What I Saw – by Jackie Philpott
To be clear, this is only a guest column. A Bay and Delta Yachtsman columnist went missing. She is preparing for the Pacific Cup Yacht Race to Hawaii and ran out of time. My understanding is that she also has admirable reasons having to do with her family. That’s when Bill Wells emailed me and I assume it was in desperation. He needs to fill the pages of this magazine and he doesn’t know anyone, on short notice, who’s better at blathering than me.
Bill invited me to write a guest column, so I decided to re-read some of the older issues in order to get a sense of how someone might be expected to write for a genuine magazine. I’ve been posting stories about sailing on the forum of the Singlehanded Sailing Society for years, but nobody edits me over there. Singlehanded sailors are a laissez faire crowd.
I’ve known Bill since the early spring of 2017 when I called up the Delta Chamber of Commerce and he answered the phone. I told him that I was interested in driving up to The Delta to look around, that I’d been reading about it for years. What exactly was The Delta, I asked, and how did I get there? He was very enthusiastic and told me that he would send me some materials. Two days later I received a big fat manila envelope in the mail, full of colorful fishing maps, with bar and restaurant advertisements. Every establishment promised a good time and I believed them all. I like a good time.
A couple days later I decided to visit the Delta. How hard could it be to get there from Oakland? I got in my car and started to drive toward the Richmond Martinez Bridge. First I drove on Highway 24 and then on 680. I knew that “The Delta” was over that way, so I turned right at Highway 242 which led me to Highway 4, drove a long while, then turned off when I saw the sign for Antioch Bridge. I figured that a bridge would take me over some version of water near the Delta. Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, I had a full tank of gas.
I’ve gotta say, my first trip over the Antioch Bridge was eye opening. Up I drove to the top of that single lane in each direction bridge and whaaaaa? What exactly was I looking at from up there? Wind turbines and farmland, that’s what I saw! It sure didn’t look like anything I’d ever seen in the San Francisco Bay area.
“Very nice!” I said out loud to myself.
Was that the Sacramento River? I had no idea. I pulled over to the side of the road and dug around in the trunk, found Bill’s laminated map of Delta fishing waterways. Now, if you live in the Delta you are already smirking. You know that a fishing map is unhelpful to a driver in a car. And it’s particularly useless during years when bridges are referred to as “inoperable” and ferries are “shut down” for months at a time. But it’s all I had. So I drove around for hours and hours, stopping and driving, parking and going into restaurants and stores and marinas until it began to get dark. I was lost all day long.
Finally I found my way back to Highway 160. As I drove back home to Oakland I was pretty sure that the Sacramento River was close beside the road to my right. I decided that I needed to come back again another time. Just to be sure I had seen everything there was to see and maybe with a different map. Or maybe I should go back on my sailboat, instead. After all, I already had the map. So I did go back, for at least a month each time and four summers in a row. I spent a total of 214 days in one Delta place or another. Now you know: I’m a sucker for the Delta.
I’m a singlehanded sailor and a member of two clubs: the Singlehanded Sailing Society and the Richmond Yacht Club (RYC). I keep my own boat at RYC. A forty three year old fiberglass sailboat, her name is Dura Mater. At Richmond Yacht Club I’m surrounded by sailors whenever I walk down the ramp to my boat. During the winter months, when even the least little bit of wind comes through, half a dozen sails go up within ten minutes and all those sailors are headed out of the harbor. Big sails, little sails, there they go, their masts seen just above the seawall, into Potrero Reach and on to the San Francisco Bay. If there’s wind, they even go out in the rain. Richmond Yacht Club sailors? They’ll sail in anything.
So, although I’ve written about sailing for years, I figured maybe this guest column business would be a different type of gig. There might be editorial parameters, for instance. So, after reading his older articles I emailed Bill and asked him only one question: “What can’t I write about?” Bill told me that the only rule at the Bay and Delta Yachtsman is to not antagonize the advertisers. Really? That was interesting. I was starting to like this idea. So I focused my attention onto the Bay and Delta Yachtsman advertisements.
Turning the pages of the magazine, I didn’t see any reason for why I would want to antagonize any of the advertisers in there. After all, I know people who keep their boats in Marina Village and Emery Cove. They’re nice places. I’ve stayed in both Delta Marina and Ox Bow Marina myself, and enjoyed my time at both places enormously. My boat’s packing gland was repacked by Randy at Ladd’s, which is now Pacific Boat Services and Marina in Stockton. I’ve sailed up to the Napa Valley Marina with friends, tacking thousands of time straight into that gusty west wind. And finally, I have found some of the most hard to locate engine parts sitting right there on the shelf at Outboard Motor Shop in Oakland. I don’t know why I would ever want to offend these advertisers. But then again, you never know. Better to keep an eye on the guest columnist.
Looking at the contents of Bay and Delta Yachtsman, there seems to be an inordinate number of advertisements for power boat owners, and not very many advertisements targeted to sailboat owners. Come to think of it, I didn’t see a lot of sailboats up in the Delta when I was there. And I was there a lot. Then again, I don’t see many sea doos or ski boats on the San Francisco Bay, either, so I find myself in a bit of a conundrum. What might a sailor guest columnist write about that would appeal to people who are of different… persuasions? In an inoffensive way? In an inclusive way? In order to appeal to a more diverse audience?
Unfortunately I don’t know anything about power boats or motor boats or cabin cruisers. My brother had a ski boat for a while, but he sold it a long time ago. That’s about the limit of my knowledge and he was my only source. I’m a sailor and for me it all comes back to sailing. More than almost any other sport, sailing has its own language and I’m inordinately proud of knowing some of it. Words and phrases like boom vang and soft shackle. Tiller. Luffing. See? And those are only a few. I know more. It’s a certain kind of weird pride, I know. But it’s mine and I share it.
Power boats, cabin cruisers, fishing boats and their equipment? I don’t know anything about those type of boats. To be honest, I have a hard time understanding the appeal. While it’s true that sailboats are slow, my personal opinion is that being dependent on an engine to get around on the water is asking for trouble, especially if you don’t know how to fix it yourself. However, maybe I should look at this guest column business as an opportunity to learn new things, a form of adaptation.
In fact, if you have a powerboat somewhere in the Bay Area, I encourage you to email me and invite me over. Especially if you’re at one of the swanky yacht clubs with fine dining and an espresso machine. And desserts. I might sail right over. We could admire your boat bling together and I could learn something about its appeal for you. If members of a swanky yacht club were interested in showing me their beautiful power boats, full of pretty cushions, sophisticated electrical equipment and carefully maintained woodwork, maybe I would learn to appreciate boats with powerful engines that go fast and pull skiers and toys through warm water.
Reading the January issue of the Bay and Delta Yachtsman I noticed that Bill Wells seems to get invited to a lot of events at swanky clubs up river, particularly those where dinners and lunches are served. I also paid attention to how he refers to those meals. In his January column alone he described food that was “irresistible” in Richmond, “a feast” in Isleton and “the best street tacos” in Locke. Regardless of the event, Bill refers to every meal as “delicious”. Now that doesn’t make sense to me. It’s improbable that every meal Bill eats is really delicious. But you know what they say about writers’ license: It’s hyperbolic. It also suggests that a legitimate columnist like Bill eats well in the Delta.
If I began to write about power boats and cabin cruisers in the San Francisco Bay area, maybe I would eventually get invited to events at swanky San Francisco Bay yacht clubs. Maybe they would be like those Up-River yacht clubs that invite Bill, the ones that have dining and dessert. Now that I consider it more seriously, I realize that I might also meet up with a more refined sort of person than the kind I meet in the sailing community. And they might dress better, too. I might be encouraged to upgrade my sailing wardrobe along the way. Because we sailors are notorious for wearing faded, ratty foul weather gear. Sure, it keeps us warm and dry but I do notice how we stand out when we mingle with other boaters. Recently a powerboat owner told me that he and his friends can easily identify sailors by their clothes. If I started to write about power boats with big engines I might meet people who are better dressed.
Of course, a number of badly dressed sailors belong to swanky yacht clubs, which can be confusing to a guest columnist. That kind of fashion attitude can damage the public perception of yacht clubs as swanky places to congregate. For example, the Richmond Yacht Club is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. It has a very elegant clubhouse and its harbor is beautifully maintained, in part by a small army of volunteer members and a professional harbormaster, Danny Harris. RYC has a long history of producing accomplished and successful sailors. There are also a lot of long time members of RYC who remain proud of its working class origins.
Recently some anniversary beer coasters were distributed that read: “90 years of serious fun. never hoity. never toity.”
Not only does that attitude confuse the guest columnist, but an attitude like that undermines the whole concept of swanky yacht clubs in general and especially doesn’t encourage anybody to improve themselves or dress better.
Indeed, if I were a legitimate columnist instead of a guest columnist who visited swanky clubs full of power boat owners, I might begin to prefer hoity and toity. I might come to appreciate shiny, fast power boats or cabin cruisers that look like multi-layered birthday cakes. I might be persuaded of the error of my ways.
If I start to meet and write about power boats and their owners, maybe I will try harder to understand the way other people think. If I begin to meet and write about power boats and their owners instead of sailboats and sailors. I might be encouraged to switch over and play for the other team. Is it a risk that I’m willing to take? There’s only one way to find out: I’ll write this guest column.
On the other hand, fashion and pretty boats aside, if I were more than just a guest columnist I might write about something substantive, instead. For example, maybe I would go spend time at a boat yard, interview the people who own or manage boat yards. I do love boat yards. Who on earth runs a boat yard nowadays? It’s gotta be hard, with all the environmental laws and supply chain issues. Imagine the organizational difficulties of navigating all those rules and regulations. I’m glad I don’t have to do it. I like to have a destination when I sail, and boatyards are accessible by sailboat, right?
Maybe I would do that. And while we’re on the subject, where do boat parts come from, anyway? A couple of years back people I talked with were bemoaning the quality of stainless boat bling manufactured in a country that shall remain unnamed. Is it being manufactured here in the United States nowadays? I don’t know, but if this were a substantive column I might do some research and then write about it.
My ideas about substantive might be different than your definition of substantive. Here’s another possibility for a story. Not a researched story, just a snapshot.
In 2017, during my first visit to the Delta I had a brief conversation with this nice man who was the driver of a slope cutter on Twitchell Island.
The only reason I know it’s called a slope cutter is because I pulled right over in my car and flagged that man down. He stopped but didn’t turn off the engine. He had a job to do and I was in his way.
“Hi! What is this piece of equipment called?” I yelled above the noise and made circular motions with my hand, pointing to his machine.
You can see from his smile that he thought I was nuts. But he was very courteous.
“It’s a slope cutter.” He waited for me to go away.
“May I take your photograph?” I asked.
“Sure.” And he smiled when I did it. Then he was off, cutting slopes.
I was fascinated by the idea of that slope cutter. Here’s a photo of it:
A slope cutter is essentially a very large hedge trimmer that is used to keep the narrow Delta roads clear for cars and bicyclists and service vehicles. I’ve never seen a slope cutter in Oakland. I’ve showed the photo around and no one else around here has ever seen one, either. Have you? No slope cutters anywhere in the mean streets of Oakland. Not even down on Telegraph Avenue.
If you live in the Delta this story might not interest you. You might not find it substantive enough. You might be disappointed in this story, say to yourself, “So what? I thought she was going to write about exotic Bay Area stuff. We know all about slope cutters. Slope cutters are nothing new to us.” And if this were something other than a guest column I might be more responsive to that. A genuine columnist might react politely to a reader response like that, whereas a guest columnist might not be so polite. If you were a disappointed advertiser I might be in trouble with Bill already.
Instead, maybe you would enjoy the opportunity to send a question in to me at Bay and Delta Yachtsman. Maybe this kind of question:
Why would a person want to own a sailboat when he/she could own a perfectly nice stinkpot with a comfortable cabin and pretty cushions and cupboard space for lots of cups and wine glasses?
Why can’t those sailboats just stay out of my way?
If I were more than a guest columnist I would expect to receive a question like this every month.
Or I might post a question of my own, something like this one:
What is the underlying psychological reason for why a person would buy a classic Stephens yacht with tons of woodwork that requires ongoing and expensive maintenance rather than a fiberglass sailboat with minimal teak trim?
This is a very common method of disagreement between friends of different persuasions: The subtle suggestion that your friend has questionable judgement. Bill Wells and I have already had this particular conversation. We have agreed to disagree about this, which is a very positive and constructive way to end this kind disagreement.
If I were a legitimate columnist, we could ask and respond to all these kinds of questions about boats. There would be no wrong answers. It would not be a test. Consider them our first amendment right to ask and answer questions. About boats. We could make it fun together.
Regarding another topic altogether, as a reader of the Yachtsman you probably want to know how much I get paid for writing a guest column for a glossy magazine like this one. And I’ll be honest with you. I’d like to know myself. Because nobody has mentioned anything about that topic.
Bill did not say: “Jackie, this publication makes so much money from the advertisers that we can offer you six figures for your guest column!” No he did not. This is a guest column. What can that mean? I’ll let you know when I find out myself. In fact, here’s my spam email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Let me know what you think of this column and what you would pay me if it were up to you. I’d love to know and it might give me some leverage with the people upstairs. I haven’t met them yet.
If this were a legitimate column I wouldn’t be taking swipes at Bill or the Publisher. I would write about different subjects, instead. In a positive and constructive way, of course.
This guest column is an introduction to my kind of writing for you all. If you don’t like it, I’ll get canned and Bill Wells will have to find someone else. In the meantime, you should be advised that short words are worth as much to a publisher as long words, so at least I don’t need to sound smart. Thanks for reading. Be careful out there.