It is Christmas time and I’m getting the LighterBro boat ready for months of voyaging rapidly approaching all by myself. Everyone else who is coming along for the adventure is visiting family. It might seem a bit lonely of a thing to do at Christmas, but Natural Mystic is more than just a boat, she’s a life preserving friend who’s had my back through many brutal storms at sea and I’m alive today, because of her well built construction and sailing prowess. However, just like your best friend or lover you still get into spats, and just as I’m hard charging into the huge punch list of tasks to complete before we can shove off, the water heater goes out. Now I have to spend hours every day for nearly a week, upside down to fix it. Inverted, with my head wedged in a tight spot, hardly wide enough for a LighterBro, let alone my thick skull to get the job done, so hopefully we can have warm water after surfing, diving, and spearfishing in the cooler La Niña influenced Pacific Ocean this year.
Even without the water heater breakdown, the tasks seem endless, engine work (she’s a catamaran with two motors, meaning four different engine/tranny oils to change), sail repair (the jib needed to partly be resewn, thanks Ullman Sails Ventura), line maintenance, provisioning and most importantly, getting my new surfing foil board set up. This new kind of surfboard fin, which is shaped like airplane to fly underwater, will hopefully let me surf above the waves, free from the drag and chop of the ocean surface.
This involves many calls to friends about guesses on technical fin placement measurements or the much less technical. Like hearing Kai Lenny said “put the back of the box at 9”-14” from the tail.” Which is all over the damn place, so I tell Santa Barbara’s best Ding Repair guy Max McDonald, the man installing the foil’s fin box into a thick Channel Islands, 5’10” Biscuit surfboard I bought off the rack, to just whack it in at my lucky number of 13” and let’s pray it works. All while focusing on LighterBro business, the crazy holiday shopping season and for LighterBro LLC, the very busy shipping season. But, the daily punch list on the yellow legal pad grows shorter and less severe the harder I work. And quickly the date approaches when Courtney is flying in from visiting her family and my good buddy Paul who has done so much sailing on Natty M are meeting me at the LighterBro boat, to jump on and then quickly shove off for Mexico.
So, with hugs to Mom and Dad who drop me off at Santa Barbara Harbor and a couple of enthusiastic high-fives from good friends and Marina 3 residents, Pasci and Margo, I walk down the dock for the last time. Finally, we are ready to leave for Ensenada, Mexico in the dead of night. Paul probably road his circusesque folding bike to the boat, which has it’s own cabin by the way and Courtney’s flight connection to SBA out of LAX was canceled, so she had to bus it up to SB. But all slumming aside, she still had time for a cleansing hot shower, before we load up on some Santa Barbara Yacht Club ice and shove off for Mexico at 10 PM on a very dark and moonless night.
Right away its all hands on deck! Courtney is on the bow with our powerful spotlight helping pick our way through the maze of numerous lobster trap buoys that want to snag our boat’s underwater appendages and then in deeper water the double or triple buoyed crab trap lines, that endanger our passage all the way to the oil rigs 4.5 miles offshore. Its tense, as we alter course over half a dozen times to avoid the floating sea mines. We head southeast inside Anacapa Island, as the direct course from SB to Ensenada passes right through Catalina Island. Semi-strong offshore E winds are forecast, so I decide on the inside Channel Islands route to take advantage of them when they kick up.
We clear the oil rigs and drop the crustacean trap buoy state of alert. The bottom is now too deep for trap fishing, but I’m jazzed on the adrenaline of finally getting to do what I have been working and dreaming of for so long, so I take first watch and everyone else heads down to bed, below decks.
Under one motor at conservative 2400 RPM, we are getting close to the Ventura oil derricks and Natty M starts to hit a short E chop, slightly pounding at the bow with still no wind on the water. I take this as a sign of E winds blowing across the Ventura, Oxnard, Camarillo valley and I start to ready the mainsail halyard, just as the first light gust of E wind hits me. No need to wake anyone, after 10 years of sailing this boat, I can raise the sails by myself, no problem, in the dark of night without using a flashlight. With the lazyjack bag unzipped and the mainsail’s Wichard bow shackle once again attached to the headboard and the autopilot keeping her steady, with the wind just blowing the mainsail to starboard and out of the way of the boom lift. I hoist away on the winch with maximum effort. Two thirds of the way up the mast is the best I can manage and I grind the main halyard the rest of the way up, quickly bear off, release the boom lift and the giant mainsail fills and bellows to life. In ten minutes it took to raise the mainsail, the E wind has now quickly built to 15 knots and the boat shoots form doing 6.5 under one engine to 8 under main alone. Engine shut down, running backstay on, headsail unfurled and BAM! Ten to eleven knots of boat speed is happening sailing hard upwind and right on rhumbline, as Natty M now powers strongly and comfortably through the building short E chop.
Somehow in all the commotion of spinning winches, halyards and lines no one has woken up and I revel in the majestic nighttime solo sailing. Millions of stars dot my watery road and I smile, as they remind me of my friends alive and past, and while I might be out on the sea currently alone, everyone is along for the ride in my heart and I take comfort in their twinkling wishes of a safe and fun passage.
The sailing is incredible, the wind builds to 18 knots, I’m seeing boat speeds of 12 to 13 upwind and apparent wind of 28 knots, but still not wanting to reef the mainsail. The seas build and we bash rapidly through them, but Natty M powered up is a beast and charges relentlessly forward, with her bow up under the power of a full mainsail. Then, as we pass Pt. Magu, where the land comes out towards the sea with the Mountains of Malibu and Point Doom up ahead, the wind and sea both subside. The wind shifts further aft in direction, but the sailing is still good, making 6 to 8 knots and I give the watch to Paul.
Four hours of semi-restfull sleep go by and I’m up with the just risen sun. The sailing has been OK for Paul, not the rowdy pre-teens of my early morning foray, but still nice and getting the job done making 4-8 knots. I sail on in the dawn of a new morning, with Catalina Island up ahead and the wind lightening up the closer we get. Our two fishing lines we’re trolling have been unproductive and I don’t expect anything, as the water is too cold even for the fish, and evidenced by LA’s snow covered mountains seen above the smog from 20 miles out to sea. Soon I’m making 3 knots, then 2, then 1.5 and its time to take the sails down, turn on the Yanmar diesel engine and keep on fishing.
Alone once again, I drop the sails, stow them, and get us going under one engine. Once again making 6.5 knots towards the border, across apparently dangerous areas of the sea marked “Explosives” on the charts.
The sea is now sheet glass, there is not another boat in sight and our friends the dolphins show up to offer me some solace for having to motor once again. I revel in their sheer joy of surfing between Natty M’s bows and hangout with them until they tire or maybe see some fish and have to bail for more important tasks.
A day under motor comes and goes and never does the clicker of the fishing reel sound. Paul and I settle into our 4 hour on/off watch routine, while Courtney exhausted from cross country air travel sleeps most all the way to Ensenada along with Disco.
We never do see the wind again. Glassy with just a little N swell to help push our Yanmar along and 36 hours later we slide into Ensenada Bay, as the sun is rising and nicely illuminating the many hazardous fishing vessels, both big steel and small ponga that tirelessly traverse the bay day and night. Leaving Isla Todos Santos to port, we head for the main Ensenada Harbor. Disco the ship cat is by my side at the helm, as we both smell Mexico at the same time. Mexico is in the air, as the foreign smells and sounds of this commercial port city invade our senses. A gigantic container ship is docked and noisily unloading, with the coded whistles of the Mexican dock workers blowing in the air. Two cruise ships are tied up, spewing black exhaust and some of the best seafood in the entire world is just a short walk form our boat, which we easily make fast and secure at good ol’ Marina Cruise Port Village in the heart of Ensenada.
A little clean up on Natty M and we excitedly head off to talk about checking into Mexico, which can wait, because first and foremost we need to get some Mixtos Seafood Cocktail, which is the best seafood dish anywhere in the world! A cornucopia seafood ceviche with shrimp, oysters, multiple kinds of clams, octopus, scallops, scallop roe, lime, cucumber, chili, tomatoes, and of course avocado on the top!
We wash down the seafood cocktail with some fish ceviche tostadas and Courtney and I are now contentedly full. Only with burning mouths, from all the fresh spicy salsa and excitedly looking forward to exploring Ensenada over this New Year’s holiday.
Reflecting back on the passage we covered 240 nautical miles in 36 hours, sailed only for about 8 hours, motored the rest under 1 engine at a time, using a moderate 25 gallons of diesel fuel and had zero breakdowns or failures. Overall a perfect passage that just lacked a bit of wind, which is very typical of sailing this time of year in Southern California.