Home is Where The Sea Lions Are

Meeting the neighbors

After purchasing Emerald Star (who I now call "Emma" for short) officially on March 31st, I am faced with a daunting task - I have to move her from San Diego to somewhere else by the end of month. The marina where she is berthed has already rented the slip and she has to be gone.

I run thru different possibilities up and down the coast from SF to LA, and discover that living aboard a sailboat is frowned upon in most marinas these days. There's a whole lot of political stuff going on around that issue that I don't care to drudge up right now, but the bottom line is that most marinas cap their liveaboards at 10% of their total rentals, and there are waiting lists up to 3 years long at more than 2 dozen marinas that I contact. I won't say I did an 'exhaustive' search, but I spent far more time than I wanted to trying to find a place to berth her where I could live and work on the boat full time.

There is such a thing called a "sneakaboard", where people live on their boats anyway until they are caught and often expelled from their marina. It's a contentious issue among the marine community.


I end up choosing Oxnard/Channel Islands Harbor as my final destination for Emma, in part because my brother and his family lives in Simi Valley (about 45 minutes away). He graciously offers that I can stay at his place indefinitely until I either cast off or find other arrangements. Not only is that convenient, but honestly, I haven't spent as much time with my family as I would like over the past 20 years, and this is a chance to do so. I like my family - we're a slightly crazy bunch, and I'd like them as friends even if I wasn't related to them, which is about the best compliment I can give.

A quick note about my brother Al - he's been my best friend since childhood, we served as USAF Pararescuemen together, we are each other's favorite golf partner, and we partnered to do end-of-life care for both my parents for several years together. We've always been close, and honestly, since he has 4 daughters with 2 still living with him, I think he's also looking forward to having another guy around the house to balance the energy out a bit.

Channel Islands also offers an *excellent* training ground for the type of sailing I will be doing. There are consistent big winds with a series of islands anywhere from 15-50 miles away to explore, so I will gain a lot of experience in a variety of conditions, especially when it comes to anchoring and making crossings. Lots of good dive spots too.

The marina that I pick (Bahia) is the first marina inside the breakwater to the harbor, so I will always have quick access to open water. There are lots of amenities close by - restaurants, coffee shops, marine hardware stores, etc. AND, it has a sea lion colony that lives in and around the marina. This is both an attraction and a detraction at the same time. Sea lions can be cute, but are not to be confused with more playful and lovable sea otters.  I love being surrounded by nature, but sea lions can also smell pretty badly, be aggressive and are often huge pests.

My new berth has sea lions laying in the sun on the docks near my slip most days. I am trading coyotes, bears and raccoons for sea lions. That's my new reality.


I've got a destination to get to. I've got a deadline. Now I've got to get the boat 140 miles from San Diego to Oxnard, and this is not a trivial task.


The typical route from San Diego going north up the California coast is against the current and against the wind. On a direct line, it cannot be done under sail power alone - you need an engine to fight against the current and wind. If I have learned anything about being in Nature in 30+ years of being either in the wilderness, deserts, jungles, arctics or oceans of this planet it's this: Mother Nature ALWAYS wins.

You do not fight Mother Nature. You find a way to make peace with her, and go with her flow, or she will just beat you down eventually.

Here's some quick math: (you do a LOT of this when sailing)

  • the journey is 140 nm
  • my boat with the engine running will cruise at 5.5 kt
  • that equals 25 hours plus of engine running time
  • my boat will cruise at 3.5 - 4 kts in 10-15 kt winds, which is considered the 'normal' winds along the CA coast
MOST people who do this journey hate it. It's what sailors call "beating' into the wind and current. It's called that because it's what you suffer doing it - a beating.

The few folks that attempt to do this journey tend to take 5-7 days and just do short daily hops to marinas up the coast, doing maybe 20-30 nm a day, stopping each night for a civilized dinner and rest before starting out again the next day.

The hard core sailors, however, take a longer way, but one that can be more favorable if winds are right. This course takes one from San Diego westward out to Catalina for roughly 90 miles, and then northwest for another 70 miles. It's longer, but in theory, will have more favorable winds, and thus end up being a shorter and more comfortable trip.

I opt for this choice. I need practice at passage-making and this will give me a chance to shake off some sailing rust. Instead of 5-7 short days of roughly 8 hours each, I expect to be at sea for 48 continuous hours. That is the life I will be experiencing at sea, and I'm considering this trip to be a shakedown cruise for both the boat and the skipper. 

It will be a performance baseline and starting point for my training.


The next step is to find crew. The worst case scenario (you'll hear me say this a lot - it's how I plan for these types of adventures) is that I have to just motor the entire way and sailing will be a secondary consideration.

I don't necessarily need a super-experienced crew, but I do need additional people on board to stand watch and help as necessary. I would love to have experienced sailors with me, but I also know that I'm asking a lot. If you've never experienced an actual passage before (compared to a day sailing out on the water), they can be a little brutal. The days are 24 hours long, and there is no relief from the incessant pounding of the boat into the wind and waves and the challenges of doing even the simplest of tasks while your whole world is in constant motion.

I put out a call for crew and hope that I can find what I'm looking for.

My PRIMARY objective is simple - I *need* to get the boat to Oxnard before the end of the month.

This need conflicts with one of the basic rules of sailing - don't plan ANYTHING around a schedule, because the schedule will inevitably change. It's a safety consideration - most accidents and tragedies happen because people are in a rush to get somewhere to meet an artificial deadline, and that's when mistakes and bad decisions happen.

This concept is reinforced several times over the ensuing weeks.


I have three possible weekends to move the boat and I make detailed plans for each, checking weather and tides constantly.  My biggest challenge with the boat is that it needs some engine work and a bottom paint job before I take off, and this is where the adage about not working to a schedule comes into play.

It seems that with Covid AND it being early spring, I run into the problem that boat yards and mechanics are already over booked - it's the beginning of the boating season, and I'm not the only person who needs work done.

So I find crew from Tahoe for one weekend, only to lose them because the boat isn't ready.  It's important to me that I have people from Tahoe help me on this particular journey for soulful, spiritual reasons. I'm leaving Tahoe to eventually travel the world, and Tahoe is the closest place I've had to home in my adult life. 

I am listing my home port on Emma as South Lake Tahoe, so I'm taking Tahoe to the world as well, and
I want to close the circle by having people from my home help send me off. 

And while I'm at it - I really want to give a big, heartfelt appreciation to my original crew of Ryan, Kelly, and Benton for volunteering right from the beginning and giving me the peace of mind of having help for this trip. Their early support means more to me than I can possibly put into words, but their desire to come along simply made the whole thing more real to me. 

As skipper, the crew is my responsibility, and I take leadership roles seriously. The trip is no longer about me - it's about *them*, and I have to rise to the occasion with my best self.

I find crew for another weekend, only to lose them as well because the boat still isn't ready. And while all this is happening, the timing chain in my car dislodges, which more or less explodes the engine. I had planned on taking my crew from Tahoe to San Diego, sailing to Oxnard and then driving everyone back home to Tahoe, but that is now out of the question. My car is dead for at least a month, and probably longer, which is why I leave Tahoe a month earlier than planned. My car was also my business, and with it being broken, I am unable to make money. Thus...I have no reason to stay in Tahoe while my boat sits unattended 500 miles away and I KNOW  that she needs some devotion and attention too.

Finally, I get word that the boat is going to be ready to go -on the last weekend of the month. On the Thursday of the last weekend of the month, no less. But now, my crew who were going to join me are not able to because of schedule or travel conflicts. I have to find new crew in Oxnard. Where I don't really know anyone.

I post an ad on a local Ventura Craigslist site and explain what I'm doing and get several replies. I frame the post as an opportunity to experience blue water sailing for those interested in that. I sort thru the replies and pick one that I feel is most qualified - a local sailor named Greg who has a 29' sailboat that he bought a year ago and has been fixing up ever since. He's perfectly aligned with my vision as described in the listing - he hasn't sailed much but he's in his early 30's and has similar aspirations to sail the world eventually, so he sees this as a chance to experience a crossing, and see the coastal waters and ports along the southern coast or California from a different perspective. He has a friend who is inexperienced who would like to come along, and I'm okay with that - three is the perfect number of people on board to maintain a good watch schedule where we can all get some rest and not bump into each other all the time.

So everything is set - the last weekend of April will find me on a shakedown cruise with a new crew, moving the boat to her new home where the sea lions live.

The adventure is about to begin in earnest. 


Susan Boulanger said…
Wow - this is really happening!!! Exciting updates.