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"A pretty gnarly place to sail": Cal Poly students sail from Santa Cruz to Morro Bay

Jack Kisling sails "The Geronimo."
Jack Kisling
Jack Kisling sails Geronimo.

A group of Cal Poly students recently completed a sailing trip along the Central Coast, which they called the experience of a lifetime.

Jack Kisling is a third-year aerospace engineering student at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. He’s a practice coordinator for the Cal Poly sailing team and said he practically grew up on the water.

Last month, Kisling and a crew of four other Cal Poly sailors set out to sail ‘Geronimo,’ a 40-foot race boat owned by his family.

They sailed down the Central Coast from Santa Cruz to Morro Bay. The team plans to use the boat to practice different racing skills for a sailing competition they have in March.

Jack Kisling on Geronimo's deck.
Jack Kisling
Jack Kisling on Geronimo's deck.

The team had planned to do the delivery months ago, but harsh weather conditions and the recent storm delayed it. Because of the ever-changing weather, harsh wind, and hazardous rocks, the sailing passage along this coast is known to be challenging, even deadly, among the sailing community.

“The West Coast and especially the Big Sur coast is a pretty gnarly place to sail. On the West Coast basically south of Monterey and north of Morro Bay, there's one anchorage that's good, maybe two. Everyone knows someone who's been in an accident and know people who haven't made it out,” Kisling said.

Kisling’s dad is a living example. In 1975, he endured a boat crash on the same passage and was the only crew member to survive.

“When my dad was 16 he was doing a race along the same stretch of coastline and they got caught out in a storm and their boat was then taken by a big wave. They had to abandon ship to get into their life raft and he ended up being the only survivor because the other people on the boat succumb to hypothermia,” Kisling said.

However, when it came to this trip, Kisling’s dad wasn’t too nervous about it. Weather forecasting and navigational techniques on boats have come a long way since the incident.

Up until the boat reached the Morro Bay channel, the trip was a complete success. Kisling said that it was really pretty off the coast. The boat got surrounded by a pod of dolphins at one point, there was a bunch of whales following us down the coast, and in total, the crew saw close to 20 shooting stars.

Dolphins swim alongside Kisling's boat.
Jack Kisling
Dolphins swim alongside Kisling's boat.

But, once the boat entered the Morro Channel, they encountered some difficulties. After the storm, most light fixtures around the Morro Bay landing dock had been destroyed. There wasn’t much light for the crew to see the enormous wave that lifted the boat up and almost sent them plowing into the jetty, which they only missed by a few feet.

As the water and lighting on the open ocean can be quite unpredictable, this is a common occurrence for sailors. Kisling said despite the danger, he and his crew learned a lot.

“Usually what I think most sailors do, and what I do, is say there's a lesson in there and we need to look at what went wrong and see what we can do in the future to prevent that. That’s kind of how you get through your sailing career and even just in life in general. Anything you do, take those lessons and improve your own skills because of them,” Kisling said.

Kisling said he plans to continue sailing for the rest of his life. He’s looking forward to completing an aerospace degree and designing racing yachts in the future. You can find content from his sailing trip and other adventures of the Cal Poly sailing team on Instagram @calpolysailing.

Eden Funk is from Newport Beach, CA, and a third-year journalism student at Cal Poly. She's passionate about writing, editing, and broadcasting. Some of her hobbies include traveling, hiking, going to the beach and trying new restaurants.
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