(Photo: Saying goodbye to Marina Del Rey)
In case you didn’t know, since October 2013 I’ve spent as much of my free time as possible learning to sail. Aside from sitting on a sailboat dry docked when I was five, I’d never stepped foot on a sailboat until August 2013 when I went out on an 8-hour charter and fell in love.
I took a gamble and signed up for a sailing class at the same amazing place that I’d done the charter with and quickly became addicted to the sport which some days feels like a vacay and others like a lot of work.
For the past couple of months I’ve been taking private lessons on one of the smaller sailboats – outboard motor, tiller – learning how to sail solo. While I’ll likely never be one of those around-the-world alone single-handed sailors, I loved the idea of being able to head out into the Santa Monica Bay on my own.
Well, this past Saturday my dream became a reality and I was able to charter a boat and head out solo.
As it was a quiet day in the Marina I was able to get a quick snap before heading out into the Bay. I was a little nervous, especially since there were some issues raising the mainsail (sticky track slides) and in my anxiousness I ran the jib sheets the wrong way through the blocks, but I wasn’t about to let that get me down.
(Photo: Hello Santa Monica!)
The sea was calm that morning so I didn’t have to worry too much about whether my boat was angled properly to the waves and to the wind. I was able to keep my sails in fairly tight and got some great speed heading out past Venice Pier toward Santa Monica Pier.
I’d promised to check in often with The Dude and was able to get a few pics in when I grabbed my phone to make the calls.
(Photo: Land looks kind of far…)
As the morning went on the wind picked up, but heading north and west was easy with such a flat sea. The skies were clear, the view was amazing, and there were only three motorboats and a parasail boat out to keep me company.
(Photo: A freshening breeze and land to starboard)
It was amazing being out there all on my own. I didn’t have to talk. I didn’t have to worry about anyone other than myself. And with just the sound of the wind through the sails, and the boat through the water, I was at peace in a way I don’t think I ever had been when sailing during the day.
(Photo: The sailing life aka Pt. Dume or Bust)
While I may have looked totally relaxed with feet up and gear bag at hand – and I was to an extent – I couldn’t be completely at ease. I had to keep a lookout for any potential hazards – other boats, waves, weather systems, kelp, sea life. But on a port tack heading northwest, things were pretty easy.
The same couldn’t be said of the starboard tack.
(Photo: They said it wouldn’t be easy…)
I’d promised to turn back after I got to the Santa Monica Pier and I did just that… reluctantly… a quarter mile or so later. Though at this point I was at least three or four miles offshore.
Tacking solo was a bit of a challenge. Especially when the new tack – starboard – had a lot more weather helm, more wind, more seas. Switching sides and releasing the jib and hauling it in on the other side while trying to keep the boat pointed in the right direction was nearly impossible.
But I made the tack with no obstacles nearby, and the main in tight, so no harm no foul.
(Photo: I wish I could point down and let those sails out more…)
By this point the winds were up to 12-14 knots, there were whitecaps forming and the swells were building. I’d let out the main and jib a bit (thankfully it was on the side of the boat I was seated on) which made for less weather helm. But the boat kept wanting to point up – head west into deeper ocean – and I had to fight to keep the tiller pointed in the direction I wanted to go.
I just wished I could have pointed a little more toward shore, but cranking along as I was at around 6 kts or so, I had to make it past the mooring field near the El Segundo Buoy in order to avoid the tanker they were towing in… which was coming in fast. And I had to head farther south than I would have liked so that it could pick up its mooring without me being in the way. (Like it really would have cared…)
(Photo: The journey south)
With the boat rolling side to side with my angle to the swells I opted to try and roll the jib in a couple miles from the breakwater. With one boat behind me headed in my direction, I wanted to get this task out of the way before things got too crowded. It took a bit of muscle – the boat trying to spin in a circle, the sail unfurling itself – I finally got it in and opted to sail for just a bit on main.
At a mile out I decided to lower the motor to have it at the ready should I need it. And a few hundred feet from the breakwater – the entrance to the marina – I started her up. (It only took three pulls to get her going.)
Taking the main down was slightly challenging, as was getting to all four fenders to get them off the boat, but I managed. And I managed to dock without incident. Though I almost fell flat on my face stepping off the boat onto the dock.
It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t all calm seas and relaxing in the sun and wind, but I DID IT. I survived. And I hope to be able to do it again and again and again. Without the stupid mistakes. Without quite so many check-ins with The Dude. And with some tunes, some more sunblock, and some snacks.
But what about you?