skipper jeff's hellride of 2001

   Watt, here's my log entry from the storm (Santa Anna conditions) I was in. Note that I also called my first boat the "Pride of Cucamonga", which was the small 22' MacGregor trailer boat. Attached a few pics (see bottom of this page) from before it got worse. After that, no way to take pics.

"Channel Islands storm (Santa Anna conditions): 'Pride of Cucamonga's' Log on December 8 - 9, 2001"

   I set out for what was only intended to be a day sail from my home port of Channel Islands Harbor. My vessel is the Pride of Cucamonga, a 1975 MacGregor 22. She displaces only 1,800 pounds, less than a ton. I had a first-time passenger aboard, Eddie Lopez, who had just entered the sport of sailing by acquiring a 14-foot Laser. He came along because he was interested in getting some pointers on sailing. We had no plans other than to spend the night on the boat back at Channel Islands Harbor and enjoy the Festival of Lights that night. The Festival of Lights is the annual parade of decorated Christmas boats in the harbor.

   When we first left the breakwater at 1:30 p.m., the Santa Ana winds of 15-20 knots we experienced while still tied to the dock had subsided to almost nothing.We floundered with slack sails for about an hour until the winds finally afforded good sailing power at about 10 knots. I was on a course of 240 degrees (SE) which would take us directly between Santa Cruz & Anacapa Islands. After passing the oil rig called Gina I suggested to my passenger that since we had such a clear view of the islands and a good tack with wind, that now had picked up to about 12 knots, we should go for the anchorage of Smuggler's Cove off Santa Cruz Island and spend the night there. This would mean passing up the Festival of Lights but it would be an even better experience for my novice passenger. We had everything we needed -- food, water, charts & communication devices aboard.

   We made good time to the island and arrived at around 6 p.m. just after sunset. We had no problem dropping the Cucamonga's two anchors and settled in for the night in the calm protection of the anchorage. There were three other boats in the cove.

   We went to bed very early, at around 7:30 pm. I awoke around 11 pm and thought it was much later. Since I was up I double checked our anchors and our position in relation to the shore and other boats and went back to sleep feeling comfortable at our anchorage.

   I slept rather restlessly after that and was awakened with a fairly loud thud at 4:00 am. I opened the forward hatch to see if our little vessel had bumped into anything and found that we had just started drifting out of the cove, away from the other boats. I woke Eddie and got the motor started. We hauled the main anchor up and attempted to reposition ourselves and re-anchor. I had a lot of difficulty trying to get the second anchor up. I tried to re-set the anchors twice and in the process drifted into another boat that had anchored close to us while we were sleeping. Unfortunately we had to wake the occupants as our anchor lines had become tangled. In the process of all this,as well as being so dark. I managed to break my main cabin hatch and the cockpit lazarette hatch. Neither was stowed properly and I had stepped on them.. At this point I just gave up on anchoring and decided to motor around until daybreak which was only an hour and a half away. I knew that if worse came to worse, I could tie up to the Ranger's buoy (the Channel Islands are a National Park) when I could see better after sun-up. Through all this time the wind had kicked up to at least 30 knots. After the sun came up I was able to get a line on the ranger's buoy. The wind was really starting to whip up and coming right over the island, blowing from the NW. By this time there were 4 sailboats & 1 fishing boat in the cove, including the Cucamonga.. At this point I was very concerned about trying to attempt the channel crossing back to the harbor. I knew that once I sailed out of the protection of the Island I could be facing large waves and strong winds. I listened to the weather reports on the VHF radio and heard predictions of winds of 25 to 35 knots in the am, with gusts of 45 knots in the afternoon. This made me even more concerned. I got on the radio and tried to contact one of the other boats in the cove. I finally made contact with the skipper of a 50-foot sailboat. I asked him for advice on whether and how to make the crossing. He suggested that I stay put and wait out the weather if I could afford the time. He said if I was to attempt it, it would be best to head out right away before conditions got worse. My passenger, Eddie, was very concerned about missing work the next day and was very persuasive in trying to convince that we should at least try to make a crossing. The skipper of the 50-footer told me that I should hoist the mainsail and reef it before I released my boat from the shackle on the buoy. I got in my rain gear and followed the advice about reefing and lofting the main. At this point I noted that my hands were numb with fear.

   The wind must have been at least 30 knots when we did let go of the buoy. It was 7:30 am.I headed for the southern point of the island, hugging the shore as long as I could, knowing that once I passed that southern tip of the island I would be exposed to the full force of the wind and the waves in the channel. I told Eddie that if I felt like it was too much, I would go back to the buoy. Well, right away I felt it was too risky and attempted to go back to Smuggler's Cove but the process of tacking posed great effort and became almost impossible. I said to myself "I've come this far, I may as well go for it.". I had a beam reach for the most part and a clear view of the mainland. Not long after exposing Cucamonga to the channel we ploughed into 12- and 13-foot waves and Eddie noticed that the mainsail was starting to fray. I thought "Oh boy, what am I in for now." I finally calmed down a little, accepted my situation and got my bearings. I have made this crossing twice before and knew that my course back to the harbor was 36 degrees (NE). I tried as best I could to head a little north of this to accommodate for wind drift. I had to point as high into the wind as possible to do this but had to fall off constantly because of strong wind gusts. I also had to continually take the larger waves head on and that, too, required changing course and losing the direction I wanted.

   The next big event was that Eddie started to get seasick. After throwing up a couple of times, he decided to retire to the bunk in the main cabin with a cooking pot. I now know from talking to more experienced sailors, such as my father, that this is the worst thing you can do. I guess I had not remembered this simple rule of staying out in the open air to keep aware of the roll of the boat, because I have never been sea sick in my life.I continued to battle increasing winds and wave sizes as Eddie moaned inside the galley. The only comforting factor was that it was a clear, sunny day and I had some moments of warmth with sun at my back. I did get Eddie to find the harness my father had given me for just such conditions. I strapped it on and clipped the bitter-end shackle to the mainsheet bracket on the traveler. Eddie was already wearing a neoprene filled flotation jacket. This was as secure as we were going to get.

   I learned that every big wave I encountered was a part of a set of big waves, usually three big waves in a set. I would do the best I could to take these sets head on without sacrificing too much headway or deviation from course. There were moments when the wind seemed to subside a little and I prayed that it would calm.

   Finally I saw what I thought was a familiar site. The oil rig, Gina. I wasn't sure though. It could have been one of the rigs farther to the north. I was very disoriented because it was hard to see over the waves. If this was, indeed, Gina, I wanted to stay to the north of it because if I was south of it I knew I would miss my harbor. I could see the islands behind me and it seemed like it was taking forever to get some distance from them. I found myself trying to point high enough to stay north of the rig, but drifted very close to it. At this point I could make out some points of reference on the mainland and knew that this rig was not Gina. I was way north of where I wanted to be. I guessed that I had to be around 5 miles off shore. I knew I would have to try to head downwind. This was not as easy as I thought it would be. I struggled for quite awhile to get the boat turned down wind. I was cussing the weather and the boat at this point.I must have unwillingly jibed 10 times on this tack. At one point I was smacked hard in the face by the mainsheet tackle, splitting both my upper and lower lips. I am guessing the Cucamonga was doing between 8 and 10 knots heading down wind. She was literally surfing with the big waves and the strong wind behind her. The waves were acting more like breaker the closer we got to shore, and they were getting bigger & bigger. The water was no longer a blue-green but a muddy brown. I knew this was the long, shallow shoal off the shore. I could see the familiar houses on Mandalay beach but I could not see the breakwater. As I headed south along the beach I finally saw why I couldn't see the breakwater. The waves were completely washing over it. There are both a northern & and a southern entrance to the harbor. I aimed for the northern. I had a straight shot in if I could just keep inside the breakwater. The closer I got the more I had to struggle not to hit the rocks. When I was less than 50 feet from the breakwater I decided I couldn't make it into the entrance and I turned Cucamonga back out to sea on a southeasterly tack. It was all I could do to keep a 50 yard or less distance from the breakwater. I drifted the whole length of the breakwater down to the southern entrance and jibed to line the boat up for an approach to the entrance. At this point I was surfing on huge breaker, still very close to the rocky breakwater. I screamed at Eddie to give me some help, seasick or not, by tuning in channel 16, the emergency channel, on our VHF radio. I shouted for him to summon the U.S. Coast Guard that we were at serious risk crashing into the breakwater. Eddie stood up and fell against the table and broke it off its hinges. The Coast Guard asked for our location and I screamed "the Channel Island Harbor breakwater!" The last wave that struck us at the stern was huge, probably 25 feet high or more. The Cucamonga was raised above the height of the breakwater and then coasted down into the calm water of the harbor.

   I can't believe we made it. As soon as we were in the protection of the breakwater, here came the Coast Guard. I could see people clapping and cheering on the shore. I still had a lot of wind to contend with and begged Eddie to take the helm so I could drop the sail. He did. The Coast Guard came along side and asked if we were OK. I told them how sick Eddie was and they followed us to my moorage. When I finally docked the wind was still blowing fearlessly. The Coast Guard rushed to meet us and tied us off. The mainsail looked like hell, all tattered and ripped. The rest of the boat was in total shambles inside but the rigging had held fast. The Coast Guard took Eddie up to the Marina office, wrapped him in blankets, checked his heart rate and blood pressure. They found him to be OK but very, very sea sick. They briefly looked me over and decided I was coherent and gave me a pat on the back and told me that what I had pulled off was nothing less than a miracle. I found other sailing friends at the Marina who said that they couldn't believe what I had done. They expressed a new respect for me for me and the Cucamonga. Famous last words: Never again will I attempt leaving the islands in weather if I don't have to! I found out later that I may have had better luck with a jib alone rather than a reefed mainsail.

   Damage: Mainsail repairs, $110.; new hatch cover, $116.; new cell phone after insurance deductible, $50; repair to table in galley and new hinges, $30.; bent goose neck where boom attaches to mast, $50. We bailed 40 gallons of water from Cucamonga's bilge, water which entered the main hatch and that broken lazarette (cockpit cover) when the big seas broke over us.

Jefferson Asbury
(Skipper - "Pride of Cucamonga")

skipper jeff at sea during his hellride of 2001

skipper jeff at sea during his hellride of 2001

skipper jeff at sea during his hellride of 2001

skipper jeff at sea during his hellride of 2001

loop back to mike watt's hoot page

this page created 7 jul 2014