Cruising October, Our First Coastal Charter
This blog has been adapted from the original article Mitch wrote for ‘Lectronic Latitude in November. We took two guest crew on a 200 mile coastal cruise through three anchorages and sailed one night passage. This is a great example of the business we’ve created and what we want to share with future guests. These two are soon to be cruisers and wanted to get a real taste of what to expect.
Quincey and I decided it was time to get out of the Bay and “head south,” but what could we get done in five days and four nights of “cruising?” Monterey? Well, that can be tough with a short window, and we had to get back to work on a Tuesday. A week before, the weather called for two days of typical northerlies at 15 knots, a day of calm, and two days of atypical southerlies, at 15 knots. “That’s it!” we exclaimed, we have our chance and we’ll have a day of rest in Monterey! Truly cruising. I did, however, tell the crew that it would be foolish to cross our fingers that early in the forecast.
We had a couple of friends join us for the trip. They’re interested in buying a Kelly Peterson 46, or similar, and wanted to do some night sailing as they had never had the opportunity before. We provisioned Esprit for 14 home-cooked meals for four, tied the dinghy down on deck, readied the jacklines, and departed the East Bay at 9 a.m. on September 27.
At 12 p.m. we rounded SF Main Ship Channel Buoy 84 with only three knots apparent wind, about 40 degrees off the starboard bow. We were motorsailing in very light southwesterlies. We had watched our perfect forecast wither down and peter out over the previous week, but we were going anyway. As is common when aboard with Q&M, we practiced a person overboard drill, this time to pick up a wayward and improperly disposed-of birthday balloon. Pillar Point Entrance Buoy was passed to port six hours after departure, and we had actually had two hours of wonderful light-wind sailing along the way.
We were pleasantly greeted by friends from our dock in Berkeley, and surprised to see them there. We were expecting to see them in Monterey, where they had spent more than a month enjoying their Hallberg Rassy 42E ketch. They had tales of chasing perfect opportunities to go downwind between Drakes Bay and Monterey numerous times in the past month. But these two never sail beyond those landmarks unless it’s aboard a jet. They also have seven summers in a row, spending our winters in Chile!
We had a calm, not too chilly night anchored in Pillar Point. Given the forecast for more light winds, we decided to pass on Monterey and instead head for Santa Cruz. Enjoying a not-too-rushed morning, Q, our two crew and I departed at 8 a.m. Our friends from Chile called “Fair winds!” on the VHF.
Motoring at an average six and a half knots brought us to Pigeon Point Light. about three hours into the trip. By now, the wind had built to about eight knots apparent and it was on the beam. We unfurled the genoa and shut down the d-sail. The wind continued to build, sticking around 11-12 knots the rest of the way to Santa Cruz. We averaged six knots and the passage took us a little over eight hours. Sailing was such a relief; we’d all wanted to shut the engine down or turn around to sail the Bay’s reliable winds.
We discussed the merits of boats and their size, where and when to cruise, emergency procedures, what gear to have aboard, and my favorite, the K.I.S.S. method — Keep it Simple, Stupid. “Don’t buy the biggest boat you can afford, buy the smallest boat you can tolerate.” Weather, among sailors, is always a topic not glossed over. Everything from dealing with calms to prepping for hurricanes.
Santa Cruz did not disappoint. Q and I were able to visit our favorite coffee shop and run along the beach barefoot, and even check out the boardwalk. Truly cruising. We docked Esprit three times in Santa Cruz Harbor, practicing close-quarters maneuvering and negotiating traffic that makes the Berkeley Marina look simple. Does anyone know how many charter boats are in Santa Cruz? More than I could count.
After 20 hours in town, it was time to get back to sea.
Our plan all along was to enjoy some overnight sailing, and when better than headed north in southerlies? We departed Santa Cruz at 2 p.m. on September 29, set a course south-southwest to add little more room between us, the coast, and San Francisco, and to chase some dying winds farther offshore. Our plan didn’t work as hoped and we ended up motoring until nearly Pescadero. At 9:30 p.m., the wind filled in to 13 knots at 120 degrees apparent, we unfurled the genoa and shut down the engine. The last time we sailed Esprit on a broad reach at night we were leaving the Bay of Panama! That was in March. Since then, we’ve been going upwind in the dark. This was a wonderful change — Q and I spent longer than our watches on deck that night.
I have to profess another merit of center-cockpit boats. Have you ever stepped all the way aft to the backstay and admired the way a boat moves through the waves, with an uncluttered view of the deck and full view of the cockpit and sails displayed in front of you? This is the best vantage to watch a boat sail and dance with the water.
The night was clear with an 85% moon but it was wet. The forecast called for some rain on our night passage, but with very little cloud cover, it never materialized. Still, the sails and rigging were dripping and glistening in the moonlight. Besides the 60° cabin temps and 54° on deck, I wanted to believe a tropical rainstorm had just passed over us. The dream wasn’t going to last forever, though, and at 2:30 a.m. the wind died. We were motoring again.
I went off watch to grab some z’s in the salon, always ready at a moment’s notice. I chatted with Q about the Golden Gate entrance and reviewed the chart, still expecting her to wake me once we were in the channel. To my surprise, she woke me when it was time to anchor in Richardson Bay. This was a huge confidence boost for us both. She said there was plenty of traffic but on a clear night, flood tide, and motoring at six knots, it didn’t take long to negotiate.
We anchored in Richardson Bay and turned in at 5 a.m. A great sleep was had by all. By 9 a.m., we were awake and ready for a pancake breakfast. We ate in the cockpit as the Sunday morning sailors converged from Sausalito and Raccoon Strait in very little wind. At one point we saw one boat flying a spinnaker west and another east. We figured sailing to Benicia was out of the question and instead decided to just sail until we found a suitable place to spend the last night of our fall cruise.
We sailed across the Central Bay, and gybed back toward Richmond and into the riviera for lunch. Looking back across the slot showed whitecaps and reefed mains, so we decided to head back across to the lee of Treasure Island and into the South Bay. Evening was falling, so I called into South Beach Harbor. “We’re full,” was the harbormaster’s reply. Well, back to Clipper Cove, I suppose. We covered 20.5 nautical miles in five hours that day and still made it for sundowners at Mersea, the new tapas and wine bar across from the SF Cityfront (a word from the wise, don’t walk through the construction zone that is Avenue of the Palms right now, the security guards don’t appreciate it).
We settled into a comfortable evening anchored in Clipper Cove with only a few other boats. This included an Australian-flagged trawler that we suspect had come down from Alaska this summer, truly cruising, but we never saw anyone home for a chat. We all enjoyed sleeping in on Monday morning, and once again had a slow, delicious breakfast. We were waiting for the wind to pick up a little, but by noon, we were ready to call it a trip. We motored to Marina Bay to drop our friends off near their home in Point Richmond and had a wonderful beam-reach sail back to Berkeley.
Clearly, we had a schedule to keep, and that’s never a great thing when cruising. We motored 27 of the 43 hours underway and covered 208 miles in five days. If we had been truly cruising, we would have never left SF with the wind forecast at the beginning of the trip, but being forced to cruise on a schedule actually brought some wonderful sailing that we would have otherwise missed.