I left the dock at night into the teeth of 18-25 knots of wind. I wanted a romp, a fast blast to Catalina.
Adrenalin kept me awake and the cold numbed my body until it became detached from my mind.
Chaotic, messy, loud, colliding, the sea was rough and mildly nauseating. I was over the Redondo Beach canyon, a deep underwater crevasse.
The waves loomed out of the dark, a lick of white here and there and a rushing sound. A couple of wet mountains broke against the side of the boat. The water was warm; the wind chill was not. I was underdressed and using the ponytail of my hair as thatch to protect my face.
In my mind, I was back off Pt Conception reliving the night of 05 July last year, when the Santa Ana winds dragged me out to sea and the waves broke over the deck.
It wasn’t as unpleasant as it sounds, this bucking bronco rollercoaster ride down memory lane. This time I anticipated the conditions, knew the wave dynamic of this location and was actively rowing at night – something I enjoy.
I crossed the shipping lane, 15 miles ticked off. It was 3:30 AM
Dog tired and with nausea lurking below the surface, I skipped cleaning my teeth in order to lie down faster. That doesn’t happen to me often and could have been avoided if I’d socked my oars sooner. But sleep would have been unlikely, so close to the shipping lanes and having left my boat to be tossed around.
My alarm went off again and again, waking me to check my trajectory and nearby traffic.
I opened the hatch to find the island looming before me, red soil on top like Mars. The morning sun shone but the air was still frigid.
I had arrived on the doorstep of Catalina.
Craggy and verdant, the island looked wild. A great hunk of volcanic rock towering up from the sea to mock the frivolousness of LA.
There were no lights on the south side, no built up areas, no habitation at all, just five fishing vessels and a lot of dolphins.
BOOM! An explosion sounded in the distance in the direction of the military base on San Clemente Island. BOOM! became an occasional reverberation in my world.
I drifted south through the early hours of the morning, but wasn’t sleeping and so took to the oars before dawn. Dolphins and dolphins and dolphins roamed around me, passing by, surrounding my boat, disappearing and reappearing although they may have been others.
“Hello!” I said to the two dolphins which swam right up to me. They were inside my oar, a foot from the edge of the boat.
“Squeak, squeak, squeak!” they chatted excitedly. “I don’t speak dolphin!” I replied!
Late morning the breeze picked up from the NE and I threw out the sea anchor to take a nap. The sound of an engine woke me up and I poked my head out of the back hatch. “Watch out for the sea anchor line!” I shouted. The Whaler veered round my boat and approached from starboard. Two men, drinking beer, had driven over from Avalon, some 5 miles away. They wanted to know the who what wheres. “I’m Frank” said the man driving. “Would you like a beer?”
I laughed. I was pleased to see them, because there was a storm due tomorrow and I was hopeful for an update.
“Yeah there’s a storm coming.” Frank said.
“Yes, but do you know when?”
When the wind dropped, I hauled in the anchor and set off to round the eastern corner of the island.
On night number one I had crossed the shipping lanes before sleeping, night two reached the bottom of Catalina south side, and night three rounded the eastern corner and north of the path of the Avalon ferry. So far so good.
Now I faced a dilemma.
Running for cover from the storm was the known; riding it out, was the unknown. It reminded me of my second attempt to reach the Farallon Islands in May 2018. I missed the tide through the Golden Gate Bridge by half an hour. The lights of San Francisco and the bay were the known; a second night at sea without sleep and after 22 hours of rowing was the unknown. At that time I had a sticker on the side of my boat which read FOLLOW YOUR FEAR. I didn’t follow my fear. I got towed in.
This time I followed my fear.
I prepped for the storm: had a bucket wash, refilled my water bottles, pulled out food, prepared food, secured everything on deck. Then I rowed towards the shipping lane, in the knowledge that the storm would knock me SW away from land.
Click here for Part 2.