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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