Plan for another plan if the first plan doesn’t pan out

Here’s what we read on Active Captain before deciding to head to Port San Luis:

“This is wonderful anchorage…” “We spent a week here relaxing…” “… definitely a welcome harbour in very windy conditions…” “Good jumping-off place…” “This wonderful anchorage is good in all conditions…”

So that was the reason we headed off there – to experience a relaxing couple of days in a wonderful welcoming anchorage before heading for the warm embrace of Southern Californian waters. And it was only a few hours sail away.

So, we motorsailed with some enthusiasm, looking forward to enjoying this welcome bolt hole. But, on arrival, we found it hard to reconcile the anchorage descriptions with what we saw. I thought we’d made a wrong turning. We didn’t see much in the way of relaxing conditions. Instead, we found a lee shore, full of kelp, with all the attractiveness of the Dungeness shoreline where the sea meets the nuclear power station.

So, after a quick crew consultation, we decided to press on overnight towards sunny SoCal. And we are glad we did.

Santa Cruz and a dolphin extravaganza

Reports from our friends suggested that Santa Barbara was as rolly as a drunkard at chucking out time. We didn’t want any more disappointments, so we headed a little offshore towards the Channel Islands, 20 miles off the mainland.  A combination of sailing and a little motoring brought us near to Santa Cruz Island the following day. And we can confirm that the rumours are true: it is indeed warmer south of Point Conception. We also discovered that the area around Santa Cruz is teaming with wildlife.

Unfortunately, I lost many of my photographs when I changed my iPhone for a newer model (my bad), so we don’t have pictures of the humpback whales that surfaced less than 50 metres on our starboard side. However, we still have this video of what greeted us near the shipping lanes on the way to Santa Cruz. It is the best dolphin display we have ever seen, and we feel so lucky to have a) seen it and b) caught it on video.


We anchored in Prisoners Cove – named, I believe after some Mexican prisoners abandoned there in some dark part of history. This place did match the description on Active Captain. It was as flat as the Netherlands and attractive to look at. Maria started to feel much better here, so we launched the dinghy for a trek ashore. There’s even a dinghy dock on the jetty.

The Channel Islands are home to the Island Fox, a beautiful animal that, fortunately, holds no fear of trespassers. I took several photographs of one of the foxes rooting around for food after the day-trippers left, but all those are lost too.  So, here’s a photo of one prepared earlier by someone else:

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San Diego

We stayed in Prisoners Cove for a few nights. Then, with Maria fully recovered, on the 16th October, we headed further south on an almost direct line towards San Diego. It would have been direct if we didn’t have to weave our way between the drifting cargo ships.

The oil spill near Santa Barbara seems to have exacerbated the problem with cargo ships not unloading their stuff in port. The photograph below is a clip from our chart plotter showing AIS signals from vessels drifting around with nowhere to go. None of them moved during the time it took for us to transit the area. 

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For some reason that neither of us can quite remember, we joined the Baja Haha rally from San Diego to Mexico some time ago. So we needed to get there for the start of that and to make some preparations. That included picking up some spinnaker pole parts sent from Amel, getting some aluminium machined to finish the job off, and buying some more parts that we may or may not need.

Most of the preparation was easy. San Diego is a fantastic place to buy things for the boat and to get things done. We had great help from Downwind Marine, who accepted packages for us, especially from the two wonderful guys running the rigging department: Ed and Evan. They sorted out a new jockey pole to replace the one we lost overboard, built a special rope for us and sorted us out with new running rigging. And they are nice blokes too. So that’s $10 each you owe me, Ed and Evan. 

They also put me in touch with Steve Harrison, who runs Harrison Marine. Steve has a rare skill set in that he is a sailor (Australian Americas Cup victory no less) and a fine craftsman. Steve created the masterpiece below from nothing more than a bar of aluminium. It’s a work of art. There are no CNC machines in his workshop – the man has skills that I hope will not disappear in the future. 

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It could be in the Tate Modern

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Steve at work

And talking of rigging, here is Maria checking ours:

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Maria checked the rigging

So, with stuff on the way from Amel, Steve working on the fittings and Ed and Evan supplying the pole, things were looking up. Then FedEx entered the equation. Again.

FedEx black hole

We had a bad experience with FedEx while in French Polynesia. Despite knowing that packages were getting blocked in New Zealand, that’s where they sent the parcel. It took at least a couple of months to sort that out: they had to fly it back from NZ to California, then ship it out to Tahiti, where it should have gone in the first place.

This time, to cut a long story short, the parcel from Amel got stuck in clearance. Not US Customs clearance – FedEx’s internal black hole.  I believe they couldn’t understand what was in it because the description was in French and English. I provided them with more information; they said I would have it tomorrow. 10 days later, we got it after they had sat on it for most of that time doing nothing.  And the punchline was that one of the parts – the one connecting the big spinnaker pole to the jockey pole – was the wrong size. Luckily I found a second hand one at a rigging shop opposite Downwind Marine. So we are good to go. 

However, the impact of all these is that we are making a very late start on the Baja Haha Rally. However, the good news is that we might get a prize for the last boat arriving in Mexico. 

Old owners and new friends

Still, we had a great time meeting people while parked up at the Public Dock at Shelter Island, and we learned plenty about the anchoring rules around these parts. Our electric scootering skills have also dramatically improved. Tip: use Bird scooter hire – not Lime. 

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San Diego City

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Helicopter greeting

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Another Amel. We met the owners – Dan and Suzy – later

By some very welcome coincidence, we met Ben and Gayle Driver, the previous owners of our boat. Steve and Liz on Aloha arranged for them to come over to see their old home. And it was great to see them.

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Gathering onboard Aloha. The Aloha crew – Steve and Liz – on my right and far-right.

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To my right, the previous owners of our boat: Ben and Gayle.

We were swamped getting things ready, but we did manage some time out. As well as an excellent place for getting stuff done, we find San Diego to be a relaxed place. There are some photos of the area near the public dock where we stayed for a couple of weeks:

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A peace monument on Shelter Island

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Memorial for the tunamen

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And from the back

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Baja Rally meeting madness

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Start of the Baja Haha rally – sans Jamala

The official start date for the Baja Haha was 1st November. However, we will be starting on 8th November. So, tomorrow morning we need to head to the Customs and Border Protection office to get our exit papers stamped. And if all goes well, later in the morning we will be off to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.