There are three regions in the world with a spring-like Mediterranean climate: from the Rock of Gibraltar to the Dardanelles; the central Pacific Coast of Chile north of Santiago; and southern California, from Santa Barbara to San Diego, including the Channel Islands due west of Point Dune.
The sleeping quarters in the Dirigo II are comfortable, but this is not the Queen Mary, which is permanently docked in Long Beach. Erik likes sleeping topside in a hammock. Everyone else had one of the four below cabins. The aft cabin is the largest, with Bob occupying the bow cabin. Len and Carol were mid-starboard and I was mid-port. There are no secrets on a sailboat, especially with one shower and head.
The next morning the anchor chain was the alarm clock. The weather was unchanged; Point Vincente Lighthouse blinked in the haze. During the past 24 hours the crew was constantly discussing raising the "Gollywobbler". I have sailed in many waters and have yet to see a Gollywobbler in action. I thought it was a trick question for us touristas onboard - something like snipe hunting. But I was reassured that there is such a sail as a Gollywobbler. "Okay, let's raise the Gollywobbler." "No, not yet," retorts Erik.
After the last fuel stop in Port Hueneme, it is back out to sea. The winds are so light and the sea so flat I was certain we needed the Gollywobbler, the largest sheet on the boat with over 1100 square feet, working in harmony with the Genoa, at 700 square feet, which works in tangent with the main sail.
Anacapa is the first Channel Island, about 12 miles out, so I anticipated the Gollywobbler unfurled before the barren lighthouse above the guano-stained rocks popped out of the fog like a Renaissance painting. In the meantime, I must say, I was content with the teriyaki smoked bluefin tuna hors d'oeuvres Len and Carol served throughout the day on the customized teak table slipped over the compass post. The galley still has it's huge, original all-copper sink, something you don't see on many sailboats these days.
No one has more stories to tell that a sailor on the high seas. "Remember those winds to Baja?" queries Bob, referring to the Newport Beach to Ensenada, Mexico sailing regatta held each year in April. The Dirigo II sailed it last year in one of the strongest winds in history and in one of the fastest times. Erik remembered the big party at the end.
It takes 360 days at sea to get an Able-Bodied Seaman certification, which Erik is trying for. Each day at sea on the Dirigo II brings him to his goal. With over 720 days at sea, Bob is the designated skipper.
The classic schooner's keel was laid in 1939, but because of the advent of WW II, it was not completed until 1946. The blueprints for the Dirigo II were used on the sister ship for General George Patton's schooner. The 73 foot (62 feet of deck space) Dirigo II has sailed one and a half times around the world, and in fact, it is one of the fastest schooners on the open ocean - I presume due to the Gollywobbler.
"If there is a Dirigo II there must have been a Dirigo I, right?" one of the guests asks. Dirigo I seems to be lost in the myths and fables of the sea - reported to have been torpedoed by a WWI German Wolf Pack U-boat, but Len dismisses that fact. "Dirigo" is Latin for "I Lead The Way," the state motto of Maine, where both Dirigos were built. Dirigo I was the first all-steel schooner built in the United States, but Dirigo II has an all mahogany hull. Len and his business partner brought the Dirigo II out of mothball in Washington state and are painstakingly refurbishing the classic boat.
Suddenly spinner dolphin's are spotted off the bow - a huge pod of thirty or more breaking the water like a surf line over a coral reef. Bob states many more are below the surface. Usually dolphins love to race with a sail boat. Not these guys. They were heading somewhere fast - like sunny Hawaii. They didn't even stop for a fish-eye look at us.
The sun is starting to break out. "Usually the Channel Islands have better weather than the mainland," reassures Len. Len and Bob probably know the islands better than anyone in these waters. Len once operated a bed a breakfast on Santa Cruz Island, a couple of hundred yards from the anchorage at Smuggler's Cove, our harbor for the evening. Bob has worked with Len on the island over the years, both as a present-day captain, but also as a professional carpenter, a trade that supports him on the mainland. The islands are now a national park, and through eminent domain, the Park Service shoehorned Len out of the hostelry business in 1997.
The 1889 built Italianate farmhouse is hidden behind tall, gnarly, eucalyptus trees that are used as firewood after they crash naturally on the beach. "We had a lot of wild pig barbecues," retorts Bob. The 125-year-old hillside olive grove still holds the dry soil intact, but they are no longer irrigated so they don't produce. The olive and orange trees in the valley produce because they receive ground water and rainfall run off; there are four permanent streams on Santa Cruz, the largest of the islands, at 65,000 square acres. The California Olive Company wanted to make the grove productive if Len would put in the irrigation. The high cost and the fact that the Park Service stepped in killed the idea. "I once had a tree house in a huge olive tree in the valley," muses Len. These days no camping is allowed with fires.
There are eight islands that make up the Channel Islands National Park but we were in the northern four island archipelago group: Anacapa, the smallest, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel, the loneliest - all anchored like aircraft carriers in a straight east-to-west latitude to catch the wind as if waiting for pilots to land. There is a light plane airstrip on Santa Rosa, and since 1993 Len has guided fly-in camping excursions through his adventure travel company, Horizons West Adventures (562/799-3880 or email HWADVENTURES@aol.com).
There are now less people living on the four northern Channel Islands than in the last ten thousand years. This is a remote locale, eerily close to Los Angeles, with its teeming millions.
The largest Great White Shark in California, at 3,500 pounds, was pulled out of the waters around Smuggler's Cove, a thought that crept into my cranium as we launched the Achilles dinghy; Bob and Erik popped the 2-horsepower Seahorse diesel motors to life for sea cave exploring. The largest sea cave in the world - Painted Cave - is on the western and wetter side of Santa Cruz, but we didn't visit. A kayak and canoe are marooned on the rocky beach slapped by swells that we maneuver through to the sea cliffs and then fall out and explore the guano pungent caves. The water is so clear, it looks deeper than it is.
The Channel Islands are called the American Galapagos because of the diverse wildlife and flora. With a California fishing license all the Park's open waters are fishable for barracuda, squid, bonita, or yellowfin tuna, and halibut in the coves. The bright orange Garibaldi is California's state fish, and it is protected in these waters. Even though all your meals are included on your Dirigo II cruise, if you can catch it, Len will grill it. Ask him about his wonderful calamari recipe. Bob describes a poor man's lobster pot: "Take a nylon stocking, drop in a rock, tie it off, drop in cut bait, tie a knot, and tie the nylon to a long line. The lobster's feelers get caught in the nylon mesh and you can pull them right from the water."
For over 8,000 years these islands were the Chumash Indians' spiritual home. At one time there were ten villages and 2,000 Chumash on the islands. The word Chumash is derived from "alchum" the tribal word for money. They made shell money and ornaments for trading with other coastal mainland tribes. They used the prized purple olive snails to make their delicate bead money that they traded for acorns and venison from shore tribes. Stone tools, chert knives, mortar and pestles, and other daily items date back into timelessness. On Santa Rosa Island the bones of a Chumash woman date to 13,000 B.C. The Chumash left the islands in the 1850s, about the time the domesticated pigs arrived. Now there are 4,000 feral pigs and no islanders. The pig population exploded after the feral sheep were trapped and shot.
The pigs dig three to four foot holes and uproot fennel plant bulbs and Jerusalem crickets within the Chumash middens - archaeological testaments to a once thriving native American population. There are 68 identifiable archaeological sites on the islands, with twice as many sites to be still discovered. The middens are ancient trash heaps that date and catalog a culture that is long gone; they contain shells, burial ornaments, pottery fragments, and bones - the pigs are tearing a page right out of the archaeological history book. The Chumash are still part of the Native American culture, now living on the mainland. The feral pigs were never part of the environment; they are destined for removal in 2003.
That evening under a full moon we "Spliced the Main Brace" with more tots of Len's "Painkillers". Needless to say, we felt no pain when Bob brought out the potato cannon. We had no potatoes, only limes. The ingenious skipper used plastic PVC tubing to construct an usual missile defense system. Stuff a lime down the three foot barrel, fill the end with hairspray - not any hairspray, only Aqua Net Premium has the percussion and propellant - pull the barbecue starter plunger, and a lime explodes at a high velocity all the way to the beach, or over the bow of a fishing trawler that pulled in late under the silvery moon.
You can't use the potato cannon to hunt for elk on Santa Rosa Island, and elk make a pretty expensive steak with the $10,000 license fee - hunt with either blackpowder or modern arms.
That night Carol made walnut olive pesto that was divine and Len grilled up the last of the bluefin tuna, adding lamb and chicken to the menu.
Mountain biking is not allowed on the islands, so the next morning Bob ferried us over in the dinghy to Scorpion Bay, following a flotilla of sea kayakers getting their first lessons; we spooked a seal from its sea cave haunt so the cameras snapped away. The water is clear and clean at Scorpion Bay, and divers plunge here for sea urchins. We grabbed the dry bag containing our clothes - we would have to swim back through the swells at Smuggler's Cove to get back into the dinghy.
It was great to stretch the legs for a nice hike back over the ridge to Smuggler's Cove. This year's El Niño made it one of the driest winters on record and the grasses and sedges were burnt a gray-brown. Usually in August the island is green. With the intermittent rains, early settlers made this end of Santa Cruz the breadbasket of the islands, growing wheat and barley inland. Vultures were spotted along the way, ripping apart their prey - a wild roadside diner.
We radioed Bob and he taxied through to the edge of the surf as far as he could; the waters of the Pacific are saltier and colder than the Caribbean or the Atlantic. It took two passes with the Achilles to get all three of onboard, and we sped back through the surf to the Dirigo II.
I think the crew was having more fun that the guests. The surfboards came out, boards were waxed, and the wetsuits snapped on like a second skin. Bob and Len were the only surfers on board, but Erik took us out to ride the waves in a dinghy. You could tell Len and Bob love these islands as the sun sent the surf's salt spray dancing over their heads like a halo. Len recommended the video "Surfing For Life".
We spent the last night in the northern islands at Albert's Cove, a small, peaceful and sunny respite that was easy to access with the dinghies. Live mussels were found in the tidepools; a hike up a narrow ravine found one of the live streams; Len and Carol baked in the sand between huge beach boulders used like giant tanning screens. It was a wonderful day of lounging in the sun.
The last adventurous archipelago anchorage would be amongst the four southern Channel Islands. It was hard to believe we were sailing east from Santa Cruz to Santa Catalina Island. Big water plays tricks on the senses, and if you look at a map of Southern California the huge curving bight makes sailing deceiving. We are now in tuna country - the rigs are rigged for trolling as the wind finally kicks in with a zesty fury. The thoughts of the Gollywobbler no longer come to mind as the Dirigo II flexes it's mighty, meaty muscles under ecstatic sails for the 60 miles to the west end of Santa Catalina Island, the most populated of all the Channel Islands.
The next morning we all agreed to pilot to Avalon, once the playground of the rich and famous. The Wrigley family, of chewing gum and baseball fame (they owned the Chicago Cubs), built a mansion on a peak above town, which is now a $400 a night bed and breakfast, just below deep sea billfish record breaker and cowboy pulp fiction writer, Zane Grey's villa. Avalon's Casino Ballroom and Theater still stands from it's 1930 art deco heyday, and it hosts concerts, jazz festivals and movies to this day in the world's largest circular ballroom.
On the trip back to Long Beach I was certain I would get to see the Gollywobbler in action after the Genoa was raised with the main sail. We raced across the Santa Barbara Channel in true racing sloop dihedrals, often hitting 10.1 knots, about the maximum speed of the Dirigo II.
This is big ocean sailing at its best - and with one of the most experienced and knowledgeable and fun crews in these waters - and to be quite honest, coming into the Long Beach Harbor Gollywobbler-LESS is as exhilarating as it gets.
By Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine.