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Why Fall and Winter are AMAZING for San Francisco Bay Sailors

Why Fall and Winter are AMAZING for San Francisco Bay Sailors Fall and winter are here. With them come light and shifty winds, windy and wet storms, and shockingly shorter days. Time to put away the boat and look forward to next summer, right?

Not so fast! While the winds of summer get the most attention from sailors, fall and winter offer an absolute treasure trove of opportunities normally hidden by the famously consistent and robust summertime conditions.

Lighter Winds Sure, in the winter we have those sometimes frustrating lighter winds. But lighter winds mean new sailing skills and a new understanding of your boat. It’s hard to hear the whispered wants of your sails and the demure desires of your helm over the wailing winds of summer. The little things matter a lot when a little is all you have.

Lighter winds also mean more effortless motoring. With less wind to fill the sails or blow the bow around, motoring skills become both more important and easier to grasp. Have you been dying to practice back-and-fills on your full-keeler but the wind won’t allow the bow to come up? Now is your chance. Master all types of arrivals and departures now, as the spring gradually adds wind later.

Can you imagine comfortable barefoot sailing on San Francisco Bay? Now is the time to stop dreaming and start doing. Less sea breeze can mean warmer sailing, so kick off those shoes and enjoy the warmer temperatures afforded by less chilly ocean air.

Less energy flowing around also means slower sailing. Those lower speeds buy you time to master techniques like single-handing and sailing in close quarters. ’Tis the season to learn the utter joy of sailing into your slip, or on and off your anchor. This time, try it by yourself.

Care for some flatter, easier sailing? Fall and winter is perfect. Break out the cheeseboard and even those wine glasses (ok, perhaps stainless wine tumblers are more apropos).

Altogether, those lighter winds, slower movements, flatter heeling angles, and warmer temps can mean more friends and family aboard. While summer is a tempting time to show the uninitiated what sailing is all about, that wind and chop can be a lot for the novice. Right now is the time to safely and enjoyably introduce friends and family to the sport. That is if you want them to keep coming back.

Variable Conditions Every student I’ve ever taught develops a severe case of geo-fixation for wind direction when training in the summer. In the Central Bay, beam reaches are towards the north and south bays, tacks are toward the Golden Gate Bridge, and accidental gybes are only a concern when sailing eastward. Not so in the winter! The wind will come from all points on the compass, and it can shift 180 degrees in minutes. Orienting to wind direction is the foundation of sailing skills, and there’s no better time to learn actual wind awareness than now.

Our strong summer wind machine usually overpowers any underlying weather systems. With the machine unplugged for a few months, fall and winter expose a rich atmospheric diversity, and with it meteorological lessons galore. High and low-pressure systems, ridges and troughs, clocking and backing winds, warm and cold fronts, and every cloud formation there is. This wealth of weather makes for excellent forecasting practice.

Variable conditions mean storms and a more secure boat! Here’s where you learn about taking care of your boat in more ways than the steady summer patterns can be bothered to teach. Strong winds and rain from all directions will use new sounds and motions to educate you on dock lines, chafe, anchor drag, canvas fit, halyard securing, fender placement, and leaks.

Shorter Days The shorter days mean more sunsets and night sailing. Getting underway at noon into 25kts of summer wind for a 9 pm sunset makes for a long and tiring day. With fewer daylight hours, it’s much easier to hit those gorgeous 5 pm sunsets and ease into night sailing skills without being too exhausted to enjoy them.

While the sun travels low in the southern sky, you’re apt to find an increase of flora on the north sides of your deck. Instead of lamenting, take it as a reminder to give the boat a good washdown. If you stay atop the micro-forest, you’ll find yourself with a cleaner boat come summer than you did come fall. The occasional torrential downpour to rinse away the grime won’t hurt, either.

A personal favorite, fall through spring are the only times to catch the sun setting on the ocean and between the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge, as seen from the Central Bay. Find this unique view around October/November and again in February/March, depending on where on the Bay you are.

There you have it. Like soft avocados for guacamole and mushy bananas for banana bread, fall and winter are the often discarded yet exquisitely ripe seasons for the resourceful sailor.

Savor the sailing!

An "only in the off-season" kinda view. Photo credit: Brian Cline

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