Fri 11 Apr 2003 US/Pacific

Well, we're in San Diego! The question is, now what? The first thing is to find a place to stay. The good news is that the police dock, operated by the Harbour Police, is a convenient and reasonably cheap stop for new arrivals. It's handily located on Shelter Island, which makes it convenient for the Point Loma area, where all the cool cruiser stuff is.

Two black skimmers at the Police dock

We're already noting the change in wildlife, just staying at the police dock. Wierd crackling noises sound through the hull at night, as if the fibreglass is coming delaminated; this is quite alarming at first, but it's apparently caused by a species of shrimp, Pistol Shrimp, snapping their tails in the water. Once you're used to that, you begin to notice the wierd croaking noises. It sounds like air bubbles moving in the plumbing, but every time you try to track it down, it moves... this is apparently a species of fish, called drums or croakers, that make a noise by vibrating their swim bladders.

When out on the docks at night, you have a good chance of seeing herons -- both black-crested night herons, and blue herons, can be seen fishing from the docks. Also, night after night at the police docks, we were treated to the sight of black skimmers fishing -- they fly inches above the water, with their beaks dragging in the water, skimming up small fish from the surface. The fish seem to be attracted to the lights on the dock, so the skimmers were flying continual circuits, just a couple of feet away from where we were watching. They seemed to be eating so many fish it was a wonder they could keep flying.

The fish that the black skimmers were eating

Time at the police docks is limited, though, so we started calling the marinas for a space. The problem is that all marinas in San Diego are permanently full, so a sublet from a boat that's away is our best bet -- after a few days of trying, we finally got a space at Harbour Island West marina. This gave us a place to do some of the work we have planned for the boat, particularly some new rigging, and an overhaul of the boom and mainsail.

Harbour Island is a pretty cool place to stay, but noisy, since it's right by the airport -- the most inconviently located airport in any city in the world, I'm willing to bet, right in downtown on the waterfront. We've lost the continual helicopter and military jet noise that comes from being on Shelter Island, right by the naval air station, but we've gained the deafening noise of passenger jets taking off. Oh well...


Being in the marina definitely has its benefits, such as nice showers, a jacuzzi, laundry, and easy access by car. Blue herons are all over the docks at night, and the location -- between the island (really a peninsula) and the parks on the shore -- is quite beautiful, apart from the noise. The basin is also a nice protected place to go for a row, so we took some time out in the dinghy to row along the marinas and check out the boats.

One in particular is very eye-catching -- a trimaran that looks as if it's been through World War Three, with a wierd contraption holding the mast up, and all sorts of patches all over the tatty-lookng hulls. Steel plates are riveted on, fibreglass patches are stuck here and there, and bits of steel mesh are poking through in places.

Even from a couple of feet away, the boat looks like a veteran of some major disaster -- but it's all fake! This is Kevin Costner's boat from the movie Waterworld, which just happens to be parked here.

San Diego panorama
Fri 1 Aug 2003 US/Pacific

Well, after some time in San Diego, much work has been done on Moonrise, to get her fitted out for a cruise. The full list of projects we've done is huge, but here's a sampling:

• The autopilot bracket on the tiller, which broke on the way down, has gone. There's now an attachment pin directly on the tiller, which is far stronger; this moved the autopilot up about 8 inches, so we fabricated a new mounting point for the other end, on a small rail added to the stern pulpit.

• We took the boom off, completely stripped it, and had it sandblasted and repainted. The old paint was peeling off all over, and there was a lot of corrosion building up underneath, particularly under the fittings; this should make sure that the boom lasts for quite a few more years. Also, the boom wasn't pivoting, due to a completely corroded gooseneck fitting -- we got the old one apart (by cutting the boom end cap in half -- it was that well seized) and put in a new cap. With lots of grease!

Moonrise's new name on

While we were putting all the fittings back on, we took the chance to re-organise the boom a bit. The outhaul (which tensions the foot of the sail) now works a lot better, and both reefs are now led to a double clutch (thanks, Norm!) on the starboard side -- the same side as the main halyard -- which will make reefing easier.

• All new halyards, to reduce stretch -- double-braid instead of three-strand. This should reduce the weather helm a bit, and reduce the need for us to reef purely to balance the boat.

• Replaced the DC electrical panel. The old one used a style of circuit breaker than you can't get any more, and the breakers were getting worn out -- on the way down we had trouble with the one that controls the autopilot, and the bilge pump breaker had already failed and been swapped for another one. Drilling the panel for new-style breakers as the old ones wore out would have meant a huge job of dismantling the panel every time a breaker went bad. So, we decided to completely replace the panel and breakers with a new panel (made from two 8-circuit panels connected together).

• Renamed Moonrise -- she is now officially Moonrise of Inverness. We'd prefer to leave her just Moonrise, but we're putting her into British documentation, and there's already a Moonrise, unfortunately -- so we had to come up with something new. Inverness is Moonrise's home port, and also my home town, the capital of the Highlands.

Moonrise's new name

We designed a new name for Moonrise, printed up some boat cards ourselves, and had the name made up in vinyl; then put the new name on the hull.

• Had the rigging checked over, and replaced the upper shrouds and the headstay; the lower shrouds, and the boomkin and bowsprit stays, all look OK, except that we replaced the turnbuckles on the bobstay and boomkin shrouds.

The headstay replacement is particularly welcome. We had a twin headstay -- two wires 6 inches apart -- which makes changing sails very easy, since you can leave two sails hanked on at once. However, it makes it practically impossible to get correct tension on the stay, which means that the stay sags when the jib is up, resulting in a bad jib shape, and hence weather helm -- one sailing problem Moonrise has had since I got her.

This doesn't sound too bad, but the stay was sagging by three feet or more! The new stay should fix that. Plus, with all the hunks of metal involved in adapting single stay terminals to two wires, the new stay is a lot less weight, and has a lot fewer failure points.

Lisa's Spirit Chaser

&bull Mounted Moonrise's spirit chaser. This is a native American tradition, made from horsehair, sea shells, and a feather, to symbolise Moonrise's journey in wind and water.

This particular one is very special -- it was a gift from my friend Lisa, made with hair from Critter, her own horse. It's mounted in the main cabin, on the compression post -- the massive beam that transmits the driving force from the mast and sails to the hull.

• Replaced all the batteries. Yikes, that was expensive! Still, the old setup was both worn out and wierd -- three banks, of which two were totally failed (batteries held no charge at all), and one was on about 30% capacity. The new batteries are all AGMs (a lot more durable, as well as being spill-proof), and are in two banks -- a single engine battery, and 370 amp-hours of house batteries.

While we were at it, we took two batteries off a shelf in the quarterberth (!), and made better hold-downs for all batteries. We removed two of the three (!) battery switches, so we now have just one -- a rather more conventional setup. This makes more space in the key locker, which is useful.

Visitor's centre in the Anza-Borrego Desert

That's a lot of work, but only a small sample of what we've done. The good news is we have had time to relax; a little, at least. My parents arrived shortly after we did, so we showed them some of the sights around San Diego. One notable trip was to the Anza-Borrego Desert, a beautiful desert area and national park not far from town. The temperature was bearable, but I wouldn't like to go there in August.

Just being on the water in San Diego has its interesting points. San Diego is a busy port, most notably on the military side; after the Gulf war, there were quite a few homecomings, with the waterfront crowded with people flying the flag.

Crowd at the Moody Blues

One intersting diversion accessable from Shelter Island or La Playa anchorage is Humphrey's, a major San Diego music venue. Entry is expensive, but there's a tiny strip of water between the marina and the land, right by the stage, where you can hear and almost see the action -- for free! Every night, dinghies and kayaks head over there with picnics to catch some music. And Humphrey's gets some big acts -- we caught the Moody Blues in concert, rowing over from the police dock.

The US Navy's dolphin pens, near Shelter Island

Occasionally, you can see the US Navy training their dolphins. The dolphin pens are near the end of Shelter Island, and they take the dolphins out into the bay for training -- once right by the police dock when we were berthed there. The dolphins are trained to spot and report divers in the water, among other things; when training is over, the handlers call them back, and they come and jump up onto the special dolphin boats for the trip home. Pretty wierd.

Sun 10 Aug 2003 US/Pacific

Getting ready to leave San Diego -- and frankly, we can't wait!

Sunset at Sunset Cliffs

San Diego is a place that definitely has its good points and its bad, particularly from a cruiser's point of view. San Diego is the definitive jumping-off point for cruisers heading south -- it's the last port before Mexico, so the last place where it's easy to get hardware such as solar panels, radios, flopper stoppers, storm sails, outboards, and the million and one other things needed for cruising. It's also a large and sheltered natural harbour; one of very few on the generally hostile west coast of the USA.

So, over the years, San Diego has evolved a considerable cruiser-oriented infrastructure. Unfortunately, though, the San Diego establishment doesn't like cruisers! Cruisers have nasty, untidy boats (in contrast to the polished white multi-million dollar Cayman-registered megayachts the city and marinas like so much), and they just clutter the place up. To be fair, SD has had a problem -- like other west-coast cities -- with derelicts, which do cause genuine problems, such as sinking, catching fire, drifting off their usually inadequate anchoring gear, or being home to drugs labs. Also, believe it or not, owners of expensive waterfront properties have brought considerable pressure to bear to have anchoring prohibited in front of their homes -- so that their waterfront views won't be cluttered by boats!

The upshot is that SD has many things to offer cruisers, but also creates many problems for them -- the biggest of which is where to stay.

This can be very frustrating. We've been doing the runaround between the police dock, La Playa, the cruiser's anchorage, marinas, round and round, losing a day or two every time we move. We just got back into the cruiser's anchorage for our third stint there. Given the choice to do it again, I would be inclined to stay in Alameda, get ready at my slip, then set off from there. Given how fast you can work from your own slip, with easy access to a car, I'm sure that would work out cheaper and much faster.

Friendship Bell -- Please Keep Off

Still, the San Diego stopover has a lot to recommend it for people coming from the north -- a great place to take stock and refit after the (usually streuous) shakedown cruise down the coast. And the good news is that things are improving; new laws allow the old laws to actually be enforced, so that the cruiser's anchorage is now restricted to geniune cruisers with seaworthy boats, and so on. It's early days yet (these measures came in in July), but this is making life a little easier. With that in mind, here's the Moonrise Guide to San Diego, as of August 2003; be aware that things are continually changing...

First, where to stay:

• Just anchor where you like -- and get towed and fined. Sorry, all anchoring in SD bay is totally regulated.

• The police dock -- located at the west end of Shelter Island, right in front of the Harbour Police building. There are actually two separate docks -- the customs dock, a single long dock part of which is allocated to the police boats, is for check-ins, and short-term use (the boat must be accompanied at all times); and the marina, with about 20 slips, just around the corner, is for overnight stays.

This facility is very handy for new arrivals in SD. Pull up at the customs dock, head up to the Harbor Police office and book in -- if there's a free slip. (If not, you're in trouble!). Then move around to the marina. It's $10 per night for 5 nights, then $20 per night for the next 5 nights; no advance bookings. You can only stay 10 days in any 40, though.

The police dock is a 2-mile or so walk from Downwind Marine and the other marine businesses (see below).

The full moon over San Diego

• La Playa anchorage -- located further up Shelter Island harbour. Needs a permit from the Harbor Police office, which is free; but you can only anchor in La Playa for Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. A nice, quiet, sheltered anchorage. You can dinghy to the beach and walk to Downwind, or park your dinghy at the police dock and drive. Good place to chill out. Can fill up with locals pretty quickly, specially on holidays.

• Glorietta anchorage -- last I saw (a while ago), it was full to overflowing with derelicts, but they seem to be cracking down. A very small but sheltered anchorage in a beautiful setting on Coronado; the snag is it's miles from the rest of SD. Stay is limited to 72 hours max in any -- week? Month? Dunno. Information on all the anchorages is available at the Harbour Police office on Shelter Island.

• The Cruiser's anchorage -- just past Harbour Island, between it and the Coastguard station. In theory, the anchorage is reserved for genuine cruisers, ie. boats registered outside San Diego county. And they do seem to be enforcing this now (it was a massive derilict park). Usually pretty full, but we seem to be managing to squeeze in fairly reliably -- it's getting harder as October approaches, though. The maximum stay is 90 days per year; need a permit from the Harbor Police, including a (fairly cursory) vessel inspection.

The seal tours amphibious bus

This probably sounds ideal, but it's actually not too nice -- the bottom is full of PCBs from old industrial works and covered with plastic sheeting, which is supposed to keep the contamination under control, but you have to poke your anchor through it in order to get hooked in. (I kid you not.) It's almost under the airport flight path, so look forward to cleaning jet fuel off your decks -- we have taken all our ropes off, since we washed them all the last time we thought we were leaving. You're also right by the coastguard helicopter station, and under the flight path for the naval air station, so look forward to constant, deafening noise. Yuck! Also, there are a total of about 20 parking spaces serving this anchorange and about 150 mooring balls. Amazingly, we usually manage to get parking. You are several miles away from Downwind etc., so cycling would be a chore. The busses are just about usable -- take 922 or 923 up to Rosecrans at Nimitz (by Von's supermarket), then 28 in either direction on Rosecrans. They run every 45 minutes or so.

• Mooring balls -- this could be a real good option, but getting a space is tricky. Cost is something like $150 to $250 per month. The San Diego Mooring Company handles all balls.

There are balls in several locations. The Shelter Island balls are extremely rolly; a friend of ours didn't mouse his shackle and the boat went roaming in less than 24 hours. (Cost of tow and recovery -- $1,200.) The Laurel St. moorings are large and protected, but also right by the airport -- hence noise and oil. The Glorietta moorings look fantastic; nice, quiet and sheltered. There's no dinghy dock, just a beach (nice) with a chain where you can lock the dink up, and it's on Coronado, well away from everything else. If coming for a stay in SD now, I might try this option.

Sunrise at Harbor Island West

• Marinas -- this is the worst. Marinas here are full of flashy expensive yachts that never get used, and the marinas want to keep it that way. They don't like cruisers. If looking for a slip -- even just for a day or two -- expect the first question to be "how old is your boat?". One marina told us to bring photos of the boat to our interview -- this was for a 2-week transient spot! Short term rates are high -- how about $60 per night? Oh, you want power and water? Then $80 per night.

There are exceptions, and one notable exception is Harbor Island West marina -- nice folks, good (but a little old) facilities, and cruiser-friendly, with reasonable (Alameda-like) rates. However, all marinas in SD are totally full, so your chances of getting in are slim. Keep calling -- better yet, visiting in person -- and hope for a sublet to come up.

• A-8 anchorage -- oh my ghawd. If you're totally desparate, try A-8 -- that's a fairly easy to get into anchorage, where all the derelicts and meth labs hang out. We've heard scary stories that if you're away from your boat for a while, someone is liable to just claim it and move in. Yikes...

• Yacht clubs -- may be a good option, we didn't try. Cross your fingers and give it a go. But again, there are essentially no free slips anywhere in town.

Crowding is likely to get worse as October gets closer; we had marina slips twice, but now can't find anything -- and we've tried!

Cruiser coming home from the Gulf

So, pretty ugly. So what's good here? Well, there are excellent marine businesses here, oriented to cruisers:

• Downwind Marine -- on CaƱon St., two blocks south of Rosecrans. They call themselves the cruising headquarters, and they're right. Fantastic cruiser's chandlery -- you won't believe what you can find there -- spares for pumps made 20 years ago, Baja filters, flopper stoppers, everything. What's not in stock they can get. They should be your first stop in San Diego, since they have info on all marinas etc.

You can receive postal mail there, and you can order parts from La Paz by SSB. You can register your credit card for this purpose. Can't speak highly enough of them, and the owner Chris Frost can answer any question you have about cruising stuff.

Black-crested Night Herons at Harbor Island West

• Pacific Offshore rigging -- just across the road from Downwind. Fritz, the rigger, is a fantastic, really nice guy and a great rigger. This is a great place to come for rig advice, and to get rigging made up.

• Ullman Sails -- just upstairs from Fritz. Limited experience with them but they seem good -- gave our mainsail a nice overhaul.

• Sailing Supply -- next door (almost) to Downwind, a more racer-oriented chandler. Get blocks and fancy line here, etc.

• Thomas Marine -- across and a few doors up from Downwind; metalworking shop, helpful.

• Boater's Exchange -- a couple of blocks behind Downwind; more industrial-style chandlers.

• Con Panne bakery -- great sandwiches, coffees, bread, fantastic sourdough, cinnamon rolls. Just 2 blocks north from Downwind.

• The Living Room -- cool coffee shop, lunch place -- 2 blocks west from the bakery.

There's lots more, of course, but this is a quick idea of what you can find in the Point Loma area. Between the three chandlers mentioned above, you can get just about anything you need for your boat, all within a couple of blocks. This is definitely the cruiser hangout; we're into Downwind just about every day. Shame there aren't more places nearby to keep a boat.