About Capt. Dan

Capt. Dan is an American Sailing Association certified instructor and runs a sail charter operation in Southern California. I'm particularly interested in sailing (obviously) and ecology issues, particularly those affecting the Channel Islands here in Southern California

Whales everywhere

It’s an incredible summer/fall  for whale watching.

Humpback Fluke © David Gallup, GAP

Humpback Fluke © David Gallup, GAP

We don’t chase them down, couldn’t even if we had a mind to. But we’ve had Blues and Humpbacks sidle up to us fairly recently.

Gray Whales are starting to show up per the schedule, while farther south a number of Blue Whales and Fin Whales still linger. Though I haven’t seen any myself, ORCAS are in the southeast end of the channel and at least one lonesome Sperm Whale (think Moby Dick) showed up near LA in the last few days.

The Condor express out of Santa Barbara reports numerous Humpbacks and Minkes everyday and Monterey reports numerous Humpbacks.

At a more prosaic level, we see dolphins every day, sometimes megapods with thousands of common Pacific dolphins and larger than usual pods of Risso’s dolphins.

It’s been a great year for Cetacean lovers, and it seems to show little let-up.

Dec. 1 – one of 2013′s Best Beach Days


For those of us transplanted from the midwest,  coastal SoCal weather never fails to amaze, and usually in a good way. As snow buries my old Chicago neighborhood, the winter weather here just begs us to come to the beach, go for a sail or just sit in the sun.

And so it was on the first of December: temp in the mid-seventies, gentle breezes and a long-period swell.

What does the winter hold for us sailors?

Surprises as always, but on average it’s sunny and only a few degrees (about 10 in Dec.) cooler than the average June temperatures. Visibility is often unlimited, something you can rarely say about spring. And gale force winds are very rare.

That said, we can get some muscular storms with very muscular winds from the south. Obviously, any foray into the Pacific should be preceded by a careful check of the weather forecasts. They tend to be more accurate in winter than summer. In any event, be cautious entering or leaving Ventura or Channel Islands harbors when the wind/swell are from the south. Check out the video for an example.

Both harbors will be closed a time or two. If in doubt, contact harbor patrol before entering. They can advise you on best tactics for entering. In extreme cases, the local Coast Guard will also assist.

For the entire climatological overview, check the Coast Pilot. Make sure you scroll down to LA.

Paper charts not going away

“Since President Thomas Jefferson asked for a survey of the coast in 1807, Coast Survey has been the nation’s trusted source for nautical charts covering the coastal waters of the U.S. and its territories.”

There are a couple of hundred years of tradition in US paper charts.

There are a couple of hundred years of tradition in US paper charts.

That opening paragraph is  also the opening paragraph on the Office of Ocean Survey web page. The very next paragraph announces that on 13 April 2014 they are going to stop the presses permanently.

The only effect that I can see from this is that you will no longer be able to purchase out-of-date charts at your local chandlery. If you need a paper chart – and there are some who argue adamantly that you do need them and others argue with some belligerence that you do not – you’ll have to order them from a private Print on Demand operation such as OceanGrafix. And that is exactly what most of us have been doing for almost a decade.

The agencies that do the surveys and supply the information for chart making will still do that. The government is simply getting out of the lithography business. On line prices are comparable to the government printed charts.

For more info, including news of .pdf chart availability, check out the Coast Survey FAQ.

Thanks to my shipmate Daphne Healy for alerting us to the change.

For a most excellent discussion of using electronic charts in place of paper, check out this Active Captain article. They’re true believers and they’re swaying me, a traditionalist.

Santa Barbara Channel – Light Changes

The light at the NW end of Channel Islands Harbor is working --- sort of.

The light at the NW end of Channel Islands Harbor — Back in business pretty soon

Back in business – soon.

According to last week’s Local Notice to Mariners (LNM), the NW breakwater light at Channel Islands harbor, which has been out for a year or so,  will soon be fixed. And this morning, lo and behold, there’s a fixit team approaching with a barge, a crane and untold workers.

We can only hope that they’ll give us something more visible than the used refrigerator light bulb that was supposed to be visible for 6 nm. Maybe in the laboratory, but with any ambient light, we’re lucky to spot this outside of two miles. But that’s better than nothing, which is what we’ve had for too long.

Anacapa Light Change

IMGP1015The Anacapa Light is going to be changed to an LED and the signal will be changed to 2 flashes every 20 seconds. I think that’ll make it much easier to identify than the current sequence, which is almost impossible to explain and difficult to see and interpret from the deck of a moving sailboat.

No date for the changeover has been published.


Last of its kind, at least in US Coast Guard service

Anacapa Light

Anacapa Light Fresnel Lens housed in museum

The last light (light is what non-sailors call a lighthouse*)  on the west coast has retired and removed its Fresnel lens.

The massive unit was removed from the Pt. Conception Light by three “lampists” in the last week or so and can now be seen at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum.

Well before electrification of navaids, the Fresnel lens made the most of a single candle, focusing its light in a way that could make it visible for many miles. The lenses have been in use since their invention in the early 19th century but were gradually replaced by airport-type beacons and now LED’s. The light source, originally a candle, then whale-oil lamps, then kerosene and finally incandescent electric light bulbs kept up with technology but the huge lens structures was overtaken by the need for automation. Now they mostly live in museums as artifacts of the past. But to me, they are works of art.

Fresnel lighthouse lens diagram

By Adolphe Ganot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Early tests showed that  only 3% of a candle’s light would be seen at a distance. By adding reflectors that could be increased to 17%. By contrast a light focused through a Fresnel lens projected 83% of the light.

*Many “lights” these days are nothing but lights on sticks. No house. Here’s the Bosun getting a close-up look at the Santa Barbara Island light.

Santa Barbara Island Light

Sailing with Risso’s dolphins

 Capt. Dan has found that the channel is  full of these critters.

Happy to report that this species is not endangered.

Happy to report that this species is not endangered.

The channel has also been full of squid fishermen. And there is a connection — squid are the primary food for these graceful creatures, and squid are more than plentiful right now.

Here’s a quick video from a recent sailing adventure.