Coastal Passage Making Class March 30-April 1, 2012

The calm before the storm

Now THIS was an exciting CPM Class!  Returning from Half Moon Bay, we had 38 knot winds, and 20 foot seas.  Here is a little description I wrote later about it, that managed to find its way into the Club Nautique Newsletter:

“As a former whitewater kayaker, I am accustomed to stories about heinous river challenges of big water and violent currents beginning with the phrase, “No shit, there I was …”, but until this last weekend, it hadn’t occurred to me to apply that introduction to my sailing adventures.  Now I know better.

“No shit, there I was: 38 knot winds, 20 foot seas, headsail and main furled except for small surface areas for stability, engine on at 3,000 rpm’s, boat speed about 9 knots, confused swells and breaking seas coming from everywhere, winds shifting from the south to the west, rain drenching my foulies and everything underneath them, ocean sprays slapping my face from one side and then the other.  I am holding on to the wheel with a death grip, unable to concentrate on anything but feeling the lift and turning down the wave before the swell broaches me, and then turning back to regain my course for the short period it took before the next swell hit me unawares.  If I let my mind wander to anything but the task at hand, even for a second to glance at the radar screen, I’d find myself 30 degrees off course and fighting to bring the wheel back to center, meanwhile being attacked by the predominant waves from an unfamiliar direction without time for a preemptive maneuver.  Interspersed with sheer terror were moments of grace when I was able to follow the sea’s dance lead.  Being at the helm for my shift was one of the most intense, exhilarating hours of my lifetime.

“None of us would probably have chosen to go out in this weather for a leisurely cruise through the Gate to Half Moon Bay and back, but we weren’t there for a leisurely sail; we were there to learn, and learn, we did.  Cudos to the Club Nautique Coastal Passage
Making Program for having enough confidence in their instructors, students and equipment to send us out on Friday night, March 30, 2012 and back through the Gate the following morning, the same weekend as one of the Clipper Ship Around the World Race yachts lost its binnacle to a rogue wave just a few hundred more miles out to sea. The same swells that got them were rolling into the California coast to greet us as well.  Club Nautique had the sense to shorten the trip to within a window of the least violent storm
activity, getting us back into the gate before the largest part of the storm Saturday afternoon.  I was fortunate to be in the company of an instructor and four other crew who were all up to the challenge, and we all owe our good fortune of making back through the Gate safely to each other.  Thomas, Helmut, Rick, Greg and Morton, Oo-rah!

“I may never face seas like that again, but if I do, I’ll have a lot better chance of coming through it unscathed because Club Nautique took a chance on me, and taught me how it’s done. ”

Thomas was our instructor and skipper, Helmut, our Student Navigator, Greg and Morton were Crew and Rick and I were testing as Junior Navigators.  We were sailing on “Mystique”, a 2011, 40-foot Beneteau.

A quiet moment in the cabin at night in Half Moon Bay

It was our second “Type II” trip, which meant that we sailed/motored at night on the ocean.  We departed Alameda on Friday night, performed our “swing ship” and “measured mile” exercises to calibrate the ship’s compass and distance meter, respectively, and then headed out the Gate at night.  Because of the anticipated storm, instead of heading out to the Farallones, we only went West as far as G-1, the last buoy in the ship channel outside the Gate, and then headed South to Half Moon Bay.  We encountered a large number of ocean vessels while motoring alongside the ship channel, and had to wait before crossing the channel for the traffic to clear.  We did have some wind on the way down, but we Thomas wanted us to hurry the trip so we motored the most direct route all the way, and arrived at the Half Moon Bay anchorage around midnight.

The next morning, the wind and waves were large, even in the protected anchorage.  As soon as we got outside of the anchorage and around the protected waters, all hell broke loose.  The waves were huge, especially leaving the bay, but even after that, oh my gosh!  However, I loved it!  We all passed our respective positions, mostly because Thomas figured if we could all withstand that abuse by the sea, we deserved some credit!

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