The saga began when I took friends out for the day on Condesa for a sort of bachelor party for John Caron. We anchored behind Angel Island, right off the ruins of the old quarantine station, and had a barbeque.
When it was time to go I went to pull up the anchor and it was fouled. I pulled in all directions with Condesa and tried every trick in the book. After forty-five minutes we had an additional hundred and fifty feet of chain hopelessly fouled and it was getting dark. I dumped all 300-feet of chain and marked it with a buoy.
Apparently I’m the last one to know. Every cruising guide on San Francisco Bay says never to anchor in this spot because it is a notorious anchor-eater. I called the Angel Island rangers and they were quite cool about leaving ground tackle and buoys in their state park on a temporary basis.
We returned two days later, again with a bit of a party for a barbeque, and anchored Condesa nearby. We launched the dinghy and my brother Jim and I set out to recover the anchor. I donned snorkeling gear and my very warm wetsuit for the 48-degree water, while Jim did the heavy lifting from the dinghy.
To be read with a Jacques Cousteau accent:
Following the chain down into the depths, the last of the light disappeared at twelve feet. Below this was only darkness. The murkiness of San Francisco Bay makes the visibility just a few inches. My dive light was useless, and I could only see its light underwater if I pressed it against my mask. Upon reaching the bottom, at a depth of 25-feet, I was in a cold, dark, formless world, where my eyes were useless, but my other senses would become more acute.
I made about twenty dives over two hours, hyperventilating and holding my breath each time. After the first or second dive I came up and said, “It’s wrapped around a mushroom-shaped rock!” Then a few dives later I said, “I think it’s a sunken boat. I can feel the bowsprit, and I think I fell in the hold.” Then after a few more times fumbling around on the bottom the truth was known: “Pilings! Piles of broken pilings!” Indeed, there must have been a large pier extending from the old quarantine station. Now the pier is in ruins, and the mish-mash of broken pilings makes an anchor trap for the unwary. With each dive I got better at orienting myself, but feeling one’s way in total darkness, 25-feet underwater, in a big pile of pilings, is a little disorienting and unnerving. The flashlight was useless in the best of times, but I tried pressing it to my mask to see if it was working and it was half full of dark, muddy water, as was my mask. The chain seemed to be wrapped around one particular piling, and after many dives and over an hour of trying, there didn’t seem to be any hope…and it was getting late.
We got back to Condesa and everyone was happily barbequing away and drinking beers. I felt like I’d been to another planet. My ears were clogged, my eyes were more sensitive to light, and I was generally chilled and disoriented. People kept asking me questions, but I still had my hood on and couldn’t hear a thing. I’d been a blind and deaf man for the last two hours, and recovering my senses was a slow process. Andrew had been manning the barbeque and chumming the water with raw bloody meat the whole time, which is always nice to find out after you’ve been diving.
So there stayed my anchor and chain, floating with it’s little orange buoy. It was about $2000 worth of gear, and not to be left behind lightly. Hiring salvage divers would be expensive, and fraught with complications, like how would we get 800 pounds of recovered gear from their boat into mine?
Act 3: Another week later, we returned again. This time my friend Roger (above with his wife Laura on their boat) was a star in renting scuba gear for me and meeting us at the dock in Tiburon. Once again Jim did the heavy lifting from the dinghy and I went in with the scuba gear, which completed the whole spaceman going into the unknown motif. Roger also got me a brand new dive light, which was totally useless in zero visibility. Once again we made a day of it, and left eight or ten friends partying on Condesa nearby.
The scuba gear allowed me a lot more time on the bottom for assessment and contemplation. The chain was indeed looped around a horizontal piling, and after feeling this piling up and down, it seemed an impossible situation since neither end of the piling was off the seabed. I braced my fins against–whatever is down there–and tried to move the piling. It wouldn’t budge. I thought about it some more, and figured that the piling moving was the only possibility, so once again I grunted to move it. It did move, albeit very slowly because it was stuck in the muck on the bottom of San Francisco Bay. Finally, there I was in total darkness and zero visibility, standing in the muck, holding a 500 pound, 18-inch diameter, barnacle-encrusted piling on my shoulder…which I could easily drop and hopelessly pin myself to the bottom. I got the chain unwrapped and gave the signal to Jim to pull up chain, which was two sharp yanks, or was it many repeated yanks? The yanking got confusing for both of us, and more chain kept falling on my head.
I went to the surface to report the good news and sort out the yanking. Jim pulled in another hundred feet of chain and we got to the original snag. I went down again and could actually see a little before stirring up the silt. The anchor itself, my 45-pound CQR, was wedged under yet another piling and quickly freed. Jim pulled it to the surface and we were now in a very overloaded little 8-foot dinghy with 800 pounds of anchor and chain, scuba gear, and two grown men.
We returned to Condesa like conquering heroes. Once again I felt a veil of distance between me and the earthlings barbequing on Condesa. I was only down for half an hour this time, but it might as well have been a lifetime.
The next day I went to return the scuba gear and the guy at the dive shop had a good laugh and let me know, once again, that I wasn’t the first to lose an anchor at this particular spot. In fact, he said the spot would yield some pretty good hunting for a little amateur salvage operation.
This article was syndicated from The Adventures of the Vessel Condesa