A Perfect Landfall

Making landfall is always one of the most anticipated parts of any passage.


Published: October, 2017


Making landfall is always one of the most anticipated parts of any passage. It could be the music, hula and flower leis that often come at the end of several weeks spent getting to Hawai’i. Or it could mean pulling into warm and sunny Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor after a cool, foggy and very bumpy afternoon ride down the San Mateo coast from Pillar Point Harbor. Or it could simply be a cold beer in the cockpit after returning to your slip from a daysail on the Bay.


It can also be somewhat less pleasant. On a number of occasions, I’ve been greeted with, “Sorry, but you can’t tie up here!” I remember struggling with the French paperwork on St. Barts. (For instance, I knew that nom meant name, but did the form want my name or the boat’s name?) And there were those Greek officials on Mikonos directing me to the new yacht harbor, which was now located three miles from the town center.


Here though, I’d like to tell you the tale of one of the very best landfalls I’ve ever heard of.


It all started one Saturday afternoon at OCSC Sailing, the Berkeley Yacht Harbor sailing school where I work. It was our monthly BBQ sail, where members and guests go out for an afternoon sail on the Bay and return to the club for a BBQ dinner of burgers and brats with all the trimmings, coleslaw, potato and green salads, chili and chips, beer, wine and soft drinks. There’s always something sweet for dessert too! You know the scene—it’s classic “American” food.


While 100 or so folks were enjoying the spread, a small, single-masted sailboat sailed into the marina and tied up to the fuel dock. She was flying the red and white Japanese national insignia from the stern, the place that denotes a vessel’s country of registry. In addition, she was flying the solid yellow “Q” flag from the starboard spreader. This indicated she was a newly arrived foreign vessel that had not yet cleared customs. She was perhaps 28 or 30 feet long and showed all the signs of having just spent a long time at sea: the sails were stained and faded, there was more than a little growth on her bottom, and her topsides were encrusted with salt.


The man who stepped ashore to secure the boat appeared to be Japanese and also showed all the signs of having spent a long time at sea. His gait was a bit unsteady from not having walked on a solid surface for some time, his eyes were red from strain and lack of sleep, and his foulies were also heavily crusted with salt. It turned out that he had just completed a non-stop, single-handed voyage from Japan. If I recall correctly, he said it had taken over 40 days.


After he had sailed through the Golden Gate and into San Francisco Bay, he was uncertain where to go next. He continued to sail across the Bay until he saw the masts of the sailboats in the Berkeley Yacht Harbor. Upon entering the harbor, he saw the fuel dock. The one thing you know about a fuel dock is that if you tie up there, you are not taking someone else’s slip. Once the man had tied up his boat, he turned to seek out the authorities. In his hand, he held a U.S. $100 bill.


One of OCSC’s Fleet Service personnel greeted him and tried to help, but he did not speak Japanese. However, as luck would have it, up in our office was Natalie, one of our customer service representatives. While not Japanese herself, she had been raised in Japan and spoke the language fluently. She quickly arrived down on the dock and was able to communicate with the new arrival.


And so, having been in the country for perhaps all of five minutes, this fortunate sailor had a burger and a beer and a beautiful woman speaking to him in his native tongue—and no one would take his money. A landfall doesn’t get much better than that.


Welcome to America. What a country!


Ray Wichmann is a US SAILING-certified Ocean Passagemaking Instructor, a US SAILING Master Instructor Trainer, and a member of US SAILING’s National Faculty.  He holds a 100-Ton Master’s License, was a charter skipper in Hawai’i for 15 years, and has sailed on both coasts of the United States, in Mexico, the Caribbean and Greece. He is presently employed as the Master Instructor at OCSC Sailing in the Berkeley Marina.