O'Neill Yacht Charters Hooks Hilltrompers


Sept. 23, 2013—It's almost doesn't seem right to taunt you with this tale of warm, windless cruising under sail along the sun-kissed Monterey Bay, the cries of seagulls littering the air and the Wednesday sailboats gathered like teenage girls, all dressed up in their brightest and waiting for something to happen. The evening of Sept. 4 the weather was perfect. A too-hot day had mellowed to 75 degrees, and the usual brisk breeze off the bay had softened to a warm sigh—rare conditions around here. We boarded the famed O'Neill catamaran for an O'Neill Yacht Charter tour of the bay at 5:30pm thinking we'd need sweaters, but we didn't put them on until just before gliding back in to the harbor two hours later.

Like I said, it almost doesn't seem right to tell this story—except that the next couple of weeks are going to be warm, and the humpback whales in Monterey Bay are out in numbers. Your story, friend, could put this one to shame. Says senior deckhand Steve Spiliotopoulos, "The sooty shearwaters are around, we have tons of pelicans and seabirds. The humpbacks are active. Everybody's active."

An O'Neill Yacht Charter cruise starts like most charters do: with instructions. Before we left the harbor, a couple dozen passengers leaning against the rails or seated on the catamaran's beloved mesh deck (the same one students can look through when they're on O'Neill Sea Odyssey outings) got the word on what to do, what not to do, where to find the head, how to get a beer. And then we were off, hugging the coast, outlining the Santa Cruz municipal wharf and then heading out into the bay.

The mates were mighty sailing men, the skipper brave and sure. As we headed out musician Al Frisby, seated on a chair on the deck and hunched over a guitar, started playing. A New Orleans native, Frisby's a born entertainer, and he put the crowd at ease with a mix of friendly patter and kick-ass blues and roots music with a hard Bayou bent. We settled in to the gently rocking rhythm of the boat on the waves and the music. My short shaky-cam video might get the point across here.

"Relaxing" doesn't even begin to describe it. A calm day on the water puts you in a trance. Maybe it's what Davenport conservationist J. Nichols calls blue mind, but many of the passengers just sat, staring out at the water and the shore, beaming. The Wednesday yacht races were on, though there didn't seem to be much actual racing. Mostly the boats just cruised gorgeously, gleaming alabaster in the evening sun with sails as bright as jockeys' silks. We sailed past an SUP with a woman on the front, paddling; behind her, perched on a lawn chair, a man plied a fishing line. A couple of outrigger canoes made a turn around some point farther out that only they could detect. It was so slow and lazy a day, not even the birds could be bothered. We counted two cormorants, laboring clumsily in flight, and that's about it.

But no complaints. None at all. As we slid effortlessly back into the harbor two hours after we left, the sky now a washed-out pink, we looked at each other in amazement. Who knew? I mean, really: who knew?

O'NEILL YACHT CHARTERS runs regular Wednesday evening and Saturday daytime cruises, with many special events, including whale watching cruises Friday, Sept. 27 at 5:30pm and Saturday, Sept. 28 at 9am. Check the calendar for details. Tickets $30-$40. (800) 979-3370 or O'Neill Yacht Charters website.