The 4th of July

Ms Maggie is loaded with comestibles for the day, bathing suits, towels and a change of clothes.  Hosed down, wiped down and ready to go.  We’re in no rush so we leave the dock around 11:30am.  We brought the cat and forgot the cat food.  Which turned out to be ok, since he was in no mood to eat.  He stayed hidden in the V-berth most of the time, completely forgetting how much fun he had in the boat 6 months ago.

Its overcast and I’m wearing a light zippered sweatshirt…at 11:30am in July, what?!?  There is a lot of boat traffic, wake-boarders, tubers, fishing boats, pontoon boats, go-fast boats, boats of all kinds are out to enjoy the mid-week holiday.


Just a couple items I didn’t get to use.

Normally, we’d have a bunch of Rick’s family out for a few days but the kitchen remodel isn’t going as quickly as we’d like.  The counter top people are taking a month to do what should take 2 weeks because they have bigger fish to fry.  We contemplated having everyone over anyway, but trying to figure out how to do that with no sink or stove and we’ve stored everything in the other bedrooms, so sleeping over is out of the question.

And then, lo and behold!  The counter top people call on Monday saying they can come later this week (THIS WEEK) to install the counters!!  But, back to the 4th of July on Ms. Maggie.

We head out, all is well.  We are, naturally, at the upper steering station, looking out over the dykes.  Down below all we can see is the rocky banks, so it gets boring.

We’re just at the end of Frank’s Tract – a fabulous bass fishing tournament place and heading up the east side, when we see someone waving a red flag.  Not like there’s-a-skier-in-the-water waving, but COME OVER HERE PLEASE waving.  We get closer and I see its not a flag, but a red life vest being waved and the young man waving it is motioning us closer.  Rick and I are talking…help them…how?…Maggie doesn’t have a towing ring…what’s this going to do to our trip?…where will they need to be towed? …we’re so pokey, anyway…

The kids are in a old, old Formula ski boat, 2 guys and a girl, the one with glasses says the head gasket is blown can we please, please, pretty please get a tow.  Fortunately, they need a tow up to Pirate’s Lair area, which is, at least, in the right direction.

Rick maneuvers the Mags around and backs up a little so they can toss over a towing line and I tie it off to a cleat…next time we’ll tie it off to two side cleats and create a sort of bridle, instead – OR Rick will install a towing ring, since this will probably happen again.  If you haven’t been towed yet, you will be.


Gotta be a mechanic if you want to keep an old boat alive – or have deep pockets.

I stay down at the back, the only part of the day when I sit in our Adirondack chairs, where I can watch things and we begin the journey to Pirate’s Lair.  Its on the other side of the San Joaquin River.  Crossing that river made me nervous as there were a lot of waves and I could see the transom of the boat pulling a bit with the waves…not a good thing.  Once on the other side, it was more calm but the bottom of the channel was deep and shallow, then deep, then shallow!  Which can drive you crazy if you are trying to keep from running aground, which is kind of at the top of our list of things NOT to do.

They ask to be taken to the gas dock on the other side of the Lair.  Its situated perfectly!  Rick aims in, slowly, slowly and the ski boat behind comes in at a slightly outward angle.  I uncleat the towing line and lasso the dock cleat (proud of myself, thank you very much), then hand off the line to the kid who’s come onto our swim step to keep his boat from bumping ours.  They are so thankful and offer us money, poor things.  But no, we tell them to repay us by doing someone else the favor one day.  I think we’ve been towed 8 times since we bought our first boat when in college.  Old Chris Craft?  Check.  Old ski boat?  Check, times two.  Pontoon boat?  Check.  Ms Maggie?  Check.  It happens…we have insurance so we don’t normally need to find a Good Samaritan, anymore.

Back on the road, OH, I never said where we were going!  We’re headed to Mandeville Tip County Park.  Fireworks are shot off from a barge and tons of people come by boat to experience them close up.  The fireworks are provided by the Barron Hilton Trust (maybe not the correct name) but its a Hilton family Trust for this express purpose.  Apparently, they own a home in the area.  Its a magnificent display!  Totally pro.


That’s what the area looks like on our nav system.  Water is blue, land is tan.

Saving those kids’ day (a lot of boats HAVE to go that way to go out to the river and no one stopped before we did, hmmm)  cost us only an hour of time.  We get to Mandeville Tip and look for a place to anchor.  It is much more crowded than last year.  Or maybe we’re just arriving later than last year?   There are boats of all shapes and sizes, small and large, from jet skis to yachts.

Finding a likely anchoring spot, Rick goes to the front of the boat to work the winch and I’m at the lower steering station to work the throttle and such (up = forward, its the red, no, the black doohicky…red = speed).  Yeah, that’s how good I am at it…  Dropping the anchor, we then back up slowly to let the anchor catch and let out a lot of ‘rode’, aka rope.  Then we wait to see if we’re set.  No, we are dragging the anchor.

I put the boat into forward, with no throttle, so there’s just a little coasting going on, really.  Turn on the winch and Rick manhandles the rope, pulling up the anchor and let’s try again.

Well, here’s why the anchor wasn’t holding!  Look at all the weeds on the darn thing.


IS there an anchor under all that?

We aim back toward where we dropped the anchor and we can see the weeds just beneath the surface.  They are EVerywhere!  Forget it, this area won’t work, so we head over to another area.  We try to set the anchor once, twice.  The second time, some guys on rafted-together sailboats are yelling instructions at us, which is very irritating since we can’t really hear them and they are making undecipherable motions (you’ve tried that, right?  It makes perfect sense to you, what you are saying with your gesticulations, but makes none to anyone else).   Plus we’re feeling like everyone is staring at us *failures* who can’t anchor their boat and should just get off the water.  There might even be a ‘how not to anchor’ video on YouTube somewhere.  Like there’s probably one for ‘how not to climb over the rail of a trawler in a dress’.

This time the anchor seems to hold and Rick has a minute to go to the head.  But, dang it, we are drifting backwards barely before he can finish the job AND at a worrisome pace AND very much in danger of hitting a trawler behind us.  The kids on that boat’s deck are yelling ‘Grandpa!’ and he comes down to let his anchor line go slack so we can start out engine without cutting his line.  He’s ALMOST giving us the stink-eye, why oh why does it feel like we are the only ones to ever have this problem?

CrapCrapCrap.  Rick is uber-tired from pulling up that stupid rope and then the chain is getting jammed in the winch and Rick has to hammer it free.  Replacing the winch immediately jumps to the top of his list of THINGS TO DO!

We motor over in the sailboats’ direction and they yell that there is a sand bar and we have to get the anchor to grab on the other side of it.  OK, we follow their directions but third time is NOT the charm.  Rick’s arms are pooped and the sailboat guys are offering again to let us raft up with them.  Pushing pride aside, we say screw it and take them up on their offer.

They are 3 couples in sailboats of varying lengths and styles.  I put out fenders and lines and toss the forward line to one of the guys, oops, Rick had unhooked it when dealing with the anchor and I didn’t check it.  Fortunately, we were so close the guy was able to reach over and hook the line onto it…note to self, always double-check the lines beFORE you need them…


Rafted alongside these sailboats

One of the men, Orrin, has a little zippy Sea Rayder and he takes our anchor and tosses it overboard up around where the sailboats’ anchors have been set.  It holds!  Yippee.  Introductions all around, but we aren’t expected to hang out with them, which is good, cuz we need to regroup and refresh.  This would have been the perfect time to have that Mike’s Hard Watermelon cooler, but the weather is cold.  Rick may or may not have had a beer.

A little later a large sailing catamaran comes by and rafts up to our little rag-tag group of boats.  He was having trouble anchoring, too, and so we don’t feel QUITE so idiotic.   Orrin is in his zippy Sea Rayder (which is so adorbs I want one!), hanging onto the side of Ms Maggie, letting the cat finish tying up before taking their anchor out and we talk awhile.  Honestly, you do meet the nicest people boating.


Here’s Orrin trying to help the Jane’O slip into place but the little Sea Rayder is no match for the size of the cat.  I have a funny video of Orrin yelling at the peanut gallery throwing out many ‘helpful’ instructions, “What the hell do you think I’m trying to DO?!?”

Joe from the boat next to us comes by and we chat, sharing stories of fixing up our boats.  He and his wife live aboard a 42′ trawler.  The group is having a potluck later and we are welcome to come over, if we’d like.  So kind of them.  This is one of the few times I brought, like, only 2 servings of everything so I’m racking my brain what we could bring – grapes and cherries we have in abundance, so that sounds like a plan.

A ski boat comes up around dusk and ties onto the back of one of the sailboats.  I don’t know for sure if they knew anyone but it sounded like they didn’t.  So we have a trawler, sailboat, sailboat, sailboat, ski boat and big catamaran all tied together.  A bit of a hodgepodge…the best kind…


They’ve got a hammock!  I want one!

There hasn’t been any of the shenanigans we’ve been warned about.  Last year some guys in jet skis were doing acrobatics (literally doing flips!) which was fun to watch.  This year there was one jerk on a jet ski that was going too fast and causing a wake to jostle all of us around.  Completely unbecoming behavior, jerk…  Other than that, it was pretty quiet.  Maybe because it was very cool, not even warm.

I fix dinner because its been a long time since snacks for lunch and the others don’t seem to be having the potluck anytime soon.  Cheese filled ravioli and sweet Italian sausage, big salad – oh, I have plenty of that, too, if we do go over there….which we didn’t…timing didn’t work out, after all.

Dishes washed, we go up top to wait for the fireworks.  People are playing competing patriotic music – country over here, John Phillips Sousa over there, karaoke.  Sirens, megaphones with people singing and shouting.  Boats are covered with flags, banners, bunting (we have 3 of those) and lights!  Strings of lights, disco balls, flashy firework lights, these people are really into the decorating!  Red, white and blue everywhere.

There are Sheriff boats, now, surrounding the fireworks barge keeping boats at a safe distance. The fireworks are fantastic!  What a wonderful show, and it had to cost a bundle.  I heard that the Hilton family had funded the trust for 20 years but no one remembers when that began and we’re hearing that its near the end of its life.  The Hilton folks have been so generous to share them with us – you may say that we just benefit from their money but I think its great that they do this and we get to see them, too!  Anyway, the family has to decide if they’ll continue the fireworks…I, and many, many others certainly hope so.

The fireworks are over – it was freezing!  I had on 2 coats and a quilt…I should have brought the stove coffee pot, I wish I had some hot coffee/chocolate to keep me warm.

We wait about a half hour or so before getting on our way.  We untie and begin the tedious process of pulling up the anchor.  Basically, the boat is in neutral or forward, depending on what Rick wants, and at idle speed or just a little throttle to keep the nose of the boat in the direction of the anchor.  Finally, its up.  Rick washes his hands of the mud and weeds for what feels like the 20th time today and we head up to the fly bridge because the visibility is better from that vantage point.

There aren’t too many boats heading out with us – some left already and others are either spending the night or waiting longer before leaving.  Its not easy navigating around all the boats when some of them don’t have their navigation lights on!  But we have a spotlight and headlights and use them sparingly, only when we need, to so we don’t blind other boats.


This looks like its been hit a couple times, eh?

We been this way many times now, so going home isn’t the terror-inducing event it was the first time when we were in the pontoon boat.  Filled with about 12 people.  That was an adventure.  2 kids in the front of the boat looking for hazards, Rick steering, our son Austin looking at the nav system and giving directions – take the next left, angle more to the right, etc.  We didn’t have the spotlights at that time or we did and it didn’t work or something.  Oh, the fun we’ve had.

Our nav system shows us our previous track so we can follow that home – watching out for other boats, navigational hazards (like logs) and such.  I make it seem scary but it wasn’t, as long as you’re vigilant and careful.  And there were Sheriff’s boats at various points making sure we got home OK.


Its dark alright…going home by the light of our systems…

Well, they were probably watching for jokers who’d had too much beer, but, in one sense, that’s keeping us safe!

There was no moon for a long time and when it raised, it was a dark orange half-moon.  I took a picture…it looks like a pinprick…

We trundled home, wondering if the lights in the distance were home (no, it was Tracy).  Snugged into the dock at 1:30am, unloaded the perishables, fell into bed at 2am…slept in, nice 😉


Orrin took a bunch of photos and a couple videos of the motley crue (er, crew).







Napa to Alameda and Murphy’s Law

I wave goodbye to Rick and he’s off!  Motoring from the marina in Napa, where the boat had been dry docked, to Fortman Marina in the Alameda Island Estuary where our little boat will have its forever home, as they say.  It’s about an hour from our office/apartment.

The trip was going to take most of the day, so I drove back home to await Rick’s call when he got close to the Estuary.  At that point, I’d drive to the Alameda marina and we’d drive back home.

SF bay snip.jpg

So here is Rick’s story: (I’ve added little notes here and there)

Took a day off work and we headed up to Napa.  Holly dropped me off at the marina in the morning so I’d have all day to get the boat to its new home in Alameda.

Although my son, Austin, had joined me for the trip up the river, he was now out of town and I’d have to go down the river to Alameda on my own.

Our little outboard was running good, had plenty of fuel in the tank and the plan was to motor all the way to the new marina. (Note: in the interest of being frugal, we purchased a second-hand outboard)

The weather forecast was that it would be overcast in the afternoon with winds expected to pick up to about 15 mph.

To be on the safe side, I brought my toolbox and sails on board.  (Note: this guy always has his toolbox with him, good thing, too, as you will soon see)  I installed the mainsail back on the boom but didn’t hank on the jib as I didn’t have a containment bag for it on deck.

Engine fired up nicely and I headed down the river.  I had my Humminbird 5” chart plotter on the steering pedestal working great.  I knew I needed the depth sounder as there are lots of shallow spots coming down the Napa River and the channel gets fairly narrow in places.

I used my cell phone to call the Mare Island Causeway bridge operator.  He was very polite and opened it for me and another boat.




(Note: This isn’t a photo of the front of our sailboat…I’d kill for roller furling!)

Then I headed down to the Carquinez Straight and took a right turn into San Pablo Bay.

As I motored along at about 5 knots I noticed a sailboat behind me about .5 mile going in the same direction.  (Note: I’m not sure why Rick mentions this since the other boat doesn’t figure into the story at all, but whatever, it’s his story) When I was about 4 or 5 miles down the bay, about 1 mile off shore, my little engine began to sputter badly and then just gave up completely.  The wind had built and there was now an 18” chop that I had been bouncing through nicely.  But what it did was stir up garbage in the old fuel tank.  Even though I had a spiffy new spin-on fuel filter, it had clogged the filter enough to starve the engine for fuel. (Note: Rick didn’t say ‘spiffy’ he said ‘nice’ but he’d said ‘nice’ previously so I wanted to use a different word)

I had a spare filter on board so I went down to spin the clogged one off and it would not budge, I pushed, pulled, cajoled but it wouldn’t budge.  I went looking for my filter wrench but I realized it was not on board.

I wasn’t interested in hammering a big screwdriver through the filter to use it as a handle to rotate it off (even though this is a trick for oil filters) because I didn’t want gasoline leaking out all over the bilge of the boat!

Realizing this engine wasn’t going to start, I was glad I brought along a sail, after all it is a sailboat.  So, as I bounced around in San Pablo Bay, I started bringing up the mainsail.  As most sailors know, a sailboat bobbing around like a cork in water always turns beam to the wind.  In this position, it’s rather difficult to raise a mainsail.  (Note: The pressure from the wind on the sail makes it hard going to crank it up. PLUS Rick is standing on the deck by the mast while the boat is bouncing up and down in the chop.)

When the sail was halfway up I heard a loud bang and realized that I had forgotten to lock the steering well at the pedestal and the boat ‘backed down’, which slammed the rudder all the way to one side and popped the chain off the steering sprocket. (Note: Blankety-blank steering sprocket was installed upside down by previous owner and it’s a blankety-blank to rectify that)


I finished getting the mainsail up and secured it with the main sheet which brought the boat nose to the wind at which point I had no steering whatsoever.

I don’t care how many years you’ve been sailing, you can still be stuck in really stupid situations.

So, the first thing I did was go below to get my emergency tiller.

Guess, what?  I forgot to bring the emergency tiller on board. (Note: it’s in our office basement, lovingly given about a hunnerd coats of finish to make it glossy and shiny)

Now what, I’m scratching my head to find something I can use as an emergency tiller.

Looking through my toolbox, the biggest thing I had in there was an 18” crowbar, one of the reasons the darn toolbox is so heavy. (Note: I love a good crowbar, don’t you?)


I was able to hook the edge of the crowbar sort-of into the edge of the emergency rudder post and managed to get some steering. (Note: Think about it…most sailboats have large steering wheels or a 3 foot long tiller.  Rick was using an 18” crowbar, so his leverage was minimal and he had to hold on tight and manhandle it.)

One of the things about sailing in the bay area, no matter where you are, north bay, south bay, east bay, the wind is always coming from the Golden Gate, which means I was nose to the wind to slog my way south to Alameda. (Note: Rick used a different word than ‘slog’ but ‘slog’ is so descriptive, don’t you think?)

Sailing a 30’ boat upwind means it won’t point very high. It also means it’s going to take a looong time to go the several miles I needed to go to civilization. (Note: Why didn’t he call the tow company?  He doesn’t really know, he just thought he could do it himself)

The nearest port of call to my position was Richmond and the nearest marina was the Richmond Yacht Club.  It took all afternoon for me to make it to the yacht club and I got in just before sunset. (Note: I don’t want to contemplate how hard this would have been to do in the dark.  In fact, I don’t want to contemplate much of this episode, I can’t imagine being out there like that.  I’ve married MacGyver!)


I sailed in past the breakwater past the boat docks to the guest dock at the yacht club where there was a bit more maneuvering space. (Note: not all marinas have this kind of space to maneuver!)  When the people on the dock, who were tending to small dinghies saw me coming in they let me know this was a private yacht club.  I waved at them with my emergency tiller – a crowbar – and yelled, “I got no steering, guys!”

My first pass, I missed the dock, so I did a 360 in the turning area and came in again letting the mainsail go in time to drift into the dock.  Everyone grabbed the boat since I had no fenders or lines out and I jumped up across the cockpit to let the main-sheet go in order to depower the boat.

Ah, safe at last.  I picked up my cell phone to have the wife come and rescue me.  (Note: I got there way after dark since the car’s nav system didn’t realize the fastest way to the marina was via a tunnel that was closed.  Rick immediately fell asleep in the car, he was exhausted)

I realized the boat would have to be there overnight, to which the yacht club was amenable.  (Note: In fact, the next day he was a minor celebrity coming into the harbor ‘hot’ like that and not crashing into anything!)

Rick at the helm.jpg

Even though I was able to replace the fuel filter, the motor still refused to start.  Evidently the bad fuel had gotten all the way into the engine and clogged things up.  I took a look at the steering and realized fixing it would be a chore because I had to release tension in the cable in one of the pulleys to get enough slack to get the chain up and over the sprocket.  (Note: this stupid steering issue was a continual problem until we, I mean Rick, figured out how to fix it)

The next morning, after being sufficiently frustrated that I wouldn’t be able to fix it in a couple hours, I called BoatUS and got towed all the way to our Alameda Estuary berth.  Evidently an ego adjustment was necessary. (Note: Honestly, this guy has no ego about anything, he’s so laid back about everything!  I, on the other hand, tend to get nervous easily, which I hate!  And try to fight since I, as you can tell, married MacGyver! If you have to be in an emergency situation, Rick is the guy to be with.)

My triumphant entry into Fortman Marina was at the end of a tow line and I could see my wife standing on the shore taking pictures and having a good laugh. (Note: I wasn’t really laughing that hard, more of a snicker and even then just a little one.  If boats are for fun, we’re having some fun now 😉