Despite our late start (we cast off around 1PM and sadly missed the chance to see Laure), today is a big day! We are going for our first overnight sail only the two of us, and it is a long leg: Our plan is to sail past the Monterey Bay and head for Morro Bay – more or less the halfway point between San Francisco and Los Angeles, our main goal – or San Simeon, an anchorage a little closer to us, which has the perk of having a view on the Hearst Castle. Whichever we make tomorrow, it’ll be a milestone as sailing double-handed for a longer time means less sleep and being alone during your shifts, day or night.
We get a good breeze as soon as we leave the harbor and it makes for a perfect sailing afternoon. Time to familiarize ourselves even more with setting up the hydrovane, watching the California coast go by, Yalçın even gets some rest, and these conditions make up for a more enjoyable sail (at least on my end as the night at anchor probably helped waving off the sea sickness of the day before). Most of the sailing is done trying to make the jib happy while maintaining a deep course. Idealy, we woud start to use our newly acquired whisker pole but we decide (once again?) not to try more than we can chew and just enjoy what we are given for now.
Early enough though, the night arrives, around 5:30. With some rice salad, we savor our first ocean sunset, a thing sailors always bring up when in need to be reminded why it all worths it, and it does! The tiny moon comes up with it and the stars soon reveal themselves in the dark night. Time for the watches: I go down to the aft cabin to get a rest first, since Yalçın got a little sleep in the afternoon, but soon realize that, more than our first night the two of us, it will be our first night under sail in this boat! We had done some overnighters when bringing the boat from San Diego to Berkeley, but we always had the engine on as we always had wind and current in our nose and very little time. The big difference is the sound, or should I say, the sounds! When the engine is running, no surprise, the pounding of the cyclinders fills the aft cabin (which we use to rest underway) with a cadenced and reassuring noise – surprinsingly a breeze to fall asleep. Sailing on the other hand, there is barely any sound, or that’s what you’d assume, correct? Quite the opposite, the attention of the crew trying to rest in the aft cabin gets caught by the creaking of the wood (anything but regular – or is that new sound really nornal?), the flow of water on the hull, and that siphon sound – that has to be the port vent through-hull going in and out the water as the boat rolls, right? On top of it, the hydrovane steering, if overall good, is not as acurate as a helmsperson’s as the wave kicks the boat off course; it does correct but with a little more reaction time, which sometimes results in the sail flapping on deck – and a loud bang down below, especially if that’s the jib sheet tensioning on the sleeper’s side!
Long story short: I didn’t get much sleep out of that first shift, but not a huge deal as it’s only 21:00 when we switch roles. The wind still holds but the downwind course doesn’t allow us to carry the jib anymore (too many), so Yalçın furled it and it is not bad to carry a little less canvas at night anyway… I’m left with a nice boat on course and the hydrovane steering. The windvane nicely steers to the wind direction, which means your sails are always properly trimmed; however, if the wind shifts, our Avocet (that’s the name of the vane) would blindly follow, so it is important to check that we are still tracking the right course to our next way point. Since we were not going directly to our waypoint on this tack, I figured I may just gybe the boat and see if we make better headways on the other tack. Wind is lightish, I should be able to do that manouver on my own especially since we are main only – I still wake Yalcin up (it seems that he was not really sleeping anyway – he will also bring up the noisiness of our bunk later on!) but at least he doesn’t need to put his jacket and foolies back on to meet me on deck. Also, I don’t need to disengage the hydrovane as you can easily overide it with the wheel which always wins against the tiny vane rudder. I bring the main halfway in from the pit, go back to the wheel with the main sheet in my hand, gybe the boat using the wheel, the main sail gently swings to the other side and I release it so that it opens up entirely as a downwind course dictates, but… shoot! I did need to disengage the steering vane! Now, I’m stuck at the helm with the main sheet in my hand and if I leave my station, the vane is just going to gybe us back to recover her previous course, not good! And I need to cleat this main sheet to be able to reach back to the pin that would lock the vane sitting on the transom. Glad I woke Yalcin up, I am able to call him for a hand to cleat the main sheet (a job that only require popping up a head and a hand out of the cabin). The situation is saved – looking back I could probably have just let go of the sheet if I had really been on my own but I didn’t want to main resting on the shrouds – and I can go back to my intended course which I largely lost in this mini-crisis as I had no landmark to steer to in the dark. Just a reminder that single-handing is an art that only comes with practice… but some of the magic is broken, and by that I mean that some self-confidence has been lost. The windvane is harder to adjust in the night, I’m not satisfied with the heading, not satisfied with the sail plan. Let’s try to go back to the basics: I can just set the good old electric autopilot, it is easier to command since located directly in front of the wheel! But the wave and wind conditions are too strong for it, it sounds aweful (more than normal for those familiar with the regular agonizing sounds!) and does a poor job. Another bump to the confidence. Moreover, the wind is dying out and it is difficult to steer downwind without having the main sail flap under the waves’ action. I would fire up the engine, but I can’t help worrying that we may have a crab pod on our propeller – nothing rational except that we saw some pods in daylight and there’s not way we could have kept track of them at night, this and probably a little PTSD from when it happened to Avocet (Yalçın’s old boat this time) on our way back from Bodega Bay. We have still so many miles to go… more than a hundred! And with these slow speeds, our ETA gets postponed more and more… And that’s how our third leg got split into two legs!
Yalçın woke up around 11PM and popped his head, I offered to stop in Monterey which we hadn’t past yet. He was in too. The course was also more sustainable for sailing and the wind light enough to setup the electric pilot. Huge relief also to be heading closer to the light of Santa Cruz and the Monterey and exiting the darkness. One more hour to enjoy the clear sky full of stars and even wonder if we shouldn’t keep going when Yalçın eventually took over. But we stuck to going to Monterey, we had more or less four more hours to go, another shift for which resting went more smoothly for me, and one hour together approaching the city. The visibility was exceptionally clear for this foggy area and we could distinguish Santa Cruz while approaching Monterey. The swell and wind being very gentle, we decided to give a second shot to the city barely protected anchorage by the beach. Turned out to be way less rolly than last time, but between you and I, the real reason probably lies around the fact that tying to a dock in addition of bailing out of our original plan would be a little too much for our sailors’ egos.