Monday, June 18 , 2018, 3:36 am | Fair 52º


Captain’s Log: Dodging Thunderstorms at Sea Is Risky Business

A trained eye knows when it's time to cut the lines and return to shore

A savage thunderstorm was racing, raging and ravaging across the Santa Barbara Channel. It cleared Santa Cruz Island with alarming alacrity and bore down on Santa Barbara as fast as wind can howl.

The WaveWalker raced the storm, hoping to reach the relative safety of harbor before Mother Nature’s hammer struck. It was going to be close.

A cautious captain’s biggest worry was being overwhelmed by nature’s fury. I watched the thunderstorm develop in the swirling eddies around the Channel Islands, while fishing the 4-Mile out near the oil rigs off of Santa Barbara. When the anvil-shaped thunderhead twisted and the thunderstorm spun to head in our direction, I shouted for my trusty deckhand, Capt. Tiffany, to cut the fishing lines.

She knows that an order to cut the lines (as opposed to asking passengers to reel in their lines) means just one thing — we are at risk and must act immediately.

She sliced those lines in seconds and secured both passengers and gear while I spun the helm and shoved the throttle forward. The WaveWalker is a racehorse of a boat, and she powered up on the step like a wild horse bolts for open spaces. We ran like the devil was on our tail, which, looking back at the speeding thunderstorm, seemed like an accurate analogy.

Even racing along at 40 knots, the storm gained on us and the seas built alarmingly fast, making it difficult to maintain our speed. Safety demanded speed, and we powered through high seas without hesitation. We made the harbor before that thunderstorm hammered the coast with lightning bolts, howling winds and half-inch hail, but it was a close call.

I always say that a good captain on the Santa Barbara Channel has two eyes capable of working independently from each other. One eye is for the weather, and the other eye is for everything else. I always keep one eye on conditions, and the important habit has kept me out of more than one disaster situation.

There have been a few times when passengers thought I was being overly cautious or just wanted to go in early (hah! not me!). But I have a practiced eye, and I make those tough (and sometimes unpopular) decisions that keep people safe. By the time we reach harbor, those passengers are usually able to see for themselves that the captain was right.

For those who take to the sea this early season, don’t be stubborn and stay out too long. Be watchful for ominous weather and sea state conditions, and make safe decisions.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit to learn more about the organization and how you can help.

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