Foggy stories from San Francisco

Published on April 22nd, 2021

Avoiding collision requires visibility which is hard in the fog, and once was a whole lot harder before pinpoint navigation tools. But what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger and provides good stories… here are a few of them:

From Nat Gildersleeve:
We were racing the “South Tower Race” from Stockton, CA to the Blackaller Buoy in San Francesco Bay, which is near the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge and back. As we approached the area of the Blackaller Buoy, the fog rolled in.

This was back in the pre-GPS era but I had placed a waypoint in my Loran at the Blackaller Buoy. Soon another racer came into view out of the fog, trying to find the mark. They were asking if we knew where the buoy was. Then they noticed our Loran antenna, so they just followed along.

The closer we got to the buoy the more racers dropped into line, following us to the buoy.

From Dean Dietrich:
Many years ago I crewed on a Gurney 41 that was racing from San Francisco Bay to Half Moon Bay. We were trying to find the entrance buoy to the harbor in heavy fog when we saw some bright lights that the captain assumed would take us into the marina.

But as we got closer two sounds changed our thinking: waves crashing and rock ‘n roll music coming from the bar with the bright lights. Needless to say, a crash tack was in order unless we wanted to order a margarita from the bartender.

From John Callahan:
Late one evening after dark in the late 1980s we were fooling around San Francisco Bay outside the Golden Gate Bridge on our Soverel 33 Good & Plenty. We were off Baker Beach on the south side of the bridge when the famous SF fog came in fast.

No problem – the fog horns and the dim lights of the bridge above were guiding us in (I thought).

We had the chute up and were just making it around the South Tower on a tight port tack beam reach. But with the tricky current, I thought we might not make it outside the Tower, and opted to ease off a bit and sail inside the South Tower – between it and Fort Point on shore.

A minute later, the glowing lights I mistook for the South Tower to weather loomed into view as Fort Point on shore – and we were moments from going ashore on the rocks. Light winds and favorable tide allowed us to head up sharply and avoid disaster.

It remains a moment I will never forget and a stark reminder that fog is a formidable foe which will disorient the most confident of skippers.

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