The following are brief accounts of our charter experiences. Each trip merits its own blog, but they are summarized here since our focus is post-launch into cruiserdom.
Benicia was our first overnight charter outside of the immediate Bay area and we were joined by our friend, Brad. We passed under the I-80 and headed up Carquinez Straight. It took all day to sail from Berkeley to Benicia and we arrived too late to get a guest slip. We docked at the fuel dock and ended up leaving before the office was open (= free stay). This was a great learning experience for chartering through OCSC: we found out we can pick up the boat on Friday night and sleep on the boat at the dock, which would allow us to leave early in the morning, instead of waiting until the 9 am pick up time on Saturday. We also learned about the importance of tides and currents. Time, tide, and currents were all working against us on this trip going out. Coming back was better but we had big waves that made for a fun ride, right Brad?
Catalina Island, California, Trip 1:
This was a test trip to Catalina from Marina Del Rey before we had friends fly out from New York and New Jersey to make the sail with us. This was our first time to charter a boat from a different company and leave from a different marina, so we were a little nervous. However, it was one of my favorite sailing trips. Two warblers visited us: a hermit warbler on the way out and a Townsend’s warbler (pictured above) on the way back. They both landed on our son, Devan, which shows how active he is while sailing! We were also treated to a great show by a large pod of dolphins. Sailing in thick fog is a little creepy, but it became exciting when we started hearing blow spout noises all around us. We were surrounded by a pod of whales! Absolutely incredible! Catalina was okay, but the journey was amazing.
Catalina Island, California, Trip 2:
The reason we practiced this trip was because the two couples joining us had never been sailing before – or even on a small boat for that matter. Unfortunately, ginger pills were not enough to help them and they suffered through a daylong ride from Marina Del Rey to Catalina. Once we were moored in the calm harbor waters, they all started to feel better. However, we had a mishap with our dinghy. We were towing it behind us and Dave had to back up and flipped it upside down. Even with the help and advice of several kindly neighbors, we were never able to get the outboard started. All three guys gave it their best shot. Fortunately, we had oars for back up, so we just had to work at it to get to shore. There we enjoyed good food, cold drinks, an off-road Hummer tour, and walks around the island in the beautiful California weather. Prepared with Dramamine, everyone was able to enjoy the boat ride to Venice Beach and then back to Marina Del Rey.
San Diego, California:
Sailing in San Diego was easy and beautiful. This relaxing trip allowed us to explore without taxing our skills. The only hazard we needed to avoid was the huge kelp forest extending a mile or so offshore. It is great to see the kelp return to California, enabled by the return of the California sea otters. Dave practiced his grilling skills on the boat and we had some incredible dishes such as kabobs, carne asada, and Texas toast. We took the dinghy to shore and walked around the boardwalk where we found a restaurant/bar with a wave machine and people surfing on it and an airbrush artist that made my sister a minion shirt. On the sail back, we saw dolphins and pelicans in a feeding frenzy and pelicans, sea gulls and cormorants begging for fish guts or throw backs from a fishing charter boat. It was nice to be able to enjoy a trip without having to learn any lessons.
Vancouver was an amazing charter trip. We thought we knew all about fog, being from the San Francisco Bay area, but Vancouver schooled us on what fog really is. This trip we learned how to sail blind. It sure would have been nice to at least have radar. However, that was only one day and the rest of the trip was just incredible. We saw millions of moon jellies as they seemed to be migrating in a solid column.
Dave tested out the crab pot and we had the freshest, most delicious crab dinners. We walked around Victoria and enjoyed the pubs and atmosphere. After 6 days of sailing, we hadn’t seen any killer whales, so we broke down and paid for a whale watching tour. Our timing was impeccable as a super pod had formed and there were plenty of orcas to be seen. Witty’s Lagoon was probably my favorite anchorage. We had it all to ourselves and the scenery was gorgeous. There were seals and birds everywhere and we even saw a family of otters. On the seventh day, we rested. Just kidding, we sailed back to Sidney as our trip was ending. There was just enough time to walk and shop and visit the local aquarium. We can’t wait to go back!
British Virgin Islands:
Thanksgiving 2013 was spent with Dave’s parents, John and Angie, my mom, Pat, and our son, Devan, in the British Virgin Islands. After some crazy confusion with our flights from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Tortola, BVI, we eventually all got there and picked up a brand new Lagoon 39, the second catamaran we ever chartered. Most of our time was spent on the boat, but we did go ashore for Thanksgiving dinner at the Bitter End. Amazingly, I was able to get my mom in the water and snorkel with me. Growing up in Alaska, she didn’t have the opportunity to learn to swim, so I put a life vest on her and just steered her around as she floated. Even more amazingly, she did it a second and even a third time. Way to go mom! Devan took some great video footage of the huge tarpons swimming and hunting, but we had a computer glitch and lost it. I guess we will just have to go back and try again. Sailing was a little more challenging here with a lot of wind and several weather systems passing through. Once we were caught with full sails and 50 knot gusts! We didn’t flip the bat, so I guess all’s well that ends well.
Phang Nga Bay, Thailand:
Christmas 2013 was spent with Dave’s brother, John, his wife, Ronni, and their two girls, Lauren and Gillian in Thailand. We picked up a Leopard 39, which was our third catamaran charter. There was plenty of room for everyone whether laying out on deck or playing cards in the cockpit. Gillian became the Skip Bo queen and Lauren slept like a teenager, a lot. We saw incredible rock formations, called karsts, which rise straight out of the water. Some form lagoons in the middle and have cave entrances accessible at certain tides. These are called hongs. The scenery is unique and awe inspiring, especially when you see people trying to scale the sheer walls or base-jumping from the ones with beaches to land on. The food was so rich and flavorful and everything is so fresh, as no one has refrigerators or freezers in Thailand. We all agreed our best meal was in Koh Racha. We celebrated Gillian’s birthday on Christmas Eve in Koh Phi Phi and had Christmas dinner at a restaurant named Beautiful, right on the water. We had a wild dinghy ride back to our boat from here with big waves that soaked us all – in the dark, I might add. But we arrived safe and even had fun. At Chicken Head we had some boat repairs done: the furler broke on the jib and the shrouds were very loose and had me worried. Rei Le Beach was a favorite spot. This is where the base jumpers landed on the beach right next to our restaurant, monkeys stole cans of beer or soda, people danced with fire, and we introduced the family to roti: a crepe with sweetened condensed milk and sugar, Nutella and bananas, or whatever other filling you liked. Dave and I rang in the New Year, after his brother’s family left, by Dave getting sick, very sick. I was worried about how I was going to get him home. We made it after a very rough flight for him and he went straight to the emergency room. It took quite a while, but Dave did get better and we are looking forward to our next adventure.