Ups and Downs at the Hotel California

Ocean Watch's Golden State landfall delivers shoreside pleasures amid some bumpy coastal hops. "Herb's Watch" for our June 10, 2010, CW Reckonings

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In Santa Barbara, Ocean Watch was harbor bound for several days waiting for north winds to subside.Herb Mccormick

Towering above the small crowd of family, friends, sponsors, and media assembled at the docks of the San Diego Maritime Museum was a familiar redheaded fellow that, as a fan of both basketball and the Boston Celtics, I immediately recognized. It's been nearly a quarter of a century since Bill Walton-a native San Diegan who wandered up the freeway to become a college hoops legend at U.C.L.A.-played a key role in helping the Celts win yet another NBA championship in the mid-1980s, but the rangy 7-footer still looks essentially the same.

Somehow Big Bill, who grew up by the beach and is well-versed in ocean-conservation issues, had heard about our Around the Americas expedition (www.aroundtheamericas.org), and he made it a point to be dockside when our 64-foot cutter, Ocean Watch, rolled into town. It's one thing to meet one of your sports heroes face to face, but it was truly otherworldly when he used that exact word to describe his take on our journeys. Later, he invited the entire crew to his house for dinner, which was certainly one of the high points of our visit thus far to California.

Herb McCormick| |Ocean Watch crew Dave Logan, Herb McCormick and Mark Schrader with basketball legend (and tall dude) Bill Walton.|

Every upside, however, often has a downside, and that's also true of our ramblings along the state's long, rugged coast thus far.

We'll start with the positives, which include wonderful receptions in San Diego, Catalina Island, Marina del Rey, Santa Barbara, and Monterey. Along the way, we've hosted dozens and dozens of students, including a group of inner-city kids from Los Angeles who left us in awe of their intelligence, enthusiasm, and energy. Our shoreside visits have been uniformly terrific.

The problem, then, hasn't been the stops themselves; no, the issue, and it's been a grand and consistent one, has been getting from one port of call to the next.

The short trip from San Diego to Marina del Rey is usually fairly benign, but it turned into a bouncy, windy affair that left one of our guest crew incapacitated by seasickness. We caught a break on the hops out to Catalina and then up to Santa Barbara, but once there, a staunch northerly breeze filled in with steady pressure around 30 knots and gusts up to 50. Once again, we have an ambitious schedule of appearances and open houses here in California, but the weather kept us harbor-bound for several days.

Finally, skipper Mark Schrader and the rest of us saw what we thought was a short lull in the pattern, so we set out from Santa Barbara for the roughly 200-mile sail up to Monterey. And, to put it mildly, we had our butts kicked.

Herb McCormick| |Windy Point Conception is known as the Cape Horn of California.|

We rounded Point Conception-the so-called Cape Horn of California-under clear skies but with a 25- to 30-knot northwest breeze right on the button. The winds weren't all that exceptional, but the seaway kept building and building, and then the odd wave started breaking, and the motion was absolutely miserable. We had a long, rough 36 hours before things started to moderate. Luckily, by the time we reached Point Sur, the wind had swung south, but we were all very happy to tie up in Monterey.

Once there, we received news that in the same gale, in separate incidents, three boats and four sailors were lost at sea off the coast of California. We'd certainly had our ups and downs in the last few weeks, but we had a lot to be thankful for, too.