Join Date: May 2008
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Several years ago I bought my boat in San Diego and sailed it into SF Bay. I had limited crew, no open ocean experience, and the boat was new to me. I know first hand the anxiety and apprehension you must be going through. The journey took me two weeks to complete and included a three day wait in Santa Barbara for a weather window (we stopped every night otherwise). I too "sailed north" during a less than favorable time of the year (mine in April).
You're right that you have two route choices: Hug the coast or get way out to sea and come back in. I chose to hug the coast due to crew, experience, and unfamiliar boat. In doing so, I felt I had a greater margin of safety (closer to land should I need to abort). You should carefully consider each route and equipment that will be needed for each.
The greatest distance between ports was from Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo (101 nm). There is an anchorage just before "The Point," Cojo anchorage, that's safe provided a storm isn't coming from the wrong direction. Once around Point Conception, the seas and wind will pick up dramatically. I was in 14ft+ seas and 35 knots of wind on several occasions (8' seas and 25 knots are almost the norm, and 4-5' seas/15 knots is the best you can hope for). I found the seas and winds were the worse starting in the early afternoon and lasting 'til just after midnight. You need to know that being on a sailboat in 14 foot seas is no picnic. Be ready to be very wet and very cold (and probably have the sh*% scared out of you) from Point Conception to SF Bay. Don't panic, keep a clear head, and plan/evaluate what you're doing.
Helpful hints: 1) Make sure the engine is in good shape and you have enough fuel to travel 150+ nm (should you need to motor your way back to port) 2) Make sure the anchoring tackle is appropriate (maybe even larger than needed) and in good shape 3) Santa Barbara does have a West Marine store right next to the marina for emergency boat equipment 4) If you anchor at Cojo and see whitecaps...stay put or retreat to Santa Barbara 5) Coming into San Louis Obispo can be tricky (don't try it if the weather is nasty) and I had to anchor there (no docks or moorings) 6) Listen on Ch12 for marine traffic when coming into SF (freighters can run you over) 7) The first marina in SF Bay sits almost beneath the north tower of the Golden Gate (run by the Presidio YC...good place to stop, eat, and relax but no fuel available) 8) Time your entrance so you have a following tide (current can be 4 knots)
Equipment advice: As a minimum I'd have 1) Charts for each port/marina along the way 2) A good maping GPS or chartplotter 3) Life-raft 4) EPIRB 5) Good warm foul weather gear 6) Jacklines/harness/tether 7) A boat that's in good shape with all necessary safety equipment 8) Radar and/or AIS this time of year
What you're proposing to do is likely to be the roughest sailing conditions you'll ever experience. Not all sailors, even experienced ones, have returned from the voyage you are talking about making. Make sure you've got a good weather window, and know that the sea is not forgiving...especially around "The Point!"
Skipper, J/36 "Zero Tolerance"
PS I can't help you on the journey from San Francisco northward. From what I've heard though, the sea just gets nastier the farther north you go.
PPS NOAA lies! Be very careful about your weather window. Things can change from calm to "holy sh*%" in the matter of a few minutes...especially if a storm is near.
PPPS I was asked, "Are you suicidal or just stupid?" Only you can decide if the risks are worth taking.