From there it was back through the Golden Gate and onto open water. We started taking spray over the bow immediately so we transferred control to the lower helm and continued on. At this point the intermittent wipers became our best friend as their timing coincided with the spray of our 15 knot progress southward. Otherwise, the ST47 handled the conditions extremely well. The autopilot had failed the day before but my experience has shown that hand steering in adverse conditions proved more beneficial. We won’t know as there was no chance to compare but hand steering did prove to be to our benefit as we could act before the waves would alter our course, rather than correct afterwards as the autopilot does.
Of course there’s no way this trip could begin until after we made the trip around Alcatraz Island.
With winds backing to the west and increasing, the swells grew significantly. From the lower helm we were buried in the trough with visibility limited to the distance between wave back to wave front. Then we would climb back up to unlimited visibility to the horizon until dropping back down into the next trough. Radar remained useful and showed scattered showers off to the west, and more moving in just south of west, heading right for us. So we increased speed to 20 knots to attempt to dodge the squall, but unsure how the 47 could handle the seas with the increased speed. As it turned out, she handed it even better. Whether it was the increased wash against the props, or the keel allowing better tracking, she rose to the occasion like a lady. So much so that we broke out lunch and started in on it. Birds were all around during the voyage, but no whales, no dolphins.
Ok well, thing just got interesting. Now with building, and quartering seas, it was a total surf fest. All of the concerns of running down seas… broaching, pitch-poling, none of it manifested. There was the usual alternating the helm from keeping the stern from swinging to port as we went down the wave, to the opposite correction as we went back up the next. The bow kept its buoyancy as we came down the waves and plunged into the trough, water flying off like a snowplow, but never wanting to stuff under, so we were easily able to keep that 20 knot speed up. Then we saw the birds working the surface and the water boiling.
Pulling back the throttles to idle, and heading topside for a better view showed a sea lion (identified by the ear flaps that seals don’t have, so there!) eating a half fish. Actually playing with it would be more accurate. He’d (ok this time it’s a guess since we saw nothing to differentiate between male and female) take a bite, and then toss it in the air, is if to taunt the seagulls that didn’t stand a chance of catching it before the seal had it again. It was hysterical to watch, and all this right in front of the bow. Then as we looked further away, there was another… then another… and suddenly we realized they were all around us. This little food fest was almost more like a food fight between a gang of kids rather than a pod (school, herd, flock, pride…???) of sea lions. So we watched for a bit and then got back underway, with them scurrying ahead of the bow in a parting show.
Winds had come back around to the starboard bow and with it returns the spray. But our old intermittent friends were back working it like a champ. Once we got into Monterey Bay we started to finally pick up some lee and lose the heavy swells. We tried calling the Breakwater Cove Marina from about 5 miles out but got no response. In fact, we hadn’t heard anything on the VHF all day. A look at the log book showed a squawk list with the VHF on it saying the previous crew could not raise another vessel outside of 2 miles. This may because the dual antennas were mounted low, on the fly bridge deck trailing edge rather than atop the hardtop. But cell service was fine so we called to announce our impending arrival. Pulling in past the breakwater (which the cove and marina are cleverly named after) showed the most amphibious life of our trip. Sea Lions, seals, and otters all mingled together with thousands of cormorants all along the length of the breakwater. All talking to one another, or to us… who can say? But it was a sight that this east coast captain doesn’t get to see.
Tied to the fuel dock we were met by Rafael, who gave us our first hint of California hospitality with a warm welcome. And a fuel hose. We topped of with 150-gals of diesel and moved into position for the next three days. A remarkably uneventful, but highly rewarding trip.
With the rain squalls remaining off shore, the Swift Trawler 47 sits at the dock at Breakwater Cove Marina,
joining us in watching the rainbows.