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Sailing California’s Coast in the ’70s, Pt. 1

The following is a dispatch from John Tysell. 

It was June of 1979, and I had just completed my first long-distance race on my Cal 3-30 Soufriere, a 30-ft sloop I purchased in November 1975 to race on the Bay, and then, in the ocean. I asked my girlfriend at the time, who had little boating experience, to help me sail back to the Bay from San Diego. She was a teacher at the neighborhood elementary school in Point Richmond. We’d met on a blind date arranged by the parent of one of her students. We’d known each other less than a year. I was 39, she 32.

John Tysell, who’s at the helm in this shot, captioned this picture "Jack and John; MORA Race to San Diego 1979."

© 2017 John Tysell

San Diego to San Francisco is one of the most difficult passages in yachting. We’d be sailing directly into wind and waves that originate in Japan and travel more than 5,000 miles — unrestrained — to the coast of California. 

My girlfriend, Gwynne Crouse, joined me the day after a race at San Diego Yacht Club. We started stocking up on enough provisions to last a week. The next task was to retrieve a halyard at the top of the mast, 38 feet above the deck. After looking up several times, Gwynne climbed into the bosun’s chair, while I fastened the shackle of the spare halyard to the D-rings and secured it with a piece of duct tape. The line was wrapped several times around a winch on the mast and I held tightly to the bitter end so she wouldn’t fall.

Late that afternoon, we left for Catalina, 80 miles to the northwest. There was no wind so I started the engine and gave Gwynne the tiller and a compass course toward our destination. Night was falling, and she had the first watch. I went below to sleep and told her to wake me in a couple of hours — but for some reason, she didn’t. When I woke up, the sun was rising. I looked out the companionway to discover Avalon Harbor dead ahead. I’d slept all night, and she had steered a true path through thick fog and darkness, crossing the shipping lanes.

Well, I thought at the time, that was interesting.

The harbormaster showed us to our mooring ball and came aboard to put yellow dye in the head. After exploring Avalon and spending the night, we sailed to Little Harbor on the other side of Catalina where we fished for eels and snorkeled with stingrays.

Gwynne with a big pancake.

© 2017 John Tysell

The following day, we crossed the channel again to Marina del Rey. I shaved off my beard, which had become scraggly and disheveled. After picking up two friends, we loaded more supplies, including scuba gear, and headed to Anacapa Island to the west.

Gwynne in "rookie scuba gear." 

© 2017 John Tysell

We were unsuccessful diving for lobster, but I was able to pop a few abalones. We thinly sliced and tenderized the abs, pan-fried them, and washed them down with a nice bottle of Riesling. The next morning, we weighed anchor and headed northeast to Santa Barbara where we dropped off my friends and prepared for the next big challenge of the trip, rounding Point Conception.

We’ll bring you part 2 of John Tysell’s ‘Sailing California’s Coast in the ’70s’ on Wednesday.

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