What I Saw – by Jackie Philpott

Bay Area Association Of Disabled Sailors

Back in 2017 I started taking my boat over to the BAADS program in South Beach Harbor. BAADS is the acronym for Bay Area Association of Disabled Sailors. They have a number of programs for people with one kind of disability or another. Serious physical disabilities, too? You betcha.

At the time they also sponsored Sunday sailing for veterans with disabilities, just for the enjoyment. I had a keelboat and sometimes there weren’t enough BAADS boats for all the people who would show up, so it worked out. There were usually enough people around to help with transfers, so if somebody had a physical disability we would just do the heave-ho in order to transfer people aboard. Then we were off and onto the Bay. Dura Mater’s cockpit isn’t that big, and the tiller takes up a whole lot of the space, so it was sometimes a squash. During one trip over to the slot we had Melissa (Missy), Bob, Steve, Vivian and me aboard. Oh, and Snow Angel the service dog. Didn’t whine. Didn’t bark. Didn’t throw up. What a great dog!

Kevin and Kent sailing on the Bay.

Usually we just sailed around: in the South Bay, around Alcatraz or Angel Island, wherever people wanted to go. I would hand over the tiller to anyone who would take it. My boat is very generous, slow and steady, and it takes a lot of mistakes to have a scary ride on her. Here’s a photo of a couple of the fellas from the BAADS Veterans Program, back in 2018: Kevin and Kent. We sailed around the northeast corner of the city and all the way out to Mile Rock and back. We raised the spinnaker on the way back, and they trimmed all the way to the turn south. First time trimming a spinnaker for both of them. Yeah. That was a fun day.

Then COVID hit and that put the brakes on everything at BAADS for a long time. Lots of members over there have to be careful for one reason or another, and so the place shut down. But now BAADS is back.

Suni Petersen and Dragonfly.

In January of this year I boarded the BART train from Oakland, then transferred to the N-Judah MUNI train at the Embarcadero Station in San Francisco. Two stops later I got off in the South Beach neighborhood and walked to Pier 40, which is where BAADS is located. You could do the same thing. It’s easy peasy.

The huge hangar that is located at Pier 40 contains a number of marine-related businesses, including North Beach Canvas, which specializes not in canvas but gorgeous boat interiors, and Spinnaker Sailing School. I arrived a little early for my meeting with Chris Naughton of BAADS, so I got out of the rain by walking down the middle of the hangar, peeking into the various cages full of boats and equipment.

At the end of the hangar I met Suni (pronounced Sunny) Petersen. She was waiting for her power boat to be towed over to the public launch just south of Oracle Park so she could motor over to her slip in the harbor. A member of the South Beach Yacht Club, Suni’s boat, Dragonfly, has a sweet spot just at the foot of one of the South Beach Marina ramps. How’d she get such a great slip? It’s a secret. Dragonfly, a 26-foot sterndrive Maxum is the perfect party boat and I am promised an invitation to a future soiree on the water.

Hansa dinghies all in a row.

After talking with Suni I walked back out and down the big ramp to the long dock where the sailing dinghies are kept. Some of them belong to the South Beach Yacht Club youth sailing program, run by Wendy Hanrahan and others. The rest of the boats, and there are a lot of them, belong to the BAADS program.

According to the BAADS website, “The mission of BAADS is simple – striving to make all aspects of sailing accessible regardless of disability. The goal was to build a sailing program based on the energy and talents of the users themselves, and not be a publicly supported social services program which would be at the mercy of political and budgetary whims.”

Howard Robinson was the first BAADS Commodore, a local sailor who auctioned off his own skiff to raise money to pay expenses. In 1989 Dave Stuart and Glo Webel prepared the necessary paperwork for BAADS to incorporate as a tax exempt 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization. Small grants were received from IBM and the San Francisco Sailing Foundation, but it was clear that BAADS, originally based at Lake Merritt in downtown Oakland, was barely keeping afloat.

Caged dinghies.

The financial tide turned when Ed Mackin suggested to BAADS new Commodore, Dave Stuart, that BAADS move to San Francisco and affiliate with South Beach Yacht Club (SBYC). Ed was a member of SBYC and said that the yacht club had a commitment in its charter to support community-based sailing activities. SBYC invited BAADS to be part of its membership and to share its clubhouse and facilities. In that same year the Redevelopment Agency Commission of San Francisco agreed to provide space at the southern side of Pier 40.

Around the same time, Tillotson-Pearson, a boat-building firm in Rhode Island, launched a new 20-foot sailboat that was designed by Gary Mull especially for people with disabilities. Mull, the well-known naval architect and one-time Bay & Delta Yachtsman columnist from Oakland, took time away from designing an America’s Cup 12-Meter to create the Freedom-Independence.

In 1988 one of the new Freedom sailboats, the S/V Manatee, was shipped from Rhode Island to California and donated to BAADS by Everett Pearson. The original arrangement was for BAADS to pay for the boat as money was raised, but that goal proved too difficult. Instead Grant Ross, a BAADS member, invested both his time and money by supporting both the S/V Manatee and the BAADS organization. BAADS still has a 20-foot Freedom, the S/V Raven, which is very well used.

Ralph Vomaske, Chris Naughton and Gladys.

Today BAADS is a well-established organization with a presence in the East Bay as well as San Francisco. On this very rainy day in the middle of January I made my way over to South Beach Harbor to meet with Chris Naughton. Chris is the BAADS Vice Commodore, its Finance Director and also the person who runs the small boat program every Saturday. Chris had emailed me earlier: Did I want to cancel or postpone our meeting? Of course not! Are we not sailors? Indeed. Ralph Vomaske joined us a few minutes after I arrived. Ralph is the BAADS Treasurer, so I was with people who would know all the answers I could possibly ask. For example, I was interested in the expenses for a non-profit. BAADS gets what is called a “welfare exemption” and doesn’t have to pay property tax on its boats.

There are BAADS boats and members all over the Bay. Chris’s Sonar 23, S/V Bravo Zulu, is kept on Treasure Island, raced by Walt Ranieri, who is blind. Yes, that is the language people use over here. If you want to correct this language, suggest that the phrase “sight impairment” be used instead, and take it up with a member of BAADS next time you chat. There are four keelboats in the South Beach Harbor and BAADS keeps two other boats in the Alameda Marina. A Columbia 5.5 and a Colgate 26 are used over there for racing in the Oakland Estuary. Cristina Rubke and Ed Gallagher run the keelboat program.

Does the BAADS program interest you? Everybody has someone in his or her life who has a disability. Your son’s wife’s sister might have cerebral palsy, your favorite neighbor down the street may have a child who uses a wheelchair. Everybody knows somebody who has or may one day have a disability. You never know. Certainly no one ever expects disability. BAADS is a terrific, expansive program that includes anybody with a disability, no matter the significance. Do you have some extra time? BAADS also needs volunteers to help on weekends.

The first thing Chris and Ralph want to show me is a small boat already launched on the water. Chris climbs aboard and I take his photograph.

Chris: This boat was the prototype for the SV 14, which was designed by Simonis Voogd, a Dutch yacht company: https://fareastboats.co.uk/boats/sv14. The idea was for an affordable boat for people with disabilities. During the design process the company incorporated ideas from BAADS sailors.

One of these boats is used by Spaulding Boatworks in Sausalito. They had a guy from New Zealand come and build this up there. They contacted BAADS and we gave them all kinds of information about people with disabilities and how to design it to make it work for people. When they dry launched it, they invited us and then they announced that they were donating it to us. There were five made around the world and this was one of them. The one stipulation was that we name it Gladys, who was the wife of Myron Spaulding, the founder of Spaulding Boatworks. So this is Gladys.

Accessible yacht S/V Believe.
Accessible controls for S/V Believe.

The boat, like many of the boats used by BAADS, has been adapted for people who have limited mobility. Chris points out the mechanism called a servo, which incorporates a joystick, similar to the joystick used for video games.

Jackie: She’s very pretty

C: She is. But we plan to sell Gladys because some people say she doesn’t sail fast. A lot of our sailors have been sailing a long time. They know what to expect when the boat heels. Some of our members sailed before they became disabled, some after they became disabled. Lots of sailing experience is represented at BAADS. And our members want boats that go fast.

J: You’re selling Gladys because she doesn’t go fast?

C: Yes. We’re gonna haul it out soon, when we get our new whaler down here, and that’s another story. A whaler was donated to us by The Belvedere Cove Foundation. It’s an older boat but it’s in really good condition and the motor has been meticulously maintained. Kathy Pugh, our Commodore, sent a grant request to Belvedere Cove Foundation. They couldn’t do what she asked but they knew that San Francisco Yacht Club was transitioning from Whalers to RIBS (Rigid Inflatable Boat). SFYC is going to be getting rid of its whalers.

Belvedere Cove bought the boat from SFYC and then donated it to us. Its name is Exodus. Our other whalers are named One and Two and nobody could ever tell the difference: “Is this One or is this Two?” So it will be good to have a name on the boat.

We walk back through the gate and head over to the large “cage” on Pier 40 that contains BAADS’ collection of about 27 Hansa’s Liberty adaptive dinghies. According to Chris, at one time BAADS had the largest fleet of Hansa boats in the United States. BAADS also has Liberty single and two person boats and one single person cat-rigged boat.

C: Our Liberty boats can be sailed manually with a tiller and sheets or with “servo” equipment. The servo equipment includes joysticks for steering and winches to work the sheets. So, for example, a person with quadriplegia can sail on their own using a servo system. Or anyone with limited abilities can sail with a servo system.

As we walk, I notice that a large metal plate that previously connected two sections of the floating dock used by both the SBYC and BAADS small boat programs has gone missing.

C: Ralph and I will put a piece of plywood here where the metal piece broke off in the storm and sank. The wheelchairs need a way to get across.

J: How do you negotiate where to put your boats with the harbor? How many slips have you been given?

C: They gave us three. They are bigger than 30-foot slips. That’s a 40-foot slip over there on B dock, and S/V Believe JUST fits. We actually had to take the stern structure for the solar panels off, otherwise it would stick out too far and they wouldn’t have let us keep it there. She fits nicely there now. So we have the Beneteau S/V Believe, S/V Tashi a Catalina 30, the Pearson 303 S/V Flying Fog, which we’ve had for a few years. Tashi is our workhorse. We take everybody out on Tashi. Boats that get sailed? They get beat up.

J: What’s in the future for BAADS?

C: Hopefully we can all begin to go sailing again. We haven’t sailed since early December on the small boats.

C: We have keelboat sailing on Sunday and anyone who comes is welcome to sail. Once a quarter we’re also trying to offer sailing for veterans out of Palo Alto, maybe Santa Rosa, Fort Mason. We’ve done it a couple of times and it is amazing. Some people have never sailed before and it’s a thrill for them. We’re trying to do that on a regular basis. Cristina Rubke is doing that. When the veterans come by bus from Palo Alto we use our keelboats.

Chris has been volunteering at BAADS for almost nine years, in charge of the Saturday program for most of that time. Earlier in the day there had been 22 knots of wind. As we walk toward B Dock the rain stops, the sun comes out and there above us? A deep blue sky. The three of us laugh at the vagary of weather. We walk over to Pier 40, look at the new Whaler, Exodus, talk about all the paperwork involved in maintaining boats.

C: John Wallace has taken ownership of the cage with its tools and small boats. He does all sorts of work on the small boats. Dave Izant designed this new servo system. The motors and the winches that come with the boats from Hansa are usually underneath the trunk here. There’s a steering motor back there. People had trouble with them. What would happen is that the sheets would start getting caught, then the winch would bind up and the boat couldn’t be steered. So Dave designed these and they’re working much better for us. They had trouble in lighter winds, too, because the jib wouldn’t go out when there wasn’t enough wind, the sailor would be trying to pay out the lines and they would get jammed.

As we walk toward the BAADS’ keelboats we talk about the donation to BAADS of the greatly modified Beneteau Oceanis 41.1, the S/V Believe.

C: It’s an incredible boat, all tricked out for singlehanded accessibility. You have to know which winches are meant to do what. Switches on the side of each winch turn it from manual to electric. Everything is electronic and controlled back here in the cockpit. It has bow thrusters. It has an in-mast furling system that works together with the outhaul line. It takes a lot of coordination and effort. It’s a French boat, so there is all kinds of storage for wine. There’s storage here for wine, and over here, here’s more storage for wine. There’s storage everywhere for wine!

Chris, Ralph and I sail modest sailboats. I don’t tell them about the classic yachts I wrote about a few months ago, and how wine compartments are de rigueur on those boats. There are some things sailors are better off not knowing. Then it’s time for Chris and Ralph to work, so we say our goodbyes and I cross the street for a latte at the South Beach Café.

China Basin

Then I begin the walk to the Bay View Boat Club, where I have arranged to meet Lizzie Winsor, the Club’s port captain. It’s a terrific walk along the Bay Trail, especially when it isn’t raining, but instead I get on the MUNI and ride it till the end just to see how far it goes.

It doesn’t go far, and I end up having to backtrack on foot, but heck! That’s how you find your way around a city: By getting lost. It was kind of like my first summer sailing around in the Delta.

Walk along Mission Creek toward the Bay.
Glass towers of China Basin.
View of Oracle Park from the south.
Lefty O’Doul Bascule Bridge.

The last time I visited China Basin was when I was at school in the late 1970s. It was full of empty warehouses with narrow alleys between them, and at night? It was a little scary. Well, it’s not like that anymore. Instead, it’s full of tall glass apartment buildings, office complexes and the Chase Center. It’s way different now!

Bay View Boat Club

At the Bay View Boat Club I signed in and put on a name tag. Elizabeth Winsor/Lizzie came over and we introduced ourselves. Then she called out to everyone sitting at the bar watching a big screen television. Everybody turned around to pose for a photograph, then Lizzie and I walked outside to the gardens.

Elisabeth Winsor and members of the Bay View Boat Club.

Lizzie and I sat down at a table and talked boats and this is some of what she told me:

Lizzie: I grew up sailing back east off Rhode Island, in Newport. My family had a few different boats over the years starting out when I was a little girl. We had a Thunderbird and then a Bristol 26 and then a Bristol 29.9, the S/V Retreat 3. My parents sailed that boat back and forth from Newport to the Florida Keys. They had some experiences with sea sickness, the rudder falling off, all kinds of things. Then they decided, “you know what? We’re just gonna keep it in Newport”. They had a mooring right in the cove there that we’d had forever. They spent their summers there and used the launch service in town. It’s kind of fancy back there. My family belonged to the Newport Yacht Club where my dad had been Commodore. The Club had slips and its own launch service, but my parents ended up just keeping the mooring. There’s the little cove with mansions above it. It was a beautiful, quiet spot.

Lizzie’s brother owns Retreat 3 now, and his family sails it. Her own son and his family live in Oakland, and her grandson, Luca already knows “everything” about boats. Luca is six years old.

In 1980 Lizzie was living with a roommate in San Francisco who told her “Hey, there’s this boat club down the street.”

L: I was young, and I pranced right down here. I wasn’t a member but I had grown up sailing. They asked, “Do you want to go sailing?” I said, “Yes! Yes I do!”

The place was so different back then. It had a cottage cheese ceiling, the bar was nothing more than six packs in a cooler and it was super funky. This wasn’t built up back here. There were just a bunch of real sailors who would go out anytime, in any weather, with no running lights, no engines. Our members built everything you see here. We have no docks. Members have their boats in different marinas around, but not here.

We talk about the nearby Chase Center and the changes that have occurred since it was built.

L: The parking lot next door, that’s not for us. This parking area [Lizzie indicates the lot that is contiguous with the club property] was built thanks to an agreement RBOC (Recreational Boaters of California) made with the port, and the whole reason for it was to provide trailer parking for that launch. They produced it, but for the last several years people who attend Chase Center events have used it as a parking lot. For people who can afford a season ticket? They can afford an $80 ticket to park.

Outside sitting area of the Bay View Boat Club.

There seem to be events 24/7. There was a Super Bowl event, a tree lighting event, there are yoga classes, a farmers market. They are constantly coming up with new events. People come to the events by car and fill the parking lot to go to the Chase Center. They don’t take transit. We were told that there would be no more than a certain number of events a year, but really? There are events almost 365 days of the year. When there’s a big show coming up they do corporate events, and those are not listed. Car shows? They are not on the schedule. We just find out when we come down here.

I drive from Twin Peaks. I used to take the MUNI but it would take almost an hour to get here. I don’t know how long it will take me to get here now that the MUNI routes have changed.

We don’t have a lease. We have a month-to-month rental agreement and have had for quite some time. And we’re not pushing for a lease because then they might raise our rent way up. We’re just letting things be. We got legacy status recently. We also have maritime heritage. The port doesn’t have much along the waterfront that’s actually maritime. The port has just eight or nine miles of waterfront: at the Golden Gate Yacht Club, the St. Francis, the Mariposa… there are only two public launches: the one by Aquatic Park at the Dolphin club, and this one next door.

View from inside the Bay View Boat Club.

To become a member of Bay View Boat Club you need to do three chores during a probation period. New members need to be active on the Bay. You may be a sailor or you are a fisherman – any kind of boating. Having a kayak in your grandmother’s backyard in Wisconsin? That doesn’t count.

We started our sailing program five years ago and our Women On The Water program is especially popular. We have so many people signed up for youth sailing, we have too many.

We share the sailing program with the Mariposa Yacht Club just over there, and we tell people that sailing in that little cove there… it’s very protected. The people who come to sail are mostly people who have never been on a boat before. We have an FJ dinghy and one Laser. (FJ is short for a Flying Junior and refers to a small Dutch dinghy commonly used for beginning sailors.) By the end of the first day we have them sailing, following another boat around the mark on El Toros. But if they feel comfortable and they’ve had a good time, we recommend that they go on to Treasure Island Sailing. Take it further. We introduce absolute beginners. We get kids from elementary schools or after school programs. We shut it down for two years because of COVID so we’ve got a lot of backup.

Bay View Boat Club also has some degree of ownership in Bradford Island, on the San Joaquin River in the Delta. Every summer I sail past it on my way to Owl Harbor. Lizzie described it to me.

Legacy plaque.

L: Bradford Island is a funky spot in the Delta. We built a town square with a stage and a gazebo to have the barbeque and sink area and a stage with a concrete pad. In the winter it all floods over. There are three places where there are shacks grandfathered in, they couldn’t be built any larger than 10 by 10. We charge members $150 dues to keep a spot there. You have to keep it clean and you have to do work up there. We have ten acres, so let’s say you’re a new member and you say, “Oh, this is cool. I want to have a spot here. A section. An area. Maybe there’s trees and you want to make a campsite. It’s only camping. We don’t have electricity or water. We have a system of Delta water coming up, but it hasn’t been working this year. We had a double outhouse that we made and we just had to build a new one.

L: In August of 2021 everything burned down. The buildings were all built of wood. That fire burned out a lot of Bradford unless you were up on the levee and even some of that area didn’t escape it. We did rebuild the outhouse because we need that before we can tell people to come up and have a work party. We’ll have work parties up there. Where there’s a road or path? When it grows up it’s just gone because it grows so fast. We’ve always taken the ferry.

Ryan Kirkland, bartender at Dumpling Time Restaurant, SF.

L: One member, Jack Sheehee, has a place up there, on a separate property. He’s going tomorrow by boat and he’s going to report back to us how swamped we are after all this rain. Jack got married here at the club back in October. We’ve had a lot of members get married here at the club.

L: After the fire Bradford Island became badly swamped. We’ve got a lot of work to do to get things in order because we’re hoping to have a party this August. Clearing land on Bradford Island is very physical. When you go up in May the grass is really tall and there are wild turkeys walking around in it. They’ve always been there. I don’t know where they go later in the season. There are trails and you see them walking along talking to each other.

I look around at the well-established garden, almost all of the plants of the flowering kind. There are princess flowers, camellias and jasmine. Trumpet vine grows up all along the top of the lattice work at the top of a high wooden fence.

Lizzie introduces me to Chris Kenney, another past Commodore, and then I ask: “Is there food around here? I’m hungry. Let’s find food.” We decide to walk to the Chase Center to find food.

On our way out the door I meet Terance Palu, who is a fifth generation San Franciscan. Terance has a 17-foot Alumaweld fishing boat called Shenanigans from which he has caught hundreds of halibut just beyond the seawall of the club. Shenanigans lives in front of his house in the Sunset District, where the neighborhood kids climb on it. Terance told me that the boat launch, just next to the club, is free to the public. It is called the Mission Bay Launch, and current trailer parking costs only $0.25/foot. It is the only public launch in the city.

Lizzie and I walk over to a restaurant called Dumpling Time at Thrive City. While I slurp up my Beijing noodles, she and Ryan Kirkland, the bartender, compare notes regarding bars around town, especially in Japantown and Chinatown. They talk about so many places I lose track and certainly I forget to write them down. If I had I could have offered up a whole travelogue here on where to eat good food in almost every neighborhood in the city. I was enjoying listening to them talk so much, I forgot to take notes. It’s such a pleasure sometimes to just listen.

So there you have it: Suggestions for you to consider the next time you sail or motor over to South Beach Harbor. Oh, and there’s a baseball field there, too. Have fun and let me know what you discover when you go there. I can be reached at jackie@yachtsmanmagazine.com

Thank you for reading. Enjoy your time on the water and let’s all be careful out there.