What I Saw – by Jackie Philpott
Sailing To The Ferry Building
One of my favorite sailing destinations on the San Francisco Bay is to Public Pier 1½, located on the Embarcadero at the edge of the City’s Financial District. It’s best to tuck in there when the currents on the Bay itself are not too strong, because they reach into every place along their way and create surges. Stronger currents exacerbate that surge. In addition, there are wakes created by ferries landing and leaving the ferry terminals and pilot and tug boats coming into and out of the cove next door. All that said, I would recommend you eyeball your landing well ahead of time and prepare to use your biggest fenders. All of them.
There’s room for about three medium-sized boats to tie up on either side of the pier there, a sign disallows boats over 40-feet and it’s first come, first served. Larger boats routinely ignore the sign, which might be why the dock gets battered routinely. It’s a wonderful dock in general, with a fine ramp up to the pedestrian walkway that winds around the waterfront there. A long dockspace closest to land is reserved for a little yellow water taxi and there’s a posted sign that informs you of a three-hour limit for boats to tie up. After reading this, if you decide not to go, well then there will be more room for my boat and me.
But once you’re tied up? Stepping onto the dock, then walking up the ramp to the sidewalk beyond? Once you pass through you are right there on the Embarcadero. Turn left and you are less than a block from the Ferry Building. Turn right instead and you’re on your way to the Exploratorium and Fisherman’s Wharf. If you cross the street and walk uphill, you’re 1.4 miles away from Union Square. It is a bit of a walk, but walking is good for you! Don’t forget your credit card. There are lots of pretty things to buy up there!
What do I do when I sail to the Ferry Building? I put ALL four of my fenders out, walk up the ramp, then I turn left and left again. Once inside the Ferry Building, I gawk at all the pretty things and keep walking until I reach Boulettes Larder Cafe. It’s my favorite restaurant in the City. Since the pandemic the Ferry Building has gone through a lot of changes, but Boulettes remains. There used to be a Peet’s Coffee at the south end of the Ferry Building, which has been replaced by Red Bay Coffee. Book Passage, that fine bookstore, remains. The gelato counter has been replaced by one with ice cream. You may not notice such things, but I sure do.
After eating lunch outside facing Treasure Island, I walk back to Pier 1½ where my boat is waiting for me. As we sail across to our slip in Point Richmond it is a beam reach all the way across the slot, a bash in the summer, a leisure sail during the rest of the year.
Earlier this summer I decided to sail over and spend the night anchored out in Richardson Bay. Because, why not? When I left Point Richmond at 1:51 p.m. it was windy and then it got even windier. It ended up being higher than 18 knots and even though Dura Mater was reefed, we got knocked sideways a couple of times. Through Raccoon Strait and then into Richardson Bay there were waves and whitecaps, but by the time we arrived over there it had abated a bit. It was14 knots when I finally dropped anchor, and everything seemed much calmer down below in the cabin. By 4:12 p.m., we were anchored in 7.1 feet of water.
First off, I called Jim Malcolm, harbormaster for Richardson Bay at 415-971-3919. I told him my plan to anchor for the night and asked whether he would like to know my boat’s name. He couldn’t have been nicer and told me that I was welcome to anchor for 72 hours. Then he thanked me for calling.
Later, at 7:26 p.m., the water had filled in and then it was 11 feet deep. I had used 30-feet of chain and 50-feet of rode because it is better to be safe than sorry, right? Our latitude/longitude stayed the same all evening, which is a good thing to know when at anchor. As the evening progressed, the wind died completely and it became very calm and quiet.
There is a lot of activity on Richardson Bay, a lot to watch. There were electric surfboarders, three small sailboats full of kids getting lessons from Sausalito Yacht Club and various boats coming and going to waterfront locations. Big boats, little boats, every kind of boat. If you like to watch boats, Richardson Bay is the place to be. I sat in the cockpit and watched as the lights lit up the hillsides on both sides: Sausalito lights along the waterfront and in the hillside homes, lights in all the homes on the Belvedere side. Sitting in the cockpit of a sailboat in Richardson Bay, I felt like I had the water all to myself. It’s a remarkable feeling in the center of such a densely populated area.
The next morning the sky was blue and the air much warmer than the day before. While drinking a cup of coffee I watched a kayaker making his way from the north all the way around the corner and out of sight. Kayakers always seem so purposeful. Two people in an Alerion 28 sailboat practiced tacking in the gentle breeze of mid-morning, and a couple of motorboats came across from Raccoon Strait. I considered staying another night, it was so nice out there.
Instead, I headed into the wind, raised sail, then pulled up the anchor. We sailed all the way through Raccoon Strait and over to Point Richmond, where I tied up, hosed the mud off the chain and anchor and left everything to dry on the bow of my boat.
In The Delta Again
This column is called “What I Saw on the Bay.” However, in mid-June Dura Mater and I sailed upriver to the Delta for five weeks. Why? Because we just can’t stay away. The San Francisco Bay is a great place to sail, there’s no doubt about that. However, the Delta lures us upriver for its calm, rural beauty and I won’t apologize. After I had been there awhile, I emailed my colleague, Bill Wells, whose purview is the Delta.
“Bill, would you mind if I write about the Delta this month?” His response?
“Go for it!” Thank you, Bill!
Dura Mater and I left Point Richmond for the Delta on June 14, motorsailed all the way across the San Pablo Bay and ended up in Benicia for the night. Pulled up to the guest dock there just in time to catch the lines of the sailboat Stink Eye, a 28-foot sailboat returning from Stockton. Jonathan and Christine had participated in the Delta Ditch Run race. Their boat lives in Point Richmond and they were taking it back.
The next morning, after eating perfectly prepared onion rings at Char’s Hotdogs on First Street in Benicia, Dura Mater and I caught the flood through the Carquinez Strait and up the San Joaquin River. We sailed the whole way downwind and sometimes sideways with excellent, big wind. We didn’t raise the spinnaker because there were too many turns and there was too much wind. We arrived in Owl Harbor in the middle of the afternoon. Benicia to Owl Harbor was 32 nautical miles. There were 17-22 knots of wind, which increased all day. It was a terrific sail for 5.12 hours, with 8.8 knots maximum speed thanks to the flood. The wind had notched up to 24 knots by the time I arrived to park in the lee of a small houseboat on I Dock. Is it just me or does the wind seem particularly BIG this year? That wind didn’t lessen much all night long.
The next morning, I ate my chocolate bar with breakfast before it melted. Dark chocolate with almonds and sea salt: The breakfast of champions. Ty Mellott arrived on his yellow zoom zoom boat and he drove Devery Stockon and me to Bethel Island. Ty is the Co-Publisher of Bay & Delta Yachtsman magazine and Devery has run Owl Harbor for eleven years now. Devery had never been to Bethel Island and neither had I.
One of the first things sailors are cautioned against when they arrive in the Delta has to do with Frank’s Tract, with its submerged farm equipment just below the surface. Do we city dwellers buy into this mythology? Why, of course we do. And on this day, as we powered across the water in his yellow boat, I was reminded: “Don’t try this with your boat,” said Ty.
How fast did we go? So fast I wasn’t allowed to stand up. Seriously. Faster than I’ve ever gone on water, that’s for sure. Our destination was the Rusty Porthole Restaurant, which Ty described as “serious Delta Country”. When we arrived, Dani leaned over the deck to tell us that the electricity was out, so there would be no food for us. So, we then motored a bit further and ate at the Sugar Barge. Terrific fish tacos in air-conditioned splendor.
Lots of sailors in the Bay Area know Robbie Ann Murphree, who lives in the Delta and is enjoying success there as a painter. On July 2 Robbie Ann and I had dinner together at Moore’s Riverboat, three nights before fire burned it down. We sat outside on the deck and watched people squabbling about the parking spaces on the water. Five mornings later, when DM and I sailed past on July 7, it was still smoldering. There were bits of charred wood floating on the Mokelumne. It was a shocking sight. Everyone I spoke with about the loss of Moore’s had eaten there within a week of its burning to the ground. Every single person.
Georgiana Slough To Walnut Grove
I decided to sail down the Old Sacramento, but first I had to get to Walnut Grove. Georgiana Slough is lovely sailing country, so there we went. I called ahead on channel 9, asked the operator to open the magnificent Mokelumne Bridge for us. And she did. It is a marvel to me every single time, those bridges opening so my boat and I can go through. Then up we went, stopping at Ox Bow Marina to enjoy a swim in their clubhouse pool with friends from the Marina West Yacht Club who have a key. What a treat the pool was in 100-degree weather!
Dura Mater and I continued to our destination, through the Tyler Island Bridge with another very nice operator. Onward we went toward the memory of our anchorage at the edge of a muddy beach right at that wide bend in the slough. Then we turned the corner to find: Aaaauughhh! There were two big yachts parked in our anchorage! Each one was fifty feet long, with polished hulls and stainless bling, clean canvas dodgers and biminis. They were both covered with toys. Davits held new dinghies and adult-sized inflatables floated alongside. No clothing hanging from these lifelines. No “ragbaggers” these people. They were beautiful, pristine sailboats and they were IN OUR PARKING SPOT!
They were many boat lengths apart, anchored bow out with their sterns tied at the shore, with people on each boat watching as we approached. But Dura Mater and I had no intention of passing by. Instead, we measured the space and nosed in between them, bow right up to the mud, to gauge the depth. Just as I remembered it: Four feet deep almost to the edge. We backed out, turned around into the middle of the slough and dropped anchor from the bow, then backed in toward our muddy beach. Problem was, the wind was coming one way from down the slough while the increasing ebb was pushing us the other way from up the slough.
I threw my Danforth off the stern into the mud, but it didn’t catch. Then I retrieved it and threw it again. Still no luck. Those people on the yachts had been calmly watching, like people sitting around at boat launches. It’s an unavoidable form of entertainment. They were sitting in the shade of their biminis while I was sweating in the heat. Finally, one of the fellas got into his dinghy and motored over to offer his assistance. Would I like it? Well, heck yeah! And thank you! As he stood in the dinghy, anchor in hand, he introduced himself as Gary Troxel. I introduced myself and that’s when I learned that we are all members of Richmond Yacht Club. Every one of us. Amazing!
The sailing vessel Soiree is owned by Steve and Connie Hill, and they’ve been coming to the Delta, anchoring in the same spot, for more than forty years. They used to own a smaller boat and spent time in the Delta with their two sons. Now, their sons are grown with children of their own and they all take turns spending time in the Delta with Steve and Connie on this new, larger boat. Three young grandsons were due to arrive in two days. The other boat, S/V Tivoli, is owned by Steve’s sister Judith Bentsen, and her husband Torben. It was a real family affair.
After DM was firmly anchored, I was invited for dinner aboard Soiree where they served me steak and salad. Seriously delicious. Way better than the leftovers aboard my boat. They were very nice about the parking spot and we agreed to share it. That was a good thing because my anchors were really dug in and it had gotten dark while we stayed up late, talking and laughing into the night. I stayed two nights, then woke early to continue under the Georgiana Slough Bridge and on to Walnut Grove.
Walnut Grove To Isleton
DM and I had never travelled down the Sacramento River from Walnut Grove to the Deep Water channel. We had always gone upriver instead. So that was what we were going to do on this Sunday. Before we did that, we turned the corner from Georgiana Slough and tied up at the fishing pier just below Walnut Grove Bridge. I made a small pot of coffee, keeping an eye out for fishermen who never came. That pier is usually lined with people fishing and I didn’t want to be in their way.
When I looked out DM’s companionway, instead of someone with fishing gear, I found Jim Christiensen on his paddle board. He had come over from across the river. He and his wife, Laura, keep their houseboat under a covered slip at Dagmar’s Marina. We had the nicest chat. Jim told me about his late father’s dementia, how he knew his father enjoyed driving in the car. Jim would arrive to visit and his dad would say, “Let’s go!” in a voice rich with longing. So, they would. Jim and his father would go for long drives around the Delta, and as they drove his father would watch outside the window and repeat, “Let’s go!” in that gentle tone. Jim and Laura named their houseboat Let’s Go in his father’s memory. Boat names can be very personal for people, and certainly this particular one is rich with meaning.
A bit later, before my coffee was all drunk, Susan and Curt Fossum paddled over from Dagmar’s with their dog, Pancho. That dog of theirs is coordinated. I think you have to be coordinated to be a paddleboarder. I think it might require more coordination than sailing.
After chatting with Susan and Curt, Dura Mater and I turned around and started our trek down toward Isleton. There were lots of families out on runabouts, pulling little kids in huge inflatable donuts. I really enjoy watching happy kids. It was 98-degrees, so no matter how much zinc oxide I schmeared on, it kept dripping off. DM doesn’t care how hot it is: She’s in it for the lark. My goal was to get to the Miner Slough Bridge and this was the route we were taking.
Along the way we passed the Ryde Hotel, which looks quite elegant from the water. Three nautical miles from the Walnut Grove Bridge we reached the Isleton Bridge, a beautiful bascule bridge with what is called a “concrete rainbow through arch” and a “cement arch rib.”
This bridge opens in the middle, up and down on each side. The Mokelumne and Georgiana Bridges are both swing bridges that open sideways, while the Rio Vista and Three Mile Bridges go up and down vertically just in the middle. Remarkable engineering, those bridges, and they usually open and close flawlessly. If you are interested in historical bridges and photos, I would recommend this site: https://historicbridges.org/index.php which promotes “the preservation of our transportation heritage.”
I called for an opening of the Isleton Bridge, then sailed over and tied up at the impressive Isleton Public Pier. Thank you, Isleton. I wasn’t the only one who used it. There were people fishing at the other end and a swanky power boat with a swim platform pulled in behind us.
Walking into town I ate lunch at the former Rogelios, now called the Delta Queen Lodge. It is a restaurant with spacious hotel rooms above. I know this because the owner, Tania Yandow, showed me. The pulled pork sandwich was excellent and then I was back in the heat outside looking for ice cream. Delta OG t-shirts are everywhere in the Delta, and there it was, the blues, rock and soul band playing in a parklet next to the Mei Wah beer room. I found Gunther’s ice cream at McBoodery’s a few doors down, bought a bowl of ice cream with caramel, and sat down in the shade to listen to the music, watch the people.
When I walked back to my boat at the pier there were three little kids jumping into the water. First they played Marco Polo, then the boys refused to help their sister back up out of the water. As I walked to my boat the boys stood back to let me pass. They told me proudly, “She’s gonna cry!” The girl looked up at me, her wet hair plastered back from her face, and said fiercely, “No, I’m not!” Then she swam fast around the end of the pier and climbed up the ladder on the back of the boat tied up behind DM. She jumped off that boat, ran over to the boys and shoved them both into the water, then looked over at me with a big triumphant grin.
“Atta girl!” I thought. Then Dura Mater and I were off again.
An Anchor For Thee But Not For Me
I almost decided not to tell this story because it’s embarrassing, but I’m going to reveal all, give someone the chance to recover a really good anchor.
My spade anchor once belonged to a sailing friend, John Foster. I am sure he is sailing much faster in heaven than he ever sailed on his stubby little catboat. I was sentimental about the anchor because John gave it to me and also because I had anchored in some really cool places and my boat never budged, not even in big wind. It was cumbersome to carry forward to the bow and probably overkill in most instances, but I felt safe when I used it.
This summer I anchored with John’s anchor just west of the Miner Slough Bridge. Up at daybreak the next morning, I tried to pull it up, but that just wasn’t happening. I tried circling it, I tried pulling it up with my biggest winch, then with the engine on. Nothing. I’ve always been able to retrieve anchors, so I kept trying for three long, increasingly hot hours. I decided the line was wrapped around DM’s rudder, that was all. I was in denial.
About noon a man and woman on a Malibu ski boat came under the bridge toward us. I waved them over and they immediately slowed and diverted toward Dura Mater and me. I introduced myself to Rob and Karen and asked if they could see underneath the rudder. Was the anchor rode stuck somewhere? Rob didn’t hesitate. He handed the wheel of their boat to Karen, looked up at me and said, “I can’t see! This is a job for a diver.” Without hesitating he dove off his boat into the water! I kid you not. He came back up and said, “That’s a long rudder!” and down he went again! He retrieved the line and handed it to me. I thanked them both profusely and we had a little chat. They have been coming to the Delta for sixty years. Was this an example of Delta hospitality, or what? Yes! Yes, it was. Then they waved and drove away.
Sadly, the line around the rudder was not the reason for my problem, and it was only getting hotter. I finally gave up and called Audrey at TowBoatUS where she promptly sent out Kevin and his colleague, with lights flashing. I told them my sob story and they tried to pull the anchor up with their big powerful RIB. Couldn’t do it. Instead, we saw that the 30-feet of chain and lots of rope was all wrapped around a sodden tree.
No matter how much I whined, Kevin explained that diving is not the purview of TowBoatUS. Instead, he cut the line, tied the end to a small red fender, sent me these coordinates, which I pass on to you, dear readers of the Bay & Delta Yachtsman.
This is your chance to go get a fine anchor for free. All I ask is that you send me a photograph of yourself with John Foster’s anchor. And then? Enjoy. I hope it brings you years of satisfaction.
And here is a story of karma: One hour later, as I motorsailed the 7 winding miles out of Miner Slough, my friend Kees texted me from Mississippi. He is selling his ski boat. Would I like his spade anchor? It’s been used in fresh water only and is in excellent condition.
My response? “Yes! Yes I would, Kees! And thank you for asking!”
After that I enjoyed a few more days in the California Delta, before suffering through the bash home to the Bay Area. It was a particularly brutal trip, but returning to the Bay Area from the Delta is commonly compared to the pain of childbirth: The visit itself is so wonderful that you forget all about the pain of the return.
Thank you for reading. Let me know if you have anything you would like to share. Enjoy your time on the water and let’s all be careful out there. Jackie@yachtsmanmagazine.com