Crew Overboard!

About 30 years ago, the event all of us hope we’ll never face happened to me: my crew was hit by the boom in an accidental jibe and I had a real-life man overboard with an injured victim. Terry Shrode was in the water. We had done so much sailing together and were so sympatico on the boat that little need be said regarding maneuvers. We took it for granted that we were competent, and this is a very dangerous state of mind. As the saying goes, just when you think you know what you’re doing, “the sea will find your mistakes.” 

When this happened, I was very quickly disabused of the fantasy that, in an emergency, I would keep a cool head. Sully Sullenberger, the pilot who landed an Airbus 320 in the Hudson River, taught emergency procedures. When asked if he panicked when his engines failed, he said that he observed in himself the physiological symptoms of stress: increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and a surge of adrenalin. Yet he didn’t submit to them, but reverted to his training, which was what saved his life and those of the 154 other people on board. In our case, Terry was overboard, and I knew he was hurt. I was alone on the boat, my heart was in my throat, my mind was flopping around like a wounded snake, and every cell in my body told me, “He’s right there!! Turn the boat around!!” But the figure eight recovery method had been so frequently practiced that, emotions notwithstanding, I knew exactly what I had to do. I executed, to my great relief, a perfect return to Terry, and brought the boat to a stop just to windward of him. Though dazed, he was able to regain the deck via the swim ladder, bloodied but not seriously injured. A boom on a 39-foot sailboat is a lethal weapon and that’s what had hit him. Fortunately, it was a glancing blow and he’s a tough guy.

We teach the figure eight method at Tradewinds. It is easy to take the figure eight for granted, yet it is a brilliant piece of seamanship. It doesn’t involve a jibe, which may cause other injuries when there are non-sailors aboard. It allows you time to maneuver the boat accurately and come to a stop, and to make a line ready. If done properly, it is an automatic way of determining a reciprocal course, since when you establish a beam reach and then tack to another beam reach, you’ve turned around 180 degrees just by looking at the windvane atop the mast. You don’t have to do the subtraction from a compass bearing or hit the MOB button on the GPS (processes you’re most likely not practiced at that take your focus off the victim). This is crucial in situations where a heavy chop causes you to lose sight of the person in the water, as it will return you to a point where you can see them.

When we teach it in class, we are in a controlled setting where all of the crew knows what is going on. Yet when it happens in real life, you will not have any warning, and now are likely to be either alone without crew, or with family or friends who are not sailors. If the former, you have to do all of the jobs yourself—tossing a type 4, spotting, retrieving the boat hook and lines, handling sails—while at the same time perfectly steering through the figure eight pattern. If the latter, frantic guests will not understand why you are sailing away from their loved one, and may scream at you or even try to take the helm or jump in the water. The situation may be extremely chaotic, adding to your own considerable stress. This is when your practice will save the day.

We use START Back: Shout “man overboard!”-Throw the type 4-Appoint a spotter- get on a beam Reach-Tack. After practice, we should be able to accomplish the first four steps in 10 to 15 seconds and be sailing away from the victim on a beam reach. You need to turn to a beam reach quickly, lest the geometry of the figure eight is thrown out of whack. If executed properly, the entire maneuver should place you next to the person in the water in 90 seconds with the boat stopped, the goal we shoot for in all conditions. It is also wise to remember that, contrary to what you may think, the rules of the road are not suspended during your maneuvering. Other skippers cannot be depended on to notice you have a person in the water, and you don’t want to make a bad situation worse by causing an accident.

After sailing a few boat lengths and tacking, stay on a beam reach until you spot the victim, and then head about 1-1/2 boat lengths to leeward of them. Then when they are about 45 degrees to windward off the bow, head up and lean to leeward so you can keep them in sight. With practice, you can get the boat dead stopped just to windward—and you must. If you can’t get the boat stopped, you will not have enough time to secure the victim to the boat before you’ve sailed right past. (If this happens, start the maneuver from the beginning as you cannot wish the sailboat back to the victim.)

If you are alone or with non-sailors, you will have to trim the main for a beam reach yourself. This doesn’t have to be fancy, as you’re not racing; just put the boom approximately over the corner of the cabin top. You will almost certainly have to leave the helm to do this except on our small boats. The main will not have to be touched again through the whole maneuver, and is especially unwise to do so when making the final approach to the victim. When trimmed for a beam reach, it will automatically luff as you head up to a close reach, without your having to touch the sheet. This is not the time you want to leave the helm and take your eyes off the victim to do something that has no effect. As to the jib, in real life I would just release it and let it flail. The sheet may find the water and give the victim his only chance of grabbing something. There is nothing to hold on to on the side of a boat. You don’t need the extra sail; we want to be going slow. However, at Tradewinds we don’t have you do this when practicing, as flogging the jib is a good way to damage it. So practice with the jib but don’t worry about it in a true emergency.

As to entertaining the idea that if you don’t know how to manage the return under sail, you’ll just start the motor: forget it. This is at times used on fully-crewed ocean-going boats who have practiced it. You can’t do a figure-eight with a spinnaker up, for example. But for ordinary sailing, the sails will not allow normal maneuvering under power and in fact will create the danger of an accidental jibe. Alternatively, if you choose to get them down, by the time you do you’ll have lost sight of the victim.

Back to that accidental jibe, a rookie mistake. We had sailed into Marina Bay well over 100 times without a problem. The jib had been furled and to start the engine, I needed to leave the helm for about two seconds on Maverick to switch to the starter battery. That day the wind had just a bit more west in it than normal, and the buildings upwind had created turbulence in their lee. This had never presented a problem before, but today a shift occurred just when I left the helm, and the boom came over. Our ASA procedure is to go forward on the windward side, which is where Terry was; but this, it should be clear, is safe only when on a beam reach or above. On a broad reach, it is safer use the leeward side, as the boom will swing away from you.

Terry and I have been through quite a few close calls, but because we have a mysterious connection with good fortune, we have managed them all. This was one that never happened again.

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On Your Feet!

                You don’t want to be slipping on the deck of a boat. At best, you look the fool. At worst, you’re in the drink. And in between, there’s a bunch of stuff to knock your head or bruise your backside on. Believe it or not, the best thing to do, although they deny this in all the sailing books, is to go barefoot. Bare feet have something even the most advanced sailing footwear can’t provide: nerve endings. When you step on a slippery surface in your bare feet, you can tell before you fall that you have no traction. This is better than finding out when you’re fanny-over-teakettle. “Crivens! That was slippery!” Of course, there will be the occasional broken toe when your naked foot encounters a cleat or block, but everything’s a compromise.

                That’s fine for the tropics, but in the extra-tropics where we are, I’m not man enough to go barefoot. Cold feet are one thing when you’re about to get married, but quite another when your actual feet are cold. So San Francisco sailors wear stuff on their feet. Typically, this is a sailing boot that is tall and made out of some rubber-like product. They are hard to get on and off, cold, and clammy.

                Of course, in pleasant weather, any athletic shoe will do, but wear Sperry Topsiders only at the risk of being considered a snotty yachtsperson. OK, I have a pair, I confess, snotty yachtie that I am. But consider this: Once we looked into a race from Fiji to Vanuatu, which we unfortunately couldn’t work into our schedule, and there were some serious rules to be obeyed on pain of disqualification. I’m not making this up: 1) The first boat across the finish line was immediately disqualified. 2) Any boat flying light air sails was disqualified. This was fine with us. We had a spinnaker, but we didn’t know how to use it. Who does, anyway? 3) Anyone wearing Sperry Topsiders was disqualified. Bear this in mind if you want to compete at the highest levels.

                But getting back to the boots, I always wonder why people really need that height. How many times on a sail around the Bay have you had ten inches of water in the cockpit?

                In the winter or wet weather I wear duck boots. L.L. Bean, and I mean, Leon Leonwood Bean himself, invented them.

But there are lots of knock-offs and they come in a variety of heights. They lace up so you can adjust them to the perfect comfy snugness. You can buy them lined with insulation so they are nice and toasty. Should you find yourself swimming, it is possible to untie them and kick them off. The best thing is, their gum soles are as sticky as any boat shoe you can buy—even if they aren’t as secure as bare feet.

                They may not be fashionable, I don’t know. Sometimes people laugh at me, but there could be other reasons for this.

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Nautical Terminator – Headsail

Even though the term may not be common up here in the land of the America’s Cup, I’ve heard headsails called “headies” by those sailors from down under who seem to keep winning everything. There sure are a lot of names that these sails are known by, compared to that workhorse piece of canvas aboard, the mainsail. A small change in a headsail can make a tremendous difference in a boat’s performance, especially upwind, so it’s not surprising that sailors are a bit obsessed with them. Here are a few names you may have heard: Yankee, drifter, windseeker, #4, genoa, ghoster, blade, 135%, storm jib, working jib, reacher, screecher, blooper, big boy, gennaker, jib top, staysail, gollywhomper, code zero, spinnaker, asymmetric spinnaker, cruising ‘chute.

            The term “headsail” refers to any sail set foreward of the forewardmost mast. The next most general term is “jib.” According to the PHRF rules, a jib is “any sail, other than a spinnaker, that is to be set in the fore triangle.” (“Other than a spinnaker” would seem to be an unnecessary refinement, since the spinnaker is flown outside of the fore triangle.) So a spinnaker is a headsail but not a jib.

            All genoas are jibs, but not all jibs are genoas. A genoa is an overlapping headsail, where the jib may or may not be. The overlap referred to is that of the clew of the genoa, which overlaps the luff of the mainsail. A more specific way to describe the size of any jib is by a percentage, e.g., 135%. This number is the ratio between the LP of the headsail and “J.” The LP, or longest perpendicular, is the length of a line through the clew, perpendicular to the luff. “J” is the distance between the pin of the forestay and the mast.

            Another common way of referring to headsail size is by numbers: #1 would be the largest jib on the boat, #2 a little smaller, etc. For spinnakers, the numbering may be S1, S2, or for asymmetrical spinnakers, A1 and A2. This system is relative to the sail inventory on a particular boat, so your #1 could be another boat’s #2.

            The speed of the America’s Cup catamarans have made traditional spinnakers irrelevant and all headsails have lost their former pre-eminence to the wing. Us commoners can still have our blades and Yankees, however, until we go that fast.

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Opening Day

Baseball and fishing have opening days for the season, but what opens? A gate? A bottle? In the case of sailing on San Francisco Bay there was once something that actually did open on opening day.

In many parts of the country, the climate dictates that boats be taken out of the water for winter, so it’s natural for there to be some sort of celebration when they are recommissioned in the spring. Despite our more temperate climate, the custom was brought here and observed at scattered locations where boats were kept in the 19th century.

In the late 1800s, some people owned houseboats that they called “arks.” They spent the summer months anchored in quiet Belvedere Cove where the San Francisco Yacht Club is now, but in winter things could get somewhat dicey in the open water. Tiburon Lagoon (now filled in) on the back side of Corinthian Island provided excellent protection, but Main Street, which connected Tiburon to Beach Road and Belvedere Island, would have been in the way. A drawbridge was constructed that permitted the arks to pass into the lagoon for winter on “closing day” in the fall. When the bridge was opened in the spring, “opening day” featured a celebration and parade. Below is a photo from Belvedere looking towards Corinthian Island in summertime, with arks anchored in Belvedere Cove. The place where the bridge once was is circled.

If you go to Tiburon, walk west along Main Street and just after it curves to the right and uphill, on your right you’ll see many of the quaint old arks, now firmly anchored on land. Behind them where the parking lot is now was once Tiburon Lagoon, and just over the hill and down the road from the arks was the location of the bridge.

The Pacific Inter-Club Yacht Association (PICYA), formed in San Francisco in 1896, united local celebrations, including Tiburon’s, into a sail called a “Cruise in Squadron” in 1917. This became Opening Day and is still organized by the PICYA. In 1963, a “Blessing of the Fleet,” based on a tradition of blessing fishing boats that dates from at least medieval times, was added specifically for recreational boats under the auspices of Tiburon’s Corinthian Yacht Club.

Should you wish to participate, the Blessing of the Fleet occurs this year on April 24 beginning at 1030 near the Corinthian. You’ll see a line of boats forming near the east end of Raccoon Strait. Proceed under power and join in. A video of this correspondent participating in the blessing of the fleet, along with shipmate Terry Shrode in a fashionable hat, can be found here.


The opening day parade of boats begins at 1200 off of Chrissy Field. If you wish to watch it, please observe the restricted area maintained by the Coast Guard.

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More on Why San Francisco Bay Is A Special Place to Sail

I’d like to add some more personal, subjective points to Don’s excellent recent article about our local sailing conditions, that make San Francisco Bay the world’s most desirable place to sail.

1) Let’s compare it to some other great sailing venues in the world. The Mediterranean? Wonderful, historic harbors, but believe it or not, you can just fly to them. It lives up to its reputation of having no wind or too much, and also expensive fees. Polynesia or the Caribbean? Just as beautiful as you’d think; but how about those tropical storms, hurricanes, and cyclones? (These are the same thing as hurricanes–don’t be fooled!)

2) In summer, when the wind is controlled by the microclimate caused by the reliable thermal low in the Central Valley, you can pick your conditions: Want to rock and roll? Sail the slot. Want a mellow pleasure cruise on the same day? Then visit the Oakland Estuary. Want a warm, relaxed weekend to lounge around, swim, and play with water toys? Try the Delta.

3) The wider San Francisco Estuary is gigantic, larger than any similarly protected waters in the world. According to the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, “The Bay’s shoreline is approximately half the length of the California coastline.  The Bay is approximately 550 square miles, which is larger than all but nine cities in the United States. It is almost 20% larger than the City of Los Angeles and is larger than the combined sizes of San Diego and San Jose.” All of this features protected waters that will never, ever, see 20-foot swells.

4) The geography is spectacular, unlike the Chesapeake, and festooned by one of the most beautiful landmarks in the world, the Golden Gate Bridge.

5) San Francisco is one of the world’s great cities, with restaurants that will satisfy the tastes of the most sophisticated gourmets.

6) We have an amazing bunch of local sailors, many of them world champions, to push the envelope and set the bar for the rest of us.

7) Our local sailing rag, Latitude 38, was interactive before interactive was a thing. There is no other sailing periodical like it. A huge amount of the writing is not by professionals but by ordinary sailors in the letters, changes in latitudes, and world of chartering sections.

8) We boast a long and storied nautical history, beginning with Juan Manuel de Ayala y Aranza, and featuring such notables as Richard Henry Dana and Jack London.

9) It has been the nexus of many controversies over its use, and has therefore been, and continues to be, the beneficiary of passionate campaigns by regular citizens to conserve its natural beauty and wildlife.

10) The fog and cold summer breezes are what make it possible for us commoners to sail on the Bay. If we had balmy weather like they do in the Caribbean together with all the blessings listed above, the slips would be enlarged for mega-yachts and the berth fees would be for millionaires only. The chill keeps out the riff-raff; you have to have a bit of a tough hide to sail here.

11) We have the Tradewinds Sailing School and Club.

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The Rule of Twelfths

If you have been certified through Basic Coastal Cruising, you will have learned how to properly connect mooring lines to the buoys at Ayala Cove, named after Juan Manuel de Ayala y Aranza, the first captain ever to sail into San Francisco Bay. But our favorite Cove has been shoaling up just like the rest of the Bay since sea levels rose when the great ice sheets retreated 10,000 years ago. Now I’m not quite that old, but old enough so that observable geological changes have taken place during my tenure. Years ago, when I first hiked out to Arch Rock at the end of the Bear Valley Trail in the Point Reyes Seashore, there was a massive rock arch there, and there was no problem with the depths at Ayala Cove. Now the arch is gone, and we have to pay attention to the tides when visiting Angel Island. I’ve changed a bit myself.


San Francisco Bay is an estuary at the end of the Sacramento River, which carries sediment all the way from the Sierra. As a matter of fact, the sediment is the Sierra. Some of that sediment makes it out the Gate and creates the Four Fathom Bank, but a huge amount is left on the floor of the Bay. If you look at Raccoon Strait on the chart, you’ll see it is very deep, and that is because until the end of the last ice age, when the ice melted and sea level rose over 300 feet, it was a ravine that carried the Sacramento out through the Golden Gate and 25 miles west to the coast, the ancient shore of the Pacific Ocean. This ravine, now filled with water, continues to be scoured by every ebb and flood as does the Golden Gate, and for this reason they have not silted up.


Below is a bathymetric image of the topography of the bottom of Raccoon Strait looking towards the Golden Gate. Notice: 1) How deep the Strait is relative to Ayala Cove. The fact that it is a cove, or indentation in the hills, has meant that over the centuries, it created an eddy where water slowed and dropped its sediment, resulting in a beach. As the ocean rose following the melting of the glaciers, the beach rose with it. The same is true of Keil Cove across from Ayala Cove, the bight between Point Ione and Point Stuart, Richardson Bay, and Belvedere Cove. If the water were to be drained from the Strait, the areas in light blue on the nautical chart above would be flat ledges next to a steep, daunting cliff descending to a cavernous gorge. This sedimentation process continues today, which is why we need to be vigilant when sailing there. 2) The big hump on the bottom just westward of Ayala Cove and opposite Tiburon creates the riffles in the water that you will always encounter there in a strong current, as the rapidly flowing water rises to clear it. 3) The deep holes off of Point Stuart and Peninsula Point are caused by the flow of the current rushing around the points through this constriction, just like the rapids on a river. In a strong current, you will notice turbulence near both the western and eastern approaches to the strait.

Together, these features dramatically illustrate the power of water to shape land. They also reveal an entirely different sense of the roiling flow that lies hidden below the two-dimensional current that we see on the surface. Our marine mammal friends spend their time in this very different world. Similar sculpting takes place anywhere there’s a strong current meeting a constriction or obstruction, like around Alcatraz and of course through the Gate. It’s a ghostly, powerful world down there.


Back to the practical matter of shoaling at Ayala Cove: If you are staying overnight and the boat settles on the bottom in the evening, it won’t hurt the boat, although it may spill your tea as the boat heels. But you’ll have to plan your arrival and departure so that you can get in and out. Of course, you can look the tides up online, using the tidal corrections for either Angel Island (west side), or Angel Island, East Garrison. This will show you a beautiful sine wave. But suppose you don’t have an Internet connection. Here’s a method to figure the slope of the rise and fall of the tide for Ayala Cove, which will also be of service at Sam’s, Clipper Cove, Richardson Bay, and any time and anywhere you have only a tide book:

1. Find the tides at the Golden Gate in your book.
2. Apply the correction for Angel Island (west side), which will work for Ayala Cove:
Time High water +13; Low water +21
Height High water -0.2; Low water 0.0
3. Use the Rule of Twelfths in the paragraph below. This is a way to create a sine curve for the rise and fall of the tide without having a graphing calculator. It allows you to interpolate between the high and low tide to determine when there is enough water for your boat to enter without grounding.

There are about six hours between low and high tide. Divide the total difference in height between them by 12. In the first hour the height increases by 1/12. Then in the second hour by 2/12, in the third by 3/12, in the fourth by 3/12, fifth by 2/12, and the sixth hour, 1/12. These together will add up to the tidal difference. To go from high to low, do the same thing in reverse, subtracting instead of adding.


Just put that steep cliff, close by out towards the Strait, out of your mind.

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A-Words

We sailors like our “A-” words. They sound salty. The prefix comes from Greek and means “on,” “at,” “or in the state of.” I’m going to assume you know ahoy and ahead and astern and a-lee and aboard and abeam and ashore and aground, but we can list a whole sailbag full of other ones:

A-weather: Towards the wind, just as a-lee means away from the wind.

A-hull: Sometimes in a storm we may douse all sail and lash the helm to leeward. This is called lying a-hull. Similar to “under bare poles.” It’s a very clever storm tactic when your brains are too bashed in to think of anything else, but what’s even more clever is not to be in that storm.

A-try: Similar to ­a-hull or hove-to. The objective is to get the boat, by whatever sail configuration achieves it, to lie with her bow about six points (67.5 degrees) off the wind so she doesn’t wallow in the trough and capsize. That would wreck your day.

Athwart/athwartships: Across the boat, perpendicular to the centerline. “The traveler runs athwartships.”

A-peak: When the bow is directly above the anchor, the anchor is a-peak.

A-trip: When the anchor breaks free, it is said to be a-trip.

Aweigh: When the anchor is a-trip and no longer on the bottom, it is aweigh (not “away”).

Aloft: Up the mast. Yes, but did you know that alow means down on deck? That’s where you drop your wrench. Of course, below means belowdecks, but that’s not an A-word, is it?

Adrift: This means floating without steerage, guided just by wind and tide. Also, anything aboard is said to have gone adrift if it has come loose and is preparing to clobber you in the head.

Royalty Free Clipart Image of a Woman Hit in the Head By a Ball #166454 |  iCLIPART.com

Abroad: Spread, as in “She had all plain sail abroad.”

Abaft: Behind. This is a preposition, a relative term used with a reference point as the object of the preposition, as in “abaft the beam.” Its opposite, less commonly heard, is afore; before is more common. Aft is an adjective or adverb, as in the aft cabin or aft starboard scupper.  

Awash: An object almost submerged is awash. The deck, for example, or a rock or shoal that can just be seen above the water level.

Avast: This is an order meaning to stop some nautical procedure, as in “avast hauling!”or “avast the Metallica!”

Aback: A sail is aback when the wrong side is filled. This occurs when you tack accidentally, which of course would never happen. It can also be done purposefully, as in heaving-to.

A-choo: There is no evidence that this had its origin in seamanship, but no evidence to the contrary, either. Let’s claim it before the golfers or fishermen do.

A-main: All of a sudden. “The squall hit us a-main.”

A-hoo: I don’t know where I got this but I didn’t make it up. It’s obscure, but distressingly often, I find it useful. It means “messy,” “disorganized,” or “all screwed up.” “After the gale passed, the deck gear was all ahoo.”

Aloof: Yes, this has a nautical origin. In sailing, it originally meant keeping your luff as close to the wind as possible—a-luff—and in particular, was used when failing to point high enough would put you on a lee shore.

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Nautical Terminator – Hitch & Bend (Part 2)

Last time we spoke of the difference between a hitch and a bend according to the Ashley Book of Knots. According to Ashley, a hitch makes a rope fast to another object while a bend unites two ropes at the ends for the purpose of lengthening the rope. He adds the refinement that at certain times when two ropes are joined, the knot is still called a hitch because the rope being tied to is not “active” as it is in a bend.

            A couple of examples may serve to illustrate this “active” principle. Although many authorities do not bother with this subtlety, Ashley distinguishes the Sheet Bend we all know (ABOK#1431) from the Becket Hitch (ABOK#1900) which is exactly the same knot but made fast to an eye splice or the loop in a fishing leader instead of a bight in the second line. In the Becket Hitch the second rope is not “active” and becomes an “object” so the knot fits the definition of “hitch” in ABOK#12, justifying the difference in name.

            A Rolling Hitch (ABOK#1734) can be used to make a rope fast to a spar, and is the preferred knot when hoisting a roller furling extrusion up the forestay, so in these instances it fits the definition of a hitch. But of course we also use it to take the strain from a rope when the end of the second rope is not workable, as in the case of an anchor rode or a halyard with an override on a winch. In these cases, even though two lines are being “united,” we are not uniting them at the ends, and the rope we tie the rolling hitch to is not “active.” The result is that even in situations where two ropes are united using this knot, we call it a Rolling Hitch rather than a Rolling Bend.

            A tidy example that summarizes the difference between knot, hitch, and bend is the versatile Bowline. If it is just a loop tied in a rope we call it a Bowline Knot (ABOK#1010), neither a hitch nor a bend. Once we make a line fast to an object using a Bowline it becomes a Bowline Hitch (ABOK#1716). However, if we put the loop of one Bowline through the loop of another to join two ropes for the purpose of making a longer one, we have a Bowline Bend (ABOK#1455).

Bowline - Wikipedia
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Man Overboard!!! (PFDs, Crotch Straps, and Spray Hoods)

From Tradewinds Member Al Z.

Gear: Spinlock's Deckvest Vito Inflatable Lifejacket - Sail Magazine

Hope all is well with you all at Tradewinds. I just had a detailed and extremely informative chat with Nick by phone who very kindly suggested I write you, Matt, in case you wish to post this in a Newsletter to members. I’ve taken your wonderful 101, 103 and 104 courses and enjoyed them immensely.

In short, I wanna relay a strong recommendation to all sailors on the Bay to get a life jacket that has both crotch straps and a spray hood – the latter of which doesn’t come standard on any PFD sold at West Marine but one can be purchased from spinlock. Here’s why:

On Saturday I was sailing on a boat I’ve been racing on several times, a J125 out of Brickyard Cove Richmond, in high winds, reaching 25 knots. We were heading downwind when we raised the spinnaker and all seemed well (despite  other boats in the race calling it quits due to the gusts). Then there was a super sudden bluster that came so fast there was no time to let out a sheet. I was on the main sheet and only had time to kick free the traveler before I was flying. And the skipper has said in hindsight, even if we had let the main out and made  other adjustment in a non-second, it wouldn’t have offset the force of wind that pitched us on our side. It came like a fire cracker.

The racing boat pitched sideways, bodies were air-born and I was MOB. After being under the boat, I surfaced with my Mustang 70 inflated and thought all would be fine. Surprisingly, I wasn’t feeling very cold at all and was floating on the water. But I was taking in a stomach full of sea water every 10 seconds from the swells and spray, so by just ten minutes I had probably 60 stomach-fulls and was starting to weaken. No matter which way I turned or covered my mouth with my hand, I was getting hit. It took the crew over 28 minutes to get me after failed passes in the rough conditions and I didn’t think I was gonna make it in part because I didn’t have a splash hood attached to my Mustang PFD to stop the swells from hitting me. With that hood, I could’ve been fine and waiting, I think, for hours.

My PFD did an okay job keeping me afloat but it couldn’t block the heavy spray even with my hand covering my mouth. Once my crew finally got me, three sets of hands holding me sideways off the side of the boat, they couldn’t hoist me up initially due to my weight while wet and the force of water tugging at the submerged half of me. So, I was taking in white water in the face, starting to drown in a horizontal position. Eventually, of course, they pulled me aboard. But there were many lessons here. 

First, you gotta get a life jacket with a spray hood and crotch straps that keep your PFD from rising so your head can stay high. Second, your crew needs to practice how to slow a boat in windy conditions to pull a MOB back on deck because it’s incredibly hard to do this quickly and it’s a critical element in the rescue procedure. Happy sailing and be safe!

Best regards,

Al Z.

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Why Is San Francisco Bay A Special Place to Sail?

An Introduction to Marine Weather

San Francisco Bay is one of the premier sailing areas in the world. What is it that makes the area special?

Easy! The weather. Year round mild conditions allow sailing nearly every day throughout the year. And, consistent 25 to 30 knot winds pretty much every day from May to October have led to a cliché that if you can sail on San Francisco Bay, you can sail anywhere.

Consistent winds
Summer Fog

The down side? Fog. Interestingly, both conditions are related, and probably would not exist without the other.

It All Starts With:

  • A high pressure area and a low pressure area and the wind they produce
  • The impact of wind on water
  • Something called the coriolis effect
  • And, finally, the dew point

Add in a mountain range with a single major opening (the Golden Gate) and you have what is arguably the finest sailing in the world!

The Wind

High Pressure to Low Pressure

Diagram of High and Low Pressure Isobars
Air flows from higher to lower pressure. The Coriolis Effect caused by the Earth’s rotation turns the air flow clockwise (in the northern hemisphere) around and out of a high pressure system into the lower pressure where it rotates counter clockwise.

Now, visualize that the high pressure is centered over the Pacific Ocean off of San Francisco, and the low pressure over Nevada. San Francisco sits pretty much right in the middle of the two. The resulting wind comes from the north or northwest.

The high pressure air is going to try to fill in the low pressure area, however, the Coast Range of mountains creates a pretty effective barrier. The number one opening through that barrier … The Golden Gate.

Image of chart of the Golden Gate

The Golden Gate

  • 2 miles wide at its western opening
  • Nearly 2.5 miles long
  • 1 mile wide at the entrance into the bay

Oriented from the Southwest to the Northeast, it is the perfect “funnel” to direct and concentrate the wind moving from high into low. From a large area of the Pacific to a small bay.

The Fog

As can be seen in the high/low pressure image, the wind direction off the coast of California is generally north to south.

Steady wind creates current in the water that it passes over. The resulting current in the top few feet of water may be moving to the south with the wind, however, below the surface, the coriolis effect turns that movement to the right about 90 degrees, so that it is moving to the west, away from the coast. The water moving to the west is replaced by very cold water from the depths of the Pacific Ocean.

The air moving across the water is warmer than the water, so, the air gets cooler. When the temperature drops to the level of something called the dew point, moisture in it condenses into fog.

This fog continues to move with the wind and in turn gets “sucked” into the bay resulting in the wind and fog San Francisco is famous for.

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