Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Warmer Climes- SF to Catalina and the City of Conception

On the morning of our departure from SF the fog had rolled in overnight and was dense enough to provide a good excuse to have a relaxing, slow morning. We finally made it to the downtown fuel dock around noon. Sula burns about half a gallon per hour and we had burned about 15 gallons on the way south from Eureka, as after the storm passed we had mostly dead calm. We were informed we were the last boat to recieve non-taxed diesel at $3.85, it was going up to $4.35 per gallon with no sign of coming down soon. Who knows if fuel prices will ever come down? Sobering, but also a little exciting. Yet another reason to wait for the wind. Maybe it could hasten the return of sail as viable way of moving things? We were ready for some wind as we motored in a calm out under my favorite bridge.
The fog still lurked there past the gate and after enjoying a last sunny glimpse of the huge red span, and passing an impressive inbound containership we were swallowed up into the ever threatening offshore fog bank. The wind picked up, only to die off again a few hours later, leaving us to lurch around in its remnant waves, turning on the radar every short while to make sure there were no more containerships bearing down on us. The wind returned again later that night, this time to stay for a bit, and the fog lifted finally as well. For two days we made great time south on a broad reach, steering directly for the big turning point at Point Conception. It was the wind we had waited for all trip, a stiff NW breeze and no fog. It was not to last however, after those two great days, the wind gave up and the fog came back, thicker and wetter than ever. The motor kept us moving nicely down the face of the swells for the third day and we rounded Point Conception at dusk with only the lonely sound of the fog signal from the lighthouse letting us know that land was near. We had tired of motoring in fog and Charlie's Charts, our cruising guide, provided us a sanctuary named Cojo Anchorage, protected from the NW swell, a small cove in name only, just around the corner to the E of Point Conception. The sensory deprivation of spending a long time in fog makes a landfall even more exciting. In the old days, without radar and GPS, this was simply not possible, for good reason. Even with these amazing tools, and a great depth sounder, all my senses were on high alert entering a strange cove, at night, in fog. I love it. I've realized that its these experiences that are actually why I like sailing so much. There are so few ways to actually test oneself in our modern society, we spend a lot of time finding ways to bring the adrenaline back in, rock climbing or jumping out of planes. It may not seem very exciting, but seeing strange lights appear out of the fog and getting the anchor down in the right place is my equivalent of jumping out of a plane. The lights and shapes that appeared out of the dark and fog were confusing and huge and scary. Its very hard to get a sense of scale, but what we theorized may have been a tug towing a huge barge, or a small ship and a wharehouse turned out to be simply two other boats at anchor in Cojo, a 60' sailboat and a 200'oil spill response ship. With the anchor snugly down in 5 fathoms of water with a sand bottom, and my homemade kellets thrown in for good measure, we were treated to another sensory feast, as an Amtrak train blasting its whistle and blazing a ghostly trail through the fog, passed us, very close, just on the edge of the beach. A warm meal was cooked and we all settled into damp berths with a promise to make our way to shore the next day to explore this strange corner of California, and find the small town of Conception, charted not far from the beach. In the morning the fog had cleared a bit and we had an enlightening view of the cove and shoreline. Landing on the beach in small surf in kayaks turns out to be a great way to start off the day with soggy clothes, especially when there are three crew and two kayaks. Dry bags, and making the trip with as few clothes on as possible on seems to be the solution.
We ignored the No Trespassing signs, and surveyed the awesome beach and cliffs that we had to ourselves. Above the bluffs we followed a few lonely dirt roads past expansive views of thousands of acres of grassland, ocean and a few cows. As the day wore on the fog began to lift, and the air warmed and we slowly dried out. The beautiful and desolate Santa Ynez Mountians appeared, trimmed in blue, as the fog slid off back out to sea. The least private property seemed to be the railroad tracks themselves so we followed them for a few miles, as the city of Conception, was sure to be an old railroad town.
After a while we realized there really was nothing, no highway, no town to be seen anywhere. At a lonely railroad crossing we did meet the owner of the huge cattle ranch on either side of the tracks. We apologized for tresspassing and gave our excuse as looking for the town of Conception, as we were overdue sailors who only needed to call our mothers. He was nice enough and gave us free reign of his ranch, and explained that there was absolutely no town of Conception, it had only been a small Spanish garrison and outpost in the days before the Mexican-American war. Its still there on the chart though, a small square of dense urban shading, just bordering the railroad.
Mystery solved, and coast surveyed, we stuffed our pockets with fennel seeds and braved the surf to spend another calm night at anchor with a good hot meal, and watched trains rumbling on through the night. I had a beach fire and watched the stars come out while Dan and Tommy stayed dry on the boat and read various books on nautical disaster. We shoved off the next morning, and had a very pleasant motor in light airs and clear weather past the impresseive Northern Channel Islands. Our next stop would be Catalina Island, for a rest and exploration of that harbor and town of Two Harbors.

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