Five lessons after five weeks of cruising in Southern California

As of October 1, we’ve been cruising Southern California for five weeks. With a little help from King Neptune and Mother Nature, we should have Aegea should be back in Sausalito soon.

Here are five lessons I learned about cruising in Southern California:

  1. It’s hot and sunny. I’m not sure why, but I expected the weather to be more like the Bay Area. Instead, we’ve had temperatures in the 80s and lots of sun. Aegea is not exactly a hot-weather boat. True, we go to the Delta each summer, but the boat is optimized for San Francisco Bay and the Northern California coast. No bimini, no cockpit awning, no fans, and a dark blue hull that absorbs heat like crazy.
  2. Freshwater is not easy to come by. Sure, you can take on municipal water in every marina, but the best cruising is out at the islands. The Channel Islands offer no facilities of any kind, and even at Catalina water is not very accessible. At Two Harbors, there’s a coin-operated tap on the fuel dock, but we were told that it’s not safe to drink. At Avalon, we took on water from a rickety float that doubles as a pump-out facility. We didn’t get sick, but we were nervous to fill up on drinking water 10 feet from where others unload sewage.
  3. Many beautiful anchorages are rolly. Even well protected coves are open in one direction, allowing swells to roll through. When that happens, the boat starts to rock — sometimes violently — from side to side. Lots of cruisers had “flop stoppers,” which hang from the boat or rig and help dampen the motion. As SoCal newbies, we didn’t. Our solution, which is a lot of work and only partially effective, is to set a stern anchor and rotate the boat directly into the swells. At least then we would rock bow to stern instead of rolling side to side.
  4. There’s not much wind. This is another case of having a boat that’s optimized for San Francisco. Our working headsail is a 95% jib, which is perfect for the Bay. Down here, it’s too small. We had our 120% genoa on board, and we did use it, but changing headsails is a chore. Most days began with a light breeze (5-10 knots) that built into 15 knots, and ideally our sail plan would have adapted to the conditions.
  5. We should have brought the cats. Since we wouldn’t both be gone for more than two weeks at a stretch, and since we have a cat sitter we trust (Alicia Yanow of Pet’s Best Friend), we left Guinny and Chase at home. Our cat sitter sends photos of the cats every day — they are fun to get, but they remind us how much we miss our kitties. This would have been a perfect opportunity to see how the cats handle the boat. And it would have been so cute! (Photos courtesy of Pet’s Best Friend. More here:

— JZ

What's that I see? Could it be? Yes, the forecast calls for southerly winds on Sunday. I hope to be well underway so we can take advantage of the breeze on our ride up the coast.

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Our boat is a kelp magnet. Currently "kelped in" at our slip in Santa Barbara.

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Officially heading home. Traveling north under power from Marina del Rey toward Oxnard today.

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We spent the day on shore yesterday. Here's @zeratskymj looking very summery on our friends' patio in Silver Lake.

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I serviced our diesel's cooling system in preparation for this week's upwind journey. Now rinsing and drying the tools before stowing. (That skinny pipe brush is my newest tool. Perfect size for cleaning the tubes in our Westerbeke heat exchanger.)

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Another gratuitous dolphin video — this one outside of Marina del Rey near Los Angeles. There were too many dolphins to count, but we did our best to capture them on video. @zeratskymj

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Our week on Catalina Island


After picking up Jennifer and Chris in Oxnard, we spent the night anchored in Paradise Cove off Malibu. Then we set off for the final leg of the Ta-Ta – 37 miles to Two Harbors, Catalina.

It was a joyous day on the water — calm seas, sunny skies, and with more wind than forecast, we were able to sail the second half of the trip. Jennifer, significantly less green than the day before, found a spot on the bow we named “the spinnaker lounge” since it was, in fact, the spinnaker stuffed into the dinghy.

We picked up a mooring in Isthmus Cove for the weekend and that was about the last of any laboring for the next three days. On Sunday we said goodbye to Jennifer and Chris and watched the Packers beat the Seahawks at the bar on shore. Monday we headed to Avalon for two nights, then on to Howland Landing for a quiet last night on Catalina.


  • My 33rd birthday! Jennifer made Aperol Spritzes on arrival in Two Harbors. We had to drink quickly, though, as Kurt and Katie invited the Ta-Ta fleet aboard their stunning Interlude for a tour and Buffalo Milk (Catalina’s signature drink).
  • Nightlife! Okay, there was only one bar and one restaurant in Two Harbors, but it was fun to rendezvous with the new friends we made during the Ta-Ta.
  • Snorkeling. An incredible variety of fish in clear water so close to the boat (like, once you jumped off). John was within 10 feet of a small seal during a snorkeling outing and tried to get him to come back to the boat for happy hour. He was intrigued by John and his description of the “painkiller”, but declined the offer.
  • Our spa day in Avalon. Since we had never been to Catalina, we didn’t want to leave without seeing the big city. It was nice, but compared to rest of the Island, too busy for our taste. We found refuge at the Island Spa and spent most of the day there after we had massages lounging by the pool, reading (I finished my second book of the trip) and having lunch. And these talons desperately needed a mani-pedi.
  • The beautiful Catalina coastline. We hope the photos speak for themselves.

We have spent nine of the last 10 nights either anchored or on a mooring. Tomorrow we really return to civilization when head to the California Yacht Club in Los Angeles for the weekend.

— MZ

Spinnaker sailing


Aegea came with a decent sail inventory. Older working sails: a main and 95% jib. A 120% genoa for light-air sailing. A storm jib and storm trysail we’re unlikely to ever use. The most exciting sail was in a giant orange sail bag with “SABRE 38” stamped on the outside. It was a big purple spinnaker.

I love spinnaker sailing. I’ve flown the kite on E scows in Wisconsin, J-105s in San Francisco, and a Sunfast 3200 during the Newport-to-Cabo race. (The latter was a real sleigh ride. During the final night of the race, we hit 18 knots — in a 32-foot boat — while surfing a wave and actively trimming the kite.)

But until last week, we never flew Aegea’s spinnaker. Last summer, we hired South Beach Riggers to outfit us with proper sheets, guys, and all other necessary rigging. This was in preparation for a weeklong cruise down the coast (to Monterey and back). But we faced unusual headwinds during the part of our cruise that should have been downwind, and the spinnaker remained stowed.

Last Tuesday, the SoCal Ta-Ta fleet sailed from Santa Cruz Island to Oxnard. It was a beautiful beam reach in 8–12 knots of breeze. We hadn’t planned to fly the chute for the short 18-mile crossing. One by one, boats began to hoist spinnakers, and the fleet lit up with color.

I got quiet. I became dissatisfied. I was jealous. Michelle noticed.

“What do you think will make you feel better?” Michelle asked.

“Flying the spinnaker.”

“OK. Fine.”

I ran around the boat getting everything setup. Michelle made sure I wore a life-jacket while working on deck. I hauled the sail up the companionway and onto the foredeck. Michelle helped me lead the sheets aft. I dug out the tack line and tied it on. I connected the halyard and hoisted the furled spinnaker to the masthead. (It’s contained in a white “snuffer” tube until ready.)

Everything looked normal, nothing was wrapped or twisted, so I pulled back the snuffer and the spinnaker began to fill.

It was glorious.

We only got to fly the chute for an hour that day, but it was worth the effort. The next day we sailed under that big purple spinnaker for several hours on our way to Paradise Cove off Malibu.

I’m not sure when my next opportunity to fly Aegea’s spinnaker will arise. But as Michelle can tell you, if the conditions are right, I’ll be chomping at the bit.

— JZ

SoCal Ta-Ta

Start of the SoCal Ta-Ta off Santa Barbara.

Start of the SoCal Ta-Ta off Santa Barbara.

Last week we sailed south, on a zig-zag course from Santa Barbara, to Santa Cruz Island, to Oxnard, to Malibu, to Catalina.

We were traveling with a group of 50 boats in the SoCal Ta-Ta. It’s a cruising rally organized by Latitude 38, a local sailing magazine. (They also put on the Baja Ha-Ha and the Delta Doo-Dah each year. A real serious bunch.)

Our first leg was Santa Barbara to Santa Cruz Island. 26 nautical miles. We left the harbor in a light breeze, which built through the afternoon into a 10-knot Easterly — unusual wind for these waters.

Around 4:30pm, we arrived at Smugglers Cove on the East end of Santa Cruz Island. The rally organizers chose Smugglers because it’s the only anchorage large enough for 50 boats. But the contrary wind gave everyone pause — Smugglers is well protected in typical west or northwest winds, but with the east wind it was exposed.

The forecast called for west winds overnight, so the fleet dropped anchors and got settled. Later, as predicted, the breeze swung around to the west and blew 10-15 knots.

At 6:30pm, the rally leaders hosted a potluck happy hour aboard their 63-foot catamaran Profligate. We motored over in our dinghy and brought an artichoke-and-olive dip with Mt Tam cheese and crackers. We chatted with the other crews, including a couple who moved from Chicago to San Francisco around the time we did.

— JZ