Monday, October 12, 2009

Glowing Dolphins

October 10, 2009

Three days out to sea. Pleasant weather carried us from Monterey to Santa Barbara. This time, the swell was exceedingly mild and the winds were a little too calm. However, between our light air sails and the old iron jib, we managed 212 NM in 53 hours. No records were set, but we are here. Our passage around Point Conception was unspectacular. That is, we sailed in calm seas rounding this infamous landmark at midnight with a waning half moon. We were hailed by a red light off to port, another sailing vessel heading northbound. Over the radio, SV Bugler told us he had just spent the last year in Mexico and was homeward bound. Without meeting, two ships pass in the night, as safe passage wished for both, but what a sense of camaraderie out here in the inky darkness.
At about 2 AM, during my watch, three short-beaked common-dolphins rode our bow wave and played around the boat for almost an hour. They glided in the bioluminescent water effortlessly and made our clunky sailboat look as such. It was a brilliant experience standing on the bowsprit with glowing dolphins under my feet leading us through these dark waters. We have seen many cetaceans (whales and dolphins) on this coast. I would estimate that 4/5 sailing days have brought us in viewing proximity of these animals. Not surprisingly, at every point or land prominence we have rounded, there have been whales. Due to the oceanographic phenomenon called upwelling, nutrient rich cold water is brought up from the deep offshore waters into the coastal regions. Land prominences such a Cape Mendicino or Point Conception (as well a many others), tend to be focal points of high nutrient flux and therefore tend to be exceedingly productive. Where the food is, whales can be found. Unfortunately, the big ones keep mostly too far from us to be photographed (especially with our little point-and-shoot). I did get some good footage this morning of another pod of dolphins riding our bow as we approached Santa Barbara.
We did have a funny experience with a pod of common bottlenose dolphins when we were about 40 miles from Santa Cruz. It was late afternoon and the sun was high. The deep pelagic waters that begin about 10 miles offshore are usually very nutrient-deficient compared to inshore waters and thus tend to be very clear. When the sun is high, the water reflects a brilliant green. The wind was blowing about 15-17 knots which has the effect of creating small but consistent whitecaps. In the distance, off our starboard quarter, I spotted an irregular set of splashes that did not fit the wind-derived pattern. They were so fast. Several fins would pierce a wave as they surfed the 10-foot swell and then would appear several waves ahead with dashing speed. As the light illuminated a wave train from behind, the green hue of the water reflected the off the light skin color of these skilled surfers and created the most brilliant turquoise reflectance. Turquoise torpedoes raced in a wide arc behind IO and then approached us from the port quarter. They effortlessly but cautiously approached our beam, slowed to our pace, and then keeping distance, pulled ahead. It was clear they were eager for a race. But as it was, that was all we had! Our pathetic little wind boat was already maxed out. We had no challenge to offer. Politely they waited, surging ahead and then slowing up, clearly urging and taunting our participation. We had nothing, and without satisfaction, they moved on.
We have stopped in Santa Barbara to wait out some contrary weather and to visit my step-mother Manuela before we move on to the Channel Islands and then San Diego.

Santa Barbara
N34 24.67 W119 40.73

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