North To South

Pan Pan, Pan Pan, Pan Pan. This is the United States Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles/Long Beach with an urgent marine weather message for the inner and outer waterways of the Santa Barbara Channel. A small craft advisory remains in effect until 3am Thursday. Inexperienced mariners, especially those operating smaller vessels should avoid navigating in these conditions.

These were the first words waiting for me on VHF Channel 16 as I piloted my vessel out of Morro Bay towards Point Conception and the Santa Barbara Channel.

“Goddamnit,” I said to myself. “How did you screw this one up, Zach?” I took weather routing on this leg very seriously, as the preeminent California Cruising book–authored by Brian Fagan–calls Point Conception the “Cape Horn of the Pacific.” No small claim. I monitored the NOAA weather, weather buoys, magicseaweed.com (a surfing site that gives good info on swells), Sailflow, an app called Windfinder, and most importantly, PredictWind. PredictWind allows me to customize both my sailing route and my departure window based on multiple different weather prediction models. I shelled out 250 mangoes for a year’s subscription, so I clearly hold it in high esteem. All that information was telling me that this was my window–a brief (relative) calming of the conditions between me and Southern California. But, the thing about forecasts is, you just never know, so the USCG broadcast spooked–but did not deter–me.

In the end my passage was perfectly reasonable and my forecasts pretty close to spot on. I had wishy washy seas and winds in the low 20 knot range, but near Point Conception you take that every damn day of the week. I stayed roughly 6 miles offshore and rounded the point in the middle of the night–if I had gone 12 hours earlier or later, conditions would have been roughly double those that I experienced. Yes, when the wind died shortly before dawn I had some trouble when my fuel filters clogged (too much tossing about out there) but I was lucky in my timing and able to calmly devote time to fixing it as the sun rose.

All in all, the trip from Morro Bay to my berth in Oxnard took 30 hours. That’s…too much for comfort. I held up pretty well, but it has convinced me to look into shelling out the big bucks for an electric autopilot system on the boat. I simply need more flexibility to leave the helm in a wider variety of conditions.

But, the good news is I have made real headway! I have nibbled and chewed my way down the coast and am now in a whole different California than the one from which I departed. My confidence advances via two steps forward and one step back, but progress is progress.

The unexpected gem so far has been anchoring at San Simeon. I didn’t have much in the way of expectations–high or low–but Momo and I spent about 48 hours in that idyllic little cove, paddle boarding to shore, playing on our (nearly) private beach, and then hiking through the headlands. It was Magestic.

Morro Bay was another treat, although we stayed a couple days longer than preferred while waiting for our weather window. At the Morro Bay Yacht Club, I was fortunate enough to meet a Professor at Cal Poly who flies a small plane. He invited me up with him to give his 2-seater Christen Husky some exercise. I’ve never been in such a craft before and it was a feeling I don’t really have the words to describe. Much more nimble and vertical than the larger commercial planes I’ve been in.

Yesterday I enjoyed a cloudlessly warm (if nearly wind-less) sail with an Aunt and Uncle along the shores of Ventura. It was marvelous to catch up with family a little bit and to plug back into a modicum of familiarity for a while. After, we BBQ’d in their ocean-facing backyard in the Ventura hills ravaged by fire a short year ago while taking a moment to appreciate how gloriously fortunate we are in life. I thought Momo was going to go on strike when it was time to leave. Sunshine and grass and sounds of the wind blowing through shrubbery (with maybe a few nibbles of steak mixed in) are really her jam. I suppose she’s not alone in that.

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