Sunday, April 8, 2012

Blasted By Cannon Smoke!

Exy's big cannon blasted off at us and smoke fumed out over the sea. The shot rang and echoed in our heads nearly making our teeth rattle! A cannon ball shot over my head. Hold on, did I just say that? I meant to say a grape fruit. Because that's what we shot out of the cannon on the way back from Santa Barbara Island. Or was that from a big sling shot I'm thinking about? Oh well, whatever it was, nothing really shot over my head except my active imagination and a lot of smoke! Soon the Exy was blanketed in the grey stuff and I couldn't help but think how cool it all looked. For the next few hours we tacked and beat into the south westerly wind - always keeping our eyes out for the Exy Johnson's position.

Just to keep you current on what was happening, the Irving Johnson and the Exy Johnson tall ships had set out sailing in unison that morning. I was aboard the Irving. We were taking a middle school group of kids out to experience the ocean today on one the most beautiful sailing ships in California. Out of the dock, the first Mate yelled all 'crew' to stations and this meant the children too! Our station - #1 was in charge of the jibs at the bow. When we were ready, the ones in charge of the fore stay sail cried out: "Ready forsail halyard!" Soon cries from all the other stations could be heard too. Looking along deck, I could see the main sail going up and the main stay sail. Soon three jibs were up and the ship was moving along at a good clip without the engine. Next, the lower, upper, and topgallant square sails were hauled into position. My group was in charge of the topgallant clews and bunts. There is one rope or line connecting the clew and two lines for the bunts. These lines pull the sails down after the spars have been drawn up. The kids were as confused as many of you are now who are reading this. "The 'what' does what?" They were thinking. Anyway, you get the picture! Soon we were beyond the San Pedro Lighthouse and at sea. The sun glimmered off the little waves like a thousand shining mirrors. And off in the distance - only twenty three miles away - was Catalina Island. I had sailed there with a different group of kids this last summer. Today though, the Irving and the Exy were destined to practically board each other in a pirate like sea battle. Well not really, but close. The Irving was slowly gaining on the Exy, drawing near to her stern. Soon we were almost along side and ready to board. I mean - no one really dared - but it was fun to think about! (Actually, a professional photographer was taking pictures of the two ships together.)

After lunch the kids took turns climbing the ratlines up the mast and challenging themselves to not look down. Atop the first platform - near the big sqaure rig sail called 'the Course', you can see what looks like forever across the sea. You feel like you are up in the sky among the clouds looking down at the sea and the islands and mountains and all mankind. I knew the kids were getting an amazing view - those that dared to climb up there!

During that time, I took a turn at the wheel, steering a course for 160 degrees. It seemed odd to me that from Marina Del Rey (where my Columbia 22 is docked), the course to Catalina is due south ( 180) from the breakwater. But in San Pedro - much further down the coast - it's still 160. Honestly, Catalina appears to be due west from there. But after taking a look at the compass, I could see I was wrong. So I kept up my heading - turning the wheel one spoke this way and then one spoke that way to keep the ship balanced. I remembered the trip to Catalina - when I had taken the wheel for at least a good hour or two. At that time the heading had been to get as near the wind as we could so we could bring the Irving into Two Harbors under sail alone. In fact, out of all the trips I've made in the Irving and Exy Johnson, that was the only time I recall having made it in the harbor without the engine. After sending down 3 or 400 foot of chain with the anchor, I clearly remember the sun was setting and there was an orange glow atop the western mountain range. Looking off to the distant 'Ship Rock', the ocean had turned to a dark blue color and what with the little white caps cresting on the waves, it owned a mysterious beauty about it that no picture or letters can really accurately describe!

In the morning we did some hiking and climbed to the top of the mountain - catching glimpse of a buffalo! That afternoon, we took a turn in the kayaks and paddled through the sea caves just down the coast. And in the evening, our team made dinner and then took a break while the other team washed the dishes. The following day, we sailed to Santa Barbara island amidst cloudy skies and variable winds. I, and a few other kids took bow watch up on the bow sprit that stretches twenty feet or so out over the water. It was a blast to ride up and fall ten feet as the bow drove through the waves. Eventually we were going to get a soaking and I warned the kids - especially the ones standing on the net below the bow-sprit - to watch out. But that had little impact. But what did have impact was the sudden wave that hit the bow and that drove in for home as the netting and even the bow-sprit were suddenly immersed in water! The kids all gasped - being now completely wet. We all thought that was hugely fun - even the ones that were wet!

Later that day we made it to Santa Barbara island, but to our disappointment, the island was closed and we had to turn around and come back. However, on the return trip, we set the giant 'Course' sail and we all felt like Greeks in a different age sailing before the wind!

By nightfall - the following evening - we had made our way back to San Pedro. After dodging three or four huge tankers with help from our radar and the night bow watch, we finally arrived back at our home dock. Both the day sail excursion and the trip to Catalina had been exciting and beutiful!

PS: Thanks for any messages you might leave! They are most welcome - THANKS!!