Only with the comfort of retrospect back on the dock with a healthy plug of gin though.
The idea was simple. Take advantage of a favorable forecast and sail on the San Francisco Bay with a few friends. Low tide just after 2pm and a nice Westerly wind even provoked text message chains in the prior days about ducking out through the Golden Gate and riding the tide and winds home in the late afternoon.
By morning today, however, it was clear that the prevailing forecasts had undershot the day’s weather. Yes, more sun than predicted, but 15 knot winds at the dock by 9am. No cause to abort, obviously, these are spectacular sailing conditions. Add in the fact that one of my friends joining me today once sailed to Australia…my confidence was plummy. Golden Gate plans were amended in favor of cruising to McCovey Cove to possibly anchor for a few innings of Giants baseball.
My exit from my slip into the marina fairway was unfortunately harrowing, though I still can’t quite figure out why. It has happened to me twice now, under different wind conditions each time, but some element at play exacerbates my prop walk and the boat behaves unpredictably (to my feeble foretellings).
On the bay, sails up, the knotmeter keeps climbing. 15. 20. 25. Consistent 28, gusts of 30. Mind you, I can’t reef my main, and I don’t have my staysail rigged at the moment (though I can, and did, furl my jib). It was a wild, white-knuckled beeline to McCovey Cove but all was under control and I knew that the true impetus of my stress was the fact that this was the biggest weather I’ve ever sailed in. I was expanding my horizons.
The Cove turned out to be far too blustery to settle in. It was, in fact, deserted aside from the Bay Link Ferries moored in wait of the close of the Sunday afternoon game against the Rockies. A couple pics of the stadium snapped and a hat lost in the winds, and the crew and I decided to make for home port again, this time under jib only. Crossing back under the Bay Bridge span the winds were swirling a bit and an enormous container ship was unceremoniously closing in on my starboard so I decided to fire up the engine and motor sail for a moment to maximize control between the pylons.
Just about the moment we were passing under the bridge the engine died.
No big deal…for the moment. Certainly a significant seed of stress planted in my mind, but the ship had cleared and I had westerly winds taking me home with nary a need to tack. Once in the shadow of Angel Island, and well into the late afternoon, the wind quieted significantly. Enough for me to turn the helm over to Mike C. and turn my attentions to the engine. I’m not a confident mechanic, but over the years I have had occasion to garner significant experience tinkering and puttering (would that it all had stuck in my brain!). One summer I even ripped apart the engine on my ’67 mustang with my grandpa and uncle and rebuilt the damned thing nearly from the ground up. So I turned these theoretical mechanical proclivities to the engine and set about diagnosing the issue.
Temp was fine. Battery power was fine. Freshwater coolant system did not appear fouled. I drained the primary diesel fuel filter and found it full of sediment and compromised by an air pocket. Ah ha. I don’t have a fuel tank gauge so I knew this moment might come before I got around to installing one. My diagnosis: my tank was getting low and the rough seas caused the intake to suck air. Thankfully I had a little diesel to add from a jerry can and was able to set about bleeding the different ports in the line (it took me a while to identify them because Imma be honest, I haven’t put in the time I should have getting to know this engine.)
Because this post is already well-past long enough, I’ll briefly gloss over the final harrowing moments in which a tug delivering a large tanker ship started furiously tooting at us (did I mention that my VHF also went on the fritz today??) as it barreled down on us at Point Richmond. At that juncture we were sailing/floating at under one knot since the winds had totally died down. I was below bleeding the line but heard the sound and jammed the hose back on the engine nipple, launched myself through the companionway, and after a few false starts the engine roared to life. Freshly under power, but still with sails flagging, we banked hard to starboard, avoiding collision by only a few boat lengths. Now, I’m not a seasoned sailor but I can’t fathom that I was in the wrong in that scenario. Still, I chuckle at the irony that just as I’m celebrating my victory as a successful underway-mechanic the tug captain is cursing me because he thinks I just was too lazy to motor out of his way beforehand.
These are the types of days that I need to put in. I’m “learning the ropes” or “cutting my teeth” or whatever other aphorism you prefer. Still, as much as I can intellectually appreciate its value, it is going to take a couple more gins before my nerves finally accept the message that dog and I are back comfortably in our slip.