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crstophr 05-25-2012 02:33 PM

Advice on SF Bay summer sailing
I'm looking for a bit of advice and perhaps encouragement on sailing in summer conditions on the SF bay. Back in December I bought an old Ranger 23 (short rig) and have been getting out on her about twice a month. I am brand new to sailing and this is my first boat. No lessons but I've been out with folks a few times prior to buying my own boat. I have avoided going out in any kind of small craft advisory and with one exception have managed to avoid winds much over 10-12kts as it's been fairly light winds over the winter.

Last weekend (Sunday) the forecast was 9-12 kts and I was sailing S of the Bay bridge and we had little to no wind. As we crossed under the bridge heading north near the city the wind started building and I looked out ahead and thought "damn, that's a lot of whitecaps, and gee the water sure looks crazy". Then we were in it. Waves from every direction, strong winds, and stronger gusts. I was suddenly way out of my comfort zone. We took some spray over the nose a couple of times and we may have momentarily hit 30 deg of heel. The boat seemed to take it all in stride. It never really tried to round up. I was tense and kept on for a few minutes before tacking back towards the bridge and heading back to calmer water and home. Looking later at the recorded wind graphs online gusts may have been hitting 30.

1st lesson for me is that it's time for decent sailing shoes. Sliding across the deck wasn't cool.

I'm trying to get a sense... is this what sumer conditions are likely to be on the bay? This weekend is calling for winds 15-25 and I'd really like to go sailing but I'm not 100% sure of my own abilities. We have a single reef in the main we can take advantage of with a single line system that I have yet to even try out.

How much wind is "too much stay home" wind for my little boat? Does small craft advisory always mean stay home? How often will these conditions happen over the summer?

What's your advice for a newbie sailor on the SF Bay in the summer?


donlofland 05-25-2012 03:23 PM

Re: Advice on SF Bay summer sailing
I took my sailing lessons at OCSC in Berkely, and on day one they were teaching us to reef sails, (make the mains'l smaller). It's a standard part of sailing there, and is key to managing stronger winds. Summer on the Bay are windy! (That's part of why it's such a great windsurfing destination.)

Tons of ways to learn how to reef-it's in all the sailing books, you can do an internet search, etc. (The boat has to be set up for it with reef points in the main, reef lines, etc, and all of this will be in the books/web sites as well.)

And since it is seldom windy on the Bay in the summer until the afternoon, you'll be able to get out and practice reefing in the light morning winds until you get comfortable, and then get out in the higher winds.

Another key point-if you're leaving your slip and it's already windy, reef before putting out. It's always easier to "shake out"/un-reef the main as the wind dies, than to reef it when it's windy.

Another key point-if reefing crosses your mind because the wind's building, do it then-don't wait.

"Heaving to" is a another skill that goes hand in hand with reefing-you can heave to and calm the boat down while you reef.

paul323 05-25-2012 03:48 PM

Re: Advice on SF Bay summer sailing
The SF bay is a wonderful place to sail for many reasons, not least of which is that depending on where you are you can experience a wide range of sailing conditions, both heavy and light winds, heavy and light swell, cold and foggy, warm and sunny - all in the same day if you wish!

As you have discovered, summer ain't winter. Take in the Genoa, break out a 100% jib, learn to reef - it gets windy in summertime....

Use Sailflow ( - CA-sf south Wind Data) to check the wind patterns. L-36 also has an awesome weather page (I use Redwood City, CA Marine Weather and Tide Forecast)

Most of the time I sail in the south bay. There are two main considerations: Time of day, and tides. Typically in summer the wind builds daily from 5 knots in the morning, to 20-30knots around 4-5pm, and then it gently winds down.

The other factor is tide, The wind generally blows down the bay - ese. If the tide is coming in, the waves are minimal - typically around 1'. If the tide is ebbing - against the wind - the waves quickly build to 3', sometimes higher. In a small boat you will get wet.

Around San Francisco, the city (and its headland) often causes a wind shadow, and that can be fun, but beware - as you head north you get into "The Slot", where the wind comes through the Golden Gate bridge into the Bay proper. I have had to go from a full main/headsail to (within a couple of boat lengths) double reef, no jib, still healing heavily as I race to Angel Island. Then as I exit the slot on the other side (Tiberon, Sausalito, etc) out come all the sails again!

Once again, always look at the tides; if it going against the wind, the wave builds fast.

Hope this helps....

dabnis 05-25-2012 03:51 PM

Re: Advice on SF Bay summer sailing
Sailed a Coronado 25 out of Sausalito in and outside the Bay for 10 years. Generally, the hotter it gets in the valley the more wind you will get, especially through the Gate. As you get further north or south it can ease some, but not always. Sugest you watch the forecasts carefully. Donlofland's advice is good, reef early. Genrerally, you will have all the wind you want and more in the summer time.

Paul T

SlowButSteady 05-25-2012 04:26 PM

Re: Advice on SF Bay summer sailing
I used to have a Victory 21 that I sailed out of Alameda Marina. As you seem to have found out, everything south of the Bay Bridge is usually in the lee of the SF Peninsula. Between the Bay Bridge and the end of Treasure Island is something of a transitional zone. And north of Treasure Island to the Marin Peninsula is "The Slot". If there is any wind on SF Bay you'll find it in the slot. Most summer afternoons 15 to 25 kts is pretty much the norm in The Slot.

I often sailed from Alameda Marina to the end of the estuary (about 4 nm) and then to the north, behind Yerba Buena and Treasure Islands (although, I don't know if that's possible with all the bridge construction nowadays), or between the islands and the SF waterfront. I would just keep going north until I started feeling a little uncomfortable and then turn back for the run back to the marina. Some days I barely got out of the Estuary, some days I managed to go around Angel Island. Often I would at least go around the end of Treasure Island, so I could at least say that I was in The Slot that day ;). I had the older model Victory, w/o a self-bailing cockpit. So I was always a little nervous about taking too much water over the side when things got rough (although I don't recall ever having to bail more than a couple of gallons out, even on the roughest days). But a Ranger 23 (as I recall) is a more robust design, with a self-bailing cockpit that's probably a bit smaller than that of the Victory.

I would just do basically what you you seemed to have done: sail until the conditions make it not so fun any more, then turn for home. Over time you'll find yourself more comfortable in windier/nastier conditions (maybe THAT is when you should really start to worry?). As long as you aren't flying a spinnaker, or gennaker, or even a big genoa, and you're ready to dump the mainsail when necessary, there isn't too much chance of actually broaching, particularly if you don't try sailing in anything over 25 or 30 kts. I sailed the Victory across The Slot several times in 25 kts (give or take), with the main reefed and the jib bundled up on the foredeck, at least until I got in the lee of SF or Yerba Buena and felt comfortable with more sail area.

jblumhorst 05-25-2012 09:12 PM

Re: Advice on SF Bay summer sailing
You can expect winds to build to over 25 kts in the central bay almost every afternoon. The Ranger 23 by Gary Mull is a wonderful boat for SF Bay - a real SF Bay boat with 1500 of ballast. They're old, so be sure it's well maintained. The R23 can probably take anything the bay dishes out, which is considerable.

Where do you keep your boat? SF Bay is a big place. If you tell us that, we can give you better advice on where to sail to stay out of big winds.

From an equipment perspective: You really need good sails for SF Bay -- not bagged out. It makes a world of difference. With good sails, the boat won't heel as much and will point a lot better. It won't be twitchy in the gusts. You've got an excellent SF Bay boat, be sure you have good sails to go with it.

An 80-110% jib is a good size for summer sailing here. That's what most non-racers use in the summer. You'll get pummelled with anything bigger. You'll need two reefs in the mainsail. For comfort and for safety, I'd recommend an 80% jib until you have more experience. You'll have MORE than enough power most days. On SF Bay, it's better to be underpowered on the occassional day than overpowered everyday.

Try to get somebody to take you out sailing on your boat, or go out with a more experienced skipper on his or her boat. Or take lessons from one of the excellent sailing schools on the bay.

Watch the currents -- learn to read the chart in the back of the tide book. On a day with big tides, the currents around Treasure Island can wreck you in dozens of places on the Bay. For example, the towers on the Bay Bridge or the rocks at the east end of Treasure Island. Currents are a big deal here, and an important part of local knowlege.

Tell us where you're berthed and we can give you some suggestions about where to sail while you gain experience

Fair winds,
Judy B
Sailing windy SF Bay

crstophr 05-26-2012 04:05 PM

Re: Advice on SF Bay summer sailing
Thanks everyone for all the advice. The boat has been well maintained by the previous owner of 12 years. It needs topside paint badly but rigging was replaced about 10 years ago, bottom paint is about a year old, all lines run to cockpit and newish, st100 autohelm, self tailing winches for the jib sheets.. etc. Lots of attention to little functional details. He took wonderful care of the boat and I paid a bit more because I recognised that it was a turnkey without any major projects. UK Sails were new as of 2006 and weren't used much at all the in past 4 years or so. They seem good to me.

For a jib I'm running a class jib (125?) for a santana 22. Hank on. I have a tack line that raises it up so I can easily see under the jib while sailing. I love the visibility. Probably functions as about a 100 as it can just touch the mast in a tack. This is what was up last weekend. I have a 90 with battons as well but it's heavy dacron and I like it less. I have a 100 drifter, and a 120 and 150 genoa. I've also got a santana 22 90 jib that would be the smallest head sail I have. Would it be worth running that?

I sail out of the alameda marina. Waaaaaaaaaay up the Oakland Estuary. 45 minutes motoring into the wind just to get to the bay is getting a bit old and I'm starting to think about an alternate east bay location but not likely this season.

The main only has one set of reef points and a single line reef setup. Is it worth it to pay to add a second?

Please tell me more about danger from currents. I go under the bay bridge a lot and I may not fully understand what I should be careful of. Will a current tend to take you around an object as the water flows around it? What should I lookout for?

I really want to learn to handle whatever is normal for the bay here and not just hide from it. I've been out with the previous owner a couple of times but that was in winter and low winds. We're still in contact and he's a great source of advice. Single handing is a reality for me if I want to sail regularly and the boat is well setup for it. I'm starting to take non-sailor friends out as well and want to manage my boat so as not to freak them out:eek:

Thanks again for all the advice. I have learned so much by lurking on these forums.

SlowButSteady 05-26-2012 05:43 PM

Re: Advice on SF Bay summer sailing
The currents can be a real pain sometimes. Once, my wife and I sailed on a HUGE afternoon ebb down the estuary, across the bay, under the Bay Bridge, and around the end of the SF peninsula to Gashouse Cove. The winds were 10 to 15 kts max and the afternoon was beautiful. I didn't have a tide book with me (cue scary music), but I figured the ebb had been going on for so long already that it was bound to turn into a flood soon enough. Besides, there was no fog, the city lights were coming on, and it was about to turn into a picture-perfect evening.

We turned around for the run back to Alameda, which should have taken about two and a half hours on a "normal" day, and that's just about when the wind decided to start dying. The ebb was still pretty strong, and even with the wind behind us we (and every other sailboat on the bay) crept back along the SF waterfront. At one point we were pretty much stationary just off of Pier 39, our progress through the water and the tide just about perfectly balanced against one another, for about 45 minutes. One by one all the sailboats fired up the "iron spinnaker" and headed home as it got dark. Unfortunately, my old Victory 21's motor was a British Seagull. I finally caved in, wrestled the Seagull out of the lazaret, and fired her up. By now it was pretty dark, and the ebb had finally tapered off, and the wind was completely gone.

So, there we were, in the middle of one of the busiest ports in the world, without real navigation lights (I know, I know....), with old nasty gas in the Seagull (so it wasn't running all that great), hugging the waterfront until we "zipped" across to Yerba Buena, then hugging the shore of the island, then "zipping" across Outer and Middle Harbors to Alameda Island, then putt-putt-putting up the Estuary. All this while keeping an eye out for ships, wondering if we actually had enough gas to make it, getting cold (we hadn't planned on being out nearly so late), and getting ready to kill the engine if the CG or a sheriff's boat showed up (so we could flash our little flashlight at them and pretend we were legal). Oh, yeah....and the Seagull's muffler kept working itself loose every twenty minutes or so, necessitating stopping the motor and reattaching it to keep ourselves from going deaf in the middle of all this.

And to top everything off (you knew there had to be more, right?) when we got back to Alameda Marina (we actually got a tow from a Good Samaritan the last couple of miles) it was well past midnight, and the tide was so low that I couldn't get the boat up to the hoist dock. The Admiral was definitely NOT amused. She took a nap in the cab of my pickup for a couple of hours while I waited for the tide to come up enough that I could get the boat up to the hoist dock and hoist it back onto its trailer.

ALWAYS bring a tide table and check it before you leave
Always bring extra warm clothes
Always bring extra snacks and drinks
Always keep the motor in good repair
Oh, and make sure the F$%#@!!! nav lights work!!

dabnis 05-26-2012 06:36 PM

Re: Advice on SF Bay summer sailing
"The main only has one set of reef points and a single line reef setup. Is it worth it to pay to add a second?"

"Please tell me more about danger from currents. I go under the bay bridge a lot and I may not fully understand what I should be careful of. Will a current tend to take you around an object as the water flows around it? What should I lookout for?"

Yes, there may be times you wish you had three.

Currents: They can vary in spots and can take you down onto bridge towers and Alcatraz faster than you can imagine. A little dip in the wind can put you in deep trouble fast. Suggest you give objects like that a lot of room.

Slow: sounds like it was a "fun" trip :D For whatever reason my Dad hated, with a passion, to start the motor. I could never figure out why. Did your wife ever sail with you again?

Paul T

SlowButSteady 05-27-2012 02:18 AM

Re: Advice on SF Bay summer sailing

Originally Posted by dabnis (Post 875969)
Slow: sounds like it was a "fun" trip :D For whatever reason my Dad hated, with a passion, to start the motor. I could never figure out why. Did your wife ever sail with you again?

Yeah, she sails with me, occasionally. But she never has really warmed up to sailing all that much. I don't think that particular trip turned her off -- sailing has just never really been her thing.

Get a good tide program with current predictions (I use Mr. Tides on my Mac, but there are several other programs for various platforms), and carefully study the patterns in the areas you're most likely to sail. A few general rules about tides and currents:
- Current predictions can be WAY off during high river flow periods, particularly north of the SF peninsula/Treasure Island. Since river flows in SF Bay and the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta are controlled (at least in theory) by a combination of upstream dams and pumping for the big water projects, river flow isn't always easy to predict.
- The ebb can continue in some places for some time after low water occurs in that spot; likewise, the flood doesn't necessarily end with high water.
- The downstream sides of bridge towers and islands can have very tricky, and sometimes not so obvious, eddies and vortices. This is particularly true during strong ebbs and floods. Many a sailboat has done an impromptu 360 (or 720, or more) because they got caught in one of these. While usually more humorous than dangerous, combining ship traffic with pirouetting boats can be downright lethal.
- One can often avoid much of the tidal flow by staying out of the main channel, and/or away from sharp bends in the flow patterns, but not always. And, in some areas of SF Bay, particularly the South Bay, being out of the main channel often means being in thin or nonexistent water once the tide goes out. There are parts of the South Bay and San Pablo Bay where one can get stuck on a falling tide and be literally miles from both the shore and the channel at the same time. In such areas you might have to wait almost 24 hours for the boat to refloat.

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