Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Scary sailing

We're off at dawn. The weather forecast predicts a light breeze offshore. They also mention a 12-14 feet swell from a distant storm. We don't pay attention to it.

It's slow going under the Golden Gate, but at least we got the tide right. We start our three hour watches, and I'm stretching out on my bunk. I fall asleep. There's no swell yet.

The wind dies. I'm half asleep. Nina is getting frustrated; I can hear it by the way she pulls the sheets. Bika is rolling more and more. After a while it's not even possible to stay in the bunk.

The predicted swell is coming in fast. We're still close enough to see buildings on land. We can see huge white breakers that slam up at Ocean Beach, but what's more serious is the towering swell at the San Francisco Bar. It breaks here too. It's unbelievable; we're ghosting along in a light breeze, with the gennaker, and the sea is breaking.

We have done a terrible mistake. This kind of swell will break in shallow water, and the scary part is that we have no idea how bad it will be. Try measuring the wave height in a small boat. It's impossible. There's only one thing to do: get out into deeper water. So we ghost along, straight out against the towering seas. My mouth is dry. This is some of the scariest sailing we've ever encountered. In the bottom of every wave we're wondering if we ever get to climb the next hill. But Bika do. And eventually we reach safety in deeper sea.