Monday, October 19, 2015

Lumpy Bumpy Ride to Catalina

Shortly after arriving in Channel Island Harbor on Saturday evening, Terissa, Renee’s friend and colleague from work, and her husband, Jason, visited Intermezzo and brought with them fresh bread, a nice selection of cheeses and a fine Pinot which were rapidly devoured by captain and crew with gratitude. We enjoyed a nice dinner out, good conversation and getting to know each other better. Hopefully they will be able to join us somewhere along the way as we clearly share an enjoyment for boats and the water.

Sunday I made (hopefully) my last trip to West Marine to pick up the remaining items on the shopping list. The trip left a bigger dent in my boat buck budget than I expected. I will now start fashioning marine hardware and equipment by hand from found items. Screws and bolts forged from molten cans, soft shackles woven from coconut fiber, glue milked from sea cucumbers, etc.

We departed Channel Island Harbor on Sunday evening in challenging conditions. The wind was blowing a steady 25 knots with gusts to 30 and combined seas (swell plus wind waves) were at least 8 feet. I poked Intermezzo’s nose out beyond the breakwater to check things out and had to make the call; turn around and go back to harbor or proceed? I decided on the latter. Conditions were very uncomfortable, but definitely safe and manageable and they were forecasted to improve during the night and as we headed south.  So, I reasoned that it was more valuable to gain experience sailing Intermezzo in rough seas than getting a good night’s sleep in harbor.

The real challenge was the steepness of the seas. The 6 to 8-plus foot waves had a period of around six seconds. That makes for a really uncomfortable motion and the occasional wave breaking into aft portion of Intermezzo’s large cockpit space. The top of one quartering wave slapped me pretty good sitting at the helm station, which is a good nine feet above the waterline!  We found a decent compromise between a good angle for taking the waves and the rhumb line of our course and sailed under a reefed jib at a steady 5-6 knots, rocking and rolling along but well under control.

The VHF radio traffic featured several scared sailors calling the Coast Guard to report their situation and get advice. One was in the roughest part of the Santa Barbara channel north of us (I wouldn’t have sailed there), another was a singlehander approaching Catalina suffering from an overwhelmed autopilot and a dead diesel engine and in for a long night of hand steering. Another reported that an oil platform was on fire and was duly informed by the Coasties  that it were just normal flaring off of gas. All of them sounded pretty anxious. Much more than I was, as Intermezzo and her autopilot were doing just fine and all we had to do was hang on for the ride.

Around 11 pm, the wind died down, just as forecast, and we started an engine for the lumpy, rolling, pitching rest of the trip down to Catalina. We reached Little Harbor, our planned destination, just after sunrise. We had braved the windward side of Catalina because Little Harbor was highly recommended as a beautiful, secluded anchorage. However, westerly swell was still pretty strong and we aborted our entry into the harbor because I deemed Little Harbor to be "too little" under the conditions, with limited swing room, menacing rocks and waves crashing over the rock reef that forms the harbor. I imagine with better lighting and less fatigue it would have been okay and a great spot, but I decided to err this time on the side of safety and we headed to the large well-protected Catalina Harbor, on the ocean side of the Two Harbor Isthmus.

Anchoring was a bit more challenging than normal in this harbor. The only spot for us outside the mooring field (which you have to pay for and is too easy for me) was in 60 feet of water in a narrow slot between a small schooner and a fish pen. 60 feet requires us to put out almost all of our 300 feet of chain to get a decent scope and that results in a very large swing radius and the potential to thump into the schooner and/or fish pen. So we had to put out a second stern anchor to limit our swinging around, which I expertly deployed with the dinghy. I’m working on the geometry  and lengths of the anchor rode to figure out if I can just as expertly retrieve the anchor when we leave, as Intermezzo is sitting at nearly the ends of her two tethers. We’ll see...

We are carrying a really nice suite of ground tackle that I gave a lot of thought towards so I can sleep soundly at anchor on this voyage. Our primary anchor is a 70 lb. Rocna with 300 feet of 3/8” high test chain. Oversized, proven, bullet proof.  Our secondary (kedge) anchor is an aluminum Fortress, just about big enough to be a primary anchor, but light enough to handle easily, on 25 feet of chain and 275 feet of 3/4" polyester double braid rope. Our spare (third, storm) anchor is a 75 lb Spade on 25 feet of chain and 275 feet of 7/8” polyester double braid. We’re using polyester rope because it’s stronger, stretches less and is more abrasion resistant than the nylon typically used for anchor rodes. We add some “stretch” with a nylon snubber/bridle.  It’s a lot of gear and adds a bit more weight to the boat than I like, but we could theoretically ride out a hurricane, which provides great peace of mind, but is a theory that I absolutely do not want to seek to try and prove.

We’ve had a nice breakfast (last of the ranch eggs, boo-hoo), took hot showers (thank you watermaker and engine heat exchangers) and cleaned the boat up (thank you Renee), so the rest of the day will be a lazy one. We’ll probably take a dinghy ride to shore and walk to the small town on the Isthmus. I hear you can buy buffalo milk there. Is that random or what?