Friday, October 23, 2015

Catalina Island, Close Naval Encounters and Arrival in San Diego

We arrived in San Diego on Wednesday afternoon and have been enjoying the warm weather, meeting crews of fellow Baja Ha-Ha boats, welcoming and being welcomed by our new crew member Jeanne and her good friend/sailing mentor Paul and diving into getting the boat and ourselves ready for Mexico.

Before we started our journey here on Tuesday evening, we took a hike up the hills above our harbor on Catalina Island. The California drought was evident in the parched vegetation which stood in stark contrast to the deep blue and turquoise water surrounding the island. It felt good to stretch our legs and get a good workout climbing the steep hills. The two beers I had at the bar in the micro-town of Two Harbors tasted really good afterwards, too.

We headed out of Catalina Harbor around 6 pm. I figured out the geometry of the two anchor lines correctly so recovering up the stern anchor was theoretically easy but hauling up the 25 feet of 3/8" chain and anchor by hand was more effort, an upper body workout to compliment our earlier hike and burn off the two beers.

We sailed with just the Code 0 sail in beautiful moonlight, light winds and calm seas. It was so warm out I was sailing in a short sleeved shirt.

All was nice and peaceful until midnight, when a large ship appeared and our radar tracked her to be on a collision course with us. All large commercial ships have an Automatic Identification System (AIS) and this one didn't, which meant it was a warship. We knew from radio traffic that Navy ships were conducting operations in our vicinity so that wasn't a surprise. What was a surprise and quite disconcerting was that this warship was heading right for us at 20 knots. I hailed them on the radio alerting them of the situation and requesting they communicate their intentions, but got no response. I took evasive action by altering course to starboard as far as I could while under sail. The ship responded by altering her course to continue intercepting us. I was getting a little "tense" and thought about warning them over the radio that if they continued their hostile actions, I would be forced to open fire on them, but thought that perhaps a warship would not appreciate my sense of humor and held off.  Thankfully, when the ship got within 3/4 of a mile of us, she veered off and passed by us, never uttering a word. I figure the "kids" in command on the bridge of the ship were having a good laugh playing "chicken" with tense man in the little sailboat. I am plotting my revenge.

By early morning the wind had died, so we motored on San Diego until new winds filled in from the southwest around 0900 and we raised sails and started tacking our way to the harbor entrance. We were now sailing in the company of Carthago, a member of the Ha-Ha fleet. As they saying goes, the definition of sailing race is two sail boats within sight of each other, so I sailed Intermezzo hard and, borrowing a trick from Vladimir Putin, took my shirt off to intimidate the other crew.  It was a close race, they pointing higher, we going a bit faster and it looked like it would be a nail-bighter finish (wherever the imagined the finish line might be) until we both stalled in a giant field of dense kelp.  Oops. I had forgotten that you have to stay further out in deeper water when entering San Diego to avoid these kelp beds. You can't motor through them because the kelp will tangle in your props. And now the wind had died to 5 knots or less, so sailing through them was agonizingly slow.  It took us about an hour to extract ourselves.

A submarine joined us for our entry into San Deigo harbor. I had a few ideas for extracting my revenge from the night's previous encounter with the US Navy, but the submarine was moving too fast and was guarded by a patrol boat manned by very bored 18 year old Marines for whom I would no doubt make their day if I were to attempt to intercept and capture the submarine and its crew.

We tied up at the Harbor Police guest docks on Shelter Island at around 1 pm where about a dozen other Baja Ha-Ha boats are berthed. There is a collective festive mood and everyone is very friendly and excited about the upcoming rally which begins on Monday.

Jeanne and Paul delivered all our late voyage purchases that we had delivered to Jeanne's house. It's like Christmas in the salon. More stuff to stow. Meals to plan and provision for. Unfinished boat projects to finish. Rally meetings and events to attend. It's going to be a busy few days.

News of Hurricane Patricia off the Pacific coast of Mexico caused me some initial concern, but it is tracking well south of our route and is forecast to be dissipated by Saturday. In fact, the current forecast for our passage down the Baja peninsula is for very light winds, which is a bummer. I really don't want to have to motor our way down and will have to buy a few more fuel jugs to have enough diesel to do so. It's like the hurricane stole our wind...I want it back.  Maybe things will look better as Monday draws nearer.