Of Failed Attempts And Pleasant Journeys
We are on the water at long last and even venturing farther afield for a change! Bliss, freedom, no Wi-Fi, no news, spending time with friends not to mention my first real vacation in a very long time. Full fuel tanks (okay, one fouled with water but holding its own for now), everything working at long last, we are on our way!
Our plans were to cruise up the Napa River, stay at the Napa Valley Yacht Club dock for a few days, and most especially, to meet with friends and take them for a short river excursion. These are people we grew up with but who had never explored the river when they were younger. A day cruise down to the mouth of the river and back with lunch in town at one of the trendy restaurants was the cruise itinerary. We planned to tie up at the new downtown dock near the 3rd Street Bridge for lunch. I was looking forward to seeing what glorious sights fall had to offer along the Napa River. Last minute mechanical checks were made prior to departure. I called our mechanic and asked if he had time to do a preflight check. Nothing ever goes as smoothly as planned as he found water in the fuel filter which caused concern, but after a quick filter change we were given the green light. Water tanks topped off, provisioning done and finally we were off with the tide on a smoky Monday morning.
The evening news prior to our departure had reported fires burning in Santa Rosa and along the eastern ridge of the Napa Valley. That accounted for the smoke. But we were eager to be on our way so we cast off to ride the tide all the way to China Camp.
As we passed Treasure Island, to starboard we began to see dark, sooty ash floating like a tide line on the surface of the water. At first I thought it was oil and hoped it wouldn’t stain the hull.
Talk about smoky! The taste of burning eucalyptus was inhaled with every breath. The further north we traveled, the thicker the smoke became. After we passed Angel Island visibility dropped to less than a mile. We dropped the anchor at China Camp and settled in for a quiet afternoon. Plans were to head up river on the tide the following morning.
Although the North County fires were all over the news we were blissfully unaware. There is no cell coverage at China Camp and no Wi-Fi, one of the many reasons we like to spend time there.
Folks have different preferences for staying in touch. Personally, I like texting. Even if I can’t get a strong signal on my cell phone a text message will usually get through. My friend Debbie, who was planning to join us in Napa, likes to communicate through Facebook Messenger - a totally useless means of communication if you aren’t connected to Wi-Fi. Jeannette prefers email, another useless tool without a Wi-Fi connection. I managed to trick my phone into sending a very slow message asking Debbie to please text me and gave her my cell number. The coverage was “iffy” at best but I wanted to let her know that we were on our way in spite of the smoky conditions and that we were planning to meet everybody the following day at the NVYC. A few hours passed before I received a note from Debbie saying she had received standby orders to evacuate their home in Boyes Hot Springs and was getting the “Ditch” bag ready.
The fire was borne and spread on the fierce winds by live embers and was moving quickly through dry brush and dead trees. Not long after receiving Debbie’s note I heard from Jeannette saying that there were multiple fires burning out of control all over Santa Rosa, Sonoma and Napa.
Meanwhile the current was running through the China Camp anchorage like a freight train. The swirling patches of black soot and ash were becoming thicker.
The floating “Kitty-Katcher” was deployed behind the boat but God forbid if our beloved boat cat, Eartha, took an accidental tumble into the fast moving water. She would be swept away in a heartbeat! Us too, for that matter. The anchor was holding well but the broad vista we love so much at China Camp revealed only eye-watering, brown smoke.
After a frustrating and much-delayed back and forth communication with my friends (and furious shaking and swearing at of my poor, defenseless cell phone), we all decided that the timing wasn’t right for our long-anticipated cruise. I called Greg Parker, my contact at Napa Valley Yacht Club, and cancelled our reservation. He assured me that downtown Napa was fine and if we were intent on coming that it would be “smokey but safe.”
Later in the week I saw many photos of the fires posted on Facebook but the one that caught my attention was the view from the dock at the Napa Valley Yacht Club. If we had stayed at the dock there I would have had to change my britches after seeing those flames on the surrounding hills!
Since my darling friends were not able to navigate the roads leading into Napa we decided to leave China Camp and head back to the Bay.
I want my publisher to know that I seriously considered continuing our trip up river purely for the journalistic value of covering the fire of the century from the water. However, with visibility so poor I thought that any photos I might take would be feeble at best. Besides, keep in mind that my nick-name is Poulet du Mer, which translates to Chicken of the Sea. My over active imagination would never allow me to travel through a flight of burning embers!
I’m writing this safely anchored in Clipper Cove after an uneventful cruise from China Camp. The sky is still smoky, the fires still burn uncontained, thousands are displaced, homes and businesses destroyed, lives changed forever. Our friends from Sonoma were ultimately evacuated from their home so it’s a good thing we cancelled our trip.
One thing I know for sure and especially these days is make every day great! Love your life and do what makes you happy because you never know what tomorrow will bring. As the old song goes, “Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think!”
We enjoyed our short vacation even though it wasn’t what we had planned. After returning to our slip and after washing the ash off the boat, I went up to take a shower in the marina facilities. A few days spent on a rocking boat always leaves me feeling a little bit wobbly as if the ground is moving, especially within the confined space of a shower stall. Do you ever have that sensation?
Our long-overdue haul out is coming up at the end of this month. The last time we hauled was back in 2012. The current bottom paint is more than a little “see-through,” especially along the water line and on the keel. My diver, David Laird, has been giving me hell and asking when we were going to bite the bullet and get a long-overdue bottom job. We are trying a new boat yard this time around. Our diver has recommended Grand Marina Boat Yard in Alameda. Their ratings on yelp.com from past customers are very high plus they are a “Green” yard. But the best recommendation of all came from Jose Rodriguez, the expert craftsman who has been working on Mrs. Harper’s 34-foot CHB trawler, La Tortuga. Prior to starting his own boat maintenance business, Jose worked at Grand Marina Boat Yard. When I asked him if he would second our diver’s recommendation he said “absolutely.”
We drove over to Alameda to locate Grand Marina Boat Yard by land so that when Sweetie arrives by water later in the week he will know exactly where he is going. What is it with men and asking for directions? After being chastised for even suggesting that we ask somebody where the elusive yard was located, Sweetie walked this way and that from one end of the marina to the other. I finally flagged down an agreeable looking fellow and asked if he knew where the yard was located on the property. He smiled and pointed around the corner from where we had been looking. Easy as pie to ask and all it cost was a “please” and a “thank you.”
The weather is predicted to be good so I don’t have to worry about Sweetie single handling the boat over from South City. The last time we hauled, Sweetie was piloting the boat to the yard alone when he was stopped and boarded by the USCG. As the patrol boat was standing by alongside our bilge pump chose that moment to unload. Some quick thinking on Sweetie’s part informed the officers that he was on his way to the yard to have the problem addressed and if he could only figure out where his wacky wife had placed the Documentation Papers, he would be willing and happy to continue on his way.
Getting ready for a haul when you live on board your boat is like packing to move. Many neighbors, Mary Buckman and Dean for example, stay on board throughout the hauling process. I don’t feel comfortable being inside the boat when it is up on the jack stands. It’s better now that we are on the trawler but when we were on the sail boat it was like being high in a tree house and I swear I could feel the boat wobble. Here’s another question; where does the water from the sink drain go when you are hanging high and dry in the sky? The whole situation is much too complicated for my bee-bee brain to comprehend. Luckily, we have friends who are traveling and they kindly offered us their home in San Carlos for the duration of our long overdue maintenance. I am so excited to think of two whole weeks with a washer/dryer and a bathtub! Life doesn’t get much better than that. Our silly boat cat Eartha will have access to floor to ceiling picture windows where she can watch the squirrels tap dancing outside.
This isn’t our first time bivouacking at the Reeder’s home while we haul. They are frequent travelers and good friends who understand our unique situation and open their home welcomingly. The last time we stayed in their home Eartha got so excited by the squirrels right outside the window that she took a dive through the screen door. This time my dear friend has provided a baby gate for optimum viewing and safety.
Just an observation; did your boat insurance rates go through the roof this year? Holy Toledo mine jumped from $650 to $850. I haven’t even crashed into anything recently!
Auntie Kimmie’s Garden Tip For December.
My working career was spent as a gardener and for many years I was fortunate to work at the headquarters of Sunset Magazine in Menlo Park. At Christmas the company would decorate with a lavish display of lights, garlands, wreaths, a giant Christmas tree decorated with handmade ornaments from December Craft Projects in past issues and poinsettias, hundreds and hundreds of poinsettias. One of my duties was to pamper those bloody miserable plants through the holidays. The moment a poinsettia leaves the humid greenhouse environment with their hourly shot of fertilizers, the plants go into shock and start to drop leaves. Any change in light or temperature causes them to lose leaves. If they dry out or stay too wet, they will lose leaves. I write this to save you a heart ache. Buy a silk poinsettia this year. It will cost the same as a live one and last ever so much longer
Mrs. Harper drove her car over to Alameda to pick up Sweetie after he delivered the boat to the docks at Grand Marina. My dear neighbor had to pick up some materials at Svendsen’s chandlery and so kindly offered to save me a trip. Sweetie says the voyage across the Bay went very smoothly. I wish I could say the same. Driving 35 miles with a yowling cat in the car is somewhat disconcerting. When finally released from her cat carrier it was as if Eartha was spring-loaded! She sprinted under the nearest bed, never to be seen again until the sun went down.
I am so grateful to long-time friends Joyce and Gary Reeder for opening their home to us, Eartha included.
Just a tidbit to pass along regarding info you might find useful. It was brought to my attention that Bay Marine Boatworks in Point Richmond is now a factory authorized Cummins dealer. It never hurts to have another number in the books should you need assistance with repairs. Already an authorized dealer for Volvo Penta, Scania, Hamilton Jet, Northern Lights and Steyr Motors, the addition of Cummins gives the Bay yet another option for service should it become necessary. You can contact Ricardo Gutierrez should you have any questions on their service programs, haul out or yard information at 510/234.7960.
The boat will not be back in the water by my filing deadline so you will simply have to imagine that everything went smoothly and the re-launch a successful one. I will give you a full report in next month’s column. Until then, have a very jolly Christmas, stay dry and don’t forget to check on your boat during the winter months. Run the engine or engines until it or they come up to temperature, keep cockpit drains free of debris, replace frayed dock lines and please, for the sake of your neighbors who live on board, secure roller furling sails if you have them. It seems that those damn things only blow out in the middle of the night.
Feel free to contact me with questions, comments or contributions at kim@yachtsman magazine.com