Feb 13

First Leg

Tag: routemattholmes @ 8:22 pm

I’m writing this post from a cafe in Santa Barbara.  We left the slip in the Emeryville Marina on the morning of Wednesday the 10th, filled our diesel tank with fuel, then motored straight out of the bay.

For the first 24 hours after pulling out of that slip, I was constantly waiting for something to break, or someone to make us go back, or perhaps even for someone to wake me up from a dream.  After everything that goes into this project and after so many setbacks problems letdowns and asskickers, the scalded and scarred side of me made it impossible to believe in the moment when that moment came.  Only in retrospect can I say with confidence that 2/10/10 was the day we left.  For good.

The weather was kind to us.  A third of the time we had enough wind for decent sailing, a third of the time the wind was super light and the only sail we could keep full was Jon’s drifter; here’s some footage of Jon’s sail doing her thing:

Big props Jon for that sail–nothing else would have worked and that sail is the BOMB.

A third of the time there wasn’t enough wind to fill any sail.  As mentioned in an earlier post, the weather off the west coast this time of year can be rough, so we elected to keep moving forward, even if we had to turn on the engine to do so.  You may recall that earlier in the week our departure was thwarted by an overheating engine; after 25 hours worth of motoring in which the engine temp never went above 167, it’s safe to say that the overheating problem has been fixed.

We rounded Point Conception in the middle of the day yesterday–Point Conception is the spot on the California coast where the land takes a sharp turn to the east.  After Point Conception, the wind drops, the temperatures rise, and the winter storms in the pacific become less of a worry.  I had been warned to be cautious with the rounding–it sticks right out there in the pacific, so the wind and seas are frequently big and dangerous.  After days of light wind, I must grudgingly admit that I was rather hoping for something dramatic.  We approached the point with barely enough wind to fill the drifter by itself; less than an hour later we were speeding along at 8 knots, surfing to 10, under a full genoa and double reefed main.  8 knots on land isn’t very impressive–8 knots in my boat feels like the boat is trying to lift off and fly right out of the ocean.  It was a glorious day.  And the boat was glorious.  She sailed herself (with the Monitor windvane at the helm), and we kicked back and had a beer while the boat surfed the waves and, to be blunt, hauled ass.  It was something else, watching the boat sail herself in conditions that would have had a human skipper working hard at the wheel.  It was something great, is what it was.

It was a dark night full of stars last night, and we were still sailing fast when Pete and Ray called Karen and I away from making dinner in the galley, to join them on the bow.  The stars were bright, the bow and the ocean were inky black, and the school of dolphins was enveloped in a glowing phosphorence as they played with our bow, swimming along with us, zipping back and forth and over and under each other, racing Syzygy in the ocean.  As they swam the the phosphorescence formed a cocoon of light around their bodies which trailed off behind them, like a comet’s tail.  Their motions made a whishing sort of sound, like a dozen torpedoes through the water, much louder than I could have expected.  That sound testified to the speed and power of their swimming.  They were fast.  So fast . . . When picturing how such an experience would appear, I never thought about the sound, and I never realized how ridiculously strong a water creature would have to be to move so fast and agilely through the water.  Dolphins are powerful, the experience was powerful.

We reached Santa Barbara at 3am last night.  Driving straight towards thousands of lights on shore in the middle of the night is tricky–you’re used to miles and miles of empty space all around and all of a sudden you are so close you could damn near throw a rock onto dry land.  There’s nothing worse for a boat than dry land–except maybe a container ship–and it is oh so hard to see anything in the ocean at night until you can almost reach out and touch it.  Anyway, it may have seemed like I was warming you the reader up to some climax in which I ran our boat hard aground after the very first passage, but fortunately not.  I learned two important lessons though:
1) don’t make landfall at night unless you absolutely have to.
2) don’t break your windlass.  While setting the anchor in the dark and in my tiredness, I made the mistake of backing down on our anchor at nearly full speed.  That’s 23 thousand pounds of boat coming to a rapid stop, and the windlass took the brunt of that force.  When the chain came violently taut it totally mangled our windlass–the same windlass that we painstakingly dismantled and serviced with loving care last month.  I think that we can fix it back to some working state, but it hurts my heart to have messed it up right at the end of an otherwise beautiful passage.  However.  If that was our payment for the rest of the otherwise safe and successful passage, I pay it gladly.

So for tonight we are at a slip in the marina here, as we bent various bits of the windlass back into place (I say we but actually I think Pete may finish the job in the time it takes me to finish this post).  It’s warm and sunny, and life feels really really good to me right now.

10 Responses to “First Leg”

  1. Sarah (phil's daughter) says:

    Hoping u will keep moving forward and make it 2 Australia. Good thing the wind is picking up there. She is still a beauty and remember 2 keep her in good shape. U seem tired but hope u live it out. Keep writing + filming blogs so we’ll know how u r doin’. Good luck!

  2. RGSC Pat says:

    Woo-hoo! Except for the slower parts, the sail sounds like a rewarding, great first payback for all the ages of toil.

  3. peter mattsson says:

    congratulations!!…southernbound is a great thing to manifest!!…i am one of few whom must be indeed envious of the passage…sorry i missed you while still at the dock in emeryville…but i shall follow along here…as some may say, bon voyage!!

  4. Jonathon Haradon says:

    The drifter! Looks beautiful. So glad it didn’t rip a seam the first time flown. Hearing it get so much use makes me appreciate all of those hours laboring over it! I find it humorous you are back at boat repairs after the first three days of sailing, enjoy that windlass!

  5. Carol Anne says:


  6. Nate Lane says:

    I’m really enjoying following this Matt, I check AIS tracking a few times a day.

  7. Jim and Juanita/Arctic Tern says:

    Hey, glad to see you are finally underway. We’re in Ventura Harbor for a couple more weeks if you happen to stop by here or if you need anything. Otherwise we’ll see you out there.

  8. Jim and Juanita/Arctic Tern says:

    Also, if if turns out you need to replace the windlass, we know a guy that has several for sale at a decent price.

  9. mattholmes says:

    thanks jim, good to hear from you. We’re headed to san diego next, and then south, so hopefully we’ll be seeing you in mexico. Pete fixed the windlass for us, more or less, so I think we’re good to go, but I definitely appreciate the offer. Fair winds, matt

  10. Hey Kids! This is better than TV!!! says:

    […] the hook (inadvertently breaking our windlass in the process, but that’s a boring tale, Matt mentions it briefly on his blog).  We woke up the next morning to the Harbor Patrol saying, “Um, did you know […]

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