May 26, 2010 – San Francisco, California
By Herb McCormick
Two year’s ago to just about this very day, Mark Schrader, Dave Logan and I sailed the 64-foot cutter, Ocean Watch (though that was not yet her official name), under the Golden Gate Bridge and into San Francisco Bay. It was the exact stroke of six a.m. and a gleaming white ocean liner called, appropriately enough, Dawn Princess, accompanied us. We were all layered up in foul-weather gear, unlike the passengers lining the balconies of the cruise ship’s staterooms, who appeared to be almost uniformly adorned in white, terry-cloth bathrobes. We wouldn’t have traded places with any of them.
Well, that’s not true. Our trip up from La Paz, Mexico, had been a thoroughly unsatisfying and quite frustrating affair. The Boat that Would Become Ocean Watch (TBTWBOW) had tired systems, a crummy engine and worn-out sails: its prowess under power was bad and its performance under sail was worse. I’ve never set foot on a cruise ship in my life, but that morning, those fluffy robes and ocean views – plus, you could almost sniff the breakfast buffet – looked pretty darn good. The somewhat vague idea that we’d be back beneath the famous bridge in a couple of years time after a circumnavigation of North and South America seemed not only optimistic, it seemed completely ludicrous.
And yet, at precisely 1:30 this afternoon, this time in company not with a floating hotel but with high arcs of water soaring into the sky courtesy of the San Francisco Fire Department fireboat – aboard a well-tested, well-proven, re-powered, refit, overhauled, state-of-the-art expedition workboat that bore little resemblance to TBTWBOW – that’s precisely what we did. Was it a pretty good feeling? Yes. Yes, it was.
Late this afternoon, our trusty yacht, Ocean Watch, was tied up at the San Francisco Marina in the heart of the city’s Marina district, a stone’s throw from the storied St. Francis Yacht Club, for a weeklong visit to arguably the most beautiful city in America. Remarkably, considering our tendency to redefine the term “fashionably late” – honestly, we’re never on time for anything – we arrived not only on schedule but even a little early. Was it great to be here? Yes. Yes, it was.
We’d left Monterey late Tuesday evening with the core crew of four – skipper Mark, mate Logan, photographer David Thoreson and me – plus oceanographer Michael Reynolds and a pair of journalists from Seattle’s ABC affiliate, KOMO-TV: news and sportscaster Eric Johnson and cameraman Eric Jensen. We’ve certainly encountered our fair share of reporters and members of the media over the last year, but none have “gotten” our message like Eric and Eric. They’re great guys and it was a pleasure to have them aboard.
Plus, they brought not only the tools of their trade, but good luck, too. It’s been a miserable, rainy and cold spring here in Northern California, and we had a taste of that in the last few days and, particularly, yesterday in Monterey. But last night, under the glow of a nearly full moon and a sweet westerly breeze, we enjoyed one of the best evenings of sailing in recent memory. By dawn, the breeze had fizzled out and we were once again reduced to motor-sailing, but after the heinous voyage up from Santa Barbara to Monterey, no one was complaining about glassy seas and dying wind.
Aided by a northerly flowing current, the outline of the distinctive red bridge, and the rolling hills and mountains of Marin County and the Tiburon peninsula, which are connected to the city center by the iconic span, emerged out of the mist in the late morning. We actually had to wait a bit outside the bay, dodging crab pots all the while, to make our date with the fireboat.
The history of the Golden Gate Bridge is deep and legendary; the driving force behind the project was an engineer and poet named Joseph Strauss, who is often credited as the father of the landmark but who in fact was aided by a small army of politicians, architects, builders and businessmen. Construction on the bridge, which ultimately cost more than $35 million (but which still came in $1.3 million under budget) began in January of 1933 and was completed in April of 1937. It officially opened exactly 73 years ago tomorrow.
The Wikipedia write-up of the bridge relates this interesting anecdote: “A graduate of the University of Cincinnati, (Strauss) had placed a brick from his alma mater’s demolished McMicken Hall in the south anchorage before the concrete was poured. He innovated the use of movable safety netting beneath the construction site, which saved the lives of many otherwise-unprotected steelworkers. Of eleven men killed from falls during
construction, ten were killed (when the bridge was near completion) when the net failed under the stress of a scaffold that had fallen. Nineteen others who were saved by the net over the course of construction became proud members of the (informal) Halfway to Hell Club.”
Those gentlemen may have been halfway to Hell, but today, we were all the way back to San Francisco Bay. (A full schedule of events is slated for our weeklong visit.) And we arrived in style, if we do say so ourselves. Just outside the bridge, a zephyr of air materialized from the southwest, and we rolled into town propelled by our big, asymmetric spinnaker, the one emblazoned with our unofficial but definitive logo, the continents of North and South America.
Once dockside, we took a deep, long, collective breath. It wasn’t so long ago that getting back here seemed impossible. And now, we’re one very huge step closer to making it all the way back home.
-Herb McCormick with photographs by David Thoreson
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