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Sailing to Sewage Outlet and Greeted by Dolphins Instead

Last weekend marks an accomplishment for me. I went sailing for two days in a row. There was not a whole lot of wind, but it was great sailing.

After going sailing the week before, I wanted to go back out. And go farther. This time I would be sailing solo.

I was looking at the chart to see if there is anything I can sail to that was in the right range. I saw this buoy that’s about 4 miles off of Pt Loma. Since I have to go South for a bit to get out of the bay first, it’d add up to a pretty good sailing distance to go there.

Then I noticed the dotted line running close by. Hm. What are these things? If you zoom out, you see that it’s something that comes out from Pt Loma peninsula, and it goes out 4.5 miles out to sea.

Ah yes, this is the great wastewater outlet of San Diego.

Waste Water of San Diego

Much of the wastewater in San Diego is collected and treated at Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant. The plant processes 175 million gallons of sewage a day. We dump the resulting effluent water into the ocean, 4.5 miles out to sea, where it’s 350ft deep.

San Diego has been dumping treated sewage water into the ocean for the last 50 years. You might gasp and think the sea off of San Diego must be really polluted. That’s what I thought when I first heard about this decades ago. Well, this turned out not to be quite true.

The effluent water is post-processed water. All the organic materials have been broken down, inorganic materials separated and methane gas extracted to run the plant itself. The sludge is sent all the way up the hill to Metro Biosolids Center in Kearny Mesa, between Freeway 52 and Miramar Airbase. What remains and discharged to the sea is not sewage as we imagine it, it’s more like dirty water.

Well, at least that’s what the City says. There must be truth to it since we don’t hear anything about pollution on the coast that stretches from Point Loma to Mission Bay. People fish and dive in this area all the time.

But what’s really out there though?

Sailing to Outlet

So I rigged up the boat early Saturday morning and set off to the buoy marked “FI Y 4s” on the chart. I sailed past buoy 3, tacked and sailed upwind on a long port tack stretch.

The wind was light, 5-7 knots, and we sailed against a bit of chop and swell. It was a very good upwind driving practice, trying to get a feel for driving through waves.

The tack lasted some 5 miles, which was long enough for me to practice different modes of sailing upwind.

Why practice? Well, it’s because I want to get my “feel” back.

I’ve been sailing for a long time, and I understand and can execute different modes of sailing. These modes are not about boat handling. For example, when you are sailing upwind, you are supposed to sail a little low (fat mode) for speed build. When you have speed, you want to sail a little higher to sail closer to the wind (point mode).

Knowing such a theory is one thing. Putting it into practice and getting the right result takes a “feel” for it.

This is a lot like playing musical instruments. Knowing the scale doesn’t make you a good guitar player. You also have to practice using that scale over and over again to be able to play with a feel.

I always felt like I had some of that “feel” in sailing, but I also felt there were a whole lot more that I yet to attain. Now that I’m sailing again after a long hiatus, one of my goals now is to spend time developing that feel.

Greeted by Dolphins Instead

After an hour of long upwind practice tack, I got to the GPS coordinates where the buoy should be. And I found… nothing.

No buoy, no sewage, no sea monsters. Not even a hint of farting smell. Nothing. Nada.

As I stood there in the cockpit scratching my head, I noticed something approaching from afar in the water.

It was a school of dolphins. Lots of dolphins.

I could see the school was in several groups as they crossed the bow. I could clearly see one group had juvenile dolphins.

Ah, it’s a family outing, I see.

The last group was much closer than it appears in the video. At the very last moment, as the group swam away bouncing in and out of the water, one of them stayed behind and looked back at me from underwater.

I could see his sleek body, white and grey Yin and Yang through the water as his head turned towards me. He looked at me with a definite sense of purpose.

I was a bit surprised by this. I’ve seen dolphins off San Diego coast many times, but they are always busy feeding or playing amongst themselves. They don’t show interest in human.

Then he turned away. And in a flash, he was gone.

Mariko Must See Dolphins Too

Mariko snickered at the idea of me sailing out to the wastewater outlet when I told her of my plans. Once I got home, I showed the video and told the story about my encounters with the dolphins. She just had to see for herself too.

Well, that and she wanted to try her new hat on the boat.

So the next day, off we went to the same GPS coordinates. There were no dolphins to be seen, however.

Instead, Mariko practiced driving the boat for most of the day. She does quite well staying focused and keep the boat going the same direction, a natural attribute of a good driver.

She still finds it difficult to stand and steer, or switch sides as she drives. I think that’ll come with practice.

We did get to see a baby seal playing in the kelp bed, which she begrudgingly accepted as a substitute for a school of dolphins.

There were a handful of schooners out in the bay. We saw this handsome looking one motoring along. We’d love to have seen it sailing.

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