Since moving to San Francisco in 2010, we’ve have talked about sailing the Bay under a full moon. On March 15, 2014 we found the perfect night to do it: our winter projects were complete; the full moon fell on a Saturday; moonrise was just after dark; and the forecast promised clear skies and warm temperatures.
We left our slip in Sausalito at 4:30pm and sailed toward San Francisco in “shorts and T-shirt” weather. The breeze blew 15–20 knots and we broad-reached toward Alcatraz, watching the knotmeter hit 7, 7.5, even 7.7 at one point.
Pier 1½ was our destination, and we used the Ferry Building tower as our next range point. As we passed the Hornblower dock and their fleet of dinner yachts, we sighted Pier 1½ and a nice 50-foot space on the leeward side of the dock. We secured the boat and walked up the ramp toward the day’s next activity: a 6:15pm dinner reservation at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana.
The sun set and the moon rose as we ate. After dinner, we returned to the boat, bundled up, checked the running lights, and left the dock.
When we reached open water, the views took our breath away. To the south, the Ferry Building was lit up in all her glory. To the east, the Bay Lights had begun their nightly show. Dinner yachts ambled by and a freighter lurked beneath the Bay Bridge. Our boat’s white decks glowed in the moonlight. We hoisted the main and pointed the bow back toward Alcatraz.
My recent nighttime sailing experiences were offshore, where lights are rare and each one’s a mystery to solve. San Francisco Bay is the opposite — there are lights everywhere and it’s a challenge to focus on the important ones. After a few minutes, I had my bearings, and my friend Michael joined me in calling out recognizable landmarks and navigation markers.
We ghosted toward Alcatraz in building breeze. After clearing the city, a 10-knot wind made for easy upwind sailing. A 3-knot flood was running, so we passed the down-current side of the island and shivered at the former prison’s spooky nighttime appearance.
A wisp of fog appeared over the Presidio, but we still had clear skies over the Bay. Someone called out the Big and Little Dippers to the north and Orion to the west.
We entered the Sausalito channel and I asked everyone to watch for traffic. During the day, dinghies, kayaks, paddle boards, runabouts, work boats, and yachts of all sizes zig-zag the waterfront. But at 11pm on a Saturday night, we were alone in the channel.
Back in our slip at Clipper Yacht Harbor, Michelle and I said goodbye to our friends and promised to clean up the boat tomorrow.
The wisp of fog had grown, and it now obscured the Golden Gate Bridge. Around midnight, we fell asleep to the sound of foghorns.