“Deep breaths and eyes on the horizon,” I said to my aunt Alana who was slowly sinking into the cockpit seat, mummifying herself in the Mexican blanket she buried herself in. My uncle John was at the helm beside Chris, both adorned in heavy jackets bracing the crisp wind and water that occasionally splashed up over the port side. It was blowing 15 knots with a 3-4 foot swell, 48 degrees overall but honestly feeling much colder once the sun dipped behind the thick, cascading cloud cover. We had been on the water for about an hour after we departed from Ventura around 3:15, and our course was set for Santa Barbara with two-ish hours to go.
Growing up, my Uncle John and Aunt Jen would be flown out to California from Massachusetts to spend part of their summer vacation with their big brother Mike (my dad) and us kids. With only a 7 year age difference, many people thought that John was an older brother rather than my uncle – which is understandable. Regardless, our closeness in age has always kept us close at heart no matter how long it had been since or last visit.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, John and his wife Alana have been able to work remotely allowing them to travel responsibly and spend more time with their west coast family. This silver-lining of Covid allowed Chris and I to kidnap them for a weekend aboard Avocet and immerse them in life afloat after their talks of getting a small sailboat themselves. With the weather forecast in mind, we figured that it would be a safe bet to anchor out of Santa Barbara rather than chance an experience like what happened with my parents in 2019, but boy were we wrong!
Cold, hungry, and tired we arrived at the Santa Barbara anchorage (not-so-adorably nicknamed “Fools Anchorage”) at 7:10, right as the sun dipped below the horizon. We set anchor at 25’ into the northwest anticipating the prevailing winds. Alana was still nauseous since her sea legs had not kicked in yet, and could barely get dinner down. I made her tea with ginger and lemon to ease nausea and directed her to use peppermint and lavender essential oils. John, Chris and I finished our dinner then played a quick round of Bananagrams before deciding we should follow Alana’s example and get to bed- little did we know, we would need all the sleep we could get!
I don’t want to be sushi!
3:11 am: I had just rolled over to check my phone after being jolted awake. The wind had died, causing our boat to take the swell to our beam. I was reminded of one of my favorite sailing comics that depicted a sailor having a nightmare while being rocked in his sleep; I grasped towards that light-hearted image as we were being tossed violently from left to right, listening to the few dishes in the sink clink and clank while the glasses in the cupboard echoed them. Chris was up and on patrol but relentlessly returned to bed with the news that there was not much he could do to ease our discomfort besides set a stern hook which would have required:
- Starting the engine and really wake everyone up or
- Launch the dinghy and set the stern hook- neither of which we wanted to do at this hour.
We squeezed all the sleep we could get in between the large sets, eventually waking at 8:00 after 2 hours of real sleep in the later hours of the morning. All I could think was how much worse the rolling could be had we not deployed our FlopStopper.
The smell of coffee filled the cabin brightening our moods. Chris had immediately called the Santa Barbara Harbor Marina to see if they had a slip available for the night, as we did not want to endure another round of sleep loss. To our pleasure they had one 40’ slip left at $41 for the night- we’ll take it! We filled our coffee mugs and took them to the cockpit, enjoying the warm sunny morning and looking forward to the day ahead.
Once secured to our slip assignment I went down below and started on a breakfast spread to raise crew morale. Soon a platter of scrambled eggs, fruit, potato hash, and bagels sat before in the cockpit where we loaded up our plates to stuff our mouths and fill our bellies with fuel for the day to compensate for the lack of sleep. We assured John and Alana that what we had experienced that rolly night was not a regular occurrence, and was the worst night at the anchorage we have ever had only second to one time in Costa Rica aboard SV Prism. Slightly relieved to learn that their discomfort was warranted and that we are not crazy for living this way (well I mean, that’s still up for debate I suppose) we soaked up the sun in the cockpit and finally got ready for our day.
One downside of working remotely as a freelancer means work can sneak up on you at any moment; this visit with family was no excuse and Chris was bound to his computer all morning finishing an edit for a client. John, Alana, and I left Chris to his work and walked the docks scoping out the different styles and builds of boats that would be a good fit for their east coast lifestyle. We passed many Cheoy Lee’s including the Golden Wave 42’ which is Chris’s dreamboat (only after Avocet of course) and made sure to stop by to check on Morning Song, a gorgeous Bristol Channel Cutter 28 whose owner kindly welcomed us aboard a few years ago as we oogled over his work. Although the owner was not present, I told John and Alana the story of how he and his wife spent years building the Lyle Hess-designed vessel and all the troubles and triumphs that followed.
We met Chris back on Avocet just after noon to pry him away from his computer and join us on a walk through the town. We navigated through the busy streets in search of a late lunch and were surprised to see so many wineries and tasting rooms in a college town. The scenery was gorgeous as were the people, and after walking for 20 minutes we had stumbled upon the Funk House that had cold beer and bitchin’ tacos- just what we needed. It was nice to soak up the late afternoon sun in their outdoor seating area, chatting about the future and “what’s next” for us all. With full bellies, we started our walk back to the waterfront, but first walking the pier and indulging in butter pecan ice cream that I not-so-willingly shared with my husband. We looked out at the anchorage where we had spent the night prior, noting how it was still empty and for good reason.
Back on Avocet, we set up John and Alana’s Nintendo Switch console they had brought. Although we have been lugging around a PS3 for years we have yet to play video games aboard, but after playing a few rounds of “Overcooked” we may need to change that! Laughter roared from arond the dinette as we tried working together to beat each level. A few levels later we decided it was time for bed, and retired to our berths for a solid night of sleep. Cleo made sure to take turns snuggling with us all, and somehow ending up on my pillow beside my head, in between Chris and me. Her purrs lulled me to sleep.
Our crew of 4 slept in until 8:00, taking advantage of the sweet, sweet comfort the slip had given us as the winds howled through the harbor. Coffee bubbled in our percolator as we slowly restowed our belongings in preparation for our sail back to Ventura. Dock lines were cast off at 10:00 and our sails were up with our course set for our home port. The wind was coy with us at the beginning, being indecisive with its direction and falsely filling our sails only to luff moments later. After some convincing, Chris finally allowed me to turn on the engine and get out of the shade of the mainland to reach the wind line and put a stop to bobbing around. Alana was equipped with Dramamine after learning that our Bonine was not as effective as some may think. With the sun shining on us we all sat in the cockpit as we sailed downwind to our final destination.
Despite living on a sailboat, Chris and I find ourselves using the engine more than we would like to admit due to time constraints that prevent us from being the free-spirited people we would like to be. Every time we turn the engine off and rely on the power of our sails we are thankful, cherishing the moments where all we hear is the water lapping against the hull and wind. We seem to mention this in every blog post as of late, but as we near the end of our project list we look forward to more true sailing and finally escaping the confines of our location-based responsibilities to pursue a life more fulfilling and free beyond the breakwater.
It was a gorgeous day as we sailed downwind, shocked that we didn’t see a single dolphin, seal, or whale in our 25 nautical mile transit from Santa Barbara to Ventura. We reached our home port at 3:30, doing some final “victory laps” through the harbor waving to friends along the way. John was at the helm trying to navigate through the various paddle boats, Duffy’s, and kayakers that seem to gravitate towards the spots we have to go. As he tensed up I relieved him from his duties telling him I feel the same way when Chris initiates these tight-quarter “drills.” Back in our slip beside Sea Castle we gave our final “see you later” hugs before seeing our crew off.
I’m sure I don’t have to be the first to tell you, dear reader, that the past year has been so tough for so many and prevented us from truly enjoying time with friends and family as we have lived through not only a pandemic but also other life-changing events in addition to our major boat projects. Lately it feels that some weight has been lifted, and as the summer approaches, we look forward to making up lost time on the water alongside our loved ones, creating more golden memories that will last a lifetime. If you would like to join us physically or in spirit, be sure to check out the Summer Sailstice on June 20th to celebrate the longest day of the year (in the northern hemisphere) by raising your sails and participating with boaters from all over the world!
Stay safe out there, and enjoy the little things!
Marissa, Chris, and Cleo the Cat
OH! And P.S… Check out Alana’s website for all things delicious! More content (and recipes) coming soon. Click Here: https://www.awynns.com