The Golden Gate Bridge seen from seaward is a mighty fine sight!
Comparing Notes with a Friend: As we arrived in San Francisco, we were delighted to receive an email from John Guzzwell, who has made several trips down the coast, not to mention sailing around the world. John wrote, and we wholeheartedly confirm, “It can be a bit wild getting down below Cape Mendocino, but the weather moderates after that.” We were amazed to read that one trip down the coast in Trekka had taken him 17 days, which also included a couple days spent hove-to in a gale. (Click here to read that story and more in a clip from Good Old Boat magazine.) John’s description of his first gale at sea and the way the boat handled felt a lot like our own experience.
Like John discovered in his gale, we found being hove-to in less than ideal circumstances for two days gave us even more confidence in our little boat. While laying in our bunks as the wind moaned and seas hissed and crashed over us, we were grateful that the rigging, chainplates and hull-to-deck seam caulking were new, and that we’d taken the time to remove and repair the bowsprit a couple winters ago. When each sea that punched the side of the hull shoved us a few more yards to leeward, we took comfort in knowing that Sockdolager’s solid hull had been crafted with care.
We realized that had we not used the motor for the first and last 8-to-10 hour stretches through calms, and that if we had sailed all the way to San Francisco instead of ducking into Eureka, it might easily have taken us 17 days, too. As it was, the first 600 miles took 8 days, which included about 10 hours of motoring in a calm just west of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and about 8 hours of motoring to reach the Eureka outer bar before the tide turned and another gale arrived.
But if you ask us what we remember best, it’s not the rush to escape the second gale or catch a fair tide at the end of the passage; it’s the exhilaration of being offshore, under sail alone, with all the room in the world and the horizon unbroken by any intrusion, the wind vane steering up, down, through and around big seas for 24 hours a day, and us, once used to the motion, completely immersed in the rhythms of sea and sky.
The Advantages of Being an Ex-Teacher: One thing we forgot to mention last time was this little ditty, which happened early one morning while we were 100 miles off the coast of southern Oregon the day before the gale hit. Karen came up for her watch at daybreak and asked Jim, “See any ships?” Nope. “Geez,” she whined, “I almost miss seeing a ship, we haven’t seen one in two days!"
Now listen up. NEVER, ever say this unless you mean it. Within one hour, there were nineteen ships in sight. We kid you not. Not one of them registered on the electronic AIS system, either. We had evidently blundered into the secret offshore fishin’ hole for the entire Oregon fleet. Nineteen large boats were going in every direction, with the largest one coming straight toward us in a zigzag course.
The ship alters course toward us. Let’s try again in a couple more minutes. A tone of polite demand appears in Karen’s voice now, but still they don’t answer, and they’re going to pass closer to us now than before they altered their zig-zaggy course. Karen can see they’re not fishing, and suspects that maybe the ship is trying to go astern of us, but it’s going to be too close for comfort, and they aren’t giving away their plan over the radio, either. This means a major sail adjustment fire drill is in our immediate future.
Um, Jim,” calls Karen, “Um… there’s a ship…we may have a crossing situation up here soon…” This is another one of those Mars-Venus things where Karen should have been more direct by saying “I need you up here right now!” but she doesn’t want to be harsh because he’s just gone off-watch. So Jim takes her literally, which is to say he figures it’s no biggie.
“Don’t wake me up unless you really want me up there!” comes the muffled reply from the sleeping bag. Sheesh, Grumpy and Sleepy all rolled into one lump.
“Okay, NEVER MIND then,” says Karen, “But I’m gonna get this guy on the radio, and by the way, there are nineteen ships out here,” she adds peevishly. No reply. Karen takes this as the most staggering vote of confidence she has ever witnessed, on her seamanship. Whatevs.
Here comes the damned ship. Time for some tough talk before going into fire drill mode. She fixes her expression in a red-eyed glare, mashes the transmit button, and engages the Nuclear Option. You don’t use the Nuclear Option near the coast because the Coast Guard’ll jump down your neck, but this is offshore and we’re runnin’ with the big dogs here. The Nuclear Option is the voice Karen once used as a seventh-grade science teacher to reach the sluggard in the back of the room who was wadding spitballs: “HEY! RED HULLED SHIP HEADED TOWARD THE SMALL SAILBOAT UNDER SAIL! YEAH, I’M TAWKIN’ TA YOU! WHAT ARE YOUR INTENTIONS?” Say dishonorable and I’ll run ya through, she thought.
This produced an immediate reaction. “Yarzasailboat, this’s th’ EZ-One. I’ll miss ya.”
Huh? I’ll miss ya? Are you kidding?
Karen wanted to say, “Wish I could say the same after we’re done, buddy,” but instead roared “EZ-ONE, DO YOU INTEND TO PASS AHEAD OR ASTERN OF US?” in the most perfect ragin’ teacher-ese.
“I’ll gobehindja,” said the obviously terrified captain of EZ-One. Guess we showed him. Anyway, passage through the remainder of the fleet, all of whom were busily trawling with nets, was uneventful. Every one of them gave us an exceptionally wide berth, except for a boat that cruised by at a respectable distance trying to peer at the teacher behind at the helm.
Some other ships pass pretty close, too. We sometimes call ships if they’re going to pass close, to make sure they’ve seen us. Sometimes we chat, and they give us weather reports. Sometimes they’re grumps.
The Pleasures of Ports: In Eureka we explored the town’s excellent history museum and Victorian architecture.
Eureka, like Port Townsend, is a Victorian seaport, but it has a very different flavor from PT.
Jim caught some Dungeness crabs for a feast, and down the dock we met a young couple named Peter and Molly, who with their seven children, are living aboard a massive Colin Archer steel ketch named Nadejda. They’ve left farm life behind and will, we hope, rendezvous for a musical jam session somewhere in the Sea of Cortez this winter.
Nadejda means ‘hope’ in Russian.
We’ve traded 49 degrees latitude for 38, and eagles for pelicans.
Eureka to Point Reyes: The second passage of 250 miles (Eureka to Point Reyes) took 2 ½ days and included about 5 hours of motoring to clear the harbor, and in the light winds, to get sea room for rounding Cape Mendocino, which we passed uneventfully. After that it was fine sailing for awhile, then back to cold fog. We never did see the coastline until landfall at Point Reyes.
What landfall looks like at Point Reyes in calm conditions. Drake’s Bay is on the other side of these cliffs.
When the wind died on the last day, we decided not to wait and again motored several more hours. Good thing we did, too. That afternoon the wind began to rise just as we anchored in Drake’s Bay. Since it’s a big bay with a lot of fetch, we set out a second anchor and lots of scope (rope ratio to depth, for landlubbers.) The gale arrived a couple hours later, a good 40 knots in gusts, and it felt just like being underway again. We were comfortable and warm, but had hoped to go ashore to beachcomb and hike instead.
The last 33 miles from Point Reyes to San Francisco Bay’s Angel Island took about 8 hours of motor-sailing in a calm that had followed a third gale that we’d ridden out under two anchors in Drake’s Bay. And when we got under the Golden Gate Bridge, hoo boy did the wind blow! It funnels through there and gets honking at 25-30 knots each afternoon. The folkboat fleet that races here has NO reef points in their sails. They never, ever reef. Wow. Editor Rich Hazleton of 48 North magazine emailed us, saying “You’ll soon be laughing at 30 knot winds.” Yeesh.
After a week in San Francisco and a few days in Sausalito, we’ll explore other parts of the Bay; perhaps sail up rivers to Petaluma and Napa. Wine country by boat—what’s not to like? We may also go to Alameda or Berkeley before heading out to sea again.
By the way, watch for an article on our last big blog post about the passage offshore, in the September issue of 48 North.
On Boat Speed: Some of you have wondered what took us so long to get down the coast; others complimented us on a fast passage. This would be a good time to talk about boat speed.
A sailboat’s speed is determined by a lot of factors, the dominant ones being displacement and waterline length. Sockdolager is fairly heavy displacement (good for carrying supplies) and has a waterline length that’s shorter than most cruising boats: only 21 feet, five inches. But she can still make remarkably good time on passage with the wind vane doing the steering. We found that offshore it’s much more comfortable if we don’t press the boat too hard, which means sacrificing a bit of speed for easier motion. An average of 100 miles a day under sail is what we used for passage planning purposes, and it’s worked out pretty good so far.
John Guzzwell told us in his email that on one trip from Neah Bay to San Francisco, aboard his fast cold-molded sloop Endangered Species, he took 4 days. You read that right, 4 days. But the thing that made us smile most was this: “Congratulations on breaking away from the dock, that is the hardest part!” Amen, brother.