Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Breaking News: Weekend Cruise Report

We interrupt this narrative to report on last weekend's three-day cruise to Two Harbors at the Isthmus on Catalina Island.

It is the first cruise since a lengthy project to refinish the boat from the gunwales in -- the deck, cabin exterior and cockpit. All the how-to details will come later.

From Long Beach it is typically a motor-sail part way to the Isthmus, especially leaving in the morning. If the usual southwesterly to westerly afternoon winds prevail, you need to get well west of Pt. Fermin to set a close-hauled sailing course to Two Harbors.

Of course, the typical winds may not prevail, or at least not develop in time. That was the case last Friday. After motoring through the Long Beach Inner Harbor to Queens Gate, and then direct to the San Pedro buoy in light morning southeasterlies, I found myself with calm winds and glassy seas south of the buoy. In fact the wind didn't come up until about 2 p.m., about three miles out from the moorings at Two Harbors. And it was directly on the nose. So what. Narrow Escape motor sails at an easy 5.7-6.0 knot range leaving me plenty of time to enjoy the scenery and daydream.

Arriving at the harbor, the moorings east of the pier were virtually empty, while those to the west were only sparsely filled. Had everyone made the trip for Memorial Day weekend and didn't want to return? Were there fears of lingering effects from the Catalina Island wildfire three weeks earlier? Was the cool overcast of June Gloom, responsible? Who knows.

I arrived at the Harbor Patrol boat just ahead of my friend Nate in a Catalina 30, and we ended up with side-by-side moorings. The most difficult part of single-handed sailing is picking up a mooring. Steer for the pickup wand, modulate your speed, take the engine out of gear so the boat will coast to a stop just as it reaches the wand. Then run to the front of the boat with the boat hook when you're sure that it is all going to work out.

With my friend watching and waiting for his run at the adjacent mooring, I got to do this little drill three times before I succeeded. Thankfully there were few other boats around to worry about hitting. Too much working and not enough sailing lately. With two crew aboard to help, Nate did it perfectly and quietly in one pass, the way a skilled skipper should.

The cruise last weekend was to join fellow members of one of my clubs, Little Ships Fleet Yacht Club on its Spring Cruise. Highlight of the event was a beach barbecue Saturday night at Two Harbors, which drew about 50 people from aboard about 15 boats. They included the crews of five boats chartered from Marina Sailing, which raced each other to Ship Rock on Saturday and back to Long Beach on Sunday.

The return sail on Sunday really was a sail. I didn't leave until 1:30 that afternoon. The wind was already blowing about 8-10 kts. and it kept blowing even after I got away from the island's influence. Too often it will start blowing at the island in late morning and then die to nothing within 2-3 miles of shore. In fact, that morning I had watched the Marina Sailing boats drifting on glassy seas out by Ship Rock as they attempted to start their race home at noon.

No drifting for me however. As soon as I got the sails up I was doing 5 kts. on a broad reach with a course of 035 degrees. By the time I was within 10 miles of my destination, there were small whitecaps and 1-2 ft. of wind chop on top of 1-2 ft. seas. My knot meter was bouncing between 6 and 6.5 knots. There was no sun, however. The sky was gloomy and hazy with a low ceiling all the way across. The sailing was great.

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