Sickness, Scorpions and Sailing

Posted:  July 12, 2022
👁 1280   10

Poseidon poisoned me as punishment for being away. The curvature of our cockpit seats cradled me as I curled up in the fetal position, hugging my sides and praying for forgiveness. Despite my many pleas, sea sickness washed over me like waves crashing on the beach pushing me to rush to the stern where I leaned over the water and let it all go. 

“Oh honey…” Chris said, rubbing my back while I silently filled the sea with the contents of my stomach. I had just finished a delicious hearty dinner, too, making the whole ordeal that much more devastating. I wiped my mouth and shuttered, grasping at whatever sense of normalcy returned to the body that had betrayed me. I downed a full Nalgene of water before scanning the horizon, looking for ships and crab pots while pondering why on earth I had been so sick. You see, I have never been seasick. I grew up on the water and refused to believe that now, at 25 years old, I would develop an allergy to the motion of the ocean. Chris handed me saltine crackers to refill my stomach. I truly thought the worst was behind me as I munched away and continued to distract my mind with conversation, but then I felt the wave come over me once more. 

My reflection rippled in the wake of Avocet as she effortlessly cut through the sea. I wish I could say conditions were rough, at least then I would have a better excuse for my current condition. But alas, the sea state was ideal and the breeze was gentle as it filled our sails pushing us towards Santa Cruz Island. My stomach was empty, my throat was burned from bile, and my muscles were sore from the heaving. Poseidon 2. Marissa 0. Fortunately after my second spat of sea sickness, our anchorage came into view. I took my position at the helm while Chris lowered sails and prepared the anchor. I focused on deep breathing, burying the unpleasant feelings with every breath, banishing the opportunity for a round three. 

Little Scorpion Anchorage was the only piece of island painted in golden light, the rest remained blanketed in thick fog known as “June Gloom”. Upon our approach we counted eight boats anchored, which was not necessarily a lot but also not what we would consider a “few”. Right in our favorite anchoring spot near the rock was a beautiful Falmouth Cutter that we had recognized from Portside Marina in Ventura Harbor. Although disappointed we couldn’t tuck ourselves in our preferred spot, we were happy to forfeit to such a gorgeous little yacht. 

We circled the anchorage looking for a spot to drop the hook. Chris felt comfortable in a position between two boats but I didn’t want to risk another boat dragging anchor into us at night, prompting my suggestion to move to the completely vacant Scorpion Anchorage next door. “You are the captain” he said as I put the boat into gear and made our exit from Little Scorp. 

With the Anchorage to ourselves we set the hook between “birdsh!t rock” and the NPS mooring ball, which was to the landlubbers right of the kelp bed. Unlike Little Scorpion, Scorpion Anchorage is a little more unpredictable with winds that build from the valley throughout the day, a mixed holding ground, and of course the potential overcrowding due to Island Packers. For a boat on a single hook this is what we would consider a fair weather anchorage. The swell frequently creeps around the corner from where Island Packers moors their vessels and it can be difficult to get close enough to the shore to get out of the westerly wind. Fortunately for us, it was ideal weather to drop the hook at 27’ right before the sun kissed the horizon good night, the silver moon taking its place. 

Despite the physical toll it took on me, our return to Santa Cruz Island was poetic after nearly 6 months of our absence. We had been busy, as usual, but with big boat projects, work, holidays, skiing/snowboarding, and of course our big Italy trip that dictated our time but with all of that behind us, it was nice to slip back into rhythm with the sea.

The morning came with the sweet sound of song birds singing to us from the shore. The familiar sound of waves booming into the cliffside was a welcome addition to nature’s symphony. The smell of coffee wafted through the cabin as Chris prepared his morning mug and headed outside to the cockpit. Cleo followed behind him, more adventurous than usual as she did her daily rounds on deck, ensuring all is how it should be of course. “It was the coffee” Chris said as he took his first sip. The puzzled look on my face may as well have been verbalized as he followed up with “your sea sickness. It was because you drank coffee.” 

In a moment of clarity I knew exactly what he ment. I am not a habitual coffee drinker and usually start my mornings with warm lemon water as recommended by our nutritionist and fellow sailor Quincey, from SV Esprit. While combing over my thoughts I remembered that her partner Mitch also gets sea sick when he has caffeine which certainly could have been the cause of my sickness the day prior. Quincey has not only provided us with answers to our many weird food related questions but she gifted the world with an in depth article that connects diets with sea sickness that I highly recommend you all read – no more coffee before sailing, got it!

It was only 7:00 am, but I was ready to visit the island we had waited so long to return to. This trip we left our beloved dinghy, Winglet, behind and relied on our paddle boards to get us to and from the shoreline. “I made a grave error” Chris said, which could have meant anything at this point. He further explained that he packed our paddle board pump but not the hose. Fortunately we had plenty of other hoses aboard and could make do using a plumbing hose with some electrical tape to ensure a tight connection. A few moments later we had two paddle boards ready to go, and we were off to explore the caves that we could never enter with our dinghy. 

The sea was ink black as my paddle pushed through it, stirring up loads of peculiar looking jellyfish. In between the kelp beds we could see rockfish, garibaldi and bait fish flowing with the graceful sway of the kelp, glistening against the few rays of sunshine that broke through the gloomy skies. I thought of my brother, who would love to fish here but would never be able to since Scorpion Anchorage is a marine reserve – a safe haven for marine mammals and fish.

We crossed over the sandbar that separates Little Scorpion from Scorpion, timing the small breaking waves perfectly, watching the water shift from dark black to crystal blue. Bat rays flapped no less than 10 feet beneath us as we approached the gorgeous Falmouth Cutter we had seen the evening prior. The owner of the boat was out on deck, so I urged Chris to go say hello – it was the least he could do after drooling over his boat for so long. The man had recognized us from our frequent visits at his marina where our friend Jeff kept his boat Catsby. He was thankful for our many compliments on his boat, and said he would love to come see Avocet sometime. After our exchange, we continued on our way to investigate the caves.

The boom of water hitting rock heightened by the caves’ natural acoustics, echoed throughout the anchorage. It was a familiar song, but one I had not heard so up close and personal. Chris paddled his way deeper into the cave while I hesitantly waited outside watching the water breathe in and out of the voids. “Nah, I’m good,” I said as the tide continued to rise. A large bird swooped overhead, drawing my eyes to the ledge where it perched. “Holy sh!t! It’s an eagle!” I called Chris, nearly falling off my board from excitement. A beautiful Bald Eagle sat above us, picking apart its fresh kill while we observed from the water below. Its orange tag caught my attention, and reminded me of the bird’s interesting history here on Santa Cruz Island. 

In Channel Islands National Park, due to the persecution by humans and the effects of organochlorine chemicals such as DDT, breeding bald eagles were eliminated by the mid-1950’s. In an innovative reintroduction program conducted 2002 and 2006, sixty-one young bald eagles were released on the northern Channel Islands. Although bald eagles typically nest in trees that protrude above the forest canopy, on the Channel Islands – where large trees are scarce – the birds have resorted to building nests on cliff faces, rock shelves as well as in island and torrey pines. It was recorded that one pair even attempted nesting in a grassland on Santa Cruz Island! 2006 marked the first successful bald eagle nest on the Channel Islands in over 50 years, and since that time, the recovering bald eagle population on the islands has grown. As of 2013 there were five breeding pairs on Santa Cruz Island, two on Santa Rosa, one on Anacapa, and a total of over 40 bald eagles on the northern Channel Islands. Today, bald eagles are an important part of the island ecosystem. How cool was it that we saw one of them?

We paddled back to Avocet, riding the breaking waves over the sandbar while the June gloom burned off overhead. The island packers barge came in and dropped off a new round of visitors before taking off to the mainland once again. Soon we were surrounded by eager island goers that took to the water aboard kayaks and SUPS with their fearless guide leading the way and sharing details about the island. I love seeing the excitment and “awe” on peoples faces when they get to experience the wonders of the Channel Islands, a good reminder of why we must continue to support conservation efforts. Back on the boat we packed the dry bag with a camera, our lunch, and a water bottle for our adventure on shore. 

“That was SO much easier!” I said to Chris as I dismounted into the ankle deep sea. Rocks rolled over my toes as the water sucked back out while I gathered my board and paddle to take to higher ground. It was true, although we love our Fatty Knees 8’ dinghy, it can be a mission to beach her sometimes, especially with rocky landings like the one at Scorpion. A crowed watched us paddle in from our boat, whispering amongst themselves. I managed to put on my listening ears and overheard a young boy tell his parents our boat was “cool” and he wants to go boating too, which warmed my heart. Chris and I flipped our boards fins up before sitting atop them and breaking out our lunch to enjoy alongside the abundance of other visitors. 

I anchored our boards using a series of rocks and the leashes – in case the swell rose quicker than we anticipated – before Chris and I began our hike. The newcomers were still settling into their campsites, dragging large plastic bins up and down the ranch path. An island fox was thrilled with the bounty of fresh things that were waiting to be retrieved, and took it upon itself to inspect each bin for easy access to whatever delicious foods laid inside. The foxes are smaller than our Cleo, and have no natural predators on the islands which means they are friendlier than they should be and don’t fear humans one bit. The curious fox continued to sniff through the boxes before I shooed it away, hoping we would see some more higher up on the trail. 

It had been a while since we stepped foot in Scorpion Anchorage, and we quickly remembered why it was our favorite. The relics of ranch life were scattered throughout the beginning of the trail in front of the ranch house as rich foliage lined the trail to the campgrounds. It is like taking a step back into time, which adds a whole new level of appreciation for this gem off the California coast line. “Should we?” Chris asked as he looked at the trail signs. The fog was still burning off, and it was just 12:00. The Potato Bay trail was only a few miles long, and we had nothing to do with our day so we began the ascent and continued our march, even after we almost turned around in the first 10 minutes. 

Towards the top of the trail the fog began to creep back in, filling the space between sky and sea with dense gray nothingness. We had made it to the Potato Harbor lookout, our eyes followed the sound of crashing waves a good 200 feet below us, only to see nothing. Fog 1. Crew 0. “At least we got a good workout” I said, feeling my knees begin to give out as we descended. After a full morning of paddle boarding followed by a descent hike, I knew we would be sleeping well that night. 

Back aboard Avocet we sprawled out in the cockpit to catch whatever vitamin D broke through the grey, bathing in the warmth. The solar panels on top of our new dodger were hard at work farming the sunshine to feed our lithium batteries while we sat back and enjoyed the fruits of our labor. Cleo joined us and rolled around on deck, loosening up copious amounts of fur that blew back our way. It was a very relaxing afternoon, filled with music, reading, and a bit of writing this very blog post. Before we knew it, the sun had started to pack up for the night, waving goodbye with pops of reds, purples and golds strung along the horizon. The swell rocked us gently to sleep as the activities from our day settled in our aching muscles. Cleo snuggled between us, snoring every so often as we dreamed of fair winds and following seas. 

The morning always comes too soon I thought as the light shone through our hatch. Chris was still sound asleep as I got up and prepared the coffee – for him, not for me since we would be sailing home. With coffee poured Chris dragged himself out of bed to the cockpit, sipping away while I made our breakfast and stowed the loose belongings in anticipation of our sail back to Ventura. It was around 10:00 am and the breeze began to build, prompting us to pull anchor sooner than later in hopes we could sail the entire way home. 

The island shrank in our wake as our spinnaker filled with wind, pushing us further and further from the largest of the eight islands. I must have appeased Poseidon with my offering of stomach contents on the sail over because I didn’t have a lick of nausea come over me. It was a beautiful sail home complete with a pod of dolphins swimming by to say hello before charging off behind us, clearly on the hunt. We savored every moment on big blue before pulling into the harbor where the confines of our slip and unfinished projects awaited us. 

With the dodger build complete Chris and I have been crossing off various little items off our to-do list form oiling the bulwark to finally painting the quarter berth lockers. It has been a busy few months but we look forward to putting away the tools for longer periods of time as we get ready to sail to Mexico this fall. We hope you enjoy the stories we share here and on social media; don’t be afraid to reach out, we would love to hear from you!

Fair winds, 

Marissa, Chris and Cleocat



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