Catalina trip Oct 10-12
- Catalina trip next week, Oct 10-12. As usual we will be sailing from
Cabrillo Beach Friday morning. This is cruisers weekend at the island
sponsored by the magazine Latitudes and Attitudes. Should be fun!
Who is in besides the regulars on these trips?
- For Brian and all of the others who over the years who have thanked me
Catalina Island October 10 2008 part one, Upwind
It was a nervous week for most of us who were to sail to Catalina
Island as we watched some crazy weather patterns that threatened to
give us too much wind or possibly no wind at all.
Finally on Friday morning, October 10, 2008 as we drove down to
Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro, we had a forecast for 40+ knot winds for
the outer waters (just beyond Catalina Island and the other Channel
Islands), 50 70 mph winds for the Interstate 5 corridor, and light
to moderate winds for the Catalina Channel.
The worst weather was to hit us on Friday night and Saturday. That
was the day that we had planed to stay on the island and off of the
water. Then Sunday was forecasted to be mild in the early hours and
possibly develop some Santa Ana Conditions in the afternoon.
Santa Ana Winds are high gusty winds that blow from high pressure
systems over the land and oppose the normally prevailing on-shore sea
breeze. Santa Ana conditions are dangerous and chaotic. We didn't
want to be on the water in those conditions.
Four boats were supposed to make this trip. Chris on a Tornado, Buzz
and Larry on a Nacra 5.8 NA, Steve and Sven on in Inter 20 from Salt
Lake City, and Shari and Myself on a Mystere 6.0. Everyone was
pleased with the latest version of the forecast on Friday Morning and
was ready to sail.
Chris's new trampoline arrived in the mail with a 3 inch deficiency in
length so his boat was going to stay in dry storage this time. He
signed on with Shari and I for a crew of three on Whisk, the Mystere.
Now we had three cats making the 20+ mile crossing.
Chris decided to sail with Steve and Sven since they were expected to
cross faster than Whisk in the light upwind conditions. Then Steve
and Sven broke a port hole and needed to spend time doing repairs. So
Shari and I re-invited Chris to join us on Whisk and Chris decided
that he was just going to stay behind. I couldn't blame him because
he is used to the speed and responsiveness of sailing solo on a modern
rig Tornado and three people on a 20 foot cat in light air would be
First off of the beach were Buzz and Larry at about 11 o'clock. Shari
and I shoved off at about 11:40 after failing to convince Chris to
join us. Roughly 2 hours after that, Sven and Steve shoved off after
having finished their repairs.
All three cats had a sailor aboard who has made this crossing more
than once without other cats in view. We have all learned through
experience that sailing in a group across a long ocean passage
requires every sailor to be self sufficient and that it is very common
to loose sight of all the other cats in the group.
Just before we shoved off, Buzz called us on the VHF radio to let us
know that the seas were fairly calm and that he was making 10 miles
per hour (statute) of boat speed.
Leaving Cabrillo beach, we sailed two miles downwind to Angels Gate
lighthouse in very light breeze. As soon as we rounded the lighthouse
the wind picked up out of the Southwest. We sailed a close reach on
starboard tack toward the island to the South. The small whitecaps
made it appear as if there was 10 knots of wind, but the boat speed at
only 8 knots made us think that the water was slightly choppier than
usual or that we might have been fighting some current.
Buzz and Larry were nowhere in sight. Well, they may have been within
sight, but we sure couldn't find them. We spoke to them once again on
the radio after we were on the ocean but had no further contact until
we landed on the island and found them there on the beach.
We had smooth sailing in 2-foot seas and approached 10 knots of boat
speed a few times. The whitecaps disappeared as we left the choppy
harbor entrance where huge freighters enter and exit. The sky was
sunny and bright. Our GPS showed that we were sailing only a few
degrees downwind of our destination. Visibility was less than 5 miles
and we could not see our destination 20 nautical miles away. Jet
aircraft flying overhead could be heard and seen five miles overhead
but some typical marine moisture blocked our view of Catalina Island.
It was a very beautiful day.
At one o'clock, we were half way across the channel and the island
became visible. The wind faded a little and began to shift. It was a
shift that was not in our favor. The wind backed and headed us.
Meanwhile, Buzz and Larry who enjoyed sailing a half an hour longer in
what good wind we did have were getting lifted, somewhat more typical
for these trips. They were being lifted as we were being headed, on
the same tack. Buzz and Larry were first to hit the beach at about 3
As Shari and I sailed in winds that continued to head us farther away
from our target, we had crossings with a couple of freighters in the
coastal shipping lane. For miles we watched these two freighters,
trying to figure out if they would cross our path before or after
converging. This was difficult as the wind would shift back every
once in awhile and this would change our course as we continued to
sail as high as we could, while still maintaining good boat speed and
the best VMG possible.
Finally our coarse was steady enough to make a decision that it would
be safer to take the first freighter's stern. There was ample room
between his stern and the second freighter's bow for us to cross
safely. I pinched up a few degrees to aim for his stern. This would
slow us at first, but as he continues to cross we should begin to fall
back to our ideal point of sail and get our speed back again, allowing
us to make a brisk crossing in his wake, before the second ship's
arrival at this convergence.
Trying to observe the speed and direction of these grossly large ships
is a challenge when you are very close to them. They are so big that
they appear to be standing still from certain angles, even when moving
very briskly. I began to get the feeling, as I approached, that he
was slowing or turning toward me. I tried to not let this affect my
judgment as I am aware that optical illusions do often exist.
It wasn't until I noticed that his bow wave was now significantly
smaller than it had been earlier that I finally realized that he
indeed was slowing and turning left, toward us; probably toward Los
Angeles Harbor at Queens Gate. This slowing was extending the time
that it was taking to make a crossing behind him and all this time we
were losing time due to sailing closer to the wind than we wanted to.
Still expecting the wind to eventually clock around and give us a
lift, as usual, I did not want to tack away and spend any time on Port
tack. Clearing his stern was not going to be a problem, but the extra
time spent at the slower speed while pinching was also not my biggest
problem. There was another problem.
All of this time slowing had given the following ship time to close
the gap between them and now I was facing a new challenge of whether
or not we could get across their paths, between them! For all the
same reasons, I did not care to tack away unless I knew that it was
necessary for our safety. So I watched how much closer the second
ship's bow closed in on me as I sailed from his port gunnel to his
keel line. Centered on his bow, I would then decide to tack, turn
back, and run away on a broad reach or continue on a close reach
toward the other gunnel. Once we were most of the way across the
first half of the width of the ship, we felt very confident that we
were safe to finish the crossing. Whew! I felt noticeably older than
I did just a few minutes earlier; very stressful.
If we would have turned away to let them pass, then we would likely be
up against the same decisions on the third ship, forth, and so on.
Also, if the second ship had been turning as the first one was, then
running away from him might have put us right in his path. As luck
would have it, these two ships were the only two ships on this day
that came near any of our three-cat fleet.
Catalina Island became visible and we enjoyed the beauty of this
backdrop as we witnessed sea lions frolicking in the seas, whale
spouts in the distance, and pelicans who would occasionally take a
flying dive at some lunch.
There were cumulous clouds over most of the 21-mile long island and
they appeared to be moving rather briskly across the sky from west to
east. I expected some weather action at the island but for now, it
was mild and "smooth sailing."
Sometime around 3 o'clock we neared the island's shore and found
ourselves under a blanket of clouds on some rough water in about 13
knots of wind. There was a definite weather disturbance as marked by
those clouds and we were being tossed around by it. I told my crew
that "this is what Lake Sailing is like." We had sudden gusts and
sudden lulls in the wind. The water would change from choppy to very
choppy and back again. Whitecaps would come and go. We were 5.25
nautical miles downwind from our destination and we worked hard to get
there. There must have been a lot of current because our tacking
angles were quite poor.
A few times the cat stood up on her side and we nearly went over each
time this happened. The worst one was when we were unable to cut the
jib before the boat tipped enough to spill the jib over its head.
This happened without warning, not even a wind line on the water. At
other times, we would approach and enter a severe wind line where the
water would turn from relatively calm to severely white capped and the
sails would not react at all. We'd feel the wind on our face, see it
on the water, but there was no increase in the wind aloft. Reading
the wind on the water was of no use at all in these conditions. We
just had to sail by feel.
When we rounded the cove to the cat beach at the island, Buzz and
Larry stopped worrying about us for the first time in a few hours.
They have been trying to call us on the radio and we never heard their
calls, except for very early on in the day, near the mainland. Shari
and I hit the beach at about 4:05, turning in the longest time of the
day for any of the three cats.
Roughly an hour later, Sven and Steve came in and we all moved the
cats up the beach to rest at the high tide line. Sven and Steve used
bivy sacks over their sleeping bags and the rest of us erected tents
on top of our trampolines.
We walked the half mile to Two Harbors where the new crossers took
care of initiation ceremonies by buying all the cat sailors a Buffalo
Milk. Thanks to the Latitudes and Attitudes Cruisers Weekend, we were
treated to a free live concert by Eric Stone as we enjoyed drinks on
the outdoor deck. Later we had warm dinner and some cool
conversations amongst warm friends.
At about 10 p.m. we walked back the beach under a magnificent
moonrise. It was a colder than usual night as the weather front
arrived. The tents were trying to take flight, much of the night as
our heavy sleeping bodies held them tight to the trampolines.
In the morning we saw the beach that had been pounded all night by
some rough seas and there were hundreds of pounds of kelp washed
ashore. It had been a rough night on the ocean and throughout the
entire day on Saturday we could see a lot of action out on the
Catalina Channel. We enjoyed a beautiful sunny, breezy day on the
remote desert island as we rubbed elbows with cruisers from all over
the West Coast.
It was one of the clearest days that I have seen on Catalina. The
storm had blown away the marine layer. Visibility was 70+ miles. By
the time evening came, the wind was subsiding and the weather was
moderating. It was a mild night and we all slept well.
Gary Friesen 2008
--- In email@example.com, "catflyer2003" <catflyer2003@...> wrote:
> Buzz, Wish I could make it! Hope you all have a safe and happy trip,
> with good winds. Do give us a report/account. Thanks, Brian
- Gary, Thanks for yet another great account of your island adventures!
I think reading that part about the ships caused a little hair loss!
I've had some uncomfortable close encounters, one with a tug and
barge, one with two commercial fishing boats, and a couple with
pleasure craft under power. I sure don't envy you and Shari that
stress! Those forecasts sounded scary too. I'd thought from what I was
hearing here about the fires, and winds, that you guys might cancel. I
am relieved to get your post, and know you made it safely. I hope the
trip home was more pleasant. Brian