What I Saw – by Jackie Philpott
Stuck In The Mud In Tomales Bay
Some people make lists. I take notes. Everywhere I go I take a little notebook. The good thing about note-taking is that it keeps me organized. The bad thing about note-taking is that, when I read them back to myself, I am reminded of what actually happened. Especially with regard to sailing experiences: If they were scary, I would prefer to remember them as adventures. If bad decision-making was involved? I’d rather recall that I got through the mishap successfully rather than… well, I’d rather not recall how stupid I’d been.
In last month’s column I wrote about Tomales Bay, but I didn’t write about getting stuck in the mud up there. When people ask about Tomales Bay I talk about its beauty, its solitude and the glory of nature. But here’s another piece of the story, yet another example of Dura Mater and I going into the mud.
Up in Tomales Bay, after being at anchor for several days, I texted Milly Biller of the Inverness Yacht Club.
“Milly! I’m on your Bay!”
“Great!” replied Milly. “C’mon over to the Club!”
Now, if you got a response like that, what would you do? A trusting person would sail right over, right? Well, I’m sort of a trusting person. Just to be sure though, I called another friend, Robert Moffat Allan III.
“Hi, there! I’m on Tomales Bay!”
“Great!” Robert Moffat replied. “I’m here, too, and there are races all day. Wait until all the racers have used the hoist at the end of the day, then sail on over. There will be plenty of water. Wait just a minute, I’ll confirm with Milly.” He conferred. “Sure! Milly says there will be plenty of water after the races.”
Excellent. I had a plan du jour. So, anchored off Shallow Beach, I sat on Dura Mater’s cabin top and watched the International 110 races. Those boats are beautiful, especially when sailed by people who know what they’re doing. Then, after raising anchor, I raised sail myself and we went up and down the Bay several times from Hog Island to Shallow Beach and over toward Nick’s Cove where people were returning their rented kayaks. The average depth was 16 to 35 feet between Marshall and Shallow Beach. It was a gorgeous day and sailing on Tomales is wonderful, very much like sailing on the San Joaquin, with a very specific caveat, which will become clear forthwith.
At the end of the races the boats all headed south to Inverness Yacht Club. One by one they raised their spinnakers and we drifted after them. Turning into the wind to take the main down, we kept our distance until all the boats had been lifted out of the water onto their trailers. People were gathering on the dock as I approached under engine. The wind had really kicked up and there were white caps on the water. Keeping an eye on the depth finder I watched carefully as the water got thinner and thinner. DM has a 4.5-foot draft. The water was 6 feet, then 5.5 feet, then 4 feet, then 3.5 feet and then? Then it was 3 feet deep and we were stuck in the mud not 20 feet from the dock. I turned off the engine. Best not to suck that mud up.
Since we weren’t going anywhere soon, I walked up to the bow. I was hoping someone would throw me a line. No one did. Instead, people gathered at the edge of the dock. I could hear them discussing our provenance: “Do you know that boat?” “No, I don’t recognize it.” “Oh, look! That boat is in the mud!”
DM was an unfamiliar keelboat. Briefly we became the evening’s entertainment. No one was concerned and they were only slightly interested. It seemed they just expect boats to get stuck in the mud up there. It’s an everyday experience for The Mud People. They were drinking beer and several raised their bottles to me. They laughed. No one offered to throw a line.
I called Robert Moffat. Usually good about answering his phone promptly, Robert Moffat didn’t answer. Huh. I texted. No response. Huh. Robert Moffat was already at the bar.
I sat on the cabin top and watched as people started wandering away up the long pier to the clubhouse. I thought about the canned chili down in my food locker. That might be the dinner du jour. Resigned to simply waiting for the water to come into the Bay when we would float free, I went up to the bow and prepared to throw the anchor out. Then I heard a voice calling: “I’m coming, Jackie! Jake and I will be there in a minute!”
I watched as Skip Shapiro drove over on one of the club’s whalers accompanied by Jacob Butler. Skip is a member of both Richmond and Inverness Yacht Clubs and often serves as pro for races on both Tomales and San Francisco Bays. Jacob smiled up at me from the bow of their boat and we introduced ourselves.
Skip suggested I try to kedge, so I handed my anchor down to him, then paid out rode as they drove further out where there was deeper water. They dropped and set the anchor. DM was stuck tight in that mud and there was no way we were going anywhere for a while. The tide was coming in and 6.5-foot depth was due to arrive, but not until later in the evening. I’ve never left my boat alone when stuck in the mud before and I didn’t like it, but Skip assured me that she would float free later on, and so I knew she would. I accompanied them back to the dock and up into the clubhouse where people were celebrating another day on the water at Inverness.
Later that evening I persuaded Milly and Robert Moffat to ferry me back to Dura Mater, which they did. Thank you to both of them, smiling here for the camera with DM floating free behind them.
Sunday morning found us still anchored off Teachers Beach in 9 feet of water. I pulled anchor and began to motor slowly north as I raised sail. A clear day at first, the fog became dense as we approached Marshall to starboard. The distance north from Inverness to the entrance of the Bay is approximately ten slow miles. Before leaving Tomales Bay I wasn’t sure that we had enough fuel in case there was no wind for our return, so I decided to sail over to Bodega Bay. Plus, I wanted to go back to Spud Harbor because I like it there.
Because of the fog, there wasn’t much wind that morning so we kept the engine on for most of the trip to the entrance of Bodega Bay. The long and narrow channel entrance is almost two miles long and it ends at Spud Harbor Marina. I still had the harbor phone number in my phone, but the marina/harbormaster’s office is not open on weekends.
At Spud Harbor the fuel dock is open 24/7. I used my VHF radio to hail 16 and a fella responded right away and then appeared at the top of the ramp. I was able to pay for an end dock and the fuel at the same time. Spud Harbor is a working marina, full of commercial fishing boats, and there were no slips available which was the same situation as when I arrived on Dura Mater in 2021. After filling DM’s tank and an extra fuel can with diesel, I tied up at the end of C Dock in front of a sailboat named Ronnie with expired registration and a badly frayed shroud.
Nine-point-nine gallons of red diesel cost $4.46/gallon and $22.50/night for the end tie. Once DM was secure, I walked across the street to Fisherman’s Cove restaurant/deli and bought dessert: coconut almond chip gelato. Life is short: Eat dessert first, that’s my motto. Then I ordered two halibut tacos, ate one and saved the other for later on. Delish.
I had a nice long chat with a young woman named Tiffany who works with the Bodega Bay Oyster Company. She told me that oysters are grown right there in the harbor in individual incubators that float beneath hinged wooden trapdoors between slips on either side of C Dock. Seriously? Yes, that’s right. Here’s a photo to prove it.
There are all sorts of interesting boats in Spud Harbor. There is this classic wooden boat. I’ll bet someone who reads this column will be able to identify it and its owner. There was this pristine fishing boat with two big engines plus a third engine for back-up. I don’t think the Coasties will be called to assist this one.
By 9:40 a.m. the next morning our mainsail was up and we made our way out of the Bay along its well-marked and long channel – 34 markers in all. Why raise sail? Call me optimistic.
Motor sailing out of Bodega Bay we passed these birds on the channel marker. They looked like those birds in the Alfred Hitchcock movie. As I took their photograph, I called out soothingly: “Nice birds. Stay calm. Carry on.”
As we sailed north out of Bodega Bay the wind was directly on our nose, so the engine stayed on. It remained overcast and cold all day long. Immediately upon clearing Pt. Reyes the female voice of Vessel Traffic on VHF channel 12 became crystal clear.
Anchor down in Drakes Bay at 4:05 p.m., 20-foot chain, 80-foot rode in 21 feet of water. I have been teased about being overly cautious with rode, but you never know. The water was calm with a small southern swell. We were anchored at 37 59 53, 122 58 21. Until later in the evening Dura Mater was again the only boat in the anchorage. It was a clear night until, at 8:28 p.m., the fog rolled in and enveloped everything like a heavy blanket. Fog is magical the way it does that.
Just before the fog rolled in, a long dark-hulled sailboat arrived in Drakes Bay. It had a very tall rig with four spreaders and a pilothouse with at least two occupants, one in a red foul weather jacket. I watched it through my binoculars until the fog engulfed it. Then I couldn’t see anything at all: not the boat, not the shoreline, not 20 feet around us. As darkness fell, I looked up one last time to make sure our white anchor light was on before closing the hatch for the night.
The next morning it took 45 minutes to get the sea grass off the anchor with my broken boat hook. Note to self: Buy a new boat hook that isn’t held together with duct tape. Duct tape is almost as important as chocolate bars. Motor sailing up the coast I had seen 10.4 knots with the southern swell a week earlier. Returning south against a similar swell our speed was limited to an average of 5.8 knots. It was a bit of a slog, and so foggy that I turned on our running lights.
Is it boring to motor sail for hours at a time? Well, yes. I will admit it, but I will tell you my secret, which might or might not work for you. This is how I keep boredom at bay while sailing solo: Alone for long periods of time between one place and another, I delude myself. I keep a stash of goodies in my shabby old cockpit bag. I pretend to myself that I have forgotten those yummy Korean almond cookies stashed in there. Then, when we have been sailing along for a long while I mosey on over to the goodie bag and reach down (“mosey” being a relative term since the bag is only 18 inches from my feet in the cockpit.)
Poking around I find: a handheld radio. Huh. Not edible. A tidebook from Whale Point Marine and Hardware. Not edible. A Ziplock bag of batteries for my handheld Garmin. No. No. No. But, wait! What a surprise! I find the cookies. Yum yum! And what’s this? A dark chocolate and almond Kind bar. Oh boy! How exciting has my life become! Thus, the solo sailor with only her boat to talk with, is able to conjure a purposeful and disingenuous anticipation and subsequent surprise that results in pure bliss. She is a happy camper for at least another half hour of the trip.
The time has passed and we have avoided collision in the fog with all the small fishing boats floating around Duxbury Reef. I debated avoiding the Potato Patch and going through the Bonita Channel instead, but today’s wind was mild, the water almost glassy and besides, it’s a slack tide. Easy peasy. As we pass Bonita Lighthouse, we slow down a bit, waiting for that big fat tanker to go ahead. I communicate with the captain silently: “Oh, by all means, Sir. You go ahead.”
We motor sail along until the wind picks up enough to sail as we turn to port into what is called the Golden Gate, forward and beneath that beautiful bridge. Our mainsail is already up, ready for the expected blast of wind as we enter the SF Bay. The wind goes from two to 18 knots during those very few minutes, and I see sailboats ahead of me in the Bay with reefed mains heeled hard on their sides. Two hours more and we’ll be home.
In Monterey Bay
A week after returning from Bodega Bay I drove down to Monterey for three days. Peering through binoculars I saw the blue-hulled pilothouse sailboat from Drakes Bay now anchored off the old wharf.
Monterey is such a quiet town, even during big events like golf tournaments at Pebble Beach, the car show Concours d’Elegance and all the sailing events. I go down there a lot and when I do, I often visit the Monterey Peninsula Yacht Club for dinner. During this visit there was a regatta between Santa Cruz and Monterey and all the tables were reserved in the dining room when I arrived. No table? No problem! I sat at the bar and ordered a terrific beef bourguignon for $22. It was very tasty.
Had I been in the dining room I would have been served by polite waiters at a table with linen tablecloths and napkins. Instead, I got to chat with Hannah the bartender and watch her work her magic with the increasingly busy crowd. It is hard to be attentive to 40 thirsty sailors all at once, but she managed to do it cheerfully and with aplomb. Here she is with the club manager, Drew. See? Still smiling. Even with 30 people standing patiently behind the photographer.
In The Delta Again
Every year about this time Ty invites Bill Wells and I to go for a zoom zoom ride in the Delta on his cigarette boat. I say every year, but this is only the second time we did it. More than once creates a tradition, right? Last year Bill wore his Hawaiian shirt for the occasion and told us about living in Hawaii back in the day.
Last year our zoom zoom ride didn’t work out so well. Using my Garmin handheld GPS, we had located the coordinates just down river from the Miner Slough Bridge. That was where my expensive anchor had been lost to a submerged tree. BoatUS had left a floating blue rubber fender attached to the line that led to it. Alas, we found no fender. We continued up the slough under the bridge, and that’s when the propeller on Ty’s boat nicked a log. I can see you wincing, and we were not happy about it, either. It cost a lot of money to fix and I felt sort of guilty so I didn’t write about it back then. A year has passed though, and since it wasn’t my propeller, I remembered our day as a whole lot of fun.
Last year, after emerging from the top of Georgiana we turned off the engine and jumped into the Sacramento River. We floated downstream in the gentle ebb alongside the boat. It was kind of scary jumping into the water like that with no one left at the wheel, but Ty encouraged us and jumped in first. “Go ahead! It’ll be fine!” So, we did. It was a really hot day and that water felt wonderful. Seriously wonderful. Have you ever jumped into the Sacramento River from a zoom zoom boat with a Ferrari-red and yellow paint job and floated downstream beside it? Well, I had never done it. Shoving last year’s propeller guilt aside, I wanted to do it again. So, I pestered Ty to take us for another ride. I suggested we call it a team-building exercise: A deductible expense, right?
This year, with no anchor to retrieve, our tour of the Delta was less like the Jungle Book ride of last year. Instead, we visited two yacht clubs: the modest and the immodest and even took a slow cruise through Grindstone Joes. Here is a photo of Ty with Moises Ramirez, an old friend of his and the caretaker of Delta Yacht Club.
We motored slowly through the water of Tinsley Island which was my first visit. On a low cigarette boat, motoring slowly past tall motoryachts tied up med style, it was a little like walking through the financial district of a city with tall shiny surfaces looming overhead all around. We stopped to chat with Steve Mannshardt who was sitting in the sunshine on Resolution, his 1978 53-foot Hatteras Yacht Fisherman. He told us that he is waiting for his own harbor in the Bay Area to be dredged.
Where did we go? I couldn’t keep track of all the places we visited because we were going so fast. On my sailboat it takes a long time to get from one place to another. On this boat? We zoomed across a vast area. In a single day we covered territory that had taken me years to explore on my sailboat. Then we zoomed over to the Rusty Porthole and had lunch. Here is a photo of Kelly Graham who was having lunch herself with her good friend Angelo. They had arrived for lunch aboard their Sea-Doos. I took this photo of Kelly and then she took the photo of us.
Moli Leaving Again
Arriving home from Monterey I went to check on DM and ran into Harmon Shragge, who was on his way down the ramp to where the S/V Moli was tied up at the end of D dock in the Richmond Yacht Club Harbor. In case you haven’t heard about Moli and her skipper, Randall Reeves, I encourage you to read about the Figure Eight Voyage here: http://figure8voyage.com/blog/
Harmon and Randall were about to leave aboard Moli on their way to Homer, Alaska. Harmon and Randall know each other because both of them deliver provisions out to the scientists who live on the Farallon Islands. Randall told me that the Homer boatyard will be home to approximately 400 boats, all of which will spend the winter on the hard. Moli, at 43 feet, will be one of the smallest.
I asked, “Why Homer?”
Randall replied, “During my last trip I stopped in Homer. I really liked the people I met there and I look forward to seeing them again. Many of them are homesteaders, some of them second generation.”
As I write this, Moli has arrived in Kodiak, having been delayed by a series of gales. Really big storms with 60+ knot winds. Monstrous waves make for great videos and that’s where Harmon excels. Randall wouldn’t have videotaped the waves. Afterwards he would have just said something like, “They were big.” You get the idea. He’s a stoic, that Randall.
Randall’s travels are truly remarkable, as are his stories and photographs. Through his own accompanying blog, Harmon contextualizes life on Moli and Randall’s experiences for us, describing why Randall does what needs doing aboard Moli. The remarkable needs of boat and individual? Randall just does it all. Once you’ve read Randall’s blog his seriousness is appreciated. With his own blog Harmon offers a counterpoint to Randall’s single-minded attention to detail. He reframes the voyage for the reader and adds depth to our understanding of what is required of individuals and their boats as they cross oceans. Harmon describes what is happening on Moli from a different perspective than is provided by Randall. They are both fine teachers and the two blogs together have been splendid learning opportunities.
Harmon himself is no slouch. He has served as crew on several legs of the Clipper Round the World Race, which is organized by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston. In 1969 Sir Knox-Johnston won the first Golden Globe race, becoming the first person to sail solo and non-stop around the world. Go to https://wikipedia.org/wiki/Robin_Knox-Johnston for more information.
I think it’s fair to say that Harmon loves to sail offshore. His joyfulness is palpable in every blog, photograph and video he offers up. Links to Harmon’s accompanying blog are included within Randall’s Figure Eight Voyage blog. How fortuitous it was that I met up with Harmon and could take these photographs just as they headed offshore.
When I first spoke with Ty Mellott almost two years ago, he told me I could write about anything that floats, and I have taken him at his word. Although this column is called What I Saw On The Bay, readers here know already that I stretch that definition to include more than just the San Francisco Bay. This column is a perfect example of that elasticity.
In late September I spent five days in Amsterdam. My crew for the Three Bridge Fiasco last year was my friend Kees, who has an apartment in the Princess Irene neighborhood of Amsterdam. The December column will describe my trip to visit him there. All of the Netherlands is one big Delta, although what we call levees, they call dikes or dijks. The similarities are remarkable and I learned a lot about what in the Netherlands is called Den Delta. I hope you will enjoy reading about it. For now, I’ll stay home for a while and write about people closer to home here. If you want me to sail over and write about you or your club or marine business, email me here. Yes, even if you don’t sail.
Thank you for reading. Write to me by addressing email@example.com if you have anything you would like to share here. Enjoy your time on the water and let’s all be careful out there.