…Second in a series from Fire up the Mains
Magellan called the Pacific Ocean Pacifico meaning “peaceful” – because, after sailing through the stormy seas of Cape Horn, his expedition found calmer water here. The Pacific is the largest and deepest ocean in the world. (Wikipedia)
After enjoying most of the afternoon cruising the San Francisco Bay, we arrived under the Golden Gate Bridge. The view from the water was awesome. All the crew looked skyward to appreciate this incredible engineering marvel. It was late in the afternoon on an October day and you could see fog just starting to set in. The effect was almost surreal, quiet and eerily beautiful.
But after leaving the bridge and entering an area called the “Potato Patch,” our peaceful cruise would come to an abrupt halt. The Potato Patch is a shallow reef at the mouth of the bay, part of a four fathom bank. It is 23 to 36 feet deep depending on the swell, and it runs a few miles at the entrance.
Ocean conditions can change dramatically with heavy fog. The wind freshens and the seas begin to churn. The ocean is no longer at peace. Entering the open sea, the Pacific was about to dish out a spanking that we would not soon forget.
The captain motored off shore five miles as he looked for calmer waters. He wanted to be clear of any rock outcroppings on this part of the coast. We managed to avoid the rocks . . . and that’s a very good thing. However, as we continued, the ocean got rougher and the wind grew stronger.
I was learning sea jargon and this particular condition was referred to as wind chop. This occurs when the height of the waves (swell) increases by as much as two to five feet because of how hard the wind is blowing.
Along with the crew, I didn’t have a clue but would soon learn what real wind chop meant.
It did not take long to figure out that we were on the receiving end of what the mighty, once-placid Pacific was serving up for our voyage south. Attempting to move about the salon or the enclosed aft deck was like trying to walk wearing a pair of roller skates. Tables, chairs, lamps and anything that wasn’t being sat on or tied down went flying.
The galley was not immune to the heavy seas. I heard it at first and then saw that the refrigerator door had been flung wide open, emptying its contents of beer and snacks into a messy pile on deck. Cans and bottles rolled first one direction and then another until they either banged against each other or were stopped by a bulkhead.
I crawled to the helm where the captain and five of the crew had found refuge. No one was sick yet, but many of us were on the edge. I was sure it wouldn’t be long. The earlier drinking was about to inflict some severe consequences.
The captain was handling these conditions much better than the rest of us. Offhandedly, he calmly admitted that the seas today were a little lumpy. LUMPY! WTF! I would hate to be out here if conditions went from a little lumpy, to lumpy or, God forbid, very lumpy.
Jokingly, I remarked, “Are we there yet?”
The captain responded that with our current speed of 7 to 8 knots, his calculations would put us at the mouth of Morro Bay in about 16 hours. HOLY SHIT! I can drive it in three to four hours depending upon the traffic, I thought.
Adding to the slow progress, when the captain took a break, one of us would take the wheel. This is not as easy as it sounds. As it turns out, there is more than a little skill and experience involved in maintaining a correct heading. The best any of us were able to do at the wheel was a zig zag course similar to what a merchant vessel did in WWII to avoid a submarine attack. We weren’t being attacked by anyone, but the sea itself was making up for it.
It was kicking the shit out of us before we had even reached our home port.
This was turning out to be a very scary start to the Papagallo Yacht Charter business. My confidence level, as a result of the shit kicking, was in the toilet. With some quick self-talk, I remembered that all confidence is acquired and developed. No one is born with confidence.
Certainly, mine would be under development on this trip. I was sure of it.
Next post: I CAN’T FIND A PULSE! WHAT?