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Old 07-18-2013
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Re: Sailing up Coast of California

I did this trip last month with 2 experienced friends in my "new" 38' sailboat from San Diego to Pillar Point Harbor. It took 77 hours total so you probably would have to add another 8 to get to SF. We watched the weather very closely and lucked out. We got southerly winds for part of the trip, and sailed without motor for about 7 of those hours. It was glassy around Pt Conception, which everyone will tell you is a beast and can be dangerous if not rounded at the right time. I had to leave the boat in SB for 2 weeks before we got a good weather window. We then left Santa Barbara at 2 am to hit it at the right time, but had really confused seas before we got to the point about 6 hours later. Between San Diego and Santa Barbara (33 hours), the only stop we made was to refuel in Two Harbors on Catalina Island. The only reason we did this was because I didn't know how quickly we'd burn it. Turns out my engine (Yanmar 27 HP) is pretty efficient and my tank is large enough. We had also brought along 3 jerry cans, just in case. I had also cleaned my fuel tank, had extra fuel filters, did a lot of work on the boat before we set sail. You'll want to know how to stay away from the kelp beds leaving San Diego. Off Big Sur, I think we made sure there was at least 150' under the boat to avoid the kelp. I'm originally from the Gulf Coast...the Pacific along this area of California is nothing like anywhere on the East Coast. For example, I've heard there can be so many ships moving through the shipping channel around LA that it can be difficult to cross. I wouldn't think that would be good to do at night. There are oil rigs; service vessels that run back and forth between the rigs; there are long-liners and other fishing vessels; the water is cold; the harbors are few and they can be difficult to access. Be very careful of the reef around Pillar Point Harbor...

So now that it is over, I am so glad I did the trip, but happy to have it done. It was great to test my boat and she did great. We had a pod of humpbacks one night in which we barely caught glimpses of them but could hear them breathing and calling all around the boat. We saw pilot whales, porpoises, shearwaters and murres. The sunset leaving San Diego and passing Point Loma was one of the most memorable. I highly recommend that you time it for a good weather window and bring someone who's done the trip before. Others I have talked to who have done the same trip can tell you how miserable it was for them. Of all the people I talked to about making this trip, there were only two who said it was great for them, but it can be done with patience.

Here are some of the links we used:

Sailing Weather - Marine Weather Forecasts for Sailors and Adventurers - PassageWeather (free service gives wind, pressure and wave height for a region)
Marine Point Forecast for Latitude 34.45°N and Longitude 120.47°W (NOAA forecast for Pt Conception)
GRIB.US > Home (free software download to read the NOAA GRIB files. We primarily relied on this for the wind.)
National Data Buoy Center (wave height at specific buoys)
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