Once I finally found the place hidden out here in wine country, got the
boat wet, shuttled the rig to the pullout, and suffered the orientation
meeting after a delicious barbecue, I got to sit down and breath for the
first time in weeks. Steady wind from the west. Tonight I sleep among the
wild flowers in pasture near the Napa river under a waxing moon.
Monday, left NVM 0900, rowed and sailed with my friend Abbey Sue Fisher
through the narrow sloughs west of the Napa river. (I would give you the
names of these salt water creeks but they are just off the edge of the San
francisco bay charts, and the road maps don't begin to acknowledge these
watery bits. If you find yourself in the mud with your car you got larger
problems than putting a name to the site.) 1130 The fleet nosed into the
reeds on a high tide for a sandwich and a bottle of wine. Good wind all
morning, but it was in our face so we couldn't sail in these narrows till
the down wind third leg of the passage.
We sailed onto the Napa River and alongside Mare Island, dropped the main
sail and then dead down wind on the approach to the Vallejo Yacht Club
under jib alone, at the last possible moment sweeping upwind to sidle up
to the dock sideways pretty as you please. A good day. 1430, 13 miles?
Tuesday, June 13. Today could have read like a Wagnerian opera. Scene one;
0815 we leave VYC en masse like the Valkirie under sail, off to do battle
on the Napa River against the incoming tide and fresh morning breeze
wirling around Mare Island. We valiantly struggle downstream against the
incoming current from San Francisco Bay and a strong morning headwind to
catch the favorable wind and tide funneling east through the Carquinez
Straight. Much tacking and posturing to round the mark, with the less
weatherly rigs suffering the frustrations of the current.
The scene finale is a wonderful procession of the fleet, victorious after
the tacking battle with the tide and wind, streaming eastward through the
straights wing on wing, in a good but lessening breeze from the west.
Scene two; The Death March. Now miles away from
our victory in Vallejo, Amy Hosa and I are forced to row under the
Martinez bridge and off into the distant mirage of Suisun Bay and the
relentless heat that brought on a sonorous doldrum. The moans from the
crews could be heard across the greasy waters as we rowed on a compass
bearing for Chips Island and the buoy with our boat name tags on it, (part
of an orienteering challenge, just to stir it up a little bit).
Eventually, after miles of agonizingly hot rowing through moody air
tainted with smoke and burnt grass falling out of the atmosphere from a
fire many miles to the north near Lake Berryessa, the scene slips into a
puff of wind that encourages us to raise sail. Within minutes this puff
grows into a twenty-five knot squall from the north knocking down the
smoke and pushing up the chop to as much as three feet with breaking
crests less than a boat length apart.
The Fat Lady has stepped onto stage to sing her aria. A big girl,
complete with helmet and horns carried on stage by an incredibly hot
wind. All Amy and I could do was hike out and luff the sails just to stay
We were taking on some solid water over the bow, but there was just
enough power by squeezing a little out the leach in the scandalized sails
that we were making way. Once we filled up to near the seats the boat
settled down and started to behave. Amy was sitting foreward as we
bashed through the chop, taking the lions share of the spray right in the
face, and grinning. Upon the first real solid water over the bow she
"That feels real good!" she sez.
I respond, "Then we could be in real trouble." Smiles all around. It was
good day to fall out of the boat.
The scene finishes twenty minutes later as we sail off the rough water
into the lee of Chips Island and scooted into the tule reeds like a duck,
with the reeds closing in behind us. We were completely safe, like
sliding into home plate on an infield home run. The main sail and jib
weren't even flogging in the the wind, but the burgee on the tip of the
gunter spar was snapping it's frayed tips in a gale. It seems like I
spend a lot of time scaping into the reeds with Amy. (See last years
escapade in Nurse Slough.)
We bailed the boat out, reefed the main, collected the flotsam and caught
our breath. Once we felt ready, Amy and I backed the dory out of the
reeds and set sail for the buoy. Snagging our boat tag off it and then
heading for Collinsville we eventually dropped the jib because the wind
was just too rowdy for all that canvas.
I took a lesson from Caitlin Schwarzman as she sailed across my bow to
weather in 'Jasper', another swampscott dory, under a full unreefed sprit
sail. I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to follow her tacks. "I'm
just lucky Chris (Rucker) was tall enough to hike out and bail at the same
time!" said Caitlin later, on the deck of the scow schooner 'Alma' while
nursing our beer rations over stories of the day . The finale of the day
was a brisk suite of fifteen second tacks into the wind that was coming
straight down the Collinsville Slough. We coasted under sail into
the foreward tie-up along side our mother ship 'Alma'. The 'Stolen
Moment' was one of very few small boats to actually sail through the
squall, two of which were swampscott dories. The rest of the
twenty-three boats either rowed in the lee of the islands or took a tow
from one of the two Boston Whalers we had a chase boats. A couple of the
smallest boats were pulled aboard the 'Alma' during the worst of the blow,
because they were caught out in an exposed area and didn't have a chance
the way things were roughing up so fast. I cannot say enough
about the seaworthiness of these little Swampscott hulls, gunter or
sprits'ls, they kick little boat butt. 1530, 28 miles.
That night I slept among the grave stones in the collinsville cemetery
under the watchful eye of an owl perched in the only tree for miles.
Wednesday, 0930 The mob had a ripping wind at our backs as the fleet
squirted out of Collinsville slough onto the Sacramento river, so I sailed
with a reefed main and my small jib, only to shake out the reef and swap
to the larger jib later. I gave the tiller to Abbey Sue for tacking
lessons along Dutch Slough to the north of Big Break and into the San
Juaquin Yacht Club on Bethel Island. This was the hottest day yet. I
napped with my legs hanging in the water on the lee side of whatever tack
we happened upon. 1415, 18 miles.
'Telco' tug, the 42' tow boat to back up the 'Alma', sucked an impeller,
over heated and needed a push in by one of the whalers. Jake Roulstone
saved the day by crawling down into the heat of Telco's belly, on the
hottest recorded day of the year, (109+) and fixed the problem in a
masterful way with spare parts he found floating in the bilge, as we
handed down gin tonics on ice through the hatch.
Thursday, 0815, After potent Bloody Mary's with fresh asparagus in the air
conditioned yacht club, served by a smiling bartender named Alma
(appropriately enough), Amy Hosa and I sailed with the fleet en mass on
light winds up Mound Slough to Frank's Tract and across the shallows to
the north with a good consistently growing northwesterly, through False
River into the San Juaquin River and then southeast, wing on wing for
miles, in the Stockton Deep Water Shipping Channel on the way to
Stockton. Many boats stopped in a cove along the north side of Mandeville
Cut for lunch and a swim to break the heat.
As I was lifting the anchor to move on Amy sheeted in the main sheet in
such a way that we sailed up over the anchor, powered away upwind and
over the moored fleet. Then as I was setting the tiny 'whisker dowel' in
the jib to run wing on wing, Amy sent us down wind, letting out the main a
little slow, effectively forcing acceleration like I've never seen in my
dory accept when surfing the swells on the ocean in my home port of Santa
Cruz on Monterey Bay.
At one point traveling up the San Joaquin river and down wind Jake
Roulstone overtook us from behind in the 'Sally'. He kindly let out his
boom so that I could stand up and reach the tip of it and catch a boost of
power from 'Sally's momentum. He pulled the boom in far enough to
casually hand me a cold soda and then let me back out again to a safe
distance, where we chatted for quite some time with me and my little boat
'hanging' on the end of his boom. With Amy at the helm we were at or above
hull speed for many more miles, wing on wing. We made quick time to a
beach marked with red "Jake for Mayor" signs stuck in the sand where we
ran ashore catch some shade under the cottonwoods and allow the fleet to
gather, offering our mother ship a chance to find a good spot to anchor
for the night in a cove on the east side of the north half of Hog Island
where it is cut in half by the Stockton Deep Water Channel.
Some of us stopped by the Lost Island bar and grill, a glorified sandbar
truly lost out in the maze of the delta, infamous for beers and bimbos,
but since it was only thursday afternoon we found only a crusty one-armed
bartender with attitude. 1600, 17 miles.
I slept on the vast flat deck of the 'Alma' under a full moon with sixty
others like so many beached seals.
Friday, 0830. The last leg of the trip reversed our course back out the
deep water channel toward the Sacramento river about fourteen miles to
Korth's Pirate Lair. Directly into the wind, now blowing strong, steady
and a bit cooler from the northwest. Full sails and able Jill Foley
aboard, we tacked up the wind with the ebb tide at our backs.
We swapped tacks with the folk boat 'Stella' for a while. (Actually, I
was simply under foot again.) Caitlin Schwarzman at the helm,
perched high on the weather rail, powering to windward with the lee rail
in the water. I took another lesson as long as I could keep up. After
beaching for a pee in the bushes and to swap jibs to the smaller one, we
tore out the lower gudgeon when a mega displacement family yacht cruised
by, creating a huge wake that slammed the dory into the shore, effectively
shutting down our sailing for the day. Miraculously we found the little
metal bit (and the two screws!) in the water's edge and were able to
repair it without serious to do with a Leatherman tool.
Much further tacking in the stiffening breeze brought us to Korth's Pirate
Lair and the pull out after fish-n-chips and silly prizes on the lawn in
the shade of palm trees.
First and most notable prize was the dark blue float coat awarded to Pete
Evans (A.K.A. King Mud, A.K.A. Magellan of the Delta) for his research and
guidance throughout the organization and execution of this trip. I covet
the small -but very workable- spinnaker awarded to Dan Drath. I got a
Young Ian Hall and Andy Benoit were such nonchalant sailors in Titmouse -a
(plastic) Capri 14.5 that kicks ass in a breeze- that they forgot to tell
us they got knocked down in the squall on Honker Bay, cracking the base of
their mast. Also, notably, these two teenagers could sleep anywhere,
anytime, and in any position.
Bruce Fowler wins mention again this year for the smallest boat in the
fleet. He stayed dry, sailed well, and rowed upwind alot. He's planning
a bigger small boat. Sam Johnson has built the prettiest boat once again,
a brand new Whitehall named "Christie". White with a blue stripe and a
very classic sprit sail rig. He even wove his own jute fenders. (I think
the guy needs a day job.) But the boat ain't new any more. This was a
rough trip on a lot of boats.
Honorable mention to the various crews of the double gunter rigged cutter
"J". The boat has made quite a few indelible memories and blistered hands
among the able bodied sailors pressed into her service. Some of the trips
best entertainment was watching Joe the Scow Chow (dog) and Jasmine, the
tiny mop of some sort, chase each other around the deck weaving in and out
of peoples legs as we drank the morning coffee. Often as not it was Big
Joe evading Jazzy's attempts at his chew toy. And best of all, since last
year, "Big" Joe has learned not to pee on sleeping bags!