Sunday, November 3, 2013

Never a dull moment at the Farallones...

Bodega Bay to Half Moon Bay, Pillar Point Marina, California

Snap, Crackle, Pop? No worries... it's just the shrimp.


The Southeast Farallon Island

Just us chickens out here on the boat again. We're currently anchored up in Pillar Point Marina, inside Half Moon Bay, home of the Maverick's surf competition. We are hauled up here for a couple days because of the gale wind warnings throughout the west coast. There is a large storm system near Puget Sound (that we are far away form, woo-hoo) that is causing all this wind and fresh swell. On the plus side, we get some quality time to play with our new Walker Bay performance sailing dinghy! We put the sailing kit together this morning, anchored several hundred yards offshore, within a protected breakwater, and sailed into shore for a test run! It was a lot of fun sailing such a small little boat (9 ft. length, about 4.5 ft wide). This is the same dinghy we picked up at AML in Seattle from Father Thomas up in Petersburg, given to us as a voyage gift. After our test run, we went back to the boat, dressed up for going ashore and brought the boat back to a little secluded beach, hidden slightly. Our current plan is to hang out here until at least Tuesday morning. The swell from this low pressure system is supposed to be high today and tomorrow, letting up a little Tuesday, for us to make it down to Monterrey.

Our day out of Bodega was beautiful. Sunny skies, just enough wind to sail downwind, directly at the Farallones, where we planned to stop, even if just for several hours. We knew of the heavy winds picking up Saturday afternoon, so we planned to get into Half Moon Bay around noon. We sailed at a smooth 4.5 knots all the way to the dark, ominous islands. The Farallon Islands are well known for their barren rocky landscape and the abundance of great white sharks. We approached the main southeast island around sunset, about 6:00pm, about 30 miles offshore of the Golden Gate Bridge. They were as spooky as predicted. Sharp, jagged rocks pierced the water's surface. Birds of various size circled above the peaks, and the sound of seal lions barking rang out for over a mile. We knew of a mooring buoy in a slightly sheltered bight on the eastern side of the island. As we pulled in through the choppy swell, we knew that this wasn't going to be a quiet calm evening. There was so much life and too much swell for sleeping. The mooring buoy we had seen on the chart was an enormous, rusted metal buoy, almost as tall as our bow. 

The buoy was just the beginning. I stood on the bow of the boat with the boat hook in hand, ready to reach out a grab the buoy so we could run a line through, attaching ourselves to this massive piece of metal. The buoy itself scared me. We bounced up an down in the swell, barely keeping our bow away from the hazard. With the boat in neutral and both Clif and I upfront, we managed to run a line through the buoy and give ourselves enough space to be comfortable (no prospect of running into it during the evening). However, in the process, we did get some surface scratches and a couple hits in, almost inevitable in the swell.

When we went inside the cabin, we froze. That sound, that horrible sound. We heard the sound of running water. Where was it coming form? The bow? Had the buoy done more damage than we anticipated? Clif jumped to attention, silently, listening for the source. We tore apart the v-berth, checking every place we could possibly look. I watched the bilge, checking for any water increase: nothing. With flashlights in hand we continued to tear apart the boat: nothing. What in the world could be making that sound. At least we knew there wasn't a significant amount water coming into the hull, if any. And if there was a tiny leak, we had an automatic bilge that would carry us safely back to the coast.

I  sat down on the floor, next to the bilge cover and collapsed in overwhelming emotion and exhaustion. I couldn't handle another crisis. In my mind I was running through every harrowing possibility... even the thought of rowing ashore with all of our important possessions, spending the night with the seal lions crossed my mind. It was then I remember Father Thomas (the same Thomas that gave us the Walker Bay) asking me about the crackling shrimp. He relayed to me a story of listened to shrimp cleaning the bottom of the hull and creating that craziest popping and crackling sounds, keeping him awake at night. At the time I hadn't experience anything like what he described.

Now, as we calmed down, the "running water" sound actually sounded more like rain on the cabin of the boat, it was a popping noise that traveled around the hull, never coming from one source. The snapping and crackling would fade and increase. It had to have been the shrimp. They were feasting on the algae growing on the bottom of our boat. It was shrimp. Damn shrimp. I couldn't believe I had gotten so worked up over the sound. I cursed the shrimp, laid down and cried.

After we calmed down, we went outside to check on the buoy (to monitor its distance from our boat). To our surprise, we had visitors. A handful of seals had come to check out the boat, in curiosity of their night visitor. We had a flash light on that made their eyes glow around the boat. When Clif turned off the flashlight and our eyes adjusted, we had the most miraculous experience. We could see the sea lions is clear view, under the water, lit up in bright green in bio-luminescence! They spun through the water, flipping and spinning around, leaving trails of lime green phosphorescence behind them as the inspected out hull. We could see the full shape of their little seal bodies swimming away and towards the boat. I have seen brilliant phosphorescence, but nothing like this. We watched for 5 minutes or so. 

"Well, that was pleasant,"  Clif said. It definitely was pleasant. I was thankful for the pleasant end to our eventful evening. We both were finally ready for bed. I couldn't sleep most of the night, being our first night back on the boat: my ears were extremely attune with any possible sound. Not to mention the barking sea lions, who continued to bark until we left that spot at 4am in the dense fog... and, of course, the snapping, crackling, popping of the cleaning shrimp.

It was an uneventful crossing from the Farallones to Half Moon Bay. We managed to motor and sail half and half back to the coastline. Here, anchored up within the breakwater, we have no popping sounds, no running water sounds, just the happy sound of waves lapping up against the hull. Much nicer evening. I slept over 10 hours, consecutively, and that's not counting the nap I took in the afternoon after we arrived. Happy crew, happy boat, hopefully a cleaner boat after our night in the Farallones.

Old window (left) , New window (right)

Sailing wing-on-wing to the islands

Farallones in the distance under the jib..

Clif working with the enormous metal mooring buoy

Half Moon Bay anchorage: prepping the Walker Bay for going ashore!