Archive for April 2009
Although the weather’s bright and breezy – perfect sailing weather, in fact – we’re stuck here for repairs and paperwork, though with any luck only until Wednesday or Thursday.
But best to begin from where I last wrote – Marina del Rey – and from where we set out for San Diego:
Justine joined us on the morning of Wednesday the 8th, and we cast off shortly thereafter, stopping to refuel en route to the entrance of the harbour. At one end of the fuel dock, bronzed young men wearing straw hats pumped the diesel; at the other end, nonchalantly beautiful white egrets stood around like starlets waiting to be discovered by a casting director. Then we motored out past the eye-watering ammoniac reek of the brown pelican colony on the breakwater. One wouldn’t know these birds are endangered judging by the hundreds of them standing around, with great beaks and leathery wattles, looking like ancient, yellow-eyed pterodactyls.
Then we turned south and began sailing over smooth swells. We soon began to see brown blobs and rainbow streaks of oily tar on the water, and oily bubbles rising to the surface; a natural phenomenon in that area, according to our guidebook, though we shouldn’t have been so surprised given the number of oil rigs we’d encountered on the way down. The rest of the day was sunny and completely uneventful, and Justine and I took the first watch from 8pm to midnight.
Soon after The Captain had gone below and the sparkly oil rigs had faded into the distance, the wind picked up and the sea became ‘confused’. (For non-sailors: That’s a nicely nautical way of describing waves which come from no direction in particular, usually caused by wind coming from one direction and a current from another, or wind coming from a direction different to the swell left over from an earlier storm.) The effect was the visceral equivalent of what might be experienced sitting between two full symphony orchestras, one of which is playing waltzes and the other ragtime.
The next day, the anticipated early morning arrival in San Diego became a late afternoon arrival thanks to the vast miles of impenetrable kelp beds fringing the coast around the entrance to the harbour. We were all tired and boredom set in, alleviated a few miles off the coast by a fast-moving speck on the horizon described by The Captain as “probably some turbo-charged nutter-bastard”.
It turned out to be a San Diego Customs and Immigration/Homeland Security patrol: 5 heavily armed men in a very fast boat (FOUR 250 horsepower outboards off their stern – a veritable wall of engines!) to check whether we were baddies, so he was probably right. Then, when we finally entered the bay, we were passed at speed by a jaw-droppingly impressive ‘stealth boat’ that made the previous one look like a bath toy: it was a long, lean, oddly shaped barracuda of a military vessel painted dark brown-black, and moving so fast it left almost no wake. Very Darth Vadar!
San Diego is less than a dozen miles from Mexico and is home to more than 10 naval and other large military bases, assorted training centres, landing facilities, et cetera, so there’s lots of military presence and a politically conservative attitude. Sail boats with gay spinnakers heel past looming warships in the bay, and jets and helicopters frequently roar and clatter overhead. It’s a busy place.
We moored at the police dock for transients until the next morning. Because The Boat is a foreign registered vessel, we were all required to check in with Homeland Security in down-town San Diego within 24 hours of arriving and also had to complete formalities prior to leaving the U.S. Even Justine – as temporary crew – had to show her passport. That’s when the fun began.
Two polite but very suspicious women in uniform questioned us exhaustively and persistently. It turned out that the equivalent office in Oakland had messed up some paperwork, and that the boat was down as being registered twice under the same SSR number: once under its proper name and once under the first line of The Captain’s address, and that someone at the Small Ships Registry in England had made another clerical error, and that we needed a different sort of original bill of sale for the boat prior to exporting it from the country. The women had spent most of that morning investigating our case before we’d come in, and were in no mood to stop until all ambiguities had been cleared up.
Two days later, the presence of a mysterious black powder coating the engine compartment, led to the discovery of a bearing that was committing seppuku: the inner shell had half-melted/half torn and was being squeezed out raggedly along the propeller shaft. This would have caused serious problems had it occurred in some less convenient place – like the mid-Pacific – and The Captain was furious, because there has obviously been some error or carelessness in the installation. We got the bearing out – 4 hands needed for that, and my arms looked as I’d intervened in a catfight – and we were lucky enough to be able to order a replacement and find someone with a good reputation to install it by Tuesday.
The toilets: simple, straightforward, full instructions supplied, chimpanzee proof to install – must indeed have been installed by chimpanzees, because they still don’t work. They get rid of the detritus, as it were, but won’t suck up fresh water to replace the old. The Captain has spent more time that is civilised trying to sort the problem, with purely diagnostic success; he now knows what the problem isn’t, but not what it is. Maybe they’ll be sorted on Tuesday too. Maybe even the paperwork will be sorted by Tuesday.
There are other minor ‘challenges’ (as Justine would say) due to work not having been done that should have been, or done poorly. The Captain, as befits a man of his experience and temperament, remains calm, albeit frustrated and disappointed that after 2 years of work and more than $200,000 spent, these things should be happening. Not being the mellow type, I’ve run out of choice language to describe my opinion of the concatenation of incompetence, carelessness, and rank stupidity that has led to these problems.
On the other hand, the climate here is wonderful and there are far worse places to hang about waiting. Mornings are clear blue and gold and the water so mirror-like one has only to look down to lose oneself in the sky. The scenery is all palm trees and bougainvillea and hibiscus, and we’ve moved from the police dock and are now moored in a smarter marina. At night herons large and small, like elegant sentinels, stalk the jetties between the sleeping boats, and as I go to sleep I can hear the rustle of snapping shrimp through the hull (think of a miniature theatre audience, all of whom are crackling tiny sweets wrappers and pistachio nuts), so life is pretty good!
Love to all,
We’re in Marina Del Rey in Santa Monica, Los Angeles – a soullessly pleasant place. Walking out of the Marina one enters a sort of California Lite world of endless wide roads, shopping malls complete with dippy Muzak piped outdoors and people the size of manatees wearing brightly coloured clothes. But it’s WARM, which makes up for the lack of character!
The trip south – 3 days and 2 nights – went well, and we rounded the dread Point Conception with no waves at all. The night watches were relatively painless, though it was so cold the first night after leaving Monterey that The Captain broke down and borrowed the thick, insulated waterproof trousers I’d bought on a prescient whim in Monterey. He also borrowed my cashmere jumper and fleece neck protector, and by the time he’d donned these things on top of his heavy insulated underwear and fleece jacket, and added a waterproof wind-breaker and boots, he looked like Tweedledum. I even had to do an Alice and help him on with his life jacket because he couldn’t bend over to get to the crutch straps. Heh!
We saw a couple of whales en route, which was exciting, especially because according to my guidebook one of them may have been a blue whale. It was certainly rather larger than the boat and moved very, very slowly. We also sighted at least 3 varieties of dolphins/porpoises. The most beautiful and improbable sight however (to my eyes at least) were the 3 oil platforms south of Point Conception. It was l’heure bleue; sea and sky almost indistinguishable, both a subtle rosy dove colour shading to deepest blue, and these huge platforms were lit up like a child’s fantasy of the perfect Christmas tree in gaudy green and red and gold sparkling lights.
We’re off again tomorrow morning as soon as Justine joins us. It should take 2 to 3 days to get to San Diego, where we’ll spend about a week, and after that…
Love to all,
Monterey is beautiful, albeit somewhat tourist-ridden. We’re tied up in the commercial dock, surrounded by fishing boats, and even here the water is so remarkably clear that sea otters and sea lions patrol off our stern, chasing shoals of anchovy. This evening the sea otter floated on its back, crunching a rock crab, not 5 feet away. On the 1 – 10 cuteness index, sea otters rate an 11. For a baby otter on its mother’s tummy, the numbers go up. Even Captain-the-Cool (almost) gave a chortle.
The food has been wonderful: crab so very much alive that extreme caution is required in the handling, and sardines not half an hour out of the sea. Yesterday we ate huge spotted shrimp grilled with garlic butter, and the day before I prepared abalone for the first time in several decades. They’re delicious too, but I’d forgot how slimy the little wretches are, and how tenaciously they suction themselves to the side of the sink, each other, the knife, the cutting board…
We’re leaving again early tomorrow morning and should be sailing straight to Santa Barbara.
Love to all,