What I Saw – by Jackie Philpott
Lunch At Oakland Yacht Club
Every Wednesday for at least seven years a group of sailors has met for lunch at the Oakland Yacht Club. The pandemic put a kink in their plans, but now they’re at it again. Late in November I invited myself along. I ordered the special pastrami sandwich they call the Jim Jessie, after the club member and longtime sailor of that name. Most of the men sitting around the table were also members of the San Jose Sailing Club. We talked about our boats and they took turns describing each other’s foibles to me, which is what people do when someone new is introduced to a group of old friends.
Hal Reynolds, a director at Oakland Yacht Club was eating at the table too. We talked briefly about the financial difficulties facing yacht clubs as they emerge from COVID here in the Bay Area. Hal told me that OYC entered and exited the pandemic without debt, which is a point of pride to its management. Lots of parttime employees were laid off and the club, like every other company in the world has had a hard time finding people in this competitive job market.
Hal talked about the difficulty of persuading yacht club members to come back to the club again, which is necessary to support the expenses of the bar and kitchen. Although it is becoming more and more difficult to pay for the increased costs of food and service, the OYC kitchen continues to provide meals as a service to the membership. Another issue is that OYC’s current dockmaster will be retiring soon and a replacement must be found, someone who has the ability and social skills to “handle situations.” Isn’t that what we all need? People in our lives who know how to handle situations?
After lunch we walked down to admire Hal’s Freedom 36 sailboat, S/V Aropa. Hal used to be a sound engineer, and he has installed an impressive speaker system throughout the cabin, with speakers installed on the arch above the cockpit. He and his wife intend to sail down to Mexico in the fall of 2023. Good music in a comfortable sailboat cruising in the Sea of Cortez. It sounds like an excellent plan.
Singlehanders Visit Tomales Bay
In this magazine’s October edition, I wrote about sailors up in Tomales Bay. In late November Milly Biller, who refers to herself and her fellow sailors as the Mud People, extended an invitation to come up and sail with them out of the Inverness Yacht Club. Invited to come during the hours when there would be water, not mud, three of us jumped into one car and drove up fast. When we arrived, it was a chilly but sunny day, and there were cats’ paws on the water at 9:30 a.m. Ripples in the morning often mean wind in the afternoon. We were excited to be in such a beautiful place with the promise of sailing in perfect conditions.
The locals were getting restless, so we climbed up on to the trailers and uncovered three international 110s. Then we towed them out to the end of the long pier. After using the hoist to lower each boat into the slowly rising water we were shown how to rig them, then we raised the sails and raced each other back and forth around the bay.
Thank you to Dave West S/V Gunsmoke, Annie Lewis S/V Silver Surfer and Milly Biller S/V Big Pink, for sharing their boats and water with us. Here’s a photo of everybody sitting around in the sunshine. We thought the day was over and then Dave asked, “Well, the wind is still out there. Who wants to sail?” And we got to do it all over again!!! Whoo hoo! We had a great time!
The Club At Westpoint
During the summer the club at Westpoint down in the South Bay runs what they call a Friday Fun Series of races. My friend, Dennis Maggard keeps his Crealock S/V Pamela down there in the Westpoint Harbor. I called him up, asked if he’d like to race on my boat with me. “Sure,” said Dennis. So, I registered for the race and headed down for the night in early June.
As soon as I left Potrero Reach in Richmond the wind reminded me that while I might hold the tiller, nature was in charge. Starting with a full main up and unrolled jib, I engaged the autopilot and unwrapped my cheese, avocado and mayo sandwich. Then wham! We went sideways in a gust and the goop squooshed out from the baguette and slid down the whole length of my pants. Green slime all down my leg: It looked disgusting. Then we came out from the protection of Angel Island and entered the slot. That was when I had to get serious: Set the food aside, put a reef in the main and rolled the jib up to half its size. Water wasn’t coming over the bow any more, but I had to hand steer. That was an exciting start to the trip.
Once I came into the lee of the City the water changed significantly. It was positively pleasant. Our Bay is like that: It has mood swings. There was no other traffic, neither commercial nor pleasure boats. There were 12 heavily laden ships anchored in the South Bay waiting to unload their cargo.
It was a long sail down to Redwood City for a slow sailboat, and when I finally arrived at 4:30 I had only a half hour to check in with the harbormaster. Dennis met me on F Dock and we walked up to the office together. I introduced myself to a gracious man, Mark Sanders, who was sitting in a club chair chatting with the assistant harbormaster. Mr. Sanders is the developer of the harbor. It was cold outside and I envied him in his pullover cashmere sweater. We shook hands, I handed over my documents and docking fee, then it was back to Dura Mater where Dennis and I raised sail and headed for the start of the race.
There were a lot of short tacks required up that narrow channel and there was pretty good wind. We caught and passed one boat and got passed by four others. It was a pursuit race and, in the end, nobody seemed interested in anyone’s finish time anyway. It was a buoy race, South Bay style. After the race “organic marinated chicken” was served, grilled off the stern of a very elegant 52-foot catamaran, the S/V Hugo by its skipper, Russell White. South Bay style, indeed!
The next morning, I walked up and had a chat with the assistant harbormaster who has been at Westpoint Harbor for five years. Sonya Boggs moved here with her husband from Narragansett Bay five years ago. She told me that the Westpoint Harbor is approximately 50/50 power boats/sailboats. Sonya and her husband sailed their 51-foot Baltic sailboat down the east coast from Rhode Island, then had it trucked overland and delivered to the Sea of Cortez. They brought it up the California coast together. We talked about why sailors transition from sail to powerboats, about the aging process with its loss of the strength and balance that is required to physically handle a sailboat. Sonya has spoken with former sailors in the harbor, “at least five that I can think of right now,” who have sold their sailboats and purchased powerboats.
I could see activity from a backhoe and other large construction equipment from the office window. Sonya explained that a foundation was being laid for the new club at Westpoint, which at present is temporarily located above the harbor office.
The Marina attracts people who like walking on its paths which curve along the waterfront. Westpoint Slough is the largest of several sloughs feeding into Redwood Creek. Across the slough is Greco Island, part of the larger Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It is an area of extensive undisturbed marshlands and mudflats, a habitat for local and migratory wildlife, especially birds.
Before I boarded my boat for the motorsail north I walked along the path a bit. I chatted with one young father who is patiently responding to his beautiful little child as she holds things up for him to identify: one of the windflowers that grow along the path, a leaf, a smooth pebble. They live in San Carlos and have just dropped her mother off at yoga class with an hour to kill. I watch as he admires the boats and ask if he has a sailboat himself. He smiles and says that sailing looks like a lot of work. If he ever gets a boat himself, it will be a powerboat.
Peninsula Youth Sailing Foundation is located adjacent to the Marina, and on this day, there is a youth sailing regatta. Parents and excited children are arriving and dozens of small sails are being raised. Westpoint Marina is a beautiful, impressive place and I would encourage you to read about its creation here: https://climaterwc.com/2021/05/24/mark-sanders-navigated-big-challenges-to-build-a-south-bay-marina/
It’s quite the story.
Five months later, I was invited back down to an open house at the Westpoint Harbor. This time I drove down instead of sailing, and met up with Mr. Sanders. First off, I received a tour of his classic yacht, the 71-foot Hurrica V. Hurrica V was built in 1927 in Australia. Conscripted into the Australian Navy during World War II, her mast was removed and she became a search and rescue vessel, complete with four machine guns and depth charges. Today she is a beautifully restored yacht with modern amenities. Retaining all her Edwardian beauty, Hurrica V is a contrast in terms with a bow thruster and electric winches for the enormous bronze winches.
After stepping off Hurrica V, I enjoyed a tour of the property from Mr. Sanders. We drove over to the shell of the new yacht club and restaurant where we put on hard hats and walked in and out, up and down while construction continued all around us. I followed him around with my small audiocassette deck and missed a lot of details because of all the hammer smacking and drill sounds, but here’s the gist of our conversation.
In Northern California almost any conversation about construction development leads to the issue of water: Who has it, who wants it. Here is what Mark Sanders had to say:
Mark: First of all, Redwood City is a deep-water port. We’re dredged to 8.5-feet deep at mean lower low water. You’re allowed to dredge back to the original depth, you’re not allowed to go deeper. We just finished dredging last year. We’ll have to dredge every 14 years, take it down a couple of feet.
Jackie: Does the state help with dredging?
M: This marina is private, and because I own the water, too, they won’t do it. Any public harbor is done by the Army Corps of Engineers. Private marinas? [he shakes his head].
J: You’re obviously a savvy businessman. Are you not in a position to negotiate with local officials for dredging in return for improvements to this property? Something like: “It’s going to bring you so much tax revenue, let’s make a deal?”
M: No. There was a time when cities and counties looked forward like that. Not anymore.
J: It seems to me that your marina here will become a destination. What advantages does Westpoint offer?
M: Well, you know, a big boat these days isn’t 30 feet anymore. It’s 130 feet. Since there’s been no other new harbors, there’s just not very many big slips. We’re all big slips here. That makes Westpoint the place. Two or three things happened at the same time.
First, there are more people and fewer marinas. It used to be there was one house for every six jobs on the peninsula. Now, there’s one house for every 37 jobs on the peninsula. Number two, boats are bigger now, so there’s a “where do you put it?” issue. That’s here.
Number three, big boats go fast and… people can get from here to San Francisco faster on their boat than they can drive. So, this big power boat out here down at the end? It’s a 132-foot Mangusta. It’s unbelievable how fast this boat goes. Where are you gonna put her? The smallest slips we have now are 40 feet. Our [new] slips are 19-feet wide for the 60s. We have 13 guest slips. So, for example, this Clipper 36-foot sailboat here, this is my son’s boat. That’s one of the smaller sailboats in the harbor.
M: We should have the shell done by the end of the year. The bottom floor, which will be the restaurant, will have a full-length jellyfish aquarium that’s floor to ceiling. It will separate the bar from the restaurant so you can look through one side to the other. The restaurant will be called the Hurrica and it will cost $1 million to build.
J: Who will join the Club at Westpoint?
M: Lots of people. It’s got 200 members already.
J: And the Peninsula Youth Sailing Foundation is located over there on your property, too. Will they remain there?
J: This is all your property. Are you going to build condos down here eventually?
(We have arrived at the construction site. We put on hardhats and walk into the shell of the building where Mr. Sanders remains in constant motion, sweeping his arm in wide arcs as he describes his vision).
M: My plan is to have high end townhouses. The townhouses will go here and there’s going to be another restaurant. Five groups of two-story buildings there and then this path becomes a wide boardwalk with shops along the way. There will be a pool and a lounge area and another, smaller restaurant, more of a fish and chips place. This path disappears and there will be a big wooden boardwalk. This will all be glass doors that will open up to the view. Then, over here there will be outdoor seating.
M: The Hurrica will be a world class restaurant, serving food downstairs and upstairs.
(We talk about how the restaurant will be operated by the same company that owns both the Epic and Water Bar restaurants which are located on the Embarcadero in the City.)
J: Where will you keep S/V Hurrica V?
M: Right out here! [he gestures to the guest dock below the building.] This is where there will be bar service. (We proceed deeper into the building.) This will be a private dining area.
M: There will be 1000 feet of guest dock. Members of the yacht club have been talking about having four or five different apartments. We haven’t decided yet.
(We walk upstairs to the second floor where the yacht club will be located.)
This will be the main dining room and bar for the yacht club. There will also be a private dining area for the club with a floor to ceiling fireplace. The yacht club will be built first. The restaurant will take longer to complete.
Toward the end of our tour of the upstairs yacht club we arrived at a construction ladder to the roof. Mark raised his eyebrows at me. Would I like to follow him up? Sure, I would. So up we went, me in my high heeled boots. The view from the top of the building was spectacular.
J: This is like the wild west, all this open sky! M: This is north here. The sun rises there and sets over here. So, there will be sun almost all the time. We’ve got the wildlife refuge. Nothing will ever be built to block our view.
(He pointed to Greco Island across the slough from the marina.)
J: How are people going to get up here? Not by that ladder.
M: By a spiral staircase! They’ll be able to see all the way to the Delta.
J: I have gone to the Delta for a month every year for the past five years.
M: I started going to the Delta in the 70s. Every single year.
J: And you stayed on a sailboat?
M: Yep. Everybody used to do that. I used to go to so many places with my kids. My kids sailed on my Clipper 33 before they could walk. Now that’s my son-in-law’s boat. They just grew up there.
J: Did you take your kids up to the Delta on a sailboat?
D: Yeah, on that Cheoy Lee over there. [He points to it.] I had it for 25 years and then sold it. Then got it back, then sold it. Back then my best friend Bob Wilson had a sistership.
J: You have a lot of old boats. Maybe you built yourself a marina to save on slip fees? [Mr. Sanders grins].
It is always a pleasure to share in someone else’s excitement, and Mr. Sanders’ pleasure in his Westpoint Harbor is palpable.
We climbed down the ladder then, took off our hard hats and went back to the harbor office. Mr. Sanders went back upstairs to work and I ate some chocolate and chatted with his brother, John Sanders who offered to drive me around in a golf cart. Well, I’ll never turn down a ride in a golf cart. We drove all around the property while he told me stories that made me laugh, and then I took his photograph.
It was mid-morning by then. I made sure I had spelled everybody’s name right, then walked back to my car. It made me wish… as earlier in the summer, that I was walking back to Dura Mater to enjoy a nice sail back home.
Singlehanded Sailing Society Change Of Watch
In December, members of the Singlehanded Sailing Society gathered at Encinal Yacht Club for the SSS Change of Watch ceremony. An unofficial rule of the SSS is that the role of commodore must be filled by someone who has participated in its race from San Francisco to Hanalei Bay, Kauai. The first Singlehanded Transpacific Race to Hanalei Bay was held in 1978 and every even-numbered year thereafter for more than 40 years until it was cancelled by COVID in 2020. In 2021, for the first time since 1978, the SHTP was held during an odd numbered year, taking place in 2021 instead of 2020.
Joe Balderrama, who raced in the 2014 SHTP, served as commodore through most of 2021 and 2022. Joe’s steady hand guided the notoriously willful members of the solo sailing club kicking and complaining through the pandemic. On Dec. 17 Joe turned over the reins of the sailing club to Chris Case, who raced to Hanalei Bay in 2018.
Unlike most yacht clubs, the nimble Singlehanded Sailing Club was able to run all seven of its races on the Bay and offshore throughout 2020 and 2021 despite COVID restrictions. No crew? Welcome to solo sailing! No race deck? No problem!
SSS Race Chair Tom Boussie fashioned a race deck out of scraps: a Yagi antenna attached to an aluminum ladder perched on top of a 20-year-old Subaru wagon which led further to an old Standard Horizon VHF radio. Parked on the San Francisco Seawall, it was understandable that this contraption, early in the morning of a dense fog of the San Francisco Bay would attract the attention of the local police on patrol. The conversation went something like this:
“Good morning, gentlemen. What are you doing here?”
“Good afternoon, officer. We are running a sailboat race.”
“A sailboat race?”
“Yes, sir. There are sailboats out there. Somewhere.”
“Out there? In the fog?”
“And they’re racing each other?”
“Yes, sir…. Slowly.”
[Long … long pause.]
“Very good. Carry on.”
“Thank you, sir.”
No matter the conditions, SSS members show up for their seven races each year. The first race of 2023 is the Three Bridge Fiasco, held always on the last Saturday of January. It’s coming up soon, so register on Jibeset here: https://www.jibeset.net/JACKY000.php?RG=T002368094.
We all wish Chris well as the sailing community emerges from these difficult times.
I know that this column is called What I Saw on the Bay, but in early December I visited Madison, Wisconsin. I lived in Madison for 17 years, eight months and four days. I never did get used to those long, cold winters without sailing. Apparently, though, when you want to sail and your water is hard, you do have another option, one that I didn’t know about when I lived there. You can sail on ice! While I was out there during this visit, I decided to interview people who sail iceboats. So, I did, and I have lots of information for a future column. For now, I have some cool photos.
In order to meet iceboaters I called up and introduced myself by leaving a voicemail. Deb Whitehorse called me right back, exhibiting that lovely Midwestern politeness. Deb is responsible for the Iceboat.org site which covers iceboating all over the Midwest and wherever else iceboaters travel to race. One of the advantages we sailors enjoy here on the San Francisco Bay is that we can usually find wind year-round. We just have to be willing to put on long underwear. Deb explained that iceboating is like surfing: You have to wait for the right conditions. This is the notice on the Iceboat.org site: Iceboating is highly dependent on weather conditions. The ice needs to be relatively snow-free and the wind not too strong.
Iceboaters are racers by definition. Think about it. There are no “cruisers” out there on iceboats. No one suits up, packs a lunch and sails out onto a frozen lake to picnic. Here in the Bay Area, we feel resolute when we wear wool hats and down jackets during the winter months. But we ain’t got nuthin on those sailors in the Midwest who sail on what they call “hard water.” They REALLY need to dress warmly. There was no ice on the lakes yet, so Deb wasn’t working on her boat in her heated garage. But like sailors everywhere, she was up for the chance to talk boats. She told me that I was welcome to visit when I was there during the week of Dec. 5, but that the lakes were not yet frozen enough to sail on the ice.
If the ice is not thick enough, then everybody takes their boats apart and drives up to Canada, instead. Seriously? Yes, they do that. I’ll be going back to Wisconsin once the lakes freeze over enough to race on, and I’ve been invited to race on ice in a two-seater iceboat. It should be fun and maybe you will like to read about it, too. So, stay tuned to this station and does anybody have a helmet I can borrow?
An apology is warranted here regarding my column from last month about sailing out of South Beach Harbor. Nowhere in all my teasing did I mention how very much I enjoy being a member of Ray Irvine’s crew on his raceboat, the S/V Crews Nest. Really, I do.
Until next month, thank you for reading. Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have anything you would like to share. Enjoy your time on the water and let’s all be careful out there.