A Change in Season, A Change in Mood

Summer has ended, and with it comes an inevitable decline in the wind.

As the winds of summer decrease, sailing in the Bay becomes a much mellower experience. Photo by Joel Williams


Published: November, 2017


Summer has ended, and with it comes an inevitable decline in the wind. With the sun no longer heating the Central Valley to triple-digit temperatures, the temperature gradient (which creates a pressure gradient) between the coast and inland eases and the strong winds of summer, for which San Francisco Bay is so famous, abate.


Summer sailing is often an adrenalin-rush experience. When the day of sailing is over, I often find myself mentally as well as physically tired. I’ve been focused on my immediate surroundings: the waves directly in front of the boat, the changes in wind speed and direction and nearby boats, among other things. Everything is very direct, very intense, very now; it never lets down and I am forced to remain alert and focused.


As the winds of summer decrease, so too does some of that intensity of summer sailing. San Francisco Bay is no longer the full-foul-weather-gear, spray-flying-everywhere, water-running-across-the-deck experience that is typical of summer afternoons.


Instead, the sailing (and the pleasures derived from it) becomes more mellow. With the wind speeds coming down, the foulies come off and the decks dry out. In fact, during the end of this September and on into the beginning of October, I’ve been sailing in shirt sleeves—and sometimes even short sleeves! As the intensity of the sailing softens, other pleasures come to the fore.


When sailing a well-designed yacht, it is often possible to balance the wind pressures in the various sails, lock the wheel and allow the boat to sail itself. On the open ocean, with steady conditions (wind strength and direction constant) this can be done for days (or more) at a time. Old-time sailors were heard to say to the new hands, “Aye laddie! See how she swims!” We don’t have that kind of space here on the Bay, but the joy of balancing all the forces and enjoying the ride (albeit for a shorter time) is one of the pleasures derived from the Bay’s autumn change of mood.


In the autumn, with the reduced wind and a lot less fog, there is more time to look around at this glorious sailing venue. San Francisco is one of America’s most (if not the most) beautiful cities—especially when viewed from the water. (Another that comes to mind is Honolulu.) Sailing down the city front, you pass one street after another climbing up the hills, beautiful Marina Green, the twin steeples of St. Peter and Paul’s Church rising above the North Beach area, the iconic pyramid of the Transamerica Building and then Coit Tower crowning Telegraph Hill. Turn your head to the right and the Golden Gate Bridge comes into view. Continuing to turn your gaze clockwise, and there’s Mt. Tamalpais rising above Sausalito and Mill Valley. To the north, on these cool, crisp autumn (and winter) days the visibility is so good that Mt. St. Helena is visible while sailing the Central Bay. Mt. St. Helena is at the north end of the Napa Valley, about 60 miles away from the central Bay.


To the east, there is the undulating ridgeline of the East Bay Hills; the eucalyptus-covered hump that the Spanish called el Cerrito, the little hill, which is now (strangely) in Albany; and the beautiful Campanile on the UC Berkeley campus. Completing our clockwise circuit, looking to the south we come to the very distinctive tower of the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge and the tree-covered slopes of Yerba Buena Island.


It’s all a beautiful, ever-changing and rearranging panorama as you move across the water. Those of you who ride the ferries understand just how marvelous the vistas from the water can be.


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.