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March 30, 2016

Napa River Dredging to Begin Soon

Sailing or motorsailing up the Napa River is always fun — unless, of course, you get stuck on a sandbar for hours waiting for the tide to rise. But that possibility may soon be greatly reduced.

©2016Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Cruising up the Napa River is widely known as a pleasant change of pace from typical Central Bay sailing. But for many keelboats owners, fear of running aground in the shallow, snaking waterway has been a deal-breaker. We’re happy to report that such fears may soon be allayed, as the mighty Napa is soon to be dredged — for the first time since 1998.

According to the Napa Valley Register, work will begin in August to deepen a 13-mile stretch from downtown Napa to the Highway 37 bridge in Vallejo. With oversight from the Army Corps of Engineers, private dredging contractors will begin August 1, and will hopefully complete their work by mid-October. According to Rick Thomasser, operations manager for the Napa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, dredgers are expected to remove roughly 300,000 cubic yards of sediment. The city of Napa will complete additional dredging outside the Corps-maintained 75-foot-wide navigation channel.

Most of what you see here, including the public dock, is the result of downtown Napa redevelopment during the past 20 years. But some of Napa’s most interesting attractions are its vintage buildings, including the Napa Valley Opera House and dozens of classic Victorians. 

© 2016 Art Hartinger

For sailors, this all means easier access to the downtown Napa waterfront, which was completely upgraded in recent years, including the addition of a long public dock. Planning a cruise up the Napa has always been a bit tricky, as you need to come and go when tides are relatively high, yet not so high that you lose bridge clearance. As veteran Napa River explorer Art Hartinger explains, "Vertical bridge clearances on charts are referenced to Mean High Water in tidal areas. Therefore if the existing height of tide is below MHW, there will be greater clearance. If the existing height of tide is greater than MHW, there will be less clearance." Make note that the popular Napa Valley Marina (and boatyard) has excellent directions here for successfully navigating the river. 

Art Hartinger’s sloop Pied à Mer made it to the downtown dock in 2014 without going aground. But Art had to hold his breath as her 50-ft mast slipped beneath the Butler Bridge.

© 2016 Art Hartinger

As we pointed out in our Favorite Destinations feature in the March issue of Latitude 38 (page 82), there’s much to do in downtown Napa — including tasting some of the best wine in the world. It you head up there this fall, after dredging has been completed, please drop us a line and let us know about your cruise.

Looking for an Inspirational Speaker?

You might consider Jack van Ommen, one of Latitude’s heroes. Readers might remember that after going bankrupt in his early 60s, van Ommen had almost nothing left to his name but Fleetwood, a Nadja 29 he completed from a kit and had sailed in the Singlehanded TransPac many years before. She was sitting on a trailer and in need of much work.

At that point a lot of people would have given up on the rest of their lives. Not Jack. Driven by faith, he got his boat ready and provisioned for sea. When he left Alameda bound for Vietnam, he had but $150 to his name and the promise of a moderate Social Security check. A couple of days later he had to be rescued by the Coast Guard in extremely adverse conditions off Monterey.

Even in this old file photo you can sense Jack’s upbeat attitude. It’s hard to keep a good man down — or shorebound — for long. 

©Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Despite the inauspicious beginning, Jack and his modest boat and modest monthly income managed to cover 48,000 miles and visit 51 counties in nine years before his journey came to an abrupt end during a November storm near Mallorca. His beloved Fleetwood ended up in a million pieces.

While it might seem contradictory, Jack’s voyage was far richer for the fact that he had so little money, as it resulted in his developing countless deep friendships.

As Jack will confirm, one incident of bad luck can lead to disaster. The original Fleetwood met a very sad end.

© 2016 Jack van Ommen

He now has a sistership, also named Fleetwood, with which he plans to complete his ‘around the world in 80 years’ voyage.

In late August, Jack will set sail again to complete his circumnavigation. Until then, he’s looking for (unpaid) speaking engagements to tell about his travels and promote his recently published book, SoloMan. He’s available between now and April 15, and then again from late May until late August. He can be contacted by email.

“Where’s my cape?”  That’s what this writer said after assisting in the rescue of a starving sea lion pup earlier this month at the Channel Islands Harbor Marina in Oxnard.