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Sailing to Angel Island on Two Weekends in July

Nancy and I spent Fourth of July weekend at Angel Island. We pulled into Ayala Cove around 11 a.m. on Friday, and there were already a handful of boats on the moorings. By Friday evening the moorings were completely filled, and boats were being turned away. State Parks opened the moorings on June 29 with the stipulation that rafting was not allowed, however, there were at least five boats on raft-up. We counted as many as 20 boats using the moorings Saturday night.

Boats moored in Ayala Cove at Angel Island
The mooring field at Ayala Cove. Boats are required to tie to moorings fore and aft.
© 2020 Gary Ryan

In general, the island was not crowded, as very few people were coming in by ferry. The San Francisco ferry was not running, and our understanding is that the Tiburon ferry is operating by reservation and limited in terms of the number of people allowed per trip. However, the moorings and docks were packed, and many boats trying to get a day slip or a mooring had to look elsewhere. A few boats even tried to anchor in Ayala, but the park rangers quickly told them it wasn’t allowed.

The café just opened on Friday, and we saw a few trams leave with a handful of people on them. We talked to one of the café workers who was almost in tears to see all the boats at the docks and moorings.

We walked the perimeter trail on both Friday and Saturday, and it was fantastic, with a wide road to socially distance, few people around, and many deer who couldn’t care less that we were invading their island. Plus you cannot beat the 360° view of the Bay as you walk around the island. It was a wonderful weekend watching seals pop up, kids swinging on halyards and people swimming — and just talking with other boaters by social dinghy distance.

We went back this past weekend and spent Saturday night on a mooring. It was funny because we saw four boats that had been there over the Fourth. Same great conditions, and it was just as nice.

We have been visiting Angel for many decades. Here are a few tips for using the moorings and docks:

There can be a pretty big tidal countercurrent in Ayala. Counterclockwise on an ebb, clockwise on a flood. Any ebb or strong flood will create the countercurrent, so take this into account when docking or mooring.

If you get to the docks early, before the rangers clean off all the seal poop, be really, really careful as the docks can be extremely slippery.

The center of the mooring field is shallow. We had early-morning minus tides over the weekend. Our catamaran, ‘iliohale, draws 4 feet 2 inches and was sitting on the bottom. If you have a deep-draft boat and there are going to be low lows, then look to moor on the outside balls of the mooring field.

Mooring bow and stern can be a challenge, especially if there is current and/or wind and if the moorings are crowded. Be sure to have long mooring lines available because if the only open spot is in the center of a mooring string (they’re color coded), the balls will be pulled in and the distance between them will be greater.

Boats with limited control in reverse should consider picking up the stern mooring first, not the bow. You will have more control in forward than in reverse. Use a poly line that floats for the stern or have someone on the stern line keeping it clear of the prop as you go for the bow mooring.

Spending the weekend at Angel feels like a real vacation. We hope that everyone gets the chance to experience it.

— Gary and Nancy Ryan
‘iliohale, Lagoon 450S
Loch Lomond, San Rafael

Readers — For more info about visiting Angel Island State Park, including what’s currently open or closed, see


  1. Dane Faber 4 years ago

    Thanks for this story. I’d like to add that I was at AI a couple of times over the same weekends. One interesting and recurring issue is the question of why boats owned by the park staff are permitted to be permanently tied up at the park docks? One vessel is a derelict and has now been abandoned there for literally years but there are two or three boats, owned by park staff that are there too.

    A beautiful Hans Christian 48 was tied between the floating ferry dock and the fixed pier for years and owned by a park ranger. Now it looks like a Sea Scout vessel is in that spot permanently. A few years back I broached the question with then park superintendent Amy Brees why the public wasn’t allowed the same consideration for overnight berthing at the docks. After alot of irrelevant back and forth and her argument that the park NEEDED the ranger’s vessels in case of need for emergency evacuation (none of their personal boats were suitable for that purpose) and my asking about the service vessel Ayala and the big landing craft, it was decreed that IF all moorings were taken, visitors would be permitted to remain at the docks overnight! I still have the email from Ms Brees. None of the current staff has any knowledge of this understanding by the way. I guess question now is why not, and if it remains that visiting vessels are prohibited from overnight docking (not mooring), why are state employees allowed it?

  2. Taylor Miller 4 years ago

    I’ve never understood why, if camping is allowed overnight, berthing at the docks isn’t. Another question I’ve had is whether the staff could install the same mooring system that is used at Avalon harbor at Catalina Island. It’s way easier to use and seems like it’s serving the same function to keep boats from swinging as the system at Ayala Harbor. Permanent mooring weights are in place on the bottom fore and aft. A mooring float with an attached pole sticking up 8 feet or so carries a pennant line to which the bow of the boat can be secured. That line is also attached to a line running under water to the aft mooring weight. You just pull up that line from the float and walk it back to your stern cleat. Then you snug it up from the aft mooring weight to the cleat. The boat is then attached fore and aft. The whole process takes about 2-3 minutes with no heroics needed to feed a line through an eye on the mooring at water level. No perilous backing, line in the prop etc. Just approach the float like any other mooring ball and pick up the pennant.

    • Christine Weaver 4 years ago

      Taylor, thanks for the info about mooring at Avalon. Incidentally, camping is currently not allowed at Angel Island due to COVID (as I write this on July 15, 2020). Which says nothing to address your point about staying overnight on the docks, but is just for our readers’ info.

  3. Max 4 years ago

    I was lucky enough to have Wednesday and Thursday off last week and was the only boat on the moorings overnight. It was sort of eerie, but hey, I practically had the island to my self!

  4. Dane Faber 4 years ago

    Comparison with Avalon is dead on point! Avalon is operated by the City of Avalon. The fee charged for guest mooring for boats 39ft and under is $27. The cost for larger boats is higher. The moorings are privately owned but are rented out when not being used by the owner. Imagine what COULD be done with the equally attractive Angel Island destination if it was as well run as the several harbors at Catalina. I know what a privilege it is to be a boat owner. Truly a luxury and we boat owners should be expected to pay for the privilege of mooring or docking at Angel Island. When the island went to the honor system for paying the modest fee for the dock use, i bet compliance fell by 50%. As for tje moorings, it is a rare sight indeed to see the rangers out collecting, as was once their regular duty. Many nights I’ve spent there only to see a boat enter, tie up, then leave early the next morning. Some vessels lack the means to get ashore to pay even if they would be happy to do so.

    Angel Island is the only park in the several hundred state park system that is an island. The state has no clue how to operate it or the money it needs to maintain it even if they did know what they are doing. I’ve long thought it should be deeded to the Feds as a part of GGNRA. At least the Feds might get it dredged! Speaking of dredging, am i the only one who has noticed the impact the ferries (especially blue and gold) have on the water depth? The way they enter from the west and spin bow out when docking causes their prop wash to “blow” silt toward the center of the mooring field! Simple hydraulics! The blue and gold fleet is at least partially responsible for the shallowness so let them pay for dredging!

    My first visit to AI was in 1965 on my father’s boat. I’ve not missed a year since without a few visits (during school years) and later, with a series of boats of my own, I am there frequently and year round. I am retired now and go to the island a dozen times a year and more. I hold a Master Mariner Credential (USCG Master license) and believe we are witnessing the slow death of this precious jewel. HELP!

    • Max 4 years ago

      San Francisco’s Aquatic Cove Park has the ability to pay their $10 per night fee online. Makes it easy. The state park system which runs Angel Island should be able to do the same.

      That said, I’m happy they take credit cards now.

  5. Curt Michael Taras 4 years ago

    The Former State of California Department of Boating and Waterways paid for the Angel Island Mooring field and the Lake Tahoe Emerald Bay mooring field to be installed using gas taxes paid by boaters. That was in 2008.
    I was the resident marine engineer for both projects. In 2010, Boating and waterways was merged with State Parks and fewer facilities are now being built for boaters using the gas taxes we all pay. Today, our parks both State and National, are frequently closed for political reasons on a regular basis and the fees keep increasing. Please keep advocating for keeping our public boating infrastructure open and maintained.
    Infrastructure Improvement Inc.

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