Monday, August 18, 2008


Another old, old story from August of 2008. Sarah and I got married on July 19th 2008 (apparently I am supposed to remember that day every year!) Sarah says I got some of the days in this recount wrong, but hey, we were on "cruising time."

After our wedding, we spent the next week in boat preparation, provisioning, and general scurrying. The boat was pretty much ready to go, but we gave her a wee nip and tuck. Some cleaning, some rig tuning, a few tweaks to gear or lines.

Although we knew we'd never be far from grocery stores during our trip, we decided to practice provisioning for a longer trip. We imagined we were provisioning for an open ocean voyage instead of a bay circuit, and brought only foods and beverages that would keep without refrigeration. Sarah was reading "Care and Feeding of a Sailing Crew" by Lin Pardey, and got REALLY into provisioning, stowing, cooking. So much so that I started to call her Lin Junior... Sarah packed fruits and veggies in special green plastic bags.

We bought a cornucopia of dried, canned, and pickled treats. The checkout people at Safeway and Trader Joe's gave us weird looks as we brought shopping carts stuffed to the gills up to the front of the store. "Where are you going?!?!?!" We did go a little crazy (most of the durable food is still on the boat) but three weeks later when we were eating delicious treats after a day of hard sailing, I knew the old adage about an army marching on its stomach was really true.

We got more and more excited to leave as our departure got closer. We had looked at the tides and figured out that Tuesday July 29th gave us the best chance of catching the ebb out of the Oakland Estuary early enough in the day to get to get somewhere, but late enough in the day to have wind.

Our friend and long-time boat neighbour Darrin came over Monday night with some cold beers and the best cookies we've ever tasted. Darrin is not a man who believes in moderation in many areas of his life, and this proved true for his baking as well. He brought us giant, succulent cookies stuffed with oatmeal, dried fruits, chocolate chunks. Each cookie was nearly meal-sized, and for the first few days we'd just munch one for breakfast or lunch.

Tuesday morning, Darrin also helped us warp our boat slowly around so her nose pointed out in the Estuary. We've found the best way to do this is to run an extra-long stern line around the whole outside of the boat: from the stern, outside the shrouds, around the stays on the bowsprint, back to the dock. We then run a bow line to the dock to act as a pivot. With a slack tide (or a wee touch of flood) we found it pretty each to flip the boat end-for-end. Darrin sweated the stern line, Sarah kept tension on the bow line, and I used the bowsprit as a lever (a maneuver that somehow always reminds me of leading a bull by the ring in it's nose...) With the boat pointing out towards Jack London Square, we found the wind angle allowed us to raise and luff all working sails (mainsail, staysail, jib) before departing. Darrin and our boat neighbour Kim gave us a good bobsled shove-off, and there was nothing but for us to trim our sheets and glide off the dock.

In many way, our first day of sailing was our hardest and scariest. The Oakland waterfront is very much a working waterfront, and we share the Estuary with craft as small as kayaks and as large as Panamax container ships. With everything in between -- a constant parade of powerboats, tugboats, racing and cruising sailboats, pilot boats, coast guard cutters, giant tour boats, ferries.

Our departure was timed great with respect to the current, the ebb was just starting to pull us toward the open Bay, and it would only strengthen throughout the afternoon. The wind was another matter. When we left the dock, we had a light breeze, but certainly enough to move the boat. Maybe 7 to 8 knots? We soon got into the rhythm of short tacking: zig a hundred yards from the Alameda side to nearly the concrete sea-wall on the Oakland side... ready about... zag back to the rock breakwater off the deserted naval base on the Alameda side. Zig... zag... zig... zag... Sarah likes to count tacks and estimate how many more it will take to reach some goal. I find it just demoralizing to do so... With the light wind we weren't setting any speed records but our course made good to windward was pretty darn tight with the ebb helping us. We settled into the slow, steady routine, slowly making our way up the few miles to the Bay.

The wind lessened, and we were continually dodging commercial and recreational traffic. Powerboaters doing their well-meaning but misguided drive-bys (they always come extra close to take a look at Macha, yell "beautiful boat!", then speed off directly in front of us, leaving us to slat sails as their wake checks all our way. We maneuvered around tugboats , and looming on the horizon we saw giant container ships the size of tipped-over skyscrapers puffing black smoke on their way towards the cranes we were passing.

Still, we felt OK. We were making slow but steady progress and had plenty of room to maneuver. Until we got to nearly the mouth of the Estuary. That exact spot is nearly always in the lee of Treasure Island, so less windy than the Bay in general. But as it was now mid-afternoon we would have expected the thermals to kick in like clockwork and give us plenty of juice as we left the Estuary. In fact, we have a "no topsails in the Estuary" rule exactly because we've been surprised by the sudden wind-blast at the mouth of the Estuary too many times (and short tacking across a narrow channel there's really no time to hand the topsail on a single tack...) Not that day. There was the beginning of a heat wave that ended up lasting a few days. Some kind of thermal inversion had destroyed our trusty San Francisco-to-Sacramento pressure gradient and turned us North Cal sailors into de facto South Cal sailors. Bobbing around in short sleeves instead of jamming rail down bundled in Gore Tex...

The wind continued to die as we continued to short tack out of the Estuary. We could see a windline agonizingly close... it seemed just a few hundred hards away... speed and maneuverabilty and freedom... so close... At this point we were starting to lose the ebb and we started feeling the first stirrings of a flood pushing us back into the Estuary. I was hugging the starboard side of the Estuary to avoid the latest container ship (we squeaked around four that day!)

Despite Sarah's warning, I got too close to a windshadow and we lost so much speed that we missed stays trying to tack back. Shit. The current started setting us outside the Channel to starboard, where there was nothing but evil ruins of pilings, sharp pointy rocks, a dredging barge. On the port side of the channel a container ship larger than some towns I've lived in inched towards us accompanied by a pilot boat. I broke out the mighty oar and began sculling us away from the rocks with all my strength. I asked Sarah to be ready to cut the stern anchor at any minute if we needed it to keep us off the rocks.

(all Estuary pics shamelessly lifted from Google images. We were too busy FREAKING THE HELL OUT to snap pics.)

A short digression on engineless sailing here... The crazy thing we've found about sailing without an auxilary is that there is simply no "routine trip". You're always sailing like the safety of your boat and crew depend on it. You're always racing the tide. I compare it to rock climbing without a top rope. The routes you climb aren't any harder. In fact, they might be easier -- but the consequences of any screw up are more severe. (I mean not to be overly dramatic -- we never felt in any personal danger: it would have been an easy swim to shore, but I was really worried about the safety of the boat!) The situation felt ridiculous. Here we were, 3 miles from our berth, in conditions that any motorsailor would regard as benign in the extreme (sunny, no wind) and we were fighting with every fiber of our beings to keep our boat off the rocks.

Gradually, we crept our way back towards the middle of the channel. We were getting uncomfortably close to the container ship, but there was nothing for it. We were between a rock (breakwater) and a two hundred foot long container ship.

However often I may rant about recreational powerboaters, I have nothing but the highest praise for the professional crew of the pilot boat that day. They saw the situation clearly: a "charming" gaff cutter, clearly without power, sculling their way across the estuary. They pulled within hailing distance and courteously asked if we would mind sailing downwind for a minute or two and hugging the other side of the channel while they passed. I mean, what were we going to say, "no"? Still, we found it classy in the extreme that the crew treated us politely and with respect. We didn't have enough way on to tack, but with the help of the oar we jibed and slowly picked up steerage way again. We ghosted along the extreme edge of the channel, dead downwind, giving up our precious distance to windward while the container ship churned past. At that point, we were completely demoralized. The thought of having to retreat to our side-tie on our first day filled us with disappointment. How tempting it would have been right then to fire up a diesel, to power directly the few hundred hards to the windline!!! What were we thinking?!?!?! Screw this boat, screw Jay Fitzgerald and his books, screw the Pardeys, screw the sculling oar. Give me a goddamned 50 horse Yanmar right fucking now!!!!!

This was indubitably the emotional low of the trip for me. I was tired and my adrenaline was surging from the close encounter with the cargo ship and the rocks. It all felt so impossible, and yet so trivial. So much anticipation leading up to this trip, and we'd screwed up already in water we knew intimately. Plus, it wasn't like we were rounding Cape Horn. There wouldn't be anyone to trumpet our success if we simply made it from a our slip into the bloody bay. A Hunter, a goddamned Hunter circled, motorsailing double-reefed in the 2 knot wind and asked if we were OK. That is rock botton -- how much lower can you get?

Pretty quick I pulled myself together. First off, we needed to break our "no topsail in the Estuary" rule right quick. Sure, it's tight to put it up between tacks when trying to get upwind, but ghosting downwind we had plenty of time. That was better -- we still weren't getting anywhere fast but we pointed back upwind and at least Macha answered her helm. Next were about to put up the Yankee, but as we often found to be the case later, the mere threat of that giant, light-air upwind sail on deck seemed to scare the wind into piping up a bit. We ghosted up to the windline, and within 10 minutes we had to take the topsail down as it was howling. Whitecaps and spray Welcome to the SF Bay!

We sailed into Clipper Cove, a protected anchorage nestled between Treasure Island and Yerba Buena. After a full day of sailing we dropped the hook six, count 'em SIX nautical miles from our slip... and we were never so glad to get anywhere. That night we slept like the dead.

Big lesson for us (once again) is that no wind is way more terrifying than nuking wind for the engineless sailor. Actually, to be more precise: no wind, narrow channel, big traffic. Give me any two and I'm cool. Give me all three and it's pants crappin' time.

Clipper Cove contains an interesting menagerie of derelict boats and anarchist liveaboards. Apparently, the spot is subject to two conflicting outposts of authority nearby, so that it is as lawless as the frontier. There is a city Marina on one side of the anchorage and a Coast Guard station on the other side. Apparently the City and the Coast Guard have been fighting for years about whose job it is to kick out the liveaboards. Meanwhile the liveaboards live their lives -- a tenuous existence, but relatively undisturbed so far. I feel there's a lesson in there somewhere for dealing with people in power...

In the morning, our boat was surrounded by a swarm of kids in Optimist sailing dinghys. Some kind of summer camp program. It was impossible not to feel cheered by the site of so many rowdy, smiling youngsters learning to sail.

We took the Zodiac to the beach. We rested. We read. We talked. We went back to the boat, cooked dinner, drank wine, and slowly felt the stress of the previous day leaving our bodies. Speaking of our bodies, Jay has mentioned how he has some problems with early onset arthritis. After a couple days we started wondering if the problem might be compounded by 16-ton-gaff-cutteritis, because damn did our bodies hurt the first few days. I can haul the halyards OK, but Sarah sometimes can't, and when the wind pipes up I need the handy-billy to firm up the peak or headsail halyards. At night over warm beers and sore muscles we began plotting and scheming about 6 to 1 purchases on the mainsail halyards. From looking at a couple books it doesn't look impossible. I can get into the macho allure of sweating lines, but double ended halyards with jiggers for purchase might be a worthwhile concession to marital harmony. We'll see.

The next morning we sailed out of Clipper Cove, and made a bee-line across "the Slot", around Angel Island, to Paradise Cove, tucked around the corner from Tiburon. A familiar spot -- we've anchored there perhaps more than anywhere. Our first night we anchored a little too far in for my comfort. We had the spot closest to shore. We were alone at first but were soon joined by revelers on other boats, boxing We've since found when sailing engineless, that it doesn't pay to be "greedy" when selecting an anchor spot. When approaching an anchorage to windward it always feels to me like I want to tuck right in close to land, but when leaving I'd rather be the further boat out. We carry lots of chain, so we've found it's worth the extra few feet of depth to be further out from the crowd.

Paradise Cove is aptly named. When the rest of the Bay was shrouded in fog, we were in blazing sunlight, in the lee of the Marin Headlands. The anchorage is off a nice little beach park where we were able to swim and hang out. It's central location meant that we spent more time there than just about anywhere else -- it was our home-away-from-home as we ventured out for other forays.

We decided to press on into the North Bay, but the wind had not filled in enough by the time we started to lose the favourable tide. Then the wind died. Sarah was against trying to go that day from the beginning, but I was restless and still hadn't quiet adopted the engineless sailors mindset that if the wind and tide are against you, you simply CAN NOT GO in the direction you intend. So we spent a frustrating day in lightish wind. We got better at setting and trimming the Yankee, and got tantalizingly close to the Richmond Bridge only to be driven back as the ebb gained strenght. Once again I was cursing and wishing for an "iron genoa." We backtracked to Paradise Cove, and while standing in towards our anchorage we got caught by strong gusts coming over the hills and swept backwards by the tidal current. While I was grappling down the Yankee, Sarah was on the helm. She was getting increasingly concerned that we were getting set backwards towards a point of land sticking out into the strong ebb. At one point it seemed like we were only a few boat lengths from it. I felt that the current would have had to carry us around rather than through the land, but it still felt like a precarious spot. I ran back to the cockpit and we sailed upwind, pointing for all we were worth. When we had gained a little on the current, we bore off a bit, taking the current at an angle and breaking free of the rip. As we approached the anchorage we'd left that morning, we decided to pretend we'd just gone out daysailing for Yankee practice. No one would be any the wiser that we'd been intending to get anywhere that day.

That night, a fisherman in an olive drab boat, dressed entirely in camouflage, approached our boat. At first we though he was some kind of ranger and that we were going to get an earful about some Park infraction real or imagined... But it turned out the infraction was all his. He'd caught one halibut over his limit, but the hook had gone so far down the fish's through that he'd had to kill it. Would we like it? I was at a loss. I mean, I love to eat animal flesh, but being a city boy I have no experience extricated that flesh from the animal itself. Sarah the vegetarian, armed with a fillet knife, scissors, and a Joy of Cooking (the older printing that still has instructions on how to skin squirrels) dove into the fish and hacked out pale white boneless chunks of flesh.

She fried them up in flour, spices, and Kraft parmesan (we found that "shakey cheese" as Sarah's family calls it was one of the beloved staples of our voyage -- what meal DOESN'T taste better with powdered cheese on it?)

The fish was no joke the best I've ever tasted. Beautiful, white, flakey, buttery, nuggets of halibut. Wow. I gotta learn to fish!

The next night, our friend Bradley came out with a couple of his sailing buddies to meet us in his chartered hot-rod Ultimate 24. It was wild because Wednesday night sails with Bradley are so much part of our usual routine, but being on the hook on Macha, we felt very much OUT of our normal workaday routine. We cruised around in the Ultimate. Such a different feel from Macha: lively to the point of twitchy. Responsive to ever breath of wind. We sailed over to Sam's Anchor Cafe, one of our favorite "sail up" restaurants in the Bay. Just around the corner in Tiburon. We took the opportunity to devour cold drinks and restaurant food. While Sam's is a pretty casual place, it all felt very "fancy" to be on land eating entrees with side dishes and garnishes on the plate and beers from a frosted pint glass.

Having "killed" a few days, the flood into the North Bay was now late enough that we could catch it while having reasonable expectation of afternoon thermals. In contrast to our futile attempts to "buck the tide", we now surged under the Richmond Bridge carried the flood. Past the East Brothers Island Lighthouse where are friends Katy and Elon are keepers (though we passed too far to wave).

We rounded the corner past the Sister Islands, near San Rafael. Having once made the mistake of anchoring too close, we now made the mistake of anchoring too far -- surrounded by anchored gravel barges, we were still out in twenty knot winds and strong current. Still, it gave us a chance to eat a snack and examine the chart more closely. We picked depth contours that looked friendly, fixed our position by triangulating bearings, then raised sail again and nudged our way closer towards the fishing pier at McNears beach. McNears and China Camp (separated by maybe a half-mile) were great. McNears had a free hot shower, a snack bar (where we tore into a couple of ice cream bars like they were the last food on Earth) and a swimming pool. China Camp has some great views and hiking trails, but the main attraction is a museum on the site of an old shrimping operation run by an old time Chinese family. There were buildings frozen in time (a 50's style diner that still sold shrimp sandwiches, a drying shack from far earlier) and a number of historic boats in various states of preservation. Some cool old Monterey-style fishing boats, an 1850's-style junkrigged saipan built by the wooden boat center in Sausalito.

From McNears, we debated proceeding to Benicia. We'd motorsailed there in our last boat, and liked walked around the town, checking out the gold-rush-era Victorian architecture. Eventually we decided the pain of threading the narrow, infrequently dredged channel to the City marina guest dock wasn't worth it. And the anchorages our charts and guidebooks described seemed tenuous in the high winds and strong currents we knew to expect there. Screw it. We decided our next stop would be Aquatic Park in San Francisco, a historic pier now part of the National Park system. Motoring inside the park is forbidden because of the many members of the "Dolphin Club" swimming in the frigid waters, so we felt right at home approaching under sail.

A short digression on engineless de-anchoring: damn near every sailing book you'll ever pick up (if it has a section on sailing out an anchor at all) will show a tidy little diagram of tacking up to the anchor. A series of clean, geometrical zig zags gradually decreasing in amplitude as you near the anchor. Bullshit. What this "textbook" description fails to take into account is current. At McNears, the holding was good, but the currents were fierce. Many times we were beam or even stern to the wind as our full keel caught in the ebb. Since we de-anchored on the ebb (to catch a ride back to the central Bay) the current was pulling us upwind. Therefore we had to sail out the anchor downwind. Rather than zig-zags, we described slow, concentric spirals as we jibed down on the anchor. I suspect this is old news to all of you, but just another example of how you will NEVER learn this stuff from books alone.

After a roaring sail back across the Slot, we approached the long, curving breakwater around the small circular anchorage on a strong flood.

(image lifted from some San Francisco tourist web site)

We blazed in under mainsail and both headsails as we needed all our speed to counteract the current at the mouth of the Park. Camera wielding tourists walking on the breakwater shouted and waved as we hugged the upwind side, seeming to pass within inches of them. We dropped the hook in three fathoms depth, but weren't thrilled about our position. We soon realized what had appeared to be a solid breakwater was in fact a pier made up of concrete pilings, and that the flood was raging through the whole anchorage and we felt we might swing into a small cat-rigged gaffer owned by the local Sea Scouts. We'd learned early on that an awkward anchorage with the hook firmly set can be better than circling under sail trying to find the perfect spot -- at least you have time to collect your thoughts and plot the next move. We decided we should move into shallower water upwind of the Sea Scout boats and debated briefly whether to kedge with the extra bower. In the end, we decided it was just as easy to wait for slack water, raise sail to move closer in and re-anchor.

The next day we toured the restored ships. The highlight was a steel-hulled 3-masted tall ship called the Baclutha. We got to talking with a young rigger who was rattling down some shrouds on deck. Apparently seeing Macha cranking into the park the night before under full working sail was approximately like porn for the traditional-boat-nerd staff of the museum ship, and we got drawn into a lively discussion of the minutiae of Macha's rigging and sailplan. They were shocked when they eventually realized she was a fiberglass boat. I guess they assumed from across the anchorage that she was built in the 1890's or something. Hehe...

(another pic from the San Francisco Ministry of Tourism or some such)

That night, Sarah was having problems with the kerosene stove. The small leather cup-washer for the pressure pump had worn and ripped though. Our friend Josh met us for lunch and guided us to an "old-fashioned" hardware store in his neighborhood. A quick search of the plumbing department yielded a variety of leather washers and we were even able to match the outer diameter of the part we'd brought. However, when we got back to the boat, we realized the disc-shaped washer was too thick to be bent to the proper spare. Sarah got out an exacto knife, splitting and shaving with the grain of the leather to slice the washer in half to make it thinner. Have I mentioned my girl's a keeper? After permeating the washer with grease, it was malleable enough to form into a cup shape. We had 11 PSI in no time, and warm dinner soon after that.

That night, I rowed the dinghy (remember, no motors in the park) to shore to pick up our friend Bradley for a trip out the gate. By the light of the oil lamps we pored over our charts of the gulf of farallones and our Coastal Pilot #7. Fueled by rose wine (a long story -- an unfortunate wine-ordering miscommunication during booze ordering for our wedding had resulted in multiple leftover cases of pink wine which tasted like melted strawberry freezie) we plotted our plan for the next day. Bradley had three days off work, and we figured a day up to Drake's Bay, a day on the hook, and a day back sounded about right. The tides for the next day looked perfect: a weak max ebb around noon (a knot or less -- enough to give us a pull out the gate but not enough to make the waves gnarly in the "potato patch"). The forecast for the next day looked perfect too: 5-15 knots in the morning, picking up to 10-20 knots in the afternoon. Given the prevailing northwesterlies, and wanting to avoid the rough waters of the four-fathom "potato patch" just outside the Gate, we decided to hug the deep water shipping channel -- staying just to the North of the channel markers to avoid traffic, and sailing West or Southwest until we were nearly out to the Farallone Islands. We'd then tack and head Northeast to tuck inside the hook-shaped Point Reyes. Because Bradley needed to get back to work, and our strong desire NOT to float aimlessly near the shipping lanes at night, we decided that if we weren't at least 15 miles from the gate by 3pm, we'd turn and ride the flood back in.

Well, damn, the best laid plans of mice and men... The day started auspiciously enough. We left our anchorage at around 10am. The wind through the gate had already filled in nicely. As we tacked up to the bridge between cityfront and Sausalito, we took extra time to use our handy-billy to get the last inches out of all our halyards. No scallops in the headsails today kids, and let's peak up tight... like dressing up special for the prom or something, we wanted our trim to be perfect for our momentous trip out the gate. At 11:11 sharp we were at the center span.

The sun now filtered through cotton-ball fog banks as we tacked between Point Bonita and Ocean Beach. The short, stacked chop of the bay yielded to long rolling six foot groundswell. The color and even the smell of the ocean changed. We saw porpoises, seals, and birds. We heard the polyphonic bellow of the fog horns on the Golden Gate and the points.

Everything was perfect, but the further outside the Gate we got, the lighter the wind got. We put up the topsail and soldiered on. Then we raised the Yankee and attempted to keep it filled. Eventually, we missed stays as we tried to tack and had to wear ship instead. It got later and later. The wind died and the sails slatted as we rolled ponderously over the six foot swell with no steerage. The GPS showed that we were making just under a knot over ground, and by looking at the bubble trail alongside our rail we figured more than half of that knot was tidal current. The less way we carried, the greener I got as we rocked uselessly in the swell. Eventually I retched my guts out over the side, and as the afternoon wore on, we decided that discretion was the better part of valour. The night before, we'd decided on what we computer geeks call a go / no-go decision point and a back-out plan. Another way of saying it might be as scuba diving friends have said: plan the dive; dive the plan. By coming to decision the night before on a plan of action based on objective inputs and rational thoughts we'd sought to avoid an argument in the heat of the moment based on how each of us was feeling. We paid out sheet, gradually bearing off back towards the Gate. While I think each of us was disappointed to return to the Bay rather than proceeding, I think we felt a shared commitment to act on our prior decision rather than trying to improvise a new plan. I think in future, we'd consider a two day trip up to Drakes Bay more reasonable and would plan accordingly. I think in retrospect there's more we could have done to keep the boat moving -- perhaps setting the drifter while under the thumb of the Westerlies to get out South (and hopefully a little West) far enough from shore to pick up the Northwesterlies outside. We all agreed it was a preliminary forray and we'd all be back... Bottom line is next frontier for Macha and Sarah and I is to explore the extreme edges of light wind sailing!

The flood gathered strength and before long the foghorn blowing from the center span was guiding us back into our home waters. Once inside, the fog parted, and ironically, we were fully wound in our normal 20 knot thermals, jamming down Racoon Straight between Angel Island and Tiburon.

We had the hammer down, broadreaching at a solid seven knots, slalom sailing through the crowds of Sunday sailors. As we did, we had occasion to notice a bizaare phenomenon. Swarms of Hunters and Catalinas and Beneteaus with their mainsails reefed or even double reefed and motorsailing in the 10 to 15 knot wind. What the hell? Was there some wind around the corner we weren't seeing? We got closer to one boat and figured out a partial explanation. Two guys were standing near the wheel, and two attractive young women were perched on the stern rail, wearing short shorts, cowboy hats, and shirts knotted at the midrift. Clearly the lads didn't want the apparent wind to build to a level sufficient to chill bare female flesh. Ever since, Sarah has derisively referred to unecessarily-reefed-in-moderate-wind-with-female-passengers style as "Daisy Duke sailing". For my part, I'll just say for the record give me a girl in Gore Tex any day...

On the way through the straits, we saw that the moorage at Ayala Cove was nearly empty. A perfect opportunity to moor in what we normally consider a crowded, janky mooring field. It's actually so bad it's somewhat of a local scandal. Some local governmental organization took over administration of the mooring balls, and managed to replace the existing aging but effective mooring balls with moorings that dragged, anchored by floating line (lot of pissed boaters with fouled props), and laid out without regard to prevailing wind or current. We picked up our bow mooring, then deployed the Zodiac and some sheet-bended dock lines to pick up the stern mooring.

The mooring balls were pretty goofy: too close together, with our full keel in the current we dragged bow and stern balls right close to us, then hung off to the side at a bizaare angle.

Whatever. We foisted off some more rose on Bradley, prepared a giant dinner, and settled down for a night of quiet celebration. The next day, we arranged a ride for Bradley, took the Zodiac across Raccon Straits to Tiburon, and went out for lunch and drinks.

The next day we took a beautiful hike up to the top of the mountain on Angel Island.

Later that day after we'd hiked back down, we saw Graham, one of our sailing class teachers drilling students on picking up moorings. Good guy. Brit, older gent, physics teacher with vaguely socialist leanings and a long-time engineless sailor. When he saw us on deck, he complimented us on Macha. "I was just saying, it looks like that boat's crew knows what they're doing...", he said. Felt damned good.

The next morning, we used our bow and stern mooring situation to best advantage. We snugged in the bow mooring line and slacked off the stern line. As we did so, we swung head to wind and raised the mainsail. We then pulled in stern line and slacked off the bow line. When the sail was filled, we slipped the stern line and took off directly on a broad reach. It's so good when a plan works...

Thus began the best sailing day of the trip. We passed four bridges that day. We tacked up Raccoon Straits, across the Slot to cityfront, then South, under the bay Bridge. The wind was gorgeous, solid low twenties. As we passed further South, closer to the airport, the wind was shadowed by the hills a bit so we raised the Yankee. As we gathered way Southwards towards Coyote Point and Third Avenue, we felt to full blast of the afternoon thermal winds as we broad reached past the low gaps in the hills. Sarah wanted to take the Yankee down, as we were now seeing wind in the mid twenties. "Let's wait a sec. We're going downwind, the apparent wind shouldn't be too crazy, and the yankee's mostly blanketed by the main..." For the next few hours we caught the four foot chop in the channel, sailing on a deep broad reach at a sustained 7.5 knots. Sweet. Macha is too big to surf, but she'd surge a bit with each passing wave, and accelerate a wee bit into the trough. We were flying! The sun sank, and the moon was rising, three days 'til full). We slalomed through the San Mateo Bridge, then the Dumbarton Bridge, finally the unamed railway bridge just South of the Dumbarton. As night fell, we anchored in two fathoms just South of the last channel marker before the SF Bay turns into an overgrown mud puddle.

We awoke to find NO ONE around, except for a pelican who had taken up residence in our dinghy.

We prepared to catch the ebb around lunch. Our first obstacle was the railway bridge.

Going through it lengthwise downwind, the hundred foot gap for boat traffic had seemed pretty big. But now the wind was blowing straight down through it. Damn. I've normally found winds here to be West or Northwest, but this was straight North. Arggh. We took a series of practice tacks to see if we could find a course that would take us through the bridge on a single tack. No dice. Eventually, we realized we'd have to tack halfway through the bridge. Gulp. With sweaty palms and my heart in my throat, I steered closehauled into the gap in the bridge. Half a boatlength from a nasty, rusted girder structure that I was sure would seal our doom, we tacked smartly. The ebb sucked us away from the tower on the other side, and a few tacks later we were far enough from the bridge to exhale. Felt so relieved and so proud.

Less than a mile away we faced the next bridge. I was on the helm, and screwed up tacking the jib sheets. We barely made just stays, and consequently made it through with much less grace than the last bridge. We got closer to that bridge than I ever want to get to any hard object, but we made it through.

That experience led us to ponder whether the jib winches are really where we want 'em. When short-tacking in higher winds it's often hard to reach down and across on a heeled boat and make 'em off. Well, we want to add coaming boards anyways, maybe we can do add some cockpit layout tweaking to that project.

Once again, we relaxed a bit, and settled into the routing of tacking, slogging slowly up the mile-wide channel.

We navigated by braille using the depth sounder: the channel shelfs off REALLY suddenly. We'd be in 40 feet, with the depth alarm set to 20 feet. When the alarm when off, we'd start tacking immediately. Often by the time the boat turned we'd have coasted into 10 feet.

We were now pounding into the same chop we'd been effortlessly riding the day before. We forgot to stuff rags in the hawse pipe, so some bedding and clothes down below got wet via the chain locker. Whoops. A wet and woolly ride, but still a great sail. Macha was rail down wearing only working sail, shouldering through the chop like a football player attacking the opposing line. The past few days, the foredeck had been caked with mud and grunge from our anchor chain. Well, the foredeck was washed clean now! As we sailed North closehauled in 25 knots, we observed a completely circular rainbow in a cloud in front the setting sun. Beautiful.

Our plan was to anchor back at Treasure Island and proceed down the Estuary the next day. But as the evening sky grew orange, then purple, we lost our thermals. We set topsail, then Yankee to keep the boat moving. We decided to stop at the anchorage by the ballpark. From the shipping channel, the chart showed the anchorage shelfing off quickly to a depth of 5 feet at mean low tide, and we knew we'd have a minus tide in the morning. Candlestick Park is usually used as a temporary anchorage by powerboating baseball fans who draft up, watch TV, and kayak out to catch the home run balls that land in the Bay. Still, it looked like a good spot to rest for the night. The wind continued to abate as we made three knots through the water and two over ground against the flood.

I must confess I've got shitty night vision, and apparently I need new glasses to boot. Around midnight, I could see shapes and colours and vague outlines of the cityscape, but not much else. We slalomed through anchored cargo ships lit up like Times Square at Christmas. I sailed the boat while Sarah did the chart work and made the best damn snack I've ever had: oven baked sweet potatoes with hot sauce, maple syrup, and lots o' butter. After a cold and windy day and night of sailing if was food to warm you to the center of your soul. Hehe. Sarah navigated like a champ and guided us to a perfect spot out of traffic but not too close in. We cranked the diesel fireplace and set our alarm for anchor watches. The spot we'd anchored should leave us about 12 inches under the keel the next morning, but we figured when we swung with the current there was a good chance of taking the ground for a few hours. But all was well and we never saw less than six and a half feet.

The next day, refreshed, we broad reached fully powered with topsail set towards the mouth of the Estuary. We were inside in a jiffy and as the wind faded we began our slow dance with the parade of commercial and recreational traffic. We could have set more sail, but as the trip drew to a close perhaps subconsciously we wanted to make the honeymoon last. The last hours of sailing were a stately procession down the estuary. We docked slowly and without incident. Somehow in all our previous trips we've had to dock during max flood. With a slight ebb running, it was a simple matter to sail downwind past our dock, then tack and close reach back, luffing the boat early and stepping off as the current sucked the boat the last few inches up against the dock. We drank lukewarm champaigne, put the boat away a bit (but decided the big post-trip cleanup could wait.) Our buddy Darrin came over and we feasted on pickled vegetabless, jerky, and beer.

The trip left both of us with a strong sense that we want to "head out the gate and turn left" soon. It was amazing how our normal workaday worries and responsibilities faded once we threw off the docklines. It was also striking to me how much easier the "engineless thing" is when anchoring out versus marina sailing. Really made the whole engineless cruising endeavour seem not only possible but not even that inconvenient. :-)

If this is married life, so far I like it!!!

- Sarah

- Ari

1 comment:

Zen said...

Great adventure!! Whoa you guys are local. I want to see your boat, blog the visit. Do you know my friend, Laureen?