Re: A mind boggling moon
Thu, 23 Dec 1999 21:01:45 -0800

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West Wight Potter Website at URL
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At sunset yesterday, three Potters were launched into Redwood City Harbor
and headed out Redwood Creek toward San Francisco Bay--a P15, Tilly Lucy,
with Dave and Francesca Kautz; a P19, Redwing, with David and Judy
Blumhors; and an old P14, Manatee, with Sandy and me. There were clear
skies, no wind, and moderate temperatures, but we had all layered ourselves
in anticipation of chillier conditions later. It was low tide, lower than
usual, but launching proceeded normally.

Sails furled, we motored slowly in midchannel, not in a hurry to get
anywhere and not wanting to disturb the quiet harbor. We all had running
lights on, and Manatee also had a string of Christmas lights strung around
the bow pulpit. I kept the Christmas lights out most of the time, since
they were drawing on the same batteries as my MinnKota electric motor. We
cruised past some much more elaborately illuminated boats in a marina.

There had been unusual easterly winds for several days, and the water
surface in the usually clean harbor and channel was littered with
accumulated flotsam--pieces of wood of various sizes, bottles, and
stuff--so we steered around the larger pieces. The next westerly wind
should sweep the junk back out to the Bay, probably to be deposited on the
eastern shore, along the edges of the salt evaporation ponds.

Just as darkness fell, Mother Nature's carefully choreographed event began,
with perfect timing, as the big yellow rim of the moon appeared on the
horizon and promptly ascended, casting a long shimmery reflection in the
water. The moon always appears large near the horizon, because of a
magnification effect--the refraction of light through the atmosphere, or
something like that--but tonight it did indeed seem larger than ever, as
promised, but we didn't take any measurements. We were perfectly willing to
accept the pre-event publicity and were satisfied that the performance was
well worth the price of admission.

We had brought a 35 mm camera and a camcorder, but it didn't appear that we
could get enough exposure using the film camera from a moving boat, so I
tried the camcorder, which does well in dim light. We managed to get in
position where Redwing was crossing the ribbon of moonlight and got some
okay shots of the shadowy boat, the bright moon, and the reflection in the
water--and a shot showing Sandy's silhouette, the light from our switch
panel, and our light string on the pulpit. I zoomed in on the moon alone,
hoping to see some detail on the moon's surface, but I was using automatic
exposure, so the result was a white disc against a black background. (I
should have manually stopped down the lens to avoid overexposing the moon.)

As the moon ascended, its brightness increased, more than compensating for
its decreasing diameter. I didn't notice any stars, so there must have been
just enough haze to filter them out, but the moon shone brightly
nevertheless. Navigation was easy, mainly a matter of staying between the
red and green marks, and no one grounded, despite the low tide. As we
approached Redwood Point at the end of Bair Island, marking our entry into
the Bay, we could see clearly the lights on the far shore of the Bay and on
the hills beyond. The lights of the San Mateo Bridge appeared beyond the
end of Bair Island, and the horn marking the end of the Redwood Creek
channel, in the deeper part of the Bay, grew louder. We had let Redwing and
Tilly Lucy forge on ahead with their gasoline kickers but could still see
their lights if we looked closely. We began to get a trace of a breeze, so
we happily raised Manatee's lateen sail, shut off the MinnKota and raised
it out of the water, and we were sailing!

The moonlight and the effortless sailing provided one of those rare
instances where the reality of sailing approaches, even exceeds, the
romanticized images of Hollywood. I put my arm around Sandy, and for the
moment we were Bing Crosby and Grace Kelley sailing the True Love.

We soon met Tilly Lucy and Redwing on the way back in, still motoring. Dave
soon raised Tilly Lucy's sails, and turned to follow me. Judy and David
wanted to linger a while too and turned Redwing back toward the Bay, idling
along to match my sailing speed. But the breeze soon faded, and we all
turned about and headed back toward the harbor. We motor-sailed Manatee,
getting a little help from the occasional puff.

We passed several rowing shells off to starboard, headed outbound near the
shore of Bair Island. We heard the voices of the crews before we saw the
boats, which were barely visible from midchannel. They were probably from
the Stanford Rowing Club, which has a clubhouse not far from the launch
ramp. We also passed an outbound powerboat, probably fishermen, and then,
off to port near the main shore, was another cluster of barely visible
kayaks, also outbound. One appeared to have green lights on its double
ended paddle, so you could see the paddle's oscillations, though the kayak
itself was a shadowy silhouette. I was surprised to find anyone else on the
water this night, on a December weekday, shortly before Christmas. Each
time we passed other boats, I switched on my Christmas lights to say hello.

Distances were misleading in the night, and it looked like we had a long
way to motor back, so I rationed my electrical "fuel," running at 65 to 75%
power, while the two gas-powered Potters showed me their stern lights as
they headed back. But we soon found ourselves in sight of the launch ramp
and completed the run at 100% power, still almost silent except for a
slight vibration and the bubbling wake. Tilly Lucy and Redwing had to wait
for another boat to clear the ramp, so we all pulled in to the ramp float
at about the same time and soon had all three Potters on their trailers.
The ramp parking lot was well lighted this night, and we quickly derigged,
warming our insides and our fingers with some delicious hot chocolate
provided by Francesca, then we all headed for Pete's Harbor House to top
off a great evening with some good food, beer, and conversation.

Happy holidays to all!

Harry Gordon
P14 #234, Manatee
Mountain View, CA

Voltage report: The useful charge on a 12 V wet cell deep-cycle battery,
I'm told, is in the range from 12.2 to 12.8 V. This morning one of the 95
Ah batteries indicated 12.41 and the other 12.44. The battery with the
slightly lower voltage was the one powering the red-green light and,
occasionally, through a small inverter, the Christmas light string. I'm
recharging the batteries in series (24 V) at the gentle 2 A rate, and they
are still charging at 8 pm this evening.