Winter's gone from the Bay, and Summer weather is already making its presence felt, so it's time to get the sailing season going with nice easy ocean trip. After a number of day sails this year, and having fixed some recalcitrant engine problems, I decided on Half Moon Bay to get some water under the keel. And knowing what Bay Area summer weather is like, I invested in a full set of foul-weather gear -- just as well!

Finding crew is always a problem, but at the last minute Paola stepped in. No, not the same Paola as last time, another one! The current at the Golden Gate on Saturday was due to be at maximum ebb at 08:23, with the slack at 12:17; and on Sunday, the maximum flood was 16:35. This made perfect conditions for getting to the ocean and back, as long as we got out early.

Fri 27 Apr 2001 17:00 US/Pacific

However, we actually got going rather late, around 11:00, by which time the wind was already blowing fairly strongly. I did a reverse exit from the dock (when backing down slowly under power, it depends on the wind and current as to whether I can physically turn the boat the right way) and we were off down the estuary, the autopilot doing useful duty at the helm.

Paola, in her foulies, as we motored around SF.

I decided to motor for a while, probably to the ocean, to get us out of the Gate against both wind and current. By the time we reached the bay, it was already blowing quite strongly, and the Bay was about as choppy as I've seen it; as we motored around SF, spray was being thrown all over the boat as we ploughed through increasingly large waves. We both donned full foul-weather gear before even getting into the slot where the wind blows in through the Gate.

As we got into the Gate, the wind increased as expected, along with the chop, but Moonrise made light of the conditions and we passed under the bridge at 13:42, making 4.5 knots against the flood in 15 knots of wind. We gave the sail a try, but it wasn't much use; too much current swirling around the basin outside the bridge to keep the bow pointed one way, far less make progress. So we motorsailed on. But once around Mile Rock and Point Lobos we set sail at 14:50, and started making good progress south.

Paola brings out the heavy artillery of foul-weather gear.

Out in the ocean the wind was behind us; by 15:22 we were making 5 knots in about 25 knots of wind, with the double-reefed main and jib up; the staysail was lashed to the lifelines. But as we moved south of the Gate the wind also dropped, and by 16:00 we were reaching with all sails set, though the mainsail was still double-reefed. By this time the wind was abeam, and down to around 11-12 knots.

The windvane in action.

At 16:30 we were sailing down alongside Highway 1, and the electric autopilot was coping surprisingly well with the heavy seas; but I decided it was time to give the windvane autpoilot a go. It was terribly easy to set up -- drop an auxilliary rudder into the water (it's usually tied up to the stern rails), clamp the wind vane onto its bracket, and cleat the steering lines to the tiller. Turn off the electric pilot and take it off the tiller, and we're off! No noise, no power drain, we just coasted gently and silently down the coast.

By 16:50 the wind had abated more, only 8 apparent knots on the beam, and we shook out the second reef in the mains'l (the first reef stays in to balance the boat, since the main is over-large). We were still making 6.4 knots down the coast, on an easy reach.

The view astern.

By 17:30, the wind was down to the point where the headsails were slatting in the rolls, even though the swells were only 3 or 4 feet. The wind by now was down to about 6 knots apparent on the starboard quarter; since we were making 6.5 knots, the true wind was around 10-11 knots.

By 17:50 Pillar Point was in sight; we carried on heading south, to stay on the broad reach and get the most out of the headsails, planning to gybe east after passing the reefs (see the map of the approach to Pillar Point Harbour for details). At 18:30 the plan was put into action; but no sooner had we gybed and started making way towards the point than the wind came up. Yes, of course it's going to seem like that when you come off a run, but by now we were seeing 15-20 knots of wind on the beam!

Sighting Pillar Point.

Still, we got in south of Pillar point; but we didn't find a lee there, the wind was still blowing hard. At 19:00 we passed the "3" buoy, headed upwind towards the harbour entrance, and dropped the sails. I called Pillar Point harbour on the radio, and asked for a slip -- bad luck! The crab fishermen are in port, and all slips are spoken for. We're directed to head for E dock and raft up against a New Zealand sailboat, Karo.

As we entered the inner harbour, the wind was still blowing strongly. After one scouting run we got tied up at 19:30, and met Karo's minder, Matt, an interesting bloke from Alabama. He'd sailed from Hawaii with the owner of the boat he was on, who'd built her (in concrete) and sailed her alone from New Zealand.

So that ended a pretty good run of 39.6 nautical miles in the day, which we covered in 8 hours 30 minutes, with an average moving speed of 4.9 knots.

Paola at breakfast time.

By the time we'd had a chat with Matt and tidied the boat up, it was pretty late for a barbecue; and also still too windy, even in the inner harbour. So Paola made up some pasta, and that was about it for the night. The night was peaceful enough, although underscored by the continual creaking of the mooring lines and fenders as the boats moved together.

Sat 28 Apr 2001 17:00 US/Pacific

In the morning we had a leasurely breakfast, followed by a pot of freshly-brewed coffee. (Actually, coffee isn't really a good idea if you're going to be sailing, and we both ended up being a little queasy in the swells later on.)

The crew at breakfast.

We set sail again at 10:05. As on the previous trip down, we found a strong swell, up to around 7 feet, as soon as we passed outside the line of the reefs; however, this time around the seas were generally more confused and the ride was not too nice.

We motored out, and at 10:40 set sail; but since there wasn't too much wind yet, we kept the engine on and motorsailed for a while. With the wind coming from the north-west, the best tack we could make was west out to sea; but that was not a bad way to go, since it would give us the sea room to be able to reach north once the wind got up later.

We tried the sails a couple of times, but couldn't make much speed, and since we were heading back against both wind and current, we decided to motor some more, in order to get home at a reasonable time.

Hawaii's out there somwehere...

At 12:20 we changed course, and started heading a little east of due north. We were still motorsailing, with the mainsail and staysail. The trip north was very quiet; we only saw one other boat the whole way, otherwise we had the ocean to ourselves (at least the bit we could see). At first we managed to make between 5 and 6 knots motorsailing, against the current that comes down the coast; but by 14:25, when we had the town of Pacifica abeam to starboard, we were up to 6.7 knots in increasing wind (around 13 knots).

Sailor dude off Highway 1

Not long after, at 14:34, we could see the towers of the Golden Gate bridge. By 15:09 we were sailing! The wind was getting stronger all the time we moved towards the Golden Gate, and was forecast to get stronger still. We sailed on under the mainsail with one reef and the staysail; I kept the jib down in mind of the conditions ahead. By 15:26 we were passing the Sutro Tower in SF, making 6 knots in 22 knots of apparent wind off the port bow.

As we approached the Golden Gate, we could begin to see into the bay, where there seemed to be huge numbers of boats -- probably because today is the "opening day" ceremony on the bay. But we kept the bow pointed north; mindful of how a flood current can push you into Mile Rock, I wanted to be well clear before turning in. Menawhile we listened to an incredible confusion of radio traffic on Channel 16 -- boats aground, windsurfurs stuck in the bay and becalmed, and tragically on man who drowned within yards of Alameda. It seemed like an immense contrast to the peace and calm of the ocean, where we sailed along without having to worry about dodging sailboats and container ships every few seconds.

At 15:46 we turned northeast, skirting Mile Rock by a wide margin, and with the wind increasing steadily, particularly in the gusts. The swell was still pretty confused, and up to 8 or 9 feet as we crossed the South Bar, but Moonrise handled it easily.

At 16:13 we turned towards the bridge, and the change in wind angle made everything much calmer. The sea was also a lot flatter once we were inside the bar; but sure enough, the flood current pushed us in towards Point Lobos and Mile Rock, bringing us closer than I would have liked. Still, we cleared them safely; if we'd got too close, we could have just tacked.

Passing under the Golden Gate Bridge.

At 16:20 we passed under the Golden Gate bridge, at 8.4 knots (assisted by the flood current), on an easy broad reach. Oddly enough, the festivities in the bay seemed to be over, and all the boats had gone! Well, there were still some around Angel Island, but we had a clear run in, which made life a little easier.

At 16:40, we decided to gybe to pass between Alcatraz and SF, leaving plenty of room; but just 5 minutes later, we were suddenly very close to the island! Once again the strong current seemed to be running directly towards the nearest big, sharp rock. A quick burst of the motor took us clear -- yes it's cheating, but I'm just as happy to be well out of there.

Clint at the bridge.

From before Alctraz the wind had been dropping significantly, and at 16:50 we raised the jib; 10 minutes later, east of SF, we got the staysail up. Another 10 minutes had us under the Bay Bridge, in surprisingly little traffic; as the wind died, it took another half hour to get to the estuary. Not being in much of a hurry, and with the water almost flat, we turned to a run up the estuary under mainsail; we drfted lazily past the huge movie set on the old airfield, about a mile and a half long, but there was no sign of Keanu or Carrie-Anne.

At 17:57 a huge container ship entered the estuary, and sounded the danger signal to all the sailboats ahead of her -- including us! That was when we decided to get the motor on, the sail down and head out of there at top speed. Finally, at 18:38 we docked back in Grand Marina.

The run up from Half Moon was 43 miles, which we did in 8 hours 33 minutes, averaging 5.1 knots while moving. The whole trip was 82.6 miles; and while the weather was pretty strong, there was never a hint of Moonrise not being able to handle it easily. Even Paola was impressed with how solid she felt, even in the 9-foot swells over the South Bar.