Our Life

The Adventures of Mike and Kelly At Sea

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Long Trip Down the West Coast

“Kelly, wake up its your watch”, Mike softly says as he gently nudges the giant mound of covers that I am hidden underneath. I moan and sink deeper into my cave of fuzzy blankets, hoping that it is just a dream. Watch keeping has been a struggle heading down the California coast with the constant stops we have had to make for weather coupled with the frigid temperatures that keep us warm blooded, sun-spoiled Hawaiian folk in a permanent frozen state. I procrastinate as long as I can hoping that Mike will just forget about trying to wake me and I can once again return to a sweet slumber.

I never have been great at mornings, but waking up after a couple restless hours of sleep, leaving the comfort zone of the nest of blankets, and exposing the body to the raw elements at sea at God knows what time in the morning (or night) really takes the idea of not being a morning person to an entirely new level. Mike’s voice has become more stern, and I am reminded of my parents trying to wake me on those mornings when it was a struggle to get out of bed for school. I finally gather the strength to throw my covers off and I am smacked with the chill of the air that sends shudders all over my body. As I try to gather my wits I feel a heaviness on my head; my fitful rest has knotted my mass of curls into one giant dreadlock. Lovely! I don’t have time to mess about because the anxious Captain has had enough of my dramatic delay in assuming watch, so I ball up my new do’ into a giant mound on my head and dart out the companion way grabbing my warm foul weather gear along the way.

The jagged mountain range outlined in charcoal against the maraschino cherry stained sky floods my field of vision as I stumble into the cockpit. Mike smiles at my astonishment as I now understand the urgency in his voice at getting me out of bed. We admire the beautiful sunrise and turn to one another and recite the old adage, “red skies at night, sailors delight, red skies in the morning, sailors take warning!” A mere few hours from landfall at our first port in Mexico, we are thankful that we will not be caught out in whatever surprise mother nature has in store for the day.

As I assume my position at the helm, the horror of removing myself from my cozy nest is a distant memory with the peaceful arrival of the day so brilliantly gleaming around me. I get my bearings and settle into my course slowly tuning into my senses as the sleep melts away from my mind and body, invigorating me. Amongst the solitude and silence around me I hear a noise that sends a jolt through my body. Something is off.  I scan the decks, check the sails, and survey the horizon looking for a noise that is out of the ordinary. Nothing. I hear the noise again, only this time it is significantly louder. Now fully awake and primed with my super senses I jump up looking for this mystery sound, when “SWOOOSH…SLAP!” a whale fully breaches right in front of me while a second whale greets me with a pounding tail slap to the surface of the sea. “MIKE!!!!…WHALES!!!” I scream excitedly. Mike rushes to the deck and we watch in awe once again on this fine morning as the whales put on a little show next to our boat. These are the moments that I cherish about this lifestyle; the  juxtaposition of opposite emotions co-existing in the same minute. I am forever grateful for the surprises that mother nature reveals on a regular basis.

Our arrival to the port of Ensenada, Mexico has been monumental for us. It has been three months since we arrived to the mainland of US from Hawaii and we feel like we arDSC06405e significantly behind schedule. We get stressed about it from time to time, but then we remind ourselves that we are not on an agenda and we need to just slow down. While we like to complain about how long it has taken us to get down the California coast, we have to look at the positive side of all that we got to experience along the way. We revisited our old stomping grounds in the Bay area, which was a nice treat catching up with old friends and reliving momentsDSC06389 from our first experience there. We spent a month in Redwood City working on the boat and hanging out with our dear friends Petter and Octavia. We also were really productive in putting our old boat Isabella back in the water after almost three years on land and finding her a new home (another Mike from Hawaii).

When we crossed under the Golden Gate bridge back in November we felt like a burden had been lifted from our shoulders. We no longer had any ties to the area (our old boat and storage) and we felt relief in knowing that the next time we end up in the Bay area, it will be by choice rather than by obligationDSC06666. We made tracks down the coast aiming for the destination of Ventura, where we would meet up with our cousins for a visit. Unfortunately, the weather was rough and we ended up fighting strong winds and big seas all from the wrong direction. After 28 hours of zig -zagging back and forth with minimal forward progress, we ended up turning around for safe harbor in Monterey Bay.

Monterey Bay was a cute little seaside town with a serious sea lion problem. Our olfactory glands were in overdrive along with our ear drums which were pulsing from the incessant barking coming from these monstrous creatures. Regardless, we made the most of our time there delighting in Farmer’s Markets and networking with other cruisers. After about a week, the weather shifted in our favor and we found ourselves sailing on Thanksgiving day rather than feasting. As cruisers, we wouldn’t want it any other way.

This time heading down to Ventura, we had the opposite problem: no wind. This is not ideal for us because our engine is way underpowered for this heavy boat and we do not have an autopilot. So this means we move very slowly and have to hand-steer for long hours. It makes the watches tough. It takes us much longer than expected to get to Ventura, but we were happy to have calm seas and winds as we rounded Point Conception, a known area for nasty weather that has frightened many a crew and destroyed many vessels.

Giant oil platforms emerged from the water like aliens all through the Santa Barbara channel. As we dodged these space-like figures an eerie fog crept in blurring our vision and blanketing Maluhia. We inched along as the fog grew thicker until we were no longer able to see the bow of the boat. Lost in a surreal world, we were fully expecting an alien mother ship to cast a beam of light down onto our boat. Without radar, we rely solely on the GPS system hoping that our fears of crashing into an oil platform or a giant freighter do not come true. Hours pass and we rotate through watches, both feeling grim and cold. The sun eventually starts to peek through breaks in the fog as we near the entrance to Ventura Harbor. We rejoice in another safe, albeit strange, passage and are scooped up in no time by our family members for a night of reprieve on land.

After a brief stint in Ventura, we decided to keep moving to get away from the steep marina fees and the nasty weather that was forecasted to come. The sailing was great toward the island of Santa Cruz and we tucked into a beautiful little bay called Potato, enjoying a night out on the hook all alone. The weather picked up overnight and we heard over the radio that a high surf advisory had been issued all around the coast near to where we were. We noticed the swell building in the little anchorage we were in, so we pulled up the hook and headed into the dismal gray.

When I first started to write this post, I was going on and on about the miserable weather. Truth be told, it was boring to read about how cold we are and how our boat has no insulation so the damp weather has caused it to sweat, which in turn has created mold growth all over. I could go on and on about how this has really impacted this trip, but I realized how negative it all sounds and decided that this little blip will suffice. Needless to say, as we ventured out into the crappy weather in route to Newport Beach from the little island of Santa Cruz, we were cursing the rain, cursing the fog, and cursing the lack of wind that sealed the deal for our miserable, long passage.

Our arrival into Newport was wet. Pulling up to the police docks, the rain decided to open up just as I was securing the lines to the dock. We walked into the office dripping like wet dogs, shaking from the cold, and looking wild from sleep deprivation after the long motor. The process was easy and in no time we secured a mooring in the odd, yet quaint little town of Newport. Since we were mainly on business in this place, we got straight to work sourcing out parts that we needed for various things such as our transmission, headsail, and miscellaneous bits and bobs. Multiple trips to Minney’s Yacht Surplus scored us a few essential items we have been looking for, and the neighboring Doyle sails had a treasure of a used headsail that happened to fit our boat perfectly.  Success was ours!

We debated about making Newport our last stop along the coast, but we had been communicating with our friend Andy Gunson (AKA The Naked Canadian) and decided a stop over in San Diego wouldn’t be such a bad idea. We had a nice, quick sail down the coast (finally!) and quickly got our boat situated on the hook in the cruiser’s anchorage upon arrival. Two weeks passed by here and it felt like minutes. We jam packed every moment with sourcing out parts, catching up with friends and making new ones, taking our HAM radio operator exams (via a 12 hour class), provisioning, and wrapping up loose ends all around. It was a very productive time, and we even managed to squeeze a day into visiting the city, which was a nice break. It was finally time to break free from the US and make tracks to Mexico!

The passage from San Diego to Ensenada really marked the change over into the cruiser lifestyle for us. While Ensenada has everything imaginable, it took no time to feel the effects of being in a foreign country. I stumble over the Spanish language and awkwardly walk around trying to remember if it felt this strange when I first started to travel a decade ago. I feel way out of practice. I don’t have the same confidence that I did before when traveling was part of my everyday life. Mike reassures me that we will get back into the groove in no time and I too know that we will. But until that time, we continue to struggle through the awkwardness until this all becomes second nature once again.

Going forward I hope to write more frequently as it is really hard to condense so much information from many months into one little blog post. I hope this post isn’t too overwhelming for those that read it. I have been trying to write it for awhile now and have changed it many times. Seeing as I am cutting it close with my internet time here, I am rushing to get this out there because I do not know when we will have internet again. We are departing Ensenada this afternoon and will spend our holidays puddle hopping into different bays along the Baja Coast of Mexico. We hope that we will make it to La Paz by the New Year, but we are taking it all in stride hoping to enjoy ourselves along the way.

We wish everyone a very Happy Holiday season, or as they say here, “Feliz Navidad y Prospero Ano!”  We are thinking of our dear families and friends this season hoping that you are all surrounded by much love and joy.

*(Sorry for the lack of photos, we have really been terrible this time)*