We were screaming downwind in 25 knots of breeze with following seas.
The jib was giving us six knots of boat speed and we were surfing eight foot swells with two fingers on the tiller. The sun was out, we were flying and the boat was bouncing along with all the joy of a Labrador chasing a tennis ball.
“This is amazing!” I cried. “Can you believe our most glorious day of sailing so far is around Point Conception?”
If I were writing fiction, this is where I would insert the distant rumble of thunder.
The western edge of California runs along a fairly straight line from top to bottom until it sticks a big rocky thumb into the ocean at Point Conception.
If you’ve ever watched a river eddy around a boulder, you can imagine how throwing a thousand-foot cliff in the middle of the prevailing current could mess with the sea state.
And if you imagine the wind being suddenly squeezed around the point with the same physics principles that allow a 747 to take flight, you may understand why that spot has often been called the “Cape Horn of the Pacific.”
Blissfully unaware of what was about to come, a couple miles from our planned anchorage at Cojo, we turned on the beam and made a beeline for the cove.
That’s when Point Conception lived up to her name.
Suddenly waves were leaping over the dodger. The wind speed jumped to 30 knots. The boat was now bouncing like a lassoed bronco.
It was exhilarating—a bit more than we’d bargained for, but nothing we couldn’t handle. We may have even laughed nervously at how kind it was for Point Conception to make our rounding so memorable.
Ha ha ha.
We went to start the motor to bring us through the screaming wind and waves into the protected anchorage.
Not a gurgle, not a click, not a peep.
Our trusty diesel, who hadn’t so much as whined since we bought the boat, refused to even turn over.
We shared a brief, wide-eyed WTF!
The motor hadn’t turned over, so it wasn’t a fuel problem. Starter battery dead? Nope—fully charged. Loose wire? Could be. We tried to imagine how we could pull the engine hatch cover off in this sea state, much less find a tiny wire that had come loose. We saved that idea for later and toyed with the gear lever. We made a single millimeter change to its position, and our Yanmar roared to life.
Ah! It’s only supposed to start in neutral. It must have been in gear.
Taking the Diesel 101 class at List Marine quickly leapt near the top of the smartest-things-we’d-ever-done list.
So now we had an engine. Time to get out of this mess.
Ahead of the whitecaps, we could see the cove and the train culvert on shore that marked where the anchorage was supposed to be. To the left were breaking waves. Between us and flat water were vast floating fields of engine-wrapping, anchor-fouling kelp.
As we tucked in behind the point, it was still blowing twenty knots.
How the heck were we going to anchor in this?
I went to the bow to guide us through the kelp beds, while Colin steered with a careful eye on the depth sounder. We had a sunken ship to stare at just in case we’d forgotten what breaking waves do to a boat.
The hand signals we’d practiced as a nicety suddenly became a must-have. We navigated through the kelp, dropped the hook, paid out the chain as we blew back, then took our time backing down on the anchor while taking bearings on every tree and cliff around.
We’d nailed it.
We felt like Lewis and Clark, exploring the unknown. We set the snubber and pulled off our life vests, the adrenaline buzz still making our hearts flutter.
Our confidence as cruisers had grown by leaps and bounds in a scant hour.
But we still set an anchor watch.
With the winds screaming all night and only snatches of sleep, we picked up and headed out for Santa Barbara the next morning, pulling into the harbor in the late afternoon.
The slip they gave us turned out to be spitting distance from the yacht club where I’d waited tables as a college student, serving a class of humans I never in a million years thought I’d belong to: sailors.
It was unexpectedly meaningful to come so full circle in life, and to feel the limits I thought I had in my twenties disappear by my forties.
We scrubbed the boat inside and out, then scrubbed ourselves, and headed to a seafood restaurant overlooking our boat for a celebratory meal.
Have you ever been so busy trying to go on vacation…
What to pack? Is it clean? Ok, what IS clean? Why won’t the suitcase zip? Are fancy shoes necessary? Hurry! Where did the boarding passes go? Shoes off! Why is the flight delayed?
...that you don’t feel the relaxation wash over you until they close the airplane doors? And then you think: Hey! Guess what? I’m on vacation!
After all the work to get out of the house, prep the boat, plan our passages, make smart weather choices, and sail through the challenging swells of Northern California, Colin and I sat on the deck of the restaurant, toasted our accomplishments and finally, finally, got that Hey! Guess what? We're on vacation! feeling.
We spent two days soaking up the sunshine, sleeping off the fatigue, and having wonderful meals with great friends who have bottomless hearts.
We needed a break.
For this California Coast shakedown, we’re now on the home stretch. We’ve ticked off 320 of 400 nautical miles, traded 15 foot swells for 3 and foul weather gear for cutoffs. We took our required hammering along the Big Sur coast and I seem to have fully found my sea legs.
Oh yeah, and we passed Point Conception.
For the next 80 miles, Mother Nature can always throw us curve balls, but we’re much more likely to be becalmed than to be gale-dodging.
Though maybe I should rephrase that confident prediction. Otherwise, I might have to add in the distant rumble of thunder.
Fair winds and following seas.
Point Conception was blissful sailing
Until it wasn’t
Cojo anchorage served her purpose admirably, but she was not quite for the faint of heart
Our first time at anchor being the only humans for miles and miles around
With the dawn, we transitioned from Northern California sailing to Southern California sailing
Nature served up a good breeze and a calm sea from Cojo to Santa Barbara. We kept thinking “This is what we signed up for!” :)
My life comes full circle. In the background, the yacht club where I served steaks to sailors in college and never imagined I’d get to join them. In the foreground, our beloved Pristine. Thanks to the amazing Bob and Suzanne, I even got to revisit the club—this time as a sailor.