Into the Pacific

3 days of sailing? Oof, I need a break.

Silly though that sounds, the kernel of truth is undeniable. Being on-the-move, constantly vigilant of forecasts, weighing hypotheticals, hoisting sails, pulling sheets, and manning the helm for many hours on end is exhausting. I’m happy for the respite, but let me back up a little bit.

Friday was a “character building” day, without doubt. The sail from Vallejo to San Francisco was anything but a fun sendoff to bay cruising. I knew that I would be bashing into the wind all day, but when I pulled out of the marina shortly after 8am and eased around the southern point of Mare Island, I was surprised to find breezes already double the forecasted afternoon high. I tacked into it for a while, fighting hard for limited progress. Still, as I struggled to even approach Point Pinole, the winds climbed and the chop became prodigious. I double reefed the main and rolled in my staysail, and was forced to lean hard on the engine since I would bury the nose every thirty seconds or so to completely stall forward motion. Without the engine to keep at least a modicum of steering leverage with the rudder, the boat would start spinning like a top in the wind and wave. I managed to pull a storm jacket out of the lazaret, but even so I was taking regular “splash zone” hits, the kind I haven’t known since the Marine World Orca show as a kid. Everything–myself, my dog, my cabin–was wet and unhappy. Total tally, day one (!): 8 hours underway, 5+ hours maxing out the engine, 29-35 knot winds on the nose for most of it. I’ve known the term burying the rail before; now I am on intimate terms with it.

It should be well stated (if it weren’t painfully obvious by now) that I’m not an adrenaline junkie. I didn’t fall into sailing because I like to “live on the edge” or “take it to the limit” or any other clicheed phrase to connote an enjoyment of or even high tolerance for extreme situations. No, I’m more the wanderer, the vagabond type (at least I’d like to think so, but maybe I’ve just been reading too much Sterling Hayden). At the very least, to me the allure of sailing is the romance of finding your home in every new port of call. To be able to transition with near immediacy from foreign environs to the epitome of the familiar. Case in point, here I am, moored in Capitola, California, just a stone’s throw south of Santa Cruz, but every night dog and I sleep in our own bed. It nearly boggles the mind. Whether or not I prove to be any good at such a lifestyle remains to be seen but is–at this juncture–entirely beside the point. For now, my conviction in the merit of that pursuit is enough.

exiting the Golden Gate!

Thankfully my sailing compatriot, Avery, joined me on Friday evening in San Francisco. I took a guest slip at Pier 39, conveniently located to slip out under the Golden Gate Bridge on Saturday morning at the morning slack tide. My own enthusiasm was shaken, but Avery’s was untarnished, which helped buoy the mood on the boat. Saturday’s foggy passage under the bridge was under power, as winds were light (and on our nose) and I conservatively didn’t want to get caught playing around in the ebb tide. We took the main shipping channel out, about 8 miles offshore, then turned to the South East and sailed in the direction of Half Moon Bay. Winds remained light all day, so our progress was slow although our spirits high.

After about 9 hours on the water, we dropped anchor for the night in Pillar Point Harbor, in Half Moon Bay. The next morning we rose before dark, docked at the fuel dock to run Momo onshore for a little bit of leg-stretching, and were headed out to sea at first light (not that it mattered, the fog was so thick). Hoping to find a little more wind, I plotted a course off shore and we motored in search of breeze. We didn’t find it until about 7 hours later. We did find many seals, birds, and whales, however. I even witnessed the full breach of a stunning grey whale a little ways off the port side. It was a remarkable sight, an image right out of a nature calendar.

Onward! (sorry, I bet you were expecting a pic of a broaching whale, weren’t you?)

The final 3.5 hours were under sail, a delightful jaunt surfing down the waves at our back. As we neared Santa Cruz the winds picked up a little more, but were generally in the 8-13 knot range. We even got a little bit of sunshine just as we rounded the point to Capitola, which was remarkably well-appreciated after two long grey days on the water. I’ve played tag with the fog ever since, but am perfectly content to do so while peacefully on my mooring ball.

For now, I’m exploring on foot, surfing, and turning my attentions to writing. I also have a laundry-list of projects to pursue on the boat before the next leg. When will that be, you ask? I dunno, I have a few days to chew on it. If I want to stay more than two weeks here in Capitola, I might as well pay for a whole month since the monthly rate is so heavily discounted vs the weekly. I can certainly think of worse places to linger for a month.

what a difference an hour makes

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