by Jeanne Socrates

Jeanne Socrates blog

'Nereida' – escape from San Francisco Bay in light winds

Jeanne Socrates' round-the-world quest
Jeanne Socrates.jpg

After the good start on 22 October to my third attempt at a nonstop, unassisted, solo circumnavigation, the loss of my life raft just four days later came as quite a blow – but having eventually replaced it in San Francisco Bay, I retained my 'nonstop, unassisted, solo' status by not using my motor and tying to a buoy rather than to shore when I arrived overnight, nor having anyone to help me physically and doing all the necessary work of preparing and fixing both the new cradle and raft in place myself.

The next problem was leaving the bay in order to sail out under the Golden Gate Bridge and head south toward Cape Horn once more.

It had been difficult enough making a night entry into SF Bay in winds of only 1-2 knots, but although I was ready to leave on Saturday with the ebb tide, that became impossible, although I tried. The ebb tide toward the Golden Gate Bridge was weak and the wind nearly nonexistent! 

I got part of the way toward the bridge, but after drifting around in the dark for several hours, the tide began to change and I had to anchor – but I found the electric windlass wasn't working! So, 30 metres of chain were then waiting to be raised when the wind allowed me to leave at the right time to catch the ebb.

Sunday, 5 November saw bright, hot sunshine – but no wind all day. A busy day on the water, with lots of sailing boats around – several of which came close in order to wish me well, with two even offering me a bottle of wine! (Pity I'm not allowed anyone on board nor to accept anything from anyone – 'unassisted, solo'!)   

I'd been hoping for a possible 4pm departure on the ebb tide – but at that time there was a head wind of 5 knots, which died to 2 knots not long after.  

I thought about how I could raise 30m of anchor chain with no windlass to help. I made use of a spare pole guy – one end of the line shackled onto the chain, the other taken to a mast winch – and another short loop of line on a bow cleat with a shackle to keep the chain in place while I repositioned the long line from the mast, once I'd winched up some of the chain. 

When I used it finally, the system worked well, albeit with plenty of dodging about between bow and mast, with lots of time taken fixing and releasing the shackles onto and off the chain. About 5m/16ft of chain were brought up at a time, once I'd got started.

While I waited for the wind, I kept busy with useful jobs: fixed a failed seawater pump in the galley, serviced a winch, fixed the Lexan washboard in place more firmly, and checked the weather outlook. Monday morning there was an ebb starting around dawn and a north wind was forecast for morning, dying away during the day and staying very light for several more days – so I planned to wake up at sunrise to check on the wind, ready to leave if it was helpful.

Monday saw a beautiful dawn sky: the tide was clearly already ebbing and the wind was 7-10 knots from the northwest – perfect! I set to, raising first the full mainsail, the sheet of which I left loose so as not to start me sailing while I raised the anchor. As the sun came up higher over San Francisco, all was going well. There was plenty of water room, so although I started drifting as the chain came up, that didn't pose a problem.

Suddenly, the anchor rose above the water and I ran back to the wheel to get sailing  toward the Golden Gate Bridge. A lovely sunny day with a clear blue sky contrasting with the red of the famous towers of the bridge, which I soon sailed under.  

Not a ship in sight – excellent! I contacted Traffic Control and the Coast Guard, and thanked both; they wished me 'bon voyage'. The boat was making over 6 knots with the ebb current. It was a lovely, enjoyable sail in bright sunshine, although the light winds that were forecast stayed for several days and I struggled to make headway south, with lots of shipping around to keep clear of, it was on toward Cape Horn again, finally!

At present, the sea temperature has reached 28C and I'm sailing well toward the ITCZ – the zone of unstable air near the equator, with a good chance of nasty thunderclouds, and with sudden strong wind, heavy rain and lightning in between calms. I'm hoping to find a 'gap' between the worst of the convection, but it's a good week away still, so plans can easily come to naught. 

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