Everything is relative

Published on January 20th, 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:

Rich Jepsen; Alameda, CA:
As a newly separated airman, East Coast transplant and brand new GI Bill student at San Jose State, I offered to charter a boat and take my American History class mates sailing on San Francisco Bay, chartering an Ericson 32 from a local charter company.

The morning was uneventful, but the clockwork sea breeze kicked in around noon. Pretty soon it was 25 knots and square chop just west of the end of the Berkeley Pier. Even reefed down the conditions were pretty stiff to this former Mass Bay and Chesapeake Bay sailor.

My non-sailor classmates were uncertain and looking to me for reassurance, which I provided, sort of, “Don’t worry! I’ll get us out of these conditions, I promise!” My voice was high enough that I suspect they were unconvinced!

Then, I saw a Folkboat being single handed, with the skipper to leeward, foot on the tiller, with what looked like a beer in hand. He looked so relaxed, I felt a little sheepish, but it was my first vision of how wonderful and enthralling SF Bay could be, once you had a bit of time there.

I’ve sailed in many spots in the world. There are more challenging, beautiful and rewarding places to sail than on San Francisco Bay, but likely less than a handful. I am grateful to have spent my adult life here.

John Christman:
A number of years ago, I was crewing on a Hawkfarm 28. The racing that July weekend was on the Berkley Circle. The breezes were the typical 18-20 knots and the seas were 1-3 feet in the shallow water at the east side of the Bay. As we passed by the RC boat to cross the finish line after the second race of the day (and getting the gun :-)) we saw a woman standing at the stern.

She was huddled up trying to stay out of the wind and clearly wearing every bit of clothing she had brought with her or could borrow or steal. As we passed by, she look up and with an incredulous voice pointed at those of us lined up hiking out on the rail and cried out “OH MY GOD! They’re wearing SHORTS!” We waved, thanked her, tacked and headed home.

Does your sailing area have unique stories? Send them to editor@sailingscuttlebutt.com.

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