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Dispatches from a Three-Day Gale in the Bay

Sailors will no doubt debate the particulars of any given moment of weather, but there was some consensus that the preceding three days of wind, which blew from the north-northwest and was marked by 30-plus-knot gusts, was more characteristic of early spring than early June. There was also consensus — among the crew of East Bay windsurfers, anyway — that Friday, Saturday and Sunday’s blows were more grueling, confounding and frustrating than glorious and awe-inspiring. The wonky conditions didn’t stop anyone from heeding the gale’s siren call, but made some of us question our priorities.

This photo is from a spring gale in 2018. (I completely forgot, or simply neglected, to snap any photos this weekend.) Note the lone kitesurfer in the distance.
© 2020 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Tim

When I arrived at the recently reopened Point Isabel at around 2:30 p.m. on Friday, most windsurfers were just exiting the water. “It’s crazy,” said one regular. “There was either not enough wind and I was ‘slogging’ [sailing below planing speed], or there was way too much wind and I had my hands full . . .” Of course, I had to see for myself. I rigged my 5.0, one of my smallest sails, and had a go. The sea state at the normally docile Point Isabel was utterly appalling, with breaking, crossed-up waves that seemed to come from multiple directions. As reports suggested, I was either way overpowered or barely making headway. This radical ‘shifting of gears’ is exhausting. One must use one’s entire body to adapt, rather than finding any rhythm and flow through the water. I only lasted two runs.

On Saturday, the northern component to the wind activated the Rod and Gun Club, which sits at the western end of the San Rafael/Richmond Bridge. There were seven or eight windsurfers on it and rigging their small sails, even though it didn’t look that windy from shore. I followed the pack, rigged my 4.5, and waded out into the wind line.

The Rod and Gun Club, as seen during an east-northeast gale in late October 2019, with the wind dead- onshore, rather than the sideshore conditions seen on Saturday.
© 2020 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Tim

The wind was a little more solid than on the previous day, though still a bit streaky, gusty, and instantly energy-depleting. In the puffs, even the 4.5 was too much, to say nothing of the sea state. The waves were so close together that one was obliged to sail over them — chop-hopping from peak to peak — or bash directly into them and send shockwaves through the body.  I managed two more runs, and came in.

On Sunday, I drove past the Rod and Gun Club, and hoped to find more stable conditions at Point Isabel. I arrived at around 4 p.m. to a freshening breeze that was a tad lighter than that of the days prior. I thought I might finally catch some steady conditions, and rigged the 5.2. With the northerly direction, the angle sailing out of Isabel took me past Albany Bulb and directly toward the San Francisco Cityfront, which was blazingly clear and starting to glow in the evening light. But, in keeping with a theme, the sea state was again hideous, and the gusts built and became oppressive the farther into the Bay I sailed (but the peaks of the roiling seas were lit up magnificently by the sinking sun). I was utterly drained and found myself getting frustrated. But after I got back to shore following a handful of runs, I reminded myself that I was missing the point.

A thrown-together panorama of the Bay, as seen last summer from Berkeley Marina.
© 2020 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Tim

The point of sailing, to me, is just to be there, to see the ocean and Bay at their most dynamic moments. ‘Shredding’ or finding flow or getting into the zone are certainly things one aspires to, but that’s all just gravy. The real privilege is just being there.

How was your weekend? Please write us here, or comment below.

5 Comments

  1. Steve Cameron 1 year ago

    I totally agree with the “on/off” wind we had. I was @ Rio friday-breeze on, breeze off. I didn’t even bother. Saturday I was @ Shimada Park(Marina Bay), rode a 5.7 and had fun till the “new” wind arrived(NW).
    IWindsuf.com called it correctly. Up and down/on and off. Was glad that I was on my windsurfer and not on any of my boats!

  2. Martin Eggenberger 1 year ago

    While not a wind-surfer my weekend was spent sheltering in Monterey where conditions were as challenging as in the bay. Whitecaps everywhere.

  3. Rad Ross 1 year ago

    Launched from the N.E. corner of Treasure Island on Friday at about 5:00 p.m., 4.0m sail, and 86 liter wave board with thrusters . The ebb was starting to kick in. As I was launching my buddy, who is smarter than me and had already gave up along with some of the other usual suspects, informed me it was averaging 37 mph with gusts in the mid to high 40’s. Would have preferred not to have known it was so windy and was wishing I had brought my rarely used 3.6m sail sitting in the rafters in the garage at home. Very large head high + swell and some violent cannon shot gusts. Port tack was manageable carving to scrub speed. Starboard was hard not to get launched. Lasted about an hour. An epic Victory At Sea. Went home and loaded the 3.6m for more nuclear winds Sat., a.m., at Sherman Isl. on the ebb, but it was on/off gusts and of lesser force. Then went to San Pablo Bay for an afternoon session. Always desolate and easy to social distance there [as in nobody else around], made sure I-Com 72 was fully charged. Averaging 29 mph in the channel, went 4.0m . In the channel it was awarded with long spaced swell and big scary straight-on views of the C. Strait on starboard. Always nice to make it back home in time for dinner with tales to tell. Sunday was 4.5 at the Bay Bridge toll plaza launch. Fun to be on the water but pedestrian by comparison to Friday’s and Sat.’s adventures.

  4. Anre D 1 year ago

    Glad you had fun sailing last weekend, but I hope you’ll consider that while you were ripping and “getting frustrated” on Sunday, the Golden Gate Bridge was occupied by peaceful protesting. I know your a sailing magazine but I’ve seen you all write about climate change and the homelessness problem around the Bay area. I’ve also seen other sailing platforms speak out on this issue. It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and judge other peoples actions or non-actions, and I don’t think anyone expects you to write about the roots of slavery and white supremacy in modern law enforcement, but writing about sailing feels a little tone deaf and insensitive right now to me anyway. I saw that you posted a black square on your instagram last week, and good for you, but please don’t congratulate yourself that youre part of a solution. I’m sure its not you’re fault that sailing , even in the Bay area, is not very diverse, but is there anyone out there doing anything about it? Not just the lip service of showing brown people on a sailboat, but actually bringing people into the sailing lifestyle. if anyone can do it, the bay area can. But who is doing something?

  5. Mark Benioffy 1 year ago

    YES YES YES! Thank you for saying this. #sailingsowhite

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