Summer Camp at Night

Last summer we sailed our boat to Catalina Island. After a week ashore, including three noisy nights in Avalon, we retreated to the island’s quiet northwest corner to prepare for our jump to Los Angeles.

We moored in Howland Landing with only one other boat, a red sailboat owned by a harbor patrolman. A few times each day he’d pull alongside in his Boston Whaler, take his break aboard, and then get back to work. But most of the time, we had the cove to ourselves.

To port, a slanted rock outcropping separated Howland from the island’s west end. Swells rolled in parallel to the shore and filled tide pools at the base of the rocks. Having just read John McPhee’s Assembling California, I was mesmerized by the crooked layers of rock. We took the dinghy to get a closer look, but I realized there’s not much a layperson can learn from looking at rocks.

A couple hundred yards behind us, a summer camp for kids was set up on the beach. We watched campers and counselors move around the camp, from cabins to beach to mess hall and back again. “Lucky kids,” said Michelle, who grew up at summer camp in northern Wisconsin. “How cool to come out here and have your summer camp on an island in the Pacific.”

Around 8pm, after dark, we were cleaning up dinner on the boat. I glanced astern and noticed bright lights on the beach. “Hey, check this out,” I said to Michelle.

We sat in the cockpit and watched. Was it a ceremony? A game? Were we seeing flood lamps illuminating the camp for safety?

One by one, more white lights appeared along the beach in a horizontal row. They were aimed our way. We weren’t blinded, but we couldn’t discern anything around the lights either.

Then the lights started to move. They bounced and wobbled and grew larger. What were we seeing? And then it clicked.

The camp kids were holding flashlights and walking into the water! We heard splashing and shrieking and chatter and laughter. The counselor’s raised voice echoed across the water, and we listened as she instructed the campers: put on your mask and snorkel, make sure your flashlight is on, don’t forget your buddy, watch your step.

The lights disappeared one by one into the water. But we had no trouble tracking the group as they splashed past our boat, just 50 feet from our transom, and toward the rock outcropping and tide pools. Lucky kids, indeed — night snorkeling was part of the program at their summer camp.

We were just about to go back inside when we heard the counselor’s voice again. She was speaking in that loud whispering voice, the straining way people talk when they want to be heard but they don’t want to be loud.

“Okay kids… Don’t freak out, but… there’s a baby shark swimming down near the bottom.”

The kids freaked out. Their flashlights bobbed and scattered. They kicked and splashed. They strained to get a look underwater.

I can’t be sure, but I’m guessing the shark didn’t stick around to see them.


Tsunami Watch

On September 16, 2015 we sailed into Channel Islands Harbor (Oxnard, California) with the SoCal Ta-Ta fleet.

That night, the Ta-Ta organizers and marina management threw a party on an empty dock. Burgers and hotdogs on a grill, potato salad, and a two-man pickup band playing classic rock covers. That sort of thing.

We were seated around the end of a long folding table, talking to some new friends. The music wound down and Richard Spindler, Latitude 38 honcho and SoCal Ta-Ta poobah, grabbed the microphone.

“Excuse me,” he said.

The chatter of 100-some people continued through the band’s break, as it often does when live music is the background, and not the center of attention.

“Hey everyone, listen up! This is important.”

Richard’s a mellow guy, so his tone caught our attention. The crowd became silent.

“So, believe it or not, there’s a tsunami warning for this part of the coast.”

Stunned silence, then uneven murmurs.

“There was a big earthquake in Chile… an eight point three… that’s really big. And they are saying the tsunami could reach California sometime tonight. I’ll read you the advisory here.”

Richard brought his phone close to his face and began to read from the NOAA website.

“Tsunami advisory in effect for… 45 miles southeast of LA to… 50 miles northwest of San Luis Obispo.” He broke out of his reading voice to add: “We’re right in the middle of that range.” He continued: “The tsunami may be hazardous to swimmers, boats, and coastal structures… recommended actions… Move off the beach and out of harbors and marinas.”

A wave of nervous laughter spread through the group. We were in a marina.

Then Richard continued onto the predicted tsunami heights. The group became silent again. This was the information that really mattered.

“Let’s see here… Los Angeles California… zero-point-five to one… foot. Santa Barbara California… zero-point-five to one foot. OK, here we go… Port San Luis California… that’s very close to here… zero-point-three to zero-point-five feet.”

A tsunami of less than one foot is not much of a tsunami at all. The worried looks left our friends’ faces, and tentative smiles began to appear. We felt relieved.

Still, we had never been in an tsunami before. We didn’t know what to expect.

Later that night, on the boat, I found a NOAA webpage where they published projected tsunami arrival times and heights for dozens of affected locations. As the tsunami arrived in each location, they added observed values to the webpage. It was like a bingo board of anxiety, hope, and destruction. I refreshed it every few minutes until bedtime.

Given our lack of experience — and my above-average worry level — I decided to set my alarm for 4:55am and wake up to witness the tsunami’s projected arrival at 5:04am.

At five to five, I woke up, dressed, and made my way on deck. I grabbed my phone and resumed checking the NOAA observations. The tsunami was arriving in California as predicted.

From my seat in the cockpit, I could see stars through the glow of the marina. I watched birds pass in the water and the air. Someone walked by on the dock. I heard a splash—then saw it was just a seal swimming by in the dark. It was a beautiful and calm night.

The projected time arrived, but the tsunami never did.


Hobie Cat Beach Hopping

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Today we rented a 14-foot Hobie Wave in Cinnamon Bay. Sailed to Maho and beached the cat for a lunch break, then sailed back to Cinnamon. Great start to 2016!

Cinnamon Bay St John

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Had this whole beach to ourselves. Not allowed to land the dinghy so we swam from the mooring!

St John by Dinghy

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Our ride for the day. M/V Number Three. Simple but fun! We got caught out in a minor squall, but apart from that, enjoyed exploring St John’s north shore by dinghy.

2015 San Francisco Fleet Week Airshow

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The day after arriving from Santa Barbara, Michelle picked me up from the boat. On the drive home, I told her about all the work I had done to take the boat out of “cruise mode”: cleaning, removing food, stowing gear, etc.

She asked: “So, will the boat be ready to go out again on Saturday?”

“Yeah, why?”

“It’s Fleet Week.”

We decided to watch the airshow from Aegea. We invited our friends Jake and Holly and their sons. 12-year-old Luke is very knowledgable about planes, so we knew it’d be a treat for him—and us!

Luke took these photos—and 414 more. Thanks Luke for letting us use your photos!

(I guess Luke did not take the photo of himself. Photographer unknown.)

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I just re-discovered this great old photo of my late great-uncle Sandy Bur. Circa 1991 while he and my great-aunt Sharon were live-aboard cruisers.

I can’t be certain, but their boat sure looks like a Hallberg-Rassy. That windshield and those companionway shelves are very H-R.

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I went to Madison for some meetings at the University. This gave me an opportunity to stop at Paul’s, a used book store that fueled many curiosities while I was in school.

I was looking for a copy of Sterling Hayden’s “Wanderer.” The shopkeeper pointed me toward this section: “Nautical Sea Faring.” How magical!

I sent this photo to Michelle and she asked, “Have you read them all yet?”

“Not yet.”

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We arrived in Sausalito at 3:30am Tuesday after a fast 44-hour passage. (We averaged more than six knots!)

Our old Westerbeke diesel did great, running for a total of 39 hours during the passage with no complaints.

Our journey was uneventful until we reached the Golden Gate. Lights and vessels bombarded our senses. A particular spot of darkness confused us, too, as the Mile Rock light was out. One inbound ship and two outbound made the Gate feel very narrow. But we successfully navigated the traffic with no close calls.

After a quiet trip up the Sausalito channel, we tied up Aegea in her new slip at Clipper Yacht Harbor.

Thanks again to Braden Kowitz who was fantastic as both crew and company.

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We finally left Santa Barbara on Sunday morning. Now motorsailing up the Big Sur coast.

We left in a remarkable weather window: south winds, rain, calms, reverse currents. We rounded Point Conception sailing downwind, in 12 knots of breeze, against 10-foot swells.

We are making excellent time north and hoping to reach the Golden Gate late tonight.