Brunch Cruise – What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
It was going to be a sunny and warm Sunday, with temperatures forecast to be in the triple digits by early afternoon. As we stowed gear aboard our friends Steve and Jennie’s new Carver C40, we were making our final preparations for our short voyage from Willow Berm Marina to the Grand Island Mansion, the champagne and pre-brunch snacks are all in place and ready to serve as soon as we clear the marina.
The First Leg
Our voyage plan was to take the Georgiana Slough to the Sacramento River and then turn into Steamboat Slough on the way up, and take the Sacramento River to the San Joaquin River on the return leg. The entire voyage is approximately forty nautical miles, with the first leg planned to take two and one-half hours and the return slightly less time. Underway from Willow Berm at 0945, we have our first bridge of the day opened, the Mokelumne River bridge shortly after. On summer weekends, the Mokelumne Bridge operates on a 20 minute scheduled opening on the hour, twenty past and forty past. The scheduled openings start at 1100 on Sunday with the rest of the time being on demand so passing under at 1005 we have almost no delay, are quickly through and entering the Georgiana Slough.
Taking our time as we pass the Ox Bow Marina and the waterfront homes, we are quickly approaching our second bridge opening, Tyler Island. Fortunately for us as we come around the bend, Tyler Island Bridge is still open for a couple of down bound ski boats and the tender agrees to hold her open a few more minutes as we make our approach. We resist the urge to speed up as we approach the bridge as most bridges have a no wake zone and a five-mile per hour speed limit area before and after the bridge. Tyler Island has several waterfront homes with boat docks just to the north of the bridge and any boater leaving a wake will surely raise the ire of the bridge tender and homeowners. Better to keep the speed down and take a few extra minutes on approach.
Once past Tyler Island Bridge and the boat docks just to the north, we can bring the Carver up to cruise speed and enjoy the serene beauty of the Georgiana Slough. Even at this hour of the morning, the day is already toasty warm and the 20-knot breeze sure feels good. As most boaters know, the slough from Tyler Island Bridge until two miles south of the Georgiana Slough Bridge near Walnut Grove is not speed controlled, however water skiing is no longer allowed. Consequently, there are fewer boats to reduce our wake for since most ski boats go elsewhere for wakeboarding and skiing.
The last two miles before the Georgina Slough Bridge is wake-controlled and we find many vessels that are either anchored, beached or drifting with their crew sunbathing or swimming. This two-mile stretch is the perfect area to relax and enjoy the afternoon in the cool clean waters of the Georgiana as we make our way at five miles per hour.
A short twenty-five minutes later, we are approaching the Georgiana Slough Bridge and will need this one opened as well. That is bridge number three so far today required to move out of our way so we can pass.
After passing the Georgiana Slough Bridge, next up is the Walnut Grove Bridge, which is just around the corner after entering the Sacramento River. Our boat has an air clearance of approximately 16.5 feet and the Walnut Grove Bridge clearance indicators shows there is 18 feet today. A quick radio call to the bridge tender confirms 18 feet and there should be enough clearance for us to slip underneath without an opening. Now well past the bridge, the various marinas, and the small boats of Walnut Grove, we can now get our natural air conditioning back on high as we cruise up the Sacramento River to Steamboat Slough.
It seems like just a few minutes later and we are approaching the confluence of Steamboat Slough and the Sacramento River. Bridge clearance shows twenty feet so we should be able to slide under this one as well. As we safely pass under the bridge, I look, hopefully, to see if Steamboat Landing is open yet. Unfortunately, the restaurant is not yet open but the dock is full and the sandy beach is well populated with folks cooling off in the river. I hope that this much-needed waterside dining place will be open before the summer has passed. Stay tuned.
At just about two and one-half hours from the time, we departed Willow Berm we are secured at the Grand Island Mansion docks. There is plenty of room for several boats on the 120-foot dock and since we have arrived thirty minutes early for our 1300 brunch reservation, we pick a spot close to the covered waiting lounge and have another adult beverage.
From the boat dock, it is merely steps to the top of the levy where we get a great view of the mansion.
Brunch Fit For A King (Or A Boat Captain)
After arriving at the mansion, we have a few minutes to wander around before our table is available. If you have never been here, this is my first time, the building and grounds are fantastic. The lower level of the mansion has several great rooms for large parties and weddings. Also not to miss is the pool table and bar made famous in a Hollywood movie. We were asked to refrain from going upstairs to the upper level to view the hotel rooms as they were occupied with wedding guests. Once our table was ready, the feast began with an immediate Mimosa as we formed our strategy for attacking the buffet. Turns out that the hotel has done a terrific job with staggering reservations as there was almost no line at the buffet while the dining room was nearly full. We did not need a strategy, just an unhurried stroll past the awesome food.
The Mansion Story
The Sacramento River delta’s historic Grand Island Mansion is a uniquely spectacular Italian Renaissance-styled villa. The Mansion is the largest private estate in Northern California, enchanting visitors and guests with a display of the finest features of classical architecture and expert craftsmanship.
Built by Mr. Lewis W. Meyers, this impressive estate sits on the outskirts of the town of Walnut Grove, California. Walnut Grove is one of the earliest settlements on the Sacramento River Delta, established in 1850. Mr. Meyers was an accomplished and influential Californian, and was the owner of 865 acres on Grand Island, where he built a highly successful fruit farm, growing pears, peaches, plums, cherries, and asparagus, and which was, at the time, one of the show-places of the county.
Planned by Mr. Meyers’ wife Henrietta and designed by renowned San Francisco architect J. W. Dolliver in 1917, this four-story, 24,000 square foot, 58 room villa was the centerpiece of Louis W. Meyers’ personal empire. Construction of the Mansion was completed in 1920. However, Mr. Meyers’ enjoyment of his grand domicile was brief, as he died in April of 1922, at the age of 51. Upon the untimely passing of Mr. Myers, Mrs. Myers took over the management of the estate, and with the assistance of her son Louis J. Meyers, carried on farming operations.
Louis J. Meyers and his wife Audrey, the daughter of David Lubin of Weinstock Lubin Department Store fame, enjoyed being a part of high society as well. As a result, the Mansion served originally not only as the Meyers’ family home, but as a favorite haunt for many a celebrity of the 1920s and 30s. The Meyers, who loved to entertain, played host to such luminaries as President Franklin D. Roosevelt, actress Greta Garbo and mystery writer Erle Stanley Gardner. Distinctive touches throughout the mansion still reflect its star-studded past, such as the private movie theater and closets in the ladies’ lounge named for Hollywood stars of the day.
Unfortunately, the Meyers’ good times came to an end along with so many others with the arrival of the Great Depression. As their fortunes suffered, they could no longer afford to live in the Mansion they called home, and it and orchards were parceled off. Fortunately, thriving pear orchards surround the Mansion to this day, preserving the area’s traditional ambiance.
The story of the Mansion picks back up in the 1950s, when Sacramento restauranteur Frank Perese saw the potential of this impressive property. Mr. Perese installed a commercial kitchen, and the Mansion began its second life as the backdrop for a unique dining experience.
Since 1978, the Mansion has been operated as a dining, wedding and event venue, lovingly maintained and periodically refurbished to ensure that this classic landmark will always embody the opulent style of a bygone era.
The Mansion is a treasure trove of handiwork of the finest craftsmen from Europe. Everywhere you look, the Grand Island Mansion embodies the finest craftsmanship and design, meant to please the most discerning guests of yesterday and today. Distinctive original features like marble fireplaces, unique handmade tile work, inlaid parquet flooring and imported wood paneling have remained intact for visitors to admire and enjoy a century after the mansion was constructed, enhanced by luxurious period furnishings and authentic artwork. Enjoying a game on the oversized billiards table, descending the grand staircase, or taking a stroll through the Italian Statuary Garden gives visitors the feeling of what it might have been like to rub shoulders with the upper crust of yesteryear. From the spacious, manicured front lawn to the dramatic collonade room, a trip to the Mansion is truly a rare glimpse into the opulence of an earlier age.
The Mansion has been featured in such publications as National Geographic, Architectural Digest, and many other publications, highlighting its historical significance, classical beauty and its unrivaled desirability for weddings and events. It has also provided the setting for films and music videos, and hosted events attended by such prominent guests as President Ronald Reagan, who, upon seeing the Mansion, quipped that “This must be the Western White House.”
Today, the Mansion enters its second century in capable hands, a beloved Northern California landmark ready to provide an elegant setting for special moments or a fanciful glimpse into the past, attracting visitors and guests from all over California and the world. Courtesy grandislandmansion.com
The Ride Back
Being a person that prefers to travel a different route on the return leg, our plan was to continue down Steamboat Slough, past the J-Mack cable ferry, Snug Harbor, and Hidden Harbor and into the Sacramento River.
Just a short way down Steamboat we come across one of the few remaining cable ferries in the delta, the J-Mack ferry. Cal Trans operates two ferries in the delta, the J-Mack and the Real McCoy II. Both these ferries operate 24/7 on a twenty-minute schedule and are free of charge. The J-Mack can handle up to six vehicles, crosses Steamboat Slough in a few minutes, and connects Grand Island to Ryer Island.
After waiting for the ferry to cross over to Grand Island and the flashing red lights are deactivated, it is safe for us to continue south where we pass the sprawling ten-acre grounds of Snug Harbor. This is a full service resort offering waterfront rental cabins, waterfront RV sites, covered berths for vessels to fifty feet, and docks for sailboat, houseboats, and ski boats.
Not far down the slough is our last no wake zone before entering the Sacramento River near Hidden Harbor. The marina is predominantly sailing vessels with a few stink pots thrown in. This “hidden” harbor is great location to slow down and enjoy life at a slower pace.
After entering the Sacramento River, it is just a short distance when we find our next bridge, the Rio Vista Bridge. It is fortunate for us the clearance is greater than 20 feet so we only need to slow down and pass safely under. Downstream and on the western bank of the Sacramento is one of my favorite dining and consuming of adult beverages locations, The Point. Not because I live in Rio Vista and The Point is less than 10 minutes drive from my house, but because the river views from the restaurant and bar are as good as the food.
Two and one-half miles down the Sacramento from The Point we find our last bridge for this day, Three Mile Slough. Many local boaters know to follow the dredged channel down to light 22 before heading across the river towards the bridge. In the middle of the river there is shallow water and many submerged snags just waiting to grab the unwary mariner’s propeller. A good friend recently discovered an uncharted submerged stump by not following the safe route on his way to The Point and has a bent prop to show for his loss of situational awareness. Thanks for the lesson Jim.
Having made it safely across the river and under the Three Mile Slough Bridge, it is a short distance to the no wake zone for Brannon Island State Park and just around the corner, Heidi’s Outrigger Marina and Saloon. The name says it all. This is another of my favorites with ice-cold beer, great food, and friendly folks. One of the few spots you can sit on the patio with your dog at your feet, a cigar in one hand, an ice-cold beer in the other and watch boat TV. Heidi will even bring out a fresh cold beer and a frosted mug if you like so you do not have to stir about and get your own from the bar.
At the end of Three Mile Slough, we enter the San Joaquin River at light twenty-nine. Caution advised here as there is quite a bit of shoaling on the east side of the slough. Best to follow all the way down to Three Mile Slough light one on the west side and then make a sharp turn into the San Joaquin. From here it is just a few miles to the Mokelumne River and back to the Berm.
I know of four ways to have a drawbridge move out your way so that you can safely pass. The easiest and usually the best is to hail the bridge on VHF channel 09 and request an opening. The bridge tender will generally respond quickly and then begin the bridge opening process. Or, once in front of the bridge you can sound the whistle signal of one prolonged and one short blast. The bridge will respond with the same signal and start the opening process. Or, you can call most bridges on the phone and speak directly with the bridge tender and make arrangements for an opening. The phone number is generally on a placard prominently displayed on the bridge. For bridges that require advanced notice, four hours for example, or have an opening appointment, this is often best. And last, as one boating friend of mine learned, just stop your boat in front of the bridge and wait for the bridge tender to come outside the control house and ask if you want to pass. He discovered this method because he did not know the first three.
If you are planning a full day of boating with temperatures well above the century mark and will be on a non-temperature controlled vessel, remember to bring your personal fan with water spray option.
What could possibly go wrong? Nothing. It was a near perfect day of boating fun.
Time for me to sit back, enjoy a good glass of port and light up a fine cigar while I contemplate more summer boating. Until next month please keep those letters coming. Have a good story to tell, send me an email. patcarson@yachtsman magazine.com. I love a good story.
I would like to add my welcome to the Yachtsman’s new editor. Please do not be too critical of my writing skills and please make me look good. H