Sailing the Wrong Way for the Right Reasons

Posted:  September 27, 2022
👁 1657   27

Departure Day

If I could throw my arms around the whole city of Ventura, I would. When we moved aboard Avocet in 2018, Chris and I had just graduated college, moved out of our shoebox apartment in North Lake Tahoe, and stopped in Shaver Lake to get married before he carried me through the companionway (the sailors version of a threshold) of our new home. It was a whirlwind for us as two young twenty year olds, not leaving much time to process what and who we left behind for our grand new life afloat. We were officially 500 miles away from where we had spent three years learning to live together and had taken the plunge head first into boat ownership buying a capable blue water cruiser that was in need of some gentle TLC.

Those first few months of liveaboard life were tough and isolating with our heads buried in a project list that seemed to multiply as quickly as a project was completed – I remember one night when we were driving home from Lowes I burst out into tears because I was flooded with the feeling of loneliness. “We have no friends!” I bawled inconsolable from the passenger seat. Chris took his time to respond, throwing his arms around me and letting me get all the tears out before offering the simple (and cryptic) response “just wait and see”. Looking back at that moment I feel so silly for the tears that were shed, because Chris was right – shortly after my passenger seat pity party we made friends faster than a wave crashing on the beach which is why as we sailed out of Ventura Harbor for the last time I was in tears once more. Not because we didn’t have any friends, but because we were sailing away from so many that we love. 

Ventura filled my heart up to a capacity I didn’t know existed. From its surf town charm to all the people in it that call it home. Despite our time in Tahoe, we agree that Ventura is really the first place we really laid down roots and will always carry a piece of the city with us on our journey – and not just because it is legally on our USCG documentation. We will carry our friends with us in the form of shared recipes, photos, recommended books, and most importantly projects they helped complete. So much love had been poured into Avocet, it was time to cash in on the effort in exchange for adventure, and we had the right weather window to make it happen.

A photo from our “Off the Dock” party with a handful of party goers that came by that evening.

I held it together all morning suppressing all the “this is the last time” thoughts, even as friends and dock neighbors filtered by our slip to say their farewells. We had just dropped our keys off in the office, where I had worked as the business manager for three years, to make our departure official. I held my chin high as we shut the office door behind us, taking in the sight of the marina I helped build. My feelings of pride, accomplishment and excitement were keeping me going… until our friend Quincey was at the bottom of the gangway.

“Today is the day!” she said with a dock cart full of boat washing supplies in tow. It was then I began to feel the three-strand of my soul unraveling at its bitter end. Quincey and her partner Mitch became some of our best friends after they helped us deliver Mama Neely’s Mason 43 to Ventura from San Francisco, then moved their own boat to the ”neighborhood” shortly after. The memories of all the game nights, dinners, sails, and other adventures creep up and become physical in the form of tears as we hugged each other. A lump in my throat formed as I did my best to hold back the floodgates, swallowing the feeling of sadness as it was supposed to be a day of excitement. After our hug, Chris and I continued on our “farewell tour” down the dock to S/V ValHowell to say goodbye to her crew. 

Me, Quincey, Mitch and Chris unveiling our new dodger windows

The ValHowell crew and Avocet Crew taking their Fatty’s out for a sail

When we moved to Ventura Harbor from Channel Islands Harbor, Alan and Elizabeth Howell ( the crew of ValHowell) were the quickest friends we made. We spent many nights aboard their Beneteau Sense 51 enjoying conversation, dinners and pushing buttons – both the boats and Alan’s. Back in 2020 when we were in the boatyard doing our refit and dealing with all the uncertainties of the pandemic, Alan and Elizabeth made sure we were fed and taking care of ourselves. Their kindness and support continues to mean the world to us, and they became our chosen family whether they liked it or not, which is exactly why after we said our “goodbyes” and began our walk back to Avocet I couldn’t fight the tears off any longer and just let them flow. Chris threw his arm around me, which is when I noticed he was tearing up a bit too. “I know” he said, validating my sullen emotions on such a joyous day. 

Back on Avocet we went through our departure checklist one last time before we turned the engine on and started the motions of pushing off. It was somewhere in the mix of the process that a woman approached us to ask about our dodger. At this point we were in a bit of a rush, so I offered to send her our contact information as well as the full blog post I had written to help get her started on the project herself – honestly, the timely exchange was a welcomed mental reset that helped remind me of how much work we did to get to this point. Mitch and Quincey took their place on the dock, helping us push off before racing back to their dinghy to escort us out of the harbor. “Fair winds, guys!” our dock neighbor Steve yelled at the end of “our” dock as we made our way to the main channel. 

Mitch and Quincey chasing after us

PC: Mitchel Andrus

With full canvas we sailed out of the breakwater waving to our friends as they captured our great escape from their camera. As they shrank behind us my eyes swelled with tears, looking back at the harbor we called “home” and proudly displayed as our homeport on our transom. We were silly to think our departure party ended at the harbor exit because in the middle of sobbing our friend Garrett Baum caught up to us on a chase boat that was part of a regatta in the distance. “There’s Chris and Marissa! They’re out of here!” he yelled, phone in hand capturing the action in a video that he sent us promptly after. My tears dried up for the moment as the feeling of gratitude came over me – we had so many incredible people help us get to this point, and what seemed like a whole armada celebrating this monumental point in our lives. In retrospect, maybe they were looking forward to the silence returning to the marina since our tools of mass destruction and noise were sailing elsewhere… Regardless, it felt wonderful to share our accomplishment with others. 

Ventura to Santa Barbara – September 17th

It was 6:00 pm; we had been underway for two hours and had another hour and a half ahead of us before we reached Santa Barbara where we would lay anchor for the night. It was nice to leave the harbor and stop in a familiar place before we ventured on into the great unknown, giving us an opportunity to decompress from all the emotions and *things* involved with such a big change. We were also eager to meet up with our friend Neil who we had recently helped “flip” his Lion 550 sailboat that he has been building with Carpinteria Dory Company and, if schedules aligned, join my social-media-client-turned-friend Lin Pardey at Brophy Bro’s.

The sun was just starting to set when we caught a glimpse of our anchorage ahead. The strong wind that had carried us this far had reduced to less than a whisper and caused Chris to pause reading the book Bull Canyon outloud to furl our headsail while I turned the engine on. It was somewhere in that process our trusty CPT autopilot started spitting out metal shavings, a red flag that we would have to address the following day when we could really dive into what was going on. Good thing we are sailing to the place it is made I thought with a sense of pride, admiring how cool it was that our Autopilot was manufactured in my home town of Aptos, California – I was also silently hoping that we wouldn’t have to hand steer the whole way up the coast. 

Chris on the bow coming into SB.. most likely on the phone with his brother

We made our approach into Santa Barbara Anchorage around 19:00 (7:00 pm) and noted how empty it seemed. “Do they know something we dont?” I asked Chris half jokingly as this roadstead anchorage is notoriously uncomfortable in any type of swell rightfully earning the nickname “fools anchorage”. 

Santa Barbara is one of the prettiest spots along the California Coast to stop for fuel, provisions, and a change of scenery. Although there is a proper marina, it is city owned and basically at full capacity resulting in it’s first-come-first-served reservation system – so it is best to have a plan B. Plus it’s about $2/foot per night so if you are a cruiser on a budget you may find the free anchorage more appealing. The anchorage is located on the leeward side of Stearns Wharf and can be quite daunting in the summer with a high concentration of boats maneuvering in and out of the harbor and anchorage, as well as the crabpots that are scattered about that you will find on your approach so you best keep an eye out! When anchoring here, we like to get as close to the wharf as possible since it is easier to get to shore and it tends to be less rolly closer to the break water. Chris and I would consider this a fair weather anchorage because we cannot stress enough how miserable it is to be here in any amount of southern swell. Generally we set the hook anywhere in depths between 20 and 30 feet with a scope of 5:1 taking the wind into account. It is a nice sandy bottom so if you have a good anchor dragging shouldn’t be an issue if you set correctly. The Harbor Patrol monitors VHF channels 16 and 12 all day, everyday. Or you can call them at 805-564-5531.

Setting our hook is like muscle memory, a well choreographed routine that seldom misses a step. Chris on the bow paying out chain, me at the helm steering the boat and backing down on the anchor when it comes time. Once we were set, the engine was turned off and the sounds of Santa Barbara flooded our cockpit. Below deck Chris checked the weather for the following days while I made us dinner; ratatouille to make use of the vegetables our friends gifted us from their garden. 

A few weeks prior I was varnishing some pieces on the dock when a young woman approached me and introduced herself as Elana. “I don’t want to bother you, but my husband and I are the guest boaters across the way and we love watching your YouTube videos,” she explained, slightly timid but bubbly. I admired her bravery to approach strangers – something I struggle with constantly – but assured her that she was no bother and began talking about boats, projects, and cruising plans. The conversation made my day and we connected on instagram later, which is why when we found out they would also be in Santa Barbara anchorage I was excited to reconnect and have she and her husband Travis over to talk more about (you guessed it) boats, projects, and cruising plans. 

“We brought tequila!” Elena shared as she pulled the bottle out of her tote bag. As Chris became acquainted with our new friends I grabbed our drink glasses out so we could pour ourselves a shot and cheers to this new chapter of our lives starting off strong with good people, fair winds, and tasty tequila. After a boat tour, Elena signed our guest log while Chris and Travis chatted about solar arrays in the cockpit before the couple departed for shore in search of live music and night life. Exhausted from our day, we cleaned the galley and made our plans for the morning. 

His forehead wrinkled into a mask of frustration as the voice on the other side of the phone opposed our initial plans. “Ultimately you should always go with your gut” the voice belonging to Chris’s brother said, as silence fell between the two. The weather had changed ever so slightly, but enough to bring big winds and rain around Point Conception – our primary point of concern on this passage. You see, Point Conception is regarded as the Cape Horn of California, and is notorious for sneaker waves that rise from the deep like grabbing hands to knock the unsuspecting sailor on his ear. Not to mention the Cape Effect that brings winds seemingly from nowhere and everywhere all at once, strong enough to tear sails and make even the saltiest of sailors yearn for solid ground. 

Chris’s big brother Jon and his parter Shannon had rounded Point Conception twice; once on their first boat a Caliber 27, Tara, and the second on their Hans Christian 33, Prism that they still cruise aboard today. Their first trip down the California coast from the bay to Ventura was so harrowing with a near-knock down and near-man overboard scare it inspired them to find a more stout sea going vessel like Prism. Shannon was truly the voice of reason inspiring Jon’s warnings on the phone; they had been watching the weather from the Neely homestead to help us plan this passage accordingly and made note of the cyclonic system off the coast, suggesting we leave Monday morning rather than Sunday evening to avoid the projected 10 – 12 foot swell every 6 seconds that came from the NW and forecasted sustained 20 knot SW winds that would bring 30 knot gusts. Reluctantly we agreed that we did not necessarily want our asses kicked around on our first big passage and decided that one full day in Santa Barbara would not be the worst idea in the world. After we agreed on our new plan we tucked into our berth and prayed that Poseidon would be kind.

Sunday in Santa Barbara – September 18th

Paired with Sollevato Coffee

Paired with Sollevato Coffee

The sun crept through our stateroom portlight, beaming me right in the face. Cleo purred beside me taking up more of the bed than her small feline body should and Chris refused to acknowledge it was morning. I crawled out of our bed, reaching for my glasses and made us coffee and started cooking our first breakfast as sailors with no marina to call home. Eggs florentine, my personal favorite, was on the menu for myself while I prepared a simple loaded avacado toast at Chris’s request. We enjoyed breakfast in the cockpit while I knocked out some work emails and started writing this very long-form blog post. 

I realize as I write this that I haven’t fully explained why we were sailing north in the first place; yes we know Mexico is south and yes we know that northern California is cold but trust us when we say that we are sailing the “wrong way” for the right reasons. Family is important to us and the main reason we decided to stick around through the holidays before sailing over the Mexican boarder… and having grown up in Santa Cruz, California I wanted to experience my hometown from my own floating home – a quasi homecoming of sorts before we take Avocet into southern waters where – if all goes according to plan – she will not return stateside. We anticipated this journey north would be its usual bash into the predominant north west/ west winds making our end goal Monterey Bay, but when a rare southern wind popped up in the forecast we couldn’t miss the opportunity to sail up the coast to San Francisco Bay where Chris spent his childhood sailing aboard his families Mason 43, Sea Castle. So: family, homecoming, rare south wind – you have all the details you need to understand why it was important we catch this particular weather window. 

Despite our desire to meet with Lin, our plans were not aligning especially when trying to plan around the winds we were relying on to carry us safely up the coast. Reluctantly, I sent her an email to see when she would be in Santa Barbara as well as explaining why I was so persistent in checking her ETA to which she responded with “please don’t change your plans for us. I took a look at the wind forecast and if you are headed north – you really should grab the southerly winds and go” which was all the validation needed to continue on with our new plan. 

Neil!

We spent the day onshore stretching our legs and meeting Neil for drinks at the Llama Dog in what is known as the “Funk Zone” an eclectic block of eateries and tap rooms that attract the college hipsters and foodies alike, searching for a refined taste and aesthetic. “So what’s next?” Neil asked – the million dollar question that had no true answer. Chris took point this time, explaining that our only real plan was to get to the Bay (weather permitting) and hang out until we get bored then move on. We were thrilled to finally be at a point where our plans revolve around nothing but mother nature; our newest landlord. 

Back on Avocet we watched the dark and ominous clouds roll in while doing a systems check. Oddly, I was not afraid of the rain that was promised in our future but rather of the whales that had been spotted in the area since one of my biggest fears is hitting one, or even worse, being hit by one. Shaking my half rational fear off for the time being, I focused on making breakfast burritos for the beginning of passage that would take place in the early hours of the following morning.

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Santa Barbara to Point Conception – September 19th

Never in my life have I seen a more spectacular sunrise than on the morning of September 19th, 2022, the day of our biggest passage yet. The age old saying red skies at morning sailors take warning played through my head as the foreboding dark clouds contrasted with the rainbows that leaked through every crack – one of the largest was off our bow, cascading from the sky into the sea… and we were going to find what laid at the bottom of it.

 Spoiler alert: it was rain. 

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Santa Barbara shrank off our stern as Avocet sliced through the small swell, her sails full of the promised southerly winds. We departed at 6:30 sharp, noting our time, engine hours, and location of departure in our freshly printed log book that I had created pulling inspiration from multiple of our friends log books. In a way, it was like taking a piece of them all along for the journey which was partially my intent along with making a very useful log book that would serve us how we needed it to. The magic of the morning faded into grey skies that were saturated with rain, bathing us in a freshwater shower by 7:30. 

The sizzling sound of rain across the sea was organic white noise fighting against the ever present sound of Avocet making way. It was light rains, but consistent, as if mother nature was warning us of what was to come. “Oh shit” Chris gasped as he lunged towards our autopilot. R2Sea2 is what I nicknamed our autopilot system and just like the droid for which it was named after it omitted an awful screech letting us know something was very wrong. It was in that moment we realized we had forgot to follow up on the issue of it spitting metal shavings from the days prior, and were now facing the possibility of having to hand steer our way up the coast. Fortunately Chris, being the handy know-it-all that he is, connected the dots and realized that the shear pins had sheared off causing the issue. Completely unsurprised, Chris said “I can fix it” through a determined grin before diving head first into our neatly organized lazarette to retrieve two spare shear pins that were naturally located at the very bottom of the storage space, but he knew the exact needle he needed from the haystack which made the process relatively quick. Moments later we were back on course and R2 was a happy helm assistant once more. 

7… 7.5….8 knots!!! We were screaming up the coast and Avocet was sailing beautifully reaching a top hullspeed of 9.5 knots. To our surprise, Cleo decided to join us in the cockpit – an unusual occurrence but a welcomed one. Usually she remains below deck huddled in her bed with a towel on top since she tends to be prone to sea sickness, but this passage was different. Her sniffer went off in every direction and her tail flicked back and forth in a pattern we like to call “adventure tail” when she is in an investigative state, trying to make sense of her newfound reality. After some time patrolling the cockpit, she made her way back below deck where I tucked her back into her bed and prayed she wouldn’t vomit. 

As the wind increased we decided to furl in some of our headsail to keep the boat trimmed properly. Thanks to our pals at Precision Sails this was made simple with the foam luffs they sewed in to ensure the sail maintained a proper shape. Point Conception was on our bow in the distance but still close enough to plot on a chart for dead reckoning. It was wild to think that the last time we saw the infamous landmark from the sea we were sailing Sea Castle down the coast from SF Bay to Ventura with our new pals Mitch and Quincey. So much had changed since that trip.

“Marissa, take a nap.” At the sound of Chris’s voice I jolted up from my spot where I was slumped over the companion way like a Salvador Dali painting. I had zoned out, turning my brain off and letting the hum of the propeller beneath us (we should really install a shaft break) and rocking of the boat lull me to sleep. Chris was sheltered on the opposing side of the cockpit, under the dodger to keep out of the rain. I protested at his suggestion for a moment, but then slid below deck for a proper nap on the condition that I would be awoken before Point Conception or if my help was needed – the last one was important since Chris is always so hellbent on doing everything himself even if it’s safer for two people. I napped beside Cleo for a solid hour, puling my beanie over my eyes to shield me from the brightness that bled through our stateroom portlights.

Better rested and eager to return to my crews side, I pulled my foulies back on and prepared myself to rejoin the outside world but before I could even get my foot on the first step of the companion way Chris stopped me. “Honestly I would stay down there for 30 more minutes until the rain passes” he said with wide eyes and water dripping from every curve and edge of his heavily layered body. The cockpit was utterly soaked and Chris was occupying the only real dry spot since. Understanding he was unwilling to give up his post I didn’t argue, and directed my effort towards searching for a tube of saltine crackers in deep storage.

At 15:10 (3:00 pm)  the rain had subsided as did the wind, leaving us with the tough decision of turning the engine back on. If we weren’t trying to keep within a specific weather window we probably would have bobbed around for a while until the wind returned, but in order to get around Conception in a timely manor with the winds assistance we needed to maintain our speed. It was around that same time the confused swell had sorted itself out and found consistency at 8 feet every 6 seconds from the southwest, making things a bit more comfortable. Chris was about to head in for a nap when he got the whiff of fuel, opening up our cabin sole to discover his fears were true. Fuel was dripping from our injector line and by the time it was discovered there was about half a gallon of diesel sloshing in the tray beneath our Perkins. 

The oh-so-familiar sound of tools clanking in Chris’s hands as he gathered the ones necessary for the job was partnered with the various swears omitted from his mouth. I kept my eyes on the horizon adjusting our course accordingly when crab pots and kelp interfered with our path while Chris layed belly down on the cabin sole with his head above the engine to determine what the best fix was. A downside of having our engine centership is that the access can be quite the headache, but we were fortunate Cheoy Lee made the decision to have every floorboard removable to help remedy the issue. Fumes filled the cockpit and the slight breath of southerly winds kept the nauseating smell of diesel stagnant aboard our boat. I knew Chris would be sick after he fixed whatever-it-was, but didn’t anticipate diesel spraying him directly in the face putting him right on the edge of diesel poisoning. 

“It isn’t fixed but it’s only a drip now” Chris said reluctantly, his glasses toiled in his hands as he did his best to wipe them of the diesel. I could see the color draining from his face, and made sure he drank a full nalgene of water while sitting where the fresh air was the most prominent. “It’s okay,” I said, “I know you will fix it” and truly bealieved that he would once he had a clear mind free from fumes. Off our portside a massive pod of dolphins swam north with us, and just behind them two whales breached. The clouds parted like a curtain revealing the warmth of the sun that thawed our foulie-covered-bodies out like the frozen pizza I had on the galley counter. Truth be told I forgot it was at the bottom of our freezer and was thrilled when I rediscovered it for an easy passage meal. (Positive) surprises at sea are the best.

I took the pizza out of the oven and could hear the dolphins chatting with eachother through the hull. Shortly after we scarfed down dinner we did a final systems check and Chris retired below deck. It was officially my first solo watch of the passage and would be at the helm from 20:00 (8:00 pm) to 23:00 (11:00) or later if I could manage to stay awake. Steam from my tea warmed my chin as I held the mug close to my chest for warmth. But Did We Sink? was etched into one side, with Captain Marissa etched into the other – a farewell gift from our friend Ryan who was responsible for all the metal upgrades we made aboard Avocet. The nightime chill set in biting at every exposed inch of skin and despite my attempts at huddling beneath my favorite Mexican blanket I was still fighting to keep my body temperature up. The moon took her place in a sky of diamonds, the milkyway galaxy on full display off our stern quarter with the big dipper ahead of us off our bow. The purr of the Perkins melted into the ambiance of the sea, becoming unnoticeable as I took it all in. 

An hour into my watch two dolphins cut through the water with a phosphorescent trail that resembled a torpedo, heading straight for our boat. I will admit, I was a bit nervous at first to see the two high speed projectiles coming towards us but only because it was the only light I had seen since the fog returned and snuffed out the jewlbox in the sky. I scanned the horizon for crab pots and other hazards with no real help from our high power flashlight since it reflected off the soupy fog and back into my face. From what I could tell, there was nothing obstructing our course and we were still following the right heading so I was doing my job correctly. Just then a whale breached off our portside, entirely too close for comfort. “Please stay there buddy, we just want to get around Conception” I pleaded with the mammal. Even though they can’t hear you (or understand you, for that matter) I still find comfort in voicing my intentions in situations that make me uneasy – like a mantra, or false self-assurance. And right when I thought the visibility couldn’t get worse, it did and my watch was over. 

Chris’s Log

24:00 (12:00 am) fog lifted above skyline to be able to see shore, passing Pismo now. Will be near morro Bay in about 4 hrs. Seas have flattened dramatically, swell is maybe 1 foot every 10 seconds. Wind is light but present from the east, about 5 kts. Engine running well, with the weather window closing I think we will push past Morro and head straight to SF. If something happenes we have more bug out options now vs when we were rounding Point Arguella. 02:00 (2:00 am): No sighting of boat, or animals. Fog has lifted, uneventful watch. Getting close to Morro Bay. It’s cold. 

At 2:30 in the morning I was woken by Chris shaking my ankles. My mouth was dry despite brushing my teeth and chugging half a nalgene of water before bed, and my eyes were heavy with sleep. I reached for my glasses on our bedside table and began the motions of adding more layers to my body before returning to the cockpit for my second watch where we successfully (and uneventfully) rounded Point Conception.

Day at Sea – September 20th

Cleo cat in the cockpit during a night passage

The best night watch buddy

Naturally, the fog that had dissipated during Chris’s watch was on the same schedule as me and returned as soon as I emerged, much thicker than when I went to sleep. It was hard to leave the warmth of the bed and Cleo who was soundly purring next to me but it brought me comfort knowing Chris would be able to relax and get some much needed rest. Our AIS receiving on our radio wasn’t working so before Chris left me on my own he showed me how to access AIS online through his phone. Thanks to Starlink we have been able to keep connected for work, play and navigation which has been incredibly useful on this journey. I rinsed my mouth with water to wake up my tastebuds before taking my first sip of Captains Tea – a special blend crafted by our friend Quincey to aid in sea sickness. 

Around 04:00 Cleo joined me in the cockpit, and decided to chomp on her cat grass that I grew for her in a little pot that lives under the dodger. A bit early to mow the lawn, I thought but it was a relief to see her eat something since her food bowl below deck was still unusually full. The only light I could see was the glitter from the phosphorescence that rolled in our wake, like fallen fireflies that took to the sea, trading their wings for gills. 

Hours passed as I listened intently to my favorite podcasts while keeping an eye on the horizon and checking our course. Everytime I stood up Cleo protested with a scream-like meow. I thought I saw ships off our starboard beam… but later discovered it was the shore. The sea was like silk and Avocet a hot knife gliding through it. The fog started to lift as the rays from rising sun broke through turning the black skies blue. My watch was coming to an end, but I decided to stick it out for as long as I could to let Chris rest, and see the sunrise – one of my favorite parts of an overnight passage. We had officially been underway for 24 hours as soon as the clock struck 06:00 – the longest passage we have done to date as Avocet’s crew. Although I was not tired, Chris relieved me of my watch at 06:30 after he woke himself up. Since I really couldn’t sleep my main motive was to get warm. You never know how cold you are until you start to get warm again. My hands felt like they were full of tiny pins and needles as I lunged them beneath the blankets in our bed that was still warm from Chris’s lingering body heat. Cleo followed me below deck like my shadow, taking her “off watch” very seriously and curling up in my arms as I finally dozed off to sleep. 

Chris’s Log

06:30 – 09:30: Great sunrise. Nothing Happened. 

I awoke at 09:30 from my slumber to blue skies and a bed without a cat in it. Cleo had decided to pull a double watch, keeping Chris company in the cockpit. Whales beached in the (comfortable) distance and the breeze was trying to pick up enough so we could sail. “Good morning” he said – his foulies were crumpled up under the dodger as he wore his favorite second hand fleece, pajama bottoms, and boots that were hand-me-downs from his brother. Clearly he was thawing out as the brunt of the rain was behind us. At 11:00 we tried to sail, but it was still too light and we were making no headway so we reluctantly compromised and motorsailed. 

“It’s your turn for a nap” I said as I watched Chris slump lower and lower into the cockpit seat. His eyes were heavy and he was fighting the urge to close them completely, sleeping vertical in case he had to spring into action, no doubt. To my surprise he didn’t argue and went down for a nap at 11:30 after checking the engine for any change in the leak-situation. Multi-day passages are kind of like being in a weird limbo where you take a lot of naps but are never truly well rested. In his absence I utilized our internet connection to get some work done which included scheduling content for all of my clients in October, responding to emails and even making a few phone calls. My floating office was remarkable and I felt like I was living the dream. 

Somewhere in between emails and writing the wind picked up enough to fill the sails – well, a sail – so I woke my crew up and we raised our spinnaker at 13:00 (1:00 pm). Spinnaker sailing UP the coast of California… what a treat! Another whale breached 50 feet off our stern, followed by another beside us and two more in front of us. We were surrounded by the massive mammals and as mystified as we were vigilant of their direction to be sure and stay clear of their path. It was 16:00 (4:00 pm) and while watching the whales breach Chris had an epiphany. “I know how to fix it!” he said before darting below deck. I didn’t have time to question him, and thought it be best to allow his train of thought to keep on track so kept my inquisitions to myself as he tinkered with the engine again. 

About half an hour passed before “I did it!” was harmoniously sang as Chris emerged from the cabin with a sh!t-eating grin. Unlike his last fix-it attempt he wasn’t dripping with diesel and didn’t show any signs of nausea. Seeing that it was safe to ask my avalanche of questions I started with a simple “how did you fix it?” As it turned out the leak was caused by an improper installation leading to Chris reseating the fuel line and using Gasolia to remedy the problem. The leak was gone and so was the wind.

The sun was warm as it fell onto us in the early hours of the afternoon, inspiring Chris to shower in the cockpit while I made dinner in the galley. He carefully hung his foulies from the bimini frame and tossed his dirty diesel covered clothes below deck for me to kick into the hamper. He was a new man after a win with the engine and freshwater bath. As we ate together we noticed the iconic Bixby Bridge off our starboard side – we were getting closer to my home waters and the excitement flooded my stomach with butterflies that shared the space with the tomato bisque and grilled cheese I made for dinner. “Do you want to take first watch?” Chris asked between bites of sandwich. Honestly I was getting tired, but the wind was just starting to fill in and I wanted to wait until the engine was off to sleep so we waited together until the unimaginable happened.

“SHIT!” as a sailor, it isn’t uncommon to hear curses but doesn’t make the words less shocking when they are exclaimed in such a powerful way, especially when it was exclaimed so many times in a single trip. While Chris was lowering our mainsail to keep it from shading our headsail he underestimated his strength and ripped a hole directly through the leech of the sail which was subsequently already in need of a mend since we snapped our leech line a couple days prior. I posted the event to our instagram story to which our friends at Precision Sails were quick to respond – “bummed to see our main damaged” but stoked that our Precision headsail was “picking up the slack” and keeping us on course. Chris returned to the cockpit and through a half smile said the classic Captian Ron line “if it’s gunna happen it’s gonna happen out there.”

mainsail down and headsail keeping us on track

Chris’s Log:

21:45 (9:45 pm) Engine back on. Wow what a mess with rigging… I won’t put up or take down the pole again without help in the cockpit… The boats just too big. Other than being exhausted there isn’t anything notable from my watch. Passed a sailboat at about 24:00 (11:00 pm). Staying warm under the dodger with a blanket and watching the horizon through the dodger and behind the stern.

The Final Leg – September 21st

My watch began at midnight with a warning from Chris that there was a cruise ship in the distance. I made note of the city like glow on the ocean and hoped it would remain just that – a distant glow. Being a walking testament for Murphy’s Law it started to rain as soon as I took my place in the cockpit. Following Chris’s watch notes I mirrored his position and huddled under the dodger beneath the warm blankets he had left for me. I’m sure he equally appreciated the warm bed that Cleo and I had spent hours snuggling in. I ripped open my bag of Saltines which became my go-to midnight snack and kept a lookout for crab pots camouflaged by the darkness of the sea. It was truly feeling like familiar waters with the certain cold and wet bite to the air – I was just thankful Chris found the wool gloves our friend Tom Shaw gifted us a while back. 

In the middle of my cathartic writing session the sky went white with lightning, scaring the absolutel living sh!t out of me and Cleo who, up until then, had been sleeping soundly on the doghouse under the dodger. It was 03:00, and I was doing my best to count the seconds that passed after the strike, waiting to hear the thunder but none came. “It must be far away” I said to Cleo, petting her head as her yellow eyes stared back at me. It was the first strike of many as time sped on, keeping me on my toes and in my place as Mother Natures reminder that we are a small part of the big picture. The rain lifted and returned in a downpour, just in time for me to tap Chris in and retreat below deck with Cleo at my heels. 

Chris’s Log:

Cold. Wet. Boring.

Sunshine gripped my eyelids forcing them open to embrace the day ahead. It was 9:00 in the morning and like clockwork my off-watch time was up. I popped my head out of the companionway to see Chris in a very damp cockpit smiling ear to ear. “You can see the gate!” He said through a wide grin. I perched near the companionway where we swapped watch stories and snapped photos of the Golden Gate that was getting ever-so-closer with every minute that passed.

By 11:00 we were one hour away from sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge, and the sun showered us in its rays. Sun? In San Francisco? Could we have carried it as a stowaway, waiting idle for the opportune moment to make an appearance? We were not complaining one bit but were pleasantly surprised by the lack of fog that is such a part of the bay area culture that the locals have given it a name, Karl. We were still motoring due to the lack of wind but as we neared the bridge I could see sailboats with full canvas tacking back and forth in the confines of “The Bay.”

“No freaking way this is really happening” I said through a wide smile. Sailing under the Golden Gate wing-on-wing was like sprinting through the finish line of a marathon. It was noon, the engine was silenced and we were making way underneath the iconic bridge with a virtual crew tuning into our livestream to celebrate with us. We were cruising at 6 knots towards Emeryville where aimed to refuel before deciding where to lay the hook for our first night of real, uninterrupted sleep. 

Sirens, helicopters, cars and more filled the air as the familiar sounds of the city came to life like an urban symphony. Cleo was intrigued by her new surroundings and walked around the cockpit taking in all the new sights. We passed by Alcatraz, a spot we would be sure to visit later as our bay area friends all began to message us and welcome us back to the bay. We navigated to Safe Harbor Emeryville where we received a very warm welcome from the office staff who I had the pleasure of working with from “my” office in Ventura where I served as the business manager. “Welcome to the bay!” They said as they joined us on the dock. Jeremy, the Regional Vice President who lives in Ventura, was also present and stoked to see we made it in (mostly) one piece. As a Safe Harbor Marinas member (tenant) you receive FREE transient dockage at sister marinas as well as fuel discounts which we were thankful to still reep the benefits of since our membership expired on the 1st of October. 

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I made our first entry in our fuel log noting the location, fuel amount, and cost before casting off and setting our course for Clipper Cove, a great spot to catch up on rest and let the reality of cruising life seep in. We had an hour to kill while waiting for the tide to rise so took it nice and slow. 

“Did the cut still work?” Shannon asked from the other end of the phone – we were happy to report that the “secret cut” into Clipper Cove was just like she remembered and we made it into the anchorage without running aground on a shoal. We set the hook at 17:00 (5:00 pm) in 15 feet of water with a 3:1 scope – our usual routine down south, but had to reset with more scope (7:1) since we were not anticipating the silty holding. Chris upcycled an empty soy sauce container to be our trip line buoy until we had the means to purchase a real buoy, and we turned off the engine for the final time in this blog post. There was one other boat in the anchorage with us that we would later make good friends with and write about, but that’s a story for another time and it was time for this crew to get some sleep. 

We look forward to sharing our adventures in SF Bay soon! But until then… fair winds,

Marissa, Chris and Cleocat

When the lights… go down… in the city. And the sun shines on the baaaaay – Journey






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6 Comments

  1. Sven Grenander

    Thanks for the long write-up. It brought back quite a few memories as we did the same trek as the start to our cruise down into Mexico and Central America. Unlike you we made several stops on the way up, against cold rain and wind. Like you, our first stop in the Bay was at Emeryville marina (the private one, not the municipal one) before it was a Safe Harbor marina. There was a TJ’s a mile from the marina which gave us ‘daily’ exercise.

    It sounds like Cleo has gotten her sea legs ?

    Great that you could fix the issues under way. I’m surprised/impressed that the Gasola held a seal against the injector pressure.

    Look forward to reading your future entries.

    Reply
    • SV Avocet

      Thanks Sven! We will make stops on the way down the coast at our leisure. Cleo has gained her sea legs and even went for a walk on the beach with us!

      Reply
  2. T & Ebi

    LOVE the detail here! Such a rarity to find long-form that isn’t just… fluff. From one author to another, it’s much appreciated!

    Sending much love to you and the fam on your travels. Fair winds!

    Reply
    • SV Avocet

      Thank you so much!

      Reply
  3. Michelle Ameri

    Love reading about your sailing adventure. I’ve also done the trip around Point Conception. It’s no joke! We’re leaving Tahiti today to head back home to Montara. Post on Insta if you decide to stop into Princeton Harbor. We’ll buy you a drink!

    Reply
    • SV Avocet

      Will do!! Fair winds

      Reply

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