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Stick in the Mud in San Leandro

As the San Francisco Bay shoreline continues to be developed with high-rent waterfront properties, access to sailing is feeling the pressure. The once-popular San Leandro Marina has fallen on hard times because of silting. As dredging has become increasingly expensive, the marina will not have any maintenance done and is scheduled to close in the next year or two, while new, shoreside developers add more condos and hotels as part of the San Leandro Shoreline Development. We spoke to harbormaster Delmarie Snodgrass, who let us know the marina is down to just a few sailboats, which, if they don’t leave soon, will be permanently stuck inside the marina as the channel silts in.

We remember when San Leandro was a thriving marina doing a healthy business with then- harbormaster Jim Haussener. The San Leandro Marine Center featured a large Travellift, ship’s store, and marine woodworking shop  as part of its status as a full-service South Bay boatyard. The soon-to-be-condo-covered golf course was also a destination for golfer/boaters who would pull in for a round.

A stick in the mud. Note the sailboat in the marina and one in front of the hotel in this artist’s rendering of future development. You’ll also note a bridge between the sailboat and the now-silted and useless channel to the Bay.
© 2018 Shoreline Development

The PICYA commodore put us in touch with the San Leandro Yacht Club commodore Norm Pennington, who gave us an update. “The project as we know it consists of two separate projects: one to dismantle the marina, and the second to develop the shoreline, including the removal of two yacht clubs, the removal of a restaurant, parts of a golf course and a branch library, the relocation of an existing launch ramp, construction of a hotel and parking structure and an apartment building. Other changes will be the reconfiguration of surface streets to facilitate traffic in and out of the redeveloped area.”

It’s disappointing for the residents of San Leandro and the South Bay to have diminished access to the Bay, for the youth sailing to lose the once-active Spinnaker Sailing YC junior program, and for the PICYA to lose two member yacht clubs. These developments are an ominous sign of the times. Apparently, the past deep-draft marina will become more of a mud puddle, but there are plans to  host kayaks and SUPs.

We understand and sympathize with the need for more housing in the Bay Area, and can see why housing developers want to showcase the beauty, lifestyle and added value sailboats bring to the waterfront. Nearly every artist’s rendering of a waterfront development finds it irresistible to include sailboats to enhance the view and create a desirable impression of the life you’ll live on the edge of San Francisco Bay. But few developer plans actually include the facilities and services for the sailboats. It frightens us that the sailboat is being relegated to an aesthetic backdrop. Perhaps developers will come up with a sailboat simulator ride to enjoy in the shoreside park? Or a sailing app to play with on the park bench?

To us, there would be nothing better for everyone in the Bay Area than to feel the salt spray in their face as they leave the dense, manicured shoreline and hoist their sails. Ultimately, the real challenge may be a shortage of time. Ironically, one of the falsely assumed premises of Silicon Valley’s efficiency and productivity tools was that they’d create time to allow us all to do more of what we want to do. To us that means sailing. Sadly, the reverse seems true. With so many options for recreation — and so many apps and devices augmenting every aspect of our lives — the lack of time means people can’t get down to the shore on the weekend, leaving municipalities less able to fund the soaring costs of  dredging.

While we lament the loss of this access point, we’re amazed by other facilities and programs that continue to thrive. Westpoint Harbor in the South Bay gets hundreds of sailors on the water. Brooklyn Basin on the Oakland Estuary is adding new slips. The US Sailing FAST program and TISC are active on Treasure Island, and Alameda Community Sailing continues to add to the myriad choices still ringing the Bay.

But we think that any developer who wants to include sailboats in their wonderful drawings of the proposed waterfront lifestyle should be required to include facilities to fulfill the lifestyle promise. Really, if you’re a municipality with the good fortune to have Bay shoreline, why wouldn’t you want to open up access to your citizens and get them out on the water?

As always, we’d like to know what you think. You can email us here, or comment on the story below. Please be sure to include your boat name, make and port of call, or just tell us where you’re from.


  1. Steve Bondelid 5 years ago

    You need to find out WHY the cost of dredging is soaring.
    That’s the main villian in this.
    ECO FREAKS with political power maybe?

    Steve Bondelid
    “Flexible Flyer” Dragonfly trimaran
    Whidbey Island WA

    • Tim Henry 5 years ago

      Steve — It’s true that stricter environmental laws have driven up the coast of dredging, but we try to look at this as part of a balance of interests. We think being more environmentally sound is a good thing, and hope there’s a way to have robust regulations while still allowing for affordable maintenance to infrastructure. Are these concepts mutually exclusive at the moment? Perhaps. Maybe a better balance can be struck to maintain healthy sailing facilities AND a healthy environment.

  2. Robert Schulke 5 years ago

    And why is the silting occurring, along with the entire South Bay? Because of reduced water flows due to pumping it south to Big Ag and Big Real Estate. To sole this, they are putting in 2 more 50’ diameter tunnels to pump even more (the rest of it?) south.

  3. Hartley Gardner 5 years ago

    When we first moved our boat to the Bay in 2006, we landed in San Leandro for a time. The location was super-convenient right next to Oakland Airport, the facilities were in good shape and the staff was very friendly. But as the year wore on, we got very tired of having to time our sails to the tide – and still bumping mud on the way in & out — San Leandro requires about a mile of dredged channel, and with no more Fed money, the city couldn’t deal.

  4. James Dilworth 5 years ago

    Back when I first bought my Santana 22, I sailed over to meet a friend for dinner in the San Leandro marina. Sailing in was easy. Getting home required a little more thinking. The first part required waiting until 3am for the tide to come back up. The second part involved figuring out how to navigate out the mile long channel without a motor.

    It was a grey January morning with a light drizzle in the air. I hadn’t had my boat for long, and I wasn’t yet too confident about sailing it. The next hour and a half was to be the best sailing lesson I ever had. Leaving the marina I made wonky tacks as I belatedly started to appreciate the value of speed before using the rudder. I began to see how the jib could be an enemy as well as a friend when it would push me down after critical tacks.

    All this was much needed preparation for the mile long channel that led out to the south-west – directly into the wind. The channel was narrow, and when I pushed the edges I could feel the keel dragging on the mud. At one point I pushed it too far and became spun around and stuck. I thought I was done for, but I found that by leaning the boat as far as I could, it would spin further, and I was able to gradually inch back into the channel. That was met with a huge sigh of relief, for by now the tide was on its way out. Getting stuck in the mud again might mean an embarrassing 12hour sojourn on a mudbank.

    Out there, alone, in the dark, in the rain, with total concentration and my adrenaline pumping, I might have let out a few whoops of joy – or fear. But my tacks improved, and the bay gradually got deeper, until eventually I was free.

    San Leandro marina was, for me, a rite of passage. I recommend you try it while you still can 🙂

  5. Richard Dana 5 years ago

    I heard that a company on the peninsula is going to run a private ferry from San Leandro marina to the Peninsula. The idea is that it is faster to get across the Bay by boat than it is by sending one of those commuter buses across the bridge. Would be awesome to see some commercial operations in the marina, that might get the Corps of Engineers attention!

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