9. Mahi Mahi Christmas – Los Frailes

December 19th, 2019 – January 1st, 2020

In the early afternoon we left Cabo San Lucas as a crew of three, bound for Los Frailes. Don had brought us the replacement water pump and it was now installed. We were ready to get back on anchor and in a more remote location. Just outside of Cabo we saw a whale come fully out of the water several times about 100 meters from the boat. The whale sightings continued all day. Every thirty minutes or so one of us would spot another one come fully out of the water, some close to the boat and some off in the distance. As the sun was setting, we still had about 20 miles to go. We turned the corner into the Sea of Cortez and the swell grew as we headed North. A few miles from Los Frailes the motor started squeaking, we pushed on and made a note to check it out later. Approaching the anchorage, we saw the familiar lights of Molotov Marin, a welcome sight as always.

In the morning we awoke to the sound of splashing belly flops outside the boat. The sound was coming from Eagle Rays jumping all around the boat, some even doing flips in the air. It was a scene straight out of Blue Planet! We walked the beach while Austin fished from shore. The only catch was a long and skinny trumpet fish, no good for eating. We donned our snorkel gear in the afternoon and were amazed by the amount of fish and the clarity of the water. The reef that extends from Cabo Pulmo to Bahia Los Frailes is a National Park and the only living hard coral reef in the Sea of Cortez. It felt truly tropical, like we were back in Bali, in fact the northern extent of the Tropic of Cancer at 23o 27’ N is only a few miles away. We even saw a green Moray Eel and huge schools of colorful fish. In the evening we had pizza aboard Molotov Marin and Don got a taste of what cruising life is about. On the dark dinghy ride back to the boat the water was boiling with a huge school of fish that looked like tiny tuna. Later we learned they are called Green Jacks and multiple times we thought someone was knocking when the little fish were flopping against the hull.

When we checked the engine, we learned that our engine issues were not done yet. The water pump pulley had become loose on its shaft which caused it to slip. This was likely the root cause of the water pump failing in the first place. It was now able to wobble back in forth a considerable amount, not good for the new pump. We tried to MacGyver the pulley, wrapping beer can shims around the shaft to make a snug fit again. Weighing our options for what to do next we determined that sailing downwind back to Cabo would be best and would also allow us to easily get Don back to the airport. After two beautiful days at Los Frailes we lifted anchor and headed back to Cabo San Lucas. It was three days until Christmas and we set the ambitious goal of returning to Los Frailes to celebrate with Morgan & Tree.

It was a pleasant downwind sail around the cape. Just as Austin was making lunch, we got the first bite on the handlines. There was a huge flash of green and yellow before the line went limp. It must have been a huge Mahi Mahi and it took our lure with it. Not minutes later we had a hit on the other hand line. It was a fighter and Don and Austin took turns reeling in the big Mahi Mahi. Austin was happy to switch up the lunch menu with the addition of this fish! With the fridge full of filleted fish, it was going to be a Mahi Mahi Christmas for sure. Even more motivation to make a quick turnaround of the engine repair and get back to Los Frailes so we could share the bounty of the sea. Six miles out from Cabo San Lucas the wind died and luckily the beer can shim held while we limped into the anchorage under motor. We dropped the hook as the sun set over the arches of Cabo and pirate ships decked out in Christmas lights cruised by. The anchorage was rolly but margaritas and fresh fish tacos made the night much more enjoyable.

In the morning we all loaded into the dinghy for a long, wet and wild ride into the Cabo San Lucas Marina. The armada of fishing charter boats coupled with the cruise ship tenders made us feel like a tiny frog trying to cross the interstate. Once safely inside the harbor we tied to the dinghy dock and immediately started on the quest for a new pulley. First, we went to Cabo Boat Works and the man said, “Oh no not here, go to Mario’s Marine”, and pointed us in the direction of the chandlery. Mario at Mario’s Marine didn’t have the part either and we asked him if he knew anyone who could fix the pulley we had. He said there was a machine shop a few blocks over. We asked for the name, “it’s not marked” he said. “They call him Louise, just go past the tire place and look in the open doors for him”. We followed the directions and when we got to the roll up door, we saw a gringo working on a Baja dune buggy. Austin said “Hola” and the response was “whats up?” Austin showed him the pulley and he called Louise over to take a look. Louise, the Mexican owner, spoke perfect English and right away the two hatched a plan to fix the part. “When do you need it, I’m guessing today?” said Louise with a laugh. We said “si muchos gracias”, especially since it was the day before Christmas Eve. A few hours later we got the call that the part was ready and were thrilled with the $30 charge for the fix.

We said goodbye to Don with cervezas and guacamole at one of the places we liked during our first stop in Cabo. The waiter remembered us and gave us some good pointers about fishing and cooking the different types of fish in the area. We spent the remainder of our day taking advantage of civilization by doing laundry, stocking up on tequila and a few last-minute provisions. As we motored out of the marina in the dinghy all the tourists were awestruck seeing us in our tiny boat and all the local guides winked and waved their hands in the hang loose sign. One other boat was anchored out in Cabo with us and we introduced ourselves when we went by in the dinghy. They were also bound for Los Frailes and we agreed we would meet up there. The boat was so hot from being locked up all day we opened all the hatches and quickly jumped overboard for a swim. The water was the clearest and warmest so far on our trip so we took advantage and scrubbed the bottom as jet skis zoomed by in all directions.

On Christmas Eve morning, with the engine put back together and running smoothly, we pulled the anchor and followed our previous path around to Los Frailes. Again, we saw dozens of whales, this time they were all just rolling in the water and showing us their tails. We joked that the other day must have been a jumping party and today all the whales were in a different mood. One big whale came up in our stern wake. Austin said, “Stay back whales! Why do they like our boat so much? Maybe they can’t see us with our bright blue bottom paint?” Ten miles out of Los Frailes we saw another big whale breach way too close to the boat. Shortly after three more whales surfaced all at the same time, they swam around in a tight circle, nose to tail with each other. These whales were busy feeding and didn’t seem to notice as we motored passed. At 1500 we dropped the hook next to Molotov Marin, we had made it back for Christmas, a Navidad miracle!

Atica turned into a bakery Christmas morning. We made blueberry scones for breakfast and focaccia bread to go with Christmas dinner. Elise also baked up Austin’s favorite ginger snap cookies and made the King family tradition, rum balls. We opened our stockings in the cockpit and went for a Christmas snorkel on the reef. In the evening Molotov Marin and Decorum, the boat we met in Cabo a few days before, came over to Atica for a Mahi Mahi feast. It wasn’t a traditional Christmas by any means and we certainly missed family but it was a holiday that we will always remember. We ended our first Christmas on the boat snuggled in the V-berth watching a Christmas special on the laptop.

The day after Christmas we looked onshore and could see that all the fence posts around the turtle hatchery were topped with vultures. We took it upon ourselves to babysit the unhatched turtle nests and read books on a blanket under the palapa. From the beach we could see a whale come through the anchorage and passed between Atica and Decorum. Later that day Morgan & Tree said they saw one baby turtle had hatched and the next day we saw the turtle biologist digging up one of the nests. It was windy and we watched through binoculars as she carried a bucket to the beach and then stood watching the shoreline. After watching for almost an hour we decided to brave the waves and head into shore, after all how often do you get to see baby sea turtles! When we got to the beach 5 of the 20-25 tiny sea turtles she had released were still on the beach. The turtles had been crawling around by the water’s edge and the ones that hadn’t made it through the wave break were getting tired. After confirming Elise didn’t have sunscreen on her hands the biologist asked her to help carry the last few stragglers into the water. Elise opened her hands and the biologist placed a tiny sea turtle in them and she carried it out past the breaking surf. The little guy wiggled all its flippers and swam around for the first time, doing several circles before heading out to sea. It was magical, a once in a lifetime experience.

We joined Morgan and Tree on the reef one morning for an epic snorkel. The tide was going out and the water was very clear. A massive school of thousands of Pacific Mackerel swam by. As we dove down, they would part around us.  It was exciting to see a vibrant healthy reef with such a variety of sea life. Tons of urchins covered sections of the sea floor and brightly colored parrot fish bit coral heads all around. The water was warmer than the air that day so as soon as we were done snorkeling, we zoomed back to the boat to warm up.

We spent almost two weeks total in Los Frailes, swimming from the boat, fishing, kayaking and watching rays jump acrobatically out of the water all around the boat. From our bed at night we could here whales talking to each other underwater. The amount of nature in this bay was unbelievable. On the beach one day we met an expat from Port Angeles, WA who was a caretaker for a nearby estate and a fly-fishing guide. He gave us pointers and local fishing knowledge as well as helped us identify some of the local reef fish we had seen. On the eve of New Year’s Eve, we got a new neighbor to the anchorage. A Kelly Peterson 44 named Serendipity crewed by David and Emily from Hawaii. We had been researching Kelly Peterson 44’s online for quite some time because it is the yacht design closest to Atica, just 7 feet longer. Later we got to take a tour of Serendipity. The interior of Atica’s “big sister” ship was not too different from the companionway forward, looking back was the big difference. Where Atica has a quarter birth, Serendipity had a duck through passage that opens up to a large aft cabin and a second head.

On New Year’s Eve we went for a kayak out around the point and Austin brought his fishing pole along to troll. We were stopped by a snorkel tour panga and were told we were not allowed to fish by the reef. We swam from the boat and took showers in the sunny cockpit. By evening it was time to party and David & Emily of Serendipity and Morgan & Tree of Molotov Marin came over to Atica. Even though we are one of the shorter boats, we have a good layout to host a large group. We had a potluck feast of Mahi Mahi, fried rice, veggie meatballs, fresh bread and plenty of cocktails. We played a game of Code Names before heading out into the cockpit to light off expired flares. David lit off a flare gun, Tree dropped a SOLAS flare to the bottom and we could see it glowing below the boat for a few minutes. Austin tried to light one of our 30+ year old expired rocket flares, but it was a dud. After the flares David & Emily headed back to Serendipity and we started a game of Machi Koro with Morgan & Tree. At midnight the ships bell chimed for the New Year and we toasted to 2020. With a midnight snack of “boat take and bake pizza” (Morgan brought a homemade pizza over to Atica for baking) we played games until 0130.

We woke up late New Year’s Day to grey skies. Elise did yoga on the bow while Austin took the dinghy on a fishing trip to the not protected side of the bay. By midday the weather had changed for the worse. The sky grew darker and the swell began wrapping around the point into the anchorage. Rain dumped all around as the boat rocked back and forth on anchor in the new swell. We were planning to finally leave Los Frailes the next day and this made the decision that much more final. Our day wasn’t a complete loss though, at 1700 we dinghied over to Serendipity for cocktails and nachos in the cockpit as thunder boomed around us. We said our “see you laters” to Morgan & Tree as they are heading South while we are heading North. Since meeting them in Brookings Oregon, it has been so fun to sporadically see them throughout California and cruise with them over the past month in Baja.

2019 has been a whirlwind to say the least. We completed the refit of Atica, celebrated our 5-year wedding anniversary, quit our jobs and sailed off on our adventure. Since leaving our home port of Anacortes Washington 4 months ago, we have anchored in 3 countries, crossed 27os’ of latitude, spent 7 consecutive days at sea and reached our first major cruising goal of arriving in the Sea of Cortez. 2020 we are ready for you!

8. Sailing Baja – Ensenada to Cabo

December 4th – December 19th, 2019

Ensenada to Mag Bay

Day 1:

When we left Ensenada on December 4th, we didn’t have a destination in mind. We just wanted to keep moving south, out of the rain and into warmer weather.  After filling up the diesel tanks for the engine and stove as well as our two jerry jugs we set the goal of trying to make it last. Our journey, up to this point, had required lots of motoring and we were getting tired of the fuel bill and noise of the engine. We sailed as much as we could through the states but when the wind dropped below 10 knots and the sails start to flog and bang, we always caved and turned on the engine. This passage will be different we said, were going to figure out how to deal with light wind. After all we can’t motor across the Pacific.

The wind was still coming from the South bringing rain squalls with it as we left the fuel dock. We had a great few hours sailing up wind across All Saints Bay and out through the channel that separates Islas de Todos Santos from the peninsula outside of Ensenada. The rain let up and we were treated to a full rainbow over Ensenada as we sailed back into the ocean. The wind shut off as the sun set and we had our first test of patience. The boat speed dropped from 6 to 4, then 1.5, then less than a knot of speed. “Should we turn on the engine?” Elise said. “No, I think we should just drift tonight and see where we end up in the morning” said Austin. All night we floated with the lights of Ensenada still in view, taunting us with the short distance we had traveled.

Day 2:

At the 0600 watch change Austin showed Elise that we were in a distant collision course with a cargo ship coming into Ensenada. Elise turned on the engine for an hour to get out of the way and then turned it off again to continue the float. We got an update from our friends on Wild Rye and Molotov Marin in the morning that they had both motored during the night and were already over 50 miles further South than us. We had to keep reminding ourselves that it wasn’t a race and we were not in a hurry to get anywhere. During the day we put up the “green” spinnaker and were able to eek South at around 2 knots in about 5 knots of wind. It was slow going but we were headed in the right direction. Spirits were high and we were adjusting to a floating life at sea. One benefit of going slow is that you see so much in the water. Half a dozen sea turtles drifted past us and we saw a sleeping sea lion that almost bumped into the boat while snoring.

Day 3:

We continue to float. The water was so glassy you could see the boats reflection and there wasn’t even enough wind to open the spinnaker. The daily update showed we were now over 100 miles behind our friends and the cloudy skies made it hard for the solar panels to keep up with our energy consumption. We agreed, lets turn on the motor for two hours so we can charge up the batteries and make some water. After 2 hours the timer went off and we were back to drifting. The days highlight was a huge pod of dolphins that came from all directions towards the boat. We apparently were not very interesting to them and they darted off as quickly as they had arrived.

Day 4:

We could feel a light breeze and were starting to make some Southward progress. We decided to pass by Turtle Bay which is a common stop off point down the coast of Baja. We were feeling good, finally sailing at five knots and we could see on the forecast better wind was just in front of us. Our friends had also sailed on past and that was a little extra motivation to keep sailing.

We had been dragging our handlines behind the boat to fish since leaving Ensenada but hadn’t got any bites, likely due to the slow speed we had been moving. Just North of Turtle Bay the handline started bouncing around on its bungy and Austin ran back to start reeling it in. On the end of the line was our first catch on Atica, a nice size Yellow Fin Tuna! We did not yet have method for bringing a fish onboard and processing it. Blood went everywhere including on us! We now have a solid plan: As soon as we get a hit one person starts bringing in the handline while the other person throws everything in the cockpit down below. Next, we squirt tequila into the gills to help speed up and reduce the bloody mess of killing the fish. After the fish has been killed and filleted, we use our canvas bucket to wash down the entire cockpit with salt water, even the smallest bit of blood or scales left behind produce an intolerable scent. We celebrated the catch with fresh tacos de pescado and cervezas for dinner. Austin was so happy, he said “This is what it’s all about. Let’s never go back to land, I love it out here!”

Day 5:

The wind had still not completely filled in and after 5 days of floating the batteries were lower than we would like. We started to feel like we needed to keep things moving and turned on the engine. When we turned on the engine and heard a squeaking sound coming from the engine compartment. Austin went down below to investigate and saw that the saltwater cooling pump was leaking and the pulley was hot to the touch. After making some adjustments we turned the engine back on, shortly after the squeaking turned into a loud popping sound caused by the bearing in the water pump failing. Unfortunately, the rebuild kit we had onboard for the water pump did not include a replacement bearing and we couldn’t risk the engine overheating if we tried to run it without saltwater to cool the engine. So much for that, back to drifting we went. We were feeling a bit down, but after some fresh fish ceviche and a shower in the cockpit the wind started to fill in and spirits lifted.

Day 6:

We finally caught the wind and were making great time. The wind was 15 to 20 knots and we were cruising downwind between 6 and 8 knots. The boat was a bit squirrely in the newly forming seas but we didn’t care because we were going fast! Around mid-day we got pretty close to a panga style fishing boat and clearly, he was in a good spot. A few minutes later the port side handline started bouncing. As Austin went back to start reeling, the other one started going off too. We had two fish on at once, this time two Skipjack tuna. The wind was consistent through the night and we made up 150 miles towards our destination in 24 hours.

Day 7:

At the 0600 watch change Elise was surprised when Austin put the handlines out. “O so I’m fishing now?” she said. “Yep, first light is the best time to catch fish, just wake me if we get one” said Austin before climbing into the passage bunk. Not 15 min later, Fish On! Austin bolted up to start reeling in the fish. This time it was a bright green and yellow Mahi Mahi. It wasn’t very big but it was pretty mangled by the large hook so we decided to keep it. “What do you think,” Austin asked “should I put the line back out?” Mahi Mahi or Dorado as they are known in Mexico are schooling fish that hunt in large groups so where there is one there is usually another. As Austin was filleting the fish the handline started bouncing uncontrollably. We had another fish on and this one was a fighter. It’s a big one Austin kept saying as he pulled and reeled with bloody slimy hands. We could see the flashes of yellow in the water as the fish was coming in. When he pulled the big Mahi Mahi on board it started flapping around on the other partially fileted Mahi Mahi. Blood went everywhere, even on the underside of the solar panels and the wind vane. The huge fillets filled a gallon size zip lock bag. We were so excited to share our catch with our friends and it looked like with the speed we were making that we would be to Bahia Magdelana, by dinner time! We were so excited to drop the hook, forgoing our daytime naps because we were going to get to sleep “like normal people” that night, or so we thought…

By 1400 we were within 20 miles of the opening of Bahia Magdelana, (Mag Bay for short) and of course the wind died and we were bobbing yet again. We switched back to the lightest sail and slowly crept towards the entrance. We would not be making it in by dinner let alone in the daylight. Curbing your expectations can be difficult but is very necessary when cruising. It is so hard to predict an arrival time especially if you can’t flick on the engine to keep moving when the wind dies. We drifted through the sunset and made it to the opening of Mag Bay around 2300. Suddenly the wind was blowing 15 knots, too much for the light wind sail we had been drifting with. We made a quick sail change and the intensity picked up with the current going through the inlet. On the radio we heard whistling and someone say velero (sailboat) before blasting rock music on Channel 16. “Ugg shut that off” Elise yelled to Austin in frustration and annoyance as we sailed upwind in the dark with strange shifty winds changing from 5 to 15 knots and back. Looking back, we guess that was probably the local fisherman welcoming us to the bay but we were not in the mood. We struggled to make headway up the bay to Man O’ War Cove, each tack seemed to put us 90 deg from our target, just in the opposite direction. To make it even more stressful the bay was filled with small fishing boats with all different colors and assortments of lights zooming erratically around the boat.

By 0200 we finally could see the mast light and AIS beacon of Molotov Marin indicating yet again that we were arriving at the correct location in the dark. With just the headsail out and the shifty breeze ,it was hard to maneuver into a good spot to anchor. After a few passes we found a spot and Austin freed the gypsy on the windless so we could drop the hook without starting the engine. As soon as the boat was secure Elise burst into exhausted tears and said, “That was terrifying, without the engine, oh man that was awful”. A few moments later Austin heard Elise say in a sad and defeated tone “my sailboat is broken” and he thought oh no, I guess that was the breaking point. When he went down below, he was so relieved to see Elise holding onto a little sailboat Christmas ornament that had fallen off the mast and broken in two. This was something he could fix, easily! Exhausted and wet from the upwind sail up Mag Bay we climbed into the v birth for a well-deserved sleep.

Mag Bay

Waking up on anchor after seven days at sea felt odd, the boat was still slowly rocking in the small waves but we were no longer going anywhere. We made a special treat of pancakes and bacon for breakfast and enjoyed coffee for the first time in a week. As we were eating, two large dolphins welcomed us to the anchorage as they cruised by the boat. Man O’ War Cove in Mag Bay was beautiful, a small village surrounded by desert hillsides dotted with green vegetation. A whale watching camp on the outskirts of the village had two full whale skeletons displayed on the hillside. We spent the day relaxing and napping and by evening it was time to party! We had Morgan and Tree from Molotov Marin and Hillary and Liam from Wild Rye over to Atica to celebrate the passage and toast with Tequila shots, the accomplishment of making it, “half way to the equator”. We had all left from the Straits of Juan de Fuca which lies at about 48 degrees North and we were currently sitting on anchor at about 24 degrees North. This had been the longest passage for all of us and we were all proud of the little amount of motoring we had collectively done. It was fun to here each other’s tales of the passage and remark about the similarities and differences.

Our four days in Mag Bay flew by. We spent time each day troubleshooting the water pump and learned that the small town of San Carlos was not likely going to have the parts we would need. One of the other boats in the anchorage had an old bearing that was the correct diameter but different thickness and he gave it to us to use. This was a good temporary patch that would allow us to pull the anchor with the windlass but was not sustainable enough to motor any distance. We sent messages over the SAT phone and determined that the best option was to have family get a new pump in the US and Elise’s dad Don was onboard to come down for a visit to deliver the parts.

Our afternoons and evenings were full of socializing. We spent an afternoon on Wild Rye and cocktails on Molotov Marin. We had become a little trio of boats and had a blast becoming good friends with likeminded sailors. We dubbed Molotov Marin, the biggest boat, the Mothership and were happy to get drinking water from their high output watermaker. We had a fish living under the boat that everyone called our pet. It would come out and greet all the dinghies that pulled up. He was not afraid of people and not interested in any of the lures Austin tried to catch him with.

After a frustrating day working on the engine, we decided to take the dinghy over to the sand spit that Hillary & Liam were on to go for a much-deserved swim. We pulled the dinghy up on shore and walked out into the water to meet them. Not 20 ft from the dinghy Austin yelled out in pain, he had stepped on something sharp. We quickly rushed back to the dinghy to rinse the jagged cut with clean fresh water and then headed back the mile or so to the boat, in the dinghy. All evening Austin was in a lot of pain but the next day he was feeling much better. From the shooting pain and the rough shape of the cut we are thinking he stepped on a small sting ray. We cleaned the wound really good and it started healing right away with no signs of infection. It was a good reminder to wear wetsuit booties in the water and shuffle your feet.

Mag Bay to Cabo San Lucas

With confirmation that Don would bring the replacement water pump to Cabo and the offer from Molotov Marine for a tow out the bay, we made ready to leave on Sunday. The tow turned out to not be necessary as we were able to sail off the anchor and out the bay with no problem. In the channel out of the Bay we were met by at least twenty small fishing boats and tons of small floating water bottles holding up the fisherman’s lines. As we swerved through the fleet, we put out the handlines and got a bite right away. Austin reeled in a good size skipjack, a few minutes later another bite, this time Elise brought on board a larger version of our pet fish from Man O’ War Cove. It turned out to be a California Yellow Tail and the white meat was delicious in taco bowls and ceviche.

We plowed south in great breeze and at 6.5 knots we were making great time. All day we passed by dozens of sea turtles, it felt like we were on the turtle highway. At sunset, big dolphins gave us a show leaping fully out of the water right next to the boat and even doing flips in the waves. It was a great day of sailing and it looked like we would be in Cabo in no time! We could see the AIS beacon of Molotov Marin within ten miles of us the whole night. The next morning Morgan sent us a message on the SAT phone that she thought it was their record for most miles in 24 hours of sailing. Just the thought of a quick and simple passage must have jinxed us because an hour later as Cabo Falso came into view the wind dropped back to nothing and we were bobbing. We put up the asymmetrical spinnaker for the drift and a few hours later Molotov Marin drifted by with her chute up too.  We got within normal talking distance and had good a laugh about being at sea forever like in water world, before slowly drifting away again. In the afternoon the sun was heating up the cockpit and we seemed to be in a washing machine of current that caused the boat to rock side to side and forward and backwards erratically in the nonexistent wind. Austin was growing more and more frustrated and decided we should motor a few hours to get out of the current. When we turned on the engine, this time it was worse, it wasn’t even spitting water. Ugg, back to bobbing.

Our plan was to bypass Cabo San Lucas and go to San Jose Del Cabo to avoid the tourist hustle and bustle. We floated until about sunset and then all of the sudden we had wind, lots of it, but this time on the nose coming straight out of where we wanted to go. With the shift and increase in wind we were down to just a small portion of the headsail and the direction of the increasing swell made it nearly impossible to make headway toward San Jose. Waves were crashing over the boat and soaking us in the cockpit. It was a strange feeling because the waves were sticky and warm not cold like we are used to back home. At 0200 Austin made the call, we weren’t making San Jose and we needed to run back to Cabo San Lucas. Begrudgingly Elise agreed. We were getting pretty beat up heading into the wind and were both exhausted. We turned down wind towards Cabo San Lucas, the wind was still strong but felt so much more comfortable coming from behind. Elise fell asleep in the cockpit and Austin woke her at 0500 saying we were two miles from Cabo San Lucas and there was no wind again. We were back to the wind hole around Cabo we had floated in the full day before. Austin tried to start the engine again and it still wasn’t spitting. Then he came up with an idea and jumped down below. Austin yelled up for Elise to start the engine and after a few sputters the engine was spitting again! “What did you do to get it to work?” said Elise. Austin replied with a grin, “I loaded up the water pump with the oil we use to lube the toilet!” (vegetable oil) Whatever the trick, we were relieved to be able to motor the last two miles into the marina. As the sun rose we passed by the Cabo Arches as hundreds of sports fishing boats headed out of the marina.  After a long night we tied up in a big slip next to all the fancy sport fishing yachts in the IGY Marina.

Cabo San Lucas

The people and activity of Cabo San Lucas was a lot to take in after being remote or at sea the last two weeks. We slept for a few hours and then headed to the marina office to check in and have our first meal out in Mexico, yummy breakfast tacos with a rooftop view of Cabo San Lucas. After breakfast we walked about a mile to the Port Captains Office to check in to Cabo San Lucas. It seems a bit unnecessary but at each port you have to check in and out with the Port Captain. Now days you don’t have to pay any bribes but they do make copies and paperclip all your important documents together for unknown purposes. After waiting in line and filling out the paperwork the man said we had to wait there an hour and a half to get the papers stamped since the Port Captain was on siesta. We asked if we could come back later and he said that was ok. Back at the boat Austin scrubbed the salt and dirt off the boat while Elise did multiple loads of laundry. Earlier we had ordered drinking water and around noon the water arrived in 12, 5-gallon jugs which we slowly poured through a funnel into our tanks.

In the afternoon Don arrived from the airport with a bag full of boat parts and Christmas stocking stuffers from back home. We celebrated his arrival with margaritas at a nearby cantina. The next day we stocked up on provisions at City Club, the Mexican version of Costco, and walked around downtown Cabo San Lucas. Austin installed the new saltwater intake pump and everything seemed to be working again. That night we went on a search for the best Margarita in Cabo and tasted the #10, #4 and #2 versions based on reviews Austin found online. We were thankful to have Elise’s dad with us in Cabo and we had so much more fun than we would have expected. Our favorite restaurant was Mi Casa, a family style restaurant with huge and delicious margaritas. It’s no wonder they were #2 on the list! A few margaritas in Don thought it would be hilarious to have us drawn by the Mexican caricature artist with a French beret and mustache to boot. What a work of art!?

Looking back on our trip down the Pacific Coast of Baja California, Mexico we feel proud of our accomplishments. We had many figurative and literal breakdowns along the way but we also had an amazing time in amazing scenery with amazing people. We have taken Atica half way to the equator and are not stopping there! We have only scratched the surface of our adventure and have so much more to see and learn. We are confident in our little boat and even more confident in each other.

7. Made it to Mexico! – Oxnard to Ensenada

November 29th – December 4th, 2019

With our bellies still full from Thanksgiving dinner we said goodbye to family one last time and headed for Atica to continue the voyage south. To avoid being stuck in California for another week or more we had to put superstitions aside and leave on a Friday. The weather had been changing for the worst and we had a small window to get out of SoCal. This wasn’t the endless summer we were expecting, it was downright cold! After getting the boat ready we motored out of the marina leaving snow covered foothills behind us. As we passed by a lady on her boat, she looked at us as if to say, where are you going? The look made a lot more sense when we turned to head out the breakwater and waves were crashing over the seawall. It was bumpy and confused as we left the marina but once we set sails the boat got in the groove and the ride was much more comfortable. It felt so good to be sailing, to be moving fast and in the right direction. At sunset the wind was still steady and we made the decision to sail on the outside of Catalina Island to try to keep with the wind. The wind only lasted for a few more hours and we turned on the motor heading back towards the main land. Our estimated arrival time had us at Ensenada in the dark so we thought about going into San Diego for a few hours. After some phone calls and learning about the complications of anchoring in San Diego we were glad for the sat phone message from our friends Morgan and Tree on Molotov Marin. They had arrived in Ensenada the evening before and confirmed that the bay and marina in Ensenada were well marked so we made the decision to continue on. The winds were light and we motored most of the way. On Elise’s night watch the wind came up a bit and she set the sails, we quickly outran the light wind and she put the sails away to continue on by motor. The last step was to plug in the tiller pilot, Nutmeg. As soon as the plug got close to the socket, she saw a flash and zap, nutmeg had blown the fuse. We replaced the fuse underway and Nutmeg still wouldn’t operate so we continued on hand steering. At 0200 we were relieved to see the cruise ship range markers that helped guide us into Ensenada harbor. The next happy sight was Molotov Marin tied to the dock in front of us, confirming we were at the right marina. We glided into the end slip, quickly tidied up the boat and fell right to sleep. We had made it to Mexico!

We woke up Sunday morning to mariachi music playing in the square next to Baja Naval where we had come in the night before. The unfamiliar sounds and smells made it clear we were in Mexico. Since it was Sunday and we couldn’t officially check into the country until the next day, we decided to just hang out on the boat and relax. We tried to nurse Nutmeg back to health but it looked to be a problem with one of the internal circuit boards, the injury was fatal. RIP Nutmeg. Elise baked a carrot apple cake and we lounged in the cockpit.

The next day we went into the Baja Naval office to meet with Victor who helped us prepare our paperwork for entering into Mexico. He was also helping another boat named Wild Rye with the same process. Its crew, Liam & Hillary, are a couple close to our age from Saltspring Is. British Columbia and also have their sights on New Zealand. We chatted with them on our way to the Migracion (Immigration), Aduana (Customs) and Capitania de Puerto (Port Captain) offices. Ensenada is well setup for cruisers and we were especially thankful to have Victors help getting us swiftly checked in and set up with our temporary import permit (TIP) that allows the boat to be in Mexican waters for up to 10 years. All in all, the check-in process went quickly and smoothly and for less than $200 we are cleared to be in Mexico for the next six months if we choose. We planned to make Ensenada a quick stop and keep heading South the next day. We were met with much concern from all the locals, who kept talking about “the storm” coming. In the Immigration office Victor got a call that a guy he had helped check in the week before had just lost his boat at sea and the Mexican Navy was dropping him off back in Ensenada. A few minutes later the man walked into the office with the few bags he was able to collect off his sinking boat and told us the story. Victor looked at us and said, “See that’s why you don’t leave in a storm”. This storm talk got to all of us, and sent the crews of Atica, Molotov Marin and Wild Rye scouring over the weather reports. Sure, we saw some wind from the South but we weren’t seeing “the storm” everyone was talking about. It seemed like it would still be okay to go but after hearing about the sinking ship the idea of hanging out in Ensenada and having margaritas with friends sounded like a better idea. So we told Victor we would all stay two more nights and wait it out. That night all six of us celebrated new friendships and our arrival to Mexico with margaritas aboard Atica.

The next day the weather was a bit grayer but we still were not seeing any signs of a storm. We filled our day with grocery shopping and exploring Ensenada. We had gone through quite a few fuses trying to revive Nutmeg so we thought it would be a good idea to get some more. Something as simple as a 10A fuse sent us on a wild goose chase from one side of Ensenada to the other visiting four stores and getting breadcrumbs of where we might find them. It was good to practice our Spanish/sign language and see more of the city than we would have if were not on a mission. We walked over a bridge of a dry riverbed that was full of garbage and Austin said, “Man I bet that gets nasty when it rains”. A flooded street made us divert from the directions we were given at stop number three and we stumbled into an electrical supply store that had the fuses we needed.

That evening we got a knock on the side of the hull. “We got stuff for cocktails, you guys got ice?” said Liam. We spent the next few hours hanging out and getting to know Hillary and Liam a bit better as the weather started to change. We couldn’t stop laughing as they told the story of their encounter with the trained Navy dolphins in San Diego that were being transported around on little tented skiffs. This was the cruising life we have been looking for, making fast friends in unique places.  That night the rain started but the wind forecast looked good to leave the next day. By the next morning the water around Atica was brown from the river runoff and we quickly ran a few errands and got checked out of the Marina. Around noon Molotov Marin left and a few minutes later Wild Rye pulled out of her slip too. Elise was in the galley washing dishes and we just learned that the drinking water we had ordered looked like it wasn’t going to make it due to the flooding in town. Austin yelled down, “Its getting worse by the minute, we got to get out of here”. Elise was confused by the rush but when she came up on deck it made more since. All the garbage and debris we had seen in the riverbed a few days before was now rushing out of the river directly at the boat. Austin quickly untied and backed out of the slip, avoiding hitting a 6 ft log heading right for us. It all made sense now, this wasn’t a wind storm that would show up on our weather reports, this was a garbage storm!

We cautiously navigated out of the marina and headed down the bay to Marina Coral to get fuel. When we pulled into Marina Coral, we saw a familiar sailboat, RAN. RAN is a vessel that until recently was owned by a Swedish couple we have been following on YouTube. On our Iceland trip 3 years ago, we stumbled upon their videos on a long dark night and they lit the fire to make our sailing dream a reality. We were able to actually meet them in person when they sailed through Seattle last summer and it seemed special to see their old boat here in Mexico. After getting fuel we were ready to head south, out of the rain and into warmer weather.

6. Bison, Beaches & Big Screen TVs – Southern California

October 23rd – November 27th, 2019

A sailor’s plans are written in sand at low tide and we experienced that first hand when we arrived in Santa Barbara on October 23rd, a month ahead of schedule. We had made plans before leaving Anacortes to have Thanksgiving in Santa Barbara with the Murphy family and friends. Now we needed to figure out what the new “plan” was going to be to make that happen.

Santa Barbara is unique and their marina is no different. For one, they are very strict about their Zero-Discharge policy and so immediately upon arrival we got our first discharge test. This involved the harbor police putting a florescent die tab into the toilet and as we flushed, they watched around the boat to make sure the through holes were closed. Luckily, we got a spot by the bathrooms but the die sitting in the bowl was pretty ominous. Later when we opened the valve, we learned that the die also glows in the dark! The other thing about Santa Barbara Marina is that they don’t seem to love transient boats and have strict caps on the number of days you could stay at the marina. So even if we could afford it, staying there until Thanksgiving was longer than the maximum they allowed. Unfortunately, the anchorage outside the marina closed after October 31st for the winter season making it even more difficult to stay in Santa Barbara. Time to get creative. Lucky for us we are members of Anacortes Yacht Club which allows us the privilege of reciprocal moorage at many yacht clubs, including many in Southern California. After a full day of research, phone calls and emailing boat paperwork we had a plan that allowed us to stay in SoCal until Thanksgiving mostly for free. Because of the distance we have traveled most clubs were gracious enough to give us three nights of free reciprocal dock space with the one common requirement, “You must fly your burgee at all times.” The following are the highlights at each of the stops on our SoCal circuit!

Santa Barbara

We stayed in the marina for three nights while the Santa Ana winds were blowing. We ran errands and did a couple of projects to take advantage of being on the dock. Elise did some sewing projects including a shade connector from the dodger to the solar panel arch and a wind scoop. We also did some more research on reverse osmosis watermakers and decided to order the Katadyn Powersurvivor 40e 12V version. With a week to wait for the watermaker to arrive we decided to leave the marina and anchor for a few days. It was warm and sunny and the new shade was working great! It felt like we were finally doing this cruising thing right. We were hoping to go back out to the Channel Islands for a few days but the Santa Ana’s persisted and Santa Barbara was relatively protected from the East. The Santa Ana winds are when the wind is blowing offshore in Sothern California, generally in an East or North East direction and are the driving force making Sothern California wildfires so dangerous. The winds persisted while we were anchored in the bay and on the third night the Easterly swell was wrapping around into the bay and made for an extremely uncomfortable night. The boat pitched and rolled as we yawed on the anchor, our “flopper stopper” only doing so much to slow the drastic motion. The next morning, we tucked our tails and decided to head back into the marina to get some rest as well as meet up with Austin’s long-time family friends Brooke and Laurel who were going to be hosting Thanksgiving. They were so nice to allow us to ship a few items to their house and Brooke even let us borrow his truck so we could get around town for a day. We were even able to help out another cruising family from Oregon and we all went to Costco and around town to pick up various boat parts. We hosted Brooke and Laurel for dinner on the boat and got to try out a new naan bread recipe. One of the days Brooke took us on a tour of the ranch where he has been the master carpenter, building an elaborate estate of “antique barn wood architecture” disguising modern building technology. The estate is surrounded by avocado and citrus orchards. The view from the “tea house” was amazing!

Ventura

With the new watermaker in hand it was time to mosey over to Ventura where we would begin to tap into the yacht club reciprocal of SoCal. There was light wind and we were not in a hurry so we set the sails for a peaceful day sail. Elise was in the galley making up a cocktail for the cruise when Austin said “Im feeling too much like an old cruiser, let’s put all the sails up at once”.  We hoisted the main, rolled out the genoa, unfolded the staysail and flew the symmetrical spinnaker. Before we knew it there were lines on every winch and Austin was giddy. We were allotted one free night at Ventura Yacht Club so we made a quick stop of it, planning our watermaker install and going for a walk on the beach. It was a beautiful sunset with no smoke in the air but the nearby wildfires were evident in the ash washed up on the beach with the tide.

Oxnard (Round 1)

After a short 2-hour motor from Ventura we arrived at the Pacific Corinthian Yacht Club in Oxnard just before lunch time. They had wonderful facilities including a hot tub and pool which we enjoyed each night. Our goal for our stay at PCYC was to complete the watermaker installation. It was not too complicated, mostly involving “bilge yoga” contortions to mount the prefilters under the galley sink and the unit itself in a compartment under the port settee. The Katadyn unit we purchased is the most compact and energy efficient reverse osmosis system on the market. With an average 4 amp hour draw we can make water with solar power alone! The drawback is that it only makes about 1.5 gallons per hour. We went on a wild goose chase to pet stores in the area, trying to find a total dissolved solids (TDS) meter. In order to test the watermaker it must read in parts per million. Finally succumbing to ordering it on Amazon Prime and shipped to the yacht club. Each night we were treated to a parade of Duffy’s going by with a grand assortment of skippers and crew from old men drinking white wine to a teenage mariachi band complete with a tuba. More on the Duffys in Newport… After three nights at PCYC the watermaker install was complete and we were ready to set off on a full day of motoring the 70nm to Catalina Island.

Santa Catalina Island

We arrived in Avalon Harbor on Catalina Island just after sunset and were met at the entrance by a harbor patrol boat who, after taking our money and boat information guided us to our mooring. Lucky for us the winter rates were in effect and the deal was, if you payed for 2 nights you can stay 5 more nights for free. Seven nights for the price of 2 made Avalon a great deal in our books. The style of mooring was new to us. First you maneuver the boat up to the forward mooring ball and the person on the bow grabs and pulls onto the deck a crab pot style buoy with a fiberglass pole attached. The buoy is attached to a large loop that goes around the bow cleat and another line that you walk back to the stern of the boat to attach to the stern cleat. This allows for many boats to be packed in close in the small harbor. After getting Atica secured the officer boarded the boat to put a die tap in the toilet to make sure we were compliant and explained the happenings of this bustling harbor. 

The first day we walked around town, did laundry and learned some history about the island from a nice young guy at the Conservancy Information Center. Catalina Island was owned by William Wrigley of the Wrigley chewing gum empire and he even brought the Chicago Cubs to the island for spring training from 1921-1951. Later the land was donated to the Catalina Island Conservancy for its preservation. Avalon is the main settlement on the island and the two square mile tourist town is fenced off from the rest of the island to keep the resident bison from roaming the streets. The bison were brought for a movie filmed in the 1920s and left behind, the joke being they didn’t even make the final cut of the film. The island residents are obsessed with the bison and take their preservation very seriously. The population became so large a few decades ago that they transplanted a portion of the herd to a South Dakota reserve rather than allowing hunting and put the rest on birth control. We ended the day walking around the Casino which turns out has nothing to do with gambling, but rather is a colosseum style movie theater and meeting hall.

While on Catalina we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go for a dive at the world class Casino Dive Park right outside of the anchorage. After Elise got certified for diving in Bali and Austin renewed his credentials, we made the big decision and sacrificed the space to bring along scuba gear and tanks on our adventure. This meant installing a new rack to secure the tanks and giving up precious space in the quarter birth for the copious amounts of gear it takes to go diving. This all payed off when we were able to load the gear up in the dingy and go for a dive straight from the boat. We were both a little nervous because this was the first dive we have done on our own and Elise had new used gear to get comfortable with. Everything went well and we were amazed by the great visibility and the amount of life we saw during the dive. The bright orange Garibaldi fish swimming through the bright green kelp forest were mesmerizing. We even saw a Bat Ray! At one-point Austin got a bit tangled in the kelp and spun around in circles trying to free himself. Overall the dive was a success and we were so happy with our decision to bring along the gear.  We can’t wait to see what else we will get to explore underwater!

One of the nights of our stay our friend Gavin Bracket sailed out to Catalina on a 50-foot racing catamaran, After Burner, that he and two other sailors were setting up to sail to New Zealand. We made BBQ pizzas in the cockpit and laughed about how unexpected it was to see him on Catalina Island. They stayed just one night before heading to San Diego and then left on a straight shot for Tonga. They estimated it would take them 10-20 days on this very minimalistic racing cat. They showed us around the boat and the small coffin like bunks they would be sleeping in. Its sounds like a great adventure but we are glad that our crossings will be in a little more comfort. Real time update, the crew of After Burner made it to American Samoa 27 days after leaving San Diego and are preparing for the next leg to New Zealand.

On Saturday we left the sparsely populated anchorage to explore the wildlands of Catalina. We took a shuttle bus over the rugged terrain of the island’s interior to the Airport in the Sky. On the way up we passed a playground at one of the hiker camps and there was a bison standing next to the slide. At first, we thought it was a statue since it looked so out of place. After walking around the small airport, we hiked the 13 miles back to town on the Trans-Catalina Trail. The trail traverses up and down several “mountains” and just 5 miles in we were worn out so we stopped for a picnic lunch at the “Black-Jack Campground”. We continued on in the heat, taking in the views of the bright blue Pacific Ocean with the contrasting yellow-orange hillsides. We really felt like we were far from home with this drastic change in environment. A few miles from town and very near where we had seen the bison from the van we passed quietly by the enormous creature, trying not to disturb him. As we got back to town the sun was setting and are legs were pretty worn out. Sitting on a sailboat for days doesn’t do a good job at preparing you for a pretty intense hike. By the time we got back to the boat the sky was dark but the water was lit up blue, green and purple with the under-glow lights of the fancy power boats that had filled the bay while we were away. We had neighbors on all sides and next door three guys were watching the football game on a big screen tv on the deck of their sports fishing boat. We were sweaty and dusty from the hike and needed desperately to clean off. As soon as we got back to the boat we stripped down and jumped overboard startling the neighbors. The water was refreshing and so clear it felt like you were in a swimming pool. The underwater lights allowed you to see the mooring blocks on the sea floor. The contrast of grassy hillsides and wild animals to bright lights and music was a shock to the system. Truly a California experience.

We spent the rest of our days in Catalina walking around town, lounging in the cockpit and reading in the hammock. The week felt like a vacation from boat projects and the moving from place to place we had been doing the following months.

Dana Point

We departed Catalina Island for a six-hour motor to Dana Point in overcast weather. The trip was uneventful apart from a shark fin sighting about half way into the trip. The water was so smooth you could see the black fin making small circles in the swell. We tied up to the Dana Point Yacht Club dock in the afternoon and got to see the youth sailing team practicing in the harbor. The wind had picked up and several boats capsized. Austin saw the coach had his hands full and yelled over if he could help. Austin jumped in the chase boat just in time to help with a dinghy that’s mast had come down due to a shroud failure. The coach was hesitant at first but after Austin explained his background in coaching, he was relieved to have an extra set of hands to get the broken boat and uninjured kids back to the dock. Karla and James on SV Polaris also came into Dana Point that same day and invited us out for a very nice dinner at one of the restaurants by the harbor. It was really nice to get to sit down and talk after running into them several times on our trip down the California Coast. We also got to meet up with Svea Love, a good family friend and her boyfriend Nate for yummy Chinese food.

Newport

From Dana Point we sailed north to the Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club in Newport Beach. The club was fancy and the staff made it clear we weren’t their typical guests. We made the most of the location, taking a uber to a discount fabric store and did yoga in the nearby park each morning. Newport harbor is a manmade canal system/bay that is teaming with Duffy electric boats. To get the full picture of the Newport scene we recommend watching the “Teach Me How to Duffy” music video on YouTube. Austin asked a Duffy the tagline question and they were less than amused. Along with hundreds of Duffys we also saw a gondola and a floating tiki bar while we cruised through the canals in the dinghy one afternoon. Another day we walked over to Balboa Island and took the 3-car ferry to Balboa Peninsula and walked out to the Newport Pier. It was a very interesting ferry system that has three ferries all running continuously so there was always one on each side and one in the middle of the 400 ft crossing. There was no schedule and it only cost $2 for a car and driver. The attitude of Newport was a bit uppity and the people were not very friendly so we were happy to move on North to Long Beach.

Long Beach

Our next stop north was Alamitos Bay Yacht Club in Long Beach. It is predominantly a small boat and racing club and refreshingly more our style after Newport. The weather suddenly felt like fall and we got our first rain since Oregon. We ended up staying on the yacht club premises the full three days we were in Long Beach. Elise pulled out the sewing machine and made some more shade panels and started knitting Christmas stockings and Austin caught up with some reading and writing.

Marina Del Ray, LA

From Long Beach we sailed around North to Marina Del Ray. As we entered the breakwater, we saw a skiff on fire that turned out to be for a drill. A helicopter did a fly bye and we saw two boats full Lifeguard firefighters leaving the harbor to put out the fire. We tied up at the Del Ray Yacht Club dock and rented Bird electric scooters to zoom over to the grocery store and explore the harbor area. The next day we walked from the marina to the Santa Monica Pier through Venice Beach. It was a crazy scene of homeless people and macho body builders working out on the beach. That night we met up with Austin’s brother Gabe, his girlfriend Megan, friend Blake and his wife Megan for dinner at a hip Thai fusion restaurant in Venice. After dinner we went to a very trendy bar that was so posh it didn’t even have a sign outside. We all felt pretty out of place and made the next stop a dive bar with sawdust on the floor. The next day we moved the boat over to the Pacific Mariner Yacht Club just one finger over in the marina. After tying up in the tight slip the same group from the night before plus another friend Ty came over to the boat for brunch. We had bagels and salmon locks that Gabe made before coming down from Washington. Gabe stayed with us on the boat and we spent the next day doing boat projects. Austin worked on a fix to the chain locker leak, Gabe fiber glassed a patch on the dinghy and Elise scrubbed the boat topsides. After a day of boat work, we rewarded ourselves with giant burgers and beers at Hinano’s, the same dive bar we had visited for drinks a few days earlier.

Oxnard (Round 2)

After fueling up in Marina Del Ray the three of us headed north back toward Santa Barbara for Thanksgiving. We started out with good wind and had a fun sail before it died back and we had to motor. We planned for one night in Oxnard at the Ana Capa Yacht Club and then on to Santa Barbara. Our plans changed on the way when Austin’s dad called with news that Brookes house was under mandatory evacuation for a nearby wildfire and that the Thanksgiving plans were up in the air. We called the Santa Barbara Marina and they couldn’t guarantee they would have a slip for us as inclement weather was expected. The city of Santa Barbara went from wildfire evacuations to landslide warnings when the rain started pouring down on the recently burned ground. We decided that with the weather building we would stay in Oxnard and travel by car up to Santa Barbara only about a 50-minute drive. We called the Pacific Corinthian Yacht Club where we stayed the previous time we were in Oxnard and they were happy to let us stay on their dock again. The weather felt like fall in Washington with rain and cool temperatures. We got an uber up to Brooks house and enjoyed thanksgiving with the Murphy family. It was great to see family and friends for the holiday and everyone was so relieved the fires had gone out with the rain. After stuffing ourselves with a Thanksgiving feast, we provisioned the boat with the last few items we wanted to get before Mexico and said our goodbyes. It was harder than we expected, after saying goodbye when we left Washington 3 months ago. This time it was undetermined how long it would be before we would all see each other again. After a month of slowly creeping around Sothern California we were antsy to get moving and adventuring again. The day after Thanksgiving we untied the lines and headed south. Next stop MEXICO!

5. A Wall of Whale – Monterey to San Miguel Island

October 20th – October 23rd, 2019

Thick fog filled the Monterey Marina on October 20th. We decided to let the fog break a bit and made a big breakfast before heading out on an overnight passage to San Miguel Island. The fog cleared as we motored out of the marina but quickly filled back in again as we headed out around Point Pinos. The wind wasn’t predicted to pick up until the afternoon so we motored into the fog and swell watching for targets on the radar. As the morning went on the fog cleared and we let nutmeg drive in the light wind conditions. After lunch Austin went down below for a nap and Elise stayed on watch as the wind started to build.  

Elise yelled down to Austin that the winds were around 12 knots, Austin wanted to keep sleeping and said let’s wait an hour. Fifteen minutes later the winds were consistently around 20 knots and Elise couldn’t wait any longer. We are crazy not to be sailing in this, time to get the sails up! Austin, still a bit groggy from his nap, came up on deck to disengaged the autopilot. Elise began hand steering the boat in preparation for hoisting the sails. In that same moment, Elise shouted “WHALE!!!” All we could see on the starboard side of the boat was a light grey and white speckled mass coming up out of the next wave. Elise dropped the throttle and started turning to port as quickly as she could. The only thing in front of us was whale, whale, whale! Austin yelled “keep turning, I think there’s another one.” The boat was now 90 degrees from where we first saw the whale and we could still see at least 40 feet directly in front of us. The boat raised up with the swell and down the other side. BOOM! the boat shuttered, boom! We hit keel first and then the rudder. It felt hard…ish, the boat didn’t stop it seemed like we came down on top and glanced off the side of the whale. Austin dropped the autopilot on deck yelling “Keep turning, keep turning”. It felt as if we had done a complete 360-degree circle, the boat now directly into the wind and bashing into the swell. We were both shaking and disoriented. “Oh my god we just hit a WHALE!” Elise said, white knuckles gripping the wheel. Austin jumped down below to check if there was any damage or if we were taking on water, nothing seemed out of place or broken so he returned to the cockpit. The whale surfaced again a few hundred feet from the boat as if to say, what was that all about?!

We couldn’t get the image of a wall of whale out of our minds.  Austin said, “Okay, let’s not forget where we are going and what we are doing, let’s get sailing in the right direction.” We needed to jump into action because by now the winds were blowing 25 knots. Taking a deep breath, we brought the boat back on course, unfurled 2/3 of the genoa and set Ginger to medium. Turning off the engine, Elise plopped down on the cockpit seat, still shaking and eyes on the sea. We both kept seeing ghost whales in every wave.

As the afternoon turned into evening the wind increased to a steady 35 knots with gusts in the 40s and swell 20 feet plus. The genoa was now reefed to only 1/3 out and we were still rocketing downwind at 8 knots. We were officially in gale territory, keeping the boat from rounding up after surfing down waves at 10+ knots was a real task. Every so often Ginger couldn’t keep up with the gusts or a big wave so Austin would steer in conjunction to help keep the boat on track. Before this trip we were very proud of our high-speed record of 9.9 knots, that night we were above 12 knots quite often. Atica’s new speed record is 12.9 knots! We had resigned ourselves to the fact that neither of us were going to get any real sleep that night. The motion and noise of the boat making it hard to relax especially with whales on the mind. It was a long night trying to catch naps in the cockpit while spray from the tops of the waves was covering everything. Even the stove in the galley had saltwater spray on it. We were reduced to “survival mode” where all you do is eat, drink water, try to sleep and sail your heart out.

The brain takes you to strange places when sleep deprived and primed with adrenaline. Even the theory of relativity takes on a new meaning. When in the middle of the night the wind drops from 30 to 20 knots, you start to relax a little and think, I should put more sail out. In reality when the boat is going fast, you need to slow down. Quick decisions made by sleep deprived minds rarely work out well. It would be day break before we exposed any more sail area. That night the bioluminescence was very strong. Twice we saw huge glowing blobs in the water and we thought, “oh god not another whale!”, and then dolphins shoot through the blob as bait fish jumped from the surface.

In the early morning as we got closer to land and Point Conception, we saw several odd shapes on the horizon. Were they ships? There were AIS targets in the area but it was hard to identify their strange light patterns in the pre-dawn light. As we got closer it became evident that they were the oil platforms we had been warned about. Just as quickly as the wind had come up the day before, the wind died back to nothing and we motored past Point Conception and on to San Miguel Island. We were thankful that after a long night we rounded Point Conception in day light and calm seas. Point Conception is known by locals as the Cape Horn of California. Throughout the day we saw multiple pods of dolphins, it seemed like they were being called into the boat from all directions. They would take turns swimming around the boat, play in the bow wake and then zoom off. It was a peaceful day of motoring and napping. The sun was just starting to set as we approached the desolate island of San Miguel. Elise was down below and Austin said, “You’re never going to believe this, I just saw a whale spout in the bay right where we are going to anchor.” Still traumatized we slowed the boat to bare steerage and slowly crept into the anchorage to drop the hook.

It was a peaceful night on anchor. After dinner and a boat drink, we both quickly fell asleep. We awoke the next morning, to the sound of the islands’ elephant seal colony playing, fighting and rolling around on the sand beach. We had the bay completely to ourselves apart from the grey whale we saw the night before who came up every 15 minutes or so for a breath. San Miguel has a long history, before it was turned over to the Channel Islands National Park it was a military target range. This means you are only allowed to leave the beach and explore the island with a Park Ranger, since there is still the possibility of unexploded ordinance. That wasn’t a problem for us though, we stayed on the boat the full two days we were anchored. It felt so nice just to rest and relax on the boat and soak in the scenery. We had not been anchored in a quiet bay since leaving the San Juan Islands in September. We had a good laugh when some other cruisers were paddle boarding back from the beach and were sprayed by the gray whales’ spout. Austin jumped in the water with a snorkel to see if the whale incident had caused any damage on the outside of the hull. Luckily it looks like we had made it through unscathed. We spent a few hours laying in the sun in the cockpit recounting the details of our meeting with the whale. Comparing stories and drawing diagrams of what we each saw during different moments of the encounter. Our conclusion is, that it was one BIG Blue Whale. It was easily double the length of the boat and most likely sleeping, just below the surface of the water. Surely, we scared it just as much as it scared us. Later that week while in Santa Barbara we stopped by the Natural History Museum and got to see a juvenile Blue Whale skeleton up-close. We both had PTSD seeing the 75-foot skeleton and got chills just thinking about how much damage this huge and powerful animal could have caused. We are so thankful that we were in control of the boat and managed to side swipe instead of T bone the whale. The sign at the museum said a blue whales’ tongue can weigh as much as an elephant and they average about 100 feet in length full grown. On our second night at San Miguel the wind picked up and the bay filled with a fleet of small commercial fishing boats. It’s a good sign of a safe anchorage when the locals come rolling in to take refuge!

The winds were forecasted to switch to the notorious Santa Ana winds from the NE. This would make San Miguel and most of the Channel Islands not a safe place to be for the next several days. The best spot to head next looked to be Santa Barbara. We had planned on being in Santa Barbara for Thanksgiving, but now we were a month early. It was a calm and sunny motor across the Santa Barbara Channel. Elise set up the yoga swing hanging in the companion way for a whale lookout station. We saw a few whales during the day but we kept our distance. A few miles from Santa Barbara we went through an oil slick and sticky brown oil lapped onto Atica’s topsides. This was likely a natural oil seepage but still pretty disgusting. The South Coast and Santa Barbara has a long history with oil production and the oil rigs used to be right on the beaches. We entered the harbor at Santa Barbara in the early afternoon on October the 23rd, wondering to ourselves. What are we going to do until Thanksgiving?

4. Exploring Monterey Bay – Santa Cruz, Moss Landing & Monterey

October 11th – October 19th, 2019

With the San Francisco Fleet Week Airshow complete, it was time for Atica to head back out to sea. This time with a crew of three, as Don was coming along on the overnight passage to Santa Cruz. At about 1700 we passed under the Golden Gate Bridge and shortly after hoisted sails. We enjoyed a few hours of sailing out the bar, the wind dying down just before dark as we turned left to head down the coast. With almost no swell or wind we motored under a huge moon that made it almost seem like daylight. A refreshing change from the dark moonless nights we had had on recent passages.

At 0430 Elise was on watch and accidentally bumped the cockpit switch for the windless. A few minutes later Elise yelled down to Austin that she thought something was wrong with the anchor. He assured her that the anchor was secured well to the deck and it was probably fine. A few minutes passed and Elise started to smell burning plastic. Austin checked the engine and everything was fine apart from the alternator spiking up and down a few times. Not again with the alternator we thought. We chocked up the burning smell to the nearby forest fires and continued on. With the smell worsening and alternator continuing to surge Austin went up into the v berth to check the batteries and that’s when he heard a squeal from the anchor locker. He quickly flipped the breaker for the windless, threw open the doors to the chain locker and smoke billowed out. The switch in the cockpit had malfunctioned and the gypsy had spit out 15ft of chain on deck before getting jammed and overheating the motor. The burning plastic smell had been coming out the chain locker vent above deck but could not be smelled down below. The sounds and smell now made sense, and luckily nothing had caught fire, unfortunately it looked like the windlass motor was toast. Now that anchoring wasn’t a reasonable option, we decided to head into Santa Cruz Small Boat Harbor for a few days to sort things out.

At 0530 we entered Santa Cruz Harbor in the dark as many small fishing boats zoomed out the bar with bright LED lights making it hard to see the small cans marking the channel. The marina office didn’t open until 0900 so we tied to the fuel dock and we all passed out for a few hours. After getting a slip assigned and hot showers for all, we went for lunch in town before Don flew back home. It was fun to have another person onboard and we learned some good lessons for when others want to come for a visit in the future.

After some research and testing the windlass motor, we succumbed to ordering a replacement motor from the West Marine in Santa Cruz. An unplanned hit to the cruising budget but a part of the journey.  With a few days wait for the motor to come in we did a few boat chores and explored Santa Cruz. We completed the tiller pilot installation, naming her Nutmeg since she works well with Ginger the Hydrovane. It is kind of silly but it seems like everyone we talk with has funny names for their favorite boat equipment. We named our blue and yellow asymmetrical spinnaker the green shoot for example. We read in the Hydrovane brochure that there isn’t a Hydrovane out there, without a nickname!

Our good friends and Guemes Island neighbors Michael and Nelly Hand were in Santa Cruz for a funeral so we planned to meet up with them. They drove us around the town that Nelly grew up in and we had a delicious burrito lunch sitting on the rocks watching surfers. Great to see friends from home even under less than happy circumstances. We also explored the Santa Cruz boardwalk and pier. It was mostly closed for the season but still quite the carnival affair.

On Tuesday the windlass motor was due into West Marine and we were anxious to get it working again. We called the store and the manager was incredibly rude saying it was probably there but she couldn’t be bothered to check. We decided we were better off to just head for the store. We jumped on Uber electric Jump bikes and pedaled the 2 miles to the West Marine from the marina. We had a blast zooming up hills hardly pedaling at all. The West Marine was out of the ride zone for the bikes, a rule that we did not entirely understand, when Elise locked her bike it would not let her unlock it again. Luckily Austin hadn’t locked his bike yet! We headed inside and reported to the counter that we were here for the motor. The manager slid the box across the counter, and said in a snarky tone “I made this my priority” before turning and walked away. A nice young lady started checking us out and Elise noticed a crack in the motor housing. The manager was called over and she said with the same tone, “There’s absolutely nothing we can do about this, I’m busy, I can’t help, all you can do is refuse the item” and then turned away. We were a bit confused and then the nice lady said she could order another one but it would take several days. We opted to have it shipped to the Monterey store so we could continue on to the next port. After a disappointing trip into the store we now had one jump bike, 2 miles to the boat and 45 min until we had to leave the dock.  Elise sat on the seat while Austin pedaled. We looked pretty silly and attracted much attention as we headed back to the boat. Luckily, we made it in one piece and were able to get Uber to wave the fee for locking a bike out of the zone. Lesson learned.

Elise met a lady at the dock in Santa Cruz who kept her boat in Moss Landing. She mentioned that there was a small yacht club with a dock and she recommended we visit. We had not planned on stopping there but with the windless still out of commission, a few nights on a free dock was calling our name. We sailed on a reach with 10-15 knots of wind all the way and tested out the new Nutmeg and Ginger combo. As we were about to enter the channel Elise shouted “Whale! Full breach!” A few minutes later we both saw the whale come fully out of the water again and roll a few more times. The Elkhorn Bar was lined with sea otters as we motored in and made a left through a very shallow channel to the Elkhorn Yacht Club. The docks and boats were in rough shape and there were no signs for the guest dock. A friendly lady working on her boat pointed us to the end of the dock and said we could tie up there.

We planned to stay three nights in “Moss”, as the locals call it. One day we inflated our kayaks and paddled up the slough to see the local population of Southern Sea Otters. A kayak guide we met on the dock said it’s the largest population of the West Coast! The otters, seals and sea birds were all curious about the kayaks and we enjoyed slowing down and taking in the nature. When a gale and high surf warning was posted we decided to stay another night and had a picnic on the beach to watched the big waves coming in. We met up with a friend, Jerry Moxley and his girlfriend, on their way to SF. Moss Landing was a great break from the hustle of the last few weeks.

We woke up early to travel from Moss Landing to Monterey. With no wind to speak of and high swell left over from the past days of stormy conditions it was an uncomfortable motor. We had to zig zag into the swell because our course was perpendicular to the wave direction. We saw a blue whale tale and a few fin whales in the swell on our way across the bay. We squeezed into a very narrow slip in the early afternoon and had lunch on the boat. Austin walked to West Marine to get the windless motor and Elise went to do laundry. This time the motor was all good and within an hour Austin had it installed and running again! We made a plan and a label to remind ourselves to always turn off the windlass breaker when it’s not in use hopefully avoiding problems like this in the future.

We met up with Jerry Moxley again and had a beer at the Dustbowl Brewery. He gave us an early release of his new music album “Wayward Jerry” and a copy of a neat documentary called Blue Ocean White Death, a 1960s exploration to film great white sharks in the water for the first time. Sadly, the Monterey Aquarium was a bit out of our cruising budget but we figured we are getting a pretty good sea life exposure on this trip anyways. Especially in the days to come… We did take advantage of the free trolley bus to Cannery Row and on Fisherman’s Warf we ate all the free samples of clam chowder we could handle. In Monterey we met a couple sailing from Olympia, WA on their Passport 40, Polaris. They had recently retired and it was their one-year wedding anniversary and one-year anniversary of owning their boat. We mentioned we planned to sail to the Channel Islands the following day and their response was “I think we will follow you out”. We would run into them again in Santa Barbara and Oxnard. The weather window looked windy and we were ready to keep heading south into warmer weather. What we got was a little more than we expected…

3. Down By The Bay – San Francisco

October 2nd – October 11th, 2019

As we passed under the Golden Gate we were welcomed by sunny blue skies and a feeding humpback whale. Our entrance to San Francisco couldn’t have been timed much better and that great timing would continue with us during our amazing 10 day stay in San Francisco Bay. On our way in we got a call from our friend Nick Estvold who had arranged for us to stay at the prestigious St Francis Yacht Club for our first two nights in the city. We were blown away by his generosity and quickly swapped our stinky sailing clothes for our “fanciest” outfits. Nick came down to the boat and we toasted our safe arrival with a Pangea Boat Drink before heading up to the club for dinner.  The next day we walked through Fisherman’s Wharf to catch the ferry to Alameda for lunch with Austin’s brother Gabe and friend Mike Kent.

When it was time to leave the St Francis, we motored less than a mile down the bay to Aquatic Park Cove anchorage. It was amazing to anchor right in the heart of the city. The bay is controlled by the National Park Service and only sailboats are allowed to enter, dodging swimmers as they drop the hook.  A long-curved peer extends around the outside of the bay protecting the 12 or so anchored boats from the majority of the swell from the active shipping traffic. Historic tall ships and a steam powered ferry boat occupy Hyde Street Pier on the other side of the cove. Aquatic Park has a bit of a bad reputation among cruisers. It has limited and unsecure shore access so we opted to pay a few extra dollars to tie up our dinghy behind the locked gate of the fishing boat marina next-door. Knowing we had a safe place to leave the dinghy made Aquatic Park the perfect place to explore the city and we would highly recommend it. We hiked up the hill to the Street Car Museum and down the other side for lunch with two of Austin’s cousins. After lunch they gave us a ride up to the top of Telegraph Hill, where we enjoyed the spectacular view with a sneaky glass of wine before walking back to the boat. The sunset view of the Golden Gate Bridge from our anchorage was spectacular almost every night we were there. On Sunday we caught an uber to Golden Gate Park for the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Music Festival. We set up a blanket in the shade and watched The Infamous Stringdusters, who we saw play in Seattle for Elise’s Birthday last year. It was an awesome, and very hot day! Austin almost witnessed a riot when the giant water dispensers ran low. The next day we did chores; laundry at Tons of Bubbles, a few groceries and an amazon order that we picked up from the locker at Ghirardelli Square. That night Nick came over and we made dinner and drinks on the boat.

Our next stop in San Francisco was Encinal Yacht Club in Alameda.  EYC was the perfect place to meet up with Alameda friends, gather the packages that we had shipped to Gabe’s house and pick up Elise’s Dad Don who came down for a visit. First we met up with Mike Kent who had been making us drogue chain plates from ¼” stainless plate and then walked across the island to gather our packages. The most notable was a tiller pilot that we mount to the Hydrovane self-steering unit. Our cheap alternative for an autopilot that has been working out great! Over the next day Austin built a mounting bracket for the tiller pilot and Elise sewed cockpit cushions with foam that also came in the mail. Now that it’s getting warmer, we have been spending more and more time in the cockpit and having a comfortable place to stretch out is a must. We took full advantage of the EYC pool to cool off after a long day of boat projects. Don arrived by uber and in the late afternoon we all headed over to Saildrone so Eugene Gwost could give us a tour of the factory and show us what he has been working on. A Saildrone is an autonomous sailboat that is rigged up with all kinds of scientific measuring tools. We were in awe of the amount of data they can collect and the ingenuity that has gone into the design.  We even got to see one in the “wild” on AIS on the next leg of the trip! After a great tour of the factory we met up with Eugene’s girlfriend Lauren for dinner and then we all went back to the boat for drinks and many laughs. The next morning before we went back into the city Eugene stopped by the boat with some Saildrone swag and a 150W solar panel that couldn’t be used on a Saildrone because it wasn’t “perfect”. Thanks, Gwosto!

Timing is everything! The next weekend was the beginning of Navy Fleet Week San Francisco, so we headed back to the city and anchored again in Aquatic Park. We dropped anchor just as the Blue Angels began their practice flights for the airshow. It felt like they were using our mast as a target, EPIC!! We got a suggestion from @pleasanttiki to check out the tiki bar scene in SF and we just couldn’t resist. All three of us piled into the dinghy and then an uber to Pagan Idol and Smugglers Cove tiki bars. We enjoyed live music, elaborate interiors and fancy drinks! A night on the town always seems much more special when you end it with a moonlit dinghy ride back to the boat.  

Our last day in San Francisco was the big fleet week Parade of Ships and Airshow. Elise went up the mast for a bird’s eye view of the military ships coming through the bay and ran the new halyard/topping lift. For the airshow Austin went up the rig to replace the steaming light and got on the level with the stunt planes! We had a great afternoon sitting in the cockpit with the best view of the airshow. We could even hear the announcer and music playing for the crowds of people on the beach stadium behind us. Feeling like we had soaked in as much of the city as we wanted, it was time to raise anchor and head out under the bridge once again.

2. Our First Offshore Passage- Anacortes to the Golden Gate

September 15th – October 2nd, 2019

Its starting to feel like fall, we got to get out of here! On September 15th, 2019 we officially left Anacortes making an overnight stop at Spencer Spit on Lopez Island before heading for the coast. The trip from Lopez Island was a rather uneventful full day of motoring. We left Spencer Spit just before sunup and set the hook in Neah Bay just as the sun went down. Spending one rainy day in Neah Bay checking the weather and filling up the fuel tanks one more time before our big departure.

Day 1- September 18th: The forecast for departure day was favorable but with light winds. We set the alarm for 0430 and pulled anchor at 0530, motoring in the dark around the corner and into the swell. While neither of us are prone to sea-sickness we were anticipating big swell, so we abstained from alcohol the night before and did not make coffee that morning. There was enough excitement in the air to wake a hibernating Grizzly Bear. We motored until day break when the wind started to fill in from the North and we sailed into increasing swell. Just off Cape Flattery we spotted a thresher shark catch a salmon and saw whales on the horizon. As we made the big “left” the swell was building to 10-15ft and coming from two directions, coupled with the light north west winds around 10 knots, made for a difficult and uncomfortable sail. Elise got sick at around 1400 but was able to sip a mug of ginger tea and soon got her sea legs. Austin was able to keep his food down but was lethargic and had little appetite all day. The further off shore we got the steadier the wind and swell became. We had many more whale sightings throughout the day. At one point Elise woke Austin up from a nap on a possible collision course with several humpback whales. “What do I do” Elise said, all Austin could say was “Try not to hit any”. There were whales in all directions and you could see them going up and down in the peaks and troughs of the swell. Elise was able to steer clear and avoid several close calls.  During the night the wind went calm and we were forced to motor. Keeping the boat from rolling and the sails from slamming back and forth is not only a matter of safety but of sanity.

Day 2- September 19th: Grey skies settled in and the wind became steadier. We began to really figure out how to operate the Hydrovane self-steering system. We named her “Ginger” for her ability to help keep watch when the human crew are sea sick and tired as well as for her red hair (or vane). We were able to make a more southerly heading with the wind increasing and more regular swell. Over the night the wind died down again and we motored for several hours.

Day 3- September 20th: Chasing down a dying breeze we did our best not to “race” but with PredictWind and unlimited download on the IridiumGo! we kept downloading new forecasts and drove for the pressure, getting as far as 100 miles from shore. As the night came on, we were seeing gusts into the 20’s so we shortened sail and headed back towards the coast. By the morning we were motoring yet again.

Day 4- September 21st: We motored unit mid-morning when the breeze started to pick up above 10 knots. With the swell, we found we could not sail effectively with less than 10 knots. While sailing in the San Juan Islands, on flat water we could easily sail at speeds of 6 knots with only 10 knots of wind. The true northerly wind had finally set in and we were making good southerly headings. By mid-morning the conditions were just right so we put up the asymmetrical spinnaker and reached out to sea. We were flying! It felt so good in 10-12 knots of breeze to be doing 7 knots speed over ground (SOG) finally, the boat felt fast. With Ginger steering the boat we were euphoric! This is what we had been dreaming about. The sun was finally shining and we stripped off all our layers. The wind grew with our excitement and we were soon taking the spinnaker down before we could even get our clothes back on. As the sun set, we gybed back towards land and the wind started to calm. The motor came back on at about midnight as we came into a fleet of fishing vessels, many not transmitting on AIS (Automatic Identification System). This allows us to see other vessels on our electronic chart display, it gives us information like; vessel name, speed and direction of travel.

Day 5- September 22nd: Around 0400 Austin was on watch and was getting more and more frustrated with the lack of wind and the amount of motoring we had been doing. He was starting to feel the oncoming Southerly winds forecasted for later in the day. We didn’t have an autopilot so whenever we were motoring, we had to hand steer. At night this means hours of staring at the compass and constantly turning the wheel to keep the boat going the right direction, constantly combating the swell. Austin was starting to get worried we would run out of fuel and not be able to make it to our next contingency port in Eureka, CA. He yelled down to Elise, “I’m turning around, we have to go to Coos Bay to get fuel”. Elise was a bit confused by the rash decision but neither of us had enough sleep to argue so we set the jib and started sailing north towards Coos Bay. As daylight came on, using the sat phone, Elise texted her father Don that our plans had changed. He had a clear enough head to start working on alternate ports because going to Coos Bay meant sailing north a little over 40nm from our current position. He suggested Bandon, OR which turned out to be closed for the season and Elise found Brookings, OR on the chart plotter. Brookings was about 40nm South of our current position so Don researched the bar, which turned out the be “the safest bar in Oregon”. Brookings would now be upwind but in the right direction. After some debate and a cool off we decided to turn back around and head south for Brookings. Austin was a bit reluctant as it meant sailing upwind but after some sleep it became clear it was the best option. All throughout the day we were hearing coast guard radio reports about Coos Bay; first there was a 50ft fishing vessel aground in the bar and up against the breakwater, later breaking up into pieces and a possible man overboard that was eventually called off. The radio reports for the Brookings bar was: winds calm, swell 1-3 ft. We sailed for an hour or two tacking a few times, but the wind was coming directly from our destination. One of the most important calculations for sailing is, distance over speed equals time, when you move so slow and have to travel great distances timing is everything. It became clear that if we were going to get to Brookings in daylight, we had to make our best speed over the shortest distance possible. So, we motored straight for Brookings, directly into the wind and rain. When we were about 10nm from the Chetco River Bar at Brookings, the skies cleared and the winds calmed. It was the picturesque bar crossing of the Chetco on a Sunday evening. We only planned on getting fuel and staying overnight at the dock that Don had prearranged for us.

Brookings Stopover: Our one-night stopover in Brookings quickly turned into an 8-night stay in this sleepy fishing town. As it turned out we had pulled in just in time, there was a building Northwesterly gale off Cape Mendocino. Cape Mendocino is notorious for step swell and high winds. We made the best of cheap dock fees and warm weather, doing laundry, provisioning and completing several small projects around the boat. We made our first woven floor mat out of a derelict crab pot line from a fisherman in Brookings. The teal fibers making a mess of the boat as we pulled and wove the line into a fancy knot. We are probably the people who should live on a schooner since we are such knot nerds, but we like speed to much! Walking on the sandy pacific beach with big waves made us feel like we were really on our adventure. The docks were full of sport and commercial fishing boats except for one transient dock that was pretty much vacant. Atica was tied next to a green pirate looking boat that looked to be set up for cruising and the for-sale sign indicated that one mans dream had ended here in Brookings. The only other boat was a Lafitte 44 named Molotov Mairin. The owners Tree & Morgan had also come into Brookings to wait out the gale on their trip from Seattle down the coast. We had a good time with them on the dock having dinner on each other’s boats and talking about sailing and boat projects we had each completed. Our last day in Brookings was a full-on rain and thunder storm and we spent the day cooped up inside making bread and brownies and playing games.

Day 6- September 30th: After spending much longer than anticipated in Brookings we were eager to get back on the water and continue on to San Francisco. We were up with the sun to motor across the bar and out to sea, Molotov Mairin leaving the dock just behind us. With little to no wind we motored through some haze towards blue skies. The wind started to fill in from the South and we were able to sail upwind for a few hours before it shifted to the NW. That wind persisted and we sailed through the night.

Day 7- October 1st: We sailed all day until about dusk when the wind could not keep us moving in the swell any longer. The motor came on and would remain on until we reached San Francisco. We motored into the night encountering several yachts headed South. We had a pretty close call with one power yacht coming north just as we were rounding Cape Mendocino. Elise woke Austin up saying that she was seeing the boats lights alternating between red and green. Not good since we don’t show up on AIS and the boat seemed to be turning on an autopilot course around the point. Elise made a drastic course change for several minutes just to make sure we didn’t get close to the other yacht. We saw some kind of porpoise playing in the wake of our boat that night, it was lit up like comet by bioluminescence all around it.  

Day 8- October 2nd: We motor… Seas calm, winds calm, skies clear and sun warm. We shed layers of clothes with every hour as we moved further south. We saw humpback and fin whales off the coast, some feeding and some that looked to be playing. We both saw two full breaches out of the water off Drakes Bay. Around lunch time we could start to see the Golden Gate way off in the distance. It felt surreal as we got closer and closer, something we had been thinking about for so long was finally happening. We couldn’t believe it, as the mast cleared the Golden Gate Bridge, a whale came up out of the water off our starboard bow, as if to say “Welcome to San Francisco!”   

1. The Start of Our Adventure – Canada Shake Down

September 1st – September 14th, 2019

August 31st 2019 was our official leave the dock day. We passed around a bottle of whiskey with David and Lang Lavigne, our marina neighbors, and had one last beer in Anacortes Marina (or so we thought). With our emergency knife from the helm, Austin cut through the permanent mooring line which had been tying us to the dock for the last two years. We headed over to Guemes for a few nights on the hook in front of the King’s West Beach Cabin. Most the time was spent on shore but we did make several trips out to the boat with friends and family. Lots of fun but hard to say goodbye.

Next stop from Guemes was Stuart Island. Unfortunately we didn’t make it far. The alternator was not charging and we were forced to make a quick pit stop on a mooring at Pelican Beach on Cypress Island. After some poking around the engine room and thinking we had it fixed we headed on to Prevost harbor on Stuart Island. Along the way we encountered some thick fog and used our new radar for the first time. At Stuart Is. we were met by five boats of our friends from Anacortes Yacht Club including Pangaea and Black Rabbit. We hosted appetizers for 12 people in our cockpit that night making pizza on the barbeque. The next day we went for a hike with Wendy to the old school house. We met up with the rest of the group at the cemetery and walked down to the county dock. We said our last goodbyes to our yacht club friends and continued on to Turn Point. Elise spotted orcas across Haro Straight and we said our goodbyes to the San Juan Islands from the lighthouse.

The next day we sailed past Turn Point, just like our logo. We sailed on to Sidney BC to check in to Canada and provision for our shakedown cruise. We planned a few days in the Gulf Islands and then on to Indian Arm for a visit with Elise’s Aunt Cindy and Uncle Lothar. We motored and sailed to Montague Harbor on Galiano Island, dropping the anchor on the west side for a sunset view. In the middle of the night we were woken up by a strange noise that turned out to be a seal snoring right next to the boat. The next morning, we planned on leaving early to get to a small anchorage on the north side of Valdez Island. Early on while motoring we realized we were having alternator problems yet again.

After a few phone calls we realized our best option was to head for Vancouver and sort out the problems from Cindy and Lothar’s dock. We made a swift crossing of Georgia Straight sailing in 15-18 knots of wind on a close reach and beam to the swell. The crossing left Austin a bit queasy so Elise made lunch as we waited to transit the Vancouver Narrows into Indian Arm.  We radioed the Second Narrows Railroad Bridge to open for us, a new experience for us both. We were tied safely to the dock around 1600.

The boat remained at the dock for about a week as we completed some planned/unplanned projects and spent time catching up with family. Indian Arm is a deep water fjord that is a truly special place with high steep mountains plummeting into clear water that even gets warm enough to swim in during summer months. Originally the property was boat access only and Cindy and Lothar tied there commercial fishing boat to the dock in the off seasons. It was special for all of us to have Atica tied to the dock as they are planning to sell the property soon. Elise had a few sewing projects that included velcro closures for our salon curtains and cutting out 100+ cones from an old main sail to later sew into our Jordan Series Drogue. Austin was able varnish; the teak mounting blocks for the windvane, scuba tank holder, oars and a shelf for the hot water tank. Lothar and Austin went on a mission to find a spare/replacement alternator. After several stops they were eventually successful at a Volkswagan repair shop. By pure luck there was an exact replacement, the dust on the box making it evident that it had been on that shelf for many years. Feeling accomplished and ready to move on we left Indian Arm on Wednesday the 11th of September.

We had a rockin’ sail west across Georgia Straight. With 10-15 knots of wind from the SE we sailed close hauled toward Active Pass. Leaving Vancouver Harbor there was lots of traffic and with a severe heal (leaning of the boat), preparing and eating lunch was interesting.  Austin was in the galley while Elise was dodging sport fisherman and freighters from all directions. As we were approaching Active Pass the wind went light and we noticed a group of small boats coming right for us. At first, we thought it was just more fisherman but on closer inspection… they were whale watchers. We scanned and scanned but saw no whales. As the boats approached us, mind you we were sailing with no motor at about 2 knots, they crackled over a loud hailer, “Can you alter your course to port? You are heading right at a group of whales”. As he said this, “sploosh”, a large female orca came up for a breath 10 meters from the boat on our port side. This put all three “orca police” and an orca on our port side. Needless to say, we did not alter course. The whale police continued to herd the pod and we eventually dropped sails and motored through Active Pass. We spent the night at Saturna Island anchoring next to a school schooner with kids singing shanties and practicing for a talent show.

After a lazy morning we were ready to head back to the states to anchor in Blind Bay on Shaw Island. Elise took the helm in low visibility, down pouring rain and Austin stayed dry and warm in the cabin keeping the captain happy with hot cocoa and treats. With Austin still down below, Elise grabbed the mooring buoy in Blind Bay.  What a bad ass! With little sunlight the alternator problems revealed itself again and the low oil pressure alarm acting up held another clue to the mystery. That would have to wait until we were back in Anacortes. Austin texted our friend Gavin Bracket who happened to be on Orcas Island, the next island over. That evening he came over in a skiff around 2100 and we drank rum and told stories until late. Gavin departed in a thick and spooky fog.  

Needing to get to the root of the alternator problem we decided to head back to Anacortes. As we were about to anchor in Fidalgo Bay, we thought maybe we should call up Claudia at Anacortes Marina to see if she had a slip we could stay in for a few nights. Luckily, she had a spot and we were back where we started the shakedown. David came over and we talked through the alternator problems over a beer, our real last and final beer in Anacortes Marina. The next day we made a trip up to Whatcom Electric in Bellingham to have the two alternators tested. It turns out the alternator was fine and we got some good advice from the owner to test the oil pressure switch. A $10 oil pressure alarm switch that we were able to pick up at the auto parts store fixed the problem. Our solar panels had been working so well that we kept thinking that we had fixed the problem but really it was just great solar production and nice new batteries. A good problem to have! With the alternator problem solved and a successful shake down cruise under our belts we were ready to head for the coast!