2011 OCT – SF Bay to Long Beach

San Francisco to Long Beach

Saturday October 29th 2011

It was a busy week prepping the boat for its trip from the SF Bay down to Long Beach.  I had lists of things to do and every evening after work I would work on clearing the lists.  The last thing to do on the boat list was to pick up my skipper at SF airport at 2:00pm Saturday afternoon.

Back at the boat I left Nikolay checking over the boat while I had a final hot shower and then we set off around 3:00pm.  We had the outgoing tide in our favor and scooted up the bay at around 8 knots.  The closer we got to the Golden Gate Bridge the more the tide surged us out and I watched the knot meter steadily climb.  8.6 knots.  9.2 knots.  9.8  10.5  11.3  And we topped out at 11.4 as we shot out under the bridge and into open waters.  The strange thing was that I expected to feel like we were zooming along but FastAlley felt the same as doing 5 knots.  Just stable, solid, and sedate.

With the current behind us and no wind we headed down the coast and motored thru the night at around 9 knots.  I told Nikolay that come early evening my body typically wanted to shut down and sleep – I was never a late night owl.  So if it was okay with him, I would go to sleep early and stand the midnight watch.  That was fine with the skipper.  When I came up around 11pm Nikolay had raised the sails and killed the engine and we were ripping along in good winds at around 8 knots, and surfing the ocean swells.  It was exhilarating.

It was also very cold and I had on 4 layers of clothes as I settled down on my watch.  It was a black night.  Black seas.  Black skies.  No stars.  No moon.  Just pitch black.  The deck glowed a pale white in the running lights.  I figured I didn’t have to be on full alert for traffic because if any other boat was out there its light would stick out in the night like a lighthouse.  And so I daydreamed as I stood watch.

One thing about being out on a boat rushing through the dark night with the water gurgling over the hulls, it makes one introspective.  I seldom take the time to sit and think about the meaning of Life (the answer to which is 42, according to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), but there is very little else to do out there.  Every fifteen minutes I would check we were still sailing on course, check the read out on the various instruments, and settle down again to watch the seas, or more accurately, feel the seas since it was so black I couldn’t actually see anything.

And so Saturday and Sunday passed inexorably as we sailed down the coast about 15 miles out to sea.  On Sunday night I was on the midnight watch again and staring towards land.  Before turning in Nikolay suggested we run the engine to charge the batteries because all the instruments were taking a lot of power.  And so we motorsailed along during my watch.  Once again the night was pitch black with just the faintest line where the black sky met the black sea.  There was a ton of bioluminescence and FastAlley left a wide luminous green glowing streak in the sea as we surfed down the waves.  I was daydreaming how incredible it would look if a submarine moved silently passed us glowing and outlined beneath the waters in a shimmer of green luminosity.  Then I remembered the sub that surfaced suddenly in Hawaii a while back, flattening a small fishing vessel and killing all 6 fishermen on board.  I decided to skip the submarine daydream and substituted a whale instead.  Then I remembered the angry whale that leapt out of the water in the South African Cape Bay and breached on top of a small sailing vessel almost ripping the back off the boat.  I decided to skip daydreaming altogether until I could come up with something more pleasant.

It was around 3am and really cold as I gazed out into the darkness.  Suddenly 5 tubes of light came streaking towards the boat.  Dolphins!  I was delighted.  More dolphins streaked towards FastAlley attracted by the sound of the engine.  They leapt, and jumped, and raced around the boat delighting in the bow waves.  With 3 hulls they had a lot of bow waves to choose from.  I was entranced.  I watched the dolphins cavorting as they streaked through the water in long bright tubes of luminescence, playing and surfing as they chased each other with unabashed joy.  I couldn’t actually see the dolphins, I could just see the streaks of glowing green light they left in their wake.  I thrilled to the spectacular display of Lights taking place in the dark water around my boat.  I wished I could capture the delightful moment forever.

Monday morning dawned grey and overcast with no wind.  The weather reports, however, were ominous.  A huge storm out in the Pacific was sending large waves our way.  We were to expect high seas and high winds around Point Conception, which is considered one of the most dangerous areas along the California coast line.  Countless boats have been demasted, rolled, and just plain sunk off Pt. Conception and now the Weather Station was warning boats to beware.  The same conditions would prevail in the Santa Barbara Channel making conditions hazardous.  Great.  I went to sleep as Nikolay took over, knowing that when I awoke for my watch we would be right in the middle of that maelstrom.

I had been watching the weather for the past 3 weeks and storm after storm had marched across the Pacific.  NOAA websites had been forecasting heavy weather for weeks.  I decided to call my mother and get some insurance.  My mother is a prayer warrior and whenever I need protection I call her and ask her to get on the Hotline to God.  She tells me that God answers my prayers too but I have noticed that if there is Fabulous Option 1 or Crappy Option 2 then God answers my prayers alright, but with crappy #2.

So I engaged my prayer warrior mom.  She said of course she would pray for good weather.  I said I wanted not just good weather, but FLAT seas.  I wanted a smooth, calm run down the coast with zero damage to the boat and the skipper and myself.  I figured flat seas was Fabulous Option 1 and asked her to pray for that.  My mother agreed.  I wanted to hear her engage God so I stayed on the line while she prayed.  Just before we left SF I checked with my mother that God was aware of my “flat seas” request.  She assured me she had passed on my appeal.

As I prepared to leave the dock my son (a budding prayer warrior) and my grandson (a baby prayer warrior) said they would pray over me for a safe journey.  “And for flat seas”, I added which my grandson dutifully tacked onto the end of his prayer.

Armed with my 3 prayers, I listened to the very alarming weather report but was not unduly perturbed.  However, in light of the ferocity of the expected weather I did assure God that if flat seas were difficult to achieve, then I would accept 3ft swells as compensation.  I went to bed in what I thought was a generous spirit.

I awoke some hours later knowing we should be at, or near, Point Conception.  I dressed and went on deck and stared out over the seas, awestruck!  The sea was flat.  Flat.  Flat.  Glassy flat.  I turned to the skipper – “This is Point Conception?”, I asked incredulously.  He grinned hugely.  “Yes”, he replied as he lounged back reading a book.  I turned a slow 360 – the sea was glassy flat in every direction.  Nothing moved.  Not a ripple.  Not a bump.  As undisturbed as a quiet, still pond.  I burst out laughing.  “This is Point Conception?” I asked again as I turned another 360, just stunned.  “Check the charts”, said the skipper.  I walked over to the glowing electronic chart and sure enough, there we were, right off the Point.

Point Conception

Nikolay went below as I took over the watch.  I couldn’t help laughing with delight as I gazed out over the calm seas.  I could just see an amused God sitting up in Heaven saying “You snot nosed human, negotiating 3 ft swells.  Don’t patronize me, you shrimp!”.

On Monday we passed through the calm Santa Barbara channel, and crossed the gentle Santa Monica Bay.  Nikolay told me to wake him a mile from the Long Beach harbor entrance, which I was happy to do.  We approached the entrance surrounded by at least 8 container ships, 2 of which were actively heading for the same entrance as us.  We were out of fuel and I didn’t want to leave the boat with empty tanks over winter, so once we were safely inside the harbor we headed for a general anchorage, dropped anchor, and settled down for the rest of the night.  It was 3:00am on Tuesday morning.

In the morning light we were readying the boat for our trip to the fuel dock when we were approached by the Coast Guard.  AGAIN?!  The sweetest young man said, “Have you ever been boarded by the Coast Guard?”.  I said, “Yes, often!”.  He was a little disconcerted.  “Are you doing training?” I asked, “Would you like to come aboard”.  Yes he would, and they did.

They went through their check list, with the trainee doing all the writing while the trainer asked the questions.  By this time I am a dab hand at Coast Guard boardings so I knew what they wanted and where it all was.  Like Annie said in SF Bay, if a Coastie has to pick a boat to board, they will pick FastAlley because she is different from the norm.  So I get boarded all the time.

Afterwards we raised anchor and approached the fuel station.  It had 2 stubby docks sticking out into the channel and was not a dock that I would be happy approaching.  Nikolay said we should back into the dock.  I thought he was kidding.  “FastAlley doesn’t have steerage going backwards,” I pointed out, “she simply goes backwards in any direction she cares to go.  She only has forwards steerage”.  That’s what the previous owner told me and that is what I had found in the 3 years I had her.  FastAlley has a vicious starboard prop walk that I find useful for turning her in a tight circle, but which makes going backwards in a straight line just impossible.

Nikolay said that nevertheless we would back into the dock.  I said that if he dinged FastAlley I would throttle him.  He was unconcerned.  He turned my boat around and started backing gently towards the dock.  We went straight back as though tethered to a shore line that was reeling us in.  I watched fascinated as he brought us smoothly alongside the dock.  Not a bump.  Not a grind.  We just slid alongside backwards.  “How did you do that?!!”, I wanted to know.  He explained the technique and I’m going to practice it until I get it right – although I’ll practice with something softer than a solid dock.  It was a pleasure to watch.

When we approached my new slip I didn’t even argue – I just turned over the wheel to Nikolay.  Once again he docked FastAlley gently and smoothly and I stepped calmly off the boat and tied us off.  I have no idea how I am supposed to dock FastAlley in this tiny spot in future?!  I share an end tie with a power boat and have just 2 or 3 feet from my bowsprit to his stern.  I think docking here will be somewhat more exciting with me steering.  None of that “stepping calmly off the boat” when I am at the wheel.

My son and his family were waiting at the dock and were all excited to see that I had arrived safely.  Kevin had offered to drive Nikolay back to San Diego where he lived with his wife and baby daughter.  On the way I had a last chance to pick his brains on boat handling tips.  He had spent his watch hours examining FastAlley and had a list of about 20 incremental improvements I could make to ready the boat for an ocean crossing.  I jotted them all down.  He also got my fridge working on battery power again – it had stopped working after an electrician did some other work for me.  Of course, Nikolay  said that if I had mentioned the problem with the fridge when we left SF instead of when we arrived at LB then we could have used it to keep the milk and cheese cold, instead of having them float around in the melting ice in the cooler box.

After dropping Nikolay we all returned to the boat and the family stayed until around 7pm.  Then I had a glorious hot shower in the marina, crawled into bed, and put on a Clint Eastwood cowboy movie.  After 20 minutes I was fast asleep and slept like the dead until the sun rose.

The list of small improvements Nikolay gave me will cost less than $200 and will make a big difference to the safety of my vessel.  The big ticket items – that I already know about – are new solar panels and a new battery bank.  However, Nikolay had some excellent suggestions on both aspects.  For example, I was going to mount the new solar panels on the roof but Nikolay said that if I don’t flush mount them then the mainsheet will rip them right off during an accidental jybe.  I hadn’t even thought of that but as soon as he said it I knew he was right because I have seen the mainsheet whipping across the roof before as I practiced singlehanding and didn’t get to the sheet fast enough.

Nikolay also tested my new batteries and declared the starter battery defective.  The problem is that the electrician had mixed battery types when he replaced my burned out battery charger, which in turned had fried all my batteries.  The new charger has 4 settings, and when charging it had defaulted to the lowest type battery setting (the house bank) so that the higher quality starter battery had suffered over the past year.  Since the electrician had both installed the charger and replaced the batteries, I should have thought that at $65 per hour he would know not to mix battery types.  Apparently not.  So my new expensive starter battery is now ruined.

Anyway, we have arrived safely in Long Beach and I have a list of things to do before attempting any deep ocean crossing, although FastAlley could go as she currently stands if I wanted to leave tomorrow.  Which I don’t.  He suggested that I implement the changes he recommends then he would drive up from San Diego some time and go over the boat with me to ensure I had her ship shape.

Hawaii – here we come!

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