BLOG #8 – July 16, 2021
Full disclosure, a lot has happened in the last month so this blog is a bit longer than usual. So grab a glass of wine or a nice brown liquid and enjoy.
One of the things I haven’t done before this month is to row in true open ocean. I needed to row off the coast to assess how my training was coming along. Wanting to tip toe into it, I planned a training trip to Santa Cruz and rowed from there to Monterey. Since I still need get in more night rowing hours, I left Santa Cruz at 6 p.m. and rowed overnight. The first four hours were challenging. Instead of the usual westerly wind, I encountered a south-west wind. As such I had strong wind on beam to the point that I deployed a drogue to help stabilize the boat. A drogue is like a windsock and when deployed, it helps stabilize the boat but at the cost of slowing the boat down. For four hours, I struggled and pushed hard to maintain a mere 1 knot/hr.
After four hours, I took a 45 minute nap. I intentionally did not turn on the auto-helm, so I could see how the boat would drift. Of course, that just proved the value of the auto-helm as I needed to row a mile or so to get back on course. But when I started rowing again, the conditions had improved dramatically – wind had died down and sea was relatively calm. But fog had rolled in and there was absolutely no visibility. From 10 p.m. until 10 a.m. the next day, I rowed completely blind following just my instruments. I primarily relied on an app called Navionics. I used this app as I have it on my phone and can look at it while rowing on deck. My Garmin GPS/Chart Plotter is in my rear compartment and not as readily accessible. Throughout the night, I alternated rowing times and naps to experiment with what might work best for me during the race.
I encountered lots of wildlife – seals, dolphins, a juvenile shark and heard a whale blowing twice super close at 3 a.m. As I approached Monterey, I got to experience waves taller than the me and the boat. The boat did what its designed to do – just rose right up to the top of the waves like a cork. This row was huge success! Marianne was a great support and drove our truck and trailer down from Santa Cruz and was there to meet me as I came into Monterey Marina. And as a reward we had an awesome dinner at Monterey’s Fish House.
While I have all the allowable lake rowing training hours already logged. I really wanted to row on Lake Tahoe. Unfortunately rowing on Lake Tahoe isn’t as easy as rowing on Pyramid Lake or the SF Bay. Due to invasive species, all boats have to undergo an inspection before launching on Lake Tahoe. I finally found a window where I could undergo the inspection and row on the Lake. My first row was a short row but one with a very specify goal in mind – seeing if I could get back on the boat when in the water. During the row, I will need to get into the water every 7-10 days to scrape the hull of the boat. Since we don’t move very fast, stuff/critters build up fast on the hulls of the boat and most importantly slows the boat down. So it was important to know I could not only get in the water, but also get back onto the boat by myself.
One of the invasive species program rules is they seal your boat to the trailer and you can only launch with the seal intact. When you pull the boat out of the lake, they reattach the seal. So as long as you don’t launch the boat on another body of water, you can relaunch on Lake Tahoe without going through another inspection. Due the drought we are experiencing on the West Coast, the Sand Harbor boat launch will close before the end of July. So I decided to do a second row on Lake Tahoe – this time for fun. Cousin Amy agreed to paddle her SUP out from Kings Beach and meet me at Stateline Point. What we didn’t factor in was the heat wave. 90 degrees on the lake with no wind. Brutal!!! And neither one of us brought beer! Total rookies!!!
So now to the most recent row. We had been invited to show Jack Keane at the Sausalito Yacht Club’s movie night. Since I was down in SF Bay, I went for a training row and it did not go according to plan! I knew that each afternoon there was a small craft advisory forecasted. But was optimistic I could row to Angel Island from Safe Harbor Loch Lomond and back before the wind really kicked up. I was wrong! When I left Safe Harbor, winds were already steady 10 knots. I made my way to Angel Island but I knew it was taking longer than planned due to rowing against the wind. Mistake #1 – not turning around early enough. Of course, when I got to Angel Island, I discovered an oar lock had broken, so I pulled up to the dock and swapped out the broken oar lock. (I hope I don’t have to do this during the race as it won’t be easy in a rocking boat in open seas.)
Going back to San Rafael went fast, I was riding the flood current back up and the wind was coming from behind me. After I crossed under the Richmond-San Rafael bridge I was flying at 4.5-4.7 knots – almost twice as fast I can row the boat without current or wind assist. But this brought its own problems. I needed to turn west to head into Safe Harbor’s entry channel but this meant I was getting pummeled broadside by the wind and waves – to the point I could barely keep oars in the water. Which meant I was pushed north faster than I could turn into the channel.
Realizing I couldn’t get into the channel, I planned to get behind the two Marin islands flanking the channel and be out of the wind. But again, I got pushed out of their wind shadow. Mistake #2, not realizing true extent of my limitations. As Clint Eastwood says, Man has got to know his limitations. At this point, I should have just headed directly to McNear State Park and waited out the wind. Instead, I decided to try and get to the inner seawall and hoped I could row up along it out of the wind. So spent two hours rowing across San Rafael Bay only to discover the wind was actually stronger at the seawall and I had no hope of rowing up into it. Pivot #3, I decided to head to McNear State Park, but of course by this point I was too far north into San Rafael Bay to fight my way against the wind/current. Realizing the predicament I was finding myself in, I knew I needed to deploy my anchor. But as I was breaking out the anchor, chain and lines, I knew I had waited too long. Mistake #3. I realized I had only one option, intentionally beach the boat on Brickyard beach; in order to ensure it didn’t get pushed up against rocks on either side of the beach. I jumped back on the oars and headed to the beach!
Brickyard beach is a popular spot for kite surfers – especially on days like this. So got a lot of attention when I beached the boat. But they were especially helpful. One of them said we should look at the tidelog and figure out where we were in the tide cycle. Turned out we were at high tide when I beached the boat. So he said we needed to immediately refloat the boat and put it on anchor so when low tide came in, boat would be still floating. A huge shout out to the 4 kite surfers who assisted me!!! Low tide was forecasted for shortly after wind was supposed to die down and my plan was to wait out wind for 4 hours and row back to Safe Harbor.
Of course, tide dropped early and we didn’t notice it was dropping as fast as it was. Mistake #4. Boat was still floating but I failed to notice rudder was no longer moving. As soon as I noticed that, I tried to move the boat to no avail. The rudder was sunk about a solid foot in mud.
What to do??? Ironic part was I was only a mile away from Marina. So I walked back, got my truck and went back to our hotel. Drove back to boat at 1:30 a.m. when it was high tide, I waded/swam out to the boat. Wind was not quite as strong but still blowing directly into beach at 10 knots. Got on the boat and turn on navigation lights and ensured rudder was functional. Then got into water as I failed earlier to secure anchor retrieval line to cleat on rowing deck when we set the anchor. Mistake #5. Finally got underway at 2 a.m. and rowed back to Safe Harbor in middle of night. My trusted partner, Marianne, waited in the truck until she was sure I was really making forward progress, including doing a couple of loops on San Pedro Rd and then she met me at 4 a.m. at Safe Harbor as I finally got back to the starting point.
I could focus on all my mistakes but I am going to choose to put them in the learning bank and take comfort in the fact that through out it all, I managed to find ways to address the situation as it unfolded. And most importantly no damage (not even the gelcoat) to Jack Keane. Just a bruised ego. 😊
Well after the drama, our SF Bay Area trip was not complete. We had been invited to the Sausalito Yacht Club’s movie night. The Club was showing Row Harder – No Excuses, a movie about the Woodvale race (the predecessor to the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge). Idea was to also allow movie attendees to see an ocean rowboat in person. Not only did the Sausalito Yacht Club allow me to display the boat, but they also allowed me to discuss the row and our cause, Okizu. The attendees engaged me in a lively Q&A session too. A huge thank-you to Tom Kowalski, Jr. Staff Commodore, for facilitating our participation and their hospitality.
It’s been an emotional month but lots of progress has been made. If all goes to plan, our next blog should have just as much to share.