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a nautical staycation

We spent the month of August living on our boat in Dana Point Harbor. We sailed the s/v Pelican up the coast in ‘gunkhole‘ style, stopping in Mission Bay and Oceanside before docking in Dana. Once settled in, we lived our lives from the boat. Dad went to work every day and we continued our commitments of photography sessions and projects, swimming lessons and playdates. The best part was having friends down on the boat to enjoy the harbor’s wonderful variety of activities: paddling, swimming, surfing and scootering.

But when a scheduled playdate was not to be had, it was easy for Merrik to find friends to row the dinghy and paddle around with. When the kids were on the boat alone, they didn’t miss their bevy of toys and found that the booms made great jungle gyms, a shovel made a fantastic holder for a crab catching hook and line and getting off and on the boat was enough entertainment in and of itself. The other most entertaining thing the kids did was fish off the dock. Casting their lines out became a past time to wile away the time.

The one thing that Merrik complained about really missing was a bath. He wanted to sit down in the shower. We tried to explain that if you spend enough time in the water swimming you will soon not miss the bath anymore. He got over it as they both did with most convenient luxuries we went without-except for Maliea and her shoes. I think we ended up with over 10 pairs of her shoes on the boat at one time. Other sailors coming into the guest docks from Catalina and points north laughed at our suggestion that we want to take the kids cruising, “You’re going to take a girlie girl cruising? Good luck with that!” Why yes we are and I think she’ll adapt very well.

We really soaked up the ocean lifestyle and various offerings at Dana Point Harbor. Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Safari was spectacular and the kids loved the underwater viewing pods where they could sit and see eye to eye with swimming, playful dolphins and balls of circling fish.

We were also very fortunate to be in the harbor when the Pacific Voyagers arrived. We had been watching for them for days and when they finally came in we were playing at the sandbar next to the breakwater with the Hohenester family. It was such a special treat to see them come in with their sails up. Paddleboarders surrounded the voyaging vaka moanas as they entered the harbor. It was a gloomy day that brightened up when they arrived.

We really connect with and have tremendous respect for these voyagers because we sailed to Tahiti in 2000 and know what it must be like on the ocean for the distances they have done on those wide open sailing vessels. After we dropped off Merrik and the pier near his Ocean Institute Neptune’s Nautiloids Day Camp, Maliea and I were lucky enough to go aboard the vessels and meet some of the crew who were from Raivavae, Vanuatu and New Zealand. We saw where they bunked and navigated inside tiny cabins and the hull area beneath the deck. Everything else was done outside, on deck during the passage.

Then it was finally time for our milestone sail to Catalina. We have been putting off sailing any distance with the kids until they are older but we found that after being on the boat for 3 weeks, we had gained a lot of confidence in the kids’ comfort on Pelican. We didn’t expect to take them sailing without the help of another adult to watch them while we do sail adjustments and anchor and dock-which can be quite hazardous. Mostly we have been concerned about Maliea’s lack of understanding of urgency or danger and her need to stay below when we ask.

So, we set off at 5:00am on a Thursday morning. I had been sick the entire Wednesday before but was so compelled to do this trip that I made myself feel well! It was a gorgeous morning with huge waves breaking over the breakwater as we left the harbor. We saw bioluminescence in the wake of the boat. By sunup we discovered we had a little hitch-hiker riding on the spreaders and at times on the staysail boom (see image below).

The kids adapted to each passage very well and didn’t even seem to notice that at times we were really rocking and rolling. They played ‘pirates,’ got butt naked to play ‘doggies’ and just read, sang and entertained each other. Jim and I managed the frequent sail changes and steering challenges due to unusually squally weather that reminded both of us of some of our passage from San Diego to the Marquesas through the ITCZ.

When we arrived at Two Harbors the coves were quickly filling with sail and power boats and the surge from one of the biggest swells in Southern California history kept us feeling like we were still at sea. We tried to settle in with a little ukulele music in the cockpit but ended up heading to shore to escape the non-stop roll of the boat on it’s mooring.

Two Harbors is a quaint town at the east end of Catalina Island. It’s usually a very quiet spot and we’ve enjoyed the feeling of getting away from the crowds there in the past during the off season. However, we were there for Labor Day weekend which is probably one of the busiest weekends for boaters and campers from all over Southern California to descend on this tiny, dusty, mostly undeveloped place. Needless to say, we won’t be going back on a holiday weekend there ever again.

We all enjoyed being on the boat however. The only thing that really upset Maliea was the “glow worms” in the toilet. When you flushed, bioluminescent critters would be sucked up through the intake and into the bowl. It made her very hesitant to use the head at night. Merrik loved exploring the caves and coves by dinghy looking for Garibaldi and other fish playing in and out of the heavy kelp forests. There was actually such a big swell in that Merrik was able to catch a few waves at one of the beaches near the campground.

Our departure from Isthmus Cove several days after our arrival greeted us with wonderful sailing conditions-a beam reach and following seas-for about 2 hours. Then it was no wind for the next 8 hours to Oceanside, with lumpy seas and clocking winds during each new squall that passed our beam. We spent the night in Oceanside Harbor and woke to a very close lightening strike and heavy rain. We questioned whether to sail to San Diego or not but once the thunder cleared out, we were on our way.

The entrance to Oceanside Harbor was nearly closing out with 6’+ cresting waves all the way across. We found a section on the shoulder of the sets where we could squeeze between the crests and the other side of the breakwater where Pelican bounded up and over each big swell. The entire journey home was once again squally, wet with strange shifting winds and a confused sea of swells coming from 3 different directions.

It completely reminded us of various passages we had made in 2000 from San Diego to the Marquesas, Tuamotus and Society Islands. The kids didn’t complain at all. They thought it was a fantastic adventure and even in the last week as we have been home, have expressed their disdain that we were not still living on the boat. Once sailing gets under your skin, you can’t get it out.


  1. Reply

    Jessica Deane

    September 10, 2011

    awesome , awesome images!!! Loved seeing your staycation 🙂

  2. Reply


    September 10, 2011

    Wow, looks like you had an amazing month. I can see why you want to spend more time on the boat. Beautiful.

  1. Reply

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