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Old 25-09-2013, 11:05   #1
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Richard Dana's "South Easter's"

In Richard Dana' book, "Two Years Before the Mast" he describes South Easter"s and the need to rapidly slip anchor and sail off the coast. Since a south east wind would make most of the coast of California safe what was he referring to?
They were sudden winter storms. Now a days winter weather off the Pacific blows from the North, west, or maybe south, but seldom from the east, except of course Santa Ana's.
Any ideas anyone?
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Old 25-09-2013, 11:23   #2
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Re: Richard Dana's "South Easter's"

I'm pretty sure he meant the same thing as our Santa Anas. They do blow like bejeepers. You'll want to be well sheltered from the east, the high cliffs at Dana Point are a good example, or out to sea where they dissipate. Worst hit is Avalon, on Santa Catalina island.
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Old 25-09-2013, 11:51   #3
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Re: Richard Dana's "South Easter's"

The coast between San Pedro and Pt Conception and up to Monterey experiences winds which seem to defy conventional wisdom with respect to an approaching low. You'd think a low rolling down the coast from the north would bring northerly winds but such is not the case. The low is more often first felt by weather from the south to southeast. This is due to the circulation around a low but also the peculiarities of the coastline in that area. Typically that weather will be cold and wet with gale force winds.

Notice that Dana includes low black clouds and building sea in his description. These are not characteristic of a Santa Ana which is a hot, dry land breeze generally noted by clear sky save for the copious amounts of dust in the air. The winds of a Santa Ana often reach hurricane force in the mountain passes but by the time they hit the coast they are commonly 50 kt or less. Even still, a sustained 50 kts is nothing to be dismissed. Perhaps a saving grace is the strong land wind acts to knock down and flatten out the sea. Of course, if there is a large swell running the waves will continue but be well groomed, ie, 'organized'.

Note also what location the ship when he did speak of these so'easters. This cold wind may occur even as far south as San Diego but less regularly.
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Old 25-09-2013, 12:22   #4
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In the book a can't find a reference to which direction the obvious low's came from. In conventional wisdom for a south east wind the low would have to be inshore, by that would not lead to big seas and the need to sail off- shore for safety. I'm still confused!
I've been in San Diego for a year and as yet seen no such weather. Could the deforestation that has taken place in the last 150 years have had a effect on local weather patterns?
Maybe a low speeding down the coast started with south easterlies which rapidly veered to onshore ?
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Old 25-09-2013, 12:59   #5
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Re: Richard Dana's "South Easter's"

From Chapter IX:

"The bay, or, as it was commonly called, the canal of Santa Barbara, is very large, being formed by the main land on one side, (between Point Conception on the north and Point St. Buena Ventura on the south,) which here bends in like a crescent, and three large islands opposite to it and at the distance of twenty miles. This is just sufficient to give it the name of a bay, while at the same time it is so large and so much exposed to the south-east and north-west winds, that it is little better than an open roadstead; and the whole swell of the Pacific ocean rolls in here before a southeaster, and breaks with so heavy a surf in the shallow waters, that it is highly dangerous to lie near to the shore during the south-easter season; that is, between the months of November and April.


"This wind (the south-easter) is the bane of the coast of California. Between the months of November and April, (including a part of each,) which is the rainy season in this latitude..."
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Old 25-09-2013, 13:05   #6
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Re: Richard Dana's "South Easter's"

I now recall that when I first read the book, having very little experience with CA coastal weather, I had wondered if Dana spoke of the chubasco.

Then I realized that would be in error since the effects of a storm up from Mexican waters would not be so far to the north, certainly not north of Pt Conception. Also, after having gotten experience with CA weather patterns, I felt very confident that what Dana described was as I said previously in this thread.
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Old 25-09-2013, 13:14   #7
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Re: Richard Dana's "South Easter's"

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In the book a can't find a reference to which direction the obvious low's came from. In conventional wisdom for a south east wind the low would have to be inshore, by that would not lead to big seas and the need to sail off- shore for safety. I'm still confused!
I've been in San Diego for a year and as yet seen no such weather. Could the deforestation that has taken place in the last 150 years have had a effect on local weather patterns?
Maybe a low speeding down the coast started with south easterlies which rapidly veered to onshore ?
I seriously doubt "deforestation" would effect frontal weather.

Take a look at how lows come down the coast. They stand offshore up to several hundred miles. I am more familiar with the coast north and south of SF Bay. South of SF the lows will come roaring onshore out of the west or even SW. As the winds circulate counterclockwise you would expect winds from SE while the low is still to the north of your location. As Dana wrote mainly of coastwise sailing, there are the landscapes to consider as far as localized effects which can and do reach out to sea.

But running afore the wind out towards the Sandwich Is implies a hearty blow. Also, make note of the time of year when Dana mentions these.

Oh yeah, one other thing. Santa Ana winds are off the land. Actually, they start out over NV or UT. Look for a "dogbone" high over those states as indication you'll expect a Santa Ana. Since this wind is hot and dry and from the land, it is airmass, not frontal. As such, it would not carry out to sea much beyond 20-40 miles.
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Old 25-09-2013, 13:31   #8
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Yes indeed, I agree about the lows making landfall north of Conception, but a strong SE blow would be protected by the landmass south. Unless the low gave a heavy swell and the s'easter put wind against a onshore heavy swell?
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Old 25-09-2013, 13:38   #9
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Re: Richard Dana's "South Easter's"

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Yes indeed, I agree about the lows making landfall north of Conception, but a strong SE blow would be protected by the landmass south. Unless the low gave a heavy swell and the s'easter put wind against a onshore heavy swell?
On second thoughts, these conditons I described above whilst uncomfortable, would not have made the coast a "Lee Shore" which is why I assume they weighed anchor.
I also note that they seemed to have anchored up to three miles off-shore, except San Diego. But I believe that even then they had a issue with a s'easter there.
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Old 25-09-2013, 13:41   #10
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Re: Richard Dana's "South Easter's"

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...As the winds circulate counterclockwise you would expect winds from SE while the low is still to the north of your location....

CORRECTION: I meant the low is just upon you or it is to your south.
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Old 25-09-2013, 13:50   #11
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Re: Richard Dana's "South Easter's"

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I also note that they seemed to have anchored up to three miles off-shore, except San Diego. But I believe that even then they had a issue with a s'easter there.
Sandy Eggo featured a natural channel fairly protected especially past the first bend. Even then, there was an account when all were ashore and they came running back to save the ship when a blow came up. They already were too late for some of the other ships. I can imagine the carnage of fouled rigging, running aground, etc. It wasn't unheard of a ship slipping it's cables in haste and leaving crew behind. In that case, they would have to wait for the ship to return in good weather. Even then, the ship having returned to the coast, wouldn't necessarily put into the same port where crew had been left.


SD wasn't dredged and did feature shoal waters in a narrow, twisting channel.

You being one yr there is not enough time to see the weather.
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Old 25-09-2013, 14:29   #12
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Re: Richard Dana's "South Easter's"

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Sandy Eggo featured a natural channel fairly protected especially past the first bend. Even then, there was an account when all were ashore and they came running back to save the ship when a blow came up. They already were too late for some of the other ships. I can imagine the carnage of fouled rigging, running aground, etc. It wasn't unheard of a ship slipping it's cables in haste and leaving crew behind. In that case, they would have to wait for the ship to return in good weather. Even then, the ship having returned to the coast, wouldn't necessarily put into the same port where crew had been left.


SD wasn't dredged and did feature shoal waters in a narrow, twisting channel.

You being one yr there is not enough time to see the weather.
Whilst I agree that being in San Diego for a year is not enough, I have been boating in Northern California for the last 20.
San Diego, as was, should have been well protected from a south east wind...


But I still haven't figured out the answer to Dana's S'easters.......I wish someone was still around to ask!
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Old 25-09-2013, 15:34   #13
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Re: Richard Dana's "South Easter's"

It does seem a hard question to answer definitively. Perhaps local historical societies can help. SD has a fine historical society plus since marine activity is in the tradition and blood of that place I imagine they would have a plethora of data from that time.

Various history museums and societies up and down the coast (San Pedro, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo County) should be of help. I mention SLO because a past president earned the high reputation for his encyclopedic knowledge plus an eternal curiosity.

But I am also thinking the sailing rigs of that time were sensitive to weather. That's a WAG because buoying an anchor to run from the wind was a normal tactic of that day. To this end perhaps rounding up knowledge of brigantine sailors would help. Other than they couldn't point worth a tinker's damn I don't know anything of those rigs.

Heck, maybe a 'weather archeologist' would be of some help.

So now I will look to read the book and this time to look specifically for place names and dates (time of year/season) to further discern exact information.

And you have to know, CA below Pt Conception might as well be in a different ocean as far as NorCal is concerned.
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Old 25-09-2013, 18:18   #14
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Re: Richard Dana's "South Easter's"

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It does seem a hard question to answer definitively. Perhaps local historical societies can help. SD has a fine historical society plus since marine activity is in the tradition and blood of that place I imagine they would have a plethora of data from that time.

Various history museums and societies up and down the coast (San Pedro, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo County) should be of help. I mention SLO because a past president earned the high reputation for his encyclopedic knowledge plus an eternal curiosity.

But I am also thinking the sailing rigs of that time were sensitive to weather. That's a WAG because buoying an anchor to run from the wind was a normal tactic of that day. To this end perhaps rounding up knowledge of brigantine sailors would help. Other than they couldn't point worth a tinker's damn I don't know anything of those rigs.

Heck, maybe a 'weather archeologist' would be of some help.

So now I will look to read the book and this time to look specifically for place names and dates (time of year/season) to further discern exact information.

And you have to know, CA below Pt Conception might as well be in a different ocean as far as NorCal is concerned.
Richard Henry Dana's ship was a brig, not a brigantine. Two masts, with squares on both, and lots of top hamper. I can only imagine the stress of a 60+ mph blow on the ship and its ground tackle.
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Old 26-09-2013, 17:43   #15
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Re: Richard Dana's "South Easter's"

It has been a few years since I reread 2 Years Before The Mast, but if I remember correctly, much of his mention of slipping the cable was refering to Santa Barbara, and vicinity. Most people think of sailing up and down the California coast in terms of North and South, when in fact the area between Conception and Santa Barbara is almost East and West. If you are anchored in the roadstead of Santa Barbara, and a SW gale blows in, it puts you on a lee shore. I have never sailed on a square rigger, but I believe the reason they often anchored 2 or 3 miles offshore is that by the time you have slipped the cable, and hoisted enough sail to get underway, you might well have lost a mile of offing. That doesnt leave much margin for error in a clumsy old square rigger. I really enjoyed the book, and when he wrote about taking 3 weeks to beat from Santa Barbara to Montery, it made me appreciate our modern fore and aft rigs. _____Grant.
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