Sea Lions and Sharks and Engine Failure, Oh My!
September 25, 2017. We set sail from Half Moon Bay to Monterey Bay. At over 50 nm it’s our longest single day of sailing to date (on Salt). The day was filled with adventures, wild life sightings, and cruising mishaps.
We made it out of Half Moon Bay on schedule just past 8 am. It was nearly dead calm as we motored our way through fishing boats, through the channel and into the open sea.
We motored for the first five hours — longer than I’d hoped — since the wind was reluctant to to gain any force. When we did finally set sail it was a glorious down wind sail on gentle rolling seas. I even experimented with our wisker pole, which I jury-rigged to the mast with a towing line and a climbing shackle. Worked well and gave us a couple extra knots as the genoa stopped collapsing in on itself.
The sea life came out to greet us as well. We saw humpback whales meandering down the coast, birds circling overhead hoping to pick up their leftovers for dinner. Then we saw a great white shark, a few hundred meters from the whales. At first I thought it was a buoy marking a crab trap, but the fin turned and did a slow circle. Allison saw the full huge girth of the shark, seemingly a third as round as it was long. Its indifference or even curiosity to our passing by reminded me of the lions in Botswana who know they rule the plains.
Thirty minutes after our shark sighting, Allison saw something floating near the surface.
“There’s something dead… I think it’s a shark!” she exclaimed.
We put autopilot on standby and swung the boat around to take a closer look. Sure enough what looked like half a shark — it’s head and upper body — was floating a few feet below the surface. We approached slowly and circled. It was alive! And it’s swimming! While no biologist, I was pretty sure a half of a shark couldn’t swim. Allison quickly identified it. It was a Sunfish, also known as a Mola Mola. The largest ever documented grew to 3500 pounds. And it was a big damn fish, swimming slowly and unperturbed by our circling.
The sea life adventures continued. We saw a troop / family/ clan of sea lions leaping out of the water, presumably chasing prey. I thought they were dolphins from a distance, as I’d never seen sea lions skip above the water like that. Later while I was down below, Allison let out a loud yelp as another sea lion jumped out of the water 10 meters from the boat, directly toward us. It made eye contact with her and, she says, barked right at her.
We were feeling pretty good about our day of adventure, ready to drop anchor in Monterey Bay in front of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and enjoy the sunset. The wind was dying as we entered the bay and I went to fire up the engine. Nothing. No roar of the diesel. No splutter of a starter engine turning over. No desperation of a clicking solenoid. Shit.
We were a couple hundred meters from the iconic Santa Cruz pier with the roller coasters in the background. Well, I guess we’ll have to sail in and drop the hook and see if we can figure it out. Allison took the helm as I ran down below to start trouble shooting. The starter battery was fully charged. Check. The battery was delivering the charge to the starter. Check. Maybe it’s the solenoid? No idea where that is. And we don’t have an extra. Maybe it’s the starter panel? Not sure what we can do there.
Allison and I brainstormed as we debated how to best negotiate the sail into the anchorage (with almost no wind) or call for a tow. I decided to make a quick call into my “lifeline” to discuss. The “lifeline” in this case is my dad who’s sailed many tens of thousands of miles across all sorts of oceans. At a young age Dad taught me many descriptive new words while hanging upside down in a bilge trying to fix the diesel. My mom assured my I should never repeat them.
Anyway, the Lifeline picked up the phone and we discussed the situation. Battery have power? Yes. Battery connection to the starter okay? Yes. Solenoid fine? Not sure. How about the ignition?
“How do I check that?” I asked.
“Just try jumping it. Grab a screw driver and connect the terminals,” dad said.
So as Allison deftly maneuvered the boat under sail around the bay, I jumped into the lazerette to figure out how to jump the engine for the first time. I started connecting wires. First one. Nothing. Second. Nothing. (It’s a rats nest in there…) Third. Vrrrooomm! The diesel roared to life and Allison and I high fived our victory.
We hailed the Santa Cruz harbor on channel 9 and the harbor patrol answered (since the official marina was closed for the day) and were assigned a guest slip. The harbor police checked us in and we nestled in for the evening.
Thanks, Day Three, for reminding us what cruising life is all about.