Story by Dan Segraves : Photo Credit Dan Segraves
Saturday, May 13, 2017. Newport Beach
We took off from Newport Harbor early. Early is good for dolphin and whale sighting. We had slept on the boat in the harbor the night before for exactly this reason. Wake up with the sun, and the tapping against the hull of stirring in the harbor; use the restroom on land, run out for coffee; then cast off. It's 45 min to the harbor entrance going 5 kts, past the houses on the peninsula, the ferris wheel and restaurants at balboa pier, the college rowing crews. Too early for the little electric dinner boats and tourists on stand-up paddle boards. Pass the bell buoy with the sea lions on the way out of the jetty. The open water is glass this early
Southern California doesn't get breeze until afternoon. Persistent high pressure. You have to wait for the land to heat up and the thermals to kick in. That's good for getting to Catalina, so you're not fighting against the wind, but it means you have to motor. Speed the boat up to 7.5 kts, max cruising rpm on the marine diesel. Sit back and scan the water in meditation. There was thick marine layer, and low, so it was like sailing through clouds. We couldn't see Catalina, we couldn't see more than 100 feet in front of the boat. But the dolphins came anyway. It was so quiet you would hear them breathing first, then catch them lumbering into your sphere of vision.
5 miles out the marine layer started to break up. But it happens in a slow deterioration, with bursts of blue and sunlight, from the cold whitewashed hallucination to the blasting desert reality. We're all waking up and shedding layers; realizing with excitement what we've gotten into. Catalina comes into view, 23 miles away. And more dolphins. Bigger pods further out into the San Pedro Channel. These pods are so big it looks like the horizon is boiling as they approach you. We were wondering if the water was too frothy for us to float. And when the army hits you they attack in waves; flying, torpedoing under the boat in sheets of blue/grey. 20 of them at a time ride the bow wave for a laugh, swerving and bumping each-other off the swell. Packs jumping in and out and replacing others who had veered off and carried on with their day, on the way to their picnic. We were all standing above them on the bow, learning how to process. This happened 3 or 4 times along the crossing. Usually it was the small Pacific Common Dolphin. Those travel in the huge pods.
In between sightings we made dark and stormies and caught up. Brennan and I haven't sailed together since the Bahamas when we skirted a hurricane and he proposed to Karie. We got acquainted. Some of us were meeting for the first time, on open ocean. Closer to Catalina we started to see more Bottle Nose Dolphins and Risso's Dolphins. These are much bigger and travel in small packs. I finally got the courage up to do what I've always said I was going to do, which was jump in and swim with them. I suited up and jumped in; the water still deep blue and 1000's of feet deep only a few miles off Catalina. I was scared to death and I couldn't get near them. Brennan would point and I would swim and they would disappear like wild deer. Wild, after all.
We moored at Hen Rock, next to Moonstone Cove. Nothing to do all afternoon but swim, snorkel, hike, and eat; under that steep, hulking, green backdrop of chaparral and buffalo. That's the stuff. That is what we came for. The sun pushed us into the water, the spring chill pushed us back into the boat to bake again and share stories sitting around the cockpit. The next day we sailed down to Avalon and tried our best to wreak havoc among the local stalwarts at the Lobster Trap.