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A First-Ever Circumnavigation in the Bay Area

To be fair, first-evers are relative. What’s a sailing first-ever to me has probably been done a gazillion times.

But it’s no less significant. On Saturday, as the rain clouds finally parted in Northern California and the breeze filled in, we decided to make our first-ever circumnavigation of Red Rock, a rust-colored lump of island plopped down to the immediate south of the Richmond Bridge.

The mysteries of Red Rock Island are hidden in plain sight, and just below rush-hour traffic, on the Richmond Bridge.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Tim

Before we go too far with our tale of unspectacular achievement, we should say that we saw lots of sailboats on the Bay Saturday, and a few on Sunday (though the wind was much lighter). There was a palpable feeling of relief, as the weekend was one of the first sunny, sailable days in recent memory (a reminder here that Californians are terribly spoiled over the weather). If you were one of the many boats on the Bay, if you happened to see us, if you enjoyed the reprieve from the rain on the rail of a boat, then you should, by all means, tell us about it.

And, even better: If you have a tale about rounding Red Rock, or one of your first-ever sailing feats, please, please use the link above, and bend our ear.

This was our Saturday. First, are they dredging San Rafael Canal? Or parts of it? On the way out the channel, there was a tug, a barge and a serious piece of scooping machinery digging deep into the water. It was our day off, so we have no journalism to offer at this time, other than a, “Hey, somebody’s digging something in the Canal,” likely a private residence.

Some much-needed deepening in the San Rafael Canal.
© 2019 Nathaniel Beilby

As regular readers may well know, the name of our game is to go with the flow. We truly go where the wind blows (and how the current flows), and on Saturday, conditions were perfect for a jaunt east, under the Richmond Bridge.

Is it spooky to sail under the Richmond Bridge? Other sailors have echoed the chills we get when we transit under the five-ish-mile snaking-metal span. The pylons are close together and snatch your wind, leaving you at the brief mercy of gurgling tidal currents. But on Saturday, the bridge felt as if it were part of a huge model-train set, and sliding in and out was a creep-free piece of cake.
© 2019 Nathaniel Bailey

There are simply no words to describe how it feels to raise sail, kill the motor and bury the rail. It’s more than that it never gets old; it never fails to elicit a beaming smile and an affirmation of every second spent sailing, and of every penny spent on the boat. Surely — and without exaggeration — there are few things in the human experience greater than this.

We will not muddy up this caption with the inadequacy of words. Only a sailor knows the feeling.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Tim

The circumnavigation of Red Rock was not planned with the monomaniacal focus with which great sailors have accomplished their historic, first-ever feats. “Hey, where should we go,” we asked each other. “I dunno, you wanna go around Red Rock?”


The downwind, clockwise approach to Red Rock
© 2019 nathaniel Beilby

Red Rock Island marks the corner and convergence of San Francisco, Marin and Contra Costa counties. It is approximately 500 ft wide by 750 ft long and 150 ft tall. A search on our chart app told us there was plenty of water all around it.

The island took on many faces — this one silhouetted — as we  made the circle.
© 2019 Nathaniel Beilby

It was surprisingly exciting to make a slow, downwind approach and slide into the lee of the island. There is certainly something very Huckleberry Finn about the big lump.

Round and round we go . . . through the lazy lee and calm waters as the ebb takes hold . . .
© 2019 Nathaniel Bailey

Here’s a bit of copy-and-paste, Wikipedia journalism for you: “[Red Rock] Island was privately purchased in the 1920s. After a series of owners, David Glickman purchased the island in 1964 for $49,500. In the 1980s, a plan was proposed (but never implemented) to remove the top half of the island (which would be sold for highway roadbed construction). The island would then be developed with a 10-story hotel and casino, and a yacht harbor on the lee (north) side. Water and power would be provided from lines connected to the San Rafael Bridge.”

After our rounding, the wind kicked back in in a big way; and we made a long lap to windward before tacking with Red Rock to leeward.
© 2019 Nathaniel Bielby

“In June 2007, Glickman announced that Red Rock Island was for sale for $10 million. In early 2012, the island was listed with a realtor at a price of $5 million. As of December 2018, the island was owned by Brock Durning, who refused to say whether it was for sale. The island is mentioned and described as ‘Blue Island’ in the novel The Circle by Dave Eggers.”

We’re not sure at what point we closed the loop on Red Rock. Distracted by the amazingness of the day, we forgot to make note, and ended up doing more of a long cigar shape around the island. But nonetheless, a Bay Area first-ever was on the books.

The days are absurdly short in December, but because the sun is so low in the sky, winter light is thick and sumptuous. We’re spoiled here in California for many reasons; year-round sailing might be our favorite one.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Tim


  1. Ed Vitrano 5 years ago

    Loved it. Simple.
    Cross it off the bucket list.
    The sound of a sailboat cutting through the water is silently deafening.

  2. Carl Heckel 5 years ago

    Life can certainly be exciting.

  3. Steve McCarthy 5 years ago

    I read the headline and thought what about Bruce Schwab? Then I saw the rest, and 30 years of sailing the Bay all came back.

  4. Kirk Wallis 5 years ago

    You just blew my favorite bar bet; “What’s the furthest northerly point in San Francisco?” Alcatraz, Angel Island are the common guesses, but Red Rock it is!

    • Nixk 4 years ago

      Was wondering if the Brothers Island’s might be the northern most point of San Francisco Bay & the most Southwesterly of San Pablo bay?

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