Novice skipper takes first offshore cruise
Three days, four men sail to Catalina Island

August 1999

This is the log book from my first offshore sailing trip as skipper. Taking this trip and keeping this log were requirements to attain the American Sailing Association Certification Level 104, Offshore Coastal Cruising, which I accomplished in late 1999.
I knew that with this certification, I could charter fabulous sailboats up to about 60-feet in length anywhere in the world, and this was my goal after my trip as crew to the Caribbean in 1997.
During the summer of 1999 I took and passed ASA levels 101 and 102 (there was no 103), so this cruise was my final exam.
Our vessel was No Ka Oi, a Catalina 36 of advancing years and some mechanical problems. We cast off from Marina Del Rey at 0900 on August 28, and traveled 27.8 nautical miles to Emerald Bay on Catalina Island, where we spent the first night.
On the second day we sailed 37.5 nautical miles around the west (uninhabited) side of the 19-mile long island, arriving in Avalon Harbor at 1730.
Day three was our return trip, which took us 41.2 nautical miles back to the mainland.
What follows is written in the style of a log book; it is not – and is not intended to be – perfect prose. But from it you will certainly get the big picture…and some of the details.
A year later we were cruising the Great Barrier Reef on the Adventure of a lifetime.

Warren and Jim at the helm of No Ka Oi Warren at Jim at the helm of No Ka Oi

Day One

Start delayed by faulty head; took the repairman an hour to replace it while me, Rob, and Bjorn paced the dock. Jim was lucky … arrived half an hour late. Checked out Benetau 350, gorgeous yacht. Didn’t board till about 0900 and cast off immediately. Cloudy with fog as we exited Marina. Kept motoring at heading 220 for about 30 minutes until there was enough wind to set sail.
Since it was foggy all morning, was forced to navigate by instruments. From about 0945 (about 10 minutes out of the harbor) there were no visible reference points until about 1600 near Catalina. Thanks to GPS we were able to set dead reckoning for Emerald Bay. Due to lack of visibility, taught myself how to operate the Furno radar using the instruction book and trial-and-error. Did not come within range of a target even at 6 miles (except land at Palos Verdes Point) for many hours, not even as we crossed the shipping lanes. Wind very light and variable till after lunch of roast chicken which we prepared and enjoyed while under way.
By the time the fog cleared we were less than 5 miles off Emerald Bay which was almost dead ahead. Best wind of the day was from about 1400-1600 at about 12-15 with No Ka Oi doing almost 5 knots and Jim at the helm. Heel of about 15 degrees caused solar shower to slide off the deck; didn’t discover this till the next day.
Do not forget to tie replacement for it down to something solid.
Found empty mooring at Emerald Bay and tied up. Well, it wasn’t as easy as that!! At the last minute I discovered we had
no boat hook aboard. I had in error thought the man-overboard buoy attached to the aft stay had a hook on the end. The confusion of this discovery and what to do about it added to my not being sure how to approach the one vacant mooring which was in a row of occupied moorings spaced about 40-feet apart.
With considerable prompting from Rob, I finally decided to head south 2 slips, turn between two moored yachts, then upwind and hard starboard to come up from behind on the slip. I was coming in just a bit too fast when rob jumped off the swimstep and into the dinghy. I had not known till later the usually-upright flag attached to the mooring rope – which would be easy to grab from the deck -- was somehow laying down in the water. While I did my best to stop as close as possible to the mooring – but still overshooting a bit -- Rob rowed the dinghy toward the bow and picked up the mooring flag. Then he passed the mooring line to Jim on the bow who tied us up.
After a cocktail to recover from the experience, I got the dinghy running with a little effort to figure out how to lower the outboard. Then dropped Jim off to do some snorkeling on the reef and Bjorn and I went to the beach to walk around and admire the scenery. Picked up Jim with misgivings at the dock clearly marked “private property” to return to No Ka Oi.

Upon arrival back aboard, Rob informed us the slip had been reserved and we had to move. Motored to Howlands Landing about 10 minutes away and the mooring the Harbor Patrol had supposedly assigned us, Bravo 2, was occupied. Decided to pick up the nearest available mooring, Bravo 3, but approached it much to hot and Rob had to lunge to grab the flag as we simply cruised on by! Bravo, Rob. Yes, I did hear the audience on the neighboring boats laughing at this Chaplinesque maneuver.
I then learned another important lesson: how to use the VHF to hail the harbor patrol. I ‘cheated’ by listening for a few minutes as someone else hailed them on Channel 9, and then followed suit to discover our assigned mooring actually was Bravo 10. Rather hesitatingly I slipped into the VHF lingo to say, “I copy, thank you, over and out.” A good thing the other side couldn’t see me blushing because of the error.
Third time mooring was a charm … well, much improved on the previous two attempts. Another round of cocktails was definitely in order! So were the delicious barbecued steaks with all the trimmings we later enjoyed for dinner.

Day Two

There was barely any wind when we awoke, and it wasquite overcast but no fog. Spent the morning under motor power. The only exciting events were the 5-6 foot swells we encountered heading up to and around the West End, and the unmistakably phallic rock right off the point (only when viewed from the east) which I dubbed Cock Rock.
The west side of the island was remarkably unspectacular except for the incredibly blue turquoise waters we saw in many coves and inlets, and perhaps the sheer cliffs of the Palisades. Once was definitely enough. A noticeable lack of sea life; just a few sea lions sunbathing with their fins in the air.
Set sail after lunch, but as we rounded the southern end of the island at about 1600 became totally becalmed. Even a tack out to about 3 miles offshore failed to help. We motored in to Avalon. About 2 miles out I radioed the Harbor Department to be told there were no moorings available in Avalon or the two adjacent coves. We were instructed to anchor 300 yards off the Casino, which we did in 130 feet of water. Rob insisted on about a 1:2 scope for the anchor instead of 1:7 (the book’s recommendation) and I argued, unsuccessfully. The only thing I was right about was that no other boats came to anchor nearby. The anchor didn’t drag; we did not end up on the rocks. We had a great time ashore having dinner at the Blue Parrot.

Day Three

Jim and I hoisted 130 feet of anchor in less than 5 minutes. That’s the secret:
two person-power is required. Since there was no wind we motored west along the coast enjoying the scenery. Put in to Two Harbors but was quite unimpressed with the view. Still under motor power headed northwest from Two Harbors in hopes of catching a breeze to run into Marina Del Rey.
Hoisted sail around 1200 but were able only to do about 2.5 knots until after 1300. Wind was quite disappointing throughout most of the trip. So was the absence of sea life. Lunch was enjoyed under way. Ran out of soda and beer in the afternoon. Must get more.
Had far too much salad and fruit salad left over; must cater for about half the amount in future. Other leftovers were not excessive, thanks largely to the wonderful, healthy appetite of Jim who doesn’t have an ounce of fat on his body despite eating continuously. Could use less breakfast food – lots of cereal and yoghurt left over, also some milk. Also had too much lunch meats, deli salads and bread.
Docking was a disaster. In the channel, Rob got into the dinghy to row it ashore. I reversed, lined up with the dock entrance and approached cautiously. Just as I was entering the slip, bow pointed directly at the port side, I cut the throttle too far and the engine died. I drifted in indecision closer and closer to the dock, then bent down to restart the engine, of course taking my eyes off the dock and not steering sufficiently to starboard to line up the slow-reacting boat. Fortunately, Rob, now ashore and chatting with David – the Seamist employee – saw the impending disaster and raced down the dock to grab the bow. Whew! Muscle power saved the day.
Three days was precisely enough. We were all ready to come ashore, but Rob correctly pointed out that it was as much the schedule – our anticipation of ending the cruise – that made us ready. If we had more exotic destinations to explore and new sailing knowledge to glean, we all would have been ready for a few more days.
Perhaps the most important thing I learned on this trip (
and Rob will appreciate this) is that the book is not always right; it is fallible. Setting the anchor with just 1:2 scope was right if risky for the conditions. Bobby Allen told me how he anchored in the same place once and ended up waking up to the sound of the keel crashing on the rocks. New stuff I had never done before included picking up a mooring (best on the third attempt); using the VHF radio (not bad, even on first try); using the dinghy (didn’t get anyone wet or angry); using the radar (thank you, instruction book) and navigating safely and accurately in fog.
Next trip we leave later and try to have at least a 75 hp engine and a lot less food.
For accounts of sailing adventures that followed, read
Memories made afloat.

Check the photo gallery for pictures of the people and places in this story.