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Old 13-10-2006, 19:45   #1
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Navigating a unknown harbor at night

I thought I had everything planned out perfect on our trip in our new (to us)54' sailboat from Ensenada to San Diego. My husband, daughter (15) and I were to leave Mexico after fueling up and go as far as the Coronado Islands where we would anchor for the evening and pull into San Diego for our customs check in the morning when the winds were light and we did not have to worry too much about docking this beast of a boat.

We took our time making it to the Coronado's and after navigating several fishing pots and large fishing boats made our way into the little anchorage for the night just as the sun was almost down. Things started going wrong when the windlass decided not to work. We are not that familiar with this boat and were unable to figure out what the problem was and in a panic decided we would pull out of the anchorage while it was still light enough to see the many fishing pots and hit San Diego in the evening. Looking back there were really other better options but we decided on this one (god only knows why) so we were committed.

The GPS on this boat is probably about 20 years old and we were damned to get it to give us any accurate information as it was showing we were tied up to shore on the entire trip. Adding to that we were totally unfamiliar with San Diego Harbor, this boat or navigation at night. Anxiety was extremely high needless to say as we tried desperately to get our bearings as the sun set. I was amazed how differently things looked at night and finding buoys of any sort at night proved much more difficult that I would have expected.

We finally were able to get our bearings on the markers well enough to follow our chart (at least we had that) into the entrance of the harbor. We made it to the police docks at about 11:00pm exhausted and relieved. Customs checked us in and we then were told we had to move the boat over to a mooring ball which we did without any problems.

As for the windlass it had just popped a circuit breaker (how easy would that have been to fix if we just would have known where to look). Although dropping the 3/4" chain without a windlass was out of the question, looking back I am sure that we could have found enough line to drop one of the spare anchors and saved ourselves alot of stress. All ended well and no damage was done but I think we will all think about options before making a decision like that in the future.

Happy sailing.
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Old 13-10-2006, 23:46   #2
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When a harbor advises local knowledge, heed that warning! Moss Landing has a neat little quark comming in from the north at night. When approaching, the south light is occasionally obscured. However, the channel marker is visible over the north jetty. At the right angle, aiming between the visible red and green markers will take you right onto the beach. By the time you get close enough to realize you are following the wrong light, you are in the surf line. I won't even talk about Half Moon Bay from the north. Suffice it to say, we chose to bypass that harbor one night with 20 foot seas, and the boat taking on water. After the fact, we still feel it was a good decision. The best choice is to gain some sea room and stand off. If that is not an option, most ports I have dealt with will answer the VHF, and can help guide you around any hazards. It is also an absolute must to read and familiarize youself with the local coast pilot well before approaching a port at night.
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Old 14-10-2006, 03:04   #3
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Kai Nui wrote: ”... Moss Landing has a ”neat little” quark coming in from the north at night ...”

Congratulations on your momentous discovery of the seventh* flavour of quark.

*Previously, science only postulated the existence of 6 flavours (up, down, charm, strange, top, & bottom).

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Old 14-10-2006, 05:57   #4
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Fortunately, my first attempt at finding and entering a strange harbor at night was ... Moss Landing - from the North, however. Also, Kai and I did a first time night entrance to Morro Bay - but I was more familiar with the boat then, and I had, the week before, checked out the harbor from land. I've always said I would much rather be lucky than skillful.
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Old 14-10-2006, 10:36   #5
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Yea GORD. So my spelling could use a little help here and there. As long as the point is made... That is what happens when I post when I am exhausted.
And, as Thomas pointed out, "I would much better be lucky than skillful".
Then again, maybe it is a quark. Approaching this harbor at night does seem to feel as if there is some sort of bend in the universe.
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Old 14-10-2006, 12:35   #6
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Hi Jackiepitts, good to see you are now just a little wiser. "Passing those little tests in life awards you the credentials of experiance."(author-me)
This type of scenario is why some of us commented on a very famouse thread here (hopefully burried in the depths now) about sailors not knowing what they are doing, leanring as they get out there. It is very important that some very important aspects of the boat and sailing it ARE known before you get out there. You need to learn all about the equipment onboard and how to use it and you need some good navigation skills, especially in reading charts as well as carrying that information of the intended sailing areas.
But it is easy for me to say this now, I guess you have learn't and come to those conclusions too. At least your next adventure will be undertaken with just "that much more" knowledge.
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Old 14-10-2006, 17:16   #7
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Port to Port....

I know that nothing replaces a very carefull perusal of guides and charts but I have fond memories of going into Townsville at night as new crew with a skipper who had not been there before.
The whole place was lit up like a christmas tree. We just matched green to green and red to red (if my memory serves me correctly).
Just like walking down a well lit garden path.
Not all night arrivals are difficult.
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Old 14-10-2006, 20:03   #8
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Chris, very true. Morro would not have been difficult at all if it had not been for the dredging operation in the middle of the channel with no indication which side was safe to pass, and no rush to answer the radio. Oh, and the fog, and the fact it was about 4 in the morning after 20 hours of sailing, and... But aside from all that, it really was an easy harbor to navigate
It was through Thomas' thorough planning that it went that smoothly, as our actual destination was 15 miles south at Avila. Due to the loss of our dingy, the plan to anchor at Avila had to be abandoned, and we had to stop at Morro. Had he not planned for that contingency, things could have been much worse.
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Old 15-10-2006, 07:44   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GordMay
Kai Nui wrote: ”... Moss Landing has a ”neat little” quark coming in from the north at night ...”

Congratulations on your momentous discovery of the seventh* flavour of quark.

*Previously, science only postulated the existence of 6 flavours (up, down, charm, strange, top, & bottom).


Ha ha ha!! Fantastic joke, Gord.
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Old 15-10-2006, 11:18   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kai Nui
... Due to the loss of our dingy, the plan to anchor at Avila had to be abandoned, and we had to stop at Morro.
Kai meant Dinghy - although we were pretty dingy at the time, we didn't lose our dingy until the next morning when we showered.
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Old 15-10-2006, 20:16   #11
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Hey, I am in the middle of a haul out. Don't expect me to spell correctly as well
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Old 26-10-2006, 13:29   #12
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DON'T DO IT!! Why enter an unknown harbor at night? That's just asking for trouble. Heave to till daylight. How hard is that?

Randy
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Old 26-10-2006, 21:24   #13
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It depends on how much water the boat is taking on, and how tired the crew is.
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Old 27-10-2006, 10:10   #14
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I'll defend you on this one for entering San Diego from South Coronado Island. The little anchorage is Pretty open to swell and wind with five to six purse nets on the shore side full of big eye tuna. Not a cool place to be with the afternoon wind.
The better thing to do ,though, would have been to sail North West toward Catalina or San Clemente island for a couple hours and then heave to. It sounds like there were a few people on the boat that could have set up a watch schedule until sunrise.

A good experience for you though.
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Old 27-10-2006, 10:45   #15
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I was struck by your windlass disease myself. Our Windlass had been fried and after the new rewire and replaced motor I totally forgot about the thermal breaker loacted under the Nav seat. The old one burned up because it was overfused. When it blows it has to be manually reset or no power. Manually pulling up and down 80 feet of 10 mm chain will reinforce the notion that there is a way to reset the windlass as simple as flipping a lever. I could have and should have recalled it but had never needed it at the end of the prior season so I never really learned it. I just assumed it never was fixed correctly.

It is fortuante we don't have to learn everything the hard way. That is what back up plans are for. They cover you when something unexpected comes along or you just have a dumb attack and don't know something you could have exepcted you would know.

You don't always have the time to consider many things for hours on end. Not making a decision is more often the worst thing you can do. Sometimes you can just stay put other times it's not the better choice.
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