Santa Cruz Counties Disappearing Wharves

The 2022-2023 atmospheric rivers (nine in total) dumped rain, strong wind, and storm surges on Santa Cruz County causing an estimated $100 million worth of damage.

In a 22 day period, the storm dumped 35.38 inches on the town of Boulder Creek in the Santa Cruz Mountains, 39.55 inches on Santa Cruz (a record amount) and left 15 feet of snow over Donner Summit. The storm systems dumped an estimated 32 trillion gallons of water on California and the storm left 20 people dead, including the man killed by a falling cypress in Lighthouse Field in Santa Cruz.

On Thursday January 19, the county got a very rare visit by a sitting president. The last president to visit the area was Theodore Roosevelt in May of 1903. There has to be some serious damage in order for the president to hop on Airforce One and fly cross the nation to the Monterey Bay Area.

President Biden visited the damaged Capitola Wharf and then headed to Aptos to view damage at Seacliff State Beach, home to the “Concrete Ship” the S. S. Palo Alto.

The Capitola Wharf was damaged by storm surge on Thursday January 5, taking out a 40 foot section of the 855 foot historic wharf, which was built in 1857. I intended to visit and sketch the wharf.

I weaved my way through residential streets of Capitola heading toward Capitol Village and the damaged pier. I found free parking on Prospect Ave (miraculously find!) and headed east toward Cliff Drive. The berm shrouded the beginning section of the wharf and as I walked east, the true damage appeared and it was shocking to see, even though I had seen photos and videos of the damage during news coverage.

Where’s the wharf?

Today was a beautiful winter day: clear skies, light wind, and temps flirting with the low 60s. I tried to image what the scene before me looked like 15 days ago. I tried to image the intense wind and rain and the 30 foot waves that engulfed the wharf, eventually taking large pieces of the wharf away and depositing them inside sea-fronted business. It was hard to image this on such a beautiful day.

I found a bench and opened up my Stillman & Birn Delta panoramic sketchbook and used my telephoto sketcher’s eye to zoom in on the damaged section on the wharf.

Using my sketcher telephoto view.

I then headed south on Highway One for a short drive to Seacliff State Beach in Aptos. It was here that the president viewed another damaged wharf and then gave a press conference about the damage he viewed and federal emergency funding.

From the upper parking lot I looked out to the segmented and ruins of the “Concrete Ship”, the S. S. Palo Alto. The ship had been torn into three pieces by a series of storms in the past but now it looked like the ship was further off shore than normal. This was really an optical illusion because the wharf that reached the ship’s stern was all but destroyed in the recent storms, leaving the Palo Alto looking like a rusting isolated island chain crowned in cormorants, gulls, and pelicans.

I sketched the ship with my new TWSBI Diamond 580 fountain pen. I had sketched this ship before in it’s various stages of decompose. I remember a time when I was a child when you could actually walk out on the pier and to the ship. Those days are long gone.

The destroyed wharf, the Palo Alto (in three parts), and the line of debris on Seacliff State Beach.

The Palo Alto was built at the end of World War I and launched in May of 1919. She was designed to be a tanker but was finished too late as the war ended. She was mothballed in Oakland and then purchased by the Seacliff Amusement Company in 1929. The pier was built in 1930 and the ship was used as an “amusement” ship with a swimming pool, a dance floor, and a cafe.

The company soon went bankrupt and the ship was sold to the state and it was then used as a fishing pier. Around this time the ship cracked in the middle during a winter storm. A February storm in 2016 pushed the ship on it’s starboard side and the ship is now in three or more pieces.

An Aptos mural by Ann Thiermann of the S. S. Palo Alto in better days. That man shouldn’t be feeding that pup ice cream!

The Ink and the Fountain

The world of the fountain pen is a real rabbit’s warren.

When you first dip your toe into the shallow end, you just don’t realize how deep the deep end really is.

My first experience with drawing with nib pens was about 15 years ago. At that time I used dip pens, perhaps one of the more ancient forms of writing or drawing, sticking a stick into some kind of color or dye and making forms on a surface.

The downside of dip pens is that they work fine in the studio but not so good in the field. Image carrying an open bottle of permanent bulletproof black ink around. That’s an accident waiting to happen!

The first fountain pens I experimented with were the Noodler’s Ahab Flex Pen. While I like using these pens in the field, they proved to be messy as they have a tendency to leak ink, leaving my fingertips covered in ink. So it was no wonder that I was put off fountain pens because my experience with Noodler’s gave me the false impression that all fountain pens leaked ink; And I later found out they all don’t.

Then I purchased my first Lamy Safari. These rugged German pens work great in the field and at about $25, they are a great pen to take out into the field because if you lose it, well, it only costs $25. Another benefit with the Safari is that, with the Lamy converter, you can add any ink to your pen (the Lamy ink provided with the pen is not waterproof). This pen is also easy to clean and feels good on the paper and in the hand.

I worked on a spread about the Safari and also tested some different inks (featured sketch).

Now I headed a little further down the fountain pen rabbit warren (I sure hope I packed my headlamp!)

I started with a pen from Taiwan, the TWSBI ECO. This is a great all round carry costing just $30. This is known as a demonstrator pen, meaning that the barrel is clear so you can clearly see which ink you have charged the pen with. To add ink is simple because there is no adaptor required. The ECO is made as a piston filler. All you have to do is place the nib and feed into a bottle of ink and turn the back of the pen.

Then I made the big leap and found out the difference between a $30 fountain pen and one that costs almost $200.

It was like going from driving a Kia Echo to Subaru Sport! The pen was great to write and draw with. While the pen might be expensive, these pens are built to last a lifetime (yours not the pen’s).

The pen I chose was the Pilot Falcon (I’m a sucker for bird names). This is an iconic Japanese pen and the cost reflects the construction and the materials. The nib is a 14k gold fine soft nib which gives you nice line variation depending on how much pressure is applied to your drawing. The body material is a black resin and trim is silver rhodiuum. With the Con-40 converter, the Falcon can use any ink. This has quickly become my favorite pen and many of my recent sketches were done with the Falcon.


The Spider-man Burglar

I recently heard a rebroadcast on NPR of a This American Life episode titled “My Undesirable Talent” that reminded me of the 2002 crime spree in my neighborhood.

The part of the episode is called Climb Spree and is about a burglar in western San Francisco that climbed up buildings and enter through a skylights, ventilation shafts, or attics to rob local businesses to support his gambling habit.

I wanted to do a spread about the “Spider-man” crime spree. I decided to visit and sketch a few of the businesses where the burglar dropped in and connect these thumbnail sketches with a map of western San Francisco.

He was dubbed the ‘Spider-man Burglar” by the SF Police but his real name is Kristain Marine. He was adopted from Korea by Midwestern parents. People at his church, (The Church of Latter Day Saints), knew him as the guy with Italian shoes who was respectful and soft spoken.

He first stole $200 from the gym where he was working and then proceeded to gamble it all away. He needed money to replace what he had stolen and lost so he committed his first “Spider-man” robbery: a concession stand at City College of San Francisco. He climbed up on the roof and lowered himself down through a skylight. He didn’t even have gloves to conceal his fingerprints so he had to use snowboard mittens.

The concession stand at City College. This is where the crime spree all began.

This was the start of 63 burglaries in San Francisco. My thumbnail sketches are of the Church of Latter Day Saints in the Sunset (where he might have attended) and the The Lunch Box concession stand at City College of San Francisco, the location of his first robbery.

Noriega Produce is now closed. The market has moved up the street and is now called Gus’s, in honor of the Greek immigrant who founded the market.

The next thumbnail is of Noriega Produce, on the western fridge of the continental United States. I once lived a five minute walk away and this was my local market. This market is owned by a Greek immigrant and run by his oldest son. Spider-man robbed this market and had time to have an ice cream bar at the owner’s expense. This was an assault on my neighborhood and the family businesses I patronized. Gus Vardakastanis, the owner, was killed by a hit and run driver in 2017.

The next thumbnail is of a Japanese noodle house called Hotei on 9th Avenue, near Golden Gate Park (this excellent restaurant is now closed). Marine lowered himself down into the restaurant but fell and injured himself. Outside the picture window he noticed a police car. He was trapped, his crime spree was about to end. There was only one way out and that was through the front door.

He walked out the door, said hello to the officer, and pulled his keys out and pretended to lock the door and got away.

The last thumbnail is of Clancey’s Market on the 3900 block of Irving, near Ocean Beach. Most of Marine’s burglaries where starting to show a pattern: early in the mornings on certain days and in certain neighborhoods. The police presence in the Sunset Neighborhood was increased at these times.

Marine was trying to break into this corner market but he became trapped in the attic. After a neighbor heard glass breaking the police where called and they were on the scene in minutes. Marine’s 63 robberies where now over.

Clancey’s Market and Deli, where “Spiderman’s” crime spree ended.

Marine was a first time offender and he admitted to all his burglaries, even taking investigators to his crime scenes. He was sentenced to six years in prison.

I think the main problem with tone of the This American Life piece and with other media stories is that Marine is portrayed as some sort of comic book super hero. What he did was not super nor heroic. As I visited and sketched some of the 63 local businesses he robbed, I thought mostly about the people who owned these shops, markets, and restaurants. Many of these businesses where and are “ma and pop” family businesses, not big box corporations.

If Marine’s crimes reminded me of any literary “hero” it would be as a kind of corrupt Robin Hood.The Spider-man robber was stealing from the poor and giving it to the casinos.


New Year Mega Rarity

It’s always nice to the start the new year of with a life bird. So much better if the bird is a mega rarity!

This was the Eurasian chat the red-flanked bluetail (Tarsiger cyanurus).

The bird was the sixth California record and only the second chasible bird (that is if you have an ocean going vessel), the other four records are from the Farallon Islands. It was found on December 28, 2022 in a park near the Santa Cruz Lighthouse on West Cliff Drive.

I had planned to head down on New Year’s Day to Lighthouse Field State Beach in Santa Cruz with Grasshopper but on December 31, after record heavy rains, a large cypress tree at the park fell and killed a 72 year old man. The park was closed for safety concerns.

So our Plan B was to bird the San Mateo County coast and have a go at the continuing northern gannet at Pillar Point Harbor.

Highway 92 was closed because of the intense rainfall so it was Highway One down the line to Pillar Point.

We checked the breakwater for a large white bird. No gannet. Heading south, the beaches seemed devoid of gulls. The historic rains had washed away large parts of the beaches, the creeks were flowing at a high capacity turning near shore waters a muddy brown. Not a great day for birding, well not yet anyway.

We reached as far south as Pescadero State Beach, looked out at few roosting gulls (it was still too early for kittiwakes) and returned north to try again for the consolation gannet

Johnson Pier was now crowed with people buying fresh crab and cod from fishing boats in the harbor. We weaved our way out to the end of the pier to look for an out-of-place big white seabird. Grasshopper spotted the gannet, named “Morris” by locals, immediately. The gannet, the only one on the west coast, was preening and the local gulls and cormorants were giving Morris a wide berth.

The much larger northern gannet sticks out like a sore thumb.

After getting good looks and a few photos, we saw a report that the bluetail had been seen and heard earlier in the morning. So some birders where getting access to the park. After a quick ponder we knew what we had to do: head south and retrace our journey and not stop until we where parked next to Lighthouse Field State Beach.

About an hour later, we parked on a side street, geared up, and entered the park. Still unsure of the location, we knew we had to find the semicircle of birders, intently gazing into the bramble. We began to head east on the trail, dodging puddles that were not far from being ponds, when we spotted the large cypress tree that had fallen across the path in front of us.

The cypress was over 100 feet tall, the papers put the tree at 120 feet, and just beyond the tree and to the left we saw a some birders looking off to the left. The only way to get over the tree was to climb over. Other had already trampled down a path through branches that were now facing upward. Once we got to the location of the bluetail, there were already about 35 to 40 birders in attendance, with more arriving as we searched.

This bird was going to be tough because it was sulky and shy, so patience and perseverance would be needed. Good thing I’m an elementary school teacher!

The bird was being seen among the grasses and branches and the bluetail was moving quickly, not pausing for long. I saw movement a few times which I thought was the bluetail but I wanted better diagnostic looks before I added the bluetail to my list. After about 30 minutes, I finally got a good look at the tail of the bluetail, which was blue and I noted how the bird frequently jerked it’s tail downward like a flycatcher. World life bird number 1,707!

Once I got my views, I stepped aside to let others from the back start their search. I started my anchor sketch of the downed cypress tree and reflected on the tragedy of a man’s death, while not far away, birders chortled in ecstasy.