Monday, May 26, 2008

2008 May 26, Lake Merrit, CA

(Click on any picture to see a bigger view)

I couldn't stand painting one more minute so I grabbed the camera once the fog burned off today and swung over to the Lake Merritt Bird sanctuary in Oakland to wander about and look for fun.

There were hundreds of geese, doing what geese normally do in Oakland... looking for handouts and pooping everywhere. Once I got by the guard geese there was a wayward white pelican fishing in the lake, a night heron, and what I think is a juvenile night heron as well.

Refreshed with some bird sightings, I stopped off at Home Depot on my way home. Its really bad when you know the cashiers by first name!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

2008-05-23 Horseshoe Cove, CA by boat

I could not seem to get all my Friday chores done soon enough. From the moment I awoke at 6:30am, I was thinking of my 1:30 departure for a sailing trip with Stu. My mental packing list was getting trimmed, and extended as I watched the treetops in our little canyon begin to move in reaction to the growing southwest wind filling in from the Pacific. Usually when the wind veers to this direction, a weather front is approaching. We had no specific itinerary planned and were determined to make up a plan based on what the currents and wind told us what was best.

Once the boat was provisioned, with our gear carefully stowed for what looked like would be a jolly romp, we motored out of the slip and headed west out of the estuary to the bay beyond. I wanted to be warm and comfortable, so I had dressed in my full foul weather gear and a warm hat.

It being a Friday afternoon, we had to share the narrow estuary waterway with the ocean going container ships that had recently been loaded, turned around, and we riding the same outgoing tide as we were. These monstrous ships never cease to amaze me, with the ungainly stacking of container upon container held in place primarily by gravity and good luck.

The wind has already built to the high teens before we reach the end of the estuary. The water is high, almost submerging the metal breakwater that protects the entrance to the estuary on the north side. We hoist the main in the wind shadow of Yuerba Buena Island and set our course. Unbelievably, the wind and current seem like they are sending us right out the Golden Gate bridge, without a single tack. Our plans gel, and we make for Horseshoe Cove, a small pocket harbor just inside the Golden Gate Bridge on the north side. Now the wind has built to over 20 knots and we are making great headway under the Bay Bridge. I look forward and to my amazement see the smooth humped back and dorsal fin of a dolphin. Usually, we don’t see these mammals until we are just outside the Golden Gate so it is quite a surprise. Perhaps because the commercial fishing season has been cancelled, the hunt for fish in the Bay is particularly good and it has drawn the dolphins in. Perhaps, they heard we were coming and swam over to coax us onward.

This is amazing, without a single tack, it looks as if we’ll make our destination. See the attached map. The cove is just to the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge.

There does not seem to be anyone on the bay, but us and the big ships. We monitor channel 14 on the VHF and keep a sharp lookout. Although these ships are big, they move very fast, and can come from invisible to directly in front of us in under 10 minutes. Twice we need to modify our course, falling off to speed up and adjust for ships, once for a container ship, and once for an oil tanker. As we reach the slot between Berkeley and the Golden Gate, the wind builds to over 26 knots and we are flying along at almost 7.

The boat swerves left and right as it adjusts to the gusts and eddies in the building weather front. I let it find it’s natural way in these puffs, rather than hold to a strict compass course. It’s a wild ride, with regular choppy waves crashing into the bow and washing the entire front deck of the boat only to be stopped and spread wide by the dodger. More than once I get a snout full of seawater – It would not be so bad, but I have this silly grin on my face than lets some of the salt water get past my soggy mustache.

At the far side of the bay, in the lea of the Marin Headlands in what is called hurricane gulch we come across hundreds of grebes – apparently sitting out the wind outside the gate (which we hear has built to over 50 knots!). We tuck in towards shore as close as we dare and drop the main sail, then the jib and prepare for anchoring.

The entrance to the cove is narrow, but deep, and we get sloshed in with a strong wind on our tail. There is a small marina tucked in the far end of the protected pocket harbor – watched over by the Presidio Yacht Club, – a tired old clapboard building just up from a rotting wharf. On the west side is a small coast guard station with three patrol boats. We make a 360 turn, scrub speed and drop the hook in 11 feet of muddy water. We immediately fall back being pushed by the wind and the anchor sets itself, stuck firmly in the mud bottom. Phew, we’ve arrived along with the heavy fog blowing in the gate. The wind carries away the traffic noise from the bridge deck and we are just left with the wind in the rigging and the slap of wavelets on the hull.
A new luxury hotel has been installed into a collection of the historic buildings at the other side of the parade grounds – and their orange lights sparkle in the mist. A loon floats by cleaning his feathers, and only as a second thought dives under the boat when we swing too close.

A feeling of well being swells up. I’m warm, in 4 layers of synthetic clothing, the yellow kerosene anchor light is lit, dangling from the backstay and flickering through it’s beveled lens, a warm cup of tea in my paws, I sit with Stu tucked under the dodger, and am amazed at our luck. With all the world’s troubles swirling around on the radio waves, and an entire city emptying out for labor day weekend on the highway less that ¼ mile above us on the mountainside, we are apart from it all. We hear the wind, and the gulls, and the fog horn at the center span. We have arrived.