cruis’n the pacific ocean


After 3 days 22 hours 8 minutes and 49 seconds and 497 nautical miles under the keel of SV Paradigm, we quietly pulled up to her new berth in Coyote Point Marina on Thursday, September 29th, at 0856 hour without fanfare and ceremony. Tired and a bit worse for the wear from keeping watch on a rocking and heaving boat for the last 4 days, but relieved that we manage to bring the nearly new J32 to her new slip from San Diego to San Francisco without drama and mishap – we are finally home! The journey consisted of 3 legs: Leg 1, from San Diego to Santa Barbara, Leg 2, from Santa Barbara to Monterey, and finally leg 3 from Monterey to SF. This segmentation of the trip was determined by the fuel consumption rate rather than by design. But in hindsight, it may be the right call for this trip regardless of fuel requirements, but also for a small respite between life onboard a constant rocking platform and our own cooking! SAN DIEGO to SANTA BARBARA: Leg length: 173 nautical miles, 1 day 6:46:23 hours, average speed: 5.58 knots

After some trouble with getting the broker from Sail California in San Diego to own up to problems that was to be fixed before our arrival, we left San Diego in a flurry of last minute repairs and provisioning (nothing like trying to find a refrigeration repairman called Capt’n Frost on a late Saturday afternoon, diagnose and repair a clogged head with a free-lance repairman or going grocery shopping with 3 guys at 11 PM on the eve of departure each with their own ideas of provisions for the journey). After motoring out of the San Diego channel and rounding the last channel buoy, we hoisted the main and set a course to 295° magnetic and let the autopilot take the wheel. Even though this is a delivery rather than a cruise, there was a great sense of relief to escape from the dependency of shore and the bitter taste of unprincipled brokers just by virtue of leaving land and into the big blue Pacific.

We wasted nearly two full days relying on an unscrupulous dealer, expecting him to fix what was pre-existing condition on the boat. Now that the boat is finally underway and all systems seemed to be working fine, we settled down to the routines of the boat: trimming sails, keeping watch, organizing the ship’s stores and trolling for fish dinner. Our destiny is at last under our own actions! Around midnight, we approached the island of Catalina and can see the glow of lights in Avalon. It was too bad that our departure was delayed as we would have seen the famed resort in twilight had we left as planned. The Santa Catalina Island is much larger than I had envisioned from accounts. From the time we approached the southern tip to passing the northern tip took us over 4 hours. Just after passing the Santa Catalina Island, we changed course to 10 degrees magnetic to cross the shipping channel perpendicular fashion to minimize any unnecessary or prolonged exposures to commercial shipping traffic. After traversing the channel safely, we reverted to our orignal heading and continued motor sailing to Santa Barbara.

Just after passing Port Hueneme around 1300, we encountered a heavy squall complete with thunder and lightening and hail. It was interesting how we can see the front approached us and see the lightening around us before the actual squall reached us. The wind picked up steadily and then very quickly, the rain came along with small hail stones and we were smack dab in the midst of a thunder storm and just as quickly – about 30 minutes, the storm passed and we were left in sunny skies and light breeze of 8-12 knots once again. A short time after the squall, we saw bait fish peppering the surface all around us and dolphins (as in Flipper) porpoising all around us – zipping by the boat as if we were standing still, and feeding on the bait fish. Appearantly, the dolphins encircled the bait fish school and take turns taking a mouthful of fish as they circle the school. My guess is that they can swim at least 4-5 times our speed or nearly 30 miles an hour. It was facinating to watch them swim around the boat and surfacing just out of reach. Delightful creatures.

About 1600, we finally approached the oil well platforms outside of Santa Barbara. We weaved and dodged between several of these rigs before reaching Santa Barbara with a good breeze pushing using us along all the way into the harbor. The gas dock normally closing by 1800, was busy transfering sea urchants caught by the local dive boats. It turns out Santa Barbara is one of the major sources for Sea Urchins or uni (in sushi-speak) for restaurants here and in Japan. One boat I chatted up with told me that they had 1700 lbs of urchins on board from a day’s work, but on a good day, they’ve harvested nearly 3,000 lbs of the spiny creatures. Have to admit that even though I’ve tasted Uni, I’m still unsure if it is something I find that tasty, but it is quite a popular item in Japanese restaurants. The Uni taste very rich and creamy with a slight bitter after-taste. We refueled, had dinner at a local restaurant on the Santa Barbara Wharf and debated about when to leave the harbor.

Our original plan was to arrive in Santa Barbara early afternoon, but because we left SD later than we planned we arrived in SB late also, we will not have the scheduled rest nor opportunity to sightsee the quaint waterfront area. Never the less, safe passage around Pt Conception and Pt. Arguello weighed heavily upon us given all the stories we heard, we decided that the best time to pass is at 0800 and a midnight departure is the prudent time to leave this harbor. We agreed to keeping to our watch schedule a little more closely than the first leg as we were all feeling a little fatiqued from staying up on watches with irregular and insufficient sleep. From the refueling at the gas dock, we calculated that our actual fuel consumption on this leg was 0.8 gallons per hour, which meant that we needed to adjust our route plan to include another refueling stopover as it would be too close a call to make it all the way to the Gate. We decided that Monterey rather than Santa Cruz would be the logical choice for the next refueling stop and the next leg would be the longest non-stop leg of this delivery trip. SANTA BARBARA TO MONTEREY: Leg length: 218 nautical miles, 1 day 16:06:03 hours, average speed: 5.45 knots

After we cleaned up a bit at the showers, I took the first watch of this leg to take us out of the SB harbor at 2308 and through the oil rigs that dotted the SB coast and our route. To minimize the milage, I had intentionally plotted the course closer to the coastline and weaving through the oil rigs rather than around them. If the weather was foggy, I would have opted to sail a little longer and outside of the rigs, but that would have added significant miles to our journey. But tonight, the wind was none existent and the waves were flat. We made good speed through the water at nearly 6.5 knots with crystal glossy water reflecting the lights of the oil rigs. Passing by these oil rigs at night seemed almost surreal as if we were in a scene of a science fiction story. All of the rigs are brightly lit up and look like space docking station and we… we are on a space ship, not a sailing ship, ghosting by the various landing pods looking for our gate. Periodically, I am fooled enough by the surreal sea scapte to expect Hans Solo in Starwars ejecting from one of the pods. But the only craft coming towards us for sure was a private patrol boat stationed near one of the oil plaform to keep uninvited visitors out of the area. We stayed far enough away to give a respectable distance from the oil rigs as not to offer them any reason to stop us and they obliged as well, keeping their bow pointed towards us, but not advancing closer than necessary to make their intentions clear. Message acknowledged and understood. Nonetheless, it feels like a time warp as we pass numerous oil rigs on this stretch of Santa Barbara coast and my mnd momentarily gave-in to the night illusion.

We rounded Pt Conception around 0600 due to the favorable winds and good boat speed we’ve had as well as that we left at 2308 rather than 0010 last night. We were rather anxious to move on and saw no sense in waiting for an hour to get started. Both Luther and I slept through this important milestone being off watch and we have learned from the first leg that it’s important to get your sleep while you can or else deal with proping your eye lids open while you are on watch. But we were able to witness our passage around Pt Arguello when Paradigm sail passed it as we changed watch. 

Just around the Point Arguello, abeam of Purisima Point, I was on watch at the helm and deep in my own world trimming the sail and adjusting the course on the auto-pilot to optimize our speed and VMG, when suddenly, a small military jet trainer flew by our boat from astern to port at nearly boom level. Momentarily, I was perplexed why some damn fool pilot would fly so close to the water, then realized maybe they were trying to read the name inscribed on the hull in order to contact us. The plane zoom past us and climbed up with a turn to starboard and quickly went astern and east towards the coast. I turned the radio to channel 16 and immediately heard the Navy OPS center hailing for the sailing vessel Paradigm. I responded to the hail, and was told to switch to channel 11. We were approaching a naval excercises area and the operator request us to bear away from our current course and direction and head west instead or face deadly force… We immediately tack the boat away as I’m sure none of us onboard would like to be the object of a target practice – unintentional or otherwise. The navy surveillance plane, swooped around to verify that we are heading out, then just as quickly and quietly as their approach dissappeared into the clouds and vanished.

The next portion of this leg was one of the more difficult segments as wind and waves are now strenghtening and squarely ahead of us. In order to keep the boat speed up and VMG as best we can, we had to tack the boat against the NW wind and waves. It took some time to figure out what is the optimal angle to go upwind and ease out the main as to let it help the boat forward. It’s far better to ease the main so there’s just a slight luff than to trim it in too tight and stall on the face the wave. So instead of a straight line path of following our planned route, we tacked back and forth as appropriate to keep our VMG above 5.0 knots, but realistically, it was more like 4.6 knots as the average. We spent the night sailing the boat up this section of Central California coast and finally reached Point Sur around 0800 on Wednesday morning in low clouds/high fog conditions, visibility about 0.5 nm, staying a respectable distance from the rocky shoreline in these conditions.

One has to appreciate how accurate the GPS’s were as navigation aid compared to the old days of even just using RDF throught this foggy section. We knew exactly where we were and when it would be ideal to tack away from shore. We rounded the Point Pinos buoy within feet of the buoy just navigating by GPS. We pulled into Monetery harbor at 1414 and proceeded to the fuel dock on the west end of the harbor passing by a jetty full of sea lions barking loudly and smelling quite odiferously. After refueling and replenishing the water tanks, we went to a deli by the wharf and had a sandwich for lunch and not realising it but it was also to be our dinner that evening. Vince had heard on the VHF radio that a significant storm front from Alaska is approaching the California coast by Friday and our best window is to depart immediately to make it to San Francisco before the storm hits and waves of 8-12 feet are expected. So after a brief respite at the deli, once again we casted off the dock lines and were on our way north again. MONTEREY TO SAN FRANCISCO: Leg length: 106 nautical miles, 18:01:52 hours, average speed: 5.89 knots.

By now, we are getting used to our watch routines. Vince took the first watch after leaving the Monterey Harbor. The breeze was about 10 knots and as from an angle that favored port tack on a heading of 310 degrees. By midnight, we reached Pigeon Point Lighthouse. Around 0300, we passed Pillar Point Harbor, and by 0630 we can see the Golden Gate Bridge. Fortunately for us and perhaps due to the fact that we were between the departing storm on Tuesday, and the approaching storm front due Friday, the night sky was clear all the way from Monterey to San Francisco Bay with no sign of fog or low clouds – visibility was excellent. We were indeed happy there were no fog and good breeze of 10-15 knots through the entire way as it made this segment quiet and uneventful.

At 0530 we pass abeam of the South Channel shoal near the entrance of the gate and headed towards the Golden Gate Bridge (0632). Much to our delight, the tides were in our favor and we rode the flood all the way into the bay and well into the South Bay until we pulled into Paradigm’s new slip. We all breathed a sigh of relief and congratulated each other on the quiet conclusion of this adventure. Our planned route indicated a total route of 445 NMs, our actual track showed that we had travelled 497 NMs – due to the extra distances from tacking upwind. Fuel consumption was slightly more than the published data of 0.6 gallons, but less than the initial 0.8 gallons per hour after we got used to motor sailing for most economical fuel/speed trade-off and was able to optimize the angle of VMG and wind directions to reduce fuel consumption. All in all, it was a good trip and I’m glad to have this adventure under my belt. But it’s certainly good to be back on solid ground for a while, before another urge to head off into the ocean takes hold.