Delta Rat Scrapbook – by Bill Wells

Delta Rat Scrapbook

Ryde Hotel – A View To A Thrill

I have been to the Ryde Hotel many, many, times; countless times when they were open for dinner, and have attended and sponsored many events there. It is absolutely one of the coolest places in the Delta. Besides being a hotel, in the past it was a speakeasy, gambling joint and at one time had the longest bar in Northern California. There were rumors that it was a brothel. The building is allegedly inhabited by ghosts, and has secret passages dating back to the prohibition era. It is all wrapped up in a beautiful Art Deco package perched on the west bank of the Sacramento River.

Sunset at the Ryde Hotel.

Sue and I were there meeting with Michael DiMartino of Golden Road Productions. They are making a documentary about the Delta and the water thieves. Manager, Daniel Villanova took us for a grand tour of the Ryde – beyond any tour I have had before. We started in the main dining room and Daniel gave us a history of the establishment. From there we proceeded to the roof of the four-story building and saw a grand view of the Sacramento River and the farmlands to the west. It was amazing up there, the 15-knot breeze kept things interesting and none of us ventured too close to the edge. It reminded me of working on the flight deck of the USS Ranger when we were launching aircraft. According to Daniel the owners of the hotel would station lookouts on the roof to watch for approaching law enforcement when illicit activities were taking place at the establishment.

Looking southerly at the Sacramento River from the roof of the Ryde Hotel.

After enjoying the fantastic view, we went to the next level down and got to tour some of the rooms. Now I have to tell you the entire hotel and all the décor are out of the Art Deco era. There is a large selection of rooms available including: the standard queen room, a master suite, two queen, double, queen, & twin double and the fabled sunset suite. Sue and I have stayed at the hotel a few times and love it. Let me just take a second here and tell you that Daniel lives in an Art Deco world. He even looks like he came out of a film noir from the 30s or 40s.

We made our way down to the first floor, or basement if you are looking from the levee side. This is the former speakeasy, and the bar reportedly was once the longest bar in California. Daniel informed us that the legendary tunnel from the Sacramento River to the Ryde actually extended to the outbuildings in the back. Daniel took us behind the sealed door to the tunnel and we discovered that it was actually below the level of the entrance. He showed us the spot in the floor that had been filled in with concrete by the FBI back in the prohibition era. We heard that bootleggers actually not only used the tunnel to carry alcoholic spirits from boats on the river, but it was also used to store hooch unloaded from trucks that would pull up to the speakeasy entrance below the levee in back of the building.

Daniel at the bar in the Ryde basement.

There are mirrors in back of the bar and Daniel says they discovered an Art Deco mural behind the mirrors. He is working on removing the mirrors and restoring the mural. He promised to call me back for some photos when it is ready. We did not see any gangsters or ghosts on this trip, but we did see the ostentation of peacocks that have taken up residence around the hotel. Sometimes when you looked out a window a bird would be staring back at you from outside.

Peacock trying to break in.

We went back up to the main level and Daniel poured us a refreshing glass of wine from behind the bar in the main dining room. He told us some of the legends surrounding the hotel. It indeed entertained gangsters and politicians (including Herbert Hoover), as well as vacationers and partiers. It has been rumored that the Ryde was owned by Lon Chaney at one time. Daniel says it was actually owned by Lon Chaney’s brother but Lon did frequent it. With the current pandemic situation, the schedule has been disrupted but I have had brunch at the Ryde a few times and strongly recommend it. Give them a call at 916-776-1318 to check their schedule.


Russ Robinson, historian and staff commodore of the South Bay Yacht Club (SBYC) called me to tell me about the historic vessel, Comrado. Russ told me that, “She is a 41-foot two masted schooner built around 1895 in Alviso. The boat was built by Joseph O. McKee, who came to the Bay Area with his father, Henry McKee around the horn in 1850. Henry was captain of the ship, a barque that brought goods to San Francisco for sale. Joseph himself became a ship captain and sailed many types of vessels from Alviso to San Francisco and also into the Delta.

Comrado (there is a little confusion over her name).

“He was also a trained cabinetmaker and later on he built Comrado. The joinery inside the cabin of Comrado and the boat itself is exceptional and a tribute to his skills. An exact date of when she was built is not known but I do know that at the South Bay Yacht Club where I am the historian, there is a photo circa 1900 with her anchored in Alviso Slough in front of the club. We also have a photo of Joseph at the helm of the vessel. Joseph was our first commodore. The SBYC was founded in 1888 and incorporated in 1896. Joseph died in 1907.

Interior looking aft.

“Comrado at present is in Ladds Marina in Stockton and out of the water. She was leaking a bit so the present owner took her there to determine what was wrong. They have found a few planks on either side near the transom that need replacement and also a couple of ribs that need sister ribs installed. The yard estimate is $10,000 for the work. The yard however will allow the owner to do the work and he needs some expert skilled help. I only found out that Comrado was still in existence and I very much want to see her saved. The owner’s wife says, ‘just take a chain saw to her.’ The South Bay Yacht Club has no space for her as our channel, the Alviso Slough, is heavily silted in.”

Interior looking forward.

So, I went down to Ladds to take a look. I had been in contact with her owner, Bud Washer. He took me aboard. Bud has been the caretaker for the last 15 years and done a good job keeping her in shape. I love this boat; I am a sailor by heart and always wanted a yawl or schooner. She is about as cool as any boat I have ever seen. You can tell the interior was done by a master craftsman. There is a folding table in the main salon. In the base for the table there are four wooden folding chairs. The vintage propane stove is mounted on gimbals and the pot belly stove in the middle of the cabin has been converted to operate on propane. There is a smaller cabin with two bunks (crew quarters?) forward on the port side. The head is forward on the starboard side. The craftsmanship throughout is what you would expect from a turn of the century yacht, incredibly beautiful. She is powered with a Perkins diesel with great access in the cabin. Comrado received a prize in the 1987 Master Mariners Regatta.

Well, as Russ said, she needs some work but you could have a beautiful historic boat at a great price. If you are interested send me an email and I will put you in touch with the owner.

Pacific Interclub Yacht Association (PICYA)

The PICYA held their annual awards presentation in early November. It was a virtual awards presentation due to the current health crisis. Patti Brennan, a PICYA director contacted me and suggested that I attend and cryptically said that there might be some award winners from the Delta.

I was very pleased when two friends of mine, Tracie Glaves of Delta Yacht Club and Roger Kelly of the Sea Ray Boat Club, were jointly awarded the Robert S. Olson Memorial Poseidon Award – for a person who has given of their time & effort for the greater good of the boating community. Tracie and Roger have been tireless in their work to clean up the waterways in San Joaquin County. Tracie started the San Joaquin Delta Neighborhood Watch in 2018 and the two of them have been instrumental in helping to relocate the vagrants from the riverbanks, and tracking down illegal dumpers and stolen boats. They have attended countless meetings working to get public officials involved and have held clean up days that have included the public where they have removed tons of trash and junk from local waterways. Congratulations to both of them for their hard work and for a very well-deserved award.

The other awards presented at the meeting were: Individual Meritorious Service – for a person who has performed exceptional acts of rescue & aid in saving life – Earl Trumbull Jr. & Tony Williams of Vallejo Yacht Club; Meritorious Service by a club – Vallejo Yacht Club; Bay & Delta Magazine Public Service Award – performance of community service – Loch Lomond Yacht Club; Wilder Newsletter Trophy – best club newsletters – (1) Tahoe Yacht Club, (2) Stockton Yacht Club, (3) San Jose Sailing Club; Lloyd B. Ryland Historian of the Year Award – historical research & documentation of club history – Ray Hall of South Beach Yacht Club; Harter RBOC Gale Force Wind Trophy – for the club with the highest per member donations to RBOC (Recreational Boaters of California) – California Carver club; Admiral Chester W. Nimitz Trophy – for a club with the greatest advancement of its Youth Sailing program – South Beach Yacht Club; The Condon Trophy – to a person for distinguished & selfless promotion of sailing – Sterling Syquia of South Beach Yacht Club; Douglas Boswell Perpetual Trophy -– Yachtsman Of The Year Award – Ann Dukes of Ebony Boat Club; COTY – Club of the Year – a 3 way tie – Pittsburg Yacht Club, Ebony Boat Club, San Jose Sailing Club.

Also, Paul Anderson of the San Jose Sailing Club received the COTY Emeritus award for over 25 years of service maintaining repository of Club of the Year History, sharing of tracking systems with all PICYA clubs and being part of the review committee.

Pacific Coast Water Rescue (PCWR)

I have been corresponding with John Garza of the PCWR for a couple of months now and learning a lot about his water rescue program. They had a training day starting at the Benicia Marina. I met John and his people at the launch ramp at 1000 hours.

John Garza giving orders aboard the Protector 28.

The Benicia and Rio Vista fire departments brought their boats on trailers and launched them at the marina. John started the orientation and presently the Napa fire boat arrived having traveled all the way from Napa by water. The crew said they left Napa at 0830 hours and arrived in Benicia shortly after 1000, a nice trip indeed. The crew was wearing dry suits to ward off the morning chill.

After John went over the plan for the day, we went aboard the boats and headed out into Suisun Bay. I rode with John, his deckhand Chris Diotte and rescue diver Garin Kubiak. They really knew what they were doing so I tried to stay out of the way except when given the occasional order.

Once we were out in the Bay the Coast Guard boat from Vallejo arrived on-site to offer their advice and counsel. While the Coast Guard and other boats headed west toward the Carquinez Strait, we headed east and dropped several objects into the water including several personal flotation devices and a baby mannequin in a life jacket. We were communicating on VHF channel 68. John made a training call advising the other boats and crews of a possible man overboard and gave them the GPS coordinates as well as visual coordinates. The boats came on up the waterway and converged in the area of the objects that had been thrown into the water. They found them all in short order and we headed back to the marina for lunch. John had wisely numbered each object so we were sure we had them all. The pizzas were delivered just as we arrived and were very welcome to the hungry crews.

Garin Kubiak goes in the water to help with the training.

John held a debriefing and then we headed out again. This time we picked up Cameron Simental (a marina employee and college student who is studying firefighting) to ride with us. This was a good experience for him. Once we got offshore, John announced that one of us would have to go into the water to serve as the victim for the rescue drill. Luckily Cameron and I did not have wetsuits and Garin did, so he went over the side instead of one of us. Before Garin went into the water though we once again dropped off an assortment of jetsam into the water. He was the last to go in near Port Costa in proximity to a derelict boat on the shore that we used as an impromptu part of the exercise. The rescue went off smoothly and the onlookers on shore were duly impressed. By now it was 1500 hours and the Napa crew took leave to get home by dark. The other crews packed up their boats and left.

It was a fascinating day and I was extremely impressed with the professionalism and the discipline of the crews. I hope that if I am ever in need it will be where these folks operate. John also mentioned that Eric Koster of J&H Marine in Stockton is partnering with PCWR to service and maintain the boats.

Chris speaking with the Napa FD crew.

PCWR captains sent six personnel as instructors with three vessels. Also, Protector Boats and Service of Richmond helped sponsor the class with the use of its Protector 28 as the Lead Instructor vessel, thanks to owners Pablo and Danny Sanchez.

This drill helps conclude the 12-day State Fire course for three shifts at Rio Vista and Benicia Fire Departments. Also, this class helps place the New Rio Vista Fire Zodiac/AKA 470 Rescue Boat into service! The drill was part of State Fire Open Water Rescue Boat Operations Training. It was hosted by Benicia Fire and attending agencies were Benicia, Rio Vista, Napa and USCG Vallejo.

John tells me they helped River Delta Fire District get an 18-foot Boston Whaler with a 75-horse outboard in service for them in 2018. They also trained twelve River Delta Fire Department personnel in rescue boat operations. They helped the Rio Vista Fire Department acquire a Jet Ski and trained all Rio Vista Fire Department personnel in rescue boat operations and Jet Ski Ops also in 2018. In 2019 and 2020 they helped Suisun Fire Department place into service two rescue boats and also trained 20 personnel in rescue boat operations.

“In 2020 PCWR contacted Eric Koster of J&H Marine in Stockton who did a rebuild and service of the Thornton Fire Boat. We will also be training TFPD in 2020. In 2020 we helped Rio Vista purchase a Zodiac Rescue Boat and trained 12 personnel in open water rescue. Last, as you observed yesterday PCWR captains training Benicia, Rio Vista and Napa FD in open water rescue. This course will be completed in December with 12 new certified boat operators.”

I just received late word that one of the fellows involved in the training was involved in an actual rescue on Grizzly Bay a couple of days later. You can contact John Garza at PCWR Captains Services 925-337-2294.

Dick And Donna Stephens

Sue and I spent a pleasant afternoon with Dick & Donna Stephens along with their daughter, Pat DeWees and her husband Dan. Pat is compiling a data base of Stephens boats, their history and owners. We spent the afternoon talking about famous boats we have known. Dick, for being 100 years young was able to help Pat and I sort out some legends. It was a charming afternoon, and when we were getting ready to depart Dick awarded Sue and I each a new Stephens Brothers hat that I will treasure forever.

Dick and Donna Stephens with Sue and Bill wearing our new hats.

Waterfraud Update

The Department of Water Resources (DWR) has been advancing the Delta Tunnel project with geotechnical drilling on Twin Cities and Lambert Roads in the Walnut Grove area. Apparently, they are drilling in the roads to try to avoid having to get landowner approval for drilling. When they started there was no traffic control which led to some near misses with the traffic. The Sacramento County Sheriff made at least one visit to the site and then they got some people to direct traffic. Looks like no one was injured.

We are hearing rumors that the White Slough Wildlife Reserve west of I-5 that was under the Department of Fish & Game for public use and benefit, has been transferred to DWR, and is no longer considered a state wildlife area. Apparently, the access gates to the ponds have been closed and locked. The assumption must be made that DWR’s intention is for the wildlife area to be used for the Delta Conveyance/Tunnel project. This would coincide with the drilling seen along Twin Cities Road. If you have any information on this please email me.

The Butte County District Attorney filed a claim for environmental damages caused by the Oroville Dam spillway failure under an 1875 mining law that charges $10.00 per pound for dumping debris in rivers. The disaster of the Oroville spillway sent 3.4 billion to 5.1 billion pounds of debris into the Feather River, so damages could be as high as $34 to $51 billion. With these damages and the state being about $47 billion in debt because of the pandemic, we could be looking at some serious money here. This is a potential burden on taxpayers that could last for generations. Add the $55 billion for the tunnel and we will be faced with selling off some of our cities or converting the state capitol into housing for the homeless.

As I am sitting here putting the final touches on this month’s column, I find out the state of California has paid out $1 billion in fraudulent unemployment claims to incarcerated felons including several on death row. Like I said, we are starting to talk serious money here.

Eight Bells

Janis McNair has crossed over the bar. Janis along with her husband Martin were some of the first folks I met when I joined the Classic Yacht Association (CYA) in 1993. They were married for 39 years. Janis was a tall, elegant lady who could speak on many subjects and always exuded charm.

Janis McNair.

We attended many boating events together over the years and Janis was an excellent crew member aboard their classic Stephens yacht Allure. They were active members of the Northern California Fleet of the Classic Yacht Association. Martin was a CYA Northern California Fleet commodore and later the international commodore of the organization. Janis and Martin were also past members of the Richmond Yacht Club. She along with Martin was also a member of the Grindstone Joe Association.

Janis attended the University of Oregon in Eugene. Prior to her date with destiny meeting Martin, she taught school in Guam and later moved to Coronado where she met Martin when he was there training Navy Seals.

She was a member of the Richmond chapter of Soroptimist International for the past 16 years. Janis chaired the Live Your Dream Award program which assists women in obtaining skills, training and education necessary to improve their employment status. Among her many skills she was a consultant in feng shui and energy space clearing, as well as being an expert on nutrition.

Adam & Jule Farrow.

Jule Farrow has crossed over the bar. Another sad loss to the Delta, Jule was a bright, beautiful, always cheerful person. In all the time I have known her I never saw her without a broad smile on her face. Along with her husband Adam, she was one of the most adventurous people I have known. She was an avid boater, and it seemed like every weekend the couple was diving, fishing or racing boats. She would dive for abalone, lobsters and fish until she would limit out on whatever they were after. Jule was an accomplished boat driver too and could hold her own against about anyone in a race.

On the rare times when she was relaxing, she and Adam would spend time on their private Delta island or be aboard their yacht Deanna moored in front of their Stockton home.

Gerry Kamilos reports on the recent passing of Adrian Melgoza: “There are many of us who are dedicated to the preservation of classic yachts; only a few have dedicated their entire working life to maintain and create artisan craftsmanship as a full-fledge shipwright in both talent and tradition. On Nov. 22, 2020 we lost Adrian Melgoza. Adrian was old school. He learned from his dad and worked alongside his brother, Hector, at Melgoza’s Yacht Repair. It is a 52-year-old family company located at Bridgehead Marina in Antioch. Adrian worked on many yachts of all materials. His love was the wooden classics; Stephens, Trumpy, Hunter, Matthews, Chris Craft, and others.

Adrian and Hector completed a keel up restoration of Merganser, a 1936 Stephens Brothers cruiser. He maintained other highly restored classic yachts; more recently, Miss 102, Contessa, Aurora V, Take Five, Hiltot II and many others. Most recently Adrian oversaw the rebuilding of Miss 102’s salon to near original condition, a 1956 Stephens, owned by Rusty Areias. After this work was done, the salon was inspected by 100-year-old Dick Stephens who was extremely impressed with Adrian’s work. Many in the classic yacht community will miss Adrian’s kind and careful work. His brother, Hector and the Melgoza kids will continue this family tradition. Eight bells for Adrian. Next time you are in Antioch stop by, say hello to Hector and see their wonderful historic shed and workshop.”

Irish Pennants

Okay, we have a reset on the roaring 20’s. This pandemic will be over sometime, but in the meantime we need to keep living! Stay safe but do not let this get you down, we still need to work and have some fun. By the time you read this, one or more vaccines should be available and being deployed. Somehow the boating community in the Delta has been largely spared. I can only think that because we spend a lot of time outdoors and are exposed to many pathogens that somehow we have a certain immunity. I have been to many events during 2020 and don’t know of anyone that has contracted the virus at any of them. Don’t press your luck though, this latest round of infections seems to top the first run. Stay safe.

Don’t forget to set that new camera you got for Christmas on the highest resolution setting so you will be able to preserve your photos for history.

Let me know where the parties are! or 916-869-0141