Our checkout went great again with nothing but green lights. We all worked well together provisioning the boat with our food and personal belongings for the trip. I think I will always be a little nervous about throttling up an unfamiliar boat and navigating through crowded marinas but it always seems to go without a flaw. Marina Del Rey is very beautiful and its waterways are busy with a friendly mix of everything from tiny row boats to enormous racing and passenger vessels. The feeling of boarding this unfamiliar yacht and within hours heading toward deep blue sea is beyond description. It gives me a sense of possibility, responsibility and freedom. Just outside the marina, we experienced choppy waters which basically cast Bill of into a short spell of intense sea-sickness. After he recovered, he and the rest of us had very little problems with this insipid illness for the remainder of the voyage. The mainsail was hoisted after realizing that both a reef line and a double reef line were installed and needed to be loosened. Then the Genoa was unfurled, the motor was shut off, and we were sailing to unexplored distant islands.
In preparation for this cruise, I had researched several different possibilities on how to reach the channel islands. One possibility was to ride really good winds and get there on the first day. Mother nature veto-ed this one. Another possibility was to sail/motor through the night. With the autopilot and quieter (and faster) engine this was feasible but not chosen. I had called ahead to Channel Islands Harbor and they suspected that there would be some vacant slips for us, but this was still a long sail for our first day. From nautical charts, there looked like a good place to anchor off the mainland in a place called Paradise Cove near Point Dune which would provide protection from anywhere from West to North weather. We reached this spot in the early afternoon and decided to "drop a hook" and have a very relaxing evening. Kirsten and Bill headed for the galley to do the magic they do and create wonderful Boboli pizzas for our first dinner. I struggled to repress my urge to play with the dingy - to zip around this peaceful sunset anchorage at open throttle. I was not successful with my attempt at restraint. "Just checking the dingy which can be an important piece of safety equipment..." With a good holding seabed, calm seas and a beautiful Danforth Fortress anchor attached to 300' of heavy duty chain, I decided an anchor watch would not be necessary. What a great and unexpectedly relaxing first day. All were enjoying sailing Alouette, learning about its many systems and spending a night in "paradise".
Don and I woke early at 6:00 and got underway before Kirsten and Bill appeared from their private berth. The temperatures were very nice for this trip. T-shirt and pants during the day, jacket and gloves at night. At this point we were heading out to sea and couldn't see any land except for - what is that - a dolphin. We quickly kicked on the autopilot and made for the bow of the yacht. Here we realized the error in our observation - not one, but hundreds of dolphins. They were everywhere. Jumping and playing in our bow pressure and causing areas of white water where the sea appeared to be boiling with the playful mammals. Later in the day (when Kirsten and Bill finally appeared) we saw another area of dolphins as well as some huge ships on the sea. Here another decision was to be made. We could head for Channel Islands Harbor and delay our arrival at the islands for another day. Or, we could push hard and make for Santa Cruise Island where good anchorages were described. The selected third option was to just go to Anacapa Island and check out the East Fish Camp anchorage which was described as adequate anchorage in the calmest of seas. On our way to East Fish Camp we got our first views of the famous arch at the east end of Anacapa. I had been seeing this rock feature in publications for months now, so I felt a great sense of achievement to finally see it myself.
The East Fish Camp anchorage was in a cove constructed by huge cliffs. It looked suitable so we anchored. Don and I decided to take the dingy toward a small rocky beach. As we approached the shore, we realized what appeared to be little breaking waves were really the breaking of a swells that produced cresting waves of about 5 feet before slamming into the rocky shore. A quick change of plans put us on a short shoreline tour where we found one of the many sea caves common in these islands. We would watch a big wave enter the cave, and several seconds later, we would hear a deep "vooom" noise as the cave returned the remains of that wave in white water and spray. Deciding not to feed this cave a meal of dingy and persons, this was as close as we got. That evening Don provided us with a wonderful salmon dinner outside in the cockpit of Alouette. Again with favorable conditions, no permanent anchor watch was established.
Somehow, I seem to wake every couple hours when at anchor (at least when I am responsible). My 2:00 a.m. anchor check revealed that we were completely socked in with fog. The GPS, depth sounder, and sound of the crashing waves indicated that we had not drifted but it was still eerie not to make visual contact with any of our close-by surroundings. I guessed that if our anchor pulled, we could rely on our instruments to navigate us to safety. In the morning we were still completely socked in with fog so we had a long leisurely breakfast and waited for improved visibility. Shortly after we got underway the fog returned and we actually were relying on the GPS and radar to navigate around to the other (North) side of Anacapa.
The other side of the island provided shelter from the fog and a landing point for getting on the island. This process was a bit complicated by the procedure required to gain access to this unique island consisting of a five mile nearly vertical ridge line. The first thing we did was attach to one of two absolutely giant coast guard mooring buoys near the landing point. Although we didn't obtain permission to do this, I figured with some crew members remaining on Alouette, we could abandon this mooring if a coast guard boat arrived. Bill and Kirsten were first to hike on the island. I drove them to the landing in the dingy. They climbed out of the dingy and up a ladder to ascend to a trail to the top of the island. When they were done touring, Bill called with his handheld VHF radio and Don and I took the dingy to the landing point. Don and I climbed up the ladder and to begin our Anacapa tour, and Kirsten and Bill climbed down the latter to return to Alouette and wait for our radio call. Anacapa was an amazing place. Beautiful, green, foggy, deserted mesa shaped island with strange plants. The place is covered with a succulent cactus similar to ice plant. Also, there are 'forested' areas consisting plants that looked like miniature Baobab trees. The cliffs and views of the ocean below were spectacular. The only animals we saw on this island were birds - with spotless bleached white chests. Observing my amazement of how they are able to keep so white, Don offered the possibility that its due to "clean living". As Don and I were returning to the landing point we noticed a few people ogling Alouette moored nearby. They asked "Is that your boat?" As I have alluded, Alouette is truly a looker. Next it was off to Santa Cruz Island. I had a few possible anchorages to match the current and forecasted weather and downselected to Smuggler's Cove. As we headed toward the island, we could see that the whole area was completely enclosed in thick fog. This was concerning. But with liberal use of Alouette's navigation equipment, we anchored without ever really seeing land, the boat, or the buoy that the radar indicated were right by our sides. For this anchorage, I decided to also set a stern anchor to minimize our travel. Again, anchored before sunset. Tonight's dinner prepared by Kirsten and Bill was a wonderful pasta dish and some port wine.
In the early morning (or was it Tuesday evening?) we witnessed a remarkable clearing of the fog. Within seconds our visibility went from one boat length to completely clear. Once we got over this amazing change, we were able to see that we had anchored in the perfect spot right by land in this protected cove. We all were very impressed. Bill coined the term "IBR" for Instrument Boating Regulations to describe our procedures for performing all this navigation with very little visibility.
Today's activity was to visit Santa Cruz island. We did some sailing and motoring to arrive and anchor at Scorpion Cove. Kirsten and Bill took the dingy for a long hike on the island. Don and I watched with curious eyes on how they were going to avoid being tumbled over in the dingy as they neared the surf. Somehow they made it. After taming a large heard of flies (where did they come from?) I decided to try out the 7 mm wet suit I had rented for this trip. Although the water was about 50 degrees, the suit kept my body fairly warm but my head did get cold. The visibility in this area was really bad, a few feet at most. There was a sea lion swimming near me but I never was able to see it underwater. When Bill and Kirsten returned, they described their hike. In the areas they explored, the island was completely deserted with the exception of a surprised couple who were, at that time, banking on that same assumption. To finish the day we got in some more sailing and returned to our Smuggler's Cove anchorage. Tonight's stirfry dinner was cooked by myself, and chopped by everybody.
In the morning we woke late, and headed back toward the mainland passing by Anacapa again. This time the much photographed Anacapa arch beckoned to us to conduct a more rigorous exploration, despite the absence of any mention anywhere of anybody getting near it. As we passed by, Bill and I boarded the dingy to approach the beast. Don kept Alouette in a holding pattern to help us if need be, and Kirsten grabbed one of their multitude of kick-ass cameras and snapped a few great pictures of us in the dingy. As is typical of this area, there was a significant surge which swept us back and forth, and in and out as we got near the strong and confused currents around these rocks. We did get directly under the arch before heading back to Alouette.
That afternoon we got some decent winds and took turns piloting Aloutette on a broad reach. This yacht is a pleasure to sail. She has been entered in a few races as pictures located near the nav station showed. Unfortunately, the ac inverter seemed to have broken, so there was no more Jimmy Buffett, Squirrel Nut Zippers or Bob Marley. Alot of sailing, reading and lounging around was done on this leg, just enjoying the beautiful day and expansive sea. Before sunset, we had arrived back at Paradise Cove and dropped anchor for the night. Don and I wanted to risk our hand at a dingy beach landing and made for a restaurant located on this beautiful, sandy California beach. A couple very tame waves lowered our concern for the surf and lured me into executing a way too slow, casual beach approach. As I stepped out of the dingy I had just enough time to see Don look way up at the next approaching wave (a biggie), as he committed himself to shutting the air valve on the fuel tank. Needless to say, we provided very good entertainment for the patrons of the restaurant. Well anyway, its not a good day of sailing until someone gets wet.
Dinner consisted of a great burrito concoction created by Kirsten and Bill. Predictions for a weather front bringing small craft advisory conditions suggested that we could soon get some rough weather. This anchorage would provide great protection for weather from the predicted direction, but unfortunately, we saw only increased winds from the other direction putting us on a lee shore. Also, with the kedge anchor holding our stern toward the swell, the waves would make a loud noise as they collided with the relatively flat hulled stern of our yacht. These two conditions, kept my mind on an alert status, so at about 2:00 a.m. I gave up on sleeping and set up a solo watch on the bow.
Today, we did the short sail back to Marina Del Rey. At one point I noticed Bill and Don removing floorboards in the aft portion of Alouette. This activity is always an indication of a problem. Bill had noticed some water in the cabin sole and was looking for the cause. We decided the leak was substantial, but not strong enough (at this point) to overwhelm the bilge pumps. A continued search for the leak brought us to the engine compartment where it was observed that a hose coming from a water pump was spraying water. A micky job with duct tape, hose clamps and pieces of sliced rubber were sufficient to almost completely stop the leak. Again, as the morning progressed the winds picked up and we sailed from our ocean and island vacation back to Marina Del Rey, to once again enter the world '"made of love and luck" - Jimmy Buffet'.