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Old 22-06-2015, 17:45   #1
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Night Sailing in SF

The other day I went and had dinner in San Francisco. We took the boat across from Richmond to Pier 39. After some excellent Chinese food and a trip to Ghiradelli Square for Ice Cream it was time to head back to Richmond. Now I have done this trip dozens of time. Raced thru the area at night and just know the area pretty well. I felt confident. What little moon there was went down about 15 minutes into the trip.

I made sure that anyone in the cockpit had a life jacket on. Decided on just using the jib to sail because of better visability. Turned on the radar. Put on the chart plotter. I had a crew member steer so I could watch what was going on. We stayed in the shipping channel with the understanding that if we saw any ships we would get out of it. Saw a tug on the radar and we passed port to port. Chartplotter lead us home.I didn't really have a problem but something was nagging me. What if my chartplotter stopped working?

As I got to the approach buoys in Richmond the wind died. I dropped sail and was motoring in. I changed from the tri color to the steaming and navigation lights. I had my paper charts on the chart table but I did all of my navigation by radar and chartplotter. Cursor over the channel marker for detail "Red #6 4s" Got close enough to confirm went in the channel kept a sharp look out for boats then turned into my marina and slowed down even more to manuver thru the lights.

I had three (or four) different methods of checking myself. 1) Local Knowledge, 2) Chartplotter, 3) Radar, and 4)depth sounder. Everything lined up. In the old days -- before GPS -- I would have had a compass course to follow and I would have gotten close to the channel markers and identified each of them with a spotlight. Has an old SeaDawg learned new tricks or was I not being cautious enough? I can't decide.
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Old 22-06-2015, 18:20   #2
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Re: Night Sailing in SF

Sounded like a good plan and execution. I prefer to stay east of the R2, R4 and R6 red buoys in the North South shipping channel. That usually avoids the ferries from Vallejo and other traffic, although sometimes barges use that to go from Richmond to and thru the east side of the Bay Bridge.

One thing you didn't mention: CH14 Vessel Traffic Service. I always have it on. Day & night. Great for situational awareness.

Also: radar reflector, although your radar is great.

Bad part about sailing the Bay at night are all the background lights.

Glad you had a safe fun trip.
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Old 22-06-2015, 18:33   #3
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Re: Night Sailing in SF

Charlie,

I liked reading your post.

I suppose even old dogs can learn new tricks eh?
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Old 23-06-2015, 07:38   #4
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Re: Night Sailing in SF

@ Stu that is a good idea to stay east of the channel. I should have stayed out of it all together. I really should get a radar reflector. Thanks for the tip on channel 14 I forgot to mention that I installed the mic at the steering wheel and monitored 16.

@ Steady hand. Thanks.
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Old 23-06-2015, 08:07   #5
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Re: Night Sailing in SF

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Originally Posted by Stu Jackson View Post
Sounded like a good plan and execution. I prefer to stay east of the R2, R4 and R6 red buoys in the North South shipping channel. That usually avoids the ferries from Vallejo and other traffic, although sometimes barges use that to go from Richmond to and thru the east side of the Bay Bridge.

One thing you didn't mention: CH14 Vessel Traffic Service. I always have it on. Day & night. Great for situational awareness.

Also: radar reflector, although your radar is great.

Bad part about sailing the Bay at night are all the background lights.

Glad you had a safe fun trip.

..there are not ferries from vallejo after 7:00pm.. they switch for bus service from embarcadero..
On the bay chartplotter is not so vital, it's easy to figure out where you are at any moment.. I still waiting for caltrain remove barge anchored close to new bridge.. nice navigation...
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Old 23-06-2015, 09:24   #6
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Re: Night Sailing in SF

I also stay East of the North/South shipping channel. In addition, I leave Southampton Shoal to port and set a course for the #6 marker in the Richmond entry channel. From there, there is so much light along the shore that I can steer in the center of the channels right to the end of the Santa Fe channel and home.
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Old 23-06-2015, 09:37   #7
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Re: Night Sailing in SF

I came down from Napa a few years ago, early in the morning, heading for Alameda. There was an unusually low bunch of fog throughout the Bay. The VTS CH14 was reporting such low visibility that the ferries were even taking it slow. Must have been a really high pressure system, which pushed the fog down low through The Slot, unusual for this time of the morning. I stayed just east of the REDS, motoring slowly, because at this time of the morning there were tons of small fishing boats hanging out and there's a ledge for good fishing right along that line that goes from 30 to 50 feet. While it wasn't at night, and fishermen are usually only out in the mornings and not at night, that 25 minutes was the hairiest time I've ever spent on the Bay in 35 years.

One thing few folks realize about sailing here: the ferries are the most courteous skippers in the world. Unlike any other part of the world I have read about, the ferries here actually avoid sailboats, instead of making the sailboats dodge them. Really nice. Of course, we all give way to the big ships in the channels, ports and anchorages.
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Old 23-06-2015, 09:41   #8
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Re: Night Sailing in SF

I had a similar feeling the first time I used a chart plotter to enter the bay of quinte, here on lake ontario. In the past, I would x off each buoy as it passed, and I would check the numbers too. But with the chart plotter, wow, just set the course line down the channel. I felt like I was cheating, especially if the CP failed and I hadn't kept track of my position like I used to. On the other hand, for the first time I could relax a bit, and really enjoy the trip, instead of obsessing over seeing the next buoy.

After that, I very quickly gave up my old navigation practices, and just relied on the CP. Then one morning, when heading from Kingston to Main Duck Island, well out of sight of land or navigational markers, the CP would not get a fix. I wasted a lot of valuable time rebooting and such, with no success before getting out the paper charts and handheld garmin etrex backup. Although I had done this trip many time without CP before, I was uneasy, since I had begun to rely on the CP. I even cut my trip short, so that I could go home and repair the CP, rather than carry on through other tricky nav areas without the CP.

In the end, it simply required a reboot while holding down CLEAR, to restore the CP to factory setttings. Software problem.

While this was a hassle for me, at least I knew the old methods to fall back on. I wonder what will happen to the new generation who ONLY know CP and IPAD nav. Carrying spare devices will only get you so far.
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Old 23-06-2015, 09:50   #9
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Re: Night Sailing in SF

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I wonder what will happen to the new generation who ONLY know CP and IPAD nav. Carrying spare devices will only get you so far.
If they even have spares... Many of the posts here on CF talk about backup, backup and backup for backups. Most of us do so.

But on other "more recreational" boating forums, skippers are getting all the newer bells & whistles, forsaking gold ole handhelds for newer generation Garmin 7-hundred series chartplotters on 26 foot boats!

I truly think if their gadgets do go down they'd be screwed. Lack of situational awareness, which most of us learned from pre-Loran days, just isn't there anymore.

And books? Geez, who reads books anymore? You just ask the question on the internet, right?

They're even putting chartplotters on bareboats in the BVIs. Why?
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Old 23-06-2015, 09:58   #10
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Re: Night Sailing in SF

Good job of piloting, but, remembering the time when I used to live aboard in the SF Bay and did lots of night sailing, I do think something WAS missing....mention of a good pair of 7X50 binoculars. It's amazing how much you can see at night with a good pair, and I would have looked for the appropriate lights (having looked up their flashing characteristics) and steered with visual reference to them. Almost more important than a compass, in this situation, This isn't hard if the night is clear, and can be easier when it's really dark....it's how we always did it. Additionally, I would have checked the Tide and Current book that is so readily available for SF Bay, and the tide chart as well, to have a good situational awareness as to what was likely to happen.....very useful if the fog rolls in! Of course, nowadays I would use plotter and radar (with radar the primary source of info), but the old Fujinons would still have been handy and in use.
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Old 23-06-2015, 10:11   #11
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Re: Night Sailing in SF

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If they even have spares... Many of the posts here on CF talk about backup, backup and backup for backups. Most of us do so.
Years ago, while sailing in the the labyrinth we call the 1000 islands, a small powerboat came alongside my sailboat (I was going slow), and asked for directlons. He held up his "texaco" road map so I could show him.

More recently, another boater asked me for nav help...he showed me his automobile style garmin nuvi (with roads, no special marine chip or anything) and asked why not all the islands were marked on his device. I told him its because they don't have roads on them.
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Old 23-06-2015, 10:26   #12
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Re: Night Sailing in SF

Assuming we're not dealing with Fog at night......

If we're talking a well marked, and busy commercial port, then there is going to be ample aids to navigation and many of them lit.

If you are very familiar with the area (inlet, river, harbor, bay, etc) then you should have a good idea where the key aids to navigation are located. If one is truly familiar then they would know which markers they MUST pay attention too and which can be cut (theoretically). That is more local knowledge.

Look at the patterns to the markers, particularly the lit markers. The folks who designed these are smarter than we give them credit for.

Notice there is a lit marker at every 'turn' in a channel. Also notice that you may only have 2 out of 5 markers lit. However, if you line up the 2 lit markers, you will ALWAYS be on the correct side of the unlit ones.

Trust the lit markers and learn to read them and you won't even need GPS at night. (Yes, mine is on at all times. However, I rely far more on Radar at night, though technically on a clear night you should also see running lights.)
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Old 23-06-2015, 10:43   #13
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Re: Night Sailing in SF

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Originally Posted by contrail View Post
Good job of piloting, but, remembering the time when I used to live aboard in the SF Bay and did lots of night sailing, I do think something WAS missing....mention of a good pair of 7X50 binoculars. It's amazing how much you can see at night with a good pair, and I would have looked for the appropriate lights (having looked up their flashing characteristics) and steered with visual reference to them. Almost more important than a compass, in this situation, This isn't hard if the night is clear, and can be easier when it's really dark....it's how we always did it. Additionally, I would have checked the Tide and Current book that is so readily available for SF Bay, and the tide chart as well, to have a good situational awareness as to what was likely to happen.....very useful if the fog rolls in! Of course, nowadays I would use plotter and radar (with radar the primary source of info), but the old Fujinons would still have been handy and in use.
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Old 23-06-2015, 12:21   #14
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Re: Night Sailing in SF

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Originally Posted by contrail View Post
Good job of piloting, but, remembering the time when I used to live aboard in the SF Bay and did lots of night sailing, I do think something WAS missing....mention of a good pair of 7X50 binoculars. It's amazing how much you can see at night with a good pair, and I would have looked for the appropriate lights (having looked up their flashing characteristics) and steered with visual reference to them. Almost more important than a compass, in this situation, This isn't hard if the night is clear, and can be easier when it's really dark....it's how we always did it. Additionally, I would have checked the Tide and Current book that is so readily available for SF Bay, and the tide chart as well, to have a good situational awareness as to what was likely to happen.....very useful if the fog rolls in! Of course, nowadays I would use plotter and radar (with radar the primary source of info), but the old Fujinons would still have been handy and in use.
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Old 23-06-2015, 12:43   #15
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Re: Night Sailing in SF

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Originally Posted by Stu Jackson View Post
Sounded like a good plan and execution. I prefer to stay east of the R2, R4 and R6 red buoys in the North South shipping channel. That usually avoids the ferries from Vallejo and other traffic, although sometimes barges use that to go from Richmond to and thru the east side of the Bay Bridge.

One thing you didn't mention: CH14 Vessel Traffic Service. I always have it on. Day & night. Great for situational awareness.

Also: radar reflector, although your radar is great.

Bad part about sailing the Bay at night are all the background lights.

Glad you had a safe fun trip.
Stu. You mentioned a radar reflector. I believe that is the most ignored and most important piece of equipment for a small craft. A Clorox bottle or wood boat does not present a decent radar return.
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