Monterey Harbor

20″x16″ oil on canvas, plein air of Monterey Harbor

Perhaps it isn’t a secret anymore, now that I am posting it to the world. Or, maybe the world already saw what I did not see. In any case, I have just realized it myself: I’ve been harboring a secret love. For Monterey harbor. Going through my website, taking an inventory of the different subjects I’ve painted locally, I find Monterey right up there with eucalyptus and cypress. In the past week I’ve painted there three times, including the pink building with the white balcony.

Slowly it dawns on me that, more and more, I find myself bombing down the bike path from Pacific Grove to Monterey at full tilt, tourists leaping out of my way left and right. On the back of the bike, my plein air painting gear. Coming to a stop near the entrance to Fishermans Wharf, I circle and look for my ol’ dad. That’s partly why I am drawn to the place. We enjoy a cup of coffee together some mornings.

The entrance to his house, that is, the boat he lives on (camps in), is Fishermans Wharf in all its funky tackiness and clam chowder glory. But ol’ dad has shown me the other side of the Wharf, the one where you make your way down steep ramps to the half sunken skiffs where we find his, bailed out, and where we enter the World of the Harbor that the tourists can only long for.

My experiences of him rowing us out to his boat have always been ones of great joy, as we leave the World behind one oar stroke at a time. We enter another world, a crazy kind of place where every time you look out the window there is a different view, as the boat swings around on the mooring to line itself up with all the other boats. One wonders if this is some kind of herd behavior because every now and then the boat does not swing into line, but bumps up against another boat in this raft of sparkling old sailboats and ramshackle craft. It is a little town floating on water streets but, unlike Venice, there are no foundations to these houses.

Bill Lewis

Bill Lewis

On the boat you are in a different world. You’ve gone through a sort of air lock and entered a clean place, free of frenzy. It’s like a bell jar has been lowered over you and the boat and in the distant is this quaint place we call the World, the entrance to which is Fishermans Wharf.

But I wax far too poetic. It’s just a smelly old harbor with a bunch of rotting boats, after all. It all looks very pretty from a distance but like someone you’ve fallen out of love with, suddenly you are keenly aware of every blemish. Nevertheless, the harbor has a romance to it that no one can throw cold water on, or sell in a trinket shop. Well, perhaps some big corporation can find a way to ruin it; they’re good at that. Marketing!

What makes the harbor cool is that the harbor can not be gotten to. The average person can only stand at the edge, along the shore, or on the dock, and look in, as it it were a salty display in some upscale department store window. You can look, but that’s all. Only the old salts, like my dad, can invite you in, invite you onto a boat for a brandy, some jazz on the radio, and a hearty plate illuminated only by kerosene lantern light.

These memories, and so many more, may be part of the draw for me. And yet, the harbor is beautiful in its own right, whether there are rich imaginings to gloss the experience and soften the wrinkles, or not. So I find myself painting the harbor yet again, and again. I come away with more memories, too. Memories that are, more often than not, filled with bright sun, sparkling water, and a cup or two of coffee with an old harbor master.

You can see a whole collection of my harbor images at

Note: Since this post was originally written, Dad has gotten old and has, after 40 years, moved ashore.

All content on this site is © 2015 Robert Lewis. All Rights Reserved. This intellectual property is strictly protected. Do not use without written permission from the copyright owner.