Gone Floatabout

Sailing, Photography, Wilderness

Pirate Ships and Pinnipeds! Morro Bay, California, December 2017

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Sea lions, Monterey

Sea Lions on Monterey breakwater

After spending the month of November on the East Coast, Seth and I returned to CELESTE in the marina in Monterey, California. We arrived just in time for the Holiday Boat Parade, of sailboats and motor boats bedecked in Christmas lights.

Christmas lights in Monterey

Monterey marina ready for Christmas!

We had had a busy time back East visiting family, working (including a conference at the St Louis Fed at which Seth presented a paper), and seeing friends. In the meantime, the boatyard in Monterey had bottom-painted CELESTE. After many years of scraping, sanding, and painting the boats we’ve owned (see photo below!), it was a real treat to come home to the antifoul paint job already complete. We had actually intended to do it ourselves up in Napa, but the wild-fires – see our post about San Francisco – and work obligations ended up changing our plans.

Boat paint

Fixing boats in exotic places… Wet-sanding and bottom-painting in New Zealand on our circumnavigation.

After a few days getting organized in Monterey, we set sail for Morro Bay, about 120 nautical miles down the coast. We started at sunset on December 6 in a dead calm, but by dawn the next morning the wind had come up, even enough for us to put in a reef. We reached Morro Bay in the late afternoon, with the wind easing up and the pelicans swooping around us. We sailed over the shallow bar entrance (which was in a nicely civilized mood) and part way into the harbor before starting up the engine to putter among the many moored boats and find a spot to anchor.

Approaching Morro Bay

Approaching Morro Bay

Morro Bay is one of the few natural harbors on the California coast, and it was such a treat to get to anchor instead of be in a marina. Marinas are convenient – and the man-made harbors of the CA coast are a blessing as you make your way south – but we both love the privacy and the more natural setting of being at anchor.

Morro Bay

Morro Bay waterfront seen from the anchorage

Once we rowed ashore we found a wonderfully walk-able town, and air temperatures significantly higher than what we’d had in Monterey, just a 120 miles north. We wanted to rent a car to drive up to the Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery, on a stretch of open coastline near San Simeon. The only rental company in Morro Bay itself turned out to be U-Haul, so we trundled up the road in a big ol’ U-Haul truck!

UHaul poster child-

New U-Haul poster child??

Pinnipeds!

The elephant seal rookery turned out to be even better than we expected. We stayed most of the day, gawking at the huge pinnipeds with their big proboscises (probosci?). We watched young males spar, big males bark, females snooze, and everyone toss sand over their backs with their big flippers. It very nearly made up for not having spotted any walruses (walri?) in the Arctic.

Sparring elephant seals

Sparring elephant seals

So much brains

So much brains! Big male claims his territory

Check out that snoz!

Hey chicas! Check out my schnoz!

Elephant Seals at sunset

Romantic sunset, elephant seal style

And Pirate Ships (sort of, not really):

Back in Morro Bay, with the U-Haul duly returned, we found that two famous West Coast tall ships had arrived. The Lady Washington is a replica of the eponymous ship, the first American vessel to sail to the West Coast. The original Lady Washington rounded Cape Horn in 1788 and was the first American ship to reach Honolulu, Hong Kong, and Japan. King Kamehameha of Hawai’i even became a partner in the ship as she pioneered pan-Pacific trading. The replica was built in 1989 as part of Washington State’s centennial celebration and has been in constant use since for education and in films.

Lady Washington

Lady Washington off Morro Bay

I first encountered the Lady Washington as a kid – she and the Hawaiian Chieftain came to San Francisco Bay and did a mock-battle, firing (unloaded) cannon at each other. The Hawaiian Chieftain was built on Maui in 1988 as a kind of yacht-meets-cargo-vessel, but soon became involved in sailing up and down the West Coast in partnership with Lady Washington. The two ships continue to do this, and they happened to be in Morro Bay the same time we were!

Tall ships at the dock

Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain at the dock

We went aboard them at the dock in the morning, then rowed back out to CELESTE to get everything ready for the next passage, another 100-odd miles to San Miguel in the Channel Islands. We left at sunset again, and were unexpectedly treated to the sight of Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain out for their sunset sail / mock battle! With no other boats in sight, it felt like we’d gone back in time.

Leaving Morro Bay

Leaving Morro Bay in the wake of the tall ships

Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftan

Back in time on the California coast

P.S. While Hawaiian Chieftain and Lady Washington aren’t actually pirate ships, I just couldn’t resist the alliterative title of this post 🙂

Author: Ellen

Circumnavigator, Arctic voyager, writer/photographer

15 thoughts on “Pirate Ships and Pinnipeds! Morro Bay, California, December 2017

  1. Pingback: What a difference a day makes: Contrasting stops in Southern California (December 2017) | Gone Floatabout

  2. There is always something new around the corner ,love the pirates ships not often they come in pairs, just your luck,cheers.

  3. As always, I enjoy your excellent adventures vicariously. Love from Mexico, LannyGranny

  4. Understand your comment about marina shaving spent way too long in one waiting for our stolen gear to be replaced! Love the big seals and tall ships!

  5. Great pictures – loved Morro Bay, wonderful people who treated us royally! We snuck in just before they closed the harbour – a big storm was chasing us!

  6. Seth and Ellen: Glad you went to see the elephant seals. A childhood friend of mine who eventually became a marine biologist went out to Pigeon Point on the San Mateo County coast and swam among them on an air mattress. Probably not
    very smart. He said they would cruise right at him and dive underneath at the last moment. Tom Robertson

  7. Wow, elephant seals and “pirate” ships! Nice!

  8. Very cool ships shots!

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