May 20-28, 2004
Delta Cruise

(If you like, you can skip down through the prose and go straight to the pictures below!)

"It's a little chilly this morning," the Starbucks clerk observed as she rang up our order. "Yep, and we're going sailing to the Delta," was my reply. "That's great!" her retort, and her helper chimed in, "Any time you are sailing it's great."

So began, at 0730, an Islander cruise to "The Delta", that labyrinth of twisting waterways around dyked tracts between the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. Collectively they drain most of the water from the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains from Lassen Peak in the north, south past Lake Tahoe and Yosemite, and clean down to Bakersfield.

Cooler weather than usual was forecast -- only 50s on the ocean side of San Francisco, to the low 70s well inland -- rather than the usual 70s to mid-80s or even higher by Memorial Day. Yet five intrepid I-36s rendezvoused at Red Rock, just below the San Rafael Bridge, at noon. Skipper & Nancy Wall's Snowflower was the flagship for the cruise, and one-by-one they rounded up the fleet. Rick & Sandy Van Mell powered Vanishing Animal 16 miles up from the South Bay, making radio contact about 0945. don Henderson's Kindred Spirits eventually responded to Skipper's hails on VHF channel 72 about 1030. John Snook, having just bought Solace, had former owner Smokey Stover aboard and converged from the east side of the Bay. John Melton's best laid plans on Freedom Won got stuck in the mud by the minus tide, so he was still 2-3 miles short of Red Rock when the fleet pointed their bows for San Pablo Bay and the 18 mile run to Benicia.

By now the sun was bright, the sky blue, a gentle 8 knots blew from the southwest and almost two knots of current pushed us along. Jackets gave way to short sleeves and sunscreen as the fleet sharpened up at San Pablo Buoy 2 and headed east. What a delightful sail beam reaching at 5 - 7 knots, making 6.5 to almost 9 knots over the bottom. Away to the north a small line of cumulus formed above the hills beyond Napa Valley - one even growing to a studding anvil-topped cumulonimbus. But it slid east and the fleet sailed in bright sunshine into Benicia at 1430.

After rafting up on B Dock and checking in, it wasn't long before cocktail hour was declared. Aboard Snowflower the first nibbles appeared - crab dip and crackers - followed over the next two hours by corn souffle, chicken taquitos & bean dip, 3-bean salad, chicken artichoke sausage and, finally, a perfectly cooked and sliced platter of tri-tip sirloin. All was washed gently down with good spirits as the sun sank in the west.

the cool forecast was quite evident as the wind gusted occasionally over 20 knots, even in the marina. By sunset at 2025 all hands had retired below decks and settled into their cozy dens for the night.

Rattling halyards and the occasional hum of wind in the rigging greeted the fleet on Friday morning. San Francisco's "morning fog" not only did not "disappear" as in song, but blew 30-40 miles inland over the top of Mt. Diablo and down the slopes into the central valley. Looking east from Benicia harbor, a thin line of sunshine could be seen between cloud and horizon. We refueled between 0800 and 0900, then powered out into the channel to fight the ebb current.

Southwest wind gusts over 15 made it a broad reach to a run the short distance to the Benicia bridge, but with a little more than three knots of ebb against us it was slow going - even with our engines on plus sail. We worked our way under gray skies and cool wind past the old army ordinance dump at Port Chicago, then ran along the flats toward the big power plant at Pittsburgh. Though it makes a great landmark, it is frustrating that it takes so long to reach it. The current varied between a low of 1.5 back up to 3 knots - all against us. Sunshine finally burned through the clouds as we passed the plant and turned down into New York Slough to avoid the combined outflow from the junction of the two rivers.

More wind accompanied the sunshine, and boat speeds reaching 9 and 9.5 were reported with the apparent wind well aft and touching 20 knots. We eased under the high bridge at Anitoch after shortening sail - some with just a jib, some with just a main. Solace kept all the laundry up - and had even flown a spinnaker for a while just beyond the Benicia bridge. But as we approached the turn off into False River, we were still doing over 7 knots with just one sail flying.

Even in False River channel it was 75-100 yards wide. Only when we made the starboard turn into Piper Slough did the real character of the Delta come to life. Dykes with some rip-rap, mud, grass and trees two to three boat lengths on either side. Depth varied from over 20 feet into the low teens. Twisting and turning through the channels, all that might be seen of a following boat was the top of her mast above the grasses and trees.

The east side of Bethel Island, separated from the flooded Franks Tract by Piper Slough, is dotted with small homes, each with a floating dock or strings of floating, covered slips for small power boats. Kindred Spirits turned a bend in from of one of these and briefly became glued in the mud - though there was 20 feet of water a boat length to port. She was able to power through the ooze and we shortly arrived at Mike & CarolynFitzgerald's house and dock. Their Islander Shenanigan was back down in the Bay. With strong gusts and the current still flowing, it was a bit of a challenge to raft five Islanders, but all were secure without a hitch by 1600. It had been a long day under sail and power against the current.

Some nibbles and libations on the patio soon had everyone acquainted. Art & Betsy Fowler arrived by car - they didn't like the weekend forecast for some places in the Delta getting gusts to 40 knots - and left Zenith back in Alameda. With the whole gang assembled, we waked down the grassy top of the dyke to the Rusty Porthole for supper. Slabs of ribs, prime rib, and calamari filled the table. A sign over the bar (which looked east out over the waters of Franks Tract) proclaimed, "Bethel Island is a small drinking community with a fishing problem." Fine by us - good fish and plenty to wash it down.

Back at the house at dusk, we took a picture or two of the fleet against the sunset. The wind had died just enough, and there was still light for Smokey to help Don and the Kindred Spirits crew untangle their jib. It seems they had managed to hourglass their jib while rolling it up coming into Piper Slough. Carolyn topped off the evening with a wonderful chocolate cake and coffee. So, one last walk for Teak, and everyone headed for their bunks and snuggled in against the cool air.

Saturday dawned still and clear - that is if you were up at 0550 to see it. By 0800 the wind was up again and the "morning fog" once again blew in overhead. It didn't last too long, and burned off by about 1000 - still it was clear that this was not the typical Delta weather of warm days. The locals were positively dismayed as the "cold" and wind. Of course, having it in the 60s and sunny usually isn't considered hardship duty in most places.

It was a day for chores. John Snook set the pace by cleaning up his shore power cord - prompting Rick to do the same. Rick replaced the stern cleats on Vanishing Animal with shiny new ones. Others read and relaxed as the wind increased into the afternoon under sunny blue skies.

But eventually it was time again for "nibbles" on the deck - in the usual I-36 style this coulod easily have been declared a meal! But that would have spoiled us for Mike & Carolyn's wonderful dinner of grilled chicken and salad with fresh radishes, scallions and basil right from their garden. What a feast! There was even time afterwards for a full fledged songfest complete with Rick on guitar and songbooks all around.

Sunday morning Kindred Spirits departed for Benicia to take Maureen back to her car and work on Monday. We smoothly shifted Freedom Won, Snowflower & Solace over to the dock to take her place. Then the gals and Teak went for a long walk on the levee while the boys turned to Mike's new toy - Tiger. All 42' of sleek Cigarette boat sat on a trailer in their front yard. After carefully backing out through the threes and across the neighbor's driveway, we headed for the gas station to fill 'er up. 180 gallons later, 90 in each tank, she was ready for launching. The first ramp we tried turned out to be too steep, so we found another in Oakley - just over a bridge from Bethel Island. This one was wide and gentle, but by now the tide was well down. Even though the back threee axels of the trailer were well under water, there wasn't enough enough to float her free, so we drove her back to to the front lawn and put the cover on. Mike will try again next weekend.

Now that boat chores were well in hand, there was plenty of time to relax, read, write the log, charge the batteries and cool the refrigerators. Getting ice was one way to exercise! Mike & Carolyn headed back for their home in Marin late in the afternoon, but not before we all thanked them profusely for such warm and wonderful hospitality. The remaining four boats held cocktail hour under the gazebo on the dock, then devoured Sandy's killer spaghetti feed. John Melton served up equally killer Margaritias. All hands turned in early.

Monday morning John Snook powered up Solace and was under way for Stockton by 0800. He was meeting a friend a day ahead of the rest of us. Since we were now down to only one potential night for anchoring out, it was decided to stay put one more night at the comfort of the Fitzgerald's docks where electricity could be shared and no one had to blow up a rubber dock for just one night. John's early departure meant he would miss the main event of the morning - Nancy's killer French Toast made with egg nog! Seconds and thirds were the order of the morning, with plenty of bacon to round out the taste treat.

We lingered in Snowflower's cockpit until 1030, then Rick, John Melton, Skipper & Nancy hiked a mile or so down the levee to the Sugar Barge. Sipping a soft drink sitting on their upper deck looking out over Frank's Tract was a height of decadence and luxurious in the soft, warm morning air. The weather had certainly turned to perfect. On the walk back, we stopped to pick up ice at another of the little marinas strung along the Piper Slough shore. Sandy & Teak welcomed us upon our return. Then all hands piled aboard Snowflower for a "sight seeing" ride up and down the slough. Water depths varied from over 25 feet down to a reading of 6.5 feet, but no bottom was touched and we returned to the Fitzgerald docks in time for a late lunch - and more lazy time.

Another dinner on the docks - Nancy Wall's great big sausages with a veggie salad and Sandy's pork sirloin made for a fine repast. Well fed, all turned in early as had become our custom. About 0400 Rick in the port forward v-berth could hear Teak in the main cabin give out one of her deep, low growls. Sometimes she's just dreaming. A few moments later, Teak growled again. Another silence. Teak then exploded at full bark, dashed up the companionway through the canvas hatch curtain, and continued with her head out the lifelines. Rick shook off a deep sleep and followed. Nothing appeared amiss and Teak was quickly returned below. A few minutes later, another low growl. This time we turned on the lights and coming aft, could see through the ports furry otters jumping over the side. Teak had been right all along. The root cause was quickly apparent as they had been feasting on the garbage bag Sandy had left at the back of the cockpit. By now there was a far flung feast of veggies, cheese and scraps of meat strewn across the aft seats, cockpit floor and the side deck - decorated with dozens of little muddy otter paw prints. After the clean-up, they didn't return!

Tuesday morning we departed the Fitzgerald's and headed for Stockton. A soft, calm, sunny morning unfolded before us. We worked our way along False River and the north edge of Franks Tract. Most of the way there was 15 to 25 feet of water, but got down to ten in the last stretch before rejoining the main stem of the San Joaquin River. We poked our bows into Three River Reach where we had intended to spend two nights. It was calm with tulle grass to port and grass and small bushes and trees to starboard - but there was no beach or a place that Teak could have gone ashore. We were glad we had decided to stay at the Fitzgerald's. Another short excursion was into the side door of Tinsley Island, owned by St. Francis Yacht Club for their members and guests.

Scenic vistas of grass, trees and berms, rock levees, and frequent great herons made the 20 mile jump to Stockton quite idyllic. The warm gentle wind at our back and bright blue sky completed the picture. Navigation was easy with a chart in the cockpit ticking off more than 40 channel marks along the way. We made the trip in just 3 and a half hours. Rick & Sandy had a surprise on Vanishing Animal when Sandy looked below to see water up over the cockpit floor. Some frantic pumping ensued with the gusher pump, and even the electric bilge pump worked though it was now totally under water. It took perhaps ten - fifteen minutes of strenuous pumping to get it back to the bottom of the bilge. Then the sleuthing began. The first usual suspect - a water system leak with a fresh water tank pumped into the bilge - was quickly ruled out. We were within minutes of Stockton, so simply ran the bilge pump every five minutes to take out a gallon or so until we were tied to the dock.

We had also realized coming into the Stockton Sailing Club harbor that water only flowed when the engine was in gear. After unpacking all the neatly stowed gear in the quarterberth, a visual check showed no flowing water. We rigged an extra set of aft spring lines, then started the engine and put it in gear to look for water. The stuffing box was checked - the usual frequent drips but no stream of water. Naturally there is little room around the stuffing box and points aft, so examinations were done with finger tips and flashlights, even with the cockpit and companionway hatches open for more light. The strut which holds the propeller shaft is bolted through the hull under the fuel tank. An arm stretched to the limit put finger tips on the backing block - and into a stream of water. Using a wrench by feel, the two port bolts could be tightened about a half to three quarters of a turn, but the starboard bolts were tight. One more quick check aft at the rudder post didn't show any water coming in there. The conclusion was that the prop strut was leaking when the prop was in gear and pushing on it. No prop in gear, no water. After a call to our home boatyard, Rick walked across the street to Ladd's Marina and boatyard. A haul was arranged for 1100 Wednesday morning.

Stockton Sailing Club members Nancy & Al Farnam, Commodore Harry Farrell and Carol Williams, who lives in Stockton, worked all Tuesday afternoon preparing a BBQ dinner of Tri-tips, baked potatoes, salad, garlic bread, broccoli and cake for desert. The fleet gathered on the great clubhouse deck overlooking the river for cocktails while the steaks smoked on the grill. Association members Reggie and Nita Stone who live in Stockton also join the group, though Fantasy was on the hard getting a blister job done. A large chemical tanker slid down the channel for our entertainment - there was little water on either side for a boat of any size to pass. The feast was thoroughly enjoyed and many compliments to Nancy, Al & Harry for a job well done.

Wednesday was a shopping, laundry and relaxing day - tough life this Delta Cruising. Vanishing Animal kept her date at Ladd's, and Harry and John Melton signed aboard as crew to take her the 15 minutes around to Ladd's yard. Though the bilge was pumped empty before we started, there was a good 4 inches 15 minutes later when we arrived. An examination of the strut showed some cracked fairing material, the but the strut itself wasn't particularly loose. Thanks to Yard Manager Lupe and skilled glass worker Doug a plan was devised to get her watertight and back in the water by the end of the day. First, the area around the strut was ground down to the hull and the lower portion on the outside of the strut. One crack area Doug filled with "Green goo" epoxy putty that sets underwater. Then four layers of glass matt were glassed with a fast setting mix of vinyl ester on both sides and wrapped around the bottom ridge of the hull. Doug had the mix so hot a batch started smoking and turned black and hard in the mixing bowl! Having started work about 1230, by about 1400 the glass was on and hard. Doug sanded the glass and applied a thick mix of gel coat, then sanded that down too. Finally a second gel coat layer was rolled on and dried with a heat gun. A few brush fulls of Trinidad SR bottom paint had it looking better, and stronger, than it probably was when it was first built. There are plenty of pictures of the whole process below. It turned out the billing computer was being rebooted, so with a falling tide, they launched the boat so I could take it back to the harbor while there was still enough water, then walk back to pay the bill. Couldn't have been treated better at any yard - so if you are in the Delta and looking for a place, I'd sure recommend Ladd's Marina in Stockton. (209-477-9521)

Well, naturally Rick was anxious to look in the bilge as soon as he got back to the slip in the marina - another 4 inches of water! Well, it was now certain that water was not coming in through the strut - but where? A second, closer look at the rudder post revealed that two of the four hose clamps had rusted through and were just sticking to the rubber. OK - two new hose clamps later and it was time to start the engine. No water at the rudder post, but all of a sudden, as the engine was put in gear and reved up, water started flowing down the inside of the transom. The overflow hose on the exhaust system had corroded right through the fitting and the engine was effectively pumping water into the boat. This explained why it only flooded when the prop was turning - though it had nothing to do with the prop, shaft or strut. At idle, there was no overflow water. So, $20 bucks worth of parts eventually fixed the problem, and VAnishing Animal has one of the strongest, driest struts in the fleet and found a great boatyard in the process.

Thursday dawned hazy with wisps of cirrus woven across the northern sky. Flagship Snowflower, Freedom Won and Vanishing Animal powered out of the Stockton Sailing Club on a glassy Delta. The sun was not as warm as it had been, but it lasted all the way to Pittsburg, 30 miles down river. Consistent with the forecast for an approaching front with the possibility of sprinkles on Friday morning and wind gusts to gale force, some spectacular lenticular clouds formed by the time we had refueled and were tucked in our slips. John Melton's rainbow tortelloni and Nancy Wall's chicken, accompanied by a big green salad, made a delicious dinner. After a few hands of Uno, everyone turned in hoping for enough light winds in the morning to make a dash to the Carquinez Strait before any weather could build a nasty chop.

Rain began around 0300 - heavy enough to be heard on the cabin top and require closing the ports. Not much wind though, and by 0600 all that remained was broken scud and patches of the (infamous) fog. Occasional gusts rattled the rigging. Teak did not want to get off of her bunk and pillow for a morning walk. But a walk, a light breakfast for all hands, and turning in the marina gate keys were all accomplished before 0800 when the Islander fleet steamed out into New York Slough for the push to Vallejo.

The little town of Pittsburg was originally New York Landing in the 1890s, crowded with 3 fish canneries run by Italian families. Italian names flourish on boat transoms and restaurants, now augmented with Salvadoran and Nicaraguan additions.

Susuin Bay is notorious for heavy headwinds and rough water when the tide goes against the wind - and the wind is almost always an afternoon given. But this Friday morning it was quite benign. A few gusts at or just above 20 knots were the worst it could manage, and with about a knot of flood tide against us, the waves were not a problem either. We all rolled out jibs for a little while, but that only lasted about 15 minutes before the wind headed us. By 1140 we were all tucked into the Vallejo Yacht Club harbor under patchy sunshine and 10 knots winds. Just in time for lunch.

Sandy did some laundry and shopping, others napped, and before you knew it, cocktail hour was declared aboard Vanishing Animal. We prepared for dinner with goat cheese, crackers, toquitos and pretzel bits stuffed with peanut butter. Friday nights at Vallejo Yacht Club are a drop-in barbecue affair - this day with steak or salmon options. We trouped up to the great Vallejo clubhouse, patronized their bar, and cooked our own steak and salmon on a nice big barbecue. All the trimming were laid out buffet style, complete with cherry and apple pie for desert - with whipped cream.

It was a wonderful end to a great Delta cruise. All agreed it was worth doing again, and we thanked Skipper Wall many times for sticking with the effort to organize the Delta trip.

Pictures are compliments of Rick Van Mell. Click on images to enlarge, click "Back" to return.

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Under way at 0910 Teak keeps Sandy warm Time to get out of the sun! Snowflower & Solace
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Snowflower Thunderhead over Napa Are we there yet Daddy? Carquinez Bridge
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Nap time Islanders together Flagship Snowflower Sandy with Don Henderson & John Melton
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John Melton, Smokey Stover & John Snook Gordon & Skipper Wall Kindred Spirits leads the way Freedom Won follows
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Freedom Won sees sunshine about noon Kindred Spirit One sail is now enough! Snowflower lookin' good
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A showoff in every crowd!
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Antioch Bridge Snowflower around the bend! The Piper Slough dance line Teak has the port watch
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Rafted at the Fitzgeralds Franks Tract behind us What a wonderful house! Carolyn, in red, and the gang
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Beautiful in the sunset! A beautfiul Delta morning Kimball's Bacon - again Smiling Islanders
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Mike wanted something faster than an I-36... Twin 700 HP! Smokey does the un-twist Success just at hand.
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What a pretty sight! Kindred Spirits departs Sunday morning OK, fenders in! Back to Benicia
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Fog on the shoulder of Mt. Diablo Solace departs for Stockton Teak wasn't invited to breakfast Nancy serves her terrific French Toast
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Yum! "Delicious," says Sandy Skipper agrees He doesn't get any!
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Nobody loves me. Heading for Stockton Teak likes the shade
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John Snook aboard Solace Carol Williams OJ & Bagels for.. Wednesday breakfast Strut filler cracks
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Port side Ground out and glass going in Port View Vinyl Ester setting & smoking!
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More Glass Port too Doug wets the glass First Gel Coat
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Port Sanded out Port 2nd Gel Coat
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Starboard view Looking pretty Trinadad SR Ready to swim again.
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Waiting for Chinese table Port end Starboard end. Snowflower at Pittsburg
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Alternating Islanders Delicious Dinner aboard I DON'T want to get up! Skipper & Nancy lunch in Vallejo
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Snug in Vallejo The Vallejo Yacht Club

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