We sail the seven seas
Cruising off the Southern California coast offers an unrivaled escape


During the past 13 years, this skipper and crew (mostly the same three or four friends) have spent many memorable hours afloat off the coast of Southern California.
We charter from the same company (which has changed owners and names since we first began) based in Marina Del Rey – the classiest and most convenient harbor between Malibu and Laguna Beach.
It’s superbly convenient for its mid-way location from which we can head either north to the Channel Islands (as we did in 2003) or south to Catalina Island and beyond.

The skipper is all smiles afloat Skipper is all smiles afloat 2010


The summer weather is delightfully predictable. Most mornings are warm and calm. The first stirrings of a breeze arrive around noon, allowing plenty of time for snorkeling, soaking up the sun and just day-dreaming during the early hours. Only if we have a major distance to cover do we set sail before noon, because we know the first few hours we’ll have to suffer the noise, smell and awfulness of the diesel motor.
The breeze freshens in the early afternoon, and by 1500 we usually get a 12- to 20-knot westerly wind, ideal for unfurling the genoa and skipping along the two- to-three foot swells at five or six knots.
We usually try to find anchorage by late afternoon, so we can tie up, drink a few beers and explore our environment.
One time, in 2007, we sailed due west from Catalina to Santa Barbara Island, which is beyond the protection afforded close to shore, and subject to the much more extreme weather of the open ocean.
There was a gale force wind whirling up white water when we dropped anchor. Shelter from the tiny speck of land was minimal. After we bobbed and weaved all during dinner, I was anxious about dragging the anchor as the wind maintained its ferocity. I urged the crew (just three of us) to keep a rotating watch during the overnight hours, but was too easily overruled. Alas, the skipper didn’t get much sleep that night, rising frequently to check the anchor; but by dawn the sun broke through and the winds calmed for our return trip to Catalina.
Close to the mainland, sea life is rare; the water is just too polluted, and the ocean-going traffic almost as bad as the 405 Freeway.
One evening as we anchored off Pt. Dume near Malibu, we were surrounded by a school of exquisite dolphins. Perhaps a hundred of them frolicked in the murky waters around the yacht for about an hour.
What a treat it was to watch these beautiful and intelligent creatures at play. If ever there is a definition of pure joy, this is it.

On our trip north to the Channel Islands in 2003, we anchored one afternoon off the southeast side of Anacapa Island. The crew went ashore to explore, while the skipper stayed aboard, the yacht unusually unstable as the choppy waters swirled around us.
We spent an uncomfortable night rolling from side to side as the swell ebbed and flowed, the breeze knocking the sails against the mast.
In the morning, the crew hiked up the hill on the island, and reported back that the anchorage was actually on the other side; I had been mistaken about what I thought was leeward, and we suffered through a miserable night because of my failure to check the charts before dropping anchor.
On that same trip we had a close call leaving Port Hueneme harbor in Ventura County. In the exit channel, I wanted to check the charts so engaged auto-pilot and looked down at the book. A few minutes later, a loud hollering from the crew in the foc’sle alerted me that the auto-pilot had disengaged and we were heading right towards the concrete seawall.
Instinctively, I grabbed the wheel and hauled it as far over to port as I could. I stopped breathing as our craft slowly responded, missing the seawall by mere inches, and heading out to sea. I will never again use the auto-pilot in a narrow channel, and take my concentration off the task at hand.
There is nothing to equal a three- or five-day sail off the coast of Los Angeles. When one heads out to sea from Marina Del Rey, after just five miles the city vanishes over the horizon with all its smog, congestion and the other vicissitudes of urban living. A calm sense of serenity takes over.
Just three miles from the Marina in the other direction is the San Diego Freeway, the world’s busiest.
Need any more be said?

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