San Francisco to Santa Barbara

The week of August 24, I sailed Aegea from San Francisco south 350 miles to Santa Barbara. My friend Nick Baum came along as crew, and we did the passage in five days and four nights. We ate and drank well, got behind on sleep (then caught up), and saw tons of sealife — countless seals and sea lions, hundreds of dolphins, a few sailfish, five humpback whales, and even a shark. It was a great voyage.

Monday 8/24
Left Sausalito at 9:30am. Stopped for fuel, then got underway. An early breeze was building in San Francisco Bay, so we sailed out of the Golden Gate. After a few tacks to clear the headlands, we turned south around Point Lobos and set a course for Point Montara. I made BLTs for lunch.

Near the entrance to Half Moon Bay, we had to slow down and avoid a humpback whale, who was swimming south along the reef, across our path. We anchored in the harbor, launched the dinghy, and went ashore for dinner at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company.

Tuesday 8/25
Lazy morning on the boat. We prepared for the overnight passage by setting up jacklines (webbing straps that prevent falling overboard) and lee cloths (canvas slings that prevent rolling out of your bunk in rough seas).

Nick suggested sailing “off the anchor,” so we hoisted the mainsail and weighed anchor. When the anchor cleared the bottom, I turned the boat toward the harbor entrance and trimmed the sail. Nick secured the anchor on deck and joined me in the cockpit as we exited the harbor around noon. No engine necessary — this time.

Through the day and night, winds and seas built. We never saw more than 20 knots (manageable breeze for sailing Aegea downwind), but the swells became 5-6 feet with occasional  8-10-footers.

The boat was rolling gunwale to gunwale in the quartering seas, which made everything difficult — including steering, cooking, and sleeping. But we did OK. We had a flexible schedule during the day and held watches at night: John 8–11pm, Nick 11pm–2am, John 2–5am, and Nick 5–8am. I made cheeseburgers — and a big mess in the galley — for dinner.

Wednesday 8/26
We sailed nearly 30 miles offshore before jibing. We planned to jibe once, then shape a course directly to Morro Bay, so we chose our spot carefully. The jibe went smoothly, and we were more comfortable on the new angle — the swells were now coming from directly astern, instead of across the boat.

20 miles out of Morro Bay, the wind let up, the swells smoothed out, and the sun emerged. We started the engine. We enjoyed coffee and the warm feeling of an impending landfall. A group of dolphins swan alongside the boat as our “welcoming committee” (video here).

We entered Morro Bay. The harbor is surrounded by town to the east, massive Morro Rock to the north, and a peninsula to the west. The peninsula looks like an overgrown sandbar, and it’s teeming with wildlife — including scores of otters and sea lions.

We tied up at Morro Bay Yacht Club. This is one of the greatest places I’ve ever visited by boat. Convenient, hospitable, and affordable. There were five visiting sailboats at the club — four at the docks, and one at the club’s mooring ball out in the harbor.

After a quick nap, we wandered into town and found dinner at Rose’s Landing, a Morro Bay institution. We were in bed by 9pm and slept for 12 hours.

Thursday 8/27
The day was dedicated to preparing for the next leg of our passage: Morro Bay to Santa Barbara. We rinsed the boat, made dinner ahead of time (so we wouldn’t have to cook underway), and refilled the water tank (which we use for drinking, cooking, and cleaning).

We also had time to stroll into town. Nick found a great coffee shop called Top Dog where we had bagels and espresso drinks. Returning to the yacht club, we walked along the harbor and looked at boats (of course).

Our departure was interrupted by a problem with the boat’s steering, so we returned to the dock to fix it. (More on that here.) We finally got underway at 5:15pm and set a course for Point Buchon, which is nine miles south of Morro Bay.

Unlike Tuesday night, conditions were mild — light winds and calm seas. We motored most of the 120 miles from Morro Bay to Santa Barbara. Steering was much easier, so Ghost (Nick’s name for our autopilot) handled the helm. We were treated to a clear starry night with an almost-full moon, and we slept well during off-watches.

Friday 8/28
At 5am we passed Point Conception. It’s an infamous headland, notorious for heavy winds and large seas. But on Friday morning, we motored past in a complete calm.

We saw the most incredible wildlife of the trip just a few hours before arriving in Santa Barbara. It started with a feeding frenzy — dolphins stirring up the water (and the prey) while seabirds circled. We saw three or four of these frenzies, and as we passed each one a group of dolphins would break off to come swim with Aegea. We saw three more humpback whales. And a few miles from Santa Barbara, we even saw a shark — it was unmistakable, with its fin above the water and its wagging tail just below the surface.

Entering Santa Barbara was a bit of a shock. We were suddenly surrounded by kayaks, paddleboards, sailboats, rowboats, powerboats, tugboats, fishing boats, and even a few swimmers. I’m always amazed that if you go three miles offshore, you won’t see a single boat. The contrast is incredible, especially after 20 hours at sea.

We arrived in Santa Barbara. The passage is complete, but we still have a lot more adventure ahead. Over the next two months, Michelle and I will explore Southern California by boat. Our plans could change, but we intend to visit the Channel Islands, Oxnard, Catalina, Newport Beach, and Los Angeles.

We will keep you posted.

— JZ

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