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Sailing in Monterey Bay

The conditions on the Pacific Ocean and Monterey Bay here in Santa Cruz can be ideal with winds from 15-20 knots, sunshine, and moderate swell: 2-4 feet.

However, we can also get 20-35 knot winds, fog, and high seas. Thus, it’s very important that bareboat charterers have experienced similar conditions and are excellent at docking, sailing in all types of wind and seas, and navigation.


Santa Cruz Harbor

A good lunch anchorage is North of the Santa Cruz Harbor at the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf. The Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf is only 15 minutes from the Santa Cruz harbor. There’s no shuttle boat at the wharf so you can’t go ashore. It’s great to anchor off of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk beach and watch the roller coaster and screaming children from a distance.

The opposite of the Santa Cruz Wharf – in front of West Cliff Drive is quieter and a bit more protected. With a good set of binoculars you can watch the pro surfers at Steamer Lane. If you’re brave enough, you can take a swim in the 54-59 degree Pacific Ocean. You get used to it after about 5 minutes. Or, you just get so numb you don’t feel the water temperature any more.

Note: You cannot berth any vessels up to either the Santa Cruz or Capitola Wharfs. At the Santa Cruz Wharf you have to anchor on either side and at the Capitola Wharf you can anchor on the NW side and pick up a Mooring on the SE side.


The Capitola Wharf

Capitola is one of the best and nearest destinations to stop for a day sail on the Monterey Bay leaving the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor. The Capitola Bay Wharf – 831-462-2208 (open May 1st to Sept. 30th) has moorings that you can tie up to. The cost is $5.00 per hr. to use their mooring. If you want to rent one for the day it’s $15.00. And, overnight it’s $25.00. They have a shuttle boat that will take you to and from the wharf where you can walk into Capitola Village.

A great day sail is to start out tacking up the coast. As soon as the winds get stronger, turn around and broad reach it to Capitola. It’s likely you’ll have to jibe a couple of times. We recommend that you chicken jibe which just means that from a broad reach, you would sail up to a beam reach, come about with the bow passing through the eye of the wind, and then fall back off to a broad reach on the opposite tack. It’s easier on the boat and crew.

The Capitola moorings are usually warmer then out on the Monterey Bay because it’s sheltered from our normal afternoon NW winds.

Moss Landing

Moss Landing is about a 2.5 to 3 hour sail down wind. Coming back from Moss Landing you will usually be tacking close hauled or close reached and it can be quite challenging. It can take 3-6 hours depending on the winds. The normal nw winds are 15-35 knots and the swell can be larger than you’ve ever experienced. We recommend that you spend the night in Moss Landing and make it a 2 day sail so that there’s no pressure to make it back to the Santa Cruz Harbor before dark. There’s the Elkhorn Yacht Club on one side of the harbor (to your port after entering the harbor) and the Moss Landing Municipal Marina – (831-633-2461) to your starboard side as you’re pulling in the channel from the Monterey Bay.

Moss Landing has towering smoke stacks (the Pacific Gas and Electric Plant) that makes a good fix for navigating but takes away any charm that a small fishing village would have. It wouldn’t be our first choice of an overnight destination. There are a couple of reasonably good restaurants there.



Monterey is about 21 nautical miles south of Santa Cruz.

With the prevailing northwest winds you can usually enjoy the sail downwind on a beam or broad reach. Coming back from Monterey is usually going to be close-hauled or a close reach sailing. You can experience some large ocean swells, dolphins, whales, sharks, fog, and winds from 15 to 35 knots. Plan on reefing before you leave Monterey. We’ve found that if you motor up towards Point Pinos (about an hour) and then turn north towards Santa Cruz, you will have an easier time sailing upwind and probably be able to sail a close reach point of sail which will be a more enjoyable return trip.

Monterey has 2 Marinas. The Monterey Municipal(831-646-3950) or Breakwater Cove (831-373-7875) You can make reservations at Breakwater Cove for a slip because they are a private Marina. At the Monterey Municipal, they will try to accommodate you for a slip but it’s a good idea to call first to make sure there’s a possible opening.

Monterey is a great destination. There are some excellent restaurants a short walking distance from the Marinas, historic Cannery Row, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and more.


Stillwater Cove

Stillwater Cove is an anchorage south of Monterey about a 2-3 hour sail. You must have permission from the Pacific Yachting Staff to go there.

In addition to having good anchoring skills, you must have excellent navigation skills to go to Stillwater cove. You have to head further south and then head towards the wharf through a narrow opening of kelp with rocks close by. The moorings are private. You can only anchor. Again, you can’t pull up to the wharf. There is a shuttle boat at the cove, however, you can’t depend on it to be running all of the time. It’s actually quite nice to just stay at anchor in such a beautiful setting.

Pacific Yachting does not have any dingys to rent. If you do plan on going ashore, it’s prudent to bring your own blow-up raft.

Note: Often, the radiation type of fog rolls in, making visibility only 5-10 feet. If this type of fog is in this area, please do not attempt to go into Stillwater Cove. If it rolls in when you are already there, we recommend that you just stay put until it clears.

It is an awesome setting located right off of the famous Pebble Beach Golf Course.