The winter anchorage off the coast of Santa Barbara has been notorious for its southeasterly winds for more than 100 years.
More mariners than usual found that out a few weeks ago, when January storms washed 12 boats ashore in Santa Barbara County, 11 of them on East Beach and below Santa Barbara Cemetery.
Ten of them were among the 90 boats anchored in the winter anchoring zone — the free, mostly unregulated area for anyone with an anchor.
The U.S. Constitution allows free anchorage in navigable waters, Harbormaster Mick Kronman said. Santa Barbara has zoned anchoring, with three distinct areas east of Stearns Wharf.
Heading east from the wharf is a seasonal anchoring area, permitted mooring area and year-round anchorage. The mooring area is permitted and regulated, unlike the free-for-all anchoring areas. There are 46 spots given out by general lottery, at a cost of $250 per year.
Requirements for keeping the coveted spots include yearly inspection and specifications for anchor, chain and pendant weight and size. Pendants are the lines between the mooring ball or buoy and the boat. Owners are also required to regularly check their lines for chafing or wear.
Mooring spots are more permanent, while anchors are mobile and able to be stowed.
Only one of the 11 boats that washed up was from the mooring area, because of a chafed line between the buoy and boat, Kronman said.
On either side of the orderly mooring area are the anchoring areas.
From April to October, prevailing breezes come in from the west, so mariners can anchor closer to the wharf, Kronman said.
Anchoring is allowed year-round east of the permitted mooring area — down by the Santa Barbara Zoo — but everyone has to tie up there come Nov. 1.
Not surprisingly, southeasterly winter winds cause loose boats to wash up on East Beach. If boats could anchor in the seasonal area year-round, as they could decades ago, they would most likely hit the pier and clog up Mission Creek, Kronman said.
One boat anchored north of Santa Barbara hit the Goleta pier and sank — and it was all caught on video. County waters don’t have an ordinance concerning anchoring zones, but the city is working with them, Kronman said.
Boats washing ashore is not a problem limited to storms, he said.
“Calm weather sets them up for failure,” Kronman said.
With a boat bobbing up and down, the slack line can get wrapped under the boat and accumulate marine growth, and can be weaker when winds pull it taut during storms, he said.
Prudent mariners take care of their vessels and keep an eye on the weather, but mooring doesn’t make you safe from Mother Nature, Kronman said.
During the week of Jan. 18, boats that washed up had dragged their anchors, broken their chains and snapped their lines. It’s not uncommon for boats to take out other boats as well, and Kronman advises all anchorage mariners to be aware of who is tied upwind.
As of now, all of the beaches are free of boats and debris, though some — including a concrete one — were difficult to remove.
All owners are responsible for removing the boats and cleaning the area, or the city will step in and pursue payment — through small claims court if necessary.
“A lot of people just walk away from the whole thing,” Kronman said.
The harbor’s slips are costly and in high demand, and there are boats of all kinds — from small sailboats to yachts — taking their chances at the more available, affordable areas.
While some use it as a free storage spot for their boats, others use it as free housing.
During stormy winter weather, however, all boaters are advised to take refuge in the harbor. The winter has just begun, and today’s forecasting and weather equipment makes it easier to know when a storm’s coming.
Richard Henry Dana Jr. wrote about his time in the Santa Barbara area anchorage in his 1840 memoir Two Years Before the Mast, saying he anchored three miles offshore and heavily prepared for the winter winds.
“I will always find a place for them in the harbor,” Kronman said.
The Santa Barbara Harbor is a legal port of safe refuge, so space will be found even if all the slips are full. People should never be wary of coming into the harbor during stormy weather, whether they’re moored or anchored, Kronman said.
“It’s not worth risking losing your boat or your life,” he said.
One Mariner’s Story
Mike Jablonski knows all of this firsthand.
His fiberglass Pearson Commander was “built like a tank.” He bought it about two months ago, and the 26-footer had a 45-pound and two 10-pound anchors.
It survived the first three days of the storm, but about 12 hours before the storm broke, so did his anchor line.
“What hurts the most is that I almost survived the storm,” he said in an e-mail to Noozhawk. “It would have felt good to make it through the storm when all those other veteran boaters washed up onshore. I would have felt like I earned my anchorage badge.”
He advertised on Craigslist for people to help him unbeach the boat, and he said he was extremely grateful at the offers for help.
However, the boat landed with the cabin toward the ocean, so it filled with water and sand.
“I saw it wasn’t possible to save the boat,” he said, “so now I’m tearing it up piece by piece and taking the pieces to the dump,” he said.
— Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.