Tasha stood on the bow of the boat, sipping from a steaming mug of tea and watching the sun rise. Only an experienced eye could tell that a storm was brewing from the particular hue of crimson creeping across the eastern sky. There was a lot of truth in the saying, “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky in morning, sailor’s warning.”
She took great joy in attempting to read Mother Nature and Father Neptune’s moods and devoured information on weather prediction. She didn’t believe in tempting fate and always erred on the side of safety when choosing a weather window to begin a trip, but it was fun to try to second guess what was literally on the horizon.
She knew that as the rising sun rays passed through the atmosphere and ricocheted off the water vapor, the amount of dust particles and moisture in the air would affect the color. Red wavelengths, the longest in the color spectrum, dominated the sky when the atmosphere was heavy with dust and moisture. A fiery sunrise usually meant that a low pressure system was on it’s way and with it, rain, and possibly a storm.
The barometer had been steadily dropping throughout the night but had leveled off as the sun rose. It could go either way, Tasha thought, taking a sip of tea and considering her options.
She could stay put in the marina for another day and see if the storm passed. There was probably a party at the local yacht club that night and she enjoyed swapping sea stories at the bar. This was one of the few places where she was taken seriously as a sailor because she had earned respect through hard-won race trophies on the Bay and crossing oceans. There was no denying a well-driven boat, even if the skipper was a 6 ft raven haired beauty that looked as if she had just stepped off the catwalk.
If she stayed at the dock, it would put her a day behind her plan to get to Catalina in time to meet up with a flotilla heading south for the winter. She had wanted to harbor hop down the coast and then do the long, multi-night run into Mexico with the group. It would be her first time singlehanding for more than a daysail and although she was confident in her skills she wanted the comfort of other boats nearby.
Below deck, she opened her logbook, poring over the barometric readings from the past 24 hours, and read the NOAA report again. The weather gurus were calling for small craft advisory in the Bay and up to five miles offshore, with gale warning beyond. She’d made the trip along the coast dozens of times with crew and generally liked to stay at least 10 miles offshore to avoid fishing boats, crab pots and the shipping channel before turning in to the ports of Santa Cruz, Half Moon Bay or Monterey.
She could hug the shore to avoid the heavy winds further to sea, but would have to watch her depth and be vigilant for vessel traffic. Waves tended to be more turbulent where the shallow water met the deep water shelf and being tossed around on confused seas was not her first choice. She didn’t mind a little rain; that’s what foul weather gear was made for and she had a full cockpit enclosure. And her storm sails could handle strong winds. And if she didn’t go now, she’d miss the fleet and be left to solo sail at night before she felt ready. For all her confidence on the race course, the thought of being all alone on the dark, open ocean still gave her butterflies.
It was leave now to catch the ebb tide out the Gate, wait out the storm and adjust her itinerary, or cancel the trip altogether. She looked out the portlight at the red streaks fading to gray and made her decision.
Tasha moved quickly on deck, removing the sail covers and prepping the lines. She started the engine and went below to batten down the hatches and secure anything that might fall when the boat heeled. She was ready.
The wind had freshened even before the boat passed under the Bay Bridge and Tasha was on a close-haul sail, heading out the Golden Gate when the rain started. She zipped the canvas sides of the enclosure shut, cocooning her nice and dry in the cockpit. She glanced at the barometer and saw a sharp drop since her last reading at the dock.
Frowning, she thought about turning back then quickly realized that would be near impossible for the next few hours. She’d have a hard enough time bucking the heavy ebb tide but with the wind also blowing to sea she would be literally pushed backward. There were no safe coves to tuck into so the only alternative was to go along for the ride down the coast.
A clap of thunder got her attention fast. The rain came down in sheets and the boat surfed the growing waves, rising and falling steeper and steeper as the minutes flew by. The sky was almost black and visibility was nonexistent. She was steering purely by her navigational instruments.
Tasha knew her boat could handle rough seas and she’d been in worse storms, but always with others onboard. She looked at the wind direction gauge and her chartplotter. It wasn’t going to be safe to hug the coast in these conditions, but if she went farther to sea she wouldn’t make Half Moon Bay by sunset and then would have to risk traversing a tricky channel and nearby Mavericks in the dark.
She tightened the harness straps tethering her to the boat, turned the wheel away from land and pulled in the sails.
With a nervous laugh she sang out, “I get it Mother Nature and Father Neptune. Next time I’ll heed your red sky warning. But who needs a flotilla? I got this. Mexico, here I come!”
Written January 2019 for To Live & Write in Alameda’s monthly “Alameda Shorts” challenge with the theme of “Craft.”
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