Avila Beach to Santa Barbara & Adventures in Santa Barbara

Once again I find myself behind in writing and updating you all on what’s been going on aboard Dakota.  And so much has happened since we left Avila Beach!   We spent nearly a week in Santa Barbara – not necessarily by design, but happy to have the respite as it was sorely needed….

Passage down to Santa Barbara

We arrived in Santa Barbara about 9pm September 30 after a 12-hour sail/motor from Avila.  This was the passage we had been preparing for since we left our home point– watching the weather and hoping for the best possible weather window to round Point Conception (a finicky and can-be treacherous point northwest of Santa Barbara) and making sure we had sufficient provisions and had prepared ourselves to stop short of our Santa Barbara arrival should conditions dictate.   Luckily, despite the low dense local fog we encountered outside of Avila Beach (it took a couple hours, but we finally got some sun poking through the fog), we had the perfect weather for making our way, officially, into Southern California.  The winds were light, but enough to sail a good portion of the way, and the passage around Point Conception seemed that it would be uneventful. Nonetheless, we preemptively touched base with the Coast Guard to make sure there wasn’t any military activity we needed to know about (there is an active missile range a few miles down the coast from Point Conception)… phew! Nothing that day.
Surprised by the lack of any apparent danger, as we neared the Point, I turned to hubby and asked “Is this it?”  In all the books and blogs I had read about this, the war stories and horror stories of boats thrashing into rocks, the sudden change in winds and unpredictability of Point Conception that could force even seasoned sailors to wash up in pieces on the shore, in my mind’s eye, the Point loomed dark as the devil.  But, at least on our passage, it was serene and lovely, with only a simple lighthouse on a jutted little point to mark the spot, and we sailed by easily.

Rounding Point Conception on Dakota

Woo hoo!! We had made it, officially, to Southern California! And true to other sailor’s reports, we started feeling those warmer winds right away.  Sweet!

The rest of the sail/motor to Santa Barbara continued on peacefully.  We saw a HUGE pod of dolphins and then a big pod (we counted at least 5-6) of humpback whales, an amazing experience for all aboard. By nightfall, Dakota’s crew was a little weary and glad for a strong California current and good winds that had given us a little boost in getting to Santa Barbara quicker.

Arriving in Santa Barbara Harbor
Navigating into a new harbor at night is never our favorite thing to do… so many things can go wrong and there are so many variables in the mix: Low visibility, inability to see the channel markers, unmarked boats (boats without navigation lights), and then all of the things that can go wrong when docking.

Santa Barbara (SB) harbor requires all guest vessels to dock first at the accommodation dock and check in, in-person, at the Harbor Patrol office.  A little unusual, we thought, as previously we could just radio in and have Harbor Patrol assign us a slip.  But, when in Rome….  so we made our way to the accommodation dock, and following standard protocol on Dakota – got the fenders out, prepared the stern/bow/spring lines ready to tie up (and slow the forward/side motion of the boat), made sure everyone on board knew the program (the Captain-Ryan- will tell us which approach he is shooting and how he expects the boat to come in so we can prepare to fend off or do what’s needed to dock)…. all was going well until we got right up to the accommodation dock.

Normally, as we approach, I stand on the deck and call out approximate distance to the dock (“8 feet! 6 feet! 2 feet! I’m hopping off!”) As we got close, I called out, “hopping off!”  but then everything went sideways.  I proceeded to lose my footing on the newly-dewy deck and fell short of landing on the dock.  Instead, I body-slammed the dock, which caused the cartridge in my offshore life vest to blow up (violently) and in the chaos of it all I looked up and saw the “Dakota” lettering on the side of the boat nearing my head.  Knowing that my head was about to be a smushed pumpkin between the dock and the boat, I took a big gulp of air and swam under the dock until I got safely to the other side.  I could hear Ryan yelling “It’s in neutral!! Are you ok? Are you ok?” frantically aboard while Elliott was hysterically crying (Finley blissfully down below completely unaware of what was going on.)  As soon as I could muster the strength, I yelled back “I’m ok! I’m ok!! Just dock the boat!!” And then swam around the dock looking for a swim ladder.  None could be found. I did, however, see a boat nearby and recall seeing a baby stroller on the dock  (it’s weird the things you see and remember in moments of crisis).  Thankfully, the woman who lived aboard that boat heard the commotion and came out to help.  I don’t recall all the details, but I know she held my hand and said “It’s ok, we are going to get you out.  Just breathe.”  Calming me while Ryan docked the boat and calmed the kids.  A few moments later, Ryan and the woman yanked me, fully clothed and surely heavy as all get up, soaked dead weight, up onto the dock.   And that, my friends, was the first (and hopefully the last) time I fell in the water.

Harbor Patrol was alerted and rushed down with their medical kits to check me out.  I recall telling them I was ok, but felt a throbbing pain in my shin and soreness in my abdomen.  (I’ve since examined the bruises and come to the conclusion that the body slam into the dock caused the first line of bruising above my ribs and the second set of bruises was likely from being hoisted onto the dock).  The big ole’ bruisy knot on my shin still lives there, but has calmed down a bit. As have my nerves.  But the PTSD-like feelings of docking (having to move/re-dock the boat 3 more times in SB harbor during our 6 days there) remained for almost the entire  stay in SB.

Despite the rough start to our stop in Santa Barbara, we tried to make the best of our time there and did fairly well.  Of course, the first full day there was a wash for me.  Bruised and shaken, I was unable to do much of anything useful (and we had plenty of chores to do since we hadn’t really been at a marina long enough since we left San Mateo over a week ago).  But in the days after, we mixed boat chores with visits with friends in Santa Barbara and slowly made our way through the list.  Laundry (a 3 day ordeal, check!), groceries (a 7 hour ordeal, check!), cleaning Dakota top to bottom, inside and out (an all day affair, check!) . . . .  and so on.

We were *very* lucky and grateful to have good friends living in the local area.  LK was so generous with his home, his truck and his time– thank you!  Then a friend reached out to me, who has been following us online, and said she’d be in SB the next day, so woot! We were able to sneak in another visit with her and her adorable son (a 7 yo my boys had a ball with!)  While the boys paddleboarded, fished and played with our mini wooden sailboat, we got to chat and catch up. And then enjoyed a wonderful freshly-caught seafood lunch at Brophy Bros overlooking the harbor.

Elliott and Dominic having a little paddle while us girls catch up

Finally, on our last night in town, we were able to connect with LK’s wife, lovely daughter and mother for a fabulous meal off State street in a cozy little courtyard that felt like any number of spots in Italy.

In between boat work, life admin and chores, we squeezed in some boatschooling and created some more fun, education-on-the go opportunities with field trips. We first took a field trip to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History (and gave the boys some lessons along the way about taking ubers/taxis versus walking or riding the bus).

Me and Elliott at the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum

This was a perfect family outing and we found ourselves among other like-minded families who took the Monday school holiday to enjoy the Museum and
its amazing outdoor acreage.  The Museum docent provided “explorer” backpacks to the boys, one for water insects and one for birds, each complete with the necessary tools for outdoor exploration (i.e., binoculars and field guide for bird watching; specimen collection jars, nets, etc for water insect exploring) and we set the boys out to explore the creek and grounds. It was awesome!  Th museum also had a little man-made downhill river with miniature wooden boats the kids could race and created spaces throughout the grounds inviting explorers to “Build,” “Listen,” “Search” per the wooden signs all about the property.  20161003_131920

All in all, we had an amazing time there and took 2 tired kiddos down for dinner on State street and hungrily wolfed down a yummy dinner at Eureka!

Nearing the end of our time in SB and with the hubby needing some time to take care of overdue life admin, I took the boys to the Santa Barbara Zoo another day (Thank you Groupon for the awesome fun pass!)  An animal sanctuary and place of refuge and rehabilitation for many species, the boys had a blast exploring all things animal/reptile at the Zoo.  Finley’s singular focus on riding the train was finally realized and Elliott and I got to feed the giraffes!


It’s a bit boggling to us that nearly a week passed in Santa Barbara. Certainly, we have learned well by now that every chore/errand/project takes inordinately longer on the boat and that is yet another lesson that crystallized this week.  As a part of this journey, we are slowly evolving and working out the kinks in how we live aboard so that each crew member gets equal opportunity to enjoy the places we visit, pitches in with chores and errands, and gets the family/alone time each one needs.  It’s a dynamic and fluid process and one that we will continue to work through as we progress on our journey.  At times it can be discouraging and hard, but on balance, we find that the quality of time we have is better and we hope becomes more rich as it becomes more balanced. As those who have done this before us know, this is not a charmed, easy life. It’s demanding and there are challenges every minute of every day.  And honestly, it’s not something that can be compared easily to our land-based life.   That said, while I do miss the conveniences of our family home (washer and dryer, a car to zip around town easily and our Cal King bed), I sure as shit don’t miss billable hours, a 2-hour commute to/from work and being a single mom most of the workweek!  So I’ll relish the good moments and try to let the bad ones roll off me (at least till happy hour) 🙂

4 thoughts on “Avila Beach to Santa Barbara & Adventures in Santa Barbara

  1. (Hello from Bogotá)

    So glad you had the presence of mind to dive! Well done (and glad to read about the good outcome long after the fact to avoid the suspense).

    Also, so glad you got to catch up with Dominic and mom. Super cool.

    Can’t wait for the next update.


  2. I’ve never done anything on a boat, but I have lived in challenging conditions in foreign places, and I was just talking with a friend about how, for example, when I lived in Cambodia, anything that would be a simple task here at home was monumental. I remember my camera broke while I was there, and it literally took two days of constant effort to figure out how to get it repaired. Where to take it? How to get there? Language barriers. Etc etc. Just that one seemingly simple task was draining, combined with a billion other things – thinking about how to:where to:what to eat, how to stay safe, how to do my job, blah blah blah. Anyways, my point is I can relate to your posts. Living a dream isn’t easy but the rewards are nothing you could ever purchase or acquire otherwise. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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