Sandwiched between the stifling heat to the east and the cold Pacific to the west resides a meteorological Goldilocks zone that we call the Central Coast. Not only does this region offer some of the best weather in the United States, but its rugged coastline with its prevailing northwesterly winds and its stunning bays offer some of best sailing along the California coast. One of its bays, San Luis Bay, could very well be one of the most unique sailing locations anywhere on Earth.
Let me explain. Bob Dylan once wrote, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” If one reviewed historical wind data, chances are you don’t need one. Traditionally, according to wind data recorded at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant’s meteorological tower, the winds blow about 60 percent of the time out of the northwest quadrant along the Pecho Coast. The winds blow about 12 percent of the time out of the northeast quadrant and out of the southeast quadrant about 23 percent of the time. The other 5 percent of the time, the winds are spread evenly across the rest of the cardinal headings. During dry years, Santa Lucia (northeasterly) are more common, while wet years will see more prefrontal (southeasterly) winds.
Much of the San Luis Bay coastline is orientated toward the south-southeast and sheltered from the prevailing winds by the Irish Hills. Consequently, the northwesterly, northerly and northeasterly winds often blow offshore there roughly 75 percent of the time. As these winds descend down the Irish Hills, the air mass is warmed due to compression. That’s why it’s often the sunniest and warmest beach in the county. Of course during winter storms, the associated southeasterly winds and rains can turn the bay into a brown water washing machine. But overall, the waters are usually calm.
Mark Kocina and his wife, Jen Carroll, have been sailing the Pacific and Atlantic oceans for decades. San Luis Bay has become their favorite location for their sailing boat, Spirit.
Mark told me, “No other location that I am aware of can take you from gentle winds and calm waters of the bay, to the strong northwesterly winds and blue waters and white frothy foam of the Pacific — in less than one nautical mile.”
He went on to say, “This creates a near perfect opportunity for the first-time sailor to experience the joys of sailing in the gentle conditions of the bay and transition to the rougher outer bay waters in just a few minutes.”
This condition allows the basics of sailing and boat handling to be taught in a safe and predictable environment. In other words, if you happen to begin to feel just a wee bit of queasiness in the high seas of the outer waters, you can simply make your heading toward the beach and be in the calm waters in literally two or three minutes. To give you an idea of how strong these gradients can be, on September 2, 2007 at Pops by the Sea in Avila Beach, it was hot. A fishing boat at Port San Luis reported a temperature of 105 degrees near the Harford Pier. As the boat moved past the breakwater toward the wind shift line, the temperature dropped 37 degrees in less than a quarter mile. About a half-mile farther out to sea, the temperature reached 60 degrees. That’s what you call a temperature gradient!
I presented a paper on the microclimate of San Luis Bay at a meteorological conference that I attended on the East Coast. To be honest, many weather forecasters were understandably skeptical about such severe temperature changes in such a short distance. But I think their reaction indicated what a special place that we all live in.
If you would like to participate in a Weather Watchers tour of Diablo Canyon Power Plant and lands on Wednesday, Aug. 14 please visit https://tourdcpp.pge.com/ to register.
It will start at 9 a.m. at the PG&E Energy Education Center, 6588 Ontario Road in San Luis Obispo, and will finish by noon.