What I Saw – by Jackie Philpott
Drakes Bay, Tomales Bay
Do you feel like an adventure? Go out the Gate and turn right instead of left. At the end of your first day you’ll end up in Drakes Bay. There will be No Wi-Fi. No cell service. No services AT ALL. Barney Howard at Outboard Motor Shop would scoff at this. I can imagine him looking sideways, saying something like, “Are you kidding me? On my whaler I’d be there in 15 minutes!”
I sailed my boat, but you yourself might have a motor yacht with a small cabin. You might prefer to drive up and not even have to motor all the way up. There are places to launch your boat in Marshall and also in Bodega Bay, just a 14-nm distance north. There’s lots to do on a sailboat. You can anchor, pull your anchor up and move somewhere else, re-anchor, chase the seagulls away, read a book, change your position from laying down to sitting up, make a meal, make a small pot of coffee or tea and drink it, write a bit, drink another cup or play Solitaire. Not your cup of tea? Well, okay, suit yourself. But here’s how I spent eight days in early August. Whether you choose to go up yourself or not, this is What I Saw.
On Aug. 8, Dura Mater and I sailed out of San Francisco and headed to bays north. This column is called What I Saw On The Bay, so my trip north is a bonus for subscribers of this magazine: Three Bays for the price of one. Or, if you are reading this column online or have found this magazine somewhere for free, even better for you.
During the previous weekend there had been a race to Drakes Bay. Two years ago, I used the race as my take-off to points north, but this year’s race was scheduled when the weather was snotty. My idea of sailing is to enjoy it, so I waited for another weather window, which looked like it might be several days later, on a Tuesday instead of the previous Saturday, when gale force winds were forecast.
I filled up the cooler with leftovers and yummy food, replenished the chocolate bars and we were off.
By small, fat-boat sailing standards, Dura Mater and I flew up to Drakes Bay at 10.4 knots. From Richmond to anchor down in Drakes Bay, it only took us from 8:40 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. The wind was 17 knots in Richmond and there was an ebb at the Gate, so we got TOTALLY soaked before we reached Point Bonita. We stayed in the middle of the shipping channel to take advantage of the ebb. The wind was out of the south and every bit of water gushing out through the Gate was fighting with the wind coming in, which meant that my boat and I were in the middle of their disagreement. The water washed over DM and over me. Foul weather gear? Sure I was wearing foul weather gear. And it was totally soaked through, through my long underwear to my skin. It was very unpleasant.
A Coast Guard Cutter full of coasties accompanied us out along our port side. I can imagine them looking through their binoculars murmuring, “Now why on earth would that crazy sailor be out here today?” At Point Bonita it crossed slowly close in front of us. I imagined them considering the following radio message, “This is your last chance for any help from us, stupid head,” before their boat accelerated over to Bonita Channel and was lost in the fog.
There was dense fog all day. It was a southern wind and wind waves but not many were breaking. DM got pushed up the coast all day, going 10.4 knots. Given her hull speed of 5.4 knots, that is remarkable speed.
Once in Drakes Bay we anchored right next to the rocks, looking for surcease from the southern swell, which never really stopped but lessened a bit late in the night. We anchored at N 37 59 702, W 122 58 325 in 16 feet of water with 85 feet of rode and 20 feet of chain. Mine was the only boat there. It seemed weird not to be surrounded by other sailors, chatting around on the radio, but in its own way this was nice, too.
The night before the barometer read 29.96 and was dropping. Dropping pressure means it is trending toward colder, which results in more wind. But earlier this morning the pressure was 29.96 and rising. I figured: We’ve got this.
There was dense fog the whole time we were there. On the way up I ate peaches and rice cakes. Once anchored I cooked dinner, Couscous with dried mangos and chocolate for dessert. Because of the swell my small pot kept falling off the single burner butane stove. There I am, catching the pot as it falls off the stove, trying not to get third-degree burns while making couscous. Good thing, because there isn’t medical attention available anywhere near, we are the only boat in the whole Bay. Usually there are fishing boats or sailboats, having come up or down the coast. It’s a really big anchorage.
Drakes Bay To White Gulch In Tomales Bay
The next morning, the anchor came up easily and we sailed up and around Pt. Reyes in dense fog and drizzle for the next three hours. I could see blue skies to starboard across the hills in the promised land. The conditions were glassy with a very small swell all along that long Point Reyes seashore. Four hours after leaving Drakes Bay, Dura Mater and I entered Tomales Bay just as the sun came out. Admittedly we slid through the mud at one point, yes, I will admit to that. And us with our 4.5-foot draft. But what is mud to a Delta sailor? A minor inconvenience. We could have waited for a couple more feet of water, but that has its own risks. We had motorsailed out of Drakes Bay at 8:30 a.m., reached the mouth of Tomales Bay shortly after noon and were deliciously anchored in White Gulch less than an hour later.
People have asked about the “breakers” upon entrance to Tomales Bay. I have not experienced breakers during my two visits in and out. It is all about gauging conditions ahead of time and not approaching at the wrong time. The challenge of the entrance is the depth and just how different the depth finder on your boat is compared with the depth showing on your chart plotter. It’s a mystery.
In White Gulch we thought we had room to swing, anchored at 38 1148, 122 5649. An hour later though, while reading down below, Dura Mater’s bow bumped gently up against the rock. Whoops. It’s not the first time we’ve bumped up against something and it probably won’t be the last. Although there was no wind at all, the tide rose just enough to push her bow up against the rock wall. So, we reanchored, further into the middle of the cove, in 13.9 feet of water.
The next morning at 10:15 a.m. hundreds and hundreds of birds arrived with a tidal change. From below I heard a huge sound of disturbed water outside. I went up to find the water full of movement and the sounds of bird wings flapping. Hundreds of black birds and pelicans had landed and there was a frenzy of feeding. They arrived to feast on the fish that were shoved into the cove where we were anchored, and they surrounded the boat. Cormorants? I don’t really know. There were pelicans, too. It was quite a remarkable experience to be in their midst. During the whole experience a single majestic blue heron stood on the sandy beach, knee deep and motionless.
In our little cove there was a single sea lion with only a few hairs sprouting on top of his bald head. He was curious and circled us a few times, snarfling and diving. According to a Smithsonian nature website, “At about five years old, males develop a noticeable crest that runs lengthwise along the top of their skull creating a high, domed forehead. The fur on this crest usually becomes increasingly lighter as a sea lion ages.” So, this little guy apparently isn’t young. He’s probably waiting for the next sailor to come visit.
After the birds left I watched as a kayaker beached his own boat on the beach. He lay on the grass for an hour or so, pulled his boat up further as the tide came in, then lay in the shade in the grass for a while longer before finally rowing away. I didn’t see any way for him to hike further up. The little sandy beach is protected by tall rocks and trees. It is accessible only by water.
Here’s another aspect of anchoring out alone that might appeal to… a certain type of person: You can stay in your long underwear all day long. Would you like to see your spouse or significant other slow down, relax and pay more attention to you? Well, persuade him to come up here on your boat with you for a few days. Bring books and puzzles and leave the newspapers behind. This is the place to either reconnect or to spend time alone. I recall the words to a song by David Byrne: “Heaven. Heaven is a place. A place where nothing… ever happens.”
Once anchored safely in a beautiful place I am reluctant to raise anchor and move away. Pulling up anchor is not hard on my boat, but it’s messy: mud goes everywhere. Lots of mud. If you are alone you have to move quickly when you pull anchor, then get back to the cockpit right away. Of course, if you have a companion aboard things might be different. In that case you can just issue orders from your hammock, drink your mai tai and order up another one. At least that’s how I’ve always heard it should be.
White Gulch To Shallow Beach
Friday’s float plan was to relocate from White Gulch to Heart’s Desire Beach. Awake at 6:30 a.m. I drank two cups of coffee, needing to replace the fuel canister in order to realize a full boil from the tea kettle. That means that a single eight-ounce canister lasts for three days of cooking and boiling water. Fresh water is used for face washing, coffee, tea etc. Boat water is used for dish washing.
It is so beautiful here, but we have stayed two nights. Today’s another day. Off to Heart’s Desire Beach and maybe cell service. There is none here, despite being able to see a long line of telephone poles up at the top of the gulch just above us. In anticipation of going ashore I have already inflated my little orange inflatable dinghy from Big Five. In big type on its side, it reads: No more than 210 # Children must be supervised.
Immediately out of White Gulch there is cell service and I call home. Was anyone worried about me? Well, not really. All those years of me saying, “Don’t worry! My boat takes care of me,” have apparently paid off.
It’s a gorgeous day on Tomales Bay with blue skies and good wind. I pass two fishermen with long grey beards. Just as I pass them under sail one of them catches a fish that is at least 18 inches long. I clap my hands as I drift slowly past. He was so happy and his partner, happy for his friend, gives me the thumbs up with a huge smile on his face.
Glorious sailing, we head north, then south, then north again, vacillating between downwind, upwind and a reach in the wind that came swooping down out of the west over the hills. Then I followed some kayakers who were in a caravan out of Nick’s Cove on the east side of the Bay. Stalking them silently, I sailed up silently alongside one woman who was pulling provisions in a small raft. Her name is Suanna Yakinchuk and she is from Sacramento. Her three friends, paddling slightly behind are from Sacramento and San Francisco. I could tell that Suanna from Sacramento is the most experienced. She is also the one pulling the important bit of kit, the green bucket, all the way across the Bay.
In 2021 I had anchored off Heart’s Desire Beach, but this year I had to pull it up twice. Eel grass was so thick my anchor couldn’t reach down through it to catch in the mud. Dragged with the 12# Danforth, then dragged my 14# Lewmar Delta. We then motorsailed further south to Shallow Beach, and finally anchored off a rock wall just outside where it reads No Anchoring on the chart. Anchor down in nine feet of water finally at 3:42 p.m. @ 38 07 36, 122 52 57.
Later in the evening I noticed a swimmer making her way inside the anchorage line next to the beautiful rock formations at the shoreline. The water there is shallow and the eelgrass (Zostera marina) is abundant. From the bow of my finally anchored boat, I watch the eel grass as the water flows through it. It is equally slinky and slimy as it winds its charms around my chain and rode.
As the sun went down I sat on the bow and watched as thousands of jellyfish surrounded us where we were floating off Shallow Beach. Wow. It was the best.
Sunday morning found us anchored off Teachers Beach in nine feet of water at 38 06 46, 122 51 48 facing east in 7.1 feet of water. At 8:37 a.m. I pulled up anchor and pointed Dura Mater north out of Tomales Bay. It took awhile to slowly inch our way through the shallow entrance of the Bay in dense fog. We motorsailed over to Bodega Bay after exiting Tomales, where we spent a night at Spud Harbor Marina. But that’s a story for another column. This month’s travelogue is done.
New Friends And Old
Back in early February my boat was in the Berkeley Marine Center getting shiny new bottom paint. I drove over to check it out and found myself only two boats away from an old friend, Brian Cline. Brian is currently Commodore of the Berkeley Yacht Club, and he lives aboard his Dana 24 S/V Maris on an end tie on O Dock. He raced Maris in the 2014 Singlehanded Transpacific Race from San Francisco to Hanalei Bay, Kauai.
Brian is a remarkable man with many unique abilities and I was pleased to see him again. Here he is mixing up some boat medicine. He has a wide skill set. Years ago, I was impressed by the way he put together electronics in the most efficient and cost-effective way when he sailed to Hawaii. Years ago he told me about the Kaito brand receive only SSB/FM world receiver. Brian used it to obtain reception all the way across the Pacific. He hooked it up to a simple, 32-foot antenna that he raised with an extra halyard to get reception all the way across the Pacific, first from California coast stations and then, seamlessly, from Hawaiian island stations.
He said it was such a joy to hear the voices of other people while he was out there alone on his tiny boat, making his way to Kauai. I went out and bought the Kaito back then, and found that it does indeed get reception offshore. Now you may tell me that your own impressive and expensive electronics get fine reception and I’m sure that is true. But I get it from the Kaito for less than $100. At 6.5 x 4 x 1 inch it’s very small and uses AA batteries. I never worry about it drawing power from my chart plotter or starter battery.
Then Brian told me about a woodworker and architect friend who has designed and is building a small wooden boat in the financial district of San Francisco. His name is Yev Ossipov.
Well, I had to meet this guy and see this boat or at least look at the plans and admire the fella’s workshop. So, Brian sent me Yev’s way and here I was, two weeks later, approaching Forcola Boatworks. I took BART from Rockridge to the Montgomery Street station and then walked seven blocks. Easy peasy.
Yev opened the door and waved me into his workshop. A mockup of a wooden boat enjoys pride of place, with a large rendering of the design above the workbench against the far wall. It is a beautiful space full of light from windows above everything, and it contains the types of equipment I have come to recognize from other boat workrooms like the one at the San Pablo Yacht Club in Richmond. Yev could tell I was impressed.
Jackie: Will you tell me about yourself and how you came to be here in this space in the middle of the financial district building a wooden boat?
Yev: I’m originally from Ukraine. My dad and I came to California when I was six years old. As a child I was always around and watching him while he worked. The first time I handled a knife he gave me careful instructions: “Never put your hand in front of the blade.” I was willful. I said, “Great. Got it.” Next thing I know I had almost cut my index finger off with one of his knives. We’re at the kitchen sink, blood everywhere…
I have a three-year-old now and he’s the same way. When I tell him how to do something he says, “Great. Got it.” Now? Now I’m very careful. [He shakes his head mournfully]
Y: My father was a sculptor, a wood artist. He was very interested in architecture. He introduced/groomed me to work in the architectural world. Frank Lloyd Wright and van der Rohe were kind of household names when I was young. So, I went to Cal, did architecture and then worked in this building for the architectural firm Anderson Anderson for 10 or 12 years. Mark and Peter Anderson do a lot of travelling now and work remotely. Clients were attracted to Mark and Peter Anderson’s experience in prefabrication and residential design work. A lot of that called for timber framing woodwork, but that wasn’t exactly their expertise. All along while I was doing the design work and the construction, I was also a foreman, a superintendent, an accountant, a char person, a carpenter…
As of COVID the firm of Anderson Anderson downsized and consolidated their office here and relocated a lot of their models and equipment up to Seattle. This room used to be the office. I moved into this space because they were downsizing and it became available. This space that used to be full of desks and computers in here was open and I moved in all my stuff. We are great family friends with the woman who owns the building. She is also a former client of ours. When she heard that I was looking for a space to build a boat she said, “Oh! I’ve got the perfect spot for you!” And now [he spreads his arms] here is Forcola Boatworks!
Building this boat represents me coming full circle, embracing where I started with my father as a wood carver. My dad was fascinated by sailing. He windsurfed in Ukraine. But we never actually sailed. When I decided to depart from the construction world I had to figure out how to make the transition from the architecture and construction world into the boating world.
I bought a derelict Santana 22 for $500 and taught myself to sail on that. It had a broken boom, so I bought a boom from a J 24 on Craigslist and replaced it. I didn’t know a whole lot about different sailboat types or profiles of spars or anything. Then I bought a J 24, sailed that and by the time I left construction and got into the boating world my dream became designing and building boats.
I was living in Berkeley and OCSC (Olympic Circle Sailing Club) was just down the street. I applied for a job that was available, figuring: “I’m just going to fix some winches and meet some people and go from there.” Next thing I know I’m the fleet service manager running a team. I’ve got five guys, 45 boats to maintain and was introduced to the client for this boat.
J: Okay, now tell me about this boat here.
Y: This is a mock up so we can get an idea of scale and figure out some details. That’s apparently the closest to genuine mahogany we can get these days. This is Fijian mahogany, which is the same genus as genuine mahogany – to my understanding.
The boat is mainly going to be made of mahogany and Alaskan yellow cedar. It’s very clear, very light, with a tight grain. I haven’t really designed a kajillion boats, and so I don’t know if what I draw is going to be perfect in the real world. A mockup seemed appropriate for this. For example, half an inch of head clearance under the boom is more significant on a small boat than it would be on a 40-footer.
Also, this boat needs to be rowed, so its design must take into account making sure that your elbows don’t hit the combing when you’re sitting and rowing. A lot of things worked out just right I think, on paper, to transition to this, but one thing we found is that your elbows would hit when you’re really going for it on a broad stroke. So, some changes needed to be made. For example, we had to make this oval opening a little longer toward the bow and a little bit wider.
We’re calling it the Tomales Bay boat. It’s for a client up there in Tomales Bay.
J: So your client who is already in Tomales Bay wants to make sure he can sail in the conditions up there? There’s a lot of mud up there.
Y: Yes. And he wants to make sure that everything, the appendages, the centerboard and the rudder, can fold up so he can run this thing up on a shoal or up in the mud without worrying about it. That’s the plan. And if he gets into a shallow area, he can raise the centerboard and rudder and row it the rest of the way. The design for the transom is interesting. It has this little sugar scoop thing that I’ve always been interested in trying out on a small boat.
J: Does your client want to be able to board the boat from the water?
Y: That’s part of the function, instead of having a ladder. Yeah. The challenge that creates is that you just can’t mount a rudder on some gudgeons and pintles in the back, you actually have to mount it through a rudder post, and then if you want to fold it up so you can shoal or beach the boat? It’s a whole new layer of complexity that I’m kind of embracing.
The boat will be 800-900 lbs. The ballast will be approximately 250 lbs. of that, made from melted tungsten ball bearings built into a mold made of wood.
The deck will be cork. The boat is intended to self-right, even when the mast touches the water. All thanks to tungsten. The sole is self-bailing above the water. The forward bulkhead and under the sole are all watertight. Unless there’s a hole that gets punched into it, this boat shouldn’t sink.
I’m not planning to fillet or use any kind of thickened epoxy. I think I’m going to use carbon fiber. I’m trying to build this as I would build a piece of bespoke furniture with the joinery that’s unique. I’m treating this as a work of art.
After admiring everything in his workshop Yev and I talked about our children. Then I left, and we promised to keep in touch. Two weeks later I found him in the bowels of a high-speed racing boat at the Berkeley Marine Center. He was finishing a very complicated electronics installation for Glass Slipper, which was registered for the Transpacific Race to Hawaii out of Los Angeles. Brian and Yev, two Renaissance men who seem to be able to accomplish anything. What a pleasure to know them both.
Stephen Buckingham in the Mission District and Yev in the Financial District have both found ways to create and build wooden boats in the middle of two dense urban environments.
In the May column of this magazine I wrote about the small wooden boat being built in Steve Buckingham’s garage in the Mission District of San Francisco. In case you were wondering, here she is, being towed to her new home in the small boat yard at Richmond Yacht Club.
Finally, here is a beautifully written obituary for a man I never had the opportunity to meet in person. Thank you to Michael Dobrin for a copy of it and also these photographs. Mr. Dobrin was an editor for Bay & Delta Yachtsman magazine in 1975 and 1976.
Robert A. Viel, a waterman and world adventurer extraordinaire, died unexpectedly at his home in Lodi, CA on Aug. 2. He was 83 years old.
Born in Oakland, CA, in 1939, he joined the Navy at 17, serving on supply and support vessels in the South China Sea, Guam, the Philippines, Japan and the Hawaiian group.
His love of the sea steered him to a lifetime of maritime work and oceanic adventures. He was a blue water sailor, a certified marine surveyor (who studied under the tutelage of famed San Francisco Bay surveyor Frank Bilek), a boat builder (Yorktown 42) and boat repairman. In the early 70’s he and Dennis White sailed White’s Herreshoff 41-foot ketch Emma Goldman from Cape Town, South Africa to Barbados in the Caribbean. The crossing was marked by a two-day mid-Atlantic respite on a Polish freighter (with a female Russian captain), Emma Goldman in tow. The duo put in at St. Helena, the world’s most remote island – and final burial site of Napoleon Bonaparte. (Emma Goldman was lost in the 2010 Atlantic storm 250 miles NE of Bermuda. White and daughter of a friend survived, but the friend perished in the dismasting).
Viel cruised the Caribbean, then went north aboard a small Westerly Puma 23 up the intercontinental waterway to the rockbound coast of Maine. He had earlier hitchhiked into the remote highlands of Costa Rica where he lived for a half year in a remote and primitive village. In his own boats, he coasted California south to Mexico and the Panama Canal. He was a crab fisherman out of Bodega Bay and worked on salmon boats and British Columbia halibut fisheries.
In the mid ‘70s, he occupied a wharf-end $15/month shack at the 5th Ave. Marina on the Oakland Estuary while he worked at the adjacent Seabreeze Boat Yard. He lived later aboard a 32-foot World War II command launch that he converted to a comfortable floating home. For years he lived aboard his custom-built houseboat at Brannan Island in the Delta. Viel was a fount of knowledge about the Estuary and its history, remembering the waterway’s vibrant maritime past (in the ‘20s and ‘30s, his dad, Adrian, scoured abandoned Alaska Packers schooners near Brooklyn Basin and Government Island).
An incessant reader (he later used audio books when beset with macular degeneration), he was an expert on military history, particularly focused on the U.S. war in the Pacific.
Mr. Viel is survived by five children. He was interred with military honors on Aug. 16, at the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery in Dixon, CA.
NAOS Yachts Beneteau Owners Rendezvous
With the adventure of sailing to other bays, I was not able to attend the 1st Annual NAOS Yachts Beneteau Owners Rendezvous hosted by NAOS Yachts San Francisco. I cannot think of a better idea to further ntroduce yourself as the Beneteau dealer than throwing a party. The following was provided by the director of marketing and media for NAOS Yachts, Christine Pernin:
“You know the old saying… ‘one boat on the water is a cruise, two boats on the water is a race?’ Well, what do you get when you have 20 Beneteau boats on the water? A Beneteau Owners Rendezvous Regatta!”
On Aug. 19 and 20, Naos Yachts held their first Beneteau Owners Rendezvous at the Richmond Yacht Club, welcoming close to 25 boat owners, their families and guests. Some came sailing, others drove and all had a great time mingling with fellow boaters, racing against each other in the Bay and sharing stories and drinks in the clubhouse.
This first rendezvous was a great success with over 80 attendees who sent an overall request for this event to grow into an annual weekend event. We heard you loud and clear, so we look forward to seeing you all plus more next year!
Thank you Christine, as next year’s event will clearly be marked on my not to miss list. I look forward to interviewing a few of your owners in attendance for use in next month’s issue. A little birdie told me that Iegor and Denver took Pat Carson and Ty out on your beautiful Wellcraft 355 to review it for the publication. I look forward to seeing the review in print next month as well.
Until next month, get out and enjoy your boat while the summer weather lasts. Send me info or a story of the Bay to email@example.com for me to share.