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Visibility was sketchy in the Singlehanded Farallones. ©2012 Jeff Dunnavant
Cold August Night
August 8, 2012
The Singlehanded Farallones was challenging, not due to the usual reputation of the race (rough weather) – more due to changing wind conditions and low viability. Here is a recap from Jeff Dunnavant, who sailed Bob Bloom's J/35 Jarlen:
This was the first time I have ever sailed Jarlen singlehanded, and the boat is not set up for shorthanded sailing, which presented several challenges, mainly with getting the sails up and down.
At eight minutes prior to my start off the Golden Gate Yacht Club, I realized the #1 sail which was ready for hoisting was too big – the wind had increased significantly just prior to the race. I got the #1 below deck, but I was out of time to get the #2 ready, so I started the race under main sail only. Once I started, I discovered the jib halyard floating in the air about 20 feet from the boat. Ugh. I waited a couple of minutes and was able to capture as it finally swung close enough to grab. It took me another 10 minutes to get the sail up (with no foredeck crew to pre-feed, it kept jamming during the hoist) and get dialed in.
A wind hole developed at the South Tower of the Golden Gate Bridge, which collected several boats, so I went to the North Tower on port tack, then tacked to starboard and proceeded out the Gate with some help from the ebb in the middle (it was flooding on both the north and south sides).
Once past point Point Bonita, I remained the most southern boat, sailing just south of the main shipping channel, while the rest of the fleet sailed just north of the shipping channel. The wind was better for me sailing more on a lift while the northern boats were on a more headed course (wind from the south tends to bend towards the Gate). This allowed me to maintain a consistent lead most of the way to the island.
It was hard to sail for hours and never see the island. Approaching the GPS waypoint, we sailed into a heavy fog bank and the wind shut down. When the wind fills in opposite directions is challenging in the fog, where can you can lose your bearing and find yourself chasing the wind and sailing away from the island without awareness. Sailing in the fog also offers surprises… where is the competition? Suddenly Outsider and Alchera passed by. Prior to the fog bank, Outsider was sailing a good quarter mile north of me. How did that happen? Time to watch the wind shifts and compass! Sailing slowly now, working the wind shifts, I first smell and then hear the island (sea lions!). Other than a brief glimpse of some rocky shadows, I can't say I really ever saw the island.
Getting around the island was slow going. This is where I think most started pondering, "Is it time to give up, or chance a long night of sailing?" I sure was thinking about this, but I thought it worth the effort to see if the wind would return once I rounded the island. After rounding the island and pointing the boat towards home, we briefly emerged from the fog (Jarlen, Outsider, Cinnabar, Xpression… no Alchera?).
We experienced some more wind holes and 180-degree wind shifts, accompanied by more pondering of the motoring/late night sailing question. About this time the fog settled in for good, with maybe 50 yards of visibility, at best, for the remainder of the race until the Golden Gate. It makes for a lonely feeling, no visuals or reference other than the chart plotter. Now I'm thinking about safety knowing there is little visibility and I will be sailing the shipping approach area as darkness arrives. I experience another wind hole when approaching the Lightship (please, no), then the wind filled in from the WSW. I chose to head north quickly and clear the shipping channel as fast as possible, and to hopefully catch some early flood which fills from the north first when approaching the Golden Gate.
I finally made it to the north side of the channel clear of the ships (just in time too, as I was hearing the big horn every minute, and close by!). At 8:30 p.m., I called home: "Honey, I won't be home for dinner. I'm committed to finishing the race at this point, maybe by midnight."
Now wing on wing, with no visibility in the gathering dark, I'm feeling lonely, but moving at five knots – a perfect Saturday night date with Jarlen. Watching the chart plotter now, approaching Pt. Bonita, I think I hear the surf. Oh shit! A red light is approaching on my starboard site, 50 feet up in the air! I turned the boat hard to starboard, passed behind a shadow of a spinnaker, then the red light turned to white. I was unable to identify the boat, but they quickly jibed and started heading the same direction. All I could see was the white light, but we are passing Bonita to port now, and the other boat provides something for me to follow (their course looks good on the chart plotter).
I love the sound of the big fog horn on the South Tower – it is a great welcome home!. I listened to VHF channels 12 and 14, and heard no ships reported, so I was gaining comfort for sailing across to the South Tower. Finally, the fog lifted, the wind increased, and under the bridge we went. The South Tower demon welcomed me with a mild wind gust which gave me a nice little surf.
Following a few boat lengths behind Xpression, Jarlen finally finished. Boy, was I sore, hungry, and tired. Hopefully I don't get called in for a boat inspection. Yes, they don't make the request!
Jarlen sailed non-spinnaker. The fact that I was able to finish competitively among very well-sailed spinnaker boats, boat for boat no less, made the sail that more satisfying. Thanks Dr. Bob for letting me borrow your boat!
– Jeff Dunnavant, J/35 Jarlen
Jeff was the first (and only) finisher in the Non-Spinnaker division, and third overall after Greg Nelsen's Azzura 310 Outsider and Dirk Husselman's C&C 110 Xpression. Brian VanderZanden's Hobie 33 Turbo Camper, just back from the Singlehanded TransPac, and Tom Condy's Schumacher 52 Cinnabar were the only other finishers.
The Singlehanded Sailing Society normally runs the Singlehanded Farallones Race in May, however this year it had to be rescheduled to due the Coast Guard's 'stand down' of ocean races following the April 14 crash of Low Speed Chase on SE Farallon Island. Lots of people sail in the race who will never cross an ocean solo, but the SHF serves as a stepping stone to the Singlehanded TransPac. Results can be found at www.sfbaysss.org. Trophies will be given out at Oakland YC on Wednesday, August 22. Everyone's welcome to come hear the winners talk about their race!