This was originally supposed to be another of my posts about us waiting for a proper weather window to go to our next destination. But it ended up being something different.
We stayed in Santa Barbara since arriving here in Thanksgiving, mostly working on some land-based “projects”. By the time we were getting ready to leave, a weather system was parading across the Pacific Ocean, thus threatening to delay our departure.
As I started my now-usual discipline of monitoring the development of this system, I noticed it was a little different to the others we had witnessed previously in Crescent City and in Monterey – larger, more structured, lower pressure, and associated with a patch of dense moisture, which promised a lot of rain. Things were getting “interesting”.
We were originally
planning hoping to leave Santa Barbara on Friday, as soon as Adriana arrived from a business trip. I knew there was a front forecast to hit the West Coast, and did my first “serious” check on Wednesday. It didn’t take much to realize we would be stuck at least through the weekend: a massive low pressure system was swirling across the North Pacific, moving east and aiming somewhere between Oregon and Washington, but with significant spillover expected for California as well.
Probability of rain was forecast at 100% for Friday, and Hazardous Outlook warnings were starting to pop on the NOAA website. I went to the Marina’s office and extended our reservation here accordingly.
Day broke on Thursday with partially cloudy skies, and almost no wind – quite disguising. But at that time, the front had already started to hit the northern portion of the US West coast, and the headlines were sobering:
Due to the anti-clockwise swirling movement of the system, it would hit California several hours afterwards, and with lower intensity than in Oregon or Washington – but still, with a lot of punch:
As I read through the multiple information sources, I quickly moved from Curious to Anxious and then Action Oriented. There was still no wind here when I decided to double up all our mooring lines (something I would not regret AT ALL a few hours later).
Back in the cabin, I started checking on the sea conditions in places we have been to just a few months ago:
I went back on deck and did a thorough check on everything that could potentially move from the deck upwards. By that time, the skies were starting to anticipate what was about to come:
As I watched these developments, my concerns now fell on Adriana, who was flying across the country due to arrive in LAX by late afternoon … I knew she had boarded and was flying. But would her flight be “bumpy”? Could it be diverted to somewhere else? And when she arrived, would she make it to Santa Barbara after the storm had started?
THE MAIN MOVEMENT:
The storm made its way into California from the North, affecting Crescent City, San Francisco and Monterey before it hit here:
At 6PM, Adriana contacted me from Los Angeles saying she had arrived, the flight was uneventful, and she was getting the shuttle bus to Santa Barbara. Phew !
As soon as I hung up the phone, the wind started to blow from the South. It was a warm wind, typical of an approaching front. Within an hour it was already howling on the masts of the yachts in the marina.
I spent the two hours it took Adriana to arrive juggling between Pesto’s barometer – which was falling steadily, NOAA’s real data from buoys nearby – which were starting to read 30-40 knot winds, and weather channel’s doppler radar, which showed a well defined front of torrential rain approaching from the SW. When I went to pick her up at the shuttle’s drop off station, gale-force winds were in full swing, but luckily the rain had not yet started.
When we came back to Pesto, the wind felt even stronger, and I switched on our anemometer:
The more the pressure dropped, the higher the wind, which was now screaming on the rigging. By now, Pesto was healing significantly to the force of the wind, and from inside the cabin it felt as if we were sailing.
At around 10PM, the wind reached its peak and blowed for a good hour between 40 and 45 knots. At this point, stuff started to break around us. Across the masts, we could see a couple of yachts whose headsails had unwrapped from the roller furlers and were swinging wildly to the wind. I took advantage that the rain hadn’t started yet and went quickly to the dock – first to check on Pesto’s mooring lines, and then to try to take a few pictures:
The rain caught me while in the dock and I ran back to the comfort of Pesto’s cabin. At 12:15AM, precisely when weather.com had on its forecast, the rain became torrential and the wind decreased instantly. At that time I felt ok to go to sleep. Pesto had managed through the ordeal unscathed.
Day broke on Friday with scattered heavy clouds, and patches of sun in between, and a cold breeze from the NE. I joined the other folks on the docks assessing the aftermath of the gale:
The “day after” developed quietly, and in the afternoon I decided to check in the walkway above the harbor’s breakwater, venturing between that spray created by the waves as they broke against the jetty:
The swell would break against the breakwater and form a backwash wave. At times, this wave would crash again the next incoming swell, creating beautiful images against the dimming light of the setting sun:
And like this, as if nothing had happened, the day ended here with this nice sunset over the harbor:
It was the strongest wind and most intense overall weather situation that both Adriana and I had ever seen in a boat. We were in awe, definitely glad to have faced it well tied up in a protected marina. But above all, it was a good opportunity to feel what bad weather “feels like”. And even more importantly, to see how Pesto behaves. Even if tied to a dock. And she passed with honors, making us yet again all so grateful to be on this adventure with her.