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A Head Banging Day Sail

The forecast called for relatively light winds, reaching 10 knots at 3 PM in the afternoon.

I decided to go for a short day sail on my J29 sailboat BlackJack.

I motor sailed out of the marina under mainsail. We were going to set #3 jib, but remembering the forecast, I opted to raise the bigger 135% #2 genoa and headed out to the ocean.

A Head Bang

Once I was out of the bay, I quickly realized there was a lot more wind than what the forecast called for. The wind direction was far more north than usual for the time of day. And there was even more wind coming. I could see more and more white caps traveling down from the north.

It was not just the wind. There were quite a bit of swell and waves.

The swells were far enough apart, but it was 4, perhaps 5ft at times. When a large sailboat nearby dipped into the trough, it was as if it was going to sink.

BlackJack was beginning to get thrown around, sometimes abruptly.

The wind was cold. I went down below to put an extra layer on, and just as I reached the bottom of the steps, the boat jerked and my head slammed into the companionway.

It was a pretty hard blow.

I saw stars.

I crouched on the floorboard with arms wrapped around my head till the effect of impact dissipated.

Turning Around

Despite the mishap, I was still enjoying the sail. It was sunny, the boat was sailing well, and I was happily practicing steering through waves.

BlackJack and I always have something to practice and learn on every outing.

Once clear of SD Buoy, we hove to for a short period. Alas, BlackJack was not happy heaving to as we were being broadsided by swells.

The boom clanged and bounced around relentlessly.

In hindsight, I should have taken the time then to check the wind strength and direction at that time. I would have seen that it was building and veering further North.

I would have known to change down the headsail.

Whether due to my fresh head trauma or inherent thoughtlessness, I assumed the wind will stay the same.

I sheeted in the genoa and started sailing back.

Rough Return Sail

As I was entering the bay, I quickly realized that wind has shifted considerably to where we are close-hauled sailing up the channel.

The wind strength also built considerably. With a full main and #2 Genoa, we were over-canvased and overpowered. BlackJack heeled hard and buried leeward rail in the water.

I twisted off the genoa and the main as much as I could. Then with the mainsheet in my hand, I hand steered, feathering the genoa and flogging the main as puffs hit.

Fortunately, even when overpowered and the sailing isn’t pretty, a J29 is predictable and controllable. I could keep going to weather at 6+ knots.

We were hit by a string of 20+ knot puffs near Ballast Point and BlackJack rounded up briefly, but with a firm tug on the tiller, we got back on our feet and charged forward.

It certainly was a struggle single-handing with a #2 genoa in this condition. We were never really out of control, but it would have been far better to shorten sail beforehand.

Lessons Learned

After I put the boat away and got home, I looked up the weather chart to see where all the wind came from.

As can be seen on the ever-beautiful wind chart from, there was a lot of wind off the coast of Oregon and California. This area is known as the Gale Alley, where strong wind pipes up through the venturi formed by Pacific high and the landmass.

Lucky for us wimpy SoCal sailors, this wind hardly ever reaches down to Southern California.

This time, however, some of this wind spilled and poured into the San Diego area as coastal eddy died off late morning.

From now on, I will make it a point to look at the weather chart in addition to the NWS marine forecast. I don’t think I would have predicted today’s weather, but I would have been aware of the possibility.

I also should have switched to #3 before entering the channel once I saw there was plenty of wind. Sail change and reefing is something I should practice.

I am not too sure what to do about banging my head on the boat, however. A bump formed on the side of my head the next day despite being iced all evening.

I suppose wearing a bike helmet would help, but I already wear glasses, goggles and a big hat. I don’t know where a helmet might fit.

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