A Tough Motor to San Francisco

A view over the Double X stern as it motors out of Newport Jetty in the early morning. The ship’s flag is limp, signaling calm winds needed for good motoring conditions, Newport Beach, Calif., June 14, 2016.
A view over the Double X stern as it motors out of Newport Jetty in the early morning. The ship’s flag is limp, signaling calm winds needed for good motoring conditions, Newport Beach, Calif., June 14, 2016.

We left Newport Beach on June 14th to motor up the coast to San Francisco for our departure to the South Seas on July 16th. Typically, the wind whips straight down the coast, so you need to motor up to make any progress at all. (If we sailed up, we would probably still be out there.)

To get there, we had to motor around Point Conception, what many call the most challenging passage on the West coast. It took a few tries, but we made it, albeit a little worse for the wear, but more confident than ever that the Double X is one sturdy vessel, and the crew can handle any challenge.

Hiding (dangerously) in plain sight

Ventura was our first stop up the coast. We left Newport in the morning, and I was quite surprised to see so few boats as we motored out of the jetty. It was a smooth start until Captain Bob discovered the signal on our Automatic Identification System (AIS) was not working properly. Without it, we are like a ghost. We could see other boats, but they couldn’t see us. It’s on the fix-it list and expected to be fully functional in short order.

So much to learn, so little time

The AIS glitch is also a reminder that I have a lot to learn about the sophisticated electronics on this remarkable vessel. My last serious sailing adventure was the Firebird Journey, and that was over 40 years ago. Since then, I’ve mainly been a passenger on the occasional sailing trip without the need for a detailed understanding of boat electronics.

So much has changed since my Firebird days, and I’m eager to learn as much as I can to be an able-body seaman aboard the Double X. Rod will join us in San Francisco to make the Pacific crossing and, if I know my son, he’ll be just as eager to really understand the full potential of the Double X.

Watching whales, wildfires and more

We motored into Ventura about 6:30 p.m. just in time for an early dinner. The scenery so far had been rather tranquil, except for the big offshore oil rigs that dot the coastline. We spotted several whales, mostly grays, many dolphins and sea birds, and even a couple of rare sightings of molas (sunfish). I was pleasantly surprised to see relatively clean water along the way without oil slicks, trash or gyres floating about.

The next goal was to get around Point Conception. We departed at 8:30 p.m. to attempt to reach it after midnight, when waters were calmer. As we motored passed Santa Barbara, the hills were red with fire and smoky air turned the moon deep orange as a result of the Sherpa wildfire that would eventually claim thousands of acres.

So close, yet so far

By the time Bob and I took our watch at 2:00 a.m., the seas were picking up, and waves were pounding us as we approached. Bob quickly realized that the automatic sensor for the bilge pump was not working. We were taking on too much water to continue, so we turned around to make the 5-hour trip back to port in Santa Barbara. Once there, Bob discovered the source of the malfunction: plastic ties, paper and other debris left over from boatyard maintenance. The pump was cleaned, rebuilt, and tested to be in good working order, ready for our next attempt.

Second time is the charm

We set off under power for our second try to round Point Conception on Friday, June 17th. This time, we left early, departing Santa Barbara at about 5:45 a.m., hoping to motor around the point before the big afternoon winds hit. But, as we approached, the wind was howling, up to Force 7 as Bob could best estimate, and the water temperature was in the 50s. White caps were everywhere, and it was colder than the dickens.

The cold was hard to shake off despite layers of clothes – long johns, sweatpants, several layers of sweaters – under my foul weather gear and my ski cap to protect my ears. The whole ship, including the cabins, picked up the frigid ocean temperature, making it especially hard to sleep. And yet, only 10 miles away on land, temperatures were in the 100s.

I am really fascinated by the temperature difference between land and sea. Temperatures up and down the coast of California have been unseasonably warm, even record breaking, making our infamous California fire season even more dangerous. Yet, here we were, less than 10 miles offshore, facing very windy, very cold weather from the current coming down from the north.

Double X shows her true colors

While rounding Point Conception, the waves were so fierce that Bob had to zigzag through them under power just to make headway. Taking the waves head-on was just not productive. So we powered over a big wave then dropped into a hole and almost completely stopped before taking on the next wave. The process put a lot of tension on the boat, and I could see Bob was upset that she was taking such a beating. Yet, she came through with flying colors. And, the bilge pump worked perfectly during all this turmoil. The Double X survived more than 10 hours in these weather conditions before our arrival in San Francisco.

In search of a good night’s sleep

We motored under the Golden Gate Bridge at about 8:00 p.m. and were in Schoonmaker Marina within the hour. It was early to bed for all of us after such a long, difficult day, but especially for Bob, Paul and Els, who really did a yeoman’s job of the work. They are extremely talented at what they do, and it was nothing short of amazing to see them in action combining skill and teamwork to overcome each challenge.

Throughout the whole day, we saw relatively little activity on the water, maybe a couple of boats, a couple of big container ships, a few crab traps, and a couple of sailboats out of Half Moon Bay, but that was it. I found this immensely interesting. Millions of people live within a couple hundred miles of the coastline, yet there was virtually nobody out on the ocean.

So many reasons to smile
Sharing a laugh with Francesca and our youngest daughter Jenna as we pose for a wedding photo on her big day. Telluride, Colo., July 3, 2016.
Sharing a laugh with Francesca and our youngest daughter Jenna as we pose for a wedding photo on her big day. Telluride, Colo., July 3, 2016. Photo Credit: Cat Mayer

As Captain Bob and crew make final preparations for our departure, Francesca and I went to Telluride for a very special occasion: our daughter Jenna’s wedding. Her sister Koral, lead singer for the reggae band Niceness, played at the Opera House the night before the wedding, which was just fabulous. Of course, now we’re back in San Francisco, ready for the official start of the journey.

These are happy times for an old man like me.  Until next time, much love to you all.


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11 thoughts on “A Tough Motor to San Francisco”

  1. I’m following you, Sam! What kind of ski exercises will you be performing shipboard? Be careful out there!

    1. Hi Charlie,
      We are guessing that you can’t beat sailing for core training, and Dr. Sam’s morning pilates is sure to keep him in tip-top shape for skiing. Thanks for your good wishes and we are happy to pass on your full message to Dr. Sam.
      With our best,
      The Land Crew

    1. Hi David,
      Unfortunately not, although we will do our best to keep note of Dr. Sam’s approximate position. You will find this information on the tab entitled “Our Travels” on the home page of the website. Thanks for all your comments. Very much appreciated.
      With our best,
      The Land Crew

  2. What a wonderful adventure and vivid story telling. I was with you around Pt. Concepcion and could feel the boat sliding down the troughs and shuddering up the faces as you made your way to weather. Smooth sailing on the downwind run. Godspeed. I am eager to see the tale unfold. That 2-6 watch on the open Pacific is so exciting. Lights in the sea and in the sky. Great luminescent beasts emerging from the depths. Strange sounds from the darkness. I eagerly await the tales.

  3. Wishing you and Francesca a wonderful and safe adventure Dr. Sam! I am looking forward to keeping up on your adventures on your blog.


    Erin Blaesing-Miller

    1. Thanks for the good wishes Erin! Happy to pass them on to Dr. Sam, Francesca and crew. Tomorrow the official adventure begins. So exciting!
      The Land Crew

  4. Simply amazing! I feel like I am with you through this blog! Wishing you (Dr. Sam) and the crew a safe journey and an amazing adventure! Give Rod a BIG HELLO from me!

    1. Thank you Johanna for your response. We feel like you are with us as well! We will pass your note on and will give Rod a BIG hello from you!
      The Land Crew :o)

  5. Hello Everyone
    It is so great to catch up to the Double X and it’s crew.
    Terrific job everyone and I look forward to the next
    All the best,

    1. Hi Porter,
      Thanks much for your kind words. We really appreciate them and, it’s wonderful having you following the adventure!
      All our best,
      The Land Crew

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