Advanced Coastal Cruising

– Advanced Coastal Cruising class (ASA 106), June 22 – 24, 2012, by Brad Call

On Friday morning I met my instructor, Bill Yawn and my two fellow students, Mary Ann Paulazzo and Daniel Merle. Bill is a long time instructor at Tradewinds and he also serves in the Coast Guard Auxiliary. He mentioned that participation in the CG auxiliary comes with many beneficial free training opportunities. He was certainly a wealth of nautical information! Mary Ann Paulazzo and her husband Cliff own a nicely equipped cruising yacht named “Carola” (Young Sun 37). She and her husband hope to “dip their toe” into the cruising world this August with a trip down to the Channel Islands, a 3 week journey there and back. Daniel Merle and his wife own a Leopard 46 catamaran that they have placed in charter with Moorings in Mexico. Their boat is named “Balajan” which is “my little child in Armenian. One of the benefits of placing a boat in charter with Moorings is the ability to use other Moorings boats around the world. They recently took advantage of this benefit and took friends to sail off the Croatian coast.

After meeting each other, Bill had us haul our gear and food down to the boat for the checkout. For this class we were using the club’s Bavaria 42 named “My Density.” The name has an interesting origin that involves the owners meeting in a chemistry class during college. In any event, the Bavaria 42 is a very nice boat. It has a master suite with head forward. There are two aft cabins, a galley, head, and large dining area. The cockpit is quite spacious and it has dual helm stations. It is powered by a Volvo diesel with a sail drive instead of the typical drive shaft and propeller. For this class a large emergency raft occupied the after part of the cockpit.

We spent about 3 hours checking over the boat, filling the tank with fresh water, and stowing our gear. Bill briefed us on our itinerary and how he would conduct the class. Each student would spend one hour as helmsman, then crewperson, and finally as navigator. This rotation continued throughout the class. We were finally on our way out to sea a little after noon. The weather was unusually mild for this time of the year. During the week leading up to the course Bill had us checking on the weather, swells, and waves. It was clear from the forecasts that a low-pressure system would clear the area on Thursday, leaving calm conditions off the central California coast for the weekend. This in fact was what we experienced. The winds were light on Friday and coming from the southwest.

Bill’s plan was for us to travel from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay on Day 1. Day 2 would take us north, past the Farallon Islands and up to Drakes Bay. On Day 3 we would return home and take the test to finish up the class. The southwest wind direction was not optimum for our Day 1 course, so we motored out to R “8” in the Main Ship Channel and turned south. We set sail and tacked back and forth as we proceeded south. Occasionally we passed crab pot buoys and we kept a sharp lookout to avoid them. The visibility was exceptionally clear and we were able to see many San Francisco landmarks (Golden Gate Bridge Towers, TV tower, etc.) up to the point at which we turned southeast towards Half Moon Bay. Point San Pedro, Devils Slide, and Point Montara were all clearly visible. Bill mentioned the dangerous reefs between Point San Pedro and Pillar Point. I used my hand compass to practice taking bearings on prominent landmarks. There were many sea birds on the water as well as an occasional dolphin. We arrived at buoy RW “PP” off Half Moon Bay at around 6 pm and used the VHF radio to contact the Pillar Point Marina (channel 74) and request a slip for the night. The Harbor Master assigned us slip “H45.” We eventually paid about $36 for the slip and we prepared our dinner aboard. It was clear that we had brought a lot of food for the class and as a result we dined well throughout the trip. The Pillar Point Harbor is a busy commercial fishing port.

The next morning Bill had us awake and ready to depart Pillar Point Marina at 7 am. After passing buoy RW “PP”, we set course for the Farallon Islands (290 magnetic). The weather was exceptionally mild with light wind coming from the northwest. Once again the wind direction was not conducive to our plans, so we motored. As we proceeded northwestwards, we began to see whales about a mile to the west. They could be seen “blowing” as they came up for air and occasionally a tail could be seen. At around 9 am I suddenly saw two whales about 75 yards to port. Their large mottled gray backs seemed close enough to touch! Not wanting to provoke the whales we immediately adjusted course to the east and eventually turned back to our original course. That was our closest encounter with those majestic animals.

At 11:30 am we arrived at the Southeast Farallon Island, the site of the “Low Speed Chase” accident on April 14. It was sobering to see the area where 5 sailors had died during the race. It is a very remote and desolate island, the abode of seabirds and marine mammals. Many small fishing boats were visible, some taking sport fishermen out for the day.

After passing the Farallon Islands we turned to course 350 magnetic and arrived at Drakes Bay around 3 pm. We anchored 100 yards WNW from a Coast Guard mooring ball and discussed various nautical topics and rested until it was time for dinner. We also watched (and listened to) the Elephant Seals that were lying on the shore west of us. After eating we rested until dark, and then raised anchor to begin our night man-overboard drills. While recovering the anchor we discovered that the rode was fouled with kelp. The resulting “battle of the kelp” went on for about 30 minutes. The tenacious plant did not want to surrender its grip on the rode.

Once free of the kelp we motored out to the middle of Drakes Bay, set sail in the light breeze, and preceded to conduct our drills. We were unable to use our normal points of reference in the dark bay, so Bill advised us to trust the feeling of the breeze on our face to orient ourselves. This worked surprisingly well and soon we were all successfully executing the “figure 8” man-overboard recovery technique in total darkness. Towards the end of the drills our man overboard marker float came apart and we performed some rapid sail and motoring permutations to recover the remains from the water before losing it in the darkness. After completing the drills we motored back to our anchorage, deployed the anchor, and turned-in for the night. The stars were very vivid in the darkness, illuminated only by a waxing crescent Moon. However the clarity was such that we could see a faint glow coming from the San Francisco neighborhoods 25 miles away that lie along the Pacific coast. It was a very special feeling to experience this portion of the coast in good weather.

The next day we were once again up early, had our breakfast, and departed for San Francisco. Drakes Bay was very calm and tranquil in the cool clear morning air and I wish we could have lingered longer. But it was time to return to clean the boat and take our test. There was not a breath of wind, so once again we were forced to motor. We had a wonderful view of the Marin coastline as we proceeded south. Bill showed us how to use the radar and we could see many fishing boats and the occasional freighter in the area. There are dangerous reefs along this section of the coast, the Duxbury Reef lying off Bolinas being only one example. We entered the Bonita Channel at buoy G “1DR” and proceeded southeast following a series of buoys until we rounded Point Bonita, reentered the Main Ship Channel and headed east to the Golden Gate Bridge. We had a quick lunch while motoring back to Richmond Marina and arrived around 12 pm. After unloading our gear and cleaning the boat we took our exams. All three of us successfully passed the rather difficult exam. This brought to a close a very challenging but rewarding 3 days on the water. Bill is a very knowledgeable and supportive instructor and he helped all of us to get the most out of the experience and to become better and safer sailors. I highly recommend the class.

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