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The Seal Captain of Morro Bay
Wonderful Morro Bay
Morro Bay is my favorite anchorage along the Southern California coastline. It's people are warm and welcoming to the point where they set new standards of hospitality to a weary traveler. The anchorage, while treacherous, the locals say 'you haven't sailed Morro Bay unless you've run aground at least once', is protected and comfortable. The scenery, bobbing on the hook under the giant Morro Rock, is breath taking. And, of course, it has The Seal Captain.
Who is The Seal Captain, you ask? Well he's just about the most entertaining character you will ever hear about. My interactions with him were not personal, I merely observed him from a distance, but what I saw gave me a story that has kept me laughing for a long time.
Magnificent Morro Rock
A Dangerous Port
Morro Bay is a tourist town, apparently, but I had never heard much about the place other than, according to the US Coast Guard, it had one of the most dangerous harbors in North America. It certainly was spectacular, that’s for sure and caution should definitely be taken when entering the bay. Morro Rock, an imposing, cone shaped lump of stone that dominates the landscape like a smaller yet still beautiful cousin to Japan’s regal Mount Fuji.
This place was beautiful and definitely my favorite stop on the way down the coast. The people are amazingly warm and friendly and a bunch of great fun.
Meeting the Seal Captain
You meet strange people living on the ocean, that's undeniable, probably because it takes a strange person to want to live that way but I wouldn't trade it for anything. The salty cast of odd fellows I meet has enriched my life in a way I could never explain to anyone that hasn't experienced it for themselves. The tale of the Seal Captain is just one of those colorful cast members.
I never met the man, never said ahoy, nor hello. The first time I saw him was just after I had climbed to the top of the ladder at the public docks in the protected channel of Morro Bay. I had just anchored Windswept, my sloop, (after Mark Harrington had run us aground for the second time in two days, but that's another story) and had rowed my borrowed dinghy in to meet friends for dinner and saw him, the man I'd later dub The Seal Captain, sitting on a wooden bench at the dock. He held in his arms one of those tiny little dogs, one like the celebrity women carry around in their $900 purses and think that it's cute. But he wasn't making any attempt to be cute, he was just an old sailor who was enjoying a sunset with his best friend.
I paid him little mind as my crewman, Mark, and his wonderful wife, Dixie, just arrived and were waving from the upper level of the dock. Forgetting the man and his miniature dog I set off with my friends to enjoy an evening of good food, beers and conversation, never to see him or his pet again, I was sure. Thankfully I was wrong.
Cute, but smelly and noisy
A Battle at Sea
The sun had set magnificently, bathing the picturesque seaport of Morro Bay in violet light that made me think of Japan's mighty Mount Fuji, a place I have always wanted to see for myself. In December I guess they roll the sidewalks of the town up after dark and the streets were deserted when I left my friends and strolled back to the dinghy I had borrowed from a friend at the yacht club.
I strapped on my life vest, always a wise precaution at any time but especially when paddling or rowing any type of vessel at night over cold and unfamiliar waters, and pushed off from the docks. The lights of the town looked beautiful, a memory that will stay with me forever. Sitting that low to the surface as black waters lap your dinghy is a religious experience. The town lights flicker and dance across the surface of the ebony liquid, like sea spirits, reaching their long, spectral arms out to touch you. There's barely a sound and just the lightest of breezes whispering intimately past your ears. I sat there for a little while, floating in the middle of the narrow channel, just enjoying the experience, wishing It would last for a hundred years.
And then, close by, an explosion of furious barking spat out into the night, scything through my peaceful solitude. My mind's eye immediately conjured the image of the tiny dog that the crusty sailor had been holding in his lap at sunset. I twisted around, towards the sound as it was instantly matched by an even more cacophonous, wheezing howl of a seal gang. It sounded like quite the stand off so I rowed a little closer for a better look. It was a dark night but the lights from the shore were enough for me to see what was going on.
An Old Salt
In the middle of the channel at Morro Bay there is a floating, wooden dock that I have given the name 'Seal Island' because the local seal colony has staked claim to it. At any one time over a dozen of the furry, slug-bodied jesters could be seen muscling themselves a position on the platform. My boat was anchored nearby so I was glad that the seals had found themselves a place to sun and sleep. In places like Monterey Bay and others it is common for seals to invite themselves aboard your boat, which often resulted in quite a mess and broken equipment.
Oddly, well odd to me at least, there was an old, battered wooden boat tied up to Seal Island. When I first saw it I assumed that it was either a derelict or had been abandoned by it's owner and was awaiting sale at public auction. But not so, apparently it was indeed inhabited. Why any skipper in his right mind would voluntarily tie his boat up there was baffling to me. Seals are playful critters, fun to watch and to feed but my god are they loud. They are the annoying, party-animal neighbors that many of us go to sea to get away from. Neighbors that feel free to invite themselves aboard your home any time they wish, which is quite often, gaging from what I was hearing from Seal island.
Every few minutes a comic act of war would play out. The seals would writhe up on the old boat and the miniature dog, who's name I'm sure was something like snowball, would bound forward like a fluffy, white griffon, yipping his lion's roar. The seals would then, surprisingly, back off and loudly voice their displeasure at being denied access to a perfectly good sleeping place. But the absurdity of the scene didn't stop there. The seals would advance, fluffy would attack, and then the crusty, old sea dog of a captain would come bursting out on deck, bellowing some colorful curses and swinging a cane wildly at the seals.
Within a few short, comical moments, the seals would retreat to the platform of the floating dock and the Seal Captain, fierce fluffy tucked under one arm, would go below. And then, about every ten minutes after that, it would all be on again. This play acted out over and over again for the rest of the night. Life on the sea is quite the adventure!
If you have ever dreamed of sailing away to amazing new places, do it! Hopefully my own experiences will help get you out on the water.