Re: Monterey vs. SF bays
Wed, 12 May 1999 20:17:19 EDT

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West Wight Potter Website at URL
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In a message dated 5/12/99 12:50:06 PM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:

> Some friends of mine bought a Catalina 22 recently, and sailed on a
> reservoir for their first time out. They have never sailed before, but
> are considering a slip in either monterey bay or SF bay.
> My opinion is that they need just a bit more experience before venturing
> too far out into either of these bodies of water, but that monterey
> bay would probably have a bit less traffic with weather more favorable
> to the beginning sailor. I've also given my opinion that they might want
> to learn a bit of piloting.
> Could someone with experience in both bays compare and contrast them for
> me?
Eric et al,

I think your concerns about your friends' skill level are justified, at least
on SF Bay. For their first season, sailing lessons would be a must before
braving SF Bay. I don't know enough about it to address the question about
Monterey Bay.

However, if they are seriously considering a berth on SF Bay, here's some
guidance in the form of quotes form Carol and Bob Mehaffy's _Cruising Guide
to San Francisco Bay_

"San Francisco Bay is perhaps the only place in the world where boaters can,
with relative assurance, expect to sail almost any afternoon from March
through Octover, confident the wind will blow at 20 knots or more.....But
those boaters who don't care for heavy winds shouldn't despair. Those
famous, or for some, infamous, Bay winds don't typically blow 24 hours a day.
In fact, the winds generally begin just before noon. Those who prefer to
avoid the heavy winds of the afternoons can do so by being at their
destinations before noon and getting settled in......These heavy winds that
can make the Central Bay uncomfortable for smaller sailboats and powerboats
don't extend to all areas of the Bay. When most parts of the Central Bay
have winds of 25 knots, the area close to the San Francisco Shoreline south
of the Bay Bridge will typically have 15 knot winds and calm water...

San Francisco Bay boaters must understand tides or suffer the consequences.
[snipped long story about a hapless skipper who got sucked out the Gate when
the wind died and he had no engine]

...the maximum ebb current at the golden Gate Bridege will occassionally
reach 6 knots. Aboard a sailboat with a top speed of 5 knots, which is
fairly typical, you can end up seeming to be sailing toward the Central Bay
at a great rate under the Golden Gate Brideg but in fact be slipping steadily
out to sea. On those days when a large ebb is flowing, you will see boaters
sailing backwards!...

...the more common nautical mishap that results when boaters in the Bay don't
watch the tides is a grounding. San Francisco Bay is but a shallow basin...

(End quotes.)
There's a good reason we call the area south of the Bay Bridge "Chicken Bay"
-- that's where you'll find many of us chickens on a summer afternoon. It's
quite common to find the winds there blowing a steady 15-20 with occassional
higher gusts. Your friends should avoid the central bay (north of the Bay
Bridge) in the summer, when the winds scream in through the "Golden Gate"
until their sailing skills are excellent.

Over the past 7 years, I have sailed my windsurfer and Force 5 more than 500
days all over the Central Bay and the northern part of the South Bay. Both of
these crafts have a draft under 4 feet and are easily unstuck from the mud
and self-rescued (if you have the physical stamina to climb back on and sail
them back home!). I havn't had my P19 long enough to claim to have explored
as much of the Bay in it, but I'm reasonably familiar with the conditions on
the Bay.

>From experience, I can tell you that, in general (not always), the winds are
(relatively) the least strong near the San Leandro Marina/Crown Beach area
than the rest of the South Bay where the water is deep enoungh to sail. But
the water is very shallow even there, with a 2 mile channel from the marina
out into the bay-- a 7 foot channel depth with mud flatts on either side at
low tide. If they're going to sail in the south bay, they'd best have a
depth meter and take extreme care at low tide. I'd recommend San Leandro for
an intermediate windsurfer/dinghy sailor, but not enthusiastically for a keel
boat, due to the shallow water. And there's the two knot side-shore current
to contend with along Crown Beach... it's a verynice beach though, with palm
trees and nice sand, which is rare on the Bay.

Another possibility in the Central Bay is Richmond Marina. They could sail
inside the breakwater, where it's somewhat protected, but they'd be pushing
their skill level beyond prudence to venture outside into the Central Bay
proper. A depth sounder is a must in Richmond Harbor, as well.

A final good possibility is to berth in the Oakland Estuary, which is south
of the Bay Bridge. Many small boats sail there safely in the summer. There
are about twenty marinas on the estuary and berths are readily available, as
are trailer storage locations where you can leave the rig up. The water has
smaller chop and swells, and it's slightly protected from the wind by the
land. But the large volume of traffic (including huge commercial vessels)
can be a little scarey at first to a beginner. There are lots of great
restaurants and bars to stop at all along the estuary. For my personal
tastes however, the scenery along the estuary is a little to urban for me.

For new or even intermediate sailors, I'd advise against getting a berth
practically anywhere in the Central Bay (possibly excepting Richmond as
mentioned above) - not in Berkely, Tiburon, Sausilito, or Emeryville. They'd
be scared to death most of the time, probably in occassional real danger, and
that's no way to learn how to sail.

Judy B.