ount Tamalpais was shedding its
morning jacket of fog as we awoke.
Sunlight warmed the cabin of our
1978 38-foot Californian trawler as
the smell of freshly brewed coffee signaled it was time to start
our trip. Having completed our preparations the night before,
we departed Loch Lomond Marina in San Rafael for Rio
Vista, the first stop on our California Delta cruise.
Our decision to spend a week in the Delta was easy. We
were craving warmer weather. Turning right and heading out
the Golden Gate offered fog and a 56-degree temperature.
Turning left and boating inland offered days in the 80s and 90s.
The Delta is a vast natural flood plain that stretches from the
San Francisco Bay area to Sacramento in the north, Stockton
in the east and Discovery Bay in the south. The Sacramento
and San Joaquin Rivers provide access to the 700-mile network
of inland waterways that makes this region special.
Pushed by 10 knots of freshening breeze, we motored
across San Pablo and Suisun Bays. A cooperative flood
tide, which boosted our normal 8.5-knot cruising speed to
11 knots, made our passage comfortable. Heading east, we
set our course for the Carquinez Straits, the gateway to
California’s interior valleys and Delta regions.
We traveled past the California wine country, which
borders the northern edge of San Pablo Bay. The cool
marine air contributes to the excellent growing conditions.
The Petaluma and Napa Rivers provide access to these fun
Once past Vallejo, we entered the Carquinez Straits. Several
miles farther, we passed Benicia on the northern shore. In the
early 1850s, Vallejo and Benicia served as the capital of the
new state of California, until Sacramento assumed this role.
POINT OF DECISION
Thirty-five miles into the trip, we made a fuel stop at Pittsburg.
The municipal marina, adjacent to the shipping channel, is
known for affordable diesel. Since it was a Saturday morning,
we walked two blocks into town to shop for fruits, vegetables
and a fresh pastry or two at the local farmers’ market.
Pittsburg is also a decision spot, since the waterway splits just
east of town. The Sacramento River heads northeast, while
the San Joaquin takes an easterly course. We chose to head
up the Sacramento and begin our Delta exploration from its
Not much later, we passed Sherman Island, where
consistently strong winds make for one of the best kitesurfing
and sailboarding spots on the West Coast. We slowed and
watched the kitesurfers’ and sailboarders’ skilled maneuvers.
They seem to love showing off for passing boaters. The
northern shore in this area consists of golden brown rolling
hills sprouting hundreds of tall, white wind turbines. These
are a good navigational reference point, as is Mount Diablo
on the southwestern horizon.
Farther upriver, we passed Decker Island and Three Mile
Slough to starboard. Good anchorages lay behind Decker
Island, and Three Mile Slough offers a scenic path south to
the San Joaquin River.
Finally we saw the large lift bridge that spans the
Sacramento, which indicated that we had made it to Rio
Vista. We had traveled 47 miles since leaving San Rafael.
After docking at Delta Marina Yacht Harbor for the evening,
we biked into town to visit Foster’s Big Horn. Foster’s neon
sign, as well as the dune buggy parked in front, reinforced the
“American Graffiti” appeal of the town.
Ernest Hemingway would have loved the Big Horn. It’s
a guy’s place. If you venture inside, suspend your beliefs
with regard to animal rights. Adorning the walls is one of
the largest collections of animal heads, including those of an
elephant and a giraffe, that you are likely to see outside a
natural history museum. Do take some time for a brew, or
stay for dinner. The place grows on you. I love listening to
the conversations while scanning the pictures of the big game
hunting expeditions of the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s.
INTO THE DELTA
The next morning we entered the network of waterways that
form the Delta. Boaters new to these waters need to know
a couple of things to give them the appearance of seasoned
Delta Rats. First, hail the drawbridges on VHF Channel 9. I’ve
had good luck with quick openings when I hail from 400–500
yards away. Second, cable ferries operate in the Delta. Do not
attempt to pass an operating cable ferry, because the tension
of the pull brings the cable to just below the water’s surface.
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