Sailing up the Delta


Fog rolling in from the sea over Marin Headlands to Sausalito

I can’t believe it’s already the middle of August; our time here in the Bay area has really flown by. We’ve been doing some sailing and doing some boat jobs, catching up with old friends and meeting some new ones and generally having a great time. Sausalito is a laid back, sunny sort of a town. Each day it is invaded by tourists and so it has the usual parade of jewellers, galleries and restaurants, probably why it reminds me a bit of Lahaina in Maui. Many of the tourists cycle over to Sausalito across the Gate (i.e. the Golden Gate Bridge) but choose not to ride uphill against the wind to get back to the City. On a Sunday afternoon the queue for the ferry is phenomenal; it wraps right around the block and across a carpark, I haven’t seen one like it since they opened MacDonalds in Moscow in 1989!!


Mount Diablo is visible from just about everywhere in the flat Delta area

One of the highlights of the last few weeks was a cruise up the delta with Sylvia and Barry on Iolani. The Sacramento and San Joachim Rivers drain into the northern end of San Francisco Bay forming a nest of flat windswept islands and shallow muddy channels known locally as “the Delta”. It was really great to be sailing with Iolani again and we much appreciated their good company and local knowledge. Getting the tides right for the passage up the river makes the difference between having a fantastic sail and having a very long slow day.


The Skipper overcome with excitement after a fun day’s sailing

Our stop for the first night was China Camp, an anchorage on the southwest side of San Pablo Bay settled by Chinese shrimp-fishermen in the 1880’s. We dropped the pick on a shallow muddy shelf and it seemed to have set quite well so we settled in for the evening. Unfortunately during the night the wind swung round to the north and in one particularly strong gust we dragged over 200m. We were mighty glad it was a wide shelf with very few other boats around! By the time we realised what was happening the anchor had re-set but we didn’t have a very peaceful night.


Distant Drummer sailing through the mothball fleet in Suisun Bay

The next morning a perfect 15kt westerly wind was blowing and we had a fabulous sail up the Sacramento River through the Carquinez Strait and past the mouth of the Napa River. We held our breath as we passed under the railway bridge at Benicia; it is charted to have a 70’ vertical clearance at HHW and our mast is approximately 65’. Allowing for tides we had a few extra feet in hand and we were fairly certain we’d clear it; but it was a bit heart-stopping. Soon after our narrow escape we entered Suisun Bay and sailed amongst the “mothball fleet”, a collection of old WWII warships which form part of the National Defence Reserve Fleet. About eight old vessels remain at Suisun and it was fascinating to sail amongst these old relics of former glory.


The Phillips 66 refinery at the entrance to the Carquinez Strait

One thing which really surprised about the delta area was how industrialised it was, I guess I was thinking hillbillies and moonshine! The waterways are well built-up; dykes protect huge swathes of agricultural land growing maize and sugar beet and refineries for sugar and petrochemicals have been built along the river. There are acres of wind turbines generating uber-watts of power transported by hundreds of pylons supporting thousands of kilometres of high-voltage cable. The place is zizzing!


Wind turbines across the Sacramento River from Delta Island

That evening we anchored in a meander of the river behind Delta Island, in the lee of the wind turbines, upstream of the pylons. The entrance was very shallow but luckily the bottom was mud as we probably touched both on the way in and out. It was worth the effort as it was a peaceful anchorage. The next day we motored through Three Mile Slough passing from the Sacramento River to the San Joachim River and then sailed up to Potato Slough where we stayed for the next couple of days.


The peaceful anchorage at Potato Slough was a great place to swim and kayak

We really liked the anchorage at Potato Slough; the water was warm enough to swim and fresh enough to serve as a shower too. We blew up our inflatable kayak and paddled around the nearest island, exploring amongst the reeds and watching the cormorants roosting in the trees. The Pirates Lair was a long dinghy ride away but it sounded like a good idea to go for a beer. Sylvia and Barry sped off in their light and nippy dinghy but for us it was a wet and bumpy ride – further strengthening Neil’s plan to get a 15HP outboard. We propped up the bar for an hour or so but had to leave early to make the wet trip home before dark.


The First Mate enjoying a cuppa while on the helm

We left the delta early the following morning, motoring with the ebb tide to gain as much ground as possible before the westerly winds kicked in after lunch. We had a short sail across San Pablo Bay then motorsailed under the San Rafael Bridge and back to our favourite anchoring spot outside Sausalito.


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