How to Troll your crew

(As with all Trolling, the author chooses to remain anonymous)

Many Bay Area residents have heard about the Bay Bridge Troll. You may have even been asked about it by fellow crew, and how to see it. Like all Trolls it lives under the bridge, and like other Trolls is hard to find. I have failed to find a clear guide on how to find the Troll, so this is my attempt to help fellow Tradewinds members Troll their crew.

The first step is to take all the classes up to and including BBC (ASA 104) so you are allowed to this part of the Bay on a Tradewinds boat, or find a skipper who has taken BBC and is willing to have you as crew.

Next, make sure you have some binoculars as the Troll is only 18 inches tall, and it’s a long way from the water to where the Troll is. In addition, when you do get close other structures get in the way.

Finally, the details on where to sail…

Sail under The Bay Bridge, heading south on the San Francisco side, around Yerba Buena Island. Leave way more room than you think you will need. If you get close to the island you seem to get sucked onto it. Wave at the Coast Guard commandant. He lives in the house you just saw on the South end of the Island. Not bad for public housing although the fog horn might keep him awake!

Head towards the Bay Bridge, but on the Oakland side. The following pictures show you where to look to find the Troll.

Heading north towards the Bay Bridge look to the area marked.

Getting closer, look at the cantilevered section of the beam that rests on the piers. The Troll is on top of this, but again he is small.

Finally with binoculars you should be able to see the Troll. If you wait too long the white metal walkway will obscure the Troll. I told you he is small!

Crop of the above image showing the Troll in a little more detail.

Now you know everything you need to know to Troll your fellow crew!

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Nautical Terminator – Roger

Tradewinds instructor Dan Seifers asked me the other day why we say “Roger” on the radio to confirm we’ve received a message. Why Roger, and not Reginald, or for that matter, Hermione?

            If you go cruising you’ll probably want to learn the phonetic alphabet so you can spell your boat name and perhaps your HAM call sign in a way that can be understood in foreign ports. I can still quickly rattle off “kilo-golf-six-echo-uniform-delta,” sometimes involuntarily at inappropriate moments. However, even if you memorize this way of spelling things, you won’t find any “Roger” among the Mikes, Juliets, and Charlies. But this wasn’t always the case.

            “Roger” is a holdover from the phonetic alphabet used by the Royal Air Force and the US Air Force prior to 1956, at which time he was replaced by “Romeo” to represent the letter “R.” In addition to changing “Roger” to “Romeo,” “Able” was replaced by “Alpha,” “Baker” was replaced by “Bravo,” and “Easy” was replaced by “Echo.” There were some additional changes due to fuzzy comprehension by speakers of Texan, Bostonian, Bronxish, Liverpudlian, and other languages, until the alphabet was adopted internationally. The current phonetic alphabet with “Romeo” was adopted by the International Commission for Air Navigation in 1956, by the International Telecommunication Union in 1959, and then by the International Maritime Organization in 1965.

            During WWII, the phonetic “Roger” was used to indicate R for “Received” in radio usage. Apparently no one wished to change it to “Romeo” after combat ended and the alphabet changed, with the result that what we have today is a small tribute to the Second World War. So when you say “Roger,” remember those heroes of Normandy and Okinawa, the Po Valley, and the Ardennes Forest.

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Nautical Terminator – Pronunciation (Part 1)

I once heard Bugs Bunny derisively call someone a “maroon.” Bugs didn’t know how to pronounce “moron,” thereby proving he was one. Tradewinds’ BKB class introduces the word “bowline,” which is not pronounced like it looks. The “bow” should sound like the “Bo” in Little Bo Peep, and the “line” like the last name of the country singer named Loretta. Taking this class many years ago I thought, Oh, great. As if learning the words isn’t bad enough, you have to learn a whole new way of pronouncing things. Luckily, the list of odd pronunciations isn’t as long as it used to be. We don’t have to know how to pronounce “studding sails” or “crossjack” anymore (stuns’ls and cro-jeck, just in case). But let me warn you about a few I’ve sorted out in my unending, if unsuccessful, quest to avoid looking like a maroon.

          Sheave: This is the wheel in a block that turns so the line will run freely. Ever been in prison? Me neither, so I learned this from my ex-brother-in-law. It’s pronounced just like that weapon all the bad guys use for protection, shiv.

          Ratlines: In the tropics, rig some 1/4” line to the shrouds with a Prussic Knot as ladder rungs so you can climb aloft like sailors of old and spot reefs. Say the second syllable like Loretta’s last name, as in bowline, above. (Perversely, jacklines, leechlines, and lifelines do not share this trait with their brothers of the “line” family, and are pronounced like they look.)

          Gunwale: Some boats are still built with a wooden rail at the place where the deck meets the topsides, but the word can just describe the edge of the deck. Rhymes with tunnel.

          Forecastle: Nowadays you work “foredeck” or “bow” and you sleep in the “forward cabin” or “forepeak,” where the “V-berth” is located. You’re not going to need this word unless you ship out with Long John Silver. But it’s common in literature, so when you’re reading aloud in your book group, pronounce it folks’ll, as in “folks’ll do that.

          Leeward: You can pronounce this either like it looks or the slightly saltier loo-w’rd. But avoid saying “by the loo.” That means something entirely different.

          OK, to be honest, these are the easy ones. Some pronunciations are a little more controversial or regional, and not so simple to pin down. We’ll get to those next time.

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Women Who’ve Been Around

This month is women’s history month, and as if to put an exclamation point on that, on March 7, 29-year-old, 5’2” 100-pound Cole Brauer claimed her permanent place in the history of sailing when she sailed her First Light across the finish line of the Global Solo Challenge in A Coruña, Spain, placing her second among 16 starters in the race. More than half of those starters, all seasoned seamen older and bigger than her, had retired. This completed a 30,000-mile, 130-day non-stop solo circumnavigation passing the great capes, and it’s a little hard to get a reliable figure, but I think this makes her the 187th skipper and the 13th woman in history to have accomplished this feat. Six of those 187 were American, but she is our first female. (By comparison, over 6,000 people have climbed Mount Everest.) This is the figure according to the International Association of Cape Horners, a group founded by Robin Knox-Johnston, who was the first to complete a solo, non-stop trip around the world by way of the great capes in 1969. Unlike in the days of Knox-Johnston, during her voyage we were able to get updates of Cole’s progress from her boat by satellite. Throughout an ordeal that would push the most hardened sea-dog to the limit, she looked impossibly fresh and cheery without a hair out of place, as though she’d just left a church social. It was a hold-my-beer smackdown.

Women have not always been welcomed in our sport, as Cole herself has very publicly discussed. All the more credit is due to the very impressive women who have brushed the detractors aside and gone on to accomplish feats that would make ordinary humans tremble. The first female circumnavigator was the wild and clever Jeanne Baret. She had to spell her name “Jean” and pass herself off as a man to gain a berth on the French ship Etoile in 1766. She posed as the manservant to her lover and managed to pull it off. The story has many twists and turns and deserves a thorough look, which we don’t have space for here.

Another early and perhaps even more impressive example is that of Mary Ann Brown Patten, a young woman from Massachusetts and the wife of Joshua Adams Patten, the captain of a clipper ship named Neptune’s Car. When the skipper took ill with tuberculosis just before they approached Cape Horn on a voyage from New York to San Francisco begun in 1856, he became incapacitated. She knew her husband had no trust in the first mate, yet the second mate was illiterate and didn’t understand navigation, which Mary did. She had learned much about navigation and running a ship on a previous circumnavigation with her husband on Neptune’s Car. The first mate attempted to organize a mutiny, and she responded by meeting with the crew and convincing them that she would make a fit leader. This scene is really difficult to imagine: a nineteen-year-old girl persuading a very tough crowd facing life-threatening dangers to put their safety in her hands, and accept her as captain of a square rigger. Yet they went on to round the Horn and continue to San Francisco. She was eight months pregnant when they docked.

The first female to do a solo circumnavigation by way of the Panama Canal was Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz of Poland in 1976-78 on Mazurek, a Conrad 32 sloop. Shortly after Krystyna, New Zealand’s Naomi Christine James became the first woman to circumnavigate solo via the great capes on the 53-foot Express Crusader, although she had to make a stop.

One of my favorites is Tania Aebi, the first American woman to complete a solo circumnavigation. She didn’t go via the great capes, and at one point she sailed 80 miles with a friend, so the Guinness Book of World Records didn’t count her as quite legit. Yet she was alone on Varuna, a Canadian version of the very cool Contessa 26, for the other tens of thousands of miles. She departed for her voyage from New York in 1985 at the age of eighteen, having only a textbook understanding of celestial navigation. She had done some ocean passages with her father but had never been the skipper. Her father recognized her as having potential, despite some bad behavior as a teenager, and said he would buy her a boat, but she had to sail it around the world. He was criticized for his reckless parenting, but she proved him right and made it. She wrote about it in Maiden Voyage, which was a best seller. Upon her return she became famous, and was interviewed by Jane Pauley of NBC. When Jane asked her what made her think she could do it, she said, “I dunno. A lot of other ninnies have already done it. I guess I can do it.”

Tracy Edwards of Britain is another one for the record books. Frustrated by the exclusion of women from leadership positions in sailing races, she managed to get Royal Jordanian Airlines to sponsor her and entered Maiden, with an all-female crew, in the 1989 Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race. This was astonishing to sailors and writers, who ridiculed the attempt and predicted with confidence that she would not finish one leg and the crew would be lucky to survive. Ha! Tracy and her crew came in second in class, winning two legs outright. The story would become the subject of an inspiring documentary, itself called Maiden, that I highly recommend.

Then there was the formidable Isabelle Autissier, a French woman who competed in the 1990-91 BOC Challenge, becoming the first woman to complete a solo circumnavigation in a competition. In the BOC challenge of 1994-95, Isabelle was dismasted 900 miles south of Adelaide, Australia, and the rescue was a major story. But that mishap didn’t stop her. In an even more dramatic event, during the Around Alone race in 1998-99, she was capsized 1900 miles west of Cape Horn, and her boat remained upside down. She was rescued by fellow racer Giovanni Soldini of Italy, who sailed 200 miles into a 40-knot gale to find her. 

In 1998, Kay Cottee of Australia became the first woman to complete a non-stop, solo circumnavigation on 37-foot Blackmores First Lady, taking 189 days.

There is quite a long list of legendary female sailors including Laura Dekker, the youngest person to complete a solo circumnavigation at 16; Australia’s Jessica Watson, who completed the same feat at an equally young age, but was denied the record because having started and ended in the southern hemisphere, her voyage failed on a technicality to be long enough to qualify; Dawn Riley, a member of Edwards’ crew mentioned above, and team captain of the all-women’s 1995 America’s Cup entry, Mighty Mary; Dee Caffari, the first woman to sail solo, non-stop around the world in both directions; Pip Hare, who sailed solo around the world in the 2020-21 Vendée Globe and will be in the next one; Clarisse Cremer, who set the new female record in the same solo, 2020-21 singlehanded race (this beat Ellen MacArthur ‘s 2005 time, then the world record regardless of gender); and Jeanne Socrates, who holds the record for the oldest solo circumnavigator—77 years—by way of the great capes. Those stories I will reluctantly leave the reader to search for as there is just not enough space here. You can do so with my promise that your efforts will be repaid with jaw-dropping stories of gutsy women right out of the pages of fiction.

Finally, and most recently, there is South African Kirsten Neuschäfer, who won the 2022 Golden Globe race outright. This is a retro race based on the very first Golden Globe race won by the aforementioned Robin Knox-Johnston in 1969. In this event, radar, GPS, and long-distance radio are prohibited and the skipper must navigate by compass, sextant, and dead reckoning. She was the first woman to ever compete in the race, and obviously, the first woman to win, and indeed the first woman to win any round-the-world race via the great capes, whether crewed or solo, non-stop, or with stops.

You might say all of these women paved the way for Cole, but that isn’t quite right. Each one paved her own way, determined and undaunted.

Hoist one to the women of sail.

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Who Has It Better Than Us Sailors?

I have great affection and respect for the hard-won traditional arts of the sailor. Every modern sailor must still, to this day, master them just like the mariners of yesteryear. This ancient body of knowledge, plus some other aspects of sailing described below, are some reasons for my feeling that our sport is superior to any other leisure time endeavor. You like feeling superior, right? Well, that’s silly. Or is it?

1. Sailing is the oldest of our recreations, with the exception of hunting and fishing. The history of our sport is not hundreds, nor thousands, but hundreds of thousands of years older than tennis, golf, biking, or skiing. The earliest undoubted evidence of human voyaging is the settling of Australia by the aboriginal discoverers. They could not have reached it without an ocean passage of twenty-five miles or more. Further back, there is trustworthy evidence of human habitation on Crete 130,000 years ago, before Homo sapiens were in Europe, which implies those explorers were Neanderthals. Crete has been an island sixty miles from the mainland for millions of years. But the most radical possibility for early voyagers is the case of Homo floresiensis, also known as the “hobbit people,” who inhabited the island of Flores in Indonesia a million years ago. As to the common theory that any of these folks were accidentally blown by storms to these destinations, this ignores the fact that in order to gain a sustained foothold, which is what they did, you need quite a number of fellow pioneers to start, including, obviously, females. It required repeated, planned trips in some kind of boat. Despite all the fluctuations in weather, sea level, and human interaction since those early times, the ocean waters you sail on now are the same as those faced by these early voyagers.
Besides boats, another ancient technology is cordage. On my first day at Tradewinds as a beginner, I was struck by the fact that in the twentieth century, ropes were being used to control the boat. Ropes? We have servos and actuators and hydraulics. What is with this primitive gear? Like the first boats, ancient cordage, made of organic things like vines or sinew, doesn’t survive through the ages so we lack archaeological proof. The earliest hominid technology we have evidence of, over three million years ago, is stone tools. Knapping stone tools is not easy, and takes skill and foresight. It is much less difficult to strip leaves off a vine, creating a rope. Again, nameless people, who weren’t yet human, thought up a simple contrivance to help with their lives that we still use today. The connection to these earliest technological innovators is part of the heritage I became aware of through sailing.

2. Sailing has had an immeasurably larger impact on history and societal development than any other leisure time activity. The Age of Discovery and the voyages of the ancient Polynesians were conducted by sailors. The Americas and Australia had been settled long before the Europeans stumbled on them—under sail—but as mentioned, Australia, and probably much of the Americas, was accessed from sea by the aboriginal discoverers.
No tennis match ended an empire, nor saved a culture from a fall, but: 1) After the sea battle of Salamis stopped Persia, Athens enjoyed a brief surge of intellectual development that has never been surpassed. Had Persia won, the Greeks would not have begun the first democracy, and there may never have been a Socrates, Herodotus, Plato, or Sophocles. 2) The British Isles were saved twice by sea from would-be conquerors from Europe, after they had earlier been invaded by the Vikings, who were renowned sailors. Under Elizabeth I at the Spanish Armada, and again against Napolean’s fleet at Trafalgar in ships commanded by Horatio Nelson, the nation was protected by its sailors. 3) The astonishing planning, execution, and good fortune of American sea power has carried many a day including Normandy and the Battle of Midway.
None of these battles were the least guaranteed and a gambler would surely have bet against both Greece and America at those engagements. How different the world would be had the outcomes been other than they were.

3. Sailing has the best literature. Although there are great sportswriters in baseball, golf, fishing, and football, are Homer, Melville, and London among them? Homer wrote the first, and arguably still the greatest, seagoing epic at around 700 BC. Odysseus’ homeward voyage has been the subject of fascination, skepticism, and spin-offs for over two millennia. Melville’s Moby Dick is to this day still assigned in high schools. You may have read and hated it, as I did. I suggest you revisit it. It is a mountain of a book, based on a true story which was the subject of The Heart of The Sea, the great movie by director Ron Howard. The chapters on the biology of the whale, dismissed as filler by my high school teacher, are actually what a textbook description of a whale’s anatomy would be like if written by Shakespeare. London’s Sea Wolf and Cruise of the Snark may have you questioning why you ever left land.

4. Sailing is a weighty undertaking. No one is going to die because of a poor golf swing. Being a captain, however, means taking full responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of your crew and boat, as well as that of other mariners. I cannot think of another recreational activity with quite this level of gravitas. Becoming a captain is a powerful life choice to make.

5. Sailing widens horizons. If you spend hundreds of thousands on a new Lamborghini, you are still going to be driving the same roads as the plebeians. But if you spend a fraction of that on a boat, you can go anywhere, to places where there are no roads. You don’t need an agency, industry, or supervisor to give you permission. You can open all the doors yourself.

6. Sailing leads to adventure. Not all sailors have an attraction to this sort of thing, as an adventure is something with an outcome that is not a given. Even a day sail on the Bay offers that. With the Bay Area Summiteers, we’ve shown that great explorations can be undertaken even without going offshore. It’s good to work an untried goal into every day on the water.

7. Finally, the experience at sea will build self-confidence in all areas of life. As you build your skills in tennis, golf, and skiing, you’ll be more confident in your performance. But you will not meet the variety of issues that any skipper will face. Weather, boat gear, sail trim, crew management, and foreign regulations are a sample of the challenges that will challenge your perseverance and your ability to make sound decisions in the face of uncertainty. However, after musing on all of this, do me a favor. If you run into Serena Williams or Tiger Woods, don’t lord it over them. They aren’t to blame for the limitations of their sport. Humility is the mark of the true sailor, and as a teacher of this virtue, the sea is second to none.

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Red Right Returning

Sailing into an unfamiliar harbor is fraught with peril for mariners, terrifying if you are seeking shelter from a storm. The entrance to San Francisco Bay is one of the most dangerous on the West Coast. The combination of strong wind, traffic, current, fog, and dangerous waves created when storm seas meet the Fourfathom Bank against an ebb is so treacherous that there are over 300 shipwrecks just seaward of the Golden Gate.

We had several very difficult approaches on our circumnavigation of 2001-2003, one of which resulted in a grounding, and several had our hearts in our throats. We never entered harbors after nightfall, standing off all night even in heavy weather, to avoid it. The one time we broke this rule was in Manzanillo in calm weather, and it almost did us in.

You don’t want to ground your ship on a shoal or rock. This problem has been recognized by mariners since time immemorial, and dealt with by numerous means. In the great days of exploration, Columbus, Magellan, and Cook would send small boats into an inlet to find a fairway, as the waters they sailed had never been charted. Lead lines, like the ones these boats would have employed, have been in use since at least 500 BC.  It took a long time for mariners to survey the entire world of coves and rivers. Late friend Hank Strauss, a sailor who participated in the ’79 Fastnet Race, took soundings for the US Navy at the Solomon Islands in WWII because of a lack of reliable information, so this process was not completed until very recently.

Once a safe way in was found into a frequently visited river or harbor, a “pilot,” a person with local knowledge, was engaged to guide sailors in. The earliest mention we have of this practice is found in Homer in around 700 B.C. We hired a pilot in Borneo to help us navigate the Kumai River and its tributary, the Sekonyer. Fishermen there and in many other places in the third world have no navigation marks, no charts, no depth sounders, and no GPS. They just know the river. In San Francisco, where we welcome over 8,000 ships a year from all over the world, piloting is a stressful, highly-paid job done by mariners with very, very high levels of knowledge and experience. They have to be skilled in piloting both bars and rivers, as they take ships, some that are larger than the Sales Force Tower laid sideways, all the way to Sacramento. They have to be able to draw all the charts of the area from memory complete with marks, just as a London cabbie has to know every street.

When the shoals and hazards had been established, various methods were used for locals to mark the way for themselves, or for others following. Although early sailors traded tips on getting into this or that harbor, there wasn’t an organized procedure. This was how it was for thousands of years of shipping, and then in the 13th century, charts and buoys began to appear. That earlier navigators managed with minimal or non-existent aids is a measure of their resourcefulness. Or daring. Or insanity.

One ancient method of indicating the way was to designate range marks on land. Mariners lined these up and followed them to make a safe passage. Sometimes those were a church and a tree, or two rocks. We still use that concept today in modern marks, and they can be seen in the San Rafael Channel and at the end of Potrero Reach. Modern marks are two rectangles with a central vertical stripe, a higher one behind a lower one.

Range marks show the middle of the channel, and lateral marks, which make up the majority of Aids To Navigation (ATONs) in our Bay, show the edges. At first these were just sticks, as are still seen in the third world and even in the US in minor waterways. If you go to Lawson’s Landing in Tomales Bay, you might be able to see the sticks just offshore locating the edge of the channel between sand bars, which are not official ATONs and are not on the chart. At Lawson’s they indicate only one side of the channel, but which side? There’s your problem. The official marks leading into the San Rafael Channel are also on only one side, but as they are colored green, we know to leave them to port. Keep a sharp watch.

It is difficult to construct a detailed account of the history of these arrangements. The newborn US created The United States Lighthouse Establishment, later known as the U.S. Lighthouse Service, in 1789. By the mid-nineteenth century, a nascent lateral buoy system was developed by a few countries in northern Europe. Standardization included red marks on the right and black, later green, on the left when returning to a harbor. According to legend, this setup originated in the Port of Liverpool, often visited by American ships, and the US Congress adopted their Lateral System nationwide in 1848. By the early twentieth century there was still only sporadic agreement on markings between nations, but in 1957, 20 countries got together to form the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities, or IALA. In 1971 there was an accident with major casualties in the Dover Strait in the English Channel which lent urgency to organizing a more consistent arrangement, so in 1973 the IALA began to sort out all the disparate local systems with intent of unifying them. The result was adopted in 1980, but even then, because of the potential for confusion resulting from changing familiar marks, it was only possible to distill the various systems down to two separate groups: region A and region B. We’re in B. For lateral buoys in IALA-A, it is green, right, returning rather than the reverse that we use. In that system red ones are on the left but are still even numbered. However, they are shaped like cans, and the green ones on the right are pointy. Take note of this if you’re sailing in Europe or the South Pacific.

Back to San Francisco. The first chart of San Francisco Bay was created by José de Cañizares in 1776. He was an ensign on the first ship ever to enter the Bay, the San Carlos, commanded by Juan Manuel de Ayala after whom our favorite Cove is named. Believe it or not, Ayala had planned to do the survey but was incapacitated because he literally shot himself in the foot. You’ll see soundings, but no aids to navigation on this chart.

However, now we have them, and despite this, if you sail long enough on San Francisco Bay, you will touch somewhere. Don’t ask how I know. But those red marks in the Ford Channel will keep you safe if you observe them. This unfortunate skipper seems to have missed the memo, and is aground just outside the red mark. Be conservative near these marks, as just inside there isn’t a strait drop. Mud sloughs off at an angle to the bottom of the dredged channel.

You probably have learned that the green marks that look like cans are called “cans,” and the red ones which are cone-shaped, “nuns.” The common explanation for this is that nuns wear pointy hats. This always befuddled me. Have you ever seen a nun wearing a pointed red hat? A perusal of that source of all wisdom, the Internet, revealed scores of pictures of nuns in their habits, contemporary and historical, but only one had a point.

A much more likely explanation for the origin of the nickname for the red buoy is found in John Rogers’ Origins of Sea Terms. Rogers, a pretty reliable source, writes that “It appears to have gotten its name from the early English word nun, for a child’s top that was tapered on both ends. The word comes from the Old English nunna, with the same meaning.”

It’s taken thousands of years and a lot of dangerous, sometimes tragic surveys to get to the system we have today, when all major harbors and most minor ones are marked. Now all we have to do, as beneficiaries of this hard-won history, is pay attention to what the marks are telling us.

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Nautical Terminator – 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.

          If you go to Tiburon, walk west along Main Street and just after it curves, 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 a little past the arks was the location of the bridge. Go into Sam’s Anchor Cafe, and in the last dining room on your left as you head toward the deck, you’ll find a photograph of the drawbridge on the wall.

          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.

          The Blessing of the Fleet occurs this year on April 28 at 10:30 in Raccoon Strait. The opening day parade of boats begins at 12:00 off of Chrissy Field. For details see

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Nautical Terminator – Pronunciation (Part 2)

Last time we spoke of the odd pronunciations of some sailing terms. Today we will delve into some less certain ones.

          Saloon: Some folks use “salon” when referring to the dining and lounging area belowdecks. Well, do you go there to get your hair washed, cut, colored, teased, combed, and blow-dried, while urbanely discussing Proust? OK, me too. But wouldn’t you rather have a tall drink with Kitty and Doc at the Long Branch? “Salon” is common among power boaters, although John Rogers, in Origins of Sea Terms, considers it a lubberly corruption. I’m going with “saloon.” But you could just say “cabin.”

          Fake or Flake: Is one winding of a coil of line a “fake” or “flake”? Do you “fake it out” or “flake it out?” The historical sources, like Falconer and Smyth, commonly prefer “fake.” But Clifford Ashley (The Ashley Book of Knots) and John Harland (Seamanship In The Age Of Sail)—neither lightly dismissed—say they’ve never heard anyone use “fake.” The best policy with this and “saloon” is, as always, to follow the captain’s lead. But what if you’re the captain? Ahh, the burden of command.      

          Key, cay, and quay: “Key” doesn’t present a problem. But in the Caribbean, “cay” is also pronounced “key.” Cay comes from the Spanish word for island, cayo, and the Florida “Keys” evolved from the same etymology. Locally, the only related difficulty we have is with Paradise Cay on the Tiburon Peninsula.  I called Tom Moseley of the family that developed the area to ask about the pronunciation. Tom says that his dad loved the Virgin Islands and named the marina and housing development after the “cays” there. He pronounced it “key.” But the locals in Marin County kept pronouncing it “kay” instead,  and eventually the Moseleys learned to accept “cay” rhyming with “day.”

          A quay is a wharf, not an island, and has a French origin from an earlier Celtic one. But often this word is also pronounced “key,” causing confusion. In the British Isles, quay is normally pronounced “key.” (An exception can be heard in the traditional Irish song, “Star of the County Down,” where “quay” rhymes with “bay.”)  In New England it’s “key” as well, but in the Midwest “kway” is more common.

In the case of cay and quay, it’s best to do as the locals do. After all, I live in San Ra-fell, not Sahn Raah-fah-yell.

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Nautical Terminator – King Tides

In this world of few certainties, there is one thing that I am certain of: I am not certain how the tides work. Oh, it’s the moon’s gravity, and I think the sun is involved. Well, then, how is it that on a new moon, when the sun and the moon are both on the same side of the earth, we still have two tides? Shouldn’t there be just one big one?

            I was reminded of these puzzles recently because of what the news media were calling “King Tides.” This isn’t official terminology from NOAA; it’s used to sensationalize the highest tides of the year. The media routinely explained that these tides occur “when the sun, moon, and earth are in alignment.” But wait just a durned minute. Doesn’t that happen twice in every single month, in which case they are just plain old “spring” tides? How do these get the royal treatment if they’re no different from the commoners?

            King Tides occur near perihelion, when the earth is closest—not by all that much—to the sun. Perihelion occurred on January 4. If it got real close, you’d think we’d feel pretty warm. But no, it happens in winter. The highest tide this season was 7.18 feet on December 13, 2012 on a new moon.

             However, six months later, we again have very high tides, when the earth is at aphelion, its farthest from the sun, and paradoxically, it is hot. On July 21, on a full moon, the predicted tide is 7.07 feet, barely lower than the December tide. So our distance from the sun isn’t the only factor. Since this is a yearly cycle, it is the result of the sun’s influence, not the moon’s monthly pattern. It turns out the latitude of the sun is as important as its distance, and at our summer solstice the sun’s over the northern hemisphere. This makes up for the greater distance and generates our big summer tides. In Australia, where, as best I can figure, The “King” tides got their name, summer solstice occurs during perihelion, meaning latitude and distance are both at their peak influence. So if you want to experience the whole shebang, you’ll have to go down under.

            But it’s nowhere near this simple. Again, of this I’m certain. We used three tidal constituents for this analysis. NOAA uses 37, but the total number is 396.

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Nautical Terminator – How Hard is it Blowing?

How hard is it blowing? I once used the phrase “it’s blowing like snot” in the presence of a Chesapeake sailor, who was horrified. He much preferred “blowing like spit.” Bay area sailors will have heard it said that it was “nuclear” in the slot. But one person’s nuclear is another’s nice breeze. No scientific rigor here.

As a skipper, all you really need to know is whether the boat is overpowered. Yet on tender boats this may happen at 12 knots, while a stiff boat will stand up in 20. Weather researchers need a more objective standard to eliminate subjective impressions.

Anemometers were conceived as early as da Vinci. In 1805, Francis Beaufort of the Royal Navy supervised the adoption of the mariner’s eponymous, commonly used scale of “forces” based on the sails of a British Man Of War. At zero, all sails are up; at six, half have been furled; at force twelve, no canvas sail could withstand the wind. That makes perfect sense, if you happen to sail a square rigger with canvas sails.

I’d like to report that Beaufort’s scale settled the matter, but no. First off, while sailors of the British Commonwealth insist on using it—with some haughtiness, I might say, although it has to be admitted it carries a fine, salty ring—it is less common in the US. Secondly, there is no international agreement on what the top end is; Taiwan and China take it up to 17. Thirdly, the scale refers to descriptions of corresponding sea states that are more relative than we might like. For example, our common summer “small craft advisory” will be issued at force 6-7, which translates to about 22-33 knots. The Beaufort scale calls for seas of 9-19 feet to go with this wind. Anyone ever seen that in the slot? The reason is of course that there are at least two other variables that dictate wave height besides wind velocity, namely, fetch and duration. In our protected Bay, there is never enough fetch and rarely enough time to generate such seas.  

I like using the Beaufort scale, because no one knows what it means. “We were seeing Force 5 out there” is more inscrutable than, “it was blowing 18.” But still, my favorites from hallowed nautical literary tradition are “blowing like stink on a skunk,” “blowing great guns and small arms,” and “blowing old boots.”

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