I looked out my kitchen window at 6AM and saw fog. This wasn’t unexpected. The weather was, essentially, unstable.
The forecast for the Farallon Islands was good, great even. The question was, could I get away from the clutches of land to take advantage of it?
My row to the bridge was more arduous than I would have liked. The tide was starting to go out, but barely at 08:30AM and there was a stiff breeze preceding the fog.
As I started to accelerate under the bridge, I was annoyed at myself. Annoyed for not postponing when I knew. I knew the night before that the weather window had evaporated and yet I led myself to believe that if I could just make it through the day, I could advance towards the Farallons at night.
Circa 30 miles to the islands, 10 miles to round them, 30 miles back. 70+ miles, 35+/- hours of rowing. A daunting prospect so close to land. When would I sleep? Would I be able to sleep? I wasn’t sure.
I felt the familiar reticence. Reticence this time, not fear, of venturing out into the unknown. I came up with an analogy. I was leaving my house and familiar landscape, to go beyond into a space which was nothing but white. Large steel ships move about in the white. I might get blasted by wind or rain, socked in by fog or nuked by hail. But if I look backwards, I told myself, there is a yellow trail of dots on blue canvas, a path of digital breadcrumbs leading me back to the known. Like a spider descending by a thread, I can always retreat back to the web.
My phone pings with a text, a photo. I realise that my friend Mitch is high up on the hill side. I see his car. I hunt around the image looking for myself. I am a little spec. It’s strangely comforting this shared moment, my friend on the hillside only his car visible, me in my rowboat almost lost to the naked eye.
“I am going to go for a row and I am going to learn some things.” I reset my mindset. “And maybe, just maybe, I’ll be make progress to the islands later or tonight.”
I am in the stream for the outgoing tide and row fast past Point Bonita, past the lateral buoy (red, green, red) and into the white. The fog wind dies down and so I call Traffic on VHF channel 12 and call in my plan to row to the Farallons. “Give us a call when you reach the Sea Buoy” the Traffic controller says, “And we’ll give you an update on inbound and outbound vessel traffic.”
I never make it to the sea buoy.
The fog wind freshens and my course to SE Farallon is upwind. The tide is pouring out of the driveway (so named by me, as the area between Point Bonita and the Golden Gate) and so my course starts to bend towards the land. I decide to go with the flow and head up the coast towards Bolinas.
Boatspeed isn’t great, but it’s not bad, until I pass a line of spume, a foamy white snake from the land out to sea: the tide line. My speed halves. I row back to the other side of the line to see if I can use the last ounce of favourable tide to head out to the Farallons. Neither plan works. The tide has turned.
For a number of hours I keep rowing away from the coast. I am desperate for a nap and decide to deploy my sea anchor. Maybe I can rest until the tide turns, wait until the wind drops and move on at night. My boat spins stern into the wind, her favoured drift habit and so I opt to try something I haven’t tried before – deploy the sea anchor from the stern. What a mess! I lift up the rudder, but don’t remove the foil and quickly conclude that no part of the rudder should remain when the sea anchor is deployed off the stern. I was glad I tried this in lightish wind and in daylight. As I said, I went out to learn some things.
With the sea anchor packed away, I assess my options. The wind is not letting up. The marine layer being burned off by the sun is about to be replaced by another marine layer visibly advancing. My boat is trundling along by herself at 2 knots… back towards Point Bonita. The decision is obvious. Mission abort.
A trio of large dolphins play hide and seek with my GoPro camera as I row towards the Golden Gate. The sea breeze is strong, so strong that as I sweep under the bridge doing 5.5 knots, my hat takes flight and plunges into the gold-leafed sea glinting in the sun.
My blue sunhat is gone – the cherry on the icing of a day which didn’t quite go as planned.