San Luis Overview
Here is a link showing water levels by hour on the O'neil Forebay.
There are two distinct sailing sites here one huge and wind blasted and another small, more popular and more friendly.
Do not confuse San Luis Reservoir with the O'Neil Forebay. The winds blast onto the Reservoir with little warning and rangers report seeing the wind go from zero to 30 knots in minutes. The red warning lights atop Romero Overlook and Quien Sabe Point attest to how rapidly these winds can strike. The lights go on at 30 knots warning boaters to clear the lake. Making these nuclear winds even more interesting is the 3 mile long dam to leeward. Large boulders cover the dam’s face and the 3' to 4' chop produced by high winds breaks like surf on the dam's steep surface. Because of these dangerous conditions rangers, in the past, did not allow any windsurfing under red light conditions. At about 45 knots the rangers will close the lake to all windsurfers. The closure is announced via red lights and loudspeakers on the patrol vehicles.
Launching at San Luis is tricky. Irrigation use causes the shoreline to move hundreds of yards during the summer. The best place to launch is the area around the Basalt Boat Ramp. When the water is down drive to the shoreline on temporary roads made by fishermen to avoid getting stuck. During red light conditions you must launch from Basalt Cove where you are visible to the rangers.
The O'Neil Forebay is a much easier place to sail, the winds are lighter and far less gusty. A road runs along its southern shoreline and you can launch at many places along its length. The wind is side shore and there is good access. However if you can handle offshore conditions and enjoy flat water speed sailing you can launch from the shoreline south of the San Luis Creek Day Use Area. The water in this area is very shallow for the first hundred yards. The water level changes at San Luis frequently. The best water level is 221 - 224. Below 219.5 you may enounter sand bars with longer fins. In general long blade fins are not recommended. You can check out the water level at http://wwwoco.water.ca.gov/indexo.html
under 'Dispatchers Daily Water Reports'. This site gives hourly reports on water levels in the forebay: http://cdec2.water.ca.gov/cgi-progs/queryFx?ONF
Weeds can me a major problem here and can make sailing miserable as early as MID-JUNE in some years.There are a number of significant concerns for the newcomer to O'Neil. The water is very cold since it is siphoned from the bottom of the San Luis Reservoir. The water temperatures can vary 25 degrees from one part of the lake to another.
It is a bit strange sailing in hot weather in a full wetsuit in water that is as cold as the ocean. The lake's water level is constantly changing and may go up or down several feet in a day. This poses problems other than just having your lunch inundated. The main sailing areas at O'Neil are only 3 to 5 feet deep and at lower waters great expanses of uneven mudflats are exposed. The problem arises when you go screaming into an area that was waist deep in the morning only to hear a sickening crunch as your fin box goes to a muddy grave. Talk to some regular sailors to find where the shallow places are located. The Forebay is very popular and its is common to have over a hundred sailors crowd the waters. Weeds generally get real bad by July, so bring a small wave fin or a weed fin.
The wind machine at San Luis is similar to that at Sherman Island. Hot low pressure air in the Central Valley sucks cool ocean air through Pacheco and sends it blasting to the water. The wind starts before dawn and blows in the 20 knot range until mid-morning. Mid-day often brings very light winds from the northeast. By mid-afternoon the wind returns and may continue through the night and into the next morning. If you drive down a fog bound coast on Highway 101 and the fog begins to break as you approach Pacheco Pass on Highway 152, get ready for good wind.
There is space for 500 campers at the Medeiros campground near O'Neil. The sites are undeveloped, offer only water and chemical toilets and are exposed to high winds during the night. The Basalt Campgrounds are fully developed and offer the shade and wind protection of an eucalyptus grove, showers and restrooms. Camping fees are $10 per night at Basalt and $6 at Medeiros campground. The lake offers excellent bird watching, fishing and water skiing. Bring your mountain bike.
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