Point Conception: check.

Point Conception certainly has built up a reputation. Cruising guides, internet forums, blog posts (including this one) all have the same quote: “Point Conception: Cape Horn of the West Coast”. Obviously the conditions aren’t anywhere near as treacherous as Cape Horn, but given the hype, and that this would be our first multi day passage, we decided to be extra cautious. We left Monterey just after noon, timed to put us outside Morro Bay at dawn. By then we would have fresh forecasts and a feel for the actual conditions and we’d make a call; keep going directly to the Channel Islands (another 24hrs away), or wait in Morro Bay for conditions to improve.

As we left I remember looking back on the beach we’ve stopped at just about everytime we’ve gone camping in Big Sur. Its just south of Caramel, and through some strange bit of luck the sun always seems to be setting just as we drive by. This time it was early evening (we didn’t time it right for sunset) and we were on ocean side of the beach. Small rain clouds were drifting by, at first threatening to drizzle on us, but instead producing an incredbile triple rainbow centered over Big Sur!

Day two. Winds had picked up to about 20kts, we were feeling good and forecasts were consistent so we decided to head straight for the islands. Ten to twelve foot waves began forming and we were surfing along at near hull speed, slowly pulling down more and more sail. Conditions were starting to get intimidating, but still fun. Dave Green cooked us up some mac and cheese. Sure, anyone can cook mac and cheese but it takes experience to do it in a kitchen that pivots 45 degrees every ten seconds. In case the pot of boiling water decided to go airborne, he was bundled up in his full set of (red) foul weather gear including the full hood with both elbow length oven mits on. Like a large lobster cooking our dinner.

We rounded the point at midnight. Midnight is supposed to be the calmest time to round, but we weren’t having such luck. The weather station registered a gust at 40 kts (sustained was in the upper 20’s). Main sail down, and jib furled (rolled) to the size of a twin bed but we were still going close to max speed. Imagine holding your bed sheet up from three corners and having enough wind to pull 12 tons of boat through the water at 7mph. Incredible. Helmer (our autopilot) couldn’t quite keep up with the swell which would shove the boat from side to side, so we were hand steering and doing two man watches. Tired, wet, and cold but all was well. Somehow despite the rolling I managed to sleep (thanks for the lee cloths mom!). Just around the point the wind died. We slowly floated down the channel to Santa Rosa Island. We made it. We’ve been told that 99% of the weather we’ll see will be better than Point Conception, lets just hope they were right.

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Sea Beast

“What on earth is that noise?”. It sounded like someone had just turned on a dentist’s drill in the cockpit. It was 4am, and we reluctantly got (back) up to check it out.

We’d just had a rough nights sleep, more of a nap really. The night before we’d been up plotting the best time leave Santa Cruz Island for the mainland. The hope was to make it to LA, but two fronts were forecast to pass through; a small one followed by a large one. Our goal was to time it such that we left pelican bay just after the first front in order to make it LA before the second one … that meant leaving at 4am.

The alarm went off at 3 and we slowly got up, a look at the weather outside indicated the first front had indeed passed. Nique began talking about an interesting dream he had in which we decided not to go to LA, but to Santa Barbara instead. We paused. That would mean we’d get to go back to sleep, and while it would postpone getting to LA, it would make for a more comfortable trip. It was decided. Though rather than Santa Barbara, we decided on Oxnard, which was more in the correct direction. We promptly crawled back into our respective berths.

Then, that noise. What on earth was it? A neighboring boats anchor being brought up? … no it was much too close. We opened the hatch and took a look in the cockpit. It was the fishing pole!! Nique had left a line in over night with a small amount of bait attached, and the pole was now bent full over with line whirring off it. I braced myself and picked up the pole, whatever was on the other side was MUCH stronger than I was. I tightened the drag. Still slipping, I tightened it more. No luck, line was still flying off the reel. Somehow I managed to get a few turns in, but it was now obvious that there was only a few seconds left of line on the reel. Sure enough, a quick jerk and then a snap and the beast on the other end was free.

We’re still unsure what it was that we had stumbled upon our line, but did manage to come up with some unbelievable explanations. Had a small fish swallowed the first hook, small enough we didn’t notice followed by a larger fish, then a larger one? Maybe a tuna? Maybe some unfortunate sea lion? Whatever it was I think we (us and the beast) should be very fortunate that the line snapped and we didn’t have to meet face to face in the cockpit.

It took a bit for the adrenaline to wear off … but the second nap of the night was excellent.

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Painted Cave

Entering Painted Cave

They’re all yelling at me.

I backpaddle, trying to decide what to do next, but the white noise caused by hundreds of voices screaming together prevents me from sorting anything out. More out of desperation than anything, I yell at them, “HEY! SHUT. UP.”. And to my surprise, they actually do… Well, at least for a couple seconds. The first row of 50 stops yelling and dives into the water, coming right at me. A wave of water enters the cave at it’s entrance 20 feet behind me, and I do my best to keep the 8 ft dinghy (which suddenly feels quite small) from colliding with the cave walls or bashing against the ceiling.

Sea lions are interesting animals. As aquatic mammals, their evolutionary path has taken them from the ocean to land, and back to the sea again, and their flippers-turned-feet-turned-flippers are incredibly awkward on shore. When the first row standing at the water’s edge jump in, another 50 flop their fat bodies up to the edge with slightly more grace than a fish out of water. I can see dozens more behind this new rank; there must be more than 200 sea lions in this cave, the first 50 of which are swimming directly towards me.

Attacks on humans are rare, so logic is telling me that I’ll be just fine. I have read however that since they have no hands, their preferred method of examining something is to rub their gums against it, which doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun. Mostly I’m worried about a curious sea lion boarding the dinghy so he can rub his teeth all over me, sinking the raft in the process.

As they approach, I center my weight in the dinghy, keeping myself out of gum-rubbing distance. Just when I think I’m in for some real trouble, they suddenly dive below the surface, emerging at the entrance to the sea cave. If there were any thoughts of turning back, they’re gone now. I’ve come to see Painted Cave, one of the largest sea caves in the world, and now my way back to open water is blocked. I call out with more confidence this time, “INTO THE WATER… ALL OF YOU.”.

Wave after wave of sea lions flee to the sea and take their positions, heads bobbing above the surface, at the cave entrance. I could have walked the 20 feet to shore on their backs. Any stragglers I chase out with a high powered flashlight, and when I’m confident the shore is unoccupied, I wait till a break in the ocean swell and row the dinghy up onto the smooth rocks.

Painted cave gets it’s name from its brilliantly colored rock walls and ceiling. Preparing to be wowed, I turn the flashlight towards the pitch black interior of the cave.

We would eventually come to find out that this wasn’t Painted Cave at all. The cave I had fought to gain entrance to was nothing more than a sea lion den, complete with the rotting bodies of their fallen comrades, and by the smell of it, an overflowing sea lion restroom.

Alex and Dave Green would later take a turn rowing into the cave. Looking back on their adventure, Alex would say, “It was painted alright… painted with corpses.”

That being said, it was still a very large and interesting sea cave. The ceiling was around 25 feet tall and extended several hundred feet into the island. If nothing else, it was nice to set foot on land for the first time in 5 days, even if it was in a nasty sea lion den and I had forgotten my shoes.

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Sign up for spot!

You may have noticed that every once and a while our location gets posted to facebook. You also may have noticed that the last two weeks have been a bit sparse on the updates. Had I not messed up the spot-facebook link you would have watched us as we crept along the coast of Santa Cruz Island over the last week (we averaged 2 miles a day), but now we think we have spot all straightened it all out.

Now instead of checking facebook for our spot updates (though they’ll still go there too) you can sign up for a mailing list by going to the location page. By signing up you’ll get e-mails everytime we send out pings (via spot) and occasionally some more informative updates from our SSB radio.

As proof, this post is actually being sent via radio on our way to LA! We’re currently about 5 miles off port hueneme after having spent the last few days in Oxnard waiting out a front that brought high winds and rain.

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Monterey Anchor Troubles, in three acts

First, a couple definitions:

mooring (ball) – a large metal ball with a hook in it that floats in a harbor, usually arranged in big rectangular grids, used for tying off for the night
stern – the rear of the boat, or, shorthand, an anchor thrown off the rear of the boat

Act I

We arrive in Monterey the morning of September 21st, after a full day’s sail from Half Moon Bay. Within the harbor we look on in wonder at the number of sea lions, seals, otters, and pelicans. It’s a zoo compared to the San Francisco wharf. Nick pilots Saltbreaker to an open mooring and we tie off, blow up the dinghy, and head to where we guess the harbormaster’s office might be. At dock, Alex disembarks and arranges our stay for the night. When he comes back he is laughing. “Well, we did it all wrong. The mooring we’re tied up to is private, and the dinghy dock is over there,” he grins and points.

Act II

Back on Saltbreaker we motor to the other side of the harbor. We’re supposed to be on ball “1”, but none of them are clearly marked. There’s plenty of open moorings, so we just choose one and tie off. Alex suggests a nap, but we’ve still got to get to shore before the chandlery closes. Looking around, the moorings are all a bit crammed, and the other boats all have stern anchors dropped. We hem and haw for a minute, mostly because we just want to get ashore, and then we get to work on throwing the stern.

The current, though, has moved our boat into the complete opposite position we should be in to throw the stern. And we’re pretty sleep deprived, so we decide to try to pull Saltbreaker to the right position with the dinghy and then drop the anchor from the dinghy. We’re holding one of Saltbreaker’s lines and flooring the dinghy’s outboard and just spinning right back into the boat, or we’re pressed dinghy up against the stern and all holding on to Saltbreaker, again, outboard floored, but we’re not moving. And we’re tired. Suffice it to say none of those tactics work, but eventually we figure it out and got the stern out, about an hour later.

The chandlery’s closing in 45 minutes and we’re all on the dinghy heading for shore. We don’t get 150 feet before a harbor patrol platform boat pulls up next to us and tells us we’re on the wrong mooring. We can’t even laugh. The motor dies as we turn around to follow the patrol boat. Alex suggests a nap. After a few pulls the motor starts up again. The patrolman lets us go to shore before moving our boat, even offers to motor us over there on his boat so we don’t miss the chandlery.

Later we’re in the dive shop next door and Alex comes in looking confused.

“Man, I needed that,” he says.

“What do you mean?”

“I stopped,” he smiles, “I fell asleep against a pole out there.”

It’s getting dark by the time we’re back to Saltbreaker. We pull anchor and untie and head over to the correct mooring spot. The patrolmen had told us we shouldn’t throw a stern, so we just tie off, turn off the lights, and sleep.


We wake up to the deep sound of metal bashing the hull. Over and over again. Mooring balls aren’t particularly fixed in their position, and the swell was low, so we weren’t worried about the boat, but my God was it loud. Someone makes a comment about how this is probably why people have stern’s dropped. But it’s just intermittent enough, and we’re just tired enough, to not get up and drop one.

Nick and Alex wake up for the hundredth time at 8:00AM and decide to motor to a spot away from the awful mooring balls and just anchor, but a the crew of a nearby vessel inquires what the problem is and informs the guys that we just need to tie off to both bow and stern mooring balls. I wake up at the end of the adjustment and think in horror about the fact that we’re supposed to be getting up for the day, but as I peek my head out of bunk I see Nick and Alex crawling back into theirs. We sleep until 2:00.

A sea lion sits on a mooring ball

A sea lion sits on a mooring ball in Monterey. Thankfully we didn't have to fight any for our moorings.

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Moments at the Start

I keep realizing, over and over, that this is actually happening.

– We get onto Angel Island and we hike up the hill. Elmer, Dralle, Hannah, Erin, Pat look out at the North Bay. Elmer asks, “Is there any reason that sail boats are usually all white?” We spitball possible answers.

– The owner of Kennedy’s Irish Pub and Indian Restaurant (a favorite over the past three years) asks us out front to take a picture for the photo wall. We’re wearing the following shirts. Nick: Three ants with prison escape gear (snorkels, pick axes, shovels, white+black stripes) and “The Rock” written below. Alex: “San Francisco” crappily embroidered in technicolor front and center. Me: “I <3 SF” in the neon-ist colors you’ve ever seen (on black). Kennedy’s wants our picture?

– I crawl into the quaterberth the night before we head out.  Trying to squeeze into the small space without disturbing an already asleep Hannah and smiling at her closed eyes and slow breath.

– We’re sailing out of the harbor after just saying good bye to everyone and I stare back vacantly at the t-shirt store and think about Hard Rock and Bubba Gump Shrimp and the Currency Exchange and the squall of tourists and realize we’ll never have to walk through that Disneyland again.

– We’re most of the way to Half Moon Bay and I look back at the city again and again, every time thinking the city will disappear into the fog…but the damn bridge just won’t disappear. We’re already motoring into Half Moon Bay and I look back, finally thinking it will be gone…but tiny and fuzzy, the Golden Gate stares back. What a gorgeous day.

And then there are the moments when I can’t comprehend we’re leaving:

– Eating at our favorite local restaurant, Mario’s, a couple days ago with an acquaintance from Junior High.

– We sail out to Angel Island with twelve people aboard. I can’t help feeling that I’m just having a party unrelated to anything. I keep thinking, “God, this is really fun, it’s awesome to party with all these different people at once,” but can’t quite connect why it’s happening.

– Staring at such an astounding showing of Nick and Alex’s family, and nearly all of my best friends (and my sister), while Nick and Alex and I walk around the dock in a daze trying to finish all the things that need to get done and somehow adequately say goodbye to everyone we know. We can’t quite do either.

I keep thinking of all the moments when I realized this was happening, and all the moments I couldn’t, but I guess none of that truly matters now. It is happening.

Goodbye everyone. The next time we meet, this will just be a story we tell.




oh god we're actually doing this

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Somehow it didn’t feel real till the goodbyes started.

6 years ago Alex and I sat on a beach in Croatia watching cruising boats go wherever they pleased. 3 years ago I left for Korea with the intention of saving up as much money as possible. Last summer we started looking at boats, and this January Saltbreaker was purchased. The past few months have been nothing but work, boat work, food, and sleep. There really hasn’t been a whole lot of time for introspection.

Suddenly there were people. People who wanted to see us and to see us off. People who we love and love to spend time with. For a solid 24 hours, we were surrounded by these awesome people. Saying goodbye to one good friend is hard enough, but saying goodbye to your entire family, most of your extended family, and a large portion of your best friends within about 5 minutes was… well… something I’ve never experienced before.

Instead of feeling my own emotions, I started absorbing the emotions of others. Excitement, sadness, fright, amazement and love are just a few. These emotions combined to form a new feeling. One which can’t be expressed in standard English. If you’d like to feel this feeling yourself, imagine the following:

1. Your dog just died.
2. You’ve suddenly been trapped in an elevator with 2 of your best friends.
3. You’re launching off in a space shuttle.
4. Your dog’s not really dead.

Our dad smashes a bottle of champagne over the bow of the boat. Our Mom, Dad, SteveO, and communal best friend Dosh chop through our docklines with a cleaver. Saltbreaker is pushed out of the slip, the jib is raised, and we glide past the dock full of boats at walking pace. Dralle keeps up with of for a bit. Our cousin Pat is at the end of the pier getting barked at by sea lions. Then we’re gone.

Or are we? One final tack back to the end of the pier, a couple of bursts on the airhorn and we’re really gone. For real. We’re gone.

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The Picture

“Haul in the line! … Wait, no. Let go of the line!”.

We had just minutes ago passed under the golden gate, passing around our bottle of rum, toasting each other, the trip, and posing for the picture … which actually was several pictures. One was being taken every two seconds from the camera we had tied to a small kite behind the boat. Imagine, a time-lapse video of us leaving the gate from a camera 50 feet behind the boat!

We had actually rehearsed this kite-camera trick a few months ago on our trip to China Camp, and despite the camera whipping left and right (sometimes performing a loop-d-loop) the pictures had turned out incredible. These ones would be epic, just us the golden gate, and nothing but water. Then, the kite hit the water. We ran to the cockpit and pulled on the line hoping to lift the kite from the water (all that did was cut up our hands), we quickly changed strategy and let go of the line. Two minutes under the gate and we we were about to practice a man (or rather kite) overboard drill.

I’ll spare the details but as you can tell from the post, none of those pictures are attached. We retrieved the kite flawlessly (previous man-overboard drills paid off), the camera however was no longer attached. The first of thousands of things we’re bound to lose overboard.

Instead (assuming a picture is worth a thousand words) I’ll recreate 10.4% of one of them:

Picture San Francisco bay, glowing in the warmest day of the year, the three of us up on deck admiring the bridge above us, the pacific in front and the city behind. The wind just strong enough to help us make way against the now flooding current, but still light for the bay. We take turns saluting each other and swigging from the leather pouch of milestone rum, and looking back at the city, family and friends we were about to leave in our wake. The way I’m describing it sounds epic but actually it felt really normal. Normal, exciting and absolutely perfect.

Thanks to everyone who came out to our send off events, it really made our day having you there.

look mom, life vests.

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Come join us for a send-off party this coming Saturday on Angel Island. We plan on heading out for the island around 10 am, claiming a handful of grills (right by the ferry terminal) and staying till after the last ferry (4:40pm).

Our boat will be loaded with a ridiculous amount of hot dogs and beer, but feel free to bring along some additional snacks or libations.

If you can’t make it to the island come stop by the dock and say farewell later that evening! (after 7?) The boat is at D dock on Pier 39. You’ll have to call so I can let you in (217-766-3834).

Then, Sunday morning our parents cut off the bow lines … and thats it.

Hope to see you!
-Alex, Nick, Dave

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Tick Tock


God. Why did Nick have to put that timer up on the site? I was having such a nice time imagining that this trip was still some crazy dream. Every time I look at that timer I realize it’s reality.

15 days 20 hours 31 minutes and 49 seconds until we go.

There’s so much left to do. We’ll get it all done, but the enormity of it is just staring me in the face. In five hours, Nick and I are both officially unemployed. I’m betting, however, that we’ll be working even harder these next two and a half weeks.

I’m picturing September 18th–the one moment that day that I can see clearly. We sail out, past the shipping lanes, in a route we’ve traveled before. All of us are still hungover from the night before, feeling awful and happy at the same time as we crack jokes and the California coast gets smaller and smaller behind us. And in a haze I’ll look back out to shore again and it’ll be gone. Just us and the ocean for a moment, until our next landfall. And that’s when I’ll know it’s really begun.

15 days 20 hours 21 minutes 32 seconds.

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