Saturday, August 30, 2008

Lone Star: White Knuckles

Bonjour & Hola Rafflers

For a number of years Steffie and I have been entertaining our friends with what we call our adventures. Principally about living in southern France. I had written several when I was recovering from a hip replacement in 2004. White Knuckles is one of those. Steffie has edited for me as I have no knowledge of how to spell or what constitutes sentence structure. I though you who have chosen to join our raffle would enjoy an insight as to what sailing Lone Star could be. To date we have only 23 tickets spoken for however we did generate a $65,000.00 cash offer. we thanked the person kindly and turned it down. You would as well. G Pierrerue France.

White Knuckles. Those words bring images to mind. Your first roller coaster ride; driving your car just a bit too fast on a wet road and feeling the rear end start to get loose. Excitement! Fear! Exhilaration! This is a story about all of those feelings and two best friends who if they packed it up would go out together.

For those of you who were not in Northern California for the winter of 1997, it was BRUTAL!! The 'small craft warning" flag went up in late November and didn't come down until March. A sail boat on a pleasure cruise to Half Moon Bay was caught in the seas off South San Francisco, washed up on the beach and the some if not all of the crew were lost. The stories were endless.

We had ended our two year re-fit of Lone Star in October, hauled out in early November and expected to leave for Mexico the last week of November or first week of December. WWRROOONNNGGG. We pulled into Berkeley Marina for a day or two. Dinner at Spenger's with our family to say good by and.... guess what?? We were stuck. The wind was not so bad but the hazardous seas were treacherous. Then would you believe on March 12th, a Thursday, the Fish and Game wardens working the patrol boat out of Berkeley came back in the evening and reported the sea had gone down and it was gorgeous out there. For about a milli-second we thought about leaving on Friday the 13th. NOOOO WAAAYYY.

We left early on Saturday, March 14th, and had a thrilling ride out the gate down to Half Moon Bay. Our crew jumped off there and left us waiting for better weather as it had turned SH&*&%%&^. OK you fill in the blanks. The seas abated and we had an easy motor sail down to Monterey and then to Morro Bay. The alternator on our Pathfinder, that should have been replaced, packed up just out side Morro so we went in to repair or replace it. The wind and seas picked up and we were stuck again. Three or four days later the Port Captain said we had a "window in the weather". They kindly offered to escort us out. We weren't certain whether to make sure we didn't get into trouble or to pick up the pieces if we did. A smart guy would have said wwhooo, wait a minute. It seems every time I stick my fingers in a weather window nature slams the window OOOUUUCH. We cleared the break water at 12:30. The first five miles were on a beam reach; an exhilarating sail. Then things got interesting. We turned DDW (dead down wind) at Point Bouchon; the wind and the seas picked up and away we went. We rolled up the jib and pulled a reef in the mainsail.

A million words have been used trying to describe conditions like these. I heard Steve Taft speak about trying to keep a heading in heavy weather. I can't remember his exact words. Something like keep the heading some where between east and south and try to drive around the breaking mountains. That's not it exactly it but pretty close. Over the years we have tried to take pictures of these conditions and even the best pictures can't convey the immense power of an angry sea. There are always high points, thrills and peaks of fear. You hang on, do the best you can, and the time flies by. Then something really memorable happens. You go on doing the best you can until the next memorable moment.

There were three high points on this trip. The first came early on. We had just reefed the main and the boat had settled down pretty well. Our old Brooks & Gatehouse instruments were working intermittently so Steffie brought up a Garmin hand held GPS. It was programmed to show our course and speed. I could see the read out from the helm. We had just climbed up a particularly large swell and were riding there for what seemed like ten minutes. White water from our wake crested above the deck level and the transom swim step threw a rooster tail ten feet on the air. I glanced at the GPS and could not believe SEVENTEEEEEN KNOTS speed over the ground. HOLY SUGAR!! If we had been flying we would have been on VFR (Visual Flight Rules). I was steering keeping the land on my left side and the open sea on my right side and if we were going that fast I didn't want to know. Steffie put the GPS away. We knew we were going fast the wake never broke forward of the cockpit. You could feel the boat accelerate on the front of each over-taking sea. As the sun sank behind us it threw long shadows of the waves as they rose behind us. Steffie had been below up dating our position on the chart. As she came up the companionway she looked over my shoulder and her eyes got about dinner plate size. She shut the companionway hatch and hopped into the cockpit and hooked on with her tether. I didn't have to ask her what was coming. The shadow of the approaching sea was covering the aft section of the boat and starting to go up the mast. Up and up some more until it was above the lower spreaders some thirty feet above the deck. I squared Lone Star to the swell's front as much as I could and up the elevator we went. Virtually every boat I have sailed on will talk to you as she sails along. Lone Star sort of hums. The faster she goes, the louder the hum. I think she got to E above high C that time. We went up then slid back on the top of that wave and sat there and just roooarrrred. It was THE sailing experience for both of us. Scared, exuberant and laughing, we rode her off the back of that wave and countless others until the ride was over.

As we passed Vandenberg Air Force base and closed on Point Arguello the sun sank into the Pacific. The stakes in this ride were going to rise exponentially. Our radio crackled and a voice said "This is the Control Center calling the southbound sailboat rounding Point Arguello." Steffie answered in her little girl voice "Who Me?" That brought the crew up short. The officer keying the mike was laughing so hard he could barely respond. Steffie gave him our course but when she told him we were doing 12 knots SOG I don't know if he actually believed her. As soon as the laughter subsided, they told us there was going to be an operation soon. We shouldn't worry. We were not is any danger. Nothing to worry about if we keep on our present course and speed we would be out of the evacuated area. Oh of course, we immediately began to worry!

Oh, my kingdom for a video camera! Ten or fifteen minutes later the whole land mass on our port side lit up with billowing clouds of fire. The rocket lifted off almost directly on our beam. Rose more or less straight overhead. Then the first stage blew off and we were looking right up that rocket's tail pipe when the three main engines ignited. Three pinpricks at first then three howling roaring rockets. Then phhsssttt! That dude was gone and over our horizon. Leaving us gasping for breathe.

We later found out that the waters off Vandenberg were restricted; the Port Captains in the area were required to tell all non-commercial traffic to go five miles offshore along that stretch of the coast line. We cleared Point Conception and turned left into the sheltered waters of the Santa Barbara channel. Steffie noted the time while I jibed the boat in the now non-existent wind and flat seas. We jibed at 6:30 pm. A sixty mile trip in six hours! Not bad for a pair of sailors pushing sixty years old! Not bad for a eighteen year old boat. It was a whale of a ride. We are glad we did it but next time it's someone else's turn on Lone Star.

Steffie has suggested I add this clarification. If I/we had any idea how nasty that ride was going to be we would have stayed at anchor. We have ridden out any number of hurricanes and chaboscos in our cruising life. Not once did I/we knowingly elected to go out in threatening weather. If you sail long enough and go far enough you will get caught out if you survive you really know what the phrase (really feeling alive) describes.

S&G Still Languishing in Southern France

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