Posted on April 19, 2012
It was a beautiful day, the hopes were high … off we were on our adventure to Catalina Island on our trusty 28-foot sailboat, Island Side (courtesy of Fairwind Yacht Club)! The first of many cruises, anticipation had been growing among the crew for weeks as we waited for the perfect weather window. And now we had it! The forecast was for sun, low 70’s, 10 knots from the northwest. The only downside in the weather forecast was the 5-7 foot swell coming from the west – beam seas on our nearly due south journey.
Jess started at the helm, with Gabriel strapped in his carseat under the salon table asleep. Contrary to the forecast, winds were from the southwest, eliminating the possibility of sailing if we wanted to get there in less than 8 hours. So, we raised the iron genoa (our trusty diesel motor) and headed out past the Marina del Rey breakwater to the north Pacific Ocean.
Not long after departing, we passed the 2ES buoy in high spirits, being followed by multiple herds of frolicking dolphins, chirping as they leapt out of the water. A solitary sea-lion must have been confused because he was also jumping out of the water dolphin-style!
After a few hours at sea, Gabriel woke up and joined us in the cockpit in his life jacket. We rounded Palos Verdes and entered the Northbound Coastwise Traffic Lane of the shipping channel. While the crew was distracted searching the horizon for 1,000-foot-long container ships entering Long Beach Harbor, the forecast of 5-7 foot beam seas was coming true.
After holding back a couple of gross burps, we noticed that the seas were indeed at the top end of this range, and directly off our starboard beam. It wasn’t long after the attempted snack of pretzels that Simon suddenly and unexpectedly turned and projectile spewed from the cockpit and overboard – not easy while holding an infant in his life-jacket. Handing Gabriel off to Jess, Simon finished the job and felt much better! Upon witnessing this display, Jess was inspired to follow suit and proceeded to hurl mightily overboard, passing the baby boy back to Simon.
Jess and Simon took turns holding the baby and spewing, and the final score was Jess: 4, Simon: 3, and Gabriel: 1. Needless to say, we were all looking forward to reaching land as soon as possible.
Out of the haze the island emerged, its beautiful silhouette rising up and down nauseatingly for hours until we passed Ship Rock. Simon called the Two Harbors Harbor Department on the radio and asked for a mooring, and we were assigned mooring C-8. The harbormaster thought Island Side looked like a 38-footer (she is 28 feet) and so we were assigned a mooring designed for a much larger boat.
Jess scrambled up to the bow to pick up the mooring stick and secured the hawser to the deck like a professional. The stern of the boat tried to get away but we were able to tug it back in line and cleated on the stern hawser.
Jess and Gabriel set up the galley and the cabin while, after many failed attempts, Simon eventually fired up the dinghy and putted over to the harbormaster to check in to the mooring. All went well, and he was on his way back to the boat when the motor died.
There was one paddle aboard the dinghy, so he zig-zagged his way in the general direction of the boat, catching the attention of the entire mooring area including the harbormaster who approached calling, “would you like a tow?” Jess stuck her head out of the boat in time to see Simon being towed back by the Harbormaster who said, “Oh dear, does this man belong to you?”
After running below to get the camera, Jess snapped a few shots and called out, “nope, send him back!”
Luckily the dinghy problem was discovered to be user error and so we all piled in and headed off to shore! We played in the grass for a while until realizing that since we had moored on a mooring designed for a longer boat at low tide, when the tide rose we may have had problems. After conferring with the harbormaster we decided to adjust the mooring to add some slack and all was well.
We took another trip to shore so Gabriel could play in the grass, and then came back to dinner. Jess had expertly provisioned the boat for the trip, including pre-cooked meals and so she heated up our curried mung-beans and rice for dinner while Gabriel chowed down on avocado.
We filled up the dish-pan with warm water and placed Gabriel in it as a kind of bath simulation, but he was not impressed, and kicking and screaming, he was rescued from the pseudo-bath and wrestled into his pajamas, after peeing on the towel in disgust. Jess and Gabriel retired to the V-berth and as Gabriel drifted off to a sound sleep, Jess lay awake listening to the boat sounds and wondering about the boat odors.
Simon had a brief moment to finish his beer in the cockpit and soak up the ambience of the beautiful twilight at Isthmus Cove before also retiring to the V-berth.
Clunk, clunk! The hard plastic dinghy was going ‘bump’ in the night, disrupting the peaceful boat sounds of clanks, gurgles and the crackles of the tiny creatures attaching to the hull. Guessing the wind had changed, Simon got up and reattached the dinghy to the bow so it wouldn’t clunk any more. While above deck he took a moment to enjoy the billions and billions of beautiful stars illuminating the clear night sky. He liked it so much he didn’t mind getting up again later in the night when the wind changed back.
Morning came and Gabriel was thrilled to crawl all around the V-berth. Simon and Gabriel went up to see the beautiful foggy sunrise from the cockpit while Jess brewed coffee using her raw-food net bag.
After breakfast we all piled in the dinghy again, this time with our baby backpack and what seemed like thousands of pounds of food, water, rations, diapers, clothing, emergency toys and books and other various baby equipment, planning for a day of hiking, exploring and general adventures. We hiked a portion of the Trans-Catalina Trail and Gabriel fell asleep as we overlooked Catalina Harbor.
Reflecting on our trip over, we both confided in each other our feelings of dread for the return trip the following day. Simon checked the weather forecast in hopes that the conditions would have improved, and even though seas were forecast at a slightly smaller 4-6 feet, the direction was still from the west, and in addition a dense fog with visibility less than one mile was predicted.
Never having used Island Side’s onboard radar, and not wanting to learn how in a dense fog, in a shipping channel, in 6 foot beam seas, with a baby, we made the decision to cut the trip short and returned to the boat. Jess stowed everything safely below while Simon prepared the boat for departure, and in about 10 minutes we cast off the mooring and were off, having taken Dramamine in a last-ditch attempt to avoid adding to our score from the way over.
We fired up the radar as the fog started to close in around us – lucky because there were multiple targets lighting up the screen – 1,000 ft container vessels converging on us. While they never were closer than 3 miles, these ships are large and intimidating even from a distance and we were glad to have the radar with it’s range-finding capabilities up our sleeves and will definitely use it anytime we are in the shipping channel again.
The Dramamine induced a blissful, drugged out feeling and we were able to enjoy the trip back, lost in our thoughts, looking through the light patchy fog at the wavy sea and the huge ships passing. We were finally feeling better, and able to feast on sandwiches and an entire bag of corn chips.
As we passed the 2ES buoy, and with the boat heeled over, motor-sailing in 8 knots of wind, Jess heroically went below to change Gabriel’s diaper. She cursed loudly in the direction of the cockpit, having forgotten where she stowed the diapers in our haste to leave Two Harbors. With autopilot engaged, Simon went below to help, and by the time the diaper was changed the salty (or at least ‘saltier’) sailors aboard the good ship Island Side returned to the slip at Marina del Rey.
Gabriel and Jess walked home and Simon scrubbed the deck.