Travel Blog

May 1, 2018

Work It: Meet the Captain of Chardonnay Sailing Charters

All photos by Garrick Ramirez

Having sailed the far reaches of the globe, John Ribera chooses to hang his captain’s hat in Santa Cruz. As Head Captain for Chardonnay Sailing Charters, Ribera navigates the sea life-filled waters of Monterey Bay, offering guests a firsthand experience of our wondrous marine sanctuary. It’s little wonder the affable Ribera, a successful realtor by day, refers to the Chardonnay as his fun job. We asked him about his twenty years helming the company’s two, iconic 70′ racing yachts, and what makes the Monterey Bay such a special place to sail.

You’re a full-time realtor and a longtime surfer. When did the sailing begin?

I’ve been sailing since I was ten. As a child, I would visit my Uncle Harry who had a boat in the Santa Cruz harbor, and he would take me out on the bay. After I got my captain’s license, he lured me to the Pacific Islands to sail from Guam to Hawaii. Since then, I’ve had sailing jobs that have taken me to New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii, Mexico, and the Pacific Northwest. I always took my surfboard along on voyages, but at one point, I realized that the odds of me becoming a professional captain were probably better than being a pro surfer!

Describe the experience of being aboard one of the Chardonnay yachts.

What we do is offer you a taste of sailing, but instead of doing all the hard work required, you’re pampered with food, wine, and draft beer. Plus, our two yachts, both Santa Cruz ‘70 racing vessels built by world-renowned local boat designer Bill Lee, are like the Ferrari of sailboats. Our routes vary based on that day’s conditions. Sometimes we’ll cruise alongside the Boardwalk and wharf, then go in near Cowell Beach, before zipping past Steamer Lane and deeper out into the bay. Other times, we’ll sail north to the beautiful sheltered beach coves along the North Coast, or take a scenic loop down to Capitola. Every day is different!

You’ve sailed in many exotic, far-flung locales. What’s unique about Monterey Bay?

The Monterey Bay is amazing. The coolest thing about my job is sharing it with people, many who are experiencing it for the first time. The bay is bursting with sea life. On any sail, you’re guaranteed to spot sea otters and sea lions. Oftentimes, you’ll see dolphins and whales. You’d think I’d be jaded by now, but seeing a whale is still magical. The coolest thing about our boat is that baitfish are drawn to its shadow, luring whales and offering guests up-close views!

The Chardonnay has a themed charter for nearly every interest and occasion. Name a few of your faves.

They’re all good, but I especially love the Taste of Santa Cruz sails when local restaurants cater the yacht. It’s a great way to discover and taste the wide variety of good food in Santa Cruz. Winemaker sails offer a similar experience when you can sample local wines and often chat with the winemakers themselves. I also love the island-style Aloha sail put on by Pono Hawaiian Grill, an excellent restaurant here in town.

When you’re not sailing, how do you like to spend time in Santa Cruz County?

I live on the Eastside, so I’m a Pleasure Point local. I’m not too far from The Hook surf break, so an ideal day for me is getting into a wetsuit, biking down to the beach, and sneaking in a good surf session!


Chardonnay Sailing Charters offers a wide variety of public and private charters including wedding and memorial sails. Additional information-and an extensive list of their fun, themed public sails-are available on their site.

(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)