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  • Capt. Eric

Central California. Pillar Point, Santa Cruz, Monterey and Morro Rock

Updated: Sep 8, 2023

Berkeley marina to Pillar Point was an easy ride, and having left early enough we were docked and ready to go and explore the town by early afternoon.

A large sea lion oversee Enfin in Monterey

Surfing aficionados may not recognize the name "Pillar Point" but will know the name of the local beach and surf break: Mavericks.

Any surfing fan will recognise this as Mavericks

Mavericks is the stuff of legends in the surfing world, with many surfing movies highlighting the incredible wave that comes up during winter storms.

Welcome to Mavericks, one of the most feared surf breaks on the planet. A brutal wave capable of killing an in-form surfer in a couple of seconds.

Mavericks is a dangerous wave that breaks off Pillar Point, in Half Moon Bay, at Princeton-by-the-Sea, in Northern California, just 20 miles south of San Francisco.

It's a fast and furious right-hand wave that, on epic days, produces a rare left-hander.

But Mavs is also a shark-infested - and often foggy - cold water spot that will put any advanced surfer's skills to the test.

When it's on, Mavericks instills high doses of anxiety, fear, lack of confidence, and cold into the veins of those who dare to defy it.

Mavericks, or Maverick's, has a reputation for being one of the deadliest waves on Earth, where daredevils are willing to risk their bodies for the drop of their lives.

The infamous surf break was portrayed in several movies and documentaries, including "Year of the Drag In," "Maverick's: High Noon at Low Tide," "100 Ft. Wednesday," "Down the Line," "Heavy Water," "Twenty Feet Under," "Maverick's," "Whipped," "Discovering Mavericks" and "Chasing Mavericks";

One of the most famous and dangerous waves in the world

Pillar Point itself, in Half Moon Bay is very well protected with an outside and an inside jetty: The space between the two forming a huge and very safe anchorage. To my eyes this is the first safe anchorage on the West Coast since leaving Astoria.

The only good anchorage since Astoria, with the marina behind another set of jetties

We walked around the town, a nice mix of coastal tourism, surfing and fishing. For the first time since Di's return from Puerto Rico we sat down at a pet friendly waterfront restaurant to enjoy great burgers. California prices, but when in Rome... And they were succulent. It was our way of marking the occasion.

A nice weather window on the back of hurricane Hilary

We hesitated spending another night here but we're in a nice weather window, formed on the back of hurricane Hillary, so decided to keep moving South for as long as the window holds.

With a reasonable distance to Santa Cruz we left much later than usual and made our way down in beautiful weather, calm seas on an old lazy swell gently pushing us.

We found the marina in Santa Cruz very busy, probably the busiest we'd seen on the whole coast, with myriads of boats coming and going. Still, they had a nice transient tie-end for us, and we were able to go and explore a little bit. The main attractions (around the pier) were too far away, but the marina surroundings were equally nice and interesting, right on a cute sandy beach and with restaurants and tourist shops galore.

Easy entrance into Santa Cruz but would be unpleasant in any big waves

Continuing the southern push we made our way down to Monterey the next day, an easy run across the bay.

In the calm waters it was easy to see marine life from a distance and we got lucky to see a shark lazily come up to investigate us. Sharks are not rare and can usually be spotted along the shore, but seeing them far out at sea is still special and unique.

We also were followed by a huge pod of sea lions fishing around the boat, making for a very pleasant passage.

We arrived in Monterey in the middle of "Car Week", a major event in this touristy town. Neither Di or I are car people, but I'm enough of a fan of the TV series "Top Gear" to recognize some more prestigious and expensive cars. The Sotheby's pen was particularly impressive with millions and millions of dollars worth of cars, including a Ferrari costing well over 30MUSD, and so many more.

Only a few of the Sotheby's auction cars

In town, we'd see McLaren supercars as if someone was giving them away for free somewhere, but unfortunately we didn't find out where that was. I hadn't seen that concentration of super cars since attending the Monaco F1 Grand-Prix on my cruise ship years ago when I saw a huge traffic jam of them: I counted well over 200 of them as my ship, and its 2 dock neighbors' parties all finished at about the same time.

The mooring field at the entrance of Monterey Harbor. Busy place

More than cars though we will remember Monterey for its incredible sea life, especially the sea lions and seals who congregate in the harbor in huge quantities, making a ruckus day and night as they joust for position on the rocks, docks, and anything they can hop on.

A curious seal observes Di taking a photo of Enfin

The marina had given us a tie-end in the middle of the action, and we laughed regularly watching the sea life's antics. Of course any territorial or romantic dispute, or friendly play was accompanied by loud "honking" so the whole section echoed of numerous loud cries. Funny and enjoyable during the day, but at night -and despite Enfin's thick hull- we had to wear ear plugs!

A live carpet on the nearby beach

The whole town is very enjoyable as a tourist with a nice waterfront walk from the beach all the way to the aquarium and beyond.

With the weather window holding and the next leg being over 100 miles long (no other marinas or anchorage any closer), we decided to stay a few days to enjoy the town, rest and get ready for the coming passage to Morro Bay.

Princess got her annual vet visit just around the corner from the marina, with enough heart worm and flea medication to last her a whole year, so we're good for a while.

We got to enjoy some ice creams and tourist food as well. The good life!

Clever seal found some solitude in a small dinghy

Our days were spent walking Princess, doing the tourist stuff and resting in preparation for our coming overnight trip.

The beach next to the marina made for very enjoyable walks. Unfortunately the water was deemed unsafe from bacterial infection so we couldn't let Princess swim

Beautiful little park along the waterfront trail

The nearby beach

Finally the time came to leave and head to Morro Bay.

I'd calculated a 17:00 hours departure would have us arriving at Morro Bay between 10:00 and 11:00 in the morning the next day. There just isn't an easy way to do a 100 miles leg and arrive during day light hours without doing an overnight passage.

Leaving spot on time, we rounded the peninsula and started heading South again. Di went to sleep early in my cabin, the most comfortable at sea, and I set out for the long overnight watch.

Just before 01:00, I heard the tell tale blow from dolphins close to the boat, and I stepped out in the Portuguese bridge to watch them play with our bow wave. Soon I realized that the waters we were traversing were bio-luminescent, and the dolphins were making huge long trails of light in the water. With my eyes well attuned to the night on this moonless night, I could see thousands of stars and the milky way, and to increase my vision further I decided to switch the navigation lights off temporarily.

At first I didn't think of waking Di up since dolphin visits rarely last very long, but the spectacle was absolutely magical, with luminous trails of over 30 feet behind each dolphin. A large pod was now playing and hunting around Enfin, arriving at full speed torpedo like and narrowly missing our hull before playing in the bow wave. The dolphins would jump over each other, performing intricate figures, and tight turns, leaving a huge track of light each time.

With no sign they were getting tired of interacting with Enfin, I decided to wake Di up, and she spent the next 15 minutes on deck with me, watching the incredible show nature was putting on for us.

Regularly we'd come up on a large school of fish, and they'd scatter wide as fast as they could to escape the dolphins. This in turn created myriads of luminous fish trails, that looked like the final show of a fireworks display.

We couldn't get any photos or videos of it: The phone cameras just aren't light sensitive enough, and in any case the brightness of the screens would burn our eyes, so we gave up very quickly.

The internet has a number of photos and videos, including TV news reports on similar occurrences, but we find the images only vaguely indicative of what we saw. The luminescence we saw was much brighter and yellower, the trails being slightly shorter than Enfin's overall length of 40 feet, so estimated at 30 feet. Still, the above photos will give you an idea of our magical moment.

For Di and I the night passage to Morro Bay will remain a lifetime memory, exactly what cruising our big blue ball on Enfin is about.

When the dolphins eventually left us Di went back to sleep and I continued the night watch until morning.

Di came back for the morning watch, but as the dense fog came in I joined her.

We arrived Morro Bay in thick fog, only seeing the entrance buoys and then the jetties at the last minutes, when they were yards from us.

This is the miracle of modern navigation with GPS, electronic charts and radar: You can enter in safety even in these conditions.

Soon we were docked at the Morro Bay Yacht Club, across from marker 14 on the river. A very friendly bunch who charge a very reasonable rate for overnight dock stays, and access to their club.

At the Yacht Club, Morro Rock in the background

We'll be leaving for Southern California soon on another 100 plus mile leg to Santa Barbara, once again leaving end of afternoon for an overnight trip.

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