Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Passage Journal: San Diego to Turtle Bay

Feliz Navidad ... almost!
Some tough times since San Diego, intermixed with wonderful experiences keeps us on our toes!!

Turtle Bay ,, A nice calm anchorage

Cruising is a tease.  One moment it offers you some of the most unique, cool, and exciting experiences of your life.  You're flying along having a great time wondering how anyone could live any other way.  And then it throws you a curve -- an "ugh" (for I can think of no other way to describe the feeling).  And just at the moment when you are on the edge, on the brink of wondering why in the world you are putting up with this, it offers up yet another cool thing, and you are again flying high.

San Diego to Turtle Bay

One week has passed since leaving San Diego, but it feels like a month, perhaps more.  The last seven days have really been  quite the roller coaster ride, such that I'm not sure where to even begin ... I suppose ---- [enter very long pause while I wait for the tremendous swell to stop rocking the boat such that I can set down my drink and continue typing ... ah that's better, for the second anyway] --- as I was saying, I suppose I should just start at the beginning ... it's a long one, so I hope you've had your cup 'o jo already!

We left San Diego around noon on the 23rd.  We fueled up next to a power yacht, Evviva.  This boat was amazing, probably 250 feet (at least) ... helicopter pad on the upper dock and all (and we've got pictures to prove it).  After a few words with the Captain (owner?) and some of the crew, we learned that it holds 30,000 gallons of fuel and burns 180 gallons per hour!  Figure and average of $2.00 a gallon ... well, you do the math!!!  Just to give you something to compare it to, Billabong carries about 80 gallons (TOTAL ... which includes the 20 gallons in jerry jugs up on deck).  In an hour they burn more than twice our total capacity.  Amazing.  In one hour their fuel expensive is greater than a third of our entire monthly budget!

It was dreary and raining as we left - we have really come to appreciate our well protected cockpit - although some of that sideways rain still gets you.  It looked like we might have to motor, but on exiting the channel we felt a light breeze and decided to raise sail.  As I headed us up and Chris raised the main, the wind decided to have some fun with us (it seems that with Billabong it is all wind or no wind).  We had two or three reefs in and used the smaller Staysail rather then the Genoa.  It was cold ... very cold, and of course since we had been tied up at the transient dock, rather than anchored out, my seasickness began to kick in.  I hung out in the cockpit with Chris until about 11:30pm and then decided that I was going down below.  Chris could get me when he was ready to switch.  I was at the bottom of the roller coaster -- wet, cold, tired, and sick.

Dolphins at Night

2:30am, I'm somewhat awake, hearing a very high pitched whining noise ... eeeewww, eeeewww, eeeewww.  I'm thinking it's the engine (we had gone from too much wind to no wind, of course with no in-between), but I can hear Chris and know that when it comes to the engine he's got extremely sensitive hearing, so nothing must be wrong.  Then I hear Chris come down below and into our cabin ... "Do you hear that whining?".  "Yes ...".  "It's dolphins ... tons of them ... and it's phosphorescent -- you've got to come see it ...".  I have to admit I did not jump anxiously out of bed ... I'm thinking, yah yah I've seen dolphins, and it's cold out there ... but something in Chris's voice (excitement maybe) got my legs going, and the rest of me just followed.  As I make it up to the bow, I'm not all that impressed and am secretly thinking "I got out of bed for this?" -- at the time I could maybe see one dolphin ... barely glowing in the phosphorescent.  And then, out of nowhere, there they were.  Twenty to thirty dolphins, lighting up the boat with the green glow of phosphorescence.  At this point, no matter what I type, how many fifty-cent words I use, or how elegant they are, I will not be able to convey just how extraordinary it was.  We sat on the bow for at least twenty minutes just watching. You could see the dolphins coming from about fifty yards away ... they looked like fast moving green torpedoes ... two or three at a time, straight at the boat with amazing speed, and then SWOOSH they'd turn at the last minute now jumping, turning, rolling, dodging through the wake at the bow.  They glowed green and came from every direction.  Some played off in the distance, others so close I'm not sure how they didn't hit the boat.  I said to Chris, "I've just had my first real cruising experience".  I am now at the top of the roller coaster, flying high, wishing I could transmit this image to my family and friends to share, but knowing that no matter how I described it, it would never sound as cool as it was.

Point Colnette

Point Colnette Anchorage

Originally we thought we would head for San Martin or Cabo San Quintin, but we made contact with a couple of cruisers (who we met in Ventura), and they were stopping at Point Colnette.  We were ahead of them (they had left from Ensenada a few hours back), so we thought we'd swing by Point Colnette and check it out.  There were some large swells, but low in frequency and the wind seemed calm enough that we decided to stay.  Sea Pilgrim and Koinonian arrived a few hours later.  We had Bryan and Teri (from Sea Pilgrim) over for Christmas Eve dinner [Sausage and Pepper Stew w/ rice] and retired pretty early.  The next morning we awoke to find that Santa visits boats too!  After coffee and present opening we lifted anchor for San Martin.  On the way we got to talk to our families via satellite phone.  For what seems like the first time, we actually had GOOD wind ... not too strong and not too light, ahhhh this is sailing :)  The sun was out, the breeze blowing, and oh my is that a whale just fifty yards port of us???  My first whale sighting EVER ... outside of Sea World.   He stayed with us for a bit surfacing three or four times.  We never got to see much of him, but on his final appearance he showed us his tail -- so cool! (The pictures I took were with my non-digital 35 mm so it might be awhile before we can post them on the website).

San Martin

The two other vessels had departed around 7:00am ... us two hours behind.  But it didn't  take long for us to catch up (while I'm sure Chris, with his excellent sailing skills, would like to take credit, I think it had more to do with waterline).  There was a lot of haggling on the radio, especially to those in "last place" ... who were accused of doing their laundry (dragging clothes behind the boat ... causing them to slow down).  It really was a great day!  We arrived at San Martin at dusk ... a bit of rain had started up again and there was some fog cover, but it was calm (we had actually been motoring the last two miles).   I whipped up our Christmas dinner (Honey Glazed Turkey, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Three-Cheese Biscuits, Zucchini with Onions, and Apple Crisp for dessert), and we enjoyed a calm, relaxing dinner under the glow of our Christmas lights.  I was still at the high of the coaster ... but coasters drop fast.

San Martin Northern (exposed) Anchorage
Before I go on, a visual of our anchorage is in order.  San Martin is a small C shaped anchorage, open to the North-Northwest.  Great protection, unless a Northwesterly came in ... a NW would put you in a lee-shore condition (this is where the wind and waves are pushing you towards shore -- typically a bad thing).  When we entered the anchorage we circled near the western edge of the anchorage - discovering very shallow water (10 feet) and tons of kelp (not good for engine propellers).  The entire Eastern side of the shore [anchorage] was rocks.

The Big Blow

I don't think I am exaggerating when I say that the wind picked up in a matter of minutes.  It was still calm when I climbed into bed and began reading -- and it wasn't more than one or two pages later that it had jumped at LEAST 15 knots.  Chris went up to check things out, I stayed thinking it was just a "little wind".  That "little wind" continued to grow.  Chris set me to watching wind speed and keeping him updated while he scoped out our anchor to confirm all was holding and well.  During this task, I heard Sea Pilgrim call Koinonian.  They (Sea Pilgrim) were dragging, and therefore decided to lift anchor and move around the point to the backside of the anchorage (where they would be protected from the NW wind which was now hitting us at above 20 knots).  Koinonian was holding anchor and decided to stay.  Chris asked me what he thought we should do.  Here's where it gets tough -- by now the increasing winds (hitting 30 knots) are creating some rather large and forceful waves/swell.  If we lift anchor we have to be able to pull in 150 plus feet of chain and a tangled snubber, while keeping Billabong from being blown back (onto shore).  In addition it's raining, which means cloud cover, which means pitch black -- translation -- will I run Billabong into the Island, or Kelp?  And if we do successfully pull anchor we have to get around the point, and re-anchor (in the dark).  On the other hand, if we stay, conditions could worsen and we could be forced to leave ... in worse conditions.  I was no help,  I couldn't decide ... I just didn't know.  Chris thinks were going to move ... so I put on every layer of clothing I can find and join him in the cockpit.  It's ugly out here.  The wind is screaming through the anchorage ... you know that monstrous sound really hard wind can make.  Billabong is rocking and rolling hard.  Land looks awfully close.  We made our plans for exit, and perhaps it was something on my face, but Chris asked me if I "felt good" about this.  I couldn't lie, I wasn't going to pretend, No, Hell No, pulling anchor had me worried.  On the other hand I trust Chris - if he thought we should lift anchor, then we should, no questions.  But I didn't think that Chris was fully sure either ... and perhaps you never are in these situations, but he was to and from the bow, back-and-forth, back-and-forth, wanting (remember this is all from my prospective) so badly to make the right decision -- the safest decision.  Finally, feeling like I was no help in this difficult dilemma, I suggested he take a moment, sit, breath, and go with his gut.  We had a minute to spare - use it to clear your mind.  I'm not sure if Chris liked the idea or was just appeasing me, but he did it -- and came out with the decision that we would stay, but we were going on anchor watch.

It wasn't long after this decision, that Chris pulled out the search light.  On radar Koinonian looked awfully close to shore, actually that's an understatement, they looked like one.  And they were.  When flashed, you could see Koinonian slightly lying on her port side.  I couldn't believe it.  We still had our engine running, and decided to keep it that way, if our anchor started to drag we didn't want to have to worry about the engine not starting or the time it took to start it.  Chris went back to anchor watch on the bow, while I stood by at the wheel/engine, ready to go.  I hailed Koinonian.  No answer. Hailed again.  No answer.  Hailed again ... Sea Pilgrim answered and I told them what was up - they would stand by why I continued to try and contact Koinonian.  I couldn't see any movement with the search light.  It's at this point that my overly active imagination got going.  I'm not going to go into everything that I visualized - like the phosphorescent dolphins I could never accurately convey these thoughts - let's just say I need to read a little less Stephen King.  Finally Linda (from Koinonian) answered.  She sounded frantic to me, like someone very close to panic ... I hoped I was just reading into things, and perhaps she was just out of breath.  I got some information ... their anchor dragged and before they had time to do anything they had hit a rock and were now stuck.  Von had tried to use another anchor to pull them off, but wasn't able to row or motor (on their dinghy) the anchor out due to the waves and wind.

They were now getting in the life raft, Von was waiting for her, she had to go. And that was it.  I almost panicked ... everything, absolutely EVERYTHING I've read says not to leave your boat unless it is ABSOLUTELY the last option ... the saying goes you should have to step UP into the life raft.  But she was gone, and honestly I didn't really know -- after all it's just something I read.  I couldn't see them with the search light, and without radio contact had no idea how they were fairing.  I stared at the wind speed, willing it with every ounce of my being to go down, concentrating so hard, as if I could command those stupid digital numbers to go down and make everything alright.  Of course I couldn't.  A bit later Sea Pilgrim came on -- they had heard from Von and Linda (not sure why we weren't picking them up), they were OK.  We were still confused as to if they were in their dinghy (also serving as their life raft) with a hand held radio, or if they had gone back aboard.  It finally came out that they opted to stay with the boat.  They were both okay, the boat had not cracked (they were not taking on water), but they were out of options.  The couldn't put out another anchor to pull them off the rocks, and it was too rough to try and put some type of cushion between the hull and the rocks.  She was holding, but every wave that came in pounded against her -- how much longer could she stay intact?

At one point a huge fishing boat was passing by and appeared to be looking for something (we found out later Sea Pilgrim had seen them and contacted them to see if they could assist).  We shone our search light on Koinonian (thinking that is who they were looking for), and they launched a Ponga to investigate.  The only problem was that they came to us first.  We didn't speak Spanish ... they didn't speak English, and with the wind and waves, the only way the could get close to us was to run into us, which is exactly what they did -- as if we didn't have enough concerns!  Somehow we got them pointed towards Koinonian, they went, shone some lights, and then headed back to Billabong.  WHY?  We tried every hand signal and Spanish sayings for "No" that we knew, but they came, and again, bounced against our boat.  We are just lucky they missed (by inches) our port window and Gomez (the wind-vane).  They said some stuff, made some hand motions that seemed to say Koinonian is being banged (duh), and then returned to the larger fishing boat.  And that was it - they left.  We have no idea if it was just a communication problem, or if they deemed Koinonian impossible to save in these conditions.

And so we waited.  It was around 9:30pm that the had wind picked up.  Around midnight that we discovered Koinonian ashore.  And around 4a.m. that the Coast Guard helicopter appeared.  Up until that point (from probably 11pm - 4am) Chris lay huddled in the chain locker monitoring the anchor (at this point the bow was actually dipping under water with some of the larger swells) ... I can't imagine how cold Chris must've been huddled up there with one dinky little fleece blanket.  I sat at the helm monitoring the wind and radio (making occasional contact with Koinonian or Sea Pilgrim), and doing occasional search light checks of Koinonian.  Chris had rigged the snubber lines in the best manner he could think of to alleviate stress from the swell, he had a second anchor and set of snubbers waiting and ready, we had the engine running - ready bolt, and we waited.  I kept staring at the wind speed gauge convinced that any minute it would go down.  At 4a.m. it did ... not to calm, but to calm enough ... below 20 knots.  We actually turned off the engine.  I laid down in the cockpit, while Chris went back to his "cozy" anchor locker.  What seemed like one minute later (although it was really closer to 20 minutes), Chris comes back saying something -- sounded like "oh ust ard ine ight urry".  I was in such a haze, I was standing before I was even awake, but then realized what he was saying, there was a "Coast Guard helicopter, shine the light, hurry".  We directed the helicopter (via spot light) to Koinonian.  Sea Pilgrim had also seen the helicopter and contacted Koinonian via radio.

We were impressed, by our calculations Koinonian had set off their EPIRB (emergency position information radio beacon) around midnight ... the Coast Guard had arrived within four to five hours (fyi, we do have an EPIRB).  About the same time the Coast Guard showed up, the wind picked up again.  We re-started our engine and resumed our previous positions, while also monitoring the radio to hear discussions between Koinonian and the Coast Guard.  Just prior to the wind re-starting I really though Koinonian had a chance - she was still holding together and the wind was dying.  Light would be here soon, and then we could help her off the rocks.  But that's not the way it went.  The wind (and therefore waves) picked up, which meant more pounding for Koinonian.  It was awful to hear Von on the radio with the Coast Guard -- the sound of the crashing waves in the background, of the boat being ripped apart, ugh.  Koinonian couldn't take the second round of pounding ... I'm not sure what time it was - the sun wasn't visible on the horizon yet, but dawn was near, when Koinonian cracked.  Under the light of the Coast Guard's helicopter they abandoned ship (at this point they were pushed so close to shore they could've probably walked).  The Coast Guard lowered a man down to them (which was quite a site to watch) to ensure they were okay and figure out the next steps.  In the end Linda and Von decided to stay and catch a ride to the next port with Sea Pilgrim (they could've flown back with the Coast Guard).  Talking with Bryan and Teri later, it was that perhaps Von still hoped in his heart that Koinonian could be saved.

It was around 8:00a.m., as the bow dipped under water yet again, and the wind showed no signs of letting up, and the swells only grew, that we decided to ditch our anchor and motor out.  We hadn't dragged, which was calming, but we couldn't just sit in the anchorage waiting and hoping, and we couldn't safely pick up the anchor.  Without too much trouble we made it to the other side.  The conditions were still bad, but with no lee-shore things seemed a hundred times better.  Our problem now was that our primary anchor and chain were gone, and the water where we were now anchoring was deep (60 feet deep).  Plus the swells were huge (we were rolling from port window to port window) and it was still quite windy (even with some of the protection of the island).  We threw out a Bruce anchor (which are supposed to only require 4 to 1 scope) and 5 to 1 scope.  Neither of us felt great about this ... 5 to 1 in these conditions, even on a Bruce wasn't comforting ... especially when we had out all line (no chain), and our line had a splice in the middle of it (which weakens the line).

Moved into the lee of the island to try to rescue Koinonian

I can't imagine having done it in the dark, or how Sea Pilgrim made it without tangling themselves in the kelp.  There were huge kelp beds surrounding the entire outer edge of the island.  Sea Pilgrim later told us that they came within a dinghy's length of the rocks the night before (when their anchor dragged).

Chris and I were exhausted.  We monitored Bryan as he rowed ashore to pick up Von and Linda and begin salvaging some of the boat.  With the conditions, our "weak" anchor, exhaustion, and an irritable outboard engine, we didn't feel like taking our dinghy ashore (rather, didn't feel it was safe).  The three of them made it back to Sea Pilgrim safely -- and we all called it a day.  The rolling wouldn't stop though, making it a long night.  Chris and I both slept on the settee (couch) to give us a better roll angle (head to foot instead of side to side).

It was a bit calmer the next day, so we launched the dinghy and went around to the other side -- where we had ditched anchor.  Our anchor buoy was still there and everything appeared to be in order.  It was still too windy and rough to attempt retrieval.  We joined Bryan and Teri ashore, and met Julio the Fisherman.  According to Julio this was one of the windiest months of the year (oh great!).  Julio was great.  Apparently he lives in Ensenada, but two months out of the year he watches the island, or rather the shacks and boats of the lobster fisherman.  I can't imagine how lonely it must get.  While ashore one of the small fishing boats broke free of it's mooring and ended up on the beach.  The four of us assisted Julio in the rescue and helped him secure the boat, in return -- without being asked -- Julio gave us five lobsters!  (Chris and I gave our share to Sea Pilgrim as they had the extra guests and we figured Von and Linda could use a good meal).  Finally, that night the wind seemed to be calming.  The boat wasn't rocking near as much and a good night's sleep was just around the corner.

And just as I was drifting off into bliss, Chris informs me that we are in the kelp!  While the wind was calm, it had also shifted - swinging us around right into the dead center of a very large kelp bed.  Will it never end???  So we're up again, in the night, messing with our anchor.  First we had to pull Billabong clear of the kelp (with the dinghy), then we set out a second bow anchor, but it didn't set first take, so we had to pull it and then set again.  By now we've been motoring all over the place and who knows where our anchors really are ... but we call it a night anyway.  It stayed calm, and we stayed out of the kelp, but sleep was minimal.  Chris woke early and took the dinghy to check conditions in the anchorage.  Things looked good -- it was time for anchor retrieval!

Surprisingly this went pretty well.  However, Julio's assistance was invaluable.  While we were attempting to pick up the end of the chain, Julio (again w/out being asked or signaled) rolled out to us and just started helping.  He seemed a bit disappointed when he found out that Sea Pilgrim had left, and that we were leaving that day as well.  After successfully retrieving our anchor (hooray) we went ashore for one last look at Koinonian.  Chris helped Julio pull off a few more things, and tried to show him parts of the boat that Julio could get a lot of money for (things Julio might not have guessed).  I just wanted to leave.  Chris talked about perhaps hiking to the top of the mountain or taking some pictures of the sea lions, but, in my mind this island felt bad ... bad chi so-to-speak, we couldn't leave soon enough.  So we headed 10 [nautical] miles South to San Quintin (it is the 28th).  On our way a large dolphin pod stopped briefly to play at our bow.  Chris said it's as if they were saying "see there's good stuff to cruising too!".  Sea Pilgrim was also at San Quintin, and had dropped off Von and Linda, who caught a bus to begin their trip home to Oregon.  We were all still in shock that their boat was gone.  They had only just purchased the boat in Ventura.  Had saved for who knows how long, and had sold or donated so many of their possessions.  Luckily they still had retirement and a home ... plus an amazing attitude.  We have no doubt that in a few months they'll be off on some other crazy adventure, and wish them the very best.

San Quntin Anchorage

Finally we got a good night's sleep (ahh)!  The next morning the sun was out, the water was calm, and cruising once again seemed wonderful.  I baked some fresh bread, and then we (along with Bryan and Teri) headed into town (on the dinghy).  None of us had really bothered to scope out just how far the town was ... I am quite surprised we didn't run out of gas!  When we did finally make it back we took a look and discovered it was at least 16 n.m. (roundtrip)!  The town was beyond small ... not even a market or small grocery store.  It was a fishing town, so there were a lot of "Gringos" around and most everybody spoke at least a little English.  We walked around for a bit, and then stopped for some fish tacos.  I think we may have stirred some trouble between husband and wife, because when we asked the husband if they were open he said, "sure sure".  However his wife (aka the cook) did not seemed pleased.  From what little we could decipher (with our limited Spanish) she thought it was too early in the "morning" -- it was 2:00 in the afternoon!!!  She seemed to cheer up though when our presence seemed to attract more customers (I suppose if you're going to cook, might as well cook for more and make a little money).  When we asked the husband what the fish was, his reply was,  "I'm sorry we ONLY have yellowtail"!  ONLY yellowtail -- we all had HUGE grins ... the tacos were absolutely FABULOUS!

There were a few times on the way back that we weren't quite sure we'd make it ... our outboard seemed to be groaning and our fuel going fast ... but we did.  And enjoyed another peaceful night. The swell had started to pick up and weather forecast was predicting higher winds, so we moved out a bit (re-anchored).  The next day was even worse so we put out a stern hook as well in order to get us pointed into the swell (rather than beam to beam rolling) ... but once we set, the wind shifted (as did the swell), so it was all for naught.  We didn't do much those two days -- weather was too crappy.

As I was typing this, Chris was throwing out cheesy titles, like "life on the roll" and "sometimes you've just got to roll with it".  It seems we have not had much luck with the anchorages on the outside.  We were so tired and the swells so bad that we weren't even able to stay up for the East Coast's New Year (i.e. we were both in bed before 9pm).  We were definitely getting to the end our ropes - the swell was driving us crazy.

But, as I started out saying, this cruising thing is a tease ... or roller coaster ... just has we were getting sick and tired of things (and Chris keeps joking that I may not return after my upcoming trip home in the end of Jan), it throws you a bone.  Today (the 1st of Jan), we are sailing on broad reach, in the sunshine, at a leisurely 5 knots.  We are both smiling, enjoying the sail and sun from the comfort of our bean bags -- and oh I think Chris may have just caught a fish!  Take that back, he lost him, ah well we'll keep trying.

We haven't decided yet where we'll stop (either Cedros, Turtle Bay, or Santa Maria) -- we'll let the swell and wind determine that ... all I hope is that we can stay on the upside of the coaster for awhile!!!

Turtle Bay and our first calm anchorage

1/4/2003 - Quick Update.  We passed on the San Benitos Islands (near Cedros) -- too much kelp and wind.  Instead we sailed another night to Turtle Bay (Bahia San Bartolome).  Things here are great so far -- we both slept like rocks last night.  Wind has picked up today, but the anchorage is rather protected, keeping things somewhat smooth.  It's a small town, where the largest and nicest property is the church.  They have fresh fish, which Chris and I tried to buy (yellowtail), however we would've had to purchase the ENTIRE fish -- which is just too much for the two of us.  We plan on hanging here for a few days and then on to Bahia Santa Maria (just outside of Bahia Magdalena).

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