Monday, May 14, 2012

When a Bash is Not a Bash ...

On my last trip south Kathryn's brother, Tom, and I took the ABC bus to Ensenada, then checked out of Mexico at the Port Captain's office.

ABC Bus Station in Tijuana

Customs, Immigration & Port Captain

Getting our Zarpe

We'll miss Marina Coral

Agave Azul ready to sail to San Diego

On my first trip down the coast a few years ago, I didn’t get very far.  I crewed on the Coastal Cup and we lost our mast in the middle of the night 30 miles off Monterey.  So when we bought Agave Azul, and decided to sail to Mexico, we did a lot of research to determine the best time to transit the coast.  We worked with Commander’s Weather and left with a good weather window in September for a non-stop shakedown sail from San Francisco to Ensenada.  We had 15 – 25 knot NW winds most of the way, with reasonable swell and seas.  We made excellent time … at least until the Navy requested that we take a detour off San Clemente Island.  We made it to Ensenada in 75 hours, sailing most of the time.

Fast forward 8 months, and it’s time to return to SF Bay.  Our research told us that April wasn’t the ideal time for a return trip north, but we have some retrofits to complete before we start serious cruising and we hoped the weather wouldn’t be too bad.  Commander’s weather preview said “it looks promising”.

Ensenada to San Diego ... My brother-in-law lives in San Diego, so he crewed on the first leg from Ensenada.  We left at midnight on April 17th, with clear skies, no wind, calm seas and unusually warm weather.  Within a few miles we were in thick, wet fog that stayed with us most of the trip and we were able to avoid several vessels using AIS and radar.  When we turned north toward San Diego, the sun came out, the wind picked up and we sailed into the bay – a great way to end the first leg.  At the Police Dock the customs team was just finishing up with another boat and before we finished tying up they were onboard for a quick search and paperwork.  Ten minutes and $27.50 later we were on our way to the San Diego YC for engine maintenance and provisioning for our trip to San Francisco.

Typical visibility, wind and seas from Ensenada to San Diego

Dana Point

 San Diego Police Dock & Customs

Just before we departed San Diego on the 20th, we received the Commander’s Weather forecast.  Although I am steadily improving my weather forecasting ability in preparation for cruising next year, I’m at a loss to understand how a “high amplitude upper level trough on the East coast leads to a steep upper level ridge on the West coast …. resulting in low clouds and light SE-S-SW winds”.  But our timing seemed perfect so we left at 1:00pm for our second leg to Santa Barbara.

Leaving San Diego

San Diego to Santa Barbara ... Since we sailed outside the Channel Islands and Catalina on the way down, we decided to sail inside this time.  The wind never got over 8 knots so we motored in the same cloudy, foggy, wet conditions we experienced on the trip from Ensenada.  We had lots of ship traffic and the entire crew became expert at avoiding weather buoys, fishing boats, towed barges, freighters, cruise liners and mystery ships that turned their lights off as we sailed nearby.  To augment our visual watch, AIS and radar were our good friends for the entire trip.  The clouds lifted and the sun came out when we got close to Santa Barbara.  After 22 hours we tied up at the Santa Barbara YC guest dock, got some lunch, topped off our fuel tanks, took a short walk on the beach and were on our way again by 5:00pm.

How many sailors does it take to .... ?

Oil Platform just south of Santa Barbara

Agave Azul at the guest dock in Santa Barbara

Linda & Kathryn beach walk

Checking alternate courses for our trip north

Santa Barbara Harbor

Leaving Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara to Monterey ... One of the highlights of both trips was Point Conception.  On the way to Ensenada we were well offshore when we passed Conception at 5:00pm with 15 – 20 kt. NW winds and the chute up.  We felt very fortunate to experience such an uneventful rounding.  On this “bash” north, we passed just 4 miles offshore at 11:00pm with heavy fog, no wind, a gentle swell and no waves – water skiing conditions!  This stretch of the coast was quiet all night with no vessel traffic or VHF communications.  A couple hours south of Monterey the sun poked through the clouds and we put the chute up in 15 kts.  Unfortunately I didn’t alert the galley crew who were preparing dinner – I won’t make that mistake again!  When the wind got up to 23 kts. we were surfing well over hull speed so we decided to take the chute down.  I have to remember that this is a cruising boat.  Dinner in the cockpit was easier without the chute anyway.  This was the only typical wind we saw during the trip, although it was from the opposite direction – SE instead of NW.  We motored into Monterey Harbor about 9:00pm after 28 hours, and celebrated with margaritas and every snack in the galley.

Heading North with 20 - 25 kts of wind from the SE

Windex Watching

It was odd to sleep for 8 hours with no boat motion.  We had breakfast at Loulou’s Griddle on the wharf, which was a great way to recover from Agave Azul margaritas.  We rented bikes and enjoyed the day being tourists.  We stayed in Monterey for 24 hours so we would enter the SF ship channel at slack. 

Loulou's Griddle - Robin, Kathryn, William, Linda, Byron & Dan

Play day in Monterey

Point Pinos Lighthouse

Monterey to San Francisco ... When we departed at 10:30pm the weather was calm, but the trip across Monterey Bay provided our most challenging conditions.  The wind picked up to the teens after midnight, but we couldn’t find a sail combination that would eliminate the side-to-side roll.  After pretending to sleep for a couple hours we chose to find humor in the situation and just stayed awake until we got out of Monterey Bay.  We were north of Point Año Nuevo when the rolling finally stopped and our crew were able to get some sleep.  We had just enough wind and sun for our sail into the Bay.  We sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge in light air with the chute up.  The wind picked up and we had a beautiful sail past the city front and under the Bay Bridge to return to Westpoint Harbor where friends from Sequoia Yacht Club were there to welcome us back.

Kathryn in the SF entrance channel

Sailing into San Francisco Bay

Linda at the Helm

Crossing the Tide Line


All in all, we had a great trip with a very unusual weather pattern.  We know we’ll experience a real bash someday, but this was a nice surprise for our first pseudo bash up the coast.  We had a great crew of bay sailors … many thanks to Dan Lockwood, Linda Ryan, Byron Jacobs, William Levin and Tom McCormick (Ensenada leg).

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