Surfin’ Bonita Channel

Half Moon Bay wasn’t the only spot to watch monster breaking waves last weekend. Rob Macfarlane watched from the safety of the main shipping channel as huge rollers broke across the entire width of Bonita Channel.

© 2010 Rob Macfarlane

Experienced solo sailor Rob Macfarlane — he’s sailed in three Singlehanded TransPacs and innumerable Bay Area races — got a little taste of what made this year’s Mavericks surfing competition one of the best — and most destructive — ever.

"I was exiting the Gate onboard my Nelson/Marek 45 IOR Tiger Beetle, headed out through the main shipping channel to spend the long weekend at Drake’s Bay. On departure, the buoy reports were showing 16- to 18-ft swells in the area, and there was a mild ebb running early — perhaps due to the rainwater run-off from the Sierras — and the result was enormous breakers clear across the Bonita Channel. 

"I was singlehanding up to Drake’s, and had run up the main and was motoring out through the main shipping channel. It was amazing to see the swells breaking clear out at G1 (the western end of the channel) clear through and across Bonita Channel to crash into the cliffs at the foot of the Pt. Bonita lighthouse. No way was there a safe passage in that area! The south bar was also breaking violently.

The lighthouse maintenance crew must have had to break out an industrial-sized bottle of Windex after last weekend’s show.

© 2010 Rob Macfarlane

"The Pt. Bonita light is 124 feet above sea level on a 56-ft tower, so that places the base of the lighthouse at 68 feet above sea level. That means the spray from those waves was flying 70 feet into the air! I haven’t seen it breaking so big out there in 20 years of sailing the Gulf of the Farallones."

Things have settled down considerably since Saturday, with the Bar buoy reading 7 feet at 13 seconds this morning, but Macfarlane’s experience just drives home the point to always watch yourself outside the Gate, especially in the winter. If you’re the slightest bit concerned about how things are looking, turn around and wait for better weather.

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