Flecks of dust danced in the sunlight that cascaded through our stateroom’s portlight as I swiped an old sock, damp with Murphy’s Wood Oil, across every surface. Cleo cat jumped onto our bed and stretched before curling into a small ball, basking in the golden rays undoubtedly making herself comfortable in the laundry that was needing to be folded and put away. “We can’t make it look like I live here,” I said to our snoozing ship’s cat as I frantically cleaned our tiny living space, preparing for my family to arrive.
Chris had been gone on a video shoot for 4 days leaving the boat to Cleo and myself. In his absence Cleo became somewhat of my shadow, as usual, never leaving my side and meowing constantly in an attempt to get a second or third dinner (because let’s be honest, I’m a pushover sometimes). I had two days to prepare Avocet for my family’s arrival, making sure she was as comfortable as could be and that all traces of my temporary bachelorette lifestyle was picked up and hidden away. Truth be told, I am not great at being alone and when Chris is away I often leave dishes unwashed, clothes scattered about, and become a big fan of easy-to-heat freezer meals only destroying the evidence upon his return or with the pressure of company.
The citrus smell of the Wood Oil floated throughout the boat, one of my favorite tiny rewards of cleaning. As I continued to advance my dusting efforts to different parts of the boat, I recalled the last trip we had with my parents. September 2019 was the last time my family joined us for a sail to Santa Cruz Island. Long story short we were met with minor chaos due to big winds that topped at 61 knots causing our bridle to break and some quick thinking to keep from losing our anchor. Unfortunately, that was their first and only experience at anchor which didn’t necessarily leave the best taste in their mouths regarding our “cruising lifestyle.” To redeem their experience Chris and I planned to return to the island for a fun weekend at one of our favorite anchorages but first, I had to clean.
Thursday night Chris came home after an exhausting shoot in Northern California. Once his camera gear was stowed away we sat across from each other in the salon and caught up on everything we had missed. An hour later my family arrived, and soon our boat was stuffed to the brim with bags, people, and (my favorite) food. We all settled into our places and walked to dinner in the Harbor Village to kick off the weekend.
I sat wide awake in our berth, uncomfortably full from our dinner, waiting for the wind to breathe its last breath through the harbor leaving nothing but silence in its place. It was 10:00 p.m. and I desperately held onto the last “Windy” report I had read, promising that the howling would hush around 1:00 am. Cleo cat curled up next to me purring as I listened to the wind conducting its nighttime symphony through the rigging. My parents seem to bring the wind with them, I only hoped it wouldn’t be a repeat of last time.
Somewhere in the night, I had finally drifted off to sleep only to be rudely awoken by the sun that shone through our (very) clean stateroom portlight. Chris was still sound asleep next to me with Cleo cuddled by his head while my parents were sound asleep in the quarter berth, and my brother in the V. After gently convincing my sleepy husband to get up we went through the morning motions, and by 6:00 am the items were stowed and all systems ready to go. My family emerged from their bunks and sat in the cockpit as I walked us out of our slip, waving the confines of the marina goodbye for the night.
Although the day prior was blessed with winds this day was less than lacking and left us motor sailing for a majority of our course. Right out of the breakwater we had set the mainsail up for stabilization in the mild winds while we cut through the 4’ – 6’ swell. Somewhere around the mile mark my brother rigged up his fishing pole and cast it out to troll, since we were going slow enough, adding insult to injury. Just past the shipping channel our sail finally filled, prompting us to unfurl the headsail and turn the engine off. At 6 knots we weren’t the fastest boat on the water, granted we hadn’t scrubbed our hull in a while, but we were still making decent time. Around 9:30 am the island peaked out from behind the dense curtains of fog that hid it from the mainland. A small pod of dolphins swam off our starboard side and up to the bow breaking off and heading towards the island, leading the way as our local escorts.
“What do you think?” Chris asked me as we made a lap around Coches Prieto’s anchorage for the second time. The swell was larger than we were used to, and the ideal spot tucked behind the kelp bed and reef was seemingly out of reach, especially if another boat anchored behind us which would essentially block us in. Slightly discouraged I responded with “I’m not feeling it. Let’s punt and try next door.” Together we agreed that the anchorage next to Coches would be worth a shot since in passing it looked more agreeable with the conditions.
Tucked away right next to Coches is a small anchorage called Alberts. It features the same Sandy characteristics of its neighboring anchorage, just on a smaller scale. Being new to this spot we referenced our trusty guide book (which is basically the Bible for the Channel Islands) and set our hook on the south side of the anchorage at 30’ with 170 of chain. The wind was coming from the NW, but wrapping around the island in a way that it filled the anchorage with a false south wind so we anchored a lee shore.
Almost as soon as the anchorage set, my dad and brother had their lines in the water, waiting patiently for bites. Chris and I sacrificed our wood cutting board that we got in Costa Rica, knowing that it would undoubtedly be smothered with fish blood and Innards during the filleting process. My brother reeled in his first cast almost as soon as he cast his line, successfully landing his first-ever White Fish. Knowing what came next for the fish, Chris and I loaded up Little Wing and headed to shore.
Our beach landing was less than perfect as we started to take the whitewash to our beam. We both jumped out in the thigh-deep water, pulling our 8’ dinghy up the shoreline, out of the water’s reach… or so we thought. Wet like rats we stripped off our clothes revealing our swimsuits that hadn’t been seen since last summer and laid out our towels to soak in some of the sun’s rays. The ocean’s tide spread up the shoreline like playful hands, grabbing at the sand and our dinghy trying to drag her back to sea. We both jumped up as fast as we could to rescue Little Wing, dragging her higher up on the beach before going on a brief walkabout.
The beach was small but perfect for stretching our legs and getting a little sandy. We combed the changing shoreline and observed bone fragments and rainbow shells, a large abalone catching my eye. As a firm advocate for “Leave No Trace” and “take nothing but pictures” I rarely collect things from the island, however, my dad brought me a sand dollar from my home beach in Santa Cruz, so I found it only fitting to gift him a shell from my “new” home beach on Santa Cruz Island.
We did our best to relax but 20 minutes into our little beachside exploration we saw a Hunter come into the anchorage and get very close to our boat. “avocet, avocet, avocet, this is Little Wing. What’s this guy’s plan?” our handheld radio was clutched in my hand, while we hoped my parents would hear us hailing them, and that they would know how to respond from the mothership. “They are trying to anchor” my mom’s unsure voice came through the handheld. I pressed the button with my thumb and raised the speaker to my mouth to say “Tell the vessel’s captain that we have 175 feet of chain and point to where we laid the hook” with a directness in my voice. We could see my parents chatting with the Hunter that was way too close to Avocet, but regardless of the information that was passed on Chris and I knew the boat was about to drop their anchor on top of ours, prompting us to quickly relaunch the dinghy and sort out the situation ourselves.
It was their third attempt to lay a hook as we pulled up next to them in Little Wing. “We’re leaving,” the skipper said without further conversation. Frustrated, we bid them farewell and “good luck” at their next anchorage. Avocet was sitting pretty as the queen of Alberts, the only boat present. My dad and brother were casting and reeling ferociously as they attempted to increase their kill count for the night.
“Catsby, Catsby, Catsby this is Avocet do you read?” One of my favorite things about sailing is how vast the community is. We had been virtually introduced to the crew of Catsby, a beautiful Fontaine Catamaran, last year on Instagram when we learned they would be berthed at the new marina across from us. Every day for the past 3 months you could see Catsby at the end tie across from us. We had never met in person, but it felt only right our first real introduction was at anchor.
Chris and I probably looked nuts motoring our 8’ hard dinghy into Coches Prieto’s anchorage against the 4’ – 5’ swell. Regardless of our appearance, our dismount onto Catsby was nearly flawless as Jeff and Mandy welcomed us aboard. It was my first time aboard a catamaran and after a quick tour, I get the appeal now. Their 3 staterooms with proper walk-around beds would be a definite selling point for me. Although we never intend on owning a catamaran ourselves, we sure can appreciate the comfort and attention to detail.
We chatted for a bit before returning to the mothership where my dad and brother were still fishing away. My mom was inside reading a book with Cleo nudging for attention. The sun had just hidden behind the wall of the anchorage, allowing a bitter cold to set in. We retreated down below and had cheese fondue with boatmade sourdough bread and split pea soup, a wonderfully hearty combination. For dessert, we finished the cheesecake my parents brought to share from our friends at Sugar Bakery in Santa Cruz. It was 9:00 pm, known as “cruisers midnight” so we turned in early.
The night was mostly comfortable with the occasional aggressive rock from the reverberated swell that came from waves crashing into the opposing wall. Our FlopStopper was working overtime, and without it we surely would have been up all night. Anchor, we are up at first light, squeezing all the daylight we could. It was Sunday, and my parents had to return home due to prior engagements. Chris ground the coffee and set up the percolator that would be our lifeblood on our sail home. I put breakfast burritos in the oven to heat, which would be ready by the time the anchor was up. It took about half an hour to restowe the cabin and get my brother’s fishing fix somewhat satisfied before we were able to get on our way. As soon as we were out of the Lee of the island the wind was favorable blowing to the east and pushing us towards our home port.
With full canvas up and filled, we saw a hull speed of 8 knots surfing the mild 3’ swell closer to our destination. The sun was out but the wind bit our exposed skin, reminding us to keep our jackets on and that summer’s time is not yet. Unlike our previous sail home with my family, this one was uneventful and Avocet kept us relatively stable, never healing more than a few degrees (unlike Chris’s mom’s Mason 43). We were back in our slip by 3:00, and after a round of hugs, my parents were gone by 3:30 with a promise we would see each other again soon.
A question I get asked frequently by strangers, fellow sailors, and friends is “what do your parents think of your lifestyle” and are often surprised when I tell them they are supportive. When Chris and I told them we would be living on a sailboat they weren’t even a bit surprised but rather excited for our new journey together. It has been 3 years aboard Avocet, and although my parents have only joined us for two sails out of the marina we look forward to many, many, more!
Cheers to family, blood-related or created!
Marissa, Chris, and Cleocat