Chaos & Tranquility

What's one of the best parts of the cruising life? The ability to go from one extreme to another just by changing anchorages.

Del Viento- Big Sur

The sun setting behind Pfeiffer Point, Big Sur.Michael Robertson

Anchored off the Santa Cruz, CA Beach Boardwalk, it was never easy to forget where we were. We dropped the hook in the crook between the pier and beach and spent three days and nights living in the midst of the hustle and bustle of people recreating around us. Thanks to beautiful weather and the resulting crowds, the shrill screams of people on drop towers, roller coasters, and pendulum rides became the backdrop to our lives. Between the screams was the hum of thousands of beach voices, the thumping of nightly concerts, and the booming barks of sea lions echoing under the wood pier.

So imagine when this cacophony became background to sounds much closer: a whoosh of air, a rush of turbulent water, and thumping on the hull. I sprinted up from the galley and out the companionway and my jaw dropped.

“Wow! Guys, get up here, quick!”

The water around the boat was boiling and hundreds—thousands!—of cormorants streamed from under Del Viento and erupted near our waterline. Even when I didn't think there could possibly be any more birds, they continued bursting from the water like penguins onto ice. Just twenty feet from our hull, dozens of pelicans dive-bombed from above, one after another—Splash! Splash-splash! Splash!—into the mob of cormorants. Amidst the chaos, the sky filled with hundreds of gulls. We could no longer hear the rides and people ashore.

For two-or-three minutes, we watched and laughed in amazement at the feeding frenzy until the unseen school that caused the disturbance wised up and dove deep. Slowly, the wildlife dispersed. Ten minutes later, only pelicans who had their fill remained, floating calmly, sated.

Lively Santa Cruz was very different than sedate San Simeon, our first stop north of Morro Bay. In San Simeon, a few tourists lounged on the beach that William Randolph Hearst left behind. Windy felt under the weather, so the girls and I trekked ashore alone. We landed in the surf unscathed (but not dry) and chained the dinghy to a pier piling. After playing on the beach, we wandered up to the road to Sebastian’s Store, a deli and San Simeon fixture for more than 100 years. Besides the post office, that is all there is, really. In fact, they are one.

So we journeyed further and Frances found an old tractor to climb on while Eleanor ate all of the wild blackberries she could pick. Up to Highway 1 and I realized how rare it is to be a pedestrian here, a place where nobody lives and with nothing to walk to. The girls kept close to me as we scurried along the shoulder for a quarter-mile with cars whizzing past at freeway speeds. When we got to the turnoff for Hearst Castle, we walked up past a Disneyland-sized lot of cars to the visitors’ center where we spent the day learning about Hearst’s life, his empire, and how the castle came to be. I told the girls they would get more out of an expensive tour of the Castle when they are a year older and I promised to plan a stop on our way south.

After a couple days, Windy felt better and we motored into the light prevailing winds and currents for another day before taking shelter under the cliffs of Big Sur. The ocean-side perspective on this place is distinct from the Big Sur I know from land. Yet features in common include the dramatic topography, the twisted, wind-tortured cypress, and other elements of her beauty that hint at conditions that are often inhospitable—but not always. In the lee of Pfeiffer Point, we opened a bottle of red wine. Together in Del Viento's main salon, Windy helped Eleanor with her writing, Frances drew quietly, and I chopped celery, carrots, onion, and garlic for a soup. When the meal was over, the talking was done, the dishes put away, and the sun had long ago set, we settled in for a quiet night.

_I__n our twenties, we traded our boat for a house and our freedom for careers. In our thirties, we slumbered through the American dream. In our forties, we woke and traded our house for a boat and our careers for freedom. And here we are. Follow along at _