Point Conception

Humpback whales

At last, it was the moment for us to cross the dreaded Point Conception. We had heard all kinds of horror stories about this area; it was nicknamed the Cape Horn of the Pacific, not something to take lightly as Cape Horn is considered the most dangerous area in the world to sail. We had heard from a friend about almost losing her boat there, and from another pair that that was their lowest point of their entire sail from the Panama Canal to San Francisco. We knew that the key to successfully transiting lay in careful weather watching. As our friend Bob put it, the best weather condition is “if you are going to have to motor it “. Wise words as winds are known to suddenly increase by 130%, accompanied by choppy waves and dense fog.

So while we were sitting in Morro Bay, and we saw a day with a forecast of 5 to 10 knots, 4 foot waves at 8 second intervals, it seemed like a good time to leave, or at least it would be the calmest weather all week. We did not feel like we had enjoyed Morro Bay enough, but our low tolerance to risk was telling us that it was time to go.

Pacific white sided dolphins

Sailing down the coast that morning, it was indeed too light wind to sail; we ended up motoring the entire way to our destination. In other words, perfect conditions. Certainly frustrating to have our engine roaring the entire way, constantly hoping and testing for enough wind to raise our sails, but this one time was permissible by my book. As the sun set that evening on our overnight transit, we saw a huge pod of dolphins off in the distance, accompanied by sea lions swimming fast enough to launch themselves out of the water, and several humpback whales showing off their tails and fins. We speculated that there was a school of fish in the vicinity, and what we were witnessing was a feast. Soon, groups of dolphins swam along closer to have a look at our boat; 5 individuals at a time, coming towards us, and diving under our keel before carrying on their way. Ever friendly sea lions raced alongside us too, before leaving us in their wake. An amazing sight to see, and what I took as a good omen to our passing Point Conception.

More dolphins, you’re welcome

Standing our night watches was pretty routine for us that night, listening to an old collection of music on the iPod, trying to stay awake for our 3 hour shifts, not having any appetite for dinner from seasickness. By 7 pm, the wind was still insufficient for sailing, the strongest forecasted for this leg, a reassuring sign. At 7am the next day however, I had just started my shift as we were rounding Point Arguello. An eerie glowing specter of oil rigs appeared out of the night fog, and all of a sudden, the wind went from 5 to 20 knots, and choppy seas sent spray flying into the cockpit from the boat smashing into waves. I reassured myself by thinking of worse weather that we had sailed in previously. We could even attempt some sailing at that moment with shortened sails, but I didn’t want to risk it; it was only Point Arguello, not Point Conception. How much rougher would it get?

Point Conception was nicknamed the Cape Horn of the Pacific

Surprisingly, conditions actually became milder towards Point Conception, and we passed without issue. We passed by Cojo anchorage, where a boat had drifted to shore in 30 knot winds the previous night, and watched it being towed back out to water. We saw some oil slicks floating in the water, smelling of petrol; we were warned that we would encounter those drifting from a natural oil seep from Coal Oil Point.

Anchored in Sacate, sheltered by kelp

We arrived in Sacate in the afternoon, and anchored sheltered from the swells by a kelp forest. It was the most remote anchorage we have been in, being the lone boat there. Even the houses in the hills didn’t seem occupied. No points of interest here, yet no rush for us to leave. In other words, a restful stop. That night, we slept well, with the most challenging stretch of our short cruising life behind us.

Because everyone loves a good horror story, here’s a storm sailing video for your entertainment. Just don’t work on a cargo ship where you sail by a delivery schedule regardless of weather conditions. (Link)

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