We got out on the water around 10:00. We knew we were going to be in for a special day, just based on the weather forecast. 72 degrees F. and 10 to 20 knots of wind. Usually when it’s that warm on the bay, the wind is light. The tide was also good for heading out the gate. The wind was calm in Richardson Bay, but increased fast as we made our way towards the gate. We put a reef in the main, and moved the jib cars back about a foot to allow the head of the sail to twist off, but it was still a wild ride.
As we got near the gate, there was a lot of boat traffic, but also something unexpected. A whale feeding just past the bridge. As we beat our way out, we realized there was a whole group of humpback whales feeding, as well as harbor porpoises, and more sea lions than I’ve ever seen in the water at one time. All the sea lions I saw were floating and resting, with a look on their face like I get when I eat an entire pizza in one sitting. I’m assuming there was a very large school of bait fish running in the gate, but I never saw anything to identify what. As we headed further out the gate, the wind kept increasing, the swell kept getting bigger, and the whales kept getting closer and closer. The closest encounter happened when we were about half way out to Point Bonita, on the North side of the gate. We were about 150 yards away from the cliffs, and preparing to tack, when we saw a whale off our bow about 50 yards away. It turned and swam right at us, aiming right down our port side. Since that was the direction we were about to tack, we held off until it passed, since tacking would have put us beam to it, and directly in it’s path. We kept our course, and the whale swam right down our port side, staying shallow, and was on the surface right next to our boat, probably only 10 feet away. So close that I started tapping on the hull with a winch handle to make sure he knew we were there. Sadly, I had just put my phone away to prepare for the tack, so I didn’t get a picture or video of it, but I will never forget it. We tacked after that whale passed, and less than 5 minutes later, there was another whale swimming right at us. I started tapping on the hull again, and he dove deep, probably passing under our boat. We made it out about a half a mile past the demarcation line, but by the time we got out there, all the whales were inside right at the gate. The wind and swell were getting too strong for us sailing double handed, so we tacked over, eased everything, and ran downwind back into the bay. We saw a lot more of the whales, and even managed to get a distant video of one of their tails as they dove, but they came and went too quickly for me to get a shot while also sailing the boat. That and I wanted to just enjoy the experience rather than spend all my concentration trying to film it.
As we came under the bridge, the whales and porpoises were still feeding, and the sea lions were still floating and looking well fed, we turned to starboard to sail down the SF city front.