Up-River Reconnaissance Voyage: My First View of The Delta

When you’ve sailed your boat across the Pacific and back, the thought of steaming up the Sacramento River seems … well, scary. Where do you turn when a freighter comes around the bend? What do you do when you get stuck in the shallows with a battering-ram tree coming down the river? By comparison, sailing downwind for a few thousand miles on the wide Pacific seems as easy as falling off a dock.

So just back from my solo adventure from New Zealand to the Golden Gate I had to have a look at this treacherous destination. I decided to sail up before summer set in and with no one else on the water.

A good sailor is patient and waits for the right tide and weather. To hell with that. I steamed up the bay on an adverse tide with only a puff of wind, landing at Benicia Marina’s guest dock in a gray wet drizzle. I searched the town and found good seafood, Oysters Rockefeller and Anchor Steam beer. I made a mental note of the upcoming Friday night Ghost Walk down Main Street and vowed to read Jack London’s John Barleycorn.

Next day I steamed further against the ebb and arrived at Owl Harbor on Sevenmile Slough just as a brilliant sun was kissing a horizon of wind mills. I’d avoided the freighters, shoals, and floating logs. But it took a few moments to get used to the orientation of thousands of acres of farmland fifteen feet below Pamela’s waterline.

What a way to see this place. Can you imagine a thousand miles of sloughs and estuaries, built 150 years ago to convert a vast inland sea into a San Joaquin fertile crescent? The grazing sheep and cows lull you into a rural daydream; meanwhile, the image of a cargo-laden freighter ghosting over the green farmlands tells you you’re not far from the open ocean.

And the birdsong: how is one to sleep past 07:00?

I’d read someone’s post about Owl Harbor. “The best marina in the world,” they’d claimed. I chortled, then read on: “with fresh eggs and produce every morning.” Sure enough, Devery offered me a two-yolk Goliath of an egg. She let me pick a plump onion from her garden which I baked into a loaf of bread. She loaned me a bicycle to explore the levees and sent me off with a dozen more eggs.

Thirty years ago I cycled along the levees of the famous Loire. No people, no cars, just a rolling river and green trees. Parts of the San Joaquin in April reminded me of just that, and asked gently whether I would take that long-imagined voyage through the canals of France before I died. I lay for a long while in the grass and stared at the sky.

For now the sun is setting behind Mt. Diablo. All is quiet. The evening wind is full of privacy, perhaps more privacy than is good for an honest man. I’ll pull out my old guitar and strum a few measures before retiring, for tomorrow I must be up at the crack of dawn to ride the tide back down to Benicia for Oysters Rockefeller.

Cycling along the San Joaquin River in the heart of the Delta
Cycling along the San Joaquin River in the heart of the Delta

Endless Quiet is here! (Book #2)

You can purchase Endless Quiet on Amazon.  What do you think about all day when you’re sailing alone on a small sailboat from New Zealand to San Francisco?  Hint:  many wonderful things!

What do you think about all day when you're sailing alone on a small sailboat from New Zealand to San Francisco? Hint: many wonderful things!

And there’s a sub-plot —  the real-life account of a five-year old spending a season on his grandfather’s South Georgia peanut farm, including falling into a cesspool on the side of the farm house.  Yes, it’s quirky

 

You Can Go Home Again

It is July 27 and I’ve been at sea for 26 days.  In the early dawn there is a remnant of a dream about Little Bear.  I’m home and he does not recognize me!  I call to him and he walks away.   I hope this does not come true.

This is the last day.  I can uncross my fingers.  The wind is dying and the fog is descending.  The long gray day eventually changes from gloom to dusk as cargo ships pass me on their way to the Golden Gate.  If I strain my eyes I can just make out their dark forms.  Like ghosts they hide in the fog and howl in low mournful tones with their fog horns.

When the night reaches the apex of blackness there is a faint red glow from the Golden Gate Bridge.  It is winking at me through the fog bank.  I recall that afternoon three years ago when I sailed under the bridge in the opposite direction and nearly hit an inbound freighter!  Everything is different now.  Pamela has proven herself and her skipper has managed to hold on.

The wind has been light all afternoon but now it comes alive.  Everything is straining to squeeze through the narrow opening of the Golden Gate—the wind racing from the west, a strong current streaming from the east, an inbound tanker, two pilot boats, and little Pamela.  It seems we will all crash into one another in the maelstrom.  A foghorn from the bridge blasts 150 decibels straight into my face.  One of the pilot boats approaches me with a flashing blue light.  Should I pull over?  As if!

It is the scariest moment of my three years at sea.  In a dramatic minute it is all over.  I’m through the Golden Gate!  The sea is calm and the ghost freighter with the pilot boat in tow is steaming out of sight.  A flock of pelicans comes to greet me making phantom silhouettes against the faded lights of the city, then the lights come alive as I sail past Ghirardelli and Coit Tower.  The towers of the financial district twinkle at me.  My heart is pounding.  I’m home!  I’m home!  Then continuing down the dark bay I settle into a night of soft, languid cruising, arriving at Redwood Creek in time to watch the sunrise.

And there she is to greet me.  Her long hair shines softly in the morning light.  She holds Little Bear by his leash so he will not dive into the water to chase a duck, and as Pamela points her way into her new slip he lifts his ears when I call his name in that special call that only he and I use.  He stares at me with the most intent and focused expression I could imagine in a canine.  Then he recognizes me.  It has been three years.  He breaks from the leash and dives toward the boat that is nudging its way into the slip.  With his hind legs on the dock and his fore legs on Pamela’s rail he straddles for a moment as we grapple with the mooring lines, nearly falling into the drink, then leaps aboard!  This 11-year old puppy who has difficulty climbing up onto the bed has no trouble springing aboard Pamela.  A second later he is sniffing everything in the cockpit, licking my face, and barking in wild canine ecstasy all in the same moment.

My heart breaks into a 100 billion pieces, one for each star in the Milky Way.

Can there ever be a past or future to rival the present?

Little Bear shows off his fuzzy ears.
Little Bear shows off his fuzzy ears.
Q: "What was your favorite place of all the places you visited?" A: Anywhere with a sunset.
Q: “What was your favorite place of all the places you visited?” A: Anywhere with a sunset.
3100 miles from Hanalei to San Francisco sailing around the Pacific High.
3100 miles from Hanalei to San Francisco sailing around the Pacific High.

The Last Leg

Today I’m leaving lovely Hanalei Bay for the 2600-mile ride to San Francisco.  This is leg 3 of my solo journey from New Zealand, three years since leaving California, and 30,000 nautical miles across the Pacific Ocean and back.  Yow!

Check out our latest video from last season’s cruise to the tropics:  New Caledonia, full of turquoise lagoons and deadly sea snakes!

Hawaiian Landfall

Land ho!  After 54 days of solo sailing from New Zealand I fetched up in Hanalei Bay, Kauai.  First order of business:  spam sushi.  Followed by laundry, a hot shower in the cockpit, and a bottle of Sailor Jerry’s.

Kauai has discovered New Zealand’s secret:  a flat-white, made with two shots of espresso in a small cup.  Yow!  After an exhausting 5-minute search I found the best flat-white in Hanalei Bay at the Hanalei Bread Company.

A trip to the library afforded sufficient wifi to upload my latest movie, Vanuatu, with highlights from the second leg of last year’s cruise back to the tropics.  Enjoy!

Meanwhile, here are some scenes of Hawaii:

Kalalau Valley
Kalalau Valley
The original Lappert's ice cream in Hanapepe Town, Kauai
The original Lappert’s ice cream in Hanapepe Town, Kauai
Sailing from New Zealand to Hawaii
Sailing from New Zealand to Hawaii
Pamela's new home in Hanalei Bay
Pamela’s new home in Hanalei Bay

New Zealand Farewell

This morning I say farewell to lovely New Zealand.  I’m off to the Austral Islands south of Tahiti, a voyage of 2400 miles, 3-4 weeks of solitude on the open ocean.  Last evening I rounded Cape Brett on my way into the Bay of Islands to officially clear out of New Zealand on s/v Pamela.

A few weeks ago Pam, Lindsay, and I hiked the Cape Brett Track to the lighthouse and hut at the end of this awesomely rugged spine of mountains rising steeply from the blue Pacific.  After carrying his guitar to New Caledonia, New Zealand, Thailand, Cambodia, and back to New Zealand for all of the Nine Great Walks, collecting dozens of signatures along the way, including famous sailor Lin Pardey’s, Lindsay donated the guitar to the Cape Brett hut.

Now Pam and Lindsay are back in California, where Pam is resuming her rewarding therapy practice helping kids learn.  As I look up at the lonesome lighthouse from the perspective of the rolling ocean, I feel a pang of sadness for my family who I will desperately miss during the 5+ months it takes me to sail all the way back to San Francisco.

Lindsay with his guitar at Cape Brett hut.
Lindsay with his guitar at Cape Brett hut.
The Cape Brett Track
Hiking the Cape Brett Track with Lindsay and Pam in March.

Christmas in Thailand

Looking upward from the very center of Angkor Wat, and thus, the center of the universe (Siem Reap, Cambodia).
Looking upward from the very center of Angkor Wat, and thus, the center of the universe (Siem Reap, Cambodia).

It was time to get off the boat for a while.  So after sailing back down to New Zealand for the (austral) summer, we packed up our land clothes and walking shoes and headed to Thailand and Cambodia for the holidays.

Wat Pho temple, Bangkok
Wat Pho temple, Bangkok

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The boys launch a fire lantern in preparation for New Year's Eve in Pai, Thailand.
The boys launch a fire lantern in preparation for New Year’s Eve in Pai, Thailand.

 

Riding elephants in Chaing Mai in northern Thailand.
Riding elephants in Chaing Mai in northern Thailand.

ROM Dancing in Fanla Village, Ambrym Island, Vanuatu

Vanuatu update:  tomorrow is our 33rd wedding anniversay, and Pamela has selected a fine restaurant on a beautiful Vanuatu beach to celebrate the event.  After that we’ll cast off the mooring lines for New Caledonia, a four-day sail due south.

Photo 1 below:  Raising the Vanuatu flag upon arrival in Port Vila, August 11, 2015.  Considering a haircut.

DSCN0858

Photo 2:  Fanla village is the oldest village on the island of Ambrym.  The gentleman with the hibiscus in his hair is the chief of Fanla, wearing a splendid pair of boar’s tusks.

DSCN1186

Photo 3:  Unicef delivers supplies to Loltong Bay on Pentecost Island.

DSCN1260
Photo 4:  The ROM dance celebrates the ancestors of the village tribe.  The elaborate masks are meant to signify the mysterious, non-human beings in the other world.  The “namba” is the sheath covering … er … not much.

DSCN1176

 

Vanuatu

Mt. Yasur volcano, Tanna Island, Vanuatu.

Mt. Yasur volcano, as God would see it.

We flew over this active volcano in a small Cessna, then hiked up to the rim at sunset. You stand there peering into the crater, with bursts of flaming rock flying up and over your head. Just when you think you’re brave enough to stay a moment longer, the entire mountain roars to life like an angry bull and you take a step back. As if that step would actually matter.