Coastal Passage Making: Skipper……. Club Nautique

We departed the Moss Landing Harbor and soon were upon the Moss Landing safe water mark. The fog had lifted sufficiently from the surface of the water but it was still overcast. We were en route to the harbor in Santa Cruz.

After some time, the fog returned and we no longer had sight of land. I was at the helm. Everyone else was down below in the cabin of the cockpit. Our instructor bounded up the companion way and anxiously alerts me to a fire in one of the sleeping quarters. Of course, there was no fire. It was a drill! The exercise was to determine if we could work together, as a team, to ensure the safety of crew and passengers, the integrity of the vessel, control the fire and extinguish it, prevent reoccurrence, and do any necessary repairs. At the helm, my first role was to sail the boat downwind so as to decrease the apparent wind and limit spread of the fire. The navigator would usually record our GPS location, collect logbooks and the emergency position locator, send out a Mayday, and be ready to launch the life raft with my assistance. The crew member position and the junior navigator are responsible for actually fighting the fire and ensuring that it has been fully extinguished and will not activate. All hands are available to assist in fighting the fire and launching the life raft if required. At the conclusion of the exercise we reviewed those emergency procedures necessary to launch the liferaft. I would recommend a review of these measures and procedures for all sailors and, especially, those on any CPM voyage with Club Nautique. The fire drill had not been practiced on any of my prior excursions. One never knows when the opportunity will arise to demonstrate preparedness or action for this potentially tragic happenstance.

At the conclusion of the drill, we estimated our position, with assistance of radar, and plotted a course to Santa Cruz. Shortly thereafter, our instructor threw something over the side of the boat. Our life ring was now 30 feet behind us calling for rescue! No rest for the weary! Each of us had our turn in demonstrating our ability to maneuver under sail to recover a surrogate crew overboard. We emphasized the Quickstop method of recovery. After multiple loops or whatever you wanna call our scribes and drift across the surface of the ocean we, again, estimated our position and set sail for Santa Cruz Harbor.

The approach to Santa Cruz Harbor is nice. My only caution about sailing into this area is that you should avoid planning entry if there is a significant southern swell because the waves will break at the harbor entrance and that might be a problem depending on wave height, wave speed, tide, and other factors such as wind. Further, one must be aware of the fact that there is a lot of traffic in and out of the harbor. Our entry into the harbor was uneventful. The skipper asked me to demonstrate that I was able to dock with a side tie and I did so. Thereafter, we maneuvered the boat to a side tie dock that had been assigned to us for the night. We secured the vessel and then, after period of rest, walked to the Crow‘s Nest Restaurant and had an excellent meal. The restaurant and bar overlooks the harbor entrance. It was great to have the opportunity to see the vessels coming and going while we enjoyed our food.

The night on the boat was uneventful. I am reminded to share that Pavel and I had decided for the entire journey, at the conclusion of every day and at the beginning of every morning, we would hold a meeting with our crew. The evening meetings were to review the events of the day, discuss problems, address any crew members concerns and suggestions, and everyone was given an opportunity to discuss what they had learned about sailing during the day. The morning meetings were to review crew member responsibilities, expectations, discuss the sail plan for the day, the navigation plans, check in regarding the weather, and to answer any lingering questions. We felt that these meetings facilitated our working as a team, improved or maintained morale, and solidified our educational experiences. Our instructor indicated that he felt that it was a brilliant decision to hold these meetings and also found them to be rather useful.

Following breakfast, we prepped the boat and were soon on our way to our next destination…..Half Moon Bay’s Pillar Point Harbor. Our plan was to sail westward over a certain distance on a predetermined course to an imaginary waypoint in the ocean then to turn northwestward and follow the coast. I reviewed our plans while underway with the navigator who told me that our waypoint was it a certain depth. The plans had been revised after our morning discussion and, as skipper, I wanted to be updated. The depth that he provided to me did not make sense. He was recommending that we turn north westward in shallow water! I don’t recall the actual figure, and the charts are on the boat so I can’t review them, but it was between 10 to 16 feet in depth at our waypoint when we were to make the turn. Depth is really important because it is another source of information that you can use to locate your position. We were already in water deeper than the depth he had mentioned and I knew it was only going to get deeper as our journey progressed. I asked him to show me the chart. He had the number right. But he didn’t read the designation on the chart label where it states that ocean depths were listed in fathoms. One fathom is 6 feet. So, he was off by a factor of six and we were going to be in about 60 or more feet of water when we were to make the turn. Big difference! He made a critical mistake in navigation.

We made our turn and sailed northwestward along the coast for a while. I usually prefer to sail about 2 to 3 miles out but the navigator wanted to sail closer to land. That was fine with me. It did, however, require what is known as a danger bearing to avoid the reefs at Ano Nuevo State Park. I asked for a danger bearing and was provided one. This task gave him the opportunity to do one because we have to demonstrate an ability to prepare one for a skipper when we are functioning as navigator. The danger bearing provided to me did not make any sense at all. In fact, had I followed that recommendation we would’ve surely sailed into the reefs and then been dashed upon the rocks. Well. I’m being a little melodramatic. We could see well enough, Radar was functional, and we would have avoided a sailors death. The navigator insisted he was correct. I turned the helm over to Pavel and asked to see the charts. The instructor accompanied us because he wanted to see the work and understand why I did not agree with the navigator. Not only was the bearing incorrect but the instruction to sail “no greater than” or “no less than” was wrong. We remedied this situation and continued on our journey.

One of the mesmerizing aspects of our sail to HMB was in traversing a sea filled with jellies. There were millions of them. They were as big as dinner plates. Varied colors. Spectacularly beautiful. Shortly thereafter, we encountered a sea filled with crab pot floats. Not so beautiful! Dangerous! The sails were down because we had minimal wind and we motored through them without fouling our propeller. When it was clear that we were free of the crab pots the instructor threw the life ring back over the side of the boat and asked me to execute a a crew recovery under power. That went pretty well. Thereafter, we proceeded to the harbor. The wind increased the closer we got to our destination.

It didn’t take long to figure out what else our instructor might have in store for us. Pavel had forewarned me that he had a reputation for practicing power failure. At any rate, our instructor wanted me to stay at the helm. We were just about the entrance to the harbor when the instructor pulled the power back to idle and said “your engine failed.” I maintained a safe course between the two rock jetty boundaries under inertia and called for the mainsail to be hoisted immediately then recommended the position of the boom to take advantage of the prevailing wind so that we could maintain forward progress. We were back under sail power and were steering with the mainsail. I had to demonstrate that I could set an anchor for the boat using the sail as the only source of power. After the anchor was set we dropped the sail then discussed the things that one might do to evaluate the cause of engine failure.

Next, we lifted anchor and motored over to the docks where we each demonstrated our docking abilities. After period of rest we walked to the HMB Brewing Company where we treated our instructor to dinner. The night was uneventful. We were all tired so we slept very well.

Our vessel docked at night in Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay.

After breakfast, we had our usual informational and planning meeting. The boat was prepared for departure. It was foggy. I wasn’t satisfied with our plans to get back out in the ocean. I asked the navigator to revise them. Before we left the harbor, we practiced motoring around with directions given from below by a crew member in the cabin reading radar and providing steering instructions to the person at the helm under the assumption that the person at the helm couldn’t see anything at all. This is always a great exercise and I recommend practicing it in the radar clinic offered through Club Nautique. Be prepared!

I was presented the navigation plans after we exited the harbor. The navigator had us sailing over the reefs just south of pillar point. The waves always break in this region. In fact, the drop off and the reefs on the ocean floor are what contributes to the Mavericks that attracts surfers from around the world during our winter. Death by sailing. Not interested. I indicated on the chart the course that I wanted to arrive at a particular buoy and that was calculated and provided to me. From that buoy we elected to reach to 3 miles out so as to empty the holding tank of waste products. One has to be 3 miles out to do so and to be in compliance with federal regulations. After that task was completed, the navigator provided a course to bring us to the second set of buoys at the shipping lane outside the Golden Gate. I normally would sail farther from coast, especially, because there is an underwater bank in this region that magnifies the swell. If the swell and the wind are great the waves can break endangering a sailboat. However, the swell was small and I wasn’t too concerned about the provided course to steer.

I must preface the next paragraph by saying that I have spent my life teaching others medicine. I enjoy teaching sailing, too. I like to find out limits to knowledge and help people progress beyond those limits. I think it’s important to learn from our mistakes. They often provide some of the best learning opportunities. However, just as at the bedside, or in the classroom, or on a sailboat, there will be failure. We, as students, must be held accountable and especially when lives are at stake. Our instructor joined me on the helm. One of the crew members was asked to retire to the cabin. I was asked to provide my opinion as to whether the navigator had performed sufficiently well to pass and to plan his next sail as skipper. I had to be honest. If I were not, or if my opinion differed from that of the instructor, then my suitability as skipper would be called into question. I really liked the guy. But. Leadership has to take precedence. I indicated that he had clearly put the boat in serious danger on two separate occasions followed by a third occasion where he read the depth in feet instead of fathoms. Further, he did not do a reasonable job with the preparatory work prior to the sail, submitted his navigation plans at the last minute, and was not very adept at revising plans while underway. I recommended that he not pass as navigator. I felt that he had the knowledge and the skills but he just couldn’t employ them in a live setting. I was asked to provide an opinion about the junior navigator. I indicated that the junior navigator had already stated that he wanted to repeat his position because he did not feel ready to take on the role of navigating a sailing vessel during a CPM. The instructor felt that was wise and we offered our respect for the individuals presence to self evaluate his abilities.

We were nearing the shipping lane outside the gate. Our sail was nearly complete. The instructor and I were the only ones on deck. About a half mile out from the lane I interrupted our conversation to indicate that I needed to ask the navigator for the course change we were to make just south of the lane. The navigator was in the cabin and it was clear that he was preoccupied with his cell phone. The instructor asked me to leave him be and indicated that he should know where the boat is at all times and he should be aware of an impending course change. He wanted to see when the navigator would assume his responsibilities. As we came to the shipping lane I indicated that I felt, as Skipper, that I should call my navigator to action. The instructor suggested that, since there was no inbound or outbound vessel traffic, I should maintain course until the navigator decides to rejoin us. We crossed the lane at a right angle and were probably a quarter of a mile north of the lane when the navigator came on deck and asked, “Where are we?” Our instructor replied, “That’s what we want you to tell us.“ The navigator exclaimed, “We are north of the shipping lane. You were supposed to turn before we crossed!” The instructor indicated that the navigator was not paying attention and that it was his job to know where the boat is at all times and to tell us when to make the course change. I asked him to estimate our position and to provide me a new course to the SF Bay. He provided a course to steer that, clearly, was going to run us into Point Diablo. More death by sailing! I asked for a corrected course that wasn’t any more safe, and so, I sailed back into the gate by visual navigation.

One of the well defined responsibilities of a navigator on CPM is to inform the skipper and the instructor when we cross a line of demarcation that separates inland from international regulations regarding navigation rules. As we crossed the line I notified the instructor regarding the change in our subjective nature to the rules. His response was, “ Let’s see how long it takes your navigator to inform us.“ Once we crossed under the bridge and into the bay the instructor exclaimed, “I’m still sailing under international rules.“. The navigator replied “No you’re not!” The instructor stated, “Your skipper has not been advised otherwise.”

We sailed through the Bay, along the city front, under the Bay bridge, and toward Ballena Bay where one of the two Club Nautique facilities is located. I had little experience sailing into the harbor. I was dependent on our navigator. He provided good advice and the instructor set up a visual range for me to determine my port turn to harbor. The wind was 7 knots. The turn toward the harbor was to a dead downwind point of sail. I headed up a little and sailed a deep broad reach. This course would require a gybe at some point. The goal was to avoid an accidental gybe. Though a flood was in progress, the tide was still out and the water was a little more shallow than I was comfortable with given that I did not know the seabed in that region. I called for the headsail to be furled and for the boom to be centered and then the mainsail furled. Just as the boom was about 1 foot from being centered, with the headsail already furled, the boat gybes. Barely. It was a two foot swing of the boom. But the wind crossed over from one side of the stern to the other. I had not changed direction and was close to my original deep broad reach. The wind had shifted. I used the F-word. The instructor asked if I had an idea as to what had happened. I told him that I was fairly certain the wind had shifted and I didn’t have the headsail as an indicator that the stern of the boat was near going through the wind. He remarked that at least the boom was near centered and that there were no consequences. He asked me if I felt that I would’ve accidentally gybed had we been in significant wind and there was a wind shift. I told him that I felt it would be unlikely as the headsail would have been flying, winking if the gybe was impending, and I would have felt more of the wind. Sailing downwind in the 7k kn of true wind, the apparent wind is so light that you almost don’t perceive wind at all so you lose that reference. I suspected that I would fail the sail as skipper do to the gybe but our instructor must have been satisfied with my observations and explanations as I passed with compliments.

We made it into the harbor and then Pavel and I were required to demonstrate that we could back the boat in the slip. We completed those tasks satisfactorily. Next, we offloaded our gear, put the boat to rest, and checked out with our instructor to complete our excursion.

In all, we accomplished approximately 230 nautical miles of sailing. We had a great time over the five days of sailing together. I still relish the opportunity to have had the experience to sail on a single journey first as navigator, and then as skipper. It was great to learn that I can spend an extended period of time on a sailing journey. Granted, getting off the boat for dinner on three consecutive nights was a real treat but I think I would’ve been fine had we been required to anchor and stay on the boat. There were mistakes made by everyone. We learned from these mistakes. I hope that you, too, by reading this account will have learned from our mistakes and can be better prepared for your own CPM journeys as navigator and skipper. The real highlight of the journey was to sail with Stuart Hunter. I felt that he was overly generous with his approach to teaching and I appreciated his dedication to teaching those things one must know to be prepared for some of the worst things that one can encounter while sailing.

The Bay Bridge

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