Saturday, June 25, 2016

Slogging It To Windward

The arrival of the Summer weather leads to thoughts of the open sea. An overnighter to Drakes Bay was in order. On the way out, we slogged into the typical NW flow coming down the coast with a steady 15-18 knots of wind and a short 3' chop, all coming in a line directly upwind to our destination. These are not ideal conditions for the little Wharram and the 35 NM straight-line journey took more than 13 hours of tacking into the chop.

Motor-sailing out into the wind.

We motor-sailed with the tide from San Quentin Bay to Tennessee Pt before shutting the motor off. Little Cat tacked out into open water where the chop wasn't so bad, and we were doing 50-55 degree tacks (turning through 100-110 degrees).

Once into Drakes Bay (which is 9 NM wide at the entrance) the chop was worse, the tide was running out as we are going in, and the wind was gusting over 20 knots. Now we were doing 65 degree tacks to windward (turning through 130 degrees) - ouch!

Excuses for the poor tacking performance: the bottom is covered in growth and barnacles (the otherwise great Bottomkote NT has given up the ghost after 2.5 years); I got tired and was sitting in the cabin reading my book while the autopilot did the work; the sails were trimmed with plenty of camber to punch through the chop, and I got distracted by the Grey Whales that broached right next to the boat (20 ft away!).

Sail track NW to Drakes Bay. Some of the track was not recorded.

The straight-line distance from Tennessee Pt (where we started sailing) is about 23 NM and took a little over 10 hours, giving an actual VMG of ~2.25 knots. These are fairly sobering figures, but good to know when I'm planning open water journeys into the wind.

The entrance to Drakes Estero

The wind was whistling over 20 knots in my usual anchoring spot along the SW shore of the bay, so we ran back under the easternmost point of the Pt Reyes headlands under the painted cliffs next to Chimney Rock. It was still very windy as the wind bent around the point, but still better than in the bay.

Anchorage under the painted cliffs and Chimney Rock at the eastern end of Pt Reyes Peninsula
This is a very beautiful spot with sea lions frolicking, harbor porpoises and sea birds. I checked the spot for rocks with both my hard chart and Navionics, and there were no rocks marked (big mistake).

Dinner - eat your heart out Uncle Chris

Ever since my brother refused to come on a similar trip last year because of my habit of carrying only dried food, I had upped my game with bacon, eggs, tomatoes, and beer. I turned in early very tired.

Still windy next morning - note rock to left

Next morning the wind was still up and I prepared to leave rather than hang around because of a forecast open water wind warning. It was low tide and there were two rocks next to the anchor rode that were well covered when I anchored at high tide (you can see the furthest one in the picture above). If the wind had not been so strong, the boat would have swung onto these rocks when the tide turned! There was also a line of rocks about 100 yards behind the boat that would have collected it if the anchor had let go. Neither of my charts had showed these rocks - surprising given that there is usually at least a vague sprinkling of dots on charts in areas that are not well surveyed. The charts showed this spot as clear and suggests that one should not rely on charts in remote settings!

I was away by 8.30 AM and the wind slowly built to a 20 knot following sea. I was still tired and passed up on a fast spinnaker run to let the boat run on autopilot under the white sails. Compared to The Slog To Windward, the downhill run home went quickly and I was anchored up by 3.00 PM. This trip 94 nautical miles.


  1. Looks like you are still keeping Little Cat busy, man! I'm moved in with Ali in Birmingham and going to put Beto on the lake soon. I'm pondering a future boom experiment for sailing off the wind and having a little more control of the shape. Thoughts?

  2. Sorry Mate - missed your message. I hope it goes well for you both in Birmingham. Yes, I wanted to put in a boom, but then figured that it wouldn't work so well when the family were all aboard. I think a 3" tube of alu would do it with a simple goose neck and the sail attached at the clew?

  3. Yeah man I just figure a simple Nacra style boom. It may not be worth it, but we'll see. The only issue I saw with it is that the traveler would be too far back and the mainsheet wouldn't be able to get a good downward pull like on a sport cat.

    Side note: What brand are your anchor rode bags? I liked those a lot.

  4. It is an "URPOWER® Premium Quality Dry Bag for Outdoor Activities"

  5. I put a brass grommet hole in the bottom for a drain and to lead the anchor warp through to attach to the middle beam.