Introduction: Trip Log: Return to the California Channel Islands
I'd been sailing all night, cold in the big dark waves, bright stars above and bright phosphorescence in the water. I was sitting on the platform between my main hull and the outrigger, with my feet over the water.
Suddenly something glowing big in the water under me.
Three dolphins swimming right under my feet in formation.Three giant shapes all lit up with glow-specks like moving windows to the stars, flowing phosphorescent galaxies.
They'd schooled up with my canoe!
Then they shot off ahead in calligraphic curlicues, thowing glow-bursts off their tails,
goofing off in the waves.
They're clicking and chirping at me. How do I answer?
And how did I get here?
This is the story of my second trip to the California Channel Islands.
At the end of the first trip I left my outrigger canoe stashed on an island and returned by ferry during a storm. A month and a half later I went back.
Step 1: Channel Islands
That line is an approximation of my outbound travel path.
I'll take the ferry from Ventura to Prisoner's Harbor in the middle of Santa Cruz Island.
Then I sail my canoe along the coast to Santa Rosa Island.
My canoe is an 18 foot long single outrigger sailing canoe similar to a Malibu Outrigger.
Step 2: The Drive South
On the first trip, I left my outrigger canoe stashed on an island and returned by ferry due to a storm. A month and a half later I went back to get the canoe and do some more sailing.
I drove south from San Francisco in the Ugly Truckling. It's lightly loaded because the big stuff is already on the island. It's mid November and the winter rains haven't started yet. The grass is brown. That doesn't mean it's dead though, just sleeping. California native plants are mostly very drought tolerant, since it doesn't rain for most of the year in most of the state.
The sun is setting and I'm almost at Ventura, where I'll catch the ferry. I start looking for a place to camp. Unfortunately this park is closed for the season.
Why am I so early in getting to this place? Why is there enough light to take pictures?
What happened? Well, it's not really my fault.
Getting ready for the trip I had the usual crisis of preparations. Deadlines are a great time to do everything. I made an offer on a piece of land, a first for me. I reorganized my office and workshop. I stayed up late working on everything, including some actual trip preparations. Just before leaving I called to make ferry reservations and found out the Sunday ferry was cancelled due to a storm. There wasn't another til Tuesday. So I was forced to sleep properly and leave in plenty of time to get there without rushing.
Step 3: Evening in Ventura
The shadows are long when I get to Ventura Beach. Some surfers are out catching a few final waves.
This gentleman doesn't need to burn gasoline to get to and from his exercise. He says the rack works well, but it's a little wobbly. A similar rack welded to the bike frame could be a lot stiffer.
Or one that clamps to the frame rather than to the rear rack.
Sunset on November 17th was 5pm, so my camera's clock must be wrong. It says 9pm.
Step 4: Wall Poster Surfing School
Ventura beach is a good surfing spot all year. That's because of a wave lense effect. You'd think the islands would block the waves, but physics is stranger than that. The Channel Islands and some other undersea features form a wave lense that concentrate waves onto Ventura Beach.
Some Australian surfing missionaries erected this stele to convey surfing skills, safety, and the Aloha spirit. "Give respect to gain respect" it says.
Step 5: Free Air, Free Water, and a Pay Telephone!
I go get some air for my tires.
I'll be parked for a week and don't want to come back to a flat tire.
Wow. I didn't know I had the right to free air! And a phone number to someone who would enforce my right! AND. A public telephone to call them! We can update Goethe's saying: "Staedliche Luft macht man frei." (that means "city air makes people free") Here in CA the state makes air free!
I listen to audiobooks and lectures all the time on my jackhammer headphones.
So there's never any wasted time. And I learn how to pronounce words, but spellings and citations aren't so easy to come by. Anyone got the real source of that quote or the spelling handy?
In case you're from the future and don't know about this historical moment, the year is 2009. That public telephone in the photo is shocking. They've become very rare. Everyone in the U.S. has a cellphone in their pocket, but the service is worse than in Mexico or Kenya. (Those are poor countries. We're rich but unhappy. And our cellphones suck.)
What else is going on in 2009? I'm driving the junkiest old car in America. Everyone is shocked by a recent economic collapse and the knowledge that oil will run out. But they're still going into debt to buy big shiny new cars. I drove past thousands of cars on the road to here. All of them were newer and shinier than mine. Most of them burn more fuel per mile. What are these people doing? I don't know how they manage it or why. Such a flagrant misuse of resources, all these shiny new cars.
It's unsettling, seeing people going about their irrational conformist activities like a tribe of ants.
The more important a decision is, the more likely people will do exactly what everyone around them does, regardless of what a bad idea it is.
Step 6: Island Packers Boat to Santa Cruz Island
After I got back to civilization and its email, I got this email from one of the Minnesotans:
To: the guy on the boat
Subject: Channel Islands
Step 7: Do I Still Have a Canoe?
I've really been wondering if my canoe will still be where I left it.
I scamper up the dock with my 100 lbs of gear, up the trail, and there it is!
Untouched like money on a park bench in Japan.
Step 8: Lug, Putter, and Launch
I proceed in the most inefficient way possible to lug all my stuff to the beach, tie it together into the shape of an outrigger canoe, sort it and pack it. I put the canoe up on a row of sticks like crossties on a railroad, with more sticks leading to the water.
Finally it's all packed and rigged and ready to go and I don't have any excuse to not go sailing.
A biologist named Rachel came walking along to check on her invertebrates and how they were responding to oil spills. She helped me launch and came for a little sail.
The first launch of a trip is a pretty nervous time for me. Maybe something is wrong with the gear, the weather, the place? Maybe what I'm doing is completely insane? Rachel didn't seem to mind any of that, which was reassuring. She sailed the boat while I took it easy. Any time the sailing seems easy and fun to someone who hasn't done it before, that's a good sign. I dropped her off at the dock ladder and sailed around the corner.
Step 9: Welcome!
There are lots of rules and warnings on this part of the island. From here to the west end of the island belongs to The Nature Conservancy They have lawyers.
Before you go, read everything you can about the species, the habitat, the seasons and conditions.
Do the right thing.
Step 10: Relics
I sailed along the shore we'd passed on the previous trip.
There are lots of animal relics and driftwood along the shore.
That's because you have to apply for a "landing permit" before going ashore, and the documents make you learn and agree not to change or mess up the place.
Step 11: Microclimates
A strand of spider silk hangs down hundreds of feet from the top of a cliff.
It floats in the breeze and shimmers in the sun.
Did the spider spin her way all the way down here to eat a water bug?
To wash her eight hands and brush her fifty teeth in salt water?
To get a view of a near horizon, a relief from the far distant one seen from the cliff top?
The scenery changes rapidly.
Barren looking brown hillsides for a mile or two, and then a valley full of green trees.
Step 12: Where Are the Birds?
Not much wildlife along the first stretch of coast. Their paintings are on the rocks, but where are the artists? Did they forget what a vacationland we'd left for them there? What about all those delicious kelp forests full of dinner for them?
Step 13: Oh There They Are
Suddenly the birds showed up, feasting on a school of fish. They must have been away at their day jobs, chasing fish around.
A shiny old DC3 cruised over the islands. The engine got smoky and it lost altitude, I wondered if it would crash. It meandered off trailing smoke and out of sight.
My own engine is stowed below, an old Evinrude 1.5 hp motor. I tested it in a barrel and it worked fine. I brought it all this way and now nothing will make it start. So here I am paddling along watching wildlife instead of motoring. I guess it only runs on land. The motor is an old two-stroke, from 1980 or so, but uses a 40:1 gas-oil mixture. I didn't know they had motors that tight back then.
Step 14: A Floating Forest of Flippers
The sea lions like to lay around in a group with one flipper in the air. Maybe they're using that flipper as a sail.
They don't seem to need to go to shore except for pupping. Very at home in the water.
I'm wearing foulies with a wool sweater as pants underneath with an innertube belt. Very comfortable. The best sailing gear yet. I experiment with clothing constantly. No shelter out here, so the garb must be good.
Step 15: The Crossing From Santa Cruz to Santa Rosa Islands
There were lulls and squalls all along the coast.
I got used to putting all my gear on and taking it off again.
By the time I got to the end of the island I was comfortable at sea again.
It was exciting to sail around the last headland and see the next island. I debated sailing for the mainland. I beat upwind to Santa Rosa instead.
A warm current and a cold current meet at Point Conception north of us. The wind sweeps past that brewing storms. What pointy waves would be conceived up there and sent our way?
I would find out during the crossing.
That's Santa Cruz Island receeding downwind behind me.
Step 16: Santa Rosa Island
I sailed a long tack past the first point of Santa Rosa Island to see what the north coast was like. Cliffs, more cliffs, and waves pounding on them.
I turned and ran like the dickens south into Becher's Bay.
It's another planet. A vast shallow sandy bottomed bay with kelp rafts and resting birds everywhere.
I slalomed through the kelp at high speed, sometimes pulling up my rudder to skid over some when I couldn't avoid it.
The pier at the landing was gone, wrecked in a storm.
The information I'd read hadn't mentioned that. Nothing left but a few broken pilings.
Past that were sand bluffs. I kept going to the first low point in the bluff and surfed ashore on a pretty little wave.
I lugged my stuff up behind that sand dune, dragged the canoe up on sticks, and buried the anchor in the sand far above the latest tide lines. The bluff is actually sandstone, with strange natural carvings done by water.
A ranger came walking briskly up the beach toward me.
I wondered what kind of trouble I was in for.
He was probably thinking the same thing.
People just don't do what I'd just done, show up by means of a small boat. Every two years or so it would happen. I wondered what those others had been like. I indulged in some mind reading.
The ranger was wondering if I was a nut, a nuisance, a disaster or tragedy in the making.
There were many hazards. One serious kayaker had been taking the ferry to the island every year to attempt to paddle around it. He'd come four years in a row in a better season than this, and had never managed to make it all the way around the island.
Did I have a reservation in the campground?
No. I was watching the weather and didn't want to have to cross at a particular time. And my cellphone had no coverage out here.
Had I filed any kind of float plan with a harbormaster?
No. I didn't want worry about worriers to make me sail in bad conditions to get somewhere at a particular time.
Was I aware of this and that?
Step 17: Ranger Mark and the Torrey Pines
I wondered what was going to happen. There were a lot of rules and only one of us knew what they were. Eventually he decided to try to see if he could legalize me. We sat in his truck and he called the mainland office on his radio. It wasn't easy. There was difficulty with systems, forms, and computers at the mainland end. It's not easy being a ranger. There were more rules for him than for me. After a long waste of expert ranger time, I paid my $15 a day "use fee" for the campground, and was a welcome member of the public at the National Park.
The ONLY member of the public there. Had I kept going to the next island, San Miguel, I would have been the ONLY HUMAN on that island.
While making me legal, Ranger Mark softened up and got enthusiastic about making my stay a good one. He said he'd meet me at 9am the next morning to show me some stuff, and encouraged me to take the Torrey Pines hike that evening. My legs desperately wanted to do some walking around, so I did that. Here's the sunset seen through the branches of the Torrey Pines, a stand of rare trees found only here and in another stand near San Diego. They're remnants from the last ice age.
Equipped with that knowledge, I basked in the special ancient rarity of the place.
The sign "Torrey Pines Trail Parking" is strange. There's no way to bring your car to the island.
But there were vehicles on the island. On the way to the campground I was passed by some Elk hunters returning from a mission in SUVs with the roofs cut off. They waved and smiled and seemed to be waiting for me to ask for something. I didn't know what to ask for, so they waved again and drove off.
The ranch that owned the island had given it to the National Park Service, but the transfer wasn't complete yet. There were still a dozen cattle and some guided hunting of introduced elk and deer.
A little further down the road I passed some elk and deer that didn't seem care at all that I was there. They were just standing around enjoying the dusk.
Step 18: Lonely Campground
Up the hill and around the bend out of the wind is a nice campground.
A billboard warns about Hantavirus present in mice on the island. The shelters have lockers to keep the mice out of the food.
There's a spigot of pipe-tasting Southern California water, and a magnificent biffy with skylights and a heated shower. Palatial!
Step 19: Lobo Canyon Trail
Ranger Mark met me with a trail map and gave me a ride to the Lobo Canyon trail head. He said it was his favorite hike in the islands.
It's really amazing. The trail goes through a sandstone canyon full of beautiful rock sculptures to the rugged north coast of the island.
It follows a little creek of clear water through the canyon, with an occasional pond surrounded by cattails and willows.
Step 20: Stone Wave
Some of the stone formations look very sculptural.
This path is the best way to get to one of the rare spots on the north coast where you could launch and land a canoe.
People are supposed to have lived here for more than 10,000 years.
A lot of people have walked down this trail and looked at these formations in that time.
They had culture, language, religion, and made all kinds of things.
The rock formations in the canyon look very something. SIGNIFICANT.
I bet the people gave these shapes names and stories and meanings.
This one looks like a stone wave to me.
Shaped like the kind that takes you "over the falls" into a big wipeout and breaks your neck at Sandy Beach, Oahu.
Step 21: Broken Egg Room
This is a giant block of stone, broken in half, hollowed out, with a bench along one side inside.
Maybe these thousands of years of human inabitants gave nature some help carving these stones.
This thing doesn't look purely accidental. It's not an arch or an overhang or a kettle.
I've walked in amazing channels in the ice made by melting water.
I've seen a lot of nifty shapes in canyons, gullies, wadis, ice channels, and arroyos.
But never anything like this.
Have you seen the "beheading stone" or the "birthing stones" on Oahu?
This thing is in that category. But cheerful.
Call me a new-age fruitcake, but definitely go on the Lobo Canyon hike and look at this stuff.
Step 22: Mountain Lion!
And what does that animal symbolize in various new world cultures?
Progress is supposed to have made us less superstitious.
A few days of endurance and sleep deprivation is all it takes to undo a lot of that progress in my case.
First they'll be looking like animals, next they'll be lecturing me with the Socratic method.
The topic will be what an idiot I am.
So I took a lot of photos of these rocks to see what they'd look like later, in case I was just imagining things.
They look pretty much the same.
Step 23: Funny Shaped Stick and Other Formations
This unexpected sculpture garden really did something to my brain.
This stick looks like some kind of critter.
That rock probably hasn't been balanced in that notch for thousands of years.
That cactus isn't really giving me the finger.
But those funny lumps on the cliff wall are probably the remains of sea animals buried in drifting sand a very long time ago. They made a mistake staying at home when they should have gone out on an adventure, and there they are, stuck to a cliff wall a million years later.
Step 24: River Meets Ocean
Suddenly the canyon opens up and there's the ocean. The sandbar is festooned with various relics, lumps of tar from oil spills, and tracks of the island fox.
Step 25: The North Coast
There's a raging wind and I'm glad I'm not sailing today, especially along this lee shore. Some seals give me a surprised look as they take a break from their seal games in the rough waves. Their mom never told them to stay away from these dangerous cliffs.
I walk along the cliff for a while. I dodge wet patches where big waves grab for unwary people. The scenery is awe inspiring. "Awe" is pronounced "Wow".
My notebook says:
I'm sitting on the rocks watching waves break on cliffs as I write.
If the wind didn't make so much noise and if it were warmer, it wouldn't be so scary. it would just be free gas. Those waves aren't breaking enough to break or swamp my boat.
I finish my lunch and hike back up the canyon.Trips out here -
difficult. fear, discomfort, frustration, boredom, inconvenience.
Minus that it's just a lot of scenic beauty.
Step 26: Tick Bite!
It's hot in the canyon. I take off more and more of my layers. Something is crawling up my leg. I pick them off. They look like skinny little deer mites. I notice a pain in my leg just under the cuff of my shorts.
Damn. A tick dug in past his shoulders. Is that a bulls-eye? Am I going to get Lyme disease? That's a lousy disease. It's got every symptom.
Right up there with Syphillis and Meningococcus. Put any of those ailments into a symptom lookup, and you'll wish someone had shot you in the face with a bazooka instead.
At least that makes a good story. "Then she shoots my face with her goddamn bazooka!" is so much better to hear than "I ache all over and can't do anything and the doctor blah blah". All. day. long.
Jeez, I had to hang out with a guy like that for five minutes once, and it was awful.
I didn't have the internet with me to lookup the right way to deal with ticks. I think if you just pull them out they barf poison into your blood and their skull stays clamped in the wound to infect it.
When I was a kid ticks were no big deal. You just pulled them off by the dozens. Because we were IGNORANT. Who knew that suburban Lyme Connecticut was breeding up a tick-borne plague as bad as anything in the tropics? A mere hour away from our biggest city, New York.
Step 27: Get Sick in the Woods
And the plant that will cure you is within ten feet of you. My cousin the woodsy herbalist says so.
I pass the spot where the tick probably climbed up on my leg. A very ancient looking picnic area by the trailhead. Giant acorn trees shaded a picnic table. I'd sat there to repack my pack. Deer tracks and mouse runs were everywhere. And a giant weed-lily flower. Maybe sap from that plant makes ticks run away?
"Aha!" I thought. "I bet that's jimson weed a.k.a. Datura, once used by the local Chumash as a medicine, and prime ingredient in "Grandma's Hooch"."
So I took a picture to check later, because I had no idea what jimson weed looked like, and psychic phenomena such as lucky guessing need evidence. Sure enough, this plant is indeed Datura.
"Grandma's Hooch" was a remedy a friend told me about. His old Ozark relatives used it for everything. Jimson weed soaked in whiskey. Rub it on the pain. He said no way would he touch it.
He made his living as a failure expert. Testifying in court about why the ladder broke, or the hip replacement broke, or anything else. At one end of the broken thing will be the point at which the crack started. That is the fracture site. It starts there because of stress concentrations which are a design flaw, or fatigue, bubbles, or inclusions, which are materials flaws.
Take a picture of that with a microscope, wear a suit and have a couple of Ph.D.'s, and you can make more money in court than an honest judge.
He told me Datura is a days long bad miserable hallucination. Also called "Loco Weed".
Used in tribal cultures by shamen to make themselves sick to rave and find answers. But it's far too brutal for our modern doctors to medicate modern men with.
Pregnant women though, are neither modern nor men, so those Modern Doctors used tons of it on them. It has a side effect of amnesia. So mom's got all the pain from labor, plus she's fighting gravity in the stirrups, plus monsters are coming to eat eyeballs, so she's foaming at the mouth screaming and trying to jump out the window, so she's restrained like the mental patient she is. So then the doctor gasses her under and knifes the baby out as a C-section because he's not getting paid by the hour. When mom wakes up she's really tired and the nurse tells her it went really well. In those days they didn't want the young father in the delivery room. Can you imagine?
Extra credit for philosophers: If you spent a few hours in hell, would you rather remember it or not?
Answer: You really don't remember, do you?
Step 28: Over the Top to Cherry Canyon Trail
So what about the tick? I had some lanolin (hair grease from sheep) which I carry when sailing to prevent salt water sores. I daubed some of that on the little guy to see if it would suffocate him. Then I continued back over the top of the island to the "Cherry Canyon" trail.
I pass some cattle sign, then I see the tiny herd in the distance. The top of the island is covered with small spherical stones that look a little like taconite pellets from Duluth MN.
Island Fox kennels are in the distance of that last photo. That's where they they saved the lives of the last island foxes on Santa Rosa. After the NPS started taking over in the 1990's, the island foxes started dying off. It wasn't a disease. What was it? They did some hard research. They live-trapped and radio-collared the foxes. They found the answer. Golden Eagles were eating them.
Here's how the problem developed: Bald Eagles used to thrive on the islands. Bald eagles eat fish and are territorial. They chase Golden eagles away. DDT killed off the Bald Eagles. Golden Eagles moved in. Their favorite food was feral pigs. The NPS wiped out the feral pigs for good reasons. Then the golden eagles started eating foxes. Solution: live-trap the foxes and keep them safe, then live-trap the golden eagles and transport them to distant parts of mainland CA that need them. Then when the foxes have bred back to viable numbers, release them to the wild again. In the meantime, deer mice overpopulated and now there's a hantavirus problem...
THAT'S WHY PARKS NEED RANGERS!! Not to mess around collecting a $15/day use fee that doesn't pay for the time to collect it.
Step 29: Vail and Vickers Ranch
VR doesn't just stand for Virtual Reality. It's the brand (you know, red-hot iron for marking cattle) of the Vail and Vickers Ranch here on the island. The remaining cowboys have an easy life, tending the dozen cattle and helping dudes shoot a few elk and deer.
The shooting range is next to the house, a "machine rest" pointed at a target against a hillside. That's where they zero-in the shooting irons. The "pavement" around the table is an old carpet, its edges held down with boards. Just like at burning man.
Those big iron tanks are from the sheep-grazing days before Mr. Vail and Mr. Vickers bought the island. The tanks are for rendering sheep fat. A century ago the tens of thousands of sheep had defoliated the island, turning most of it into a dust bowl.
A weathered cowboy in camo waves and drives past me on a four wheel ATV. There are pink tassles and a pink horn on the handlebars.
Step 30: Get Really Nervous About Sailing
The wind is trying to blow me off this hill.
The ranch buildings from above. They've got their own little airstrip for elk-shooting dudes to land on.
Windsocks are placed every mile or so along the coast so the pilots can judge the wind.
17 mph wind will fully extend a standard FAA wind sock. This one is reading less than that, but it's sheltered by the hill I'm standing on.
The sheltered water in Becher's Bay is pretty flat, but outside the bay whitecaps are marching along.
The wind howls most of the day and into the night. Sometimes it calms down a bit before dawn, but it starts right up again in the morning, increasing all day.
I've seen what wind like this does in the channel. It makes big waves. Tomorrow I'm going to sail toward Ventura. That's fifty miles away over the top of Santa Cruz Island in the distance.
It's November and it gets really wet and chilly out there. If I get in trouble I'll have it all to myself. But I can't stay here forever, so...
Step 31: Return Path
The generic warnings about the conditions in the channel "changing rapidly" are all true. I'd seen two gales already, and there's not much warning. Or rather, if you listen to the weather radio there are warnings all the time, and sometimes the wind behaves like the predictions.
I have to take all the warnings seriously. They don't come with reference warnings like "and also don't eat lots of tasty food and sit in a comfy chair, or get a job with a commute, because that kills a million Americans a year with heart disease"
I have an aviator's drysuit (fireproof too!) I haven't worn yet.
Pilots call it a "poopy suit", because whether you shit yourself or not, your stale sweat will smell like you did. Maybe tomorrow would be a good time for that. It's November.
My notebook from that night says:
Had some grog - this "au" wine from oz. Got way drunk on two sips.
Fantasy - an old couple with oz accents - He: "Tipple the crew with grog!"
She: "It'll affect our judgement!"
He: "the time for good judgement is long past - what we need now is endurance and good humor!".
I dump out all my stuff, sort through it, re-pack. I get totally drunk on two sips of wine.Tomorrow's going to be a big day. More big wind like this and more waves. I'll stink up my new poopysuit for the first time - sail around the backside of Santa Cruz and Anacapa - check chart no - run gap + ferry route to Ventura. Maybe get to Ventura before dark - hard fast sailing.
Load the boat with the weight aft and tie everything together inside - lose nothing in a capsize. Bail from the front hatch.
Time to deal with the tick. The grease didn't kill it. I make a q-tip from a split stick and a piece of toilet paper. I swab gasoline on the tick. It wiggles but makes no effort to leave. I take my needlenose leatherman pliers and grab him by the head. I pull him out. Damn. He's dissolved the area of flesh all around his head.
Is that inflammation all around the wound the "bulls eye" pattern of lyme disease?
More like a bullet hole. Is there a claw or two left in the hole? I grub around in there with the pliers and pull out anything that doesn't look human. I get down close and squint at the injury. It looks like the grand canyon. I squeeze it til it bleeds. That'll do it some good.
My notebook from that night:
The line on the map is an approximation of my return travel path.eating what feels like a last meal.
FEAR. How to act on the knowledge that I'm an idiot? Trust experts?
They're all telling me to be afraid. I'm doing it.
Probably it will be as rough tomorrow as that ferry ride. If the wind holds and wraps the island as I expect, I'll sail 30 fast flat miles and get to the gap noonish. If nothing breaks. Then 20 very rough miles on the lifting tack* the capsize tack* to Ventura. Must sail to cross the wind. No drifting running under bare poles*. State of mind is vital. literally. So I'm cramming food. haven't every been very hungry on this trip. 6 boiled eggs, 3 carrots, plain yogurt+quick oats+coconut. 6000 calories wouldn't be too much. +some wine. the heavy food took the buzz off.
Weird that I'm so scared about tomorrow. Demanding total concentration, like an athletic event with a 5% chance of getting killed in a slow painful way. I have everything I need with me, which is strange. I'm not wishing for anything. I guess the prolonged get-ready-itis crises paid off.
Socks around my neck knotted cuff to dry out. WW2 gi trick.
My fingernails are red - purple-red. Magenta. Is that a sign of vitality?
Why such a weird path? Read on.
*explanation of terms:
"bare poles running" means no sail up, just letting the wind push you downwind.
The place I'm going isn't downwind, so I'll have to sail crosswind.
I'm expecting 20-30mph winds and big waves, so I'm expecting a big ordeal.
"Lifting tack" a.k.a. "capsize tack" means the canoe is sideways to the wind and the sail is lifting the outrigger. That's the only way to capsize this boat. With the boat going the other way the sail is pushing the outrigger into the water, and this sail isn't big enough to sink it.
Step 32: Dawn
I lug my big dry bag down to the beach. I drag the canoe on sticks and turn it around, which makes an artwork on the sand. There's a bird relic on the sand. My guardian angel? What eats a bird and leaves the wings intact?A long night. Up at 5am - leg bouncing. Take crap. Lanolin on thighs for chafe.
Wind roaring. I don't care. Well, I'm scared a lot but I've got energy and have to move. Drank lots of water. 1.5-2 liters last pm. Pee clear.
Tick bite looks okay.
Water here tastes like desert. Not great.
Sunrise 2 hrs away, lots of stars in the sky. Like going into battle.
At least I don't have to face machineguns + artillery and charge obstacles and fortifications.
When I get there it's the warm embrace of friendly california. Not an amphibious landing.
By the time I've done all this I'm too hot for the drysuit. So it's wetsuit with arms tied around my waist, wetsuit booties, fleece vest, lifejacket, foulie pants and jacket, airline blanket hat. The dry suit is handy if I need it. Everything I need is handy. The boat is well packed. Things don't start that way on a trip. It takes a few re-packings to get it like that.
Step 33: Launching!
Everything is stowed, I've got all my gear on, and the sun is rising. Nothing to do but launch!
Launching and landing are always nervous exciting times. I drag the boat on sticks down to the wet sand. I wait for a wave to lift it and push out. I jump aboard and paddle. Then I jam the paddle under an innertube strap and pull the cord that lowers the rudder. I sheet in and we crash out through the little wave that's just about to break. Free! I turn downwind and sheet in some more. The boat takes off like a race horse.
Fast sailing downwind on flat water along the shore of Becher's bay. Just past the Torrey Pines is a well-shaped surfing wave. I pass thousands of sea birds doing their thing along the vast sandbar that circles around the bay. To the east outside the bay are a lot of whitecaps and Santa Cruz Island. I head for that.
Sailing downwind is very quiet even when you're going fast. Your speed is subtracted from the wind speed. A big difference from the noise of beating upwind to Santa Rosa.
Today the waves are going the same direction I am. They build up in size as they go.
The longer a wave is the faster it moves. I outran the small waves, climbing over their backs. Then a big swell would come along and surf me along on it. The steering gets twitchy when you're moving that fast, and the water seems different. Hard and sizzly. I worried about the canoe's nose getting buried in a wave and flipping over it. Or losing concentration, letting the wind get on the wrong side of the sail, and accidentally jibing. But I didn't worry much, because everything was perfect, and we were screaming along in the right direction with plenty of scenery. In not many minutes we were sailing along the south side of Santa Cruz Island, passing these bird sanctuary islands.
Step 34: In the Wind Pipe
Lots of rocks, kelp, and wildlife along the side of Santa Cruz Island.
Lots of wind too, at first.
I expected the wind to wrap around the back side of the island. I've seen that happen elsewhere.
First photo. Whitecaps and the yarn telltale says there's plenty of wind.
Second photo, closer to land. Out of the wind.
Looking back there's a row of whitecaps, and where I am, not much.
So I flogged back into the whitecaps and sailed fast way out to sea, just to keep moving.
Lots of birds and sea mammals out here. My amber sunglasses make them show up really well in the waves. The water sort of glows green around any big swimming thing through those lenses. I pass pods of different kinds of dolphins and things that look like dolphins but they're too big. Pilot whales? Always great to have company. Some of them seem sociable, they notice your presence. Some don't. The birds always seem to notice each other, going wherever the action is, because that's where the fish are.
I expected the wind to roll over the top of the island and get back down to sea level, but it didn't. There was just this narrow pipe of wind coming straight from Point Conception, shooting through between Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz Islands. I stayed in that until I saw the Anacapa Gap at the other end of Santa Cruz island. I reluctanty turned out of my wind road and into the slower air.
From then on it was gusts and lulls, gusts and lulls. Oh yeah. And wind shifts.
Step 35: A Sunny Day on the Boat
I've got plenty of time to mess with stuff. So I take some photos of my rig.
I'm sitting with my feet in the rear cockpit. My GPS is in a waterproof bag because its gaskets are bad. The centerboard is down because I'm crossing the wind. It can float up, so I've got a loop of innertube I can stretch around the back of it to hold it down. The centerboard and GPS are tethered to the boat. There's a water bottle out and a jar of coconut+dry quick oats and chocolate chips for munching.
Step 36: Board Up, Hatches.
Running downwind with the centerboard up. The innertube around the centerboard keeps it from sliding down into the trunk.
Both hatches have wooden hatch covers with foam gaskets. Bungee cords to the bottom of the hull hold them down. I stash the hatch cover below when I'm not using it. This system works well.
More innertubes lash the crossbeams to the main hull. Lashing buttons make this job quick and easy.
Step 37: Fishing
I deploy some fishing lines to drag lures behind me.
A dolphin chases one and I get nervous, but he's just curious. You can't catch dolphins on lures. They're too smart.
My fishing reel is a buoy carved into an apple-core sort of shape. I learned this trick in the Marshall Islands.
I read my fishing chart to see what's in the water around here. Hmm. The fish my lures are made for are gone this time of year. Oh well. I'll drag those lures anyway and see what happens. I'm doing two things at once! sailing and fishing!
I lash the tiller so the boat will sail itself, and do some reading also. Three things at once! I put my head up on my rolled up lifejacket. Somtimes I'll nudge the tiller with my foot to do a minor course correction.
Step 38: Equipment Details
A military stretcher serves as a platform between the hulls. I carry some sticks there in case I need to land on a rocky beach where there's no driftwood. The paddles stay there with the sticks. More innertubes hold them down.
The side stays that hold up the mast run back to the cockpit. I balance the rig by leaning the mast left or right.
I used to use cleats for these lines, but now I just hitch them as shown. It's easy to adjust them. I may make a continuous loop from one stay to the other, because I slack one when I cinch the other.
Step 39: Telltales and Shifting Wind
That piece of yarn tied to each mast stay is important. Those are the "tell-tales". They indicate wind strength and direction. I keep the windward one pointed at a certain part of the sail. I experiment with the best angle of the wind over the sail.
The wind keeps shifting and dying. When the wind dies I read a book, re-organize my gear, or sleep. If I'm feeling energetic I start paddling. That feels really great for a while, then I take another nap.
The wind wakes me up and I sail some more.
Step 40: Cockpit and Rudder
I was sitting on one of my lifejackets for padding. Without the padding the raised cockpit lip tended to cut off circulation to my legs. You can see the kickup rudder and push-tiller arrangement. The rudder has a wooden arm that sticks out sideways. Another long stick attaches to that arm with a universal joint made from an innertube lashing. Two lines from the rudder run forward to that rear crossbeam. One line lowers the rudder, and the other raises it. A wrapping of innertube around those lines keeps them from sliding by accident, but lets the rudder rock up if it hits something.
Step 41: Anacapa Passage
The anchor is held against the front crossbeam by an an innertube strap. The anchor line is wrapped around the anchor in a figure 8 pattern.
I'm finally at the end of Santa Cruz Island. I consider sailing around Anacapa Island, but in these puffy non-existent winds, it would have taken a long time.
So I proceed through Anacapa Passage between the two islands. Birds and Seals come check me out occasionally.
The sun is getting low. I consider going ashore to camp. But I've got no reason tomorrow will be any different from today. I decide to stay on the water until I get to Ventura. I take a nap. The wind wakes me up and I sail some more.
It gets dark. The wind wakes me up. A lot of wind. I stow everything below, cover the hatches, and sail hard. This is fast sailing. I'll be at Ventura in an hour or so! The waves go past me like skiing.
They get bigger and bigger but I don't care because, well, I just don't, and it's great to have wind power to sail with.
There's a row of oil rigs in the middle of the channel. They've got all their lights on like a city on a stick, an urban popsicle over the ocean. The oil rigs have names, they're Gail, Gilda, and Grace. I'm passing between Gilda and Grace when the wind dies. Poof it's gone, just drops me there.
My sail flogs back and forth in the big black waves. Well, here I am. At least the big ships stay away from these oil rigs. I brail up the sail, that means bundling it up to the mast. I shine a flashlight on the bunched up sail so it glows like a Japanese lantern.
I throw the anchor into the water. It hangs straight down and sort of keeps the canoe facing into the waves. There's enough air movement to do that. And if I drift to shore maybe it'll hang up on something before I get wrecked in my sleep.
I pull out the hatch cover, scrunch my legs and butt into the hull, put the hatch cover in front of me like a school desk and go to sleep with my head on my arms.
Comfort! Why didn't I design some COMFORT into this boat? It could go right there in the middle!
The wind wakes me up. Gilda is towering over me. Damn. I'd almost drifted into an oil rig. I pull my stiff body out of the hull, and get the boat ready to sail.
I pull up the anchor and coil the anchor line around it. I hang the flashlight around my neck and untie the sail. I put the hatch cover back on and start sailing.
Repeat those two routines for a bunch of hours. That's what my night was like. I kept getting more tired and cold and grumpy. Was I ever going to get to Ventura?
What if the wind drops me in the shipping channel? That would be bad.
At some point I sailed slowly through a vast pod of sleeping dolphins. Just as I got to one it would snort and splash away. I didn't hit any, their sensors must work while they sleep. The way they sleep is they get into a "resting line" with others, swim and breathe in formation. I felt bad about disturbing their sleep. This went on for a mile or so.
Then after awhile the wind died, and it was back to the sleep routine, then the sail routine again.
Step 42: Glowing Pals
I'd been doing that all night. I was purely in endurance mode. When something needed to happen I did it. But I didn't like it. As the night wore on the glowing critters in the water woke up and made lots of phosphorescence in the water. I could tell when I'd snagged some kelp because the glowing streams in the water behind the boat changed shape. I'd raise and lower the centerboard and rudder to let the kelp go. There was enough wind to sail, but I was only going a few miles an hour.
The moon was gone, but there were bright stars above and bright phosphorescence in the water. I was sitting on the platform between my main hull and the outrigger, with my feet over the water.
Suddenly there was something glowing big in the water under me.
Three dolphins swimming right under my feet in formation.Three giant shapes all lit up with glow-specks like moving windows to the stars, flowing phosphorescent galaxies.
They'd schooled up with my canoe!
Then they shot off ahead in calligraphic curlicues, thowing glow-bursts off their tails,
goofing off in the waves.
They're clicking and chirping at me. How do I answer?
I was agog with the beauty of it.
My canoe lurched. One of my big pals had stuck himself to the side of it and then peeled off again. They swam under my hull again, and surfed behind on the wave following me. They were trying to cheer me up! My two hulls looked kind of like a mother sea-something and a baby sea-something.
The way I'd been sailing had no joy in it. Just slogging along in endurance mode.
They did for me what they did for each other, playing and bumping and making sure things were okay. They sped off frolicking in the waves. Before long they came back to check on me again. They kept doing this for hours until I was nearly to the Ventura harbor entrance. It worked. I was thrilled and amazed. Definitely cheered up. I couldn't believe that such a beautiful thing could happen, or it could snap me out of my misery like that.
Step 43: Landing!
The Ventura harbor entrance can be a fearful thing, with waves breaking on rocks on both sides of it.
I had an unexpected problem of being underpowered. Sailing and paddling, so I wasn't going to get blown onto any rocks, but I wasn't going to race away from any danger either.
The clutter of city lights made it hard to spot the harbor. I'd see some red lights but then they'd turn to green. A traffic light. Taillights from cars played similar tricks. Eventually I got close enough to see where the fishing boats were going in and out. A new problem. I shone one flashlight on my sail and sometimes pointed the other at an oncoming boat until they saw me. I'm underpowered. Doing a whole lot of paddling.
The fishing boats were bizarre creations from the future. I could't tell which was the front or the back of the "boat". Towering with obscure machinery, mechanics climbing and pounding on something and yelling to each other as they churn out to sea. What are they fishing for? Tasty mutations from science fiction? What is all that gear? How do you get food out of the water with that?
I slowly paddle into the harbor gate, dark loud breakers on both sides of the entrance.
I paddle in past someone fishing with glowing bobbers off the harbor wall. Like throwing a Christmas tree in the water. I think I'm fighting an ebb tide. I go slower and slower.
It's 3am when I finally drag the canoe up on the beach. I'm totally exhausted, but my body wants to walk all over the place. The legs just want that exercise! I put down more sticks and drag the canoe up higher.
I send some txt msgs from my cellphone telling people to stop worrying in case they'd started, and start lugging stuff out of the boat and taking it apart.
I shot some more photos of canoe details as I did that.
Step 44: Universal Joint to Push Tiller
Here's the innertube lashing from the tiller push stick to the rudder side-arm.
A few wraps around the two sticks, and then a few wraps around those wraps to make a sort of ball.
I don't try to drive too close to my canoe. My truck stays on the tire tracks on the beach this time.
I don't want to have to get un-stuck.
There are some Hawaiian canoes parked on the beach there. That's always a sign of a good place. A paddling club. I like the look of this little one. There's a crafty wheeled dolly on one of the solo canoes.
I went to the public library to check my email. There was nothing I needed to deal with. There was jug band music playing on speakers in the library. I walked to another room. The music continued to play at the same volume. That's all wrong. I walked up to a reference librarian and asked "This is kind of a strange question, but is there any music playing in the library right now?" "That's quite all right" , he said, "But no, there isn't.". I was hallucinating from exhaustion. It was an air conditioner or something that my brain was tuning in as music. I went to the beach to take a nap. Every ventilation system I passed was playing that same catchy jug-band tune. Damn. It could be worse, that was kind of a nice piece of music. I laid down on the beach and put a towel over my head. I let that song waft me off to sleep while I remembered the glowing dolphins that had gotten me here.