A new sensation

Last week we departed the lovely Monterey Harbor with a disturbing set of expectations:

  • that we would have a trouble-free passage, despite this being probably the most challenging area we would have sailed so far and
  • that we would finally reach warmer cruising grounds

We stayed over two weeks in Monterey. And we loved it. But part of the reason we stayed that long was because we were cherrypicking a weather window to cover the way to Santa Barbara. Not for other reason than the fact this is a treacherous sailing ground – specifically Point Conception, which is at 3/4ths of the way there. The area has the interaction of two major sea currents, associated to highly thermal wind patterns, which often get together to create boisterous sailing conditions. Add to this a high incidence of fog and, well … you get the picture. No wonder it is often referred to as “the Cape Horn of the North Pacific”.

Luckily, the window that opened up for our passage last week included an unusually calm weather. Nearly no wind, relatively low swell, and – most importantly – no fog! The drawback was that we motored 100% of the time – but in this case, it was a price we were more than willing to pay.

We woke up before day broke on Tuesday, had a warm tea in the cabin, and Adriana went to the marina’s office for check out procedures while I finished up last minute chores onboard. We untied Pesto a tad after 8AM and left the harbor slowly. When we passed along the wharf, despite the large amount of Sea Lions resting on its under-structures, there was only one solitary bark – I could swear it was Leo

A few miles into the harbor, a moderate NE wind started to blow, quickly reaching a steady 25 knots:

A few minutes into the passage. The swell, albeit reasonable at 7ft/14 secs, packed high energy and created a beautiful spectacle as it exploded against the rocks at Point PInos.
A few minutes into the passage. The swell, albeit reasonable at 7ft/14 secs, packed high energy and created a beautiful spectacle as it exploded against the rocks at Point Pinos. Note the moderate NE breeze building white caps on the surface. Great sailing conditions, but a bit more “sporty” than we expected from the forecast.

 

It was a local, thermal wind though, and disappeared as soon as we crossed Cypress Point. From that point forward, conditions settled pretty much as we expected, and hoped for – light winds, clear skies, and a pleasant thermal sensation:

Going down the coast, parallel with the famous 17-mile drive
Going down the coast, parallel with the famous 17-mile drive

 

There isn’t much to do on passages. Specially in such mild conditions. So, we were happy when a seagull decided to make us some company (and distract the kids):

This guy was a welcome visit onboard ...
This guy was a welcome visit onboard …
... especially as he kept the kids distracted and entertained for a good hour.
… especially as he kept the kids distracted and entertained for a good hour.

 

We also took advantage of the tranquility of the passage to enjoy the magnificent views of the coast. This was the first time I chose to do a route closer to land – I usually like to give land a good berth, 10 miles or more – but for this passage I felt good keeping a 3-5 mile distance from shore during the day. And we were rewarded with beautiful views all day long:

The beautiful scenery West of Point Sur
The beautiful scenery west of Point Sur

 

Dusk is always a special moment of the day on passages – somewhat bittersweet. On the one hand, a promise of a beautiful sunset, and the elusive possibility of a Green Flash (which we are yet to see). On the other, it brings on the night, and the anxiety that comes along with it on a passage:

Everything tinted in purple just before the night settled in
Everything tinted in purple just before the night settled in

 

We’ve had instances when fog settled in during the night on our previous passages, so I was indeed anxious about what could be in store for us.

But to our delight, this night was as promised – no fog, no wind, mostly no swell. There was a faint crescent moon, which soon disappeared in the horizon, leaving us with a perfectly starry sky. And then, as if to crown this experience, we had special visitors – dolphins. A large pod joined us at around 10PM, and remained swimming alongside Pesto for most of the night. We could see them swimming toward us from the distance, with their bodies lighting up the plancton in the water.

I was on watch when the lights of the next day started to lit up the horizon. Day broke when we were to the lee of Point Arguello, and Adriana came to relieve me from watch. I was sleeping in the cabin when we crossed Point Conception …

A brand new day, as we were about to enter a new cruising area ...
A brand new day, as we were about to enter a new cruising area …
Pesto-01Dec14-041
… I took a nap and whoosh – Point Conception was gone! By the time I woke up and took this picture, we were already sailing on new waters.

 

We had been told and had read that conditions would be significantly different as soon as we crossed Point Conception. And boy was it right. As the sun went up in the sky, our foul-weather gear, the fleeces and long sleeved shirts quickly went back to the closet and we could once again wear t-shirts and shorts (mind you, it is deep autumn here – but for us it felt like summer!).

Raquel starring the new attire - may this remain like that for a long time now !
Raquel starring the new attire – may this remain like that for a long time now !

 

As I alluded to on previous posts, the water south of Point Conception is markedly warmer than everywhere else we have sailed so far on this journey. And this makes a huge difference.

You see, some time in October, the cold catch up with us definitely. Since then, and with a few exceptions, temperatures (or at least how we felt it) have ranged from “Cold“, to “Very Cold“, to “Ridiculously Cold” and finally “Frigid“. Remember, more than half of Pesto’s cabin volume is below water level – need I say anything else?

And the water here is indeed warmer. It is not warm. But much warmER than before, and that’s enough. In fact, while we were still a few hours away from Santa Barbara, I stopped Pesto and jumped in the water – it was my own ritual to say Thanks for such an easy passage, and also for being here ! And to my delight, the water here is “swimmable” (as in, one can stay in the water for quite some time and enjoy, before starting to shiver) !!!

Pesto, passage-ready. Our boat, our home, our guardian. She has been taking such great care of us - for which we are all so thankful !
Pesto, passage-ready, wet from the morning dew. Our boat, our home, our guardian. She has been taking such great care of us – for which we are all so thankful !

 

So, we are now in Santa Barbara. Across the channel we see the islands of San Miguel, Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz – which we intend to cruise soon.

But now, we are happy to just enjoy the surroundings here. This place does look and feel different.

We are tremendously fond of our cruise down the Pacific Northwest Coast. The people we met, the places we visited, the experience we gained. And now, it does feel like we are on new cruising grounds, and about to start a new chapter of this journey. We are looking very much forward to it !

The one thing about our backyard view - it keeps on changing (and what a change this one has been - more on this soon)
The one thing about our backyard view – it keeps on changing (and what a change this one has been – more on this soon)

One Reply to “A new sensation”

  1. Alexandre, I am so amazed by your narrative and pictures! Bon voyage! I will keep reading it.. Um abraço Luis Fernando (ex Amex)

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