Our Escape from Morro Bay

Posted:  March 13, 2023
👁 1877   11

A gentle sea breeze caresses my face as the sound of waves fills the space around me. The sunshine is bright and warm, and the smell of the jungle reaches our cockpit where I find myself writing most of these days. Here in the tropics I am happier than I have been in a while, which is why I find it particularly difficult to thrust myself back into the headspace to write about one of the most depressing times in my life. However,  for the sake of continuity and our readers, I will do what I must. Without further adieu, I present: Morro Bay, Part Two. 

“Right where we left her” Chris said as we put the car in park. It was two days after Christmas and we had returned to Avocet with clean laundry, gifts from family, and our rebuilt engine parts that we hoped would be our ticket out of there. Naturally, the rain had just begun to fall as we unloaded our very packed car, starting with Cleocat who jumped right into the boat and curled up in her favorite spot on the settee. With the last bag of belongings safely tossed below deck we shut the companionway and started the process of stowing, while the now-cascade of rainfall power washed our already squeaky clean decks. 

Hello, 2023

Chris had DJ’d the New Years Eve Party at China Peak Ski Resort for nearly a decade, taking over for his brother, who had taken over for their dad – it was a Neely family affair, which is why it was so hard for me to come to terms with the fact we would not be ringing in the new year at our regular haunt. However, sailing has taught me to find the silver lining in every situation which I had to do more than once while celebrating the new year. 

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Chris (with two Mai Tai’s???), A sliver of Steven’s head, Peter, me, Olivia and Jasmine

Instead of babysitting adults into the New Year, Chris and I had the opportunity to cut loose and take downtown San Luis Obispo (SLO) by a storm with our friends Peter, Olivia, and their friends who quickly became our own. If only I knew how seriously Chris would take his lack of responsibility, I could have saved him a severe recovery period. Beer, Old Fashions, Mai Tais… a strange combination for someone who doesn’t drink much, that ultimately led to his literal downfall where the Metcalfe brothers had to carry him home. Olivia assured me that this was a normal occurrence for SLO and let us crash on their couch until the morning. 

It was 7:00 am and I woke up with no issues, scrolling through my news feed to see what I missed. Owen, a new friend, was fast asleep on his deflated air mattress behind us – his tossing and turning atop the hardwood floor making me cringe in empathetic pain. “Whose clothes are these?” Chris mumbled as I tried to get him to drink water. He didn’t remember anything from the night’s festivities, which is probably for the best,  but I filled in the blanks with photos and videos. During my event recap I received a text from our friends asking if Avocet was okay during the wind event. Wind event I thought… WHAT wind event? 

Apparently shortly after we left Avocet for the evening an unexpected wind event blew through the Bay, blowing into the 40’s and creating wind chop that made the boats buck. Concerned about our boat that resided in a crosswind slip, I kicked Chris into the highest gear he could manage, tossing him in the car and driving 25 minutes back to our floating home. Chris moaned and groaned with every turn but as the inquiring texts rolled in my anxiety increased, leaving no time to pitter patter especially as the guilt set in. 

Finally back at the dock, I felt the sliver of patience that I had carried throughout the morning completely unravel when I laid eyes on our beautiful boat, which sported a gash along her side. Our oversized fenders had clearly been bucked out of their position, laying limp on the dock. I dropped my bags and felt my tears roll across my cheeks that were painted red with frustration. Chris had still not made a touchdown back to reality as he mumbled and stumbled his way back aboard, leaving me to feel the immense pain of the situation alone. 

The gash was ten inches long and three inches wide, exposing the gray barrier paint we had so carefully applied just two years prior. A montage of that project ran through my mind as the anger built. How could we have let this happen? According to the internet, there is no way to repair Awlgrip paint; no youtube videos, blog posts, or even forums that alluded to any ounce of hope that it could be done, but I refused to accept that. Without hesitation I dialed my brother in law to get his advice, and of course fill him in on the events of the night. “If anyone can do it, it’s Chris” he said, but as I looked over at my darling husband who was curled up in the middle of the floor I had to wonder if he could pull it off. Only time would tell. 

Chris recovered from his “big night out” paying many thanks to the Metcalfes and swearing off the booze for a long while. “Drinking isn’t fun” he continues to say, and hasn’t touched liquor since. The gash remained a painful reminder of the consequences of his actions for about a month, but we were so focused on cruising we didn’t pay it much attention. It was a wild way to ring in 2023, and one that (at least) I will remember forever. Despite the rocky start to the New Year it would be a good one, and in the spirit of taking my own advice, the silver lining to this entire situation is that we had the opportunity to potentially teach others how to do the impossible and repair their Awlgrip. 

Back on the Hook

Before we left Avocet for the holidays, we paid $600 to rent a slip for the month. Our time technically expired on the 1st, but given Chris’s recovery time from our wild NYE celebration we extended our stay through the 3rd, swallowing the additional $60/day charge. Eager to return to the anchorage we left as soon as Chris had our engine back up and running with the rebuilt parts. 

With a newly rebuilt high pressure pump, injectors, and a new starter Chris reassembled the engine praying with each install that it would work. When it came time to put his work to the test I hoped we would hear the purr of the Perkins once more, with no growling or even worse – silence. “Ready!” Chris yelled from the belly of Avocet. With his head in the bilge he watched and listened for any abnormalities as I started the engine from the instrument panel in the cockpit. 

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The engine chugged a few times, but soon was up andThe rumble of the Perkins was music to our ears. “Welcome back, baby!” Chris yelled, adding to the noise. We high fived then high tailed it out of the slip, keeping a careful eye on our gauges and listening for any abnormalities. From what we could tell in our short transit of 200 yards, the engine was running better than ever before and we soon found ourselves back where we spent our first weeks in Morro Bay. ANCHOR COORDINATES: 35°22.179’N  120°51.521’W

*KNOCK*KNOCK* KNOCK* the most aggressive sound of something hitting the hull echoed throughout the cabin where Chris and I sheltered from the cold. Quickly, we both sprung outside to investigate and found two otters cracking shells against our boat. Luckily, the little buggers caused no damage, but we did shoo them off to deter the habit from forming. Our tiny fissiped neighbors drifted away in the current, paws locked to stick together. When they lay on their backs they closely resemble our Cleocat, who we think must be part otter. In the distance, the the unmistakable cries of the otter pups carried across the water. We were visiting during prime pupping season, but Morro Bay has an active sea otter population year-round They tend to stick close to shore making for excellent, and safe, viewing.  Near South T-Pier, along the Harbor Walk, and next to Target Rock are some of the most popular spots to spy these Morro Bay sea’lebrities. You can help to keep the population healthy by not creating any disturbances – if the otters change their behavior or swim away, you’re too close!

Despite being back on the hook, the anchorage was not free. In Morro Bay you are allotted 5 free days then you are charged $1.50/foot/night every night thereafter – which in our opinion seems wrong especially when they close the harbor entrance, not giving the option of departure, but California will squeeze the money out of you every way possible. With a working engine and the high of the holidays behind us we were looking forward to continuing south, but soon found ourselves living an inescapable groundhog day. 

More Storms

Blue is good – Red is bad. For weeks, the forces was red.

It had been weeks since we had seen sunshine. Our batteries were starving since our solar array could not feed them, and our Renogy DC/DC charger was not supplementing the charge accordingly. The more the rain fell the less I was able to romanticize the cozy days inside where we watched movies, edited videos, and wrote new articles to share. In the brief moments of dry skies, all the boat dwellers crawled out of their companion ways like cockroaches and took to the shore to stretch their legs more than the length of their boats. In these moments we found ourselves getting together with Reid, together fantasizing of life below the border. 

Our ship’s clock was the only indicator that day turned into night as the dark skies stayed consistent throughout the changing hours. I changed out of my daytime pajamas into my nighttime pajamas just to keep some form of routine as I felt my sanity slip ever so slightly with every new gray day. It wasn’t until the atmospheric river hit us when I felt a jolt of excitement that was quickly replaced with fear. 

“I let out more scope” Chris said as he returned below deck. His foul weather jacket was sopping wet, looking as if he had fallen overboard. In reality, he was outside for just 10 minutes, increasing our 7:1 scope to 12:1 and replacing our normal snubber with a 20’ long three strand snubber in anticipation of the predicted winds. When the storm hit, we saw gusts into the 70’s with a four foot fetch, bucking us awake at 5:00 am. Throughout the duration of the storm, Avocet held strong and didn’t drag an inch while we watched the chaos unfold around us. 

The coast guard checked on us a few times, applauding our storm preparations before dashing off to retrieve vessels  that broke off their moorings, docks that floated away and other odds and ends with the harbor patrol close behind them. At one point a large powerboat decided it was smart to cross just feet in front of us, nearly running over our chain and snubber in his prop. For some reason, this mariner thought we were “adrift” despite having not budged for hours, and called the coast guard to once again check on us. They were relieved to see that we were still fine, and a bit confused why the powerboat was just motoring within the bay, aimlessly, becoming a liability. In later weeks Chris actually approached the boater and asked him why he did that, to which he responded with “I didn’t know you were anchored” followed by “I have been here for years and never saw a boat anchored there” – a truly shocking revelation on both accounts.  

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Although uncomfortable, we weathered the storm with no issues and watched it blow over us in the late afternoon. “We owe our anchor a beer” Chris said while hanging up his foulies for the night. The worst of it may have continued south, but the storms were far from over. 

Back to the Dock

When we announced that we were still in Morro Bay, our pals Brian and Breezy from SV Rocinante highly recommended we check out their homeport yacht club. With the lack of sunshine we found our lithium battery bank struggling to stay full, so we decided to follow their recommendation and give the Morro Bay Yacht Club a ring. 

The Morro Bay Yacht Club was formed in 1956 by an interested group of sailing and power boating enthusiasts. During the early years, much of the time was spent helping to improve harbor and boating conditions such as the placement of channel marking buoys. Members of the MBYC helped organized the Morro Bay Harbor District, Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla and the Chamber of Commerce. Fun activities included sailing regattas, power boat races, holiday parties and sand spit outings. The club sponsored summer sailing lessons with the recreation department and hosted visiting yachts.

Once tied off along the Yacht Club side tie we plugged into shore power, kicked on our space heaters, and did our best to dry out. Everything had been wet for weeks given the rain, the fog, and the condensation so we were thrilled to have some extra heat to assist our diesel heater. “Hey Avocet!” we heard from the boat in front of us. I quickly realized it was none other than the crew of SV Narnia, who I had connected with on TikTok of all places. Although we only had the chance to exchange quick pleasantries in the brief moments of clear skies, it was still nice to connect with an online friend in real life. We were quite the spectacle on the yacht club dock, attracting eyes from near and far. A majority of the club members recognized our boat and came to welcome us, but there was one encounter that had Chris and I in stitches from how awkward and back handed it was. 

One evening Chris had ran up to the yacht club to do some laundry where he ran into a club member that cornered him. “Is that your little boat down there?” he asked. Chris, puzzled by the question, responded with “The 41 footer? Yes, that’s mine,” thinking perhaps the man had a mega yacht, to which his definition of “little boat” would ring true. Brushing off the comment, it only got weirder with his follow up: “She looks good in the dark, but I might have to take that back in the daylight” … a very awkward thing to say to a stranger. Chris laughed it off with our clean laundry in hand and retreated back to our “little boat”  to fill me in on the encounter. Having worked in a marina I was keen to these types of interactions and instantly thought of many comebacks that would have been suitable, starting with “I could say the same about you” in response to his “looks good in the dark ” comment. We laughed between ourselves then changed into presentable clothes to attend a movie screening at the club – I sincerely hoped I would run into the member, but the opportunity never came. We were too enthralled with the film anyways. 

Fresh to Frightening is a film produced by our friend Gareth Kelly, about legendary sailing photographer Sharon Green. The club was packed to the brim with club members and Sharon fans, leaving little room to move around but Gareth quickly spotted us and waved us over. Beside him was Sharon, who extended her hand for an introduction. Meeting Sharon was wonderful after having our work share so many publications together, it was truly an honor. Chris was excited to learn more about her career as a photographer, moving from film to digital, and chasing sailboats from a helicopter with her camera in hand. Although the film was only a teaser for what we hope is more to come, it was full of excitement and inspiration as she continued to fight her way to the top of such a male-dominated industry. We sincerely hope you are able to see the film yourself, and urge you to check out the details on the Fresh to Frightening website!

Back to the Anchorage we Go

Before leaving the yacht club dock, we made it a priority to install our shaft lock. Since we have a hydraulic transmission, putting it in gear will not lock the shaft meaning it is constantly spinning, creating drag, and preventing our autoprop from feathering. With a shaft lock we could finally reap the benefits of the feathering prop we had installed almost three years ago, increasing our speed by a knot. Fortunately, it was a pretty straightforward process to install it but during the process we noticed a pretty substantial red flag: our sigma drive coupling was cracked. 

We are fans of the sigma drive because unlike a regular fixed coupling it allows up to three degrees of difference between the shaft and engine alignment, which negates the need to use a feeler gauge to do alignments. However, despite our love for this product, this is the second time it has failed us. Back when we hauled out in 2020, we were replacing our shaft when the sigma drive cracked during installation. Bruntons replaced the inner sphere and we didn’t seem to have any issues moving forward – that we noticed, anyways. This time, we noticed the tapered ring around the shaft wasn’t seated properly raising our suspicion and inspiring us to investigate further. With a closer look Chris noticed that there was another crack in the inner sphere, same as before, rendering the sigma drive unsafe to use. While we waited for Bruntons to send a new one, we installed our backup rigid split shaft coupling which would do a fine job until we could install a brand new sigma drive – which unbeknownst to us wouldn’t be until we reached Catalina Island, but more on that later. 

With our coupling situation sorted for the time being we returned to the anchorage with a project list a little longer than when we left. The rain sizzled on the water as it blanketed every surface with another layer of “wet,” as I desperately tried to remember what the sunshine felt like. The harbor entrance was still closed, keeping us confined to the bay where the days felt stale. The brief intermissions of happiness laced within the long gray days seemed to coincide with visits from friends. Fortunately, we had plenty of friends around to distract us from our current state of “trapped” reminding us that there is still good, even in the bad times. 

When there is sunshine we aired EVERYTHING out!

The Ground Ran Into Us

It was another gray morning with the now-normal-sound of rain pitter pattering on the deck. Chris, Cleo and I laid warm in our berth, tucked away from the cold and did our best to ignore that another gloomy day had arrived all too soon. The sound of the extremely strong tidal current that we had become accustomed to rushed beside the hull as the lapping of water echoed inside the cabin. The wind opposed the tide, forcing Avocet to take the brunt of it all on her beam. It was around 4:00 in the morning when the gentle bumping turned violent as the cascade of our belongings began to shift from starboard to port, slowly then all at once. We were listing heavily, which could only mean one thing: we had run aground.

Some people think that you must be underway to run aground, and although in most cases that is true the textbook definition of running aground is: To be immobilized by water too shallow to allow [your vessel] to float – which was most certainly true for us. Chris did his best to pace within the cabin, thinking quickly while trying not to lose his footing. It was 6:00 am and we were listing at 20 degrees. We had anchored in the same spot we had left a few days prior at mean low low tide with 5:1 scope in anticipation of the incoming strong NW winds that blew throughout the night. However, what we didn’t plan for was Mother Nature’s decision to rearrange the sea bed during the latest storms, shifting the existing sandbar further into the anchorage that resulted in our predicament when the wind flipped to a faint easterly at the same time the tide began to go out.

“Harbor Patrol said they would likely do more damage than good if they tried to pull us out, so let’s try to kedge” Chris said as he opened the companionway door to let the surprise of sunlight pour inside. He used our dinghy to deploy our stern hook, a 10 pound Fortress 16, 200 feet off our port aft quarter, and used our primary hook as a second anchor point. Instead of winching our primary in from the bow we brought a 75 foot snubber line midship, using the mast winch in conjunction with the “kedge” anchor to pull us back off the sandbar – but first we had to wait for the tide to come back in which was not until 6:00 pm that night. Meaning it was going to be a very long day. 

As Avocet listed over more and more we found ourselves trying to make the best of our situation… which was hard since we were giving Morro Rock a run for its money as the main attraction for the onlookers walking along the embarcadero. It was odd to be able to see the horizon out of our hatches, watching the water creep higher and higher up the port side, hoping it wouldn’t spill over and beneath our bulwark. As we tactfully hid from the “Sea View” tour boats full of photo-happy-tourists and paddle boarders that circled us, we recognized the sound of a familiar outboard approaching. “I see you have careened yourself to clean the bottom, how clever!” Reid announced. Although he did his best to assure us that we were not the only ones to have run aground here, the constant gaze of those onshore didn’t make us feel like any less of a freak show. 

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Eventually the tide returned and as Chris winched ourselves out, Avocet freed herself from her muddy restraints with a triumphant *pop* sound. Since she has an encapsulated modified fin keel and strong tumblehome we saw no signs of distress, remaining thankful we found ourselves with a sandy holding rather than rocks. The rain had just started again as the sun set over the breakwater, making us continue with the next phase of our plan with only the light from our spreaders. We brought in some scope from our primary anchor, and began to retrieve our secondary that acted as a kedge. Chris dinghied out as he collected the line only to discover that the Fortress was very, very stuck. We initially thought it had fouled on our primary, so we pulled up our Rocna with no issue, meaning that the Fortress was stuck on something else. Since it wasn’t going anywhere and the rain had intensified we decided to utilize it as our primary hook for the night until we could try to retrieve it with the windlass and opposing tide in the morning. 

Waking up to the sound of birds and sunshine spilling through the cabin was much more pleasant than the rude awakening from the day before. After our morning coffee we began the motions of retrieving the Fortress which was much easier with the help of our windlass. “You were the talk of the town!” new friends said as they circled us in their dinghy. After we shared how we ended up in the predicament they assured us we had joined a prestigious “club” of sailors who had shared a similar story in the Bay. After all, you know what they say: if you haven’t been aground, you haven’t been around.

Our Great Escape

Our last night in Morro Bay was a small celebration, but a celebration nonetheless. It felt somewhat special to have a small audience with Reid, Elly dog, and a surprise visit from our friend Kris rather than a big send off. We reflected on our time spent in the Bay, shared sailing plans and promised our friends we would get together again soon – assuming Reid got his butt in high gear and sailed south behind us, and Kris would come hang out when we were home in the summer. Although we were ecstatic to finally be continuing south I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness leaving our friends behind, very reminiscent of the emotions I felt when leaving Ventura. I would soon come to learn that this recurring theme is inherent in this lifestyle, and the “see you laters” cease to get easier. 

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The Following morning we left under a golden veil of sunshine, a promise that the storms were (mostly) behind us. A gentle 10 knot breeze filled our sails as the following five foot seas pushed us towards our next port of call, our homeport, Ventura. 

Avocet had spent nearly two months in Morro Bay and was subject to brutal storms, a gash, a grounding, and a bunch of other little things in between that had us praying for an end to the madness. I was dreading writing this experience, but have found it to be cathartic in a way, and now see through my memories in print that it wasn’t all bad. In fact, there are some Morro Bay memories I will hold near and dear from our friends to the little otter screams that woke us up at 5:00 am. Life is all about perspective, yet another lesson learned through my wonderful life alfoat. 

Hoping you find the silver lining in every situation, and sending warm thoughts from here in Mexico.

Marissa (and Chris and Cleo)


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1 Comment

  1. Ken

    The otter brothers would be a delightful anchorage welcome committee! But they probably were selling extended car warranties 🤣


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