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Cruising through an ‘Exceptional High Wind Event’

During mid-October, St. Francis Yacht Club hosts a ‘Seven-Star Cruise’ to their Tinsley Island resort on the San Joaquin River between Isleton and Stockton. StFYC invited seven other Bay Area yacht clubs: San Francisco, Corinthian, Tiburon, Marin, Loch Lomond, Sausalito and Richmond. The latter planned an extended Delta cruise to get their fleet upriver in a leisurely manner, with stops in Benicia on Wednesday night and Willow Berm on Thursday night. Wednesday and Thursday corresponded to the much-publicized Diablo wind event that prompted PG&E to shut off power to half a million customers. We figured the dire weather would discourage the cruisers, altering their itinerary for the week. We were wrong.

Braving winds in the mid- to high 20s, three cruising boats made it to Willow Berm yesterday afternoon. Jerry Keefe and Allison Lehman’s  Sabre 426 Kingfisher, Margo Louwerse and Robert Cohn’s Rival 36 Nomad, and the Wyliecat 39 Checkered Past, sailed by Kim Desenberg and Lynn Branstad, tied up to Willow Berm’s long guest dock. The cruisers expected one more, the Cal 40 Nozomi, with Robb Walker, Rowena Carlson and a friend, after dark.

Long dock
The cruisers from RYC, all tied up on the outside of the guest dock, shared the neighborhood with a Jeanneau named Santa Fe.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris

The sailors had a rough ride through Suisun Bay. “For the first 20 minutes out of Benicia, all was rosy,” said cruise leader Allison. “Then we had 25 knots on the nose. It never really died down. It was really gusty. I’d say, ‘It’s down to 17,’ then, ‘nope, it’s 21.’ We hit one wave so hard, a water jug burst.”

Margo had created a music video about the 2017 Baja Bash. “This was more of a bash than we had then,” she said. With wind on the nose, there was never a chance to set spinnakers. “It’ll be a beat in both directions,” said Jerry.

When Kingfisher approached the Benicia Bridge, the railroad bridge was down and a train was crossing. Uncertain about the height of the bridge, the Sabre held off and waited it out. Checkered Past came up without electronics thanks to a blown fuse. The entrance from the San Joaquin to the Mokelumne is narrow and tricky, with not much depth to spare, yet Kim made it in without bumping the mud.

Cocktails around a picnic table
Enjoying G&Ts and pupus at Willow Berm, on the Mokelumne River.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris

By cocktail hour, there was not a breath of wind and the river was glass. “It was so warm when we got up here that we were able to hose the saltwater off the boat. It dried instantly.”

Today, the fleets are off to Tinsley Island in the angelic side of October weather. The idea is for everyone to mingle with one another around six massive grills, creating inter-club camaraderie.

MV Carolyn, Homer AK
While on the long march down the guest dock, we passed this interesting catamaran, the MV Carolyn. Her homeport reads Homer, AK, but her registration numbers are from Oregon.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris
Baja Ha-Ha flag
We spotted the yellow Baja Ha-Ha flag, nicely displayed under her flagstaff, so we looked her up. Del Urban sailed her in last year’s Ha-Ha. She was entered as a “Custom Catamaran 58.”
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris


  1. Tim Dick 3 years ago

    Hmmm… Is 20-25 knots really an “exceptionally high wind event” – it happens most summer afternoons in San Francisco Bay and frequently higher in “the slot” between Alcatraz & Angel Island. Having sailed through a Cat. 1 (totally manageable) and Cat. 5 (thank god I was on a large ship, but it was tested severely with a 100′ rogue wave) I’ve seen “exceptionally high wind events” at sea.

    • Danny Hendrick 3 years ago

      I’ve been sailing all my life too, and sometimes 25 knots is a lot for me, especially if I’m with my friends and family. I haven’t sailed through hurricanes, but you should really avoid doing that in the first place.

  2. Christine Weaver 3 years ago

    Tim and Danny, wind in the 20s are certainly not exceptional on San Francisco Bay or in the Delta. Heck, we hope for those when we’re sailing downwind in the Delta Ditch Run! It was the mainstream media and PG&E who called it an “exceptional high wind event,” not the cruisers we visited with. What turned their casual pleasure cruise into something rather brutal was not only the wind speed, but the direction — on the nose — in narrow waterways, with short chop.

  3. Del Urban 3 years ago

    Hello: Del and Gloria Urban, MV Carolyn. Built her in Oregon, from Homer Alaska. Sorry we missed you we were in Oregon in cold windy rain..

    • Christine Weaver 3 years ago

      Hi Del and Gloria, Thanks for chiming in! What are your current plans for Carolyn?

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