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Beach Day

Started: 2020-09-30 21:10:07

Submitted: 2020-09-30 23:17:16

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator takes his kids to the beach, sees a derelict ship made out of concrete, and builds sandcastles

On Sunday I wanted to go to the beach, so I took the kids with me and left Kiesa to putter around the house by herself. (She made bread and generally had a lovely time.)

The entire western shore of Monterey Bay appears to be one long beach, broken up only by rivers flowing into the bay. Most of that beach is administered by the state park system as a string of State Beaches. I picked Seacliff State Beach, one of the closest beaches to our house, which was unambiguously open after a string of closures triggered by COVID-19, the Lighting Complex fires, and Labor Day. (New Brighton beach, a couple of miles north, was closer, but the state beach's website still listed a COVID-19 closure from May.)

Apart from its eponymous cliff, the most distinctive feature of Seacliff Beach is the pier leading a hundred meters out into the bay to the hulk of SS Palo Alto. We parked in the parking lot on the top of the cliff (with plenty of open spaces, a little after ten in the morning on a bright September morning) and I walked to the top of the cliff to get a clear view of the hulk, slowly disintegrating in the shallow water next to the beach.

SS Palo Alto on Seacliff Beach
SS Palo Alto on Seacliff Beach

Calvin perked up when I told him that the ship was made of concrete, because concrete is an unusual material to use in naval architecture. The ship was built more than a hundred years ago as a tanker during the first world war, but was never used because the war ended before it could be launched. It was towed to its current location, on Seacliff Beach next to the town of Aptos, in 1930 and was used as an entertainment venue; but 1930 was a bad year to invest in entertainment venues, and after two years the ship went bankrupt. The ship has been there, derelict, ever since, slowly disintegrating, hosting great flocks of birds within easy reach of their fishing grounds.

SS Palo Alto disintegrating in Monterey Bay
SS Palo Alto disintegrating in Monterey Bay

We found a relatively unpopulated piece of beach and dropped our bags and beach towels in a copse of driftwood logs above the high-tide line, then dropped down to the wet sand above the breaking waves where the tide was, slowly, receding.

Calvin and Julian on Seacliff Beach
Calvin and Julian on Seacliff Beach

Calvin started digging at the high water mark and built a wall to protect his camp chair from the waves, then lounged in the chair listening to his iPod.

Calvin and Julian lounge on the beach
Calvin and Julian lounge on the beach

I decided to build a sand castle, as long as I could dig tunnels through the sand. I dug a moat in the sand, leaving one section of sand untouched so I could dig a tunnel under it and claim it was the entry bridge into the castle. I quickly observed that the sand was firm enough that I could tunnel through walls that I built. This gave me the opportunity to build an entrance gate through the castle's external wall, and various gates and tunnels and bridges through and above various walls inside the castle. One path led down into the well; another path led into the keep, nestled on the castle's outer wall, on away from the ocean's waves.

Julian and Calvin observe Jaeger's sand castle
Julian and Calvin observe Jaeger's sand castle

When my castle was complete, I took a break for lunch; then built a road connecting my castle to Calvin's bunker, and finally a long viaduct leading up the two-foot-high sand cliff at the high-tide mark.

With the sand construction complete, we went to play in the waves. Seacliff Beach is somewhat protected from the direct force of the waves coming in from the Pacific ocean, making it safer to swim here than most other places in Northern California. (It has swimming areas and lifeguard stations; the beaches further south on Monterey Bay have warnings against rip tides.) Julian grabbed his life jacket and ran into the waves; occasionally a larger wave would pick him up and carry him up the beach. Calvin joined us and waded a bit further into the water. The water was the temperature of a cold swimming pool; I might not have wanted to go open-water swimming without a wet suit, but I felt warm enough splashing around in the water.

(Playing in the waves with my children made me wish for a good waterproof camera; so when I got back home that night I ordered a GoPro as my birthday present for myself. I can use it while kayaking, and now that I'm in Santa Cruz I think I'm obligated to try surfing, so I can use it then too.)

We got out of the water and began to dry off to head back home when Calvin took a wave in the face and lost his sunglasses. (Somehow neither of our children ended up needing glasses, so at least they were inexpensive off-the-shelf sunglasses.) He immediately declared that next time he needed to have a strap to retain his glasses; I took it as a good sign that he wanted to have a "next time".

Seacliff Beach
Seacliff Beach

By mid-afternoon, more people had arrived and the beach was getting full. Everyone seemed diligent wearing masks while in the parking lot and walking down to the beach, but once they reached the beach many people removed their masks even as they were walking up and down the beach in close proximity to other people. (We wore masks while walking on the beach, but not while actually playing in the patch of sand we claimed as our own.) We were still probably at low risk of transmitting COVID-19 — we were outside, and it was warm and sunny with a hint of sea breeze — but I would have felt a little better if everyone walking near me on the beach had been wearing their masks.

We dried off and made our way back to the car. By mid-afternoon there was still space left in the parking lot; I filed this away for future reference. Our final challenge was trying to get cleaned off when we got home without tracking too much sand into the house (I briefly wondered whether we needed our own beach shower at home), after a good day in the sun on the beach.

For a few more pictures from our day at Seacliff Beach, see Photos on 2020-09-27.

Modern mobile phones make my head hurt, and I speak as the owner of a
sheepskin that proclaims me to hold a degree in computer science.
- Charles Stross, What I want for Christmas