Moored in Oxnard, 3/30/13 to 4/2/2013

In 1961, my parents, my two brothers and I left Palo Alto, California, a city that was and continues to be one of the most desirable places to live in the U.S., for this town-with-a-funny-name a little over 100 miles north of Los Angeles. When I consider how long ago this relocation was, I am flabbergasted: I moved to and lived in Oxnard, California over fifty years ago.

Returning to Oxnard has brought on a flood of memories: JFK’s election, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the burgeoning civil rights movement, my mother’s father’s (for me) unexpected death, my own journey towards adolescence.

North view of Channel Islands Harbor, Oxnard CA

North view of Channel Islands Harbor, Oxnard CA

So, it’s now 2013 and  Cetacean’s crew has pulled into Oxnard’s Channel Island Harbor’s Bahia Marina. Though the day is overcast, the water is a translucent blue-green, seals leap for fish, pelicans float amiably in the slow current, sociable ducks waddle on the marina decks seeming to want to start a conversation. Sail and power boats blissfully roam the quiet waterway.  Ornate homes, palm trees and expensive vessels line the harbor.  Excited tourists, unfazed by an impenetrable curtain of fog lying just outside the harbor, flock to huge power boats that promise whale sightings. We bicycle into town seeking good coffee, internet, repair parts and provisions.  We find the familiar purveyors – Starbucks, Verizon, Radio Shack, chain grocery stores.

Jewelry artist at Oxnard Farmer's Market

Jewelry artist at Oxnard Farmer’s Market

But we also discover a well-stocked farmer’s market featuring “picked-today-in-Oxnard” strawberries, sweet navel oranges (from Fresno) and delicious homemade tamales offered up by friendly market folks.  I stop by a jewelry stand.  “I make all the pieces on this table by myself,” the artist declares with pride.

I do not recognize Oxnard as somewhere I once lived. We attempt to locate the house my family lived in back then, but are unsuccessful. But, finding the house or remembered haunts doesn’t really matter. Here and now, Oxnard’s lively neighborhoods, lovely harbor, colorful characters and frenzied activity keep us entertained and busy. It’s a city no different than anywhere else for most people. And yet, it is a place I will remember for a lot of my own reasons, making Oxnard for me, a place that is different than anywhere else.

Catalina Island (4/2-4/13)

It’s about 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday, April 2. Oxnard’s Bahia Marina is quiet, there’s no wind, the harbor’s water shimmers but is still. We secure all the last items in Cetacean’s cabin that can escape from table tops, counters and cupboards. The bikes and “Katie-the-Kayak” are stowed in the quarter berth.

All the pre-leave activities (checking the weather; turning on the VHF and all the instruments; checking the diesel’s oil, water, batteries; unplugging from shore power; setting out the safety gear, dressing for the open ocean, applying sunscreen; closing or opening required thru-hulls; checking the running and standing rigging and preparing the sails: turning on the engine and watching that water is spewing from the exhaust) are accomplished. We back out of our slip and bid Oxnard “good-bye.”

For several hours, the wind pipes up and we enjoy a lovely, sunny sail as we head for Catalina Island. The Pacific rolls out some lazy swells. Neptune’s in a good mood.


jo-4506At about 7 p.m., we tie up to a mooring buoy floating in Catalina Island’s Isthmus Cove. Curried chicken and salad for dinner tonight. Following dinner, we marvel at a beautiful, starlit sky. No fog, just jet black velvet above us punched through by dazzling points of light. All is good.

Mid-morning of the next day, we leave for Catalina Island’s Avalon buoy moorage. Going there will give us a ten-mile jump on our journey to San Diego and hopefully eliminate a late night arrival there. Getting to San Diego has become a bit more urgent. NOAA has forecast a low pressure system bringing with it gale-force winds in the next few days. We’ll leave Avalon early tomorrow morning for San Diego.

Avalon moorage at Catalina Island.

Avalon moorage at Catalina Island.

We have stayed at the Avalon moorage before. The sheltered and relatively unpopulated site we choose is soon inundated by power boats.

We splurge and take a water taxi to land. After the driver drops us at the causeway, we stroll the taco-bar, dive and gift shop-festooned boardwalk. Avalon is timeless. It’s crowded, kitschy, prices are outrageous, and the food is awful. Nevertheless, people steadily come here by the boatload seeking “Romance-Romance-Romance.” Even though it couldn’t have been warmer than about 65 degrees, kids joyfully splashed in chilly waves lapping up on Avalon’s beach below its promenade. It is difficult to keep from watching the unusual human activity in this town. A man rifles garbage cans and then feeds his found treasures to a waiting seagull. Everyone is going someplace and carrying something. Ferry visitors, some of them wearing incredibly high heels, head (presumably) for island hotels towing rolling luggage. In a never-ending circuit, the visiting cruise ship disgorges passengers  onto shore-bound shuttles.  After dropping off their charges, the shuttles fill up with cruise ship passengers wanting to return to the mother ship. Screaming and laughing children chase each other through the beach sand and along the promenade. Goofy golf carts filled with young families, putt-putt to the Wrigley botanical garden.

We look for the public library to catch up on our email. I ask a young woman who I hope is an island employee where the library is. She smiles and points the way.

Walking down an alleyway, we pass an extraordinary woman. I immediately presume (my inbred-elitist-Northern-CA snobbery clouding my acquired-Portland-OR-accept-anything-you see-no-matter-how-unusual sensibility) that she is from L.A. She wears a diaphanous white sundress flowing to her ankles. She is also very pregnant, smoking a cigarette and glued to a cell phone. I know I’m not in the Bay Area or Portland anymore. Except for the cell phone observation – these devices have become de-facto appendages for us all – I am put off by this person’s choosing to smoke.

The Catalina public library is like one of those pleasant surprises one might find while strolling on a deserted island, only Catalina is definitely not deserted. Two devoted librarians busily help anyone needing to use the library’s services: book check-outs, cruisers like us seeking a reliable internet connection, setting up an art table for a group of little girls and then involving them in the activity. I suspect the little artists are island employees’ children. As it is Easter break down here, island children need somewhere to go that’s supervised. The library is an island within an island.

Heading out for San Diego

It will be a long day getting to Shelter Island in San Diego.  We leave Avalon at 7 a.m. and motor, hoping to catch a northwester.

The day ends up being a long one but offers some interesting moments. Dolphins race after prey followed by flocks of seagulls and pelicans. A couple of young seals pop up in the swell to do reality checks.  We also see and hear a lot of military activity.  Mariners are warned repeatedly over the VHF to stay three miles away from designated military testing areas near San Diego.  Thumping sounds of rocket fire can be heard just north of us. The Coast Guard and Navy vessels  patrol and perform unfathomable exercises. Helicopters fly back and forth from distant San Diego. Their jet engines are deafening. Seeing and hearing all this is unexpected, disquieting.  We continue on, the miles slowly pass under our keel.

Sunset before entry to San Diego waterway.

Sunset before entry to San Diego waterway.

We had hoped to arrive at Shelter Island Police Dock before dark, but sundown beats us by an hour.  Night has definitely fallen by the time we reach San Diego’s main harbor entrance.  We set out Cetacean’s docklines and fenders and pick our way carefully to the Police Dock. Ron drops me off at the dock and I run around to the transient moorage, swinging my headlamp to direct him and Cetacean to our slip. A thoughtful neighbor hustles over to help with Cetacean’s bow.  “My name’s Pat,” he says. “Me and Mary have just finished bashing up from Baja. Where you guys headed?”