Harbor Happenings Highlights

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

December 14, 2023

Photo courtesy of the City of Morro Bay

It’s the life force of Morro Bay and the location of the most interesting events in town. And Harbor Director, Ted Schiafone, produces a monthly Harbor Report to the advisory board.

Estero Bay News thought we’d delve into this report and relate some of the highlights to readers.

Life Jacket Rescue

For several years the harbor patrol has had a life jacket loaner kiosk erected by the public launch ramp, until last winter, when it was lost in a storm.

“This is a safety tool,” Schiafone said, “that originally was donated by a local citizen with the intention slogan, ‘Kids Don’t Float.’ During the storms last winter the original structure was damaged and beyond repair.”

The Department of Boating and Waterways, which is under State Parks, agreed to pay for “new lumber, signage and life jackets with the premise of safe boating campaign,” he said.

Naturally, there was a catch — the department had to drive to Sacramento to pick it up, a round trip of some 600 miles. Some local volunteers came to the rescue. “The Coast Guard Auxiliary,” Schiafone said, “volunteered to pick up all these supplies and the Friends of the Harbor Department paid for all fuel costs. We are truly thankful for the collaboration and happy to provide this valuable tool to the public.”

Foghorn to Bellow Again

Locals have a love-hate relationship with the foghorn mounted at the end of the North Jetty, sounding a haunting bellow when visibility drops. It’s a key maritime navigational aid that over the years has driven some folks a bit batty, sort of like a dull tooth ache in the ears.

Harbor director Schiafone said it is being repaired. “You may be hearing the foghorn again,” he said, “or not, as the Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team has been working on making repairs to this structure on the tip of the North Jetty. The foghorn provides a sound warning mariners of hazards ahead.”

It had been updated. “In 2020,” he explained, “the Coast Guard installed a radio operated system that made an automated sound when a VHF radio was keyed five times on Channel 83a. During last winter, large swells broke this technology.”

The USCG put her back ship-shape, only to have the Pacific Ocean break it again. “Last month the foghorn was restored to sounding 24/7 and surprised many locals,” Schiafone said. “However, after large swells last week, there is no sound at all again. This has been reported to the Coast Guard and we are awaiting repairs.”

Dry Dock Thefts

Schiafone reported on some recent thefts along the waterfront with many from boats dry docked in a City storage yard.

“There has been a string of reports taken for theft on the waterfront,” he said, “specifically on boats in the City managed dry boat storage lot near the Maritime Museum and on boats down by Tidelands dock.”

Used to be there were a lot of people, fishermen mainly, that lived on the moored boats in the harbor, and kept an eye on things down there. It was one such fisherman who first spotted and reported the late-night fire that destroyed the Golden Swan Gift Shop building. 

Now, with most of those vigilant fellows gone, the city hopes everyone will take precautions against this kind of skullduggery.

“We are asking all boat owners to keep their valuables locked up and report any lost property to the police department.”

Swells Have Been Swell

Morro Bay winters are often marked by huge swells on Morro Strand Beach, which while thrilling to surfers, can spell trouble for the boating public and folks foolish enough to defy Mother Nature and venture out onto the North Jetty.

“A few large swells,” Schiafone said, “that make the Morro Bay Harbor Entrance dangerous have kept Harbor Patrol busy. “On Oct. 20, we had multiple calls for emergency assistance. 

“Our boat went to Cayucos for a swimmer in distress and later that same day to Montaña de Oro for a surfer attempting to scale up the bluffs just south of Spooner’s Cove needing assistance.”

The harbor mouth has roared a few times, too. “Multiple contacts were made at the Harbor Entrance,” Schiafone said, “for small boats wanting to transit outside the harbor and were advised to alter their plans.”

One adventurer had a rough day on the Sandspit.

“On Nov. 11,” he said, “a report of a broken down jet ski washed up in the surf on the Sandspit.”

The owner apparently had quite an odyssey. “The owner crossed over the dunes and made it back to his vehicle at the launch ramp,” Schiafone said. “His surfboard was tied to kelp adrift out in the ocean.”

The harbor patrol retrieved the jet ski. “Three days later, when the swell had dropped enough, Harbor Patrol Officers with incredible skill were able to tow the broke down jet ski off the Sandspit and return it to its owner at the launch ramp.”

The guy even got his surfboard back. “The surfboard,” Schiafone said, “was found by a commercial fisherman more than 5 miles north of the last known location.”

Washed Away

They also had some poor guy get washed off the jetty. “On Nov. 25, a citizen was washed off the top of the North Jetty approximately halfway out to the tip by breaking waves over the entire length of the jetty.” 

It might not sound like it, but the guy was lucky. “A Harbor Patrol boat was in the area and witnessed the fall,” Schiafone said, “and requested a land unit send a swimmer in the water to help the victim back to shore.”

The guy escaped serious injury or worse. “The victim was incredibly lucky to survive the fall and released by paramedics at scene after a full assessment.”

Readers are advised to never turn your back on the ocean and if you go down to Morro Rock to watch the impressive, and often massive, surf pounding the jetty, stay well back and out of harm’s way. 

Watching the waves can be awe-inspiring but getting knocked down onto jagged, granite rocks can do a lot of damage.

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