Archive for the ‘San Francisco’ Category

Anchors Astay

Clark July 18th, 2009

The saga began when I took friends out for the day on Condesa for a sort of bachelor party for John Caron. We anchored behind Angel Island, right off the ruins of the old quarantine station, and had a barbeque.

When it was time to go I went to pull up the anchor and it was fouled. I pulled in all directions with Condesa and tried every trick in the book. After forty-five minutes we had an additional hundred and fifty feet of chain hopelessly fouled and it was getting dark. I dumped all 300-feet of chain and marked it with a buoy.

Apparently I’m the last one to know. Every cruising guide on San Francisco Bay says never to anchor in this spot because it is a notorious anchor-eater. I called the Angel Island rangers and they were quite cool about leaving ground tackle and buoys in their state park on a temporary basis.

We returned two days later, again with a bit of a party for a barbeque, and anchored Condesa nearby. We launched the dinghy and my brother Jim and I set out to recover the anchor. I donned snorkeling gear and my very warm wetsuit for the 48-degree water, while Jim did the heavy lifting from the dinghy.

To be read with a Jacques Cousteau accent:

Following the chain down into the depths, the last of the light disappeared at twelve feet. Below this was only darkness. The murkiness of San Francisco Bay makes the visibility just a few inches. My dive light was useless, and I could only see its light underwater if I pressed it against my mask. Upon reaching the bottom, at a depth of 25-feet, I was in a cold, dark, formless world, where my eyes were useless, but my other senses would become more acute.

I made about twenty dives over two hours, hyperventilating and holding my breath each time. After the first or second dive I came up and said, “It’s wrapped around a mushroom-shaped rock!” Then a few dives later I said, “I think it’s a sunken boat. I can feel the bowsprit, and I think I fell in the hold.” Then after a few more times fumbling around on the bottom the truth was known: “Pilings! Piles of broken pilings!” Indeed, there must have been a large pier extending from the old quarantine station. Now the pier is in ruins, and the mish-mash of broken pilings makes an anchor trap for the unwary. With each dive I got better at orienting myself, but feeling one’s way in total darkness, 25-feet underwater, in a big pile of pilings, is a little disorienting and unnerving. The flashlight was useless in the best of times, but I tried pressing it to my mask to see if it was working and it was half full of dark, muddy water, as was my mask. The chain seemed to be wrapped around one particular piling, and after many dives and over an hour of trying, there didn’t seem to be any hope…and it was getting late.

We got back to Condesa and everyone was happily barbequing away and drinking beers. I felt like I’d been to another planet. My ears were clogged, my eyes were more sensitive to light, and I was generally chilled and disoriented. People kept asking me questions, but I still had my hood on and couldn’t hear a thing. I’d been a blind and deaf man for the last two hours, and recovering my senses was a slow process. Andrew had been manning the barbeque and chumming the water with raw bloody meat the whole time, which is always nice to find out after you’ve been diving.

So there stayed my anchor and chain, floating with it’s little orange buoy. It was about $2000 worth of gear, and not to be left behind lightly. Hiring salvage divers would be expensive, and fraught with complications, like how would we get 800 pounds of recovered gear from their boat into mine?

Act 3: Another week later, we returned again. This time my friend Roger (above with his wife Laura on their boat) was a star in renting scuba gear for me and meeting us at the dock in Tiburon. Once again Jim did the heavy lifting from the dinghy and I went in with the scuba gear, which completed the whole spaceman going into the unknown motif. Roger also got me a brand new dive light, which was totally useless in zero visibility. Once again we made a day of it, and left eight or ten friends partying on Condesa nearby.

The scuba gear allowed me a lot more time on the bottom for assessment and contemplation. The chain was indeed looped around a horizontal piling, and after feeling this piling up and down, it seemed an impossible situation since neither end of the piling was off the seabed. I braced my fins against-whatever is down there-and tried to move the piling. It wouldn’t budge. I thought about it some more, and figured that the piling moving was the only possibility, so once again I grunted to move it. It did move, albeit very slowly because it was stuck in the muck on the bottom of San Francisco Bay. Finally, there I was in total darkness and zero visibility, standing in the muck, holding a 500 pound, 18-inch diameter, barnacle-encrusted piling on my shoulder…which I could easily drop and hopelessly pin myself to the bottom. I got the chain unwrapped and gave the signal to Jim to pull up chain, which was two sharp yanks, or was it many repeated yanks? The yanking got confusing for both of us, and more chain kept falling on my head.

I went to the surface to report the good news and sort out the yanking. Jim pulled in another hundred feet of chain and we got to the original snag. I went down again and could actually see a little before stirring up the silt. The anchor itself, my 45-pound CQR, was wedged under yet another piling and quickly freed. Jim pulled it to the surface and we were now in a very overloaded little 8-foot dinghy with 800 pounds of anchor and chain, scuba gear, and two grown men.

We returned to Condesa like conquering heroes. Once again I felt a veil of distance between me and the earthlings barbequing on Condesa. I was only down for half an hour this time, but it might as well have been a lifetime.

The next day I went to return the scuba gear and the guy at the dive shop had a good laugh and let me know, once again, that I wasn’t the first to lose an anchor at this particular spot. In fact, he said the spot would yield some pretty good hunting for a little amateur salvage operation.

Speaking Schedule

Clark April 8th, 2009

I’m scheduled to give three talks at the Strictly Sail boat show at Jack London Square in Oakland next week. You can click here for complete information.

My gigs are Wednesday, April 15th at 6:00PM in Tent C; Friday, April 17th at 3:15 in Tent A; and Sunday, April 19th at 11:45 in Tent E.

I’ll be doing a slide show and regaling the crowd with fascinating anecdotes and invaluable information.

Hope to see you there…

Apocalypse or Bay Cruise?

Clark February 3rd, 2009

Everything I read these days seems to be either about great hope (Obama as messiah) or apocalyptic despair (the financial crisis). When I read about the former I think about my new life on shore and the good things it may bring once I move beyond underemployment. San Francisco seems a prosperous place, and my girlfriend just bought a house. Let’s call this the optimistic plan.

When I read about the latter I’m glad I’ve still got Condesa.

There’s been a lot of mention of sailboats as liferafts to escape the death spiral, and not just from the lunatic fringe. Or perhaps in light of the crisis the fringy are having their day. I’ve read mention in both The New Yorker and The Economist lately. An often cited work is Dmitry Orlov’s The New Age of Sail, if you’ve got an hour to spend. In The New Yorker he’s quoted,

“We don’t have a long wait before sail-based transport is the only option. In the future, I expect coastal property owners to get downright excited when they see any sailboat, whether it looks fashionable or not, paddle out their leaky canoes, and try to barter jewelry, silver cutlery or pretty seashells for the things they desperately need.”

Mr. Orlov lives on his sailboat. He is Russian and survived the collapse of the Soviet Union by bartering a trunk full of vodka when rubles were worthless, so he might know what he’s talking about.

Let’s call this the pessimistic plan, in which Condesa could be the most utilitarian way to ride out total collapse of petroleum, the monetary system, and the economy. I wonder how many ‘cruisers’ have set sail from Iceland lately?

The great thing is that in either scenario a sailboat is a highly coveted possession. If it’s optimism, nothing like a nice sail on the Bay with friends and colleagues after a hard week’s work once things pick up. If it’s pessimism, nothing like a sailboat to get away from the armies of desperate mutants who roam the earth fighting for the last remaining scraps of food, human flesh, and gasoline (see Cormac McCarthy, The Road) in a land slowly disappearing as the sea levels rise. Can’t sell a boat in this market anyway – not that I’d want to – so Condesa stays in the mix, for better or for worse.

Wine By Sail

Clark December 14th, 2008

After gallivanting around the world on Condesa for ten years drinking wine, it’s time to buckle down, get serious, and start working…at sailing around on Condesa drinking wine. If you followed my posts from a few months back, Condesa made some delightful trips up the Petaluma and Napa Rivers, into the heart of wine country and the idea of Wine By Sail was born. I could tell you all about it, but it’s probably better to leave it to the pros…wait, I’m a pro. You can check out our (very basic) website at and you can read our favorable press in leading wine industry magazine Wines and Vines.

People love wine and people love sailboats, so I think I’m onto something. Stay tuned!

On the writing front, I’ve got a six-page article on Colombia in this month’s issue of Yachting World. They allow limited access to the digital edition online. My article starts on page 94.

New Kid In Town

Clark October 31st, 2008

Looking at the image above, at the far left you will see Condesa towering over the other yachts at Pier 39 Marina. On the far right of the image you will see the new boat. All the finest yachts in San Francisco want to be at Pier 39 Marina, which goes without saying.

I’m always happy to help a newbie learn the ropes, but this guy with the new boat just won’t stop: How do I tie the fenders on? What does this thing do? Can you help me get my outboard started? How do I tie a bowline? What do I do when the wind gets strong? I guess we all have to start somewhere. Apparently Mr. Perkins has already decided that sailing isn’t for him, because the boat is for sale for 115 million Euros. Dilettante.

At nearly 300 feet Maltese Falcon isn’t even the largest sailing yacht in the world, just among them, but some say it is the fastest of the big boys. We can charter it for a paltry 350,000 Euros per week, with crew of eighteen, including gourmet chef, but not including food and wine. Somebody must have beat us to it, because she’s already gone…

Condesa Sails Under the Golden Gate

Clark June 17th, 2008

For the first time in ten years Condesa has entered a port with no plans of leaving. She’s in her new berth in San Francisco, which looks up at Coit Tower, and straight across the Bay to Alcatraz.

One of my most frequently asked questions is, “Which was your favorite country?” Lately my answer has been, “California.” I’ve said before that I always thought of Californians as angry people stuck in traffic. Maybe I was the angry person stuck in traffic. I was also expecting unspecified run-ins with the authorities. I guess my only experiences with Homeland Security and the like in recent years have been in airports, where they are less than kind. I figured that after being away for so long I’d be coming back to some hassles, but nothing could be further from the truth.

I already mentioned how nice, easy, and cheap it was to put into San Diego, but this same treatment continued on up the coast, and the California coast competes with anywhere for natural beauty.

In Newport Beach, my home port, of course I got good treatment. With a free dock in front of the Beek house and wholesale fuel at the family fuel dock, what more could I ask for? But even if I didn’t have connections, Newport is a friendly port with free anchoring and free moorings.

Condesa set sail from Newport with Panama and Peru veteran Tony Burger. We made an overnight sail to Santa Barbara to visit my brother Jim (aka Rufus) and a host of friends. We’d planned to anchor out, but it was rough as guts when we got there. We radioed the Harbor Patrol, who were sweet as pie and had us tie up to their dock while they pulled all the stops to accommodate us. We ended up in a great berth for $23 per day.

Tony left and Beloved Cousin Rocky took the train down from Santa Cruz:

Rocky and I motored out of Santa Barbara and out to the Channel Islands for a little cruising. We visited the Painted Cave, on Santa Cruz Island, which was very deep and dark, and had some very angry sea lions hidden in the back. We traded standing off on Condesa while the other went into the cave in the dinghy, as it’s too deep to anchor. After the Painted Cave we cruised around Santa Rosa and San Miguel Islands, both of which have very scenic and snug bays. We never saw another recreational boat in the Channel Islands (it was a Monday), just a few fishing boats.

Condesa from inside the Painted Cave:

Then it was around dreaded Point Conception, the second windiest place to Point Reyes on the California coast, but we had an easy time of it. We charged through the night to the protected anchorage at San Simeon, where we looked up at Hearst Castle. Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo are two other snug harbors, but we passed them in the night. The next morning the sky was brown and the sun a blood red orb. It’s California’s wildfire season again, and we could see the Big Sur and Bonnie Doon fires burning from well offshore:

From San Simeon it’s a long haul along the cliffs to Carmel, Monterrey, or Santa Cruz. We chose Santa Cruz, as it’s where Rocky lives. We could see the headlights on the cars winding along Highway 1 all night long. Once again the Harbor Patrol in Santa Cruz was eager to please and we got a snug berth in the harbor, this time for $27 per night, where we saw this guy, a California Sea Otter, snoozing in the marina:

Case in point: One can cruise the California coast at a leisurely pace in total comfort. Where there aren’t beautiful natural anchorages there are bustling ports with reasonably-priced berths for transient yachts. All of these ports jack the price up if you stay more than a few days, which makes good sense to me. With the exception of the stretch between Monterrey and San Simeon, it’s all daysails. The next time I go cruising it might be a month’s sail from San Francisco down to Newport and back, combining haut cuisine in California’s ports with remote beauty on her offshore islands.

From Santa Cruz to San Francisco was an historic voyage with cousins Rocky, Joe, and Joe’s daughter Abigail. Rocky is half responsible for this whole cruising odyssey mess, and Joe is responsible for the other half. I went cruising the first time with them on Starwake when they were returning from a trans-Pacific voyage to New Zealand and back. In the ‘About Me’ entry on this website I talk about being green with seasickness while watching a hammock full of vegetables rot and drip in the tropical heat above my bunk, while figuring out how to get myself out of this horrible, horrible error in judgment. Going with them was the horrible error in judgment, and look what it ended up doing to me. How fitting that it would all begin and end on a sailboat with Rocky and Joe, but I guess I’m looking for landmarks and significance in every little thing at this uncertain juncture in my life.

Joe and Abigail:

We had rare south winds most of the day and sailed past the Pigeon Point lighthouse and Point Pilar, home of the famous big wave surf spot Mavericks. (It wasn’t going off.) As we neared San Francisco the wind veered to the west and strengthened, and a flood tide screamed under the Golden Gate at three knots. My friends Elias and Jim were going to take pictures of Condesa going under the Golden Gate, but couldn’t get there in time. “Can’t you stall a bit?” I looked at the GPS, marking our speed at nearly ten knots, with the current accounting for three of it. “Um, no.”

We sailed right up to Condesa’s new marina, with various Beeks scrambling around to drop sails, and made our entrance…into the wrong place. But the wrong place was much more photogenic than the right place, so it’s good that Elias and Jim were there to photograph it. Once we’d entered the right place, we tied her up, had a celebratory shot of tequila, and Rocky, Joe, and Abigail set out for Santa Cruz by land. Condesa hasn’t moved a muscle since.