The Sea quickly finds and exposes a sailor’s mistakes – I have alluded to this before.
I should be re-reading my own posts more often …
Our stay in Ventura, CA ended up being longer than I had previously expected. Part for choice (I will write about it soon), part for circumstance (same).
The fact is that soon after Christmas was over, I was also itching to depart. An urge to keep moving on, combined to a strong desire to visit Santa Cruz Island prompted me to set a date for us to leave – Boxing Day.
We started monitoring the weather on December 24th, and it seemed as though conditions would be OK for the intended departure date. On the morning of the 26th, however, NOAA posted a Small Craft Advisory, valid until 3PM that day, with to 15-20 knot winds from the East-Northeast, against a swell coming from the opposite direction. “The winds will be coming from land”, “As soon as we approach Santa Cruz Island, it should block both the Swell and the Wind”, “Moreover, the wind will subside after 3PM”, “… and it will be a short passage to Santa Cruz anyway” – were my thoughts. Also, over the last months Pesto has proven to handle 15-20 knot winds pretty well, so I felt confident to leave despite the Advisory.
So we did.
The sail from Ventura to Santa Cruz Island was exactly as the Advisory predicted – very uncomfortable, with 2-meter waves coming from oposite directions rolling Pesto wildly for the 3 hours it took us to cover the 20 miles to the Island.
We spent the afternoon looking for a suitable place to stay the night in Santa Cruz’s south coast, eventually dropping anchor at Coches Prietos Harbor – a stunning cove carved between steep cliffs, with a sandy beach at its end. As beautiful as it is, though, it is also open enough to let surge in – and Pesto rock and rolled to it !
As night settled, the wind died but Pesto was still swinging to the surge. There was no internet access, but as far as we could remember, the forecast was for light variable winds all through the night, with a diminishing swell. Between spending an uncomfortable night at anchor, or motor-sailing the 80 miles that would take us to Santa Catalina island further south, we chose the latter.
We left Coches Prietos soon after 8PM, motoring with calm seas and no wind under a starry night. While we were still tired from the rock-and-roll of the afternoon, we were optimistic that we would have a nice passage.
As it turns out, our optimist didn’t take long to prove foolish. Two hours after leaving Santa Cruz, the wind started to blow again from the East. Within minutes we were motoring against 25-30 knot winds almost on the nose. We were confused and surprised, since the forecast didn’t call for this (later on, we realized an urgent forecast update had been issued in the afternoon, alerting of these very conditions through the night. Since we were without internet when we left Santa Cruz, we never saw this update and faced the real thing).
Night was pitch dark, and eventually we drove into a patch of kelp and, once gain, Pesto’s propeller got fouled. Here we were, one third into our passage, winds blowing steadily at mid 30’s, building seas, and a fouled prop !
We could have set sail, or even heave-to … but before resorting to any of these alternatives, I carefully engaged the prop in alternate gears – reverse and forward – and could get most of the kelp out. With that, we were able to continue to Santa Catalina against the wind – slower, but steadily. We were just too tired to sail.
We reached Santa Catalina early morning and chose Catalina Harbor as our destination. By 10AM we were already moored inside the cove on calm, pristine waters. That night, we treated ourselves to a dinner on shore, and reflected on the ordeal of the previous day and night.
This event reinforced to us that, at sea, Weather prevails over Schedule, ALWAYS. Other learnings included:
– not take weather advisories lightly
– don’t leave on longer passages without comprehensive and up to date weather info
– use the VHF for last-minute forecast changes
– eat lightly before a passage (we had a hearty spaghetti carbonara before departing Santa Cruz and, hmmm, let me just say it didn’t quite blend well with the wind and seas we encountered afterwards)
It also made us grateful yet again for having chosen such a stout and strong yacht as Pesto. Even with her prop partially fouled, she was took us safely to port, and still offering plenty of options should conditions worsen further.
After all being said and done, we are now here, enjoying the calm and clear waters of Catalina Harbor. We are playing, swimming (despite the low temperatures), home-schooling, and enjoying what cruising is about.
Oh, and I already cleaned Pesto’s prop !