San Francisco Bay to Santa Cruz
My mind was flooded with excitement and uncertainty, a molotov cocktail for explosive jitters yet I couldn’t tell if I was shaking from my emotions or the cold. The wind was at our backs, filling our sails and pushing us down the jagged California coastline. We had pulled our hook from the Bay muck for the final time that morning in Horseshoe Bay, sailing beneath the Golden Gate Bridge and turning left towards the (eventual) promise of warmth, tacos, tequila and fair winds.
“This is ridiculous” I laughed as I looked at the weather forecast on Chris’s phone. He shook his head and gripped the helm, wearing a look of determination and timidness. Almost as if on cue, Avocet’s bow plowed into wind chop and splattered her deck reaching up to the cockpit. A taste of what was to come. What was supposed to be a mellow 5 knot sail to Half Moon Bay quickly turned into a 20 knot bash on our nose. The supposed-to-be-rare-southerlies created 4 – 5’ chop in an otherwise small following sea resulting in a very wet and bumpy ride.
It was only 36 nm south to our next port of call. We had departed the Bay at noon, and planned to lay anchor around 18:00 (6:00 pm) but given the weather and our determination to sail we were delayed and soon found ourselves racing against the setting sun. Chris and I were mostly concerned with the reef that runs along the northern side of the Half Moon Bay harbor entrance, as well as any rocks, crab traps or other hazards that may lurk in the darkness. Fortunately, we had reached the breakwater as the last sliver of sunshine dipped below the horizon, bathing the sky in complete darkness.
HALF MOON BAY ANCHORAGE
Half Moon Bay Anchorage features a mooring field and anchorage that is well protected on all sides from swell, but is unprotected to southerly winds. When approaching from the north, you must go outside of the rocky shallows marked by the green buoys and enter from the south, however there is a cut in the middle of the reef if you come in from the east which is what we did. We set our hook close to the entrance of Pilar Point Harbor – the harbor within Half Moon Bay – in 25 feet with a 5:1 scope. We were elated to have our hook set in sand again for the first time in a long time, putting our bucket and scrub brush away in the lazarette for safe keeping.
Half Moon Bay – Santa Cruz
After a solid night of sleep we woke up to sunshine fighting to burn through the gray sky. It was barely 6:30 am, and the smell of coffee wafted through the cabin. I helped Chris launch the dinghy (Winglet) so he could run to shore to retrieve our new day-crew member, my dad, who we were thrilled to have aboard for a leg of the journey. “Good morning captain!” he called from the bow of Winglet, projecting his voice over the sound of our 2 stroke Yamaha. “I brought my first aid kit, MRE’s, a hand held radio and my own lifejacket” my dad announced as he stepped aboard; if he is anything, it is prepared. Once we stowed his backpack of goodies, Chris and I went through the motions of pulling anchor and setting our course for Santa Cruz, 46 nm south of Half Moon Bay and approximately a 9 hour motor since (unlike the day before) we had no wind. Truth be told, we were a bit nervous having my dad aboard since his ADHD is worse than mine and know firsthand how textbook “boring” a day in transit can be, especially when it is a full day of motoring but to our surprise he soaked it all in!
A few hours had lapsed as we played gin rummy in the cockpit, welcoming the sunshine and waiting patiently for any sign of wind. I made us all lunch; a hodgepodge quesadilla type “thing” that was just what was needed to boost morale and energy, no MRE’s necessary. “Have you guys ever listened to Channel 11?” my dad asked between bites. Chris and I looked at each other before shaking our heads, the only VHF channels we ever really listened to were 14, 16 and 69 – little did we know there was much entertainment to be enjoyed just a few channels down.
Although channel 11 is technically a “commercial” channel, it has been hijacked by local fishermen and used as their “pleasure” channel which was very similar to listening to 12 year old boys play video games together. We laughed for hours listening to the chatter while we enjoyed the sea life around us. Whales breeched in the distance, their liquid exhales painting momentary rainbows in the sky before disappearing back into the sea. Sea lions jumped in pods across the water like dolphins the closer we got to Año Nuevo, a habitual shark territory.
The low rumble of the engine and gentle lapping of water against the hull was the song of progress, a lullaby that can lull just about anyone to sleep on a calm day. Just as I was about to nap, I looked over the beam and saw the most incredible sight yet – “JELLIES!” I could hardly contain my excitement as Avocet cut through a massive smack of jellyfish, but unlike the usual moon jellies we so often see, the bells of these gelatinous blobs were painted with gold, pinks, purples, and had ribbons of the most beautiful tentacles. I had only seen this species (Pacific Nettles) behind glass at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, watching them majestically free float in circles, capturing the attention of many; here in the wild they were equally, if not more, captivating.
The sun started to lower in the sky giving us 4 more hours of sunshine before the moon took it’s place. Fortunately, Santa Cruz was only an hour and a half off our bow and the wind had picked up enough to fill our sails. “Release the main, and trim the headsail” Chris called from the mast where he raised our tired-looking-patched-mainsail. With wind in at our backs we sailed wing on wing for a while, the sky becoming more golden with every nautical mile covered. Chris and my dad stayed in the cockpit but I zipped up my jacket and relocated to the cabin top, midship, as the Santa Cruz lighthouse came into view. I could feel tears well up in my eyes as a wave of emotions washed over me. I was home.
Soon we could see three figures waving to us from the cliffside; my mom, brother and grandmother all witnesses to our grand entrance. Waves rolled the legendary surf spot Steamer Lane that was to sailors port of the Santa Cruz anchorage. I checked the depth as we circled around looking for a place to lay our hook, ensuring we had plenty of space between us and neighboring vessels as well as the Wharf that was to sailors starboard. Knowing that this anchorage is historically rolly, we set our hook at 20 feet with 3:1 scope, and didn’t hesitate to deploy our FlopStopper.
SANTA CRUZ ANCHORAGE DETAILS
Although the city of Santa Cruz recommends and asks that you always moor or anchor on the east side of the Wharf (Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk side), you will still see many vessels anchored on the West Side in “Cowells Cove” since it is a bit quieter away from the sounds of the Boardwalk. Both sides of the anchorage have good (sand) holding, and the offshore winds generally blow from the northwest. Most of the surf here comes from groundswells and the ideal swell direction for surfers is from the southwest – which means if you see surfers paddling out it’s time to pull your hook or batten down the hatches because its about to get very rolly. Both sides of the anchorage are generally lumpy and on a lee if the wind is from the South or during big storms so keep a diligent eye on weather.
According to the official rules, vessels must remain 200ft from the Wharf at all times. For more information and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration U.S. Department of Commerce Superintendent’s notice Keep in mind that the Monterey Bay (for which Santa Cruz finds itself within) is a marine sanctuary and is subject to strict rules and regulations such as the following: https://www.cityofsantacruz.com/home/showpublisheddocument/91330/638040322715370000 Be sure to know before you go!
Chris and I did a once-around the interior and exterior making sure everything was stowed properly, then turned on our anchor and spreader lights before we launched Winglet and made our way towards the wharf to meet with my family. We reached the dinghy dock just as the sun departed, giving us the last bit of light to climb the somewhat sketchy ladder to the platform where my mom and brother waited for us. Hugs were shared all around as my dad started sharing about his day aboard, slinging his backpack over his shoulder. Further down the wharf we connected with my grandmother and her friend Ellen whose visit from Kentucky coincided with our own. It had been a decade since I had seen her and my first time meeting Ellen; it was Chris’s first time meeting both.
After walking up and down the wharf like chickens with their heads cut off our party of seven finally settled on eating at Olita’s with a view of the anchorage below. As we sat down at the table I glanced out the window and was overcome with pride. I had dreamed of this since I was a kid – long before Avocet, and Chris – dreaming of how cool it would be to be here on the wharf, looking out at my own boat in the anchorage. We did it. We made it here aboard our own boat, and there she was, anchored out the window as we sat amongst family, sharing the details of our travels thus far.
Full from a wonderful dinner and conversation with family we returned to Winglet that was stuck beneath the dock platform. Had we waited any longer, we aren’t sure what would have happened with the rising tide! This dinghy access is definitely a weak point for visiting the Santa Cruz Anchorage since beaching your dinghy is not advised with surf, and theft concerns and overall not permitted by the county. Unfortunately, our clip-on-dinghy light was sheared off by the platform and sank down to Davy Jones – an offering, of sorts, but one we didn’t make willingly. Using my phone as a nav light, we returned home to Avocet where we settled in for a long night of seals barking, swell rolling, and deep sleep.
Our adventures in Santa Cruz would last a bit longer than initially anticipated… but more on that soon.
Until next time,
Marissa (and Chris and Cleo)