We’re glad we have pictures or nobody would believe us. Heading north up the West Coast is known as one of the most difficult legs of any sailor’s voyaging. It’s not uncommon for circumnavigators to tell us they sailed all the way around the world only to find the worst weather of the whole trip in the last 300 miles north to San Francisco.
After purchasing a 1989 Sabre 38 MkII we’re renaming Finistere (after the cape in Brittany, France) in Long Beach last fall, we’d been waiting for a moment to bring her north. We had hoped to spend more time exploring Southern California, but severe COVID warnings kept us from feeling free enough to do much visiting. The logistical challenges of managing a remote boat in a pandemic finally convinced us it was better to just get her close to home so we could have more time to enjoy her and learn more about her.
When the timing looked right at the end of March, we reached out to our friend Michael Rossi and connected with fellow Corinthian Yacht Club members Randall von Wedel and Jon Kahn, who all said, “Let’s go!” With a crew ready, we started scanning Windy for an appropriate weather window. One magically appeared just as we were sending the April issue off to the printer.
Suddenly, it was time to get into high gear with boat prep though, honestly, the boat was in great shape for an ocean passage. Prior owner Matt Humphries had done the 2017 Transpac with Paul Kamen aboard as navigator. Put food, fuel, water and jerry jugs aboard; fix a finicky Simrad autopilot, check the oil, set up jacklines, and switch out the big SoCal #1 for the NorCal #3. We’re always told, “Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.” Fortunately, besides food, most of the prep was unnecessary. We experienced one of the smoothest, clearest, calmest rides north we’ve heard of.
The only breeze we saw was from Mile Rocks almost to Belvedere Point against a fierce ebb. It was a classic, fog-lifting finish after the long gray stretch from Monterey Bay to San Francisco Bay. Approaching Mile Rocks we had our first hints of breeze with a greater-than-zero apparent wind angle. We hoisted the main and unfurled the jib so we could at least sail under the Golden Gate Bridge.
The breeze built as we approached the Marin shoreline to avoid the ebb, and the fog was just backing off the bridge. We soon had too much sail up for the rollicking ebb. Foiling kiteboarders and wing sailors mocked our growing alarm. We grabbed a piece of flat water for a chicken jibe and headed toward Richardson Bay to ease our 20 minutes of sailing strain. As quickly as they’d appeared, the wind and waves settled. The air became warm, our foulies came off, and we sailed calmly into Belvedere Cove to squeeze our beamy boat into her narrow slip — she just fits.
Occasionally we have heard of people hoisting a spinnaker when they find a rare southerly as they come north, but, overall, we feel very fortunate. Before leaving Santa Barbara we spoke to Dennis Longaberger, owner of Sunset Kidd Yacht Sales in Santa Barbara, who’s done dozens of deliveries north. He had some great tips such as hideouts like Pfeiffer Cove to the south of Point Sur — though we noted Wreck Beach is not far to the south. We always appreciate great advice that we can avoid using. As always, it has us thinking… What was your best or worst northbound experience? Where have you hidden out or found protection on your way north? (Please comment below or email us.)
The Channel Islands are always beckoning, but it’s the northbound reckoning that causes people to hesitate. We’re looking forward to returning south in a pandemic-eased world and when we’re more familiar with our boat. But could we be lucky twice? (Apologies for the misleading headline.)
Look for more on our trip north in the May issue of Latitude 38.