Saturday, October 26, 2013

Channel Islands, Santa Rosa

The morning after our hike, we poked around the anchorage in the dinghy.


First, Bryan and I went to shore, risking the wrath of the lazy seals to look for the spring at the base of these non-native palm trees (rumor said they were planted for the filming of “Mutiny on the Bounty” but the ranger said that in the ‘70s, someone with an eye to island improvement planted them and scattered non-native seeds from a plane.Thankfully, on this dry and windswept island, not much took hold.)

Then we rowed back to the boat and the girls piled in too. The ranger had reminded us that a good portion of the park’s wonders were found underwater in the giant kelp forests. We spotted familiar sea creatures—sea stars and anemones—lots of fish, and even some dogfish sharks undulating in the shadows of the seaweed. Curious sea lions fed in the bay, poking their heads up now and then to get a good look at us, the foreigners in their watery world.

Though we’d had quite a bit of wind on San Miguel, enough to keep us awake at night checking on our anchor’s set, now there was none, so we had to motor the few miles to Santa Rosa.

We anchored in Becher’s Bay, the main landing for the occasional tour boats, and watched the full moon rise while we planned the next day’s adventures.

In the morning, we packed some water and a lunch and Bryan took the dinghy out for a test drive. We hadn’t yet needed the outboard on this trip, but we’d had to anchor quite a ways from shore because of extensive kelp beds in the bay. We knew we might be returning against the afternoon winds, so we wanted to be sure our engine wasn’t going to work only one way. We made it to shore just fine, landed on a sandy beach near the tour boat pier, and climbed the ladder up to the pier.

Right away, the differences in these 2 islands were clear. Where San Miguel had been solitary and bare, Santa Rosa had ranch houses, trees, and…people. One lady from the tour group asked what we were all thinking, “How did you get here?”
“On our boat. How did you get here?”
“On a plane.” She gestured toward a small airstrip nearby. Mystery solved, we chatted with the tour guide for a few minutes and then decided on a 5-mile hike to the Torrey Pines, one of the two remaining stands of the species.

We walked a sandy road past the airstrip and through a couple of shallow canyons.

By the time we reached the pine grove, we were glad for the chance to sit in the shade and eat our lunch. The pines smelled amazing, almost floral, and we sat on a springy floor of dropped needles until the breeze picked up and urged us back into the sun.

Hannah's collection of pine nuts (re-scattered before we left!)

We took the long way back up onto the grassy hilltops and back into the island’s interior a bit.

The rugged hills were stunning but windy and it was a relief when the trail dropped down into a more protected canyon.

We hiked the whole canyon, from the narrow cleft at the back, under shady trees and past dry creekbeds, out past wind-carved sandstone walls to the grassy plains by the ocean’s edge.
Can you spot my sweeties in the sandstone cliffs?

Well satisfied with our day’s adventure, we climbed back down onto the beach. But the adventure wasn’t over yet; Splitpea was yards away from the receded waterline and the wind was whipping the bay into a short, steep chop. We carried the dinghy down to the water’s edge and tried to start the engine and launch the dinghy all at once. It didn’t work. Waves broke over the bow and drenched the girls and all our backpacks, and the outboard propeller hit the sand and kicked the motor out of its mounts. We pulled the little boat back to shore, wrung ourselves out a bit, and tried again. This time, we rowed out past the breakers before starting the engine and motoring a curvy, bumpy, noisy, wet path through the kelp beds back to LiLo. After dry clothes and hot drinks all around, the day’s difficulties faded away leaving only good memories behind.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Channel Islands, San Miguel


After rounding Point Conception, many sailors tuck into Cojo Anchorage, just SE of the point, and then work their way down the southern Californian coast. But we’d heard good things about Channel Island National Park and set our course straight for the nearest island in the chain, San Miguel (nearest, that is, from our direction. It’s one of the farther islands from the mainland, and is not as busy as some of the others.) We anchored in Cuyler Bay on the northeast edge of the island and rowed to shore for a quick walk on the beach. We knew the park was closed because of the government shutdown, but had read that we could walk up the beach to the ranger station without permits or a guide.

We landed the dinghy down the beach from a carpet of elephant seal pups and walked toward the dunes. Before we got very far, however, we were met by the park ranger who very kindly let us know that even the beach was closed due to the shutdown. Technically, even the anchorage was supposed to be closed, but as the rangers couldn’t tell the difference between park visitors (not allowed) and fishermen (allowed), they couldn’t keep anyone away. Also, in this remote area, the ranger was sensitive to the needs of long-distance travelers and didn’t make us move on right away. “Listen to your radio,” he said. “They’re saying the shutdown might be over this week. If it is, call me on your VHF and I’ll take you for a hike.” We didn’t know how long we could wait around for the legislature to act. We headed back to the boat, trying not to let our disappointment overshadow the beauty, savoring our few minutes on the shore.



The evening wasn’t entirely wasted. We proved once again that we know how to have a good time in a small space.



After the laughter died down, we curled up and spent some of our precious computer power on watching a caper movie together.
The next day, we had some lazing around to get to, a few boat chores, and some tidying up. It doesn’t take long to tidy the small space, but it sure gets messy again in a hurry!
Bryan tore apart our companionway steps to install a new engine part

By mid-afternoon, it was pretty clear we were in no mood to move on yet. In the morning, we listened to the weather, as usual, and then flipped on NPR to hear the latest about the shutdown. We had no cell service or internet access on the island, but could pick up NPR from the mainland just fine. It sounded like there was hope of an end to the drama, so every hour all evening, we listened to the news, hoping the House would pass the Senate Bill so the whole ordeal could be over. Many people were way more affected by the shutdown than we, and in much more life-changing ways, but a small round of cheering went up from our little boat when we heard the deal had been finalized.
Splitpea in front of Prince Island. We think the island looks like a sleeping rhino...see?

See it now? 

The next morning, bright and early, we called the ranger on the VHF radio to welcome him back to work and take him up on his offer of a hike. He gave us directions to the ranger station (“Dinghy to shore, follow my footprints up the sand dune, find the hiker sign, and follow the trail up the canyon to the station.”) and suggested that we invite the sailors from the other boat in the anchorage to come along. They were happy to join us, and towed our little dinghy to the beach a little closer to the canyon.



We only got turned around a bit, but eventually found our way up the steep-sided canyon. We turned down the offer of a 16-mile hike and picked a more reasonable 6-mile walk along the bluffs and out to Lester Point. From the water, the island had looked uniformly brown and bare.

Walking over the island, through chest-high forests of Giant Coreopsis, past sites of historical importance from the ranching era, across canyons and over grassy bluffs reminded us once again not to judge the landscape at first glance.



After the sheep that were ranched here in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s nearly grazed the island bare, the military began using it for training and bombing. Now under National Park Service oversight, the native plants and animals are once again thriving and the ancient archeological sites are protected. The trail followed an old Navy road across the island and, thanks to their careless street planning, right over many shell middens. As we walked near abalone and mussel shells, packaging from ancient lunchboxes of the native Chumash who occupied these islands for at least 10,000 years, we couldn’t help but imagine the similarities and differences in our lifestyles. “If you see a shell in the trail,” the ranger said, “you’re walking on history.” We decided the fox scat in the path must be current events—even that told a story.
A few years ago, the native island fox population took a sudden downturn and the last of the species was brought into captivity in hopes of building the population back up again. The ranger, stationed at this remote post for the last 21 years, said that it was a sobering thing to happen on his watch and that every pile in the path is a reminder of the success of the breeding program. Later in the day, we met Andy, a fox researcher who was out tracking radio-collared foxes with a handheld antenna. He was clearly fond of his subjects and told about trying to track down the ones whose collars had switched to the “mortality signal” (2 beeps instead of 1). “Sometimes if you’re lucky,” he said, “you get a Jesus fox! When you find the mortality, he just jumps up and runs away.”

The island is also home to the Caliche Forest. We didn’t see the forest itself on our hike, but spotted several pieces of Caliche along the way. The sedimentary soil and the island’s rainfall levels create the perfect conditions for this geological formation. The acids in the rain leach out calcium from the soil, which precipitates on the trees in the area, making a casting of the trunks and roots. For Hannah, who had recently been to the Petrified Forest, this was a fascinating geological relative.
We ate our lunch in the lee of a bluff just inland of this spectacular view.


The other sailors left quickly, but we took our time on the way back, pestering the ranger with questions the whole way. “What is this plant?” “Why are these snails all dead?” “What do you eat when you’re here for a week?” “What is it like living in 2 places?” “How many people visit the island?” “How do the red abalone shells indicate the time period of the native population?” “What’s your favorite island animal?” “Why is cold ocean water more nutrient-rich than warm water?” He patiently and cheerfully answered all our inquiries and seemed to enjoy having us around to celebrate his official return to work. The girls had asked to participate in the Junior Ranger Program and had been industriously filling out the workbook all along the trail. He stopped us at the site of the original ranger station and administered the official oath of junior-ranger-ship.

Hannah especially has enjoyed this program in many national parks, from Sitka, AK to Golden Spike National Park to this little island chain out in the Pacific, and the ranger talked with her about his path to becoming a ranger and different ways to stay involved as she grows older. We got science, history, PE, writing, and career-day all in one!

Can you spot all 3 hikers in the canyon?

By the time we got back to our dinghy, the afternoon wind had kicked up a swell on the beach and our helpful tow had long since returned to their boat. We’d had a bit of a wet landing in the morning, and that was before there were breakers on the beach. We decided to let Bryan row the dinghy alone, out through the swell and pick us up a little ways upwind, where the swell seemed calmer for launching the dinghy with all of us aboard. He rowed hard to keep the dinghy straight into the waves and made it over one…two…and, after a quick glance back to see the biggest wave of the series breaking just behind him, through the swell line to the smooth water beyond. We hiked over a couple of rockfalls on the beach (I’d accidentally left my shoes in the dinghy, so I was hiking barefoot) and reached the other side just in time to pull the dinghy up the beach. The swells weren’t as small as they had seemed from a ways away, but we managed to get through them and back to the boat with no injuries, only stories to tell.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Notes while under sail


I’m writing at an angle, so if my stories seem a bit off, that’s why. We’re heeling over a bit, sailing along from Santa Rosa Island to Santa Cruz Island in light seas and moderate winds and (most importantly) warm weather! But I’m getting ahead of myself.
After our busy days in San Francisco we were happy to sail across the bay for a few quieter days. We sailed away from our anchor and out the tiny entrance of Aquatic Bay and headed across toward Alcatraz and Angel Island beyond. But after a few minutes, the winds eased and the ebb tide current picked up, kicking us west of our goal. We didn’t feel like heading back out to sea and didn’t feel like fighting the current with our engine, so we adjusted our plans and headed into Richardson Bay for the night. We found a spot to anchor in the busy mooring field and settled in for a peaceful evening.
The next morning, Bryan and I rowed to shore, found a spot for the dinghy, and headed off to run a couple of errands. He walked to the local West Marine store, I took a class at the local yoga studio, and we met up at a coffee shop afterward to relax.
Unfortunately, by the time we were back to the boat and ready to leave, the ebb current was running again, so we motored the few miles to a secluded anchorage on Angel Island and took the dinghy to shore for an evening stroll.
Climbing the wall from the beach to the trails

We walked up through an old Military fort to the Angel Island Immigration Station.


Hannah can walk through walls!

There's always a song or a game on our hikes

We miss having a local field guide, but guessing is fun too

Many immigrants were processed through this site, known as the “Ellis Island of the West,” but many hopeful Chinese were kept for weeks, months, or even years before being turned away due to some racist immigration laws in the 1800’s. The site was empty, except for some grazing deer, and we joined the silence, trying in our small way to honor the pain, perseverance, and dreams—fulfilled or not—of those who had come before us.

Our anchorage was open to the busy SF Bay traffic and, though the night was calm, the morning brought wake after rolly wake.
I rowed Bryan to shore for a solitary hike up the hill and spent most of the morning catching and stowing our household goods as they flew across the boat.
By the time Bryan was back from his hike, we were more than ready to be off. We caught the end of the ebb current and motored back out under the bridge and down the coast to Half-Moon Bay, just a few miles south. We came in just at sunset and it was all I could do to tear my eyes away from the view and help navigate into the protected anchorage. I kept looking up from the charts to take “just one more photo” as the sky deepened from pink to orange to red and faded into night.




The next day, we hung out aboard, grateful for a down day to put our little home to rights after the busy days in the Bay. We had arranged to meet a new friend for groceries and laundry, and on Tuesday, he called to say he was waiting at the local yacht club. We rowed across and tied the dinghy up to their floating dock and our friend, Al, floated us over to shore on the yacht club’s little ferry.

Our independent spirits resist depending on others for our basic needs, but even this early in the trip we have been so blessed by the gifts of friends and relative strangers. As a fellow sailor, Al knew just how to help. Right away, we had laundry running in his washer, audio books downloading on his wireless, and hot water heater churning to keep up with our showers. He let us use his fax machine to take care of business and helped me load up the piles of groceries I bought in anticipation of some time away from civilization. And he shared stories, pictures, guidebooks, and enthusiastic suggestions for our time in Mexico. It’s often more difficult for us to be on the receiving end of this kind of generosity, but he made it clear he was happy to help. Still, we couldn’t thank him enough.
Happy sailors with a post-grocery-run meal

We spent another day getting everything put away and waiting out some miserable weather. The high swells were predicted to die down around midnight and, as we didn’t have enough daylight to make the trip to Monterey all in one day, we decided to leave just after midnight so we could arrive before dark the next day. Bryan and I went to bed just after dinner and dozed to the companionable sounds of the girls doing the dishes. Around midnight, Bryan got up and got us going. Meira helped him navigate out the entrance and past a couple of shallow reefs before heading off to bed. I got a few more hours of sleep and came on for a pre-dawn watch. It was a slow day motoring to Monterey, with some mild headwinds at times, but we made it in before dark, as planned, and snagged a great slip on the wharf.
Our parents had shipped some things ahead of us to a friend in the Monterey area. Stephanie was more than happy to deliver our packages and had generously offered to take us sightseeing as well. So the next morning, we rushed through showers and breakfast and tidied the boat a bit from our day at sea. (No matter how well prepared we are when we head out, there’s always a mess when we come in. Foulweather gear, wet socks and shoes, half-eaten watch snacks, tea bags and other flotsam litter the cockpit and cabin floor.)
Stephanie and her son, Addison, drove us to Carmel via the winding 17-mile drive, past Pebble Beach Golf Course and along the shore we would be sailing next.


We ate a delicious Mediterranean lunch at a little café in downtown Carmel and poked through several shops before driving over to the Carmel Mission.



There was a wedding in the main chapel at the mission, so we wandered around quietly for a few minutes until the wedding party emerged to the clang of the bells ringing out from the towers above.

We stepped through the small museums, but the captions were hard to read and the history a bit confusing—such a mishmash of stories about the founder, the restoration, and the artwork. Finally we ran into a fabulous docent who told story after story and made the mission history come alive.

The founder had arrived by sea, just like we had, and it was easy to picture how much more difficult his journey had been than ours, with none of the modern technology or conveniences we appreciate.

We spent time walking through the courtyard, the prayer garden, and the chapel and then drove back to the boat (in rush hour traffic—we’d almost forgotten it existed!)
Meira's making a cracker box collage kindle cover
We woke the next morning to the sound of a marching band playing Yankee Doodle. Soon, a pianist on the wharf began playing old Italian standards. When we started hearing cannon fire too, we were completely bewildered. We spent most of the day doing boat chores while the music and chaos continued. Bryan took advantage of our time at the dock to do some maintenance on the dinghy. (When we’re at anchor, we need the dinghy to get to shore, so we can’t have it out of commission.) We picked up a few things at the nearby Trader Joe’s and walked down Fisherman’s Wharf only to discover that all the restaurants were hosting a clam chowder-tasting in honor of the Italian Festival (that’s one mystery solved.) We weren’t the only ones walking the wharf; several groups of Civil War reinactors joined the fun (that explained the marching band and the cannons.)
The next morning, the competing festivities wound up again (Yankee Doodle went to town, O Solo Mio, BoomBoomBoom), this time with the addition of a group of Zumba dancers whooping over their amplified music at an outdoor animal rescue benefit. The sea lions on the breakwater added to the din and we just shook our heads and got back to work.
Montery Harbor from 40 feet up

I spotted Bryan while he climbed the mast to work on our anchor light. Then, while we had easy access to water, we washed the salt spray off the dodger windows and filled the water tanks. I walked to Walgreens (the only one we’ve ever seen that wasn’t on a corner) and replaced our electric heater. We can only use it when we have shore power, but then—ahhh, what a treat! We picked up a bit more fresh produce from a nearby market, took advantage of the free showers, and stopped to laugh at the otters drifting by our slip.

We knew we had a long couple of days ahead, so when we finished, we all took a few minutes to relax before heading out to sea. The girls hung out soaking up every bit of available screen time and Bryan and I went out for a quick Starbucks date. It was nice to sit in such a familiar setting after all the novelty we’d been experiencing.
We fueled up at the nearby fuel dock and motored slowly past the breakwater covered with silly sea lions out into a setting sun and dying wind.
About 2 the next day, we pulled into Morro Bay for more fuel. The entrance was impressive, with a huge seastack and breaking waves on the jetties.
There was a disabled motor boat just outside the channel and we drove closer and called them on the radio to offer help. They’d already contacted the harbor patrol, however, and a few minutes later, we saw a little runabout splashing out to tow them in. We motored up and back the narrow channel looking for a fuel dock. All we could see was a tall commercial fuel pier, so we found a public dock marked for a 3-hour tie up and…tied up. We walked our fuel cans down to the pier where the attendant was busy fixing the plumbing for the live crab tank at the neighboring fish market. We waited around for a few minutes, but the smells from the market overcame the hungry sailors and we ordered some fish and chips, guarding them closely from the attack seagulls in the area.
We finally got some gas and carried the jugs back to the boat. I was impressed with the way the girls pitched in and traded off carrying one of the heavy tanks without any complaint. We must have been quite the sight, Bryan carrying 2 tanks (“for balance” he always says), the girls trading off with one, and me, rolling the last one bungeed to the frame of our rolling shopping bag. Just after we got back to the dock, the harbor patrol boat stopped by. I expected him to remind us about the 3-hour limit or some other sort of bureaucracy, but he asked if we needed anything and offered to get us a ride to a place to get propane. A few minutes later, a harbor patrol truck pulled up in the parking lot and Bryan and I hopped in with our tank. He gladly drove us to the U-Haul and back saying in response to our profuse thanks, “No problem. It’s what we do.”
The afternoon winds had picked up just as we entered the harbor and, sure enough, by the time we were leaving, they had begun to fade into the evening calm. But we wanted to take advantage of the calm weather to round the infamous Point Conception, so we motored through the night, and by dawn, were south of the point, only a few hours away from our destination and reveling in the sudden summery warmth.