I wonder if it will be raining… should I pack a dress? Does this outfit go together? is black too cliche? As I attempted to piece together outfits to shove into my duffle bag I asked myself what I wanted to be wearing when I said goodbye to my best friend….
When I was a kid, my family had a trailer that we would not only take on far-away adventures but also, on occasion, take to the beach which was a 5-minute drive from our house at Seacliff Beach, in Aptos California. I must admit, as silly as it seems those were some of my favorite memories. Although it was the same beach we could walk to from home, there was a magical element added when you were sleeping there overnight. The point of this introductory paragraph is simple: every once in a while it is nice to have a change of scenery, which is one of the many alluring things of sailboat life.
Chris and I often joke that we should entertain more often because it is the only time I put effort into keeping our boat clean. This onset of cleanliness was brought on by the visit of one of my best friends, Megan, who drove all the way down from North Lake Tahoe to visit with us before she flies to Alaska where she will be working this winter at a Heli-Lodge. I met Megan in college where she took me under her wing and together we competed in business plan competitions (we won the Nevada State Governors Cup 2016), traveled to New York for the United States Collegiate Ski/Snowboard Association Nationals, and of course had many lakeside hangouts to discuss life. Choosing Megan as my maid of honor for our wedding was one of the easier wedding planning decisions I made, and she upheld her promise to be the best maid of honor ever.
It was the first time Megan had visited us since our wedding, in addition, to her first time seeing Avocet. She was eager to observe how we live our life afloat and broke out her GoPro within seconds of arrival. She, of course, came bearing gifts of wine and pie which are two gifts that are always welcome in our home let alone in my belly. We poured ourselves a glass of wine and stayed up for a while updating each other on life from across our dinette while the glow of our oil lamp danced across our smile struck faces. After the glasses were dry, we blew out the light and went to bed in preparation for our exciting days ahead.
The following morning we got ready for our adventure. Megan had never been sailing before so of course, we were honored to cross that off her bucket list. We stowed the cabin and went through our regular departure protocol but this time before pushing off we had to run an errand to pick up the local magazine. Chris and I were featured as the November Neighbors in the Anchor Magazine, a wonderful local magazine dedicated to the Channel Islands Harbor and it’s surrounding residents. Despite being a digital marketer, I can still appreciate the feeling of traditional print media and was absolutely giddy to see us on the cover in addition to our 2-page spread. Megan was quick to post about our accomplishment and I shortly followed. Thank you to everyone who “liked” the photo on Facebook and Instagram!
When we returned to Avocet, Chris turned on the engine and I untied our lines jumping aboard at the last second as he backed out of our slip. Megan was a little nervous since her only “real” sailing experience was from when she was a kid at sail camp and was not a fan after the turtle drills. We assured her that our boat will not capsize nor turtle on this trip (or any trip for that matter) and by 11:00 we had our sails up, heading north to Ventura Harbor, our Staycation Destination. The wind was blowing about 17 knots with a 4 foot swell every 10 seconds or so… not the most comfortable sail for a first timer due to a storm up north sending some chop and swell our way. We did everything we could to ensure an easy sail, from reefing our main to letting the sheets loose and breaking off the wind. Although Megan let out a couple little screams, I think she had a pretty good time. After a few hours, I was pretty disappointed with the lack of dolphins but just as we were entering the Ventura Harbor breakwater a small pod of 3 dolphins came to our bow where Megan and I were sitting and rolled over to say hello before swimming south off our starboard side. A proper welcoming committee. We docked Avocet in her guest slip then stowed away the few things that tumbled about the cabin during transit. We were all pretty hungry, so quickly changed out of our sailing attire and into something a little more socially acceptable before walking to the Ventura Harbor Village for lunch. Ventura Harbor is a lovely harbor with plenty of shops and restaurants, one of which being the famous Brophy Bros which is where we decided to have lunch. It was a busy lunch for sure since Megan was in the process of planning a Peaceful Protest/Bear Rally for her hometown in Tahoe and Chris was taking calls from producers. At one point I am pretty sure the waitress thought I was ditched because my two lunch dates had abandoned me with nothing but scallops and oysters to keep me company. I’m kidding, I kept myself plenty busy between stuffing my face with sourdough bread and working from my phone. Eventually, my lunch companions rejoined me and devoured the fishy feast on the table.
Leaving Brophy Bros absolutely stuffed and satisfied we wandered over to the beach which is parallel to the village. It was a bit windy and cold, yet Meg was in a dress and soaking up every inch of sunlight. We walked the tiny stretch of beach collecting trash and taking video for our vlog- if we so happen to edit something for the YouTube channel. After chasing some seagulls around we dusted the sand from our skin before putting our shoes back on and walking home.
It didn’t take long for word to get out that Avocet had arrived in Ventura. That afternoon our cockpit was filled with friends who had come to welcome us to their neck of the woods. I will use any excuse to bust out a charcuterie board (minus the meat) and gladly fed our guests while we talked in the cockpit. Our guest slip was located across from our dear friends Alan and Elizabeth, the crew of ValHowell, so naturally, I had to apologize for their neighborhood going to $h!t upon our arrival.
Ironically, Megan had another friend from Tahoe who was visiting her family in Ventura so we made plans to see her at the Boatyard Pub which is a great place to eat in the village- order the fries, you won’t regret it! We were also accompanied by our friends Garrett and his lovely girlfriend Alison who are two people that can turn any situation into a party. We shared stories, laughed, and stayed out way past my bedtime since my eyes were failing and my body was beginning to operate on autopilot. We closed our tabs and wandered back to Avocet, who was docked so daintily among the 60-foot yachts surrounding her. As strange as it is to fall asleep in the same bed but in a completely new place, my head hit my pillow and I was out cold to the world around me.
Around 2:00 a.m. the winds picked up, causing our Bimini to clank back and forth at the most obnoxious pace. After about 5 minutes of trying to tolerate it, I nudged Chris to go fix it. As he scrambled around outside securing everything on deck and checking our lines, I pulled out my phone and began jotting down notes so I could have an easier time writing this blog. Eventually, Chris came back below and crawled into bed, absolutely freezing. Luckily, I sleep warm so I snuggled up next to him and faded back into the sleepy abyss.
The seals woke up before we did, barking away while lounging across the empty slip fingers. Despite their destructive behavior around the marina, I can’t help but hope one will befriend me which I completely blame the movie Andre the Sea Lion for my unrealistic expectations. Chris brewed coffee and poured it for the 3 of us to enjoy in the cockpit before Megan packed up her belongings in preparation to leave. We waved goodbye to Avocet and drove to Cafe Nouveau, my new favorite breakfast place in Ventura. Over more coffee and beignets we discussed upcoming plans and goals, absorbing every second of our time together before Megan returned to Tahoe to be the voice of the bears.
Visits with family and friends never seem to be long enough, but luckily we never say “goodbye” Instead, we always depart with a promise to “see you later”. We waved to Megan as she drove off in her blue 4Runner, Tahoe bound. Chris and I headed back to Avocet where I was petitioning for a nap, but he had other plans. Little Wing was loaded with blankets and coffee (yes, more coffee) as Chris pulled her around for me to step aboard. We had never really spent any time in Ventura Harbor on the water- well actually… I guess Chris did when he was younger since SV Prism was berthed in Ventura West for a bit. We put around the harbor checking out all of the boats and enjoying our new-to-us Yamaha 2-stroke outboard that Chris had just finished rebuilding.
By 4:00 p.m. the rain started falling, rinsing the salt from decks. The smell of apple cider filled our cabin with a warm cinnamon smell as it cooked in our Instantpot, while our oil lamps illuminated our interior with the light dancing off the walls. The pitter-patter of rain on our cabin top completed the cozy atmosphere as we brought our laptop to bed and picked our latest Netflix show to binge.
The next morning we were surprised with blue skies and not a single cloud in sight. We stowed the boat in preparation to sail back to our home port. Chris had invited our neighbor Gene aboard to sail with us, as well as the Howells. Avocet left Ventura Harbor at 9:00 a.m and arrived back in the Channel Islands Harbor around 11:30, after a lovely sail- if only Megan had been aboard for that sail! Our dock neighbors welcomed us back and it became clear that we will be missed when we set sail for good. As mentioned in our magazine feature, no matter where we go, the Channel Islands will always be home, even if it is nice to change the scenery every so often. So what are you waiting for, get out there and plan your own Staycation! From us to you, Cheers ~
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Although we have already technically entered into the fall season, here in Southern California we are guaranteed a few extra weeks of the warm summer sun. We decided to make the most of our fleeting opportunities to sail to the islands by inviting my family on a weekend trip to Santa Cruz Island – which would also be their very first time staying while at anchor. Going into this, Chris and I definitely had some concerns regarding my family staying aboard and did our best to rationalize what we could and could not control. Comfort-wise, I created a very well put together welcome basket that included candy, reading materials, a menu, and itinerary for the weekend as well as some Dramamine which was much appreciated by my mom. We had been watching the forecast closely and cross-checked all of our sources which led us to the conclusion that Saturday would be the windiest of our days on Santa Cruz in contrast to the two gorgeous days forecasted during our trip. Personally, we had no concerns regarding the wind; Afterall, we completely trust our boat and Rocna anchor. After a “rules and safety chat,” we were ready to cast off for a very memorable weekend.
At the early hours of 5:30 a.m., we were greeted with 15-knots of wind, allowing us to raise our sails and cut the engine as we cleared the breakwater. It was Friday morning, and my sleepy eyes hid behind my glasses while I continued to layer in warm clothes before crawling into the cockpit. Chris handed me a spotlight that I gripped with cold hands as I took my position on deck looking for crab pots as we cleared the Ventura Harbor Breakwater. We had stayed the night prior in Ventura since it was a direct course to Prisoners’ Harbor, which was the first destination of our weekend adventure. The twinkling lights of downtown Ventura glistened in the distance, reaching up until they met the stars at the horizon line.
“Avocet, Avocet, Avocet, this is ValHowell, do you copy?” Around sun up, we were greeted by our dear friends Alan and Elizabeth Howell sailing alongside us in their beautiful, dark hulled 2018 Beneteau Sense 51, named “ValHowell,” a very clever play on words.ValHowell is a stunning vessel inside and out. We often make the joke that there is a button for everything – but all jokes aside, we aren’t kidding. For example: with a press of a button, the dinette transforms into a home theater, complete with a 30 inch flat-screen TV. This just so happens to be our favorite feature aboard, secondly to the luxurious cockpit with a sliding bimini top. “Valhowell, this is Avocet, go ahead”. My dad, Mike, and brother, Christian, joined Chris and me in the cockpit as we chat back and forth with ValHowell on the VHF while we continued to buddy boat to the island. My mom, Pam, managed to stay peacefully sleeping below deck in the quarter berth until we passed Anacapa. Cleo took advantage of my mom sleeping so soundly and positioned herself as close as she could get, essentially becoming the little spoon.
We set anchor at 9:00 am alongside ValHowell, the only other boat in the whole anchorage. After mimosas and a light breakfast, we dinghied over to the pier which was constructed in 1869 to load cattle and wool onto ships for transport. Now, the pier is used primarily to offload Island Packer groups (similar to the ones in Scorpion) for day trips. On our way to the dinghy dock, we were flagged down by another boater who had just come in to anchor. He asked if we had a gallon of water to spare, and once we told him we did (if he provided the container) he specified that he only wanted a gallon of bottled water, which we did not have so on our way we went. Jokes on him though, our dual filtered water system is probably cleaner than most bottled water.
It was the first time my parents had set foot on the land that we had told so many stories about, and it definitely did not disappoint. The weather was perfect for hiking so without hesitation I lead the way to the Pelican Bay trail, a 4-mile trail that starts on the Nature Conservancy land and leads to Pelican Bay. To legally access this part of the island, a landing permit is needed. Fortunately, we and the Howells came prepared and had both purchased our permits at the beginning of the year allowing us to march on.
Prisoners’ Anchorage has a very interesting history leading to its rightful name. In February 1830, the U.S. brig Maria Ester dropped anchor off Santa Barbara. Its captain, John Christian Holmes, requested permission to discharge his cargo which was a literal boatload of 40-or-so convicted criminals. His request being denied led to Holmes transporting the convicts to Prisoners Harbor with provisions supplied by the padres at the Old Mission. The fate of the prisoners remains unclear. Those on Santa Cruz initially fared somewhat well, constructing makeshift shelters against the elements. Unfortunately, that was not the last time that Santa Cruz was considered as a possible prison. “In the 1880s, the U.S. Army suggested exiling especially troublesome members of the Apache tribe to the island. Nothing came of the idea, and today only the name, Prisoners Harbor, reminds us of the rather bizarre events of over 180 years ago” (Redmond, Michael).
The diversity of flora on Santa Cruz Island never ceases to amaze me. I have been trying my best to study and identify the various plants on the island, specifically the 15+ endemic ones. Purple flowers (possibly vervain?) lined the sides of the trail. The natural rock steps pushed into the side of the mountain made a narrow passageway through the tall oak trees adorned with ripe acorns. Island Fox scat was dropped along the trail, suggesting we may get a glimpse of the endemic creature. The view of our boats anchored in the bay improved with every step we took. Soon we found ourselves at the highest point along the trail admiring our floating homes positioned oh-so picturesquely below us. Near us, was a small lookout that I was dying to get inside. The door was shut, which I respected, so we continued on our way despite my inner thoughts urging me to go examine the inside of the lookout.
The narrow trail twisted and turned until we were facing down a rocky, overgrown decline. After some consulting, our group decided to turn around and head back- but not before my dad got some drone footage! Chris and Elizabeth scouted out what appeared to be a fox trail, hoping to find an Island Fox amongst the scenery. Upon their return from their failed mission, we continued our descent to our starting point. Once again we stopped at the lookout to admire our boats below us. I had mentioned that I would love to go inside the lookout, and wished the door wasn’t closed. Upon further examination, Chris noticed the “door” was not nailed shut, but being held together by a nail bent over another… so with one dainty push (more like a tap) the door creaked open and revealed the visitors center inside. The 4 walls were adorned with informational plaques regarding the area, including what the building used to be.
As I had previously figured, the building was a lookout in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Using a telescope, the island watchman could look for ships in the channel. If needed, a passing vessel could be signaled to come to the harbor and retrieve mail, supplies, or passengers. Today the observation post is known as Harveys Lookout, in Memorium of Harvey D. Carlson (1955-1994), who was a member of the Nature Conservancy dedicated to preserving California’s unique natural area for generations. When we were done reading everyone vacated the observatory, me being the last to leave trying to imagine what life was like for that watchman on the island.
We had lunch on one of the many picnic tables along the shoreline, appreciating our view and discussing anything and everything that came to mind. My dad had many questions for Alan regarding his career as a pilot in the navy. It’s funny, despite absolutely despising air travel my dad is enthralled with the details and has a vast collection of RC Airplanes that reside in the “hanger”… aka my childhood bedroom in my family’s home. Sometime during lunch, I had gotten up and began to wander, thinking here we are once again exploring the first anchorage that we had sailed Avocet to as her new crew back in 2018 with Jon, Shannon, and Mama Neely. It is amazing to reflect on how far we had come and how far we will go. I scoured the shoreline for bones, shells, and trash, only pocketing the trash to dispose of. Chris waved at me from the pier signaling me to come back. Our group loaded up the dinghies and we cast off and headed to our respective “floating homes”. It took about 5 minutes for my brother to drop one of his 3 lines in the water, and another 5 for a fish to bite.
My brother Christian is a huge fisherman. He has always been a natural angler and has a passion not only for fishing but also for sustainable fishing practices to protect the habitats of the fish he catches, which I applaud him for. Although I have never liked eating fish (yes, I have tried that one, and no I still do not like it) my brother is the total opposite and could eat fish for every meal. One bite after another, he was pulling fish aboard to snap a photo then release. The reel excitement (haha get it, “reel”?) happened when he hooked his first white seabass, a beautiful fish but unfortunately just shy of the legal limit. He tossed it back and cleaned up for dinner. That night he told us “you know, this was cool and all but catching that fish really made this trip worth it”… I think it was a compliment, so I will chalk that up as a win. One down, two to go: Avocet just had to win over mom and dad Hushaw for a complete victory.
“Sleeping in” is a relative term on a sailboat. Although our clock read 6:30 am, we had still slept more hours than the night before, which we concluded was sleeping in. The wind had already picked up by 7:00, a stampede of white caps danced on the horizon. We hailed ValHowell and pulled our hooks, preparing to sail around to the other side of the island where the anchorages would be more protected. The 3 and a half foot swell helped push us along while the 20 knots of wind filled our sails. We played “leapfrog” with ValHowell; stealing their wind and passing them, then they would reciprocate. Chris pulled out his Nikon to snap some shots of their boat with Anacapa in the background, while Elizabeth so kindly captured photos of us under sail on her phone. Buddy boating is great.
Here is where the real fun begins: We set anchor in Yellowbanks, an anchorage just past Smugglers cove, at around 9:30 am. I had gone below deck and begun preparing a breakfast feast of vegetarian biscuits and gravy, a fruit spread, and scrambled eggs. The Howells joined us aboard and mid-mimosa sip we noticed a huge catamaran drop anchor very close to ours. The catamaran, named Tunnel Vision (TV), must have been a personal defining trait of the crew since their presence came with a strong smell of marijuana and they were not shy about drinking loudly. Being a good, informative neighbor, Chris dinghied over to let them know we had let out 200 ft of chain anticipating the 35 knots of wind that were predicted to last until midnight. They seemed less than amused that Chris was there and asked how he knew that we have dispersed exactly 200 ft of chain. Chris explained to them that we use zip ties to mark every 20 ft of chain. To our surprise, TV responded with “I’ve never heard of anyone marking their chain before” which left Chris astounded with a lack of words. He said his goodbyes and returned to the mothership to fill us in. “Well, one of their crew is surfing over there,” he said, pointing to the perfectly sculpted 4 ft. wave breaking less than a football field from our bow, “maybe they will leave when he is done?” We remained hopeful and continued on with our day.
My mom grabbed her “steamy novel” as my brother often calls her reading material (to be honest, it didn’t look that “steamy”) and got comfortable in the hammock Chris had set up on deck. Somehow I convinced my dad to go snorkeling with us and luckily the Howell’s were kind enough to let us use ValHowell’s swim step to dive from. The water visibility was not great, but I had just bought a new dive mask that I was determined to break in. My dad lasted all of 2 minutes in the water before jumping out and talking with Alan on the stern of ValHowell. Chris dove on the boat admiring their paint and checking for kelp in the prop. “All clear,” he said after tossing a small piece of kelp to the side. We returned to Avocet and showered off so I could prepare for dinner.
We dinghied over to ValHowell for dinner. I had prepared flatbread pizza using my focaccia recipe as a base and was very excited to eat after the long day we had. About one sip of wine in, Chris’s eyes grew wide and said: “we gotta go.” Through the Galley portlight of ValHowell, he saw what he thought was Avocet’s anchor skipping. Alan had suggested we take their inflatable dinghy that had a motor, to which we didn’t decline and zoomed back to the boat that was trying to escape us. Once onboard, Chris turned on the engine and we rushed to the bow to figure out what was happening. Luckily, it was not our anchor skipping. Unfortunately, our half-inch three-strand bridle had snapped clean off in the heavy winds (gusts into 40 knots) allowing the chain to load up with tension on the gypsy to the point where it would jump out of the teeth giving the illusion that our anchor was skipping when in reality we were rapidly losing our chain. While we were scrambling to save our home from kiting away, our lovely catamaran neighbor came to the bow of his pontoon to yell (upwind, might I add) “try using another zip tie!” … thanks, man. will do.
We had no spare bridle aboard. The gears in Chris’s head were turning trying to think of what we had aboard to save us when a lightbulb went off. 4 days prior, Chris had been practicing splicing and had made a new davit harness for our dinghy out of Dyneema. With the spare rope, he crafted two bracelets; one for me and one for him both featuring his newfound splicing expertise. Now, for those of you that don’t know: Dyneema is a 12 strand rope made of plastic (basically) but is stronger than steel. So 5/16” Dyneema has a breaking strength of 13,600 pounds when 5/16 stainless steel wire will break at 8,825 lbs. Pretty amazing stuff! When Chris gifted me the matching bracelet I told him that “our love is stronger than dynema” which was cute, but at the time I had no idea our new fashion accessories would be saving our home. Fast forward to us standing on the bow with 45-knot gusts howling in our faces: “give me your bracelet!” Chris yelled, so I could hear him. I unscrewed the shackle and handed my bracelet to him. Using his 5/16” bracelet as the primary bridle he put one end through one of the links in the chain and then put a shackle through the two end splices of Dyneema. He then replaced the 1/2” 3 strand bridle that broke minutes earlier with a heavy-duty 5/8” 3 strand rope and secured to the port side bow cleat.
Dyneema is amazing stuff but it does have one weakness: chaffing. The reason we use stainless chain hooks instead of Dyneema soft shackles is for chaffing reasons alone. Instead of letting the bridle be as long as possible and reduce the noise and strain on our cleats and bow rollers, Chris kept the bridle 2 feet past the bow roller so he could keep an eye on the Dyneema all night, specifically looking for chaffing. He used my smaller bracelet as a secondary safety chain lock, just in case his chaffed through.
When we returned to the rest of our party, everyone met us on the swim step. I had stepped off the dinghy, followed by Chris who thought I/Elizabeth had the painter. That was not the case, and as soon as Chris dismounted the wind caught the dinghy and it began to drift away at an increasing rate. Without any thought, Chris took his hat and shirt off then dove into the water. “glasses” I semi-yelled as he tossed them into our dinghy and began to swim after the run-away. “Is he a strong swimmer?” Alan asked as we all watched Chris swim for the tender. My dad reassured the Howells that this is not the first time Chris has saved the day, referring back to when he was 15 and dove on our ski boat with a knife in his mouth to cut our prop free from a line we backed over. Chris made it back to ValHowell, safe, sound, and cold. As soon as he dried off both of ValHowell’s bridles snapped. Chris lent our dinghy harness to them as a makeshift bridle. He was both amused and terrified by the fact that his splices were holding a brand new yacht all night! After all the action we tried to eat but had no appetite. We left as soon as we finished our glasses of wine, but not before I had the opportunity to ask Alan if there was a button to turn off the wind. Unfortunately, the answer was no.
Back aboard Avocet, we could see the worry in my mom’s face. We tried to explain to her that everything was alright and this is just a part of cruising, which didn’t seem to help at all. When in doubt, we turn to Captain Ron for help. We set up the projector and using my dad’s Goal Zero battery bank we turned on good ol’ Captain Ron to lighten the mood. Although the wind was screaming outside and the sound of our chain loading up was not comforting, we managed to get a few laughs out of my family by watching the movie. Chris and I were not afraid of the situation at all; I trust our anchor, I trust our boat, and I trust Chris’s solutions to whatever problems come our way. While routinely checking the anchor, the crew from our catamaran neighbor once again made an appearance on the bow of their boat. “Do you have any cheesecake?” a most likely stoned neighbor yelled upwind to us. Chris was shocked by the random request, calling back to confirm. When he confirmed that it was in fact cheesecake he desired, a fired-up Chris responded with “are you really asking me for fu*#ing cheesecake right now??” That conversation ended with our neighbor from TV flipping us the international sign of “peace” and going back below.
As we were turning in for the night, my mom noticed a fishing boat circling Avocet. We had initially thought that they were picking up their lobster pots that were scattered about, but when they got closer we got concerned. Chris once again jumped on deck and called out to them, asking that they monitor channel 65. “Persistence, this is Avocet. Are you guys alright?” they then told us that they had lost their anchor to the winds, and had no spares. It was 10:00 pm, and the wind was still gusting strong- no place for a small fishing vessel without an anchor. “Persistance, we can set you up with our stern anchor with 300 feet of road and 25 feet of chain. Wait until I signal you then come to our port side.” So there we were, handing off our stern hook to complete strangers, hoping that they make it through the night. The crew of Persistence were more than appreciative of our assistance, but honestly, if we were in their boat I can only hope that someone would do the same for us.
That’s enough chaos for one day, right? Chris set our anchor alarm on the chart plotter and kept an eye on our navionics chart as well to watch our boat kite and make sure we were still holding. He was exhausted, almost as soon as his head hit the pillow he was asleep. I knew that we had to keep an eye/ear on our anchor so I stayed up for a bit allowing Chris to enjoy his much-deserved break. Around 2:00 am (when the wind was predicted to stop) Chris checked our anchor and his snubber fix in 30-knot winds. Avocet was still holding, and ValHowell was as well. Our fishing friends aboard Persistence were also still holding in the distance, while Tunnel Vision had dragged further away from us. After his routine check, Chris crawled back into bed and stayed there until 7:00 am.
“ValHowell, ValHowell, ValHowell, this is Avocet. Let’s get out of here.” at 7:00 am we still had 30 knots of north-west winds. We pulled our anchor following ValHowell out of Yellowbanks. We checked on Persistence and made arrangements to retrieve our anchor once we were all back on the mainland. ValHowell kindly kept Persistence informed of the conditions out on the sea to help ensure safer travels. With two reefs in our main and a partial headsail, we were pushing along at a hull speed of 7 knots. My dad was happy to join us in the cockpit, coffee in hand, to enjoy the sail home. My brother remained asleep in the cabin with Cleo curled up at his feet, and my mom sat in the quarter berth despite our pleads to get her outside to avoid seasickness. Our boat handled like a champ in the 10-foot seas, making Chris and me only nervous when our dinghy would get seemingly close to dipping on the davits. Usually, we travel with our dinghy on deck to prevent it from flooding in case of a large wave pooping the stern- something we are no stranger to when sailing Mama Neely’s Mason 43 in San Fransisco bay. We tried keeping in contact with ValHowel, but our VHF wouldn’t reach them as they were on course for Ventura, and us Oxnard.
We arrived back in our slip at 10:30 am. My parents had packed their bags and said goodbye to Avocet as we crawled into Chris’s truck to go get some lunch at Toppers Pizza before parting ways. Over pizza, we discussed the events of the weekend. My dad and brother expressed how much fun they had while my mom remained quite. Winning over 2/3 isn’t bad I guess, maybe next time they visit we can go to Santa Barbara- a much mellower adventure. We hugged and said our goodbyes, then Chris and I returned to Avocet to clean up from the weekend.
The following days to come my dad texted, called, and posted on Facebook telling us how much fun he had aboard Avocet, and how he can’t wait to come back. My brother texted me saying “thank you” and how he wants to come to stay with us over spring break and go fishing again. Finally, when I thought we were out of victories my mom called Chris and told him how the news in Santa Cruz had forecasted 20 knots of wind and 4-foot swell for the week. She laughed, saying that was “no problem” and that she could handle much worse now. I definitely took that as a win! 3/3, my family had enjoyed the trip even despite all the twists and turns, which reminded me that no matter what it’s not about where you are, but who you are with.
Marissa, Chris, and Cleo
Redmond, Michael. “Prisoners Harbor.” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, http://www.nps.gov/chis/learn/historyculture/prisoners.htm.
To learn more about the history and preservation efforts on Santa Cruz Island, please visit: http://www.scifoundation.org/home.aspx
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“Where’s Cleo?” Is not a question I like to wake up to. It was 3:00 am and we were rolling back in fourth in Smugglers Cove Anchorage. Just when we thought we had exhausted all the potential hiding spots we looked up and there was Cleo, nesting in our linen cabinet. We snapped a couple of photos like any proud parents would and returned to bed. Neither of us could sleep. Every 30 minutes or so we would wake up due to heavy swells hitting us broadside and the lack of wind not helping. Eventually, we got about 3 solid hours of sleep, waking up at 8:00 to start our day.
The day prior had been an absolute mishegoss; anything that could go wrong did. After a stressful day at work, I came home and we pushed off- our exit being anything but graceful. The wind as not in our favor as we backed out of our slip, forcing us into our neighbor’s bowsprit. I was dumb enough to try and fend us off, getting my hand between our standing rigging and our neighbor’s bowsprit nearly taking my middle finger off in the process. Luckily, Chris pushed us off and everyone was okay, even our neighbor who was probably more afraid of my awful yelp from pain than her boat. No damage was done besides to our egos and soon we were on course for Santa Cruz Island.
Not more than 30 minutes into our journey, I began to feel sick. I’m still unsure if it was from all the stress or if because I hadn’t eaten, but my stomach was sour and I felt useless. The more I fought it the worst I felt and Chris finally sent me below deck to try and nap it off. Cleo cuddled me as nausea took over. After a long 30 minutes, I stopped fighting and threw up the minimal contents of my stomach, drank some water and got back outside. Anacapa was glowing off our port side as the sun shone upon it, preparing to set.
Even though the forecasted winds were only up to 10 knots, we were surprised with blustery 25 knots and we were quickly overpowered with a full genoa and our mainsail set. Chris tried to furl our headsail by hand, proving our need for a furling winch in the cockpit. We released the jib sheet wrapping our furling sheet around the winch, cranking until it was in. I managed to keep our slapping jib sheets at bay, letting them out inch by inch as Chris furled the sail. Hindsight is 20/20, we definitely should have tacked before attempting to bring in the sail, but give us a break! After a brief battle furling the headsail we motored the last 15 minutes into our anchorage to set the hook and get some sleep.
Smugglers Cove is a scene taken straight out of a magazine with olive orchards lined above the rocky shore, perfectly placed along the hillside. The Olive grove was planted n the 1880’s under the direction of Justinian Caire whose intent was to make maximum use of the island’s many resources. Although the days of harvest are decades over, the olive grove still stands all these years later serving as another beautiful memory of life on the island. We settled in after our long day, completely exhausted from the events that had occurred. After we ate dinner we melted into our bed at 9:00, not knowing it would be a restless night followed by another crazy day.
We awoke at 8:00 am, struggling to get up since we had finally gotten a pinch of sleep. The coffee was teasing my senses, enticing me to get up from my “nest” and indulge. We drank our coffee in the cockpit as the clouds parted letting the sun shine down on us, kissing our skin good morning. The swell was still easily 6 feet coming from the south, making the waves pound hard and heavy on the shore. As bad as I wanted to go hike through the feral olive grove, I knew it wasn’t worth obliterating our dinghy in the process so Chris picked up our guide book and began to skim the pages when he remembered our neighbor telling us about a white sand beach a few miles south from Smugglers.
The sails were up and our new course was set for Coches Prietos. The blue sky melting into the glistening sea was a perfect backdrop to our conversations about future plans and playing the ukulele. It was all fun and games until Chris checked on our engine only to find that the hose connected to our muffler was leaking like a siv! We immediately shut the engine off and bobbed around while Chris grabbed his tool bags and went below deck. After further investigation, the muffler was broken. No engine, and no wind. While we waited for a gust to fill our sails I could see the gears in Chris’s brain turning trying to think of some solution for our problem. He began scanning every available tube-like item we had on board when he rediscovered an old bronze elbow pipe from our previous plumbing system. “I think I can fix it, lets get to the anchorage.” And as if he was Zephyrus himself, the wind picked up and we were moving again.
45 minutes later we pulled into the anchorage. The long stretch of sandy beach could be seen from miles offshore, as well as the aggressive backsplash of the waves hitting the surrounding cliffs. The anchorage was small but very deep. When we first arrived there was a Catalina 27 anchored nearby, it’s crew of 6 could be seen playing on the shore. Since the anchorage was so deep we let out 140 feet of chain, setting our anchor just off a small kelp bed. Almost as soon as we set our hook, our neighbors decided to pull theirs and move on to their next destination- was it something we said? Soon we were all alone in the charming little anchorage and the beach was calling my name, however, the engine was calling Chris’s. Priorities prevailed and with a blink of an eye, our heads were under our floorboards. With the possibilities of CO2 pollution, we opened every portlight, hatch, and turned on all our fans to ventilate the cabin. Chris’s idea that incorporated our old bronze plumbing tube worked like a charm, and just as soon as he finished up packing away his tools I was packed up and ready to hit the land.
Unfortunately, the swell was too big to safely land Little Wing. Slightly crushed due to my plans being foiled once again, I held my head high and stayed optimistic. After spending the rest of the day reading in my hammock, I retired below deck to prepare for dinner. I thought that it would be nice to have some comfort food after the crap luck we had been having so I made homemade pizzas. Naturally, something had to go wrong. Can you guess what happened when I was ready to put the pizzas in the oven? The oven stopped working. After being so optimistic and rolling with every punch this trip, that was my breaking point. I dropped everything and went to bed and had myself a good stress cry. After Chris comforted me he yelled at our oven a few times while fiddling with the burner. He must have said the right combination of curse words (bibidy-bobbity-god damn it!) because just like magic everything worked as good as new. Soon our bellies were filled with boat-made pizzas and stuffed mushrooms, a perfect dinner for a less-than-perfect day. We cleaned up our multiple messes and turned in for bed early, absolutely tickled with the idea of a comfortable, full night sleep in contrast with the night before. I instantaneously fell asleep when my head hit my pillow and was transported to a mystical dreamland where boat problems fix themselves and the margaritas are always flowing.
I woke up the next morning surging with optimism that “today would be a great day”. We were in a beautiful place, on a beautiful boat and ready for whatever life was going to throw our way. After pancakes and coffee, we loaded the dinghy and began to row to shore. So far so good, the swell was relatively flat making a very easy landing and the soft sand below our feet was welcoming. We pulled the dinghy up the shoreline and hugged each other looking at our home bobbing in the distance. The large cliffs at the mouth of the anchorage created an amphitheater effect making the crashing waves echo and carry across the shoreline. The water was deep and inviting. Chris jumped in with no hesitation while I stayed on shore, unrolling my yoga mat and preparing for some sun salutations. It was definitely a good day
1…2…3…owch! After watching my many attempts at holding a headstand and nearly breaking my neck, Chris joined in on the fun being my partner for some acro yoga. Luckily we had the camera rolling because it was hilarious, we couldn’t stop laughing! He nearly dropped me twice, sent me into a somersault once and gave me a sand rash on my hip, yet despite it all that was the most fun we had had in days.
Sandy and exhausted we laid on the beach enjoying our environment when we were soon joined by our soon-to-be new friend Lou, who had rowed his dinghy over from the anchorage nearby where is Cape Dory 33 was anchored. Lou was a cool guy, telling us all about his journey up the coast from San Diego to Santa Cruz Island. We talked back and forth about boats, boat problems, anchorages and trails before he set out for a hike. Making friends out of strangers is something we look forward to when it comes to cruising, there are so many interesting people out there and so many stories to hear!
We walked about the shore before launching Little Wing once again. As we rowed home we promised to return and give this anchorage a proper video recap since this trip was too chaotic. We really admire sailing channels like Sailing Project Atticus that keep filming even in tough situations; we want to be more like them in that aspect because DAMN it is so hard to keep filming through the stress and tears!
In 10 quick minutes, the cabin was stowed away and we were ready to bring up the anchor. Chris set the main while I set the genoa and soon enough we were sailing east for Channel Islands Harbor. At 12:00 sharp, the wind was light, pushing us along at 3 knots. Since we had to reserve our engine for docking we worked with what we had, being so grateful to have a sailboat- the most expensive way to get somewhere for free. Hours passed as we slowly sailed along the island, trying to keep ourselves busy. I completed the needlepoint project I had been working on, got through 6 chapters in my new book and sat down to write out this here blog. Chris tried to read, but I have noticed he only gets through a chapter or so before finding something else to occupy his time. I brought up some blueberries and we had a blast trying to throw them into each others mouths from either side of the cockpit. By the time we reached Anacapa, we had the wind in our sails again, pushing along at 7 knots. Finally, a light at the end of the tunnel!
Our hull speed was cruising at 7.8 knots sustained, surfing the swell the whole way. Chris’s smile stretched from ear to ear as childhood memories of sailing aboard his families Mason 43 in San Francisco Bay came flooding back. “Now THIS is sailing!” he exclaimed, almost to be cut off by himself when he read our speed once more “8.5 knots! We almost got up to 9!” The excitement continued all the way to our harbors breakwater as we grew more impressed with each sporty gust of wind.
We cleared our breakwater, sailing in as far as we could before kicking on our engine- the moment of truth. Chris’s quick muffler fix worked and we made it back to our slip safe and sound with no other unfortunate events. We showered, dressed, and popped over to Toppers pizza for a celebratory dinner laughing at every “it could be worse” scenario that came to mind. At the end of it all, we were both safe, healthy, happy, and stupid in love with each other-what more could you ask for? A bad day in paradise is still a pretty darn good day. Thanks for reading our blog! Until next time, fair winds,
~ Marissa Neely
“Smooth seas never made a skilled sailor” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
The air was wet, and heavy wrapping around us like a hug while we set our course for our first voyage of the summer to Santa Cruz Island. At 2:30 am the fog was thick and our visibility coming through the harbor channel was about 100 yards, yet I had a gut feeling it would disappear when we cleared the breakwater; lucky for us I was right.
The stars sparkled like sky diamonds as the fog cleared, almost like a curtain peeling back to unveil the show behind. Chris was wide-eyed and ready for adventure while I had not properly “hatched” yet, as my mother calls it. Of course, during the early hours of the morning, the wind was nonexistent so the hum of our Perkins Engine and the splash of the waves lapping against our hull lulled me to sleep in front of the companionway. Chris had anticipated my failure as a night watch companion and already had a pillow and blanket ready for me. Smart man.
I woke up with the sun and to Chris gently whispering that there was a massive pod of dolphins surrounding us- a proper entourage to the island. As the rays of sunshine began to extend over the glistening sea, some dolphins jumped in the distance while others danced under our bow putting on a show. By 5:20 a.m. the detailed cliffs of Santa Cruz Island could be seen by the naked eye- well, Chris’s naked eyes. My naked eyes are legally blind without contacts.
Just East of Prisoners’ Harbor lies the beautiful Potato Bay. Potato Bay offers shelter from North East and South East swells as well as winds, which can blow down from the cliffs in strong gusts. We set anchor in Potato Bay, around 6:30 a.m. with no other boat in sight. It was a narrow entrance into the anchorage but it widened up once inside. I don’t think more than 3 boats could anchor there at a time! Potato bay is surrounded by sheer cliffs that (to my disappointment) do not allow the opportunity to hike above for an overview of the bay. I had seen many photos in our guide books (as well as from Instagram) of people photographing the bay from an upper point of view. When I realized that it wasn’t in the cards for us to capture Avocet from above the anchorage I was reminded why we need to invest in a new drone since our old one flew its last flight back in December. Next time we will be prepared.
Despite the lack of hiking trails Chris and I rowed our dinghy “Little Wing” to shore in hopes to find some adventure in the very tiny bay. Upon landing, one of our literally brand new oars snapped in two which made it difficult to beach. Luckily Christopher is a great dinghy captain as well and got us to land safely. After we moved the dinghy up, Chris retrieved our broken oar, already planning out ways to fix it in his head so we could still use it for the next 2 days. He tabled his fix-it thoughts for later as we both admired our beautiful boat sitting in the Jurassic Park-esque landscape. The beach was rocky with sand patches, sprinkled with sparkling abalone shells, bones, and crabs.
We strolled along the shore until we found a bench made from wood scraps which was another perfect place to sit and admire our boat. Moments like those make us so beyond grateful for the opportunities that sailboat life gives us, dually serving as a reminder to get outside more often because nature is freaking awesome! After our “oohs” and “aaahs” we continued on along the shore until we spotted a cave.
Against my better judgment, Chris was able to convince me to go inside the cave with him and despite our lack of safety equipment (helmets, lights, handheld radio, etc.) I ducked under the wide yet low cave mouth, keeping my hands above me, and waddled my way back to Chris who was already inside the belly of the cave laughing at my safety paranoia. The cave was shallow, and since the opening was so wide it allowed light to paint the walls. To my surprise we both could stand straight up in the 40 square foot area. There was no signs of bats, another surprise, but a few small petrel nests that I made sure we gave space. Unfortunately there was no treasure to be found which was a slight disappointment since I was secretly hoping the cave would open up to a hidden pirate ship that was once captained by the great One Eyed Willie (any other Goonies fans out there?)
We took our photos and crawled out of the cave back into the sunshine. The water was crystal clear below the rocks we climbed, allowing us to watch 6 garibaldi fish swim between rocks. Did you know that garibaldi are the state fish of California? I think they look like mutant goldfish, but I guess with their golden-orange scales they fit into the whole golden state aesthetic along with the poppy flowers.
While climbing over rocks and avoiding tar deposits we accidentally woke a sleeping seal who was not happy about it. He barked at us as we gave him a very wide berth since he was blocking our path to Little Wing. Once we maneuvered around the grumpy seal my heart sank as my eyes set on a very sad pelican who had a very broken wing. Poor Mr/Ms Pelican had a whole bone sticking out, and was seeking refuge and camouflage, nestled in the rocks. My moral ethics were at war over if we should attempt to help it or leave it be to die in peace and after a long hard thought we knew it was best to let nature take its course. “If I was going to die from a broken limb, I would want it to be somewhere as beautiful as here” said Chris, who knew my day had just been ruined by a dying bird. He was right, and although I was sad about the lonely dying bird I was reminded that life is precious and short. One minute your flyin,’ the next you’re dyin’n! Sorry, humor helps me cope!
The perks of waking up early include always being pleasantly surprised how early it still is. “It’s only 10!” Chris exclaimed as we launched Little Wing. While loadeding up a small, dirty, tar splotched broken board into our dinghy Chris assured me he had a plan to fix our gimp oar. I am so glad that no one else was around, because We rowed like idiots sitting side by side, Chris using the normal oar and me using the stub of the broken one.
Since the anchorage was unprotected from the prevailing North West wind we had decided to pull anchor and move on to our favorite anchorage, Little Scorpion. Little Scorpion offers more shelter from wind and swell making it a very comfortable place to spend the night, surrounded by gorgeous land views and providing an underwater playground for divers and snorkelers with a reef and kelp forest.
At high noon we secured the best spot in the anchorage. Setting the main and stern anchor and deploying the “flopper stopper” the boat felt like at its slip even though we had a consistent 20 knt breeze. Once we resettled I made us some snacks and Chris grabbed his guitar. The sun was warm on our pale skin, inviting me to strip off my cold weather clothing and lay out like a lizard.
The breeze picked up bringing the marine layer with it. When I couldn’t feel the sun anymore I pulled on my hoodie and went below deck to get started on dinner. Chris was still outside napping since he was kind enough to let me sleep through night watch nearly 13 hours prior. It was 3:00 p.m. and the view from my galley port light was breathtaking. The sun bounced off the clear waters, painting the cliffs adjacent to us. Pelicans flew low, reminding me of the unfortunate bird that wouldn’t join his pelican friends in flight ever again. Cleo circled below me, reminding me that she was hungry despite her full food bowl. I was humbly at peace as I peeled potatoes in my galley while taking in my surroundings.
Chris woke up just in time to watch me plate our dinner. We usually don’t buy meat aboard Avocet as an attempt to be environmentally responsible but this was a celebration of our first time anchoring without the help of Jon and Shannon. For dinner I had made petite filet mignon with a baby bella mushroom red wine reduction served on a bed of brocollini and home made garlic mashed potatoes. Naturally, a movie followed dinner and our film of choice for the evening was Captain Ron. As we quoted every line, I served dessert which was a chocolate cake served in a ramekin, topped with whipped cream and a chips ahoy- for class, of ccourse. We were truly stuffed like pigs and so tired from our long day, we slept like babies nestled in our bed while the sound of the waves and gentle rocking lead us into dream land.
I sprang out of bed at 6:00 a.m. when a wave from a passing ship rolled through and aggressively rocked the entire boat. Chris jumped up like a guard dog and did a perimeter check, weather check, and looked to see if anyone joined us in the anchorage. All was well and we were still alone so back to sleep we went… at least we tried, anyways. We were both wired and excited for the day. I rolled out of bed and into the galley where I started the coffee and prepared breakfast. While eating breakfast in the cockpit the wind decided to flip, making our favorite anchorage not-so-great. Luckily, we could motor right next door to Scorpion anchorage which is also the main landing for the Gherini Ranch on the island.
The weather was chilly, prompting us to dress warmly as we stuffed our dry bags and packed our picnic basket into our dinghy. Chris managed to jerry rig our oar with a splint using the scrap wood from Potato Bay and gaft tape, it worked like a charm! We beached Little Wing in front of a live audience curtesy of Island Packers who use Scorpion Ranch as a drop off site for day trip tourists as well as campers.
We pulled the cameras out of the big dry bag and put our jackets in their place since the sun had made a very welcomed appearance once again. The large group of people from Island Packers covered the shore wearing their borrowed life jackets, zinc covered faces, and dragging yeti coolers in tow. We wandered over to the welcome center where I struck up a conversation with a very nice State Park Ranger who shed some insight on the history of Scorpion Ranch.
In the late 1800’s a number of ranches were located in various places around Santa Cruz Island. The easternmost ranch was Scorpion Ranch, which was a major out ranch and had an important role in providing food for the rest of the island. The most recent owners of Scorpion Ranch, before the acquisition of the east end of the island by the National Park Service in 1977, were the Gherini family. Scorpion Ranch was in operation in 1855 mainly raising cattle to supply the high demand for beef on the mainland.
Taking a break from the history lesson, I asked about the Island Fox which is a small fox that is found on six of the eight Channel Islands. There are six subspecies, each unique to the island it lives on, reflecting its evolutionary history. Island foxes are generally docile, show little fear of humans, easily tamed, and most importantly about the same size as our boat cat Cleo. According to Mr. Ranger, the island fox was almost extinct in 1980’s due to golden eagles and other environmental impact ,but because of their repopulation efforts in the early 90’s there are approximately 3200 island foxes running about the island. We thanked the Ranger for his time and continued on our way.
Remnants of the old ranch were scattered about in front of the welcome area. A large rusting tractor engine took the center of attention amongst the various other ancient ranching tools. As we followed the trail we were drawn to the visitors center which was previously the ranch kitchen, now set up as a mini hands-on museum to show a glimpse of what ranch life was like back in 1855. Once I soaked in all the bits of history, I signed our names in the National Park Registry book as “SV Avocet” from Channel Islands Harbor, CA.
After studying the trail map Chris and I decided to hike the Potato Harbor trail which, ironically, would give us a nearly birds eye view of the bay. Potato Harbor Trail is a 4.9 mile lightly trafficked loop trail that features beautiful wild flowers and is good for all skill levels. However, after the first 20 minutes we both stopped to catch our breath and realized how out of shape we are now in comparison to when we lived in North Lake Tahoe. Looks like we need to hike more! This was only one of the many trail options accessible from Scorpion Ranch, and we can not wait to return and hike them all.
There were still mustard flowers left over from the super bloom decorating the hillsides and wind whistled through the cattails giving us an excuse to stop and catch our breath while taking in the views. The golden hills stretched on forever, only ending where the ocean met the land. We finally made it to our destination and looked over the bay that our boat was anchored in the day prior. The only living creatures floating in the waters below were pelicans, but none of which the sad, dying one which upon further examination I believe to be classified as dead due to the large amount of ravens hopping around the place it was resting. “It’s the ciiiircle of life!” Chris sang, as a reminder to stop thinking about it. We hydrated and once more caught our breath before hiking back to the shore where our picnic basket full of goodies was waiting for us.
When we returned to Little Wing, there was a small group of people casually eating lunch around our dinghy as if there were no other places along the 200 yard stretch of shoreline. They looked at us funny as we approached and proceeded to unveil our picnic basket that was covered by our empty dry bag and beach blanket. We said our “hellos” then walked to a spot below Little Wing where we laid the blanket down and I opened the basket presenting the contents of our lunch. The looks from Little Wings “babysitters” grew stranger and (I think) a bit envious as I pulled out a cheese board with a delectable and dainty charcuterie spread, paired with hot tea from our thermos to warm us up under the cloud cover. We watched Avocet bob on anchor while we ate cheese and discussed how we as humans take the earth for granted and how our poor ocean is the buffer, swallowing all of our mistakes and choking in the process.
We packed up our belongings as well as some trash left behind from Little Wings babysitters, then rowed back to Avocet for the final time this trip. We pulled anchor at 4:00 p.m. with the wind in our favor. Once we cleared the surrounding rocks we set sail and headed due east for Channel Islands Harbor. It felt so good to not run the engine, no sounds besides the waves, the wind, and the occassional “You caught the wind now boss!” We were flying, reaching a hull speed of 6 knots sustained occasionally peaking at 8.
It was a cold sail home, so I huddled by the companionway (my spot) in a blanket with a hot cup of tea and began writing this very blog. Just when I thought I couldn’t get more inspired, a massive pod of dolphins emerged jumping through the waves and heading west. I know that kind of movement, growing up in Santa Cruz it became second nature to learn the behaviors of sea creatures such as dolphins, birds, seals and even sharks. “They are either swimming from something, or swimming with something” I told Chris, and not more than 2 minutes later a small family of Grey Whales breached about 200 yards off the port side of our bow. Fun fact: Gray Whales were nearly hunted to extinction by whalers in the 1800’s around the Channel Islands, and have been protected from exploitation by the International Whaling Commission since 1946. As a result, current populations are considered close to their pre-exploitation numbers.
Autopilot kept us on course while I wrote my heart out in this blog, and Chris napped below deck. I would look up every few minutes to check for passing ships and more whales but nothing stood (or swam) between us and our homeport. I was amazed at how quick we passed Anacapa Island, it only took an hour! This passage was the first in a while where we were able to shut off our engine and have the wind to push us for the full duration of the sail- which was ironic since Chris spent the last month doing a huge rebuild on our Perkins 4.108.
After a quick 3 hours of constant wind and medium swells we arrived home safely in our slip. It was 7:45 p.m. yet it felt like midnight. Our bodies were exhausted from our adventures, yet we were already planning out our next return to the Island. It has been 2 days since we have returned, and I am honestly stunned at the amount of gorgeous photos we captured and can not wait to review the videos too! As always, thank you so much for reading our blog and following our journey as the crew of SV Avocet. Fair Winds, ~ Marissa
Chris and I had discussed refitting our head since day 1 of becoming Avocet’s new crew, and one night while drinking wine and talking about our future plans we decided to stop holding back and get our hands dirty with phase 1 of the refit process. Let me explain one thing first before I jump into the part of the blog you came here to read: The “head” is a boat bathroom, or toilet, which derives from old-time sailing ships in which the toilet area was placed at the head (or bow) of the ship. Just like how we sail today, those ships had to travel with the wind pushing the vessel forward, blowing from back to front. If you’ve ever been downwind of a cow pasture (or even your husbands rank farts… yeah I’m talking about you Chris) you’ll realize why sailors positioned the toilet upwind, away from all of the “action.” Now that you are fully equipped with proper nautical terminology, let’s get into this head refit, shall we?
Our original thought for this refit was first and foremost to design and build a designated shower stall to do away with our wet-head. A wet head is a boat’s bathroom that serves as both the toilet/sink area as well as the shower compartment, meaning the sink and toilet get wet when you use the shower. Neither Chris nor I have ever been fans of wet heads, which was actually almost a turn off from buying Avocet in the first place. However, Chris assured me we could remodel the head and make it work- after all, there was more than enough space and it is virtually the same size as his moms Mason 43’s head which has a shower stall… or so we thought. Nonetheless, we got to my favorite part of boat projects: demolition.
Destroying the eyesore that was our head was very cathartic for me. It was like erasing an old picture so we could start with a blank canvas to create a masterpiece. We removed the headliner to be pleasantly surprised by the lack of mold and wish we could have upheld the same pleasantries when we deconstructed the vanity. The formica countertop was riddled with stains, and under each crack and edge there was black mold but that wasn’t the last of our misfortune acquired by our “treasure hunt”. Under the 4 small cubbies on the right of our countertop, we found combs, bobbi pins, and hair- lots, and lots of hair- all items essentially being relics from the previous ownership. It took a full day and a half to tear out the vanity, remove the plumbing, and unscrew the teak trim and once everything was removed we realized what we had gotten ourselves into.
Chris spent hours measuring and remeasuring trying to figure out how we could logistically fit a shower stall, sink, and toilet into the 4 x 4 space without compromising anything. It was very important to us that the bathroom feels like a home and not a camper, meaning we did not want a fold-down sink or some tiny shower that forced you to sit. At the end of the day we had the hard realization that a shower stall was not in the cards for our boat due to how the deck cuts into the head and various other things but then Chris and his brilliant mind had the thought: why don’t we just move the toilet and sink to one side and cover it with a shower curtain when we shower to keep the water off? and right then was when our new plan was born.
Naturally, a few days in Chris got called for a shoot in Colorado so he worked hard to reinstall the plumbing and leave me with a working toilet which was greatly appreciated. In his absence I wasn’t able to do much since it was raining but when there was a break in the weather I was quick to varnish the teak pieces we removed and equally as quick to move the pieces under our dodger to dry when the foul weather returned. A few days later when Chris got home it was back to work measuring, cutting, and building. It took him about 2 days to design and build a gorgeous new vanity to hold the vessel sink I picked out from Amazon. This is where I should probably mention that trying to find a suitable sink was one of the most challenging parts of this refit because not only was it difficult to find tiny sinks but it was also extremely hard to find one that didn’t cost more than our boat! Okay, that is a bit of an exaggeration but for real I was toying with the idea of making our own sink from teak but Chris wasn’t as fond of that thought so I decided to search trusty Amazon.com for something (anything) that would look good and not break the bank. Eventually, we decided on an awesome copper sink that fits in with the rest of the aesthetic we were aiming for. We also purchased an oil rubbed bronze faucet that matched perfectly. Something funny to mention is that our old sink and faucet were not only outdated, but the water didn’t even hit the middle of the sink! It hit right above the drain on the side which ended up making an absolute mess most of the time since the sink was also pretty shallow. Anyways, thanks to Amazon Primes quick delivery, Chris was able to finish the vanity and reinstall the plumbing so we had a working sink that was not only gorgeous but also much more functional than our previous arrangement.
With the new vanity in place and the teak veneer installed we were finally feeling better about our decision to remodel. However, we still didn’t have a countertop on the sink so Luckily Chris being the resourceful raccoon he is had a perfect idea. A while back there was a large solid teak door in our marina’s dumpster, so of course, my raccoon-like-husband pulled it from the trash, brought it back down to our boat and started using it as the teak for our countertops. This definitely saved us a pretty penny since the teak was about 2.5 inches thick and over well over 2 feet in length. Chris broke down the door and gave the teak to me to strip the varnish. When I finished all the pieces I handed them over to “Mr. I-can-build-anything” and he got to work making the countertops. When working with teak, we are very careful and often measure up to 3 times before making any cuts. We aren’t crazy, we just know the value of nice wood! Wow, that’s something I never thought I would say… anyways… Chris glued the pieces together using C-clamps for pressure. Once dry he took a hand saw to make the cuts. I was actually impressed by the simple technique he used for a perfect cut. Using another block of wood and a C-clap, Chris made a straight edge to follow while hand sawing to prevent him from cutting away from the line. It worked perfectly and soon after some sanding we had a beautiful teak countertop.
With the sink and toilet working we kind of abandoned the refit for a while, especially because we sailed to Catalina for Chris’s birthday in February then got busy with work. Excuses aside, we were itching to finish the head so once everything calmed down we got back into work mode. Something funny we realized was that there was a 110 outlet in the stern side of the head, meaning the outlet would have been exposed to water in the original wet head design. Chris hates wiring but bit the bullet and moved it to the bow side of the head, far away from where the water would be. The original plug actually had no breaker box around it so when we moved it to the bow side of the head it got a safety upgrade as well. In addition to the hole left by the outlet we filled and faired the tiny holes left by the previous owner (not sure what they were for?) and sanded away making sure the surfaces were flat and ready for paint. While moving the outlet Chris discovered dead space under our most-forward cabinet so we made the executive decision to cut out the false wall and build a shelf for soap, TP and other misc. things. The shelf is deep and backs all the way up to the hull which is great because the shelf is also removable so we can now access the sea cock underneath which was an absolute pain in the a$$ to get to beforehand.
After many days of “glorious, glorious sanding” (thanks Mads, we say this a lot now) the head was ready for fresh paint. The color scheme beforehand is what I like to call asylum white, so we decided to go for something much more subtle. Do you know how many different shades of white there are?! 52. There are 52 shades of white and don’t even get me started on the white variations. After debating whether we wanted eggshell white, oyster white, or lace white we decided on oyster; not because the color was any different than the others but we just wanted to stick with the nautical theme (lol). So yeah, we slapped some oyster white oil-based paint on our freshly prepared walls and it made a huge difference. The paint actually had some texture to it, so the light was absorbed better than before when it reflected straight off the glossy white asylum veneer. Nothing like being blinded at 2:00 a.m. when you need to pee. Speaking of the light, Chris hated it. So he headed to one of our favorite places Mike’s Consignment in hopes of finding something better and guess what? Not only did we find something better, but we also found a light that had a red light for those night time bathroom adventures. Speaking of Mike’s you can find all of our old cabinets, sink, faucet and other things for sail (see what I did there?) in case you want your very own piece of Avocet! Probably not, but hey, just throwing it out there!
We decided to build a little bench in the shower area so we can sit and shower while underway, so Chris got out the measuring tape and grabbed some leftover teak to make something beautiful. He did not disappoint either, the bench may be small but it really ties the space together and works good enough for our sized butts. However, I much prefer it as a footrest while shaving my legs or as a shampoo and conditioner shelf.
After the fresh paint job and the bench added we were ready to experiment with tiling. Neither of us had tiled before so after watching many YouTube tutorials, talking with our expert friends, and a lot of “we can do this” pep-talks we got into it- or should I say Chris got into it. I was working the day Chris decided to install the tile, so I had no physical hand in the installation besides choosing the tile itself. Chris decided to use epoxy as the adhesive since it is (in theory) more flexible than cement, and as you may or may not know: boats flex. Once the tile was placed Chris started to grout and learned quickly how fast you have to work before it sets! I got home when he was in the middle of grouting and man was he in the zone! After I helped him clean up we stood back and looked at the finished product and were absolutely stunned. How had we managed to transform a 4 x 4″ hideous space into something so luxury? Like, I’m sorry, is this a 1979 Cheoy Lee 41 or some luxury sailing yacht?
Built a vanity, moved the toilet, new sink, fresh paint, tiling… what am I missing? Oh yeah, a shower! I bought an awesome oil rubbed bronze handheld showerhead and faucet to match the rest of the appliances. Chris installed it easily and just like that, we had a SHOWER for the first time ever on Avocet! With a shower, Chris had to install a sump pump so back to Mikes Consignment he went and returned with just that. He also came home with a pull-switch so we can turn it on and off from inside the head. Everything was in place, the very last thing we had to do was get a shower curtain, which was a bit tricky due to the angles in our head. We attached buttons to the walls as well as the shower curtain so it can button in place when we shower and be unbuttoned it when we don’t need it. After looking on Pinterest for hours, I was inspired to install some mason jars to hold our soap, toothbrushes and etc. Once again I hopped on Amazon and found everything I needed to complete my vision. Chris attached everything and just like that the finishing touches were complete.
After 3 months of working hard, hardly working, and being so sick of walking to the marina showers we finally had a finished head. The day after we finished it Chris had a shoot in L.A. so I was honored to take the very first shower, and let me tell you… it was wonderful! I was clean and the boat was finally clean after months of project mode, it was a definite win. Of course, the fun didn’t end there though, at the end of every project we have to compile the footage and start editing for your viewing pleasure. Since this project took place over the span of months, it was pretty difficult to get the timeline in order so we decided to split the videos into 2 parts. As I write this I am multitasking waiting for the footage to render in Final Cut Pro for part 2, so I promise part 2 will be out soon! Until then, you can catch part 1 on our YouTube Channel and down below. Thanks for reading this far! Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram and Facebook to stay up to date with our latest whereabouts. Until next time, Cheers!
~ Admiral Riss
“It’s only going to take one day Chris,” said a very confident Jon who had just finished a 10-minute presentation on why Avocet’s wiring is dangerous and how he and Shannon could fix it before our sail to Catalina to celebrate Chris’s birthday. In all seriousness, our wiring situation had been neglected since Chris nor I really wanted to address it after our initial discovery of the mass headache that lied ahead when we were working on relocating the battery charger during our quarter berth project. Long story short, Jon and Shannon (Who together I shall refer to as “Prism”) worked diligently to find every wire’s beginning, end, and purpose while labeling each one along the way. The biggest issue found was our 110 (AC) was sharing grounds with our 12v (DC) side. HUGE fire hazard and electrolysis issue- which explains why our zink’s were only lasting 2 months. Honestly surprised we hadn’t caught fire and sank (ha-ha not really funny)! After cleaning out wires that lead to no where, melted wire, and a battery switch that had cracked in half due to heat, we pulled the trigger on a new panel with help from mama Neely and Prism. 2 days later Prism’s crew helped put it all together and we were no longer a floating firework display waiting to happen. 14 minutes after Jon installed the panel, we pushed off and headed south for Santa Catalina Island.
The air got colder against my cheeks, and my goosebumps prompted shivering despite my 3 layers of hoodies and windbreakers. It was our first-night passage, and I was excited yet nervous of the long night that lied ahead. We made it out of the “crab zone” which is the patch of ocean outside our harbor that is notoriously riddled with crab pots pretty much all the time. I sat on the bow with a flashlight keeping an eye out for obstacles until the horizon was free of glistening pots bobbing up and down. Back in the cockpit, Chris was bundled up with coffee and a book titled The Intricate Art of Living Afloat. “Want a cookie?” I asked as I pulled 7 Walmart chocolate chip cookies out of my pocket. Chris took one, and I shamelessly ate the other 6. Junk food only exists on Avocet when other people bring it aboard (I’m looking at YOU, Jon). Normally when we want sweets I bake, plus we don’t like sacrificing valuable storage to store sugary snacks- okay, the real reason is we can’t help ourselves I.E. I ate SIX cookies in one sitting. Back to the story: I munched on the bad-for-you-yet-so-good cookies while reading Swell by Captain Liz Clark. If you haven’t read it yet I highly recommend it. Sometime around 1:00 a.m. we woke up Prism to take our place on watch so we could catch some much needed “Z’s”. Before waking the sleeping crew, Cleo was being spooned by Shannon and it was honestly one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen. I took my fur child to our quarters and fell asleep before Chris joined me.
Before I knew it our 4 hours in dreamland were up and we were back on watch. For some reason I was nauseous (couldn’t be the cookies, could it?) and napped it off until I was awoken by the sunrise. Feeling much better with the sun on my skin, I walked up to the bow to greet the new day. Dolphins joined us when Catalina was in sight and stuck with us for a while. I will never tire of watching them swim so gracefully beneath us and will always yell “dolphins” just like when driving in a car and cows are spotted, I will announce “cows” to the rest of the passengers- it’s just a thing, I know I’m not the only one and I know you know what I mean!
Chris and I were discussing the mooring process when we heard Cleo crying from the top step of the companionway. When I opened the door to investigate she darted out to the toe rail took one look over the side then looked back at us in the cockpit with the most concerned look on her face while letting out the biggest “I hate you” meow! Apparently, no one had told her we were underway (hehe)! It was hilarious but since we couldn’t find her life jacket without waking Prism, Chris scooped her up in his blanket and made her a “nest” which seemed to calm her down. She seemed content with our company and constant doting.
We arrived in Avalon around 9 in the morning. With Shannon’s help, I was able to secure the bowline and run the stern line to the back before I completely lost it. It was heavy, and I now realize that I need to do more pushups. Just like that, we were moored right in front of the pier and dinghy dock with a glorious view of Avalon’s famous Casino. I worked on breakfast while Chris launched the dinghy (Little Wing) preparing to pick up mama Neely and Tess who had flown in by helicopter. The cockpit was soon filled with family and laughter while we enjoyed mimosas to start our celebratory weekend! Jon decided it was warm enough to test the waters and made a not-so-graceful attempt at a swan dive. It’s okay Jon, I give you an 8 for maximum effort. Once we were full from breakfast and morning booze we rowed Little Wing to the dinghy dock and ventured up to the rental house that mama Neely had rented.
After stocking the rental fridge, the rest of the party showed up! We were so glad our friends Clarke, Rob and his lovely wife Brande were able to make it out to celebrate Chris’s birthday. That night was the first night I have ever cooked for a party of 9. At Chris’s request, I prepared eggplant parmesan, bacon green beans, pasta, salad (with Shannon’s amazing dressing) and my mom’s world famous Calypso Bread. Using a full-size oven again was weird, especially since it heated unevenly but luckily dinner was (eventually) served. The galley is my happy place and I find solace in cooking. Oddly enough it was a great way to decompress from our long night passage. The party relocated from the rental to the shoreline and sang their hearts out, for real, you could hear our party from the other side of the cove!
Saturday morning we got dressed and prepared for a full day of exploration and memory making. Chris and I went parasailing which was a gift from Tess and it was a first for both of us. Being 400 feet above the water was a new sensation, and we admired the island from this new perspective. We waved to the family on shore while Jon and Tess were on the boat snapping shots of us dangling in the air above them. It was a rad experience and I’m thankful it happened! After that first adventure, I needed some warmer attire as the dark clouds began to circle Avalon- something that was really cool to watch from the sky might I add! We rowed back so I could change and reunited with the party at Luau Larry’s where we found them inside a cave- not joking, an actual cave which was probably good since we are a loud group. Rob had ordered a signature drink called the Wicky Whacker and was given a hat to accompany his soon to be inebriation. once finished, he the privilege of rubbing a wooden tiki 3 times for a… uh… special surprise. Luckily, we captured that special moment on film! If you are in Avalon, head over to Luau Larry’s and order yourself a Wicky Whacker, only then will you fully understand what I mean!
After our drinks, we emerged from the cave and went to rent golf carts. The first location refused to rent to us due to Rob’s hat (not kidding) and despite the fact that he wouldn’t have been one of the drivers they still turned us away. We tried the other location and secured 2 carts, immediately handing over the keys to the sober drivers in the group and then began exploring Catalina. The lush hillsides, ominous clouds and breaking waves along the shore reminded us of Jurassic park yet Shannon’s driving reminded us of Indiana Jones prompting us to sing (very loudly, might I add) the Indiana Jones theme song down the streets of Avalon. We reached the top of our first lookout and admired the view below. In our sight was our Avocet, surrounded by the beauty of the island. It was most definitely a moment for Chris and me, we looked at each other and said: “we live there”!
We drove back through the main streets and Tess initiated that we all do Chinese fire drills which in retrospect was probably not the best way to conserve our 2-hour rental time with the carts BUT it made for some pretty funny moments! We made it all the way up to the Botanical Garden’s which was one of my favorite places. The Wrigley Memorial at the top provided a breathtaking view and a quality photo opportunity for us all. There was even a solid bronze door that caught Christopher’s attention and I swear he spent a good 5 minutes admiring it. “Think it would fit on the boat?” Sorry hun, no chance this time.
We returned the carts and by 2:00 Clarke and I were getting hangry so we ducked into the closest Mexican Food restaurant to subdue our hanger. The rest of the party joined us and we indulged in tacos, taquitos, quesadillas, margaritas, pina-coladas, micheladas…. you get the point. Our food coma led to cat naps at the rental house followed by a new game I bought Chris as a birthday gift called “Drunk, Stoned or Stupid” and it was pretty hilarious! We realized that our friends hadn’t been aboard Avocet yet, so after a few dinghy trips, we all were sitting in the salon cracking jokes and telling stories. I am amazed that we can comfortably seat 7 adults around our table, something that is not too common on a boat.
Time ticked by and we were once again ready to go out and party. Tess had signed us all up for Karaoke at the bar next to Luau Larry’s called El Galleon and after a few rounds of drinks, it was hilarious to watch our friends and family perform. I say “watch” because I have social anxiety and don’t usually do well in the spotlight, but as crazy as it was… I was somehow roped on stage to sing 1 song with Chris. I think between the 6 singers in our group they sang all of the classics. At one point in the night, the table next to us asked if our group practiced which made me giggle because I know how talented the Neely’s are and it’s hard to believe that they are just “that good” at performing! We shut the bar down at 1:00 a.m. and after blowing out the candles on his birthday cake, Chris was ready for bed.
A long night of celebratory drinks led to the following morning of dehydration and exhaustion. Chris and I pulled ourselves out of bed to see the family off. That was the last we saw Jon and Shannon since they have made their way back to Prism. It was emotional for Chris since he misses his big brother being around, but we were very thankful to have them join us on our first-night watch and long passage. By 11:00 a.m. Chris and I were the only Neely’s on Catalina Island. We soaked up the bad decisions from the night before with Pizza at a place that overlooked the moorings. The wind picked up and the rain came down as we watched the Budweiser flag on Avocet violently flap back and forth, all from the warmth and dryness of the restaurants’ booth. When there was a break in the weather, we headed out to get some shots of the arches by the casino and then decided to get some sleep.
It rained all night. The pitter patter of the rain falling on deck was soothing as we rocked back and forth so gently. The winds howled and halliards from boats farther away sang. We woke up when the rain ceased at 6:00, stowed the cabin and released ourselves from the mooring at 6:30. The sun was barely showing itself over the horizon as I prepared the much-needed coffee. I handed Chris his mug while he maneuvered away from Catalina. We waved goodbye and set our course for 314 degrees North. However, the wind was coming directly from that initial heading and due to the high winds (20 knots), it was too uncomfortable combined with the 5 ft. swell every 5 seconds which was more closely described as chop. We could only make up to 4 knots with the motor and our small prop which is hard on us as well as the boat so Chris decided to bare off and make 3 to 4 tacks upwind before we got clear of the island which was shifting the winds against our favor. When we got out of the lee of the island we were greeted with clean air. We were close hauled on an upwind tack that brought us all the way home. It’s amazing how many things you can do to keep yourself busy while spending 11 hours at sea. I almost finished reading Swell but couldn’t bear to read the end quite yet so I switched to playing the ukulele. Chris napped, then I napped. He read his book, then filmed a bit. I grabbed the camera when he set it down and filmed him in his element. Cleo laid in the sun under the dodger. Chris named all of our clothespins with a sharpie (an idea he gathered from Prism). We discussed future projects and plans. Right when we were running out of things to keep us busy we were joined by a large group of dolphins. I made myself comfortable on the bow watching them dance below us and leap out of the water. I laid flat to get a close look and meet them eye to eye. Nature amazes me.
We arrived back in our slip at 6:00 p.m. and I prepared dinner while Chris topped off our barely used water tank. It’s amazing how virtually doing nothing all day can be so exhausting. Cleo ran outside and seemed very comfortable with the fact that we returned home since she stretched out on deck. As I write this, it has been a week since our Island getaway and we are so incredibly excited to share the footage with you. Luckily Jon helped us film while we were there so we can make some sort of a video recap for you all that you can find on our youtube channel! Mama Neely and Tess are back in the snowy mountains, our friends are home in the central valley, Jon and Shannon are making their way back to Prism all while Avocet’s crew is busy drafting the plans for our next escape and working hard to fund it all. Chris and I are both another year older, another year wiser, and another project closer to pushing off and beginning our wild circumnavigation journey. We thank you all for all the support and birthday wishes! Cheers, ~Marissa, SV Avocet