A Leisurely Trip to the Channel Islands, Part 2

To pick up where we left off…we pulled up anchor at Yellowbanks with the goal of heading to an anchorage on the south side of the island that provides protection from 15 – 25 knot NE Santa Ana winds. But within moments we were in far worse weather than we’d seen the day before – 40 knots of sustained wind, gusting to 45, (remember this?) plus 10-14 foot swells, about 8 seconds apart. In this wind, there was no protective anchorage within 30 miles. We began motoring, almost directly into the wind and swell trying to make way as quick as possible to duck behind Anacapa Island, 3 miles ahead where we had read the winds can be calmer in these conditions. But this course was absolutely brutal. The wind only picked up, there were 1o foot waves breaking over the bow and residual swell enveloping the stern. The height and power of the swells tossed Grand Slam around like a toy boat in turbulent bath tub, not 12,000 lbs of  fiberglass and lead. At one point we took a swell from the side which caused me to briefly abandon the confidence I’ve had all these years that sailboats can’t tip over. Scenes from White Squall and The Perfect Storm flashed before my eyes as water poured over the boat and our mast briefly hovered 10 feet above the water.

Adam and I were both wearing life jacket harnesses over our soaked clothes. It was difficult to stand upright, let alone move around the cabin cleaning up pools of water. There were items strewn everywhere that had fallen or come out of place – dishes, books, clothes, cushions, flashlights and life jackets. Cans of food littered the ground from the force of a swell that opened a cabinet.

At one of the roughest points, Dana, super freaked out and disoriented, came out from hiding and jumped into the open, water sprayed cockpit. She could have easily been swept off the boat – we had to move quickly to lock her in the aft cabin.

With the weather only getting worse, Adam made a quick decision to put up the front sail and turn the boat downwind. We reefed the sail, and with only 10 square feet visible and the engine off, we were moving 6+ knots (more than we do at times with the engine and flat seas).

Sailing downwind provided an unbelievable relief and although the conditions remained the same, we weren’t fighting them. We had a warm wind on our backs and I felt as though a crisis had been narrowly averted. We now prepped for plan B in such situations, to head 40 miles out to sea where the Santa Ana’s dissipate, catch the prevailing NW winds and then head 70 miles south to Catalina.

Here’s a video of me at the helm. Here, it’s calmed down a lot but as you can see there are still pretty big swells coming from behind us:

Here’s Adam, resting for a while after standing at the helm for hours:

Our luck turned as the swell and winds subtly shifted and we were able to make a course along side Santa Cruz Island, knowing we could get to the western side where at least the swell would settle. After six hours of invigorating sailing, we reached the far side of Santa Cruz Island, the seas gradually became calm, the winds slowly dissipated, we threw up all our sail and set a course through the channel between Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Islands.

West End of Santa Cruz Island

Suddenly calm and beautiful

At that point the wet clothes came off, and we surveyed the damage.

Adam – pantsless

Molly – this is what happens when you rush to put on shoes and socks

Items strewn everywhere in the main salon

Pumkpin in litter box – see what I mean? Pure chaos.

Lines strewn in the cockpit

The wind vain on the top of the mast broke off

What a wind vain is supposed to look like

A little bit of sail rippage

We decided to anchor at Becher’s Bay, a windswept and rugged anchorage with only a ranger and a few construction workers around. When we arrived, there was not another boat in sight. We dropped the anchor, tidied the boat a bit and relaxed in the cockpit. The view was spectacular – surrounded by islands and the distant mainland. As the sun started to go down, we watched a few of the construction workers on shore tidy up for the day, saw the lights from Santa Barbara begin to come on 35 miles away, and looked across the now calm ocean in disbelief of what we had just accomplished.


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