Monday, December 29, 2008

Catalina Island for the holidays 2008

After staying in King Harbor longer than we had anticipated, we are noticing that this is becoming a pattern. It turns out that we like to enjoy being at a place instead of rushing by. So, after an approximately 30-hour sail out to Catalina Island which entailed turning the motor on to get through the shipping lanes and otherwise bobbing slowly toward our destination, we set anchor in Cat Harbor on the south west side of the island, outside the huge mooring fields on the west side of the harbor. We awoke the next morning with shifted winds and a bit too close to the bottom of the sheer cliffs on the outer west edge of the harbor and spent the next day setting bomber bow and stern anchors to prepare for a forecasted Christmas storm from the SE. The following day we did a half day loop hike up from Two Harbors up the east side and over to Cat Harbor. The forecasts were getting worse up from 35 to 40 and we heard reports of 50 knots blowing directly at us in the harbor. We finally decided to take a mooring in the more protected part of the harbor. The storm descended with its squally peak throughout Christmas day- a great day to snuggle up and be warm below decks, open presents, sip warm drinks, bake and munch on cookies. The weather calmed in time for some neighbors to gather people for some social holiday cheer. It was nice to meet friendly cruisers- a couple from Newport Beach living aboard with 2 kids and a couple, much like ourselves, from San Francisco en route to Mexico. Hopefully we’ll see them both again in our travels!

Our mooring came with a week long winter deal, so after holding tight for the storm we’ve decided to spend a few more days checking out the island in the sun. Yesterday we had a beautiful hike from Two Harbors up the north east side of the island to the airport in the sky, up Mount Orizaba, and back to Two Harbors via Rancho Escondito and Little Harbor. It was amazing- bison and all, but 25-miles of up and down mountains crossing Catalina was a bit painful after the past month and a half exclusively sailing. Still, after a recovery day today, we’re thinking about a hike to the west end of the island tomorrow and then all of a sudden it’s New Year’s Eve! Who know’s where we’ll be, we’ll let you know as soon as we do. Best wishes to you all for 2009!!

Happy Holidays 2008!!

2008 Wow, what a year! I hope this note finds you all happy and healthy. We’ve spent so long preparing and have finally started heading south on our great sailing adventure! Early year was spent living aboard, sailing, and outfitting Tao. May through July saw a quick river season including a Dolores River trip with Chris’ dad and then Chris to Idaho with his Canyons family and Shawn to Utah with a new family- Outward Bound. In August, we headed back to the boat in Berkeley to tie up all the loose ends. This included final upgrades to Tao, finding a home for our car stuffed full of our remaining non-sailing belongings, attending friend’s weddings, and visiting family in AZ, NY, OR and HI. All in all it took about three months and on November 15th we finally threw off the dock lines! We immediately ran into unforeseen excitement and although we have been unable to follow any schedule that we originally intended, we have continued south. We’ve realized that going with the flow means being ultimately flexible and open to whatever the Universe decides to present. So, we’re on “ocean time” now, living by the weather and exploring southern California and the Channel Islands from the sea. We’re still heading south to Mexico and hope to ring in the New Year there, but it’s taking a bit longer than anticipated as there is so much amazing to see (and surf) along the way. When we have internet connection we are doing our best to update the blog with stories and pictures. Armed with a new Christmas present, you can check the last 7-days of position reports on a map at the SPOT website (
Love and Best Wishes in 2009! Tao and her crew of Chris, Shawn, Grizzly (best sailor of the bunch), Eeyore (our dinghy), Rocky (our anchor) and Moni (our Monitor windvane).

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holiday Craziness

We pushed off from Ventura Harbor early on December 7th to resume our southern course. We had a beautiful run, gybing along the coast with Chris pointing out places he spent his youth surfing and cavorting. We pulled around Point Dume with fresh winds in the late afternoon, did a "sail by" of Paradise Cove and came around again to sail onto anchor off the pier outside of thick kelp gardens. Although similar in layout to Cojo anchorage, houses and lights dominated the landscape here. Still, amazing (and relatively inaccessible from land) surfing was to be had so we spent another whole day before weighing anchor early on the 9th to head south on what turned out to be a sunny, beautiful, mellow sail across Santa Monica Bay. Just as the sun drifted below the horizon, we set our stern and bow anchors inside the breakwall at King Harbor in Redondo Beach California. This is one of the few marinas that offers anchoring possibilities in the area and is also very close to Chris' Dad Dave and stepmother Anette's home in Palos Verdes. As we drifted to sleep in the calm harbor waters we thought we'd be visiting for 4 days or so.

When we awoke, Dave showed up and we were immediately swept back into land-life which was brimming with holiday craziness. Many thanks to Dave and Anette for much visiting, the loan of a car and an open home as well as King's Harbor for permitting us to extend our stay well past the allotted 3-nights. Now after 9-days of running around getting Christmas projects done, spending money like drunken sailors, visiting with old high school buddies (ROB!) and family, two gales, a 20-degree drop in temperature, several egret bird poop removal sessions, many sunsets as well as a whole lotta’ rain later, we're planning to head out again in the morning. Although we can’t promise anything (or won’t since we’re learning that plans will likely change), the current plan is to head out to Catalina Island for a few days and then back toward mainland around Newport Beach for final provisioning for Mexico. It sure is exciting not knowing exactly where we’ll be for Christmas proper. We’ll be thinking of all of you and will send updates as we can.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Harrowing or exciting? (written 12/03/2008)

Although sad to say goodbye, day-17 (December 2nd) as we found ourselves looking at Arch Rock, the eastern tip of the northern Channel Islands, we decided to head back toward mainland and continue our trip south. Once past the shipping lanes we set a course downwind toward Point Dume and Paradise Cove, the next available downwind anchorage and settled in for the relaxing ride. Then we checked our messages. We had just missed Chris’ Mom Jane and stepfather Abe who had just arrived from their East Coast summer and Central American travels to Santa Barbara the day before. Now 30-miles south (and more importantly downwind) we reached another decision point. We decided hurrying south just wasn’t everything. We came about, prepared the boat for upwind travel and we again found ourselves beating toward Santa Barbara. As the sun set beautifully behind the northern Channel Islands and the sliver of moon met dazzlingly with planets Venus and Jupiter we braced for the new heading- Ventura Harbor.

As we were again clawing our way upwind, the wind switched slightly and unfortunately directly where we were headed and then diminished leaving us flogging into the swells. We fired up the trusty engine and continued on. A couple hours later, Shawn down below navigating, noticed Chris seemed a bit tense from on deck. The thin fog had settled in and turned dense, not a good sign when attempting landfall during night at an unfamiliar and reputedly dangerous entrance. As even the stars above disappeared, Shawn triple timed plotting GPS positions on the chart and Chris was steering a straighter course than ever. We navigated this way methodically following three pre-entered waypoints toward a supposedly flashing red marking a half mile off shore and the mouth of the Santa Clara River and what can be nasty breaking waves. We agreed that if from the final waypoint we could not see the flashing “2UV” buoy we would head back out for a sleepless, but safer night at sea. Just when we were both ready to admit we may have to turn back, magically the flashing buoy appeared. And soon after, the harbor entrance red and green flashers appeared, the fog was lifting- slightly, but enough. (Not religious people, we later confided to each other that we had both been praying to the Universe and Oceans). At 2030 we thankfully found the slip that we had called ahead for (10 minutes before the office closed) and let out a huge sigh of relief as we tied up at a dock for the first time in nearly 18 days! Sometimes going with the flow is the right choice. Thanks, Jane, for instigating this unexpected respite time for recuperation and visiting.

Stealing our peace (written 11/30/2008)

Day-15, another day in paradise- we were just getting back to our boat, anchored in Smugglers Cove on the south side of Santa Cruz Island, after an 8-mile hike to Scorpion Bay. We had fought our way out through the surf in Eeyore our faithful dinghy and were boarding Tao as a powerboat pulled in. Smugglers Cove was uninhabited when we first set anchor there two nights previous, but the Thanksgiving holiday had drawn loads of people from mainland. Still, the anchorage was not even close to full. The sun was close to setting as the power boater dropped his anchor right next to another power boat and just off our stern.

At first Shawn was just slightly annoyed mostly because they were so close she couldn’t take a shower in the cockpit. But then as we unloaded our gear and she watched how Tao was swinging as the breeze started to pick up, she got aggravated because it was definitely in our swing zone. We were so high on our wonderful day that we wanted to keep a positive attitude and assume that the boat’s captain knew what he was doing and it would all work out. Just to be safe, though, we pulled in 50 feet of our anchor rhode. Before we could even say hello, Sea Chronicity’s passengers had hopped in their dinghy and motored a couple hundred feet to their buddy’s boat. Over the next hour Shawn took turns fuming to Chris about how close our boats were swinging to each other and staring at the offending boat, hoping it’s owners would notice how close it was to us and come home to right the wrong. Chris was getting upset mostly because Shawn was upset and not taking action. So we argued about the right moves to make as we watched the winds pick up and swing us to within 25 feet of their boat.

Option 1: we could assume all was well, stop worrying about it and deal with issues if they came up. Option 2: we could weigh anchor and reset further away. Option 3: we could dinghy over to the power boat in which dinner (or was it just drinks?) was taking place and ask to talk to the captain of Sea Chronicity to figure out a solution to this dilemma together. Preoccupied with the situation, Shawn burnt the pine nuts as she witnessed the offending boat’s captain, seemingly drunk, check from the deck of his friends boat with a blue light, that his boat was okay- at a point in which the boats were their furthest point apart- maybe 100 feet. Option 3 was out. Shawn was too wrapped up in the wrong of it all to stop thinking about it, so Option 1 was out. And Option 2 just frustrated both of us- at this point, it was dark and we definitely didn’t want to move.

In the end, we took a deep breath to relax and pulled in another 75 feet of rhode, bringing us to just under 4:1 scope. We figured it was not too windy and knew that our holding was good and proceeded to check on deck every couple hours throughout the night. The next morning, both powerboats pulled anchor and motored away at around 9am and thankfully did not return that night at sunset for a repeat show. Besides not letting anything steal our peace, what should we have done? Are there protocols?

Leaving home is hard but sometimes you just have to go (written 11/30/2008)

We had made it to Cojo Anchorage and didn’t want to leave, so we didn’t. We stayed there for 4-nights and had wonderful sunsets, sunrises, surf and painting sessions, weathered a northwest gale, and had friendly conversation with other cruisers passing through. Then all of a sudden, there was a shift in weather. Day-9 of our adventure we awoke to a southeast wind blowing us toward shore. The winds and swell proceeded to pick up all day and Cojo was no longer providing us protection. Shawn’s weather data reported that the southeast winds were here to stay for the next few days and would likely increase. All of a sudden, it was time to go. We weighed anchor at around 1400 and began our unexpected beat toward Santa Barbara. It took hours just to get to the first oil rig that we’d been taking bearings on over the past several nights during our anchor watches. We were clawing our way up. What could have taken a mere 8-hours in the normal northwest winter winds ended up taking an entire day. We sailed through the night, making good use of our lee cloth while off watch- it’s quite different down below when beating to wind versus running with it.

Shawn got dawn patrol and watched the sun rise from a bank of fog still north of Santa Barbara. Chris awoke and together we made a decision to head out to Santa Cruz Island. We made a bee-line for the west end to seek shelter from the southeast winds and set the hook in Christie’s Anchorage on day-10. We spent two nights watching amazing storm clouded sunsets over Santa Rosa Island, getting a freshwater bath, and weathering the forecasted storm. On day-12 we decided to move with the wind. As the storm was passing, winds were shifting from SE to SW to W. So, we headed to the north side of the island.

Our calculations put us in a beautiful little anchorage just before sunset. Unfortunately, when we got close, there was already a sailboat anchored. No problem, we’ll just stay at the anchorage just before it. Called Hazards, our anchorage was a unique little indentation with cliff walls on 3-sides and a tiny beach. The name might have tipped us off- we couldn’t get the anchor to set. After two tries, we decided to join the other sailboat in what was likely a better anchorage, and the engine promptly died. So we dropped the anchor for the third time and hoped for the best.

Luckily we were in the lee of the island, so winds were very light and swell was manageable. We’d run into the same engine issue again (see a few entries ago). The bolt had gotten loose enough again to let air into the lines. After a couple hours and now in the dark, Chris got the engine working and we recharged our now depleted batteries. It was a sleepless night with the questionably set anchor, no moon, an army of trawlers fishing with their lights on high, and several inches of rain falling that made it easy to get our sail on at 0630 the next morning. The winds filled in as predicted from the west for an amazingly beautiful and crazy fast run down the north coast of Santa Cruz Island to the eastern tip. We ducked around the end of the island and found Smugglers Cove nestled into the south side of the island, calm and sheltered from the west winds. The solitary boat, we sailed onto our anchor and kicked back to relax in this amazing cove that holds such history. The native Chumash called it “Hole in the Sky” for its sunny and fair climate compared to other locales among the Channel Islands, and more recently, as its current name suggests, hidden from mainland, some shady deals went down here. For now though, it’s just an amazingly warm and sheltered safe harbor to recover from the recent storms.

We spent 3-nights anchored in Smugglers Cove, including Thanksgiving (for which we ate a fully decked out Thanksgiving meal minus the turkey). What a spectacular place to be thankful for! The following two days (day-14 and 15) we went ashore for two day hikes: one 8-mile trip to Scorpion Bay on the north side of the island where the main information center is for the NPS and the primary campground on the island, and another to Yellow Banks, a point overlooking the southern side of the island. Our first few dinghy landings through the surf were relatively dry and exhilarating experiences using both surfing and rowing skills. With negative tides we also took time to check out some beautiful tide pools, a hidden rock beach, and relax in the sunny harbor.

Although Smugglers Cove was comfortable and relaxing, with a view of Anacapa Island tempting us, on day-16 (November 30), we again weighed anchor to have a closer look. As we pulled out of the cove, Shawn heard a foghorn and being a “nervous nelly” mentioned it to Chris who would not agree. 5-minutes later, 2-miles away, Anacapa was engulfed in dense fog. We decided to sail on where it was sunny, up the north side of the island toward Chinese Harbor to look for possible surf. But before we got there, another fog bank engulfed us. This was a “high visibility” fog, so we turned around and ran back toward Smugglers Cove, which was still clear and blue and awaited a window to approach Anacapa. When the fog blew through we ran with a 15 knot breeze under a reefed main and 100 percent jib along the beautiful south coast of this rugged island to our current location, East Fish Camp anchorage. Anacapa is actually a group of 3 islands, very small ones, and we are anchored at the east end of the Middle Island, just before the break to the East Island. The East Island is the tourist destination with a museum and some hiking trails. We may not get there because the anchoring is not good anywhere close with protection from the winds we expect. We do get a close up view of these "rocks" that jut up from the water. Anacapa is steep, rough and tough. Not for the faint of heart. Now that Chris has retrieved the dinghy bowline that decided to wrap around Tao's prop while we were setting Rocky, our anchor, we'll decide the next steps tomorrow...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

First Passage: Berkeley to Point Conception
Nautical miles: approximately 300
Engine hours: 13
Most valuable crew member: Moni (our Monitor windvane) with a close second from Grizzly
Passage Time: 4.25 days (0500 November 15th Berkeley Marina to 1200 November 19th Cojo Anchorage)
Anchorages during the passage: Stillwater Cove off of the 18th tee at Pebble Beach in Carmel, CA from 1100 November 16th through 1200 November 17th.

Wow! Where to start? The weather quickly deteriorates this time of year north of Point Conception so we felt a bit of pressure to get past this “Cape Horn of southern California”. The first winter storms followed by a beautiful weather window with 100 year highs in the Bay area nudged us onward.

Chris returned on a red eye from Hawaii on the 13th so we basically had only the 14th to get the final touches ready for leaving Berkeley. We rushed around like crazy people; filled the water tanks, topped off fuel, purchased the final fresh produce, gave Tao her last fresh water bath for who knows how long, oh and we purchased a well cared for 2hp motor for our dinghy hours before pushing off so then had to figure out how to mount it on the deck rail… We didn’t get to fit in quite everything- a going away party to show of the boat, drinks with the Stillwater folks, a sail with Frank and Sid, we’ll just have to keep in touch via this blog. Thanks so much to all who encouraged us for the last who knows how long to “go” and notably in the final hours Greg, Melissa and Matey of Pura Vida for the assurance that cruisers are indeed friendly as well as the loan of their Miata to run quick last minute trips to town and especially to Dave, Annette and Luna of Moonshadow who not only escorted us out past the Golden Gate but were there to help us every step through the last few weeks of craziness.

We’re off like a herd of turtles. We awoke on Saturday the 15th to a northeast breeze which gave us some difficulty getting out of our slip. Once finally underway, we were trying to get our bearings in our familiar space made all of a sudden unfamiliar from darkness, when our emergency bilge alarm went off! Where was the water coming from? Do we have to go back to the slip already? We pumped out and there was no flow coming in, so we continued on. The sunrise was amazing and the winds filled in off shore pushing us away from Berkeley. We were able to run out past the Golden Gate on a 2.2 knot ebb tide. Traffic was timed perfectly for crossing the shipping lanes. We waved goodbye to Moonshadow and the Golden Gate as we turned south and saw the Farallones off in the distance.

We sailed on a beam reach down the coast about 5 nautical miles off, picking out places we’d previously surfed as we sailed by. We reached Half Moon Bay and a decision point around noon. Do we continue on for our first night at sea? As the winds lessened, the swells began to make Shawn (who refuses as of yet to take seasickness meds) a bit nauseous though Chris’ drugs were working fine. The moon was to be big and bright and the weather good, so we headed on toward our first night at sea. Just before sunset the coast range blocked our winds and we were becalmed. Wanting to keep it “traditional” we bobbed for two hours and Shawn, now feeling fine, passed the nausea on to Chris. It was when we realized that we were being pushed toward land and back up the coast that we fired up the iron horse. It wasn’t until 7 hours later as Chris’s watch ended and Shawn’s began at 2300 that the winds filled in again. From there, we had an amazing sail wing-on-wing down toward Santa Cruz/Monterey at about 4 knots. Around 0500 the next morning we heaved-to waiting for the sun to come up so we could sail into Carmel Bay for some well needed rest and boat work.

We dropped the hook in Stillwater Cove just off the 18th tee of the famous Pebble Beach golf course at 1100 Sunday 16th. The hammock was up on the foredeck and in no time Shawn was asleep swaying in the sunny breeze as Chris ripped apart the bow looking for the water that was still filling our bilges. The culprits turned out to be a cowl vent on the foredeck and anchor chain haus pipe. Putting the deck plate in and careful management of the anchor locker have relieved that issue to date.

At noon on Monday the 17th we weighed anchor and were off again after spending the morning installing a battery monitor and making our first contact via HAM radio with Dave in LA and Burg and Marcia in Gualala. Once out of Carmel Bay we watched a pod of dolphins cruising down the coast much faster than we were with our calm to 5 knot lapsing winds and again our engine came roaring to life helping us down the Big Sur coast. Five hours later the winds filled in from the west and we sailed wing on wing through thick fog with the moon and a few stars peeking out through a hole just above us. Grizzly seemed to have her sea legs and loved that someone was up at all hours to play with her. She sat on the table down below swaying like it was normal and kept a close eye on whichever of us was on deck watch.

Continuing on through the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary we had a high marine layer all day on Tuesday the 18th. The sun shone through for a brief time while Shawn was on watch about 10 nautical miles off shore she watched two whales (California gray?) headed up the coast and even saw one breech! As we continued past Point Piedras Blancas and San Simeon, the little amount of daylight grew less and the winds increased, our calculations put us into our next possible anchorages either Morro Bay or Port San Luis after dark. With a forecast of dense fog and deteriorating wind conditions over the next few days we reached another decision point. With plenty of sea room, we decided to slow down and heave-to for a few hours of good rest (though one of us was still on watch) until 2100 when we calculated that we needed to again start heading south to get to Point Arguello and Point Conception in good daylight hours.

Taking turns at four hour watches we flew down the coast averaging over 4 knots under jib alone. This put us just off Point Arguello around 0700 on Wednesday the 19th. With both of us now on watch, we entered what is known as “windy lane” in which there was a low marine layer of fog and winds were 15-20 knots from the northwest. Moni (our Monitor windvane) steered us surfing down the 3 foot waves to reach our maximum speed over ground during the passage of 9.5 knots! Chris was clipped into the jack lines on deck monitoring Moni’s work while Shawn was down below frantically plotting positions every 10 minutes because we could see nothing in the fog when magically, the winds abated, the sun shown through and we could make out Point Conception as we sailed out of windy lane into the lee of Point Arguello.

We caught our breath for a few moments each finally enjoying our tea in the quick respite. We then gybed for a few more moments in windy lane before we could gybe again around Point Conception. Now officially in Southern California, all too quickly we found ourselves just past Government Point at our destination of Cojo anchorage. Having spent so much energy focusing on getting around Point Conception, we were a bit unprepared and had, shall we say, an exciting quicker than anticipated anchoring when our anchor decided to drop itself while we were doing our drive by of the anchorage. We joined two other sailboats between two beds of kelp a bit too close maybe, but all turned out well and we broke out strawberries and port in celebration.

We have been recovering here for two days now and just finished riding out the northwest gale that we raced to get here ahead of. Time to check out the world renowned surf breaks along this untouched portion of the California coast called “The Ranch” and afterwards onward toward the Channel Islands.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Provision, weather, provision, provision weather!

We know it’s time to sail because the first projects that we did are ready to be done again… So, instead of doing those projects and being at the dock for another season, we’re going sailing and we’ll do them at anchor as we can where the weather is sunny and warm. From the way Shawn is buying provisions, you’d think that nobody eats or cleans or does anything anywhere in the world except for Berkeley. Just one more trip to Berkeley Bowl, and Trader Joe’s, and the pet store, and… And Chris wouldn’t mind one more trip to Svendsen’s, West Marine and maybe Pineapple Sails too. Please let this weather window hold because we really can NOT fit another weeks worth of provisions on the boat. It’s time to get out there and experience what we really need instead of attempting to anticipate every possibility from the dock. Even though we’ve been planning this forever, there seem to still be millions of loose ends. So, a couple more full days running around town and we’ll be fully loaded (likely down to the water line) and will deal with the loose ends as they come- later. Thanks for all of your encouragement and please send good weather thoughts our way. Love you all!

Chris visits his grandparents in Oahu

Grandma and Grandpa it was great to see you both!!!
Dave where he grew up

Dinner at the Nishi's in Mililani town

Boogie boarding at local breaks

Punahou classmates

Shave ice!!

USS Missouri Tour- amazing history!

Sarah taking awesome pictures

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The rest of October and early November

Sail with Marie and Laura. It was so much fun to FINALLY get you both down here! Where, however, are we supposed to replace that amazing bottle of port?!

Chris and Moonshadow Dave just west of Alcatraz

Watching for cargo ships out past the gate

Fighting against a strong ebb tide to get back under the gate.

Shawn at the helm

Griz doing the navigating for us

Sunrise in San Pablo Bay

Riding the ebb tide back toward Berkeley

Red Rock and the San Raphael Bridge.

Grizzly scanning her territory from behind the main sheet and on top of the stowed dinghy.

Tao's home in Berkeley under a full moon rising.