In April, my partner and I cast off the docklines hoping to gain some space from the increased traffic that shelter in place brought to our home in the Berkeley Marina. With one of us furloughed and one working remotely, we decided to head toward the Delta aboard Penelope, our Newport 27.
Traveling through San Francisco, San Pablo and Suisun Bays was a grueling slog. We arrived at our first anchorage in Middle Slough nearly 10 hours after departing the slip. That first night, as the full moon rose to the tune of owls while the boat gently rocked in the breeze, I began to appreciate how special the Delta is.
We sailed Penelope up the Sacramento River, via Steamboat Slough to downtown Sacramento, where we anchored for nearly a week. We headed back down through Walnut Grove to Isleton via Georgiana Slough, stopping at Owl Harbor before our final few days at Mandeville Tip. We passed through many small towns, only stopping when necessary to power up the batteries, provision, and enjoy the occasional hot shower. We were cautious and respectful due to COVID, calling ahead and abiding by local restrictions. I found that even during a pandemic, locals were friendly and businesses happy to have visitors.
With initial plans to explore for a long weekend, we ended up isolation cruising in the Delta for 21 days.
There are a few rites of passage for sailboats traveling the Delta: running aground, and having bridges opened. After three snags on the mud and 10 bridge openings, we became well versed in both. Traveling with the rising tide, watching the chart closely, and planning around bridge openings are a must when in the Delta.
The Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta comprises a vast network of waterways, islands and levees. Home to a complex ecosystem of species, rich with history, and surrounded by vital farmland, the Delta feels like a step back in time.
I fell in love with the slow cadence of Delta life: sunrises, sunsets, brisk swims, stargazing, and wildlife watching. With dreams of ‘someday’ cruising, this was the perfect practice zone. Before heading back to the Bay, I had already begun plotting my return. I signed up for the Delta Doo Dah and hope to make it an annual tradition.
The Delta is the ultimate sailing staycation for anyone based in the Bay Area. Whether you have dreams of sailing around the world and want to work out some kinks or you are simply looking for an adventure close to home, this is the perfect year to head up the Delta and explore. Register for the Delta Doo Dah and let us know what your summer Delta plans are by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Summer seems to be inching closer and closer here in the Bay Area, though, like many things in our lives at the moment, it’s doing a two-steps-forward, three-steps-back shuffle. After a heat wave last week, things got cloudy, rainy, cold and windy on the weekend.
It appears that we might do a rinse and repeat this weekend, albeit a tad milder on the rain and cold front:
Oh yeah, and with a full moon on Friday the 5th, there are going to be some big tides through the weekend, as well.
A lot of great boats were built in Santa Cruz County during the 1970s and ’80s, boats that are beloved among our Latitude readership. We’re talking Express, Olson, Santa Cruz 27, Moore 24, boats that are light, athletic and built to be sailed hard. We love to sail them, race them, and sometimes crash them too.
When the fiberglass splinters, mast folds up, keel retracts causing the boat to turn turtle; when your cartop Moore El Toro takes flight on the freeway at 60 miles per hour; when your Ultimate 20’s keel nails that one darned submerged rock in your favorite Huntington Lake cove, well, that’s when you need to call the Boat Whisperer.
The Boat Whisperer would surely hate being described thus. He does not advertise or seek publicity and has no website, no email address and no computer. There’s no sign on the street announcing the name of his business. He does possess a degree in psychology from Stanford University, which no doubt has been useful in some situations, especially concerning collisions, protests and insurance companies.
This nautical psychologist is none other than our friend Craig Smith, and we dropped in recently on his anonymous concrete Watsonville warehouse facility, which is called Elkhorn Composites. Here are some photographs of this fascinating, dusty wonderland, where broken boats go to recover from those times when we have a really bad, gelcoat-crunching day on the water.
Craig has been operating his business for about 30 years. He began his career with a short stint in the wholesale world of Port Supply in 1989. Dissatisfaction with the corporate environment there led to Craig working for Ron Moore’s boatbuilding shop, where he learned from some of the best Monterey Bay craftsmen and found his niche.
When we dropped in on Craig last week, he was enjoying some time off after this long, strange 30-year trip. He was cleaning up around his home in nearby Prunedale, and sorting through a pile of oddities on the shop floor. A mirror-like Santa Cruz 27 gleamed, resplendent in its brand new orange and red gelcoat. The complete restoration was on hold due to the pandemic, and its impact on the owner’s budget. A Moore 24 waited nearby on its trailer, ready for surgery.
Craig Smith is really enjoying his time off, and he told us to “tell everyone to stay away a little bit longer, but I’ll be back soon.” We’re confident that as sailboat racing returns after the pandemic, Murphy’s Law will still be in operation, meaning that what can go wrong probably will. We’ll break our boats, and Craig Smith will fix them.
On May 28, Wendy Hanrahan, rear commodore of South Beach Yacht Club in San Francisco, sent out this message: “It is with amazement and disbelief that I inform you that on Sunday, May 24, at about 6:15 a.m., our beloved RIB Mackin was stolen from the dinghy dock. On Tuesday, May 26, I received an email from Scott Grindy, harbormaster at San Francisco Marina, titled “Found Boat at SF Marina, is it yours?” I wasn’t sure if it was a joke or some weird spam. A few email exchanges requesting photos and I was saddened to discover it was our Mackin. A few phone call exchanges and I was able to coordinate retrieving the Mackin.”
“It is pure luck that four days earlier I had been given the keys to the Mackin and the Lori W in preparation for the Junior Sailing Camp,” continued Hanrahan. “So within one hour from the initial email, Terence, Finnagh and I went down to Gashouse Cove to retrieve our RIB. There were two dirty bags, two dirty towels, about one dozen hypodermic needles and other garbage on the boat. The battery power was left on, and the engine was left in the water. Tom Anderson from the San Francisco Marina assisted with removing garbage and unlocking the Mackin from her temporary berth. I put the key in the ignition, did a lot of praying, and turned the key. The Mackin was running! I thanked Tom, then Finnagh and I eagerly took the Mackin home to South Beach Harbor. So far, the damage that we are aware of is two tears in the chaps. I am hoping we won’t find further damage.”
“This is not the first time we have seen suspicious activities on the dinghy dock,” noted Hanrahan. “Our club owns several assets. The trawler Anabel is used for race committee and special events. Ed and Mary Mackin is used for mark-set and for junior sailing. Lori W is used for junior sailing. We also have our junior sailing and adult dinghy fleet of nine RS Teras and four Lasers.
“Starting Saturday, June 6, our Adult Dinghy Program begins, so the Lori W and the Lasers will be found at McCovey Cove. June 15 through August 14, our Junior Sailing Camp will be running, so expect to see both the Mackin and the Lori W in McCovey Cove.”
The following advice could hold true for many marinas around California: “The latches on some of the gates are sticking. Please make sure that the gate is latched after you pass through. Do not let people follow you in to the marina if you are not familiar with them.
“Thank you Dan Courter for looking into the repair of the chaps and for getting a chain and lock for the Lori W and the Mackin. I will be filing a police report but need a few more details before it can be completed.”
But wait, that’s not where the story ends! We’ll have Part 2 on Friday.
An interesting aspect of the unfolding pandemic is the increase in boat sales. Yes, you heard that right. Actually, like the pandemic, the data’s evolving, but our calls to brokers and dealers indicate that there is some surprisingly good activity on the waterfront.
One example is a call we received from Don Durant of Cruising Specialists. Don called to let us know he’d just sold a new Jeanneau 440 to Latitude 38 readers who were having lunch over by South Beach Harbor. They spotted the Jeanneau 440 in Don’s ad while reading a past issue and called to see if they could have a look. Don had one available in the Club Nautique charter program and told them to come on over.
Turns out the husband had previously sailed while a student at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis and then moved to the Bay Area. He owned an Islander 36 on the Bay for a few years before going boatless for about 12 years while starting a family. Now his daughters are in hitting double digits, and, without summer camp, sports and other group activities on the agenda, they decided it was a great summer for family sailing. So they bought a new Jeanneau 440! We tell you this story both because we’re happy to hear about families getting back into sailing, and because we appreciate Don’s calling to tell us about a boat he sold from his ad in Latitude 38.
This isn’t the only story. We’ve been hearing from many of our customers and witnessed it in our own classifieds. While the pandemic has created extreme hardship for many, it’s also caused many to rethink their life priorities and shift how they spend their time. Some of the shift is by choice and some dictated by circumstances. Instead of standing on the sidelines watching their kids play softball and soccer or sending them off to camp, many parents are realizing time together on a boat is time well spent. Our recent story with the Moore family on their Catalina 270 shows you why. It may also help explain why sign-ups for this year’s Delta Doo Dah are already up almost 50% over last year.
Wayne Goldman’s been very busy after his virtual boat show at Atomic Tuna Yachts. John Schulthess, owner of the Hobie dealer Wind Toys in Santa Rosa, has been very busy with kayaks. Hobie was shut down for two months, so, while they’re now working and catching up, new stock is hard to come by. Pete McCormick from Jeff Brown Yachts and Jim Tull of Passage Nautical also say they’ve been very busy.
When looking at the distressing 15-20% unemployment rate you can forget that means 80-85% employment. Economic recovery comes from economic activity, and we’re happy to see it anywhere, but especially if it involves sailing. Tourism, travel, ball games, camps and concerts may all be constrained for quite a while. With San Francisco Bay and the California coast at our doorstep, the best way to survive the tumult is to find a way to sail.
If you’re not ready to own a boat, Bay Area sailing schools and clubs have them available to charter. It’s an incredibly challenging time and we’re all looking for some way to escape even for a short while. Rather than driving away from the Bay to escape we think you should drive toward it to sail on it.
And, if you find your boat in the pages of Latitude 38, please let our advertisers know. We both appreciate it!