Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Independence Day Weekend - Lake Oroville, CA (July 3, 2011)

It had been an eventful few months (another story) since I'd been out on Kokomo, and I was excited to be trailering the yacht to Spillway Launch Ramp on the Oroville Dam on July 3, 2011. I'd just completed a fill-up of her tanks - ouch! -and left the station headed for the ramp, when the truck was smashed into by another pick up that failed to stop for a red light.

If you know me, you know how I take care of my things, and the truck is no exception. It was heartbreaking to see the extent of the damage to the bed, rear door and passenger door. The other (elderly and unwell) driver said he "hit the wrong brake pedal", had no insurance, couldn't "remember" his address or phone number, etc. It was 103F on the pavement in Oroville, and we struggled with what to do. We decided to call the police to get a report, were grateful that no one was hurt and that we had good insurance. We were also thankful to note that, if everything had happened a split second earlier, the damage to my truck could  have been much worse (cab and engine compartment), and if it had happened a second or two later, the boat (with a fresh filling of 120 gallons of gasoline) would have taken the brunt. The truck, damaged cosmetically as it was, proved the tough friend it had always been, and took us on to the ramp, and later home, safely.

The Sunday before the 4th at the launch ramp was busy and crowded, but the launch went smoothly (while fascinated onlookers watched) and before long we found ourselves leaving the crowds behind and heading up the Middle Fork of the Feather River and into the wilderness. We found a quiet cove for the night and dropped anchor. The temperatures were mild (Lee Ann even got cold during the night) and we slept well.

The next morning (after getting her coffee in bed) I enjoyed Lee Ann's breakfast, a delight I don't usually get when on board (because Lee usually isn't present), on deck and was ready to go by the time the sun was peaking over the mountain to our south. We motored up the river and marveled at how beautiful everything was. The lake was full after our rainy winter and the river and waterfalls were at their most gorgeous. We passed several waterfalls on our way upriver, and just before the waterway proved unpassable (great log jams of driftwood, from whole trees to stove-sized chunks, littered the river and blocked it completely far upstream) we arrived at the distant foot of Feather Falls, the third tallest waterfall in the country. We watched the falls a long time before turning and heading downstream.

A distance downstream, we discovered an older boat, full of people that looked like they'd been camping out (their gear was everywhere in the boat) who had their engine cover off but weren't doing anything. We stopped to ask them if they needed assistance and they said they'd run out of gas ... and that the gas gauge in the boat didn't work. I couldn't help but wonder (1) why they didn't fill-up their fuel tank before heading out, and (2) what were they doing 20+ miles up the river with women and children (no one in life vests) when they didn't know how much fuel they had. Nevertheless, we discussed their problem and I resolved to carry fuel for situations that might arise like this one in the future. Though I wasn't going to tow them in the opposite direction we were headed - except as a last resort - I told them I had about 1/3 gallon of gas as a last possibility, and that we'd take it upon ourselves to seek out the few boats we'd seen on the river and ask if they had gas cans (our gas fill is a no-siphon type, or we might have had another option) and get back to them. We found two other boats in the early morning on the river, but neither had gas. One of them, however, took a line from the disabled boat and began the slow tow downstream ... around 30 miles to the Spillway Launch Ramp. I was glad we could assist them and that the folks in the Crestliner could tow them, but I couldn't help thinking that some elementary planning would have avoided the inconvenience for all. I saw them after the fireworks that evening, so I guess all ended well. I hope the tow-er was reimbursed, or at least offered reimbursement, by the tow-ee.

We headed south once we got back to the lake, after stopping at a particularly beautiful waterfall, and put into a busy Bidwell Marina for a couple items the boat needed from the store, and an al-fresco lunch at the grill. Then we set our course for the South Fork of the Feather River, where we swam (water was 81F!) and then followed the river all the way to its navigable limits before turning around and making our way back to the lake.

Lee Ann made a yummy fruit salad and we had some baguette and spread and relaxed on the afterdeck. Then, another quick dip and off to pick up the Stewarts, who were meeting us at the Bidwell Marina launch ramp in time for fireworks. Tom & Kim have been friends for many years now, and we thoroughly enjoyed their company. The girls wanted to swim, so we went back to the confluence of the Middle and South Forks, where Tom and I chatted onboard and Lee and Kim swam and visited. They climbed aboard just in time for us to set off to see the fireworks, arriving as the first salvo of Oroville's annual fireworks show lit up the night sky.

Following a spectacular fireworks show, we joined the 900+ boats shlogging towards the ramp at Bidwell. Boy was that an adventure with the Rosborough. Between several curious 'examiners' who'd discovered us after the fireworks and wanted a close look (enroute), and boaters who were an accident waiting to happen, we were lucky to get Tom and Kim safely on the dock and get out of there without colliding with another boat. But we successfully motored to the other end of the lake, under the Bidwell Bar Bridge, and to a spot near the confluence of the Middle and South forks of the river, where I wearily dropped anchor and (before double-checking that it had set properly) fell into bed and was soon asleep.

I'm not sure what woke me. Probably the wind or beam waves we were taking, but I remember looking out the v-berth window and seeing the north tower of the Bidwell Bar Bridge looming above the boat. It took a minute, in my sleepy fog, for it to register on me how wrong that was, but I sprang up in time (just!) to start the boat and avoid the rocky shoreline on the Berry Creek end of the bridge. It was foggy (boy was I thankful for the MFD!) but I retraced what was probably the float route the boat had taken (in the past 4.5 hours) and found a different place to anchor, double-checking (then triple-checking) that the anchor had set before drifting off to sleep once again.

Morning found the anchor still set and the fog cleared. Lee Ann and I enjoyed her home-made granola and dried fruit for breakfast, and set course for the Spillway Launch Ramp, where I'd drop her off and spend the day alone on the lake. Once she'd departed for her work day (I missed her immediately) I engaged the autopilot for a long trip north, determined to go all the way up the North Fork of the Feather River in the same weekend (or trip) that we'd done so on the Middle and South Forks. The hours passed and the boat motored on flawlessly, and before you knew it, I was further up the North Fork than I'd ever come (in the 21' lake boat we love) and looking down at a string of bouys that blocked me from going any further. I could see the powerhouse breakwater in Yankee Hill about 150 yards ahead, so I had reached the navigable limits. I knew of the treacherous rocks that, on this day, lay under some 63' of water beneath me. This  was possible due to the high water ... who knows if or when we'll see the treeline and waterline kiss this way again.

I spent some time in a sort of grotto at a waterfall (fading fast, but still flowing) on the way downstream, then couldn't resist a swim in a side bay when the MFD told me the water temp had risen to 84.5F an hour later. By the time that was done, it was time to again head for the dam to pick up my sweetheart for dinner (which she'd picked up) and a swim as the sun went down, then to pull the boat out and head home.

I had resisted putting the boat in at Lake Oroville since that's where we've enjoyed the smaller boat for 11 years now, but we had a wonderful time and realized quickly that you do very different things with the Rosborough than on a 21' open boat. We felt like we were on a different lake because we were aboard a decidedly different boat. We won't hesitate to visit Lake Oroville and it's three feeder forks of the Feather River again.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

San Francisco Bay (January 27, 2011)

My third visit to the Bay found new sites and experiences. On Thursday, I arrived after 4.5 hours of driving and put the boat in (without incident) and met an old schoolmate (classmate from the class of '77 at Rio Lindo) for a few hours. Kent Griswold and I enjoyed catching up while cruising to San Francisco from Berkeley. While there, I got to 'mix pleasures' ... my love of being on the new boat with my 25-year career with passenger ships. The vessel CARNIVAL SPLENDOR was in dry dock in S. San Francisco undergoing repairs and refurbishments (see photo). NOTE: Carnival announced that she'll be returning to sail the classic Mexican Riviera itinerary on February 20th. This was in some doubt since many of the ships serving LA ports have moved to Galveston and elsewhere due to concerns about the safety of passengers in Mexico. Looks like Carnival Cruise Lines is going to stick to their commitment to sail the 7-day Mexico route and to their investment in the Long Beach cruise terminal they've built to serve that market.

Lee Ann joined me on Friday and we set out for Tiburon for breakfast at 'A New Day', a cafe on the main drag that proved top-notch. MARINER's NOTE: You can put in at the docks behind Sam's, tie up and walk into town. If you're not a shallow draft boat, watch the tides. We saw two sailboats aground there in one weekend; low tide does not leave enough water beneath the docks for a deep keel boat or a heavy vessel with more than 3' of draft.

We then set a course NE out of Racoon Straight for Richmond, and proceeded to explore the areas beyond Point Richmond and Brickyard Cove. There were three more marinas back in there, and about a mile of boats at the end before a turning basin. It was in the last of these marinas that I found my first on-water RF-246 (since we became owners), the Island Gypsy of Port Ludlow, WA (see photo). I'm not sure what brought it to Richmond, but there it was, in excellent repair with Delta Cab, a single Yamaha outboard and a kicker engine. I let Lee Ann ashore and she put a card on the windshield. We're hopeful the owner will contact us.

That Saturday was the '3 Bridges Fiasco' on the Bay. Some 400+ sailboats (shorthanded; only one or two people allowed on board) sailed a non-specific route around marker buoys at the Golden Gate, Richmond-San Rafael and Bay Bridges in a chase race that concluded back in San Francisco at the St. Francis Yacht Club. The commotion and colors on the Bay were both considerable as this event played out, but alas the wind was not sufficient for speed sailing and many boats cruised the day away (into the night) and then did not finish. We waited anxiously as a new friend from "our dock" in Berkeley made his way in about 9PM (having left at 7AM!), having tried but not succeeded in finishing the race alone.

As usual, Kokomo made cruising the Bay - even in cold weather - a joy!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Trintec: Front & Center

I've known since Kokomo became ours that I wanted to put a nautical clock in the boat, but I was unprepared for the vast number of choices I'd be faced with when I began looking at models within the size range that would fit in/on her center overhead panel. I knew that we could accommodate only about a 5.5" overall size, and that I could just fit three instruments on this panel.

I looked at every imaginable configuration of clocks ... including those which have a barometer and thermometer built in. Those with all of the instruments on a single plank of wood were interesting, and I thought I'd found one that looked nice until I got a close look at it and learned a portion of the bezel on the clock was plastic (vs. brass). Wanting something that was low-maintenance and rugged in construction (like the boat!), I waited and looked.

In a West Marine store in Oakland, I saw a line of Weems & Plath clocks that looked like they were well built. In handling the model, I found a Canadian maple leaf on the rear of the box, and thought to myself that it would be kind-of-nice to honor the lineage of the vessel (she's built in Nova Scotia) with a clock that was also Canadian.

So I came home and did some online research and found the company that built the Weems & Plath models I'd seen. And I visited their website, which featured a nice selection of nautical clocks ... built right ... with five year warranties. I found an online dealer (OK, it was on eBay!) that offered the models I wanted, and ordered one each of the Coast Line tidal clock, thermometer and barometer. These were to be my Christmas gift from my wife ... perfect!

I installed them this week and couldn't be happier with the Trintec instruments. They seem to fit the boat perfectly (you decide, there are two photos to the right...) and the price - which included all four of the instruments I want on the boat (the clock has a tidal clock built in) - was less than one of the fancy brass clocks I was looking at before.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Northwest San Francisco Bay (January, 2011)

My second trip to the San Francisco Bay was solo, as Lee Ann traveled to Lakeport to meet with her family. I learned quickly to appreciate the Rosborough’s pacific northwest rigging, as the average daytime high temperature was 44F and the nights sported temps in the 30’s. With the Wallace 30D diesel heather running, I was as comfortable as on a summer day.

I’ve decided it’ll take about 10 trips to the Bay to see it all. This trip I chose the northwest coast (Marin and Sonoma counties) to explore and, after a peaceful night in berth M298, headed out early the next morning onto a slightly lumpy and marginally foggy Bay, turned to a heading of about 300 and headed north.

My first coastal discovery was Paradise Cay (also called Paradise Park by land lubbers) and it was remarkable how nicely manicured it was in the dead of winter. Another several miles up the coast, I found the entrance to the port of Corte Madera. There are no boater’s amenities here, not even a public dock, but it was an interesting trip to the ferry terminal and on up Corte Madera creek, past dozens of boats and waterfront homes of all calibers. In many of the places on my port side, the boat on the dock was worth more than the house on land (or at least it seemed that way to me). I traveled as far up river as I could, past countless homes and apartment complexes, until my depth sounder told me the bottom was coming up and I turned around with just 2.9 feet of water beneath the boat. While navigating the channel (narrow and unforgiving as it is) coming in and going out of Corte Madera, it was remarkable how close to the men recreating in the yard at San Quentin Federal Prison one gets. Couldn’t help but think of the differences in my laid back boat-born freedom, and their lack of basic pleasures. And then I thought of the reasons for their incarceration, and was glad for the place.

Clear of the long Corte Madera entrance channel, I set a northerly course for San Rafael. This city and port was as different from Corte Madera as could be, with four separate large marinas and lots of industrial activity - mostly surrounding boating and yachting - far flung upstream. I motored for over an hour heading inland and exploring marinas, and turned around at the San Rafael Yacht Club where a low bridge blocked my way. I entered the Loch Lomond Marina (the last one on my way out) and browsed an interesting assortment of boats and people.

I then turned north again and passed under the (very grand from the water) Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and found myself a short distance from the re-done lighthouse on Brother’s Island to the east. Since my next destination was McNear Beach and China Camp, and the guide I was using specified navigation along the Brothers Islands and Sisters Islands along the way, I set out across the Bay for the lighthouse.

Spectacularly returned to its original glory, the lighthouse and keeper’s quarters are a must see. I tried to get a good photo, but one dares not get too close to the rocky shores. Then I set out north, across the busy shipping channel, watching the AIS (automated information system) readout’s on my MFD carefully. Visibility was an issue, with the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge dissappearing into the fog behind me and several AIS targets not yet visible on the radar ahead. The radar itself proved valuable, and enabled me to avoid collision courses with several other smaller vessels (yachts) who were moving through the area. I crossed the shipping lanes, among huge tankers steaming out of Richmond and the Chevron refinery facilities, and put the Sister Islands on my port beam on the other side, closing in on McNear Beach. Off China Camp (the historical site of the gathering of Chinese immigrants in the early 19th century) I cut the engines and let her drift, taking in the old rotting pier (still usable) and the ancient buildings ashore. While lying off China Camp, I saw a Nordhavn 47 at anchor. This was our 2nd choice in the Norhavn line, and would have been a very nice yacht to own. I found myself thinking about the fraction of the cost of that boat that I’d spent on the Rosborough (we'd be strapped to a stiff payment and all of the expenses of mooring and maintenance that come with an in-water vessel if we'd gotten the Nordhavn), and the fact that I could put it on a trailer and take it home (and to anywhere we were willing to drive), and - though that Nordhavn certainly looked good - I sure felt good about the choices we’d made.

After making a few log entries and feeling like I’d breathed in the offshore atmosphere enough to get a feel for it, I set a southwesterly course past the Brothers Islands and on past Richmond to Berkeley, getting in about ½ hour before sunset.

All in all, it was great day of exploration, and I logged about 7 hours on the boat. The next morning I motored to Jack London Square and put into the public dock to get some breakfast at the Farmer’s Market Lee Ann and I had found here two months ago. Fresh crepes and an apple made a great meal, and I got some spinach Afghani bread for later in the day.

In checking the tides, I estimated we were about an hour from a high tide and opted to head south in Oakland Estuary Channel and try the rarely-traveled San Leandro Channel route which would allow me a complete circumnavigation of Alameda Island. I can see why the yachts all stopped about 3 miles from the San Leandro confluence (there were no boats at all in the San Leandro channel), because the water got very shallow (4’ at times) and there were a number of stakes and markers in the water, marking previous grounding sites. Staying carefully in the channel. hitting the shallowest areas at high tide (which I suspect were dried out at low tide) and mindful of my 2’ draft, I completed the circumnavigation in about 2 hours. The water depths some 2 miles out into the Bay were only 6 or 7 feet.

I crossed the Bay and motored up the San Fransisco coast, marveling at how many people were ashore. My history as a cruise ship journalist (I've been in the cruise business for 25 years; mostly in the booking end) was stirred by the sighting of an old Dolphin Cruises vessel, now derelict and resting at a quiet moorage in San Fransisco. Her name was painted over but her blue stack and familiar lines reminded me of how quickly these grand ships become faded memories when they are removed from service. As I recall, Dolphin Cruises was among several lines that failed (Regency, Renaissance, Dolphin, Admiral, etc.) in the travel stagnation which followed 9/11/01. I was able to get right up to her starboard side, close enough to peer into the darkened depths of her lower deck. I imagined the day when this ship was adorned in lights, alive 7 days a week with activity, and her decks were busy with passengers and crew. Her deteriorated state put into mind ships that I had traveled aboard (President Roosevelt, Stella Solaris, Norway, Skyward, Seawind Crown and others), and which were even now in even more pitiful states on the beaches of Alang, in various stages of dismantlement. More than a third of the 85+ vessels I've sailed are now 'retired'. I wondered if there might be an Alang-bound tug tow in the future for this former Dolphin?

A trip out under the Golden Gate (where 8' swells were sending waves crashing against the sea wall at Fort Point) and then a return course set past Alcatraz for Berkeley brought this day and another Bay adventure to an end. I lingered out on the Bay as the sun set and the lights of the city came on. Magnificent peace. Two tenths of the Bay explored ... eight tenths to go! Kokomo had performed flawlessly, once again.

San Quentin Prison

San Quentin Prison
One of the more 'captivating' sites along the Corte Madera channel . Rowers from Corte Madera are practicing in the foreground.