I sit in this prehistoric cove contemplating the last 36 hours. The cove that I’m in is called Potato Harbor. It is tucked in a hollowed-out concave of large rock formations on Santa Cruz Island in southern California. The rocks have faces. It’s as though they stare at me, trying to tell me their story of torment and struggle of geological erosion. I sit and listen. I listen to them, and to the thunder of the waves being sucked in to the caves and spit back out. I hear water ripples, sea lions barking and growling with purpose and pelicans diving hard to catch their next meal. I have a fly swatter in perfect position to kill. Meanwhile, I’m wondering if this cove is a safe anchorage for this evening. The one we chose last night wasn’t. There is nothing scarier, that I have ever experienced, than thinking your boat will be crushed in the middle of the night against rocks on a lee ward shore, and having to raise an anchor in pitch blackness with waves crashing on your bow all while not being able to see which direction the shore is.
We left Monterey California Sunday morning at 8:30 am. We knew there had to be an overnight of sailing to get to any safe destination of anchoring or a marina. Our biggest feat was to time the voyage so we could tackle Point Conception at a good time. Not really knowing what a good time is, but we have read your timing needs to be just right to not get caught by the treacheries of the Cape Horn of the Pacific. We study the weather, check wave size, and chat with local sailors and fishermen. By the way, If you ever need any advice on entering channels, crossing bars, rounding points, just talk to a fisherman. They are bad ass! Every situation so far that we couldn’t wait to get ourselves out of we would pass a fisherman heading straight in to harm’s way. In the middle of a bar crossing with mixed swells of 6 to 8 feet would be a fisherman in his little 12 foot boat with hardly any protection. They are hard workers, a wealth of information, and I have the utmost respect for them. With all this knowledge, we think we have our window of opportunity to head out of Monterey around the corner to southern California.
We travel 150 miles through the night taking our usual 4 hour shifts so one of us is on watch at all times. The first day out we left in fog so thick you couldn’t see land less than half mile away. The day opened up and we got to witness the beauty of the Big Sur coast for a bit until the fog returned. Fog, fog and more fog all through the night. Each of us trying to sleep at least a couple hours. Bill taking 8am to noon, me noon to 4pm, Bill 4pm to 8pm, me 8pm to midnight, Bill midnight to 4am, and me 4am to 8am. Besides the birth of my four children, I have never witnessed so much beauty as my 4am to 8am sunrise shift off the southern coast of Morrow Bay, California. There were so many different shapes of clouds making the sunrise absolutely spectacular (see pictures). As the sun continued to rise, I could finally make out shapes on a perfectly flat ocean. As far as I could see there were schools and schools of dolphins. Dolphins leaping with joy everywhere. As soon as our boat would enter their playground they would fill with excitement and chase the boat. Racing, diving, and showing off their talent like a perfectly posed professional diver would. Back arched, pausing at the peak, then flipping their tails at the end of their dives to a perfect point before entering the water, a perfect 10!.
Dolphins always show up when your spirits need lifting. It is like the sea reminding you of its beauty after the darkness of the night. On this morning, with the dolphins there were random small seals. They were also trying their hardest for their perfect 10, it made me smile. It looked like they wished they were dolphins, or maybe they were raised by dolphins like Mogli was raised by wolves. All I could think of was I wanted everyone to witness the beauty of that morning, the pure joy..… I thought heavily about waking Bill up to see this, but he had just finally gotten to sleep which is such a coveted commodity out here.
We made it around Point conception in the fog that day, the seas were unusually flat. We were bummed we didn’t get to see the point because of the fog, but as mysterious things always happen on the ocean, the sky opened up and we got some amazing pictures of Point Arguello and Point Conception. We finally made it around the corner to southern California. We read about an anchorage right around Government Point, which is due east of Point Conception, called Coho Anchorage. We slowly circled around the point and think we found it. The anchorages down here are not like the ones we’re used to in the San Juan Islands. They usually are just around a point, or a rock, on an open beach, not a large protected bay like Friday harbor on San Juan Island, or Blind Bay on Shaw Island.
We set up anchor, and bask in the heat. We watch surfers on this beautiful, secluded beach, and listen to the dance of the waves and trains going by on a trestle directly above us on a hill. We were in heaven. We were the only boat at this anchorage until around 6pm we got a neighbor. An older gentleman in a power boat all by himself. Pulled up in the surf, dropped his anchor, reversed his boat, took off his clothes and jumped into the ocean. He was a professional. He had his bike on the back of his boat, he travelled alone. I thought of Jimmy Buffet for some reason. I thought of how lonely it would be to travel alone on the ocean, but some people love it. After he got out of the water Bill and I both yelled and clapped. “Yeahh!!!! Great job!” He took a quick bow and then disappeared into his cabin for the night. We had a glass of wine, maybe a couple, then both of us fell asleep in the warmth of the evening, outside in the cockpit of Epiphany.
I woke up at 10:00pm to a rocking boat. Up and down… up and down….., splashing on both sides of the boat, waves crashing in earnest on the beach, it was pitch dark, Bill was sound asleep. I could see that our neighbor’s lights were on in his boat. I watched him, the professional, pull up his anchor on his bow, leaving the wheel unattended, and then motor off into the darkness of Santa Barbara channel. I knew he knew what he was doing and that this anchorage was becoming not safe. I looked over at Bill snoozing. He looked so peaceful, I didn’t want to wake him. I watched to see if our anchor was dragging or moving and it wasn’t, but the situation was not comfortable. I stayed awake and watched and listened. I wanted to go below and fall asleep. I was so tired only having had 4 hours of broken sleep in the past 48 hours, but I wanted to watch. Make sure we were not going to drag.
Bill woke up on his own. I told him our neighbor left and I’ve been awake for a while. I told him It didn’t seem that we had moved, but I couldn’t go back to sleep. He went and got the flashlight and shone it on beach. It looked like we were on the beach, it sounded like we were on the beach in the breaking waves. Our imaginations took a hold of us and we panicked. In the pitch darkness we scrambled to pull up our anchor. We couldn’t see anything, we could only hear the waves crashing and feel our boat go up a wave and then crash down. I took the helm, Bill went to the bow to pull the anchor up. I could see the waves crash over him. I would look each time a wave crashed to make sure he was still on board. We had no time to get dressed, both of us were in underwear and light shirts, wet, cold, nervous. I turned on our navigation system and the picture showed us on the beach. I panicked. It was hard to tell which way was the ocean and which way was the beach, it was so dark. I found a boat in the middle of the Santa Barbara channel with lights on and just pointed at them. Our anchor was stuck. Bill couldn’t get it on the boat. Up, crash…… Is he still there? Up, crash…is he still on the boat? Looking behind me thinking we were going to crash into the rocks at anytime I kept the boat in gear. I tried to settle my mind. Bill finally yelled, “ I got it!” “Get out of here fast!!!” I powered forward and never looked back. It was sheer terror!
We crossed the Santa Barbara channel in the darkness. It started to rain. It started to pour. There were forecasts for thunder storms, and we found them. We took turns going below to put on clothes, lifejackets and our rain gear. I was mentally and physically exhausted, and didn’t want to be there. It was 2:00am and we had no destination. Bill saw the look on my face and knew he had to drive through the night. I was grateful. I needed time to let my imagination unwind. No sleep, darkness and the ocean are a cesspool for scary images. The warm vibration of the engine allows me to finally relax. I let myself doze, and I quickly dream of the sunrise and dolphins…
Once again, the next day we find ourselves amongst unforgettable beauty. Along the shore of Santa Cruz Island. It looks like King Kong would live here. Strong, fierce cliffs, dark land, not something most people get to witness every day. Cliffs that jut straight into the ocean. Every rock has caves. I was so appreciative of the sun, the daylight and being able to see. I think of all my loved ones. My kids, my grand babies, my parents, my friends. I want everyone to be here with me. We motor to a place called Potato Harbor. A cove with rock cliffs surrounding us. The rocks have faces that want to tell their story. So I sit, and I listen……..
Dedicated to Lily Bea! She turned 1 years old October 1st, the day we left Monterey.