Santa Cruz Island North Shore Trip
Excitement in the Santa Barbara Channel
By Bill Mattson
Our previous trip to Santa Cruz, our sixth, was an
aggressive 3-day tour of the south shore. This seventh trip
would be a shorter trip, visiting points on the north shore
that faces the mainland. The trip objectives included
numerous landing sites, including Cueva Valdez, Fry's
Harbor, Lady's Harbor, Platt's Harbor, and Pelican Bay. It
would be our 6th visit to Santa Cruz Island on Gary's 20-
foot Mystere catamaran, "Whisk". My personal priority for
the trip was to visit Pelican Bay.
On her first visit to Santa Cruz Island In 1908, a woman
named Margaret Holden Eaton landed at Pelican Bay with her
infant child for a camping trip. Her husband, a fisherman,
had told her about the island. After hearing his stories,
she longed to visit it. After much pleading from her, he
arranged for a friend to drop her off at Pelican Bay. She
would meet up with another friend he had left on the island
to assist her and her child.
She fell in love with the island, and later developed and managed a resort camp at this location with her husband. Ultimately, both of them lived on the island for 25 years.
Margaret Holden Eaton, Late 1890s
||My intention was to land on the same beach she had landed on 94 years ago. I would also locate the spring she used for the campsite, locate ruins of the buildings, and possibly find the pump and pump motor that her husband Ira had installed at the spring. Our previous attempts to visit Pelican were unsuccessful due to time constraints, weather conditions, or equipment problems.|
|After rigging the boat and loading our gear bags, it became obvious that we had vastly refined our supply requirements and overall gear packing efficiency since our first trip. On our first overnight trip to Santa Cruz Island we had one small gear bag each of camping gear and clothing, one large gear bag of our combined food and water, and additional gear, water, and beverages in the hulls. Now, a year later, we had reduced this to two small gear bags of camping gear, clothing, food, and water, with no additional drinks in the hulls. Moreover, the two gear bags we had were secured to the boat with a ripcord system. In the event of a capsize, a single ripcord would deploy both bags, leaving us a boat with no "on deck" weight to hamper righting. The bags also had tethers to insure that they would remain near the boat in such an occurrence.|
Another refinement involved the rudders. On previous trips, we had problems with the Mystere rudders kicking up as well as casting failures when the boat was beached and the rudders were hit by waves. Gary had modified a set of Prindle 16 rudders and castings, which were earlier installed and tested on the boat for this trip.
I had also refined my choice of clothing. In the past, I had found my choice of jeans to be heavy and usually damp from the high nighttime humidity on the island. This time, I would be wearing long underwear made of polypro (polypropylene plastic) and some thin nylon wind pants. Aside from keeping me warm and dry, if I were to jump in the water with these they would be relatively dry within minutes of submersion. Although, I would be wearing a wetsuit and spray suit for the crossing, I considered the option of just wearing the polypro and nylon while touring along the island's coastline.
We departed Santa Barbara Harbor at 10:15am under overcast skies, in a decent breeze around 8 knots or so. Visibility was ¬ mile in a light fog. Soon, we were double trapezed in good wind, on relatively flat seas. Our original plan was to visit Pelican Bay first, then
work our way west. However,
we were able to sail a higher course than expected, and
decided to start West, and then sail east downwind as we
toured the coast.
With the revised plan, Cueva Valdez would be our first stop. Gary set our course a few degrees west of this point to compensate for the usual sideslip and for the current we would encounter near the Continental Shelf.
Once at the island, we found ourselves slightly east of Cueva Valdez, and spotted a beach just in front of us. A quick look at our chart revealed this to be Hazard's Anchorage. We decided to go ashore to check it out. Whenever time permits, we like to check out potential landing sites for possible future use. At the very least, they could provide safe harbor in the event of an emergency. Also, they may reveal a desired future destination.
Approaching North Shore of Santa Cruz Island
At 1:00pm we landed at Hazards, having crossed the 22 nautical mile channel in 2 hours 45 minutes. The water was very calm so we spun the boat around in the water and then dragged her up on the beach, sterns first. We threw down our beach rollers and pulled Whisk up for a rest. The topography offered little in the way of hiking. After a brief look around, we wasted no time in departing for our next stop, Cueva Valdez.
Some helpers at Cueva Valdez
The first interesting feature at Cueva Valdez was a large cave on the west side of the beach. As soon as we hit the beach and started dragging the boat, a man accompanied by a small boy came over to give us a hand. This would be the first of many friendly people we would meet during the weekend. Once the boat was secured, we took a walk over to the cave that was on the beach, near the tide line. As we walked into the cave, we were awed by a multi-colored cathedral ceiling, and another opening to our right, leading into the ocean. There was a beach inside, with only a gentle surge washing up on it. The area outside the cave is protected by the bay and some very large rocks.
A kayak sat on this beach, parked in this large natural garage while its owner was away, hiking the island. As we walked farther along the cave's soft and sandy floor, it became apparent that this was quite a large cave. We continued along, finding it becoming larger and larger until it presented us with another, much larger opening to the open ocean, the entrance piled high with boulders. We hiked out through the boulders and noted the crystal clear water below; so clear it was difficult to determine its depth..
To continue east, through the rocks, looked rather tough and time consuming. We decided to return to the boat and be on our way to the next stop, Lady's Harbor. On our way back through the cave, we noticed plants growing on the walls and ceiling, fed from spring water that collected into droplets and fell to the sand below. Any stalactites formed by the dripping water in this cave have been broken off by the occasional heavy surf that must pound through the cave at times.
Once back at the boat, we launched and sailed downwind for Lady's Harbor. Lady's was a bit smaller, and actually is made up of two harbors; A large one to the west and a smaller one "Little Lady's" to the east. Gary's extensive preparatory research using topographical maps, nautical charts, and aerial photographs had revealed the large beach to be the better catamaran landing.
Little Lady's also looked a bit cramped, especially with the 40-foot monohull anchored inside. We headed into the larger side, spotted a nice landing beach, and hit the beach at 2:20pm alongside the stern anchor line of a triamaran, one of 3 boats at anchor. Once on the steep beach, I held the boat while Gary rigged our anchor/block system. He placed an anchor about 50 feet up the beach, and then rigged a rope bridle at the bow from the front cross bar. Blocks at both the anchor, and the bridle, all provided a 4:1 purchase for pulling the boat up the beach. This was modified to a 5:1 system later in the day for a steeper beach.
Whisk, The Triamaran, and one lousy photo developing job
Meanwhile, a guy from the triamaran decided we needed some help and stepped off his boat into what he thought was waste high deep, crystal clear water. He dropped in all the way over his head and came up with a shout, "Whew, that's a little cold!" The water in the channel was 55§ this day, so not much warmer in this harbor. He then swam ashore and helped to move the boat. (Another nice guy). This sailor told us that they had blown out their Mylar main sail on their Ferrier trimaran on the crossing, congratulating us on our expert sailing ability to safely cross in those conditions out there in what is widely and infamously known as Windy Lane.
Once beached, we took a brief look around then decided to motor over into the smaller harbor next door. The guy from the triamaran had told us that the smaller harbor provided better hiking, with some fresh water "swimming holes" within easy walking distance, and that it had a very small beach that could accommodate us.
Gary squeezes us into Little Lady's
With the main doused, we motored over to Little Lady's. This was a very small anchorage with very large boulders at the beach and steep cliff walls on all sides. The close clearance between the boulders, along with the considerable amount of surge caused us to decide to not land at this location. Since the main was down, we elected to motor and sail under jib, down to our next landing, Fry's Harbor. The deck was a bit disorganized with the main being on deck, and our beach rollers un-secured.
Once out in the channel, Gary yelled, "We just lost one of the rollers!" Before we could get the boat turned around, a swell came up and doused the motor, shutting it down. The wind was starting to come up, so we kept the boat headed downwind while Gary tried to restart the motor. In pulling back on the starter cord, he struck his radio and broke off the radio's clip. At some point during all this fun, we noticed we did not have the anchor aboard, having left it on the beach at Lady's.
When it rains, it pours.
So I took the helm and steered us up into the wind while Gary hoisted the main. (Quite a task in the wind with steep swells). Soon we were on our way back to retrieve the anchor. On the way back we looked around for the roller. Considering the shoreline in this area is rock strewn cliff faces, we figured it was not worth the risk to venture much closer in to the area where the rollers had probably washed ashore. Upon our return to Lady's we grabbed the anchor, stowed it, and departed for Fry's.
During the downwind run to Fry's, the seas and winds were building. Our tack took us further from the shore where the waves got larger and steeper. Soon, the boat was surfing down the wave faces, with the bows submerging into the trough ahead. There were times I saw the bows bury to the crossbar. At some point during this wild ride, the starboard rudder kicked up, and then shattered against the load. Gary locked the rudder up, and we both looked at some really serious damage. The entire rudder was split open near the casting and bent inboard about 12 degrees. We proceeded to Fry's, taking it easy on the one rudder we had left.
On the beach at Fry's Harbor
At Fry's, there were about six monohulls and a motorboat in the harbor. Most everyone had stern lines rigged with two anchors for each boat. Looking through all this to find a place on the beach to land was like looking through a spider web. Getting through would be a challenge, and without the motor working it would have to be done under sail. A quick glance at one of the flags flying on a monohull anchored close to shore indicated a headwind coming right off the beach. We would have to paddle in, once we got into the headwind. Gary expertly navigated down the right side, between a cliff and a large monohull. Unfortunately, as soon as we hit the headwind it was impossible to paddle against. Yet another kind sailor came by in an outboard powered inflatable, and gave us a tow to shore. We rigged the anchor line, and pulled the boat up on the beach.
We could now closely inspect the rudder damage. In addition
to the broken rudder, the lower inboard portion of the
casting was split. This sight brought back memories of our
broken casting at Scorpion Anchorage over a year ago. At
that time we had to cut our trip short and run for home
early the following morning in calm conditions, sailing over
20 miles across the Santa Barbara Channel on one rudder.
It was starting to look like my hopes for a landing at Pelican were once again dashed. A couple walked by and greeted us. "You guys know where we can get a steak dinner on this island?" I asked. This prompted a good laugh from them. They took a look at the boat and expressed some admiration that we were able to take it across the channel. Everywhere we went on the
Island, sailors gave us kudos.
Looking at the rudder they mentioned it looked like we had
experienced a pretty rough day.
The Hike up from Fry's.
We changed into our dry clothes, and Gary took a look at the
motor. A check for spark revealed a fouled spark plug, so
Gary installed a spare plug and the motor was back in
business. We then got ourselves a snack and took a walk up
a hillside along a rock wash.
As usual, the scenery was breathtaking. We quickly gained elevation walking through the boulders and oak trees to be rewarded with a panoramic view of our surroundings. I was bummed about the boat damage, and my feeling that we would be making another early trip home. Gary was trying to remain upbeat. "We can't allow this to spoil our trip.", he said. "We are in a beautiful area. We've earned this experience by working hard to get this far. Let's just enjoy the rest of the day and focus on the problem later." Soon we both were in a better frame of mind, enjoying our situation.
In 1927, Fry's was the site of a rock quarry. The rock here was used to build a portion of the jetty at Santa Barbara Harbor. From the hillside, we could see remnants of the quarry operations, which included timbers, concrete foundations, and cable car rails and cables. After coming back down the hillside, we took a walk up the canyon into the woods. Passing under canopies of old oak trees, we found yet another fresh water creek, and some boards, pipes, and sheet metal from an old building probably related to the quarry. There were rusting remnants of heavy steel equipment.
Whisk on the beach at Fry's.
Once back at the boat, we prepared to settle in for the night. I found a nice "dining spot" near a cliff, to which we brought our gear. For a sleeping area, we each took the end of a board and "graded" the stones down creating a level area free of large rocks. This impromptu campsite was very clean and free of bugs or dirt. We set up our flashlights and flameless chemical food heaters and started warming our dinner. The moonlight was bright enough that we really did not need the lights, so we shut them off.. I sat back against a rock, sipped my beer and enjoyed the moment.
As I gazed out over the very calm water, watching the reflected moonlight dancing on its surface, I saw an inflatable being paddled in to shore. Being that we were emergency camping on private property, I immediately assumed the worst. "Uh oh." I said. "Somebody is coming, and they are headed right for us." The mystery guests beached the raft and started walking directly towards us. It was the same couple that I had earlier asked about the steak dinner, Lisa and Lee. Each of them was carrying a plate with foil on top.
Gary said, "Hey! Are you guys going to join us for dinner?" Their response was, "We were all concerned about you guys up here and since we had the only kitchen in town we decided to deliver this care package. We thought that you guys deserved a nice dinner after the rough day you've had."
My earlier remark about the steak dinner was a joke. Now, we were being presented with sliced tri-tip steak, corn-on- the-cob, and rolls, all steaming hot! We were floored by their hospitality. They asked if there was anything else we needed and said that they would bring it from the boat. "Oh come on; that's enough! I feel like I am going to cry," joked Gary. The food was wonderful. We thanked them profusely, offered our compliments to the chef, and they left as quickly as they came, rowing away in the glistening, moonlit water.
It has become a matter of custom for one or both of us to provide an unexpected treat at some time during the trip. This seemed to be the right time since it might be the most relaxing moment of this trip. I pulled out my coveted copy of my book about Margaret Eaton and read some of her diary notes that related to the area in which we sat. Gary also had a surprise and he brought out some Chartreuse that we sipped on for our desert. It was a very nice moment to reflect on the beauty of the place through someone else's experience in the past. Soon the day, the food, and the booze got the best of me and I was ready for some sleep.
One thing I noticed about Fry's was that we had not seen any of the wild feral pigs that would always show up during the evening at our previous landings. But in the middle of the night, we were both started awake by something running through the stones. Yes, this would be a typical night on Santa Cruz Island, with a pig bothering us on and off during the night. It would wander in, looking for food, then run away from our shouts and thrown rocks, then wander back in again. The cycle repeated every hour or so. On the bad side, you don't get much sleep. On the good side, you get to experience the stars, the ocean sounds, and the entertaining dialog from Gary. "Damn it. That sucker better stay the hell away from my boat." He had a lunch on the boat and was afraid of the pig trying to climb up onto the tramp. I had the same feeling, but maybe for a different reason. I figured that the way things were going; we were likely to throw a rock at the pig and put it right through one of the hulls.
On this trip, we slept in, not getting up until 6:45. We enjoyed some bottled coffee that had been heated to 98 degrees by sleeping with it all night. We had some fruit cocktails for breakfast. We packed up our gear, and then started brainstorming on the rudder. Gary was intent on not letting the rudder failure cut our trip short. He wanted to fix the rudder adequately enough to land at Pelican Bay before heading for home. I suggested splinting the rudder with some duct tape, perhaps adding a hunk of metal for support. Gary recalled a certain galvanized sign in the ruins of the building in the forest. We agreed that this was our best shot, and that it may even fit cleanly into what was left of the casting. So off I went, back to get some of it. By the time I got to the beach, Gary and a guy on the motorboat out in the bay were yelling to each other.
Gary glanced down at the rudder, then looked up, cupped his hands around his mouth, and yelled, "CLAMP!"
The guy would yell back, "OKAY,,, WE HAVE A CLAMP! ANYTHING ELSE?"
Gary looked at the rudder again, and then yelled, "HAMMER!"
This went on for a while until the guy said, "OK, WE'RE BRINGING EVERYTHING."
Gary and Mike wrapping the metal over the rudder break.
In a few minutes, the two guys came ashore in an inflatable with toolboxes and a cordless drill. With the thin sheet steel, and the shattered rudder, and a large rock for a workbench, it was a challenging problem. The four of us made a great team, each person with suggestions and input on how to get the job done. Working the metal around the contours of the rudder, as well as preserving the "kick up" function was not easy. The fracture in the casting was tied together with stainless steel wire.
|We decided the repair would be far stronger with a bolt installed through the lower part of the castings and the rudder, and we found a bolt to do the job. This would allow the casting to act as a clamp on the splinted rudder. The problem here was that if we were to hit something at sea, it would either cut the rudder off at the point of the repair or damage the transom enough to sink the hull. The compromise was to drill out a hole for the bolt, but leave the bolt uninstalled. Once at sea, if we determined the rudder was not going to hold up, we would install the bolt then take our chances. Unfortunately, the rudder would be on our leeward side during the 22 n. mi crossing home. If we were to reverse the rudders and castings, the Ackerman angle in the steering would require us to sail only on one rudder at a time. So, we decided to sail on the splinted rudder with the second rudder helping out and acting as a reserve.|
Considering what we had to work with, the end product was
about the best we could have hoped for. The rudder was fairly solid,
the repair moved freely in the casting, and the holes for the "option bolt"
lined up perfectly. The job had taken about 2 hours to complete,
and it was now 10am.
Mike, David and his son Daniel all bid us farewell and returned to their boat. By the time we were packed, suited up, and launching, they were also on their way. On Santa Cruz Island, there is no shortage of nice people.
David Dickinson (L) and Mike Smith (R)
We were now on our way to Pelican Bay. The wind was up and
we made quick time. As we approached the bay, we moved into
the usual wind shadow of the island and had to fire up the
motor. Approaching the beach landing was an exciting moment
for me. I would soon be in the footsteps of Margaret Holden
Eaton when she landed on the beach back in 1908. We passed
by the large bay where a number of boats were at anchor. By
the time the Eatons had their resort built in 1913 they had
a small pier and stairway on the bank of this bay to
accommodate the dinghies of guest's yachts. Then we came to
the small adjoining bay on the east side of the large one.
The small bay provided the beach onto which we would land.
Arriving at Pelican Bay
We entered the small bay, circled to view any hazards, and then landed the boat at 12, noon. Since this was another steep beach, we set the anchor and blocks and started hauling the boat up onto the sand. A long and thin log made a good substitute for the rollers we had lost earlier in the day. After getting things secured, we got ourselves a snack and started walking up the canyon.
Entering the canyon from Little Pelican (aka Tinker's Cove)
In her diary, Margaret mentions a spring within 75 ft of the
first camp. We found this very same spring flowing out of a
rock wall adorned with ferns, cascading down into a crystal
clear pool. Ira Eaton had improved the spring with a
concrete retaining wall, and had later installed the pump to
carry water up to a holding tank for the camp. We found no
concrete, nor pump at the spring, and assumed it may be
further up the hillside.
From the canyon we hiked up a hill and onto the area where the resort buildings once stood. The main building that contained the dining room still had the concrete steps in place. There was not much left of the stairway, which leads down to the water, but a pipe, and cable railing provided some safety as I walked down it to the water. There were some holes where pier pilings probably once stood. Now, they were just homes for many beautiful purple sea urchins and orange starfish.
The Spring at Pelican
Pelican Bay Camp, 1920 (Red mark indicates foundation of main building)
Pelican Bay Camp, 2002. (Taken from point slightly West of older picture)
Pelican Bay Camp, 1920's. (Taken from SouthWest)
Pelican Bay Camp, 2002.
Bill on the peninsula at Pelican
We walked out onto the high peninsula where the resort cabins once stood, and was presented with a 270-degree view I will never forget. The day was clear. To the east was Little Pelican with China Bay and the east end of the island in the distance. To the north was the coastline of California and Tehachapi mountains, and to the west was Pelican Bay. There were very few remnants of the resort camp on the peninsula, but there were beautiful blooming Yucca plants.
On the hillside above Pelican Bay
We walked up the hillside above the bay to see if we could locate another source for the spring and possibly the concrete wall, but never found it. We did find evidence of a Chumash seashell dump where the soil was full of sparkling fragments. Turning around to go back, we were once again stunned by the view. The wind was strong in the channel, with whitecaps clearly visible about a mile out. We figured we had better check the weather before heading out.
On our way back to the boat we found what may have been Ira Eaton's pump motor, along with a rotting section of three- inch pipe. It was half buried in the soil in the mouth of canyon, near the beach. It then occurred to us that any structures at the base of the canyon (including the spring improvements) would probably never survive 90 years, considering the major storms that would have occurred during that time. The motor we found may not have been the pump motor, but there were not many other reasons a motor and pipe would have been in that location.
The pump motor?
"To me, the sound of that motor was was sweeter than any music I'd ever heard, for it meant that the part of the hard work of carrying water was behind us." - Margaret Eaton, circa 1914.*
We tuned the radio to the NOAA radio broadcast and the Santa
Barbara Channel West buoy was reporting 20 knots of wind
with four-foot seas. With the crippled rudder we did not
want to push the boat, so we reefed the mainsail. It was
2:15pm, and we pushed off the beach. While the whitecaps out
in the channel were blowing from the northwest, we were
sailing off the island in an east wind. Our wind gradually
decreased, but the northwest wind could be seen approaching
us from the north. At about « mile out, our wind shifted
quickly to the northwest, and was blowing at 30 knots within
just a few minutes.
During the next 20 minutes, the wind and seas increased dramatically. During this time, the Santa Barbara Channel West buoy was reporting winds over 44 knots. With the reefed main sail de-powered to "flat as a board" and traveled all the way out, we could not safely sail our course to Santa Barbara. Instead, we feathered
Whisk on the beach at Little Pelican
the boat to
weather to avert a capsize. Seas were a mixture of swells
from our port beam, and wind waves from our port bow
quarter. At each large wave combination, the boat had to be
steered upwind into the wave to avoid being broached.
As the bows went airborne off the crest of each wave, they would be blown downwind rotating us into a dangerous heading. So we furled the jib, which was mostly just back winding the main anyway. We left a bit of the jib unfurled to help balance the boat. With intense concentration, Gary was able to manage the helm to keep the boat from being tossed over backwards while minimizing the amount of stress on the crippled rudder..
The wind whistled across the rigging, our hat brims, and ears. When we were hit with gusts that must have been in the 30-45 knot range, Gary stated that the leech of the main was buzzing. We could see it vibrating too. He said, "I'm going to call that the 30 knot Buzz." We could not even consider getting out on the trapeze in these conditions. Rather we just sat on the deck, secured by our foot straps and lifelines. Some of the waves slapped the side of the boat, hitting us in the shoulders. Some cannoned off the bows, forcing us to turn our heads and hang on as we where hit with the oncoming water. Onward we pounded, making 4 to 6 knots against 8-10 foot seas in 40-knot winds, with a splinted broken rudder.
Gary pointed out a whale spout, a mile or more in the distance ahead. We watched and continued to witness a few spouts occurring every couple of minutes or so. We noted that they appeared to look "smoky" like dirty exhaust from an engine. Gary speculated that they appeared that way due to the shadow that they were casting upon themselves, that the vapor toward the sun was shadowing the rest of the vapor. I agreed with his take on the charcoal gray spouts in the blue gray skies.
At some point we had the broken rudder kick up on us. We brought the bows up close to weather to slow the boat, but had to be extremely careful not to go into irons. Had the boat ever been pushed backwards we would easily snap the repaired rudder off. Actually, in those conditions we might have snapped both. I took the helm and keep the boat in position as Gary went back to get the rudder into place. At this time we discussed installing the bolt, since there was very little chance of hitting anything in the open channel. After some discussion, we decided to leave the bolt out until multiple kick-ups became a problem, or if the rudder repair did not seem to be holding up. So far, so good.
Gary confirmed the rudder was down and locked, then steered the boat back on course. Then the entire situation in which we found ourselves became surreal. When you are pushing yourself very hard in an extreme situation, you can reach a point where you feel as if you are stepping out of reality and into a dream. We had arrived at that place. The sound of a whale spouting is one that you do not forget, mostly because to hear it means that you are pretty close to a whale. At a moment when we were both looking at the rudders, a spout was heard that rocked our world. You have never seen two men turn their heads to "front and center" so quickly. Gary pointed and screamed out at the top of his lungs "LOOK!" Not another word was spoken as we both glared forward in amazement. We had a whale, crossing our bows! We were each awe-struck.
Not just any whale. A BIG whale. A WHALE of a whale! He surfaced only 15 feet in front of our bows, swimming perpendicular to our course, moving from right to left.. Gary was feathering up to avoid contact as I saw a huge spotted mass above the surface and heard a thundering hiss. The size was just incredible. I saw 15 to 20 feet of body, sloped very gently front to back which suggested a lot more body underwater. The forward end of the body was entering the water as the back end came out at the same rate, sort of like a snake climbing over a log. Several feet of body left and re-entered the water as we watched the spots go by. Gary is pretty sure this was a blue whale. This area is known to have Blue Whales. They are more present this year than usual due to a high volume of one of their favorite foods, Red Tuna Crab. They average 80 ft long or so with weights ranging from 100 to 200 tons. He had rights too, being on starboard tack.
The feeling we had as we sat in silent amazement was remarkable. To say that chills were felt all over the body, inside and outside would be a severe understatement. Being so close to a whale spout that you feel the wind brings you to a place that could only be compared to a dream. Looking at a creature larger than the dinosaurs from as close as you could get, while it is swimming, is incredible.
Okay, so maybe we'll just leave that rudder unbolted for now. There may be more of these submerged living locomotives swimming around. Moments later we knew he had spouted again when we smelled whale breath. We learned about this on our last outing when we came within a couple hundred yards of a humpback whale. Gary says he prefers Blue to Humpback.
While the wind still howled, the seas began to decrease as we made some distance away from the island. We had experienced this phenomenon many times. The ocean swells grow as they enter the shallow water close to the island. They were still pretty big, but we were seeing less and less of the big combinations that would impact the boat and flood the deck. At 10 miles out, or near the halfway point of our journey, we decided to bolt the rudder. By this time it had kicked up 3 times, and was wavering back and forth in the water when locked down. It was either bolt it or lose it. I tried to keep the boat headed up to weather, and Gary installed the bolt. Just imagine hanging off the stern of a catamaran in rough seas, trying to get a 5/16 inch bolt into a lower rudder casting. Not only is the bolt hole underwater, but your head and shoulders are too, whenever the boat goes over the occasional big wave. I don't know how he did it, but he managed to install the bolt and nut, and then get a couple of wrenches on it to crank it down tight. His arms were plowing through the water at about 4 knots as he worked. He would occasionally shout status reports up to me to assure me that progress was being made.
Within the next hour or so, the winds began to come down to reasonable levels. So we deployed the jib and started to make some better time.
The closer we got to the coast, the more the wind decreased. Soon we also had the chuter, our third sail, out. At 4:50pm, less than 2 hours from our "survival sailing" we were becalmed 5.3 mi from Santa Barbara Harbor. Out came the motor. We listened to that sucker for over an hour. It's not quiet, but it got us home.
As we pulled into the harbor, I felt an oscillation in the tiller stick. I looked down through the glassy water and saw our repaired rudder paddling back and forth like a fish's tail. It probably was not of much use at that point, but it got us through the heavy stuff.
Back at the launch ramp we saw the triamaran, whose owner had helped us pull the boat up at Lady's harbor. He took a look at our broken rudder, then showed us his main sail that had blown out about 5 feet from the head.
Safe on land at 6:45pm.
Was it all worth it? A resounding yes! The draw of Santa Cruz Island is difficult to explain. But it is certainly timeless.
"When we reached the wharf at Santa Barbara, a down and out feeling came over me, and I couldn't decide whether I wanted to go home or turn right around and go back to the island where I had spent such a wonderful time. Captain Vasquez had warned me about that feeling."*
- Margaret Holden Eaton, 1908 (After returning from her first visit to Pelican Bay)
"When people go out to the islands, they are struck with a feeling they've never experienced before. The vastness, the magnificence - it stuns them."
- Marla Daily, Historian, 2002 ("The World Beyond the Waves, Sunset Magazine, Sep 2002 pp26)
"It's a wonderful place, but you sure pay a price getting out there."
- Gary Freisen, September 15, 2002
A special thank you goes to Lee and Linda, their skipper, and all their crewmates for the wonderful dinner provided on the beach at Fry's. It was a pleasant and stunning surprise, and the kindness more than made up for a really tough day. Also, words cannot express our gratitude to David Dickinson and Mike Smith. They could have easily gone about their business. Instead, they took 2 hours out of their morning to help two strangers, providing their ingenuity, tools, and hardware to produce a repair of a quality we would not have been able to attain on our own. We were lucky to share an anchorage with men of such character.
Once again, my sincere appreciation goes out to Gary for the opportunity to crew for him. Sometime during our return, he had told me "This trip was for you", which would explain the special commitment in getting us to Pelican Bay. It was a special gift that is very much appreciated. Pelican was the clear highlight of my 6 visits to Santa Cruz Island.
Damn. We actually pulled it off again.
Crew, Mystere 20 "Whisk"
*"Diary of a Sea Captain's Wife: Tales of Santa Cruz Island" Edited by Janice Timbrook