Muddling Towards Golden Gate

They say you never forget the first time. For me, cruising offshore began back in 1976 onboard Azulo, a 20-year-old, 31-foot Mariner ketch. Three friends—Dave, Karl, and Allen—and I set out to follow the path of 19th-century writer Richard Henry Dana, up the California coast. A motley crew of four young sailors off sailing the high seas!I kept a journal during that first cruise,
Author:
Updated:
Original:

They say you never forget the first time. For me, cruising offshore began back in 1976 onboard Azulo, a 20-year-old, 31-foot Mariner ketch. Three friends—Dave, Karl, and Allen—and I set out to follow the path of 19th-century writer Richard Henry Dana, up the California coast. A motley crew of four young sailors off sailing the high seas!

I kept a journal during that first cruise, and I still have it today. “Until now,” I wrote, “my longest time at sea was a 10-hour sail from Oxnard to Catalina Island. I’ve been longing for a taste of real cruising and decided my first time should be a leisurely port-to-port crawl from Marina del Rey to San Francisco.”

michael_petrie

The first leg, to Santa Barbara, was a pleasant motorsail with the Channel Islands to our left and the rugged California coast to our right. But from Santa Barbara northward, the going became substantially more challenging.

We left Santa Barbara at dawn and sailed north toward Point Conception, which has been called the “Cape Horn of the Pacific” because of the heavy northwesterly gales frequently encountered there. If Point Conception was true to form, I’d soon be getting my first taste of heavy-weather sailing.

By 1900 we were definitely in the vicinity of Point Conception. The wind was over 35 knots, and the seas were growing. I crept cautiously out onto the bowsprit to furl the jib, perched over the bow like a figurehead as the boat plowed through the waves. One swell lifted me up, up, up to such a height that it seemed we were pivoting precariously on the boat’s transom like the fishing boat in the movie The Perfect Storm just before those onboard met their doom; another foot and the boat would certainly topple over backward, or so it felt.

The wave suspended me there for a moment, dangling in mid-air and clutching the bowsprit. All at once the boat came free-falling through the air with a crash. I was engulfed by water as the bowsprit stabbed into the ocean like a dart on a dartboard. Without my harness, I would surely have been pitched headlong into the turbulent seas. And this was only the beginning of our bout with Point Conception.

Dave took the helm, and I went below to get as much sleep as possible since it would take all night to round the point. That was a frightening experience. I’d never been seasick, but I felt the first pangs as I made my way around the cabin. Lying down with my eyes closed felt like being on a bad drunk with bed spins.

To take my mind off the bouncing world in which I was entombed, I thought about my girlfriend back home. As I entered that never-never land somewhere between consciousness and unconsciousness, I swore I could detect the sweet smell of her hair. I could see her face. I could hear her angelic voice speaking to me: “Mike.” First it came softly, like part of a fog-filled dream, then sharply: “Mike!” It was Karl shouting my name from the cockpit.

Karl was at the helm, cold and wet and more than ready for me to relieve him. Had I really been asleep for six hours? I sat up and was immediately thrown out of the bunk, crashing into the galley table with an awful thud. The noise awakened Dave, who mumbled, “Hey man, are you all right?” I assured him I was, though I wasn’t sure it was true.

Related

SF3300-Jean-Marie_LIOT

Boat Review: Jeanneau Sun Fast 3300

Though best known for its cruising boats, Jeanneau has long kept a hand in competitive racing with its Sun Fast line. The newest of these French-built speedsters is the Sun Fast 3300, which takes the place of the long-lived 3200. Design & Construction A collaboration between ...read more

03-200123_PM_MIAMI_31326_3065

U.S. Team Strikes Miami Gold

If there was ever a time for the U.S. Sailing Team, which has been experiencing a serious medal drought of late, to start peaking it would be now, with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics set to begin in July. Luckily, it appears the team, which has won only three Olympic medals since 2004, ...read more

shutterstock_1466239997

Charter: the Greek Isles

If there’s one charter destination that’s impossible to tire of, it’s Greece. This Mediterranean jewel is simply so large, so varied and so special it’s impossible to relegate it to just a single checkbox on a list. This past year a group of friends and I chartered from Navigare ...read more

IDECsport_180919_106-2048

IDEC Tri Breaks Tea Route Record

Francis Joyon and his crew aboard the maxi-tri IDEC Sport have set a new record for the “tea route” from Hong Kong to London of just 31 days, 23 hours, 36 minutes. In doing so they bested the previous record set by Italian skipper, Giovanni Soldini aboard the trimaran Maserati ...read more

DawnRileyforSAILmagazine

An Interview with Sailor Dawn Riley

The 2019 sailing documentary Maiden received rave reviews as a human-interest story that featured excellent racing footage and the heartfelt recollections of an all-female team led by then 25-year-old Briton Tracy Edwards. During the 1989-90 Whitbread Round the World race, ...read more

IMG_9978

Charter: More for Your Money

Though summer may not be when you typically think of escaping to a tropical island, it could, in fact, be the perfect time for a charter holiday. Despite popular perception, the Caribbean isn’t hot as Hades during summer. In fact, the highs vary by only about 8 degrees F ...read more

Riley-and-Elayna,-Sailing-La-Vagabonde

Sailing in the YouTube Era

At the risk of both dating myself and being accused of gross hyperbole, I will say this: it was a bit like 1964 when the Beatles first landed in New York. What I’m referring to is last fall’s U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis. Playing the role of the Beatles were not one, but two ...read more

Bill-Hatfield-copy-1024x665

Cruising: Solo Circumnavigators

There seems to be no age limit for solo-circumnavigators. Not so long ago we had Californian Jeff Hartjoy set a record for the oldest American to sail around the globe solo, nonstop and unassisted, at the age of 70. A few months ago, 77-year-old Briton Jeanne Socrates became the ...read more