The Log Book: November 7, 2015
Weather Check: Forecast is good for today, some swells, currently no wind.
Departing Dana Point. 3:30 a.m., anticipated 10 hour run, 55 NM to Point Loma, San Diego Channel entrance.
Check engine fluids, open raw water seacock (water cools the engine)
Checklist before starting engine: Lines (ropes) in the water, everything secured on deck, close all seacocks, Dog down (tighten) decktop, port and starboard hatches, PFDs and tethers, personal items: meds, water, gloves, glasses, clean shirts and pants.
Start Engine: Check for raw water output, oil pressure, temp, RPMs, all check.
Navigation: Radios on – channel 16 (USCG is on), navigation and running lights, chartplotter indicating AIS (ship traffic) targets, Radar on – 8 nautical mile scan, spun up and transmitting – check. Radar displaying all land and obstructions.
I sent a quick text to our family with our intentions and joked about the US Navy watching for sailing terrorists. Our departure from Dana Point was great, boat and equipment running smoothly, alert crew fed and adrenaline pumping , we slowly headed out the short, well lit channel. Sailing vessel, Anjuli, our new friends we met back in Morro Bay was 2 miles ahead, just off to our starboard side according to the radar and chartplotter, we visually verified their running lights swaying across the ocean.
The sky was very clear, the stars and planets were bright, even against the crescent moon. Jupiter was just left of Moon’s crescent, Mars and Venus were positioned under Jupiter. The seas were very rolly, large swells were coming in from the west and no wind. The large swells were left over from the front that has passed through the prior two days.
Just 2 miles motoring out of the Dana Point channel, about 100 feet off port side, an 8′ tall mysterious cylindrical object appeared. It was about 8″ in diameter, with an odd base at the water line. It was grayish in color and absolutely stationary! WE NEARLY COLLIDED WITH IT! We simultaneously exclaimed, “WTF IS THAT!?!” GASP! My stomach had an instant pain, John went to neutral and started looking at the radar and chartplotter, I dropped down below to check the paper charts. How could we have missed a serious notation? Co-habitate, Co-dependent, Co-navigate, what were we missing? Is there any indication of reef, unlit buoys, fishing or other notations of possible obstructions? Unlit stationary buoys 2 miles from a busy, large harbor entrance isn’t likely, not in the US waters. We passed through this area 5 days prior when we arrived. There wasn’t a buoy in the daylight.
Whatever it was, it barely showed up on the radar, AND, it wasn’t rolling and dipping with the swells. Four miles out, it disappeared from the radar screen. Just before the encounter, we heard a faint radio dialogue between the USCG and another vessel. The only piece we heard was “sorry, we cannot disclosed that information”. End of the dialogue. John believed it was a periscope, I had my doubts.
We thought about contacting the USCG, but what could we say that would’ve sounded intelligent. “Uuh, we saw something in the water, not sure what it was – maybe looked like a periscope”. Nope, we weren’t about to broadcast that to the dark world. I had the jitters for quite a while, double checking the radar every couple of minutes.
After arriving in San Diego, we asked Anjuli if they saw anything unusual in the area. We double checked the charts, the only notation we read was “Military Exercise Area, Mariners are cautioned against possible hazards due to military training activities”. Yep, I now believe John was correct, and the US Navy IS watching for sailing terrorists.
I try to imagine the interior of the submarine with the red lights, the periscope operators’ sitting on their stools slouched over the handle bars peering into the night with their infrared view:
“Hilarious!, did you see the terrified look on their faces”, slapping the other guy on the back. “Yeah, we just scared the shit out of those two people, I think they need a change of clothing!” “Bwaahaha, neener neener neener.”