. . . and we’ve finally achieved a higher state of nirvana: We’ve become beach bums. A few days ago, we adopted a brand new baby surfboard, Snoopy, and it is dramatically improving our lives (which were, of course, very difficult in the pre-surboard era). With sandy beaches, cacti, and shirtless old men dancing on rollerblades everywhere, we feel like we’ve finally crossed a major milestone in our sailing career and are looking forward to improving our bum image as we get to even sandier beaches, and actually learn how to surf.
After a few days of big city life in San Francisco, we worked our way south along the coast to our first real beach towns, Santa Cruz and Monterey. We’ve been running on the beach, snorkelling with nearly tropical-looking fish, practicing our surf landings in the dinghy (this mostly involves me getting soaked), and enjoying the novel frustration of trying to keep sand out of the boat. We’ve learned that we were truly spoiled in Alaska where we had dozens of well-protected anchorages to chose from each night. Here, there are only about a dozen anchorages (most of them a bit rolly, which doesn’t help my lousy sleeping skills) in the entire state, so we have to plan our days around the anchorages. We are nonetheless enjoying the steady, predictable northwesterly winds and sunshine down here.
Wildlife sightings have also picked up. We are now in Morro Bay, which is just beyond the southern boundary of the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary. Covering 5,300 square miles south of San Francisco, the sanctuary is the largest of the 14 marine sanctuaries in the country. It includes some of the deepest underwater canyons in North America. Because these canyons occur close to shore in Monterey Bay, providing diverse nearshore habitat, the Bay is teeming with marine life–we saw Pacific White-sided Dolphins, Risso’s Dolphins, southern sea otters, brown pelicans, California sea lions, harbor seals, dozens of birds, and even a couple of whales. To protect this habitat, there are restrictions in place prohibiting things like oil and gas activities that might harm wildlife habitat. In addition, recreational boaters are prohibited from discharging anything into the reserve waters (i.e. no pumping bilges or discharging sewage from marine heads). Boaters are encouraged to do their part to keep waters clean and to give wildlife adequate space for comfort. These efforts seem to be working–we swam in clear water and watched more wildlife than we had seen since we left British Columbia. For more about what you, as a boater, can do to keep our oceans clean, look for tips on Sailor for the Sea’s great website.
Unfortunately, marine reserves across the country may be in trouble. The National Marine Sanctuaries Act, which provides for the designation and management of marine reserves, has to be reauthorized by Congress every five years. It was last reauthorized for funding through fiscal year 2005, with additional funds provided in 2006 and 2007. Without reauthorization of the Act or new legislation, there can be no new marine sanctuaries or reserves, and no expansions of existing reserves. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which manages marine reserves, is asking for our help in securing funding for our existing reserves and in providing for new reserves. For more information, check out NOAA’s marine sanctuaries website: http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/welcome.html.
Tomorrow, we expect to begin making our way to another marine sanctuary–the Channel Islands. First, we’ll make a stop in San Luis Obispo, then we’ll round Point Conception and continue on to the Channel Islands. As we head into southern California, we’ll have to be vigilant for a few new threats:
–Sleeper waves: One of my former supervisors warned me about these recently, and a few days later, I saw a sign warning me that I would die if I got too close to the beach because of vicious sleeper waves. I’m not certain where these fit into the mix with sneaker waves, rogue waves, tsunamis, just plain big waves, or, for that matter, white squalls and microbursts, but we’ll keep our guard up with an eye for mean-spirited waves.
–Cliffs: We’ve learned that cliffs in California are inordinately dangerous. Anytime you approach within 500 feet of a cliff, a sign and a fence are there to warn you that if you get any closer, you will fall off the cliff and die, slip and die, or drown (and die). This may not be an issue while we are actually sailing, but cliffs are certain to threaten us whenever we go to shore.
–Santa Anna winds: These winds appear in the form of a furious, red, dust cloud, and appear without warning. They can reach speeds of 100mph (but usually they are only about 20mph). When we see dust, we will run.
–Sharks: We’re in Great White country now, and I expect to lose a few limbs to sharks somewhere in this voyage. We haven’t seen any sharks yet, but I think we’re due for a sighting soon.