I have never, in my life, seen a whale. I have probably seen an orca, and I have seen plenty of big sharks, dolphins, and just about everything else that enjoys the California coast, but I have never seen a whale. It is one of the major shames of my life, and I intended to fix it.

Ben Dove, an old childhood friend of Charles, and his good friend Reid, planned a weekend in the Bay during a trip of their own. Ben learned how to sail with Charles when they were 15 (but kept living in Flagstaff, so he claimed to be a little rusty). Reid was excited to learn to sail, and ready to be put to work!

So, when I came home Friday afternoon, off from work a little early, I arrived to find the boat already in great condition. We put away the groceries for the weekend, made sure everything was in place, then cast off.

Our plan was: Friday night anchorage in China Camp; Saturday, pick up Diana from shore then sail all day and dock in Richardson Bay; Sunday, out the gate before 8 a.m. with the goal of the Farallons, whale sightings, or both.

The wind was northwesterly and strong as we left the Berkeley marina, so we were able to take a long tack to nearly the Richmond Bridge. I took the helm around the breakwater, but once we settled into our tack we put Reid on it. He took to the helm quickly, and kept a good course. We enjoyed perfect wind, warm air, and yummy snacks. Just north of the Richmond Bridge, a dolphin swam right up behind the boat – less than 5 feet away – to play in our wake. Right as I remarked how fast it was swimming, it zoomed ahead of us, crossed to our starboard side, and then zipped away.

With the nice high tide, it was quick to pass through The Sisters, carefully avoiding the floating barges nearby, and head straight to China Camp. It took two attempts to anchor – the wind and the tide were strongly disagreeing, and we hung at a really odd angle. Charles and I are both sensitive to anchoring in China Camp, ever since we had to cut an anchor free on Duende in China Camp to prevent worse problems. Still, we got it on the second try, and immediately got ready to enjoy the water. The guys inflated the dinghy really quickly, and we attached the engine and headed for a quick trip around the anchorage. When we got back, it was time to swim.

We tied a float to the end of a line and hung it off the boat, as a marker to make sure nobody got too far from the boat after underestimating the tide. Reid was first in the water, and everyone else was quick to follow. The water was so refreshing, particularly after a hot day. We swam until the sun was beginning to set, then came inside and each enjoyed a quick warm shower. We all got onto the foredeck, showered and happy, to watch the sun set. As always, China Camp really turned up the colors for the sunset, and we all tried not to burn our retinas while taking as much of it in as we could.

Charles made dinner, his vegan peanut curry, and we had a few beers and played a few short card games before all falling asleep.

Saturday morning, we woke early and easily. Reid and Ben made my morning by making breakfast, avocadoes and all, and then cleaning the dishes! Charles took the dinghy to meet Diana on the shore. When they got back, and we finished breakfast, we quickly tidied the boat and got ready to go sailing.

We took our positions – Diana on the lines in the cockpit, Charles and Ben at the anchor, Reid at the mast, and myself at the helm. Charles and Ben started hauling, bringing our nose around. Diana pulled out the genoa, and Reid started raising the mainsail. We caught the wind perfectly, and sailed off the anchor without turning on the engine.

We sailed southeast, close hauled to the nearly straight easterly wind, making it easily around The Sisters to the East. We leisurely followed the wind towards the Richmond Bridge, making minor changes to the sails to adjust our course. Once we got under the bridge, we followed the wind. It took us around Alcatraz, which is always a crowd pleaser for visiting folks. We tacked up close to the Golden Gate Bridge, then let out our sails and shot down Raccoon Strait to Ayala Cove. There were a few dock spots available, so we pulled up for lunch. After lunch, a hike crew set out while I took a nap and tidied the boat.

After the hike crew got back, we headed to Schoonmaker. Ben and Reid, again some of the best boat guests ever, made pasta sauce from fresh tomatoes and herbs. Not only did they cook, but once again cleaned to spotless afterwards! We played some board games, but after a long day and with early plans the following day, fell asleep early.

Sunday morning, we were up at 6 and getting ready to go out the gate. Everyone was excited, and ready to see whales. After we cast off, as we sailed towards the gate, our VHF radio went off. “*static* whale concentration advisory *static*”. YES. Perfect. Just what we were hoping for.

Right as we went under the Gate, Ben turned green. We had not given anyone seasickness medication, and it was already too late. Ben sat, pretty motionless, for the next several hours. The day was cold and grey, with a relatively mild sea state – 4-6 ft waves at a 10-25 second period for the first few hours. We were all bundled, and decided to make a course for the Farallons. One by one, other crew members started to feel the seasickness. First Charles succumbed, and then Diana. The sea state had gotten a little choppier, but we were making good headway towards the Farallons. But still, not a whale in sight. Very few birds and dolphins also – just really not our lucky day.

After about 5 hours on the water, with Charles throwing up off the stern, Diana throwing up off the port side, and Ben still sitting motionless, we decided to skip the Farallons and turn home. We added the iron jib to get ourselves moving faster. Slowly, the fog started to wear off, and we could see land again. Diana cleared up, and she and Reid put together a small lunch. When we got back under the Gate, Ben was instantly himself again, and Charles started to feel better.

Once again, our VHF crackled, and this time it said “For whale concentration advisory, turn to channel **”. Damn.

By |2020-01-22T23:30:13+00:00June 17th, 2016|Catalina 36, Sailing|


  1. PETER VAN DER LOO June 15, 2019 at 8:49 am - Reply

    Btw the boat in which that I taught Charles and Ben was a J24, a fun boat to sail and an excellent teaching/learning boat for the Bay. Now we have mentioned another previous boat of mine but still not the Hughes 48.
    Was it really a dolphin you saw or was it a harbor porpoise?

  2. PETER VAN DER LOO June 15, 2019 at 8:42 am - Reply

    Good story. Sorry you missed the whales. Nice pictures.

  3. PETER VAN DER LOO June 15, 2019 at 8:39 am - Reply

    Good story. Sorry you missed the whales.

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