Lessons Learned – by Pat Carson
Isolated Winter Boating
As winter ends and spring begins, we are starting to see many more fellow yachtsmen on the water. This past winter boating season is over, and we had some spectacular days and nights in the Bay and Delta. If you live in the Midwest that statement would not be true; however, on the West Coast winter boating can be great. The winter months can provide some great boating weather and I hope that many of you had the opportunity to get out on the water. In the San Francisco Bay and Delta, we are fortunate that boating is a year-round activity. In fact, I know some yachtsmen that prefer the winter boating season when the high heat of the Delta has given way to cooler mornings, comfortable days and crisp evenings. Arguably, the best boating weather in San Francisco is late fall and winter when the afternoon winds have abated and the fog has left the dock for somewhere else.
Following are a few shots I took this past winter in San Francisco Bay, the Delta and along the California coast.
Departing Richardson Bay in the early morning hours on Dec. 3, 2020 although not technically winter yet, as winter is officially Dec. 21, 2020 to March 20, 2021, this was a chilly morning that could have been winter. From the dock at Clipper Yacht Harbor all the way to the Richardson Bay number 2 marker, there was not another boat moving around. I had the Bay to myself on this cool December morning.
Just a few days before Christmas 2020, we are on the final leg of a boat delivery from San Diego approaching the Golden Gate bridge on a beautiful late morning. Our last stop up the coast was in Monterey where we overnighted, fueled in the morning and made the 80-mile leg in under four hours. The new yacht was delivered to the new owners in time for the family Christmas gathering. Oops, someone said we were not supposed to do that, sorry, forget that I said anything.
We found a great opportunity to cruise from Paradise Cay to San Francisco on Dec. 23. Our plan for the day was to secure the vessel at SF pier 1-1/2 and see if we could find someplace that was serving food. Fortunately, one of the best waterfront restaurants, Le Mar, had takeout available and it is just in front of the pier. The city was nearly empty, and we were the only boat at the dock. It was easy to keep a 100-foot distance from everyone else, and we had the Bay nearly to ourselves as we cruised around Angel Island on our return to Marin.
Sometimes you let the other guy do the driving. Dec. 18 found me in the unusual position of being on land headed to Sacramento. Whenever the troublesome Real McCoy II is operating, I like to take the ferry across to Ryer Island and take Highway 84 into West Sacramento. The ferry just adds to the charm of living in the Delta, and the drive along 84 is pleasant. As far as commute traffic on a busy morning, you might encounter three or four other cars along the 20-mile drive.
Cruising late afternoon through Three-mile Slough from the San Joaquin River to Rio Vista we pass the now shuttered Outrigger Marina.
The bar was one of my favorite lunch spots, but in the last few years has not really been accessible by boat, so we would drive over by car a few times per month. This dog friendly patio with cold beer and great fish and chips will be missed. Rumor has it that a comeback is looming? Hope that rumor holds true. And… look at that water! As flat calm as you would ever experience, and on this visit the overcast sky kept the air temperature moderate.
This shot captured us the first day of winter heading to the Bay passing Benicia. It was a calm ride all through Suisun Bay, and up ahead Carquinez is calm. San Pablo Bay was just the same, winds less than five knots and seas calm. What a great winter weekend outing.
A late morning mid-February departure from Willow Berm Marina bound for Delta Marine Yacht Center in Stockton found light winds, and with the sun finally rising it was starting to warm up. No need for a flybridge heater this morning. I did not see another vessel underway during the entire voyage upriver to Stockton. The next day however, was a different story.
The upriver attenuator dock at Willow Berm Marina had wind waves crashing over the top. Winds were forecasted to be 25-30 kts., but I think they were higher. Needless to mention, we cancelled our lesson that was scheduled to involve docking practice near the end of “R” dock.
Early March departing Discovery Bay we again find beautiful conditions as we approach the Orwood Railroad Bridge. After a three-hour cruise around the Delta, we returned to Discovery Bay in the midafternoon to find the wind had increased a bit, bringing a bit of a chill to the air. No worries, turn up the thermostat.
March 16, 2021 departing Monterey for the last leg of a trip from Newport Beach to San Francisco. We are getting a bit of a late start, and the sun is almost ready to break the horizon. The offshore swells north of Ano Nuevo were a bit large so we kept our speed down. It was still a nice morning for a coastal cruise.
After the rain, the river water is high, so watch out for floating objects that could ruin your day. Between Korth’s Pirates Lair and Riverboat, we passed this telephone pole size floating log. In this area I always keep the speed to minimum wake so I had plenty of time to spot this prop wrecker.
Early morning of Feb 14 the sun is rising over the Rio Vista Bridge. The water is calm, the tide is high and the view is perfect, just right for an early morning fishing trip.
Portable Heaters On Boats
On these cold nights we are always looking for some way to keep warm while still enjoying the view. Keep safety in mind when using a portable heater.
Portable heaters come in many different types and sizes. One can find alcohol, solid fuel, propane, electric, diesel, forced air and forced water as the more common sources of portable space heaters. Each of these different types has their own benefits and issues. The ABYC (American Boat Yacht Council) considers space heaters as unattended appliances, and therefore they must meet certain special requirements for marine use.
As a general rule, electric heaters are considered safer than the fuel burning type. Whether you have propane, alcohol, diesel, kerosene or a solid fuel heater, all of these give off carbon monoxide and deplete the oxygen in the area. Liquid fueled space heaters put out an abundance of heat, however they must be used only with plenty of ventilation and then only occasionally due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Never take these heaters into confined spaces, the result can be deadly. It is also important to remember that propane is heavier than air and does not dissipate rapidly. If you smell propane, promptly ventilate the area and do not turn on any spark producing device such as an electrical appliance or switch.
Electric space heaters should not be used around moist or damp areas, as contact with water could result in an electrical shock to the user. A portable electric heater suitable for use on your boat is built specifically for marine use. It has a casing made of stainless steel, aluminum or plastic, and it will last longer in the moist and humid conditions found around a boat. Marine heaters often have additional safety features designed with boats in mind.
Some models are designed with stay-cool housings, reducing the risk of fire from nearby combustible materials. Others have tip-over protection that will shut-off the heater should a wake or other sudden motion knock it over. Look for portable heaters that have a thermostat control, multispeed fan and a stable base. Plug your portable heater directly into an outlet that can handle the wattage, ensure the plug fits tightly and make sure that it has a three-prong safety plug. Never plug it into an extension cord or power strip, or into the same outlet as other heavy-duty appliances.
Consider how you plan to use the portable space heater. Supplemental heat in colder spaces, emergency heat or will it be your primary source of heat onboard? Safety features that shut off the unit should include overheating, low oxygen levels, tip-over and touch. Portable heaters are not a good choice for preventing freeze damage in the engine room. Instead use an engine room heater designed for this purpose.
Claim data from one insurance company indicates that the leading cause of winter vessel fires is from unattended portable electric space heaters that have stressed the vessel’s AC electrical system. Placement of the unit is also important, especially in smaller spaces. As a general guideline, the heated portions should be no closer than 36 inches from flammable materials, not be placed on combustible surfaces such as carpets and there should not be flammable liquids in the space the heater is being used.
This past winter, we Delta and Bay boaters were spoiled with some spectacular winter weather. With sunny afternoons, minimal rain and light winds, cruising the Bay and Delta has been very enjoyable.
My point is, with just a little more planning and a little more caution, winter boating is safe and enjoyable. Ok I know, winter has come and gone, and we have now entered into spring boating season. However, it is never too early to plan for next year’s wonderful winter boating. The shorter days and cooler evenings make that glass of port and fine cigar that much more enjoyable after a day of cruising. Or you can simply just sit in the comfort of your berth snug and warm watching it rain.
Until next month please keep those letters coming. Have a good story to tell, send me an email at email@example.com. I love a good story.