Saturday, August 28, 2010

Fish and Finns

"Our Side" of the Boat Ramp with Finns
Friday was a good day. SturgeUrge and I got to get a line wet. It's been a month since we got out to chase halibut on San Francisco Bay.

We got together Thursday night to catch up and watch some preseason football. SturgeUrge roasted chickens on the BBQ spit with some veggies and pineapple spears. A nice Chalone chardonnay tied everything together.

Friday morning I put together the boat lunch, packed the cooler, and checked the Outer Richmond Harbor Buoy just in case conditions weren't in the boat's "performance envelope" At 0730 the wind was South at 6mph, and Thursday at 0730 just about the same, increasing to 16mph around the time we'd be coming back in to put the boat back on the trailer at the end of our day.

So, I rolled over to the SturgeUrge Compound and we hitched up the boat, topped up our coffee and hit the road. Traffic was quite light...even for a Friday, and we made it to the Richmond Marina in great time. When we pulled up to the gate however, there was a Ford pickup blocking the coin-operated gate, and they're erected a huge white Event Tent in the parking lot...right next to the top of the boat ramp.

The pickup was a contractor's work truck, and we found the workers who moved the rig so we could pay the box a ten spot to open the gate, and get ready to launch. Inside the gate was a bustling scene that we'd never seen before.

The Big Tent wasn't for a party, it was the Finn Inspection Tent. There was one side panel left open on the corner adjacent to the top of the two lane boat ramp. This served as the entrance door to the carpeted tent. Staged outside this door were a dozen or so small racing sailboats on little hand operated trailers call dollies. The dozen or so Finn-Class racers, each on it's dolly did a bang up job of blocking one of the two lanes of our boat ramp! That would be the lane we usually use to launch and retrieve from.

We shrugged off the glitch in our usual launch routine and used the eastern lane. SturgeUrge parked the tow rig and we motored out of the marina and towards our adventure. The wind had picked up in the two hours since I checked the buoy was up to 10mph or so, but well within our comfort zone.

Of course, Comfort Zone is a relative term...once we cleared the breakwall, and enter the Bay proper, we found some big groundswell that had swells of the perfect shape to optimize the spray so it could be carried by the freshening wind onto the just cleaned windshield, and over the winshield onto us!

We had the quick "Waddya think?" discussion and decided to do one drift over Southampton Shoals, the ground in the insistent groundswells.

It was a slow slog, the swells were steep and a couple of feet tall...occasionally the boat would be deep in the trough and the bow would dip a tiny bit of the oncoming swell...SturgeUrge handled the helm with aplomb as we slowly motored south towards the Berkeley Pier. We made it about a third of the way down the Shoals before the need to fish got the better of us. We knew that we'd be doing one drift on Southampton before we'd beat our way accross the Bay to the Tiburon shoreline named Paradise. I'm sure it got the name Paradise because of the wind shadow there that makes that part of the Bay seem like Paradise on Earth compared to the churning, blustery main body of the Bay!

We were about half way into a moderate incoming tide when we dropped our baits into the Bay, so the South wind aligned with the tidal current...perfect!

Somebody forgot to tell the halibut! We finished the slightly off-kilter drift without a bite...our baits came up without a scratch on 'em, so we headed over to Paradise.

There was still some wind at Paradise, but the water was flat. We made a couple of long drifts and SturgeUrge caught a Smooth Hound Shark of the usual size...around 20 inches long. Quickly released, the shark went home and we went about our business. I made lunch...ham and swiss on a sourdough roll. The slice of heirloom tomato, "Pineapple" variety, and the thin sliced red onion made it special.

The halibut still weren't feeling special about our offerings however...usually, making lunch ensures a bite...not Friday...then the wind came Paradise...things were getting rock and roll-y now. We decided to head back and call it a day...the fish weren't biting and were were starting to feel a little beat up...we picked 'em up and began to slowly motor east towards the Richmond harbor.

Less than a mile into the beat, we were becalmed! No wind and flat water! SturgeUrge slowed the boat, and we put 'em back in. Sturge's line started doing something weird about a minute later, so he began to reel it in...he said he had some weeds caught of his rig...then he yelled: "Get the net!" The weeds were actually a fine halibut! SturgeUrge asked if it was a keeper, and asked for the Stick.

The Stick is a piece of clothes pole, an inch and a quarter pine dowel, that SturgeUrge marked with measurements for minimum legal length for the species we fish for. California Halibut must be 22 inches minimum to be "Keepers" The stick enables an accurate measurement before you net the fish. We prefer not to net any halibut that we're going to release. Halibut are very vulnerable to having their fins torn in the net, and since halibut are almost always are lip-hooked, they have low release-mortality when you don't net them before you release them. The Stick does double duty as a "Priest" or fish bat, used to dispatch any fish that "go in the box" AKA Keepers, AKA Groceries!

The fine halibut was a couple of inches short, perfectly lip-hooked, and an easy candidate for release. Done. That was it for the catching part of our adventure. It took all of 15 minutes for the wind to get back in gear, so we decided to call it a day.

It was lumpier now, so we took some spray as we beat back across the Bay. I scanned the outer harbor to find the RCMC1 Buoy on the way in. The buoy that  I thought was it, wasn't. I'll use my handheld GPS next time to get an exact fix on our friend Buoy RCMC1

We cleared the breakwater...the usual bunch of Kite Surfers were missing in action. We wondered where are all the Finns? Most of the way in, we found two kite surfers...and one Finn. We tidied up the deck, racked the fishing rods and made ship-shape for we entered the No Wake Zone a lone Finn blew by us...making a fine wake!

The ramp was a textbook example of the "Boat Ramp Follies"...we'd have to be extra-careful so as not to become the stars of this movie!

"Our Side" of the ramp and it's dock were clear from the water, the top of our lane was still parked up with Finn Dollies...there was a dolly in the water at the bottom of our lane as well...the wind was blowing perpendicular to the ramp at 10mph...gusting to 13...we needed to be on our side so we could recover with dry feet and little drama. At my insistence, SturgeUrge rolled the wet dolly out of our way, and backed the trailer down the ramp all akimbo, so we could trailer the boat...We nailed it first time! SturgeUrge pulled the rig over to the washdown lane, and I walked past the Finn Tent to the restroom to change into my shorts.

At the top of the ramp, behind the herd of Finns and dollies there were two photos freshly-posted by the Harbormaster. These pictures, printed on plain, letter sized stock showed the boat ramp. Posted one atop the other, the top photo showed the boat ramp, clear and uncluttered. Over the photo was a green circle. The bottom photo showed the gaggle of Finn Dollies monopolizing the right lane and half of the left lane of the ramp. Over the "Cluster F*ck" photo the International Red Circle With a Slash Symbol for "Do Not"

SturgeUrge was pissed off with the whole scene...the Finn sailors weren't any help...most were French and Italians who didn't (or wouldn't) speak any English. They were clearly ignoring the rules in every language.

It turns out that the Event in the Finn Gold Cup. It runs all week. It's not the America's Cup, but it is a Big Deal. The Tent is really the Scrutineering Tent, where the boats are inspected to make sure they're within the rules. These sailors are Olympic Class Athletes...they obey the rules in the Tent and on the the Boat Ramp? Not so much.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Hurricane Season Blows Up?

This morning I was multitasking in the sack...internet, radio, newspaper ads, and I had the Local TV News on. I wanted some up to the minute news on Mt Diablo's Curry Fire.

The local Newsers didn't have much of anything new on the fire. The fire behaved overnight, and it's mostly over...for sure there wasn't anything happening that would make dramatic video for the 5 O'clock News.

Almost absent-mindedly, I clicked the TV to FoxNews to see if any of Tuesday's close Primary Elections had been officially decided yet...specifically the Alaska Republican Senate Race between the incumbent from the Murkowski Family Dynasty,  and Tea-Party upstart Marine Corps Veteran, Joe Miller. This race is down to the Absentee Ballot Count, and they won't start counting them until Tuesday.Isn't that rush job for Alaskans!

While I was doing other things I heard the FoxNews Weather Gal say: "The Atlantic Hurricane Season Blew Up Today" What?

Blown Up? I looked at my Atlantic Tropical Weather Pages and "Blown Up" turns out to be pure hyperbole...One Cat 2 Hurricane and one Tropical Storm isn't a Blow-Up in my book.

Cat 2 Hurricane Danielle is in the Mid-Atlantic, may strengthen to Cat 3 before fading out in the cooler North Atlantic waters where it's headed now. It's still quiet in the Gulf of Mexico, too.

All things hurricane sent me to the CPC's 90 Day Climate Outlook to see how the deepening La Niña is coming along. I checked the Reno AFD too, and Red Flag Warnings are up again for the Reno-Tahoe Sierra Region. (I can feel the Monsoonal Moisture in the air this morning here in the Inland Valley.) The Reno NWS forecasters even had a Snow Level in the discussion...9000ft, after the cold front passes!

So, in the Dog Days of Summer we have a flurry of Big Picture Weather News. This will most likely percolate all week long as it's almost Hurricane Katrina's Fifth Anniversary. The TV Networks are all planning Katrina Week Coverage.

Katrina Week? I guess ratings are down...there's not a lot of Shark Attack News this Summer, either...what's a Network to do?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Drive In Movie of My Dreams

What a fantasy! Here's some science guys' idea of a night out. Night is like three months long on Antarctica if memory serves.

This photo just flicks my switch! Oh, we have fireworks on New Year's Eve, but nothing so clever as Groom In Movies!

Of course we don't actually have time to watch a movie during the season.

I'd settle for a good show from the Aurora Borealis! The Sun seems to be stirring from it's long Solar Minimum slumber. It won't be until 2015 or so when the next Solar Maximum brings the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights in our lower latitudes.

The Greater Bay Area inferno continues for at least another day. Lots of heat-related news on Local TV News. BART and commuter trains are running behind due to heat-related equipment glitches. CalTrain running slower than usual to protect tracks. Computer heating issues force BART trans to run on manual, slowing trains system-wide. Relief comes to the Coast today, inland tomorrow.

Curiously, this is the first Heat Wave Story covered by the local TV News outlets that hasn't emphasized the "Global Warming Connection" in a couple of years. I wonder if the AGW True Believers are beginning to see the handwriting on the wall?

Wednesday Afternoon Mop-Up
It looks like CalFire has made quick work of the Curry Fire. At 6PM Wednesday, TV News had the fire 90+% contained. Mop-Up inside the fire lines will continue. No structures were lost, and much cooler weather is forecast for the weekend.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


The Sturgeon Moon rises over Mt Diablo Tuesday evening
It's Tuesday afternoon and it's 99F here in the Inland Valley.

I spent a cool two hours making up some more PVC irrigation plumbing in the Ancestral Diggins. I made a mad dash out to lunch, HomeDepot, and the grocery store. The local weather station had 97F when I got home.

I spent a cool couple of hours looking around the Internet for Primary Election News, and listening to some radio. That's when I heard the top of the hour news report smoke and fire in Mount Diablo's Curry Canyon. The news reader threw it to the WeatherDude who said it's 108F up on the mountain.

There's a sliver lining today however, little to no winds. There's still about three hours of daylight left to get every helicopter they can up there for initial attack. No structures threatened at this time 5:21PM PDT.

I've been watching streaming video from KPIX Channel 5 and watching KTVU Channel 2 on HDTV. KTVU has the bird's eye view, and I've seen three textbook drops from the CalFire S-2T bombers. With little wind, the pilots are laying down a swath of Fire Retardant ahead of the fire. When the fire marches into the retardant-covered fuel, a huge plume of white smoke goes up, and the flames dim.

I just heard a resident from near the fire call into the Channel 2 News. She said there was maybe 50 structures up in Curry Creek Canyon. She said a mix of homes, trailers, and outbuildings. She said there were many fire trucks and police cruisers on narrow Curry Canyon Rd. She didn't see any signs of an evacuation, and said the wind was calm.

10PM Update
CalFire reports the 375 acre Mt Diablo Fire is 50% contained. Air operations ended at dark. Air attack will resme at first light. No structures lost today, no evacuations...yet.

Lack of wind has been crucial as high temps and low relative humidity will reign for another day at least. Fortunately, a cold front is forecast to come through for the weekend, bringing colder temps an a chance of rain.

Back in the  Atlantic, Tropical Storm Danielle became a hurricane, briefly strengthened to a Category 2 Hurricane, and died back to tropical storm strength, before becoming a Category 1 Hurricane again. Danielle is casting about the Mid-Atlantic headed WNW at around 18mph.

San Francisco Bay Today
Record heat all around the Bay. Wiser heads appear to be prevailing in the America's Cup kerfuffle. Way to get it together Stakeholders!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

America's Cup On the Air
Friday morning, San Francisco's NPR station KQED spent their 9AM hour talking America's Cup Racing on San Francisco Bay.

You can listen to KQED's Forum podcast here: KQED Forum: San Francisco's America's Cup Bid

The racing on the Bay would be the most exciting sailing races ever broadcast on television. San Francisco Bay forms a huge natural amphitheater where hordes of spectators could watch the big high tech yachts race in the big afternoon winds, with all the iconic SF Bay scenery as a backdrop. This Regatta on TV would surpass ESPN's 1987 coverage from Fremantle by lightyears. Think HDTV.

Such media exposure would be a huge shot in the arm for San Francisco tourism and America's Cup Racing.

Our elected representatives need to hear from all of us. They're all in Sacramento now...sandbagging their constitutional duty to pass the State's Budget. Drop 'em a line, fax or email them. This Regatta must be held on the Bay!

All Quiet on the Eastern Front
The Hurricane Season has been pretty quiet so far this year. I was curious because I've been reading about Sea Surface Temperatures rapidly falling, while over much of Russia there's record heat. I started looking into it all at The National Hurricane Center's Atlantic Tropical Weather Discussion page. Not much there. SSTs are running a little below average over much of the Atlantic, and most of the Gulf of Mexico. The discussion cites the dry air aloft, and unfavorable high level wind patterns.

I found some Big Picture info on Russia's Heat Wave, and it seems the heat wave is local over Moscow, while much of the rest of the old Soviet Union is cooler than average. NOAA says the blistering heat is caused by a "Blocking High", not Global Warming.

The Sun Goes Quiet Again
Our star is quiet again after some impressive flares and Coronal Mass Ejections. Saturday the face of the Sun is sunspot free. A huge Coronal Hole that dominated the northern hemisphere of the Sun for most of the week has rotated to the backside, taking it's streams of solar wind with it.

Clearly the measurements of solar activity point to the ramp-up of Cycle 24...more that 400 days later than average. The Sun is coming out of it's most quiet period in a hundred years. I have to wonder if the quiet Sun over the past two years is part of the rapid cooling of our Sea Surface Temps, and the onset of our new La Niña.

The long Solar Minimum may be implicated in the record cold Winter the Southern Hemisphere is's the same cooling that's kept Hurricane Season on the back burner.