Very dark, Very cold, Very wet

Published on January 30th, 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.”

Robert Boynton shares a memorable fight:

I had crossed the finish line of the Singlehanded Farallones Race, doused the spinnaker, and reflected on the accomplishment. I always have some elation at the end of a race, and opted to hove to and watch some competitors finish.

I don’t drink at all during the race but afterwards I do imbibe so as I sat there, decompressing after the race, I cracked a beer (my first mistake) and stripped off my foul weather gear (second mistake).

I finished my beer, and as there was a break in the finishers, it was time to head home as it was late and I was tired. I set the jib and took a northerly course back home to Richmond on what was now a light close reach. It looked to be a pleasant sail home, and as the first beer tasted great, I cracked open another one (third mistake).

However, while I was done with the Gulf of the Farallones, San Francisco Bay was not done with me.

The wind soon started to increase from an easy 5-7 knots to now 10-12 and clocking further north, my direction. This continued until I was now hard on the wind which had increased to 20-25 knots, with waves breaking over the bow. I was overpowered and needed to go forward and drop the jib.

I crawled up to the bow, crossing over land mines of sheets, fore guys, afterguys, halyards, etc. that I hadn’t put away from the race… did I mention it was pitch dark at this point? As I tried to get the jib down the wind would catch and pull it out of my hands and send it back up the forestay.

I finally got it down enough to peer over the sail and see a ferry boat bearing down on me at speed. It was dark and I was pretty sure he hadn’t seen me. I let go of the jib, crashed back into the cockpit, disengaged the autopilot, and turned to just avoid the ferry only to get washed over by her wake.

Taking a deep breath, I got the jib down and motored home. It was now very dark, very cold, and I was now very wet. My one hour ‘easy’ sail back to my marina on SF Bay was rougher, wetter, and scarier than my previous 12 hours out on the ocean around the Farallon Islands.

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