Tag Archives: Santa Cruz Island

Sailing the Milt Ingram to Victory!

Milt Banner 1Picture 2Milt Banner 2

IMG_1346The Matey arrived at 9:30 am on the dock at the Pacific Corinthian Yacht Club in Channel Islands Harbor on Saturday morning, July 13th, to join the merry crew of Misfit for the 29th annual Milt Ingram Trophy Race.

It was my first race of the year on Misfit – and my sailing skills were rusty, if not wholly atrophied. So, I was glad to hear from Captain George that my primary duty would be to man the mast: hauling on halyards to raise sails. It’s a job that requires less sailing skill than a healthy bit of blue collar sweat equity.

And, of course, I’d be adding my weight to the rail and doing the kind of hiking one doesn’t do in Yosemite.

IMG_1340In the hour before we embarked for the starting line, the young sailormen, Sean and Andy, got down to the expert business of rigging lines and preparing sails for deployment during the race. I’ve assisted in such work in the past, but I’m not an expert like these guys. If I pack a spinnaker there’s a good chance it’ll fly out of the bag and wrap itself into an unholy tangle. Experienced salts like Sean and Andy make damn few mistakes – which is one of the main reasons why the good ship Misfit has been on a winning streak.

IMG_1356We sailed out of Channel Islands Harbor and made for the Mandalay Buoy, where the race was scheduled to start at 11:00 am.

Instead of the classic Greek epic poet Homer’s “wine dark sea”, we sailed across a slate grey sea under a pewter sky.

The Santa Barbara Channel would mostly stay various shades of grey all day.IMG_1362

IMG_1360As we jockeyed for position among the crowd of racing yachts tacking and jibing between the committee boat and Mandalay Bouy, I was glad to have Captain Eric at the helm. If anyone could avoid a collision and get us off to a good start, Eric would. He knows what Misfit can do – and he’s got nerves of steel. When the gun went off for the start, we were second across the line, just a boat length behind the leader.

Race MapThe course for the Milt Ingram Trophy Race would take us from Mandalay Buoy to oil platform Grace, then around the west end of Anacapa, across the backside of the island, then a final northwest run to the finish line inside Ventura Harbor.

After rounding platform Grace to port, Eric put us on a course for the western headland of Anacapa – through the gap between that island and Santa Cruz. As we neared the passage between the islands, we watched with interest as a large oceangoing freighter churned through the shipping lane past Santa Cruz and across the gap.Ship Passing

IMG_1375Now, I’ve been in this situation before. It’s hard to gauge how fast these big ships are going from a distance – and small sailing vessels like Misfit must definitely give the big boys a wide berth. In the past, I’ve had the experience of guessing wrong on the big ship’s trajectory and having to heave-to at the last minute, dead in the water, and let the leviathan go by. Such a miscalculation can cripple your chances in a race like this.

As it turned out, the large ship crossed safely in front of us and, as we entered the passage between Anacapa and Santa Cruz, a pod of leaping dolphins celebrated our good fortune by frolicking across our bow.

Rounding the western end of Anacapa.

Rounding the western end of Anacapa.

As we sailed past the backside (or ocean side) of Anacapa, I saw the day’s very first bit of blue sky above the island’s white, bird-poop covered cliffs.

IMG_1400As we neared the eastern tip of the island, there were just two boats ahead of us. However, due to the arcane rules of yacht racing, those two boats had ratings that required them to “give” us time. In other words, even if they finished ahead of us, they needed to finish a good deal ahead of us to win. So, we were very possibly, under the rules, actually leading the race.

IMG_1408Note: This rating system apparently has to do with the size of the boat, the length of its waterline, its design and the amount of sail it can legally raise to the wind. There may also be other factors. I have no clue. I just haul the lines I’m told to haul, help to frantically gather in flapping sails, haul on the working line when we jibe, and shift my bulk from port to starboard on command. Ratings are above The Matey’s pay grade.

IMG_1413After rounding the eastern end of Anacapa and that sea-carved rock arch featured on a thousand postcards, Eric put us on course for the finish line in Ventura Harbor.

Now, we were sailing into the wind – and the choppy swells started splashing up against Misfit’s bow.

Captain George and Tom on the rail.

Captain George and Tom on the rail.

It was just a matter of timing and geometry before the rail meat – George, Tom and me closest to the bow — would be drenched by a sudden cascade of cold salt water.

It didn’t take long.

But ultimately, that salty baptism was like an early champagne celebration – because Misfit won the race.

Arriving in our home port after the victory.

Andy, Tom, Sean and Eric arriving in our home port after the victory.

Here are the final race results: another victory for Misfit — and another exhilarating adventure in the Santa Barbara Channel for The Matey — thanks to Captain George and his crew!Results

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Escape to Santa Cruz!

On Sunday, September 16th, my wife and I took a quick day trip to a whole new world: from our suburban home in Woodland Hills to the island of Santa Cruz – the largest of the Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California. Santa Cruz lies in the Santa Barbara Channel a mere 67 miles from our home in the western end of the San Fernando Valley.

The 42-mile drive to the harbor in Ventura took us less than an hour. We arrived at the Island Packers dock where our boat was waiting to carry us to Santa Cruz.

Victoria took a seat on the upper deck of the Island Packers boat, gazing out at the collection of vessels in Ventura Harbor.

We headed out of the harbor shortly after 2:00 PM. I’ve sailed out of Ventura Harbor many times, but not often aboard a boat of this size.

The pilothouse on the upper deck of the boat with the captain at the controls.

As we raced across the Santa Barbara Channel, a thick marine layer cast a hazy shroud over the islands in the distance. Santa Cruz is 25 miles off the California coast, and we covered that distance across a flat, grey ocean in less than an hour. (See map above.)

As we neared Santa Cruz, the foggy marine layer was burning off…

…and the island was finally revealed in brilliant sunshine.

The closer we got to the island, the more the colors came out. The water became more blue and the island more golden and inviting as we approached the cliffs near the Scorpion anchorage on the eastern end of the island. (See map above.)

The Island Packers crew prepares to dock at the Scorpion anchorage.

The approached the dock at the Scorpion anchorage, where a pair of metal ladders stood ready for us to disembark.

A short dirt path leads from the anchorage to the former sheep ranch buildings that now serve as the visitor’s center and headquarters for this unit of the National Park Service. (Yep, the 5 westernmost Channel Islands are a National Park!)

A couple hundred yards from the anchorage, the building of the former sheep ranch came into view.

Old rusted farm equipment provides mute testimony to the brief agricultural history of the island. For about 150 years from the 1830’s through the 1980’s, sheep ranching was the dominant industry on the island.

Victoria stands next to the old farm building that is now the National Park visitor center.

Victoria and I pause along the trail that rises above the visitor center. We only had about 40 minutes to explore before the boat was scheduled to return to Ventura. (We could have taken a much earlier voyage out of Ventura, but inspiration hit us too late in the morning.)

The trail rose quickly and the view was stunning. You can see our boat waiting at anchor below the cliff.

Victoria marches up the trail. Behind Vic, the mountains give a sense of low large the island is: 22 miles long and from 2 to 6 miles wide.

Victoria pauses at a particularly picturesque overlook to – what else? – take a picture.

Here’s another view from Victoria’s perch looking east above the Scorpion anchorage.

Heading back to the boat, Victoria spotted an island fox: a species that is native to six of the eight Channel Islands. (Vic earned her merit badge for the day.) I managed to shoot some footage of this cute, red-hued predator as it made its way through the chaparral.

We lined up on the dock to board the boat for our return trip – along with dozens of campers and day-trippers. It would be a far more crowded ride back to Ventura.

As I waited on the dock for everyone to climb down the two ladders onto the boat, I had plenty of time to study the gorgeous coastline.

Take a moment to enjoy the gentle lapping of the waves on the pebbled beach.

Now, take another moment to enjoy the hypnotic swaying of the kelp and other ocean vegetation along the coast.

With the boat’s cabin crowded with returning campers, hikers, snorkelers and kayakers – Victoria takes windy refuge on the bow of the boat.

It was a great trip to Santa Cruz Island: a brief excursion to a whole ‘nother world that’s not too far away.

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The Matey’s Log: The Hardway 2011

From the time that man first fashioned craft to ply the deep waters, hardy folk have braved the dangers of the sea for sustenance – risking the roiling waves for the bounty the oceans provide.

Others have taken to the sea for exploration and conquest, striking out for unknown shores to discover new lands and plant their flags upon them.

Others go down to the sea in ships for sport, to test themselves against the fickle and ferocious elements of wind and water, to ride the exhilarating edge of speed and danger in a fast boat, sails full of howling wind, the taut rigging straining, cracking on, bow waves drenching the gunnels as they race through the swell.

Master Eric and his father Joe the Ancient Mariner in Santa Barbara Harbor.

The men of Misfit number themselves among the latter category of sailors. And that is why Captain George Moll, Master Eric Schlageter and a crew of six intrepid adventurers gathered on the dock at the harbor in Santa Barbara, California on the morning of Saturday, May 14, 2011: to take part in The 31st Annual Hardway Race, sponsored by the Pierpont Bay Yacht Club.

The Hardway Race is the first installment of the 12th annual Island Series, a set of three races that feature voyages to the nearby Channel Islands.

To go “The Hardway” means to race from Santa Barbara to Ventura Harbor by going around Santa Cruz Island – a journey of 67 nautical miles.

Master foc'sl'man Claude enjoys a celebratory cigar before we shove off.

I’ve been living in the Los Angeles area for two decades, and I’ve raced with Captain George in the Santa Barbara Channel for several years now – but I’d never sailed around the backside of Santa Cruz – so I was excited to be in this race. It’s wonderful to be able to explore exotic, unseen lands so close to home. I’ve sailed around Santa Cruz’s nearest island neighbor, Anacapa, many times. Anacapa is always a stunning sensory treat with its jagged shoreline, steep, rugged cliffs and zillions of seabirds. But going around Santa Cruz was going to be something special. Somewhere I’d never been before.

We motored toward the starting line, where the other boats in our class were jockeying for position prior to our 11:00 am start time. At 35-feet long, Misfit was among the smallest of the boats contending in the spinnaker class that had chosen to go “The Hardway” around Santa Cruz. Indications were that the wind would be up, so the Captain ordered us into our foul weather gear from the jump. When you see Eric’s dad, Joe the Ancient Mariner, donning his foulies, you’d best follow his veteran example. If Joe thinks we’re gonna get wet – we’re in for soaking.

Master Eric steered us to a great start and we got off the line, neck and neck with “Dr. Laura” Schlessinger’s magnificent racing vessel, Katana. With her much longer waterline, Katana soon began to pull ahead, as did another larger racing yacht, Prevail. But we could tell by the pace we kept with those longer boats that we had a chance to win this race if the wind – and our luck – held. (Wind and luck being the two biggest critical variables in sailboat racing.)

Within two hours sailing, we neared the western point of Santa Cruz Island at a speed of 8-10 knots. Luckily, a huge container ship crossed our bow about a half-mile ahead of us. At least one of the leading boats was not as lucky — and had to diminish speed to steer around the container ship.

We had a similar experience with an oceangoing barge approaching Anacapa on my first Hardway Race two years ago, so I was glad to see that container ship pass safely in the distance.

As we made the Santa Cruz headland, I was greeted with a sight I had not expected: there were two more islands in the distance beyond Santa Cruz: Santa Rose and San Miguel. I’d never seen either of these westernmost Channel Islands before, and it was a thrilling discovery.

I had not realized that the western end of Santa Cruz’s backside was actually a channel between two islands, and the choppy and confused currents that bounced and swelled between the two islands is known to local sailors and fishermen as “The Potato Patch.”

Once out of The Potato Patch, the northerly winds died a little as we passed under the lee of the imposing cliffs and mountains of Santa Cruz.

Between jibes, as we sought the shifting winds, I got a good look at the magnificence of Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz was once the largest privately owned island in the nation, but now its jointly owned by the National Park service (which owns 24%) and the Nature Conservancy (which owns 76%). 22 miles long and from 2 to 6 miles wide, it’s the largest of the eight islands in the Channel Islands chain.

Steep, sea-battered cliffs, surf-filled caves, and a few sandy beaches make the coastline of Santa Cruz well worth the voyage.

Rising above it all is the high ground known as Devils Peak, the highest prominence on the island at 2,450 feet.

Geno in the cockpit with the sea cliffs of Santa Cruz rising behind him.

Archaeologists tells us that humans have been visiting (and living on) Santa Cruz Island for at least 9,000 years – most notably the Chumash Indian tribe, who lived on the island and traded with the mainland Chumash population.

The Chumash had it to themselves until Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo showed up in the Channel Islands in 1542, planted the Spanish flag, lost his leg, and died. Cabrillo and his crew did not come ashore on Santa Cruz, though he named the island San Lucas.

Sebastián Vizcaíno led the last Spanish expedition to check out the Channel Islands in 1602. Vizcaino’s map named Santa Cruz the Isla de Gente Barbuda (“island of the bearded people”), and in 1822, the last of those “bearded people”, the Chumash, left Santa Cruz Island for the Catholic missions on the mainland.

We were just about to leave the vicinity of Santa Cruz ourselves at about 4:00 pm, flying a spinnaker and ripping along at 12 knots with the Eastern headland of Santa Cruz in sight – when nautical hubris got the best of us, and we were overpowered, rounded up – and knocked down!

For those who are not salty enough to appreciate what it means to be “knocked down” — here’s a simple illustration.

This is the normal profile of a sailboat, heeled over in the wind, at a slight tilt relative to the waterline. This is what you want to achieve when you’re racing a sailboat.

This is the profile of a sailboat that has been “knocked down”. If it gets any worse than this, the keel will come out of the water and the boat will capsize.

Here’s approximately where we were on the backside of Santa Cruz when we were knocked down.

What was I doing in the moments before we got knocked down? I was trying my best to capture the thrills and glory of our 12-knot surge through the swells with my iPhone. Here’s the footage I took in the moments before the knockdown.

Seconds after I stopped filming, we were overpowered and knocked down. The dramatic moment was captured on Captain George’s GoPro camera affixed to the end of the starboard stern rail. (You’ll note The Matey in the foreground – at the stern of Misfit – filming with my iPhone just before the critical moment. You can also see that, despite the calamity unfolding around me, I take great care to get that iPhone back in the pocket of my foulies.) The craziest thing was that when the starboard rail first disappeared into the sea, and the bottom of the boat suddenly became a wall rising on my left, as I clung to the stern lifelines, I was still trying to get a good shot of the ultimate dramatic moment. Damn my clumsy hands and the iPhone’s tiny controls…

Moments later, at Tom’s authoritative urging, I tucked away my iPhone and clambered over him to get hold of a portside stanchion. The fact that I was lying on top of Tom for a period of time before Misfit was righted led to the sort of off-color jokes that one comes to expect in the company of sailormen. I’ll say no more.

Here’s what Captain George’s GoPro saw…

Once the boat was righted – and kudos to Eric, Geno and Reed for their seamanlike reflexes in a crisis – we made for Ventura Harbor on the last leg of the race. As dangerous as the knockdown was, it was also an undeniable thrill. An adrenaline junkie’s fix, for sure. Our spirits were aroused and our senses engaged, as we sank Santa Cruz behind us and raced the setting sun into Ventura Harbor.

Hours before we rounded the Eastern end of Santa Cruz, our master of the fordeck, Claude, had expertly gauged the wind and waves and predicted that we’d finish just as the sun set at 7:45 pm. As we splashed our way toward Ventura, Claude’s assessment would prove to be dead on.

His assessment of the cetaceans that cavorted in our path along the way was not as correct. Seeing a pod of dorsal fin-less dolphins frolicking alongside our boat, Claude declared them to be porpoises. Just hours after the race, ever the conscientious oceanic naturalist, Claude would correctly identify them as northern rightwhale dolphins.

Despite the screaming winds, Captain George and Master Eric desired more boat speed as we flew toward Ventura, and they called for us to fly the larger Code Zero headsail. But while Claude and Geno and I did our best to fly the Code Zero, conditions got the better of us, and precious time was lost. Still, we hurtled through the channel, pointed toward the red whistle buoy that marks the entrance to Ventura Harbor.

The last hour of the race saw a constant drenching of the rail meat, as the geometry of boat speed and the direction of the swells added up to lots and lots of salt spray showering the benumbed human ballast — as Misfit tore through the waves like a trail horse smelling the feed bag.

We crossed the line moments after 8:00 pm, completing our voyage from Santa Barbara to Ventura by way of the backside of Santa Cruz in a little more than nine hours. The sun was down as we eased into an open slip, tied off at the dock, and got our nautical thoroughbred Misfit squared away for the night.

Finally, Captain George and his crew gathered at the PBYC clubhouse for a beverage and the last of the lasagna.

There we learned that Misfit had finished a mere 4 minutes out of first place — and just 20 seconds out of second place. Clearly, the knockdown off Santa Cruz and our struggle with the Code Zero on the homeward-bound leg may have cost us the race.

But, all in all, it felt like victory.

The boat performed gloriously. The Misfit crew did, too.

The Island Series is within our grasp.

Next up: The Milt Ingram Trophy Race, July 16, 2011.

Get your foulies on, mates — and unfurl as much canvass as we can!

Crack on, Misfits, crack on!

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