Monsoonal weather swept up from the south passing over the San Francisco Bay Tuesday. Warnings of the potential for lightening storms had been downgraded as the center of the weather system passed further offshore than had been forecast.
Just west of Benicia’s harbor we sailed off our anchorage at Dillion Point. No two days are the same on the water, expectations are traps, best to keep an open mind and ready for anything attitude.
Still after Monday’s return from the delta and then our rites of passage through the Suisun Bay we didn’t have the stomach for another dog’s life sail.
Callouses on our hands were raw from pulling the lines the day before. Our overnight had been a boisterous feast whipped up by the sailboat’s chef. We drank good wine. A quick anchor check to be sure we were holding. Bedtime came early, the anchoring light was switched on, the rest of the lights were turned off.
After coffee and mush we hoisted sails and tacked out of the channel beyond C&H Sugar on the Crocket side of the Carquinez Strait. For a spell we had enough breeze to keep the boat moving. By 10:00 AM the wind dropped then vanished altogether only the ebbing tide kept us headed to home port.
By 1:00 PM we beat bow to wind toward the San Rafael Bridge, the ebb was at its end and the flooding incoming tide began to push against us. We might have used the motor but since Monday we’d been cursed with an odd rattle, thinking it might be the vessel zincs on the propeller shaft, whatever the problem, it had been making an awful racket. The skipper and his crew discussed our options, deciding together that it safer to sail. Even if we would only get what the light winds and strong counter currents would give us, we calculated the snails pace a better bet than becoming impatient.
When we first hoisted sails, we’d thought if we could find the prevailing winds that we would be arriving at home port by now, but the westerly’s never filled in and the mysterious rattle kept us on edge. We continued sailing in mere whisps of breeze. Light air sailing is a much finer circumstance. Over the course of an hour zigzagging southward, the boat clawed its way through the water taking every extra effort and attention to make our way past the bridge, Red Rock and to the approach of the channel into Richmond’s harbor.
Setting up a mark on the global positioning system (GPS) I’d entered the final waypoint, the mark that would take us to our destination, the last leg of our trip. We needed to make good on 8-9 more miles. In a full breeze the last piece of our journey might take a bit more than an hour. Sailing at 2-3 knots these last miles according to the GPS were predicted to take at our current course and speed to require another 4 hours.
I told my first mate that we were due home by the end of this century—that there was plenty of food and water—that for reasons difficult to know these two days have worked according to powers higher than our own—that we were fated to return from the delta to Emeryville by some other set of schedules and expectations—that our well laid plans were not what Neptune had wanted for us—that if there was even one more adverse force unleashed upon our sorry souls—that together we would need to seek the help of a shaman—to cast off the curse that seems to have devoured our luck—our good fortunes had run plum out.
Sailors look for any ripple of wind on the surface of a still body of water. You steer away from the mirror like surface toward these ruffling patterns. We got hold of a better wisp of wind, then set a favorable angle and shaped our course for the end of the Berkeley Pier.
We had no reason to get cocky, the winds had come and gone all day, teasing us for a few minutes then vanishing, that’s how it had been. Another hour had crept by, we were still making some progress, perhaps one mile further by zigzagging two miles back and forth against the current.
By 3:00 PM changes were afoot. Ahead it was sure there was plenty of wind, more than enough, we could see the winds, there were whitecaps, if we could get there before this hope for a shot at getting off the water was gone, if we could get out of this hole, these doldrums, this rare monsoonal depression that had toyed with us for the last two days.
Then, as if by practical joke we found plenty of wind and more and went tearing south screaming along as fast as the boat will sail. I was on the low side steering, Richard my crewman on the high side grabbing hold to the boat while we rocketed toward the Bay Bridge on the east side of Yerba Buena Island. Winds were blowing from the west at 30 knots.
Laughing we hid in the lee of the island and lowered the main and would finish in this teasing maelstrom on headsail alone. Once at the dock we made quick work of putting the boat away. Down below we shared a bit of whiskey and split one can of beer. We laughed about our two days out on the water, the weather fit no pattern, being surprised had cost us, we might have gone about all of this another way, for one thing we might have waited in Owl Harbor, that might be the first thing to have tried before we opened the door to tempt all these flying monkeys to come into our lives.
Postscript… The following day the diver that cleans the boats bottom went over the side and reported he had to use his knife to remove seaweed, netting and fishing line that had gotten tangled around the propeller—there was a stinking mess below we had sailed with for two days—hard to know how we’d even made it back—prevailing as we did against all the stubbornness and expectations.