No place like San Francisco Bay

Published on January 25th, 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:

John McNeill:
The most impressive thing about the Bay is that it finds, tests and improves your skills like no other place in the world. Paul Cayard described that as well as I’ve ever seen.

As a kid of 11, many decades ago, I recall learning to control a capsize of my snub-nosed Moth by jumping out the weather side to stand on the dagger board and bring her right again quickly, a feat I had to use far too often out in the slot after school. Then there was the day of racing my 8 foot El Toro off Sausalito’s Hurricane Gulch in a rather gusty afternoon, with the foggy blasts coming down the western hills like a freight train.

Heading for a lee mark on a broad reach, I found I could survive the heavier stuff by sitting on the transom with tiller between my knees and hiking like crazy to keep the little boat from nosediving in the waves. That was all working well, and I was gaining, when a committee whaler came by and told me to go in as the race was called off. Truly disappointed!

However, they still say, ‘If you can sail San Francisco Bay, you can sail anywhere.’ I’ve done both and they are correct!

Tony Spooner:
My two friends and I sailed our home built Piver trimaran under the Golden Gate Bridge from Hawaii in October 1968. We had left Sydney in March 1967, and spent the whole summer of ’69, until our departure in October, enjoying the sailing on the Bay, Marin, Sausalito, the lee of Angel Island, etc.

Every weekend was a new adventure, always with friends, many times returning late, in the fog, with only the large Safeway market sign as a guide back to our slip at Fort Mason. It was a great time.

But the most indelible memory was the first time we saw Eric Tabarly’s big aluminum trimaran “Pen Duick IV” go blasting back and forth across from the San Francisco side to Sausalito and back. I’m guessing he was doing 20-25 knots, with a huge wall of spray coming off the leeward hull. We had never seen anything this mass of metal going so fast.

We saw him often, but it seemed only when the breeze was 20 or more. He really made good use of the conditions and I will never forget it.

Do you have stories from the Chesapeake Bay? Narragansett Bay? Great Lakes? Send them to editor@sailingscuttlebutt.com.

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