Seals. Why is it always Seals? Well, California Sea Lions to be more specific. Unlike Seals, Sea Lions have cute little ears and are able to “walk” on all four flippers. Despite their differences both species still share the same blood boiling bark that gives your neighbors obnoxious dog a run for its money. As a little girl, my family would spend Saturdays eating breakfast at Gildas on the Santa Cruz Wharf, walking down to the cut outs afterwards where we would buy sardines to feed the sea lions that lounged on beams below. Inspired by my surroundings and by movies like Andre the Sea Lion I remember begging for a pet sea lion, convincing my parents it would live a happy fulfilled life in our backyard hot tub. How I had too-soon forgotten the sound of the local sea lions, until I was brutally reminded while trying to fall asleep in our bed, anchored 200 feet away.
“How did you sleep?” Chris asked, likely already knowing my answer. He looked tired as he prepared his morning coffee, desperately fighting back every yawn. Between the hours of 11:00 pm and 3:00 am our pinniped neighbors decided to collectively silence themselves, only to have a barking competition at 4:00 am that lasted throughout the rest of the day. Fortunately the swell was mild, rocking us gently as we did our best to get some sleep. Sun shone through the portlights, reflecting off our interior varnish making everything bright and cheery as I flopped out of bed, extending my empty hand for Chris to place my favorite mug full of fresh coffeo into. Once we hatched, we loaded up Winglet and headed to shore for the day.
As I mentioned in the last blog post, the dinghy dock on the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf is more of a fixed platform with a ladder protruding into the water below depending on the tide. There is no great way to secure your dinghy here, especially if there are multiple boats around but our bike-lock-turned-dinghy-lock just barely reached around the piling, giving us peace of mind as we walked away. Unfortunately, Gildas was closed due to county protests, crushing my long-time-dream of looking out the window over breakfast to see my boat in the anchorage below. However, our misfortune turned into an opportunity to give a new place a try. Located across from the wharf entrance on Beach Street is a cafe called the Picnic Basket which serves delicious coffee and croissants – all I needed to start my day off right.
The REAL Surf City USA
Coffee in hand we walked along West Cliff Drive, surfers below doing their best to catch a wave at Steamer Lane, a very famous surf spot. It was there the wetsuit tycoon Jack O’Neill developed the modern wetsuit and surf leash, but surfing in Santa Cruz goes back even farther than O’Neills contributions to the sport. Surfing was actually introduced to North America on July 19, 1885, when three young Hawaiian princes appeared on the busy beach at the mouth of the San Lorenzo River in Santa Cruz surfing on long, heavy planks of redwood that had been cut at the nearby mill. Because of them, a small surfing community developed in Santa Cruz, which was closely entwined with their Hawaiian counterparts – in 1915, Santa Cruz surfer Dorothy Becker was one of the first Americans to surf in Hawaii, when she rode the waves at Waikiki.
In the late 1930’s a group of local kids formed the Santa Cruz Surfing Club, and began to venture into the waves at Cowell’s Beach (near where Avocet was anchored). Mind you, modern wetsuits hadn’t been invented yet, so according to historian Thomas Hickenbottom, the water that these surfers encountered was no laughing matter: “Unlike Southern California with its mild climate, sandy points and warm water, surfing in Santa Cruz is an entirely different undertaking. Freezing offshore winds, numbing water, strong ocean currents, and a precipitous coastline all add up to an endeavor of deep concentration and dedication.”
While in town, we had the opportunity to cheer on my “uncle” Bud competing in the O’neill Cold Water Classic Surf Competition at Steamer Lane
Chris tried to keep up with my history lesson as we walked along the cliffside, eventually stopping at the lighthouse to watch the surfers below and Avocet bob beautifully in the distance. People walked by with their dogs, kids, and each other enjoying the beautifully fall day. “Excuse me, what is that over there?” a man asked us. Biting my tongue I responded truthfully with a smile “that is Monterey, it’s so clear you can see the stacks at moss landing right there” I said as I pointed out the landmarks. The man thanked me and went on his way as I turned to Chris and explained it was common local trickery to answer that common question with “That’s Hawaii” to prank the visiting tourists who don’t realize Monterey Bay’s extreme horseshoe shape. “That’s bad!” Chris remarked while laughing. Moments later another person asked what the landmass in the distance was, and with his newfound local knowledge, I let Chris decide on an answer.
I couldn’t come home without a pilgrimage to NHS; the birthplace of Santa Cruz Skateboards, Surfboards and Snowboards. “Uncle Paul!” I said as I went in for a hug. Not really my uncle, but a team-wide-nickname, Paul is the licensing manager for NHS and the snowboard team manager who supported my snowboard “career” from 10 years old to 21 when I “retired” from competition, walking away with 8th in the nation collegiately. Although I traded in the frozen water for salty, I still love snowboarding and desperately wanted to introduce Chris to the guy who helped make it all happen… and give him a tour of the NHS “Fun Factory.” Fortunately, Paul was down to do an interview for our YouTube channel and show us around.
The acronym NHS comes from the surname initials of Novak, Haut, and Sherman; three surfer friends from Santa Cruz, who teamed up to start NHS Inc. in 1973. In the beginning, their surfboard brand business was struggling to stay afloat because the margins were low. But all of a sudden, a friend from a Hawaiian company challenged NHS to make 500 skateboards. NHS had a surplus of fiberglass lying around and barely any customers, so they decided to use the stocked materials to fulfill the order. The first-ever Santa Cruz skateboard was produced in 1973. The batch of 500 skateboards sold quickly, and so the newly created skate brand immediately got another order of 500. From that moment on, the company became a symbol of skateboard culture. The first Santa Cruz ad was run in Skateboarder Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 3. Doug Haut later sold his shares in Santa Cruz and started his own surfing company under his name. It ended up being so successful that he was later inducted into the International Surfboard Builders Hall of Fame.
Santa Cruz is known for two very iconic logos – the red dot logo and the Screaming Hand logo, both commonly seen on hoodies and T-shirts worn across the globe. Here in Santa Cruz, it’s kind of a wardrobe staple and badge of honor to represent our hometown. The red dot logo was the very earliest logo that Santa Cruz ever put out, designed by Jay Shuirman and Jim Phillips. Not long after that, the Screaming Hand logo was born and became just as iconic and legendary as the original red dot logo. It was a big step forward in the world of skateboard graphics because of its bold lines and bright colors and because it used real artwork on the branding of a skateboard. Later on Jim’s son, Jimbo, followed in his fathers footsteps and created eye catching graphics for the company and many more passing on his talent to his son Colby – I am pleased to call both Jimbo and Colby friends, and always love seeing what the two are up to in the art world.
“So… what did you think?” I asked Chris as we began our drive home. He shared how he was amazed at the history and legacy that not only the city of Santa Cruz held, but also the brand itself. To be a third generation local gives me an immense amount of pride for our little city and all its quirks, and everytime I see a screaming hand or dot logo, I feel closer to home.
Change of Plans
My mom was cooking dinner when he got the call: a 14 day car commercial shoot in Hollywood that would bring in a decent sized check and keep Chris involved with his industry contacts before we left the country for the winter and spring. When big jobs come along, it’s hard to pass them up, especially when Chris gets to work alongside his friend Jeff from Industrial Digital. His hands pressed firmly into his forehead, rubbing his temples as I could almost hear the gears in his head working to find a solution. Somewhere in between our friends Henry and Ela from Sugar Bakery stopped by with a bunch of incredible deserts – fuel for the brainstorm. After a pros and cons list was created, Chris decided to go, which meant he needed to find a way south to LA.
Chris and I had really gotten used to not having our car around; between walking, biking, and hitching a ride with friends, we didn’t really need our car until this moment. Like many aspects of sailing, this wasn’t part of the plan but we are grateful my dad agreed to drive Chris to Cambria where our car was so Chris could continue south. He was packed and Hollywood bound two days later – but first we had to move the boat.
Because of how volatile Santa Cruz Anchorage can be, we decided it would be best to move to the harbor while Chris was away, a very hard pill to swallow since up until then we hadn’t had to pay for docking fees. Fortunately, it was the off season and the harbor was running their special end-tie rates; $1,200 for the month. Ouch. We pulled our hook from the sandy sea bed and had a beautiful one mile downwind sail to the Harbor, where I warned Chris that the entrance into poorly built man-made harbor can be tricky. There are no natural features to support a sheltered harbor entrance. In fact, its close, down-coast and down- drift proximity to the San Lorenzo River mouth has had a major, negative impact on the harbor entrance resulting in shoals and the pretty much constant need to dredge. The Harbor itself was built primarily for small crafts, making navigation tight, but we were thrilled to have an end tie located on the east side, aka the Crows Nest Side. Once situated, we welcomed my family aboard to see the boat. My grandmother, still visiting from Kentucky, was quick to get inside and investigate the life her eldest grandchild had been living.
After the “grand tour de Avocet” we had dinner at the Crows Nest where we discussed and finalized our latest plans. My parents were elated to have Avocet (and half her crew) sticking around for a bit longer than anticipated, but my grandmother was sad to have only had a short amount of time getting to know her “new” grandson, Chris.
Even though Chris was busy in Hollywood he made sure I would have plenty to do in his absence. A to-do list was written out on our cabin sides in dry erase marker – one of the benefits of choosing formica – and I was determined to finish the list quickly starting with oiling the bulwark, a task I actually added to the list myself and (somewhat) enjoyed doing.
We built our bulwark with the intention of affixing things such as our dinghy to it, which inherently meant it would get scuffed up. Although we do love our varnish, we decided that oil would be the best application to protect the Cumaru wood bulwark and initially applied 8 coats of Watco Teak Oil back in 2020. This would be my second time reapplying since it’s installation, and after our weeks in the salt and sun it desperately needed it. The rich deep color of the Cumaru had become a dull, lack-luster border-line silver color which had been driving me mad for months – our bulwark is one of our most recognized projects and it is embarrassing to have it look so… below our standards.
After digging in the depths of our 5’ deep lazarettes I finally found the bin labeled “varnish and oils” where the quart I was after resided. The second order of business was locating where my applicators would be. Finally, with all the necessary tools, I pumped up my paddleboard and hopped in the water to start sanding the bulwark, wipe it down with acetone, and begin coating it with the oil. Watching the wood go from drab to fab is one of the most instantly gratifying things to witness aboard, precisely why I make this task my personal own, taking full responsibility for the maintenance of our prized project.
Santa Cruz’s summer really comes in fall and as the hot sun beat down on the water that reflecting up at me, I stripped down to a bikini as I completed coat after coat of oil. It was around my fourth coat when I decided to take a break, check my emails, and rehydrate when a man on the dock approached me. “You’re Marissa, right?” He asked. Hesitant, being alone on the boat, I smiled and confirmed to which he introduced himself as a viewer of our channel and reader of our blogs and articles. Ironically, he had discovered us because of our Bulwark project and was pleased to see it looked as good as it did in the videos – or that it soon would, after a few more coats of oil. We exchanged some laughs, I explained our “plan” and he ultimately welcomed me back “home” to Santa Cruz before leaving me to complete my work.
Wednesday night beer can racing is a big deal in Santa Cruz. As the day faded into afternoon, I watched boat after boat pass by as the light at the end of my project tunnel grew nearer. “That’s brilliant” the helmsman of a fully crewed Swan 40-something called to me, in reference to my method of pushing myself along the bulwark in one sweeping motion with my paddleboard. “Work smarter, not harder” I responded with a smile, a crew member then recognizing our boat welcomed us to Santa Cruz. “I can’t wait to see your cruising videos!” He shouted as the boat pulled into their slip across the way. It would be a few months before we would even get out of the bay on YouTube, but at least our blog posts are (somewhat) up to date.
The sun began to set as the last of the racers came through the breakwater. My upcycled talenti-ice-cream-turned-oil-container was dry as I swiped the last coat onto the aft end of the bulwark. I pulled the paddleboard onto our deck just as our dock neighbor arrived home; a sweet Chinese man who spoke very broken english but always smiled and nodded my direction. My back cracked as I stood up straight and bent backwards, hands on my hips, stretching for the first time after being hunched over all day. My phone buzzed with a notification: pick you up for dinner? My mom texted, and soon she was in the parking lot waiting for me as I collected my shower bag, then making our way to the house for dinner – and a long, hot shower.
The routine of working all day on the boat and my mom picking me up on her way home from work for dinner was like clockwork by the second week. As the sun continued to grace us with its presence, my mom even joined me aboard the boat one day to do some computer work in the cockpit. When we both found a natural pause in our respective projects I was somehow able to convince her to help me give Avocet a much needed wash down – the final task on my list. I was pretty proud of myself for rigging the dinghy and launching it beside the boat with mom’s help, if only Chris could see me.
Because the surge in the Santa Cruz Harbor is so horrid, we secured a bow line, stern line, spring line, bow-spring-line, and stern-spring-line tied off in preparation of the incoming weather, but Avocet was still bucking against the dock during one of the south swell events. Our massive fenders earned their keep as I watched them roll between the hull and the dock in horror. Concerned about our topside paint, we had tied towels between the hull and fenders which worked for a day or so, but due to the aggressive non-stop motion the towels broke free. I scrambled to think of a way to cover the fenders when it hit me: I just need to dress them. Dashing below to Chris’s closet I grabbed his best (most tired) project shirts and returned dockside where I “dressed” our fenders – a quick fix and simple solution. I snapped a photo and sent it to Chris who was impressed with my ingenuity.
Friends, Firemen and Farewells
I haven’t spent more than a week in Santa Cruz since I was 17 years old, which meant I was always on a schedule and sadly didn’t always have time to prioritize catching up with old friends. Our new plan provided me with the opportunity to reconnect and welcome aboard friends that I haven’t seen in years, starting with Noelle who picked me up to get Verve Coffee one morning. Noelle and I met in elementary school and she is arguably one of the most talented artist friends that I have, dedicating an instagram account to her works (follow her here).
A day or two after that first friendly visit, my brother-from-another-mother, CJ, came to see me. Everytime I come home we try to get together for a brief hello, so being able to actually spend more than an hour together was refreshing. Together we walked along the harbor out to the lighthouse, reliving the olden days when we were inseparable and known as the emo-twins, being born just a few days apart and sharing the same dark fashion sense and solemn disdain for our prison of a high school. Despite his strategic avoidance of cameras he actually agreed to take a photo together, adding it to our 15 year long collection. CJ and I promised we would get together one last time before I sailed off, and we made true on that promise but first I had to help my dad win his campaign with the county.
Back in 2020/2021 my dad had the honor of serving the Aptos- La Selva Beach Fire District as Board Director during the Santa Cruz District Merge. He was thrilled to be endorsed by the Professional Firefighters of Santa Cruz County and AFL-CIO to run for the position again and continue to serve the county he calls home but first he had to win. I had never been a part of a political campaign before; the logistics, guidelines, bureaucracy… It was a completely different beast to tackle than what I was used to, but given my background and tenacity I was determined and honored to represent my dad as his media manager. Together with the fire department we canvassed the town, executed campaigns, arranged interviews and eventually won, adding a new badge to my marketing business. Above all else, I was (and still am) extremely proud of my dad and all he did to get to where he is now; giving back to the community that gave so much to him.
During one of his final “meet the candidate” dinners at The Hideout restaurant, my best friend Tess tagged along. Despite talking with each other every day and always feeling so well connected, we were in dire need of the in-person-hangout-time. What was supposed to be a couple hour visit turned into a sleepover (which almost turned into another sleepover) and we departed with our hearts feeling so full. During our time together we put our ADHD brains to work and wrote multiple articles, brainstormed business plans and reminisced about that one time Tess died my hair bright pink in highschool – Tess is that friend that has been there through nearly everything. “You can come with us you know” I said, trying to convince my outside-phobic friend to join my family for dinner. To my dismay, Tess stubbornly declined and returned home when my mom picked me up for dinner. It was my grandma’s last night visiting before she and Ellen flew back to Kentucky, and she was treating us to dinner at the legendary Shadowbrook in Capitola – a staple of a grandma visit. If you are looking for 5 star dining and incredible ambiance, Shadowbrook is the place to be. It’s even where I treated Chris to dinner before prom back in 2014!
The following morning my Grandma and Ellen were homeward bound, back to the land of bourbon and horse racing while Chris was making his grand return to Avocet from his adventures in Hollywood. It was only temporary though, because as soon as he got home we loaded up the car, locked up and drove straight to Ventura so we could attend the wedding of a very dear friend.
Wedding Bells – The Interlude
It’s not everyday you meet a person that you click with almost instantly, and even more rare that that person happens to be your boss, but first let me set the scene: It was 2019, and I had just left my first job after college, where I was a marketing associate for a small tech toy company. My direct superior was literally the worst person I had ever met; a doppelganger for Meryl Streep with the attitude of a pissed off python. She belittled me in every way possible; making fun of my food habits, my decision to marry young, and perhaps worst of all my wonderful life afloat bringing me nothing but torment the few months I worked there. She masqueraded as a mentor in marketing, but I was the one who was teaching her more things than she taught me. Long story short, she couldn’t stand how I stood up for myself and decided to “let me go,” the initial spark that led me to launch my own company Fair Winds Media.
However, while I was slowly building a client base I desperately needed money to help pay for slip rent, our boat loan, and project costs which is how I ended up working as a Member Service Specialist at Ventura Isle Marina with the best boss in the world (besides myself, of course): Garret McKinney.
Garrett and I weathered many storms together in the marina, figuratively and literally, and he promoted me to the Business Manager within a year of working there. We were a small but mighty team, and with Garrett’s humor matching the likes of Michael Scott it made everyday fun. Leaving that job to go cruising was one of the hardest things I ever had to do… not because I needed the money, but because I valued the family I had made in the office. Before casting off Chris and I were asked if we would take video at Garrett’s wedding to his better-half Allison, and although Chris hates shooting weddings our love for the McKinney’s outweighed the hatred and it was an absolute yes – but of course with cruising, there were some logistics to consider.
Originally we had hoped Avocet would be in San Diego by the time the wedding took place on November 5th, but things never go according to plan so we are thankful that a silver lining of Chris having work resulted in the need for our car which got us from Santa Cruz to Ventura where we stayed aboard Sea Castle, then down to San Diego for the wedding which was definitely one of the best I have ever attended. We partied until 1:30 in the morning before crashing in the hotel for a few hours, leaving at 4:00 to drop Chris off at the Universal Studios backlot to finish off his shoot.
Back aboard Sea Castle, Cleo and I spent the day recovering from a wild night, catching up with old friends and neighbors and of course getting some work done. Two days later Chris wrapped on his shoot, making us boatward bound for the last time.
Biking, Buds and Bye’s
Our final week in Santa Cruz was spent with family and friends, checking all we could off our must-do-list. “Careful… careful…” Chris said as he handed me the handlebars. Together, we extracted our mountain bikes from their home we made in the V-berth, carrying them up to our car. It was 6:00 in the morning, and the air had a wicked bite but as we ventured farther and farther into the Santa Cruz mountains the promise of sun was made clear as the rays glistened in between the redwoods.
“Long time no see!” I said as I jumped out of the car, arms open for a hug. Austin, our long time friend, had agreed to be our guide on the legendary Flow Trail located near his house. Before casting off for cruising, Chris was doing a handful of uphill bike rides every week with our pal Mitch, and had gotten used to the grind whereas I am much more accustomed to lift assisted downhill biking at China Peak Mountain Resort but that morning I seriously earned my turns.
I encouraged the boys to leave me behind, so that I would catch up, as I struggled for my breath every half mile or so. My lungs hurt and my stomach turned sour. I looked above me on the fire road to see Chris staring down at me. Waving at him to continue on, he finally did, leaving me to vomit the contents of my stomach out. Not more than five minutes later, he was beside me making sure I was alright. “I wouldn’t leave you, stupid. Are you okay?” Feeling much better on an empty stomach I rinsed my mouth out and continued on our 10 mile uphill jaunt to the entrance of Flow Trail, just a bit behind the boys.
To describe the Flow Trail simply is like trying to describe Heaven in its entirety. The trail was beautifully manicured, compact yet damp and soft with cohesive turns and bumps to pump your speed. Not to mention a few kickers here and there if you want to get some air. It was easy to get lost in the motions and let your wheels take you. Smiles plastered across our faces as the tall redwoods shaded us from the afternoon sun. Before we knew it, the trail was over and we were faced with another uphill ride.
Determined to ride the 7 mile uphill fire road back to the parking lot without walking my bike, I stubbornly huffed and puffed as groups of bikers passed by. Every single one of the riders were on full suspension bikes or e-bikes, giving me props and encouraging me that I was “almost there” even if that was a blatant white lie. Eventually we were racing against the setting sun and the boys managed to convince me to swallow my stubbornness and swap bikes with Austin who had an E-assist full suspension bike. It was incredible. Soon hills were no match for me and we made it back to the parking lot just before sunset. We celebrated a great ride with burritos in Corralitos before heading back to my house for long, hot showers, dinner, and family time.
Speaking of family, my Papa Ron came to visit to see Avocet, something that was very important to me before casting off. We may not talk all the time, but my grandpa and I are close, sharing long conversations on anything and everything. For most of my life he has lived in Fresno with the rest of my Hushaw family, but had a good stint of residency in Shaver Lake near Chris, giving the two the opportunity to really bond – He even opened up his basement to Chris and his band in highschool to practice, filling his home with the sound of teenage boys and their music. Having served aboard the icebreaker Northwind in the Coast Guard, Papa Ron comes with his own set of wild nautical tales, which we happened to add to during a sporty sail aboard Avocet.
“REEF! TRIM!” I yelled as my family braced themselves in the cockpit. We quickly learned that the wind line in the Monterey Bay is no joke as we approached it with full canvas in a gentle 5 knot breeze only to be tossed when we were hit with 25 knots on our beam when we got out of the lee of West Cliff. It was a quick event, but with yours truly at the helm and Chris manning the sheets we had it under control. My parents white knuckled whatever they were holding onto, completely wide eyed, and my grandpa was wedged into the corner beneath the dodger but instead of wearing a face of fear he laughed, completely lifting the mood. He is one of the most intelligent, accepting, and loving people that I know and I am so thankful we could welcome him aboard Avocet.
Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, especially if we are going out to eat so I was thrilled to give the Harbor Cafe by Avocet a shot. For years I had heard rave reviews, but never really made it over to the West Side unless going to the wharf. The place was packed with indoor and outdoor seating available, a kind and attentive waitstaff and a phenomenal menu. I ordered the Avocado Benedict and Chris the Cali Croissant – 10/10 stars, it was so good we returned again before we left and were thankful to have discovered it upon leaving rather than arriving or else our wallets may have been in peril. Full and happy we continued with our pre-departure to-do list, going grocery shopping, cleaning the boat, topping off our tanks, and soaking up our last moments in Santa Cruz.
Mini golfing at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is one of my favorite things to do. Although many locals avoid the tourist trap like the plague, I used to beg my parents to take us there in the summer and was a proud season pass holder in High School, hanging out with my friends and riding the legendary Big Dipper every chance I could. It is there in Neptune’s Kingdom you will find the pirate themed mini golf course that is pretty darn fun and something I had to do before leaving… even if my score was horrendous. Something I didn’t plan on was going on a double date with my brother and his girlfriend, Autumn, who is the sweetest girl with a hidden talent for arcade games. The two complement each other well and I really enjoyed getting to know her after hearing so many wonderful things from my brother and parents. Fortunately, this was not my last time seeing Autumn and we had one more opportunity to get together before we cast off.
Something I had never done as a Southsider was have a bonfire on Twin Lakes beach (next to the harbor) so for our final night in Santa Cruz we invited some friends of mine to join us for our final night to make some more memories. Chris set up a time lapse in the background and captured CJ, Garrett, Austin, my brother, Autumn, and the two of us telling stories, laughing and letting the fire burn into the night sky. It was around 11:00 when the ranger came to tell us we had overstayed our welcome, so we packed up, hugged some goodbyes, and walked back to Avocet.
“I smell like fire,” I said as I rolled out of bed. Chris handed me my coffee and I took to the settee where I checked my emails, the weather, then began stowing. It was departure day, and although it was sad to leave we were excited to get the heck out of the harbor. My dad came down to the dock early in the morning to bid us farewell and as we made it out of the breakwater I could see him waving to us from the beach. As we set our course for Monterey the wind began to pick up a bit giving us enough of a breath to fill the sails and cruise slowly across the bay. We had nothing but time, and we were excited for the adventures ahead.