As the full moon reflected off the dark seas and our boat gently rocked on the rolling swells, I thought, “this sure beat washing my hands, disinfecting delivery from my favorite Thai restaurant, and searching for something new to watch on Netflix.”
What does a travel writer do during a pandemic, other than fantasize about the exotic trips he can’t take? If you are fortunate enough to have a friend with a boat, you join him in a Covid-free “bubble” and cruise down the California coast.
My friend Charlie lives in Los Angeles, as do I. His boat, a Tollycraft 44 CP, for those of you into boat porn, “lived” in a marina in San Rafael, CA, in the San Francisco Bay. Since it wasn’t doing him any good in Northern California during the pandemic, he decided to move it closer to home, to the Ventura marina an hour north of Los Angeles.
Needing a crew to help, he hired Chris, a professional captain with lots of experience cruising the unprotected waters off the California coast. He also asked me, with my limited experience with boats, (other than the toy ones my mother used to lure me into the bath when I was a kid). My role was to make the sandwiches and keep Chris and Charlie awake with stories of past travel adventures (and romantic mis-adventures buried even deeper in my past).
Before we could go anywhere, we had to make sure that we would not infect each other while living in close quarters for 6 days, so all three of us went to get tested, at the same time. We all tested negative and were good to go.
Cruising Down the California Coast
On our drive north, we stopped only for gas and cautious bathroom breaks with gloves, masks, and touching and breathing as little as possible.
We arrived at the boat in late afternoon and spent a couple of hours stowing our gear, provisions and most important, beer and tequila. (Chris, the consummate professional, did not indulge the entire time, despite incessant urging from the rest of the crew) .
To take advantage of the relatively benign morning seas and winds, we left early the next day. Soon we were passing under the Golden Gate Bridge, the first of several iconic sites on our route south. I’ve passed over this bridge many times; this is the first time I passed under it. It’s even more stunning from the water.
The excitement level kicked up another notch when we made our way through the Golden Gate, the strait that connects San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean. The twisting and bouncing seas tested the effectiveness of my sea-sickness patch. Fortunately, the patch passed the test and the contents of my stomach remained in place.
It took us ten hours to get to Monterey, our stop for the night, and another encounter with the new world of global pandemics. Signs were posted prominently in the marina where we docked asking everybody to wear masks. It looked like everyone was taking this seriously, including the dock workers who helped us tie up to the dock and refuel the boat.
Our destination the next day was Pebble Beach, the legendary golf course just two hours by boat to the south. It was a bit rough rounding the point below Monterey, but the scenery was impressive despite the infamous “June Gloom” that socks in the California coast in late spring and early summer.
After anchoring in the bay we headed for shore in the skiff, then took a blustery walk around the course. I’m not sure what makes this golf course so famous, but I bet that the rugged views of the ocean, cliffs across the bay, and distant hills have something to do with it. I don’t play golf, but if I did, this is where I would want to play.
The highlight of the next day was a cruise along the Big Sur coast to San Simeon. I’ve driven this route many times, and it is, without a doubt, one of the most spectacular drives in the world. For most of the seven hours of our cruise I just sat on the rear deck watching the vista slip by. Fog and low-lying clouds muted the majestic landscape, so it wasn’t as dramatic as I expected, but it was still pretty cool. Millions of people have taken the drive, not many have seen it from the water. I count myself among the fortunate few.
By mid-afternoon we were in Southern California so, of course, the sun came out. It was glorious. The hills glistened gold in the late afternoon sun. The Hearst Castle sat atop one of the hills close to the coast.
We anchored in a protected cove, partially encircled by rocky banks, sea caves, a small beach, and a grove of windswept cypress trees. I took advantage of the calm water to take out one of our kayaks for an exploratory paddle. Bobbing gently in the swells, I watched the waves break on the rocks at the entrance to the cove as pelicans perched on a rock jutting out of the water. This was the calmest I had been since well before the onset of the pandemic.
From San Simeon it was an easy two hours to Morro Bay. We stayed in Morro Bay just long enough to fuel up and eat dinner. We left at 6 pm to cruise all night to get around Point Conception early in the morning before the winds and waves start banging up against each other from all directions.
The uneventful all-night cruise reminded me of my all-night drives in my youth when I would drive coast-to-coast in a little than two days. On those quiet, contemplative drives in the dark, I did some of my best thinking. On the boat I just tried to stay out of the way, occasionally saying something to Chris or Charlie to make sure they stayed awake at the helm. I even managed to grab a few hours of sleep.
When I awoke, it was almost 6 am, and we were immersed in a thick fog bank. If we didn’t have radar and more experienced hands at the helm, I would have been very nervous. But in just a few minutes, we emerged from the bank to see the Ventura harbor, less than a mile ahead.
Soon, I was home, showered, unpacked and immersed in my own, all-too-familiar Covid-19 fog bank. Good to be home, I guess, but I sure do miss that bubble.