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TowBoatUS Santa Cruz: Working Hard Where Marine Giants Play

Three men standing aboard on a TowBoatUS Santa Cruz vessel

Capt. Monte Ash (left), deckhand John Alston, and Capt. Grant Parker.

Monte Ash and his crew at TowBoatUS Santa Cruz, California, handle the typical service calls from local boaters requesting jump-starts or tows due to engine failure or bad fuel. The difference is his service area is contained within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary that sits northward of California's Big Sur Coast. The bay is considered one of the most dynamic marine ecosystems in the world.

"Whales are here all year long," Ash says. "We see humpbacks almost every time we go out."

Orcas, seals, sea lions, sea otters, great white sharks, dolphins, and seabirds are all part of the workday in Central California. And since anglers can fish in national marine sanctuaries, the tow business ebbs and flows with the fishing season. "We do quite a few jump-starts and fuel drops for fishermen, who chase salmon, halibut, and tuna, depending on what species is on the run."

For perspective, Ash says that when salmon season opens, Santa Cruz Harbor will have 200 to 300 boats chasing fish, with just as many out of Moss Landing and Monterey Harbor. TowBoatUS Santa Cruz has two boats: a converted Albin 28 and a Stapleton 28.

"We get a lot of people who try to go too far with too small of an open boat," he says. "Guys come from inland when they hear salmon is biting, and they take their lake boats out."

The standing record is 10 calls for assistance in one day, he adds.

"Everything here is 'offshore' as soon as we head out of the harbor," Ash says, noting TowBoatUS Santa Cruz is the primary tower from Morro Bay to Pillar Point including Monterey Bay, Half Moon Bay, Moss Landing, and south of Point Sur. The crew aids about 300 boats each year. Since Monterey Bay also gets plenty of sustained wind, the bay attracts a lot of sailors — both the elite, professional kind and the weekend warriors.

"Overall, about 75% of our calls are from powerboats, and 25% from sailors, many who transit the Santa Cruz area during the seasonal sail migrations to and from the Baja peninsula."

Separate from TowBoatUS services, Ash's ACAPT-certified company offers boat repairs, salvage, and spill cleanup.

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Rich Armstrong

Senior Editor, BoatUS Magazine

A journalist by training, BoatUS Magazine Senior Editor Rich Armstrong has worked in TV news, and at several newspapers, then spent 18 years as a top editor at other boating publications. He’s built a stellar reputation in the marine industry as one of the most thorough reporters in our business. At BoatUS Magazine, Rich handles everything from boat and product innovation and late-breaking news, to compelling feature stories, boat reviews, and features on people and places. The New Jersey shore and lakes of lower New York defined Rich's childhood. But when he bought a 21-foot Four Winns deck boat and introduced his young family to the Connecticut River, his love for the world of boats flourished from there.