What I Saw – by Jackie Philpott
Svendsen’s 2022 Spring Fling
Remember the days when sailors kept their small keelboats on trailers behind Svendsen’s rigging shop? When you could walk up the ramp and over from your boat to buy what you needed from the chandlery? Then you could walk back down and step onto your boat to go sailing in the Estuary? Remember when you didn’t have to get into your car to get to the Svendsen’s chandlery? Well, those days are gone. The plan is for 760 units of housing to replace all that. Down the street in the former Del Monte warehouse 362 units are being built in what will be called Star Harbor. Forget about the days you spent walking around that particular boat yard. I repeat: Those days are gone.
Svendsen’s chandlery is still in Alameda, but now you have to drive there through the tunnel or over a bridge. When I read about a Spring Fling at Svendsen’s Bay Marine & Industrial Supply I got in my car and drove over. Why not? The advertisement informed me there would be vendors, raffle prizes, a food truck, music and free beer from Alameda Island Brewing.
I arrived to find an outdoor festival of sorts, with vendor booths full of people I know. What a treat! A few vendors away, there sat my very favorite boat diver, looking cool and anonymous behind sunglasses. But secrecy didn’t work. I asked him to take off his sunglasses and there was Matt Peterson, owner of Fast Bottoms. We talked about the mass eviction of marine suppliers and professionals after Svendsen’s boatyard was sold, and how quickly whole marina communities can be lost. Matt is proud to have been the last business to leave. The new international headquarters for Fast Bottoms is now located in a shipping container here in Svendsen’s new yard at Bay Marine. His professional divers use it as a centralized source for equipment they need to clean boat bottoms.
Then I had a chat with Rolfe Brittain, whose title is Project Lead at Svendsen’s in Richmond. That means he’s the person who takes responsibility for your boat when it enters the boat yard. Rolfe tried to sell me a bottom job for my boat. He was very persuasive, even after I told him my boat had a brand new bottom job from Berkeley Marine Center. He remained undeterred and offered to extend the offer for a few years. I think Rolfe is accustomed to working with racing sailors who pay for bottom jobs every year. I only get a new bottom job when Matt Peterson’s diver writes little comments on my invoice: BOTTOM WAS QUITE FOUL. I can just imagine their phone conversations: “Please, Matt! Don’t make me go back there!”
After chatting with Matt I went over and sat with Alan and Renae Klee, owners of Delta Sailing School on Seven Mile Slough in Isleton. We talked about sailing in the Delta, sailing in the San Francisco Bay, sailing down the coast. I was introduced to Heather Hultin, Marketing Director for the school. Alan told me that Andreas Cove Yacht Club hopes to co-sponsor the annual Frank’s Tract race this year. The tentative idea is to co-sponsor the race with the Stockton Sailing Club during the weekend of August 13-14. There will be two races on Saturday and one on Sunday. We talked about another plan to charter a sailboat or two in Greece in late September. If you are interested, call and leave a message @ 916-966-1855. They are usually out teaching people how to sail, so leave a message.
Then I smelled hamburgers cooking, and wandered away, past the row of vendors. I walked over to where a fella was flipping burgers on a camping grill. There were Gill jackets hanging up outside a trailer alongside Gill signs, but he didn’t look like he was trying hard to sell anything. He just looked like the grill guy. Except that he wasn’t. Turns out he was Thresher Rolle, Major Accounts Manager for Interwestern Sales Co. I know this because I gave him my Yachtsman business card, asked him for his. He dug around in his back pocket and pulled one out, old and bent at the corners, handed it to me. I asked him why a major accounts guy would be flipping burgers. He just shrugged. It was a nice day, he was there at the Spring Fling, showcasing Gill products.
Although I told Thresher that I wear Gill sailing clothes, that isn’t altogether true. Mostly I wear free t-shirts and sweatshirts from Bay and coastal races. My sailing jackets are all Gill brand, though. He nodded, didn’t stop with the burgers. Selling one or two jackets to a cheapskate obviously isn’t his purview. A major accounts manager sells whole lines of clothing to other major accounts managers in charge of chain stores like West Marine and Cabela’s.
Trying not to be so sailor-centric, I asked Thresher about Gill clothing for my new BFFs (Best Friends Forever), people who fish and hunt ducks. He explained that Gill has a successful line of fishing and duck hunting clothing, similar to sailing clothes, in camouflage patterns. It’s called Gill Fishing line of clothing. This makes sense to me, because duck hunters and people who fish need to stay warm and dry too. To be honest, I never thought of Gill that way.
Thresher told me that Gill is moving into what is described as Coastal Lifestyle clothing and accessories. According to the April/May 2022 Boat U.S. Magazine, “Women make up 33% of all recreational anglers and 45% of new anglers.” Not just clothes for people who do the actual boating, but people who change into after-boat wear. In my opinion, those clothes need to be better looking than most clothes I’ve seen at bait shops. I suppose Gill has decided there are lots more people tangentially associated with boating enthusiasts than actual enthusiasts. Certainly I have noticed that Svendsen’s has closed a lot of its local stores and the new ones have more clothes in them. In a similar way, marinas and boat yards are being replaced with condominiums and promenades.
After chatting with Thresher I asked around for someone named Amanda, because Rolfe had told me that the Spring Fling was her idea. Who was Amanda? I went inside the warehouse to find her and there she was, chatting and laughing with a crowd of people over near the paint section. Amanda Pangelina is the Purchasing and Inventory Control Manager at Svendsen’s Marine and Industrial Supply.
She agreed to answer some questions and we moved over to where people weren’t so loud and excited.
Jackie: How did you plan for this event?
Amanda: In November we started to talk about the Pacific Sail Show. What we thought was going to be just a meeting grew into this instead. Because of the pandemic rules in Alameda County, I knew that we could only consider an outdoor venue. Then I talked to Bill Elliott, the owner of Bay Ship & Yacht and he said, “Let’s do it!” We started planning for this in January by contacting vendors and the anticipation grew. That’s really how it started. Not having a boat show for a couple of years built into the attendance we have here today.
Jackie: I used to travel from Oakland to your chandlery over on Buena Vista. This is much, much bigger.
Amanda: Across from the chandlery in Svendsen’s previous location was the warehouse where I worked. There were whole levels of boat supplies kept there: Levels one, two, three, four, five and then another little area above that, full of inventory. It probably wasn’t even safe, you know? It was this huge warehouse crammed with all the stuff. A lot of people didn’t realize that we had all this inventory. There were no BIN locations (a bin location is a designated inventory storage location), we just knew where things were in the warehouse. Everything was in numerical order, so we’d run down the list. If you didn’t see it, you’d look up, you’d look down – “Oh! There it is over there!” And then we’d go fill the order. Everything’s a lot more structured here. The same inventory that was there is here now, but now we know where everything is because it is UPC (universal product code) scanned. It’s a lot better.
Jackie: I understand that Svendsen’s might be expanding its chandlery in Richmond?
Amanda: We do have a small store over there in Richmond and we are looking at expanding that, but our plans are in the early stages. Whalepoint is a big customer of Svendsen’s and we want to be sensitive to what they sell. We don’t want to step on their toes. We want to support Whalepoint in every way. We’re going to see an improvement of the boat yard property, then we’ll go from there.
A tiny dog runs between our feet.
Amanda: That’s Doug Paulsen’s dog. Pebbles is over ten years old. She’s been running around the offices for many years. I could try to catch her but it usually takes food to catch her. Doug is one of Svendsen’s outside sales reps for our yacht accounts, for the boat yard and marinas. He makes all the rounds. Most people who work in the chandlery have a long history of sailing and racing.
Jackie: How about you? Are you a sailor?
Amanda: I have sailed (big smile), but I am more of a powerboat girl. Don’t tell anybody. I know all about paint. I’ve been here at Svendsen’s since I was fifteen. My mother worked in the metal shop and now my son works over there in the ship yard. So, we’re deeply invested in Svendsen’s.
Jackie: How did you happen to get this job?
Amanda: Chris Evanoff is manager of the Metal Shop now. My mom worked here in the metal shop with Carston, who was manager before Chris. My family’s history with Svendsen’s started back with Nicro Marine. Nicro Marine makes the solar beds that Marinco sells. My mom worked with Nils Park Davidson, I would go there after school, hang out. Nicro got sold and then my mom went to Svendsen’s. That was in 1998, the summer before I started high school. I was fifteen years old. Jean in accounting called me and asked, “Do you want a job?”
I said, “Sure.” It was supposed to be just a summer time job. I started in the office for $6/hour. Mr. Svendsen always treated me very well. He always gave me the opportunity to learn. I was taught how to do accounts receivables, then I learned how to enter invoices into accounts payable, I learned how to enter job information and rates. From there I got moved up to a wholesale position. That’s where I learned about price changes and purchasing. Svendsen’s has been like a family. Sometimes I hear myself saying, “I’m not a little girl anymore, you guys!” Now my son, Anthony, is third generation Svendsen’s.
Jackie: From the outside it looked like Svendsen’s was gobbled up by this huge conglomerate called Bay Ship.
Amanda: We had a lot of issues during the transition. We went to a new software system and the database became corrupted, which was very bad. There were some changes in operations that didn’t go well, either. In the last year we’ve had some changes in management. I’m still here. Michael Tosse has been here for a long time. Nathalie Page has worked at Svendsen’s since 1995.
Amanda had this to say about the business transitions that have occurred at Svendsen’s: “We need to get back to the basics. We need to get back to what Svendsen’s was. I’ve been here a long time and that is something that is personally important to me: That we remember who Sven was. He was the godfather and we need to keep that family tradition alive. I really know this business. That’s part of the reason for this show. We didn’t charge anybody to come, not even the vendors. It is our thank you to our customers.”
Then Amanda introduced me to her mother and everybody else. They were all enjoying the day at Amanda’s Spring Fling, and they smiled while I took a photograph of them.
Out The Gate And Turn Left
A week after Svendsen’s Spring Fling I called up a friend who keeps his catamaran in Emeryville Marina. His boat is a custom built Crowther10 meter, the S/V Rainbow. I have always been impressed by the degree of careful preparation necessary for sailors to cross oceans, and especially the extra considerations required by singlehanded sailors. I have been told that the key is to know your boat thoroughly and carry redundancies aboard. It’s also necessary to practice doing everything ahead of time in order to learn about what works and what doesn’t. I sailed over to Emeryville from Richmond on a crystal clear and windy weekday.
In 2015 Cliff Shaw sailed singlehanded to French Polynesia aboard Rainbow, then on to New Zealand. He has sailed to Kauai four times, once just for fun and three times as a participant in the Singlehanded Transpacific Yacht Race. When I visited him, he was headed out the next day for the South Pacific again, from there onward to visit the Cook Islands. His first stop will be Nuku Hiva, the largest island in the Marquesas. A person needs nutrition for that, so I took him two containers of chocolate chip cookies. Not just one, but two. Because it’s a big ocean, right? He says it took him 24 days to get there last time. That’s only about one cookie per day.
I admired Cliff’s navigation table and asked him about maintaining watch and sleeping. How does he do that? Every singlehanded sailor I know seems to have a different plan for sleeping offshore. Some set their sails and turn in for the night, trusting the alarm on their AIS (Automatic Identification System) to alert them to approaching vessels. Radios equipped with AIS have become affordable in recent years, and are required for any sailboat that participates in offshore coastal races. They are very helpful while transitting the San Francisco Bay in the dark and fog, too. Other singlehanders determine the speed at which their boat moves through the water, how fast another vessel might approach, and sleep for the increments in between. Then they wake up and do a visual check. Smaller sailboats often don’t have radios with Class B AIS transponders, which are still quite expensive. This means that boats without Class B AIS are able to receive location information from other boats, but not transmit their own.
Cliff sleeps in 15 minute increments and depends upon a timer called Watch Commander. He hangs it on the companionway, which is just out of reach as he sleeps. That requires him to physically get up and reach it when it goes off. If he doesn’t turn it off it turns into an earsplitting siren. Not like an elevator alarm, more like a fire truck on its way to a BIG FIRE.
Rainbow is a 32-foot catamaran, a sailboat whose primary power generation is from her sails. She also has two engines, which are used for regeneration of three autopilots, navigation lights and charting instruments. Cliff also carries a satellite phone for emergencies and this year he has an In-Reach tracker, too. Last time he visited the island of Moorea he was able to purchase a SIM card that worked on his ancient flip phone, of which he is particularly proud.
Although a lot of people would find Cliff’s travels interesting reading, he doesn’t use social media at all. Every time he prepares to leave, I ask whether he’ll post about his trip. He just smiles and shakes his head, tells me the same thing every time: “I’m not interested in any of that.” When I ask if he’ll call when he gets his new SIM card he says, “I don’t know. Probably not.” When I ask when he’ll come back, he counts on his fingers, one through six and says, “October. Probably.”
What does Cliff do all day long when he’s at anchor in an exotic place? He enjoys visits to historic locations and reads a lot, rows ashore, meets people, rows back out to Rainbow. When I ask whether he loads books onto a tablet he smiles, holds his flip phone up and pretends it is dancing.
“Oh, wait! I do have a tablet. Greg Nelsen gave it to me. It is connected by Bluetooth to something.” He tries to remember, points to a display above his navigation table and says, “Or I can just look up there.” Rainbow has plenty of room and Cliff takes a lot of books.
I’ve never sailed across an ocean with Cliff but we’ve both found ourselves in Hanalei Bay a couple of times. One evening I stayed aboard Rainbow where I enjoyed my own portside cabin with a queen size berth. Opened up the hatches above and it was a splendid feeling. Catamarans don’t rock from side to side when anchored. They rock up and down with the swell. I felt like a baby in a cradle.
Emery Cove Yacht Harbor
You may have noticed that Emeryville Cove is one of our advertisers. Before I left Rainbow I called Diane Isely, harbormaster at Emery Cove Yacht Harbor. I asked if she was available to meet with me, that I was on my boat one marina away. Diane agreed and so Cliff pushed me off from where DM was rafted next to Rainbow. “See you in October!” He waved goodbye.
I was on a mission to explore Emery Cove’s updated amenities. Specifically, its brand new restrooms. Yes, it’s a clean job and someone has to do it. Personally, I like bathrooms with deep tubs myself. But I think it’s probably unrealistic to expect a marina to have a soaking tub available to its tenants. If you know of one, let me know and I’ll go try it out. I’ll even bring my own bath salts.
Diane directed me to “anywhere” on F Dock, so I chose one that was upwind. By this time it was afternoon and really windy. I turned in between two beautifully maintained sailboats, both much larger than Dura Mater. The new docks are made of ipe wood (pronounced ‘ee pay’) but the slips aren’t lined with rubber. Even with four of her biggest fenders hanging alongside, Dura Mater’s portside hull took a beating as she pinballed into it. Singlehanders don’t have crew who will leap dockside to protect gelcoat. If my boat lived at Emery Cove I would need to line the entire inside of my slip with rubber fenders.
There are a number of places to where you can walk from Emery Cove, but they are serious walks. At the end of Powell Street there is Hong Kong East Ocean Seafood Restaurant, which specializes in dim sum. It’s packed on Sundays with lots of large families who meet up there for brunch. There is a wooden walkway that curves around the water side of the Watergate condominiums, leading to a multi-story glass office tower. Along Powell Street there is the small Watergate Market and Roba’s Pizza Cafe. Trader Vic’s restaurant is also there, where it is fun to sit at the bar and watch the bartender concoct mai tais, complete with those little paper umbrellas that make drinks so festive.
Diane was very proud of the new restrooms, and I can understand why. The materials were carefully considered, from the one-piece cement sinks to the nondegradeable materials used for the stall doors and the stainless accessories throughout. Nothing will rust over time, corners are rounded and hooks are hidden and strong so duffel bags can hang without falling off. Seriously nice. Many renovations merely meet minimal ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements. In these accessible bathrooms the showers are truly accessible.
I sort of wanted to take a shower myself. Maybe one day I will. The drains are along the back of each stall, instead of in the middle, and the floor tile is just slightly at an incline, so the water drains out unobtrusively instead of pooling under your feet. The dressing rooms and showers are heated, the water pressure is excellent and the fixtures are all brand new and very classy. The tile is from Italy, the faucet handles from London. It is obvious that Diane has chosen everything very carefully, with an eye to quality and durability. Do I sound like a real estate agent? Well, I’m not, but Emery Cove Yacht Harbor has very appealing amenities.
Diane and I sat outside on the upstairs patio and talked about dockominium ownership. As with condominiums, there is a non-profit home owner association at Emery Cove. HOA fees are approximately $7/linear foot and she expects a slight decrease this year. According to a recent audit, the reserves are more than adequate. The owners want to protect their investment and Diane is making sure of that. I walked up and down F Dock and didn’t see one derelict boat. The percentage of boats at Emery Cove Yacht Harbor is 2/3 sailboats while the other 1/3 are power boats. The Emeryville Yacht Club, a paper club and member of PICYA, the Pacific Inter-Club Yacht Association, is also based at Emery Cove.
Diane pointed out that Emery Cove Yacht Harbor has very impressive security. There is only one road into and out of the peninsula, the boats at Emery Cove Yacht Harbor are all behind locked gates and the Head of Security lives on the premises. The Emeryville Police Station is only 528 yards away at 2449 Powell Street. Yes, I looked it up. I didn’t mention to Diane that Emery Cove Yacht Harbor remains vulnerable to pirate incursion by water. Which is how I snuck in, of course.
Back To Richmond Through The Windy Slot
Leaving Emery Cove Yacht Harbor in the late afternoon was a terrible mistake on my part. The channel leading into and out of that Marina is narrow, with shoal to the right of me, shoal to the left, which meant that Dura Mater and I had to motorsail straight into the slot in 16+ knots of breeze coming straight through from the Golden Gate outside The Bridge. Water sloshed over DM’s bow, drenching us both. Then, when I reached the end of the two-mile long channel I still had to beat up and around the remnants of the Berkeley pier. Very wet boat. Very wet me. Once rounding the pier it was a fast beam reach all the way back to Richmond and by the time we arrived my clothes were stiff with salt but dry again.
As my boat loped along on the afternoon waves, I thought back to the people I met the week before at Svendsen’s boat yard. I recalled one day, more than ten years ago, when I needed something from its excellent chandlery. I sailed over from my slip and tied up under the boat hoist at the edge of the parking lot. It was unusually hot that day, so I looked around for something to drink. There was a soda machine, next to the office.
I walked over, put my change in, pushed the button, nothing came out. I smacked the side of the machine. Nothing. I smacked the other side of the machine. Nothing. An older man approached me from behind and stood next to me. I was feeling surly, looked at him sideways and snarled,
“I just sailed here from Berkeley. I’m hot and I’m thirsty and I was really looking forward to a cold drink.”
“Is that your Cal 20 under the hoist?” he asked. I nodded.
“Good for you,” he said. He reached into his pocket, took out some change, dropped it into the machine and told me to try again.
I pushed the button and out came my drink. As the can dropped the fella turned away, walked into the office. I followed him inside and asked the woman behind a desk, “Who was that man?”
“That was Mr. Svendsen,” she said.
Sven Svendsen died in April 2013. In newspapers and magazines I read about the many people who had a great appreciation for him. In addition to all the personal reasons for why people cared about him, there were also other good reasons to mind his loss. He opened his small boatyard in 1963 and a coherent boating culture developed around it. That all changed abruptly when he died fifty years later. My impression from that brief interaction with him? Sven Svendsen was a man who took notice of everything in his yard. Certainly, it seems that he noticed the people who worked in his offices and warehouse, many of whom still work at Svendsen’s Bay Marine & Industrial Supply today.
Lots of things are changing fast all around us here on the waterfronts of the San Francisco Bay. Svendsen’s boatyard was built up over a long lifetime. Many marine businesses had located and prospered nearby and a community of marine professionals had coalesced around that one business. It seems to have all changed in the blink of an eye.
By 2015 the 44-acre Alameda Marina had already begun to be developed as housing and commercial space, including 760 housing units. It’s anybody’s guess as to what will remain of the Marina itself. In January 2015 another 589 residential units were approved for the property behind the old Del Monte Warehouse, which was built in 1927. The former Encinal Terminals property will be called Star Harbor.
When I drove over to Alameda from North Oakland it was a scrum just getting there in the traffic. I don’t know how all those new residents are going to get on and off the island. Ferries don’t go everywhere people need to go. For me it’s not a problem to get to the island of Alameda. Because I have a boat.
Email me at Jackie@yachtsmanmagazine.com if you would like to tell me about something you see on the San Francisco Bay.
Thank you for reading and let’s be careful out there.