Wind on the Water

LGM Summer Guide 2015Los Gatos Magazine | Summer Guide 2015

by L. Clark Tate

Tasting the good life, fast, on Chardonnay II

Maybe it’s been awhile since you’ve seen the earth fall away to blue, much less ventured out on salty waters. But the ocean is just over the hill. If you think sailing around Monterey Bay is a pastime reserved for those who can afford a yacht, well, you’d be wrong.

The Chardonnay II, a 70-foot sailboat with a beguiling sailing legacy, takes 13 sailing tours every week with up to 49 people on board, and they’re having fun.

For a couple of years, I’ve seen the Chardonnay looping by the Santa Cruz Wharf, ducking in and out of Wednesday Night sailboat races while I was crewing on a race boat. What I didn’t know is that, in addition to being  a party cruiser, the Chardonnay II is a legendary racing boat.

The Chardonnay II is a Santa Cruz 70, meaning it’s 70 feet long and made by Santa Cruz Yachts—a.k.a Wizard Yachts Ltd (more on that later). Every day, it runs several two-hour trips between Natural Bridges State Beach and Capitola out of Santa Cruz Harbor.

As the boat’s name might suggest, the outings incorporate tasty beverages, with foods to match, most of them with local-to-Santa Cruz ties.  But mostly, these sails feature that little piece of paradise known as the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

“I love the boat and I love what we do,” says Captain John Ribera. “We get to share the incredible resource of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary with so many people.”

Sea otters, sea lions, and a resident pod of dolphins are regularly sighted, and lately, almost as frequently, whales.

“The last few years have been amazing,” Ribera says. “We’ve had these incredible showings of humpbacks, especially in the summer and fall.”

A day after he told me this we saw the sleek black backs and artfully arched micro-fins of at least three humpbacks, quickly and smoothing curving just above the surface like unseen serpents on mission. Not too shabby.

Last week I had the pleasure of checking out three of Chardonnay II’s most popular sails: the Wednesday Night Races Charter, the Friday Night Winemaker Sail, and Saturday’s Pono Hawaiian Grill Sail.

The Wednesday night charter is a favorite among the crew, as Chardonnay II pulls right into the fray, offering a chance to dodge and weave among the harbor’s fleet. Chardonnay II literally puts you in the race. But, since it’s the only boat in its class, and you’re drinking wine and/or beer and eating pizza, you’ve already won. Lounging beside the boats as they crisscross through the racecourse, moving fast in slow motion, watching them toss up their spinnakers, colorful kite-like sails, to speed downwind on the way to the finish line, is pretty glorious.

On a recent Friday evening Winemaker’s sail, Roudon Smith owner Al Drewke was aboard to discuss the particulars of grape growing and wine making as we motored and then sailed through a gorgeous evening, heading back into the harbor with the sun setting gorgeously behind the vintage rollercoaster silhouettes of the boardwalk.

Saturday served up a delicious medley from Pono while putting around the wharf and by Steamer Lane before unfurling the jib and enjoying the day’s strong steady breeze.

Though all three trips found us truly sailing, Saturday’s mid-day sail put us at a healthy heal, i.e. tilt, in strong and steady winds.  Some of those lounging on the foredeck might have gripped the rails a bit tighter than necessary, but everyone seemed comfortable. We were like a commercial for luxury craft.

“In case you didn’t know, this is great sailing” Capt. Ribera said to a young man at the helm, while singing along to the pop songs on the sound system. “People spend a lot of money to get where you are right now.” It didn’t seem to sink in for the kid, but Ribera was smiling, broadly. It was pretty glorious.

If you’ve never enjoyed rushing unhurriedly through peacock blue waters with waves and wind soothing away worldly concerns, you might want to give this a shot. Of course, on the Chardonnay you’ll also have pop tunes From the ‘80’s to Today floating around the deck and out to sea. There’s a reason people spend fortunes pursuing this feeling, and it’s even better behind the wheel. Yep, when the conditions are right, you get to drive. And the Chardonnay II sails real, real well.

“You get to drive a Ferrari of a sailing vessel,” says Captain Ribera.

He isn’t kidding. This boat is a piece of sailing history. A crewmember on the original Chardonnay I, a Santa Cruz 50, with multiple races to Hawaii under his belt, Capt. Ribera knows how special this boat’s lineage is.

This craft hails from a line of ultra light displacement boats (ULDB) pioneered by Santa Cruz boat-builder Bill Lee, nicknamed “The Wizard.” Merlin, the first and most famous of these boats, set a world record in the Trans Pacific yacht race in 1980 that held for 20 years. That boat, built in a local chicken coup, completed the 2,225 nautical miles from L.A. to Honolulu in 8 days, 11 hours and 1 minute. The record set by Merlin was finally surpassed in 1997 by Roy Disney (nephew of Walt) in a Santa Cruz 70—the same design as the Chardonnay II. Nineteen of these boats were constructed. Chardonnay II is number 18. It is a fast boat. And as Lee famously says, “fast is fun.”

Tours are offered every day of the week except Monday. In addition to the Wednesday Night Races Charter, Sunday’s Taste of Santa Cruz (May-September) features different, always delicious, food vendors. Other feeding frenzies include the Akira Sushi Sunday and Saturday’s delicious Pono charters (April-October).

Then there’s the Friday Night Winemaker, featuring a local label, complete with a representative (frequently the owner) on hand to help you refine your palette. But though the boat’s owner is Jim Beauregard of Beauregard Vineyards (so, Chardonnay, obviously), beer is quite at home onboard as well. Thus Saturday’s Brewmaster Charter, featuring a different local brewery every week.

Kids love the Friday Afternoon Pizza Charter. The weekend Brunch and seasonal Ecology & Whale Watching Brunch charters both feature pastries, fruit, coffee and Champaign. The ecology tour has a naturalist on had to discuss marine biology and point out all the whales as they migrate near shore towards northern feeding grounds. Sunset tours, offered on weekends, are pretty self-explanatory.

The only tours that don’t provide beer, wine, and munchies are the Tuesday and Thursday Night Specials, which offer reduced fares (adults $39.50, Kids $23.81) by swapping the food and drink service for a BYOB style party. The bay is just as pretty when you pack your own snacks I promise, take advantage. The Chardonnay II is also available for private charters and trips out of Monterey, team building events, parties, reunions, and at sea burials. Group discounts may be available. Call (831) 423-1213 for more information.

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