Navigating the waters along the Central Coast in dense fog was a nightmare before the adoption of modern navigation equipment.
Without any visual references in the fog, you can develop vertigo related to the overwhelming feeling that you’ve lost all sense of direction.
The type of fog we see along our rugged coastline is advection fog. Advection simply means transport.
The northwesterly (onshore) winds transport the relatively warm air farther out to sea across the much colder water along our immediate coastline. The overlying air then becomes chilled and drops to its dew-point temperature, producing a dense wall of gray.
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When I’m sailing vessels along the Pecho Coast in the gloom, I’m always reassured to hear the foghorn of the Point San Luis Lighthouse, even though I can’t see its light.
In 1881, the Point Conception light was moved from the top of a bluff halfway down to a point 133 feet above the Pacific because the marine layer would often obscure its beacon.
These lighthouses were and still are vital in keeping boats off the rocks. However, when the coastal stratus is on the deck, the light’s guidance is obscured and its horn can be drowned out by the sound of the waves.
This fog has been responsible for countless shipwrecks along our coast. Carson Porter, who’s been commercially diving Central Coast waters longer than I’ve been alive, shared numerous stories of tragic shipwrecks along the Point Arguello coastline along Vandenberg Air Force Base.
This rocky shore has claimed many ships and is known as the “Graveyard of the Pacific.”
Pile-up at sea
In the greatest peacetime loss of vessels in U.S. Navy history, seven destroyers smashed on the rocks off an isolated headland locally known as Honda Point, north of Point Arguello, on Sept. 9, 1923. Twenty-three sailors lost their lives that night.
Enveloped by a steep bank of fog, the naval squadron was traveling south at 20 knots toward the Santa Barbara Channel.
The channel lies between Points Arguello and Conception on the shoreline and San Miguel Island. Off course, the squadron turned to port prematurely, led by the flagship USS Delphy.
The Delphy, in fact, was a few miles farther north than her navigators thought. The ship scraped bottom, then heaved heavily as she slammed into the rocky reef.
Traveling at such high speeds, there was no time for the other ships immediately following to change course. One destroyer after another piled up on the reef that night — never to sail again.
Twist of fate
In another story that no writer could’ve created, a rancher living near Point Arguello heard the blast of a certain whistle of a steamship in distress twice — and 20 years apart.
Here’s how: The SS Harvard of the Los Angeles Steamship Co. sounded that it was in distress on May 30, 1931. This ship had masterfully avoided submarine torpedoes and escaped enemy ships in the English Channel during World War I, but in 1931 she ran aground in dense fog four miles north of Point Arguello. Her passengers and crew were safely evacuated, but the vessel was a total loss.
The blast of the whistle was eerily reminiscent of the sound the rancher heard when a Pacific Coast Steam Ship Co. vessel named the Santa Rosa ran aground 20 years earlier near the same location and around the same time of the year.
In a strange twist of fate, the whistle he heard in 1931 was the same one he had heard in 1911. The whistle had been salvaged from the Santa Rosa and installed on the Harvard.
Besides Carson Porter, my sources of information for this history are the following books: “Disaster Log of Ships” and “Shipwrecks of the Pacific Coast,” both by Jim Gibbs, and “Pacific Coastal Liners,” by Gordon Newell and Joe Williamson.
Meaningful Memorial Day observances are planned throughout the county Monday to honor the military members who sacrificed everything to preserve our freedom.
One is the “Lost at Sea” memorial at the Cayucos Pier. In 2001, pastor Doug Carroll, Joe Eyeraud, Navy Chaplain Bill Houston, Dave Congalton, Bill Benica and Tom Madsen created the Memorial Day service to honor all those lost at sea: military, recreational and commercial.
We simply gather at the base of the pier for a brief service by Houston at 3 p.m. and walk together out over the Pacific Ocean, remembering those who never returned.
Today’s weather forecast
Saturday’s maximum temperatures only reached the 50s along the beaches and coastal valleys and the 60s in the North County.
An area of high pressure in the upper levels of the atmosphere will build over the Central Coast today through Monday. This condition will produce an offshore flow this morning. This offshore flow will clear the marine low clouds from the coastal valleys and from most of the beaches.
Maximum temperatures will increase by 10 to 15 degrees from Saturday and approach near-seasonable norms by this afternoon under mostly clear skies.
Today’s maximum temperatures should reach the low 60s along the northwesterly-facing beaches (Morro Bay, Los Osos, Montaña De Oro and the Nipomo Mesa); the mid-60s along the westerly-facing beaches (Pismo Beach); and the high 60s along the southwesterly-facing beaches (Cayucos, Avila and Shell beaches).
Maximum temperatures should reach the low 70s in the coastal valleys and the low 80s in the North County.
The coastal stratus will redevelop tonight along the beaches but will clear by Monday morning. The weather should be clear, breezy and mild for the “Lost at Sea” memorial at 3 p.m. in Cayucos on Monday.
A weak cold front will pass to the north Tuesday, resulting in morning coastal stratus and fog along the beaches and coastal valleys.
Wednesday marks the start of a warming trend as high pressure begins to build over the Central Coast. Temperatures will climb to the 90s Friday and Saturday in the North County.
At this time, there’s still no indication that any heat waves are likely over the next few weeks.
Today’s surf report
Today’s 5- to 7-foot northwesterly (310-degree deep-water) sea and swell (with a 7- to 11-second period) will continue at this height and period through tonight.
A 4- to 6-foot northwesterly (310-degree deep-water) sea and swell (with a 7- to 11-second period) will develop Monday and will continue at this height and period along the Pecho Coast through Wednesday.
A 3- to 5-foot northwesterly (290-degree deep-water) swell (with an 8- to 11-second period) will develop along the coastline Thursday and will continue at this height and period through Friday.
Increasing northwesterly winds and a Gulf of Alaska storm will generate a 6- to 8-foot northwesterly (305-degree deep-water) sea and swell (with a 5- to 14-second period) along the coastline next weekend.
A low-energy Southern Hemisphere swell is expected to arrive along our coastline June 6. It will be followed by a much higher-energy Southern Hemisphere swell June 10 and 11.
Seawater temperatures will range between 48 and 51 degrees through Tuesday. Very cold, indeed! Seawater temperatures will gradually warm Wednesday through Friday.
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John Lindsey, meteorologist for PG&E and local weather expert, has lived on the Central Coast for more than 25 years. To subscribe to his daily weather forecast or ask him a question, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.