they exclaimed.  Then, with a call on the VHF radio to the Harbormaster at Santa Cruz’s ‘Small Craft Harbor’, we were assured a berth for Dragonfly as well as safe entry through the jetty walls into the harbor. We passed through (me again recalling more days past spent kayaking in and out of that very point), pivoted Dragonfly 180 degrees, and came to rest on a side-tie spot at the very center of it all. Just as we landed, a furry Sea Otter surfaced with his latest meal just 5 feet from the boat, and the girls rushed to deck to watch. Christian and I looked at each other and smiled like little kids – we’re here!

Next, Part 2 of our story…

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