Leaving Marina Del Rey at 0700 in the fog, after a hectic day of preparation was a relief from some minor disappointments like no radar, toilet troubles and soon to be discovered – my reef lines had been dismantled to name the worst. My frustration grew with the fact that these items were on my punch list handed over upon my arrival from the INNcredible Journey 10 weeks ago and were claimed to be fixed. But once out beyond the breakwater back in the open sea my senses began taking in the sights, sounds and rhthymns of my second home – the INNcredible Sea Lodge.
Encased in dense fog, we motored westward toward our first destination enjoying a bubble of visibility that ebbed and flowed from as little as 50 feet to a half mile in radius. My crew of two, David and Harry settled in to the fact that it was okay that we couldn’t see the coast or anything else unless it entered our traveling bubble.
My sea friends started coming round, dolphins, sea lions, pelicans and others.
Hours into the day’s run a helicopter flying low began to approach heading east as we’re heading west and something was hanging below. Nearly overhead the helicopter banked left and its dangling cargo was plain to see – a long red missile suspended on ropes with a tiny parachute tied to its rear to keep it running straight. And wouldn’t you know as I referred to my chart, we were inside the missile firing range just off of Point Mugu.
From there we were entering the Santa Barbara Channel where we began maneuvering through the maze of oil platforms shrouded amidst the fog. As we hoped for an afternoon burn-off, just the opposite happened nearing Santa Barbara out about 3 miles. Visibility collapsed to about 50 feet and although the chart said we were almost there I couldn’t see a thing. Then miraculously a field of boats at anchor came into view and finally Stearn’s Wharf, then the sun broke through and its low afternoon position shined brightly reflecting vividly everywhere off the water. But what an instant relief to navigate through the many boats at anchor to find a place for us. Weaving up to the front row just east of the Wharf we dropped our hook and settled in after a 70+ mile run in 9 hours.
Santa Barbara is where it all began for me as a Jersey immigrant back in the early 70s and native daughter Diana having dropped us off in Marina Del Rey was already in town to greet our arrival. Took the dinghy ashore to visit relatives and old friends. And when it was announced that we were off to eat at Casa Blanca I knew exactly where that iconic family-run Mexican joint was on lower State; I’d eaten there many times in the past. But the past is no longer and that seedy lower State Street is upscale; and, Casa Blanca is now across the Street in lavish new digs 10 times the size of the original. Don’t miss it on your own visit to SB.
After a great night’s sleep onboard, the sun burned through quickly and a gorgeous sunny day was ablaze. Straight ahead with the dinghy we beached it on East beach and went visiting more old friends.
Next stop Morro Bay but that distance was beyond a day’s sail. The last thing I want to do is to show up at an unfamiliar harbor in the dark with fog so thick you can’t see the bow of your own boat. So arriving in the light of day at a hopeful time of little or no fog means arriving in late afternoon. To accomplish this we set sail from Santa Barbara at 1900 (aka 7PM). Immediately upon leaving sunny SB we penetrated a blanket of fog just offshore and we thought we were in for a challenging overnight sail. To our surprise about an hour out going west along the coast the sky cleared and we had the moon and stars guiding us along. The seas were a mellow roll and the wind had back down. All was good and we were making good speed.
By midnight we were nearing the edge of Point Conception. Point Conception is notorious for challenging weather. Why? Because here the warm waters of the Mexican Current meets the cold waters of the northern Pacific at a bend in the shoreline that 90 degrees. The NNW wind comes barreling down as does the NW swell and slams up against that warm Mexican current. Many a ship has been lost rounding the fabled Point Conception. But my plan was to arrive as we were at midnight and motor through the night when the conditions would be the most favorable. And the light wind that we were enjoying up to there gave us great hope. Midnight was time to change watch and I was head down for some much needed sleep. Harry and Bill took their positions up at the helm all bundled in their foulies ready for whatever.
Falling quickly to sleep, I was abruptly woken by the change in pitch of my diesel engines next to which I sleep. The sudden higher pitch had me jumping up and immediately running up outside in my underwear to the helm station to see what the hell was going on. Sliding open the salon door the world outside was wild. Everywhere was wet, the waves were crashing on and over the bow, sea spray was flying, the wind was howling and the INNcredible was bouncing wildly up and over the oncoming waves. Our speed forward of 6 knots had been reduced to 2. Harry pushed the throttle forward for more power and the pitch of the RPM change is what startled me. Standing there, holding on, freezing and getting soaked in my underwear, I quickly evaluated the situation, said don’t bring the engines above 2400 RPMs and retreated back to my berth and under the covers to recover from the over-exposure and get back to sleep. Get back to sleep? Rocking and rolling, creaking and groaning, sudden slaps and bangs, the high pitch of the engines, one would think how can anyone sleep? You have to because in just a couple short hours I’ll be back on watch for four more hours.
0400 came way too quick and putting on our foulies David and I headed up to relieve Harry and Bill. Bill however was already lying down in the cockpit trying to survive a severe case of seasickness. Harry had weathered the heavy weather which was still in its fury and he retreated frazzled, cold and wet down to his berth to collapse from adrenalin overdose. Their forward motion during the midnight watch was about 12 miles in four hours and there was no relief in sight until we rounded Point Arguello a good 20 miles up the coast. At this rate many hours lie ahead bashing into the waves. By the time the next watch came up at 0800, the INNcredible Sea Lodge had pushed its way through the worst of it and we were going 4.5 knots – we survived the infamous Point Conception / Point Arguello and sustained its modest 25-33 knot winds and 6+ foot swells topped with 2-3 foot wind waves. Bill was hurting, Bill and Harry had shared a life experience that challenged their bravery and David and I were heading back down to our berths to catch some winks.
By early afternoon surrounded by fog we headed east with jib flying toward the famous Morro rock which we could not see. Through the breakwater, finally the rock’s base appeared and then miraculously the sun pushed through the fog and illuminated the cutest waterfront fishing harbor and tourist town – Morro Bay. Highlights include beers at Staxs (a wine bar/beer with panoramic views of the three power plant stacks so iconic for Morro Bay after the impressive Morro Rock which bathed in bright sunlight for a few hours before being blanketed again in fog. Giovanni’s seafood shop had great selection and memorable service. From there, I made seafood chowder back onboard for my crew. Bill, sadly enough, decided to leave life at sea due to his terrible bout of seasickness, returning us to the original crew of three.
Then came the much needed rest all night moored in peaceful calm waters in beautiful Morro Bay. Leisure morning was ours because to reach our next destination, Capitola, was about a 17 hour sail, another distance that cannot be covered within daylight’s hours.
What must have looked like pure lunacy was our departure past all the onlooking tourists as we motored out of the sunny wharfside only to plunge into completely dense fog before even reaching the breakwater and Morro Rock and it was almost 5PM. But overnight sailing is the only sane way to arrive safely at our next destination.
As we motored west to get far enough out away from the rugged coast before turning north we had some entertainment starting with a whale spouting right off our bow. Always an exciting event but this time with what little breeze mustered through the fog came a waft of odor – something on the order of old sour cabbage, fermenting grass with a finish of putrifaction. And we, bounding over the bounding ocean, wondered what it was and from where was it coming? Excitement returned with another spouting geyser from the resurfacing whale ahead and almost immediately thereafter the stench engulfed us – whale breath, belching whale breath full of digestive odors released from what must be the largest stomach on earth. Voicing our disgust as we anxiously waited for fresh air, we stood witness to the culprit, the whale, who seemed to be flipping us off with its classic whale’s tail in the air as it submerged to the depths. Fabulous!
The INNcredible Sea Lodge motored all night enclosed in our bubble of fog, taking positions every hour just in case our electronics went down. I like to prepare whenever line of sight due to night or fog or long distance with navigation as if we will not have the luxury of electronics just in case. All went smooth, he seas backed down to less than 6 feet with winds under 15 knots allowed us to maintain over 6 knots. Crossing Monterey Bay arriving before noon at picturesque Capitola, we were greeted and assigned to a mooring out beyond the pier. The fog , as before, mysteriously lifted just at the last minute and sunlight bathed the shores of this Mecca of a beach town. From a distance, as we were moored about 700 feet from the shore, we could see the sun-worshippers setting on the sand after all it is summer and Capitola is a gem of a beach town. We took the dinghy in and strolled around.
Catching up again with a good night’s sleep, we rose early to begin our way up the coast but took the time to catch a fish. Although we had been trolling all the way from down south, two lines out, we hadn’t caught a thing. We were sure to catch a yellow tail or at least a bonita but not a thing. So we prepared the day before and purchased some frozen sardines and shrimp at the dock so we could fish like most do up hereon top of the rock reefs. So in this early morning we motored out pass the kelp to a cluster of kayakers fishing, engines in idle, David dropped a line down then another to try our hand at bottom fishing. I stayed at the helm to assure our boat, the size of a few hundred kayaks, didn’t drift into their space. In less than ten minutes David was reeling a catch. What it was would have to wait. I left the helm to assist with gaff in hand (our net was long ago lost off the wild coast of Colombia while a guest was trying to land a fish) but David hesitated not to flop the Ling cod up on the deck. As my memory served me 22 inches is the minimum length but I yelled out to the other fishermen in their kayaks for validation. But since our boat was born, bred and provisioned in France My tape measure read in centimeters and this ling cod stretched out to 66. With quick calculations in my head that was well over 22 inches but since I’m not accustomed to making that conversion I got my Iphone, and yes I have an APP for this, to verify the conversion. So with a quick wave to our fishing neighbors we were off headed for Princeton Harbor Half Moon Bay.
The weather pattern had changed affording us a window with backing off fog and finally a view of the coast. And what a handsome coast it is from Santa Cruz past Ano Nuevo to Pigeon Point and our destination. I immediately jumped on filleting out that hefty ling cod which yielded three hungry men two mighty meals, the first of which I prepared underway – fish tacos for lunch. That giant round ball atop the cliff just north of the harbor entrance is visible many miles away to the south as we approached. Through the slot in the reefs lying outside the entrance we found our way in, the smell of the guano intensifying as the breakwater was splatter painted white. The Harbormaster assigned us to the endtie on H thanks to a commercial fishing boat being out to sea for a couple days. We just needed a good night rest anyhow and would be off at first light.
But first we needed to stretch our legs and check out the scene, quiet in the afternoon as it was, but with a nice walk we landed some local brews at Maverick’s. That place was buzzing with locals scarfing down Tuesday’s complimentary Chef Creations, so a couple beers were in order. Then back to the boat for dinner, a movie and an uninterrupted night of sleep. I really don’t mind the four hours on, four hours off watch schedule when I know we’re making the necessary progress that only non-stop sailing can afford when the rugged coasts offers few havens along the way; but, no complaints either for a good night’s rest so often too.
The next morning, we had a plan. The plan was to hopefully arrive to a sunny moment approaching the symbolic climax of our journey, especially my journey all the way from France, under the Golden Gate Bridge. I figured our best chance for that was around 1500 hour and it coincided with a flooding tide too. But before that we had time to see if we could repeat with catching another fish. The locals had told us the salmon were running down toward the Ritz so we trolled our way down south to near that point and back again without any luck. After passing the marine sanctuary, I headed us in close to Pedro Point to do a little bottom fishing right off the rocks as close as I was comfortable. The day was becoming glorious, bright and sunny. The coastal cliffs were alive with hang gliders and a most unique view of San Francisco was ours. The towers of the Golden Gate peered over the hills far off in the distance. The water was very shallow even a mile or more off the coast. Surfers were catching waves. We watched from a distance long large ships scurried in and out under the gate. Party boats were out on this beautiful day. Sailboats of all shapes and sizes tacted to and fro. But as we neared our chance to enter under the Gate no Big ships were in sight and we could take the middle for ourselves. We shot a lot of pictures of that Golden Gate and once inside we shot a lot more of that city’s scape. Nearing Alcatraz our cameras were clicking before we settled into our sail to Point Richmond.
A perfect run from Marina Del Rey to San Francisco Bay in about eight days, with welcome delays at each of our stays was ours. Now the INNcredible Sea Lodge becomes a platform for Americas Cup’s sponser and Beneteau dealer Passage Yachts and Oracle VIPs to enjoy the races up close. So if you’re in SF keep your eye out for the INNcredible Sea Lodge.