1 year after I purchased my boat I decided to go whale watching.
, calm morining, destination
Palos Verdes Penesula's Point Vicente, springtime.
Motored out and spent the day becalmed in the penensula's wind
shadow, with a big winter swell rolling in from the northwest and breaking on various reefs
and rocks. I was not yet proficient with anchoring
Suddenly, my vhf
starts squeeling, "Low Battery" -
I'd left the inverter
on, and run it flat. Now I didnt have a chartplotter
, or autopilot
No big deal - I'll just motor
So I started the outboard
It ran for 5 miniutes, then died. When I tried to restart it, it wouldnt even turn over - it was siezed. There was still no wind
, and set of the current
was moving me closer and closer to the wreck of the "Dominator" a ship that had slammed into the point 30 years earlier, and who's bones I'd surveyed earlier.
I suddenly tasted dry metal in my mouth, and my vision narrowed to a tunnel. My fingers stopped working right, and I had the reasoning abilities of a 6 year old.
I felt nauseous - and I was alone.
There was a little - tiny little breeze, and I could see darker water
a couple of miles offshore
, so I crawled forward and bent on my 140 genoa
, and started beating out, all the while being set inshore by the swell, tide and current
After gaining about a mile of offing I tacked, but was unable to lay the mouth of the bay, as I was being headed in shore - so I came about, beat off shore, and tried again - to no avail -
I was in an eddy, and after 4 hours of this I'd made no progress.
and it was getting dark, and I didnt have any back-up navigation
I knew I was in no "real" danger
- (I still had my cell phone
and was inshore) but I was still gripped with fear.
So I hove-to, and dug out my spare AGM battery
pack, and jumped it into the main battery
, determined to at least have nav lights when the sun went down (its a busy shipping
area, with TWO of the worlds busiest ports
, Long Beach and Los Angeles just a few miles south, and an offshore oil
terminal to the North.
And I made a final bid to re-enter Santa Monica Bay by heading WAY out into the San Pedro channel before tacking.
...and as soon as I emerged from the wind shadow, I was knocked down by a building 15 knot
sea breeze - with my 140 up.
Well, damed if I was going to heave-to and change sails
- so I double reefed the main ( kinda pointless with that monster headsail up) and kept beating out into the channel, resolving to sail out to Catalina
for the night if I had to, (and cross those shipping
lanes) to avoid that diabolical point!
3 miles off I tacked again, and was just able to lay Palos Verdes Point safely, and re-enter the bay, where I knew the winds would back to the West, and allow me to reach back to Marina Del Rey.
darkness was approaching, and the wind and seas were building, so once clear, I hove-to, and crawled out on the foredeck, lowered the 140, and bent on the 110, leaving the 140 hanked on and lashed to the rail.
I was by this point tired, scared, and quite sea-sick from the building beam sea. The boat was rolling horribly (I hadnt the sense to rig my boom vang) but at least I was headed home, had nav lights, and was using my back-up hand held GPS
(no spare batteries though) and ships compass
and paper chart of the bay to navigate. I'm steering
by hand, and the boat is moving along at 5 knots....meaning I'll be home in about 3 hours.
So I start to relax.....
and just then, I look to windward, and I cant believe what I'm seeing:
A freak wave at least 15 feet high is coming STRAIGHT AT THE SIDE OF MY BOAT!
and I mean, its a WAVE - not some wimpy sea with a little whitecap on top A MOTHERF**KING WAVE, BREAKING TOP TO BOTTOM, JUST LIKE I USED TO SURF AT THE GODDAMED BEACH!
And this is impossible, because I'm several miles offshore, in what I THOUGHT was deep water...
Never-the-less, here comes this breaking wave, and I've got to do something, or I'm gonna get rolled.
So, just like I used to do surfing, I turned towards the wave at a 45 degree angle, currled up into a little ball at the helm
, and waited for impact.
The wave smashed into the port bow, throwing a sheet of green and white water over me and the entire boat, and nearly washing
the 140 off the foredeck.
Two or three more followed, but they were smaller, and I was past the point where they were jacking up. As you can imagine, I was really freaking out at this point, so I decided to try to start the engine
again, whereupon I discovered why it had quit:
I'd neglected to open the outboard
The reason it wouldnt start was becuase I'd left it in gear
, and the interlock kept it from turning over - it hand really siezed.
I made it home safely, and set-about making sure nothing like that ever happened again.
I upgraded my battery to a Lifeline AGM
from the cheap
wetcel I'd been abusing. I installed a good smart charger
, and I purchased a back-up set of Navigation
lights. I started carefully monitoring battery voltage, and I installed a solar
panel (the outboard didnt have an alternator) for off grid charging
. I got serious about my ground tackle, and started practicing with it.
Still, the mystery remained:
WHERE THE HELL DID THAT WAVE COME FROM????
So I took out my charts
, both electronic and paper, and began studying the bathemetry:
and about 3 miles off of Palos Verdes point, along the rhumbline course to MDR lies a small shoal area with a depth
of around 90 feet. and this shoal is right against the edge of 1600 foot deep Redondo Canyon, which funnels wave energy towards Redondo beach, resulting in waves like this:
Yup - a world class big wave surf contest is held each winter in the south bay - right where I was nailed.
So I learned a couple things -
1) Nature is always in charge out there, and anything can happen at any time. Pay attention, and show respect.
2) Have multiple backups for critical systems
3) Study the bathemetry CAREFULLY along your planned course.
That 90 foot deep shoal is surrounded by water hundreds of feet to over 1000 feet deep. Its easy to miss - just one sounding shows that depth
. Avoid such areas - they can cause waves to "jack-up" and break. a couple of months after my adventure there, an experienced offshore sailor, John Kerchbaum was lost overboard
and killed on the way back from Catalina
. He'd set out in a gale with force 9 winds. But hey! It was only a 20 mile crossing, then he'd be in the safety
of Santa Monica bay, and besides, he had to be at work on Monday.
His boat sailed itself right up on Venice Beach under windvane
reefed and perfectly trimmed, but without John. A massive search failed to find him. His body was found off long beach a few days later - in its life jacket. He made the turn off of Palos Verdes point, just as I had according to his GPS
log, so he was still aboard at that point. His trak would have taken him over that same shoal - so I'm gussing that's where he was hit and washed overboard, then swept by that current I was fighting all the way to its back-eddy off of Point Ferman and Long Beach. Without a radio
or PLB, it was impossible for SAR to locate him, especially under those awful conditions, and the cold water probably rendered him unconcious within one or two hours.
Another solo sailor was lost off redondo beach a few months later after his boat sailed itself ashore. His body was found 2 miles out.
Conditions were calm when he was lost.
Now I always clip into a rock climbing harness on deck
when I'm alone, and I carry both a PLB and a waterproof handheld VHF on my person.
The sea demands respect, and its lessons can be harsh when we ignore this simple fact.
Since that eventful day, things have gone much much better for Nomad. I've made many crossings of the San Pedro channel and its shipping lanes, and Ive anchored for weeks at a time at Catalina and other spots around the bay without incident, logging thousands of trouble free miles in the process.