January 21, 2015

Diving for California Spiny Lobster around San Diego

In California, during winter months, it is legal to dive down into the Pacific Ocean and harvest a few California spiny lobsters. The Department of Fish and wildlife lobster harvest rules are stringent: you need to grab them with your hands and you need to size them out under water, but the payoff is huge. It's nice to end your night with a few of these crustaceans. Each one of these tails makes for a full meal.

how to catch a lobster in san diego
I recently snagged these legal sized California spiny lobsters near Mission Bay
My friend and I prefer free diving at night, as the lobsters wander farther out into the open at night. They leave their rocky crevices and seek out food. This makes it easier to swoop down and grab them with your hands. We work the rock wall along the Mission Bay jetty. This is a legal area to dive for lobster.

lobsters are just under the surface of the water along the jetty wall
These spots are common knowledge, so I am not giving away any secrets here. Another spot to explore is the kelp beds along Point Loma, You can either snorkel along the coast or get your dive gear out. If you're willing to go the extra mile with scuba tanks, you can get down 30-50 feet and find some good sized 'bugs' tucked along rock ledges near the floor of the kelp beds.

Diving for lobster around San Diego

a quick surf before dropping down into the Point Loma kelp beds

Dave got these on a night dive near the OB jetty wall
Then of course, the best part of the lobster experience is eating the tails. We cook them up in my boat right after coming to the surface. I boil the tails, toast the bread and melt the butter. Sometimes, I will cook up some angel hair pasta as well. But, fresh lobster tail and a glass of wine is really all you need.

Cooking California Spiny Lobster

a quick meal coming together: lobster, toast and butter

Rabbit hunting in the Mojave National Preserve

A man cannot live on boats alone. I left the marina this weekend and went jackrabbit hunting in the Mojave desert, out in the Mojave National Preserve. This tract of land is above Joshua Tree National Park. It is managed by the National Park Service, but the National Preserves are more geared to multi-use than a National Park, this is why you can legally hunt rabbit in the Preserve.

mojave national preserve
Teddy bear cholla and Joshua tree in the Mojave desert
I went out to the Mojave primarily to collect plant photos for a course I am teaching on Native American use of plants, but I also brought my Ruger 10/22 rifle for the rabbits.

I saw quite a few Black-tailed jackrabbits and cottontails out on the flanks of the mountains. I think the rabbits are probably spread on the valley floor as well. But I was only scouting for them between 3 and 4 thousand feet. I was walking along ridges and scaring the rabbits out from hiding. I would then try to get off a shot while they were darting away. I found this particular jack about 1 mile from the Kelso sand dunes.

Hunting rabbit in the Mojave desert

rabbit hunting in the mojave
Black-tailed jackrabbit: a Lagomorph, which is technically a type of hare.

This was the first time I have field dressed a rabbit. Fortunately, I had downloaded a detailed protocol and I followed these instructions explicitly. I managed to end up with some very clean meat. The taste is gamey and, depending on how much ligament and tendon you remove, it can be a bit stringy. But, overall, I found it delicious.

Cooking jackrabbit meat

how to cook jackrabbit
caveman style, rabbit carcass on the campfire

I'm not a real foodie. Plus, I like to keep things pretty simple, in general. So, once I had the rabbit down to leg bone meat and back bone meat, I made a big fire and threw the meat on the grill.

I then put a can of black beans in a pot and cracked a beer. Rabbit meat straight off the bone, with a side of beans - under a desert night sky. Does it get any better than that?
I'm not sure, but I doubt it.

January 11, 2015

Boating to Catalina Island: distances from LA harbors

Most boaters in Los Angeles eventually take their boat out to Catalina Island. It's helpful to know how far the main LA harbors are to the Catalina Island harbors (Avalon and Two Harbors). I am providing the boating distances from: Dana Point to Avalon, Dana Point to Two Harbors, Newport Beach to Avalon, Newport Beach to Two Harbors, Huntington Beach to Avalon, Huntington Beach to Two Harbors, LA harbor to Avalon, LA harbor to Two Harbors, Marina del Rey to Avalon, Marina del Rey to Two Harbors.

Taking your boat from LA to Catalina Island.

Dana Point to Avalon:  33 miles (38 nautical miles)

Dana Point to Two Harbors: 38 miles (44 nautical miles)

Newport Beach to Avalon: 26 miles (30 nautical miles)

Newport Beach to Two Harbors: 32 miles (37 nautical miles)

Huntington Harbor to Avalon: 25 miles (29 nautical miles)

Huntington Harbor to Two Harbors: 27 miles (31 nautical miles)

LA Harbor to Avalon: 25 miles (29 nautical miles)

LA Harbor to Two Harbors: 22 miles (25 nautical miles)

Marina del Rey to Avalon: 38 miles (44 nautical miles)

Marina del Rey to Two Harbors: 31 miles (36 nautical miles)

(distances are measured from the outer navigational buoys of each harbor)

Boating to Catalina Island

taking your boat to Catalina Island
Boating to Catalina Island: distances from harbor to harbor

If you are a power boater, these distances should be all you need to approximate your travel time. If you're a sailor who wants to put the sails up, then your travel time will be much more variable. I've written a more thorough post, that approximates the time required to make this trip (based on a 30 foot sailboat).  Keep in mind, the California current moves north to south. Most weather (wind) comes out of the northwest. Depending on the direction of the swell, you may be in a swell shadow (and wind shadow) for most of the journey between LA and Catalina Island. 

If you're planning on taking your boat out to Catalina, you will need to have at least one boating guide book on board. Brian Fagan's book is the standard guidebook for the area. The Cruising Guide to Central and Southern California. There is a very thorough section on boating in and around Los Angeles and exploring all the anchorages and harbors around Catalina Island.

You will also want a handheld GPS chartplotter in the cockpit while you cruise the Southern California waters. This will help keep your boat off the rocks. I just used the Garmin GPSMAP 78sc 2.6-Inch Waterproof Marine GPS and Chartplotter to help get me up and back to Alaska, through the Inside Passage. I don't leave the docks without it. This handheld serves as a nice compliment to a wall mounted large screen chartplotter, as the handheld allows you to move around the boat while still monitoring location.

January 9, 2015

How far is Catalina Island from San Diego?

Most San Diego boaters eventually get around to making the trip out to Catalina. Before they go, everyone wants to know how far is Catalina Island from San Diego. I can answer this question quickly.

There are two harbors in San Diego: Mission Bay and San Diego Harbor. Assuming everyone is going to arrive at Avalon, the main harbor on Catalina Island, then there are 2 possible distances: Mission Bay to Avalon or San Diego Harbor to Avalon.

How far is Catalina Island from San Diego?

Mission Bay to Avalon Harbor:
72 miles (or 63 nautical miles)*

San Diego Harbor to Avalon Harbor:
78 miles (or 68 nautical miles)*

*distances given are from the outer navigational buoys of each harbor

how far is Catalina Island from san diego
straight line from Avalon Harbor to San Diego Harbor

If you are a power boater you should follow this line, with a bit of wandering. If you're a sailor who wants to put the sails up, you will follow this line much less stringently. I have written a more thorough post, that approximates the time required to make this trip (based on a 30 foot sailboat). 

how far is Catalina island from san diego
we hiked up to this Avalon overlook upon arrival

If you are thinking about making this trip in a boat, you definitely want to have a boating guide book. Brian Fagan's book is the standard for boaters around Southern California. The Cruising Guide to Central and Southern California: Golden Gate to Ensenada, Mexico, Including the Offshore Islands  There is a good section on boating in and around San Diego and tucking into anchorages around Catalina Island.

Enjoy the journey!!

January 7, 2015

Sailing trip to Espiritu Santo in December

We sailed out from La Paz to Espiritu Santo in December 2014. The Winter is the best time to sail in Baja Sur. By the Sea of Cortez standards, December sailing conditions are not too hot and not too windy. These are a few more photos of our journey.

winds starting to pick up at sunrise

Captain Gary at the wheel of the Catalina 36

a dried out trigger fish

our hearty crew
Plenty of hikes into the island of Espiritu Santo. We found Gallo Bay to be filled with natural treasures.

The Aussies found a dead Sea Turtle in Bahia Gallo

The renaming ceremony on the 'Sea Turtle'

Gary and I at the helm

a jumping Pacific White Sided dolphin

January 5, 2015

Sailing around La Paz in December.

We just returned from sailing in La Paz over the Christmas Break. We had high winds, sometimes uncomfortably high winds - and beautiful anchorages out at Espiritu Santu. December is normally the perfect month to sail in Baja Sur. As you are well clear of the hurricanes and the temperatures are not too hot or humid. We found this to be true, however, on 3 of our 5 days sailing, there were 15-30 kph winds coming straight down the Sea of Cortez. This kept things interesting...

Bahia La Paz from the window of our room at Hotel Perla

The marine protected island Espiritu Santo is a 3-4 hour sail/motor from La Paz. We anchored at Playa Gallo and Playa Gallina. The snorkeling and hiking are both phenomenal.

Playa Gallo and Playa Gallina

We anchored in the part of the water that transitions between aquamarine and navy blue. This is about 40 feet of depth.

Gary and his 36 foot Catalina, Sea Turtle
My old friend from Seattle, Gary Caprario graciously hosted us on his 36 Catalina. 

A beached fiberglass whale 
Anyone know where we found this beached whale? Hint: it is a one day drive from La Paz...

December 14, 2014

Clever boat names and the clever boaters who love these names.

A clever boat name for the ethically dubious mariner

clever boat names for criminals

      There is something unequivocally awesome about a clever boat name. Who doesn't love a funny boat name?

      Okay, there are some of you out there that hate puns. Maybe your grandpa overdid it with the wordplay, maybe your sense of humor is more high brow. But seriously, a good boat name is a thing of beauty. The boating website All Things Boat has curated a page on boat names. They have organized funny boat names by the classic boating personalities that gravitate towards these names. It is pretty darn funny. These photos are taken with permission from All Things Boat's clever boat names page, check it out, you'll get a good laugh!

Clever boat names for the esoteric sailor

clever boat names
either a Seinfeld reference or a very whimsical boater

December 10, 2014

Fixing a faulty bilge pump switch

My old bilge pump switch finally crapped out. The wire contacts looked like they had far surpassed a tolerable level of corrosion, so it's now in the garbage can. I'm leaving soon for a Mexico road trip that will last through December. The last thing I want is to leave my boat unattended in the rainy season of San Diego with a faulty bilge pump switch. 

So, I went down to the boat store and got one of these new switches with the metal ball rolling around like a can of spray paint. Long story short, the install went fine, except the switch didn't pass the test. As water filled in and over the switch, the switch floated up but not enough to activate the pump. 

DIY troubleshooting a bilge pump switch
my bilge, always swampy

Well, that's not good. I am going to blame this on a slightly un-level surface that the pump was mounted on. However, I'd like to think the switch would have a larger margin of error for activation.

I tried to rectify the situation by moving the switch to a new spot in the bilge, but as you can see I don't have much room to move in there.

Anyway, the point of this post, is that I did find a remedy that I like. I grabbed an old neoprene beer cozy and cut it up into pieces that fit on the end of my bilge switch. I then dried off the top of the switch, and epoxied the cut up beer cozy on the end. I epoxied three layers of neoprene beer cozy on top of each other.

Now, it has a lot more float.

fixing a bilge pump switch
chopped up beer cozy give more float to the bilge switch

I've tested it out many times and each time the bilge pump switch rises to the occasion.

I'm heading to Baja with my mind at ease...

Hopefully this is helpful to someone with a similar problem.

December 2, 2014

Sailing with Chilean hitchhikers

When Ryan and I were travelling around Alaska last month, we picked up some Chilean hitchhikers. They were wandering slowly down the continent. Last week, they arrived in San Diego and we took them out sailing.

we met these girls on the side of the road in Alaska

The weather was perfect as it often is in the middle of the Winter in San Diego, and I think the ladies had a wonderful time. The girls remind me what it was like to travel when you're very young. 

When we found them, they were camping in a tent on the side of the road near Denali National Park. It needs to mentioned that there are a lot of Grizzly Bears near Denali. The Chilean girls were not concerned. They believe in the power of positive thinking. In fact, after they leave San Diego, they are heading to Ensenada, Mexico to earn money. They plan to earn money in Mexico by selling pastries. This seems unlikely to me, but that is because I am older and cynical. Life has beaten me down. The Chilean women will probably make tons of money selling pastries in Mexico's border towns. I am sure it will go fine. Either way I salute them, and I salute their chutzpah.

another gold winter sunset at Point Loma

November 26, 2014

How to fly a drone from your boat: Step 1

Ok, you've decided you're going to learn to fly a drone from the deck of your boat. Good call, combining a boat and a drone is an exciting endeavor. You can take photos of your boat from angles that would previously require a helicopter. However, you want to do this without bothering others or damaging your drone. In the following series of posts, I will walk you through the process of learning how to fly a drone from a boat.

Here is video of a practice launch from my sailboat.


(video above is compressed to fit on page, the raw video footage has high resolution: 1080x720)

How to fly a drone from your boat.

Step 1. Practice flying your drone from a stationary boat in calm waters.

Drop anchor in a quiet cove that is not in a restricted air space. Choose a light wind day. Wind is an issue. Practice on a day when winds are 5 mph or less. You don't want to challenge your drone with high winds at the beginning of your training. Each model of drone will be able to handle wind differently. If you don't yet own a drone, I recommend you visit the Amazon drone store. They carry the full selection of available models for prices ranging from 50$ to over 1000$. One sensible option, is to pick up a cheap model while you first practice over open water. If you're going to accidentally drown your drone in water, it's best to drown a cheap one.

how to fly a drone from a boat
Ryan launching the DJI phantom 2 Vision + from the deck of my boat.

Here, we are using the DJI phantom 2 Vision +. This is probably too nice of a drone to be learning to pilot from a boat. We are taking the risk of losing a 1000$ model in the ocean. However, we are only using this higher end model while we practice on stationary water in light wind. When we take the sailboat out into heavy seas we'll use a cheaper drone (with some retro-fitted water landing gear), as there is a decent chance we may splash down in salt water. That said, the advantage to practicing with this higher end drone is 2-fold. First of all, it takes incredible photos/video. Secondly, it has GPS based navigation, so it can hold a steady position. This makes for easy flying.

how to fly a drone from a boat
holding a locked GPS position

Is it legal to fly a drone?

Okay, your boat is on anchor and the wind is light. Next, as mentioned, make sure you are not in restricted air space. Often, waterways and coastlines are near flight paths for commercial airplanes or for coast guard, military or other officialdom. You do not want to bother these people or risk an incident with real aircraft. I have found that this page is an easy way to determine the location of No Fly Zones near your location. Additionally, you can check this FAA link to keep up with the latest federal rules for drones.
Even if you are not in a restricted air space, you want to be conscious of not bothering people. People go to the water to relax. Some people enjoy watching drones, but many people do not. Don't be annoying with your drone. Fly away from people and don't creep people out by flying near them with the drone camera pointing at them. Common sense and human decency go a long way with this activity.

learn to fly a drone from a boat
verifying the connection between drone and controller before launch
Make sure all batteries are topped off and the link between drone and controller is set. If you lose connection with the drone over water, it will probably splash down in the sea.

the carrying case for DJI phantom, with the batteries topped off

learn to fly a drone from a boat
ready to launch

Have one guy, let's call him the drone pilot, be in charge of controlling the drone. Have the other guy, let's call him the captain, be in charge of managing the boat. The captain should also be ready with a giant fishing net. This is good to have nearby in case the drone almost returns to the boat, but actually returns a few feet from the boat. With a big net you can scoop the drone from the air just before it drops into the water.
Or, if the drone is fitted with some homemade water landing gear, you can scoop the drone from the water before its electronics are fried (skip to last 10 seconds of this video link to see the homemade landing gear in action).

fishing net ready for a quick 'drone overboard' situation
Then, go fly the drone cautiously. Make a quick loop around the boat. Get comfortable, get confident.

how to fly a drone from a boat
my sailboat seen 40 feet above the starboard beam

learn to fly a drone from a boat
looking west to the Pacific Ocean (photo credit: Ryan Petterson)

Finally, practice retrieving the drone from your boat. Boats often have standing rigging, spars, antennae and fishing poles to negotiate. First try to remove as many of these obstructions as possible. Then, launch and retrieve from the part of the boat that is furthest from these obstructions. 

the captain secures the drone, while the drone pilot works the controller
Here, I've cleared all halyards, lines and fishing poles from my cockpit to allow for an unobstructed landing space for the drone. The only remaining obstruction was the backstay.

Okay, this is enough to think about for now. In future posts, we will take the boat out into the open ocean, negotiate winds and talk about frequency interference. Stay tuned...

November 23, 2014

Learn to fly a drone from a boat.

It is a terrible idea that carries the possibility of becoming a great idea. Your first mate keeps the drone flying 30 feet above your starboard quarter. You heel your sailboat over in a small craft advisory and lean out on the windward side. The camera on the drone captures images and video that would have previously required a helicopter. You frame the best shot and hang it in your living room. You sit on your couch, crack a beer and stare at your beautiful boat captured from the perfect angle.

Your life feels infinitely more complete.

flying drone on sailboat
practicing the sailboat drone in calm waters on anchor

In theory, all this greatness is possible. In theory, this could be done for a couple hundred bucks and a little bit of practice and a little bit of gumption.

But there are concerns. Here is a list of concerns I came up with upon my first sailboat drone outing. 
  • How will the drone handle a stiff breeze? 
  • How can a drone 'return to a home position', if the home position is moving at 6 mph across an ocean?
  • Will the VHF and other signal frequencies emanating from a boat interfere with the drone-remote controller? 
  • If the drone lands in the ocean, will that destroy the drone? 
  • Is there effective water landing gear that could keep a downed drone floating and dry while you flip the boat around to retrieve it?
  • How do the coast guard and other authorities feel about recreational drones flying along the coastline?

At the moment, I do not have answers for these questions. But I will be researching all of this and posting the glory shots (if we get them) in the next series of posts.

sailing with a drone
first deployment from the cockpit

40 feet off of starboard in Mariners Cove, San Diego
South Mission Bay from a drone, looking west to Mission Beach.

For more, please follow this first instructional post on How to fly a drone from a boat.

November 20, 2014

Autumn sailing in San Diego

The seasons are finally changing in San Diego. There is a brisk chill to the air. Nights are cold. Days are still warm and the sun still shines, but we now have clouds out to decorate the sky. This is subtle, but it is enough to confirm that the seasons are changing in Southern California.

Autumn sailing in San Diego
Autumn sailing in San Diego

 Sailing in the Fall in San Diego

Autumn sailing in San Diego
High contrast clouds in a late Autumn sky