Sometimes you watch the show, and sometimes you are the show. I can’t tell you how many times Chris and I have been sitting comfortably in an anchorage watching newcomers attempt to set their hook only to reset again, and again. After a few attempts we usually offer our help, and if they decline we continue to sit by and watch, remaining entertained by our own little peanut gallery. The universe must have cashed in on that karma because for the first time ever we had to reset our hook, not once but FOUR times in a single anchorage, and It wasn’t for a lack of the anchor actually digging in. On the contrary, each time the anchor set it set hard and we weren’t budging. Unfortunately, our anchorage of choice was crowded by the Santa Barbara Yacht club who were on a weekend outing for Father’s Day which left optimal anchoring grounds a bit tricky to claim. Despite the challenge, we were incredibly thankful to be at the island, surrounded by good people and celebrating.
It was the Summer Sailstice, a day to commemorate the Solstice and enjoy the extra hours of light on the water with the wind in your sails. Chris and I were honored to be ambassadors for the organization and had done our best to inspire people to get on the water in any way possible. Joining us on our Sailstice parade to the island were Quincey and Mitch aboard Esprit and our new friends Ashley and Scott aboard Azimuth. We had left the marina around 11, just minutes after I (nearly) finished Coachwhipping our wheel, a process that took me the better half of ten days to complete. Trailing behind Azimuth we left the breakwater with Esprit on our tail. To their beam were our friends aboard Appa who sailed with us as long as they could before breaking off and heading back to port.
After a few hours of sailing and motoring, the island revealed itself to us through the fog with Prisoners Anchorage insight.“Twelve…. thirteen…. seventeen…. twenty…” “TWENTY!?” I exclaimed as Chris’s boat-counting began to trail off. We had never seen so many boats anchored in Prisoners and were slightly concerned given we had an additional two boats joining us. As we circled through looking for a spot to lay our hook we saw a familiar J boat, Sapphire, crewed by our dear friends Mike and Kris. With our initial investigative lap complete we decided to anchor off the stern of a 44’ boat whose skipper said he was comfortable with the space given. We set 175’ of chain in 36’ of water, our Rocna Vulcan digging in deep as it always does. Not more than 5 minutes after our engine was off, the Island Packers excursion boat backed into the pier to offload its customers like cattle. Although we were a good distance from the boat itself, its impressive prop wash spit out six-boat lengths behind it, catching us and pushing Avocet upon her neighboring boat. The skipper was still fine with the situation, but knowing that we wanted to shore we figured it was best to find a more accommodating spot… and this is where the fun began.
By this time Esprit had already laid anchor and her crew was preparing to swim in the refreshingly cool water. Azimuth was a few miles off, but still in view. Our engine was reignited, anchor brought up and our sights were set on the next option. We had made another round through the boats deciding to anchor next to our friends on Saphire, this time laying 170’ of chain in 25’ water with ample room at the end of our scope in all directions. The hook once again set hard as we backed down on it to ensure we were not going to drag. Just as I had turned the engine off, confident in our set, Chris asked Mike if he was “okay” with our location. “I trust you, but If you were anyone else I would ask you to move,” said Mike from his cockpit. Although flattering, we never intend on making anyone uncomfortable so we picked up our hook and started the hunt again. The heads of Esprit’s crew bobbed off her stern while they swam around the boat as the fog overhead slowly moved across the peaks of the island.
“This looks solid,” I said as we began to deploy our anchor for the third time. In 16’ of water 100’ of chain fell into the sea while Chris’s watchful eyes observed from the bow. At the helm, I reminded Chris to ask our closest neighbors if we were “too close for comfort” before we hard-set. The skipper of the beautiful Dredknouht sailboat said that we were perfect and he had no concerns before casually chatting with Chris about boat designs. While they were conversing as our anchor set I noticed that at the end of our scope our stern was a good 5 feet from the bow of a red J boat behind us… our dinghy-in-tow bumping into its anchor line with a gentle *kiss* before rebounding towards us. It didn’t take much convincing to bring up the anchor (again) and find yet another spot. It felt like all eyes were on us, and rightfully so, what other nerds would come into an anchorage and set their anchor so many times?
Feeling like Goldilocks looking for the perfect place to lay our heads (or anchor) I pointed to the starboard side of the pier where there were no other boats and said “there” in an absolute, no negotiation tone… after all, I was the one at the helm. Back and a bit further behind our original neighbors we set our hook and crossed our fingers that this would be “it.” Avocet was now at the lowest end of the cluster, which is not ideal if anyone’s anchor dragged in the night but the weather conditions were in our favor and washed our worries away. Esprit’s crew was in their cockpit drying off, while Azimuth was just arriving and scoping out a spot to settle. Having just gone through the anchorage shuffle we radioed Asimuth on channel 69, the pleasure channel, and asked “ do you want to raft up?” Our massive-sized fenders that Chris invested in post-paint job are useful in these instances as we deployed them off our port side anticipating the arrival of our friends. Moments later our two boats were connected for the night, in our fourth and final anchoring spot.
Little Wing hit the water with a soft “splash” as we lowered her into the water. We motored to Esprit where her crew was standing by ready to head to shore. Our Fatty Knees 8’ dinghy continues to impress us with her load limit as Mitch, Quincey, and their friend Catie boarded and got cozy. We hadn’t seen Catie since 2018 when we drove from SoCal to Berkeley to help Mitch and Quincey sand their mast in the boatyard. Although we were snug, there was still a good 8 inches of freeboard leading us to believe we could have easily taken one more person. The dinghy dock was filled with inflatable and rib tenders as we nuzzled our way into the herd towards the end. Ashley and Scott joined us moments later as I began to give a history brief on the significance of this anchorage.
In February 1830, the U.S. brig Maria Ester dropped anchor off Santa Barbara. Its captain, John Christian Holmes, then sought out Romualdo Pacheco, comandante at the presidio, to request permission to discharge his cargo, a boatload of some 80 convicted criminals. Holmes had the license to transport the convicts to Alta California, part of a plan by the Mexican government for a penal colony. This was not the first time the plan had been broached. In 1825, a small group of prisoners had been transported to California with the intent of “improving the morals of the convicts and for colonizing California,” according to historian H. H. Bancroft. This created a storm of protest in California, and the government eventually dropped the scheme.
Five years later, the authorities tried again. Stalling for time, Pacheco accompanied Holmes back to his ship to inspect the “cargo.” He was shocked by the pitiful state of the prisoners. They were living in vermin-infested filth and appeared half-starved, and their clothes were in tatters. Pacheco refused to allow the prisoners to disembark. He soon learned that Holmes had initially tried to dump the criminals at San Diego but had been turned away. This stalemate continued for a number of weeks. Finally, José de la Guerra, the pueblo’s most prominent citizen, convinced Pacheco to allow a handful of prisoners ashore to perform odd jobs. De la Guerra saw to it that these men were bathed and properly clothed, reportedly earning their everlasting gratitude.
In April, with the approval of California governor José Echeandia, Holmes transported around 30 convicts to Prisoners Harbor with provisions supplied by the padres at the Old Mission. The fate of the balance of the prisoners remains unclear. Those on Santa Cruz initially fared somewhat well, constructing crude shelters against the elements. In November, a fire destroyed their camp. Building rafts from whatever material was at hand, the men determined to return to the mainland. Without sails or any oars or paddles to speak of, they were at the mercy of wind and currents. They might have drifted endlessly if not for a storm that eventually pushed them ashore in the area of the Carpinteria Valley.
Local authorities rounded them up in fairly short order. Imprisoned for a time, some reportedly were flogged for daring to escape their island prison. Eventually, they were released and were absorbed into society. It was not the last time that Santa Cruz was considered as a possible prison. In the 1880s, the U.S. Army suggested exiling especially troublesome members of the Apache tribe to the island. Nothing came of the idea, and today only the name, Prisoners Harbor, reminds us of the rather bizarre events of over 180 years ago.
We hiked up part of the Pelican Bay Trail stopping at Harveys Lookout to admire the view. The wild fennel grew in treasure troves along the side of the trail, and since it was invasive I didn’t feel bad about plucking a couple of sprigs, snacking on one that had major hints of licorice while tucking the second spring into the brim of my beanie. My nature snacking must have triggered the hunger consciousness of the group because moments later we began our descent down the mountainside to get started on dinner.
Back on Avocet, I dug out some rice paper wrappers I had bought what seemed like ages ago, with a wild idea that tonight was the night I would try to make spring rolls. It was definitely a bit of a learning curve but the flavor was all there as I carefully rolled the veggies and noodles inside the wet wrappers. I was so preoccupied with constructing the spring rolls I hadn’t realized that Chris pulled up the surrounding floorboards while chasing down a freshwater leak, making good use of his time. When our respective “projects” finished with success, we washed up and headed to Esprit to join the rest of our Sailstice group for dinner.
A string of solar-charged Luci lights illuminated the center cockpit as we were welcomed aboard. Each boat’s crew brought an Asian-themed dish to accompany the host boat’s main dish, noodle salad. Drinks were passed and stories were shared as we filled the night with new memories that would last a lifetime. Sometimes the simple moments are the ones I tend to cherish most, and being surrounded by this particular group of people reminded me of that. We may all sail our separate ways but the community and lifestyle bond us, no matter how far we roam. An hour from midnight we motored back to Avocet, our red deck lights like a homing beacon as Esprit shrank off our stern. The phosphorescence danced in the wake of the misplaced water and spun off our two-stroke engine’s prop. The ocean was as flat as a lake as Avocet and Azimuth cuddled together, likely whispering stories about the “good old days” of 1979 when they were commissioned. With flop stoppers deployed off both boats, we slept like rocks listening to the ambiance of the water crash on the shoreline.
At the first sign of daylight, the coffee was on and bubbled in our percolator. Chris sat in the cockpit while Cleo and I tried to squeeze in a few more minutes of sleep. A mosquito buzzed around the cabin eventually too annoying to ignore so I popped in my contact lenses and rolled out of bed in search of the pest that I had hoped to squash. The vampire bug escaped my wrath but not Cleos as she jumped up and squished it between her paws, one of her first “kills” as an otherwise very spoiled BoatCat.
The fog was still dense over the ocean, but bits of blue peeked through the valley of the island. “Avocet Avocet Avocet this is Esprit do you read?” Mitch’s voice came through the VHF. We read and made a plan to rendezvous on Avocet for breakfast before we made our way back to our home port. The 9 of us sat in the cockpit soaking up the last bit of Island goodness. I remembered to grab our guest logbook and have Katie, Ashley, and Scott sign their names to officially commemorate this adventure and add to our ever-growing list of friends.
With the dishes done and our guests departed with full bellies we untied the lines between Avocet and Azimuth, waving goodbye as we set our sail and put the anchorage behind us. We wrestled our Spinnaker to the foredeck and rigged it for our downwind sail, hoisting it a good two miles off Prisoners. Very few things beat the sound of a new crispy sail filling with air, which is why when our spinnaker deployed I was smiling ear to ear.
“Avocet you have one minute to get pretty and head to the bow” Quincey started the countdown over the VHF as Chris and I took our places on the bow, waiting for the sound of their drone to buzz above us. Sure enough, Esprit’s drone, Blanca, circled us as we flashed our somewhat-pearly-whites, our colorful Asymettrical sail propelling us across the dark sea. I looked down and thought the water resembled an ink well, a deep shade of blue with a grey sheen thanks to the overhead cover. My reflection looked back, distorted and fluid but it was interesting enough to make me wish I could paint. Esprit was 2 nm off our bow as I settled down behind the dodger and began to read Chris the first draft of this very blog.
I stopped reading out loud and pivoted towards the rush of water, overcome with excitement when I saw a pod of dolphins charging towards us. They stampeded in and out of the water cutting like torpedos beneath the surface. We scrambled to locate Chris’s video camera that was still on deck, waiting to capture this type of action. The batteries were dead with no ready backups so I grabbed my phone and hoped for the best. It was an incredible sight to watch, and although my phone didn’t do the reality any justice it will remain a wonderful memory. The dolphins continued to charge off into the distance as the last stragglers scratched themselves on the bow of Avocet before leaving to catch their pod.
The fog was wet and wrapped around us as our bright spinnaker glided through it. We sailed the whole way home, only igniting the engine at the breakwater where we took down our sails and prepared to dock. I was overcome with a sense of confidence and volunteered to “park” our floating home, something I have only done a handful of times and still very timidly since our new paint job. With minor difficulties, Avocet made it into her slip unscathed. The sunset in the harbor behind miles of masts, standing like an aluminum forest moments after we tied the dock lines serving as a perfect ending to our Sailstice weekend.
Thank you to all of the readers that made it this far. We appreciate your support and hope you continue to enjoy the recaps of our living afloat adventures. Take care, and as always…
Marissa, Chris, and Cleo
Interested in participating next year? Check out the Summer Sailstice website and see how you can get involved!