Recently I was given the opportunity to sail from Santa Cruz to Sausalito aboard Call of the Sea’s schooner Seaward. The 82-ft vessel had just completed a five-day educational camp and would be returning to the Bay Area in one leg. Was I excited? You bet. I had never sailed outside the Gate and immediately lapsed into a daydream of clear skies, fair winds and following seas with pods of whales and dolphins forming the backdrop to my utopian day on the water — I had seen the photos!
The reality was as removed from my image as night is from day. The morning of our departure held wet decks, gray skies and not a breath of wind. Not to be deterred, I accepted this as normal weather ahead of the offshore breeze that would clear the fog bank and reveal the beauty of the Pacific Ocean. However, four hours and two watches later, I came to accept that rather than the voyage of my dreams this would be an exercise in patience and observation. The skies did not clear; the lack of wind and the rolling swell meant the only canvas visible was a limp main-staysail, and the only creatures that broke the still surface of the oily-looking water were seabirds and a small rookery of playful seals.
The crew were no doubt relieved to have nothing to do but ensure the boat stayed on course as we motored along at around 7 knots. After a week spent educating and entertaining curious teenagers, they quickly relaxed into a schedule of sleeping, eating and creative pursuits. One crewmember even practiced scrimshaw on a bone she had found at the beach. The helmsman completed the seafaring picture singing sailing songs and chanteys in a soft and remarkably pleasing voice. The gray skies and listless ocean added a measure of authenticity and made me wonder how ancient mariners must have felt after weeks at sea under unfavorable conditions.
As the afternoon wore on and we continued northward the sky became heavier and the air cooler. Dampness was setting in and creeping into our minds as well as our bodies when I overheard the watchman mention the bridge. I looked forward and was greeted with a vision that overcame all else. The fog-shrouded headlands were joined by what looked like a long gray cloud and one rust-colored bridge footing. But as we came closer to our destination I had an epiphany of what the Golden Gate truly represents. Beneath the fog-laden bridge was a warm glow that increased in size and intensity the nearer we came. Before long, Angel Island appeared, bathed in golden light like a message sent from the heavens to let sailors know they have found a safe harbor.
It didn’t matter that the day had been cold and gray. It didn’t matter that we’d had no wind. What mattered was that we had shared a journey and arrived safely at our harbor — any day we live to sail another is a good day.