Jan 28, 2009

Down Baja and Whale Tales

Veteran Mexico crew members Doug Larson and Dennis Flick showed up in San Diego right on schedule, and we set off late in the afternoon of January 14th for what proved to be the easiest trip ever down the coast of Baja California. Unfortunately, because of the scarcity of wind, it turned out to be the trip with the least sailing as well.

Dawn was breaking on the 17th, when we entered Turtle Bay and dropped the hook just off the big pier jutting out from beach front of this dusty little town that lies nearly 130 miles from the nearest paved highway and close to the halfway point down the outside of Baja.

After refueling and a great fish taco dinner - courtesy of some of the other cruisers - we spent a calm night at anchor and headed out the next morning. We spent the next three and a half days mostly motoring and sometimes sailing the remaining 400 miles down Baja to the tip of the peninsula at Cabo San Lucas. It was along this stretch that we made a couple of the more interesting wildlife contacts on all the Sea Story trips to Mexico.

Late in the evening of our first day out of Turtle Bay, it was my watch and we were sailing slowly in the dark a few miles SW of Punta Abreojos. when the breathing sounds of several big sea mammals grew louder from behind and alongside the boat. Initially, this confused me because the blowing exhalations were louder and more frequent than you hear when dolphins are near. Yet they were not as loud, although even more frequent than the breathing sounds of grey or humpback whales.

It wasn't until one of the mystery critters passed casually within eight to ten feet of the starboard quarter and the beam of my flashlight that the realization hit me; we were being overtaken by a pod of pilot whales. Yep, they had come up alongside TO GIVE US THE ONCE OVER...! Even though there was no moonlight, we determined by the blowing and phosphorescence in the water that we had been overtaken by possibly as many as a dozen whales.

Within a few minutes the whole pod had passed by without so much a bump or nudge on the hull, and it wasn't until mid-afternoon of the next day that we sighted the whales again. This time we were motoring faster than we had been sailng in the light winds of the night before, and that let us do the overtaking- although they were not about to let us get nearly as close to them as they chosen to come by us. With the benefit of daylight we could also see that there were several individual pods of what appeared to be four to six individual whales each. They were arrayed roughly on an east-to-west line that was moving slowly to the south as were we. We estimated that there were likely as many as 50 - 60 of them in the whole group, and they seemed to spend most of their time cruising slowly on the surface as though foraging.

The rest of our trip south was less eventful and by early evening of the third day, we were rounding Cabo Falso and heading past Cabo San Lucas to a next-day anchorage at Bahia Muertos, just 8 hours short of la Paz on Baja's eastern coast. The weather had turned much warmer and Muertos gave us all a chance to clean up with a salt water swim and fresh water shower in the boat's cockpit. That evening we dinghied in to beer and dinner at an upscale beach-front cantina - a great respite after four days at sea....

The next day, we motored into Marina de la Paz, a temperature in the 70's and the beginning of another season in Mexico...

Dennis and Doug taking a swim off the stern of Sea Story in Ensenada de los Muertos (Bay of the Dead). After four days at sea, we're cleaning up before the final run into la Paz the next day. The place name doesn't mean there are dead people here, but refers to the anchoring system for the old barge docks located nearby.

Jan 14, 2009

Santa Barbara to San Diego

Brandy Kepner from Tradewinds shuttled our new crew to Santa Barbara mid-afternoon on Friday, the 2nd. Faced with the possibility of NE winds at Catalina Island the next day, we decided to forego a stopover at Avalon harbor - which is open to the NE - and sail directly to San Diego the next morning.

Our new crew fell right into the Sea Story routine, and after a good nights sleep, our planned departure at 8:00 AM was proceeding like clockwork - right up to the point where the gear shift linkage failed just as we were backing out of our berth! A quick mobilization to fend off from other boats, and the assistance of the Harbor Patrol got us safely back into the berth to trouble-shoot the problem. Turns out, the linkage had broken at a point that was going to require some time and effort to repair. It was also going to require a replacement part that just wasn't available in Santa Barbara. In addition, while checking the navigation light wiring, we found a short that had to be repaired before we could head out for an overnight sail.

Clearly, the situation called for come creative thinking, and that's where we lucked out. Turns out we just happened to have a crew with extraordinary mechanical skills. Bryan Saulsbury had once been a professional auto mechanic, and Derek Stroening had considerable experience repairing and modifying his own boat, a 24' Newport.

By noon, we had the navigation light rewired, and we had worked out a system of shifting gears by relaying the commands down to Bryan who could effect the shift with the control lever right at the transmission. It was a crude, but effective system, and we carefully maneuvered out of the berth and were on our way to San Diego just a couple of hours behind schedule.

The rest of the trip was much less stressful. We got in some pleasant sailing. We saw some dolphins, and we were briefly followed by a whale off Oceanside. Because of our late departure, we got into San Diego after dark, which is always a bit of an adventure. Good teamwork, GPS, radar, and the range lights on Shelter Island helped get us to the weekend anchorage at LaPlaya Cove where we dropped the hook at 8:00 PM. Somehow the celebration of our arrival managed to take another four hours, and the boat finally went quiet enough for the skipper to drift off at midnight.

The next day we used our command relay shifting system to get tied up at the Harbor Police Public Dock, and got started on one of the most difficult repair jobs I've even had to do on Sea Story. Luckily, the critical part was available (but just!), when Connie and Jennifer walked up to Downwind Marine. By noon the next day, we had the linkage fixed and operating better than it had before. Without this great crew's help, the job would have had to gone to a boatyard, so there was another celebration - this time on the skipper's bill...

After all the fixing and celebrating, the crew all the headed back to northern California with my thanks and appreciation as well as promotions from "scuppers" to "mates." * (see the movie Captain Ron
for clarification!)

Hard work, this "Skipper" job......

Derek Stroening and Jennifer Goodrich at the mast. Is it surprising that their own boat's name is Pyrateer?!

Connie LaBounty taking advantage of the sunshine and getting caught up on her reading.

Bryan "shifterman" Saulsbury taking a turn at the wheel after spotting our whale.

Our welcoming committee at the San Diego Police Dock. We think these guys were from the Navy's mamal warefare training center across the channel. We didn't catch it in the photo, but the seal threw us a salute as they passed by...

Jan 10, 2009

San Francisco to Santa Barbara

Click on photos to enlarge

The Good Ship Alcatraz. The famous island has an interesting profile as we depart a fog shrouded San Franciso Bay at dawn. Ian Joseph shot this with his Nikon SLR digital .

Ian and Will at the mast as we head toward the Golden Gate on December 29th. For the next two days, we alternately sailed and motor-sailed down the central California coast in moderate seas with a following wind. Other than some 25 knot breezes off Point Sur, it was an easy, though chilly, trip. We arrived at Santa Barbara in the fog on New Year's eve. A Check Spellingnice dinner at the Enterprise Fish Company and libations back on the boat helped us bring in the new year in grand style.

Ho-Hum. Just another beautiful sunset off the Big Sur coast.... (Ian Joseph phot0)
At this point, the pelicans pretty much own this bait barge in the Santa Barbara harbor. They're a picturesque, but really smelly bunch! (Ian Joseph photo)

Fog moving in at sunset gives the harbor an interesting mood. Looks more like Halloween than New Years Day. (Ian Joseph photo)