Not all adventures happen in 5th wheels. Not all kindness comes from people. Some of it happens in other more curious ways and places.
George and I love to sail. We are fortunate enough to have the equipment for it. Introducing: The Silhouette. She is a 38 foot Catalina sloop, old, circa 1981, but still afloat with finesse. With tanbark (reddish) sails. And they really do look red in the sunset.
We try often to sail the 26 miles across the sea from where we keep the Silhouette in Alamitos Bay in Long Beach, CA. Sailing can at times present new and unpredictable outcomes. In fact, most of the time you might add that sailing is predictably unpredictable more than not. Perhaps that’s why so many people enjoy sailing. This is the story of one such occurrence. Like most, it has happened only once on our sea journeys, and it was about fifteen years ago.
We left port about ten AM with our Australian shepherd, Oscar, for Catalina Island off California’s shore. We had made this crossing many times, and we knew it would take us five hours to arrive at Avalon, the main town on this small island. We had learned enough about sailing to know our ship reasonably well, and no matter how you trimmed your sails, no matter what the weather promised to be, it would take us FIVE HOURS to get to Avalon for one reason or another. As it turned out, we arrived on time (5 hours later), were able to procure a “can” (a small floating buoy attached to the bay floor for securing a boat to), and enjoy four days of island time in peace and color.
So here’s the thing about sailing: there are surprises. Sure enough, on day five we were awoken as we slept down below by our own bodies bouncing off each other because of the unusual pitching of the hull. We looked at each other questioningly…
“What the heck is going on? Have we broken loose for some reason?”
I ventured up to the steps leading out to the cockpit. Peeking out, I was immediately introduced to a very strong wind against my face as I looked eastward toward the mainland. My hair was swept backward as if I was flying. And then I knew. The beautiful wind that had brought us so gracefully to the protection of Avalon four days previously had now turned into what we in Orange County call the Santa Ana Winds… a seasonal wind that can either be hot or cold that blows into the area through the canyon from the East, usually in full force. I turned my head to look westward at the seawall that protects Avalon from conditions like this and to my chagrin, a surfer rode his board across our port (left) side on a wave that had no intention of being defied. I watched as the surfer peeled out before the wave hit the wall and ricocheted upward, making a ten foot spray across the town plaza in the process. Normally, surfers stick to the coasts to surf. This was a vey well protected bay… but now with surf!
” Umm, George? I think we’re looking at a Santa Ana.”
We listened to the weather report on the radio and the winds were predicted to continue at least until the following day if not longer. Hmmm. What to do? We decided to take our dinghy to the dock and seek advice from the Harbor Master. This entailed getting both of us and Oscar off a pitching boat into a pitching dinghy. Luckily for us, he was always a very brave dog and whither we would go, so would he.
Once in the dinghy, I encouraged Oscar to lie down and I laid down over him, keeping him secure. We headed for the dock only to discover the people in charge of strong winds (?) had removed them! We then tried another dock farther away. It, too, was gone! Finally, we headed for the most protected dock in the bay, the fuel dock, and thankfully it was still in use. But, there was very little space for us to tie up because of the fact that other boaters had abandoned their ships as well and come ashore. We tied up to someone else’s dinghy and climbed over five others to reach the dock. Oscar was way ahead of us and forged the way.
We walked over to the Harbor Masters’ Office on the pier. George spoke with him and he told George that if we wanted to get out of the harbor (a now very dangerous place for a boat) and get out to sea (the safer place in a Santa Ana Wind condition) there was supposed to be a lessening option about noon for an hour or so. It was ten o’clock at this time. We sat down on a bench beside the bay and watched as the Silhouette tossed bow to stern over and over as the windswept waves continued to charge. Thankfully, Avalon has a unique system for securing your boat once you arrive: It is tied up not by one can on the bow but another to the stern. I now understood why it was so. It kept our boat from swaying sideways in addition to the bow to stern movement. As it was, I observed that I could see the entire deck from bow to stern in one fell swoop of an oncoming wave as she rolled over the waves. We were glad we had the ability to come ashore with Oscar. We were not sure what kind of challenges we would face once we got out to open sea and headed back to Alamitos Bay, but we didn’t want a constipated pup to be an additional dilemma.
We returned cautiously to the Silhouette, timing our approach as best we could. I got aboard first to help with getting Oscar on board. It proved to be a difficult task as the ship was still pitching, the dinghy was unwieldy because of the sea, and George had to lift a seventy- pound dog up and over a four foot rise. We had no swim step to simply walk onto. As I said, she’s a sailboat. Dog of all dogs, Oscar, understood our endeavors, and complied the best way he could. Mission accomplished.
We quickly started “the iron sail” (motor) and prepared to release our boat from its trappings, only to be stymied by yet another challenge. In my rush, I had released the bow line off the starboard side rather than the usual port (left)side, which meant we were facing a possible entanglement with the propeller if the line didn’t sink quickly. We had to wait before putting the boat in gear until we saw we were clear. While all this was happening, we were floating closer and closer to a speed boat on our port side. George decided to put it in gear and take a chance when he could wait no longer. God must have been tired of watching us and he let us go.
Outside the harbor, the wind persevered, but was manageable. After all, (once again!) we were a sailboat. With our compass set at a 0 degree heading, we were on our way to Long Beach.
About mid-channel, I was at the helm. The wind had abated, but still had a strong hand in things. George was below when I looked out across the horizon and noticed it looked a little fuzzy. I was thinking my eyes must be dry from the wind. I blinked a couple of times, but the horizon still was not clear.
George came back to the cockpit and I said to him, “Look over there, George. Does the horizon look clear to you?” He followed my pointing finger.
“No. It doesn’t… I wonder what that is?”
Shortly thereafter, we began to see an occasional Monarch butterfly cross our sails.
“Huh. The Monarchs are migrating this time of year. They’re being blown off course by the Santa Ana’s, ” George observed.
“So many so, they’re blurring the horizon!” I added.
Before we knew it, we had hundreds of butterflies flying in the billow of our main sail and jib, being protected from the strong winds of the Santa Ana’s, but keeping up with the speed of our boat. They escorted us all the way into Alamitos Bay, slowing leaving us one by one as our speed decreased with the lessening breeze in the harbor.
We often reminisce about this once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was a beautiful sight to behold, their brilliant colors against our red sails, their unwilling reluctance to condescend to nature’s forces, finding safety in humanity’s ulterior purposes. Yet, we also often ponder: Who was helping who out there in the crossing? Was it us who abetted their life’s purpose, or was it they who stayed with us and escorted us safely back to our port with the expression of silent tenacity?
Kinetic kindness, thy name this time is Symbiotic Supplication. We thank you for that.