Growing up in Northern California just outside of San Francisco, I’ve always been interested in the many coastal towns that span north up to the Oregon border. Each of them are a unique experience and can still offer a history lesson into the young past of California. Obviously for me, being born and raised in the Wine Country, I grew up around the wine culture and learning the history of wine and trade in California. Sonoma is the birthplace of California wine, but before wine had made its way west, the residents here lived closer to the waters of the bay or the Pacific Ocean, surviving off the bounty that was found in or near the waters. Only by horse, then buggy, then train, then cars, did people make it into the valleys.
California has many different ecosystems and extreme environments to offer. Go inland and you will find very fertile valley’s that grow most of the fruits and vegetables that are found in grocery stores across the nation. Go south and you’ll find yourself crossing deserts, which includes one of the most consistently hottest places In North America in summer. Follow the coast south and you’ll end up in perfect weather year round and one of the largest cities in the world. If you head up into the Sierras, on the north side of Lake Tahoe, you can come across a meadow just outside of Truckee that is consistently one of the coldest places in the nation during winter. If you head north up the coast you will reach Mendocino County, which will average more rain per year then all of Southern California.
Fort Bragg is in the heart of Mendocino County. Like most coastal towns, it’s not an easy drive from the highway. Those who tend to get carsick should be warned before they try to take a trip to Fort Bragg. Even though the road heading west out of Willits is newly paved, the winding turns and uphill and downhill battles for any car keeps you’re asking the others passengers, “do we need to pull over?” And as an hour approaches from when you broke off from Highway 101, you finally leave the redwoods and the mountains and reach Fort Bragg. Just like any coastal town, east coast or west coast, the sense of excitement for reaching your destination is quite dampened by the sleepiness and ruggedness of the locals and the buildings they reside in.
Our hotel is what exactly what I expected. The Harbor Lite Lodge looks over the harbor from above. We arrived just at sunset and the views were amazing. Everything felt damp from recent fog. The exterior of the lodge is dark and the siding seemed aged yet I felt as if I was in total comfort. The hotel lobby was clean and behind the desk was a team of husband-and-wife who seemed to have been waiting all afternoon to check in the Green party. No, not green from the drive in, but for the last name of my good friend who set up the trip. After receiving the key to my room, I dropped my luggage on my bed and met everyone back out at the trucks to head into town to find some food.
Downtown Fort Bragg was a lot larger than I expected. The side streets we’re just as lively as the main drag going through town. It seemed that the main draw for food was at the North Coast Brewery, which has a restaurant across the street called the Tap Room. Hard to believe we had trouble finding parking which led us down alleys and back roads, driving by many stores with mannequins who’s better light was from the 70s. We passed several dives that seemed to be the type of place that if I walked in the door, everyone would turn around to see who the stranger was. Usually, this is the type of place I’d rather go to. Since we had such a large group and my stomach rumbling, it was easier though to stick to the plan and find parking so we could get back to the Brewery.
The obvious draw to the Tap Room is the beer. The food was secondary, knowing that it could easily be washed down with a freshly brewed IPA. We walked through the front doors and it was easy to see that this was the place to be. The restaurant was packed. The bar was standing room only. There was a 45-minute wait to get a table in the restaurant and the waitresses were yelling at the patrons trying to figure out who Matt, party of three was. Luckily a large party walked out from one of the tables in the bar room just as we are walking in. The hostess pointed us to their table and we happily obliged. After a few minutes with the menus we decided on couple different pizzas to go with our beer. It was nice to finally relax after the three-hour haul to get to Fort Bragg from Sonoma. After we filled up on pizza and beer, we paid the bill and headed back towards the hotel.
5:30am came real fast.
The next morning we made our way to the harbor after a stop to get some coffee and breakfast. The captain of the Telstar, which is the name of the boat we chartered, met us in the parking lot. The crew helped us all board the boat in time to launch and keep us on schedule. As we departed from the docks the sun was starting it’s climb above the mountains. The sky was clear and the fog was only lying in the hills like a blanket on all the homes. The air was very crisp. We were finally off and on our way to land some crab.
Around the bend of the harbor is a bridge that holds the main road into town. Beyond the bridge is the Pacific Ocean and her massive waves crashing on the shoreline. We heard reports from the last several days that the wind and surf has been too rough to fish that most boats stayed in the harbor. Even though we instantly took on a few rollers, we broke out of the cove just as the sun rose above the mountains and started to warm the air. The surf was amazingly calm, as we made our way north to the first string of pots. It was not to long before we spotted a pod of grey whales migrating south for the winter. These beasts are fascinating from afar and extraordinary when they decide to breach right next to the boat. We were so close to one that the air had become foul from condensed hot air exiting the whales spout. By the time the whales passed and the captain fired the boat up, and was not long before we were pulling up the first crab pot.
There were 50 crab pots in the string. We pulled each one, removed every crab, re-baited, and released the pot back into the abyss. Everyone on the boat had to lend a hand in the numerous tasks that needed to be done. From prepping the bait, hooking the buoys and landing the pot. Someone had to pull the crab, measure the crab, collect the crab and then stacked the crab once there were ten in the bucket. Most of this was being done with a beer in one hand. Some were smoking cigars, some constantly grazed through the bags of food (including myself), and some stayed out of the way just enjoying the day on the water.
We came back later in the day and hit the same string of pots with same amount of luck. By the time we were heading back to the harbor we had 90 keepers. Enough for all of us to take home five crab. When we got back to the docks, the crew helped clean the crab and steam them for us. Just as it was starting to get dark, we were inour cars and heading back down the 101 to Sonoma. What a perfect trip.