We left our homeport 3 years ago…

On March 26th, 2015, Aldebaran sailed out of Santa Barbara harbor heading south. That was exactly three years ago. As we sit inside our boat rocking in a Tuamoto lagoon, listening to the humm of the trade winds in the rigging, we dug up some nostalgic pictures from Departure Day…

March 26, 2015. Ed France rode his bike to the harbor to see us off.  He is cherished in Santa Barbara as the bicycle godfather of BiciCentro; but a little known fact is that, if it weren’t for his care of Aldebaran for 2 years (when we were boat partners), we wouldn’t be where we are now. Love you Ed!

In addition, we recently came across farewell messages that friends wrote to us, scribbled on blank labels taped to wine bottles, which we drank along the way (thanks Keri & Bryan for that incredible gift, that kept on giving!)

“Be sure to add some color to your cheeks! Until we meet again, Valle con Dios”
-Mark Weeks
“Dear Aldebaran crew y el Capitan
We hope each sip of this wine brings following seas, fair winds and fuzzy memories! We love you guys,”
-Krista and B.
“We wish we could all fit on the boat with you! All 50 of us !!”
-Leslie

March 25, 2015. On the night before departure, Alex gifted us this hard-bound journal to keep as the official Captain’s Log. It was a welcome touch of tradition, bringing a sense of mystique to our daily log entries on Season 1, sailing down Central America. Of the guys pictured, Alex and Ben joined us for long stints in Costa Rica and Tuamotos; Michael and Ryan were aboard 6 months the first year, and returned the second year (and even kept returning…) These guys have become family to us!

 

“Much Love and laughter and blessings to all who embark on this epic voyage. May hearts be filled with bliss over and over.”
-Jewels
 “Hi guys!
So excited for your adventure. Always remember that not all who
wander are lost. Enjoy every perfect moment, live each day to the fullest and of course, take lots of photos and post them on Facebook
so we can live vicariously through you…”
-love Michaela
“We are so inspired by your fortitude and vision and courage for taking on this impressive and important endeavor of passion and purpose. With great love and awe,”
-Kimber and Carter

March 23, 2015. Sabrina with a deck-full of provisions from Costco.  Oh, how wondrous are the bulk conveniences of Costco…

“Team Inspire,
How amazing it has been to see this idea go from a glimmer in our eye to
full manifestation. What amazing things you can accomplish with vision and community. Laugh in the face of fears and enjoy the adventures in this beautiful life you have created. Much love,”
-Katniss a.k.a. Sarah F.
 “Keep on
Keepin on!”
-Brad

Santa Barbara Newspress, February 2015. We called it the “Green” Coconut Run because we wanted to bring back a little ecology into the world of modern cruising sailboats. Its been challenging to do everything we wanted, but we’ve managed a few things along the way: research in micro-plactics, distributing solar lights, and promoting innovative marine reserves (see www.greencoconutrun.com)

“May there be many amazing experiences! Be sure to drink this wine naked under a starry sky! xo,”
-Lindsey G. 
“Close your eyes,
smell the sweet sages
Feel the warm breezes
coming over the mountains
SB will still be here to welcome you back.
Now get out there and savor the tropics and the moment
in front of you.
Love you!”
-Erika

Thanks to EVERYONE who has helped make this voyage a success for the last 3 years, in small ways and big ways! We are so blessed…

Fires in Ventura, our boat’s birthplace

We’ve been heavy hearted the past few days hearing the news from home: the fire that has been devastating Ventura & Ojai.  It seems like each day we hear of a different friend’s house that burned down — it is terrible and terrifying. Read about recent details on LA Times. 

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Although Santa Barbara is our home port, where we lived and sailed Aldebaran before our trip to the South Seas, Ventura felt like our boat’s “birthplace”. It is no coincidence that we were deep in “labor” at the Ventura Boatyard, struggling with sweat blood and tears to deliver the boat into new life.

Ryan, Sabrina, Ventura foreman Tom Bowman, and Kristian. Tom had built multi-hulls in the past and kept us in line with our boat reinforcements, to put it mildly!

The Ventura Boatyard staff was always supremely nice and took us under their wing, setting us greenhorns straight more than once when it comes to vessel integrity and sea worthiness. We spent 4 months there in preparation for the trip alone, and 8 months over the course of 4 years for haul-outs. If it wasn’t for this yard, Aldebaran wouldn’t be where she is now! We thank all the firefighters for their hard efforts in protecting the City, and  send many prayers to people back home struggling with the fires and hope that from the ashes new life may be born…

Jewels was in Ventura with us and recently sailed for a month on Aldebaran in the Tuamotos.

Tory came after work to Ventura; he recently came to the Society Islands to join Aldebaran with a crew of friends from Jackson Hole.

Billy Sparrow and Tranquility

Receiving

Receiving “Tranquility” in Costa Rica, courtesy of one of our crew-couriers

Let me introduce this book with a recollection. It was my first trip, my first sailboat, year ’04. We barely crawled into SB harbor after a troubled passage from Long Beach with a smoking gas engine, ripping sails, and dry-heaving crew. I called a guy who had fixed my van “bro-style” a few year before – I knew he was a boat mechanic – and begged for his help.

That’s how I met “Billy Sparrow”.

With a knowing eye Billy glanced at the sorry state of my vessel, a 29ft Columbia, which I had bought sight unseen with zero boating experience, under the foolhardy impression one could just sail her north around Point Conception to Morro Bay. Most professional mechanics would walk away at this point with a sad dismissal.

Billy helped us get the boat in shape to get to Morro Bay in one piece

Billy helped us get the boat in shape to get to Morro Bay in one piece

Luckily, I had a beautiful Amazonian-brunette crew lady aboard with me, and she walked out the companionway extending her powerful feminine physique. This caught the eye of the irrepressible Billy, and kept him around long enough to hear my story, and share a bit of his.

Perhaps due to a mix of compassion and passion, he yielded. “Bro, I’m going to help you. This reminds me of myself. My maiden cruise was also trial by fire. Literally dude- my wooden boat caught on fire, I ran aground three horrible times, got taken out by waves, everything that could go wrong went wrong. You’re doing it man. We’ll get you to Morro Bay.”

Ahhh.. the alure of the sea

Ahhh.. the alure of the sea

Eleven years later, I get a copy of his book in the mail, relating the details of his maiden cruise.

As an adventure tale of youthful reckless-ness, there is none better, set amid the scenic and wild waters of the Pacific Northwest. As a story of overcoming hardship, perseverance, and accepting the power of things beyond our control, it has universal value and literary power. It is a transformative tale for everyone to read; to vicariously experience the wisdom of seeing ‘the struggle as the blessing’; and ultimately, to go for it.

Want to check it out?  Order Tranquility: A Memoir of an American Sailor by Billy Sparrow directly through their publisher, Inland Waters Press, and enjoy!

The Burly Military Island of San Clemente

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Late in the morning we motored out another 40nm to San Clemente Island, a military base within the Channel Islands chain. It was a stark contrast from the National Park islands we had recently visited – the barracks, industrial buildings, and mock “Baghdad” village looked mean. Scary helicopters flew overhead launching flares out into the ocean – live military exercises!

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Most of the island zones were flagged ‘red’ due to this activity so we continued motoring to the south end in hopes we could spend the night. We found a safe little anchorage and tucked in for the evening. The following morning, under foggy skies, we hunted for a surf break near an area strewn with bullet-hole-riddled-junk we called “targets” but it wasn’t quite lining up despite the large swell.

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We eventually went around Pyramid Head on the southernmost tip, which marks a dramatic transition in the topography – suddenly the coastline turns precipitously steep with 300 foot cliffs. That is where we met Captain Moore of Alguita – the famous captain who “found” the Pacific Trash Gyre and helped bring that catastrophe to the public’s attention.

Hanging out with Captain Moore on Algalita

Hanging out with Captain Moore on Alguita

We went aboard his custom catamaran and asked him about the micro-plastics data we are collecting in collaboration with Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ASC); Capt. Moore was really supportive and sent us on our way with a signed copy of his book. The plastic problem is extremely serious and it is great to help bring some additional knowledge to science through the Green Coconut Run.

Matt collecting a water sample for ASC at Santa Barbara Island

Matt collecting a water sample for ASC at Santa Barbara Island

In the middle of the clear, deep, endless blue in the final 55nm passage to San Diego, we celebrated Captain Beadle’s birthday in grand style: we ate fresh sashimi from our 2nd bonita catch, and took a birthday-suit dip with visibility well over 100 feet and water temperatures in the 68 F degree mark.DCIM104GOPRO

We’ve only sailed one degree south and the temp is already warmer by 8 degrees! We snuck into San Diego harbor (Shelter Island public dock) as the sun sank below the horizon, just in time to make it out to dinner with Kristian’s brother and sister in law before they flew off to Australia. Happy Birthday Kristian: we all love you so much! We settled in to get some work done in our last USA stop before heading into “foreign waters”…

The Mini Magical Island of Santa Barbara

en route to SB island

At the end of the calm 40nm passage to Santa Barbara Island Michael hollered: Fish! Fish! The trolling line was buzzing out and the sparkling hues of the fish jumped above the water’s edge. A shining bonito was our first catch of the trip – we were stoked!

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A sashimi appetizer followed with green onions, wasabi, and shoyu. You should have seen all our faces as the freshness and deliciousness of the fish caused us all to unanimously raise our eyebrows, in a ‘holy-smokes-this-is-freakin-delicious!’ kind of way. It was the best sashimi I have ever eaten.

doesn't get much fresher than this!

doesn’t get much fresher than this!

It was my first time visiting Santa Barbara Island, the smallest of our local islands, and boy was I taken away by its magic. We pulled into the lee of the island late afternoon with enough daylight to go for a dive. The island was teaming with life.

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Numerous birds flew overhead, and the fish were bountiful below. We speared a sheepshead and an opaleye for a ceviche & fish taco dinner (respectively).

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The crew was aching for exercise, so the following morning just after sunrise, we launched our red skiff Luna-Bell and paddled to shore. The landing on the pier was challenging as the south swell churned the waters into a turbulent mess around us. But we were all able to safely clamber up to shore.

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Jogging around the island felt like the hills of Ireland – rolling, barren and dramatic. The view of Elephant Seal Cove and the giant cliffs in the North side are fantastic!

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At the National Park Ranger station, we met a biologist named Jim. He showed us the nest of a little tiny native bird called the Scripps Murrelet – it is so furry and cute! He said that about 200 years ago there were so many birds that it was hard to walk around the island – then cats and rats brought by ranchers made easy prey of these birds as they hide under bushes instead of flying away. Sheep grazing destroyed the native plants that the birds used as habitat, and in their place the ice plant took over.

Red ice plant covers the hills of SB Island

Red ice plant covers the hills of SB Island

We thought the ice plant looked so pretty in its red fields around the islands, little did we know it is a vicious little plant, which increases the salinity of the soil resultantly making it uninhabitable for other plants.

Biologist, Jim Howard, showing us some native seedlings

Biologist, Jim Howard, showing us some native seedlings

Jim explained the restoration process involved removing the exotic predators from the island as well as planting native bushes, all in the hopes of helping the seabirds find a home again. Great news is that their numbers have increased, especially on Anacapa island. You can support their efforts by checking out their website and visiting this magical island yourself.

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Next up: The Burly Military Island of San Clemente

The Journey Begins! First stop, Santa Cruz Island.

the crew

So cliché, yet so perfect: we sailed off into the sunset! Aldebaran left Santa Barbara Harbor 6:15pm on March 26, to begin our voyage: the Green Coconut Run.

The winds filled the big colorful headsail, the sun melted below the horizon, and we had one of the most magical channel crossings ever. Aldebaran was weighed down with hundreds of pounds of provisions, but she still zipped at 7 knots in the smooth, starry seas. It was as if Nature was on our side and cheering us on- giving us one final farewell gift! This is going to be one incredible story…

finally underway

Slogging away 4 months in the Ventura Boatyard was terribly exhausting, but suddenly it all was worthwhile. The sight of the wind in our sails was surreal – we were heading off for the adventure of our lives!

We still reeled from the immense amount of work it took to physically untie the dock lines –from planning, packing, provisioning, and finding room for all our stuff. (yeah, we’re still working on the latter). But somehow we pulled it off and actually set sail despite the chaos.

where are we going to put all this?

Onboard Aldebaran were the 4 crew mates that are heading down Central America on this first season: Kristian the captain; Sabrina the nurse; Michael the fisherman; Ryan the ukelele-player. Joining us for the five day leg to San Diego was Annie the videographer, who decided to jump onboard less than 24hrs prior!

We spent two nights on Santa Cruz island. We pulled in long after dark and anchored at a beautiful protected anchorage near Smuggler’s Cove. The sheer golden cliffs provided a stunning contrast to the turquoise waters. The sun rose over Anacapa Island’s silhouetted pyramid-shape… this is one of our favorite sunrise spots in the world.

sunrise over Anacapa Island

In the book “Care and Feeding of Offshore Crew”, Lin Pardey suggests taking a day off at a nearby anchorage after departing from home; all your provisioning and celebrating and last minute repairs inevitably turn the boat into utter chaos! This was certainly our case, things were ridiculously messy! We spent a glorious 36 hours ‘decompressing’ on the sunny, calm side of the island, riding waves and organizing the mess in the cabin.

Santa Cruz Island backside

It felt amazing to bask one last time in the beauty of our ‘home island’ before we ventured south to parts unknown.

Next up: The Mini Magical Island of Santa Barbara

surfs up

In the Independent!

For those of you who didn’t catch Ryan in his apron in Santa Barbara’s finest weekly publication, the Independent, here’s a snippet. We’ll be scanning the article (and SB newspress article) soon per requests! They captured us during our massive go-away party with 30 people on board…! If anyone has the online link feel free to share.

Front Page of the Santa Barbara Newspress!

Front page

Our friend Ben was telling someone about the voyage while at the grocery store, looked down and there we were — on the front page of the newspaper!  As we were working on the hatches on Monday morning, several people came by on kayaks and SUPs and wished us a good trip. Interesting articles around the other parts of the newspaper… Ebola scare… murder victims… hopefully we are adding some lightness to the news this week.  Another interesting article was the commentary about Santa Rosa article on the back page, which talks about the Vail & Vickers family running the Santa Rosa Island ranch, back in the day. Thanks Santa Barbara Newspress for the feature!

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Shakedown cruise on the Spring Equinox!

Unbelievable, we actually made it off the dock! We were installing gear until the last minute — solar panel mounts, caulking the deck, building the outboard mount — and somehow we put it all together and left Ventura Boatyard at noon on Saturday March 21. This was exactly 4 months to the day since we arrived in Ventura…. WOW.

We went to Anacapa and dove at Frenchy’s Cove, then spent the night at Smuggler’s Cove. The next morning we motored to Little Scorpion anchorage and had a glorious breakfast, what a great feeling to be back out here! The SCUBA compressor ran perfectly and we did a second dive through underwater caves, super clear water.

Sailing back across the channel revealed the need for some rigging modifications, which we’ll work on during the next few days in Santa Barbara harbor. ‘Twas a successful shakedown cruise!

from anacapa

from anacapa

leaving ventura

leaving ventura

Press release for departure

Prepared by our media partner Loatree.com, thanks so much!

For Immediate ReleaseContact:
March 17, 2015 Eric Cardenas, LoaTree

Press Advisory
Trans-Pacific ‘Green Coconut Run’ to set sail end of March
Promoting Island Protection: Cruising 15,000 miles with a Cause

SANTA BARBARA, Ca. – Later this month, a three year journey called ‘The Green Coconut Run’ will set sail across the Pacific and link protected areas from California to New Zealand.
Inspired by the beauty of the Channel Islands, the crew aboard the 42 foot trimaran Aldebaran will be diving, surfing, and creating a route that supports the conservation of remote islands.

A spin off of the famous ‘Coconut Milk Run’ — used to describe the downwind voyage along the South Seas taken by hundreds of ‘cruising sailboats’ every year — the ‘Green Coconut Run’ is a sailing route that visits wild and protected areas. The trip is spearheaded by the Aldebaran Sailing Cooperative, a group of young marine ecologists, environmental professionals, and artists from around California. Their goal is to encourage other sailors to cruise on the Green Coconut Run and lend a hand to island communities.

“It’s like a Pacific Crest Trail for sailing,” explains Ryan Smith, previously a project manager at a conservation investment group and now Aldebaran’s development director. “It’s a route connecting vast regions which helps us appreciate the majesty of Nature.”

The Green Coconut Run begins in California’s Channel Islands, hugs the Pacific coast of Central America down to Panama, and then west across to the Galapagos, Tahiti, Fiji, eventually ending in New Zealand. The journey will cover more than 15,000 miles.

Along the way, the Aldebaran crew will meet nonprofit conservation groups and responsible businesses that steward protected areas, using video and photography to share their stories and raise awareness about their needs.

This first year, Green Coconut Run is partnering with ‘Adventures and Scientists for Conservation (ASC)’. On behalf of ASC, the crew will sample for micro-plastics and promote the global campaign to assess the quantity and impact of micro-plastics around the world.

“This is another way cruising sailboats can help,” says Ben Best, a PhD candidate in marine ecology and Aldebaran’s science advisor. “With today’s GPS-enabled phones and cameras, we can crowdsource data collection, which opens up new possibilities for science.”

The end goal of the voyage is to support the health and vitality of islands and oceans by harnessing the collective network of cruising sailboats and the general public.

“Cruisers are in a unique position,” says Kristian Beadle, captain of Aldebaran. “We can bring resources to island communities and collect data from far-flung places. We’d like to make ‘cruising with a cause’ a reality.”

“This is how we are living our dream while also making a positive impact,” says Sabrina Littée, the ship’s nurse and dive master. “We hope other people can be inspired to do the same.”

To participate in the journey, visit www.GreenCoconutRun.com. The Aldebaran Sailing Cooperative seeks sponsors (gear and funds) and nonprofit partners to collaborate with along the route. To learn more, contact Ryan Smith at greencoconutrun at gmail dot com. Photos available upon request.

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Kristian Beadle

Boating meets Art ! Our Parade of lights experiments

Our fantastic mermaids Sarah and Sabrina kept the fisherman trying to catch them all night!

Our fantastic mermaids Sarah and Sabrina kept the fisherman trying to catch them all night!

Last year we did the semi-impossible: in a matter of 4 days, we decided to join the Xmas Parade of Lights with Aldebaran and won Grand Prize.

This year, we wanted to raise the bar even higher. We put on a fantastic show. We lost. But here’s the story of why we ultimately won.

Jason the fisherman was catching the mermaids at the bow

Jason the fisherman trying to catch the mermaids at the bow with a lighted pole

Black Rock City, Nevada. The art cars at Burning Man blew our minds! We are driving back from the desert feeling horribly dusty and utterly inspired. “Let’s make an Art Boat for the parade of lights!!” we decided.

Santa Barbara, California. We had ambitions to build a big Pygmy Mammoth on the boat, since the theme was originally Jungle Love — but when the theme shifted to Gone Fishing, we took some liberties, and decided to Go Phishing!

The great jam band Phish had just played at the Santa Barbara bowl and we loved their famous cover of 2001 Space Odyssey — so we called our boat the “2015 Ocean Odyssey”, and set about making a big party.

Photo: Lara Cooper / Noozhawk. Okiva in her lit up glory!

Photo: Lara Cooper / Noozhawk. Okiva in her lit up glory!

Our fine ship Aldebaran was stuck in the boatyard due to delays… bummed!  Good news, we recruited our good friend Spencer to use his iconic cruising boat, the 41ft “Okiva”.

The Idea. The lighting master Coronel Mango had a vision: blue and greens creating an underwater scene on deck, with contrasting red lights on the hull, and green laser like a phosphorescence trail off the back. Captain Spencer wanted a fisherman aloft, and we wanted mermaids. Voilá!  Nothing like the usual Christmas string of lights — we wanted to put on a SHOW.

The installation. The night before the parade, we had a last minute stroke of insight: let’s blast white work lights during the song’s epic climaxes, controlled by simple power strip plugs!  Super caveman style, as the Coronel described it, but he was willing to try.

The parade. The morning of the parade, we put up the 25+ spotlights, and without dry running once, set off at sunset to join the parade. While navigating the chaos afloat, we tried our “caveman” setup — it was worse than we thought. The coronel had to stand next to the generators, inhaling exhaust fumes, not being able to hear the music over their deafening noise. I had to signal to him from on deck when to flip the switches! Believe me, this was not simple amidst the mayhem.

Somehow we pulled it off. A video from a friend’s iPhone was pretty amazing.  (We’ll post it here in a day or two, come back to see it)

The results.  We ended up winning second place in the sailboat division. We all had an absolute blast, thrilled a lot of people, and brought serious joy into the the night. We felt like winners in our minds… Plus, our boat made front page of the paper!! Hurray to the merger of boating and art!

2013 grand prize winner Aldebaran! Dressed up as a James Brown Funky Christmans show.

Photo: Ronald Williams.  2013 grand prize winner Aldebaran! Dressed up as a James Brown Funky Christmans show.

Metamorphosis: a lot of work, a lot of play

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe great Aldebaran metamorphosis has begun.. from humble local island explorer to transoceanic craft… so you ask, what’s Team Transition been doing?

Just in time for that first Halloween cold spell, Sabrina and Kristian moved out of their comfortable pad in Mission street (ok, err.. they got kicked out by the landlord.. details, details) and are now full time aboard.

The harbor charges double after 2 weeks, so we had to skip town… Aldebaran set sail for Rosa and Miguel on Monday morning. Soon we realized Jimmy Ryguy had snuck aboard at 3:30 am as a “STOWAWAY”.

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He paid his dues making gourmet pasta and hunting uni like a japanese savage. Meanwhile we got blessed with some of the most beautiful surf and diving we could want.. Ah the joys of having no permanent slip !

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My favorite is to work at anchor… we did some fixes to the windlass bolt (which need refurbishing badly), net sewing (same), solenoid cleaning (might live a little longer). The newest addition to the boat, courtesy of Roach Refurbished Rides: Candycane the 5’10 dynamite 80s board, got her new deck pad.

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Since we were already way out there… we snuck into el rancho for a few days, with Adam Jersey Roach himself and friends, which required some major beach launching maneuvers, but paid off with clean and silky waves; tell me about it!

Sarah escaped to visit us for a longboard session and made an epic Roasted Veggie soup… in short time she discovered we had a propane leak. Dang girl I’m glad for your fine-tuned olfactory senses,

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Thus upon return we spent the last 2 days wrestling the stove and propane lines out of their hibernated locations, replacing the failed hoses. While our galley was a total disaster zone, we thought, hey, let’s make it a total catastrophe and change our fresh water plumbing. So now we have all new hoses to the sinks for clean drinking when we are cruising soooouuuuth~!

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AND tomorrow’s big news: installing a fridge! And hopefully getting confirmation on our haul out on Friday… ready the troops… work may get real soon.

The C hotties charge (and get conquered by) Santa Rosa

The C Hotties

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The ladies called themselves the C hotties (in part, because they are all nurses at a local establishment starting with that letter). Turns out their skills came in handy, sadly.

Sabrina took an over-the-falls wipeout surfing and got nailed on the board on day #2 (after all, it WAS way overhead and elephant seals were attacking her!)  She was in terrible pain and held on like a trooper till we sailed back to the ER. Fortunately, one CT and MRI later revealed it was simply a really aweful muscle contusion, and would heal in a month.

On Day #1 we had a hike through the fantastic rock sculptered Lobo Canyon and sailed around to Johnson’s Lee. On Day #2, after the fateful surfing expedition, the ladies (minus Sab) went kayaking in fearful Painted Cave, and spent the night in blissful Ladies Harbor.

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Awesome formations sculpted by wind and water at Lobo Canyon

Awesome formations sculpted by wind and water at Lobo Canyon

Making the most of the calm conditions on the north side of Rosa to access Lobo

Making the most of the calm conditions on the north side of Rosa to access Lobo

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Swell hitting the island

Swell hitting the island

Full Moon rise looking east to Santa Cruz island

Full Moon rise looking east to Santa Cruz island

Sabrina icing her back with frozen soup ;-(

Sabrina icing her back with frozen soup ;-

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Sunset heading to Johnson's Lee

Battle of Orcas & Gray whales

photos by Kristen Hislop / WayfareCollective.com

Near Santa Cruz Island, 2 miles NW of San Pedro Point…  we saw the big dorsal fin.  Orca!

Everyone was up front, I was on video and steering, under full sail going 7.5 knots. Usually whale encounters are elusive… but these beasts were simply not moving, and not paying attention to us… and I suddenly thought, ‘We might actually run into them’. They were exhibiting a strange behavior, lolly-gagging around in a big cuddle puddle. Ha! Little did I know.

I cranked the wheel to starboard to avoid the mass of whale bodies. I unfortunately stopped videotaping, and then as we rounded them like turbulent buoy, I went hard to port and hove-to. That’s when we saw there was a gray whale in the midst of the orcas.

There was in fact a momma gray trying to keep the baby gray whale afloat; while the orcas kept rolling on top of it to try to drown it. The big male orca had a gigantic dorsal fin – it seemed to clear our railing, which is 6ft about the water. Kristen later said, “I never thought I’d have too much zoom for whales. I needed a wide angle to get everything in the frame!”  We were that close.

It was a terrible, graceful dance of predators, huge creatures moving slowly with precision and determination. Their prey billowed air with forceful fatigue. The baby was getting worn out, the momma was not keeping up with the weight of four (or was it five?) orcas rolling onto it.

Our ship was hove-to right next to them, and there was a moment when it seemed they all stopped their theater and looked up at us, “what the hell is this boat doing?”  This momentary lapse broke their attack formation and the grays split, or so we speculate, because the orcas suddenly bolted towards the island.  We followed them under sail, cranking in the sheets to windward, the boat shuddering with delight as the waves began chattering below its hulls. We caught up to them as they were congregating 1 mile east of Little Scorpion, not 60 feet from the cliff, which was a bit too close for comfort for us, but the boat and her skipper were feeling a bit bold, and hove-to again just up-wind of the orcas; we caught a quick glimpse of the gray whales again.

After a minute the orcas dove and began moving towards Anacapa, swimming leisurely now– we could tell they weren’t in attack mode any longer. Did the little gray whale and mother escape?  Did we indadvertedly sabotage their attack?  We looked out in wonder as the majestic creatures swam on, trodding along.

The battle was over. Perhaps we played a role in keeping a little whale from losing his tongue?  So they say, that’s what the orcas eat from the baby grays… Similar, I couldn’t help compare, to how humans will slice off fins from sharks, and let the whole body go to waste.

As we trimmed sail towards the island, after 45 minutes of racing around after the orcas, I thought: how fortunate we were! To be so close to large animals in their moment of ferocious instinct.  Stunned, awed, and somewhat elated, we carried on.