Sunday, August 31, 2014

Exploring Oakland and San Francisco

[Kyle]Chris had suggested that we may want to be at one of the other two marinas owned by the same company that were farther up the estuary. We weren’t really keen on the idea because the public transport is so much better at Jack London Square, but we took our morning run in that direction to have a look anyway. It was a bit of a trek, but we were glad we went.

The other two marinas turned out not to be nearly so nice. Jack London Square would cost us a bit more, but it now seemed like it was definitely a good deal in comparison.

Bill was generously offering out home made waffles, which we managed to avoid with the run, so we decided to more than make up for it with what must have been a nine thousand calorie lunch at Juan’s Place. We followed this with salsa dancing back at Jack London. The city had free lessons followed by music in the square on Friday nights. Those last two things really should be done in the other order.

After all of this, Maryanne managed to persuade me to go on a guided walk of San Francisco the next day. We got up somewhat early and headed to the city on the BART. Our walk was billed as a guided tour through many of San Francisco’s more architecturally interesting neighborhoods. It didn’t turn out quite that way.

Exploring San Francisco from Embarcadero to Land's End (around 9 miles)

We did see a lot of cool places, but the walk was too long to allow much time for stopping and although our tour guide was interesting, he was soft spoken so we didn’t get much commentary. Bathroom breaks for everyone also took up a huge chunk of time. In the end, I think we wished we had been given the route to do ourselves at our own pace. We would have covered the almost ten miles in half the time. We felt rushed when we wanted to linger and take pictures and frustrated with standing by the bathrooms for half an hour.

We met some nice people though, and I’ve got to hand it to the organizer. He seems like a nice old guy who just really likes to take long, strenuous walks and he’s managed to find a way to make some money doing it with low prices and large groups. We left mostly happy, feeling like we’d finally worked off the previous day’s lunch.


Return to Marina Life

[Kyle]It was such a nice morning the next day that we decided to reverse course and sail back to the Golden Gate Bridge before sailing along the San Francisco waterfront on the way to Oakland.

The Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge on our sail to Oakland

Sailing by San Francisco, Alcatraz Island, and the Port of Oakland to reach our (hoped for) Marina

We still weren’t sure where (or if) we would be tying up in Oakland. The harbormaster said vaguely that he had, “a couple of ideas..” We couldn’t get anything definitive out of him, but it sounded like he was planning on squeezing us into a spot that wasn’t really a dock. When we got to Oakland, we tied up at the public dock and I went in search of the harbormaster on foot while Maryanne tried his phone. Neither of us had any luck. I asked around and nobody had seen him nor did they seem to expect us. As a last resort, I went to the fuel dock to see if anybody there had any ideas.

“Chris?” the fuel guy said, “Yeah, he’s right there.” He pointed to the guy behind me who was leaning with his hands on the railing looking out at an empty slip. I had thought he was a tourist.

I introduced myself. There was a bit of confusion about what exactly to do with us. Chris eventually told us to take the big double dock by the fuel dock, saying the guy who belongs there probably won’t be back in the next couple of days. Nobody else who was present seemed so sure, but we needed somewhere to go for the night, so we took it. Chris said he would try to rearrange a few boats in the meantime to get us two empty slips together.

Our position as the first boat on the dock meant that nearly everybody in the marina passed by on their way to their own boats. We were asked where we had come from and retold the story to each passer-by. Every single one of them was very nice and each one of them insisted that we join them for drinks.

We managed to hold them off long enough to get Begonia all sorted and to get showered and changed. We didn’t feel so conspicuously grubby then. The guy on the boat next door is a dentist from Monterey named Bill. As soon as we stepped aboard, he handed us each a drink and a plate. He had just made a mountain of spaghetti and told us he expected it to be gone later. We were lucky that the rest of the marina showed up as well, so we were only expected to eat a twelfth of a mountain each. It was amazing. We had a whole boat full of friendly new neighbors, each with a plate of spaghetti, and that mountain looked the exact same size. This was in spite of the fact that Bill has ninja serving skills. If you looked at your glass, he refilled your plate. If you looked at your plate, he refilled your glass. I’d be looking out the window, feel my plate get heavy, turn around and find him already gone. We got the impression this happens every night. It was all really good, too.

Keeping a trim figure around here may be more challenging than we thought.

Angel Island

[Kyle]From our anchorage in Sausalito, we had a view of the whole western half of Angel Island. I kept looking at its peak, Mt. Livermore, and thinking we needed to get up there.

From a sunset view of Angel Island from Sausalito, we set sail via the Golden Gate Bridge, the swanky Tiburon neighborhood, and eventually to the dock at Angel Island

We left as soon as it was light out. The docks at Angel Island are open to visitors only for day use, so we were the third boat to arrive after another couple that had repositioned from the overnight moorings in the same bay. We paid the $15 fee for the day and then headed up the North Ridge trail.

It starts off with a long stretch of big steps that left us panting heavily at the top and with burning thighs. We were worried about what we’d feel like by the time we got to the top, but the trail mercifully shallowed out to a more manageable medium grade.

A hike up Mt. Livermore for more views of the Bay

We climbed through woods of conifers and eucalyptus before emerging to views of San Pablo Bay and Richmond. Coming further around the mountain, we saw Oakland, the Bay Bridge and then, finally, the San Francisco skyline.

It was a bright, sunny day. At the top, we could see almost the whole bay except for the very furthest reaches to the northeast and south.

We descended via the Sunset trail, which continued in our original clockwise direction around the island’s flanks. The Golden Gate bridge came into view, followed by Sausalito and Tiburon. The trail back down was much longer and therefore much shallower. I think next time we’ll do it the other way.

By the time we made it back to Begonia, our plan was to walk around the perimeter of the island along the paved road, but once we plunked down in the cockpit, we realized we just didn’t have it in us. Something for next time, I suppose.

We left the dock, rounded the northern tip of the island and dropped anchor at Quarry Beach, where we had a view of the Bay Bridge and San Francisco city for the night.

Sausalito, Back to the Birthplace of a Sailing Dream...

[Kyle]After Maryanne and I sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge, we headed to a very specific spot in Richardson Bay off Sausalito. I was pleased and surprised to find it unoccupied as well as most of the waterfront on either side. Most of the other boats were moored or anchored further into the bay by the marinas and the public dinghy docks. Maryanne quickly checked again to be sure we hadn’t missed some harbor rule about anchoring where we were. Our spot was a government anchorage available for use by private boats for up to 72 hours if not being used by government boats. There were none, so we were okay there.

As we were maneuvering around checking depths and getting our position right for our swing, we ran afoul of the Fishing Police. Some guy on shore whistled at us with one of those loud whistles some people can do by putting two fingers in their mouth. We looked over to see if that was meant for us. It was. He was waving at us to get back; very rudely in my opinion. I shrugged my shoulders melodramatically so my gesture could be seen over the distance. He held up his fishing pole in answer. Oh puh-leez, we happen to be able to measure our distance to shore quite accurately with the radar, which was on. We were 450 feet from the rock on which he was standing – about two city blocks. There was NO way anybody on shore had fishing lines near the surface that far out, especially since the strong current would have swept it away. I pointed Begonia into the wind and Maryanne dropped the anchor while we backed down. The guy kept trying to wave us off, apparently unaware that his jurisdiction did not apply to the government anchorage. Nevertheless, I decided that if he could hit ANY part of the boat with a lucky cast, I would leave without argument. He never even made it a third of the way. Even funnier was watching all of the ferries and tour boats that passed between the shore and us on their route past the Sausalito waterfront.

The next day, we did what I had come here to do: Have a meal at the Trident restaurant. The Trident is not particularly special. It is a medium upscale waterfront restaurant of the type that are a dime a dozen in these parts. The food is pretty good and the service is adequate and you pay about double what either are worth because of the great view of the bay, with Alcatraz and the San Francisco skyline in the distance.

The reason I wanted to go to the Trident specifically and the reason Begonia was anchored in front of it, instead of the equally nice restaurant next door had to do with a piece of my history whose importance I didn’t fully appreciate until years after it happened.

Many, many, many years ago, I got a vague idea in my head that it would be cool to live on a boat. This was unusual for a kid growing up in Denver, where the only boats you see are small ones on trailers. I think the idea first snuck into my head from a TV show called “Quincy M.E.” Quincy, the main character, lived on a boat. There was almost nothing made of it in the plot and the only hint of it was in the fast-edit title scenes. It wasn’t even until I’d seen about twenty episodes that I figured it out. I knew absolutely nothing about boats, but the idea had a strange hold on me.

Once I had seen San Francisco, with its beautiful bay and its relatively big boats, the idea seemed slightly more possible. I still had no idea how to go about doing it, so it remained a very vague, “someday it would be nice…” kind of a dream.

When I finished college and flying school and could finally move somewhere by choice, rather than necessity, the only place I thought of was San Francisco. The boat thing wasn’t even forefront in my mind. I just knew I liked it a lot and I really wanted to be there. My then new wife (not Maryanne) and I moved out there before we even had jobs.

It was while wandering the docks at Pier 39 a few months later that I saw a sign next to a boat detailing the various levels of sailing instruction available. Maybe that’s how I’d get started, I thought, still below a conscious level.

About a year later, which is now half a lifetime ago, my equally young wife and I took the ferry over for a day in Sausalito. We walked the docks at the marina with all of its pretty little boats. There my dream was ignited again.

We walked along the waterfront and popped into a restaurant. It turned out to be the Trident. While we sat there, I looked out over the water at a boat anchored nearby. There was a guy sitting in the cockpit looking at the city. Every now and then, he’d saunter up to the bow, fiddle with something, and then returned to enjoy the view. I was suddenly filled with envy. I wanted to be that guy SO badly.

I pointed the boat out and said, “Man, doesn’t that look like the life?” My wife at the time however was petrified at the thought of sailing, definitely NOT interested, and it was clear I’d never change her mind.

So, sailing was pretty much out. My vague, unformed dream was over before it even had a chance to take shape. Like Douglas Adams would have said: I put it in a sub basement in a locked filing cabinet with a sign on it saying, “Beware the Leopard”. I never expected it to come up again and busied myself with a life in the suburbs.

It wasn’t until many years later, after that marriage had ended, that I dusted off my old dream and brought it into the light of day for a look. It was a few years after that before I bought my first boat for $2,900 cash. THEN I learned how to sail so I knew what all of the ropes on my boat were supposed to be for.

That was the little 25-foot monohull (Baby Cakes) that Maryanne and I lived aboard for our first summer together. We’ve been liveaboard sailors the whole time we’ve known each other. It’s been many years and we’ve sailed tens of thousands of miles together since then. The sailing life that I thought would have started in San Francisco has taken me more places than I would have dared to dream back then. Instead of beginning the journey here, we’re passing through, as is our way now, sailing from one beautiful place to another.

Still, the first thing I wanted to do when I got here was anchor in front of the Trident, get a table on the balcony, and look out at my boat, remembering a world of places we have been and dreaming of a world yet to come. I still can’t believe it’s actually real.

Kyle finally has a boat anchored off the Trident - the dream is reality - we enjoy a meal in sight of Begonia and reminiscing about the lifestyle we have been lucky enough to share!

While we were there, lots of people who hadn’t seen us dinghy over were snapping pictures of Begonia, or of each other with Begonia in the background. We did it, too. For some, it was just scenery. For others, I saw a certain far-away look on their faces as they gazed out over the water.

Yeah, I know what that is.

The Trident said we could leave our dinghy there for a while, so we had a walk around the town. We looked up the hill and found the other side of the room where we stayed on our first night of marriage. We walked the docks and I still felt like I wished I had a boat that I could take places. Strange. What’s it been, a day?

Sailboats and houseboats are a major feature of Sausalito and some are very grand indeed!

We walked past all sorts of different craft, most notably a giant houseboat modeled after the Taj Mahal that was being repainted. As we continued on, the boats and marinas seemed to get more derelict. We found each of the town’s two proper non-Trident docks way on the north side and then turned to walk home along Bridgeway, the main road.

We returned to Begonia for an evening in the cockpit with not only the Trident’s fantastic views of the city, but also of Sausalito as well. This really is the life…

Pretty little town
[Maryanne]My biggest connection with Sausalito is as the place we spent our honeymoon night (a wonderful wedding gift). We arrived late, but managed to get up in time to explore the waterfront the following day before having to head off to the airport. It's a pretty town built into a hillside overlooking the San Francisco Bay and full or artists and other tourist attractions. It will always be a special place for the two of us and it is wonderful that we now live so close and can visit often. After dining at the Trident we again walked the waterfront, found ice cream, etc.. and eventually returned to Begonia to enjoy a drink in the cockpit for sunset. Beautiful.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Passage to San Francisco Bay

[Kyle]The weather forecast for this leg had been causing us some concern. For most of the week before and after winds were forecast to be howling out of the north at a bit above our comfort level. The wind and seas weren’t so much our primary concern as being able to get out into the ocean across the Noyo River bar. The Noyo is very well protected (inside) but the entrance is narrow and notorious for being particularly dangerous in big swell. Inside everything is calm and sunny, even when ocean conditions are miserable with big seas, the river, with its protective cliffs and big bend just by the entrance protects us from any of that. The big winds forecast meant the swell would be in at least the 8-10ft range. We were hoping most of this would be dampened by the coastline and the intervening kelp fields but we were still worried.

To make things worse, when we tried to check conditions at the bar, the first thing that comes up on a Google search is a YouTube video showing local fishing boat being capsized at the entrance (and that is WITH local knowledge). It turned out that the bar report was not available on-line and the web cam set to view conditions was not working (bar report was available via phone call to the coastguard directly). We decided to go and take a look with the boat and make a decision to turn around if we didn’t like it on the day. It didn’t much matter either way (aside from the hassle of getting the boat underway) as there was much more to enjoy in the Fort Bragg area that we’d love to have time for, but we really ought to be getting on south if we can so Maryanne can interview for jobs.

The bar turned out to be calm, and crossing easy. We encountered some steep chop at the entrance to the bay, but only for a few minutes. The wind near the coast was almost non-existent and we had to motor almost five miles off shore before we could shut down the engines and begin to sail.

One bit of entertainment on the way out was watching a group (raft) of sea lions jostling for position atop one of the buoys. One buoy in particular had six in a space that would only fit 4 or 5, with 20 more in the water barking away and awaiting their chance for a place. The really like resting atop buoys, which seems strange given all the beaches and rocks nearby. Knowing their place, seagulls and cormorants occupy the top deck of the buoys (beside the solar panel).

Leaving the Noyo River, sea lions in line for their turn on the buoy

Once out in the wind we sailed for the rest of the day in only about half the wind that was forecast. We kept thinking we should shake out the reefs and fly full sail, but were worried about the wind suddenly appearing (as it did when we rounded Cape Mendocino en route to Fort Bragg). The timing of the tides for crossing the Noyo and the San Francisco Bars (in daylight) were such that we only needed an average speed of about 2.5 knots, so we were in no hurry. We were also lucky because the weather was uncharacteristically clear and we could see the cliffs and mountains of the coast the entire day (we even got a second look at Mendocino).

When Maryanne woke me at midnight for my watch it sounded as though we’d slowed down further; she told me to expect to be frustrated by the wind that had just begun to die. Ten minutes after she went to bed, I gybed, and 20 minutes after that I pulled down all the sails completely and reluctantly started the engine. Ten minutes later, the wind returned, only from completely the opposite direction - headwinds. Our one feeble motor was only able to make three knots against the wind and currents as we headed south. We continued this way for most of the day. The wind finally died down by late afternoon, allowing us to speed up, countered by us backing off on the engine rpm.

At midnight again on the second night we had only 16nm to go before reaching the bar so I was able to reduce power even further. While I’d slept, Maryanne had rounded Point Reyes. That meant now on watch, above the silhouette of the Marin headlands, I could see the top of the San Francisco skyline - including the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge. At about 6am, just before sunrise, a light wind came in from the west and I was able to finally shut down the engine and let Maryanne sleep properly. Shipping traffic started to appear as we approached the San Francisco Bay shipping lanes and vessel separation schemes (which we were careful to avoid entering); I saw about five vessels going each way in about a 4 hour period. An under utilized pilot vessel seemed to mess with us. It kept relocating to a position directly in our path and forcing us to move. We’ve no idea why it acted in this way; we were outside of any shipping lanes, and clearly sailing (i.e. we had right of way). It had no obvious need to be ahead of us, and made no attempt to contact us on the radio. I was trying to let Maryanne sleep so I didn’t bother confronting him myself via radio, but simply kept diverting around him. If we are being generous, maybe he was curious about our boat, but it seemed more likely he was entertaining himself, inappropriately and at our expense.

Maryanne woke up just around 8am as we were turning inland to parallel the inbound shipping traffic lane to the Golden Gate Bridge. An announcement came over the VHF radio from the coastguard saying that the Napa lift bridge would be closed until further notice pending earthquake inspection. We weren’t planning on going that way, but our ears pricked up at the word ‘earthquake’. Maryanne did a quick search on her smart phone and discovered a 6.0 magnitude earthquake had hit the area about 3:20am – yikes. There were still fires raging, gas mains leaking and burst water pipes hampering firefighting. At sea earlier I had noticed a strange wake and been unable to determine the source – in hindsight this could well have been from the earthquakes and its aftershocks (but maybe not… I could just be making an association that wasn’t there).

I had expected when making this last leg of the journey that our Golden Gate Bridge story would end up being one of finding our way in by radar in the fog. We were lucky, and although there was a high overcast layer, the visibility was good and we had long views of the coastline all the way in.

Arriving at the Golden Gate Bridge, and anchoring in Sausalito

I cannot begin to tell how much pleasure it gave me to sail into San Francisco; it surprised even me. From the helm of Begonia I could see the motel where I spent my first night living in San Francisco with a U-Haul truck parked outside. I could see the beaches that I’d walked so many times, Golden Gate Park, the cliffs where I learned to paraglide, and of course, the Golden Gate Bridge itself that I have crossed so many times on foot, bicycle, rollerblade and car.

We sailed by Baker Beach, and childhood memories came flooding back; this was my first ever view of the ocean as a young child. I’d never before seen a body of water where I couldn’t also see the opposite shore. My Dad knelt beside me in the sand, looked out across the water with me and explained to me for the first time how big this ocean was – 100s of times further than I could see – to Japan on the other side. I was enthralled and terrified at the same time; one of those moments when my little childhood world got much, much larger. Now here I was, a grown man sailing his own boat past that very beach, not out of San Francisco to see the world, but into San Francisco after having sailed a very long way go get here! It is unbelievable to me every day that my life could ever have turned out like this.

We sailed under the big red “Golden Gate” bridge and for the first time in my life I looked up at it from the water instead of the other way around. People waving down to our little boat from above probably had no idea how momentous and emotional it was for me. They might have just imagined we’d poked out into the ocean to dip our bow into the Pacific waters and turned around. Still, it felt like a long road that had brought me back here to the place I first saw the ocean as a child.

The current assisted our ride under the bridge and we were able to turn and face it whilst still being pushed into the bay. Suddenly the sun burst out and the bay was alive with all sorts of traffic: ferries, sailboats and kayaks on the water, and traffic on the bridges and roads. We sailed into Richardson Bay and dropped anchor off Sausalito with views of Alcatraz, Angel Island, and the San Francisco skyline to admire; I could not believe we were actually here. Sausalito is where Maryanne and I spent our honeymoon and I remember watching the boats bobbing about from our hotel room window. So many memories are associated with this place, it’s going to be a great feeling of home for the next year or so.

Bringing back memories form the past: Kyle and I start our first full day of married life from the balcony of our honeymoon suite in Sausolito

Friday, August 22, 2014


[Maryanne]Mendocino is a picturesque town set on yet more of the stunning north Californian coastline. It must have very strict laws in place as it appears as a postcard American village from a time at least 100 years ago. Some of you may recognise it as the "Cabot Cove" of "Murder She Wrote". I'd visited once before with Kyle, Carla and Carlos (before Kyle and I married) and was looking forward to seeing this beautiful place all over again. We soon learned that all the locals simply call the place "Mendo".

[Kyle]The worst part about Mendocino is having to look at all of that stunning scenery. Scenery, yuck!

Mendocino Headlands State Park

Mendocino just has to be the prettiest place along the whole northern California/Oregon coast. I’ve been several times and it never loses its charm. Somehow, I think of it as my mother’s pretty little seaside village because she must have called dibs the first time we saw it. I’m much better at “not it!”

We took the short bus ride from Ft. Bragg to the church at the northwestern corner of the town. From there, we walked along every inch of the impossibly beautiful shoreline to the beach at the southeastern corner of town. Along the way, we met a guy who lives here. Every morning, he goes out and takes a different picture of the coast with his coffee cup in the foreground. He then sends the picture to his friends on the east coast working hard at their office jobs! That’s gotta hurt.

Maryanne snacks on blackberries along the coastal park before we head to town for real sustinance

The last bit of the coast trail passes through more blackberry bushes than the town and all of the birds in the area can harvest. We grazed intermittently, calling it breakfast, but still arrived at the pub where we ate lunch with incriminating stains on our hands and scratches on our legs. Oh, yeah. We ate your berries and we’d do it again!

Once we had a real meal, we spent the rest of our time before the bus home browsing the shops and trying not to buy anything. We topped it off with a couple of Irish Coffees at the very posh Mendocino Hotel, just for the pleasure of sitting by a window and looking at the view of the cliffs outside.

Scenes from the town itself!

Mendocino Headlands State Park

Mendocino Headlands State Park