2009 Sept – From Long Beach to San Francisco Bay

Long Beach

I got a new contract in San Jose so I moved my boat from Long Beach up to its new berth in the San Francisco Bay.  I hired a skipper, Nikolay, because (a) I have never done the trip and (b) it is September and the weather forecasts were for hazardous weather, and (c) I am conservative when it comes to putting my boat out there – I like to know that at least someone knows where we are going besides the autopilot.

I also convinced a friend to act as crew.  Been-there done-that with the the 3-hours on and 3-hours off shifts.  I prefer the 3-hours on and 6-hours off type of shift.

The Skipper arrived late Thursday night and slept on the boat, as did we 2 crew.  We were up at 5:00am  making coffee and we threw off the dock lines around 6:00am Friday morning, September 25th 2009.  We left the dock on a perfectly still morning, the water calm, the weather clear.

Nikolay and Marty in the cockpit watching out for traffic

Skipper and crew in the cockpit watching out for traffic

Nikolay wanted to get a very early start in order to round Pt. Conception 22 hours later, around 3:00am Saturday morning when the weather is calmest, especially in light of the storm warnings from NOAA.  The early hour would also avoid the vicious Santa Ana winds that blow this time of year, further complicating the weather.

Once outside the harbor I decided to make breakfast of scrambled egg and bacon.  I think the bacon was a little off because a few hours after eating, and on calm seas, I got pretty squeamish.  I developed a low grade headache and lay down to sleep.  Much to my chagrin I slept most of the day away only waking in the very late afternoon.

We took turns standing watch Friday night and I was on at 1:00am when we were just an hour off Pt. Conception.  We had been hugging the coast all the way up, just 2 to 3 miles offshore because Nikolay said that with the topography of the land, the seas were calmest close to shore.  I woke Nikolay an hour away from Pt. Conception for the rounding.  Since the weather reports were still for high winds and high seas, I decided to hit the sack and sleep off the next few hours.

Pt. Conception was a dud – thank heavens!!  Low wind, low waves – and again we were hugging the shore.

Close inshore.  And the land rolls by.....

Close inshore. And the land rolls by.....

On Saturday my stomach was considerably settled but my riend was suffering from a low grade headache and squeamishness.  He said he had felt sick on Friday but since I was down and out, he didn’t say anything because he didn’t want to burden Nikolay with being the only person available for Watch.  So he had stayed on his feet Friday while I slept it off.  So Saturday night I started the evening watch, handed over to Nikolay around 9:00pm, and Nikolay called me again around 2:00am, and I stood watch and let my friend/crew sleep thru the night.  Tit for tat.

It was a gorgeous night, with almost no wind, and only 2ft swells.  The luminescence in the sea left a glowing tail stretching out behind the boat.  When Nikolay handed over the watch to me he said that he saw some dolphins come streaking toward the boat and he thought for a moment that the boat had snagged a fisherman’s net and was dragging it along.  He was relieved it was just dolphins.

I spent my watch peering into the darkness anticipating dolphins and I wasn’t disappointed.  Soon I saw 4 tubes of light streaking towards the bow, looking for all the world like we were being attacked by multiple torpedoes.   I was dying to go upfront and peer down from the bow at the tubes of light that were the dolphins playing in the bow wave, but since I was alone on watch in the middle of the night, and my deck has no lifelines, I thought I would stay in the safety of the cockpit and just peer over the side.

Once the dolphins got tired of playing and streaked off in their luminescent tubes of light, I saw a large fish come cruising alongside the boat.  It was about 10ft long, it could have been a shark.  Its large body shape was clearly outlined in the luminescence as it moved thru the water alongside the boat.  We were doing 7 knots at the time, but the fish cruised next to the boat as though we were standing still.  It seemed to be assessing us.  Then it accelerated off into the darkness – again like we were standing still.  Quite an eerie encounter.

Standing watch as the sun rises

Standing watch as the sun sets

The next morning as the sun rose I saw dolphin coming in from every direction.  Pretty soon I was surrounded by about 50 to 60 dolphin playing in the bow wave.  It was enchanting.  I watched for some time then decided that even if  my friend was feeling sick, he really should see this so I went below to wake him up.  He was already awake and getting dressed so we went upstairs and sat on the bow and watched the dolphin. We must have sat there for about an hour in the morning sun, on the gentle sea, watching frolicking dolphins.

Later that day as we neared San Francisco the sea turned red and I noticed hordes of huge jellyfish and Man of War in the water.  The skipper said their numbers were concentrated because they were feeding on the algae or bacteria (I forget which) that was turning the sea red.  Fascinating.

Outside the Golden Gate the wind was low and the sea calm, but once we passed under the bridge the wind screamed by and the wave chop was considerable.

Approaching the Golden Gate bridge (note the container ship)

Approaching the Golden Gate bridge (note the container ship)

Also you are competing for space with multiple large container ships, so that is unnerving if it’s the first time.  Fortunately Long Beach has a container ship at every turn in the channel so I am used to their incredible size – still you don’t want to be run down by one.  We maneuvered carefully around them.

San Francisco to starboard

San Francisco to starboard

Once we were inside the Bay we turned and headed for our marina.  We were hoping that we would reach the marina in daylight but the sun set just 30 minutes before we reached the marina so we were left maneuvering in the pitch dark.  This was not such an issue in the main channel that was clearly marked, however, once we reached the side channel in which my marina was located, the channel markers were few and far between.  And since I had never been to the marina before, we were riding blind.  I was very grateful that we were there at high tide because we needed the extra water under the keel.  We saw a blinking red light down the side channel and went carefully towards it, but at times there was only 3ft of water under us!!  Fortunately my trimaran only draws 2 ft, but you never know what may be sticking up out of the sand that could poke a hole in the boat.  It was a harrowing and a verrrrrry slow and careful drive down the channel to the marina entrance.

We reached the dock on Sunday night at 8:45pm.


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