As promised, follows an update on our passage from Eureka to San Francisco.
At 225 miles, it was our longest passage thus far. Moreover, it crossed an area notorious for tricky weather. In fact, despite the very mild weather at the start of the trip, it wasn’t uneventful this time.
It is a somewhat long post. But so many things happened during this trip, I didn’t find a way to make it shorter. Here it goes, organized by topic:
We chose to leave Eureka when a high pressure system had settled above the area. That meant we might not be able to sail – just engine – but would get the flattest seas possible for this region at this time of the year. A worth trade off.
We crossed the Humboldt bar at 11am and made it to the sea. By mid afternoon we were already sailing at over 6,000 ft depth, and were having a splendid day. At a time, all four of us were dancing on Pesto’s deck. We had a meal, put the kids to sleep and then Adriana and I started to take our shifts.
I stayed on until about 2AM. When Adriana came to replace me, the night was still quiet, the sky full with stars and the moon, and a gentle breeze was starting to blow from the north. Three hours later, when I went up to take over again, a thick fog had settled, the wind had grown to the mid teens, and the seas were a bit nervous, with a SW swell interacting with the small wind waves from the north. It was a completely different experience. This area is indeed tricky !
Well, at least the next day this crazy fog gave us a beautiful view as we approached Drake’s Bay, some 25 miles before San Francisco Bay’s entrance.
CELEBRATE, CELEBRATE !
There were a lot of things to celebrate on this trip.
First of all, we crossed Cape Mendocino, one of the most feared landmarks of the Pacific Coast. This cape happens to be in an area where strong thermal winds start to occur. Additionally, just a couple miles offshore, the sea bottom drops to a depth of almost 10,000ft. and the abrupt change in depth creates confused seas and current patterns. In fact, for hours after we crossed the cape, at times we had the tide against us, and then on our direction, I believe possibly as a consequence of large vortexes as the large masses of water rise from the deep sea.
Then, just a few miles south of crossing the cape, we achieved another hugely important milestone – we finally left the 40’ latitudes !!! What a relief it was. Not that the conditions shall change immediately after that (in fact, they didn’t, as per above). But on the greater average far better weather and climate conditions abound south of the 40th parallel.
And finally, we achieved our first 1000th mile sailing together on this trip. It was a moment of exhilaration to all of us. Well done Pesto! And may many more thousands of miles pass under your keel peacefully whit us aboard!
And to crown all this, there was the wildlife.
In the afternoon of the first day, while we were happy dancing on Pesto’s deck and crossing Cape Mendocino, we had a special visit. Adriana was the first one to see them. First one, and then a number of dorsal fins ripping the glassy surface of the sea. I instinctively ran to Pesto’s bow, in anticipation of what was about to happen. A pod of Dall’s Porpoises were swimming toward us, and within a minute they settled just ahead of Pesto’s bow, playing with the pressure wave she creates. They seemed to take turns, each one of them swimming in front of Pesto while the others waited alongside. I don’t know if it is a competition or just for enjoyment, but it seemed to be quite organized. Anyways, while one of them was at the front post, the others swam by our side, jumping. It was beautiful, and lasted for a good 10 minutes. A magical moment.
The next day, we made a stop at Drake’s Bay. We had heard this place attracts Humpback Whales. One sailor I met in Crescent City told me he had seen whales swimming around his boat in just 20ft of depth in the bay. Moreover, when we were approaching the Bay, I started seeing some signals on the radar which suggested it were whales. We couldn’t see then because of the fog, but for sure there was something out there, and it wasn’t boats due to the erratic way it was moving on the water. Expectations were high.
Needless to say, we didn’t see any whale while we were there. But when we left the next day, en route to San Francisco, we crossed with a pod of whales while they were hunting. We sailed close to them, and they were so busy that didn’t bother our proximity. It was quite a spectacle!
WHAT THE … KELP !!!
There were also some moments of suspense and tension. A few of them occurred late in the night in the middle of the fog as we negotiated our way with other vessels generating faint signals on the radar (and no AIS).
But the worst happened the next day, just one hour before we approached Drake’s bay, as we ran into a large bunch of kelp.
For the last couple of hours I had noticed Kelp organized in bunches along the way. At one point I even saw a seal swimming around one of them, which led me to wonder whether the seals themselves somehow put these bunches together. Anyway, the fact is that at one point we failed to notice one of these bunches right on our way and ran right over it. We heard the first impact, followed by the noise of the kelp scratching along Pesto’s hull. And then, finally the noise I didn’t want to hear – the loud, cyclical noise of stuff fouled around the propeller … I stopped Pesto, put her in reverse, then in forward gear again. Repeated these steps a few times in hopes that the kelp would come off. But it didn’t. Pesto was impaired! But being the stout boat that she is, it was still possible to move forward, at slow revs, without damaging the prop and the shaft. That way, we motorsailed to Drake’s bay to figure out a solution.
When we got to the bay, a strong cold NW breeze was blowing. Possibly a consequence of the fog that was forcing its way above the hills. It was about 6PM, one hour from sunset. And I knew what I had to do. Despite strong opposition from Adriana and the kids, the cold breeze, the foggy afternoon, the murky waters, and all the stories of whales in the bay, I decided to jump in the water to assess the situation of the propeller. It was one quick dive, which confirmed a long string of kelp fouled around the prop.
The next morning I decided to jump again, this time with a sharp knife on hand, to try to rid Pesto from the kelp. It was like a mission. Everyone onboard helped me improvise a swim suit to try to hold as much heat as possible around my body while under water. Paulo and Raquel also took the responsibility to monitor the waters around us for any intrusive wild life while I was in the water. I confess I was concerned about having a close encounter with whales while under Pesto’s hull. I did five dives, and was able to cut all the kelp away from the prop and the shaft. As uncomfortable as it was, there was a great sense of accomplishment onboard.
And with that, we left Drake’s Bay at full speed toward the pinnacle moment of this trip.
THE ICING. AND THE CAKE. THE WHOLE THING !
The 25 miles between Drake’s Bay and the entrance to San Francisco were probably the most special we’ve had so far. To start with, we left Drake’s Bay satisfied for having fixed the kelp problem from the previous day. Then we had the whale sighting. In addition, the heavy fog that had wrapped us for the last 24 hours finally started to dissipate. And then, there it was. It’s unmistakable red color against the deep blue background of the sky.
As our sailing guide puts it, “Sailing your own vessel under the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time is a memorable experience for everyone onboard…”. And memorable it was. I can’t describe the feeling of having brought Pesto up to here, and to sail with her proudly under this great landmark. Perhaps it helps to say that Raquel was so enthusiastic that she went downstairs, and came up with a long red dress, her hair combed, perfume all around her, just dressed for the occasion !
I will let this picture wrap up the story: