Fleet Week Fellowship sail – October 8th
The much anticipated return of ‘Fleet Week’ in 2021 was upon us with the prior year having been cancelled due to Covid. It wasn’t hard to get vet volunteers for this great outing - and WBFV used this as an opportunity to thank Vets who had volunteered for restoration work with a chance to experience both the parade of ships and airshow from a unique vantage point on SF bay.
As our vet crew assembled on Rascal around 10:30am, we knew it was going to be a very different/exciting day on the bay. Not just due to the Blue Angels, but because the winds were already 15 knots steady, gusting 20+. SF bay is known for challenging sailing conditions, but winds this strong before noon aren’t common. We were gonna be in for a wild ride – and despite most of our crew having very little sailing experience, fortunately the vets onboard were stout of heart and tested by both military training and deployments to hostile areas. We departed Pier 39 with a conservative sail plan (two reefs in the main and only showing about 50% of the jib) which provided enough power to glide through the choppy seas created by the wind and boat traffic at 6+ knots.
Our spirits soared seeing the US Navy warships enter the bay under the Golden Gate bridge – led by San Francisco Fire Department Ship’s amazing display of water cannons celebrating the return of the fleet. In the following 2 hours we were treated to amazing aerial feats including U-2 spy plane low level fly byes, acrobatic Pitts biplane stunts, a United Airlines 777 with surprising maneuverability, and everything in between.
But then something happened – the entire rig of Rascal all at once shuddered as the winds had continued to pick up and were now 20 knots steady gusting to 25+. Unfortunately a line that holds tension on the partially furled jib gave way suddently so now we could only sail with full jib . . . and would be less maneuverable. More important, we needed a plan just to recover the jib in such high winds before returning to the marina. Long story short (the long story better shared over a beer), our crew of inexperienced sailors made up for it with decades of experience including former Navy submarine electrician and an Army National Guard Vet (who is very good with all things mechanical). They came through with a temporary fix while on the lee side of Alcatraz for reduced wind. We then chose less crowded waters to navigate, and later safely secured the jib for return to the berth. Oh yeah, by the way – the vet crew did all of this with Blue Angels flying overhead.
The action packed day concluded at Pier 39 berth with multiple toasts to recently fallen soldiers who had service with one of our crew members during Iraqi freedom. While trying to fall asleep after the long day, my mind raced with vivid images of ships, airplanes, and some of our crew members getting doused in saltwater while troubleshooting mechanical issues at the bow. In the end, it’s hard to say what was more impressive – the Blue Angels, or an inexperienced vet crew’s ability to bond and overcome adversity.