San Diego to San Francisco – Finally…

It’s September and we have definitely fallen behind on the blog!  Now that we’re (mostly) settled it is time to get back up to speed!  As such, here’s a little a trip back in time to our big journey north in late June/July.  Kevin and I probably have different variations on this story, so I should start by saying that this is the Alison version of our trip.



About 6 am on Saturday, June 25th we pulled out of our slip at Pier 32 Marina in San Diego, bright-eyed and looking forward to the great adventure ahead.  After running quietly through San Diego Bay and admiring the amazing naval craft one last time, we pulled into the Pacific Ocean and pointed our bow north.

The first day was spectacular.  The sun was shining, wind was minimal and the swells were easy and regular.  Laura and I sat on the bow for much of the day, watching as we passed Catalina Island and cheering on the huge pods of dolphins that came charging at us on a regular basis.  The dolphins were incredible and so fast!  We’d see some dark spots on the horizon and 2 minutes later we would have 100 dolphins around us, with some surfing in the bow wake, prompting John and Kevin to hang off of the bow pulpit to better see these cool creatures.


We passed Catalina Island (sure would like to go back there someday) and watched as the ferries zoomed back and forth to Long Beach and Dana Point.  As evening fell, we prepared for our first night out alone (without the comforting presence of Jeff and Pam).  The sunset was spectacular and Kevin and John made super tasty quesadillas for dinner.  Speaking of food, we had provisioned heavily in San Diego with a full meal plan, a locker full of snacks, a fridge full of produce and a freezer full of meat.  I had all of these plans to cook this that and the other thing.  Well….it seems that when I enter the galley I get seasick.  As did Laura.  And Kevin’s dad, Darrel.  I’m hoping that this was a new-to-open-ocean experience and that it will go away over time.  In the meantime, that left our two primary captains Kevin and John to be the galley slaves.  We decided that the Kraken must be living beneath the galley, waiting for one of us to enter only to outstretch his big tentacle covered arms and induce immediate sea sickness!  At any rate, the Kraken kept us hanging out in the pilothouse.  🙂


Our first night was fairly calm.  Laura and John had the early morning watch, just in time to go through the busy shipping channels around Long Beach.  In the fog.  When Kevin and I emerged from the Captain’s cabin to take over these two were at full attention watching many moving targets on the radar, tracking giant container ships on the AIS and being generally on top of it!


Darrel (Grandpa Darrel as we have always called him as the kids grew up) was a true champ, doing more than his fair share of hourly engine room checks with an exacting eye.

On day two, things started to get exciting.  First, we started to see whales.  Hundreds of whales – humpbacks mostly as well as other smaller whales.  And the dolphins stayed with us for more entertainment.  I will never forget the incredible marine life we saw on this trip.  I felt like we were visitors in an incredible, aquatic world.  I am so grateful to have had the experience – it will stay with me forever.


On the other hand, the weather started to come up on day 2.  At first it was not uncomfortable, but provided further entertainment, ooohhh as we climbed a wave and ahhhhh as we sped (keep that word in perspective, Nordhavns don’t speed) down the backside of a swell.  But then it built up and we slowed down to manage the height of the seas.  We were down to about 4 knots and the seas were up to well over 10-12 feet, with wind whipping the top of the swells at over 25 knots.  We decided to take a break and pull into a harbor near San Luis Obispo for the night.  We snagged a buoy to the song of the barking sea lions lounging on the breakwater.  A glass of wine, a great dinner (made by Laura and John) and a good night’s sleep and we were ready for another day.

Day 3 dawned with beautiful sunshine and what were predicted to be calmer seas.  Ever heard of “red sky at morning sailor’s take warning?”  Well…


We headed out, back on our northern path in manageable seas.  We saw more and more whales – in fact in one area, dubbed Whale Town, there were humpbacks flipping their tails, lying on their sides and “waving” with their fins, and generally playing for 360 degrees around us.  Incredible.  But the seas were building.  And building.  And getting to look a bit, in my estimation, like a scene from Deadliest Catch.  Kevin suggested we start naming the really huge swell/wave combos in an effort to distract me a bit.  Laura and I did not have any polite names for these names.  Ha!

Up ahead we spotted something in the ocean.  I should note here that other than wildlife we had also spotted an absolute ton of mylar balloons, floating aimlessly on the ocean’s surface amongst the incredible sea life.  I will never again buy a mylar balloon.  We just can’t be polluting our oceans and putting marine creatures in danger.  But I digress.  The newly spotted “something” turned out to be an overturned RIB dinghy, without an engine.  John called the Coast Guard and Kevin tried to discern the registration number on the dinghy.  We didn’t see anyone in the water, and with the sea conditions, stopping, or turning around was out of the question.  The Coast Guard called us a good four times and for the next 24 hours or so we heard Pon Pon messages about the overturned dinghy. More on this later.

After the dinghy sighting excitement, more fun was in store.  The seas were just huge and I watched the wind meter climb to over 40 knots.  Kevin was trying to find a more comfortable ride, while maintaining a course.  An adjustment to a waypoint caused a sudden slight turn in the vessel, just in time to be caught by a swell/wave that was as large if not larger than the boat, hitting us on the beam.  The boat rolled, for the first time in our entire trip, a good 30 degrees.  That scared me.  John came wandering up the stairs from his nap in the master stateroom, asking, “hey guys, what’s going on?”  All casual. I must say, the stabilizers brought the boat right back to its rightful upright position.  And quickly.  Thank you stabilizers.  You are my favorite thing in this entire boat.

Grandpa Darrel, I might add had many naps through all of this excitement.  We’re not quite sure how he slept, as he was in the forward berth.  Kevin went to check on him at one point and saw Grandpa, snoring, basically levitating over the bed.  Nothing gets between Grandpa and his naps!

About 30 minutes after our roll, after my heart stopped racing, we started hearing a giant thunking noise as we would climb and crest the swells.  Hmmm…. turns out that in the beating we were taking from these seas, the bow attachment on the dinghy had broken, allowing the dinghy to flop in its cradle.  We later learned that the two stern attachments had also let loose.  850 pounds of dinghy and engine were flopping around on the back of the boat in seas that were in excess of 15 feet, with 40 knot winds as an unwelcome accompaniment. Fantastic.

We determined that Kevin would put on a life jacket and slink out to the dinghy with line and a knife.  I hung out the day head porthole as far as I could get my body out and talked to him as he re-attached the dinghy to the boat.  Laura, John and Darrel called out the wave pattern and when we’d have a particularly large swell, in order for Kevin to hold on.  Argh.  Kevin’s efforts were a success!

At this point we were down to 3 knots and the seas were getting worse (which didn’t really seem that possible to me at that moment).  We decided to turn around and have a following sea for a bit, allowing us to look for shelter.  The problem was that we were south of Big Sur and the California coast is simply a cliff that meets the sea.  After looking at two potential “shelter” coves that fishermen use in emergencies, we determined that we had to keep going south.

At 1 am we arrived in the pitch black darkness to San Simeon Harbor, just below the Hearst Castle.  Nothing in our Coast Pilot guide that was noted was visible.  Fantastic.  And there was something shadowy on our radar in the harbor that we couldn’t see.  With a bit of spotlight work (sorry sailboat guy) we determined that there was a small sailboat anchored in the harbor.  We set about getting ready to anchor.  And… of course, the anchor chain had become totally entangled in our 2 days of big seas.  John hopped into the anchor locker and proceeded to swear with every swear word known as he worked to untangle the 7/16ths inch chain – heavy.  After a joint effort with John and Kevin, the chain was ready to deploy and we anchored the boat in the quiet harbor.  A few night watches later, we awoke to a gorgeous setting with multiple people standing on a pier, pointing at us.  The captain of the sailboat was out in his cockpit, accompanied by a black lab, but strangely, no dinghy.

In reviewing the weather, it seemed that things were only getting worse and would be deteriorating further over the following days.  We weren’t certain of the safety of the harbor, and made the difficult decision to back track and lose our hard-fought northern progress to Morrow Bay, California.



We crossed the bar into Morrow Bay without incident and took our salty boat into the harbor.  Kevin chatted up the harbor master’s assistant on the radio and we ended up on a day dock belonging to the community.  Immediately after tying up we had a bunch of new friends – the harbormaster (who was awesome), his assistant, a crew on a big sail cat, general residents and more.  We were able to obtain permission to stay on the day dock overnight, with the hopes that we could move to the Morrow Bay Yacht Club in the morning.  In the meantime, our friend Richard, who had travelled to San Francisco and then Monterey, hoping to meet us and continue north, arrived via rental car to join us for the next leg of our trip.

We learned that there were several delivery captains sitting in Morrow Bay waiting out the weather as well – something that made me feel a little better about turning around!  We would later learn that one of the delivery captains, Kenny, told his client, “well there is a Nordhavn here and they aren’t out there, so I shouldn’t be either!”

A few hours after we arrived what can be best described as a 65-foot wooden power boat pirate ship arrived at the day dock.  The captain (another delivery captain) and crew had come in for shelter after two of their side windows had been blown out in the seas the night before.  I’m not sure if the plethora of open alcoholic beverage bottles rolling around the boat had something to do with it.

A few hours after the arrival of the “pirate ship,” we saw the small sailboat from San Simeon harbor pull into Morrow Bay as well.  We later learned that the runaway dinghy we had reported belonged to this sailboat, and that our call to the Coast Guard had resulted in helicopters, boats and more searching the waters looking for lost mariners.  The Coast Guard returned the dinghy to the sailor and his dog, who was probably delighted to go to shore!

We spent three nights in Morrow Bay, waiting out the weather.  John and Kevin managed to meet everyone having to do with boats in the town and we spent several days at the Morrow Bay Yacht Club.  Nicest people in the world.  We were invited to their club burger cook out night, and went to enjoy conversation, burgers and beer.  So fun!  I was starting to feel a little better as my confidence in our giant decision to buy this boat was a little shaken after the last two days.

We left on Friday, July 1st ready to finally get to San Francisco.  The weather was lumpy but doable and we headed north with a determined mind!  At this point, I was finally getting used to sitting in the helm chair seeing nothing but a wall of water ahead of us (no sky), knowing that this incredible little boat would somehow climb up that water and deliver us safely to the other side.  I can’t say enough about our Nordhavn.  It gives me the confidence I sometimes lack – a big reason we chose this vessel.  My cousin’s husband John, who has navigated container ships and you name it commercial vessels all over the world called it our “Baby Ship.”  Seems appropriate.  As we “washed the anchor” again and again in the waves, I was thankful that we bought a Nordhavn, and not some other brand of boat.


We arrived at the San Francisco bar without incident, and as we had timed our arrival, made our way into the bay with a lot of confused water, but nothing that was out of our comfort zone.  John and Kevin woke me up as we started into the bay with coffee and Jimmy Buffet’s “Come Monday” playing on the stereo.  The Golden Gate Bridge was in our sights and the first leg of our journey was coming to an end. We took about a million photos of the Golden Gate Bridge – the approach, underneath and as we passed by.  A dream come true!


We came into San Francisco’s Small Boat Harbor, adjacent to the St. Francis Yacht Club, right on the waterfront.  The summer winds had cranked up to 25 knots making the marina entrance, with its huge and ever-growing sandbar seem a bit daunting.  The harbormaster had noted that with the sandbar, the marina had a 40 foot wide entry – our boat is 18′, and then add a few feet of “unusable” shallow water.  Tricky.  But Kevin navigated without a problem and in just a few minutes we were tied up in our slip, finally in San Francisco!!

It was the Fourth of July weekend in San Francisco (and everywhere else) and the city was teeming with tourists and vacationers. We leveraged our stay with trips for ice cream sundaes at Ghiradelli Square, a little shopping visit to Hayes Valley, Chinatown for dinner and more.  John and Laura needed to head home to Annapolis due to our delayed schedule, and after some thought, we determined our best course of action was to hop a plane home to Seattle and regroup, leaving the boat in San Francisco for a few days. It was odd, leaving our new beloved Nordhavn alone in the bay, and as we boarded the Alaska Airlines jet home, we missed her already.






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