The Gate That's Truly Golden

An East Coast sailor treasures a West Coast monument. "Herb's Watch" for June 25, 2010

Herb SanFran 368

Our welcome to San Francisco, courtesy of the SF Fire Department, couldn't have been better.Herb Mccormick

Familiarity may not always breed contempt, but it usually promotes at least a whiff of nonchalance, and that's certainly true of the row of Gilded Age mansions in my hometown of Newport, Rhode Island, that draw thousands of tourists to our little city each year but leave me with a serious case of the yawns. For San Francisco sailors, I reckon the same might be true of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. But for an East Coaster like me, one of the great thrills of my sailing career is beginning or ending an ocean passage beneath the legendary red span.

I've been lucky enough to do it a few times now, starting earlier this decade on a howling afternoon at the beginning of a Pacific Cup race to Honolulu. Two years ago, we slipped beneath the Golden Gate while delivering Ocean Watch from Mexico to Seattle prior to her refit for our expedition Around the Americas ( Then, in late May, we returned to San Francisco in the final stages of our (so far) successful spin around the continents.

Herb McCormick| |Hank Easom's classic 8-Meter, Yucca, is a Bay institution.|

It was a spectacular afternoon with a filling westerly breeze that enabled us to hoist our big asymmetric kite as we passed beneath the bridge and into the bay. A couple of painters dangling from a scaffold startled us with a "Looking good!" as we emerged from the big structure's shadow, but the bigger surprises were the tall arcs of water cascading around Ocean Watch, courtesy of the San Francisco Fire Department's rugged fireboat.

Our stay in San Francisco was absolutely wonderful. The city is a true sailor's town, and over the years, everyone in our crew has made a lot of friends there, and it was great to catch up with everyone. As we always do, we had a couple of open houses and also made presentations at the California Academy of Science as well as the St. Francis Yacht Club and the Corinthian Yacht Club, in nearby Tiburon. After our long, six-month passage around South America and Central America, it's fantastic being back in the U.S.A.

Herb McCormick| |It's harder to find a prettier venue for racing sailboats than San Francisco Bay.|

However, the absolute highlight of my visit to San Francisco-in fact, it was the high point of my last trip there, as well-was an invite to join the crew for a Friday-night beer-can race aboard the classic, needle-thin 8-Meter Yucca, from my old mate, Rob Moore, and Yucca's salty skipper, local legend Hank Easom.

Hank's been sailing Yucca, which was built in 1937, since he purchased her in Southern California in the late 1960s. He's won more than his fair share of races and continues to do so; in fact, we notched another bullet on the Friday I was aboard. I've loved (almost) every minute of our lengthy expedition-our one-year anniversary under way was on Memorial Day-but I have to say that trimming Yucca's mainsheet, the slender sloop's primary drivetrain, was the most enjoyable pure sailing I'd done in quite some time.

Of course, having the Golden Gate Bridge as a backdrop was special, too.

The day we left San Francisco, so different from the afternoon we arrived, was cold and foggy, reinforcing the usual stereotypes associated with the gorgeous coastal city. We heard the bridge's horns and sirens before we saw them, then suddenly the towers emerged from the haze. Riding an outgoing tide, we were through them in an instant, another milestone behind us. I glanced back to record one more lasting snapshot in my mind's eye, but alas, the Golden Gate had vanished in the mist.