Friday, November 28, 2008

Arrival in San Diego

We made it into San Diego harbour a couple of days ago. We sailed in the afternoon from Dana Point with a nice beam wind, which died away around sunset and disappeared entirely around 2 am.

Spectacular sunset near Mission Bay - an indicator of rain to come.

We took down the sails, put on our anchor light, and retired below leaving the boat to wallow in the light swells about 10 miles from the entrance to San Diego harbour. Two hours later we were awakened by a shout of "Anybody below?" and a strong searchlight from the deck of a coastguard ship. Rani and I staggered on deck awakened from a deep sleep and tried our best to answer a barrage of questions about where we were coming from and going to. We must have satisfied our interrogators that we were not smuggling illegal aliens (we were only a few miles from the border) because they sped off toward Mission Bay, leaving us to raise sail and carry on to San Diego.

As we approached the harbour we heard helicopters and could just make out the outline of a huge ship a few miles to port. It turned out to be an aircraft carrier and the choppers were practicing lifting and transporting tethered loads from its deck to the harbour, passing right over Ladybug.

Helicopter transferring load during exercise.

Just as we entered the harbour mouth, a military police launch came tearing down on us and cautioned us to stay outside the channel leaving 500 yards between us and the carrier. Click here for a video of the aircraft carrier sailing past us.

Aircraft carrier with escorts.

Rani looking surprisingly fresh after an eventful night at sea.

As the aircraft carrier passed us on our right, a zodiac appeared on our left with a dolphin alongside, which actually jumped completely out of the water! Not sure if they were training the dolphin, but they certainly fed it a lot of fish.

Dolphin and friends.

Dolphin being fed.

We checked in at the police dock and arranged to stay at the dock for 4 days while we left Ladybug to visit Rani's cousins in Oceanside for Thanksgiving. We are tied up in the Point Loma area on Shelter Island and found a very pleasant waterfront hike nearby as well as some good chandleries and marine related businesses.

Beach front walk - Ladybug is tied up a mile or so to the right of the picture.

Colourful landscaping in San Diego.

This lobster is reputed to be 80 years old! (photo taken in Dana Pt)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

People we met in Catalina Harbour and Dana Point

It seems like if you stay in a place for a few days, you will meet at least a couple of interesting people. We were anchored in Catalina harbour for a week and enjoyed the company of four very different people - a young Alabama man cruising on a small engineless boat, a seasoned charter captain and harbour master who gave us a plethora of tips about cruising in Mexico, and two gentlemen from Los Angeles who were cruising on a lovely Bill Garden designed Porpoise ketch, named 'Reprieve'.

Justin is from Alabama and is bound for Panama and beyond in his small (less than 26 foot) but seaworthy Pearson sloop.

Justin and Poseidon, a Pearson Ariel sloop.

One night after we had him over for dinner, a strong Santa Ana wind blew through the anchorage around midnight. When we got up to check and reset our anchor we could not see his boat, which had been anchored near us for 3 days. I rowed out to look for him and later asked other nearby boats if they had seen anything, but it was not until 3 pm the next day that we saw his little blue boat sailing back to the anchorage. His anchor had dragged and he woke up only after the boat had drifted out to sea, fortunately missing the cliffs and other obstructions on the way. He had been unable to sail back against the winds and had spent a sleepless night drifting and beating into strong winds. We treated him to a good stiff drink of the local Buffalo Milk that evening! Maybe because of this incident, Justin has decided to stick around and find work at Avalon (a small city of 4500) on Catalina Island before he heads further south.

Casino at Avalon - the 'big city' on Catalina Island.

Bruce works as a harbour master at Two Harbours, taking care of the local mooring fields. He lives on a large ketch moored in Catalina Harbour and has spent about 11 years on the island in various roles, working as a charter captain before that. We spent many enjoyable hours chatting with him about Catalina Island and the years he spent in Mexico.

Bruce on board his ketch.

Dennis and Roger were over to Catalina Harbour for a few days on Roger's immaculate ketch, 'Reprieve'.

Reprieve anchored in Catalina Harbour. This was our view when we woke up each day.

Dennis and Roger invited us to dinner at the (only) restaurant in Two Harbours and Rani enjoyed sitting on a throne during the meal.

Rani on her wicker throne with Dennis seated to her left.

We were given a tour of Reprieve, which Roger built largely by himself between 1965 and 1976. She is beautifully constructed with many clever touches and boasts a mahogany interior.

Rani and Roger in the Salon of Reprieve.

Roger and Dennis rowing over to say hi.

Here are a couple of pics from Catalina that did not make it into our earlier blog post:

Sailing to Catalina Island - amazing rock formations on the Pacific side.

Chris getting ready to clean Ladybug's dirty bottom.

While we were in Dana Point, we had visits from Rani's friends, Sangeeta, Ajay, and their family (Rani knows Sangeeta from her days in Windsor, Ontario). We also met up with my friend Kevin, with whom I spent some time exploring Death Valley a few years back.

Sangeeta, Sangeeta's mum, Ajay, Roshan and Sanjay.

Kevin and Chris enjoy a light air sail off Dana Point.

One of the best aspects of traveling like this is the opportunities it gives us to meet interesting people and to share our trip with friends and family.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Off to San Diego

We have been enjoying the town of Dana Point for the last 4 days. We met up with friends whom Rani knew from her days in Windsor, Ontario and a friend of Chris's from LA over the weekend. It was great to spend a few hours in their company and we enjoyed showing them our little world.

Dana Point is named for Richard Henry Dana ("Two Years Before the Mast") and boasts some impressive cliffs from which Dana loaded hides into a sailing ship. The sailors would throw the hides off the cliffs and those that got hung up would require that a sailor be lowered on the end of a rope to free them! The cliffs are now covered in multi-million dollar homes and gated communities - a huge improvement over what Dana saw in the 1830's - NOT!

People have been pretty helpful and friendly here, including the Sheriff and staff who have visited us twice on Ladybug to make sure we don't hang around too long. There is a 5 day limit to anchoring here (3 days in other nearby ports) so we have an incentive to keep moving at a reasonable pace :)

More when we get into San Diego...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Bison Hunting

Catalina Island is nearly 60 square miles – more than 18 from Land's End on the west tip to Jewfish Point on the east, and 7 miles across at its widest. It is owned and run mainly by the Catalina Island Conservancy (thanks Leslie for your comment below re Wrigley family ownership). Portions are leased out for recreation, boat mooring fields, and camps. A portion of the revenue from these goes to to the state of California in lieu of property taxes. This creates an interesting environment – a benevolent and apparently well run autocracy.

Water is precious on the island

The town of Two Harbours, off which we are currently anchored, is a company town run by one of the leasees who maintain 100's of mooring buoys in dozens of harbours, a general store, restaurant, snack bar, and dive concession. Only employees of the Santa Catalina Island Company may live in the sprawling and eclectic enclave of houses that lie between Isthmus and Catalina harbours. The small town atmosphere (only 200 people live here) means that everyone waves at you when they walk or drive past.

Catalina harbour

View back toward Catalina harbour from Silver Peak Trail

Hiking to Silver Peak

We are anchored under Catalina Head with mountains all around and cacti growing down to the water. Because we are outside the moorings, it is nearly a mile row to the jetty. When you land, a broad red dirt road lined with Eucalyptus runs across the peninsula to Two Harbours. Rani remarked it reminded her of Australia. Old VW vans, pickups, and jeeps repose at the head of the jetty and as we walk into town, we pass a high school bus that makes the 1.5 hour trip to Avalon each school day.

Looking at the west end of the island on the way to Little Harbour
The island has a unique flora and fauna, including bison and a type of silvery fox. We saw one of the foxes on our fist hike up to Silver peak the day after we arrived. A very bouncy little fellow who hopped away from us over prickly pears and Toyon bushes. From day one, I was keen on seeing a buffalo. These animals roam the island, a remnant of ranching operations early in the 20th century.
A thrilling video of our hike to Silver Peak and a good shot of buffalo dung can be seen here.

Bison dung - a big one!

And a bison hoof print - note quarter for scale
On our first hike, we found considerable bison spoor and tracks. The photos above show a particularly fine specimen of the former and a hoof print with a quarter to provide scale. A sailor anchored nearby told us he had seen a buffalo in the early morning grazing near the jetty. However the beasts proved elusive until yesterday.

Parson's Landing - a walk-in campground
We were on a hike to Little harbour to go snorkeling when Rani grabbed my arm and gestured at what looked like a large shaggy brown bush. The buffalo was a couple of hundred yards off the trail resting in a patch of tall grasses. As we approached, it lumbered to its feet and ambled very slowly past us and along a well worn track back toward the resevoir that sits on the hill overlooking Two Harbours.

Prickly pear with unusual hand-shaped fruit cluster

A bison - finally!
We were elated with our sighting but even happier when on the return trip we spied 4 bison on a ridge quite close to the place of our first encounter. We were careful this time to approach slowly and keep a reasonable distance (see sign below for why this is a good idea). The buffalo is not a very animated creature and the ones we watched were either sitting or swishing away the swarms of flies that must be very unpleasant in the intense heat. We felt sorry for the creatures with their thick pelts. Click here for a video of Chris and the bison.

More bison - we saw 5 in total

Swimming at Little Harbour after a hot 3 hour hike - a nice interlude on our bison quest.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Santa Barbara, Channel Islands and Oxnard

During our time in Santa Barbara, I spent a weekend in Moor Park visiting my cousin Sita, her husband Raj and their sons, Dara and Sher in the Simi Valley, while Chris stayed on the boat. I have known Sita since we were children in Britain and then both of us lived in Ontario for some years and before she emigrated to the USA and I to British Columbia. Her boys are very bright and adventurous although hiking on Mt. Tzouhalem in Duncan last year proved too much for them and they prefer camping grounds with hot showers and a swimming pool! I guess they will have to toughen up for the Madagascar trip they asked me to organise nearly 10 years ago...

The highlight of my visit was trick-or-treating on Halloween night with my partner in crime, Sher, who is 6ft 2 inches at the young age of 15 years. Sita dropped us off at a subdivision near their house with 2 empty pillow cases and we came home with over 500 pieces of candy after several hours of knocking on peoples' doors. Most of our booty came from a bunch of kids who tried to scare us in their haunted garage where they flew at us in scary costumes. One of them was a bit too aggressive and threw me against the real wall and then apologised for it to Sher, thinking I was his little brother. Sher said " No, that's my sister ", so they gave us even more candy! As we went by their little bonfire afterwards I offered to tell them a scary story in return for extra candy. We scored big!!

I also got caught up on Indian music and ate lots of great Indian food cooked by my cousin and her mother-in-law. Raj's mum made some delicious rasmalai, my favourite east Indian dessert - yummy! Thanks to Dara, I came away with lots of beautiful music for our collection.

Last Monday, we sailed 20 miles across the Santa Barbara Channel, almost like the English Channel crossing , to Santa Cruz Island. We set off in fairly calm weather from the marina and were lucky to see 2 gray whales a few miles from the shore. We could have run over them as they were just lying there under the surface and occasionally turning and spouting water.

Almost an hour into the trip, the wind rose and Chris reefed our main sail once and then twice.The swells were high too and the combination with the strong SW wind resulted in waves breaking over the bow and spraying the cockpit, frequently drenching Captain Chris who had taken over the steering from " Banshee ", the autopilot.I tried to capture the wild ride using my newly purchased videocam, " Flip", and we may download a few minutes for your viewing pleasure.

We were heading for Fry's Harbour on Santa Cruz Island and had a GPS waypoint set up to guide us there but with all the spray and mist swirling around, it was not easy to see the entrance until we were less than a quarter of a mile away. Thankfully, there was another sail boat already there, the Mariposa, which Chris recognised from Santa Barbara Marina. We dropped anchor beside it and were later joined by 3 fishing boats. Usually the fishing boats, which fish here for squid, stay just outside the little cozy anchorage but because of the 25 knot winds they also took shelter between the 2 steep cliffs of the bay.

In the evening, Chris rowed over to Mariposa to pick up Eric and Sarka for a potluck supper on board Ladybug and we shared laughter and stories over a nice dinner of lentils, pasta, rotis and salad.

The next morning, Chris rowed out to see if a surf landing was feasible and declared it easy, so we landed on the gravelly beach and set out for a hike. The scarred mountain to the left of the beach was evidence of the rock mining operation here; the rock used for the Santa Barbara breakwater came from here. On the ground we found railroad ties and metal wires and further in the woods there were geranium plants, taller than me, which must have been brought over by the workers. We hiked through a shaded glen following a game trail ( left by feral sheep? ) hugging a trickling creek and then scrambled up a canyon wall to a lookout from which we had a gorgeous view of our anchorage. We watched all the boats rocking and rolling, the channel swarming with white crests and the wicked wind funneling down the canyon and decapitating the waves. We should have guessed there was a tough night ahead.

Despite the arid soil, there were many plants on the mountain - prickly pear cacti, manzanitas, wild flowers we had not seen before and a variety of grasses. We later found out that there are 480 types of plants on the island, including 6 species and 2 types which are unique to the island. However, during the ranching era of the mid 18th century, people brought over fennel and it has spread so much that the conservationists have an eradication plan in action. The feral pigs and sheep from those days have also been rounded up and eliminated as they were destroying the natural flora of the island.

The north part of the island is volcanic in origin while the south is more sedimentary with a sharp fault line running in the centre dividing the two. The rock we were climbing was very crumbly and I felt somewhat uncomfortable while ascending and worse on the descent. I must admit that Chris really helped me on the way down, talking me through the steep unstable bits.

Tuesday night was terrible as the wind tore down from Diablo Canyon and through our anchorage into the channel. It was gusting to 35 knots or so and the fishermen came even closer to our boat, one almost appearing to run into our Ladybug. We were watching a movie on our mini laptop and Chris ran up to check if our anchor had dragged. It had not moved; the fishing boat was re-anchoring and the fisherman on board assured us that he would keep watch and make sure we did not collide. He kept his word because we could hear him turn on his motor and move every so often when he got closer to us. It was a watchful night as we popped out our heads every half to one hour to make sure that the wind had not pushed us towards the steep rockface or the other boats. At 2.30am, Chris was resetting the anchor and I nearly panicked seeing the nearest boat within 10 feet of us. I screamed "Hey!!!" to the man at the wheel before I realised that he was actually picking up his anchor and moving out further.

The only good thing that happened that night was Obama's victory!

On Wednesday, we woke up to discover that the fishing boats had moved out of the anchorage and were anchored outside of the rocky entrance. The sea was glassy calm in the channel and we rowed ashore once more to walk along the stream gurgling in the glade of oak trees and watch the myriad of patterns and colours of stones, acorns and leaves in the stream bed. We also explored the caves and rocky shoreline. One of the caves was over 100 ft long with a high ceiling and we rowed almost right to the back wall, my heart thudding as the surge thundered and echoed all around us. There were also some interesting blow holes, my favourite being a double hole with a separating rocky prominence which looked as if it were a nose with someone sneezing viciously when it blew.

At lunchtime we set sail for another anchorage on Santa Cruz Island, Prisoners' Harbour. After an hour of very pleasant sailing, we dropped anchor next to Mariposa and close to the National Park's pier. The harbour is so named because a shipload of Mexican prisoners were set down here in 1830 to start a ranch and fend for themselves. They were given some start-up provisions which apparently went up in a fire , so they built rafts and escaped back to Santa Barbara where they were later re-captured.

We were able to land L'il Bugger successfully on the rocky shore of the harbour; there is no dinghy dock off the pier. Along the bluffs we found a beautiful hiking trail towards Pelican Bay, another recommended anchorage. At the first shoulder of the trail is Harvey's Lookout, a little red roofed cabin which is now used to house an exhibit put together by the Conservation Society describing the history, fauna and flora of the island. As we did not have much daylight left, we could not hike the entire length to Pelican Bay but enjoyed the fabulous vistas towards the mainland from the scrubland at the top of the bluffs and the dips into the rocky fern-walled cool canyons.

In the evening we returned to celebrate Obama's victory with a glass of champagne on board the Mariposa with Eric and Sarka.

Thursday dawned a hot, sunny day which tempted Chris to dive off the boat for an early morning swim; water temperature was probably 68C, but I declined. He made tea biscuits for breakfast as the loser of a little bet we had made the day before and we set off on another shore adventure.This time we hiked in the south easterly direction on the Del Norte Trail, following a dusty road lined with giant fennel plants. We came to a National Park campground with a few tent pads, 2 being occupied, under some crooked trees. There was an open composting toilet but no other facilities, so people have to bring in their own water. We hiked higher towards a microwave tower and saw a picturesque ranch house with planted fields at the base of one of the hills and also a research area where fennel had been eradicated and was being monitored for regrowth.

The microwave tower provided us almost a 360 degree view of the island and Chris climbed up an abandoned shed next to it to take some video footage with " Flip ", which we shall try to link to this blog. He also could not resist climbing part of the way up the tower and had to be coaxed down by yours truly. We saw the dusty orange volcanic peaks rising in the northwest, the lush forests and pasture lands spreading down the hills to the south and the almost turquoise bay to the east. We felt incredibly lucky to be enjoying this vast preserved wilderness.

On Friday morning, it was calm again, so we started the day with a swim and then rowed down to Pelican Bay, looking at the marine life along the shore. There were lots of orange and red starfish, barnacles and mussels crowding each other on the rocks, bright green ribbons of kelp floating on the surface and orange fish darting in and out of the fronds down in the water.

Pelican Bay once had a hotel on one of the points built by Ira Eaton in the 1920's and we could see why he would have chosen this site. It seemed like an oasis with a grove of eucalyptus trees off the rocky beach and fantastic views from the building site looking across the channel towards Santa Barbara and the mountains beyond. The promontory itself now has a group of century plants, which are like the aloe vera plant, with giant stalks up to 20 ft high pointing at the sky. From the sea, they looked like trees. We found evidence of an old Indian midden as well as an old bed frame and a ceramic shard which looked suspiciously like part of a chamber pot from the hotel days.

This landing also gave us the chance to complete the trail between Prisoners' Harbour and Pelican Bay. We hiked along the bluffs through golden grassy fields, past a small pine grove and into a deep, silent canyon where we expected pterodactyls to swoop down at us. There was water dripping over huge boulders of rock from a hidden stream and pools of water lined with giant ferns. Going up again we came across some Toyon trees with bright red berries which reminded me of holly trees.

We returned to the Ladybug at midday and sailed to the mainland flying our spinnaker in the light wind from the northwest. What a contrast to our trip to the island! Our slow speed meant that we could enjoy views of Santa Cruz island and neighbouring Anacapa Island for hours, arriving at Channel Islands Harbour in Oxnard after sunset.It was a challenging entry due to a dredger working behind the breakwater with its pipes and floating lights hundreds of feet behind it.

The harbour front extends for miles with many private marinas and businesses along the main channel.Reclaimed land has been used to develop a maze of canals lined with homes and condos with private docks. No wonder it is called the Venice of California.Some of the houses are built in the style of Mediterranean villas while others are Arts and Crafts.

My cousins came over with a lovely dinner on Saturday night and we had planned to leave on Sunday but gale force winds forced us to stay another night. The wind howled through the marina, palm trees swaying crazily and the town seemed like a ghost town with not a soul in sight as we walked along the waterfront sidewalks. I guess they were all hiding from the cold wind.

Today, we set off for Paradise Cove north of Santa Monica and then plan to visit Santa Catalina Island for a few days.

A movie and pics from Santa Barbara & Santa Cruz Island

We shot a short movie while sailing the 20+ mile wide channel to Santa Cruz Island. See this Youtube video.

Next, a few pictures from Santa Barbara:

View from the law courts tower showing typical roof lines. Red tile is mandated in some areas of Santa Barbara.

Detail from fountain outside the law courts in Santa Barbara

Carving over the entrance to the Santa Barbara library. The crests are from other famous libraries in Paris, Oxford, etc.

Detail from the "Portrait of Mexico" mural outside the art gallery in Santa Barbara.

Plaque on the wall of historic adobe building in Santa Barbara. I read Dana's book a while ago but recall vividly his descriptions of loading hides down the sides of cliffs along the rugged California coast. Modern yacht harbours make life on this coast much easier for sailors!

Rani visited with her cousins and nephews, Sita, Raj, Dara, and Sher:

Sita and Sher visiting Ladybug in Santa Barbara

Sher and Rani out trick-or-treating. Rani had a pretty good haul but earned it by telling her infamous wolf story to frighten the kids.

Rani counting her loot.

Dara and Rani at Channel Islands Harbour (on board ladybug).

Sher tries his hand rowing L'il Bugger.

A few shots from Santa Cruz Island;

Ladybug, Mariposa, and 3 fishing boats sheltering from strong Northwest winds at Fry's Harbour

Chris 'climbing' near Fry's Harbour

Eric and Sarka on Mariposa with L'il Bugger and Chris in the foreground. This couple are sailing from Sausalito bound for Peurto Vallarta. We enjoyed a potluck and a celebration of Obama's victory with Eric and Sarka. Their boat, a Baba 35 cutter is beautifully maintained and the all teak interior is lit by brass kerosene lanterns - very cosy.

And one picture that gives an impression of Channel Islands Harbour:

Canal style development in Channel Islands Harbour (Oxnard). We are currently moored near here in the municipal marina.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Rounding Cape Horn

OK - it's really just the 'Cape Horn of California', but we are finally around Point Conception and into the balmy waters of Southern California. From Monterey we cruised south to San Simeon, location of the famous Hearst Castle. The surf on the beach prevented a dry landing, so we headed south the next day to Morro Bay. This is a charming small fishing/tourist town located on an estuary full of anhored yachts. It has a huge rock (Morro rock, of course) marking its entrance and a massive Electric generating plant - large enough to feel like a geological feature on its own. We saw none of this when we entered the narrow channel at night and in a thick fog. Fortunately we had a good waypoint for the entrance and a fairly recent (1993) photocopy of the detailed chart. The channel is buoyed as well and without those buoys we probably would have had a hell of a time getting in (the channel is narrow and winds between sand-banks.

We spent 2 days in Morro Bay, and celebrated Rani's birthday at a decent Italian restaurant. I coerced the waitress into bringing us a cake slice with candle but she would only hum Happy Birthday (she suffered a trauma as a child involving a lot of people singing at her in a crowded place).

From Morro Bay we sailed overnight past Point Arguello and Point Conception. These points are famous for their wind funnelling and it can be quite pleasant weather on either side of this stretch of coast. Sure enough as we reached it around 3am, the winds picked up and a big sea pushed us along. Banshee (our autopilot) chose this time to shed her belt yet again, so we hand-steered for 3 hours reaching speeds on our GPS of 10.8 knots and several peaks of 9.5 knots. Exciting sailing but still manageable. The winds died out in the early dawn and we began to pass oil rigs and patches of methane bubbles and natural oil slicks bubbling up from the seabed. Oddly enough this all takes place just off the Channel Islands national park and marine sanctuary!

We arrived in Santa Barbara around supper time and took a berth in the marina the next morning. We have been here for 5 days now. Rani visited her cousin and family while I painted L'il Bugger and renewed its fenders with shiny new pipe insulation and top quality Gorilla duct tape.

We have met some really nice people here including a couple (Jim and Jane) who are just back from 6 years in Mexico and another couple on a Baba 35 (Sarka and Eric) who are sailing south, too and have a great blog at We leave today for the Channel Islands. Pictures to follow...