If everybody had an ocean
Across the U. S. A.
Then everybody’d be surfin’
You’d seem ’em wearing their baggies
Huarachi sandals too
A bushy bushy blonde hairdo
Surfin’ U. S. A. – The Beach Boys
The first storm of the winter was coming.
The wind was picking up.
Late afternoon, Captain Mike towed me to the marina beside the Golden Gate Bridge. We wanted to get a headstart in the morning as the forecast for 5AM was 30 knots and heavy, driving rain.
Christian Agha is a Lebanese-born wedding photographer-turned software developer. He also happens to have an up-for-adventure personality and a wicked laugh! I met Christian at the Berkeley Marine Center and he agreed to take photographs of me surfing the storm.
At 3:30AM Captain Mike texted.
I’m pretty concerned with this rain and the ability for Christian to keep his equipment dry. 24 hour delay possible?
I’ve borrowed a dry bag and foul weather gear for Christian.
For his camera he has a waterproof housing. Still want to delay?
It’s your call… if you’re good I’m good.
We went for it.
I arrived at the marina at 4:30AM. The gate was locked. It’s never locked. I swung an arm and a leg round the fence and my hand slid on wet wood. Adrenaline shot through my body. My eyes darted to the water twenty to thirty feet below crashing against rock. I would hit mud if I was lucky. ‘You’re not going to fall’ I told myself, willing that to be the case. In another instant, I was inside the gate.
Captain Mike’s 20ft Whaler was bopping up and down at the dock, as was my rowboat.
I felt guilty for having got Christian and Captain Mike up in the middle of the night to go out into the maelstrom. I pumped out the bilges as I waited for them both to arrive.
The wind seemed to howl through the gate and into the marina. I wondered how we were going to get off the dock. The dock was in two parts and where it joined, a corner was sticking out. Our tow rope could snag there. There was a cleat half way. Our tow rope could snag on that too.
Needless to say, the tow snagged on both corner and cleat. The potential for catastrophe hung on a knife edge, in a moment now recorded onto my retinas, but my feet were still on the dock so I freed the line before jumping on my boat.
We were underway!
I settled in for the long wet ride to Point Bonita. There is nowhere sheltered to sit on my boat and so I had my balaclava, snood and a hat on, all fleece but wet. The front cabin offers some protection, but the sliding seat wants to slide so I tripod my legs to either gunwale.
Out the gate, we hit the ‘driveway’ as I like to call it, the funnel from the gate to Point Bonita on the north side and Land’s End on the south side. The tide was still going out and so 30 knots of wind running over 3.5 knots of tide… created a rollercoaster. Up up up we went, then crash into the trough with a bang, waves splashing over me. I worried my boat could take it. The freefall made my stomach lurch.
The sound signal of Point Diablo was getting nearer and I found this strangely comforting. We were, at most 30 minutes from the magic hour, when night fades to indigo.
‘Is the engine being engulfed or lifted up out of the water, prop spinning through air? I couldn’t tell. The 125HP outboard motor in the Whaler had started to gurgle-growl.
The next thing I knew, Captain Mike was bearing away to port. He was heading back. ‘Wait!’ ‘Stop!’ I fumbled around for my radio and found it’s battery dead. I had given my better radio to Captain Mike.
We were past Fisherman’s Cove when Christian called me on my phone. Thanks to Siri I could answer. The touchscreen of an iPhone even in a Lifeproof case, is inoperable when wet. “I want to row back!” Captain Mike slowed down. My boat was surfing faster than they were driving. I wanted to go surfing! Surfing’ U.S.A!
Captain Mike dropped the tow and I was on my own.
In the new daylight I could see the wind whipping the tops off the waves. It was wild out there!
Wind and tide spat me through the bridge as I wrestled with my latest experiment – the SheWee. I did not want to undress in the pouring rain, nor could I go inside to pee and abandon my boat near the Golden Gate. Either it was my fault for not purchasing the extra “medical extension pipe” or the SheWee was designed by a man. I was now wet inside and out, let’s just leave it at that!
“Would you be up for trying again tomorrow?” I called Christian. Captain Mike had dropped Christian off at the Presidio YC and so I aimed my bow for the harbour entrance. I rowed so hard I bust out into a sweat, but the wind and tide had me in it’s grasp and the breakwater was creeping up far too rapidly on my starboard side. ‘Abort Lia, abort!’ I bailed and cleared the headland.
‘Sausalito YC. That’s near. I will aim for their dock.’ I wanted to avoid needing a tow all the way from Sausalito in the morning. I could see Christian’s white SUV along the waterfront, but when I approached the Sausalito YC my hull speed was too great and the wind was carrying me like a sail.
I continued on through the squalls, up past downtown Sausalito. ‘Worst case, I get all the way up Richardson Bay and drop anchor.’ I begin texting via Siri to see who was around and might be able to help me dock at Liberty Ship Pier, while also directing Christian to its location. At 07:20AM my texts go unanswered.
There is a break in the wind! I turn left into my slip! And dock! Like nothing ever happened.
“Are you hungry?” I ask Christian when he finds me.
“Starving!” he says and so we head to the Lighthouse cafe for breakfast and to hatch our plan for tomorrow.
Captain Mike is the harbour master at The Cove in Tiburon, a luxury apartment complex with marina where I used to live.
I would like to say a massive thank you to both Captain Mike and Christian Agha for braving the storm.
Click here for Part 2.