And it was also the light at the end of a dark tunnel on this first day of Fall. One of the most asked questions is: “Aren’t you ever scared?” Frankly, these 27 miles from Point Reyes to the bridge turned out to be one of the scariest moments in my memory. It started just before making the left turn at Point Reyes. The wind suddenly picked up from the 20-25 knots of the last two days to at least thirty knots. “I’ll have to harden up and will the rudder and the windvane be able to take the added forces? What are my options? Keep running down wind and pass San Francisco and wait for daylight?” With three layers I was still shivering. Frost warnings were issued for the Napa Valley. The other option was to try and find a spot to anchor for the night. But in the dark in an unfamiliar area this is still hazardous. I decided to try and get as much coverage closer to shore from the strong winds. But the wind just followed the funnel tunnel to the bridge. Now I was committed to it. No turning back against this kind of gale force wind. The waves rolled, curled and broke in a bath of white foam. The boat was tossed and pushed, but the Monitor managed to force it back on course. At times “Fleetwood” was riding the crest of a big wave, momentarily surfing. The commercial vessel lanes are clearly marked on the electronic chart and I must be sure to stay out of these lanes. Now, there is the added problem that the alarm bell rings steadily and gives a description of a German container ship and a cruise vessel. But this time they are not showing up on the screen, just the messages with the annoying alarm. I keep clicking the “silence alert”, but a second later it jumps back. There is no time to search for the fix. (Meanwhile I had a flash of genius: turn the sound off……). With the city lights as a back light it is difficult to make out the bridge. I must trust the GPS charts. On the final approach to the Golden Gate, hooked on with my safety harness, I disconnected the wind vane and hand steered, actually leg steered because I have to hang on with both hands not to be tossed out of the cockpit. But when I get closer the wind and waves calm down and it is like an anti-climax. Daylight breaks over the hills, I sniff the familiar smell of Eucalyptus. I just happened to have hit slack. I was riding the flood in from midnight until 5 a.m. with a 2.6 knots of maximum current. God is good, it could have been the ebb at max. 4 knots if I would arrived 6 hours earlier at Pt. Reyes. I hate to imagine the size and force of the waves in these wind conditions.
This is a pre-selfie taken of my very first single handed arrival at the Golden Gate. Just to amplify the fact that all those ocean sailing years since have rejuvenated me with equal years. This picture was taken the last week of August 1981 on my way to the Alameda “in the water” boat show on the Labor Day weekend. I had dropped the bags of my two men crew and a traveler check for bus fare on the dock in Crescent City. Leslie James was a burly Aussie who I had hired to make a Sitka Spruce box glued mast and boom for “Fleetwood”. The original sail plan was too small for the light winds in the Pacific North West. This mast was eight foot taller and added 40% surface area to the main sail. The head sails remained unchanged in this fractional 7/8 configuration. It just did not seem right to have a metal mast on a wood boat and wood was my business and my heritage, the grandson of a fourth generation mastmaker. But I never managed to set it up with internal halyards. In my impatience and more money than sense in that period I ended up buying a metal mast and boom. Leslie James’s abandoned work of art rotted away on Phil Sloan’s dock in Gig Harbor. When Leslie heard of my plans to sail the boat to Alameda he offered to crew. He brought his Victoria, BC buddy along. Leslie James had crewed on ocean races on the then famed “Ticonderoga” in Australia. Buddy had no sailing experience. His conditions were no booze aboard. O.K., no problem. Leslie always wore a black eye patch. Once under sail it came off exposing an ugly hole and I was degraded from owner to cabin boy. When we made a stop in Crescent City the two went on a drinking binge. I needed to get to the show on time. It was another rough rounding of Cape Mendocino. No GPS, just a sextant and my Radio Direction Finder. It was a thick fog when I got close to making the left turn at Point Reyes. Suddenly I woke up hearing the foghorn of Point Reyes. This qualified me for the 1982 Singlehanded Transpac in 1982. I left the boat moored in Richmond for that winter. This is familiar territory. If you have not read it yet you should, about the 1982 SH-Transpac at: http://www.cometosea.us/albums/SH%20TRANSPAC.doc
Now I am showered and shaved in the Grand Marina in Alameda. It turned out that Encinal YC hosts the wheelchair veteran cruise this Saturday. No room with all the volunteer power boats from the area to entertain our war heroes. I shall be at Encinal from Sunday afternoon onward. On Monday morning the 12th another sailboat came out of Neah Bay. When I discovered the challenge I had going through the “Hole in the Wall” between Tatoosh Island and Cape Flattery I tried to warn my new company not to follow my example. But they could not hear me. There is a problem with my fixed VHF radio. I need to repair the connection. The hand held works fine for my coastal sailing. Later on I identified the boat by its AIS profile as the Dutch yacht “Anna Caroline” with the famous cruising couple Wietze van der Laan and Anneke Kuysters. See: http://www.zeilen.nl/nieuws/actueel/column-anna-vakantie/ where Anneke writes a bi-weekly column of their adventures in the leading Dutch sailing magazine . Both couples I met in Newport had run in to them in British Columbia and Alaska. Judy Millard of the Canadian “Veleda IV” gave me their e-mail address. We will meet up on October 2nd after they move the boat from South Beach, San Francisco for their winter moorage and haul out to nearby Emeryville. They have sailed 13,000 nautical miles in the last year.
Here is what I started writing on board:
Tuesday, September 20th. I went into town to grocery shop on Friday. It is a long walk across the bridge. A father and son were feasting on the crabs they had caught and just pulled from the steamer. When I asked them for the stairs up to the bridge, they invited me to join them and the Dungeness crab was delicious. After I listened to the weather VHF report, I decided to stay until Sunday morning. The last shuttle bus on Saturday dropped me near the Sacred Heart Church for the 5.30 p.m. Saturday mass.
It was raining and a long walk back. The very first couple, at church, I asked if they were crossing the bridge going home turned out to be in the same RV/Marina facility and dropped me right at the dock. They are from Coos Bay, Oregon. In the seventies and eighties, I shipped most of my forest products from Coos Bay and made frequent visits there and the surrounding sawmills. One dear business friend was Stu Lyons, the operator of the main shipping terminal. He died in his forties. My ride was a schoolmate of Stu and lived close to their home, where I was an occasional visitor.
It was foggy and no wind when I left at 8.30 a.m. A little breeze came up from the SW, not enough to sail on but enough to motorsail under the main sail. The VHF weather forecast for the evening gave me some concern, NW 20-25 with gusts to 30 mph. I started with the full main and my 140 % head-sail, then started with one reef and ended up down to three reefs before I had to pack up the main and have been sailing on just the brand new red colored storm jib.
The seas built up quickly and the boat was whipped around a lot and took a number of waves across and into the cockpit. A bit scary. This afternoon it calmed down but not enough to add any more sail and now in the evening it is picking up again. But I managed to cook my dinner of smoked chicken breasts and stir fry vegetables. Just in time.
My laptop is next to my bunk and it warns me through the wireless connection to the AIS transponder when traffic approaches. So, I am able to get some sleep in the meantime.