“Where’s Cleo?” Is not a question I like to wake up to. It was 3:00 am and we were rolling back in fourth in Smugglers Cove Anchorage. Just when we thought we had exhausted all the potential hiding spots we looked up and there was Cleo, nesting in our linen cabinet. We snapped a couple of photos like any proud parents would and returned to bed. Neither of us could sleep. Every 30 minutes or so we would wake up due to heavy swells hitting us broadside and the lack of wind not helping. Eventually, we got about 3 solid hours of sleep, waking up at 8:00 to start our day.
The day prior had been an absolute mishegoss; anything that could go wrong did. After a stressful day at work, I came home and we pushed off- our exit being anything but graceful. The wind as not in our favor as we backed out of our slip, forcing us into our neighbor’s bowsprit. I was dumb enough to try and fend us off, getting my hand between our standing rigging and our neighbor’s bowsprit nearly taking my middle finger off in the process. Luckily, Chris pushed us off and everyone was okay, even our neighbor who was probably more afraid of my awful yelp from pain than her boat. No damage was done besides to our egos and soon we were on course for Santa Cruz Island.
Not more than 30 minutes into our journey, I began to feel sick. I’m still unsure if it was from all the stress or if because I hadn’t eaten, but my stomach was sour and I felt useless. The more I fought it the worst I felt and Chris finally sent me below deck to try and nap it off. Cleo cuddled me as nausea took over. After a long 30 minutes, I stopped fighting and threw up the minimal contents of my stomach, drank some water and got back outside. Anacapa was glowing off our port side as the sun shone upon it, preparing to set.
Even though the forecasted winds were only up to 10 knots, we were surprised with blustery 25 knots and we were quickly overpowered with a full genoa and our mainsail set. Chris tried to furl our headsail by hand, proving our need for a furling winch in the cockpit. We released the jib sheet wrapping our furling sheet around the winch, cranking until it was in. I managed to keep our slapping jib sheets at bay, letting them out inch by inch as Chris furled the sail. Hindsight is 20/20, we definitely should have tacked before attempting to bring in the sail, but give us a break! After a brief battle furling the headsail we motored the last 15 minutes into our anchorage to set the hook and get some sleep.
Smugglers Cove is a scene taken straight out of a magazine with olive orchards lined above the rocky shore, perfectly placed along the hillside. The Olive grove was planted n the 1880’s under the direction of Justinian Caire whose intent was to make maximum use of the island’s many resources. Although the days of harvest are decades over, the olive grove still stands all these years later serving as another beautiful memory of life on the island. We settled in after our long day, completely exhausted from the events that had occurred. After we ate dinner we melted into our bed at 9:00, not knowing it would be a restless night followed by another crazy day.
We awoke at 8:00 am, struggling to get up since we had finally gotten a pinch of sleep. The coffee was teasing my senses, enticing me to get up from my “nest” and indulge. We drank our coffee in the cockpit as the clouds parted letting the sun shine down on us, kissing our skin good morning. The swell was still easily 6 feet coming from the south, making the waves pound hard and heavy on the shore. As bad as I wanted to go hike through the feral olive grove, I knew it wasn’t worth obliterating our dinghy in the process so Chris picked up our guide book and began to skim the pages when he remembered our neighbor telling us about a white sand beach a few miles south from Smugglers.
The sails were up and our new course was set for Coches Prietos. The blue sky melting into the glistening sea was a perfect backdrop to our conversations about future plans and playing the ukulele. It was all fun and games until Chris checked on our engine only to find that the hose connected to our muffler was leaking like a siv! We immediately shut the engine off and bobbed around while Chris grabbed his tool bags and went below deck. After further investigation, the muffler was broken. No engine, and no wind. While we waited for a gust to fill our sails I could see the gears in Chris’s brain turning trying to think of some solution for our problem. He began scanning every available tube-like item we had on board when he rediscovered an old bronze elbow pipe from our previous plumbing system. “I think I can fix it, lets get to the anchorage.” And as if he was Zephyrus himself, the wind picked up and we were moving again.
45 minutes later we pulled into the anchorage. The long stretch of sandy beach could be seen from miles offshore, as well as the aggressive backsplash of the waves hitting the surrounding cliffs. The anchorage was small but very deep. When we first arrived there was a Catalina 27 anchored nearby, it’s crew of 6 could be seen playing on the shore. Since the anchorage was so deep we let out 140 feet of chain, setting our anchor just off a small kelp bed. Almost as soon as we set our hook, our neighbors decided to pull theirs and move on to their next destination- was it something we said? Soon we were all alone in the charming little anchorage and the beach was calling my name, however, the engine was calling Chris’s. Priorities prevailed and with a blink of an eye, our heads were under our floorboards. With the possibilities of CO2 pollution, we opened every portlight, hatch, and turned on all our fans to ventilate the cabin. Chris’s idea that incorporated our old bronze plumbing tube worked like a charm, and just as soon as he finished up packing away his tools I was packed up and ready to hit the land.
Unfortunately, the swell was too big to safely land Little Wing. Slightly crushed due to my plans being foiled once again, I held my head high and stayed optimistic. After spending the rest of the day reading in my hammock, I retired below deck to prepare for dinner. I thought that it would be nice to have some comfort food after the crap luck we had been having so I made homemade pizzas. Naturally, something had to go wrong. Can you guess what happened when I was ready to put the pizzas in the oven? The oven stopped working. After being so optimistic and rolling with every punch this trip, that was my breaking point. I dropped everything and went to bed and had myself a good stress cry. After Chris comforted me he yelled at our oven a few times while fiddling with the burner. He must have said the right combination of curse words (bibidy-bobbity-god damn it!) because just like magic everything worked as good as new. Soon our bellies were filled with boat-made pizzas and stuffed mushrooms, a perfect dinner for a less-than-perfect day. We cleaned up our multiple messes and turned in for bed early, absolutely tickled with the idea of a comfortable, full night sleep in contrast with the night before. I instantaneously fell asleep when my head hit my pillow and was transported to a mystical dreamland where boat problems fix themselves and the margaritas are always flowing.
I woke up the next morning surging with optimism that “today would be a great day”. We were in a beautiful place, on a beautiful boat and ready for whatever life was going to throw our way. After pancakes and coffee, we loaded the dinghy and began to row to shore. So far so good, the swell was relatively flat making a very easy landing and the soft sand below our feet was welcoming. We pulled the dinghy up the shoreline and hugged each other looking at our home bobbing in the distance. The large cliffs at the mouth of the anchorage created an amphitheater effect making the crashing waves echo and carry across the shoreline. The water was deep and inviting. Chris jumped in with no hesitation while I stayed on shore, unrolling my yoga mat and preparing for some sun salutations. It was definitely a good day
1…2…3…owch! After watching my many attempts at holding a headstand and nearly breaking my neck, Chris joined in on the fun being my partner for some acro yoga. Luckily we had the camera rolling because it was hilarious, we couldn’t stop laughing! He nearly dropped me twice, sent me into a somersault once and gave me a sand rash on my hip, yet despite it all that was the most fun we had had in days.
Sandy and exhausted we laid on the beach enjoying our environment when we were soon joined by our soon-to-be new friend Lou, who had rowed his dinghy over from the anchorage nearby where is Cape Dory 33 was anchored. Lou was a cool guy, telling us all about his journey up the coast from San Diego to Santa Cruz Island. We talked back and forth about boats, boat problems, anchorages and trails before he set out for a hike. Making friends out of strangers is something we look forward to when it comes to cruising, there are so many interesting people out there and so many stories to hear!
We walked about the shore before launching Little Wing once again. As we rowed home we promised to return and give this anchorage a proper video recap since this trip was too chaotic. We really admire sailing channels like Sailing Project Atticus that keep filming even in tough situations; we want to be more like them in that aspect because DAMN it is so hard to keep filming through the stress and tears!
In 10 quick minutes, the cabin was stowed away and we were ready to bring up the anchor. Chris set the main while I set the genoa and soon enough we were sailing east for Channel Islands Harbor. At 12:00 sharp, the wind was light, pushing us along at 3 knots. Since we had to reserve our engine for docking we worked with what we had, being so grateful to have a sailboat- the most expensive way to get somewhere for free. Hours passed as we slowly sailed along the island, trying to keep ourselves busy. I completed the needlepoint project I had been working on, got through 6 chapters in my new book and sat down to write out this here blog. Chris tried to read, but I have noticed he only gets through a chapter or so before finding something else to occupy his time. I brought up some blueberries and we had a blast trying to throw them into each others mouths from either side of the cockpit. By the time we reached Anacapa, we had the wind in our sails again, pushing along at 7 knots. Finally, a light at the end of the tunnel!
Our hull speed was cruising at 7.8 knots sustained, surfing the swell the whole way. Chris’s smile stretched from ear to ear as childhood memories of sailing aboard his families Mason 43 in San Francisco Bay came flooding back. “Now THIS is sailing!” he exclaimed, almost to be cut off by himself when he read our speed once more “8.5 knots! We almost got up to 9!” The excitement continued all the way to our harbors breakwater as we grew more impressed with each sporty gust of wind.
We cleared our breakwater, sailing in as far as we could before kicking on our engine- the moment of truth. Chris’s quick muffler fix worked and we made it back to our slip safe and sound with no other unfortunate events. We showered, dressed, and popped over to Toppers pizza for a celebratory dinner laughing at every “it could be worse” scenario that came to mind. At the end of it all, we were both safe, healthy, happy, and stupid in love with each other-what more could you ask for? A bad day in paradise is still a pretty darn good day. Thanks for reading our blog! Until next time, fair winds,
~ Marissa Neely
“Smooth seas never made a skilled sailor” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
Wonderful write-up !
The awful moments become cherished memories, once you get over the awful part.