Santa Barbara no longer holds the record, and judging from this photo taken from where Profligate is currently anchored off Stearns Wharf, it seems an unlikely candidate to have ever been. But Santa Barbara indeed once did hold the record for the hottest place on the planet. It was so hot that flying birds dropped dead out of the sky. And it’s not like it happened that long ago either.
Back when we started Latitude aboard our Bounty II Flying Scud at Sausalito’s Clipper Yacht Harbor in ’77, Bob and Gail Jensen berthed Simoon, the Columbia 50 they would take to the South Pacific a number of times in those pre-GPS days, a few slips away. Simoon is the English spelling of the Arabic word ‘simoom’, which means ‘to poison’, and refers to a particularly hot and dust-laden local wind that primarily blows in the Sahara, Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Syria, and the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula.
We say ‘primarily’ because, according to Wikipedia, there has been one case of a simoon in North America. That happened on the afternoon of June 17, 1859, at — you guessed it — Santa Barbara. The temperature that morning was a typical 75°, and it would return to that in the early evening. But at about 1 p.m., super hot winds filled with dust began to blow down toward the sea from the Santa Ynez mountains directly in back of the city. By 2 p.m., the air temperature had reached an astonishing 133°! By the way, this temperature wasn’t recorded by some drunken gaucho with a drug store thermometer, but rather by scientists on a U.S. Coastal Survey Vessel that just happened to be right offshore.
According to the official government report, "Calves, rabbits and cattle died on their feet. Fruit fell from trees to the ground scorched on the windward side; all vegetable gardens were ruined. A fisherman in a rowboat made it to shore at the Goleta sandspit with his face and arms blistered as if he’d been exposed to a blast furnace."
Years later a temperature of 136° was recorded somewhere in the Middle East to take the ‘world’s hottest’ record, while 75 years later, a temp of 134° was recorded in Death Valley, setting a new U.S. record.
The only weather records set this year at Santa Barbara have been for the most fog and probably the coldest water. In fact, the water is so cold that we maintained an iceberg watch when we sailed across the channel to Santa Cruz Island recently.
For the nearly 200 boatowners who have signed up for the Baja Ha-Ha that starts less than six weeks from now, the Pacific Coast of Baja is cooler than most years, but it’s still 82° at Cabo San Lucas and up to 85° just inside the Sea of Cortez. We don’t know about you, but we can’t wait to take the heat.