I knew we were in a little over our heads. I checked the radio and checked my whistle. I might need these, I thought. The first gust blew us straight to horizontal. Get the backstay on I yelled. A minute later I realized no one knew what I meant. They had all scrambled to get their weather proof gear on that I practically forced them to bring. As we swept away from the dock at 7 knots, the max speed of the boat, we started to see the extent of the fog ahead of us. We saw it looming over the entire coast on our drive up. It was like a dark reminder that we were heading out into God’s territory. I had been feeling some anxiety lately when I read passages in the Bible about the fear of God and realizing I was too full of my own strength. So this might be good for me, I thought. As we rounded the corner, a boat called in to the coastguard. Fire in the bay. Another gust hit us hard and everyone started yelling. I said, gentlemen, this is just how it is. It’s going to be like this for the next fourteen hours. So you better settle in and adjust to it, because we don’t have anywhere else to go.
I had studied the charts of the bay relentlessly. It was all brand new to me and while I pictured it pretty well in my head, the sheer sovereign magnificence of the golden gate and the height of the rock islands was certainly humbling. Just as we came up to one of the supports for the bridge, someone yelled hey! Behind us was a kiteboarder, who clearly recognized the boat and liked that we were blasting away, fully reefed, and barely standing. I luffed to keep our mast from tangling with him. We exchanged eye contact and then quickly continued on our controlled mayhem stringing through gusts and rocks and boats.
Many of the rocks had dark names, and they were fitting. A barge flew by and disappeared into the fog, confirming my feelings. Let’s get through this as fast as possible. After we transited the gate of gold to the Pacific Ocean, We hit a spot where the incoming swell mixed with a reflected swell and it felt weird, so we went a half mile off course to get away from the area of interference.
My hat flew off and quickly swamped under the sea. It was a good hat. Solid grey. Sporty, but sincere. It would be replaced in half moon bay. It reminded me of the time I last my canteen. It is a loss to lose a good thing. But they were just things. It’s good to let go of things and remember what’s important. The people. They are important.
After we turned south, the wind eased and we shook out the reef in our main. Everyone settled a little. Beer time! Someone yelled. I replied, absolutely not. Wait until we dock. We have five hours to go and we’ll be coming in at night. I need everyone’s full attention to find our guide buoys. Half moon bay was laid out pretty well. I assumed the army corps laid out the buoys. They made sense. They had a safe water buoy about two miles out, keeping boats out of the surf. I had never actually seen Mavericks but I had a strong respect for it and the people who surf their. Then they had four buoys that direct you between two shoals. Even though I didn’t expect breaking surf, I didn’t want to be near the shoals at night.
As we approached, each buoy slowly revealed itself one by one, exactly as we expected. I had both memorized and written out their light patterns. White, Morse code signal A, 8.0 second interval. Green, flashing, 2.0 second interval. Red, flashing, 6 second interval. They took us through the gap between the shoals and then a white light house was supposed to appear and guide us between the narrow breakwater that protected the anchorage. 15 minutes later and still no white light. We started to get confused as traffic lights blinked red,, yellow, and green, and red and white lights meandered all the roads. Finally we confirmed the red light for the harbor and motored closer. The white light was non existent. We could make out where it was supposed to be, but it wasn’t on. I had tried to hail the harbor on channel 9 to no avail. Their office was closed when I called them that morning.
The last green light had a charming little bell on it. Not unlike the bell atop the shrine by the point in Santa Cruz. It welcomed us as we past it, as if to say, not all who dare make it to here. I wondered if church bells on a wedding day had the same meaning. It reminded me of summer strolls by the lighthouse as a kid. Someone thought it through. Because my tensions instantly eased.
The harbor banks were covered in penguins. Not penguins. Those big birds. They always flock with the sea gulls. And crash dive for fish. They squawked at us like 10 bowling pins simultaneously collapsing. I don’t know what they’re complaints were but they did not seem to be happy. Perhaps it was the pile of feces they were all sitting on. Next we’re two more buoys, red and green. As we searched for the and squinted, suddenly a massive, pitch black fishing boat appeared in front of us, and we had to steer hard to get around it. It was anchored and seemingly abandoned. It had quite a personality to it. Then, as if taunting us, the green buoy suddenly appeared and the second breakwater showed itself. We turned in and began to feel safe, 3 miles after passing the safe water buoy.
One crew mate had been sick all day, and checked himself into the hotel. We had found a little nook snuggled against an end dock. We let the motor cool and shut it down. Our biggest and strongest crew passed out an hour ago. At first he was strewn between the two side berths. Now he had inched into the bow berth with all the sails. It wasn’t good for the sails, but he deserved a good nights sleep so we left him alone. He was leaving for Indonesia with the army in two months. I wondered if this was good preparation or bad preparation. He had brought these mre’s that everyone was so fascinated with. Apparently it’s a little meal in a bag that cooks itself. I wasn’t starving but it seemed smart to eat something. We cut open the pouch. Inside we’re a tone of snacks and indeed, a pouch of chicken stew that cooked itself. And two mints to top it off. As if breath quality would make a difference in the field. But, it did in a boat cabin.
You were supposed to use a rock for the meal to cook itself on. We found an army service boot. It did taste pretty well after five hours of bone chilling wind. The bay was just that much colder than Monterey, where I was used to surfing and swimming.
We had to rearrange everything to fit in our bunks. But as soon as my feet had found the bottom of my sleeping bag, my day was over. Tomorrow would be longer and my mind and my arms would need everything they could get. All day my main focus was posture, breathing, and not over exerting. When I could get other people steering, I made sure to take 20 minute naps. I would need to be at my best when things were the worst.
it wasn’t unlike the last five years if my life. Working hard when I needed to, and resting well whenever a break came.
Thankfully, for this trip, the worst was over. All we had to do tomorrow was point south and follow the coastline into increasingly familiar territory as we went. And that is how it went. And when we arrived, it was almost like we had never left. Monterey bay was the same, and we were men maybe slightly more wise.