A Change in Mood

Our own Captain Ray Wichmann writes a column for Bay Crossings.  We are happy to post this month’s article in our blog.  Please take some time to read his insightful article about Autumn sailing.




Summer (such as it was this year) has ended, and with it comes an inevitable decline.  With the sun no longer heating the Central Valley to triple digit temperatures, the pressure gradient between the coast and inland eases and the strong winds of summer, for which San Francisco Bay is so famous, abate. 


Summer sailing is often an adrenalin-rush experience.  At the end of the day, you find yourself mentally as well as physically tired.  You’ve been focused on your immediate surroundings:  the waves directly in front of the boat, the changes in wind speed and direction, nearby boats….  Everything is very direct, very intense, very NOW; it never lets down and forces you to remain alert.


As the wind decreases, so does some of that intensity of summer sailing.  San Francisco Bay is no longer the full-foul-weather-gear, spray-flying-everywhere, water-running-across-the-deck experience that is typical of summer afternoons here on the Bay. 


Instead, the sailing (and the pleasures derived from it) becomes more mellow.  With the wind speeds coming down, the foulies come off, and the decks dry out.  In fact, during the end of this September the beginning of October we’ve been sailing in shirt sleeves – and sometimes even short sleeves!  As the intensity of the sailing softens, other pleasures come to the fore. 


When sailing a well designed yacht, it is sometimes possible to balance the wind pressures in the various sails, lock the wheel and allow the boat to sail itself.  On the open ocean, with steady conditions (wind strength and direction constant) this can be done for days at a time.  Old time sailors were heard to say to the new hands, “Aye laddie!  See how she swims!”  We don’t have that kind of space here on the Bay, but the joy of balancing all the forces and ‘enjoying the ride’ (albeit for a shorter time) is one of the pleasures derived from the bay’s autumn change of mood. 


In the autumn, there is a lot less fog and more time to look around at this glorious sailing venue.  San Francisco is one of America’s most (if not THE most) beautiful cities – especially when viewed from the water.  (Another that comes to mind is Honolulu.  Sailing down the city front, you pass one street after another climbing up the hills, the twin steeples of St. Peter and Paul’s church in North Beach, Coit Tower crowning Telegraph Hill.  Turn your head and look northward and there’s Mt. Tamalpais rising above Sausalito and Mill Valley.  It’s all a beautiful, ever changing and rearranging panorama as you move across the water.  Those of you who ride the ferries understand just how marvelous the vistas from the water are!


Sometimes the visibility is so good on these cool, crisp autumn days that Mt St. Helena can be seem while sailing the Central Bay.  Mt St. Helena is at the north end of the Napa Valley, about 50 miles away.  Robert Louis Stevenson spent his honeymoon in a cabin on the southern flank of that mountain and the views from the summit are quite expansive.  Looking to the south and southwest from the mountain, you can see back down to the Bay, and out to the Pt. Reyes and the Farallon Islands.  To the east and northeast the Sierra are visible and sometimes Mts. Lassen and Shasta.  In fact, the views from all of the tall peaks surrounding the Bay — Mt. Tamalpais to the west, Vollmer Peak behind Berkeley, and Mt. Hamilton to the east of San Jose — are all worth taking in, to appreciate the beauty of San Francisco Bay and environs both from above and at sea level.