Santa Barbara

Week 3 on our southbound migration found us in Santa Barbara. I love pulling in to Santa Barbara Harbor as our first port of call in Southern California. Just steps from the dock is a beautiful beach, yacht club, West Marine store and multiple harborside restaurants. It’s an easy walk into town with a great assortment of restaurants and stores including an Apple Store. With the warm air, sandy beaches and festive atmosphere Santa Barbara is the first port that truly feels like we’ve ‘arrived’ in new climate.

Santa Barbara entrance

We arranged to stay in Santa Barbara for the week, once again setting up shop and working remotely until the weekend when we’ll move on to the next destination. My hope is that since we typically arrive in these destinations on a Sunday afternoon, we have a better chance of finding space at the marina once the weekend visitors have departed. Once again, this seems to have worked out and we are able to get a nice spot for the week in the marina.

Checking in at Santa Barbara

A note on checking in at marinas. Each marina has it’s own protocol for visiting yachts. Some take reservations online and you can book your stay in advance and even know which slip you’ll be in when you arrive. Many more are first-come-first-served and you have to hail the harbormaster or harbor patrol on the VHF radio to inquire about space. Some marinas loan you an electronic key for the gate and bathrooms, some have you purchase a key which you can re-activate on future visits, some don’t have gates or keys at all.

Sonrisa at the arrival dock
At the arrival dock in Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara has it’s own system that once you know it is quite easy. On arriving at the harbor there is an arrivals dock just to the left of the fuel dock. This dock can accommodate maybe 4 boats at a time and has a 15 minute limit. Once tied up you go to the harbormaster office with your documentation and payment and get a slip assignment and purchase gate keys (to keep) and you can then move off the arrival dock and find your assigned slip. While it may take a bit longer to tie up twice, in my experience, this is a lot more orderly than navigating an unfamiliar harbor with only verbal cues from the harbormaster on the radio. It can be stressful deciding whether or not to turn down a particular fairway as sometimes you can’t tell if there’s enough room to turn around if it’s the wrong one. Add some cross-winds and some spectators and there’s the potential for some stressful moments at very low speeds.

Being a pandemic year, the procedures in Santa Barbara were a bit different. We still pulled into the arrival dock, but found that the harbor office was closed with a number to call the harbor patrol instead. Having visited before as recently as 2017 they still had our information in their system and it was simply a matter of providing an updated credit card number and they were even able to re-activate the gate key. Within a few minutes we were checked-in and had a slip assignment.

Once Sonrisa was tucked into her slip for the week, Kristin and I went for a walk into town looking for the shop that sold the most amazing puff-pastry tacos. The walk from the harbor took us past some warm sandy beaches along a beachside pedestrian walkway. While not nearly as busy as past visits, we were nevertheless greeted with roller-bladers, skateboarders, and bicyclists, some even sporting colorful LED light decorations to add to the eternally festive Southern California vibe.

The case of the elusive taco

All Kristin could talk about as we arrived was the tacos and how she couldn’t wait find them again. Unfortunately neither of us could remember the name of the restaurant, but we knew that it was on State Street somewhere between the train station and the Apple Store. The city of Santa Barbara closed down most of State Street to car traffic to make room for outdoor dining and the street is buzzing with activity. Frankly I think the city should make the change permanent as it really makes the street a pleasant walking boulevard and open-air eatery.

As we continued up State Street, we both kept checking Maps to see if a familiar name popped up which could be the restaurant. At one point I got excited as one place seemed to have a familiar storefront, but looking at the menu confirmed it was not the place we were looking for. Before long, the Apple Store was in sight.

“Did we miss it?” Kristin asked.

“I don’t see how we could have. Maybe it’s up a bit further, wasn’t there an antique store nearby?” I wondered.

We tried in vain for a couple more blocks until it was apparent that the restaurant area of State Street was ending.

Kristin was diving deep into old Yelp entries, “I wish I could remember what it was called.”

“Maybe it moved.”

Neither of us could fathom that a place that served something so uniquely amazingly delicious could possibly be gone.

But sadly it was gone. Kristin finally found an article online. It was Goa Taco.

Working from the boat

Our Sunday arrivals have turned into a kind of a “last hurrah” for the weekend before the work week starts again. Come Monday my life returns pretty much to the same as it has been since March, just with a different view out the window. I’ve definitely noticed that the shift from weekends to weekdays is much more dramatic now. Every weekend we are making another passage on our southbound journey which requires all of our attention. We’re checking weather forecasts, plotting routes, checking wind patterns, preparing the boat, checking systems, then we cast off and are moving once again. Each hop seems easier than the last (and not just because of the weather) and each shift from cruise to work seems easier as this pattern becomes familiar. I’ve found a surprising delight in making this work and I’m almost giddy whenever we arrive and ‘set up shop’ or depart for the next destination. At this point Mexico still seems a ways off, but I can sense it getting closer.

Greg working at the computer at the salon table
At the office

At times I have to ask myself if I feel like I’m missing out on anything by continuing to work while we cruise. So far, I don’t feel that way. I have plenty of time-off planned for this winter which will truly be cruising time in new places and until then it’s a fun challenge to continue to work as we migrate south. Plus I’m starting to sense an opening of new awareness which I think will be really good. Because I have to take an active role in preparing myself (and Sonrisa) for the work week, it is bringing a real sense of mindfulness to my daily routine that wasn’t there before.

Working on the boat

In addition to working from the boat, there’s also the matter of working on the boat. Boats require constant maintenance and Sonrisa with all of her exterior teak requires more than most.

Earlier this year we had added a maintenance coat of Le Tonkinois to most of the varnished exterior teak, but we hadn’t done the hand rails or coachroof trim. While in Santa Barbara Kristin took it upon herself to do a couple of maintenance coats while I worked (at work) below.

Kristin has been doing a fantastic job with the varnishing and we constantly get compliments on Sonrisa’s looks. While Le Tonkinois isn’t the most durable varnish out there, it’s very easy to work with and importantly contains no plastics and is completely non-toxic. It just requires a light sanding and 1-2 additional coats annually.

Kristin applying varnish to Sonrisa's handrails

I think this was Kristin’s first experience with the definition of a cruiser: working on your boat in exotic locations.

Catching up

On Friday our friends Bernard and Maeve on Honu arrived in Santa Barbara. They had spent the week on San Miguel Island after we parted ways at Cojo and now they were arriving in Santa Barbara. While the harbor was full for the weekend, when we let them know that we were leaving Saturday morning they were able to jump into our spot since they knew when we were leaving. So they anchored out for the night and we coordinated when to arrive to grab our slip.

We also had the chance to catch up with them on our adventures along the coast. It is always fun to hear about what other cruisers were doing that led you to arrive to where you are at now. Stories about weather, hazards, challenges as well as amazing sights, experience and accomplishments flow freely and because of the shared experiences it is easy to make an instant connection with other cruisers.

I’m also looking forward to meeting and connecting with other cruisers who are on the same southbound migration. My assumption is that San Diego will be the place where one by one all of the southbound boats arrive until we set sail together (more or less) for Mexico next month.

Santa Barbara at night
View from Sonrisa at Santa Barbara Harbor