Full of hope, I hauled in the sea anchor on Tuesday 16th October and set off for the Farallons at 6AM.
It was still dark, but the black was starting to mute into lighter shades of grey. Mount Tamalpais and the Marin Peninsula were etched onto the horizon as San Francisco woke up with the sun.
As orange light radiated into the sky, a breeze began to ruffle the water’s surface and my speed dropped. Wisps of fog snuffed out the Farallon Islands behind me. Then the Golden Gate Bridge was gone.
I decided to row on.
A strip of blue sky appeared over the Farallons, but minutes later the blue was smudged out. The air became chilly and damp. I battled with self-doubt, fear of having to end the record attempt, but I never stopped rowing. I rowed in silence, listening for ships.
My visibility was a few hundred feet, then a bit more, maybe half a mile, then back to barely being able to see the end of my nose. Sometimes the swell seemed to rise up into a grey wall of water and I felt a wave of panic. Focus on the compass I told myself.
Suddenly I looked behind me and SE Farallon loomed out of the fog. The proximity! The size of the rock!
The fog came back down and all I could see was where the rock met the sea, white water, luminous, whiter than white.
I smelt the bird poo first. An intoxicating whiff of gull shit. Then there was the sound. Like a waterfall, water crashing against rock and cries, animal cries, sea lions screaming at each other. A whale with a speckled back, broached twice beside me. I found comfort in that.
I rowed closer, working my way round the bottom of the island. My depth sounder charted my proximity to Seal Rock. I was careful to stay in deep water.
The wind died completely, the sea mellowed and the surface rolled like molten glass. This was my window to get clear of the island. There would be no lunch break. No afternoon nap.
I picked up my pace.
I went for it.
Short burst breathing told me a school of dolphins were nearby. They were big dolphins, with markings I hadn’t seen before. The school seemed in no hurry to pass me by.
I rowed out of the fog towards the Middle Farallon Islands. Rowing out of the fog also meant rowing into breeze, upwind and for an hour or so I struggled on, but making a reasonable speed. My concern was, where to spend the night? If I cleared the Northern Farallons and the wind picked further as forecast, I would be upwind of the islands and so on a dangerous lee shore overnight. Strategically, the right decision was to stop SW of the Northern Farallons where I had enough room to drift downwind on sea anchor and a bail-out option between the islands if things got nasty.
I deployed the sea anchor around 3:30PM.
There was tension on my anchor retrieval line. Something was amiss with the anchor, but I didn’t have the energy to haul the anchor back in and redeploy. I lost 0.25 miles per hour in the first 3 hours. Worst case, I would lose 6 miles overnight.
Anchored between the jagged fangs of the Northern Farallon rocks and the SE Farallon Island, felt like a very wild place. Los Farallones, means quite literally, fangs or the devil’s teeth.
That night I was in the mouth.