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To San Diego by Sea

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

We left Santa Cruz right after my last post at 2:30pm. Captain Gary called me on my cell phone while I was using the free internet at the brewery. I walked down to the harbor, we pulled up the bumpers and pushed off. Gary waved goodbye to his son who spent the previous night on the boat and had been helping us prepare. Jordan, the other crew member is Gary’s son’s friend.

The wind wasn’t generous but we were moving at a decent pace, 8 knots or so. After two hours the wind became stingier and we slowed to 2 knots. This wasn’t fast enough, so Gary made the decision to fire up the engines and motor until we encountered better wind conditions.

As the sun was setting, I got excited for the showcase of stars that was unveiling. I’ve always taken interest in constellations and astronomy but it’s rare to find a suitable opportunity for stargazing. In cities, there is too much light pollution from the strip malls and gas stations to see the faint stars. I’ve strained to make out Pisces and Capricorn, eventually taking for granted that they were up there. Camping away from the bright city lights gives you the opportunity to see an unpolutted sky, but unless you’re camping on the prairie there are too many obstructions on the horizon and you can never see a full 180 degrees of sky. Out on the sea there are no obstructions on the horizon and the only light is the moon. You can see 180 degrees of sky and 360 degrees of horizon. Conditions could have been improved only if the moon was new instead of waxing crecent.

I was manning the helm at twilight. Sagitarius was setting in the West and Taurus was rising in the East. When Sagitarius dipped below the horizon and Capricorn took its place, I knew it had been two hours. These and other zodiac constellations aren’t just for morning horroscopes, they follow the elliptic, the path the sun takes accross the sky. Just like the sun, stars appear to revolve around the earth and can give you an idea the time of day. What is a day? The Earth doing one spin on its own axis. Another Earthly cycle that can be measured with the stars is a year. A year is the Earth revolving around the sun; it’s the reason for seasons—short cold days in winter and long hot days in summer. You can guess an approximate date based on how long the sun is up and where it sets but it’s more accurate to use the stars as a gauge because constelations act like the tick marks of a compass. The sun has no such markings unless you make them alá a sundial.

I’ve learned that sailing at night is exactly like sailing during the day, except you might as well be blindfolded. Everything is black. The sea is black. Land is black (if there is any). The sky is black. My biggest fears were hitting another vessel or running aground, which, other than staying on course, are my primary goals when sailing regardless the rotation of the Earth. Most obstacles at night shine a light. Populated land is dotted with glowing dwellings. Trafficked waters with land hazards are usually marked with lighthouses. Vessels are required to shine specific colored lights at specific locations and the sky is marked by the moon and constellations. A light may signify the mere presence of an obstacle but not much else. A light far on the horizon could mean land. It could be a sailboat. It could be a tanker. It could just be a star. To figure out what it is, you need to monitor its behavior. Speed, size and direction of a light-shining entity become evident in time but you must take into account your own course. Comparing your observations to a chart and your coordinates can tell you which lights should be land. For vessels, as they get closer, you can see their green starboard light or red port light. When I saw the red light of what looked to be a tanker, I narrowed down its direction to several possibilities. On my starboard it would be heading in the same direction as me. On my port, it would be steering towards me. Dead ahead it would be bisecting my route, traveling left. With constant vigilence, geographical and nautical knowledge, I was able to navigate Crystal Blue Persuasion through the night unscathed and on course. Lucky for us we also have a radar with a 36 mile radius which is good for identifying the lurking irresponsible hazards that are without lights.

Thursday morning I woke up at 6:30 and relieved Captain Gary from his post, which he’d been at since 12:30. The rosy fingers of dawn were fondling California. We were passing the southern tip of San Clemente Island and San Diego was a straight shot away at 100 degrees, nearly due East. The rising sun’s acute rays were piercing my retinas. The air and water was notably warmer and already putting me in cheery spirits. The water was still flat and the wind stingy. The motors had been running since we left Santa Cruz. A few hours later, the rest of the crew rose to meet the day and the Admiral took over the helm.

Around 11:00 we ran out of gas. Gary had been closely monitoring our fuel consumption and inventory but apparently the fuel pickup hose didn’t reach the bottom of the tank. The 10 gallons of diesel needed to take us the rest of the way was trapped at the bottom of the tank. It wasn’t an emergency, just an unanticipated event. The attitude aboard the boat was, “Oh well, guess we’ll sail then.” With the current wind conditions, there was no doubt we’d reach San Diego before dusk. All we needed was a little bit of fuel to gracefully dock in San Diego. The main sail had been up the whole time so we unfurled the jib to catch some more wind. The Admiral cast some fishing lines in the water and we were sailing. Jordan and I agreed we’d both grown tired of listening to the engines anyways.

I crab-walked down the stairs at the end of a hull and put my foot in to test the water. It was a sultry 60 degrees Fahrenheit, clear and turquoise. We were moving slow enough that Gary said if we wanted to swim, we could jump of the bow, tread water under the boat and climb back on the stern once it passed. Jordan did so immediately and I followed suit. Catamarans are perfect for swimming. I’m giddy with anticipation about the climate farther south because it’s only going to get warmer from here.

Gary radioed another boat participating in the Haha for some extra fuel. Sea Level answered our plea and we filled the tank with enough gas to maneuver to a fuel dock once in the harbor. The exchange of fuel must have sparked the Border Patrol’s suspicions because they sidled us to ask how many people were on the boat and if we were US citizens. Gary answered, “Four” and “Yes” and they continued with their business of securing the border.

Seven miles from San Diego we sailed through a school of porpoises. There were 200 or so of them for 500 yards in either direction. They all did the same move: an arch jump, slicing the surface of the water with their dorsal fins, assumedly for the purpose of breathing. Sometimes four or five of them would jump in unison, as if they were in a synchronized swimming competition. I failed at snapping a photo worth publishing but I have lots of photos of water just after a porpoise has jumped. I only hope this is a sign of the marine life I’ll encounter later.

We cut through some weeds of kelp at the entrance of San Diego Bay. I recalled the scenery from when I used to sail here during my college days: Point Loma Lighthouse, Ballast Point, the Airport, Downtown, Coronado Bridge. The course to the fuel dock was upwind so we decided we were close enough to burn our last bit of charity fuel. The police dock where we were supposed to check in was closed and so was the fuel dock. Gary decided to wait at the fuel dock till morning.

I had called my friend Ali as soon as I had cell phone reception and he came to pick me up. I’m staying at his place in Del Mar till Sunday evening. Monday morning is the official start of the Haha.

Comments

  1. vivek Says:

    The rosy fingers of dawn were fondling California.

    nice line.

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