West Coast 2010

Impressions of Southern California from the Water

Shelter Island Harbor
San Diego, CA
November 9, 2010

When I last wrote, we were anchored overnight at Smuggler's Cove on Santa Cruz Island, watching the millions of little fish and the pelicans and sea lions that were gorging on them. Watching the pelicans I learned that when they dive bomb, and miss getting a fish, they take off again immediately. If, however, the splash-down nets them a fish, they settle back, raise their long beak in the air a couple of times, and glug-glug, down goes the fish. Most of the time, you don't see the "glug-glug" performance; it's just dive bomb after dive bomb. So the fish must be quite aware and quite fast to avoid them.

We spent the next day at Smuggler's Cove, and then, at sunset, upped anchor for a night passage to Newport Beach. (The nights are, of course, getting longer and the days shorter. We always want to arrive at a new harbor in the daylight, so more and more often, that will involve starting the night before.) When it's just the two of us on night watch, we take watches of four hours apiece. That allows each of us to get at least 3 ½ hours of uninterrupted sleep, which seems to be just barely enough to be awake on the next watch. Craig passes the time listening to whatever is on the local NPR station (BBC world service?), and I pass the time with either an audio book, or NPR. We're also constantly checking the sails (if sailing), the engine (if motoring), and the presence or absence of nearby boat or ship traffic. We're lucky it's not crab season yet, because crab pots are almost invisible and thus tough to avoid at night.

The sail past Los Angeles had some special features. First was the cluster of slow-moving fireflies around one particular part of the hazy bright skyline. It didn't take long to figure out that we were looking at flight paths into and out of the LAX airport. A bit later, we passed the Port of Los Angeles, with all its container loading facilities that look like the Empire robot-critters from Star Wars. There were lots of ships, coming and going, as well as smaller vessels - tug boats, fishing boats and various unidentified craft. There were offshore drilling platforms masquerading as giant boats lit up in every corner.

A number of times during the night we were approached by groups of dolphins. Usually, when this has happened during the day (in the Pacific Northwest), they have joined us for a few minutes, or up to an hour, playing in our bow wave, and seemingly playing chicken with the boat. But these LAX dolphins cursorily checked us out, and then kept going their own direction. No leaping in the bow wave, no fun. Is it that it's night time, or is it that Southern California dolphins have better things to do?

When the sun came up, it became apparent that the shoreline is tightly packed with million dollar houses. The Newport Beach harbor is several miles long, with a couple of big islands inside, and every inch is packed with million dollar (plus) houses. There are mansions, there are ordinary bungalows and there are even some manufactured homes. I think all are worth more than a million apiece, simply because of their location. In front of all the houses and businesses, there must be ten thousand boats tied up, from the lowliest dinghy to monstrous mega-yachts. There are hundreds more boats tied to mooring buoys (more about that in a moment...) A little ferry crosses from Balboa Penninsula to Balboa Island, carrying the BMW, Mercedes and Lexus vehicles belonging to those who are too lazy or too pressed for time to drive a few miles to the bridge that serves the island.

We wanted to get to some of the businesses on the inland side of the harbor, so we inflated the dinghy and motored over there, thinking we'd find a public dock, or even a restaurant that might serve us lunch and then let us stay a little longer at their dinghy dock. No such item! Just gigantic luxury yachts, cheek to jowl, and plenty of signs saying "private property no trespassing," of " no tie ups," or even, more explicitly, " no restaurant parking." We stopped a heavily tattooed workman motoring past us in his dinghy, and asked him if there was anywhere we could tie up for an hour or so. He directed us to one boat yard that he said is friendlier than most. That did the trick, and we went ashore and found a restaurant and the businesses we were looking for.

There is a real counterculture in Newport Beach. Some of the boats on mooring buoys are quite run down - a definite contrast to the wealth displayed by boats tied up in front of the mansions. We had noticed this as soon as we found our designated mooring ball tie up - costing us a mere $5/day. A dinghy carrying a man with long grey braids stopped by our boat with a petition to the City Council regarding moorage rates and rules. We told him we weren't residents there, but he explained to us what the issue was. For years and years, the cost for a boat (of apparently any size) to stay on a mooring, has been $1000 per year ($83/mo.) The moorings are, however, so valuable, that mooring holders have been able to sell their moorages for as much as $50,000. The City has apparently acquiesced in the practice. Now, the City is adopting regulations raising the rate to $250/mo. and eliminating any right to sell a moorage. The mooring holders association is (not surprisingly) up in arms about all this, and are attempting to gather support to persuade the City Council to reconsider. This sounds like impending litigation to me, but the grey-braided guy said they weren't considering that because of the cost.

Our second day in Newport Beach, we decided to leave our mooring for a tour around the harbor, including stops at a pump-out station, and a stop at the harbor-run showers. That was all fine and good, but a strong south wind had come up by the time we returned to the mooring. The wind was blowing sideways to the moorings. Catching the fore and aft mooring balls, and getting ourselves restored to equilibrium took about an hour, and the assistance of two other boats. We put on quite a circus, and had many amused observers. I will say, in our defense, that we never touched another boat, although we certainly came close.

That evening, we had dinner guests - Jen, who has played bassoon in several orchestras with us in Oregon, and her partner, Celeste. They moved to Southern California a couple of years ago, and it was really nice seeing them again. I really like the idea of seeing friends from home in faraway places - it made my day. They brought some salmon, wine, bread and grapes (how poetic!) and we cooked it up, served with a salad and rice.

Later that evening, we saw a really strange sight. Here we were, several miles inside the very heavily populated Newport Beach harbor, and there was a big seal or a sea lion asleep in the water, 20 feet away from our boat. His flippers were up in the air (like a couple of sticks), and then every 30 seconds or so he'd raise his nose out of the water, and there would be breathing noises, after which the nose would slip again below the water.

Sunday morning (November 7) we motored from Newport Beach to San Diego. With the shortened hours of daylight, we left at dawn, and arrived at dusk. The trip was uneventful - no wind - but sunny and pleasant (aside from the motor noise). We are staying here at a yacht club, invited by the owners of one of our sister ships (an Outbound 46). After the bare concrete shower at Newport Beach, we feel like we've fallen in the lap of luxury. Tiled, heated showers, all the facilities of home, and lots of friendly people. One old fellow here told us we really ought to display our yacht club burgee as a matter of courtesy. We didn't know! Now the SIYC burgee is up, and everyone we see seems to know who we are.

There's a big military presence here - loud fast jets and slower, but also loud helicopters were buzzing over the entrance to the harbor as we came in. We've been told that one reason cell phone service is so spotty here is that the nearby submarine base jams civilian frequencies on and off.

From here, we'll pass almost immediately into Mexico, so this is our last chance to do things requiring cell phones or internet access, and our last chance for a big shopping trip - at least until we reach the first big city (Cabo San Lucas or La Paz). So our list is long, and we have repeated trips planned out to various parts of the City. Costco, Safeway, West Marine, Downwind Marine, the laundromat, the post office, etc. etc. Various other boat tasks remain to be done, including issues with the mast sealing to the deck.

Two other Outbounds preceded us into Mexico, and we are to carry various repair and replacement items for them. So there's lots of coordination required to acquire the parts, communicate with the people in Mexico (or their sailmaker, rigger or supplier) and find places to stow everything.

At night as we lie in our berth, we hear the snapping shrimp that we haven't heard since New Zealand - we must be getting closer to the tropics!