We Finally Got Underway from San Francisco Bay

After being holed up in our home slip in Alameda for over a week waiting for a weather window to start making progress up the coast, it looked like Tuesday, April 17 was shaping up to be the day that we could actually leave San Francisco Bay.  Jen and Cassidy have spent a lot of time on boats but this would be their first experience with a long coastal passage where we are running the boat 24 hours a day.  The mood of the crew could be described as excitement and anxiety about the unknown.  The north east Pacific and especially the section of coast that we need to transit is not known for having pleasant conditions most of the time and heading north in April is probably not the best initiation to this type of cruising for Jen and Cass.  The upside is that it will only get better after we make through this initial passage to the more protected waters of the Pacific Northwest.

Crossing San Francisco Bay with 40 Knot Gusts

We had given notice at our marina in Alameda that we would be out on April 15 so the timing was good.  In anticipation of leaving on Tuesday, we picked up a mooring in front of the Sausalito Yacht Club which would put us very close to the Golden Gate for an a.m. departure.

Neither Jen or I are great at understanding marine weather forecasting.  Although marine forecasting is high on the list of things to master, for this trip we are getting assistance from Omni Bob who runs a weather routing service based in Florida.  I enlisted his service prior to bringing our boat down the coast from the Pacific Northwest back in August of 2016 with great success so it was a no-brainer to get in touch with Bob again for this trip.  My own research was confirmed by a final call with Bob early in the morning on Tuesday and we made the decision to leave.  

It looked like there would be a chance of making it all the way to Cape Flattery in one shot,  but more likely we would have to duck into Crescent City just south of the Oregon border.   Crescent City is a a good harbor of refuge along this coastline as almost every other harbor on the way north is a river bar crossing which can be dangerous to transit and sometimes require local knowledge.

M/V Cassidy has two forms of roll stabilization, active hydraulically operated fins on the bottom of the boat, and a passive paravane system that is rigged to allow us to tow metal fish from outriggers that are deployed from each side of the boat.   The paravanes are mostly a backup system, as the active fins require no effort from us other than pushing a button at the helm.   Running the paravanes involves deploying all of the rigging and some physical labor, although the heavy lifting is done with electric winches.  

I had been in contact with another Nordhavn 40 owner discussing various systems on our boats, and one of the things that he mentioned was that he sometimes runs with both the paravanes and active stabilizers at the same time and it keeps his boat more planted in a heavy sea.  One of the downsides to running the paravanes is that they add drag (nothing is free!) and therefore cause a reduction in speed of somewhere between 0.5 and 1 knot.  This may not sound like a lot but when your normal cruising speed is a blistering 7 knots, it is definitely significant and noticeable on long passages.  In spite of the anticipated hit to speed and fuel economy, we decided to try using the paravanes and deployed them as we motored toward the Golden Gate.

Underway Toward the Golden Gate 

We passed under the Golden Gate Bridge at 8 a.m. on Tuesday and immediately were greeted with large steep swells coming in to the bay.  A couple of weather systems had passed through in the previous week and this was residual swell, forecast to be 7-10 feet and dropping over the next couple of days as we pushed north.

Jen immediately noticed some white water in the distance and asked if it was breaking waves.  My answer was no, although it did look little ominous and we were beginning to really pitch as we rose and then fell off the tops of the steep waves.   San Francisco bay is actually a bar crossing, with a huge volume of water moving in and out of the bay each day with the tidal currents, but the bar is not right at the Golden Gate.  It actually extends in a horseshoe shape approximately 6-7 nautical miles out and it is prudent to transit through the center section on the edge of the deep water shipping channel to avoid potential breaking waves over the shallows in heavy weather.

The San Francisco Bar

As we approached the outside of the bar, the seas were becoming steeper and more confused to the point where we had to power up the faces and then back off the throttles to avoid crashing off of the backs of the waves.   White water was falling off the tops of a lot of the waves and it was definitely a bash to get through it.  Jen was sitting behind me on the bench seat looking pretty pale and she mentioned that her heart rate was 114 compared to a normal resting rate of 47!  Not a good initiation for someone who isnt sure how she is going to handle offshore ocean passages.  Cassidy was laying in the watch berth behind Jen and seemed to take it all in stride.

We got over the bar and made a right turn towards the northwest and conditions were still rough with a lot of wind on the nose, but at least we were no longer slamming into the waves.  The boat rode incredibly well with almost no noticeable roll but still not comfortable for the crew by any means.  

Conditions on the second day were so much improved that I pulled the paravane fish out and we gained about a knot of speed.  The boat has been running perfectly and no unforeseen problems, except for what seems to be a hardware failure with our primary navigation computer.  We run a program called TimeZero Navigator which then shares information with our Furuno electronics including the radars and autopilot.  (I am realizing as I type this that some of this more technical information about our boat, electronics, etc may be of no interest at all to some of our readers and non-boating friends – forgive me, Im an engineer!).  Now back to the computer problem:

Our Navigation Computer Before it Died

Having an external computer that is independent of, but interfaces with our single purpose marine navigation hardware, not only provides redundancy but also does some things better and easier than the dedicated Furuno hardware.  The display can be larger and planning and laying out routes is significantly faster and easier than trying to do it with the clunky user interface on the Furuno machines with touch screens and virtual keyboards.   I envision a lot of time behind the computer each night while we are transiting the inside passage this summer.

The machine that is failing is iMac from 2010 that is running Windows in a virtual machine to allow us to run the TimeZero software.  It is probably far past its expected useful life so replacing the machine at some point was not unforeseen, although now there is a little more urgency to get it done.  I just tried to start the old iMac one more time as I sit here watching the sun go down from our pilot house on the left and Cape Mendocino on the right – and no luck.   Davy Jones may be getting another donation from us in the very near future.  

Sunset of Cape Mendocino

Current eta into Crescent City is tomorrow (Thursday) around 0:6:00.   Jen wants to go explore the local sights and culture and get some time off the boat.  Maybe I will find a big box store that sells computers as we explore but Im guessing it will more likely be Washington before we get a new machine and we have another notebook computer that can get us by til then.

1 thought on “We Finally Got Underway from San Francisco Bay”

  1. Chuck and Edie Herro

    Good writing for an engineer! We’re glad to learn you ducked into Crecent City and having a chance to explore new places. Typical of voyages… some equipment glitches. 

    Take care,


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