On July 17th at 7:49am a crew of six departed Pier 39 marina in San Francisco for a trip around the South Farallon Islands. Months of boat preparation, safety infrastructure, and crew training had been completed prior to the 65+ mile trip. ‘Rascal’ and her crew were ready for big winds, large ocean swells, and open ocean navigation using dead reckoning as a backup to GPS. Little did the they know, the day unfolded very differently than forecast or expected . . .
WBFV longer term goals include sailing Clover, the historic 68’ gaff rigged topsail cutter, to Hawaii and back with an all vet crew. Question is, how to you build a deep reservoir of experience with WBFV volunteers to be prepared for such a voyage? Most WBFV sail training to date has remained within the bay and occasionally up to 5nm off the California coast including a trip to Monterey in early 2020. But there’s a big difference between coastal and blue water sailing. The Farallons provides a necessary stepping stone for future WBFV blue water excursions.
The intrepid crew included Navy veterans as and a well established veteran of SF bay tug and pilot operations, WBFV board member, Patrick Mulcahy. A common thread among these volunteers was the number of hours dedicated to our wooden boats restoration program (primarily Clover) in past twelve months. Future Farallon roundings and other WBFV blue water sail training will give priority to those vets who have completed multiple wooden boat restoration and sail training days.
So, how did the crew and boat fare amongst the challenges of the day?
Eventually the winds filled in after the crew navigated a large feet of chartered fishing boats and losing sight of the California coastline. And then something amazing happened . . . whale sightings. Not one, two or five whales – but at least ten whales of different types spotted beyond 15nm from the Golden Gate. It was an epic experience for the crew to be greeted by such a host of these amazing creatures. Whale water spouts, whales dramatically breaching and then crashing back into the sea, and even a mother escorting her calf were observed. This phenomenal show of nature was a wonderful prelude to the South Farallon Islands, which also exceeded crew expectations.
Dr. William Marchand, a psychiatrist at the VA Salt Lake City Health Care System and also an avid sailor, has been testing a recreational program that encourages participation by offering an enjoyable experience, while imparting a therapeutic benefit. He calls it mindfulness-based therapeutic sailing (MBTS) and it is a wonderful clinical validation of what we have experienced and witnessed at WBFV.
Since 2015 WBFV has gotten veterans, future veterans and their families on the water to provide physical, mental and emotional therapy injuries brought about by operational service. Learning to sail and saving wooden boats are outlets for coping with PTSD, and traumatic injuries. Here, teamwork, community and camaraderie is rediscovered through our educational programs in sailing, racing, voyaging, restoring and preserving.
I’m James Johnson, a member of the VetsBoats committee in support of the WBFV mission. Our committee’s goal is to provide opportunities for Vets to connect, learn some sailing skills, and experience how time on a boat with salt water can replentish the soul. (See our video)
The inspiration for this new Memorial Day tradition came from two sources –
1. A close colleague from the semi-conductor industry in the early 2000’s experienced the tragedy his 21-year-old son being killed in action during the Gulf War. We were a close-knit community in our department, and this loss hit many of us very hard and his son’s memorial service was very emotional. Each Memorial Day those emotions return for the loss of Adam Estep and many, many other servicemen and women who gave all to help ensure our freedom.
2.When my father, a 30-year veteran from the Navy sub community, passed away in 2009 he was afforded full honors with a ceremony at Point Loma, CA. The beautiful setting, meaningful words spoken by friends and relatives, and the 21-gun salute was very impactful. After the ceremony our family made it down to the waterfront of the naval base at Point Loma where he had served two tours of duty. As our family walked around mulling over the poignant ceremony, my brother had the spontaneous idea to take the large flower wreath leftover in the back of the minivan and place it in the water so that it may be offered to my father and others whose soul is still at sea. This was a very heartfelt idea, but my thought was that this wreath would quickly find its way back to shore. (what is referred to in today’s vernacular as a ‘fail’) We watched as the wreath went towards the shore, then back out, then in again and out. Not quite sure of it’s path . . . but more than 30 minutes after it was placed in the water the wreath slowly but surely began to make it’s way out of San Diego bay and into the Pacific.
This idea of the wreath floating out to sea and the Memorial Day emotions came together with the idea of a special VetsBoats mission, to sail with Adam Estep’s father and other Vets who served and were forward deployed to serve their country. June 19th we set sail with six souls onboard including four vets that served in the era of Desert Storm.
The fine yacht Rascal, a Catalina 36’ that’s been helping support WBFV sailing outreach, encountered Force 6 wind and sea conditions near Alcatraz around noon with taller waves, fog, and whitecaps looming as we looked toward the Golden Gate. Yet, the mostly rookie crew was stalwart in their dedication to the day’s mission – to sail out well beyond the Golden Gate and lay a wreath with red, white, and blue flowers out in the Pacific to honor the lives of the sailors and soldiers who’ve lost their lives at sea while defending our freedom.
The pictures tell the rest of the story better than any blog narrative can. . .