Saturday, November 19, 2011

Leg 1 Complete: Seattle to San Diego

We arrived in San Diego on November 17 after two days and two nights of non-stop traveling from Morro Bay and a total of about 14 days actual travel time from Seattle. (Some of those travel days were full twenty-four hour days, while others were days spent traveling with a night at the dock or at anchor.) The rest of the time since we left we have spent in port. Silhouette has gone 1,046 miles since she left the dock at Eagle Harbor! When we arrived in San Diego, we tied up at the Public/Transient dock next to the Harbor Police dock on Shelter Island, but today we moved Silhouette to Half Moon Marina. The marina is in close proximity to the marine services we'll be using while in San Diego (we are back in project mode!) and within walking distance of grocery stores, etc. 

First on our agenda was catching up on sleep. Yesterday, we washed down the boat, went over the project list and visited with my mom. Patrick also went to Village Marine to test our watermaker and learn the ins and outs of it first-hand from the Techs there. We were happy to find that the membranes were still good and we could keep the new ones we purchased as spares.  

The first day out of Morro Bay was a bit of a rough ride, with large swells from the gale that had just passed. However, the ride was not intolerable; we never saw gusts above 21 knots (there was a steady 15 knots most of the time); and we got in some sailing. After rounding Point Conception, everything flattened out and we had to motor the rest of the way.

Going through the Santa Barbara Channel was like visiting the Land of Oz, with so many oil rig platforms lit up like so many Emerald Cities.  

We encountered a huge amount of shipping traffic in the Santa Monica Basin (Huntington Beach/Los Angeles area) and the San Pedro Basin. Some night watches are more interesting than others, and I had one of my more interesting series of watches during this stretch of coast. Sure, it's peaceful and beautiful cruising along under the Milky Way with the soothing sound of wavelets lapping at Silhouette's soothing, in fact, that it often has the soporific effect of a lullaby. Sometimes, it's easier to stay awake if there are other vessels to pay attention to. There are no shortage of these in southern California, and on our transit to San Diego, we encountered some unusual situations. 

On my first watch, it was not a vessel, but a whale, that first came alongside the boat. I heard a loud blow right next to the boat. Whale!... or dolphin? I thought. A second loud blow:  Definitely whale!  I moved to the helm to slow the boat down. The third blow was followed by the back and dorsal fin of the whale as it dove about 30 yards off the starboard side. I didn't see it again and maintained the boat's heading and speed.

The next challenge was identifying a huge vessel, the size of a city block or large aircraft carrier, which was obviously right on our course. I saw the vessel ahead, but it didn't come up on our AIS (Automatic Identification System) immediately, so I could not tell what the vessel's heading or speed was. Sometimes it appeared to be moving west, but other times it looked like it was off our bow. I didn't know whether I would have to change course to avoid the vessel or not. We got closer and closer, and the vessel still wasn't coming up on the AIS. Finally, I woke Patrick for assistance. About the time I was coming to the conclusion that the vessel wasn't moving, it finally popped up on the AIS. Patrick noted that the bow was pointing in one direction, but the vessel appeared to be traveling in the opposite direction. He suggested that the vessel was drifting, which made perfect sense. We altered course to steer clear of the unpredictable behemoth. As we drew closer, Patrick noticed that the vessel was displaying two stacked red lights: the sign of a vessel not under command. (That means they probably had a watch present but were unable to control the ship.) They might have had engine trouble or trouble with steerage. After I went below and Patrick began his watch, the Aries Explorer finally got underway and its AIS signal reported its destination was Singapore. The AIS data also indicated it was carrying "Class A, IMO Hazardous" cargo. That translates to "International Maritime Organization, Dangerous Goods, Explosives." Apparently, the wide berth we gave her was warranted. 

On my next watch, about three hours later, I noticed yet another vessel right on our course. A naval vessel had been making announcements on Channel 16 about performing maneuvers at a certain latitude and longitude. We were approaching these coordinates. The vessel was making a series of repeated starboard turns as outlined in their broadcast. Again, I woke the skipper, who decided to make radio contact with the vessel. The warship reported they were concluding their maneuvers, and it was safe to pass astern of them.  All was well, but that's just not a situation one expects to run into at three o'clock in the morning! (There was also another navy vessel nearby conducting maneuvers "with small arms fire" and advising mariners to maintain a 5 NM distance!)

We will be staying in San Diego for about a month in order to finish some of the boat projects we didn't get done before the weather window closed in Seattle. We will also spend Thanksgiving with my family. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Farewell, Morro Bay

The rest of our stay in Morro Bay was as pleasant as the start. We enjoyed meeting Barry and Connie from S/V Rage. (We never did get the story on that boat name guys, but here in San Diego, we have seen its complements:  Anchor Management and Angler Management !) 

Every time I went out in Morro Bay, I found something new and interesting to do and a thriving sense of community. There is a wonderful park on the Embarcadero where the Morro Bay chess club meets for serious games every Saturday from 10:00-2:00. The picnic tables in the park all have chess boards built into them, and there is a giant chess board made of cement tiles in the middle of the park. The outsized chess pieces, the size of small children, are available for anyone's use on Saturdays (you have to rent them at other times) and are monitored by volunteers from the chess club who, at 2:00, return them to their locked cabinet in the park. 

Morro Bay Chess Club

Centennial Park, Morro Bay

On my second trip to Morro Rock, I came across members from the Peregrine Falcon Watch. Had the falcons been in their nest and not out hunting, I'm sure they would have offered to show me them through the spotting scopes they had set up. As it was, they answered my questions about the falcons and showed me a huge photo album of pictures from local photographers:  the falcons in hunting, feeding, mating, and chick-rearing modes. 

One stormy day,  there was a feeding frenzy off the stern of our boat. Small packs of half a dozen sea lions would cross our stern, arcing and snorting through the water. Dozens of pelicans folded in everything they had, including those tremendous pouches under their bills, and plummeted pointy-end first into the water like aircraft gone wrong. They made a tremendous crash when they landed and came up shortly afterwards, with fish in the mouth more often than not. There must have been some bait fish moving through the estuary because we only saw this level of feeding activity once. We tried taking some video footage of the action, but didn't really get anything that captured what we were seeing.

While humans are not exactly an afterthought in Morro Bay, one gets the sense that room is made for other species. The activities of humans and the activities of other wildlife seem more in balance there. We really enjoyed this peaceful stop before southern California.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Morro Bay: A Hidden Gem

White Pelican

We are holed up in Morro Bay, waiting for the next storm system to pass through. Prediction for today:  lightening and thunder along the coast and possible water spouts! (If we see one, we are to travel 90 degrees away from it.) 

On the way out of San Francisco, we made a side trip to the Farallones. There was still too much swell from the last storm system to get in close enough for wildlife viewing, and the big surf crashing against the islands made the landscape look even more menacing. The rocky outpost is surely the Devil's hellpot! We could hear the seals and sea lions but we couldn't see them. We did see another whale and our first shark though! Great whites inhabit the waters off the Farallones, but all we saw was the snarky dorsal fin come up off the stern of the boat, so we couldn't identify the shark for certain. There were two tears in the trailing edge of the dorsal that looked like slits. It was a chilling sight.

Farallone Islands

Then it was off down the coast. By morning, we were cruising along the magnificient stretch of coastline from Carmel to Morro Bay which includes Big Sur. This stretch of coastline is only lightly developed and is underpopulated. We could see Morro Rock a couple of hours before we entered the narrow entrance in the breakwater. Once in the harbor, we tied up to an anchor buoy. The dock was full, and we needed an excuse to try out our new dinghy, purchased in Alameda.  It was my first time tying up to an anchor buoy, and I missed getting the bow line through the shackle on the buoy on the first pass, but I got it the second time around. Coming into unfamiliar harbors at night has been one of the more nerve-wracking experiences of our journey, and we try to avoid it:  but sometimes it can't be avoided. 

Godwits Feeding in Morro Bay
Yesterday, we set off in the dinghy to check out some of the sights in Morro Bay. Rowing the dinghy is hard work, and I was envious of those overtaking us in their more streamlined kayaks; but at least we can use the dinghy to get out and explore the area. Morro Bay is a beautiful natural area and one of the most picturesque places I have seen in some time. There is a spit protecting the bay with the shifting topography of sand dunes left in their natural state. The bay is a fecund estuary, with about a dozen clam holes per square foot of mud, a stop for frequent flyers on the Pacific flyway. 
California Quail
I'm sure the waterfowl vary with time of year, but we saw brown pelicans, white pelicans, godwits, at least three species of cormorant, and several other species. Patrick got some excellent pictures of these from the dinghy. We beached the dinghy and took a short walk on the trail around the estuary. I guess we will see more of this type of landscape in Mexico, but here, desert and chaparral plants come right down to the sea or wetland. On one side of the trail you have pelicans, on the other, California quail! Truly an interesting contrast.

Brown pelicans were in abundance.

Beyond the estuary is a forest preserve which we did not get to. The preserve reportedly has a boardwalk trail and is another popular spot for birders. 

Morro Rock
Later, we left the dinghy at the dock and took a walk to Morro Rock. Morro Rock is a volcanic plug, one of a chain of "morros" left in the region when their original volcanoes eroded away. The dacite rock (similar to granite) beckons to the climbing instinct; however, it is illegal to climb Morro Rock. Peregrine falcons nest there. From the base of the rock, you can see wildlife doing its thing in a spectacular natural setting:   sea lions and sea otters jug-handling out in the bay, heron stalking their prey in the thriving eelgrass beds, and sea gulls feeding on seafood for a change, instead of trash scavenged from urban cans. On the other side of the rock is a long, sandy beach, where we watched some of the local surfers. 

We still don't have a good picture of our vessel at anchor, but our blog is finally official!


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