A two-part sea story – the California Coast

Welcome to a small sea story that turns out well, in two parts:
(1) a shakedown cruise along the California coast, and
(2) the outrageous Baja Ha-Ha cruisers rally from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

while reading the narrative you may click on any thumbnail image to enlarge it
if you just want to view the story in a slide show, click on the thumbnail and turn up your speakers

Part I: San Francisco to San Diego

How it began:  a serendipitous meeting in Seattle — Latitude 48° N

It began when I serendipitously met John Garteiz in Seattle.  We struck up a conversation and within 10 minutes I had agreed to be crew on his Nordic 40 sloop from Alameda, CA to San Diego, and then continue on the Baja Ha-Ha 2011 Cruisers Rally to Cabo San Lucas at the southern tip of the Mexican Baja peninsula.   He called it a shakedown cruise – a phrase I dismissed as insignificant and only later learned the full ramifications.  Friends advised that I do some due diligence before signing on, but to this day I’m puzzled how and why I made this decision on the spot – without angst or a thread of regret.  I just shook John’s hand and agreed to meet him in Alameda, CA in a week on October 11.  I trusted my intuition and I knew the reputation of the Nordic yacht.  Beyond that I threw caution to the winds and jumped into the swimming pool before checking to see if there was any water in it.

Tuesday October 11  Oakland airport to Alameda CA  — Latitude 37.8° N

Arctic Tern III in Alameda, CAArctic Tern IIIJohn met me at the Oakland airport and after a five minute shuttle I was being introduced to Arctic Tern III at Svendsen’s Boat Works in Alameda.  She hailed from Whittier, Alaska (latitude 61.2.8° N).  Since she had come further than any boat entered in the Baja Ha-Ha it turned out to be a frequent conversation starter.  Arctic Tern III is a Robert H. Perry design Nordic 40.  Coincidentally, friend Al Knesal had emailed me about the reputation of the Robert Perry designs (his blue-ribbon designs include Tayana, Islander Freeport, Lafitte 44 as well as the Nordic 40 and 44 and others).  Al had commented in particular about the Nordic 40:”expensive, but a ‘keeper’ if you can find one.  Top notch gear and build, and fully insulated.  No bad habits.”  About 40 were built, and Arctic Tern III has the distinction of being Hull #1, built in Bellingham WA in the early 80’s, when as one surveyor put it: “nobody in the U.S. was building a better boat.” Initially I couldn’t decide whether hull #1 was a good or a bad thing, but after our first storm I was convinced of her robustness andArctic Tern III interior manners.  By 1987, market pressure had forced cutbacks (from rod to wire rigging, for example), and around 1992 or so, the company folded, a casualty of the folly of Congress’s luxury tax.  The V-birth was to be my private space for the next 3 weeks.

Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon

John (left) and Howard

John getting a tour from the bartender

Bar tender's tour

Who can sail out of the Alameda estuary without paying deference to a great American author, Jack London, (perhaps best remembered for authoring The Sea Wolf) with a visit to his old haunt, Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon?

It got its long-winded name in the 1920s, when nearby Alameda was a dry city —people traveling by ferry from Oakland to Alameda had their first and last chance for a cold beer at this port-side bar.  Jack London worked, studied and wrote there.

The wooden building stands as a diminutive anomaly to progress, surrounded by cement and glass office buildings.  You can touch and smell the wooden beams of an old whaling ship from which it was constructed, get a private historical tour from the bartender, or even buy a drink.  We enjoyed the former and skipped the latter.

Thursday October 13  Alameda to Half Moon Bay — Latitude 37.5° N

Departing Alameda at sunrise

Departing Alameda at sunrise

Alameda harbor

With several upgrades now completed by Svendsen’s, we motored out of the Alameda estuary at sunrise, followed a course parallel to the Oakland Bay Bridge on the starboard, and then took watched downtown San Francisco.  Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Presidio and Fort Point, pass slowly by — giving me adequate time to flood my mind with nostalgic memories of working and playing there in the 70’s and 80’s.

San Francisco panoramaViewing this great city from the waterfront provides a unique perspective on my many land memories.

Coit TowerSan Francisco waterfront“I was there”, and “I was there” and “I was there”.  Leaving via Arctic Tern III is both casting off the dock and casting off earth memories.

Golden Gate BridgePanoramaThe thrill of sailing outbound under the magnificent Golden Gate bridge, gateway to the Pacific, came at 0920 hours.  Now I have completed my goal to sail into the Atlantic under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge (world’s 8th longest suspension bridge completed in 1964) and out the Pacific under the Golden Gate (7th largest suspension bridge completed in 1937). Oakland Bay BridgeGolden Gate bridge

These bridges have been photographed from every angle, but the shots from underneath are my personal favorites.

Fort PointThe Bay narrows under the Bridge and forms a narrow opening about 1 mile wide, squeezing and amplifying the Pacific rollers and alternately lifting and gently setting us down the troth and slowing our progress.

Bonita Point

Abeam Bonita Point

Then we come abeam Bonita Point, marking the Bay’s gaping mouth — a sort of last chance to turn around. Now there is no doubt that we are fully prepared and willing to test our mettle in the broad Pacific.  Are my shivers from the thrill of seeing this great city from this viewpoint or from  the cold that seeps through my long underwear?

Half Moon Bay, CA harbor google map

Half Moon Bay harbor

Half Moon bay harbor entrance

Half Moon Bay harbor entrance

Our first leg seems ridiculously short… but prudent.  We sail to Half Moon Bay – 18 miles south on our planned 900 mile journey.  Arctic Term III and her crew prove seaworthy.

Friday October 14  Half Moon Bay to Moss Landing — Latitude 36.8° N
The weather is chilly but improved.  We depart Half Moon Bay at exactly sunrise – motoring in flat winds and seas.  At mid-day we attempt to raise sails and coax out 3 knots of speed, but after 30 minutes of wishful thinking we give up and accede to Mother Nature’s reality.  Motoring on with one ear monitoring the reassuring steadiness of  our Yanmar diesel, we elect to pass Santa Cruz and Monterey and stretch for Moss Landing.

My Garmin “GPSmap 76CSx” handheld GPS is the best piece of sailing gear I’ve ever owned.  It has flawlessly guided me from East to Gulf to West coasts, and it has never made an error. The history of my sailing is stored in its memory.  Do you want to know exactly where Oriental, NC or Clearwater, FL are?  Just give me a paper chart and my handheld GPS for backup, and with its 1 ½” by 2 ½” screen, I can navigate anywhere.

Its virtues are reliability, portability and redundancy. Its two chief flaws are (1) waypoint entry is tedious, and (2) it won’t warn me or correct my entry errors.  Newer models are only somewhat more user-friendly and the screens are slightly easier to read.  Who needs the latest and the greatest, since the GPS accuracy is exactly the same… a point the manufacturer would prefer you didn’t realize.  These units are available on eBay for under $100.  At noon I dial up the Moss landing waypoint and it instantly tells me what I need to know…  that we can make it there before sunset.

Most cruisers elect to stop in Monterey, an attractive stopover because of its convenient location, preservation of its history, and attractions such as Cannery Row and the world-class aquarium.  But we choose to make more miles during daylight.  Moss Landing is a bit further, a bit out of the way, and a bit smaller.  So it’s our decision to take this road less traveled.

Moss Landing Range (transit)

navigating PRECISELY on the range (transit)

Moss Landing harbor google may

Moss Landing harbor

We enter the harbor near sunset and squeeze through a narrow, shallow channel.   I pride myself on running the range (also called a transit)  PRECISELY on the channel center-line, and we creep along poised to respond to kissing the bottom.  At the end of the channel, just when we are running out of water, we find the Elkhorn Yacht Club.  John is in his yachting digs and hailing the nearest person on the dock.  In short order we are wildly surprised by the generosity and reception from Club members.

This small out-of-the-way town, kid sister to Monterey, became the center of our Universe.  The yacht club’s website fancies that this is a hidden jewel on the shores of Monterey Bay. “Friend or foe” was answered with a chorus of “Friend.” Members found for us a free birth where there was none available, albeit rafted up to the floating pump out station.  It was not a five star location, yet we enjoyed the convenience of a shore head about 10 feet from our toerail, and the price was right.  We were welcomed like celebrities and hosted with a tour, and food and drinks.  John, being his effervescent self, coaxed a few old salts to regale us with authentic yet well embellished sea stories.  The only credentials we needed for membership in this club/community were arrival via sail, our own story to tell, and a smile matching theirs.

This is an evening of making instant friends of strangers, and proof positive of Robert Frost’s timeless sentiment:

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Saturday October 15  Moss Landing to Morrow Bay — Latitude 35.4° N

Moss Landing channelWe tiptoe out of Moss Landing harbor under fog before the town is awake, and we are immediately greeted with southwest winds and chop.  So we decide to go offshore on a long tack.  In the afternoon the winds built to 25 knots and 8 foot seas.  John goes forward to put in the #1 reef in the main, and we furl the headsail to its first reefing point to balance the rig.  I stay on deck to fight sea sickness.

Years ago I learned two things about sea sickness:  (1) my pattern on the open sea is to be sick on the first day; to be able to go below but not read on the second day; and on the third day I’m as good as new and able to read below deck.  I have become familiar with this pattern, and I function with it.  A few unlucky people, who can’t keep food or liquids down, continue to lose liquids to the point it becomes life-threatening.  They must pay a severe penalty – return to land and avoid offshore trips.  OUCH!

Sea sickness is such a mental game!  Your first bout with it is so very unpleasant you don’t forget it.  Then on the next trip the fear of being sick takes over your mind… and that makes everything worse.  Most people experiment with one or more of the sea sickness preventatives, and find a solution they believe in.  But is the medicine real or a placebo?  Would they have been sick if they had skipped the bacon and egg breakfast and substituted two days of light eating and saltines for their first onboard meal?

For the uninitiated sea sickness appears to debilitate you by making you so weak you can’t do anything.  But this is not so.  Sea sickness does not sap your strength, it takes away your will to do anything!  Experienced sailors know this distinction and continue to do their watch duties in spite of feeling like they want to die. Whether the agony is emotional or physical, sometimes there is nothing in life to do except put one foot in front of the other and keep walking forward.

At sea or in life, how you feel is not a legitimate barometer of what you can do or achieve.

I stood my watch without complaint, and only after a day passed was I able to feel like myself and begin appreciate what old salts know:  if it weren’t for sea sickness everyone would sail.

Sunday October 16:  enroute to Morrow Bay
John and I alternate sailing Arctic Tern III through the night, in 4 hour shifts.  Winds are steady at 10 knots from the south and 2 foot seas make it easy going – but in the wrong direction.  Our destination is directly upwind and we can only manage 3 knots speed (velocity made good) on a close reach. An overcast morning blankets the sunrise, but by 10 am the head winds abate, speed increases, and my trusty Garmin calculates an ETA of 1830 hours at Morrrow Bay.  I spend my turn at the helm reflecting on the why I subject myself to hours or misery for a few brief moments of bliss and relishing the possibility of a hot shower and clean laundry and a good night’s sleep.

Sometimes it’s not about the sailing; it’s about “relationshipping” – with self and others!  After all, what could be more intense than being thrown into close quarters with someone you just met, whose capabilities you barely know and who hasn’t yet earned your trust, but whose life is in your hands?  Add the requirement that you must perform physical challenges on deck or at the helm during day or night in an unfamiliar vessel, in physical misery, without a single lapse in attention.  Then add chilling wind, clammy wetness, discomfort and nausea. And then after two hours of sleep willingly get up and do it again, and again.  Most will say that is insanity; a lucky few know that this is FUN!

At sea, every physical, mental and emotional fiber (traits you like about yourself, and the ones you don’t) are put under a Fresnel lens and magnified ten-fold.  That’s sailing! And it is under these conditions that John and I began to know each other.

John Gerteiz portrait

John Gerteiz

John Gerteiz is 63 years old and the picture of 40-year old health:  not an ounce of fat on him; flat stomach and well-defined abs; shoulder muscles of someone 30 years younger.  Combined with a handsome chiseled face and broad smile and melodious voice he is what I suppose most women would call a hunk.  He is Adonnus, with an engaging yet unassuming personality.  If he is by nature an introvert he has developed the engaging charm of responding with interest to any conversation.  He has shown himself repeatedly to be caring,  empathetic and supportive.  My initial experience is that he is well-bred, intellectually and physically ahead of the pack and balanced within himself.  It is indeed intimidating to meet the larger-than-life person I once wanted to be.

As a sailing instructor and charter captain I meet a lot of people with the dream of sailing the world.  Many are “interested” and a few are “committed.” Nowhere is the difference more obvious than in a casual conversation about “living the dream”.  John is among the committed, and his life is focused on preparing himself and his yacht for a solo circumnavigation.  He’s focused and on his purpose; everything else is a distraction!  I’m as certain he will undertake the voyage as anyone I’ve thus far met.   Will he succeed?  More later…

Every captain I’ve sailed with has his/her own set of idiosyncrasies – some behavior quite outside of my experience – something I never would have imagined in a lifetime –and something from which I can refine a skill or grow a part of me.  The most recent example is my attempt to fall in line with John’s eating routines.  He gives new definition to the word “minimalist”. By his own admission he is almost never hungry.  While most of us get signals from our stomach when it’s time to eat, John has learned that a headache is the only signal his body tells him that it’s time to eat.

Additionally, he is always eating while doing another project, so the very act of eating is masqueraded.  You have to watch him closely throughout the day to catch him eating.
So far I’ve detected him eating on the following schedule:
(1) ¼ cup of oatmeal eaten in the 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup it is prepared in, upon arising
(2) a banana or apple mid day, and maybe a handful of trail mix,
(3)  small portion of rice, spaghetti, or Top Ramon sometime after sunset
(4) almost never wine or dessert.  It was only later that I learned of the stash of Famous Amos chocolate cookies on board.

All the above is prepared and eaten out of the same pan or bowl, so dirty dishes (one cup and one pan and one spoon) can be quickly cleaned and disappeared.

His most extravagant hors d’oeuvre is troweling some peanut butter and jelly in the trough of a piece of celery.  It’s the perfect finger food.  Fingers don’t get food on them, and no dishes other than a knife are required!  Similarly, tangerines are preferred over oranges because the latter make your fingers sticky and add an annoying step to the eating process.

All of us seek efficiency in the preparation/eating of our food.  John, however, has raised the bar. His eating process has been meticulously refined for the ultimate in economy and convenience.

  • no time is wasted in eating or cleaning up
  • no need for refrigeration, ice, or cans on board
  • months of dry provisions take up very little space
  • no table is needed, and
  • you only really need one Pyrex two-cup measuring bowl and one spoon and one pan
  • if you do it right you don’t need a napkin

Before I came aboard John assured me that we were adequately provisioned for several months at sea, and I made a mistaken assumption out of past experience.  I sailed a six month solo, so I know a bit about provisions.  But John’s inventory of provisions eclipsed my own by a wide margin.  In his well-thought-out view all you really need are several months of water, oatmeal, top roman, peanut butter and jelly, and saltine crackers.  He has no need any ice or refrigeration, or canned food, so I suspect he doesn’t even have the traditional Dinty Moore stew stashed away for emergency rations.

My mind is in fear of survival and my body is in shock, but I choose a grand experiment of adapting to his eating ways.  Most troublesome is my addiction to coffee.  Being a good Seattle resident I find I can give up steak and eggs and a myriad of mouth-watering foods, and even dessert, but not my morning coffee.  In a desperate emergency compromise, I get permission to purchase some Peet’s coffee and a coffee press before we depart Alameda.

More convenience with fewer conveniences:
Some people need to sail with an ice maker, a water maker, fancy galleys and dishes, BBQ’s, in-mast furling and extravagant dinghies.  I read a story about a sailing couple that bought a tricked out boat, and then decided that every time an item broke they would do without it.  As their water maker, compressor, refrigeration, etc. failed they disposed of the item (threw it overboard?).  They discovered more convenience with fewer conveniences.  John’s only extravagance is a sat phone to talk with his girlfriend in Germany (and that arguably is an essential safety item).  I congratulate John.  He is thoughtful about the essentials and the extravagances.  He sails lightly on the planet and  is respectful of his environment.  He takes only what he needs and is generous to everyone else.

John reminds me that there is a sign frequently posted along the East Coast Inter Coastal Waterway.  It has a literal meaning, but in my view it should be elevated to equal status with the Golden Rule.  It reads:

You Are Responsible For Your Wake

Monday October 17:  Morrow Bay arrival – Latitude 35.4° N

(remember:  you can click on any picture to enlarge it) 

Morrow Bay harbor entrance

Morrow Bay harbor entrance

Morrow Bay, CA harbor google map

Morrow Bay harbor

There are moments of perfection in each day.  Flawless navigation into the harbor and a picturesque sunset worthy of applause are among them.  This evening is like that. Once inside the harbor we begin our docking ritual.  John’s first act is to go below and dress in his fresh khaki pants and a yacht club polo shirt.  It’s part of his strategy to get free docking, and so far his wit, charm and looks have succeeded at every port.

Morrow Bay power stationMorrow Bay fishing boatsWe troll the harbor, and again John uses his magic to make a free dock space appear where there was none.

Arctic Tern at the dockMorrow Bay rockWith Arctic Tern III safely tied to a dock we enjoy the luxury of walking Main Street and absorbing the charm of this town.  We stop in a small, locally owned restaurant.  John sits with me, but chooses not to order or eat.  I’m slightly uncomfortable with this, but I relish my fish and chips; they seem fit for a king after several days of Top Ramon.  I’m reminded that our peak experiences of eating… or love… or beauty… often come to us following a period of deprivation!

Tuesday October 18:  Morrow Bay to Marina Del Ray — Latitude 33.9° N

With the assurance of dock lines firmly hitched to dock cleats, sleep is deep, until first light’s departure.  We motor all through the day and then the night in 1 to 2 foot seas. The weather is cold and damp – like an Alaskan summer, making four hour shifts seem like eight.  Minimalist food and damp and wet everything contributes to making life dismal.

During the night in the Santa Barbara area we come upon oil platforms lit up like Christmas holiday in Rockefeller Center New York. I reckon them to be about 15 stories tall, and because they are on stilts and way too bright, these behemoths  appear to be cities floating above the water.  As we approach their erector set shapes and cranes pointing to the sky, they look more like something out of Star Wars than anything that could possibly be real.

About 9:30 in the morning we are abeam Ventura, CA.  I check ETA’s at several ports with the GPS, and we elect to continue south to Marina Del Ray.

Marina Del Ray, CA map

Marina Del Ray, CA harbor

Marina Del Ray harbor

Marina Del Ray harbor

Marina Del Ray is the largest humanly constructed yacht harbor in the world.  It is a ditch with eight harbor basins cut  into the land. It is thick with mega-yachts, sailing craft, crew teams and kayakers, a water toys — all in close quarters.

TSS buoy

TSS buoy

Marina Del Ray harbor1

Marina Del Ray harbor1

It is so congested it has its own local Traffic Separation Zones with white/orange buoys that separate motor and sail traffic. There is no pretense at anything being natural here. The mock lighthouse is dwarfed by adjacent high-rise buildings. Step outside the marina gate and you step into the jarring Los Angeles ambiance: five lane surface streets where people vie for space and even the traffic lights are frenetic. Crossing the street is more dangerous than anything we have encountered at sea. We have come 275 nautical miles, mostly in silence and simplicity, only to be assaulted by an urban cacophony of neon lights and car clammer.  It is a cosmic joke!

Arctic Tern at MDR dock

John does not think very highly of our capitalist system.  He sees soulless greed and smells the stink of bureaucracy before most of us.  But here he couldn’t outmaneuver a watchful bureaucracy.  At Marina Del Ray we had to pay our first docking fee.  DRATS!

Wed. October 19  Marina Del Ray to Newport Beach — Latitude 33.6° N

Newport Beach harbor entrance

Newport Beach, CA map

Newport Beach harbor map

Newport Beach harbor

Newport Beach harbor entrance

It’s a short day sail to Newport Beach — a multi-use harbor to be admired.  It contains everything from multi-million dollar waterfront homes where the rich relax to shore-side parks where moms play with their

Newport Beach_crew

Newport Beach_kayaks

children in sand parks and dads fish off the jetties.  Power, sail and human powered vessels, large and small, and a prominent naval military presence mix together here. The harbor is so large you can enjoy a day sail without ever leaving it.

Newport Beach harborBut like its neighbor Marina Del Ray, there are few classic yachts here.  This is California – where tradition and heritage take a back seat to extravagant  new designs in white plastic. 

Howard at the helm

Howard at the helm

Finally, we have our proof of a relationship between temperature and latitude. We have empirical proof that the further south you go the warmer it gets.  Here at Latitude 33 degrees north I shed my long underwear.  Am I over-sharing?  This is a big deal in comfort!

I am increasingly becoming at home on Arctic Tern III.  Less than a week ago everything was unfamiliar and I could do nothing “on automatic”.  Brushing my teeth was my sole familiar task.  Every other act had to be carefully planned or done at half speed to not make an error or bump my head.  The demand to think about and calculate every motion except brushing teeth is emotionally wearing.  But this problem is fading away, and now I can instantly set navigation switches, grab handholds, find toilet paper, granola and  spoons, manage the chart-plotter and do a multitude of tasks reflexively.  (That reminds me:  I never did ask John why there is an oak seacock plug in with the spoons holder).   Now most things are second nature, and I’m wearing this yacht like a glove, and it, more than Seattle, has become “home”.

Once again John pulls a rabbit from a hat, and we are tied to a dock for the night without cost.

We celebrate coming this far by throwing discipline to the wind and having an extravagant four-course sit-down meal.  It consists of celery sticks and peanut butter hors d’oeuvres, followed by a dinner salad washed down with wine.  The main course is macaroni and cheese.  And we each have a Famous Amos chocolate chip cookie for dessert.  With such a wanton food and drink celebration I had the feeling we had won something big.
(Note:  all this culinary artistry and there was only one pot to clean.  For economy, both dinner salad and macaroni were served in the same dish – but not at the same time).

Thursday October 20 – Newport Beach (continued)

John & AuntBalboa IslandIn the morning John visits his Aunt Dorothy , and I walk the short distance to Balboa Island (a village section of Newport Beach) and sit outside Starbucks and sip coffee, read my emails, and gawk at my new world going by.  In Newport Beach every person is a fashion statement.  Small colorful Gucci purses dangle from the necks of the ladies and guys wear a mandatory ball cap and drive a Lexus or Corvette.  Young trim moms parallel park their strollers in clutches while their toddlers are absorbed in playing with their ubiquitous smart phone.  Doubtless they will graduate to iPads this Christmas.  Their moms leisurely chat without care or chores pressing them.  They have both breast and lip enhancements; the Angelina Jolie look is “in”.  The really chic arrive via golf carts – which confirm their status as a local homeowners.  The cart must be fully tricked out to count.  It’s a friendly place – if you are “in”.  The whole scene is a movie set.

Volvo & BMW in garagewaterfront homeWalking the streets is like turning the pages of a picture book entitled: “Olympic economic gold medalists”.  If you want to see the zenith of capitalism, this is it.  If on the other hand, you are the slightest bitter about how life has turned out, don’t come to Newport Beach.

POSHThe Newport Beach Yacht Club’s website introduces itself this way:  The exclusive, members-only Newport Beach Yacht Club offers its members many proprietary benefits…  I would shorten that description to the single word POSH!  You can be sure that the alcohol is top-notch, the sailing heritage is unmatched and parking stickers are required. It’s Dennis Connor’s home port.  Dubbed “Mister America’s Cup,” he is the only man who has ever lost the America’s cup (1983) and gained it back again (1987).





NBYC takes its sailing as seriously as Texas takes its football or Washington, D.C. takes its politics.  America’s Cup energy pervades the Club like a perfume.  Wall-to-wall trophy cases are littered rich with silver.  It is both a Sailing’s Hall of Fame museum, and a living vibrant center for regattas, weddings, banquets, and youth sailing programs.

Sailing practiceThis is the college where future America’s Cup captains are being groomed.

A Pound of Pluck

There is a sign over the fireplace hearth which reads
A pound of pluck is worth a ton of luck”

I looked up pluck in the Webster dictionary:  the strength of mind that enables a person to endure pain or hardship < “it takes pluck to survive a crippling car accident and still go on to become successful”   Here, young sailing teams from this Club are routinely beating their competition.  They have the best equipment; they have the best coaching; they have the best facilities; and they have the best heritage and the best motto!  As I stood there I had the momentary thought:  so that’s their secret!  Yes, it takes pluck to sail offshore; we had a mild dose of that several nights ago. Perhaps this whole journey is worthwhile because it enriches my pluck!

Saturday October 22 Newport Beach to San Diego — Latitude 32.7° N

It is a rare and pleasant experience to wake up after the sun is up.  When our sailing day begins with the luxuries of a shower and an auto-flushing toilet we know it’s going to be a good day.  We have enjoyed the Club’s proprietary benefits.

We reluctantly leave the sun and NBYC behind and sail through the day and night with the mast scraping on the low overcast.  I’ve had enough of the clouds and cold following us from San Francisco, and I am growing impatient!  Still with our pound of pluck we press on — holding the vision of the Baja Ha-Ha and sun ahead.  In the middle of the night I hear the voice of Captain Jim Philpott gently admonishing me (when I was once grumbling to him about the lack of wind).  He smiled and said: “Howard, help is on the way.” 

When approaching the entrance to San Diego Bay from the north you must stay well clear of a band of kelp that extends several miles offshore.  To my surprise I just nicked the final 100 yards of it.  We quickly shut down the motor to avoid a water intake blockage or a fouled prop and unfurled the jib to sail through it.  It was the first (and I hope last) time I will sail through a kelp bed.

San Diego harbor entrance

San Diego harbor entrance

San Diego CA harbor google map

San Diego harbor

On Friday, October 21 at 1100 hours we arrive in San Diego harbor. Once again John begins his ritual of formal dress and working his magic for a free birth. We troll the harbor for the lay of the land and decide to anchor for the night.  Baja Ha-Ha burges are everywhere flying from starboard spreaders, waving to us that we have arrived.

Pre-race gitters
Each day demands something new of us.  What is the right stuff today?  In the corporate world John would have been called a shaker and a mover.  But today I rather see him as compulsively individualistic. Over his instant breakfast in the Pyrex measuring cup he said to me” I’ve learned a long time ago that if you want to do anything you can’t wait for help to arrive.  You have to go do it yourself.”  And that is the right stuff for this day: just doing it, not knowing how or where.  Today is a scavenger hunt.  We have accumulated a long list of wanted and needed items for the boat.   And it is time to begin at the local West Marine store to shorten the list. Since it is longer than the day, doubtless we will leave San Diego with some things undone.  And we plan to do exactly that, fearlessly and without regret.  John Shedd’s words follow me: “A ship is safe in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are for”.  Ready or not, we’ll be at the starting line.  The dreamer’s world is always incomplete.  Life is inevitably incomplete. So we’ll do our best to prepare for the max, and handle the rest.

Things to Love: Abundant sea life that signals a healthy planet


And safe water buoys  that greet you like a friend and guide you to safe harbor (which only a sailor could love)Safe water mark 3

Moss Landing safe water markSafe water mark

Pacific Puddle Jump

My dreams were stretched beyond previous limits when I attended a Latitude 38 seminar with John entitled: Pacific Puddle Jump.  Dream-stretching can be hazardous, because dreams once stretched, never return to their former size.  The Pacific Puddle Jump, a phrase coined by Latitude 38 magazine 15 years ago, is an annual migration of private sailing yachts leaving various points on the west coast of the Americas in the weather window from April through June, all bound for French Polynesia.  It is an annual westbound sail entailing 3,000 miles of ocean, the largest open water passage on earth.  In about a month following your departure you arrive at Tahiti, which Captain Cook pronounced the most beautiful place on earth. Put yourself in his shoes.  Of course he did; he had just endured 30 days of misery lost at sea!

 Curiously enough the tides there are high and low at noon and at midnight.



Howard at the helm


Without a doubt John is going to be among the 2012 Pacific Puddle fleet.  Me?  I am mired in equivocation. Age is eroding my strength and endurance, and I don’t know how many more long-distance race/regattas/offshore trips I have in me.  On the other hand my heart calls for just one more outrageous sailing adventure… perhaps the Pacific Puddle Jump next spring…or?

I hope you continue this story in Part II:  The Baja Ha-Ha cruising regatta