What I Saw – by Jackie Philpott

What Is Up With Clipper Cove

Readers may already know that the former Naval Station Treasure Island is being developed according to an agreement between the City of San Francisco and the Treasure Island Development Authority (TIDA.) This redevelopment is a massive political hornet’s nest. My own interest is limited to how to get there by sailboat, tie up and disembark. So, that’s just what I did.

On an early August Saturday, I sailed to Clipper Cove from Point Richmond. I had called ahead of time to Rich Holden, commodore of the Treasure Island Yacht Club. He met me at the dock, grabbed Dura Mater’s bow line. The docks at Treasure Island are in even worse condition than they were last time I was there just a few years ago. Rich says that the Almar Company currently holds the management lease. Having visited a number of well-maintained Almar Marinas, I’m a little surprised by the rotting docks and rusty everything else. But that’s a story for another day.

Treasure Island Yacht Club

Treasure Island Yacht Club was established in July 1965 as Treasure Island Sailing Activity (TISA) and its first commodore was John McNay Taylor. As recently as three years ago the yacht club had its own building, but now it’s located in Building One, above the Island Market. According to Rich, the TIDA informed the club that they could accept new space in the historic building for a $200 increase in their monthly rent or move altogether, so they agreed. The Treasure Island Yacht Club has been given no assurance of a continued lease. They are currently on a month-to-month rental agreement.

Rich and Mary Holden, Treasure Island Yacht Club.

They were expected to renovate on their own dime, so they did. Rich’s background is in engineering, so he added plumbing to his skill set. Other members of the all-volunteer club contributed electrical, painting and all the other skills needed. Mary Holden, Rich’s wife, laughed ruefully about how hard it was to remodel with materials scavenged from the old building. Regarding the remodel, Mary said, “It was a lot of work. I mean, A LOT of work. Luckily, we have talent. We needed an electrician and a plumber and a painter, so all these people got together when we relocated. It was pretty amazing.” It was certainly a successful effort, and it looks great.

Treasure Island ferry.

The Treasure Island Yacht Club has approximately 60 members. Most have power boats and keep their boats somewhere else. Mary has a cabin cruiser which is kept at Antioch Marina. Rich has a sailboat, S/V Seabird, which he keeps on a trailer at Brickyard Cove.

Mersea restaurant, Treasure Island.

There are, apparently, two separate development companies involved in the redevelopment of the property, one for the land, another for Clipper Cove. It is Rich’s understanding that Almar Marina has the contract for running the marina, not maintaining or rehabilitating it. There is no evidence of an infrastructure plan for marina facilities such as dressing rooms, a harbormaster’s office or bathrooms. The recently constructed road offers a small cutout on the marina side. When asked, Treasure Island Yacht Club members were told that they might drop off their sailing equipment, park their cars elsewhere, then take the shuttle back to collect it. No dock carts, just leave your expensive stuff by the side of the public road? I don’t see how that would work.

San Francisco Fire Department Firefighting School.

Rich told me about a recent meeting held in the community center of the Treasure Island YMCA. Representatives from the TIDA explained their plan to charge $5 to drive onto the island. There is a ferry from SF, which currently costs $5. It is compact and lands at the new launch. There is a cement sea wall extending out toward the financial district. You may have sailed or motored past it when heading north or south under the Bay Bridge. Rumor has it that a second seawall is necessary because of the wind and surges of the Bay. Wind and surges on the Bay? Whooda thunk?

Interview With Rich And Mary Holden

Rich: My understanding is that development rights for the marina were given by the City to one company for shoreside, and to another group of investors for the water development. So, then the shoreside people said, “Here’s our proposal” and the water side people said, “Here’s our proposal.”

The shoreside people proposed a roadway, which you see out there (we looked out the open window at the brand new road) with a little pullout, and that was it, where you can stop and go down to the marina. All of us sailors said, “Wait a minute! Where is the shoreside plan for a harbormaster office? Where are the bathrooms? A marina needs showers. Where is the plan for showers?”

The response from the shoreside developer was, “Well, that’s up to the marina to develop.” It didn’t seem as though the developers for the shoreside plan had ever talked to the developers for the marina. This concerns us.”

Jackie: What about the marina? You’re a yacht club. What have you been told?

R: We don’t know. Don’t ask us. They haven’t told us yet. You’ll know when we know, that’s the story. Almar has a contract to operate the marina. They don’t have a contract to design a marina. They’ve been given a budget to operate the marina, but my understanding is that the budget is inadequate. They have two employees and their task is to operate the marina. They’ve been doing a lot of repairs. They’ve gotten a little bit of money for wood and stuff like that, but they’re putting patches upon patches. If you go over there at real low tide and look at the pilings? I’ve been told that most of the good pilings have the equivalent of a 2- x 2-inch below the water.

Where the rip rap ends the rights of the land developer begin. That road down there, the road they put in just during the past month with that little turn out? As far as I can tell, that design is based on the original ten-year-old proposal.

J: Do you find these TIDA representatives credible? Do they offer good information? Do they seem to be responsive?

R: They were pretty much talking at us. They don’t have authority to change anything. Their whole presentation was: “We’re here to tell you about how we’re going to collect the $5 fee to drive onto the island.”

There are all kinds of employees on this island. When asked about the $5 toll and parking for employees the response was, “Well, we’ll give you a few free passes, but not for everybody.” For example, none of our yacht club members will qualify for a free pass.

Treasure Island Sailing Center (TISC) is here. They teach a lot of kids from San Francisco. Somebody from TISC said, “I’m an instructor. The kids who come here, most of them have never been on a boat or on the water. It’s all new to them. This is a great opportunity we’re providing to them. The families of these kids, they’re not going to be able to afford to come here. We have a group of people who come by boat from Oakland because they can’t afford the bridge fare.”

Rich mentioned that Anthony, the harbormaster of the marina, is concerned about guests arriving unannounced. People who anchor in Clipper Cove expect to be able to tie their dinghy up at one of the docks and get ashore back and forth through the locked gates. During a recent storm a surging wave ripped the pump out dock off the previous dock. What should boaters arriving by water expect when they visit?

R: If you want to come to the Treasure Island Yacht Club, call when we’re open or when we have an event like a lunch or a dinner. Call us, let us know. Call the Treasure Isle Marina Harbormaster, let him know you’ve talked to us, do those two things. Visitors to our club, they anchor out and they want to park their dinghy here while they attend a yacht club event, come through and then back out the gate. As long as we’re open the fee to park your dinghy is $20. If there is no event, there is a $30 fee to park your dinghy and get through the gate.

I asked Rich about the Treasure Island Sailing Center, which is also where the Siebel Sailor Program is currently located. Since Governor Gavin Newsom is married to Siebel’s cousin, might it be safe to say that the Siebel Center has a more stable future than the Treasure Island Yacht Club? Rich smiled, shrugged, and said again, “You’ll know when we know.”

Then we all decided to talk about other things: Our boats. Mary complained about big wakes causing her and her guests to spill their drinks when she’s anchored in the Delta. Knowing that Rich has a multihull sailboat, I trash talked multihulls for routinely trouncing my fat little multihull in races on the Bay. We calmed down and were happy again. I asked how they had met each other.

Mary: Our first date was on a Hobie Cat. We were on Del Valle Reservoir. Rich brought sandwiches and drinks. It got to be pretty windy and all of a sudden, we went over almost. All the drinks and food slid off into the water. He said, ‘Let’s go get ‘em!’ So, we did overboard drills with me leaning over and grabbing everything one by one. We found out that canned sodas don’t float, canned beer does. I was impressed that he was able to maneuver the boat to recover all those cans.

R: I was impressed by her agility.

They grinned at each other.

Yacht club members began to arrive then, volunteers to whom Mary would explain the responsibilities of an officer of the day. Rich offered to give me a brief tour of the island by car, an offer I accepted. We drove past the San Francisco Fire Department’s firefighting school. Then he dropped me off at a restaurant, the Mersea. After eating I walked along the waterfront. It was breezy by this time, as is typical of the San Francisco Bay during summer afternoons.

I watched the compact ferry as it made its way from San Francisco and docked at the brand-new terminal. There is also a water taxi plan for the eastern side of the island. Stay tuned. I’ll talk with some more people, write more about it here.

Sailing With Daniel

Daniel Witte is editor at Bay & Delta Yachtsman magazine. That means that he’s my editor, which means that he corrects my mistakes and makes decisions that affect what gets published here. The publisher had mentioned that Daniel is blind, which surprised me at first because he has already caught a whole lot of my mistakes. How does he do that? I wanted to know, so I invited him to come sailing with me on Dura Mater.

The forecast was for 20 knots on the Bay so I called him the day before we went out and asked him if he felt comfortable coming out with me in those conditions.

Daniel Witte at the helm on the San Francisco Bay.

“Sure,” he said.

When we met up Daniel had a cast on his right arm. Seems he crashed his bicycle riding down a hill and broke his wrist. This meant that I would be sailing with a guy who couldn’t see or use one arm. I asked him if he felt safe going out with me given those circumstances.

“Sure,” he said. He held up his arm. “You’re a singlehander. I’m a singlehander, too. No problem.” We both laughed at his corny joke and made our way down the long E Dock of RYC. Walking with Daniel, everything looked treacherous to me.

Adaptive keyboard, the Braille Note Apex.

I said, “Up ahead on our left there’s a bow pulpit extending out onto the dock.”

“Got it,” said Daniel.

“There’s a fella pushing a dock cart toward us.”

Daniel said, “Yes, I can hear it,” and he stepped aside, using his cane to feel the way.

“Wait a minute,” I scurried ahead to move a coil of shore cord further from the center of the walkway.

When we got to my boat, I asked him to wait while I pulled the boat closer to the dock and placed a step close to the hull. I held his hand and guided it around the curve of the gunwale then up to the handhold on the cabin top.

He climbed aboard and felt his way down into the cabin where I watched as he used his hands to locate the safety equipment: the fire extinguishers, the air horn, the radio.

Once back up in the cockpit Daniel familiarized himself with different parts of the cockpit. As I stood on the cabin top raising the mainsail I watched as he gauged the depth of the seat from the cockpit sole, felt the diameter of the jib sheets, touched the winches, the tiller and the different types of cleats. He paid meticulous attention to the space in which he found himself.

I usually sail alone so I had to remember to explain what I was doing, something that isn’t usually necessary. There was also that whole blind thing and I wanted to tell Daniel what was happening so he would feel safe. I was a little nervous.

I turned on the engine, then asked him to hold the tiller to port while I walked the boat back out of her slip.

The wind caught our sail, enough to be able to leave the engine in neutral as we exited into Potrero Reach.

“There’s already good wind,” I told him.

“I know,” said Daniel. “I can feel it. Relax. Can I drive?”

So, I handed over the tiller, unfurled the jib and we went sailing.

It was a weekday and there weren’t many other boats on the water. When another boat came near I would tell Daniel that we needed to turn to port or starboard, but once he got the hang of the wind and the tiller Daniel steered most of the day. While we sailed, he explained about the adaptive technology that enables him to read and write, to do formatting and other editing tasks.

A graduate of San Francisco State University, Daniel’s other job is as dorm counselor to people who have lost their sight. The Orientation Center for the Blind in Albany is an intense immersive service that assists people who need to learn the skills and abilities necessary to independently perform daily tasks. They need to learn how to travel independently, to shop and cook, and everything else that they already know but have to learn to do all over again without sight. Daniel learned to read braille starting when he was four years old. Imagine having to learn as an adult. It is very important work and technology is crucial to it.

We sailed for several hours. Once back in her slip we sat in Dura Mater’s cabin and Daniel showed me his travel computer, which is called a Braille Note Apex. When I send in this column every month it is sent to him as a Microsoft Word document via email. He then receives it at his own computer, which has software that translates it into braille so he can read it, correct my mistakes and format it to fit the requirements of the Bay & Delta Yachtsman magazine. Pretty amazing, huh? It’s a remarkable technology and Daniel has complete command of it.

So, remember this next time you enjoy something written in this column: It was a team effort between the two of us. On the other hand, if you discover a misspelling or a massive discrepancy in detail or fact? Blame the editor.

Inverness Yacht Club On Tomales Bay

Driving to the town of Inverness takes slightly longer than one hour from Oakland. If there’s no traffic. My mission was to spend two days at a regatta there, the national competition between International 110 sailboat racers. There would be 44 sailors from Michigan, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, the Pacific Northwest and Southern California, as well as the local crowd. Sailors who came from out of town would borrow local boats for the races which lasted four days, from Monday through Thursday.

Clubhouse of the Inverness Yacht Club on Tomales Bay.

Just before entering Point Reyes Station, I turned off at the sign to Inverness. Where was Inverness Yacht Club? Just there! Sticks to starboard! Dozens and dozens of masts just the other side of that fence. Surely there isn’t room for a yacht club between the road and the water? Yes, there on the narrow bit of land between Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and the water was a lovely two-story clubhouse with a long dock extending far out into the water. Wait! Is that water or is that mud? When I was there it was a time of big tide, high water and a full moon. Since I stayed over two nights it was also a time of low tide with expanses of mud. Regardless, there was good wind for sailing every day. What a beautiful place.

At the International 110 Nationals there were visiting sailors from Hull Yacht Club in Massachusetts. The Hull Yacht Club was founded on June 26, 1880, so those people out there have had years to practice sailing. Right? They should be good at it by now. And they were. Ross Weene and Attila Plasch were there. They were referred to as the Bristol Mafia, ringers out of Rhode Island. They were very keen to beat the locals, and they almost did.

Race Committee support boats waiting for water in Tomales Bay.

Inverness Yacht Club sailors seem to be (I’ll be sensitive here) mature. Older sailors, maybe in their 60s and 70s, they continue to race intensely, maybe still on the boats they’ve had their whole lives. They are still strong enough to race hard for four straight days. They’re also smart enough to have cultivated younger crew in order to maintain a competitive edge in a crowd of competitive people.

There were several boats with multiple generations aboard. Charlie O’Connor and his daughter Emily sailed S/V Peach. Zigmond and Lucas Burzycki were together on S/V Blue Moon and Erik Bentzen with his son Blake on S/V Shenanigans. Michael Sporer sailed with his daughter, Naomi on S/V Nomodoma while his daughter Emma sailed with James Saarman on S/V Oremus. Inverness is that kind of club.

The Mighty Lady Bug.

There’s a real advantage to having practiced on a particular boat, always an advantage to having local knowledge about conditions on the water. Tomales Bay wind is affected by the hills and ravines surrounding it. Any sports team is considered to have an advantage by virtue of knowing the local conditions and supportive local fans who are close at hand. I heard people talking about the significant difference between Allerton Harbor in Massachusetts, which is described as “well protected from all points of the compass,” and Tomales Bay which has ocean wind shifts galore. As we watched the races, it also became apparent that the wind in Tomales Bay was considerably different depending upon where the boats were on the course. Regardless, there were qualities about Tomales that seemed to cause the out of towners consternation and the locals great satisfaction.

The candy-colored International 110 Fleet at anchor on Tomales Bay.

The starting location for the race was just north of the oyster beds in Marconi Cove on the east shore of the bay. I joined Dudley Miller and John Longstreth on one of the club’s Whalers. Before we motored north to set the windward mark, we provided valet service to several sailors. Sailors out of Inverness are dependent upon the tides. There’s either water or there’s not. The fleet of boats for the regatta anchored offshore until there was enough water for the support boats to launch, then sailors were driven out to their boats.

Once we had delivered our sailors we motored north past the starting area of the race, then we used mushroom anchors attached to the inflatable rounding marks for the windward end of the race. After we set the marks there wasn’t much to do, so we spent the day watching the boats, talking boats. After that we watched the boats some more, the fellas told me that halibut fishing is big on Tomales Bay. It was a very relaxing day. For me, anyway.

Big Pink, Smart Shoes and Oremus approaching the windward mark.

In the morning of my second day there I walked down the long dock from the clubhouse to the race committee boat. I had been invited to join Skip Shapiro, John Phelan, Theo Ackermann and Denny on the lead RC boat. While I walked, I overheard someone instruct his crew. “The plan for today is calamity reduction.” I also noticed the printed t-shirt worn by Annie Cardwell Lewis, S/V Silver Surfer. It read “Chaos Coordinator.” The days proved full of chaos and calamities. She and her crew, Merrick Cheney, raced one of several boats that got swamped while racing. Theirs was the only one that got caught on camera bailing as they were towed back at the clubhouse. This fact was greeted with hilarity by many sailors, all of whom commiserated while calling out, “Welcome to the Club!” Why did the boat sink? It had flotation pillows, yes, but there seemed to have been a “leak at the seam.”

Gaggle of boats circling the mark, Golden Banana and Nomodoma nearest.

The Pacific Northwest was represented by Erik Bentsen and his son Blake on S/V Shenanigans out of Poulsbo Yacht Club. At one point on Thursday Shenanigan’s cockpit filled with water, but Erik simply reached back as they rounded the offset mark, opened the bailors at the transom, the water flowed out and they surged forward to win the race. When asked how that happened, a very surprised and happy Erik replied, “I have NO idea!”

Mayhem ensues during International 110 races, which seems to be expected as part of the experience. And people who were racing in this regatta were having a very good time. Controlled chaos is common during children’s dinghy races, but this was an older crowd and these were keelboats. They should know better, right? Who laughs when their boat fills with water? Sailors with lots of support boats on station with radios at the ready, that’s who. And then I remembered Annie’s shirt: “Chaos Coordinator.” So, that is the point of it, after all. Not just fun, but chaotic fun.

Shots for the winners of the day!

The International 110 sailboat is still in production, albeit using newer materials than was the original design by C. Raymond Hunt in Massachusetts in 1939. Zigmond and Lucas Burzycki are members of both Inverness Yacht Club and Port Madison Yacht Club up on Bainbridge Island in Washington. They raced the S/V Blue Moon, a newer design called the Westease International 110 built in Michigan. The International 110 is a classic boat and looks perfectly at home resting as a fleet off the pier of the IYC. The boat has an almost cult following. Erik Bentzen, S/V Shenanigans, told me, “You don’t really own an International 110, you are a steward of it during the time you have it. You just take care of it for the next owner.”

The weekend was full of stories. Erik Stassevitch and Peter Weady from San Diego sailed the 110 with sail #007. In more than a small nod to Ian Fleming, the boat is named Honey Ryder, the name of the first of the so-called James Bond girls in the movies. I asked the publisher of BDY magazine if we could reproduce a still photo from the James Bond movie Dr. No. It is a very impressive photo of the young Ursula Andress stepping out of the ocean holding a knife. If I remember that scene, I’m sure some readers here do too. The answer from the publisher was “As much as I would like to say No Problem…” The answer was No.

Spinnakers up on Tomales Bay, sailing past Marconi Cove.

At one point I walked past three fellas sharing stories that were making them laugh so hard they were hugging their stomachs. I pulled up a chair between them at the table and waited until they were all looking at me. I asked, “What are the important qualities to win on Tomales Bay? Good sails? Experience with the boat?”

Jacob Butler, S/V Solar Flair, sails locally. His opinion? “How well you can judge the wind shifts.”

Stewart Craig S/V Miracles Happen: “Sails are important, but control of your boat and being able to maneuver it is more important. I teach sailing back east on the Charles River, where the wind shifts/currents are even more pronounced than here.”

Peter Weedy S/V Honey Ryder, from San Diego: “If you’re caught wrong out on the course here? You’re dead.”

Full Summer Moon on Tomales Bay.

After the day’s racing I sat around eavesdropping in the IYC clubhouse. I overheard a crowd of fellas telling each other about a sailor. They turned to me and insisted, “This guy not only swamped his boat! He did it on purpose so he could videotape it!” They loved the story. Then they spotted him, unsuspecting, merely looking for a place to sit. “Michael! Michael! Come over here and tell us again about how you swamped your boat on purpose!”

He sat down across the table from me, adjusted his glasses and explained to the table at large:

“I was conducting an experiment.”

Everybody at the table laughed uproariously and banged on the table with their fists. They had heard the story before and still thought the idea was a riot. This was a sailor’s tale: The Man Who Swamped His Boat on Purpose and lived to tell the story. So, I introduced myself and asked if I could audiotape him and he said, “Sure. Why not?”

Interview With Michael Sporer S/V Nomodoma

Jackie: There seems to be a fascination with swamping this boat. It’s like a mythology. Can you tell me your story?

Michael: I swamped them twice on purpose to see if I could sail out of it. And then Monday this week I swamped it accidentally and I didn’t sail out of it. I had a boat in Michigan, it was #300. It was acquired from another person who said, “The boat is ready to sail” so we put the boat in the water and we go out sailing. There was a big wind that day, a lot of waves on Lake Michigan.

(Someone in the crowd gathered round to hear the story had been there and interrupts enthusiastically: “A LOT of waves!”)

M: Bigger than I was used to. My brother and I are sailing the kind of race we were sailing today. We’re near last place. The entire fleet runs in front of us. We see one boat ahead of us flying a spinnaker. We say to each other, “If they can do it, we can do it too.”

(There is goofy, delighted laughter all around the table. They know this story. They love this story.)

Michael is leaning into the story now.


He pushes his glasses back up from where they have slid down his nose.

“And we’re just screaming down the lake. We pass at least one boat and then we get to the gybe mark and we gybe and I didn’t realize that the wind had shifted a little bit. The first reaching leg was pretty free and the second reaching leg was pretty tight. We were broadside to the waves. My brother’s out on the trap [eze] and he straddles me as we’re driving along and he slips off the rail, he takes himself and me, we both fall onto the boom and then out of the boat. So, we’re both in the water next to the boat. The boat’s broadside to the wind and it tips over and fills with water.”

The table erupts. There has been no mention of a videotape, but it doesn’t matter. This is a sailor who knows his audience.

M: So, the guy that we got the boat from? Who said it was all ready to go and had adequate flotation? He wasn’t actually accurate about that.

(Riotous laughter from the peanut gallery.)

M: Well, okay. So anyway, they go to tow the boat in, and because it’s so low in the water it’s like a submarine. So, we’re towing the boat in.

(Somebody from the crowd interrupts again: “We could only see the spreaders! That’s all we saw! There were the spreaders going down the channel!”)

M: The spreaders were above the water; the boat’s being towed below the water like a submarine. Anyway, we were towed in by the race committee, the Makatawa Yacht Club Race Committee on Lake Makatawa in Michigan. They have a big steel boat like the Coast Guard tender. And they towed us in, they had no trouble at all. It was pretty hair raising. When the boat wasn’t moving it was at water level, when it began to be towed. And yes, the boat had a tendency to be more of a submarine. To DIVE! DIVE!

His story told, the crowd moves away, back toward the bar.

M: Here’s the story on the 110. When the 110 was introduced in 1939 it was revolutionary because it was quote unquote, “unsinkable.” And the reason why it was unsinkable was because it was a lightweight wooden boat with a moderate keel. All the other boats of the day, unless they were dinghies, if they were keelboats, you fill ‘em with water, they’d sink. So, the 110s were supposed to be super safe because they were unsinkable. And it had some flotation requirements, air tanks in the bow and the stern so it wouldn’t sink. That’s the original story of the 110.

I think the new generation of boats need to catch up with the concept of self-rescuing. If you swamp your boat you have to be towed in. That’s not a boat that’s self-rescuing. I want the boat to be self-rescuing. I’d like all 110s to be self-rescuing. I think that should be a minimum requirement because if you swamp the boat, you can’t sail anymore. You have to be towed in.

J: What do you think is in the future for the 110s? Will the fleet be limited to the old traditional 110s?

M: Boy, I don’t know. It’s got some idiosyncrasies. It’s a very technical boat to sail. On the other hand, it’s also extremely cost effective because there are boats available for very reasonable amounts of money. Modern boats today are just so expensive. On this boat you can just go out and sail and have good fun.

On Thursday morning, after a generous breakfast cooked and served by the volunteer members of the IYC, everyone gathered for a pre-race meeting. Milly Biller, the moving force behind this regatta waited for everyone to quiet down. As I tiptoed out the door onto the deck overlooking Tomales Bay to leave I heard her, in complete control of the room. She said, “Welcome, 110 Nation!”

Before I drove away, I walked around the property one last time, weaving through what seemed like hundreds of small boats on their trailers. And here is a telling detail I noticed before I left: the floor in the downstairs restroom, after having been used by dozens and dozens of sailors in foul weather gear, was immaculate. The stainless fixtures were shining and the first square of toilet paper folded into a triangle, just like at the Hyatt. It’s that kind of club. It may be small but it is mighty. And classy.

Enjoy this last bit of warmer days and make sure to contact me at jackie@yachtsmanmagazine.com if there is something that you saw on the Bay and wish to share with us all.