Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Catalina Island

More about Catalina Island. This photo shows 'Indigo' in Isthmus Cove, one of the Two Harbors that nearly cut the western end of the island in two. ('Indigo' is the boat at the bottom left.) Catalina is large - about 22 miles long, 75 square miles. Mountains rise to just over 2000 feet. Avalon, the famous tourist destination is at the east end of the Island, a little more than 26 miles from Los Angeles. Two Harbors, although a bit closer to LA, is less developed.

Still, this is a place that knows its tourist business. Every cove has well maintained permanent mooring buoys, and the Harbor Patrol will help you anchor and give you a lift ashore if you don't want to use your own dinghy. The water here is crystal clear, great for snorkeling (although too cold for us now at  56 degrees - we need wetsuits!). There are a few places to eat, a single hotel, some guest houses, and a big campground. Passenger boats come and go from Los Angeles frequently, with many visitors. They seem to disperse to rent kayaks, or stand-up paddle boards, or maybe they just turn around an go back to LA.

We chose to hike, and walked the dirt road that meanders from cove to headland - back and forth - for miles. The cursed fog lifted, and we were deliriously happy in the brilliant sun. There were an extraordinary number of birds, and great views from the headlands.

Among all the places we have visited on our two (all-to-brief) trips down the California coast, the Channel Islands are extraordinary. Californians know them, but maybe the rest of us do not. They are immense and critical sanctuaries for so many species. We were a bit reluctant to let loose the mooring and head for San Diego.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Mystery Bird

We traveled from Ventura to Catalina Island yesterday, and had a number of small birds land on the boat. Most we could identify - Yellow-Rumped Warbler, California Towhee. But this little black fellow has us stumped. Anyone know what it is? Our best guess is a young Lark Bunting. It was 5 -6 inches long, and its feathers were scrufty and, naturally, windblown. There was the faintest hint of a light patch on its belly.

Hoping for some more informed opinion.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

...Continuing South

We made more progress south, and are writing this from Ventura. We've had lots of fog, but only take photos in the sun, so you have to imagine long periods of gray inbetween each of these sun-filled images.
The lighthouse above is at the entrance to the broad bay that acts as the anchorage for San Luis Obisbo (the actual town of San Luis Obisbo is much further inland.)  We took this photo at the end of a long, sunny spinaker ride downwind from Morro Bay. We also enjoyed the afternoon and evening at anchor off the pier at Avila Beach, an pretty little beach resort, listening to the sounds of kids playing in the surf.

The following morning, we pulled up the anchor and headed south in the fog. Quite soon, this random traveler, a small Flicker, landed on our mast. He stayed with us for a fifty five mile run down and around Point Conception. This photo was taken when he first sniffed land as the fog cleared; he flew off to shore moments afterwords.

We went on to anchor at Coho Anchorage, just south and east of Point Conception. This was like a pilgrimage for us, since we had read for years about the early explorers and cartographers who had used this anchorage as a base of operations. 

We were lucky to have this view of the shore alongside the Coho Anchoreage. Accounts from the mid nineteenth century talk about a large cattle ranch here, but now it is quiet. Except that the train - the Amtrak Coast Starlight - comes past this point a dozen times each day.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

On Shore, Offshore

Monday we traveled from Half Moon Bay to Monterey, the entire trip in the fog, and the second half of it sailing with the spinnaker. The fog lifted as we tied up in the harbour, and the sun shone steadily for the next two days.

We spent these sunny days on shore, visiting with our old friends Dennis and Catie, who have just moved to Pacific Grove, adjacent to Monterey. We toured, hiked, picnicked, and explored all along the coastline, from Monterey to Big Sur. We were dazzled by the scenery and by the great enthusiasm of our friends for their new home in their native California.    Dennis was adamant that we stop and admire the Bixby Bridge along Highway 1, just north of Big Sur.

Thursday we finally persuaded ourselves to resume boat travel and left Monterey midday. Late in the afternoon, we passed the Bixby Bridge, and got a view of it from the oceanside. The O'Leary enthusiasm is infectious, and we were quite transfixed by this view of the coast from offshore. This photo is for you, Dennis!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Point Reyes

We sailed 'Indigo' south from Eureka on Friday and Saturday - a boisterous thirty hour trip with favorable northwest winds and following seas. For much of the time, the wind was so strong that we could make good time on the jib alone. Clear skies gave us great views of the coast, and of the stars and moon overnight.  This is the image of Bodega Head, the last headland before we ducked into Bodega Bay to spend the night on Saturday. I know that rocks and vegetation along these headlands make such incredible colors, on shore, but I had never seen areas of this ocean showing this purplish brown.

Sunday morning we continued south past Point Reyes and Drake's Bay, one of our favorite places along this coast. This is how it looked yesterday morning:

From Point Reyes, we sailed in a straight line to Half Moon Bay, passing by the entrance to San Francisco Bay. The fog cleared, and we had a clear view of the shoreline north and south, and of the busy and confusing shipping traffic entering and exiting the Golden Gate. Now we are moored in Half Moon Bay, catching up on our sleep and cooking and interneting, while the rain and fog drip drum on the boat. 

Monday, October 03, 2011

The Lost Coast

The same friendly NOAA forecasters who explained to us about the Stratus Surge also told us about a pair of winter-type rainstorms that were coming our way. South winds and rain discourage southbound sailors. So we decided to take a break from the boat, and explore the coastline by land.

We decided to explore the Lost Coast. This is the sixty odd miles of the California coast south of Eureka which remains virtually undeveloped. There is no Highway 1 here; Highway 101 runs through the Redwoods, a good twenty to thirty miles inland, and only a few fairly primative roads provide access.  The King Range has some of the tallest peaks along the California coast, and the mountains seem to push out into the ocean, as at Cape Mendocino (the westernmost point in the lower 48 states) and its neighbor Punta Gorda. The image above is the view south from the base of Cape Mendocino.

We drove the length of the area, through ranch land and forests, and then stayed for two nights at Shelter Cove, a resort and fishing community south of both the capes. The beaches here are at the base of massive cliffs, and are made up of black rock or black sand, a hint of the origin of the nearby mountains in volcanic activity. Under gray skies, with fog or rain, this is a somber place, awesome and very, very wild.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Stratus Surge

Thursday morning we left Eureka, and crossed the bar at the entrance to Humboldt Bay by 9:30. It was a beautiful, unusually warm morning, with sunshine softened by the marine air, a low swell, and very light wind from the south. We motored south, confident that we would make it around Cape Mendocino by early afternoon.

Just before noon, we saw the wind build from about five knots to gusts up to 25 - all in the span of fifteen minutes. The Captain took over the watch at noon, and within another fifteen minutes, we were plowing into building seas and winds gusting to 35. Our speed was reduced drastically, and we began to take salt spray over the bow. We quickly decided that these were not conditions for rounding notoriously nasty Cape Mendocino, and that we would return to Eureka. With the wind behind us, we were able to sail comfortably on the jib alone, and were back at the dock in Eureka by late afternoon.

Several other sailboats experienced the same odd winds, and also returned to Eureka. It happens that there is a NOAA forecasting office a very short walk from the marina where we all moored. On Friday morning, a group of skunked sailors marched over to NOAA, and had a chance to sit down with one of the forecasters in front of his semicircle of four computer screens. This cordial weatherman told us that we had experienced what is known as a "Stratus Surge", and he was able to bring up the string of satellite images for the hours when it formed and hit us the day before.

The image above is of a similar event - this one along the southern California coast - and shows the funny finger-like leading edge of the thick stratus clouds.