We said the California Coast would be our shakedown sail and here we are: Shaking away.
All in all, the planned passage from Monterey to San Simeon went well — with two exceptions that it didn’t end in San Simeon and we’ve probably added both our names to the government watch list.
Let me ‘splain.
The intention had been an all day sail along the Big Sur coast, beginning at first light and ending before sunset about 90 miles south. We had to time it just right for daylight at both ends but the winds appeared favorable and the seas from the right direction.
Challenge #1: We didn’t quite get off at first light. (Note to selves: to leave at dawn, one must awaken prior to dawn.)
Challenge #2: The wind didn’t quite hit the forecast 25 mark, so we were a bit slower than anticipated.
Challenge #3: The seas were pretty chunky. Colin has been a surfer all his life and understands the term ‘wave period.’ I’m learning that 12+ seconds gives you that lovely ‘rocking chair on a summer’s afternoon’ feeling and 6 is akin to a vibrating bed. We had 6-8 second waves the whole way, which made steering, standing and even sitting more tiring that it otherwise would be. (We also discovered that many seemingly well-stowed items became cross-cabin projectiles in the swell).
So while we had an epic sail down the Big Sur coast, it became clear a couple hours from the finish line, that we wouldn’t make San Simeon until after dark. Many other places we could have found a closer spot to tuck in, but not this stretch of coast. We were tired. We were hungry. And after 18 hours we were ready to be done, but prudence won out. We chose to keep going all night and end up in San Luis Harbor at daybreak.
We adjusted our waypoints and set up two-hour watches. Our pre-prepped sandwiches were long gone, so I got a chance to make my first dinner underway. Cooking is one of my joys in life. I love creating complex, nutritious dishes full of fresh vegetables, meats and spices. One day, I will be able to cook amazing things at sea. From inside a pitching and rolling carnival ride, however, I have to rank a box of Annie’s Mac & Cheese as one of the most challenging dishes I’ve ever created. It was also one of the tastiest.
For a while, I thought we’d have to share it with the government.
The charts have a half-moon ‘Security Zone’ extending a mile off Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. Even tired and hungry, we’d carefully plotted our newly-extended course to stay outside this area, and true to plan, we did not enter the zone. But as I took over on watch in the middle of the night, I realized that a mile off was still quite close. Close as in the lights of the facility took up the entirety of our port-side view. As in it would be a leisurely swim to the radioactive ponds.
About the time I wondered if anyone was watching a little sailboat pass within a few football fields of their spent fuel rods, I realized the unusually bright star to starboard was actually a drone. I imagined we were being watched with infrared so advanced they could tell the color of our undies. I hoped they would ask questions first and shoot later.
Since we were broadcasting our AIS signal, I assumed they had access to the type of boat, the names of her owners, and — I’m guessing here — something like the full history of the parking tickets, high school grades and Facebook likes ever associated with the CIA’s secret Colin & Cheyenne file. If we try to board our next airplane flight and find ourselves shuttled off to a windowless TSA room, we’ll know they added ‘suspicious proximity to nuclear site’ to our list of offenses.
Luckily, no weapons were fired, though the drone followed us well past the other side of the security zone before it bugged out back to base.
And as it is tends to do on a pretty regular basis, the sun finally rose. The seals appeared. As we approached San Luis, the seabird superhighway stretched from the piers all the way to the horizon. We set the anchor surrounded by otters, made sure it was well set, and slept until late afternoon.
We learned a ton of lessons on that last leg, but I’m happy to report that we also got a lot of things right. No nausea, for one! We not only made a good decision to keep going, we made it as a team. The new tiller extension Colin added in Monterey made steering much more comfortable, he got the solar panels cranking in the amps and the seat locker is now organized to perfection. And most important, we safely sailed 120 miles of rugged coast in a pretty darned challenging sea state.
The short stretch in San Luis has helped us dial-in our preventer setup, adjust our jack lines and catch our first white croaker, before we take advantage of the weather window to get around Point Conception.
At this stage we have 220 miles of rugged coastal sailing under our keel. Our shakedown has been a bit like learning to drive on a stick shift in San Francisco, but it’s given us confidence we can handle most anything. Any passage less than 120 miles with a wave period greater than 8 seconds sounds like a cakewalk. But we still have great respect for Mother Nature — and Homeland Security. We’ll be giving the good people of Vandenberg Air Force Base an extra wide berth on the next leg.
Fair winds and following seas