The Farallon Patrol at 25 

The volunteer Farallon Patrol officially celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, and we here salute these expert seamen and devoted ocean conservationists for a quarter-century of service to PRBO. The words are theirs. 

Early years: Excerpted from the Farallon Patrol’s 1983 Report 

In November 1972, when the last Coast Guardsman departed the newly automated Farallon light, Point Reyes Bird Observatory was left with a year-round commitment to man the island sanctuary but without sea transportation for its personnel. An appeal to the newly organized Conservation Patrol of the Bay Chapter, Oceanic Society was answered by a few boat owners seeking extraordinary adventure. Prerequisites were a sea-going vessel, ocean experience, and a desire to help maintain a viable ocean environment through PRBO’s work in the Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. 

Volunteers responded, navigation skills were sharpened, insurance reviewed, and schedules set. The 33 miles from the mainland to Southeast Farallon Island is an unforgiving stretch of open ocean subject to fog, wind, currents, and large seas. The landing is made on an offshore oil rig rope net buoy, hoisted up the cliff by a huge crane. The return trip is often a downhill sleigh ride, sometimes spent searching for the Golden Gate in dense fog after dark. 

Our 40 sail and power vessels, all are certified by the U.S. Coast Guard for ocean use, vary in length from 31 to 65 feet and have a combined insured value of $3.5 million. In 12 years over 500 round trips have been made. Using a nominal value of $200 per trip (far below the cost of an actual charter at today’s prices), the Farallon Patrol has donated services to PRBO in excess of $100,000, transporting more than 1500 biologists to and from their study site. 

The reward is the satisfaction of performing a service for a dedicated cause. “Responsible people doing remarkable things,” the Farallon Patrol is a uniquely successful volunteer program. 

Whales: Charlie Merrill’s Cimba log 

17 March 1973: The return trip started at 12:30 with weather conditions ideal—clear blue sky and long gentle swells. About eight miles from the islands, we sighted spouts ahead. Interest mounted as we closed on four California grey whales. They appeared to be in a playful mood, for they stood on their tails and turned their entire bodies to better view our approach. 

We circled slowly, closing all the time, until with mounting tension we saw two appear, one on each bow, traveling leisurely at our slow speed,their entire battle-scarred backs, barnacles and all, practically inviting us to step on board for their next dive. Then, with a gentle flip of their huge tails, they sounded, leaving us with a beautiful memory of a whaling adventure, almost in disbelief. 

Conversation: Rick Boyce, Paloma 
Among the experiences possible on a circuit to the Farallones, one memorable one is often the run back to the Bay under sail. The boat, having accumulated a big store of potential energy, bit by bit like a miser, while beating to the islands, dissipates it recklessly on the return trip, casting her wake over the swells like a spendthrift. And her mood gets into her crew, the beneficiaries of her largess. Delighted to be aboard under such conditions and perhaps a little reckless themselves, they speak with a candor possible only among strangers. 

The barriers fall slowly at first. Someone goes out onto the bowsprit to read a fortnight’s mail we have brought them, or leans against the deck box on the foredeck, eyes closed to adjust to the sea. But eventually Paloma’s deck becomes a swaying stage from which the gulls hear dialogues on biology, seismology, diesel engines, art, astronomy or voyaging. As night falls, Jupiter might rise over the clouds gathering in the south while Venus sets over the diminishing Farallones. 

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