We left Monterey on Tuesday, November 17 in the early afternoon headed for Oxnard. This was a significant coastal passage for a couple of reasons. First, as mentioned in the prior post, the weather is changing and windows of good weather are fewer and shorter. Second, this passage takes the boat around ‘the corner’ of Point Arguello and Point Conception. These pair of points are only 14 nautical miles (about 16 statute miles) apart, but they define the beginning of southern California. Point Conception has a reputation for gale-force winds and high, steep waves. It is also the beginning of the Santa Barbara channel. So getting around Point Conception and into southern California marked another big step in the trip. In fact, as we sailed down the Santa Barbara channel Randy began to feel that the “delivery” phase was ending and the “cruising” phase was beginning. But I get ahead of the story.
One of the interesting facets of this trip for a sailor is that in November the coastal currents between Monterey and Point Arguello often swirl and reverse from their usual southerly direction. This means that when heading south, we might run into northerly currents. The way to tell if current is helping the boat along, or hindering progress, is to compare boat speed through the water against boat speed over the ground (over the sea floor). This is done by comparing a knotmeter that measures boat speed through the water with the GPS that reports boat speed over the surface of the earth. Well…we installed new instruments on Velic in May and in the tumult of getting off the dock the new knotmeter was not properly calibrated. Sure, it reported numbers – but we couldn’t be certain they were believable numbers. So, because of the seasonal current phenomena referenced above, I really wanted to properly calibrate the knotmeter. The last chance to do this was in the sheltered waters of Monterey Bay as we head out.
We left Monterey Harbor and spent over an hour motoring north and south over a nautical mile in lumpy water to try and calibrate the knotmeter. Although the calibration was not quite successful, the exercise did succeed in making Randy somewhat queasy as he spent an hour staring at little screens and scrolling numbers.
In the late afternoon we headed northwest out of Monterey Bay and around Point Pinos (Pine Point). By nightfall we were in the open ocean, sailing southwest on a moderate breeze with long, high swells coming down from the Gulf of Alaska and local swells bouncing off Point Pinos. The boat was rolling vigorously from side to side; it was pretty uncomfortable. It was also time to set the wind vane up to self-steer the boat for the passage. For the first time in many years and more sea miles, Randy got properly sea sick trying to set up the wind vane. But turning around wasn’t an appealing option: Against the wind and confused seas, it would be twice as uncomfortable and take four times as long to get back to Monterey. The only reasonable course was to sail on. By midnight the wind vane was steering well and Ruth was off watch trying to get some sleep.
We had waited in Monterey for a wet and windy weather front to pass through. The clear, cool weather behind that front brought crystal clear skies. We were sailing offshore, heading away from the lights along the coastline. With no atmospheric haze, no clouds, and no lights, the Milky Way was bright and clear. We watched shooting stars flash through the night sky, all night long. It was beautiful night sailing.
Dawn Wednesday brought warm sun and much better seas. As we got farther offshore, the sea settled into a regular pattern. The boat was still rolling side-to-side. Ruth was still tracking down annoying noises made by things sliding back & forth inside lockers, stuffing socks, hats and towels as padding to silence the clinks. But it was better than the washing machine motion off Point Pinos the night before.
We’re far offshore and it’s time to empty the holding tank. One of the valves to set for pumping overboard doesn’t want to set properly. And then the macerator pump jams. Harrumph. We can still use the head, but this means opening up the sewage system and fixing equipment at the next opportunity.
At 1300/1:00 PM we were 100 nautical miles offshore. It was time to jibe and head toward Point Arguella (Randy calls it Point Arugula). The resulting change in boat direction improved conditions on board even more. Beautiful ocean sailing on a broad reach.Then late evening and Bang! The sacrificial joint on the self-steering wind vane sacrificed itself. While Randy has replaced this joint at sea before, it was dark and we were closing on the coast line. No way this time. From here on we would be hand steering. By midnight we were rounding Point Arguello and then Point Conception and Randy wanted to hand steer anyway. By dawn we were motoring in the Santa Barbara Channel proper, the wind had died to nothing and the electronic auto-pilot was steering.
The gale force winds off Point Arguella and Point Conception showed up as predicted, but lasted less than an hour. They were very much a localized phenomenon, reminding us of Wind Mountain in the Columbia River Gorge.
Another new-to-us local phenomena we encountered sailing down the Santa Barbara Channel are the offshore oil rigs. At night, their lights make them highly visible – no chance of accidentally running into one! It was amazing watching big swells in high winds roll under the oil rigs at midnight. By day, you can see clearly how huge and distinctive they are, dwarfing everything else in the channel. We continued east in Santa Barbara Channel in the sun, arriving at Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard by mid day Thursday.
Channel Islands Yacht Club welcomed us and hosted during a delightful stay. A warm and friendly club, we enjoyed many interesting conversations and meals.