hacker emblem
jaegerfesting
Search | Tags | Photos | Flights | Gas Mileage | Log in

Small Craft Harbor

Started: 2021-07-20 21:17:01

Submitted: 2021-07-20 23:46:17

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator paddles from Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor

The weekend before I took possession of my new house in Santa Cruz, I went kayaking in Santa Cruz Harbor.

At home when I left Loma Prieta the marine layer had risen to blanket the mountain at 3000 feet in a thick fog, thick enough that water was condensing on every available surface and was dripping onto the ground like rain. Water was dripping down around the stove pipe chimneys where the flashing that would normally keep the water outside had been removed while the entire roof was being replaced, leaving a one-inch gap around the stove pipes where I could see the sky and where the fog could condense, wrapping us in its cold wet embrace.

I drove down the mountain to Santa Cruz with my kayak on top of my car. As I descended I dropped under the clouds; they remained for the rest of the day as a high ceiling above Monterey Bay. I parked at Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor, next to the hand-carry boat launch dock, and hand-carried my boat to the dock to launch it into the harbor.

Kayak on the dock in Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor
Kayak on the dock in Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor

While I was getting ready on the dock, the Velocity (just visible on the right of the picture above) was boarding passengers (to cruise around the bay, I presume), and by the time I pushed off but was still getting straightened out the crew signaled to me to indicate that they would be pushing off and needed to back into the space I was occupying. I paddled to the opposite side of the dock to give them room, but then two more passengers showed up on shore, running to the boarding gate as the boat crew set up the boarding stairs so they could embark. I took this as my signal that I could start paddling; Velocity eventually caught up with me as I departed the harbor.

Kayaking out of Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor
Kayaking out of Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor

This was the first time I'd been to the Small Craft Harbor in any capacity, and I was impressed by the volume and variety of boats I passed. Most were fishing or sailing boats of some description; I also saw a pair of large catamaran yachts bearing the name "O'Neil" in the surf brand's distinctive font, which seemed appropriate since I was in fact wearing my O'Neil wetsuit as I paddled out of the harbor on a blustery day.

Kayaking out of Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor
Kayaking out of Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor

As I paddled out of the harbor, past the dredge trying to keep the channel clear and along the jetty capped by a small lighthouse, I got the distinct impression that I was going uphill against the water: it felt like I was on the cusp of a wave about to break that never actually moved in my direction.

Kayaking past Santa Cruz anchorage
Kayaking past Santa Cruz anchorage

I left the protected harbor into the relatively open water of the anchorage in front of Santa Cruz. The wind was brisk, coming from the south-west; I saw that the relatively low land mass at Lighthouse Point was not nearly enough to shelter me from the wind. I turned into the wind and paddled slowly and steadily towards the west, with Seabright Beach to my right and the Beach Boardwalk in the distance, and the open water of Monterey Bay to my left. My boat rose and fell with the steady swell, and I stayed alert to make sure I knew how my boat would handle on the open water, but the wind stayed moderate and my small boat handled the gentle swells.

Kayaking towards Lighthouse Point
Kayaking towards Lighthouse Point

One thing that the pictures I took don't really capture is how it felt to paddle on the swells in the open water. I was paddling roughly into the wind, in the same direction the waves were coming, so I'd spend ten seconds with the water gently rising a foot in front of me, and another ten seconds with the water gently dropping back a foot. The rhythm was gentle and predictable and almost soothing, but I had to pay attention so it didn't catch me off-guard.

Kayaking towards Seal Rock
Kayaking towards Seal Rock

After a half-hour of paddling I'd traversed the nautical mile across the mount of Santa Cruz Anchorage, approaching Seal Rock off the shore of Lighthouse Point. I could see the harbor seals jostling for position on the rock, and as I paddled closer I could hear them (and I think I might have been able to smell them, too, but I made sure to stay far enough away from them). I saw the occasional seal swimming through the water near me, and I saw a bunch of sea otters napping and snacking and frolicking in the kelp beds in the coastal water.

Kayak over a kelp forest
Kayak over a kelp forest

I found that the thick kelp beds served to dampen the waves somewhat, and added a bit of resistance under my kayak to keep the wind from pushing me around as much, so I could relax a bit relative to the open water at the mouth of the anchorage. I was paddling on the surface of the water at the very top of the kelp forest, giving me a strange perspective on the diversity of marine life below me. I stuck my GoPro in the water and blindly snapped a couple of pictures in hopes that it would show me what the world looked like under the water; it mostly turned out.

Kelp under the water
Kelp under the water

When I paddled past Lighthouse Point I crossed the dividing line between Monterey Bay and the Pacific Ocean. There was at least one small boat in the water nearby, fishing lazily in the water. Closer to shore, on the other side of the kelp beds, surfers waited for waves.

Jaeger on a kayak in the Pacific Ocean
Jaeger on a kayak in the Pacific Ocean

To the west the Pacific Ocean stretched to the endless horizon, dotted with fishing boats and sea birds and filled with the promise of adventure and the looming threat of the incomprehensibly vast ten thousand kilometers of open ocean in front of me.

Kayaking towards the endless horizon
Kayaking towards the endless horizon

But I had come as far as I wanted to come, so I turned back towards the harbor.

Kayak turns back to Lighthouse Point
Kayak turns back to Lighthouse Point

I paddled closer to shore, through the kelp beds just outside of the surf lanes, close enough to see people walking on the top of the bluffs lining the shore, and carrying surf boards down the concrete staircases clinging to the cliffs to the waves crashing on tiny rocky beaches.

Kayaking in the kelp beds below Lighthouse Point
Kayaking in the kelp beds below Lighthouse Point

I paddled close to the sandy beach surrounding the pier, then found the one section of pier designated for kayaking (otherwise I ran the risk of finding myself under someone's fishing line). I saw an upwelling in the water on the surface and caught a glimpse of a harbor seal breaking the water between me and the pier, but it submerged again before I could get a good look at it.

Kayak approaches Santa Cruz Pier
Kayak approaches Santa Cruz Pier

I could hear sea lions barking from their berths under the pier, their endless drone louder than the wind and the waves around the pier.

Kayaking under Santa Cruz Pier
Kayaking under Santa Cruz Pier

I paddled past the Beach Boardwalk, the rides running to tiny crowds under gray skies, then struggled to get my boat pointed in the right direction as the wind picked up and I tried to paddle parallel to the beach to head back to the harbor. The wind tried to point my boat out to sea, perpendicular to where I really wanted to go. I eventually made my way back into the harbor and back to the dock I launched from.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Here's a map of my paddle from Santa Cruz:

I have more [than five computers] in my own office, and they are still
breeding like rabbits.
- Arthur C. Clarke