The National Hurricane Center issued its first ever tropical storm watch for parts of southern California as hurricane Hilary churned its way up the coast of Baja. We were not aware of this until we arrived at Catalina Island however. I don’t think any of us had looked beyond the near-term wind forecast for our Club cruise to Two Harbors on Catalina Island. Hey, this is August in southern California and the weather is always nice, right? We’d stay about five nights and check the winds for our return trip when it was time to leave. That somewhat lackadaisical weather check turned out to miss or ignore the fact that hurricane Hilary was moving its way up the Baja Mexico west coast and was forecasted to make landfall near San Diego in several days.
Two boats, S/V Libertad with Virginia and Dennis Johns on board (see their report elsewhere in this newsletter) and S/V Ecco Bella with Peggy and Rich Ciolino on board, departed Santa Barbara Harbor at about 10:00 on Tuesday August 15 bound for Smugglers Cove on Santa Cruz Island, about a five-hour sail. We motor sailed for about 2-1/2 hours before turning off the engine as we picked up a nice westerly breeze that took us around the east end of Santa Cruz. We motored into Smugglers and had our anchor set with 120 feet of chain by 15:45.
After a calm and peaceful night at anchor we departed Smugglers at about 06:30 and set our course for Isthmus Cove at Catalina.
The run over to Catalina is typified by no sailing wind for the first six hours or so followed by a lovely northwesterly breeze for the next four hours with an arrival around 16:00. For us, the wind never materialized and we motored or motor sailed the whole way and were moored at 17:45. We got our dinghy in the water and were ready to relax and have some fun.
Later that evening we became aware of hurricane Hilary! Peggy and I were planning to stay five nights and leave on Monday morning for the trip back home, but this news got us thinking and checking the forecasts to see when the storm was due to arrive at our area and when would be a good time to leave so we would arrive in Santa Barbara without feeling the effects of Hilary. We had a couple of days to play with so we decided to relax and enjoy the day. We used our dinghy to take our garbage ashore, bought some ice cream for dinner dessert at the general store, and walked around a bit.
Back on the boat Peggy and I began inflating our stand-up paddle board (SUP) and while standing on deck I glanced down over the side of the boat and noticed that our dinghy was not in its normal tied-up location. My first reaction was, oh no, the painter came loose and our dinghy was being blown offshore. Trying to remain calm I then thought, well, maybe the wind had shifted, pushing the dinghy toward the bow of the boat instead of the stern, which does happen from time to time. I glanced at the mid-ship cleat to see if the dinghy’s painter was still attached and it was. Still hopeful that the dinghy was secure, I walked forward to check and the dinghy was gone! The painter had failed near the cleat and I looked seaward as the offshore breeze would have been blowing the dinghy in the general direction of Los Angeles. As I looked across a few more rows of moorings behind us I spotted a man in his dinghy two rows back who was holding on to our dinghy. I yelled and waved to him but I couldn’t get his attention as he was busy tying what was left of the painter to one of the nearby mooring pick-up wands. The man left and I never did see him again to thank him. As luck would have it a harbor patrol boat was passing by our boat and I got the attention of the captain and told him our dinghy broke loose and someone tied it to that mooring ball as I pointed to it. He said he’d be back shortly and would bring the dinghy to our boat which he did several minutes later.
The major takeaway from this lucky dinghy incident is that I should have replaced the painter several years ago. Polypropylene line is recommended for dinghies because it floats thus avoiding the possibility of having it get wrapped around a propellor on the dinghy or on that of your boat when towing the dinghy. This particular painter has been attached to three dinghies of ours in its lifetime over about 15 years and I had noticed that it looked worn and felt quite rough which should have pushed me to replace it, but I didn’t and nearly lost the dinghy and its motor. I guess it’s like they say about reefing a sail – if you think you should reef, do it now, don’t wait.
After all the dinghy fuss Peggy got to cruise around the Isthmus on the SUP. There she is passing under the west end cliff next to a couple of other boats.
The four of us got together at 17:00 for snacks and drinks aboard Ecco Bella and had a brief discussion about our exit plans. We had a rough plan by the end of our talk and decided to have a final look at the forecast in the morning – most likely we’d leave on Saturday morning to arrive in Santa Barbara in early afternoon on Sunday, following the same route home with a stop at Smugglers on Saturday night and then an early departure for home on Sunday morning.
Early Friday morning I suggested an alternate plan that the John’s agreed to. We’d leave at noon on Friday, make the roughly six-hour sail over to Marina Del Rey, then leave early Saturday morning and head toward home. This leg could take 12 hours or so and we’d be passing near Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard along the way and could stop there for the night if desired. Or, if conditions were good and we felt like it, we could keep going all the way to Santa Barbara. Besides giving us the option to pull into Channel Islands Harbor I felt we’d have better internet connectivity just about all the way home on this route so we could keep in touch with the weather forecasts.
Marina Del Rey has a very nice public docking area next to Burton Chace Park, that we’ve use several times over the years. I called their office in the morning and they said there are two spaces available “now” but you can’t reserve them – it’s first come first serve. I’d never seen it that full but got a bit concerned. I then called the harbor master/police and was told that there’d be no problem – he’s never seen it full either, and if it was full to give him a call and he’d find a couple of places to tie up for the night.
As we were preparing to leave, a harbor work crew pulled up along us and asked when we were leaving. We told them we would be leaving in a few hours which they seemed pleased to hear and they said something about using the mooring we were on, E3. It wasn’t clear what exactly they would do with our mooring but it apparently had something to do with the incoming weather.
So, full of confidence we’d have some place to stop in Marina Del Rey, we left the Isthmus at about 12:30 and motor sailed the entire way arriving at 1830. As we approached the Burton Chace docks we slowly passed by slip after slip with big boats and little boats, some so small they were not visible until directly in line with the slip, until reaching the end where two slips were empty! I motioned the Johns to take the next to last one and we took the last one which was an end tie. In my hurry to dock the boat, I didn’t want someone else to sneak in before us, and with a slight stern quarter wind we got a bit sideways with the bow in ok but the stern pushed off the dock. A woman came by to help Peggy get the bow secured and then a very nice guy in a tiny craft that looked like a couch with a canopy covering him came in behind us and I tossed him a line. He was barely able to back up with his small motor and pull our stern closer to the dock where another guy on the dock took the line and pulled us in to the dock – very embarrassing and I felt like a real amateur for rushing into the dock before getting really ready for it.
This fellow that helped out said his boat was down the way and that earlier he had pulled into the space we just took and was told by management that he couldn’t stay there as it wasn’t a slip. As I said, it is an end tie with cleats so it looked ok to me too. As it turned out we arrived after the dock office closed and left before they would open in the morning so we got a free pass for the night.
One benefit to being here in Burton Chace Park Docks was that our daughter and son-in-law could join us for dinner on our boat. We were happy with the chance to get together and enjoyed barbecued hamburgers, salads, and ice cream until about midnight when they left for home in Sherman Oaks. They said it only took them 24 minutes to get home – I guess the benefit of traveling late at night.
We got underway about 0700 on Saturday morning and had flat seas and just a couple of knots of breeze as we motored along the coast of Santa Monica Bay, around Point Dume (Paradise Cove), and up to near Point Magu. It was about here that Dennis and Virginia suggested we keep going to Santa Barbara since the conditions were so benign and we should get in before dark. That sounded good to us so we struck a new course directly to Santa Barbara. Later in the day we were treated to some interesting cloud formations, obviously “brought to you by” Hilary. We entered the Santa Barbara harbor as the sun was getting low in the sky, tidied up a bit and head home for a relaxing and restful night.
Although we would have preferred to have stayed longer, we enjoyed the trip and look forward to doing it again next August, and hopefully after a closer look at that nice August weather.
AFTERWORD: The next day after our return home I went to the Two Harbors webcam site to see what Isthmus Cove looked like and it became obvious that everyone had left under evacuation orders after our Friday departure. It was also raining by then. As seen in the picture below there are black rectangular structures lined up in one of the mooring rows that were not there before we left on Friday. Virginia later spoke with one of our sister Club members about it and learned that they are sections of the dinghy dock. Apparently in situations like this they disassemble the dock and tie the sections to that row of moorings to better weather a storm. That also explained why a harbor work crew had come up to us earlier Friday morning to ask when we were leaving and talked about tying something up to the mooring we were on, E3. We weren’t quite sure what they were going to do at the time but now we know.