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Vol 1 Iss 4: Foolish or Brave?
Bodega Bay, CA | 38º19’ 28” N 123º 02’19” W
Co-Captain’s Log: Foolish or Brave?
Previously on the Co-Captain’s Log….
“We are uncertain when the knee will be recovered enough to continue to sail…We are uncertain when we will be able to return to Ana María…We are uncertain if we will have a weather window after recuperation to continue to sail down the coast of California…We are uncertain if we will be able to work through the trauma of the wave to ever sail confidently again. We are uncertain if this event represents for our dreams a delay, a redirection, or an unfortunate end.”
8 weeks later…
38º19’ 28” N 123º 02’19” W
Two months have passed and where the little bits of uncertainty have receded, mounds of pressure have replaced it. We now find ourselves in between a rock and a hard place.
You know those times when neither decision, neither course of action seems easy, appealing, hopeful?
Our rock: The immovable, uncontrollable weather. Our weather window to get down to the safety of Southern California is quickly closing. We are already seeing the gales push south from the Canadian Coast into the Oregon Coast. The coming winds and seas will pummel Northern California until next Spring. If we want to continue to sail, we have no choice but to go now. If we don’t go now, it’s time to look for a broker, sell off 3 years of work, and figure out what to do with our lives.
Our hard place: My leg is not back to full strength. My surgeon and physical therapist have both released me to life back on the boat, but they don’t really have a clue what sailing on the open ocean is truly like. To arrive in So Cal, we still have another 450 nm to sail before we round Point Conception, 120 miles north of Los Angeles, dubbed “The Cape Horn of the West Coast” in the official U.S. Coast Pilot.
We’ve discussed this decision, pondered the decision, fought over the decision, made the decision, changed our minds about the decision.
As we waffle back and forth the night before we need to cast off, I remember watching the movie Coco with my in-laws on November 1st to celebrate the Day of the Dead. It’s a cute movie, good music, simple. And yet, at the climax of the movie when our hero is backed up against the wall, with little hope left of a happy ending, here we are, 4 grown adults, watching a perfectly predictable Disney movie, on the edge of our seats, cheering him on to push on when all seems lost. Get up and fight one more time!
So tonight, we choose to take the hard path: We will leave the safety of Bodega Bay to sail south tomorrow, just in time to escape forecasted 50 kt winds.
If we leave and something happens to my knee or us or the boat, we will look back and know it was the most foolish decision we’ve ever made.
If we leave and make it safely past Point Conception, we will look back at this moment where we, without an ounce of naïveté left, bravely faced the ocean once again to follow our dream.
Are we foolish or are we brave?
I can’t sleep the night before, mind racing to predict which it will be. But you can’t predict the ocean.
What we have here is Schrödinger’s cat. The only way to find out how our story will end is to live it.
Drakes Bay, CA
What on earth were we so worried about? So much drama, so much deliberation. Today the ocean greeted us warmly with 15 kts of wind and seas from behind for the 35 nm sail. Alone in our anchorage and settled in for a peaceful night.
This. This is what we were worried about. All day we have surfed waves at speeds greater than our theoretical hull speed. The wind is stable, but the seas are rough. “This feels less like sailing, more like skiing moguls,” remarks Andrés Jacobo. We jibe successfully a couple of times in daylight before I go down to sleep and he stays in the cockpit for the first night watch.
“Katherine, it’s time to jibe.” His voice cuts through my dreams. I pull on my foul weather gear and tether. By the time I’ve climbed into the cockpit, the anxiety that has been simmering all day has come to full boil. We are about to jibe, at night, in rough seas. It isn’t exactly the maneuver we were performing when I broke my knee but involves the same activities. Mainly, I would need to hand steer without being able to see the angle of the waves crashing behind me.
As I disengage the wind vane, I can feel my mouth dry as a dessert. He brings the boom to center and I head down wind to bring the stern through the wind. BOOM! We hear and feel the weight of the sails slam to the opposite side of the boat. He lets out the main sheet as quickly as possible as I find the new rhythm of the seas on this tack. He jibes the Genoa and re-engages the wind vane. With the preventer re-rigged, the most stressful part of the night, the activity I have been dreading for weeks, is finished. We had done it safely.
The worst may be over, but the night sure isn’t. Andrés Jacobo slept for the next shift and as he slept the wind died briefly before clocking around from NW to E. In an effort to give him a full 4 hours of sleep, I put off waking him about 25 minutes too late. The wind had shifted our course and we missed the point. He was rightly frustrated as he would spend the next 2 hours tacking upwind to get us back into Monterey Bay.
We survive our first night passage post-incident! We arrive just in time to put the sails down as the sun rises in the mountains behind Monterey.
San Luis Obispo, CA
After resting and exploring a couple of days in Monterey, we embark on what is hopefully our last overnight sail in the USA. Forecasts show we can sail most of the day and sail we do! Well, sail…or SURF! We sail under a second reef at 7 kts and surf down the 8 ft waves at 9 kts for most of the day. It’s sunny, even if not warm, and the visibility is great so the sail is more fun than stressful.
We sit together on the windward side of the cockpit, holding hands for a couple of hours as we sail past Big Sur. It occurs to me this is very opposite of “scrolling” on your phone. I am addicted to scrolling, quickly scanning my eyes over lots of stimulation looking for a ‘hit’ of a new interesting thing. Today we sit in quiet, watch the same mountains, the mountains which have been there forever, watch the mountains for hours, our vantage point changing at the slow crawl of 10 mph. It does quiet your brain. I hope it begins to reprogram mine.
We sail until midnight when the wind dies just as forecasted. We motor until the wind picks up to a brisk 25 kts two hours later (the complete opposite of the forecast). We sail into San Luis Obispo, anchor in Avila Beach, and rest before our final push to Point Conception tomorrow.
Coho Anchorage, CA
34º27’02” N 120º26’36”W
We pull up our anchor hours before sunrise so we can round Point Conception and anchor again before the sun sets. We’re tired from the previous night passage, but today is forecasted to be dead calm at the Point so today is the day we will attempt to round it. Dead calm means motoring all day, which we hate, but it also means little chance of a Mendocino repeat, which we would hate considerably more.
I take over the helm after we’ve rounded Point Arguello and head straight for Point Conception. I listen to a podcast to keep my mind occupied. The host of the episode asks the question “What story do you want to live?” As he talks, my eyes sweep over the mirror seas and up to the sheer cliffs surrounding Point Conception. We made our decision a week ago to try for it and here we are, finishing the final challenge of the West Coast, rounding the point in calm seas. The cliffs remind me the story could have turned out a different way, with us in the kind of seas that have created those cliffs.
I am grateful for the safe crossing, but I think even if we had been found to be fools, I would still be proud of our choice to try to live the brave story.
As we close out 2021, another bizarre year for the history books and chaotic year for many of us, and we look forward to 2022, we hope when you too find yourselves between a rock and hard place, with your own “Foolish or Brave” Schrödinger’s cat, we hope you choose to live the brave story.
November 22, 2021
Little Scorpion, Channel Islands National Park, Santa Cruz Island, CA USA
34º35’33” N 122º41’39” W
Winds: 5-10 WNW Weather: Partly Cloudy 62º
The Channel Islands National Park (off the coast of Santa Barbara) was the ideal place to recover from our stressful passage. We had anchorages all to ourselves at night. We spent the days hiking (my knee did great) and kayaking in Santa Cruz’s many sea caves.
“Jibing” is the stressful activity described in our trip to Monterey. Jibing (or gybing) is “a sailing maneuver whereby a sailing vessel reaching downwind turns its stern through the wind, which then exerts its force from the opposite side of the vessel.” It is a dangerous exercise and if not done safely can break the boom, rip the sails, and hurt the crew. The action puts considerable stress on the rigging so, before our next big downwind sail, we will install equipment to minimize the need to jibe.
We saw wildlife up close and personal on Santa Cruz Island. The Island Scrubjay and Island Fox species are unique to this island and their adaptations are evident. The Island Scrubjay is the only bird in the continental US that has evolved to be unique to one island. It is brighter blue (making it easy to spot on our hikes), a third bigger, and sports a heavier bill than its mainland counterpart.
The Island Fox, found nowhere else in the world, is almost half the size you’d expect. The species’ population decreased by 95% when the Bald Eagle (not a fox’s natural predator) population declined and the Golden Eagle (a predator) invaded the island. The National Park and Conservancy took aggressive action to restore the Bald Eagle population, push out the Golden Eagles, and bring the Island Fox back from the verge of extinction. Their actions have worked and we had several foxes the size of house cats scamper up to us on the trails.
Our passage wasn’t only psychologically challenging but physically as well given my leg. Docking in Monterey was especially trying. Docking in our boat is a physical activity for me. Andrés Jacobo stays at the helm in the cockpit, but I climb out of the lifelines, hold onto the shrouds, and step down (read: basically jump) backwards onto the dock to tie us off. As we approached Monterey, we questioned whether my leg could handle this. Should we call the Harbormaster to request assistance? We deliberated and came to the conclusion that as much as docking represents a physical challenge , it represents a greater teamwork, coordination and communication challenge. We have a well-refined routine, with communication protocols, and well-defined roles. It seemed a greater risk to abandon those strengths than it was to make a slower approach to the dock. So, with my leg in a brace, I stepped back onto the dock in Monterey as Andrés Jacobo guided Ana María smoothly into her slip.
Normally we eat well when we cruise, but we knew it was going to take all our energy and focus to sail. To ensure we had a warm and filling meal, we bought Mountain House dehydrated dinners to eat just like we do when we backpack in the backcountry. Not going to lie, the chicken and dumplings tasted pretty good in the cold evenings with rough seas.
Read this: “What It’s Like to be a Bird” - a fantastic Christmas gift for even the casual bird lover in your life
Listened to this: “How I Built This: Creator of Recaptcha and Duolingo” - highly recommend for that car ride over the mountains and through the woods to Grandma’s house
Watched this: "Sailing Project Atticus: The parts that suck" - recently posted by a young couple with a Pacific Seacraft larger than our own. Their footage will give you a good sense of what it's like to make the coastal night passages we're making.
We are staying temporarily in Marina Del Rey in Los Angeles, CA, doing some prep on the boat before our sail to Mexico. We hope to ring in the New Year in Mexican style!
Fair Winds, following seas, and a very Merry Christmas to you and yours!
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