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A treacherous piece of water

Published on January 16th, 2022

In his January column for Seahorse magazine, Paul Cayard described San Francisco Bay as “a treacherous piece of water off the otherwise peaceful Pacific Ocean. On a summer afternoon, with the current going at 2kt out the gate and the 59° wind pushing in at 25kt, what you have is the Octagon of Sailing.”

Here are some memories from fighting on this canvas:

Toby Cooper:
Besides the routine knockdown Westerlies, SF Bay is known and loved for its powerful and complex tidal patterns.

Winter races can be notorious for variable winds and big tides. During one double handed race on the Moore 24, we were eeking our way to the Golden Gate Bridge against a monster flood.

We squeezed past Harding Rock in the light stuff, marveling at how disorienting it felt to creep past the buoy which was stationary, but surrounded by surging water which was not. In fact, you almost had to consciously deny the perception that the mark was trying to pass your boat and not the reverse.

A half hour later a desperate voice rang out over the VHF, “Pan Pan, Pan Pan,” came the near-frantic call. “Harding buoy is hooked on a submarine and it is being pulled out to sea!” It actually took multiple replies from all over the Bay to convince them of the truth.

Sue Mikulski:
We’d chartered a boat for the 1998 J/105 North Americans, and wow were the boats beat up compared to Annapolis, and wow did the locals blade out their sails! With winds over 30, we all took turns tacking the jib, as with multiple short tacks next to the city front to avoid the current, we were exhausted by the end of the day.

I remember eating lunch at SFYC, looking out at the calm winds, and out of nowhere 50 windsurfers started right at noon as the predicted wind picked up. It’s always beautiful to sail with a city or mountains as the back drop, and San Francisco is a beautiful city. What a fantastic memory for all of us!

Russ Saunders:

I was on a banking assignment in Cleveland, Ohio with plans to race on the weekend, but as we were going out of the harbor, the start boat was coming back in. Apparently the wind got up to 15 knots and that was considered too much for the yacht racers. I was livid…. we don’t really start real racing on San Francisco Bay unless it is at least 20 knots. Could not believe that they cancelled the race at 15 knots…that told me a lot.

Do you have a San Francisco Bay story? Send it to

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