San Simeon to China Harbor, August 3rd 2003.

We got up early and drove to San Simeon. Not to the calm beach behind the south facing cove that would be a perfect place to launch from. That is a State Park and OVERNIGHT PARKING IS FORBIDDEN. So we went to the San Simeon Lodge where we left the truck last trip and arranged to leave the truck in front of the San Simeon Bar and Grill. This is private property and you can reason with private property owners like you cannot reason with park rangers. Actually, we only needed to leave the truck there for several days because Konstantinís wife Linda was going to come by and move the truck to Santa Barbara for us. She was driving down the coast with a friend to go see Hearstís Castle. Afterwards the two of them would pick up my truck and drive two vehicles down to Santa Barbara and leave it in the parking lot in front of the boat ramps. This parking lot was created for people who go on multi-day fishing and diving trips, so they allow overnight parking. No need to try and reason with an unreasonable ranger, these people take your money and let you park overnight as long as you want. What a concept!

Across the road from the San Simeon Bar and Grill is a public beach access, a flight of stairs to the sand from a small parking lot. We carried our gear down and started packing the boats for the first time this trip. I was using my yellow Necky Narpa and had plenty of room, so much that I tucked my folding chair in along with everything I really needed. As we were packing we watched the waves and noticed some REALLY BIG SETS crashing on the beach every once in a while. I had been watching the weather for days and didnít see anything like this, the forecast was for 4 foot swell! We talked to some surfers who where here to enjoy the waves. What we were seeing was an unexpected swell from the south. It was only 2 or three feet high but very long. As these long waves come into shallow water they slow down and pile up all their energy in shorter and taller waves. This was heaven for surfers, but would cause a lot of trouble for us. We would have to time our launch carefully, but worse we would have to be careful about getting close to shore for the rest of the trip. We would not be able to do much rock gardening when a southern swell could rise up at any time!

I did a pretty good job of timing the southern swell and paddling out between them, although I did get my face wet plowing through one wave. We managed to launch at 9:30 AM, which is pretty good for driving out to the shore and figuring out how to fit everything in the boat the first time. When Konstantin joined me we turned and started south pretty close to shore, staying far enough out to not get caught by a southern swell but still inside the thickest kelp. The kelp was not as thick as we remembered from the trip that ended here. In the kelp we saw lots of sea otters and sea lions. The sky was overcast in the morning but cleared by noon. A slight breeze pushed us south all day so we averaged four mph! We got to China Harbor, our intended camp an hour and a half early on an easy sixteen mile day. As we rounded Estero Point to look for the harbor we could see Morro Rock in the distance. It looked as if we could easily keep paddling and get there in an hour or two and get ahead by one days paddling. Perhaps the air was just incredibly clear, scrubbed by the gentile breeze that helped push us south all day.

China Harbor is named this because it used to be the place where a group of Chinese immigrants collected and dried seaweed for export. The harbor is a small south facing cove with sandy beaches, protected from the prevailing wind and swell. Perfect for landing kayaks on and almost as nice as I had hoped after looking at the California Coastal Records picture of it. The sand looked high enough to be safe from the tides, but we watched the high tide go by and saw one or two waves wash part way over the hump. Konstantin decided to dig a flat spot in the sloping sand closer to the cliff. I did the same thing, then changed my mind and cleared the larger rocks off the top of a small cobble berm for my tent. Not for fear of the high tide getting me, but just to avoid sleeping near the sand. We spent a lazy afternoon reading and talking and watching the tide.

We also watched puffy clouds race over our heads from behind the cliff and shrink to a vanishing point past Morro Rock. It was as if something was sucking the sky down onto the horizon. After dark the nearby fish hatchery lit up the bottom of the clouds with bright pink lights. Konstantin commented that if he lived in the Morro Bay area, he would come out here on weekends as a nice place to get away.

All text and images Copyright © 2003 by Mike Higgins / contact