The sailing started off slow with light winds in beautiful weather. The winds steadily increased and by noon we were sailing with two reefs in the main and a couple rolls in the jib. We sped along at over seven knots with following seas that had us surfing regularly in the double digits.
The winds really starting ripping, often over 30 knots and the boat hit 13.4 knots, the fastest we've experienced since owning it, with eery cavitation sounds coming from the sterns. Fun stuff, but a bit of a problem because I planned our passage based on a velocity made good of 5 knots which, with strong winds forecast to continue for most of night, would mean a too early arrival in Morro Bay,
This was Renee and my first overnight passage in substantial weather. We stood three hour watches with one of us manning the helm and the other sleeping in the salon to be close at hand if needed. Our autopilot is fantastic, so "manning the helm" means keeping us on our route so we don't crash into a fixed object, looking out with eyes and radar to try and avoid crashing into moving ones, picking favorable wind angles and trimming sails. Not strenuous, but fatiguing in the cold night air, wind and rolling seas. Fortunately, I don't get seasick at all and enjoy the whole sailing experience. Renee isn't so fortunate. She is totally functional, but gets bad headaches and feels generally yucky. So for her, she competently endures her watch, but looks forward to lying down when its over and isn't thrilled when she has to get up to start another. I give her a lot of credit for not whining and complaining; I definitely would.
We sailed steadily along through the moonless night with strong 6-10 foot following seas, with very little ship traffic and no smaller vessels showing up on radar. I started my nine p.m. watch feeling a bit unnerved at first. It was totally dark out and we were in quite dense fog. I couldn't see much past the bow of the boat and in such poor visibility could only feel the waves as they rolled past us. The wind had lessened a little to 15-20 knots true and we were sailing at a steady 5-6 knots. Without being able to see anything more than 20 feet or so around the boat, I was essentially powerless to respond to anything in our immediate vicinity. I had to put complete trust in our navigational tools and instruments, our radar and that our boat would ride the waves like she's built to do. About 30 minutes into my watch, I started feeling comfortable with my limited span of control, trusting in what I could, accepting what I could not. (What a great metaphor for a healthy attitude about life in general.) In an hour, I was having fun again. Cold, damp, windy, rolly, tired fun.
We arrived at Morro Bay around four a.m., about two hours earlier than planned. The entrance to the harbor is a bit tricky, with a narrow breakwater entrance and full ocean swell. I decided to try heaving-to to wait until sunrise when at least it would light out, even if foggy. Heaving-to is when you balance the sails and rudder to "park" a boat at sea so that it slowly drifts downwind with its bow around 45 degrees to the wind and waves. It is a classic, proven technique for handling heavy weather or just getting some rest on monohulls. For catamarans, heaving-to is more questionable. I had played around with getting Intermezzo to heave-to a few times on the Bay during mild weather and it seemed to work okay. This time, I was experimenting in 10-17 knot winds, 6-8 foot seas, dense fog and total darkness.
Normally when heaving-to, one backwinds the jib (forward sail), sheets in (tighten up) the mainsail and lashes the wheel to windward. I figured Intermezzo's five feet of freeboard would take the place of the backwinded jib and that since cats don't sail upwind so well, I would sheet the mainsail out a bit so that it would have more power when we fell off the wind. It worked great! Intermezzo stayed pointed at 30-60 degrees to weather, drifting leeward at well under a knot as the swells passed by her. We sat like this for two hours about 8 miles offshore waiting for the sun to rise. The heaving-to was great. The cold, damp, wind, and constant rolling was tiresome, so it was a relief when it got light and we fired up the engines to head in.
I radioed the Coast Guard to ask what conditions were like at the harbor entrance. They provided a weather report and told me that it was really hard to see what conditions were actually like due to the fog. I asked them if it was safe to navigate the entrance. They replied that they had provided me what information they could and it was my decision and responsibility for the safety of my vessel...fair enough and refreshingly forthright. My biggest concerns were the less than 100 yards visibility and the westerly seas that would be on our beam as we approached the narrow entrance. I figured I'd get close and then make the final call. When we arrived, I was comfortable with the sea conditions, but the visibility was still really poor. The short range radar image was good though, so I decided to make an "instrument approach". It worked. We didn't wreck.
The Morro Bay Harbor Patrol boat greeted us on arrival told us how to get to the Morro Bay Yacht Club, where we tied up to their nice dock by 8:30 Monday morning. We had sailed 125 nautical miles and put another significant notch on our nightsailing belts. We lounged around yesterday, getting some rest, taking showers, cleaning up the boat. We took a walk to a local fish market and bought a nice fresh filet of Ling cod which we barbecued and ate with some local sourdough bread and steamed vegetables, accompanied by a nice Coppola Cabernet Sauvignon (thank you Peggy D!). There is another boat with us on the dock, Del Viente, which is also heading to San Diego for the Baja Ha-Ha. Her skipper, Mark, and crew, also Mark, have made this trip many times and shared some of their knowledge and experience with us yesterday. We're having them over for cocktails this evening to further pick their brains.
Today we're going kayaking and will continue to work on getting the interior of the boat organized and shipshape.
Wednesday evening we shove off to conquer "The Cape Horn of California", Point Concepcion. This point has a long, bad history for kicking boats' butts with roaring winds and steep seas. We're planning to round it at about 6 am when conditions are typically calm. The weather forecast is for calm winds and seas throughout the next few days, so I think our rounding of "The Horn" will be lacking in drama, which is okay by me.
Once we round Concepcion, we're "officially" in Southern California. Warmer weather and lighter winds. Hurrah!