Wednesday, March 29, 2017

2017-04 Up into the California Delta, Just Barely.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017:

Today our goal is to get up into the California Delta, just a little bit.  Not having cruised the area, Alex is curious as to the currents, depths and passing room in some of what the chart seems to show as narrow waterways.  Having spent the big bucks to purchase Hal Schell's 27-year-old "Guide to Cruising California's Delta" ($80 on Amazon for used 1995 Edition), we are eager to see if the book is still relevant.

After a brisk morning walk along the Vallejo waterfront with hundreds of other folks, we eventually get away, exiting the marina, turning south and bucking the flood tide into Napa River through Mare Island Strait.  At the bottom of the Strait, we turn to port into Carquinez Strait and ride a nice tidal current push eastbound.  On the left side we pass MV Golden Bear, the training ship of the California Maritime Academy.  Next it's under the twin Zampa Memorial Bridges (aka Carquinez Bridge, or Vallejo Bridge) doing over 9 knots with 1+ knot of push.

Ship traffic is light: a few sailboats, a freighter, an ocean tug and a tug with large tow.  All commercial traffic broadcasts AIS so we see them miles ahead or behind.  Commercial traffic stays in the shipping lane, but since the depth and bridge clearance is sufficient for us, we stay to one side or the other.  Not needing vertical clearance above 33 feet, we pass beneath the Benicia-Martinez Bridges some 300 feet north of the shipping lane and into Suisun Bay.  Eventually we near Pittsburg-CA and bear left up the Sacramento River.  This part of the river is lined with hundreds of wind generator towers, with large propellers turning slowly in a 15-knot breeze.

By 2:30PM or so we're still riding the tidal current up river at 1.5 knots and ready to enter the Delta Marina just south of the town of Rio Vista.  We videoed our entry into this cozy and well keep stop.

California Maritime Academy training ship MV Golden Bear in
front of the Alfred Zampa Bridges supporting Highway I-80.
Hundreds of large props generate electricity
 from this breezy section of the Sacramento River.

Rio Vista is a nice clean town.  It has just a few restaurants and is known for the regional favorite: Foster's Bighorn.  We found fine dining at great prices in The Point Restaurant located in the bright blue building next the the marina entrance.  We liked it so much we dined there two nights, although the majority wanted to try Foster's but were vetoed by the Admiral.

Foster's Big Horn Restaurant has a
nice bar and dining room adorned with
the heads of many large animals. Needless
to say, Admiral Pat refused to dine there.
Wild Blue's spot at the guest dock at Delta Marina, a gem of a marina.
Sunset at the guest dock.

We enjoyed the Delta Marina.  The staff was quite accommodating and totally customer driven.  When Alex reported our dead dinghy battery, employee Lenka called the Napa store and had a new battery delivered within 30 minutes! You can tell the owners take great care of their employees.  After a year working at Delta, each employee is awarded with a professional artist's portrait.  It hangs on the wall in the main lobby, and there at least eight on prominent display.

On Thursday we plan to motor back down the Sacramento to Pittsburg city Marina.  The fuel price there is reported to be the best around.  Looks like this is as far into the Delta we will get this trip.  Were looking forward to spending more time and getting further up the river in April.

Monday, March 27, 2017

2017-03 Down the River then over to Vallejo

Monday, March 27, 2017: Riding the Ebb Tide Downriver

For Monday's breakfast it was Della Fattoria, Petaluma's downtown bakery and cafe.  Excellent breakfast and it's busy so come early.  Later Alex's old college roommate Willie Benedetti came by for lunch, again at Sugo Trattoria.  Willie, of fame, grew up on the family ranch just outside Petaluma and, as always, he brought along a cooler of WillieBird products for the Wild Blue's stores.  During lunch Alex realized the boat would miss the 1:15PM "D" Street bridge opening.  A call to the Petaluma Public Works Department allowed us to begin our downriver cruise at at a 3:15PM opening.

Once past "D" Street and after 3 miles further, we needed the Haystack Bascule-Bridge opened as a train had passed.  The bridge tender didn't respond on VHF Channel 9, but immediately raised it after a cell phone call to his station.  Then we started moving, as our 8 knots of boat speed, 1+ knots of river flow, and the ebb tidal current combined to get our ground speed above 10 knots!  The Wild Blue was making a fast exit back to mostly salt water.  A semi-boring but short video,with a corny name, and excellent music, displays the downriver highlights.

Once back on San Pablo Bay, the afternoon westerlies kicked in with gusts over 20 knots.  The wind was from our stern, but the ebb current on the bow built up some nasty chop.  The autopilot struggled to keep a straight course and the seas pushed and overtook the stern.  We zigzagged our way along until Lone Tree Point, about two miles before the turn into Mare Island Strait, where the seas flattened.  We turned to port into the Strait and videoed our entry into the Vallejo Marina on the east side.

Mare Island Naval Shipyard was the first Navy yard on the west coast.
It was opened in 1854 and shuttered in the 1996.
Vallejo to San Francisco passenger ferry takes about an hour
in these 30-knot catamarans.
This doesn't look good for any size prop.
Northern end of the Mare Island Naval Yard
It was still quite breezy after we tied up.  We dined near the marina and hit the hay early.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

2017-02 South Beach, Up the Petaluma River to the City of Petaluma

Sunday, March 26, 2017: Running Aground in Petaluma

Our route today takes us with the flood tide, north from San Francisco Bay to San Pablo Bay and the Petaluma River entrance. Our goal is to cruise 16 miles up the Petaluma River into downtown Petaluma where we will tie up at the City turning basin.  Because the river contains many shallow areas, we'll enter the River on the rising tide, hopefully avoiding any grounding.  If we do get stuck, hopefully the rising tide will get the boat floating again.

We exited South Beach by 8:30AM, after quickly re-docking to return the access card keys.  Within 10 minutes we were passing under the Bay Bridge headed northward.  The course took us along the east edge of SF Bay, east of Alcatraz and Angel Islands, and past the Tiburon Peninsula into San Pablo Strait.  Soon we entered and crossed San Pablo Bay arriving at the Petaluma River entrance at half past 11.

Looking west with Alcatraz in the foreground and the Gate beyond.
East Brother Island Light Station is located
at the southern edge of San Pablo Bay.
The tide will continue to rise until the 2PM high slack, giving us about 30 minutes extra time for what is normally a 2-hour motor.  However, we have two railroad bridges and one street bridge that can lengthen our cruise if not open.  Normally the railroad bridges are open unless a train is scheduled.  They are manned when closed, so a re-open should only last as long as it take the train to pass.  The Petaluma "D" Street Bridge is normally closed, so Alex called ahead to the Petaluma Public Works Department scheduling a 1:15PM opening.  Hope we make it!

The flood tide not only increases the river's depth, but also gives us a speed boost.  The boat's 8-knot water speed is boosted to 9+ over the earth's surface, as the tidal current pushes many, many miles upstream.  The river's normal outflow direction is reversed by the flood tide.  This direction change challenges the levees as the river reaches high water.

Once past the river entrance, the boat towers over the surrounding terrain.  With the tide approaching +5 feet, from the boat one actually looks down into the levied fields filled with crops and livestock.  Its is a strange view to be above the road height, looking down at cars!

We passed the open Black Point railroad swing-bridge, steered under the Highway 37 bridge, passed the open Haystack railroad bascule-bridge, and drove under the Highway 101 bridge.  Today there is light river traffic as we see just a handful of pleasure craft and no commercial vessels.  Approaching Petaluma, there's joggers, fisherman, walkers and gawkers on the tops on the levee.  At last we arrive downtown at the "D" Street bridge and it's not open, as we're 25 minutes ahead of schedule.  Shortly after a our call on VHF Channel 9, the bridge magically opens, we move through thanking the bridge tender as we pass, and enter the Petaluma Downtown turning basin for tie up.  A boring 10-minute video with excellent music, documents our 2-hour river cruise at 10 times speed.  Enjoy the music.....

Downtown Petaluma view from the Petaluma Yacht Club long dock.
 After the boat is secured, we head for lunch at Sugo Trattoria, a downtown favorite.  Later the crew  provisioned at the Petaluma Market close to downtown.  Dinner was at Mi Pueblo's Mexican and was just fine.  Tomorrow we head back down the river then up to Vallejo for a night.
Wild Blue tied up in front of the Petaluma Yacht Club. 
At low tide we see just 4.9 feet of water depth but we draw
5.5 feet.  This means the keel is in the mud about 4 inches.
The water dropped about an inch on Wild Blue's waterline,
 indicating the boat is a bit grounded.  We eased short lines to 
allow the dock float to descend, and avoid a broken line!
View at low tide, the shallow bar inside Petaluma's turning basin
is exposed, along with its two shoal marker buoys.

2017-01 Test Cruise for San Francisco Bay and the California Delta

It's Spring and the 2017 cruising season is finally here.  Hooray!

We've been in South San Francisco for the past few months, completing maintenance tasks and prepping the boat for another summer of living aboard.  Most of the work was cosmetic: the fiberglass dings and holes, from years of use, have been filled, faired and painted.  The teak rails were stripped, sanded then varnished to eight coats.  This outside work is difficult to complete in the Northwest's wet winters, and this winter's California weather attempted to slow our progress, but with the just exterior polishing and waxing remaining, Wild Blue is almost back to sparkling.

After nine seasons of cruising the Inside passage to British Columbia and Alaska, this year we've decided to leave the Wild Blue in southern waters and visit the seaports, bays and rivers around San Francisco and the California Delta.  The Delta includes the waters of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers and about 1000 miles of interconnecting waterways.  So there's many ports to visit, anchorages to check out, and much to see.  It appears the big difference from Inside Passage cruising is water depth:  outside the marked shipping lanes, the upper Delta gets shallow. Based on this fact, we thought it a good idea for a one-week test cruise to see if we could "safely touch bottom"...... or not. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017: Westpoint Harbor to South Beach Harbor, San Francisco

Our first test cruise up the Delta began today as we exited Westpoint at 10AM with the last of the flood tide, and headed towards the City.  We needed fuel and since the new Westpoint Harbor fuel dock will not open until May, the closest fuel was inside Coyote Point Marina.  We called ahead to alert the City of San Mateo operated dock of our arrival, but no one was home.  After about 20 minutes, the dockmaster showed and after discovering the price, we loaded just 100 gallons.  Last September we paid $1.78 per gallon in Anacortes, Washington, so $4.00 gave us sticker shock.  100 gallons will get us about 200 miles.

After Coyote, we rode the ebb towards San Francisco arriving at South Beach Harbor at Pier 40 by 1PM.  After check in our crew decided to walk the waterfront towards Pier 39, a good 3 miles.  By the way, this week's crew is Jerry, Jan and Justin Watkins of Semi-Valley California.  Jan is Pat's childhood friend.  They met in 1958 as child neighbors..... yes, yes, that's almost 60 years ago.... OH MY!  The Watkins have crewed on Wild Blue for many Alaska, Canada, Washington journeys, so they know the routine.

Approaching the City from South SF Bay
By 5, the crew called to say the dinner line at Scomas was just a 2-hour wait.  We decided to try our luck with Tadich Grill, a San Francisco favorite.  Pat and Alex Uber-ed while the crew extended their walk to the Grill.  We squeezed in at the bar, ordered drinks and added our names to the dinner list, in exchange for a 45-minute wait.  Not bad for the oldest restaurant in California!  After three Tito's dirty martini's, we were seated to enjoy a spectacular seafood dinner.

The long bar at the oldest California restaurant Tadich Grill, operating
since 1849!  See  Very nice Tito's dirty martinis too.
Eventually we made it back to the boat, via Uber.  We leave SF tomorrow for a trip up the Petaluma River.