The Central Californian Coast (6th-15th October)

The word Monterey conjures up images (and sounds) of music due to the renowned annual jazz festival that take place there. The 1967 Monterey Pop festival is said to have coined the phrase ‘The Summer of Love’, so it seemed an appropriate destination to head for after San Francisco. We arrived at Monterey Harbour early on the morning of 6th October to the now familiar and welcome sounds of barking sea lions. Paul’s oft-repeated assertion that it would get hotter the further south we go had never seemed to hold so true as we took our customary exploratory walk in new surroundings. The late morning sun’s heat had us shedding layers of clothing as we strolled along the boardwalk. The beach looked very inviting, with small groups of people swimming, sunbathing and surfing but it was the sound of live music coming from a nearby square that grabbed our attention.  A cultural festival was taking place on a stage in the square, honouring a celebration of languages around the world. Food and souvenir stalls lined the sides and there was a great atmosphere from the audience enjoying performances from dancers and speakers representing the countries.

Approaching Monterey Harbour
The beach near the marina

My initial impressions of the town made me think of Spain. The small centre had a decidedly Mediterranean feel, with its tree-lined Spanish named streets, Spanish-style architecture and pavement cafes. Monterey has a long history of Spanish (and later on, Mexican) settlement and was California’s capital under both rules until 1850. The coastal trail is a long attractive walkway spanning the length of the bay’s coastal curve. We walked only a small part of it, planning to walk the whole trail when we visited Cannery Row. The only drawback was the profusion of cyclists using the same path and ringing bells to urge you out of their way. I found it safest to stick close to the edge and stay there in order to avoid collisions. The rocky shore is populated with a rich variety of marine life and the water was clear enough to see seals, sea lions and birds when they dived and swam under the surface. We stood for ages looking at them, and at the grand views behind us of old canning factories and the colourful Fisherman’s Wharf Pier.

On the coastal trail

Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf is smaller and consequently less lively than San Francisco’s – even with all the usual seafood restaurants, gift shops, candy stores and whale watching and fishing excursion tours. We ambled around this compact, quaint tourist attraction for an hour or so. Well who doesn’t like the occasional browse in shops full of tacky gifts and souvenirs! Actually some of the items on sale were of high quality and unusual enough for us to linger and examine them. We booked a table for dinner at one of the restaurants before heading back to town to do some shopping. The festival was still in full swing when we arrived there so we sat and watched the last few performances before the finale. One guy from the audience who joined in the dancing bore a striking resemblance to the man currently making a pig’s ear of being our Prime Minister. See the pic below 😉

Fisherman’s Wharf
Vegan pizza in a seafood restaurant 🙂

Monterey revealed more of its history and places of interest over the few days we were there. Considering the Spanish and Latin American heritage we were surprised to find at least three of its pubs advertising their Britishness. Parts of the town centre did actually resemble old English market towns but we never discovered why the pubs were festooned with UK flags and displayed menus boasting fish and chips, Sunday roasts and sausage and mash. Always a fan of charity shops, I have grown to love the ‘thrift stores’ here in America. Some of them are like social history museums with their old crockery, kitchen appliances and toys – and as in the UK there is always a diverse selection of books to browse.  

One of the British themed pubs

The author, Robert Louis Stevenson resided in Monterey for a brief period in 1879. His short stay (a mere couple of months) didn’t deter Monterey from marking the occasion, however and the house he stayed in is now a museum filled with his personal artefacts along with art pieces created by his wife, Fannie. The large white house was closed when we looked at it, as are most museums on Mondays but it was enough to see it from the outside and continue on admiring the other beautiful old buildings in the town. A local information leaflet informed us that pristine, whitewashed buildings and substantial residences made of adobe bricks began to line the streets as Monterey expanded. Spanish building methods and New England architectural features combined to form the popular ‘Monterey Colonial’ style that so reminded me of the historic structures in parts of Spain.

Monterey Town Centre

The primary reason for our visit to Monterey was to visit Cannery Row, the place immortalised in Steinbeck’s novel of the same name in 1945. Paul had recently finished reading Steinbeck’s 1940 account of his travels with marine biologist Ed Ricketts in The Log from the Sea of Cortez, so we were both keen to see the place that profoundly influenced the men. Ricketts had a lab in Cannery Row for his marine studies and he and Steinbeck became great friends after meeting in 1930, remaining so until Ricketts was killed by a train in 1948. Cannery Row was named so by an anonymous journalist in 1919 but the area had been used for fishing as long ago as five thousand years. During the time Steinbeck lived there it had become known as the ‘sardine capital of the world’ and the colourful mix of characters working there ignited his imagination. I knew it wouldn’t look the same as it did in Steinbeck’s day, and thankfully, it wouldn’t smell the same either. Nowadays the area is focused on recreation rather than industry with luxurious hotels and restaurants and a plethora of shops for tourists. Surprisingly there was a distinct lack of bookshops when we looked to see if we could buy a copy of Cannery Row.  It wasn’t until we were browsing a huge antique mall later that day that we found some dusty-looking old editions of his books, and they were very expensive.

On the way to Cannery Row

It was still possible to imagine the place as it was when fully functioning as a fish processing industry, thanks to plenty of information and pictures of how it used to look.  I particularly liked the large murals depicting Cannery Row’s workers painted on the wall of the recreational trail.  

We took the opportunity to go for a couple cycle rides during our five day stay in Monterey. The first one was along the Coastal Recreational Trail all the way to a place called Lovers’ Point in Pacific Grove.  It was a perfect day for a bike ride: sunny but not too hot and the seascape scenes were stunning. Along the way we spotted a plaque dedicated to the memory of John Denver who had died in Monterey Bay when the plane he was in crashed there in 1997.

At Lovers’ Point

With Halloween fast approaching, the houses we passed were decorated in the manner you see adorning some homes in the UK in the run up to Christmas. They are absolutely fascinating and we continue to see ever more flamboyant ones everywhere we go. The pumpkin displays in the supermarkets are pretty impressive too. I hadn’t realised there were so many varieties and colours, especially when I think back to my childhood when, if we wanted anything to carve into a Jack o Lantern we would have to make do with a turnip or a swede!

Pumpkins not presents, under the tree
Deer crossing the road

Lovers’ Point turned out to be full of squirrels as opposed to lovers. There were hundreds of them scurrying around literally begging for food from people. At first we thought they were rats because we are used to seeing squirrels in trees and these were all over the rocky beach and grassy areas but it seems they don’t need trees…and we still need to brush up on our knowledge of birds and animal types.

It does look a bit like a rat

Our second bike ride was infinitely more challenging. We didn’t set off until midday and it was an extremely hot day. As is often the case, the distance on the map looked ‘doable’ but was in actual fact a distance that required the stamina and physique of a trained athlete! Google maps had stated that the journey from Monterey to Salinas would take around 1 hour and 40 minutes by bike, and showed a convenient cycle path almost all the way there. That might work for those of a Tour de France calibre! We hadn’t gone more than an hour when we realised we’d taken on too much of an arduous task. The heat didn’t help, and parts of the track were covered with broken glass and sharp rocks. The final straw came when we had to traverse a busy and wide freeway where cars and lorries were speeding past at an alarming rate. Paul checked the map and said we weren’t even a third of the way there. Our intention was to visit the National Steinbeck Centre and at that rate it would be closed by the time we got there. My legs were about to give up on any more pedalling and we were both sweating and tired so it didn’t take long to decide to park the bikes at the shopping mall across the road and call an Uber taxi to take us into Salinas. It hadn’t been a total waste of time and effort, however because we’d passed some stunning scenes, including a Route 66 road sign which I’d been especially thrilled to see.

The drive to Salinas made us realise exactly how much further away Salinas was and it was a relief to be in the air conditioned car for the rest of the journey instead of cooking in the sun on the bike. The Steinbeck Centre was very good. Unsurprisingly, since Salinas is where he was born and lived until he was 17, it holds the largest collection of Steinbeck archives in America. The exhibits relating to his works, life and philosophy were of genuine interest to us and we made the most of our time there. A highlight for me was seeing the actual van that Steinbeck had used for his travels across America which culminated in one of my favourite books, Travels with Charley. The house he was born and grew up in is a short walk from the centre so we had a quick look at that before catching a bus back to the mall to collect our bikes for a cool and much more comfortable early evening ride back to Monterey.

Ed Ricketts, (left) and John Steinbeck
The plaque actually says ‘how to use a typewriter’!!
The house Steinbeck was born in

We left Monterey on Saturday 12th October, bound for Morro Bay. This was an overnight passage and we managed to sail through the night with the wind remaining favourable enough for the duration of the passage for a change. It was foggy but there were no other vessels around and we were in no great hurry to get there so we took it slow and steady, arriving at the bay around lunchtime on Sunday. The sea life we’d been told would be all around us began to appear as Morro Bay’s three tall towers from a disused power station came into view. Sea lions, dolphins and sea otters joined us in the water as I steered us towards a mooring buoy, while pelicans flew overhead and perched on the rocky breakwater like sentries. Morro Bay is dominated by a massive dome shaped rock which is in fact a volcanic plug. First Nation tribes consider it a sacred site and it’s protected by the state. For this reason it is not permitted to climb it but a public path allows tourists to walk around its base. We could see people on the beach and trail adjacent to it once we’d tied up to the buoy. Overnight passages tend to leave us (well me at least) too tired to do much once we’ve reached our destination and we put off any excursions until the following day.

Approaching Morro Bay
An art piece that you sit on on the waterfront, Morro Bay

Morro Bay is proud of its charming little seaside town. An exploratory walk along the front revealed a number of signs exhorting people to keep the town clean, pollution free and using contaminants that would have negative effects on the marine life. It’s clearly paid off because the streets were pristine and the water is crystal clear. The tiny maritime museum consisted of one small square room crammed with exhibits and items for sale. It was free admission and the friendly lady inside was keen to know where we were from after hearing our accent. A good number of people in both Canada and the US have assumed us to be Australian. It must be a bit like us being unable to distinguish between the Canadian and American accent. We walked along the shop and gallery lined waterfront side of the street and discovered some high class, artisan, locally-made and unique (you get the picture) souvenirs and products for sale – all very expensive but nice to browse.

The true beauty of Morro Bay revealed itself when we visited the trail and beach near the rock. It was a gorgeous day weather-wise; completely clear with blue sky and a light that enhanced the sea and skyline. The view of the town from the rocky beach was enchanting and there were lots of cute sea otters in the shallow water to admire. It was here that we found out that the rat-like creatures were squirrels because we asked a couple who were busy feeding them at the base of the rock. It was so lovely that we considered staying longer and maybe hiring a car to drive to Los Angeles. Unfortunately, once the weather and other factors had been considered it meant we might get stuck there if we didn’t continue southward the following day. We ended our Morro Bay sojourn with an early dinner in a fish restaurant overlooking the water: chips without the fish for me, washed down with a glass of red wine 😉    

I had plenty of reasons subsequently to wish we had decided to remain there for longer. Our overnight journey to Oxnard near Los Angeles would be anything but plain sailing…  

Morro Bay to Los Angeles (Oxnard)

Wednesday 16th.

We left our mooring buoy at Morro Bay around 09:30 for the overnight passage to LA. We were actually heading for Oxnard which is an hours drive north of Venice Beach. I couldn’t find a cheap berth in LA proper, and this seemed like a good alternative. We had originally considered Ventura, but this was closer to LA and more importantly to me, Mexico.
This passage was about 130 miles, which is about 26 hours at 5 knots speed. So by leaving at 9:30 we should arrive in the early afternoon the next day.
The official weather forecast from NOAA had gales predicted for Thursday night and Friday, so I didn’t want to linger. The sea state was good now but would deteriorate on the passage, but nothing too bad and nothing we hadn’t handled before. I was looking forward to about 15-25 knots of wind from behind, making for a fast passage.
We got the sails up as soon as we left the breakwater. with the wind aft of the beam (from behind) we were making good progress.

By the afternoon the wind had picked up more and the swell was growing, and for some unknown reason to me the autohelm started giving up, I took the helm, got us back on course , but it happened again fairly quickly. So out came the wind vane for the monitor self steering. I hadn’t used this in a while and it took a bit of fiddling to get it running, but once I did, the boat steered a great course south. I hit my bunk around 8pm leaving Kathy on watch, but around 11pm she woke me as we had gone way off course, a lull in the wind had caused the wind steering to fail. I fixed this and then started my midnight watch a little early and Kathy hit the sack.
A few hours later the predicted gale started to appear and winds were gusting to 25/30 knots. We were now in the middle of a load of oil/gas platforms that inhabit this part of the coast. I had managed to get a double reef into the mainsail, and we only had the staysail out, but we were hitting over 10 knots according to the GPS and that’s a lot for this boat, so I decided to furl up the staysail a bit. Unfortunately, the furling line was taught and I couldn’t pull it in. A quick trip to the bow revealed the furling line had come off the drum and wrapped around under/inside the drum and was far too tight for me to pull out by hand. Back in the cockpit I could see the wind was still strengthening and the seas building, it was starting to get a bit worrying, so I grabbed a torch, it was quite dark out, and a sailors knife and headed back to the bow. Sitting on the bow platform above the bowsprit, with the aid of the torch, I could see that the line was wrapped around the forestay several times below the furling drum, and I spent half an hour feeding the rope back through the drum, undoing the tension, while the rather rough sea was bouncing me around. Eventually it was all back on the drum. All the time we had been sailing directly towards an oil rig, it was looking pretty big now. The thing with oil rigs is that they are so bright in the sea, they look a lot closer than they actually are, at least that was my plan/hope.

Rubbish course due to gale/hand steering / rubbish autohelm.

Back in the cockpit things were getting worse, the wind steering was struggling and we were heeled over much more than I liked, the rails were close to the water. Furling the sail on my own was going to be difficult in the strong wind, so I called for Kathy to get out of her bunk and head on up to help me. This worried her a lot as I rarely need to call for help, and she was being thrown around in the cabin getting ready to come on deck. I had the usual explaining that we weren’t going to die etc etc but could she control the sheets while I winched in the staysail. once the staysail was mostly in, and with the fully reefed mainsail, the boat settled, I could get us back on course and everything was fine again, Kathy went back to bed, although it took a while for her to relax and fall asleep. Before Kathy headed below she took the helm for a bit while I worked on the windvane, unfortunately Kathy managed a crash Jibe, this wasn’t that bad, and only happened because I had undone the preventer from the starboard side of the boat, this is a rope that tames the boom when we might Jibe, I had forgotten to re-attach it after all the flapping (literally) with the headsail. A few hours later when the wind should have been really strong, it disappeared and we had to turn the motor on, which we used until sunrise when there was enough wind to sail again.
Arriving at Oxnard was simple, as we travel south the bars at the harbour entrances get less serious, this one looked a bit wild as we approached, but once around the breakwater it was very calm. Motoring into the Marina complex it was staggering to see so many boats here, perhaps a few thousand. In fact there are a few marinas and yacht clubs at Oxnard, and beyond them the water flows around a massive housing development where every house backs onto the water and has its own dock/pontoon.

Oxnard, courtesy of Google maps

Looking over the boat later I found the solar powered vent above the shower room had smashed off the coachroof leaving a 3.5″ diameter hole in the deck.

Also the line for the staysail furler had shredded its outer braid.

More about LA later.

Checking us out.

Paul Collister.

The Streets of San Francisco

Drakes Bay proved to be a great stopover before we hit the bright lights of San Francisco. It was here that Francis Drake is thought to have landed during his circumnavigation of the world in 1579. 30 miles from San Francisco, this stunning bay is four miles wide – and an undeniable area of outstanding natural beauty. Sheer cliffs and a long, sandy beach greeted us as we approached the bay preparing to anchor on the morning of Friday September 20th. The weather allowed us to see it in all its glory; a clear, blue sky, warm sunshine, no wind and a flat calm sea. The view reminded me of Scottish Island coastlines, complete with crofters’ cottages dotted on distant hillsides.  We’d heard it was a great place to see wildlife too, so we wasted little time in going ashore to explore. Before we’d even reached the beach to park the dinghy I spotted a sea lion basking on some nearby rocks. Maybe it was that delightful distraction that caused me to stumble in an ungainly manner as I attempted to step out of the dinghy onto the beach with the dinghy’s painter. Luckily I managed to stay upright, I just had very wet trouser legs until the sun dried them. 

Drakes Bay
Sister Midnight at anchor in Drakes Bay

For two hours we followed the recommended trail, climbing gradually with the shoreline on our right. As high as we were, we had tremendous views of the bay. Meanwhile on our left, wildlife made an appearance in the form of a coyote stalking a deer. I was thrilled to see a coyote – the very word synonymous with North America and a creature referred to in several novels and songs. The deer didn’t seem in the least bit alarmed at being followed; it appeared disdainful if anything.

The Coyote is near the rock on the right

A car drew up as we were looking and we got chatting with the occupants who’d also stopped to watch the scene. Like so many, they were very interested in our plans and recommended a few places in San Francisco. The lady in the group told us she was planning a night swim in the place we would be anchoring in a few days’ time. Apparently it’s a popular pastime in the area. It’s not one that I will be in a hurry to join – walking in the beautiful Point Reyes National Seashore Park fulfilled all my exercise needs. We strolled on admiring the colourful flora and fauna and the views from one of the highest points where the wide Pacific is visible as far as the eye can see. I hope that deer lived to see another day, we saw several of them on our return journey but there was no sign of the coyote.

It was tempting to remain in such an ideal setting but we told ourselves we could always return if San Francisco was full or too busy. So early on Saturday 21st, after clearing the anchor of all the kelp attached to it, we made our way out into the misty (as opposed to foggy) bay. Along the way we saw the captivating sights of whales, dolphins, sea lions and pelicans. Near lunchtime, the shape of the Golden Gate Bridge could be made out on the horizon and Paul’s daughter Yasmin suggested he broadcast a live stream of us going underneath it. To do this, he downloaded an app called Periscope which we all had to install in order to see the images. The sea wasn’t too choppy and it was a lovely sunny day but still awkward to operate a phone to let people know about the event at the same time as doing all the other necessary tasks…like keeping watch! Paul was at the bow with the camera and I was in the cockpit messaging my daughter about the live stream when all of a sudden Paul appeared, having run from the bow because I hadn’t heard him shouting my name. I looked up and saw a yacht under sail heading straight for our port side. It was such a shock and the skipper looked rightfully very annoyed. Paul managed to steer us away and no damage was done but I put my phone away for the duration of the journey and consigned myself to the naughty step 😉

San Francisco’s skyline

The bridge drew closer and I steered us under it, which is a fantastic experience to remember and treasure. Then Alcatraz came into view, along with a clearer view of San Francisco’s skyline and those views caused surges of excitement in me.  It had been 1983 when I last saw these sights and I was hoping I‘d actually get a chance to visit Alcatraz this time. Aquatic Park was our destination, an anchorage beside the Fisherman’s Wharf district. There were signs warning of the need to watch for swimmers and we soon discovered there were quite a few to avoid as we entered it. We spotted Gargoyle anchored there; Carla and Kevin waved as we circled around looking for a good spot. We ended up rather close to a pier wall which seemed to get ever closer as the wind turned us. Paul dinghied over to Gargoyle while I stayed on board, worried that the anchor was dragging. It turned out to be an optical illusion. The anchor was secure but Paul admitted the wall did look a bit too close, plus we were in clear view of all the tourists strolling on the pier.

Views from our anchorage at Aquatic Park

For now, though we were keen to get ashore so we parked the dinghy on a pontoon near Hyde Street Pier and set off to explore the area. It wasn’t surprising to find typical seaside resort attractions, such as ‘snack shacks’, candy floss (cotton candy), ice creams, souvenir shops and a plethora of seafood restaurants claiming to serve the best clam chowder, but it’s without doubt a vibrant, colourful and fascinating place. We called in to the famous Boudin Bakery while walking along the waterfront boardwalk. This huge establishment purports to create the best sourdough bread in California and has been in business since 1849, now with a museum attached to the premises. There’s a wide variety of bread and related products on offer in all sorts of shapes and sizes. We felt it would be rude not to try a nice (but expensive) sourdough loaf .    

Inside Boudin Bakery

Tired from the passage, and since it was beginning to get dark, we finished with a quick walk around the main square in lively Fisherman’s Wharf, with its old time Italian carousel, fortune tellers and specialist chocolate and candy shops. I thought it would be nice to have a drink in one of the restaurants there before heading back. Most of them offer ‘happy hour’ prices and we were just in time to take advantage of it. With the addition of sales tax and a tip, however, the bill didn’t make me very happy (almost £20 for two drinks – and one of them was a coke!). 

Fisherman’s Wharf

I had compiled a list of places I wanted to see in San Francisco. We planned to be there for a couple of weeks so there was plenty of time to fit them all in. The first of these was The Beat Museum in the North Beach district. We moved the boat before setting off, though – away from the wall and prying eyes. Again, there were more swimmers to watch out for and one of them clearly didn’t trust us to do this; she yelled out frequently to us (or at me since I was steering) to watch out for her when I was looking right at her. It was a cold and windy morning and must have been freezing in the water, but then they are described as ‘extreme’ swimmers. I know I would have been more than a bit short tempered if I had been in that water. The chilly start didn’t last and by midday it was very hot. San Francisco’s exceptionally steep streets are famous, and they’re attractive, but in high temperatures, it’s hard to appreciate the sights around you while you’re doubled over and sweating while getting your breath back. Needless to say we didn’t plan to take the bikes out on these streets. We did see a few cyclists valiantly pedalling up some of them, though before having to dismount when they realised the impossibility of it.  

Beautiful but steep
Hard on the legs!

Armed with maps and guide books we made our way to Coit Tower. Described as the exclamation point on San Francisco’s skyline, it’s a monument to the city’s firefighters. The views are supposed to be breath-taking from the top but we were keen to get to the museum before it closed. The Beat Museum is a good starting point to get the backstory of the counterculture movement San Francisco has become known for. There was an informative film about the prominent characters of the Beat movement, some fascinating pictures and articles and of course, a great bookshop. Nearby City Lights bookshop would have to wait for another time.

View from near the Coit Tower – Oakland Bay Bridge in the distance
One of the murals in North Beach

Chinatown was close by so we walked there next, and since we’d built up an appetite with all that walking we had dinner in one of the many Chinese restaurants. Ticking off another item on my list, we followed the map to 29 Russell Street where Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road. In this house, Kerouac stayed with Neal and Carolyn Cassidy where they apparently lived in a ménage a trois for a short time. The guide book informed us that she frequently kicked them both out – oh to have been a fly on the wall for those conversations!

The house where On The Road was written

More walking the following day – to Haight Ashbury, the so-called epicentre of the psychedelic 60s where 1967’s ‘Summer of Love’ originated. It’s fondly referred to as ‘Hashbury’ these days. On the way we passed some stunning-looking houses and buildings. It’s never boring walking these streets, even if it is hard on the legs. I was keen to see the locations associated with Charles Manson and one of his followers, Susan Atkins and as they are in the same district we went there first. Janis Joplin lived there too, and the Grateful Dead House wasn’t too far away so I ended up with several pictures of me in front of various walls and front doors. These are all private houses now but I guess if you buy one, aware they were once home to such iconic characters you expect to get the odd tourist posing outside your front door.

The house Janis Joplin lived in in 1967 (Susan Atkins lived next door)
The Grateful Dead lived here
Me with Jimi, Janis and Jerry
Paul outside the house where Charles Manson used to live

Haight Ashbury itself didn’t disappoint. There was the distinctive smell of weed in the air, which isn’t illegal in California any more – although I suspect it would make little difference if it was. There was a great vibe in the district, with colourful and eccentric characters, some hippie-themed shops, cafes and bookshops. On one corner is a clock where the time is stuck at 4:20 which is apparently ‘International Bong-Hit Time’. We read that a local clockmaker fixed it once but within a week it was back at 4:20 – wonder why ;-). The day ended with a walk to Buena Vista Park, recommended for its views over the city which again, didn’t disappoint. My legs were begging for rest by now but I forced myself to carry on for one more short climb up the hill. As you can see, the views were worth it… we got a taxi home, though.

Haight Street
Underneath the clock 🙂

Worn out after all the strenuous hill climbing, we only ventured as far as a local bar on Tuesday 24th. As Paul explained in his blog, it’s the bar where the art installation he designed the software for is on display. Fort Mason Center is only a short distance from Aquatic Park. A former shipyard and embarkation point for World War 2 soldiers, it’s now host to a cultural centre with art installations, craft shops and special scientific events. I felt in need of a drink once we got there – it was the hottest day so far. We met the director of the project in the bar and had a chat with him while we cooled off. The prices weren’t exactly happy hour in there, either.

Aquatic Park, on our way to Fort Mason

A bus ride was in order for our next destination that day. I had read about the Californian Heritage Centre and thought it sounded like a good way to learn more about the area we were visiting. It wasn’t! Well it might have been if your interest was in pictures of abandoned railway tracks or the history of railroads in general. As good as the photos of these were, that was all it was – nothing about San Francisco or California in general. Disappointed, and $20 dollars poorer we walked to the Ferry Building on the waterfront and followed the historic pier walk from piers 1 – 40 at a slow pace, reading the information plaques about some of them at various intervals. This was a much cooler and pleasant walk, away from the steep hills and the inner city heat. Coming upon the ferry departure point for trips to Alcatraz on Pier 33, we made enquiries about dates and fares and booked it there and then for Thursday 26th. This was to be my birthday treat from Paul and initially, the plan was that I would be going alone but I was pleased when Paul decided to come along too.

The Ferry Building

We had a weird and wonderful Wednesday before then, beginning with a visit to the delightful Musee Mecanique. We happened upon it by accident on our way to check out the berth in Pier 39 where we would be moving to on Friday. The museum is located on Pier 45 in Fisherman’s Wharf and is host to one of the world’s largest (over 200) privately owned collection of coin-operated mechanical musical instruments and antique arcade machines in their original working condition. We wandered in for a quick look as it was free and ended up staying for over an hour playing the machines, listening to the old time music and marvelling at some of the ‘attractions’ (one of them actually invited you to watch naughty Madeleine lift her skirt). These pics show just some of the machines.

Pier 39’s boat docks are famous for the some 1300 sea lion squatters who, because Californian law requires boats to make way for marine mammals, have been allocated an area where they can congregate, fight, swim and bark and scratch and jostle for space to their hearts’ content. There is always a crowd of onlookers delighting in these antics and we joined them to watch the cute and cumbersome but always fascinating creatures for a while. On the way back we passed through the seaside amusement square near Pier 39. Here you can ride an old fashioned carousel, enjoy all you can eat fast food and browse the souvenir and ‘hoodie’ shops. A wooden stage hosts performances from magicians, musicians and comedians in an open mike style fashion for voluntary donations at the end of the performance. We stood and watched a female illusionist from a balcony until our attention was diverted by the shouts of outrage about ‘rights’ and freedom coming from a  man being chased by three policeman. Not long after that we spotted a guy in a wheelchair on the promenade proudly waving a banner with the words ‘f*** Trump’ emblazoned on it. A bit further on there was an opportunity to pose for pictures with Mr Trump and Kim Jong-Un (they may well have been lookalikes though). Our wonderful Wednesday concluded with a face to face confrontation with a large raccoon sitting on a rubbish bin as we entered the walkway to the dinghy dock – I don’t know who was more startled, him or us. I just love San Francisco.  

I love these creatures
Not the guy who was chased but this is typical of a scene in the area

It was a scorching hot day for our Alcatraz excursion.  All advice, however, recommended bringing warm clothing for the ferry crossing even though it’s only a 20 minute trip. Indeed, most people began pulling out jumpers and scarves five minutes into the midday journey. Once we’d disembarked, the warmth returned and a jolly ranger welcomed us all with a speech about what we could expect to see and a bit of background history. The whole trip was extremely well organised. I’d been a bit worried about how so many people would see everything if we all arrived together. Instead, everyone get a sets of headphones with an auditory tour which you can pause and play at your leisure. This means each place is spaced out so that not everyone is crowded into one spot at any one time. On the day we visited, an ex-inmate was there signing copies of his autobiography. I wondered how he must have felt travelling back to the place he had been incarcerated for so many years. It’s an amazing place to visit and naturally we took lots of pictures. The most moving thing I heard on the audio narration was a description from an inmate telling how they all used to clamour for the spot where they could hear the shouts and celebrations coming from mainland San Francisco each New Year’s Eve and if they were lucky they might see the midnight fireworks. Just some of the pics from the trip below.

The very tiny cells in Alcatraz
Using paper mache heads, the Anglin brothers fooled guards and escaped, never to be seen again
Inside the dining hall
The solitary confinement cell

Late that afternoon we returned to The Haight District to check out The City Lights Bookshop. I was particularly keen to see the upstairs room where so many poets, including Bob Dylan, had read their work. The shop itself looked exactly as it must have done it its heyday and now doubles as a museum in that it has displays and information about the shop’s origin and events.


We were in San Francisco for two weeks and I managed to tick off all the places and things I wanted to see and do. I loved our few days at Pier 39 with the sea lions. On one memorable occasion, we were unable to get back on the boat because two of them had chosen our pontoon to bask on. Only the day before we had read an article about how they can be viscous if they feel threatened. One had apparently dragged a woman by the arm and forced her into the water. I had seen their teeth and there was no way I was going to attempt to pass them. Paul had a go. He clapped his hands and shouted but they growled loudly showing those huge teeth and he sensibly backed away. In the end we sought help from our neighbouring Wine Therapy tour boat. The guy on there turned the water hose on them and they reluctantly slipped into the water. We moved from there a couple of days later over to the other side of the pier because our berth was needed for a dredger. That side had fewer sea lions and was a lot busier but it was handy for all the facilities.

Berthed in Pier 39 – The Coit Tower is highest on the right
Sea lions blocking our path

We finally had our celebratory birthday Indian meal on 28th September in a restaurant in Haight Ashbury. We’d both done separate things that day. I’d gone to the cinema to see Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, his take on the Manson murders. At nearly three hours long, it was nice to enjoy it in comfortable reclining seats. Paul had spent the afternoon at the artificial ‘Treasure Island’ in San Francisco Bay, to check out their marina as a possible location to move to. He met me after the film and we had a brief look round the Financial District with its skyscrapers and the usual city centre brand name shops before getting a bus to Haight, which is even more atmospheric in the evenings.

This little church is dwarfed by the city’s modern tall buildings
The financial district
Haight at night

Paul’s blog has already related our trip to Golden Gate Bridge where I was keen to get a photograph of myself in front of the bridge roughly where I had posed in 1983. Left to my own devices I would have plumped for an approximate location as long as the bridge was behind me. I was amazed by Paul’s logic and calculations to determine the exact place I had stood. It was the strangest feeling to be in the very spot I had last been on 36 years previously. There were a lot more tourist attractions and shops there than I remembered. It was also a thrill for me to locate the place where James Stewart and Kim Novak had been during the filming of Hitchcock’s Vertigo.   

On the way to the bridge

We spent one afternoon at San Francisco’s Botanical Gardens. They were undeniably impressive and very well kept. It was hard to believe we were in the middle of a large city. I think we would have got more out of them if we knew a little more about plants, flowers, birds – even trees! We need to learn these things.

From there we went to the Mission District because my little guide book said it had lots of bookshops. This area had a definite ‘edgy’ feel to it. It was a lot more run-down and the advice in the guide book was to avoid after dark. This was San Francisco’s original neighbourhood – my guide explained that it was;

‘built around an 18th-century Spanish mission where nothing seemed to grow until the Gold Rush brought boatloads of adventurers, and wild speculation took root. The Mission remains fertile ground for vivid imaginations and tall tales told over strong drink – hence mural-lined streets, pirate supplies and literary bar crawls’

It had a distinct Latino vibe and there were lots of Spanish and Mexican eateries. Things were a lot cheaper here and I bought a San Francisco hoodie I’d been after at a good price. The bookshops were great too. It was a great place to walk around after dark, flaunting the advice in the book. I had a feeling it stayed lively throughout the night, and unlike other parts of the city, places seemed to stay open much later.

The Mission District
A creative writing meeting in one of the bookshops

As we entered the month of October we began to plan our next destination and set a date on which to leave San Francisco. We settled on the 5th when we would travel to Monterey. Our last few days there were spent back at anchor in Aquatic Park. There is a distinct autumnal chill in the air by now and Paul keeps reminding me that the further south we go the warmer it will get. We still need the heater in the evenings and early mornings but it’s been consistently clear and bright and warm during the day. I was sad to leave San Francisco but I felt we’d definitely done it justice. Pics below of our last few days and of us going under the Golden Gate Bridge en route for Monterey.

Fisherman’s Wharf
Leaving the anchorage

San Francisco to Monterey

Above is a shot of Sister Midnight sitting in Aquatic cove, part of the Museums grounds in the heart of San Francisco’s waterfront.

After a few days swinging on the anchor here we moved to Pier 39 to hang out with the sea lions. Pier 39 is just along from Fishermans wharf. Both places had once been very busy commercial operations, either dealing with fishing boats or general cargo. They both have now become major tourist attractions, full of restaurants/bars and gift shops. Property prices here are so high it doesn’t make sense to be shipping goods through these wharfs, all of the trade is done by container ships over at Oakland, or similar terminals.

Pier 39 does have a marina, the east side is full of day trip boats, ranging from big boats doing ‘around the bay’ or ‘sunset cruises’ to a sailing experience on an old Americas cup yacht. On the west side, there is room for a few dozen yachts, but more famously there are a dozen pontoons set out just for the sea lions to laze around on. We had 2 days with the sea lions before we were able to move to a slip on the east side. You can see some sea lions on our pontoons at night. At one point I had a face to face showdown with a sea lion who wouldn’t let me get back to the boat.

We spent 2 weeks in San Francisco exploring the place. I hadn’t realised just how hilly it is, but the transit system is easy to use, and for $5 you get a day pass that covers all the trolleys and busses, but not the famous cable cars. I have included some pictures of the great architecture below and scattered around this post

The Long Now Foundation
The foundation are a group of enlightened people who have decided to build a clock out in the desert that will run for 10,000 years without any human intervention. The project is nearing completion now and the organisation behind it has a bar ‘The Interval’ just a few piers along from Aquatic Cove. I had to visit, mostly because they have a piece of art behind the bar that I was heavily involved with the design of. It was a commission I got from the artist Brian Eno a few years back to display his art project called 77 Million Paintings on 4 slim LCD displays. The images change on a continuous basis and should not repeat until after 77 million iterations. I designed the software and hardware that is on display at the bar, but I didn’t know it was destined for an organisation that deals with extremely long time periods. This piece runs on windows XP and uses SD Memory chips for storage, and so by its very design, has a short life expectancy. Still it was good to see it running in a very trendy bar.

77 Million Paintings at The Interval at The Long Now Foundation

At the end of one of the piers is an old amusements aracde with antique exhibits. I particularly liked these machines, but also enjoyed a game of space invaders on the big old upright consoles.

No problem with the mushroom supply here.
That’s a lot of stainless steel, 316 I hope

There are many funky buildings here, It’s interesting as most of them were built or rebuilt after the great earthquake in 1906.
Below Kathy is on one of the refurbished piers with some historic ships behind her.

Make of this what you will
Day of the Dead

So as part of my birthday present to Kathy I bought her tickets to Alcatraz, I checked but they only did returns 😉
It was a very interesting tour, and must have been a pretty grim time for those incarcerated there, especially with the sights and sounds of SF wafting over the short stretch of water between the two.

Alcatraz control room

The bridge
Of course the Golden Gate bridge is probably San Francisco’s most famous landmark. We had fun sailing under it, but Kathy had an old photo of her by the bridge taken in 1983 some 36 years ago, and wanted to go back and find the same spot. This seemed like a good challenge to me, so I fired up google street view and started looking for possible locations.

Fortunatley street view had great images from all the roads and footpaths in the area, and using the wires and the point where they cross the supports and the background hills made it fairly easy to get the spot.

Of course when we got there it was quite different, a new fence and viewing area. What pleased me was to see the square holes in the concrete filled in where I suspect the old wooden fence was fitted. In retrospect I think we were out by around 6ft, but that will have to do.

The engineering is stunning for the bridge, the wires that run the length of the bridge are amazing just in themselves.

City Lights & the Beat Poets
SF has a proud literary background and played a big part in the sixties counterculture movement, some of our favourite writers and poets made their mark here, along with many great musicians. Kathy had a particular desire to check out all the Manson related locations so I took pictures of her in front of lots of houses, places were either gruesome murders were planned or committed. We also saw the house were Kerouac wrote ‘on the road’.

Below is the room were the Beat Poets would recite their works and it was in this room that Ginsberg (He of Howl fame) and William Burroughs unleashed their radical poetry on the world.

Kathy hanging out with the greats

No shortage of cruise ships here, this one was particularly massive, I think it was dutch.

Mission & 24th
Mission is a region just south of the main downtown area and we accidently found it when looking for some book shops, it has a very Mexican feel to it, which might explain some of the goods proudly being displayed for sale.

We had a great indian meal there. the area is also famous for large murals

Leaving the bay

Old fashioned trolley ride back to the boat

Before we left SF I had some boat jobs to do, a few weeks earlier the cable from the solar panels to the battery charger / controller had failed. This runs down the backstay, then follows a tortuous path through the back of the boat, through the engine compartment and quarter berth. I had run a wire from the panels through a portlight down to the controller and it was getting in the way. This meant emptying out the lazzarette and all of the quarter berth. While this job was under way I decided to finally hook up the inverter that came with the boat. This is a big pure sine wave 2kw inverter/4 stage charger with sensing switch over. It’s a fancy bit of kit and probably costs thousands of dollars, but it had sat there idle all this time as it works with 110v, I had rewired the boat for 240v and I couldn’t see a role for it. However I realised that the boat has been in North american waters for a year now, and will probably do another 1 or 2 years before we head off into the pacific where I’m not expecting much shore power at all. On top of that I was not happy with the toaster that ran on 240v from a step up transformer, and given that the gas grill has stopped working, toast at sea has become a problem. Finally Rick up in Sointula baked a loaf for me using his breadmaker running off his inverter, so I bought a 110v toaster and I’m on the lookout for a bread making machine. I found that the inverter was already connected to the batteries via a big isolating switch, so rather than replumb it into the boats mains wiring, i just ran a trailing socket from it and popped a couple of slices into the toaster.
It was very fast to make some great toast, but it was disturbing seeing the meter displaying 90 AMPS being drawn from the batteries, I did the maths and worked out 4 pieces of toast cost me about 40 minutes of sunshine (Solar Power). I had got used to making ice from the sun, but peversley it seemed more odd to make toast from the sun.

So we left San Francisco in the afternoon to make a night passage to Monterey, this was a voyage of about 90 miles, to long to make in Daylight, so by leaving in the afternoon we would arrive in the following morning, the wind was forecast to be 20-25 knots from the NW which would have been great, we got the sails up and made a good 5 knots for a few hours, then the wind dropped and on came the motor.

leaving alcatraz behind

Kathy cooked a nice soup for the evening

The next morning was quite calm and peaceful, I made toast with the new setup and that worked well. We saw Dolphins and Whales on the way down.

Arriving in Monterey
Just as we approached Monterey the wind picked up, as we followed the marks leading to the entrance their was plenty of sea life on view.

Of course Monterey was the home of John Steinbeck, and we had to visit Cannery row, the title of one of his books.

Monterey is lovely and we are enjoying just chilling out, I have picked up a few days of programming work which fits in well, and helps pay for the berth and the new Water pump needed for the engine.

Our favourite supermarket so far in California has been Trader Joe’s. the local one here has a great pumpkin display, as it has been halloween here for a few weeks already.

We should be in LA within a week.

Paul Collister.

From Oregon to California: September 11th – 20th

Wednesday 11th September.  

As we made our way towards Newport through the night, in the fog and the darkness, a strange thing happened. Not long after I had taken over the midnight watch, I went up to do the usual checks and immediately noticed that the moon was in a different place – on our starboard side instead of port as it had been 10 minutes previously. It was so unnerving that I called out to Paul and he sleepily mumbled that we must have changed course. It turned out that the autohelm had crashed and turned us 180 degrees and I hadn’t even felt the movement.  It hadn’t happened before but once we had got it back on course, I kept a more vigilant eye on it. Taking over from Paul at 4am I asked if it had crashed on his watch and it hadn’t. An hour in, while I stood on the steps looking ahead, I actually felt and then saw the wheel turn us to starboard again. At least I knew what to do this time, but why on my watch! Paul thinks I must have some magnetic device on, or emanating from, me.  The highlight of both my watches occurred at around 7am just as the sun was beginning to come up. On the horizon to port I could see what looked like several plumes of steam emerging from the water. Then I saw the unmistakeable huge black shape of a whale’s tail slap down on the surface. They were too far away to see properly, or get a picture but there were at least seven of them to gaze at for five minutes or so before they disappeared out of view.

The side to side strong swell continued for the whole passage but it was a lot milder than the previous overnighter. We had another bar to cross at the entrance to Newport and Paul remarked – somewhat casually I thought – that we would be crossing it at the most dangerous part of the day, which confirmed my suspicion that he enjoys pitting his wits against perilous challenges in a ‘gung-ho’ manner. It was a bit like riding the ‘Colorado Boat’ rapids at adventure theme parks – lots of white turbulent water and huge breaking waves on the rocky breakwaters either side of us but after the strong swells we’d experienced most of the way it didn’t seem too bad and didn’t last long. The worst part was navigating our way around a massive government dredger at the narrow river entrance. It was moving very slowly in all directions as it sucked up the mud in the shallows so it was tricky to predict its direction and the wall of the breakwater was very close by so our movement was a bit limited.  For the first time, I took the helm to motor us underneath a bridge. The Yaquina Bay Bridge forms part of US Highway 101 and the Newport Marina and RV Park is situated just below it. It always looks as if the mast is far too big to clear the bridges we’ve sailed under – an optical illusion that you never quite get blasé about. We fuelled up at the fuel dock and berthed opposite it about 4pm.   

Arrival at Newport, Yaquina Bridge in the background

Checking in at the office, we asked the guy what he would recommend to us as ‘must sees’ in Newport. He seemed surprised by the question and muttered something about two lighthouses, appeared to think about it for a moment and then remarked ‘but everyone’s seen lighthouses haven’t they’ – he couldn’t think of anything else worth visiting. This was surprising to us because Newport had been praised as a great and pretty resort by other cruisers we’d chatted with. That evening we decided to look it up on the internet and had an amusing hour watching online tourist board clips about the delights of Newport. Listening to the gushing promotional commentaries about what there is to see and do, it did indeed seem that the two lighthouses, a beach, promenade and seafood restaurants were its top attractions. They hedged their bets by ending all the clips with words like ‘yet there’s so much more’ without ever stating exactly what the ‘so much more’ was. The picture below might go some way to explaining why.

The park provides a courtesy bus for guests and drops them off at various locations in the town so we headed over to the office in the morning for the 10 50 departure. The driver and his handful of passengers engaged in lively interactions as they boarded and continued conversations while driving along. Obviously they all needed to raise their voices considering distance apart and the noise of the engine. For instance, an innocent enquiry about a specific location sparked off a discussion about how useless that town’s predictions and precautions about earthquakes were. The half dozen people on board (not us, naturally) all joined in, along with the driver, voicing their own opinions on the subject (basically it seems we’re all doomed if an earthquake occurs because the experts know nothing about it). Next, the poor sea lions came up for debate. One man was keen to tell us what a nuisance they were with their noise and their fighting and the crowds they attract. He scoffed at the fact they were protected from harassment because it would be great entertainment to just fling rocks onto their pontoons. Thankfully, the other passengers didn’t see fit to encourage him. We got off at the Bay Front district which at first glance resembled the typical main street of Western films, in that the buildings were wooden, low and a bit ramshackle. Here though, as we strolled along it, we passed a ‘Ripley’s Believe It Or Not’ and a Waxworks Museum, plus the usual bars, seafood restaurants, gift shops and art and craft galleries.

Ready to check out Newport
Main street, Newport

The unmistakeable sound of sea lions drew us to their hangout. This area has been allocated to them and they are protected from the type of harassment our friend on the bus described, by laws with hefty fines for anyone who breaks them. Just by being allowed to live in their natural environment with the minimum of human intervention (and this only to help them), they provide brilliant and free entertainment for the people who come to watch them. Their ‘barking’ didn’t bother me in the least, and we’ve heard it a lot this month. I could have watched them for hours – huge, intelligent, playful and fascinating creatures.

The ‘cage’ is open and used for those who need a bit of time out, or for when any of them need treatment.
Obligatory seaside ice cream 🙂

When I managed to tear myself away from them we walked uphill to the ‘Art Deco’ district which loosely fits its description with a few shops and buildings bearing the architectural style of the 20s and 30s, but to be fair, the mission to preserve and develop the culture of Art Deco is fairly recent so it’s a work in progress. Nye Beach, however, did live up to the praise it was given in the video clips. Coming into view in the early afternoon sunshine, it presented us with a glorious view of a long, sandy and beautiful stretch of beach which reminded me of rugged Cornish coastlines in the UK. It was largely empty too, as the pictures show.

Inner Newport

Both in need of refreshment now, we opted to return to the Bayfront area, preferring the seaside vibe there and also so that Paul could test out the claim that ‘Mo’s’ restaurant chain produce the best seafood chowder. Discovering that the beer-battered salmon and chips came with a free bowl of chowder made it an easy choice for him. It was nice enough, he said but he’d had (and made) better. Unsurprisingly there were no vegan options in this famous seafood chain but I enjoyed my bowl of fries and ketchup nevertheless.

Mo’s Restaurant
Paul ‘catching’ a fish before we left Newport

Next day was Friday 13th, but despite the date and the added superstition about sailing on a Friday – across a perilous bar to boot – off we set at 8 45pm for another night passage with fog making visibility poor. The waves crashing on the breakwaters as we prepared to exit the safety of the harbour were again an alarming sight but by the time we hit the safe water area the fog had cleared and we were able to let the autohelm take over. Soon, the side to side rolling began again and by evening it was too unstable to cook anything so dinner was pre-cooked veggie sausages heated on the hob to have in sandwiches. The full harvest moon lit up surroundings for my 8 – midnight watch. By this time the wind had allowed us to put the sails up so the engine was off and I had a peaceful and uneventful four hours.

It was my 59th birthday when Paul woke me for the 4am stint. I noticed that the engine was back on and the moon was still creating a comforting silver path across the surface of the sea. Not a bad beginning to a birthday. The heating was on and I watched the sunrise on a much calmer sea while drinking my morning coffee.

Sunrise, 14th September
Love the place names!

We were bound for a place called Crescent City, our first stop in the state of California, and we got there at 5 30, where we were greeted with the sight of several huge pelicans both on the water and in the air. 

Moored in Crescent City with pelicans – note the dirty pontoon
We never did discover what this was all about

The berth wasn’t ideal – the pontoon was covered with broken shells and bird droppings, it was smelly and there was a super yacht with a noisy generator running directly in front of us. After a night at sea, though it was just nice to be able to relax a bit, and it was a warm, sunny evening. We walked over to chat to Mike and Sue who we had met in Newport. They had been to Crescent City before and recommended a couple of restaurants to us. We went for a walk along the waterfront first, for a chance to check out what the place had to offer, especially since we might be stuck here a while if the weather turned rough. In truth, it doesn’t have a great deal to offer. The city was virtually destroyed by four tsunamis in 1964, while more recent damage came from the tsunami caused by the 2011 Japanese earthquake when the harbour took the brunt of it.  The waterfront was pleasant though as we strolled along looking at the menus of its restaurants, before finally settling on the first one we’d looked at. It was a ‘diner style’ establishment and the food was great, so all in all I had a good birthday.

Crescent City from the waterfront
Birthday drink in Crescent City

We only had to spend one full day in Crescent City as it happened. It rained pretty much all that day and soaked us both through on the walk back from a shopping trip, but the forecast was thankfully wrong about three whole days of rain. When we woke up on Monday 16th September it was bright and sunny and though rain might fall later, Paul deemed it safe to move on. Out of the harbour by 8am, the swell caused the usual side to side rolling and Paul put the mainsail up to balance us. He said we’d soon be heading into warmer weather. The rain began not long after that. It was heavy enough to force us both down below to rely on the AIS and radar. Nothing was around but the radar kept sounding an alarm caused by the heavy rain so Paul turned it off. By 1 o’clock it was dry and bright again. The next alarm came from the coastguard who put a warning out on the radio to warn mariners to watch out for a giant water spout! I couldn’t help picturing us on the boat swirling around like a toy boat on top of that spout. Thankfully we saw no sight of it.

Leaving Crescent City, early morning

Tuesday 17th September saw us arrive at Fort Bragg after a placid and uneventful (even the VHF had stayed quiet) overnight passage. We approached the inevitable bar at lunchtime and I had to ask if this one was perilous. Paul was a bit non-committal but I heard him call the coastguard to check if any warnings were in force for it. All the buoys we passed on the way in were full of sea lions – they don’t seem to mind the loud clanging bells or fog horn noises that these buoys emit at regular intervals.

Vegetable soup for dinner at sea

The weather was finally more like you would expect in California – sunny, warm and blue skies. After crossing what I would describe as a ‘lively’ bar, we found ourselves on a narrow river. I took the helm while Paul affixed fenders and mooring lines. As the only boat manoeuvring along the river, the people sitting alongside its bars and cafes naturally stared at us and I was a little put off by a couple of guys asking if I was the Sister Midnight of the boat. It’s not easy to interact with people too far away to hear clearly while trying to keep an eye on the depth and the way ahead. It got trickier when we tried to locate our berth. The piles didn’t have letters or numbers on them so pinpointing B5 was a challenge, especially when the only person around we could ask turned out to be deaf. We entered three berths before finding the correct one. Each one was a tight fit so expert and precise manoeuvring was needed to get in and back out again.

The river at Fort Bragg
Searching for our berth, Fort Bragg

Fort Bragg didn’t get much of a write up in my Lonely Planet guide. They describe it as nearby Mendocino’s ‘ugly stepsister’ and declare the southern end of town as ‘hideous’, while downtown is ‘scrappy’. I found it quite charming in a ‘working environment’ way…and it has resident sea lions! We heard their barking and went for a closer look at a group of them lying on the opposite pontoon. They are curious about humans and very intelligent which is why they are so easy to train (balancing balls on their noses at some attractions for instance). This gang looked at us but I got the feeling it would be sensible to keep a respectable distance.

It was Paul’s birthday the following day. Originally we had hoped to be in San Francisco for both our birthdays so we decided to have a joint celebration meal once we got there. To get diesel meant launching the dinghy and taking empty containers to a fuel dock further down the river. Paul returned from doing this and suggested I join him for a trip on the river as it had turned out to be pretty. It was very scenic and tranquil as the pictures below show. I loved the seal that seemed to be disguising itself as a log – successfully too judging by the seagulls we saw perched on it!    

This creepy image appears on the way to the fuel dock
A seal and a log 🙂

The sea lions continued to provide great entertainment and I hadn’t even been too bothered by their noise in the night. During the afternoon, however, we were both shocked to hear an extremely loud explosion from one of the pontoons opposite our berth. It turned out to be a firework and obviously all the sea lions that had been basking on it disappeared into the water. They came back a couple of hours later and we heard no more during our time there so I didn’t have to call the number to report harassment as I was ready to do if there had been any more. They love lying side by side on the pontoons, and create quite a sight when they do.

Lots of sea lions on a narrow pontoon

We left Fort Bragg on the 19th after Paul had carried out comprehensive checks on the weather and sea states. It had been uncertain whether we would go but he concluded that if we hadn’t left by 2 o’clock we might be stuck for days. The worst we could expect was a bit of bounciness. I took the helm again for the return journey on the narrow river. It was high tide so no danger of going aground at least. Out in the bay waves were crashing onto the breakwaters, sending up towers of white spray and the sea looked distinctly choppy. Above us, a helicopter was circling the area after a pan pan pan call had been put out about two kayakers who’d been reported missing. Paul was pretty certain he’d seen them enter the harbour as we left it and he called to say so. We could only hope it was indeed them.

We hit the swell immediately after crossing the bar and I had an anxious 30 minutes or so while Paul struggled to put the spinnaker pole up while the boat was lurching from side to side. We didn’t need it after all that because the wind died down and on went the engine for the duration of the passage to Drakes Bay – the last stop before San Francisco.