Sunday, November 13, 2011

Return to Tomales!

A few weeks ago I went for a sail on Tomales Bay. It’d been eleven years since I last sailed there and I really was looking forward to the chance to explore this beautiful body of water. About 15 years ago, a couple of us spent a few weeks exploring the hills and valleys all around Tomales Bay and I really enjoy the feel of the area. It’s a bubble of timeless charm (to me it feels like it’s locked in a sort of Steinbeckian era of ’30’s-’50’s.)

So I was all revved-up to take the Super Skipjack up and enjoy the Autumn warm which follows the foggy Central California summers, usually. Unfortunately, the Fates decided to send a storm in that weekend. I tend to think of our boats in nice weather, as they were designed for, enjoying a warm and mellow afternoon. Normally, I’d scrub the sail in this kind of weather and wait for a nicer day, but I’d booked an hotel room and the forecast called for light showers, so I thought “What the heck; I’ve got gear—let’s try it out!”

To watch a short video from the day’s sail, click on this link:

It was pouring rain as I drove out toward Tomales Bay, but had backed off to just breezy and misty, with low clouds and fog shrouding the hills on either side of the fjord-like bay. The little island in the middle, Hog Island, was slipping in and out of the mists all afternoon!

I should have reefed before launching, but I didn’t think to, so as soon as I got sailing I realised I’d better tip-toe out to a good ways in the middle of the bay and then heave to and put in the reef. This was the very first time I’d sailed one of our boats with a reef in, but I did do a dry-run in the driveway to get an idea of how I liked things tied off. The whole process was straightforward enough, if loud (but a loud sail isn’t causing trouble, just flapping around.)

The boat handles great with a reef in, still nicely balanced and quite fast. I sailed along for a couple of hours of dark, mysterious fun, imagining I was in Norway or something with the half-visible shores and dark waters. Rain was coming down pretty well: A steady rivulet off the sail and I had to sponge out the cockpit floor a couple of times. Fun though!

As the afternoon rolled on, it got cooler and drier, and started blowing a bit more. I was knocked down once and dipped the boom tip in the water sheeting out. The next time I just couldn’t sheet out enough and had to throw off the jib. That brought the boat right up, both more level and the bow into the wind nicely. Another good lesson learned, to keep an eye on not overpowering. At that point, it was blowing pretty hard so I dropped the jib (the teeny spyderline downhaul I set up worked great and kept the jib down, which was certainly desired!)

I sailed for a bit longer to feel how the SuperSkipjack does on the main alone (albeit reefed) and it seemed fine. I didn’t notice any odd habits and have really gained a lot of confidence in the boat. I knew it worked well, and would be fine, but actually testing it for one’s self is another matter. The rig performed perfectly, nothing broke in heavy loads, and the hull handled great!

I eventually realised it was getting a bit late and I was starting to get ready to go warm up, so I made my way back to the launch ramp (unfortunately a downwind ramp with pretty big chop by then, so the boat suffered a bit at the dock while I got the trailer in the water, but it’s a boat: It’s supposed to get banged up!

As it turned out, the day was much wetter and breezier than anticipated, but it turned in to a really enjoyable day, nonetheless! And I learned a lot...

I learned that the rain gear I had is really effective and comfortable, that sailing in marginal conditions is really satisfying, in an odd way, that double-checking one’s preparations is a very good idea (I managed to forget the small duffel bag with spare parts, tools, and the compass—All things I should have had with me and which I very possibly could have needed. Not so cool to have them safely tucked away in the car.)

The extra care I took in setting up the boat before hand, making sure the lines lead the way I wanted them to, that everything ran free and worked pretty much the way I wanted them to, practicing reefing once—All that paid off when it was getting more and more blustery.

I stayed in the area and there are several choices of B&Bs and hotels in the area. There is a boat-friendly one with a launch ramp in the amazingly cute town of Inverness which might be handy, but I didn’t try that one. I launched from Nick’s Cove, up near Marshall. That’s a really nice spot, with good parking and Hog Island’s right offshore!

I can comment on two food spots: The Olema Inn and the Pine Cone Diner. I had an excellent soup, salad, and glass of local red at the Olema Inn’s bar. Pricey, but really good! I had fond memories of the Pine Cone Diner and hoped it was still on: It certainly is! I had the best breakfast burrito I’ve ever eaten...The ambience is perfect and the food I had was amazing. Thanks, Pine Cone!

Overall, I had a great time and am really looking forward to more sails in Tomales Bay, in nice conditions or otherwise! It remains just as lovely, timeless, and magically remote-feeling as it had seemed over a decade ago.

To get started exploring Tomales Bay and the many wonderful areas around there, click on the link below:

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