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More Fog?

We had stopped in Crescent City, California for a few days to refuel, resupply, get a little R&R and wait for a good weather window for our crossing of Cape Mendicino. Capes can be dangerous places. The US east coast has a famous one, too, called Cape Hatteras; perhaps you have heard of it from the stories or shipwrecks, storms, and sea monsters. A cape is essentially a landmass that sticks out much like a peninsula, forcing the wind to whip around it southbound. Add an opposing current travelling northward and you have wind waves. (You may recall I wrote about this effect in earlier blog posts.) On top of that, in regard to Cape Mendicino, there is a large swell coming generally from the west-northwest (originating in Japan) that hits shallow water and can become steep waves. It can be a legendary mess and we wanted to round the cape when it was going to be less of a mess. The other option is to go way out around it, you may lose the Cape effect, but there are no guarantees of great weather 100 miles offshore, and it would add two days to our trip.

Three days at the dock came and went, and the weather just outside Crescent City was pretty nasty, with ten-foot waves and thirty knots of wind. We enjoyed hanging out at the dock with our Coho Hoho friends on the sailing catamaran Perception and sailboat Kaelani. We went to a couple restaurants, and everyone gathered in Perception's comfortable catamaran for drinks that were punctuated by a lightning storm. By the time Saturday rolled around, the weather was clearing up a bit. Mind you, all this time it was sunny and clear skies, no storms, just high pressure, lots of wind and waves. We spied a window opening at about 4pm and decided to go for it. We actually took off a little early at 3pm. There were several boats that followed us out, two from a similar rally run out of Victoria, BC. Getting out of port was easy, but it was definitely still bumpy out there, with six-foot swell and the occasional wind wave. Cape Mendicino is west of Crescent City, so the swell was hitting us on our starboard side on the nose. Not the most comfortable ride for sure. Waves are weird. It is hard to get a sense of wave height from a photograph. You could be in fifteen-foot swell and have it look flat on film. That is because your boat acts like a cork, it goes up and down with the waves, acting just as it would on flat water. But when you are sitting atop that cork, you feel the effect of sliding down (aka surfing) the face of a wave, yet looking astern, it will still appear to be flat. It stays that way, as I have heard, until the waves actually tower over your boat. The winds had decreased considerably to about five to ten knots on our tail. Once again, we hoisted the sails only to take them back down. We did leave the mainsail up as it helps flatten the ride, as the wave action causes the boat to rock side to side, air is caught in the sail and thus dampens the side-to-side motion.

My watch was over around midnight. We had not reached the Cape yet and expected to get there at about 1AM. Rochelle came on her watch and took over. When I awoke and came back up at 5AM, we were past Cape Mendicino and Rochelle declared that "it was no big deal!" We had been stressing over this for weeks and we just hit it right for zero nastiness. In fact, the five hours prior to reaching the cape had been far nastier.

After Cape Mendicino we found ourselves in thick, pea soup fog. That fog would last another 36 hours until we reached the dock at Emeryville in San Francisco Bay. Most of this time we had 200-foot visibility, day and night, steering by "blob" on the radar screen. We could see nothing in the real world. It was in this fog that we had a close call with another vessel. Much like on land, there are many ignorant people thinking nothing can touch them, even twenty miles offshore. This was on Rochelle's watch; I was sleeping or at least partially asleep. It was nighttime, shrouded in fog, and we had our foghorn blowing. Unable to see much beyond Karma's bow, Rochelle was watching the radar intently. "Nancy, Nancy! A blob just appeared, and the radar is flashing Danger! Danger! Shall I throttle down?" Always calm and unflappable, Nancy said, "Yes" and joined Rochelle in the cockpit as she throttled down the engine to near neutral, when out of the fog about a hundred feet away on our starboard side a small fishing boat appeared. It was less than 25 feet long, moving at 22 knots (radar tells us this), with no lights on, no AIS, no foghorn, no radar, and he likely wasn't even at the helm. He probably had autopilot on with an alarm set for when he arrived at his destination. He crossed no more than 50 feet in front of us. He never slowed down and never altered his course. If Rochelle had not slowed the boat when she did, surely, he would have hit us. That would have destroyed his boat and could have likely killed him. And, we would have been in dire straits. If he had hit Karma's bowsprit, it could have taken down our mast and rigging, ending our trip to Mexico for months to come. If he had T-boned us, it would have been worse. There is just an amazing number of people that should not own a boat. Most boat owners have no idea of the navigation rules of the road, and while this is a drastic example, crossing paths with someone who isn't following the basic rules is almost a daily occurrence for us out here. We constantly are thinking "Does he see us?" "We are the stand on vessel." "I don't think he is paying attention". Even though I am anti-excessive-regulation, I think people need to have some sort of training before they can buy a boat. Knowing the navigational rules is a must. It's not the same as driving a car. The massive number of boaters that either have no-clue what they are doing or have zero-respect for the other boaters on the water is astounding. A boater isn't even required to have liability insurance on their boat, and that is absolutely ridiculous! We are thankful that we have reliable radar, and that Rochelle was paying such close attention to it that night so that she could take action to avoid a collision.

That day of fog continued into a night of fog and we returned to steering by blob on the radar screen. The seas continued to calm until morning when we were nearing San Francisco Bay. Our weather router had said that it could get windy (~35 Knots) by afternoon and that if we weren't in the bay by mid-afternoon, then we should anchor at Drakes Bay and wait until morning to go into San Francisco Bay. Well, it turned out that the wind wasn't as bad as predicted, so we continued all the way into our destination at Emeryville Marina, which would be the official end to the Coho Hoho rally. As we arrived at the Golden Gate bridge (which of course was fogged in), we were welcomed by an amazing amount of wildlife: dozens of Humpbacks, hundreds of dolphins and sea lions. We even had a Humpback breach about fifty feet off our stern. This must be great place for these animals to feed.

San Francisco Bay is iconic and interesting. Luckily, we came in on Labor Day, so nobody was working, and it wasn't full of crazed boats going in every direction. That was not the case when we left three days later - but I'll talk on that in the next blog post. The entire bay is actually quite shallow, so we had to enter the marina at high-tide or else we would have hit bottom, and most of the bay is only about 5-6 feet deep. West of Alcatraz and in the shipping lanes, it is obviously much deeper, but yeah, it is shallow. In the afternoon the wind kicks up to 15-20 knots every day. Shallow water mixed with big wind makes it choppy and uncomfortable, oh did I mention the current of 5 knots?

We were staying at Emeryville in the marina, which was quite nice and very inexpensive. In and out required high-tide, super low tides caused the boat to rest on its keel in the deep mud. The docks were secure, an important factor since there has been a bit of piracy occurring in the East Bay. And the washrooms were ooh-la-la posh and spa-like, a welcome respite for salty sailors who had been in fog for days on end. Karma has her own head and shower, but when you find restrooms worth writing about, you use them. They were spotless, with free showers that had both a power spray and one of the rain shower heads on the ceiling. And heat lamps! Very nice! We visited a couple good restaurants in town and did some reprovisioning from Trader Joes nearby. This is also where Captain Nancy Erley departed our boat. She congratulated us on our accomplishment of reaching San Francisco (830 NM) and we both received our ISPA Offshore Master certifications.

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