I’ve found it somewhat surprising how long it takes to find time to write, given that in our prior lives we were a dual-working household with all the typical kid/work/extracurricular activities our land-based life entailed. Nonetheless, it is only now that I find myself with the time and space to write unencumbered by rolling swells and the needs of my family that render anything but the basic life necessities do-able. Unsure whether I can do it justice, I hope to shed light on how we spend our time on Dakota. But the consistent theme I’ve found in establishing our rhythm aboard is that everything takes so much longer on the boat.
Port San Luis/ Avila Beach
We pulled into Port San Luis 2 days ago in the late afternoon and the rest of that day was filled with finding a safe and comfortable place to drop our anchor, getting Dakota and her crew ready to settle in for the night and checking the weather to plan for our departure to Southern California, remaining vigilant about safety for all on board as we rounded Point Conception. Our first plan was to tie up to one of the many cheap mooring balls in Port San Luis ($15/day and free water taxis to shore), but when Harbor Patrol directed us to the guest moorings (for our size boat), it was in an extremely windy spot, not really suitable for anchoring and just as we pulled up, our engine mysteriously shut off. (Perhaps it was that she was pooped after a 9-hour day on the water, most of which we had to motor or motor-sail due to light winds and a tight timeframe to make it to Port San Luis with any daylight left). Nonetheless, we decided against that mooring spot and made our way to the free anchorages available between Cal Poly and Avila Pier because they were more protected and offered a much-needed respite from the blustery winds we had just sailed in from on the passage down.
Setting the anchor proved to be a challenging task as well. We haven’t anchored Dakota on the open water much since we’ve owned her, so there has been a steep learning curve in figuring when enough rode (chain and rope) is out and when the windlass (the little engine/doo-hickey that drops/raises the anchor) can let the line out fast or slow. We’ve since learned that the windlass is fine dropping the 50 feet of chain rode quickly but when it transitions to our 200 feet of rope rode, we have to slow the windlass and almost manually (or very carefully) make sure the doo-hickey grabs the rope tight and doesn’t allow the rope to fly out uncontrollably. Lesson learned the hard way! (read: stressful and chaotic moment when you think you might lose your anchor entirely!)
Tucking in for the night also requires a bit of work as we need to transition Dakota and her crew from sailing to anchoring (putting away all the items that have thrashed around during our passage, resetting everything for anchoring/sitting still versus moving around, evaluating our power sitch to figure out what we can/will run overnight). And most importantly, getting our anchor alarm set and ready so that it lets us know if we start dragging anchor and need to get up in a hurry to either ditch our anchorage or reset the anchor (another emergency situation in and of itself). Good thing we did, because as one would guess, the anchor alarm went off at a lovely 4am, although it ended up being a false alarm. Phew!
The next morning after breakfast, we set about our boatschooling routine — something we aim to do whenever we are docked or anchored–in an effort to stay on course and set a rhythm of schooling for the kids. Ryan typically handles Finley’s school morning, which consists of a variety of play-learning activities, practice printing, creative activities or hands-on learning related to something we have in our local environment (marine life, tides, how-to do one of any number of things he has to do on board at anchor). I typically handle Elliott’s school morning and we cover a number of subjects, rotating them with a consistent dose of math, reading, writing, spelling, science and a creative, hands-on activity. Our school morning usually takes about 4 hours and then we are free to explore our anchorage or do something fun as a family. That day after finishing school we thought, “let’s go to Avila Beach and check it out!” Sounds simple – drop the dinghy, find a dinghy dock somewhere close (it looked like Avila Pier had one) and head into town for lunch on the town, perhaps taking in the Central Coast Aquarium or any number of fun things to do in town. Uhh.. not so much.
First, we figured that in order to prep for an overnight departure to Santa Barbara, we needed to refill our fuel tank and then fill up our diesel jerry cans (big ole 5 gallon jugs on board to carry surplus diesel), refill our water jerry cans, take our trash to shore and maybe get a few food supplies. Then we learned that our simple plan to explore Avila Beach would be nixed because Avila Pier had been condemned within the last year (which wasn’t in our Charlie’s Charts Pacific Coast book) and the closest pier, Harford Pier, was a good 1+ mile walk along the highway to Avila Beach. Dang! It looked so close!! And it was less than a mile to dinghy there no problem! Hopes of going to town for family fun in the afternoon denied. Womp womp womp. The final nail in the coffin was that all of the diesel and water refueling, which Ryan and Elliott did while Finley napped, took a lot longer than expected (Harford Pier was a good 15-20 minute dinghy ride each way) and that took us all the way to dinner time. New plan! I found a cute restaurant right on Harford Pier, Merseas, and they had a dinghy dock. So, we decided to spend our last night with a family dinner there. (Score! No cooking for me one night!)
We still had plans to leave that night for an overnight passage to Santa Barbara, which we calculated would take 12 hours. Ok, totally do-able. Put the kids to bed, prepare the boat to leave and then sail from 10pm to 10 am and get into Santa Barbara harbor during daylight hours (which we always aim to do because it’s an unfamiliar harbor). Buutt, checking the weather that night when we got back from dinner, we found that a dense local fog was forecast right when we planned to leave and wasn’t going to lift until 11am the next day. Womp womp. Sooo, we decided to prepare everything we could after the kids went to bed so that we’d be ready to sail by 8am the next morning and hope we could make up some time on the passage so we could arrive in SB before dark.
Despite the fact that things went sideways more than a few times during our short stay at anchor in Avila Beach, we feel pretty good that we’ve gotten more anchoring practice under our belts. Plus, we loved that we finally got to anchor for free in a beautiful spot! Sure, it was hot as balls when we first got there (94 degrees and blowing 40 knots of hot dry wind), but we had enough surplus energy from motoring on the way down to plug in our energy-hogging ice machine and the big boys cooled off by jumping in the water. Ryan wrenched on his 4mm wetsuit and went under Dakota to check out whether our foray through the kelp forest on the way down had done any permanent damage or if we needed to cut free any remaining kelp. Thankfully he did because while there was no permanent damage, he found plenty of kelp wrapped around our rudder and cleared that right up. Plus, he cut his teeth on diving below Dakota, which every cruiser must do at some point. Elliott earned his first-time badge jumping off the back of the boat and despite the fact that he didn’t have a wetsuit and it was pretty cold, he loved it!
After tucking in the kidlets, we turned to the big task of preparing to depart for Santa Barbara and preparing ourselves for Point Conception… the Big Daddy for West Coast cruisers. More on that later . . . . but rest assured, we have made it safely to Santa Barbara and will be here for the next few days reprovisioning, recovering and regrouping after a nasty nighttime docking incident one of our crew members endured upon arriving at SB harbor. Stay tuned!