Sailing the BVI was our goal when we decided to take sailing courses. We managed to complete our courses in Bayfield WI by 2012.
We have now surpassed this by purchasing our own cruising boat and preparing to sail off the most of the Caribbean in the future. But initially we had little in the way of ocean experience when we planned our first charter in the British Virgin Islands.
In order to prepare for this first adventure to the BVI together, we realized we needed some meat in our resume. Would our coursework and owning our own boat in the Midwest suffice? It could have, but we also felt that we might feel more confident AND we yearned for some mid winter sailing fun. Mike had a business trip to California early January, 2013 (about 6 weeks before our Caribbean trip). We pondered whether we would be able to find a charter that would loan us a boat for a few days. We made phone calls to a couple of sailing charters in San Diego, where we knew that the weather was pretty nice (compared to Wisconsin at that time of year, I’d say it was awesome). We found a Catalina 34 available for the weekend! We quickly discussed the terms as well as our resume for sailing and we were set.
We arrived at Shelter Cove Marina on a bright, crisp Friday morning. We were immediately greeted by the typical sailboat marina sound of tinging halyards against the masts in the light breeze, seagulls calling to one another, and a gentle pacific ocean breeze (I’m always amazed that you can leave one season and be in another the next day!).We met the charter owner, reviewed the regulations and signed documents. He required that we make a quick trip with one of his captains out to the bay to make sure we knew how to handle the vessel. Sure, we thought that was a great idea! We’re thinking…”where’s the jib halyard? cunningham? do we need to refuel? As relatively new sailors, some experience on our Precision 23, now we are talking 34 ft of boat ..bigger engine…bigger sails…lots more to mess with.
With the papers signed, we grabbed our bags and meager provisions and headed to the boat. We were met by not 1 but 2 captains on a 1990 Catalina 34. They were kind gentlemen and very proud of their Eastern European accent to “show us the ropes”. After we became accustomed to the language difference, we we comfortable and quite pleased that they took the time for our safety and the safety of the boat. They demonstrated how to get out of the slip and taught us how to back down the runway out to the larger part of the marina, which was easier than trying to make a 3 point turn…pretty cool we thought.
They showed us how to raise sails, we inspected the engine, and we got a brief lesson on the VHF. After an hour or 2 ….or possibly 3, all parties felt more comfortable (including you know US!). We returned to the slip and spent the next hour listening to the two tell us of their interesting stories as delivery captains up and down the west coast and offshore.
It was a beautiful 70 degree light breeze sailing day and we were anxious to get going. We looked at the charts and decided that we could make a trip out the San Diego Bay and offshore a bit.There were few boats moving in the marina and the bay itself was becalmed except for a bit of commotion going on overhead. Shelter Cove Marina is right across the bay from the US Naval base on Coronado. It was Friday and they were in full training mode we figured. As we left the bay, we had huge military helicopters flying overhead, along with incoming jets.I remember commenting that we felt like we were in a scene from Saving Private Ryan or Apocalypse Now. (Thankfully we didn’t take any rounds.) We slipped out past the last can bouy which was populated with seals (the marine animal and not the Navy type) to open ocean.
We raised the sails and were on our way, leaving San Diego to the stern. We enjoyed the quiet sound of water rushing past the rudder. We made lunch, a glass of wine, and relaxed. Our first time in open ocean!
We found the direction of the light wind and played around with different configurations of the sails. We left Point Loma headed north.
We had terrific day just coastal cruising and returned early evening to San Diego Bay. As we made our approach toward the marina we had our first encounter with huge watercraft.. a cruise ship. We heard the initial SECURITE warnings as we approached Point Loma, made a mental note, but didn’t think much of it until it came into view.
Leaving her to starboard we returned to the marina with a beautiful evening view of San Diego, very proud of ourselves for navigating and sailing alone.
We had a great dinner ashore finding some awesome pacific seafood. Overnight temps did drop to high 40s that night as we slept aboard. The following morning we walked to town for coffee and bagels and returned for our second day of our San Diego sailing adventure. Once out in the bay, we found many others had the same idea. Just a few more Saturday sailors. Initially, we sailed south in the bay passing our military’s finest marine defense.
We made several tacks and made our return into an unbelievable number of sailing vessels out for a beautiful day.
Now this picture doesn’t do justice to the mayhem we found ourselves in. ( I couldn’t find a moment to even grab the camera!) Not only were there hundreds of boats, but the wind had picked up making us just a bit more uneasy handling the sails. we tacked to starboard, we went to port dodging as we always seemed to be the give-away vessel. We began to banter to ourselves “what is that guy doing headed right for us? Who has the right of way , here? I can’t tack into the bridge piling and I cant jibe into that boat!!!” It was an hour of craziness! What had we gotten ourselves into? Of course, we managed to avert several potential accidents eventually finding clear water did some sight seeing along the city’s waterfront.
We returned to our slip, wishing we could stay longer, gathered our belongings and turned in the keys. We left halyards singing in the song breeze, realizing what great time we had that weekend. We found there were things we didn’t know and needed to, which we would research , but it also gave us the us the confidence that we would fair pretty well sailing in the BVI six weeks later.