Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Point Conception

We spent four sweet nights anchored at Port San Luis resting and waiting for a favorable weather window.  Our thanks go to Darrel and Sarah of El Tiburon for recommending this sunny anchorage.  The sea life was amazing and Trisha met a new friend on the wharf.  It was a great place for timing our approach to Point Conception.

Point Conception is often called the Cape Horn of the west due to its challenging winds and seas.  It is said that the Point keeps California’s northern sailors in the north and southern sailors in the south.  This intimidating reputation motivated us to spend many hours studying weather reports and forecasts.  On Saturday night, we agreed that it was time to go.

At 2000, we raised anchor, and set out on the ninety mile passage to Santa Barbara.  Leaving at this hour should have us rounding Point Conception in the lighter winds just after midnight.  The swell picked up as we motored out of the shelter of the harbor.  The winds were light and the main sail did little to stabilize the boat against five foot waves.  We rocked and rolled uncomfortably.  I assured Trisha that things would smooth out when we made the turn at Point Sal, hoping that the swell would then be on our stern.  Unfortunately, the seas clocked around with us waypoint after waypoint and we saw an increase in wave height and in the boat’s movement.  With twenty-three miles behind us, Trisha asked if we should turn back.  We hung in there, and at approximately 0100 we were at Point Arguello, the starting point for the anticipated nasty conditions.  The seas didn’t change much, but the wind piped up to 17 knots greatly improving the ride to and past Conception.  Now the seas flattened out and the wind became clam, confirming that we had arrived in Southern California.  Trisha got a little sleep as we motor sailed the rest of the way.  At 1330, we were tied up in Santa Barbara.  The trip took nearly eighteen hours.
View from our slip
One of the prominent features on the voyage was the eight or so oil rigs that we past during the night.  Their lights were visible many miles away like little towns perched on stilts.  They made great landmarks for confirming that our navigation was accurate.  After rounding Conception, the wind was on our nose and I noticed a strong stink of petroleum.  I thought this was some kind of exhaust from the oil rigs.  After the sun came up, Trisha discovered the source of the smell – a large oil slick.  We drove through several of them and were amazed at how thick the oil was and how large an area each slick covered.  When we inquired about them in Santa Barbara, we were repeatedly told the slicks were the result of natural seepage…

Sunrise in the Santa Barbara Channel

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