Thursday, February 28, 2013

Oxnard - Another Pleasant Surprise

We had planned to spend the night anchored behind the largest of the Channel Islands, but once again we found ourselves sailing in stronger winds and heavier seas than the NOAA weather forecast had predicted. Their small craft advisory quickly turned into a full blown gale. The seas were steep and I was seasick once again. So we turned back to Santa Barbara. With more of the same forecast for the following day, we decided to skip the Channel Islands altogether and headed south hugging the coast where the wind and seas were comfortable. Our destination was an easy four-hour sail to Ventura.

Ventura did not offer the friendly welcome we have come to expect from the marinas of California. The first marina we called had no slips available. The second was $1.50 per foot, 50% more than the most expensive we’d stayed at so far yet offered neither wi fi nor laundry facilities. With Oxnard only an hour away, we decided to keep going.

I have never had a desire to visit Oxnard. Even the name sounds ugly. But Channel Islands Marina gave us a warm and friendly welcome and our choice of slips. At $1.15 per foot it was our most expensive marina of the trip thus far, but we stayed for 3 nights and really enjoyed our time there. Behind the main harbor is a series of waterways that we explored by dinghy for hours on end. There are beautiful homes built along the canals in addition to restaurants, grocery stores and other amenities of civilization. We never ventured into the city but instead spent our days relaxing on the water and doing some routine boat maintenance.

The name Oxnard may sound ugly but the harbor is lovely and a truly pleasant place to spend a day or two. The guest docks are deep inside the harbor and well protected. A large West Marine store is only a few blocks away. Mike was able to climb the mast to replace a burned out anchor light and we got a lot of clean up done. I highly recommend Channel Islands Marina in Oxnard to anyone transiting the coast.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Santa Barbara Courthouse

 Every day I hear tourists asking for directions to the Courthouse. Sometimes they even ask me and, although I could guide people in the general direction or point it out quickly on a map, I hadn’t been to see it for myself. I didn’t feel compelled to visit it. How interesting can a courthouse be? But 2 days ago I was on an errand that took me nearby and I decided to go see what all the fuss is about.


Wow! They say that the Santa Barbara Courthouse is the most beautiful government building in the United States. I don’t know who “they” are, but I definitely have to agree with them. From the moment I stepped through the open doorway I was entranced. It is a spectacular combination of art and architecture that is especially surprising when you realize that this is a working courthouse where the business of government is being conducted. 

There are 110 steps up the tower to a viewing platform with a 360 degree view of the city from mountains to ocean. There is also an elevator if you prefer not to walk.
This is a working courtroom with a sign that welcomes visitors even when court is in session or a wedding is taking place. Photography is permitted throughout the building and grounds provided you don’t use a flash and don’t photograph a courtroom in session.

The new pump and parts were delivered yesterday. If all goes according to plan, we leave here tomorrow. Yes, I am looking forward to Mexico, but Santa Barbara is another California city I will be very sad to leave.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Searching out the good stuff

Santa Barbara is really growing on me. I have to admit that I was disappointed at first.  I had heard great things about this city and my expectations were high.

When we arrived here we had spent 27 hours on the water with very little sleep. But, more than sleep, we both wanted a good lunch at a table that wasn’t rocking beneath us. Brophy Bros. Clam Bar here in the Harbor was the perfect spot. Great food, good service, and a beautiful view of the town beyond the Harbor all conspired to heighten my Santa Barbara expectations.  Restored and refreshed we walked into town.

The elderly volunteer at the Visitors’ Center recommended only two attractions: the stores and restaurants of State Street and the Ronald Reagan Ranch Center. The Ronald Reagan Ranch Center holding no allure for either of us, we set off to explore State Street. State Street begins with a store for adults only, cigar bars, and tattoo studios.  After a few blocks we found so called “upper” State Street where both the stores and the clientele were dramatically different, but Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstroms, Macys and the like are of as little interest to me as a tattoo studio. Less, in fact, as the tattoo studios at least exhibit artistic spirit and freedom of expression. At the end of our first day I would have chosen to leave, but, that not being an option, I decided to make the best of it and explore the city beyond State Street.

I have been walking several miles a day and there is so much to see and to experience. The architecture alone keeps me entranced for hours. Yesterday we walked to the Farmers’ Market. I was amazed at the abundance of inexpensive produce. We bought a 25 lb. bag of freshly picked organic oranges for $11, 6 limes for $1 and organic avocados priced 4 for $1. Poor Mike had to walk the mile+ back to the boat laden with shopping bags and a 25 lb. sack of oranges slung over his shoulder. I, on the other hand, took a historic walking tour, went window shopping in the Cultural Arts District, and discovered yet another wonderful bakery. I wonder why the lady at the Visitor’s Center didn’t recommend those things, or the historic Santa Barbara Mission or the spectacular park that meanders along the cliff overlooking the sea.

I am so glad that we were forced to stay here and I’ve learned the lesson that a positive attitude and willingness to search out the good stuff make all the difference in the world. We're even going to give "lower" State Street a second look. I've heard that it's quite a lively place after dark. You just never know what you might discover if you keep an open mind and adventurous spirit!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Just another day in paradise

In keeping with our name, “Cruising at a Snail’s Pace,” we have now cruised to a dead stop.

We motored out of Morro Bay in light winds and gentle seas expecting a comfortable trip of 24 hours or so to Santa Barbara. I had just come off watch at 6pm and was napping in the main cabin when Mike’s shouts woke me to a cabin full of steam and the smell of antifreeze. Our water pump had broken and the engine overheated. Fortunately, the afternoon winds had built enough that we were able to put up our sails and continue on.  But, by 3 am, as we entered the Santa Barbara Channel, the winds had died and by 3:30 we were drifting away from our destination. Mike (my own personal Mr. MacGyver) rigged up hoses from the water maker pump to provide cooling for the engine and we motored into Santa Barbara Harbor slowly but safely 9 hours later.
We will be here at least 7 days, probably longer, as we await parts from Florida and England; a much longer stay than we had planned. But there are lots of great restaurants, plenty of sunshine, sandy beaches, and friendly people. I have already located the Danish bakery, a great used book store, the town’s three thrift stores and an organic foods market. Mike has scoped out both of the West Marine stores and made friends with the man who sells marine electronics here in the harbor.  So far it’s not a bad place to be stranded.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

What's in a name?

Many people have said that one of the hardest parts of writing a blog is choosing the name. For us it was easy. As of today we are technically 8 weeks behind our original cruising schedule, and delayed yet again, this time by sea conditions out of Morro Bay, California. I say “technically behind” because in reality, we gave up on any kind of schedule several months ago. Sometimes by choice, sometimes by circumstance, we truly are cruising at a snail’s pace and truly enjoying every minute of it.

We sailed down the Pacific coast from Seattle during the last week of August with my cousin Frances and her husband, also Mike, as crew. Frances and Mike flew to Seattle from Iowa and I from Cape Cod with just enough time to provision and get a good night’s sleep before we pulled away from our dock at Shilshole Marina at 9 am on Saturday, August 24th headed for San Francisco. Fortunately Frances and Mike are not only experienced sailors, but also filled with boundless energy, enthusiasm, and rock solid under stress. Just a few hours out of Port Angeles, on our second day, I was thoroughly and miserably seasick which continued for 5 of the 9 days we were at sea. I was of absolutely no value as crew until the last two days when the seas finally calmed and I was able to pull a couple of nighttime watches. It was a very eye-opening and humbling experience for me and a very real introduction to the realities of blue water cruising. It is not the same thing as gunk holing around Puget Sound!

In spite of encouraging weather forecasts, there were gale force winds on 4 days of the 9-day passage. But our Wauquiez Centurion 45 performed beautifully and 3 out of 4 crew members had the time of their lives. There was a lot of whooping and hollering and high-fiveing as each new challenge was faced and overcome. We made one unplanned over-night stop in Newport, Oregon when an alternator bolt broke. We were tied up at the dock, repairs made, and out again in under 24 hours but it was a nice break giving everyone a chance for a bit of rest and a good hot shower.

S/V La Volante was left in a marina in San Francisco Bay while we all returned to our “real” lives.  Mike and I rejoined the boat in December, spent a pleasant 6 weeks exploring the Bay Area and sailed out of San Francisco for points south on January 23rd.

Cruising friends have asked for details about the marinas we have stayed at on our way down the California Coast. With five marinas already behind us, it is too lengthy for a blog post, but I have made notes along the way which I will gladly email to anyone who is interested.