Sailing to San Francisco - SailNet Community
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Sailing to San Francisco

Gale-force winds persisted for six hours on the final stretch of our Vancouver-to-San Francisco passage, but the storm finally abated in the night, although the seas were still turbulent for several more hours. Our crew fared well despite a comment in the log that read, "Don’t mix fig newtons, ginger, and mushroom soup. It doesn’t taste good!" (See The Art of Preventing Seasickness )

The Golden Gate Bridge signaled our passage to San Francisco was complete, and that a major system improvement could begin.

By morning the sun was out and we were cruising comfortably under full main and genoa. Cousin Richard and I were again in the cockpit, this time trying to get our cell phones to work. Richard was longing to tell his wife and the office in England about our previous day. I wanted to contact our youngest son Jamie, who was in Montreal racing a Laser 2 in the Canadian Youth Championships. Despite being only five miles off the coast, we couldn't connect and were extremely frustrated. Richard had paid for an international service from England. My husband Andy had just purchased a new cell phone in Vancouver, having been assured it would work all over the US.

As I scanned the cloudless horizon, the irony of the situation suddenly dawned. We were missing a spectacular sail. At the same time Richard burst out laughing, "I’m forgetting that I’m away from the office and phone calls can wait. I came for the cruising and this is as good as it gets!"

As it had done for Sir Francis Drake in 1579, Drake’s Bay offered Bagheera protection from the northwesterly winds and we opted to anchor at the north end of the bay rather than arrive at San Francisco in the middle of the night.  "What a great trip, but how nice to relax!" grinned Duncan, our son, as we lounged in the cockpit, drinks in hand.

A calm anchorage after an ocean passage is always an agreeable change of pace. What luxury it is to be able to put a glass down without it flying off the table or to cook in a galley without a balancing act. There is also a charge of energy that comes from the exhilaration of completing a passage successfully. We analyzed the trip over dinner, animatedly discussing the high points, low points, and a few necessary repairs, including our pending watermaker upgrade, before climbing into our berths.

"There was a rolling swell, dense fog, and no wind for our 25-mile passage to San Francisco the next morning. It was an eerie feeling entering by radar, seeing only the gray, yet knowing the big city was just ahead."
There was a rolling swell, dense fog, and no wind for our 25-mile passage to San Francisco the next morning. It was an eerie feeling entering by radar, seeing only the gray, yet knowing the big city was just ahead. Channel markers suddenly emerged out of the gloom. They were crowded with sea lions eyeing us lazily, although a few lifted their heads and barked furiously as we passed. They were the only sign of life in the ghostly silence.

As the fog began lifting we could feel the heat from the sun and were soon stripping down to T-shirts and shorts. Suddenly there was an arc of metal ahead, floating on the ‘cotton batten’ below. Soon another span appeared, then the fog evaporated and we gazed up at a deep blue sky as Bagheera passed under the Golden Gate Bridge. To starboard lay downtown San Francisco, ahead the infamous prison island of Alcatraz, and to port was Sausalito.

"Where do you want to go?" Andy asked me.

"Everyone loves Sausalito," I replied. "It was originally an artists’ colony and is apparently really attractive.  Also, it’s quieter than downtown. Let’s go there first."

The fog-shrouded hills of Sausalito and the free moorings at the yacht club are an attractive combination for the transisting vessel.
Clinging precariously to the steep cliffs, the spectacular homes and exotic gardens were an impressive sight as we headed in. A Canadian boat was tied to one of several mooring buoys and as we approached I called out, "Hi, we’ve just arrived from Vancouver and wondered who these buoys belong to?"

"The buoys belong to the Sausalito Yacht Club," he told us. "Just tie up and go in to register. They’re free of charge."

This was the beginning of the wonderful American hospitality that we received all down the Californian coast. We tied up and immediately went ashore to report our arrival to the US authorities by phone.

"As well as a great place to see, San Francisco Bay is also interesting to cruise, particularly with a shallow-draft boat. "

As well as a great place to see, San Francisco Bay is also interesting to cruise, particularly with a shallow-draft boat. Covering over 400 square miles, it is a picturesque body of water surrounded by several attractive cities and with a popular cruising area of its own in the Delta Region, formed by the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers, their tributaries and canals. In addition, the Bay’s notorious strong afternoon wind makes it a great place to practice sail handling and check out stowage below.

It was sad to see our two crew leave. For Richard it had been a wonderful sailing adventure, with many a story to tell at the bar in his yacht club back home. Duncan had also enjoyed a great trip. He had proved himself a reliable crew member whose ingrained experience from sailing around the world and recent local cruising on Bagheera with friends had shown in his handling of the boat. After a few more offshore passages with us he should be ready to take Bagheera further afield himself.

It was time to settle down to serious boat business. While I read cruising and travel guides to plan the timing for our route, Andy installed a watermaker. It was a luxury that had long been on my wish list. The main reason was to be able to wash my long hair on a regular basis. Andy had been reticent, not having quite the same problem!

"Watermakers are expensive," he argued. "We managed perfectly well for 18 months in the Indian Ocean by catching rain." he reminded me. "And we’re only going for a year on this trip and much of it will be in the States."

The winds of scenic San Francisco Bay are sure to put both crew and boat to the test.
But I persisted! "The boat will be so much cleaner with freshwater, the pans and cutlery won’t rust; with a cockpit shower we won’t get salt below, and guests will be more comfortable. Besides we will never have to worry about water quality, or have to chlorinate it, and the tea will always taste good. I can even go diving when I’ve just washed my hair!"

While the 100-gallon water-carrying capacity in collapsible tanks worked well on our circumnavigation (except for one instance of chafe), there is something compelling about limitless amounts of freshwater for mariners. Andy had finally been persuaded by my enthusiasm and started to research available DC models since Bagheera has no room for a generator. It was while working the Annapolis Boat Show the previous year that we first saw the Spectra Watermaker. With its amazing output of nine gallons of water produced by just eight amps of 12-volt power it seemed the ideal model for a sailboat. 

Small-vessel watermakers work on the principle of ‘reverse osmosis.’ A low-pressure feed pump supplies water to a high-pressure pump, which forces it against a semi-permeable membrane. This allows the water molecules to pass through but not salt, microbes, silt etc., which are discharged back overboard along with the surplus flow of seawater.

The final installation.  Watermakers can significantly increase the level of comfort aboard, provided you keep up with their maintenence requirements.

Early watermakers developed a recalcitrant reputation, but they've come a long way recently. Indeed, installing ours was fairly straightforward, although the instructions then seemed to be evolving and in-between drafts. Still, it was most convenient that we could anchor off the Spectra office, farther up the bay in Sausalito, for quick clarification if required. It took three days to shoehorn the unit into the bulkhead behind the companionway inside our tiny aft head that we long ago converted for storage.  When Andy started it up we couldn't believe how quietly the unit ran, the only noise being a gentle clicking sound from the pump, and with the output gauge mounted below the companionway step it was easy to monitor its great output.

The watermaker was an instant success, although initially it was quite a shock hearing Andy say, "Aren’t you going to use more water?" after all those years of the one-cup ration for an entire wash. Even before family and friends visited, we delighted in the great benefit of having ‘endless’ freshwater on board and hot showers in the cockpit—sometimes even twice a day!

Having hunted around all week, we found a berth in a marina in Sausalito to leave Bagheera safely while returning to Vancouver for our final wind-up month at home. It took a day to pack up the boat, empty the fridge, pickle the watermaker filter, and deflate and tie the dinghy on deck.

There were two small problems left. A neighboring cruiser solved one by kindly agreeing to take Fred, our ivy boat plant. Our parakeet was the other issue but Craig, a friend of Duncan’s who was completing a course close by, enthusiastically offered his services. We were delighted. It seemed such an ideal arrangement—until his parting comment: "I’m sure Cornflake and our new kitten will become the best of friends!"

Watermaker Considerations

The power-hungry component of older systems is the pump, which is used to get the very high pressures needed for reverse osmosis to work. These pumps also produced high noise and demanded frequent servicing. By using a low-pressure feed-pump—the only powered component—newer units consume remarkably little power. High pressures are achieved using an unpowered patented ‘Clark’ pump, which turns the high-volume, low-pressure water from the feed pump into low-volume, high-pressure water at the membrane. There are no fast-moving components, no requirement for regular ‘O’ ring or valve servicing, or for crankcase oil changes.

We've found that our unit uses such little power that our four solar panels can provide ample water for showers and laundry, even when guests swell our numbers to five or six. Except for cleaning or changing filters, or pickling the system if we are to be away from the boat for a few days, the watermaker has been maintenance-free. We have logged sea temperatures as high as 28 Celsius in the Gulf Stream and as low as six Celsius in Nova Scotia. Unlike other units, which can lose as much as a third of their output with a 10-degree drop in water temperature, our output and power requirements hardly vary with water temperature or salinity.

Watermakers do take work though and shouldn't be run in industrial or polluted waters. If the unit is not going to be used for a couple of days, it must be flushed out with fresh, unchlorinated water. If it is not going to be used for a week or more, the unit must be chemically 'pickled' to prevent biological activity on the membrane. This takes about 45 minutes. Membrane cleaning must also be carried out periodically, flushing an alkaline solution through to remove organic build-up or an acid solution if there are calcium deposits. 

Obviously crew size is a consideration. Spectra watermakers come in two standard sizes. The Spectra 200c claims an average of 9.3 gallons per hour using 8.5 amps at 13.8 vdc, although we have experienced higher than this. The spectra 380c will produce 16.5 gallons using 19.6 amps at 13.8 vdc. The watermaker not only brings comfort on board, it also eases the physical stress of cruising. We find that the older you get, the heavier things seem, and don't miss jerry jugs at all!

Suggested Reading:

  1. The Delicate Art of Preventing Seasickness by Liza Copeland
  2. The Rewards of Self-Sufficiency by Sue and Larry
  3. Gifts from the Rain Gods by Doreen Gounard
  4. SailNet Buying Guide - Watermaker Buying Guide


Liza Copeland is offline  
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