Mark - First, what an outstanding resolution! Sometimes when we've felt crowded or hemmed in on the Bay we've found really satisfying sailing outside the Gate.
Your plan of heading out around low slack is a reasonable one, but it's a compromise. One issue with the sea-state around the Gate and the bar is when current
is opposed to the wind
and swell, and that is almost always during the ebb. A strong ebb against winds with much west in them can set up nasty standing waves mid-channel, especially abeam Point Diablo but to seaward
, too. These persist for awhile, eventually laying down after the flood is well-established, so that, all things being equal, the flattest water
can be expected just before and at high slack. So some say high slack is the best time to be between the bridge and Point Bonita and Point Lobos. But for you that's not optimal because you want to go back home in a few hours, and don't want to fight an ebb under the bridge. So unless you're headed for the Marquesas
(or Half Moon Bay), low slack works because conditions are more likely to improve than deteriorate.
Either way, you can work the eddies around Bonita Cove to the north and what's called on the charts
"South Bay" to the south. Inside Points Bonita and Lobos, if you don't like the current
mid-channel, then you'll like the eddies to the north and south. There's plenty of sailing in there.
of Mile Rock, like scotty c-m, I sail just outside the ship channel - either to the north or south, depending on which side allows me to avoid crossing the channel to get where I'm going. Only when you're crossing the bar between marks 3 & 4 and 7 & 8 will the depth
go much less than 50 feet at low tide.
Coming back in, I give the South Tower a wide berth and I never consider going between the South Tower and Fort Point. If you have an adverse current, you might find better water
to the north.
One last thing: jack-lines and tethers. We treat going forward in these cold waters as seriously as anywhere in the world we've sailed. Conditions can change fast and you might need to go forward to reef or deal with some snafu. I can't think of any good reason not to be clipped in. We also keep the drop-boards installed.
Oh and I keep a pocket full of lollipops to distribute to my actually young son and otherwise young-at-heart crew to commemorate passing under the bridge.
Your original question was about day-sailing, but I agree with those that like the overnight at Half Moon Bay. Anchor
out in Pillar Point Harbor and heat up some soup! Getting there I avoid the South Channel, too. I was once caught in exactly the situation scotty c-m described: tide falling and seas rising all around. I go out to 70 feet or so before I turn south.
The "Tidal Current Charts
, San Francisco
Bay" are useful. I don't know if they're still in print, but you can download them here:
Maybe see you out there.
Nicholson 35 "Liberty"