Thursday, June 23, 2011

Local Knowledge: PCC's - Bruce Edwards and Mike Holt

Editor's note - an earlier version of this article first appeared in the Summer 2004 Tank Talk.

I’ve said it before in 1992 and again in 2000 - Santa Cruz is pretty darn close to 505 sailing Utopia. The breeze is reliable and generally strong in August, and the waves make for some exciting downwind surfing conditions. It’s also not very far from the harbor to the race course and open ocean waters. Santa Cruz is just a fantastic place to sail 505’s.

The typical afternoon winds in Santa Cruz are thermals, also called a seabreeze, generated by the warm inland air rising which draws in the cool ocean air. California’s Central Valley is responsible for the heat, and the Pacific current that runs south keeps the water temperature at a chilly 58 degrees Fahrenheit (14 degrees C). This temperature differential helps the seabreeze develop and can allow it to pump all afternoon. By mid-August, the strength of the seabreeze has generally subsided into the 12 to 18 knot range because the water is a bit warmer and the low pressure systems that cross the state in early to mid spring subside. However, the winds can still be much stronger if the Central Valley gets very hot. There is no appreciable current, although drunk locals may tell you there is a “long shore” current. Regardless, if there is, it is very slight and consistent across the course.

Typically the famous Northern California fog sweeps into the Monterey Bay in the evening and then “burns off” in the mornings. Sometimes the fog might not burn off which can create light to moderate breeze conditions for several days straight. It becomes very obvious which of the 2 conditions you will sail in by 11am. The daily temperatures are typically 78 degrees in the daytime, and 60 degrees at night when the fog rolls in (so bring a fleece jacket). Don’t be fooled by the c o m f o r t a b l e temperatures on land because it will likely be very COLD on the water. The water is very deep just off the coast, and therefore very cold, so make certain you dress appropriately for sailing.

If the prevailing breeze is filled in to the shore, right is always favored. If the wind gets a bit light inshore, which can happen later in the day, short tacks left into more velocity may yield big gains. However, in general, right is favored (very similar to Long Beach, CA). It is not uncommon that late in the day the westerly will back off and a light warm easterly wind will slowly fill. This phenomenon is due to an inversion layer (colder air on top of warmer air) caused by the warm land mass that the city of Santa Cruz sits on. As the cold air sinks, it pushes the warmer air back over the water. It starts at the shore and moves out slowly into the bay. Typically this happens after racing around 5pm, but sometimes it can happen earlier and makes for very interesting leeward mark situations. It is obvious if you just keep your eyes peeled down the bay. You’ll see sailboats sailing downwind toward you as you sail downwind toward them!

Hazards - The only major hazard is the cold water. Not wearing a wetsuit and being in the water for an extended time is dangerous. Also, if you don’t turn around after racing, it’s a long way to Hawaii.

Launching Information - Santa Cruz has a ramp for one at a time launching and for those brave enough a hoist. As there is very little wind actually in the harbor both are pretty easy to do.

Useful Links:

Notice of Race
Registered Teams

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