Our Friday sail after Thanksgiving was, as our friend Beth so aptly described it, like two days in one. Wind, chop, currents during the early hours, then breezes, calm, gentle lapping of water on the hull later. But then, this is San Francisco Bay. This is usually what you get from one minute to the next simply by sailing behind the right island. So here was our day…
Beth, Andy and their kids joined us for what promised to be a perfectly beautiful late-fall daysail on the Bay. Winds were forcasted at 15 knots in the early day, with progressively lighter winds as the afternoon progressed. 15 knots? Knot so much (hee hee…). We had even better than that – steady 20 knots with gusts over 25 – we were in for a fun time. Andy is an experienced sailor from his early days, and we think he delighted in the excitement. Beth was all smiles, too. Their kids, on the other hand, had problems with sea sickness and “fed the fish” 5 times between them. Poor things! Anna and Lydi were fine, though. Our theory is that the curvy country road we drive each day to and from our house has acclimated them. But, Beth and Andy’s kids bounced back FAST as soon as we neared our mid-day destination, Angel Island. Fish feeding behind them, they delighted in watching as a fantastic bloom of jelly fish, some up to 1 foot across, floated passed our hull. Did I mention we were out at full moon? This brings the jellies up to the surface for a migration across the Bay.
Already at this point we had experienced much of the fury brought on my a full moon. Full moon = big tides and big tides = heavy currents. As a result, that great sailing in 20 knots was also in some pretty sloppy water! Big chop, swirling tidal currents, and all of that nonsense. In our boat, however, we were safe and secure. As we neared the Gate (aka Golden Gate Bridge), the water was rushing out of the Bay at full speed, going from a high to a low tide. We turned to head back to our Angel Island stop and found ourselves sailing in place. 4 knots forward, 4 knots back, not an inch nearer to Angel! On went the engine and for the next hour we slowly inched forward. There are times when people find themselves outside the Gate only to discover that they can’t make it back in through the currents. At that point, there’s nothing else to do but wait for the tide to slacken. There really is no rushing when you’re sailing.
At Angel Island, the kids were very disappointed to learn that the beaches were still closed due to the oil spill. While we could see no obvious globs of oil laying about, the chance that toxic oil has soaked into the sands really puts the beach off-limits, at least for a while. But the kids did have fun anyway – running around on the lawns and up the old paths to the plantation-style houses that used to be homes for staff and officers during the Island’s quarantine days. We even got a chance to tour the museum.
Back on the boat later, we had the pleasure of beginning our second day in one. Gone were the winds, the tidal currents, and even the sun. The sky was aflame with orange, yellow, and red as a glorious sunset went on forever. The city was bright with lights, buildings lined along their edges with white lights for the Christmas season. A gentle breeze gave us just enough to sail under, and we had a wonderful, quiet, flat reach across the “slot” toward the city front. Ahhhhh…..
As the sunset ended, we headed back toward our harbor in Emeryville. The wind gone, we lowered sails and fired up the engine again. A little background will help explain what comes next. Emeryville’s yacht harbors are on a spit of land that juts out into the very shallow eastern part of the central Bay. When I say shallow, I really mean it! The water is about 5 to 15 feet deep across the entire area. To get back to our harbor, we must enter a narrow dredged channel and follow it precisely for about a mile. The channel, though, is not really that much deeper than the surrounding water. Not a lot of room for error…. or extreme tides. As we approached the channel, we noticed another sailboat anchored just at the entrance. We thought to ourselves “Now that is a weird place to anchor! What are they thinking?” As we progressed up the channel, we saw another sailboat stopped, seemingly anchored. At this point, three things happened simultaneously. 1) We thought to ourselves “Now, there’s another stupid place to….Oh no…”. 2) Jen (me, the dumb one at the helm) looked down at the depth meter for the first time (I admitted being dumb already) and saw that there were exactly 0 feet below our keel. and 3) Then we stopped. Stuck in the mud!
But, we weren’t the only “dumb” ones. We ended up right next to that other boat in the channel, and we chatted about the fun of all this mud being so close to our boats. We looked at our tide tables and discovered that the water would start coming back up (getting deeper) within an hour. An HOUR! We have hungry kids here! We can’t just break out the beers and call it an adventure! So, as a effort in desperation, we put all our weight on one side of the boat, which heeled (leaned) the boat over just a bit, and I drove the engine hard in reverse. Pop! We were out! We realigned ourselves with the right-hand side of the channel (we were told it was slightly deeper there) and drove through to the harbor, with 0.1 feet of water beneath us. Yikes!
Alas, these are the adventures of sailing, and though we are still relatively new and are still learning each time we go out, the truth is that sailing is a constant learning experience, even for the most seasoned salts. Learning to handle the issues that arise with calm is just as valuable as learning to avoid them in the first place.