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Greetings from Marina del Rey, the largest man made harbor in the world. We are safe and sound, but in need of some R&R after our most challenging experience to date.
We left Santa Barbara Nov 8 and headed for Ventura. Only spent one night in Ventura because of the expense ($50 per night – eek!!!) and the fact that there were no cruiser amenities (chandlery, grocery store, laundry mat, bank, Starbucks, etc.) within walking distance. About the only thing it had going for it was a great beach for playing with the pups and the Channel Islands National Park visitor center.


So we packed ourselves up and sailed down to Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard!
Channel Islands Harbor is a perfect stop for cruisers with almost everything you need right within walking or dinghy distance. For the best shopping, you just load the kids in the station wagon and head in to the weekly Farmers/Fishers market.

That’s our dinghy “Senility” at the dock. We bought fresh rockfish and shrimp from Dutchman, the boat in the upper left and wonderful organic produce from several local farmers who set up their tents right behind the marina.

We thought Mom and Bob might want to check out the houses for sale in Oxnard. Water-front properties, with each home having a little electric boat for local transportation. (Way cooler than golf carts, don’t you think?)
Then we found out how expensive this neighborhood is (don’t ask) and it seems like they might not like strangers invading their territories. Check out the cannon in the back yard of this home! (There was another one on the other side of the yard as well.)
We took advantage of the great location to get some more chores completed on Serenity (like installing the Single Side Band radio, although we still can’t get it to work). But after 10 days we had reached the limit, so we decided to sail out to Santa Cruz Island for the weekend.
The weather report predicted a continuation of the same weather: variable winds 10-15 knots, wind waves 2-3 feet and mild swells. And that’s how the day started out. We were having a lovely sail!
Suddenly, however, the winds kicked up to over 20 knots with gusts to 27 and seas breaking over the bow of the boat. We dropped the sails and went under motor. Paul had a ball at the helm figuring out how to best handle Serenity. The pups were miserable what with all the banging around and Debi had her first ever experience with sea sickness. Let’s just say it was not a pretty picture and skip over to the next part.
We arrived at Santa Cruz Island about 1600 (4:00 PM). With sunset being less than an hour away, we decided to anchor out at Smugglers Cove. It wasn’t the most comfortable anchorage what with constant swells, but it was the closest anchorage around. It was a rolly-polly night with little sleep for the two-legged critters that kept getting up to check that the anchor was holding. The four-legged critters were just fine. They had a big meal and fell right to sleep!
The next day was warm and sunny. Anchored at the north end of the cove, we had a beautiful view of the olive tree grove on Santa Cruz Island to our west and Anacapa Island just a few miles off to the east. We were a bit troubled by some clouds arriving but they dissipated once hitting the island. We talked about moving to another anchorage, one that might be more protected from the constant swells, but we were feeling lazy and the weather prediction was for the weather to be stable. So we decided to hang around, take care of some minor chores, lie in the sun, read our books and recoup from the previous day’s rough ride out and the night on anchor watch. The pups settled in as well. They had no problems taking care of business on the boat and had not a care in the world. We all would have loved to go exploring on the island, but being a nature preserve that was not allowed.

Early afternoon, another cruising sailboat arrived and dropped anchor at the cove. Mid afternoon Escapade arrived:
We had met Dennis of Escapade in Morro Bay and loved talking with him. Dennis is single handing his new-to-him boat to the Caribbean. He has been on the water all his life. When he was 16, Dennis single handed a 25 foot sail boat from Morro Bay to Hawaii after a friend told him he could navigate across the Pacific by following the planes at night. He used aerial photos from a Sunset Magazine article to navigate between the islands.
Shortly after that, another boat turned up. We didn’t recognize them at the time, but it was Fandango. We had first met Scott and Mary of Fandango in Half Moon Bay and run into them again in Monterey and again in Morro Bay. There were now 4 boats in the cove to enjoy the beautiful sunset. We had a nice pasta dinner, checked the weather and hearing nothing any different from previous forecasts of the day turned in for the night.
We were able to sleep only a few hours, however. About midnight the wind suddenly picked up to over 40 knots and the seas grew to violent large swells. Worse yet, we were dragging our anchor on a lee shore. [Explanation for the non-boaters out there: The wind and waves were pushing us on to the beach!] No time to talk it over, only time to act. Debi took the helm and Paul clipped in and crawled up to the bow to pull in the anchor. With the crash of the waves, the sea spray all around and the thunderous yowl of the wind it was not possible to talk to each other. We could only try to anticipate what the other was doing and rely on hand signals that we hoped but weren’t sure the other one could see. Thank heavens for an 80 horse engine and an anchor windlass! Paul got the anchor up and secured, Debi kept us off the shore and the next thing we did was get the heck out of there! Looking across the cove we saw both Escapade and Fandango leaving as well, no sign of the 4th boat however.
Having this arise so suddenly meant that we were not prepared to leave. Port windows had been closed for the night, but not secured, so each wave that crashed over the bow or sides sent water below deck. Water was also coming in through the cowl vents. Items that would normally be stowed prior to setting sail hadn’t been so things like the coffee pot, coffee mugs, books, charts, etc. were being tossed from one end of the boat to the other. Even items that were meant to be secure were getting tossed in the extreme violence: the glass bulb on one of our gimbaled oil lamps had fallen leaving broken glass on the sole of the main salon. And we had two very scared puppy dogs down there as well.
Since Debi was already at the helm, she stayed there. Paul had the task of first lowering the Mizzen sail (we had left it up to keep the bow of the boat pointed to the wind while at anchor) and then giving some comfort to the boys and getting below decks secured.
It took 3 hours for Debi to get us through the Anacapa passage between the two islands and into the Santa Barbara Channel before things started to settle down a bit. The highest winds she saw on the instruments were 44 (strong gale). Who knows how high the seas were, but we did do a lot of hill climbing and downhill skiing. Hull speed would be ½ knot one second and then up to 5½ knots just a few seconds later. There was also thunder and lightning to add some spice to the night’s excitement. It was bad enough at the helm, but below deck was a thunderous crashing; banging roller coaster ride and, for the first time in 35 years, Paul was getting sea sick. Luckily, since Debi had navigated us out to the island, she remembered the location of an oil platform in the channel. She headed towards its bright lights knowing that we could “refine” our course from that point and make for a direct route back to Channel Island Harbor.
When Paul took over the helm at 0300, the seas had subsided considerably, but the winds were still blowing well over 30 knots (gale force). It was miserable out there. And biting cold as well. Without boots, his feet were chilled to the bone. And it took a while for Debi to find his gloves and hat in the below deck jumble.
We approached Channel Island Harbor at 0500, just prior to morning twilight. Lordy, but it is hard to locate a breakwater and harbor entrance lights when they are surrounded by city lights on either side. And with 24 hour dredging operations going on at the harbor entrance there were even more flashing red and moving white lights. Our nerves were frayed and we were cold, wet and tired, so it was a beautiful thing to turn in to the protected harbor channel and have the winds and seas just die down to nothing! We went straight to the harbormaster's office and registered for another two nights at our old slip at the transient’s docks.
Escapade pulled in to the slip next to us about one hour later. Fandango also made it safely to the harbor, but they didn’t come to the transient docks. They decided to check in to a hotel for the rest of the day and that night. We understand from the harbormaster that the 4th boat was lost. Their anchor was fouled and they were unable to get out of the cove. All passengers (a family with either 2 or 3 children) were saved by coast guard helicopter, but their boat was lost, crashed on the lee shore. Being a cruising family, that means they lost their home and all of their possessions that night.
We spent all Sunday cleaning up, drying out and putting away. We even had strands of seaweed in the rigging!
We were also the recipients that day of a special consideration and hospitality that we will certainly “pass forward” to someone else another day. Hearing of our ordeal, we were visited by Bud who offered us any assistance we might need and invited us to dinner. So Sunday night, we had an awesome seafood pasta dinner prepared by Keith and Dee Abrahamson of the Roughwater41 "Milagro" on Bud and Carol’s 60 foot luxury yacht “Hand-N-Hand.” Thank you, friends! Your hospitality and generosity were appreciated more than we can express. We will certainly pass them forward to any and all others in need of the same!
It is sobering to realize that a boat was lost that night. And while we certainly do not want to ever undergo an experience like that again, there is also a satisfaction in having lived up to and survived the challenge with ourselves, our pups and our boat intact. It was a learning experience to say the least!!!
And for those concerned about “the boys”: no need. When we arrived at the harbormaster’s dock that morning, the boys could hardly wait to get off the boat. Not out of fear, but because they needed to piddle and poop so badly. Once their business was taken care of, they hopped right back on board ready to motor down to our slip. If anything, this was a learning experience for them as well. Boat bumps, noises and movements that might have startled them before are now just minor annoyances to a good sleep in the sun or snuggle below decks. You’d think they’ve been sailing pups all their lives!
PS: Mom asked what it was like to be back in Santa Barbara close to 25 years after Debi’s graduation from UCSB. First, she never would have thought back then that she would next view her old digs from a sail boat! But some things never change: She preferred Isla Vista then and still does. Santa Barbara is certainly beautiful,


But it has a different political bent than she (and Paul) does.
And there’s another reason she spent more time in Isla Vista than in Santa Barbara proper:










But it was good to see that some people with a sense of humor are laying roots in Santa Barbara. There’s hope for the old town yet!
Not all who wander are lost.


Copyright © 2004 Shaimas. All rights reserved. Posted 11/29/04