What I Saw – by Jackie Philpott
Half Moon Bay
When sailors decide to go to Half Moon Bay, what they really mean is they sail down to Pillar Point Harbor. My understanding is that Half Moon Bay has a very nice downtown, but I’ve never been there myself. I know Half Moon Bay only as a calm harbor and lovely anchorage. Princeton By The Sea is the name of the place right there at water’s edge which is also where the Half Moon Bay Yacht Club is located. HMB Yacht Club is where sailors stop on their way up or down the coast. Sometimes they sail there just to have a nice time. It doesn’t take that long to get there from the San Francisco Bay. You can either anchor out in the anchorage or arrange for a slip in the marina.
This year, instead of sailing down the coast, I drove there for the annual Half Moon Bay Labor Day party. Every year the Half Moon Bay Yacht Club invites Bay Area yacht clubs to a cruise-in. This year it was called a “Costume Cruise-In,” and the theme was Dia de los Muertos.
Dinner was served Friday through Sunday evenings, with karaoke Friday night and live music Saturday and Sunday nights. I drove down on Sunday, Sept. 4, a day of perfect weather and that night we enjoyed the original music of the Califuegos Band.
My sailing friends Brad and Cheryl Belleville sailed down the coast from Grand Marina in Alameda. They belong to the San Jose Yacht Club and their 32-foot Beneteau is S/V Encore! Yes, landlocked San Jose has a yacht club. It’s one of the dozens of active paper clubs in the Bay Area. Members keep their boats in various marinas around the Bay Area. San Jose Yacht Club is a member of the Pacific Inter-Club Yacht Association (PICYA.) It is called a paper club because, although they pay PICYA dues, they don’t have a brick and mortar clubhouse. There were a number of other clubs represented at HMBYC when I visited: Sequoia, Encinal, Berkeley, Oakland, Richmond and South Beach. There were probably more, and an email to me here will correct any unintended slight. By the time I arrived on Sunday morning, the party had gone on for two nights. People were slowing down.
Beer Or Ale: A Cultural Divide?
When I first arrived at Pillar Point Marina my first stop was for breakfast at Mezza Luna Café near the main entrance to the harbor. I love that place.
When I finally caught up with Brad and Cheryl they introduced me to their friend Brent Reardon who owns a pub in Bend, Oregon. Brent was visiting in order to gauge the competition. Brad and Cheryl had already helped him in his research and the three of them were going to walk up the road to another brewery. Then they all planned to nap on their boat. That is apparently how beer connoisseurs operate, and Half Moon Bay is most definitely considered a destination for beer connoisseurs.
I mentioned the new distillery, Jettywave, just a short walk down the road from the yacht club. Brent flinched at my faux pas. He corrected me, “That’s a distillery. I own a brewery. A distillery is where they make liquor. A brewery is where beer is made.”
That’s when I asked if I could audio tape our conversation and he said, “Sure.” I love it when people say “sure” because it saves me from getting writer’s cramp. So, I clicked the red circle on my iPhone and this is what I learned about beer:
Brent: At Porter Brewing Company we brew British ale. What distinguishes British ale from other beer is that it is all “cask conditioned,” which means that it is carbonated in the cask. When you brew beer in a cask, that cask is not a keg, it’s called a firkin. Instead of being a 15-gallon keg, it’s a 10-gallon firkin. When it’s carbonated in a cask, as is brewed in America, they put CO2 on it, pull the little tab and it pumps that into that. With British ale you have what they call a beer engine. It’s a pump with a big long handle and it sits on the bar. You pull that and it actually pumps the beer out of the cask. When you pour Guinness in a glass and it has bubbles, they kind of start at the bottom and then foam up? Well, all the beer looks like that cuz of the way it’s poured into the glass. It’s carbonated in the keg.
That’s what is called real ale. It’s British. All the beers we brew at Porter Brewery are cask conditioned. We use what are called beer engines, which I bought on eBay from a British pub that closed. I had eight beer engines shipped over to Oregon. Our pub is in downtown Bend. It is called The Cellar because it’s in the basement of an old building. The brewery is separate, that’s in Redmond, but the pub is in Bend.
Jackie: Is it considered a microbrewery?
B: Yes, I would say it’s a microbrewery. We’re struggling to stay open, so yeah. [everybody at the table laughs]
J: Is it all about distribution? Advertising?
B: We’re not big enough to have distribution, but we’re selling beer in Portland now so we have several places that take bottled beers. The gourmet beer shops have asked and we go over there once a month to deliver beer. We deliver to a couple of very British pubs in Portland now.
J: Do you plan to deliver your beer down here eventually?
B: That’s a long way to get a keg of beer down here.
J: How long does it keep?
J: So, except for the expense of gas or diesel and all the costs of delivery, it would last for a while?
B: Sure. We’re not set up to distribute this far. We’re currently only distributing it locally, to places we can drive up in that area. We deliver to some people over in Portland cuz it’s kind of a beer snob town and we know some people in Eugene, so we’re probably going to start delivering beer to Eugene. I don’t know if the college people will appreciate the fine art of beer. It’s served at temperature, so people say “Oh! That’s warm beer!” No, it’s not warm beer, it’s about 50-55 degrees and you can actually taste the beer. A lot of American-style beers are served very, very cold and have a higher alcohol content. That’s what people want to drink. It’s something that goes down cold. They say “I want ice cold beer!”
Our beer is different stuff.
J: Friends of mine who come back from Britain tell me, ‘They served my beer warm!’ Then they start to say things like, ‘You know, when I was in [Oxford/Cambridge/Scotland/Wales]… it was explained to me that beer is best drunk at room temperature…’
B: At cellar temperature! Not room temperature! Cellar temperature!
J: Is the Porter Brewing way of making beer a dying art, d’you think?
B: No. It’s just different.
J: Does it taste significantly different? Do you think it’s better?
B: It’s different. I wouldn’t say it’s better or worse, but it’s definitely different.
J: So, if people like more or less of something they would prefer your beer?
B: I would say that there’s a lot of people that brew beer in Bend, but when the brewers get together to have a beer? They show up at our place.
This was a nice way to end our conversation. Then, my new beer brewing friend and Brad and Cheryl were ready to start walking to the next brewery.
Instead of going with them, I took the tiny launch from the beach out to the floating dock that the yacht club uses for its fleet of Cal 20 sailboats and caught a ride on the water with Jeff and Indrani on the S/V Merlin. Merlin has a bright orange mainsail, which is why Indrani chose it. I chose it because it was already rigged and all I had to do was step aboard. Members of HMBYC take turns adopting a boat. In updating Merlin, Jeff found some Robline-brand dyneema on sale. We admired the jib sheets and her sail as we circled the inner harbor while the wind built a little bit. Sailors get excited by rope discounts for their boats.
The Little Floating Dock At Half Moon Bay Yacht Club
When we got back to the dock it was almost time for dinner and people were sitting around outside in the sunshine. I introduced myself to Kelly Pike who used to be commodore of the club. A longtime sailor, Kelly sat right down with me and told me just a few of the many things he knows about the Half Moon Bay Yacht Club. First of all, I complimented him on the club’s floating dock and electric ferry.
Jackie: I remember the old pier that used to be on the water here. That’s gone now. How long has the floating dock been out there?
Kelly: Eighteen or twenty years ago San Mateo County was replacing the old ramp docks at Pillar Point Harbor. They planned to salvage the old docks. Dan Temko, the harbormaster knew we were thinking about docks so he called us. He asked, ‘Would you like these docks?’ Then he added the caveat, ‘If you get here in a half hour you can have the bell too.’
So, three of us jumped in the only dinghy we had, with the only outboard we had, a little five-horse outboard and we went “ne! ne! ne! ne! ne! ne! ne! ne! ne!” and we tied lines to all of them and then towed them back: “ne! ne! ne! ne! ne! ne! ne! ne! ne!” [Kelly produces a noise that is nothing like the sound of a loud little outboard, but he sounds very funny, so we laugh together].
Half an hour later we were back over here and we have this string of 300 feet of docks. We were like the dog that catches the car:
“What are we gonna do with these?”
“I don’t know! Whaddya wanna do with em?”
“Hey! Why don’t we connect ‘em up?!”
Turned out, we could do that, so we made one big long dock and we brought it up on the beach and we figured, ‘We can go out to the end of it.’ Well, you can barely get to deep enough water to put a boat out there. So, I said, ‘We’re gonna have to float this offshore.’
So, we floated it way further offshore and then all the birds landed on it and made a mess of it. So, we decided that it had to be close enough so there would not be quite as much… bird.
We played with a lot of configurations, we played with boxes and stuff and the T-shaped dock became the one that worked the best. Then we needed a boat!
The Cal 20 Fleet of Half Moon Bay
Kelly: We could get a boat off Craigslist for nothing. Nothing. We’d bring it down here, we’d put it on the dock and nobody would sail it. We’d cut it up, go get another one!
We were just going through any boats we could find. We finally brought a Cal 20 out for the members to sail and we found that it was being sailed every Friday night. We said, ‘Great!’
People were waiting in line to sail on it!
Then we got a second one and people were still waiting in line. Then we had two more, then we had four!
People were waiting in line! I said, “Okay then. The Cal 20 is the boat for us.”
I grew up around Cal 20s. I hated Cal 20s. But I could see, this boat was something people around here were willing and able to sail and they were comfortable in it. It was amazing. People wouldn’t go out on this boat or that boat, but the Cal 20? That’s what seemed to work. So we became a collector of Cal 20s. We keep ‘em going and we give ‘em a colored sail with the club’s insignia which adds a little flair.
Then we were presented with a whole different issue: Where to find colored sailcloth? I used to be in the sailboat industry working for Hobie Cat, so I knew a lot about acquisition and stuff. I worked for Hobie Cat. I called the sailcloth manufacturers and found one that made colored sailcloth and I asked, ‘Do you have remnants lying around?’
And he said, ‘Yeah.’
‘Well, I need 22 yards.’
We started buying 22 at a time and built up an inventory, and then we took all the sailcloth to Leading Edge sailmakers and made a deal with Joe Rushka. He said, ‘Okay. It’s wintertime. I need work. I’ll make you six sails.’
Well, we’re now on our third set of sails made by Joe. The last set lasted eight years. I took one in to him a little while ago for a repair and he looked up past invoices.
He came back and said, ‘My God. We made these sails for you eight years ago!’
And they still had great shape! They were literally wearing out from sun exposure. And during the past twenty years colored sail cloth has come back.
We posted samples of all the different colors available from Bainbridge onto a big bulletin board and members chose the colors for the Cal 20 sails. Colored sails make the Cal 20s a little more interesting.
We have a fleet of seven Cal 20s now. Harbormasters call us up from other places. They’ve heard we collect them. We have this great yard and equipment. We can fix our own boats. So, little by little we started switching out the better hulls and developed the fleet. For adult sailing it’s really easy for people to learn to sail on the Cal 20s. This is a nice beginner boat and a beautiful place to learn to sail it. We’re not gonna teach anybody ocean racing here. We’re not gonna teach ‘em racing in the Bay here. But if they want to put their toes in the water and see what it’s like to sail, it’s a real stable first boat.
We tell people, “If you like this and you want to learn more, you can join one of the sailing associations over the hill and they will train you up, do their thing. Then you can decide to become a cruiser or a racer.”
Some of our people have gone on to buy raceboats, others cruise all over the world. They all say, “First I learned how to sail a Cal 20.”
Pillar Point Harbor: A Little Bit Of History
Kelly: In the 1920s and 1930s Pillar Point Harbor was where the prohibitionists would drop off alcohol for San Francisco at the pier or the beaches. The Coast Guard would be out here trying to catch ‘em. These guys would arrive on a bigger boat offshore, then run in here on a smaller boat and drop off the booze, especially at this West End of Pillar Point. There was gambling and prostitution here. The West End, or Princeton By The Sea was somewhat notorious in its day. During World War II, this part of the club was an army barracks. After that it became a private home when they sold off the barracks. The Binsfields raised a family of five or six children here.
In the 1970s the County took aerial photos of this area. There was this building, one other building and a pier. And that was it! Before that it was a big empty place. People would sail or motor in, anchor their boats, come up on the beach and have parties. People from the San Francisco Bay could either go north to Stinson Beach or Tomales Bay, or they could come south. They’d come here to fish. It’s a big fishing community and there was always a good party. It didn’t have a lot of police oversight. I remember when the local police used to put a car down at the corner of Vassar and Princeton on Friday and Saturday nights so they could rack up drunk driving citations. Half Moon Bay was considered sort of a seedy place.
There were cruise-ins to Half Moon Bay before the club was here. It was a sheltered cove, you could come down from the San Francisco Bay. Then the yacht club became the locus for doing that. The club’s been here for 42 years. The local people who knew people coming down from the San Francisco Bay had a big party on the beach that not only included the people that sailed in, but everybody in the general area.
When I got here 30 years ago, they came in with an excavator right there in front of the deck and dug a pit, built the fire and everything else, threw the pig in on Saturday, and then on Sunday afternoon dug it up, took the pig out. We had 300-400 people here for the pig roast. People loved it. They would come down here from the San Francisco Bay for the pig roast and the party. The pig roast is a pretty benign example, but it was a big drunken brawl.
Then, as time went on, as happens with many events, it started to fade. Different people became involved and the nature of the club changed. We went from a big pig roast to serving meals. We became a little more formal and began to charge people for food instead of everybody just showing up. The Half Moon Bay Yacht Club world became a little more organized. That’s how it goes.
In 2008 we built the new building and then the yacht club added onto the deck. We created the deck space, then we built the multi-purpose room and we put in the bathrooms and showers and cleaned up the deck some more. We were becoming more family oriented. When we built that part of the clubhouse, that was the big shift in tone for the club. Our membership substantially increased, and for the first time in 30 years we went cash positive.
Before that the club sold its water permits in order to pay off its bills. This property consists of 21 individual lots underwater, and each came with water permits. There were 21 individual lots and they all had a water permit. In the Princeton area and Moss Beach, if you want to build a house, growth is controlled by limiting water permits. First thing you want to do if you want to build a house? You gotta go get a water permit. Well, this is one of the few places in California where people are allowed to buy and sell water permits. And the yacht club used to have 21. Today we have only three.
The important thing was that, because of the new building, we increased our membership and became cash positive. Once we were cash positive we could start to invest back into the club. The bar, the sailing program and the social events: all three of those get supported We weren’t raising dues for the longest time because the growth in membership was covering expenses and gave us a reserve which we could then use to buy, for example, a better refrigerator, a better this a better that…
Starting in 2008 initiation fees began to go into the reserve. We were able to build up enough cash to fix things that needed to be fixed, continue to support member services, keep improving and improving. And the membership keeps growing. Between 2008 and 2022 our membership increased from under 100 to over 300. [laughs] That’s something that’s always surprised other yacht clubs. They ask us, “How do you thrive when everybody else is struggling?”
And the answer is that we didn’t let our expenses get out of hand and we keep it really inexpensive so a lot of people can afford it. We have the normal churn: 10-15%/year, but we’ve been slowly moving towards being more family oriented. We do the sailing program by supporting the boats: Making sure they’re always ready to go. We do it all ourselves as volunteers. And that’s part of the deal. We say, “You come and join the club. We’ll teach you how to maintain a boat and also how to sail it.”
So the bar, the social experiences and the sailing are all supported and we are becoming a more a multi-dimensional club. Before? It was a bar. That’s all it had. And then we developed a reputation as a place for cruising sailing boats to stop off here on their way to San Francisco. They tell us we are a destination, they purposely pulled into Half Moon Bay. And when they did they often needed services. Even if they weren’t members. So, when we built the new building we put in three bathrooms, three showers and a tankless water heater. They’re not gonna have a problem finding a bathroom. Anyone who anchors in this cove can have a long hot shower. It’s designed so someone can go in there dripping and sandy and it’s not gonna hurt anything.
That was one of the big things: Our intention is that anybody who sails in here and puts a foot on the beach? We want to know what we can do to help them.
People tell us, ‘We know we can anchor right in this nice anchorage. We can get a shower and someone will ask, what do you need?’
The fire station is right down the road. We have a very good relationship with the fire department. We make sure to work with them very closely. This club wants to be part of the overall community with regard to the stewardship of the Bay. This is not our private little club, we’re sharing the water with everybody. They have a right to be here. Even though we own title to the beach, members of the community have the right to come down to enjoy all of this. That’s what we want. We keep the doors open.
The other day someone asked, “What’s our policy if someone walks up and needs to use a bathroom?”
Three of us at the same time said, “You let them come in!”
If we’re here, the door is open and we don’t turn anybody away.
If they want to use the hose to wash down? Fine. Don’t turn anybody down.
We seek to extend good will to the community. This multipurpose room here? If we’re not using it, any group in the harbor area that needs a meeting place, they can use it for free. All they have to do is call. We’re part of this community and we’ve got the space.
When our family moved here, we had a two-year-old and my wife became involved with the Coastside Mothers Group. One day we were down here shortly after the new addition was finished and she noticed that the president of the Coastside Moms was here looking around at the new building. Someone reported back that the president of the Coastside Moms informed the other mothers that it was safe to go to the yacht club with children.
Kelly laughs a big happy laugh, announces loudly: “IT’S SAFE TO GO TO THE YACHT CLUB!!”
I laugh, too, and tell him that I will pass on this important announcement:
IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING? IT IS SAFE TO GO TO THE HALF MOON BAY YACHT CLUB!
Is there any doubt in your mind?
Rolex Big Boat Series
I drove over to the St. Francis Yacht Club on Sept. 15, which was the second day of a four-day regatta called the Rolex Big Boat Series. There were eight fleets but only three Rolex watches to go around. Go figure. I learned about the difference between PHRF and ORC (Offshore Racing Congress) but I don’t think PHRF ratings for racing boats are going to change any time soon. More important to the visitor? That kiosk between the St. Francis and Crissy Field? The one that sells lattes? It’s open every day but Monday and Tuesday.
There were lots of big fast yachts preparing to race on the morning I was there and their crews were milling around. West Marine and Mustang vendors were right there next to the docks and I watched as one skipper bought brand new foul weather gear for his entire crew. They were red jackets which show up well in photographs. If you like looking at fabulous photographs of racing boats, Daniel Forster is your guy. He’s a Swiss photographer who lives in Rhode Island now. Rolex had him on chase boats and in a helicopter. I couldn’t talk my way onto the helicopter, so the photographs here are all mine instead.
I meandered down the dock admiring the Classic Yachts, found John Egelston on his boat Water Witch. I didn’t know who he was and thought he might be someone hired to clean the boat’s huge bronze winches. Because, who does that themselves? I asked if I could photograph him with the winch. Then I invited myself aboard and took photos from the stern.
I could tell he was bemused, but a man covered with winch grease up to his wrists does not rattle easily. You can tell from his expression that he has heard San Francisco is full of people like me. He would be patient. I would wander away eventually. Then John’s wife Gena came by with coffee and sandwiches. She and I started to talk and we realized that both our sons are serving in the Air Force. We had the nicest chat.
I also had a long conversation with Terry Klaus of S/V Brigadoon about his Sea Scout days in the Delta, but that’s a story for another day.
Brigadoon was at the St. Francis Yacht Club to race in the Classic Yacht division of the Regatta. I don’t think the winner of the Classic Yacht Division was in the running for a Rolex watch, but they are all gorgeous boats to watch. S/V Hurrica, owned by Mark Sanders, who continues to develop Westpoint Harbor down in Redwood City, looked particularly spectacular.
I have it on good authority that only the winning skippers from the Classes A, B and the J105s won watches. Here are their names:
In the J105 fleet of 29 boats: Randy Hecht S/V Niuhi.
In the ORC A fleet of six boats: Paul Dorsey S/V Adjudicator, a FAST 40.
In the ORC B fleet of 11 boats: Scott Easom S/V Eight Ball, a J 100.
There were lots more fleets and lots more boats, but no more watches. Next month I have stories from the Delta Regional Foundation dinner I attended out in the middle of cornfields east of Walnut Grove in a big beautiful barn. I also went to the annual Classics at the Corinthian, where I spent all day long lounging around eating hors d’oeuvres on swanky motor yachts. Classics at the Corinthian is usually Bill Wells’ gig, but he was at a wedding in Stockton this year so I got to go instead. Sorry about that, Bill. And yes, the food was great.
So, stay tuned and thank you for reading. Let me know by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have anything you would like to share. Enjoy your time on the water and let’s all be careful out there.