After a two-month hiatus on land, graciously filled with family, touring, dancing, paddling, biking, surfing and celebrating, it was time to return to our little floating home.
Our dual purpose was to explore the Channel Islands we missed on the way down, as well as continue our shakedown in SoCal waters and figure out what we still need before we sail past the Amazon package-delivery border.
So the big question — after twice as many weeks on land as we’d spent on Pristine, how did it feel to leave behind hot showers and laundry, endless WiFi and electricity, not to mention easy access to grocery & hardware stores, restaurants and chandleries? Honestly, we were thrilled. We were also a little terrified.
Thrilled because returning to her really did feel like coming home: Our stuff, our schedule, our environment, and we’d spent a long time away from her. Terrified because this time we moved aboard, it was for all the marbles. The trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles was driven by the fear of missing a date with an airplane and the pure survival focus of learning how to do this cruising thing safely. This second shakedown was to make sure we could be happy long-term on our boat. In a way, the stakes seemed much greater.
While sipping Chardonnay and staring at the mighty Pacific from the La Jolla cliffs of San Diego recently, my aunt had asked gently: “Was the trip down harder than you thought it would be?” My answer was unequivocal and truthful: “Absolutely.” For me, the surprising challenge was the amount of fatigue that every day exposed to wind, weather and boat movement created. For Colin, the unexpected difficulty was more about the persistent dampness that pervaded every cushion and item of clothing despite a strict ‘no salty stuff below’ policy.
As with finding happiness in life, we know the only way to do so on a boat will to be fix the things we can change and learn to accept those that we cannot. If such grand philosophy was as easily done as said, of course, the trillion dollar market for therapy, self-help and mood-altering drugs would dry up in an instant.
We started with the proactive steps. These involved plenty of work, but in some ways were the easiest.
- To reduce exposure: We rigged up our sun awning and improved access to hats, sunblock and coverups. We also kept water bottles in the fridge and pushed ourselves to drink at least three a day. Beyond that, we suspect (hope) that pulling/grabbing/leaning/balancing muscles will get stronger over time and our bodies will become more used to living in the elements. We’re also embracing bed when it calls us loudly at 9pm.
- To reduce dampness: We bought and installed fans, rebuilt our bed with a ‘box spring’ system to eliminate condensation below the mattress (warm sleeping bodies + cool hull = beads of moisture), traded out the thick feather pillows and duvet left over from land life for thin synthetic ‘camping’ versions, sprayed every surface with tea tree oil to prevent mildew and adjusted our protocols for which hatches, portholes and cabinets would be opened and when.
Now the harder part: It’s up to us to adjust our expectations to match the reality of life on a boat, and to be grateful for the balance. For all we’ve lost or left behind, the other thing I told my aunt just as honestly is that it’s not only been harder than expected, it’s also been more glorious. For all we’ve lost, we’ve gained the peaceful mornings where we open our eyes to a sea full of glittering diamonds, the indescribable vibrancy of an ocean swim before breakfast, the ecstatic joy of birds and whales doing drive-by’s to check out the out-of-place humans and the quiet space to connect deeply with ourselves — no meditation app required.
It will be a while before we’re able to digest all these changes into a coherent perspective on our new life, but meanwhile, before we left on Shakedown Part Deux, a very wise person wished us enough adventure to grow on. We’ve had our share in the past week:
Man overboard practice
On the passage to Catalina, an unfamiliar alarm went off that turned out to be our DSC radio broadcasting a distress signal from another boat. Unfortunately, it contained no boat information or even the GPS location of the emergency and the Coast Guard soon chimed in on VHF to request mariners keep a sharp lookout for an unknown problem.
Ten minutes later we spotted a man overboard buoy in the distance. A catamaran had just sailed past the area. Had the skipper fallen off and his/her mate not know how to turn the boat around to get him or her? After practicing a zillion MOBs at the sailing school in Berkeley, Colin executed a perfect maneuver that took us right to the pennant. I scanned the water with binoculars, but instead of a human, I discovered two more “MOB poles” in the distance and a swordfish boat picking them up one at a time. On closer look, the #10 on the flag should have been a dead giveaway that it was a net marker, not an emergency one. Oh, well. More practice is always a good thing.
Hit by fish
If there was a sailing rule to match baseball’s HBP, we’d have rounded home a few dozen times by now. Flying fish chased by seal directly into our hull in the pitch black of night? Ba-Bam! Batter’s on first. An entire school of mackerel ‘boiling’ in the water and flailing against Pristine as the barracudas swarmed and the pelicans dove, waking us in the early dawn light? Bam! Bam! Ba-bam, bam, bam! Ba-bam! Bam! Bam! By now, the whole team’s had a go around the bases. Colin leapt in on the action and landed a couple welcome mackerel for bait and a couple less prized barracuda he returned to the tumult.
Anchor dragging at the zoo
We started our Channel Island tour in Catalina, just 20 miles west of Los Angeles harbor, happy to stop outspending our budget with transient slip fees The short hop made it an easy entry to a beautiful and free anchorage for us, but also for the rest of humanity.
Tuesday night was fairly packed, and we were comfortable enough with our anchoring skills — and others — to be cool with experienced cruising boats swinging on the hook near enough to hold a conversation at regular volume. By Friday, fishing boats had filled in every available space in between, making us wary to leave our boat in the 20-knot gusts lest one of them drag anchor into us. The peaceful anchorage also turned into a dinghy Autobahn and I stopped swimming more than five feet from the boat to avoid getting churned into chum.
Then came Saturday. With 16 rows of empty mooring balls, another two dozen power boats tried to squeeze into the already full anchorage. We watched five of them raft up together, hanging on a single anchor. As if on cue, as soon as the afternoon winds came up, the five boats dragged together in a chaotic disaster that nearly took out a sailboat that had been sitting there peacefully for a week. After growing increasingly nervous by the proximity of boats filling in near us, one of the well-inebriated ones ignored Colin’s request to avoid our anchor chain, dropped his hook anyway and said with a vague sense of threat that he hoped there wouldn’t ‘Be an issue.’ His two buddy boats then started to raft up to either side and we briefly considered hailing the harbor master, but thankfully good sense prevailed on the other boats, who ended up in the mooring field.
Still, we talked through our Plan B scenario if Captain Arrogant did drag and readied the motor, windlass and dinghy in case we had to make a fast exit. Luckily the winds laid down, his anchor held and his swing radius barely kept his boat from nailing ours, but needless to say, we did not sleep well, this wasn’t what we set out cruising for and we won’t be spending another Saturday night in the Catalina zoo.
On Sunday morning it cleared out again so there’s no urgency, but we’re working on the next passage plan to take us north, toward what we hope will be a calmer anchorage, possibly Santa Cruz Island. More on that coming up next week, as well as a look back at our amazing family surf adventure in San Diego.
Fair winds and following seas.