Heading South

We interrupt the tale of last fall’s trip to the Channel Islands to bring your news of our current whereabouts and happenings. The short version is: we’ve been in San Diego for two weeks, and now we’re headed to Baja!

The View From the Cockpit On Tuesday the 8th of March we departed our slip at the Berkeley Marina, and headed south. Bound for the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula and the Sea of Cortez, our first stop was to be San Diego. The trip down was mostly an uneventful mix of sailing and motoring. That is until we got to Point Conception.

We left when we did to avoid one of several large storm systems that had been and continued to be attacking the California coast. We knew we had to reach our destination by the weekend to avoid heavy weather, and we new there was no avoiding the typically rough conditions around Point Conception.

Even approaching the point from well off shore things began to pickup pretty quick. By the time I had put the first reef in, I immediately decided to add a second, and I’m glad I did. It blew 30-40 knots, with waves to match, all night and didn’t let up. In fact, some time in the early morning our autopilot managed to tear itself off it’s mount trying to fight a wave that was rounding the boat up. As a result we had to hand steer the boat from that point on.

Autopilot Fail

We continued to have heavy conditions around the point and past the northern Channel Islands, where things moderated a bit. About half way from Santa Cruz Island to Catalina the winds finally died off to almost nothing, and we decided to fire up the engine, and get in to Avalon sooner rather than later for some much needed sleep. Unfortunately I had failed to keep a careful eye on our batteries, and the engine wouldn’t start. It was well after dark so we decided to heave to, keep a watch, and deal with it in the morning.

Sunrise Off California (Look Ma, No Land)Lucky for us I had gotten all the supplies I needed to wire up our new solar panel. Well almost all of them. So, with wires strewn around the nav station and cockpit, I was able to get enough juice to start the engine. After monitoring things more carefully for the next 48 hours I decided the battery bank itself was partially to blame and would need to be replaced in San Diego.

We moored at Avalon harbor for two days. We slept, showered, shopped, and reassured all our friends and family that we were safe from the tsunami that had threatened the California coast while we were off shore. It felt good to return to Avalon in our own boat, having visited last fall in Fetchin’ Ketch. We had made our first passage, albeit a short one, on our own. An accomplishment for any burgeoning cruiser.

Moored at Avalon On Monday the 14th we departed Avalon for San Diego. Before we left however, we made a stop at one of the nearby anchorages where I tried in vain to get the autopilot functioning again. It turns out the hydraulic piston that turns the rudder had not only been dismounted, it had fried some internal component.

After a frustrating few hours spent on the autopilot I decided to jump in the water and do some snorkeling. I donned my gear, my video camera, and jump in. The water wasn’t too unpleasant considering the temp was in the low 50s. I took a look at our anchor, watched a ray take off from it’s hiding spot in a cloud of silt, and headed for the kelp beds near shore. After just a few minutes kicking around with the garibaldi and perch, I rounded a stalk of kelp right into a seemingly massive 5 foot shark. Needless to say that brought a swift end to my snorkeling endeavors. In retrospect I wish I had stuck around to try to get a little footage. The shark probably would have been just as scared of me, and been eager to go find some smaller prey.

Filling the Tanks at the San Diego Police Dock Around dusk we started up the motor and made our way over to San Diego. We had timed our departure to make a morning arrival in San Diego in order to give us time to figure out arrangements for docking/mooring/anchoring. I knew San Diego had a public guest dock, but at a cheap $10 a night I was worried it would be full up. But as it turns out the dock isn’t really that crowded when it’s not the season for cruisers to be passing through, and we’re going south pretty late.

Now for the last two weeks we’ve been in San Diego fixing/installing/procuring stuff. I rewired the solar panel properly, replaced our battery bank and wiring, added a battery monitor so we wouldn’t have any more engine starting issues, and installed a new alternator with a fancy charge regulator. We had professionals take care of the autopilot and VHF antenna wiring issue (turns out somebody botched the installation of the connector at the top of the mast).

Right after I post this we will be weighing anchor and heading south. Our first stop will be in Ensenada to do our entry paperwork. Many people have told us to just go south and enter at Cabo, but the official story is that if you’re entering with a pet you have to have a health certificate that is less than 10 days old. Plus I’ll feel a lot more comfortable going a shore at the anchorages along the way with all our paperwork in order. From there we’ll be off shore a few days before anchoring at Bahia de Tortugas for a bit, followed by Bahia Santa Maria. We’ll be back in touch from Cabo San Lucas on or around April 16th. Until then you can watch our progress on our SPOT tracker page.

Sunset in Glorietta Bay

The Sea (2010-09-22)

After arriving in Avalon and connecting to the world again, a friend asked about the trip. This poem was the result.

The SeaOrange Moon

Remember how you felt out on the water
Just feeling happy to be there, to exist with it?
Close your eyes and feel it again
How big it was, and endless

This is all that and more.

It is cold:
Moonless, starless, foggy nights
Dark except for the phosphorescent sparkle
On each wave, like a thousand fireflies
And our wake, churning up a path of glitter

Or an orange moonset, then so many stars
Dawn comes on the breakfast watch,
The only one that gets better, warmer.

Blue AfternoonIt is warm:
Bathed in sunlight, blue afternoons stretching on and on
Deck naps, anywhere naps.
Reading, sitting, listening to the VHF

Finally shedding layers and layers
Bare feet, surprisingly comfy

It is alive:
Rolling seas, dolphins frolicking before the bow wave
Things that sound so cliche, so overused, overdescribed
I cannot make them new and different, just with words
You have to be there, then you will feel it, you will understand.

Dolphins before the bow wave

Our Next Horizon

As some of you may know, the nautical allusion in the title of blog is no coincidence. About a year ago we decided that we wanted to move on to a sailboat and go cruising. We weren’t sure exactly how long or how far, and we still aren’t, but we know it is the kind of adventure we are looking for. We’ve never felt completely settled in the places we’ve lived, we have an itch to travel and see new places, and we want to visit or be visited by friends and family all over the world, so a sailboat seemed like the perfect way to achieve this, all while undertaking the most daring adventure of our lives.

Wind in Our Sails And now our plans, over a year in the making, are finally coming to fruition. As discussed last post, we have purchased our sailboat, a 38 foot cutter rigged sloop named Serenity. We’re now working tirelessly to get her ready to embark on a journey without deadline or destination, to visit the both old haunts and parts unknown; to see long time friends and make new ones. One day soon, we’ll decide we’ve done enough preparation, and that while things may not be perfect, we are ready. Then we will set sail. The plan is, after many day sails in the bay and some short test passages, to head south to Mexico, where we will enjoy some much needed warm weather, surfing, and diving. Eventually we want to transit the Panama Canal and cross the Caribbean to visit our families on the east coast. However, because of the length of this passage, and the necessity of avoiding the Caribbean hurricane season, we won’t be able to embark on that journey until next year. So this year it will be back to California where we can get jobs and raise some extra funds for future passages.

For now we’re working on the last of the high priority todo list items. Having replaced the standing and running rigging, and refinished the cabin sole, we’re now installing an inverter and solar panels; rebuilding winches; accumulating spare parts; servicing the head, critical pumps, etc.; and making a few replacements of auxiliary diesel components. We’re also looking for crew members to join us on parts or all of our passage to and from Mexico. So if you’re schedule is flexible, and you want to have a crazy sailing adventure, or just spend a week in Baja—whether you have experience or not—give us a ring.

Cabo San Lucas México

Finding Serenity

Serenity, On The Hard

Meet Serenity, our new (to us) sailboat. She’s a 1984 Hans Christian 38 Traditional Cutter. While she’s 38 feet on deck she’s actually 46 feet overall thanks to the bowsprit and “pushpit” (a small platform at the stern surrounded by a rail). The fact that she’s a cutter means she has two headsails, an inner staysail and an outer jib. Finding her was an adventure in itself, and a bit less serene than one might hope.

First there was the figuring out what we wanted. Age, size, price range, amenities, displacement (weight), type of keel, sea kindliness vs. performance, etc. I read several sailboat cruising guide books for insight; I read numerous websites; and finally we looked at what seemed like a hundred sailboats in the bay area. Our boat viewings ranged from obvious head-smack waste of time, to excitement and near disastrous bad decision. But unequivocally time after time, there was something wrong, that made the boat not right for us. Some were too big, some too small. Some were missing key features, like a decent shower setup, or respectable fuel tank size. One was a old but beautiful wooden boat with rot lurking beneath the surface.

Pretty much every boat we looked at, with the exception, ironically, of the first one, had some major blemishes making it unattractive. Many hadn’t had basic upkeep maintenance, such as bottom paint, interior or exterior varnish, or updated running rigging. Few were what you would call clean, and some were so bad that lockers and refrigerators were downright filthy. Several had half finished installations, which the brokers often billed “it has a brand new XXX,” failing to mention that you’d have to install the new component yourself. There were almost always several obviously broken things, be they cabinet doors, navigation equipment, port lights, or settee seats; and I’m willing to bet that a thorough sea trial and survey would have outted a number of other non-working systems. We never ceased to be amazed at how careless people can be with their boats, or how brazen they can be in trying to sell them in such a decrepit state.

The Morgan Classic that jen really liked The wooden Brewer Pacific 43 that turned out to have potential rot issues
The Nordic that we passed up because of leaky deck fittings & general upkeep issues The LaFitte Sloop we would have bought if the previous owners hadn't been non-sailors
Some of the boats we almost bought.

Gradually our vision of the right boat came in to focus. It would be smaller than we originally thought. It would be slightly more expensive, in the hopes that a little more money would get us a boat in better condition. It would definitely not be wooden, although it would almost certainly have a substantial amount of teak exterior, if not teak decks (I like the classic look). It would have moderate to heavy displacement, favoring sea kindliness over performance. It would have an enclosed aft cabin and v-birth, and sleep 6 including the settees. It would have minimum tank capacity for 80 gallons of water and 60 gallons of fuel. It would have a windlass for raising anchor (manual or electric). It would either have a dodger or be capable of fitting one.

We were on the brink of giving up on the Bay Area, when I decided to go take a look at this Hans Christian over in Sausalito. It hadn’t been on my radar initially because of the slightly out of our range price. And even after we started looking higher I thought the cockpit setup was a bit odd. But aside from that it actually seemed, on paper at least, to meet all of our requirements. I had learned long ago that reality rarely reflects things on paper.

The Cockpit In the end, we fell in love with the boat pretty quickly, and for once, there was no heart dropping discovery that made the boat untenable. She’s the most spacious 38 foot boat we’ve been on. She has an unexpectedly nice interior arrangement, from the galley to the head, to the cabins. She’s exceedingly pretty. She’s decked out in terms of navigational equipment. She’s got new sails, and more than half of the things on board work. Things aren’t all wine and roses of course. I have a to-do list as long as my arm. It includes some major numbers, such as replacing the standing rigging and painting the mast. And there are some systems not working, namely the fresh water pump for the taps. But generally speaking she’s a very solid boat with a lot of years adventure left in her.

I tell you what. You buy this ship, treat her proper; she’ll be with you for the rest of your life.

-Salesman, Firefly, “Out of Gas”

Another thing we noticed along the way was the diversity of attitudes of the brokers. They ranged from used car salesman pushy, to ambivalently unhelpful, to sincerely helpful and honest. I will say that all the brokers seemed to be under attentive to the boats they were selling. I’m not sure if it’s the owner or the broker who’s responsible for this, but if one or the other would spend one day a month tidying up the boat, making sure various onboard systems were in working order, and scheduling routine maintenance on the boat, it would go a long way toward getting the boat sold. Several of the boats we looked at we might well have fallen for if the owner had spend a few thousand dollars fixing things up.

In the end we wound up buying a boat from my least favorite broker, Marotta Yachts of Sausalito. Luckily I had one of the most helpful brokers we interacted with, Bearmark Yachts, representing us as the buyer. Without John Saul of Bearmark Yachts, the deal definitely wouldn’t have gone as smoothly if it had happened at all. Marotta was the most hands off, un-personable establishment we dealt with. Their procedure for showing boats is to leave it open and give you the slip number. While I do appreciate having some time alone to poke around the boat, it’s also nice to have some one to talk to, ask questions of, and get advice from (Passage Yachts and Pacific Imports also scored high in this regard). So when John offered to set up the viewing and come along with us, I really appreciated it.

It was only after that that I discovered the buyer’s broker system, where by, if the buyer has their own broker, the two brokers simply split the commission at no extra cost to the buyer. This worked out perfectly, and John came through again on the sea trial, where the sales person Marotta sent out professed to “not know the first thing about sailboats.” And finally the entire Bearmark Yachts team, from the owner on down, did a great job getting the deal done even with me on a sailing trip to the Channel Islands with very limited connectivity. I think the moral of this is 1) if you want to sell your sailboat, choose your broker carefully, and 2) as a buyer, pick your favorite broker, and have them represent you with whomever you end up buying from.

Stay tuned for our next post where you’ll get to know Serenity a lot better…