Where in California
, and what type of sailboat?
I've made the Hawaii
/ San Francisco passage
four times now, and really enjoy it. You can read my blog, with more-or-less daily entries here: VALIS
(look at the catagories links on the right of the page).
I've also got photos here: VALIS - Photos
And, a brief video of my 2008 return passage
When you leave in July can make a difference. Most sailors will head
north when leaving Hawaii, and attempt to make it over the top of the Pacific High. In early July the High can be pretty far north, which can make for a long trip, or if you elect to cut through the middle, a lot of motoring. Boats returning to southern California (or even San Francisco) sometimes sail under the high into the prevailing winds, but you will want a boat that sails
well, and to be prepared for a bit of a bash. Some years this is a better option than others -- it all depends on the Pacific High. The trip to the mainland usually takes between two and three weeks.
July is also the early part of hurricane
season. When leaving Hawaii you want to look for any approaching storms. Once you are a couple hundred miles north of the Islands, you are pretty safe. Even the dissipated tropical depressions can cause issues -- these sometimes accelerate or even cancel the normal tradewinds.
There is usually a region of very light wind
, or no wind
, as you are heading north, since even if you are trying to miss the center of the high, it often finds you anyway. Be prepared to go very slowly, or to motor
for the better part of a day.
After sailing north (sometimes a little NNE, and sometimes a little NNW, depending on the wind and seas), I head
east, usually going no further north than 41 degrees latitude.
I try to approach San Francisco
from the north, so as not to risk having to claw
my way upwind during the final stages. This approach puts the wind and seas on my starboard quarter. The final few hundred miles of the San Francisco approach take you through "Gale Alley" or "The Crunch Zone", an area of semi-permanent gales and high seas. I've never experienced anything that caused us a problem, but do look up the story of Skip Allen and "Wildflower" to see what can happen. Here's the short version: Abandoning ship: gut-wrenching, perilous, sometimes right
. If you are returning to Southern California you can usually avoid Gale Alley.
Don't let this scare you too much; incidents like this are few and far between. But do remember that it's a big ocean and you have to take it seriously. I will be making the round-trip this July / August, and am looking forward to it.
Here are my passages to and from Hawaii. The four most northerly lines are my return tracks: