Saturday, January 10, 2009

Dolphins, barges and moorings, "Oh my!"

We had an amazing sail this past Wednesday with a larger group of people than we’d ever had on Tao before; 8 total! Chris’ mom Jane and his Aunt Beth and her family (Uncle Karl who worked as harbor patrol in Newport Beach Harbor for years and their daughters Amy and Dana who also brought her boyfriend Alfie) all made the trip to Newport Harbor to check out the hubbub. (Wonder what they thought?) Anyway, we motored out of the mooring field we’re living in behind Balboa Island and set sails next to the anchorage we stayed at our first couple nights here just east of Lido Island. Wind was very light from directly astern as we slowly made our way the two and a half miles out of the Newport Beach Harbor. It doesn’t get much more exciting on a slow downwind run than safely negotiating a triple ferry crossing only to meet a tug towing a barge at the most constricted turn in the harbor and then another tug pushing and then pulling a barge following us out as we left the harbor for a nice mellow late afternoon sail. It was a great learning wind for those aboard who didn’t much enjoy heeling over and we even got to join a pod of dolphins heading north for a bit. It was a short but fun sail and we re-entered the harbor, motoring toward our mooring as the sun set. It had all gone too smoothly.

We slowly motored down the fairway behind Balboa Island. Imagine a dead end road (the fairway continues, but movement is blocked by a low bridge connecting Balboa Island to mainland) with cars parked on each side as well as in the middle lane, two deep in the center, all parallel parked pointing toward the exit. This is what our current mooring situation is like only with boats attached either to land on the sides or to anchors from the bow and stern in the center. So, we’re motoring our 6 ton boat with our 20hp diesel through this tight area to our spot just before the bridge. Unfortunately there is no nice mooring pendant to grab and rope connecting the two mooring balls. No problem...

We turn to cut between several boats in the “center lane” to get to the other side where our mooring is with Tao pointing toward the exit. And the engine sputters off. We have momentum but no power and are mid turn in the center lane. Chris quickly restarts the engine, it idles a moment and dies again. At this point, Shawn and Karl move forward to fend boats if necessary, but the momentum holds and Chris steers while simultaneously restarting the engine. We continue our tight turn and slowly approach the stern mooring waiting for us. We barely reach it with our “happy hooker” (an amazing device on the end of a long broom handle that allows you to not only hook the bolt eye on the top of the mooring, but pull a line through at the same time) just as the engine sputters off again (why isn’t it holding idle?). But we’re hooked, half way there, just have to hold the line to stop the boats momentum before we run into the boat moored just ahead, and then clip to the bow mooring, phew! Momentum stopped, Shawn jumps into Eeyore and rows to the front of Tao to hook the front mooring ball. All the while Chris is restarting the engine, trying to let out enough of the stern line to get us to the bow mooring and using the cranky engine to get us there. Karl passed Shawn the bow line and clip- we’re home!

But Tao was not lying parallel to the rest. The stern line had slipped free from the mooring while Chris was focused on the engine and he was now trying to keep it going and use reverse to keep the stern from swinging toward the inside of the two rows of moored boats. But the current was sweeping out toward the exit swinging our stern that direction and the prop wash was (unfortunately) urging us the same direction. Shawn’s rowing in Eeyore pulling the stern line was not enough to stop the boat’s swing and get it back up to the stern mooring. To our advantage, everything is moving very slowly, we just need some fenders to ensure no boat damage and we have plenty of hands to fend. So, how do we right this situation? At this point everyone on the boat seemed to have an idea the most prominent of which was to let go the bow mooring, motor out and start the whole process again. The last thing that Shawn wanted to do was be afloat with no engine. Thinking like a river guide she chimed in from Eeyore for Chris to throwbag her and she would row the line to the stern mooring and using the mooring, could pull the boat back into line. With a perfect toss from Chris this trick worked like a charm. The comedy of errors was over and we were safely home with no damage, just a bit of embarrassment at this clumsy entrance. This experience really makes one appreciate the nice mooring pendants found at many rented moorings, but the real issue was that it turns out the kill switch for the engine was out a bit- all the foot traffic from 8 people in the cockpit must have nudged it a little, so the engine was stalling in idle. Live and learn, no harm no foul, it’s all in the recovery, right?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Newport Shuffle

Happy New Year! A fog bank descended upon Catalina for several days after our much-needed hikes. It impeded our movement toward mainland, but maybe that’s just an excuse as we thoroughly enjoyed how we spent the calm foggy days. We sailed from Cat Harbor on New Year’s Eve and found a beautiful spot a few miles east to spend the holiday, tucked behind a reef in the inner basin of Little Harbor. After two nights enjoying this special spot waiting for the fog to lift, ready (itching?) to move, we headed out. As always, we attempted to sail, but the light, fluky, and then nonexistent winds from the direction we were heading pushed us to work the engine a bit. (As an aside, if you’re wondering what happens to all those huge bunches of balloons that are let go into the sky on New Year’s Eve, they’re now floating around in the ocean…). We motor-sailed around the eastern tip of the island past the bustling city of Avalon and as the sun dipped out of site we set the hook off White’s Landing, a great pushing off point to attempt a one day sail to mainland. The next day dawned with a beautiful sunrise signifying changing weather- the edge of a small storm but thankfully no dense fog. We sailed off our anchor with a following wind pushing us directly toward our destination. Unfortunately this didn’t hold, so we struggled through several sail and course changes and ended up motoring across the shipping lanes in no wind. But just through, as we passed the offshore oil rigs, the winds filled in for a perfect sail. We approached Newport Beach Harbor at nearly 5 knots, under sail with pods of dolphins playing in our bow waves, a rainbow on mainland, and a beautiful sun setting behind us between clouds and Catalina. Magical!

2009 and we’re not in Mexico yet, but never fear, we’re so close we can taste it. We find ourselves in the surprisingly huge Newport Beach Harbor. Our first two nights were spent in the inner harbor anchorage, but yesterday, we decided to take a quiet and calm mooring (reputedly the most inexpensive in the country quite unexpected in this very wealthy place) behind Balboa Island so we can focus on reprovisioing and attempting to fill lots of last-minute-before-we-leave-the-country tasks. We’re both excited and nervous for this next step that will be so different. It’s been quite a shakedown so far with lots of magical moments as well as many less publicized frustrating and scary times through which we have really appreciated all of your encouragement and interest. For the next week or so we’ll be here running around like crazy but would love to hear from you one more time before we head out of the country where our cell phones will no longer be active and we’ll lean more heavily on the internet connection (Skype anyone?!). Look for another update before we push off and best wishes to all for a fun-filled 2009!