Monday, November 29, 2010

The Yacht Clubs of San Francisco Bay

Here is a map, showing where we have been on our cruise so far. The black-on-white name tags show places where we stayed, the yellow line our approximate route:

And here is a similar map showing our travels around San Francisco Bay, as far as Pittsburg, and back to the Vallejo Yacht Club where we are now, and will be staying for  a while:

Our first stop in the Bay was San Francisco Marina. During our two days there, we biked around the Presidio district and Fisherman’s Wharf. There was a Trader Joes and an excellent Thai restaurant nearby. We went on a “clam chowder crawl” at Fisherman’s Wharf, trying various different chowders. San Franciscans everywhere were celebrating the Giants victory in baseball, and whooping it up. While at a sidewalk table at one restaurant, one of the many vintage cars and hotrods there to celebrate the victory burned its tires on the pavement for such a long time that a huge cloud of toxic gray smoke drifted right down the street past us, so I could hardly see Karen across the table! We held our breath for about a minute until the smoke blew away. Everyone was quite crazy! We visited the exclusive St Francis Yacht Club nearby, and the less exclusive Golden Gate Yacht Club where everyone was very happy about their being the current holder of the America’s Cup, yachting’s most prestigious trophy.

At St Francis Yacht Club

At the Palace of Fine Arts, Presidio District, near the San Francisco Marina
At the Exploratorium, next to the Palace of Fine Arts, in the "Exploring the Mind" section. Who can bring themselves to drink from this fountain?

 Then we sailed over the bay to Travis Marina in Horseshoe Cove, right near the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. We stayed there four nights, while we biked into Sausalito and over the Golden Gate Bridge. In the evenings there was live music in the Presidio Yacht Club at the marina. While there listening to a blues band, we took the photo of the Golden Gate Bridge at night that was in our last posting. Being so close to the bridge was very special.

Sailing across the bay to Travis Marina, ahead.

One of the many colorful live-aboard boat houses in Galilee Harbor, Sausalito

Lunch at an excellent Mexican Cafe in Sausalito

Riding over the Golden Gate Bridge on our folding bikes

From there we sailed to Angel Island, and biked around the island. This had been the “western Ellis Island” and walking around the old immigrant processing area, and reading about how they had been prejudiced against Chinese immigrants, was quite fascinating.

The Witch of Endor at Angel Island

Immigrant Processing Center at Angel Island

It was only possible to stay at the dock at Angel Island during the day, and the mooring buoys in Ayala cove cost $30.00 a night, so we decided to anchor out for free. The trouble was the mooring buoys occupied all the best anchorage area in the cove, and when we tried to anchor further out the strong current and rapidly deepening water meant we couldn’t get the anchor to grip. While trying to get out of the second place we attempted to anchor, our anchor trip line (not the anchor rode itself, fortunately) was pulled back by the current, and got wrapped around our propeller, stalling the motor! There was no wind, we were without our motor, and a strong ebbing tide was pulling us along beside the island, and could, at some point have taken us on to rocks. Although it was almost dark, I realized I had to get into my wetsuit and snorkel mask, and get over the side and under the boat with a sharp serrated knife and cut the tangled rope off the propeller. And I had to do it as quickly as possible. As I climbed down the swim ladder (with a rope attaching me to the boat so I wouldn’t be swept away), the boat got caught in a whirlpool and just circled round and round. I reassured Karen that that was a good thing, as it meant we weren’t going anywhere, and it might keep us off the rocks until I could cut the rope off the propeller. Fortunately the water was not too cold, and in my 3mm wetsuit I stayed reasonably warm. I had to dive under about 20 times before I was able to cut all the rope off the propeller shaft. It was too far down for me to be able to use the snorkel, so I just had to hold my breath each time I went down. About half way through the process, the water stopped being still, and a strong current started racing by me, so I had to hold on to the rudder with one hand, and cut with the other. When I had finished freeing the propeller, and climbed back up on boat, I realized why this was. The trip line wrapped around the propeller had been holding the anchor off the bottom, so we just drifted and the water wasn’t moving past the boat. But when I cut the piece of rope leading down to the anchor, the anchor dropped, grabbed the bottom and held the boat from drifting any further. At this point we were out of the whirlpool, and had been swiftly drifting down the cove next to the one we’d started at, so when the anchor dropped and held, the boat stopped drifting and the current started flowing past the boat. It turned out that this place where the anchor dropped was a perfect place to anchor, just the right distance out, with the current flowing smoothly parallel to the shore, so I just let out some more scope (anchor rope), and we stayed there for the night, securely and peacefully anchored.

Where we found ourselves anchored off Angel Island -- the next morning

Next morning we took the flood tide over to Point Richmond, where we were able to stay at the Richmond Yacht Club two nights for free because we are members of another yacht club. And a number of other yacht clubs have offered us a free night with subsequent nights at only $10 or $15. This is considerably cheaper than we’d expected San Francisco to be. At Fort Bragg we’d commented to the harbor master that their $20 per day was a little on the expensive side. His reply was “Wait until you get to San Francisco where they charge $50 a night!” Yet even the marinas we have stayed at down here have been only $22.50, $20.00 and $21, and the yacht clubs have been cheaper still. The yacht clubs have also had excellent facilities and wireless internet, and have been very friendly, inviting us to their club functions, and making us feel at home. We biked about a mile in to Point Richmond, a quaint, charming little town, quite separate from Richmond itself. The harbor master at Richmond YC was very helpful and friendly, and invited us to stay for another two nights for free there on our way back from our trip up to the delta.

In Point Richmond, on a chair shaped like a hand outside an art gallery. The finger tips were very good to rub my back against.

After two days at Point Richmond, we sailed off for Loch Lomond Yacht Club in San Rafael. To get to it, we had to sail down about a mile long very narrow, shallow channel, with even shallower water we would run aground in on either side. Even at high tide, there was only a couple of feet of water under the boat! The main reason we chose to go there was that our friend Jan had got a good weekly rate from the marina, and was staying there for a while. It was fun to catch up with Jan. We had her over to dinner, and she brought her guitar and sang a few very good songs she’d written, alternating with me singing some songs I have written. It was a very special evening. I gave her a copy of my navigation book to look over, as she has done celestial navigation herself for many years, and seemed very interested in the concept of my book. She also lent us her truck, so we could go into San Rafael to do shopping for food to reprovision our boat. It so happened I’d just received an internet order for a copy of my book In Search of the Loving God, so we were also able to use her truck to get to a post office where we could mail it.

Sanpan at China Camp, which we biked to from Loch Lomond YC

Chinese vegetable garden and dwelling at China Camp, circa 1900

We left Loch Lomond YC early in the morning when the tide was high, to be sure we could make it out, then anchored off China Camp while the tide ebbed. A few hours later, we set off with the next flood tide to sail 18 miles across San Pablo Bay to the Vallejo YC. There was very little wind that day, but we set the cruising spinnaker when there was a little wind, and used the motor and generator a lot to help us on our way. We arrived at Vallejo YC just as the sun was setting. The following afternoon we set off for Benicia Marina, again motoring much of the way because of lack of wind, and arrived just before sunset. We biked into the town of Benicia, where we had a delicious meal at a very authentic Indian restaurant. The Mango Lassi, made with mango juice, yogurt and rose water, was to die for! Next morning we got up at 5 am, and left at the first sign of dawn to sail to Pittsburg, 14 miles away, where Karen has old family friends, who were keen for us to come and stay with them.

About an hour after setting off at the first sign of dawn, on our way up river to Pittsburg

There was a fresh northerly wind that morning until just after sunrise, and with the flood tide helping us, we made this whole leg in three hours, and arrived in Pittsburg around 9 am.

Arriving at Pittsburg Yacht Club at 9 am

Karen’s friends Joe and Evie spoiled us with meals and gifts, and even lent us their truck to do another round of shopping. That far up the bay, into the beginning of the Sacramento Delta, the boating culture had markedly changed. In contrast to all the other yacht clubs we had stayed at, which had mostly sailboats, the Pittsburg YC’s slips were entirely populated with motor boats. During our stay there, the indian summer continued, with one day reaching 80 degrees!

Playing with our dinghy while basking in the heat at Pittsburg. This little boat is very robustly built and holds Karen and I comfortably

Evie would have liked us to have stayed there until after Thanksgiving, but after four nights I knew we had to leave if we wanted to get back into San Francisco bay before forecast stormy weather arrived. So we left on a windy day, and had the wind in our teeth all day. We tacked back and forth across the river, doggedly making our way into to wind for seven miles, then after that the channel got so narrow that we couldn’t tack, and we just had to furl up our sails and proceed by motor for the next seven miles. Fortunately we had enough battery power to do this, even though we were pushing into a strong headwind.

We made it back to Vallejo YC just a few hours before the first of three consecutive storms blew in. Winter had suddenly arrived, with temperatures plummeting to the forties and fifties! A few days later we had our first frost, and most fine mornings since have been frosty. With more storms forecast, and winter so dramatically arriving, we decided to stay put for a while. We planned to rent a slip at the nearby marina on a month to month basis. When Karen mentioned this to some friends we’d made at the YC, however, (who just happened to include some board members and the current commodore of the club) they said that the club had a few empty slips, and that if we wanted to stay at the club, they would rather we pay them the $200+ a month than the marina. After a bit of negotiation with other board members and the club manager, these members we able to offer us a good deal, even though we’re not members of their club, and we took it up. So, the Vallejo YC, one of the oldest yacht clubs in the bay – it’s 110 years old – and the friendliest we’ve run into (though they’ve all been very friendly), has become our home away from home for a while until the weather improves. Our new friends at the club, Scott and Ellie, drove us to Santa Rosa to pick up my car from Karen’s mother’s place two days before Thanksgiving, enabling us to drive back there for Thanksgiving.

The night before Thanksgiving, two other new friends from the club, John and Peaches, invited us to a pre-thanksgiving dinner on their boat. They have an 83 foot racing yacht, “Sorcery,” a “maxi,” that is so big that they can’t bring it into the boat harbor at the yacht club, so they anchor out in the middle of the Napa River. They took us out to their boat at 5 pm in their outboard motor powered inflatable. John is English, but has lived and raced sailboats in Australia for many years, including racing in the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race five times. Now they are working to build a Sailing Museum in Vallejo. They are the nicest people, and we had a great time on their awesome racing machine. They invited us to sail with them when they next race the boat, if we are still around by then. We are continuing to find that there is a wonderfully supportive community among sailors, no matter where we go. We believe that if the whole world were like this, many of the world’s problems would be solved.

Sunset from the Vallejo Yacht Club

The Witch at her new temporary home at Vallejo Yacht Club. The witch has, in a sense, returned home, because Vallejo is where she first lived from when she was new in 1977. When I bought her in Portland, before I changed her name with an appropriate ceremony, she still had "Gusto, Vallejo CA" written on her transom.

The deck at Vallejo Yacht Club. As well as very friendly people they have a warm fire, great showers, a pool table and a piano!

There is a kid at the yacht club, who often rows around the boat harbor in a dinghy. We heard he is here with his grandparents, who he lives with. I introduced myself to him the other day. His name is Austin. Yesterday I was talking to Austin about all sorts of stuff, including school. He is in the third grade, and said he doesn’t like the large class size of twenty some students he is in this year, because he is used to the much smaller classes he had in previous years. He asked me who I voted for for governor, Jerry Brown or Meg Whitman. I said I voted in Oregon, not California, but if I had voted here I would have voted for Jerry Brown. Austin said, “I’m glad to hear that, because Meg Whitman said she was going to increase class sizes in schools. And that’s not good, because if you pack too many kids in a room some kids can get claustrophobic.” At one point he commented that he didn’t like reading, and preferred sports and being on the computer. I wondered whether this was because he was having difficulty with reading, and asked him why he didn’t like it. He said he didn’t like having to read the same old kids books again and again. I agreed with him that that sounded rather boring, and asked if there were any books he liked reading. He replied that he had enjoyed reading Moby Dick and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea!

Greetings to all of you who are following this blog, from Karen and me.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Under the Golden Gate Bridge

It has been about two weeks since our initial post to this blog. My apologies to those who have been wondering what happened to us. The truth is that there are a lot of important things to take care of when cruising, and lots of wonderful things to see when in port, so it can be hard to find the time to do things like write the blog, play my guitar, read a book or try to learn some Spanish ahead of arriving in Baja.

After the close of the last posting, we took a one-way car rental back to Eugene to receive the equipment and parts for the boat that were being shipped there. We were also able catch up with people at home, and bring back some more warm clothes and blankets – it can sure get cold out on the ocean at night! We were home for just five days. We drove my car back down to Bogeda Bay, as Karen’s mom said we could keep it at her place at Santa Rosa.

With the replacement autopilot, and the one I was able to replace the belt on, we now have three working autopilots! Hopefully, with the eight replacement drive belts I bought, they will last a lifetime. I hope so, because I never want to buy another Raymarine product again, after all the drama of getting a replacement for their product that was faulty right out of the box. It became apparent after a while that the online dealer I bought the product from was actually doing all he could to help me, and the problem was with Raymarine itself, who would not compensate him or me for the return shipping of the defective product. I ended up having to pay for the shipping and insurance myself.

After the autopilot debacle, what I found myself stressing over next was figuring out the best weather window for sailing to San Francisco. After the storms had cleared, the main problem was figuring out when there would be some wind. Finally we settled on leaving on November 1 for Drake’s Bay, where we planned to anchor for the night ahead of sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge the next day. The day before we left, though, the weather forecast said there would be 12 to 20 foot swells rolling in under the Golden Gate Bridge by the morning of Nov 2, created by a huge storm out in that Pacific west of Canada. Two sailor friends who know the bay area seemed to think such swells could make things somewhat dangerous in the Golden Gate area, so I was a little worried.

We left at 11 am on Nov 1, motoring out of Bogeda Bay on a warm sunny day, without the slightest trace of any wind, but with a light breeze forecast to appear around 2 pm.

Our sendoff committe at Bodega Bay - Cormorants

We had the generator running to begin to recharge the batteries as we went, so we would have a good amount of charge still in them for maneuvering out of the way of ships when we got to the Golden Gate! The breeze appeared at 1 pm from the west, and although light, it was enough the push the Witch along at about four knots. After a while I set our large, colorful cruising spinnaker, and with this our speed picked up to five to six knots.

Our cruising spinnaker in action

The sea was calm, it was warm and sunny, and we were surging along at a good speed. It was sailing at its most enjoyable. We rounded Point Reyes well before sunset, and needed to make a decision: to anchor in Drake’s Bay, or to continue on to San Francisco?

Rounding Point Reyes

The weather forecasts were saying the good wind we had would last until after midnight, and I calculated that if it did, we could be under the Golden Gate Bridge by 10 pm, just before the tide was due to turn and start rushing out at about 10:30 pm. The huge Bay Area all drains to the sea through the Golden Gate, so I knew it would be pretty much impossible to make progress against the falling tide, even with a good wind. So it looked like if we continued we could get there that night before the huge swells were forecast to arrive.

Passing Drake's Bay

I decided to pass up Drake’s Bay and try to make San Francisco that night. All went well to start with. The sunset was gorgeous, then the brilliant stars came out, with the milky way stretched above us.

Next we noticed the lights of San Francisco, which got brighter and more beautiful as we approached them. Then, as the blackness of night totally closed in, we could see we were in a phosphorescent sea again. All over the sea around us, the white caps on the waves shone like silver-white camp fires, and we were leaving a long glowing wake behind us. And all this below a spectacular milk way above, and the lights of San Francisco ahead. It was totally magical! And the wind kept pushing us in fast enough to beat the start of the ebb tide.

Then at 9 pm, just five miles short of the Golden Gate Bridge, the wind died down to almost nothing. Now we were doing just two knots. At about 10:15 pm we could see the south half of the bridge past Point Bonita, but were still about three miles from it, when the tide turned and the outgoing current started pushing us out to sea again. We pulled down the sails and put the motor on to full throttle. Our plan in this situation was to anchor in Bonita Cove, just past Point Bonita. With the motor we were able to get into Bonita Cove and anchor out about 800 feet from the beach, where we could hear the waves breaking. We tried to sleep while waiting the six hours for the ebb tide to end, but the anchorage was very rolly, even though it was inside a little bay. All the while I thought about those huge swells that were supposed to arrive later in the morning, and wondered if they would turn to breakers in the shallow water of Bonita Cove. At any sign of large swells, we would have to weigh anchor and get the hell out of there in a hurry! At about 4:20 am we were rocked rather savagely by a large wave, and we got up and into action. Could this be the beginning of the swells? It turns out it wasn’t, but the tide was about to stop ebbing, so we got going, under motor, with the generator running, as there was no wind. As we motored through the darkness toward the bridge, a huge container ship slipped past us into the bay doing about 20 knots. It was lit up like a Christmas tree and was an awesome sight to us on a tiny sailboat. I was glad it was about a mile away when it passed us, but it seemed enormous, and, to quote Karen, “jaw dropping,” even at that distance. The beginning of the rising tide swept us gently under the Golden Gate Bridge at about 6 am. As we approached it, all lit up at night, it was a beautiful sight. Here is a photo of it at night that I took from the yacht club lounge at the second marina we stayed at.

At about 6:30 am, while still totally dark, we pulled in to the transient dock at the San Francisco Marina, and tied up and went to sleep. The next day we waited for those huge swells to arrive, happy we’d got in ahead of them, but they never did arrive. So much for the weather forecasts! But we also noticed that there was hardly a breath of wind all day. We had made the right choice to keep going and not anchor at Drake’s Bay, as if we had stayed there would have been no wind to take us to San Francisco the next day.

More later on our adventures in the Bay Area. Right now I want to get at least this much posted. Greetings to all of you who are following the blog!

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Monday, October 18, 2010

To California

Sea Fever

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way, where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

John Masefield (1878-1967)
(English Poet Laureate, 1930-1967)

    The Witch of Endor at Bandon, Oregon

My name is Mark Mason. Karen, my girlfriend, and I are lazing about at Bodega Bay, California, on our sailboat, the Witch of Endor. We are waiting on the replacement of an essential piece of equipment that broke the first time we used it on the last leg of our journey, after replacing the previous one that broke on the leg before that. It’s sunny, warm and beautiful here, so it’s not so bad waiting around. We’ve been busy the last few days, persuading the supplier of this equipment to replace it, but that’s in the bag, now, so I have some time to start writing this long-promised blog.


                   At the "Tropic" of Bandon
We started our vogage at the beginning of summer, sailing from Winchester Bay to Bandon via Charlston, in two days of gorgeous sailing in perfect winds and gentle seas, but dodging lots of crab pots. We spent the summer at the “Tropic of Bandon,” our name for the very occasional warm days down there.

On the way to Bandon

We finally sailed out of Bandon for Brookings on September 22, and had very little wind. It took us 46 hrs to get the 85 nautical miles (about 100 miles), and Karen was sick all the way, but we did see a large pod of humpback wales, broaching and waving their tails at us. Karen managed to pull herself out of the cabin to see the whales. When you think of being becalmed out on the ocean, you might recall Coleridge’s words: “As idle as a painted ship, upon a painted ocean.” But Coleridge never went to sea himself, and it’s not actually like that. The waves slosh the boat around, tossing it from side to side, and the rigging clangs and the sails slap about noisily, all the while going nowhere. It’s much nicer and more comfortable when a little breeze is blowing. Having an electric auxiliary motor, with limited range, we couldn’t just motor all the way. Still, we did use the electric motor quite a bit, and fired up the little generator we have to keep it going a little longer. There was only one six-hour period during the two days when we had a good wind to push us south. The two gallons of gas we had for the generator finally ran out just three miles from Brookings, and there was not a breath of wind to help us in. So close and yet so far! We were gradually drifting toward the rocks, so I called the Coast Guard to ask if they would come and tow us in, and dropped anchor to wait for them. Being towed in was a somewhat ignominious way to arrive at Brookings, but we finally got there, and things immediately began to improve. Karen got well again, and a couple Karen had previously met lent us a car for the five days we were there – a little Mitsubishi Eclipse sports car. Thank you Chuck and Sue! We hauled the boat out of the water there to put new bottom paint on her, so having the car was very useful. The local yacht club invited us to use their showers, a great improvement over the coin-op ones that ran somewhere between lukewarm and cold. The people we met at the yacht club were very friendly, and one member, Jim, who is the chef at one of the best restaurants in town, cooked us a superb dinner of locally caught ling cod and zucchinis, fried up in his inimitable, mouth-watering sauce. We ended up joining the yacht club, which will give us reciprocal privileges at many other yacht clubs along the way.

The car we were lent in Brookings

Going through St George's Channel

Our welcoming committee in Crescent City

Sailing "wing and wing"

On Sept 29 we sailed out of Brookings for Crescent City in California. It took us just five hours to sail the 23.5 nautical miles (NM). We sailed through St George’s Channel, which is about a mile wide, and has spectacular rocks on either side the sea breaks on. That was exciting. Crescent City itself was nice, and we enjoyed a meal at a Vietnamese Thai restaurant, biking along a path next to the ocean with our folding bikes, and a good natural food store where we replenished our supplies. The boat harbor and marina, though, were shabby and not very friendly. The showers were cold and they wouldn’t give us a third night there for free to compensate for the cold showers, so we “shook the dust off our feet” and left at 4:50 pm to sail overnight to Humboldt Bay. We arrived at 8:30 the next morning after spending a magical night in a phosphorescent sea. Our wake was like a huge glowing, twisting snake behind us, and where our bow wave washed past the side of the boat it was like brilliant stars in a constantly swirling milky way. I put my fingers down into the water at one point, and streaks of light shot out behind them. This phenomenon is, I’ve heard, due to light-emitting algae in the sea called dinoflagelites.

Eureka, at Humboldt Bay, is a very hip town, with lots of amazing wooden colonial buildings. We were there during the two weekly Saturday Art Walk, when everyone seemed to be out frolicking on the town. The marina there was clean, and the showers hot, and the town had an excellent coop natural foods store.

Karen on her folding bike at Eureka, Humboldt Bay

One of the many spectacular wooden buildings in Eureka

Eureka to Fort Bragg was a 100 NM overnighter. We left at 4:50 again, and after a slow start, a norwesterly wind settled in nicely behind us during the night. By daylight we were well past Cape Mendocino, a supposedly treacherous area, and had had no problems there, but the wind was beginning to kick in, a day ahead of when it was forecast to. I went forward at first light to double reef the mainsail (to make it about half the full size) and we furled the jib (front sail). As the morning progressed, the wind strengthened to a full gale, and we were surfing down large waves at a great speed. This is when our autopilot stopped working, and I had to steer the boat myself for over two hours into Fort Bragg. The waves just got bigger and bigger, and steeper and steeper until they were 20 foot monsters. One wave was so big and steep that it knocked the boat way over. Karen, who was resting in the cabin was thrown out of her bunk onto the floor, and I was hit on the head and stunned by the mainsheet (rope controlling the sail) as the mainsail crashed across to the other side. After a minute or so of “seeing stars,” I was, fortunately, able to take the helm again and steer on to Fort Bragg. Taking the boat about at the sea buoy there, to sail toward the harbor entrance, was a major undertaking, due to the furious winds I had to sail up into to do it, but on the second attempt she came about, and we tore off down huge waves toward the very narrow harbor entrance. We surfed down waves, unavoidably curving off toward the rocks on one side, then between waves I steered the witch back on to course. As we closed in on the bar with two rock jetties only about 200 ft apart, the waves subsided a little, and I was able to steer past a giant clump of kelp that was occupying the middle of the channel. Then under  the tall bridge Highway 1 goes over, and into the wonderful calm of the harbor. Never have I appreciated a harbor so much, nor, for a long time, felt so thankful for being alive. Winding up the river we passed the Coast Guard cutter that was coming out to stand by, in case we were wrecked on the rocks and had to be rescued. We waved to them, and they waved back, glad, no doubt, they didn’t have risk their lives rescuing us. Karen was on the radio with the Coast Guard on the way in, and they told her they had us on video. The next day, when we went to the Coast Guard station to personally thank them for standing by as we came in, Karen asked if she could get a copy of the video! Admittedly it would have been spectacular footage! The CG officer apologetically told her that they couldn’t release it.

Our welcoming committee in Eureka bids us farewell 

The harbor entrance at Fort Bragg, the day after the gale
when all was quiet again

In Fort Bragg there was no Sprint cell service, and both our cell phones and our air card internet service are with Sprint. Our only way to communicate with the world was to get on our folding bikes and peddle half a mile up the river over a steep hill to Dolphin Point Marina to use their wireless hot spot. Doing this, we ordered a new autopilot which we paid extra to be delivered by two night air, and found a place where we could buy the little rubber drive belt needed to repair the autopilot that had broken. We also met another cruising sailor there, also using the internet and riding a folding bike. Her name is Jan, and we quickly became friends with her, visited her boat, and shared a meal with her on our boat. We had heard of her at the boat yard in Brookings, where she had hauled her boat before ours. She has a very sweet 36 ft steel sailboat which she single hands with her 18 year old dog. She is now over 50, but she has been cruising since she was 19, when she and her husband sailed to Tahiti, New Zealand and Australia. She had arrived in Fort Bragg the day before in somewhat strong winds, though not the gale we caught in, and had broken her finger on her tiller on the way in over the bar. It made me realize how lucky we were to not be injured beyond the slightly stiff neck I had for a couple of days. The weather was perfect at Fort Bragg, and Karen knows people there, as she used to live there during the 80’s, so we had a good time there, despite communications being a problem. They also had an excellent natural food market, with organic produce, goat milk and the like. They had huge delicious organic mangos for only 99c, small delicious organic avocados for 99c, and freshly barbecued wild salmon meals with all the trimmings for $8.99. We would like to have taken that Harvest Market with us!
Noyo River, Fort Bragg

With our new autopilot in hand and the remote control for it installed, so we could operate it from inside the cabin, we sailed at noon from Fort Bragg for Bodega Bay. There was a fair wind from the north, gentle seas and beautiful sunshine to start with – perfect sailing weather. But then fog closed in around us, and night fell. At about this time the brand new autopilot started beeping and losing its course every few minutes, and had to be reset. At first I thought it was because of the “local magnetic disturbances” the chart warned about in this area. It felt weird, like being in some sort of vortex like the Bermuda Triangle. We had to be constantly vigilant to maintain our course. Then the breeze blew up to about 20 knots, contrary to what was forecast, surging us along at a great speed, making the boat veering off course rather scary. The mainsail was held out on one side by a preventer on the boom, and the jib on the other by a whiskerpole. Then the autopilot cut out and wouldn’t start up again! The boat quickly veered way off course, and the wind caught in the wrong side of the sails. The fiberglass whiskerpole on the jib bent like a bow, and I thought it was going to break. I let all the sheets fly to release the pressure on the sails, and managed to retrieve the whiskerpole before it broke, and furled the jib to get it out of the way. It was clear now that it was not magnetic disturbances affecting the autopilot. Rather it was that the new autopilot, just purchased to replace the one that had broken down, was itself defective! It appeared to have a loose connection inside causing it to power down momentarily, or sometimes for quite a few seconds, then power up again on standby, and have to be reset to a course. I found I could just tap its case to make it do this! Fortunately, I still had a 30-year-old, rather underpowered, autopilot that came with the boat when I bought it, which I was able to press into service. It in fact steered the boat perfectly, making smaller, apparently better calculated, adjustments to the helm than the new one had. They just don’t make things like they used to! By now though, there was another problem. The wind had kicked in even stronger, and the waves reared up higher, and I had to go forward to reef the mainsail. To do this the boat had to be brought side on to the wind and seas so the sail would flap loosely, while I, with my safety harness tied to the mast so I wouldn’t be knocked overboard, pulled the sail down halfway, and hauled in the reefing lines to secure the folds of sail to the boom. All this in the middle of a moonless night, with the boat rocking around wildly, and the wind whistling through my hair. Finally it was done! And the boat was much more in control with the sail area cut in half, though she was still surging along at her maximum speed of about 6.5 to 7 knots (about 8 mph). All this drama had left me feeling worn out, but still hyped with adrenalin. I went below while Karen kept watch, but couldn’t really sleep. The wind was coming from directly behind us, the most uncomfortable angle of sailing, because there is no sideways pressure on the mast to keep the boat steady. So the boat just relentlessly rocked from side to side, more and more as the night wore on, in the building seas. Well into fall, as we are, the nights are considerably longer than the days, and out at sea such nights seem to last forever. At about 4:00 am there seemed to be some light in the east, but it was only the faint glow of the Bay Area in the far distance. When the dawn broke through the fog at about 7:30, just before we reached Bodega Bay, it was a blessed relief. At least we’d got the timing right! And the wind dropped, too, making it easier and safer to approach and cross the bar. It is actually a very safe bar to cross, but the fog was thick, and I couldn’t see much more than about another boat length in front of the boat. I motored in slowly, using the GPS and radar to make sure I was between the rock jetties, and didn’t run into them. Then the south jetty appeared out of the fog about a boat length off the port bow. I made a rapid course adjustment to stay clear of it. It continued on like this past all the wooden poles with red and green plates on top of them marking the two mile long narrow channel that led up to the marina. We were almost on top of each set of posts before we could see them, but could see their blips on the radar a few seconds earlier. The navigation rule in the USA is “Red Right Returning” (though it’s the opposite in most countries), so I had to keep the red markers to my right, and the green to the left. The tide was dead low, just beginning to rise, and every now and then I could see the bare mud flats off to either side of the channel, waiting to trap us until the tide rose if I veered even the slightest amount off course. But we made it through, with our fog horn sounding every minute, and soon we were tied up at the 90 foot dock at Porto Bodega Marina. It sure felt good to arrive, and for the next two days we spent much of our time sleeping.

Just after we first took our folding bikes out to go look around, the wind, which had come up again, blew one of them over and it fell into the water beside the boat. With horror I saw it sink into the water with alarming speed. I threw myself at it, and just managed to grab the back wheel as it was disappearing into the abyss! I hauled it out and we hosed it off thoroughly with fresh water to get rid of the salt which would have soon rusted it. We came really close to losing one of our bikes, and after that were much more mindful about where we left them. Then after dark on the first evening here, we heard a ruckus on the outside of the boat, and I popped my head up through the companionway hatch to see what was going on. A couple of teenagers from the nearby RV park were trying to steal one of the bikes from off the front of the boat, where we’d put them for safe keeping! They ran off, leaving the bike hanging over the safety rail – the same bike that had almost gone to the bottom earlier in the day! That bike! It sure has a charmed life. Now we fold the handle bars down, take the seats out, and lock the bikes to the rail, though I don’t think those kids will be back in a hurry. The marina (and RV park) manager said she was sure she knew who they were, and that she’d go chew them out.

Again, here, there isn’t Sprint service, just some intermittent wireless internet hot spots. It took some persistence and persuasion to get the supplier of that faulty autopilot to agree to send us another new one to replace it, but they finally did. They are sending it to Eugene, and we are doing a one-way car rental to go back there for about a week. The good thing is that the marina management here are very nice, and agreed to let us stay until Nov 1 for just their low monthly rate of $125.00 rather than the (still cheap) daily rate of $15.00. This will work out to about $6.50 a day. Meanwhile, we’ve been biking around the area, and having a great time. Karen’s mother and brother both live in Santa Rosa, about half an hour away, and one day her brother drove out and brought us into town. Karen’s mother cooked all sorts of wonderful food for us, and packed it away into containers for us to take back to the boat, and we were able to shop at Trader Joe's to get other provisions we needed.

We ran into Jan again here. She left Fort Bragg a few days after us, to give her broken finger a chance to heal. Now she’s off to San Francisco ahead of us, but we had another visit with her, and swapped some yarns. Since she has been cruising most of her adult life, she is quite an inspiration to us. We hope to see her again in San Francisco.

On arriving at Bogega Bay through the fog

The witch at her dock at Bogeda Bay

Writing in my log book

So, everything’s going pretty well. It’s very comfortable aboard the witch when she’s tied up at dock, since she has a roomy, home-like cabin, with lots of beautiful teak and other hardwoods, and an oil-filled electric heater that keeps her toasty warm. We can put a laptop computer on the chart table at the foot of our bunk, connect it up to the stereo, and watch a movie in bed. She’s totally different in port from what she is at sea, where she is like a beautiful wild animal, a dolphin dancing in the waves. I’m sure we’ll learn to love that dance, too, especially when we get into the tropics, but in the cold unpredictable weather, long nights, and wild seas along the Oregon and Northern Californian coast, it can get a little terrifying.

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