Rambling around the California Delta

This post was written by jd on January 10, 2012
Posted Under: Boating - Sailing,Delta

By Bill Wells
Reprinted at the request of Bill, first published in Bay & Delta Yachtsman Magazine

Doug with a nice striper caught at Snug Harbor

Doug with a nice striper caught at Snug Harbor

Fishing is Great

I have to tell you the fishing in the Delta lately has been great.  I think it is because of all the rain this year keeping the rivers full.  I met Dillon Pitts, Alex Chatoian, and Andrew Chatoian at Vieira’s Resort.  They had just finished a day of fishing downstream on the Sacramento River.  They had four nice striped bass to show for their efforts.

The folks at Snug Harbor have likewise been seeing some large stripers caught just offshore from the resort on Steamboat Slough.  My man in Oakley, Chris Lauritzen of Lauritzen Yacht Harbor reports excellent fishing down that way too.

Diablo Sail & Power Squadron

Ox Bow Marina in Isleton was the destination for the Diablo Sail and Power Squadron on the weekend of May 14 & 15.  I had been emailing back and forth with member Geoff Goselin for a while and he invited Sue and I to join them.  Eight boats including a Hunter 340 sailboat made the trek from the Bethel Island area to enjoy the guest docks at Ox Bow.  On Saturday the 14th they held a barbecue and games on the marina grassy area near the office.  Sue and I arrived in the area just as things were winding down.  Yacht broker Nina Ankele attended the lunch and told us that we missed a great meal.

The Diablo Sail & Power Squadron is one of 450 local squadrons of the United States Power Squadron (USPS).  The organization started as a power boat squadron at the Boston Yacht Club about 1913.  Later the USPS split off as a separate organization and today has about 45,000 members nationwide.  Active members may fly the USPS flag in lieu of the yacht ensign or the U.S. flag in U.S. waters.  The flag has 13 alternating vertical blue and white stripes with a red canton containing a circle of 13 stars surrounding a fouled anchor.

We took a walk out on the dock and met several of the members and got to look at some of their boats as well as talk to the crews.  We met Ralph Price, Gary Smith, Pepper Wardle, and Les Johnson all Diablo members and former district officers of the USPS organization.  Later, at 1800 hours we were invited to join the club for dinner at the Ox Bow clubhouse.  After cocktails we enjoyed an excellent dinner prepared by squadron chef Mark Galbraith and his lovely wife Brenda.  They cooked a large amount of mouth watering ribs and chicken as well as salad, rolls, and potatoes.  For dessert we had cake and coffee.

We met Guy Schwartz the commander of the club.  I inquired and they said the power squadrons have commanders instead of commodores as most yacht clubs.  The Power Squadron is heavily involved in boater education and has many courses ranging from basic boat familiarity all the way to advanced navigation.  The Diablo Sail & Power Squadron has been around since 1958 and invites all sailors and power boaters in the San Francisco Bay and Delta areas to join and participate in their activities.

Many people believe as I do that you can never have enough education and are constantly honing their skills as mariners.  The USPS has courses and seminars covering almost every aspect of boating from reading a chart to weather forecasting and everything in between.  Here is a way to get more education and hang out with some great folks at the same time.    You can check out their website at: www.diablosquadron.org

Headed to Franks tract for the high speed run

Headed to Franks tract for the high speed run

A View to a Thrill

Hydro Dave Hernandez invited me to take a ride on his race boat.  Hydro is one of the coolest people in the Delta, just having a name like Hydro Dave makes you stand out from the crowd.  He was in Bethel Island for a few days helping his lady friend Cathy Whitlock do some work on her boat collection.  It had been fairly windy for a few days but when I met Dave on a Friday at noon there was just a light breeze that barely stirred the water surface in Frank’s Tract.

I walked down to the dock and Dave and Cathy had just returned from a ride.  I heard them coming from several hundred yards away thanks to the over the transom exhaust on Dave’s boat.  He pulled close to the dock and killed the engine a few feet away and coasted right up to the pier.  The boat has a Casile V-drive with a crash box type of transmission with forward and neutral and no clutch or reverse gear.  In a race the engine is revved up to a few thousand rpm in neutral and then shoved into gear, naturally this causes a lot of wear on the moving parts.  Dave leaves it in gear when he is not actually racing to save wear and tear on the unit.  Dave said he had originally built the boat from a Brendella hull in 1979 and built the motor in 1989.  The boat looks brand new and had a beautiful custom paint job that Dave created himself.  If you have seen a few of Dave’s paint jobs you will recognize his distinctive style with scallops and symbols that are meaningful to him.  Looking at one of Dave’s boats is like looking at a Van Gogh or Picasso painting.  They are all different but you instantly recognize the artist by the style of the work.

Dave is retired now but had a career building custom motors and painting custom cars and boats.  He says he has a “knack for painting”.  That is a huge understatement, he does beautiful work, everything I have seen of his is flawless.  He can somehow put together a lot of different geometric designs and fuse them together into a beautiful work of art that is distinctly his and a definite piece of American folk art.

The motor is a work of art in itself.  It started as a special big block General Motors pro stock racing engine.  Dave bored it .250” to give it 510 cubic inches (how many of you remember the old 1950’s Packard V8 engines that you could bore a quarter of an inch).   Dave says he can wring 9,000 rpm out of it but generally keeps it well under the redline which speaks for it lasting as long as it has (20+ years).

The motor has a roller cam and two 1050 cfm Holly carburetors.  Running on racing gasoline it generates about 900 horsepower.  Dave has added a nitrous oxide injection system controlled by a large toggle switch on the dashboard.  When he flicks the switch and electronic solenoids release the gas into the intake manifold the horsepower jumps to about 1250.  Dave calls nitrous oxide “the poor man’s supercharger”.  If you ever saw the film “Mad Max” Mel Gibson had a scene where he turned on the nitrous oxide with a dashboard switch and his car took off like a rocket.  It was similar in Dave’s boat.  I think we were already going about 80mph which was a thrill and Dave hits the nitrous oxide and it felt like we were taking off from a standing start.  My head was thrown back and luckily Dave had already advised me to wedge myself into the seat so I was secure and holding on to the edge of the deck tightly.  The boat has low freeboard so the sensation is somewhat like riding a rocket-powered skateboard.

After leaving the dock we crossed Piper Slough and pulled through a break in the tules that brought us into Frank’s Tract proper.  I wedged myself tighter into the seat and we took off across the waterway with the tree line on the other side approaching rapidly. When we were going at what felt to me like top speed Dave turned on the nitrous and we blasted across the surface.  After a few seconds we were up to about 120 mph and the opposite side of Frank’s Tract came up on us quickly.  Dave slowed and demonstrated how well the pickle fork hull cornered.  I was impressed that the ride was really smooth and relatively easy on my body.  A friend of mine in the early 1960’s built Howard hulled, Pontiac powered drag boats at Clear Lake.  Riding in one of those at 65 mph I think permanently screwed up my back when I was a teenager.

After a 180 degree turn we did another run back to where we started from so the whole ride was a few minutes, but about the most exciting few minutes in my life.  We arrived back at the dock in short order and I managed to pry myself out of the seat without any assistance.

A trip to the North Country

Sue and I arrived at the Sacramento Marina at the crack of dawn (almost, it was 0800) on a Thursday morning. I had previously reserved a slip for the Jazz Festival with the marina management.  We left one car at the marina and headed down I-5 to Ox Bow Marina.  The old Ranger was all ready to go, I had topped off the fuel tanks a few days earlier and took advantage of a gasoline discount coupon Ox Bow management had given berthers which let me save quite a bit on my fuel.  I also had watered my batteries and checked the oil in both motors and transmissions.

I warmed up the motors and put some lead substitute in the fuel tanks for a little extra oomph.  It was a beautiful day in late May and there was the lightest breeze as we pulled out of the harbor with Rossini’s William Tell Overture blasting from my stereo for the entertainment of local residents.  Going upstream there is a no wake zone for a few hundred yards as you pass the Ox Bow houses.  This gives you time to stow dock lines and fenders and pour your first cup of coffee.  After you pass the homes you can open her up for another few hundred yards until you get to the Tyler Island Bridge.  In the thirteen years I have been at Ox Bow I have only been able to make it under the bridge one time without an opening and that time my crew was pushing up on the bottom of the bridge.  Today the fellow operating the bridge was Johnny on the spot and I barely waited to go through after calling him on the radio, there is a small private dock on the upstream side so I always go through in a no wake mode until I am a hundred yards or so upstream.

After passing through the bridge we cruised for a few miles before we had to slow again for some moored boats and a dock.  We again were able to pick up speed for a short distance before coming to a no wake zone.  The upper two miles of the slough before you arrive at the Sacramento River are a no-wake zone but this just forces you to slow down and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

The recent rains have caused a lot of flotsam, mostly tree trunks and large branches to come downstream so I kept a constant eye on the waterway in front of me and managed to miss all the debris I encountered.  When I called for an opening of the Georgiana Slough Bridge at the mouth of the slough the operator advised me of a huge tree trunk taking up about half of the channel under the bridge.  I carefully avoided it.

The bridge operator also informed us that the Department of Water Resources had barges and a tugboat on the Sacramento River working on the fish barrier project.  They took up much of the open space on the river just downstream of the Walnut Grove Bridge and we carefully moved around them.  We saw one of the technicians standing on a dock and he explained that the recent fish diversion experiment was completed and they were removing the equipment from the river.  We pulled around the west side of  the tug and barge without mishap and headed for the bridge.

After passing through the town of Walnut Grove we had a few mile stretch where we could open her up.  The current was pretty strong against us so our land speed was not great, we saw bicyclists passing us but fortunately we were able to keep ahead of the pedestrians.  Normally I consult the tide tables and go upstream on a flood tide but this time we were mainly concerned with getting up the river before dark so I did not consult the tables.  It seemed like when we left the marina it was close to low tide so I think we caught the flood at some point.  The current was pretty strong so I cruised at 1800 rpm instead of my normal 1500 rpm.

We arrived at the Sacramento Marina at 1600 hours and pulled into the covered slip the management had reserved for me.  Classic Yacht Association Vice Commodore Les Cochren had ordered me to come to Sacramento for a Memorial Day cruise in.  He met us on the dock and helped secure things.  We were ready for cocktails by 1700.  On Friday I repaired a slight leak in my port side water pump that had a small but steady drip while we were underway.  It was a little worrisome as it was near my ignition distributor.  It would not be good to have water in my newly serviced distributor.  Les moved his River Cat into the slip next to me so we could hang out for the weekend.  I went shopping to restock my Bass Ale but the store was out of it but low and behold they had Ranger Ale so I picked up a couple of cases.  It is good stuff.

Sacramento Jazz Festival

Memorial Day weekend was the time for the 40th annual Jazz Festival in Sacramento which attracts traditional jazz bands from all over the world.  The festival is truly an international event.  It is fun seeing Europeans, Asians, and Africans enjoying and playing Dixieland Jazz, a truly American art form.  The festival begins on the Friday before Memorial Day and runs through Monday.  There is plenty of music, food, drink, and wacky vendors selling everything from beads to beer.

On Saturday Les’s friend Kathy hosted a party aboard her 60 foot houseboat that was tied at the dock in Old Sacramento just downstream from the Tower Bridge.  She had a gazebo and a large beach umbrella on the roof that came in handy when a pretty heavy rainsquall hit us.  Les cooked his famous barbecue ribs that melted in your mouth and were enjoyed by everyone.  There was plenty of other food including barbecue chicken, deviled eggs, chips, and dips.  Naturally there were coolers of cold beverages.  After taking leave of the party folks we walked around Old Sacramento and enjoyed many street musicians and other entertainers including an organ grinder and his capuchin monkey that drew a large crowd.

Kids on the Water

I had intended to attend the Second Annual  “Kids on the Water” event at the Sacramento Marina and take some photos.  Marina manager Bud Camper conceived the thing a while back and his staff put together another fun and exciting time for 75 local Sacramento first graders.  Don Henkle manager of the local West Marine store went all out to assist.  Don provided life jackets, prizes, and twenty pizzas for lunch for the children.  Don also ran the children’s boat race.  This was a great part of the day.  A boat slip was commandeered for the races and the kids had each created their own boat to enter in the race.  The boats were amazing and demonstrated a lot of creativity on their part.  Many of them were made from plastic bottles and were fitted with sails and other types of propulsion.  One had parts from a rubber band powered model airplane as a motor.  There were many pirate ships and even an aircraft carrier.  Many other materials were used besides plastic bottles like styrofoam, legos, cardboard, and wood.  My personal favorite boat was a balloon rocket powered vessel.  It took off like a rocket at the starting line but unfortunately it ran out of fuel after traveling about ten feet.

Sacramento City councilman Robert Fong attended the event and read stories to the children and also served as the magician’s assistant.  Vice Commodore Les Cochren created a great coloring book for the children that taught water safety lessons.  It was used as a teaching aid during the day.

My plan was to take my boat back down the river to Ox Bow right after the Memorial Day weekend but when I found out the marina staff had arranged for the kids to visit a pirate ship that was visiting the marina I volunteered Ranger so the participants could learn a little about wooden boats.  All 75 children came aboard (10 at a time) during the day.  They were very enthusiastic and several expressed a desire to live on a boat.  One young lad did not want to come aboard at all but his mother and I convinced him to take a look and after ringing the ships bell and standing a short watch at the helm he was smiling and did not want to get off.

I met Jack and Brenda Payne who had their vintage Kenner 26 foot Privateer ketch Sea Eagle at the marina and let the kids visit her.  Actually, after we spoke for a while I remembered that I had met them several years ago when I was a salesman at Stockdale Marine in Sacramento and they were looking for a small sailboat that would be able to pass through a tunnel in the private lake that their house borders.

The Kenner Privateer is a miniature pirate ship and the Paynes have done much to add to the appearance.  The first thing you notice is the large fearsome looking skull and crossbones covering the main sail.  Jack said they actually had two mains made, one of white material and the other of tanbark and the graphic was cut out of the white sail and sewn into a corresponding hole cut in the tanbark sail.  The boat itself is covered with interesting carvings and woodwork, all with a pirate looking theme.  Jack said his dad did the wood carvings. The boat is a visual treat to look at with its gun ports, the real brass portholes, the vintage brass compass, and the cast brass dolphins adorning the toe rail.  Oh yes, wooden dead eyes, a pair of beautiful dorade vents, and a brace of custom cannons round out the display.  The whole boat is like a miniature pirate museum.  Jack adds the piece de la resistance appearing in a complete pirate uniform looking much like Jack Sparrow with his greatcoat, boots, and pirate cutlass hanging from a leather baldric.

The boat appears to be much larger than it actually is but it is a good cruising boat for two people.  Jack repowered her with an 18hp Yanmar diesel.  He told a great story about how he hauled her to have the motor replaced and then the fellow that was going to do the work for him quit.  Jack said he had no idea what to do and the management of the yard suggested that he do the work himself so he pulled the old motor and installed the new one with the yard personnel helping him with some of the technical problems and aligning the motor to the shaft.  I heard her run and she sounds great.

At the Kids on the Water day while Jack explained the finer points of piracy and freebooting to the first graders aboard Sea Eagle.  Brenda entertained with a magic show complete with appearing doves and dogs at the Captain’s Lounge near the marina office and the marina folks took others on boat rides throughout the day.  They had also produced a story book with their dog Captain Cutie teaching boater safety.

It was a lot of fun entertaining the children.  Many of them had never been on a boat and all of them were interested and excited to come aboard Ranger.  Many of them rang the ships bell and wanted to explore the cabin and try the helm.  The were a good group and I am confident some of them will become mariners.

All good things must end and I needed to get back down the river.  Les volunteered to come with me and take a turn at the helm so after the last group of children left the boat we said our farewells to Bud and his staff and we fired up the motors and took off downstream.  The trip back down the river was quite a bit faster than going upstream, the current was flowing at about four or five knots so that added to our speed considerably.

This time as we passed through the Georgiana Slough bridge the operator Was Jens Hanson.  Jens owned a sistership to Ranger called Huapala and sold her to my good friend Alex Kanwetz who keeps her in Tahoe during the summer and Vallejo in the winter.  I updated Jens on Alex and Huapala over the radio and we continued our voyage to Ox Bow.

Ebony Boat Club

It was raining in Sacramento when we left to attend the Ebony boat Club’s Jazz & Wine Festival on June 4th.  As we proceeded south on I-5 the weather got better and by the time we cut over on Thornton Road and went through Isleton the rain had stopped.  When we arrived at the clubhouse in Antioch there was no rain but a pretty strong wind blowing.  Linda Bendsen had emailed me the day before and let me know the event was going to go on “rain or shine.”  In past years the band has played outdoors and booths were set up for wine tasting and artists also had booths with their wares for sale.  The clubhouse was reserved for cooking and feeding the hungry participants Due to the uncertain weather this year the club moved the entire event into the clubhouse.  Now the clubhouse is large but it was a little tight with the entire band set up in one corner as well as the wine tasting table, and a lot of folks sitting down to eat their meals.  A window was opened and you could get your wine through it from the dock outside if you felt a little crowded inside.

We stood in line inside the clubhouse and were served an outstanding meal of barbecued ribs, chicken, and sausage along with barbequed beans, sweet potatoes, spinach, potato salad, and cornbread by Ann Dukes and Linda Bendsen.  Lyle Shores reminded me to make sure I got photos of the tasty plates of food so I could make you readers jealous.

The band played almost continuously while we were there.  You might think that such a large group would be overpowering in a small venue but they still sounded great and you could still hear folks at your table talk while they were playing.  Junius Courtney was a musician from New Orleans that moved to Oakland in 1945.  In 1966 he started his own band and performed actively until he passed away at age 85.  His last performance was two weeks before he died.  The band continues in his tradition under the leadership of Junius’ son Nat Courtney.  They play throughout the bay area and if you have never heard them you owe it to yourself to attend one of their performances.  They are more than a band and somehow evoke the feeling that you are back in the swing era sitting in an intimate nightclub even though in this case we were in a clubhouse packed to the gills with enthusiastic listeners.  Denise Perrier is the female vocalist with the band and she has a beautiful voice that fits in with the musicians perfectly.

Linda Bendsen told us that they had served 200 meals by the time we arrived and they were expecting to serve 100 more.  Everything was going like clockwork and you saw a lot of happy faces.  I enjoyed a glass of red wine with my meal while Sue had a soft drink.

Ron Cherry owner of the San Joaquin Yacht Harbor was there. Ron and his team took over the harbor a few years back and it had been several months since I had paid a visit.  He has done a masterful job with the harbor.  One area that was basically a junk yard when he took over has been cleaned up and is now a parking lot for trailers with them arranged neatly around the perimeter.  The whole marina is looking good, Ron says he got rid of the derelict boats that were there and is constantly making things better.

The Ebony Boat Club puts on the Jazz & Wine Festival every year and the profits go to support the club’s youth and scholarship programs.  Put this event on your calendar for next year you can come by automobile or boat.  You will not be disappointed!

Marina West Yacht Club

The Capital City yacht Club cruised to Tower Park for a visit to the Marina West Yacht Club.  We dropped by for a visit during a lull in the activities and found the Marina West folks preparing the Saturday evening dinner of shrimp and barbecued chicken.  Master chef Jack Michael was in the galley preparing a good looking sauce. He would not let me spy on him and figure out the secret ingredients but the club members attest to what a great job he does.  He did let us try his blue cheese flavored guacamole sauce.  It was excellent, I love guacamole and blue cheese but never thought of the two together.  The blue cheese ads just the right amount of tang and makes you want to eat it by the spoon full.

Lynn Hahn took us into the back room and showed us how they had revamped their race track after their Indy car races on Memorial Day weekend to a horse racing track for this event.  Lynn says they scrounged the metal horses from someone that was going to throw them away.  We arrived late for the races but we hear they were very exciting and had a lot of noisy audience participation.

Irish Pennants

Willow Berm Marina held their harbor party.  Harbormaster Vickie Baumann reports that they had 400 guests enjoying the day.  Back Forty Barbeque catered the event and live music was provided by the Five Point 0 band.  Vickie says they were even able to get Curt “Curley” Page up on the dance floor.

I spend a lot of time on my own boat as well as on other folks craft.  We all believe in safety and respect other boaters and people on the shore.  I am sometimes amazed by the antics I see by a definite minority of boaters when I am cruising.  The day I was in the Stockton Yacht Club opening day parade several boats were stopped in the river waiting for the parade to begin and several bass boats and a couple of offshore boats threaded their way through the stopped boats at high speed seemingly oblivious to their surroundings.

On my recent boat trip to Sacramento as I was approaching the Sherwood Marina I encountered two small fishing boats near the west bank of the river.  I pulled over near the east bank and slowed to reduce my wake.  Some nimrod in about a 36-foot cruiser came zooming up the river on full plane leaving a huge wake.  I was about 100 feet from the bank and the fellow cut between my boat and the bank.  We were so close I could see the blank expression on his face like he was in a trance and oblivious to everything around him.  Ranger hit his wake a few seconds after he passed and Sue and I both scrambled to keep cameras and other objects from flying around.  Sue was in the galley and managed to grab a champagne flute out of mid air that flew out of the glassware rack.

The fishing boats a few hundred yards away were rocked by the wake but appeared to suffer no damage.  The cruiser continued upstream at full speed, as he passed the no wake zone at the Sherwood Marina his wake hit the boats tied at the dock there and the radio came alive with people yelling at him to slow down.  I had slowed to a no wake speed as I passed Sherwood and lost track of the fellow when he rounded the bend near the Sacramento Yacht Club.  Even several minutes later when I passed the Sacramento Yacht Club his wake was still visible on the river.

We all like to have a good time with our boats but we need to remember they can be dangerous machines in the hands of neophytes.  You remember the losers in high school that would drive their cars at high speed through the parking lot.  The people that drive their boats at high speed through no-wake zones and in unsafe conditions are the adult version of these people that apparently have not grown up.

We all need to remember we are responsible for the damage our boat wakes create.  In the case of the fellow that passed me he could have easily swamped the two fishing boats he passed as well as caused a lot of damage to boats tied up at the Sherwood Marina docks.  And I am confident he had not bothered to slow down for any other boat or marina during his trip up the river.

Don’t forget the Barron Hilton, Mandeville fireworks display will be on Monday July 4th this year.  If you have not staked out your mooring spot there by the time you read this you are probably too late!

The tenth annual Taste of the Delta Wine and Food tasting event will be on Saturday July 16 at Windmill Cove.  This is an event where you can sample wines and foods from all over the Delta at one place.  Go to www.tasteofthedelta.com for tickets or call 916-777-4041 for information.

I had some business in San Francisco and found out that Kim Korth and her friend Arnold were going to be there.  We arranged to meet at Kuleto’s near Union Square, I had never been there but Kim recommended it and said her granddaughters boyfriend Ernest Carpenter worked there.  The food was fantastic, I had salmon stuffed ravioli that was about the best ravioli I have ever had in my life.  Arnold and Kim had other dishes the looked good.  We rounded things out with a couple of glasses of wine and dessert.  The food was not only excellent at Kuleto’s but the service was as good as it can get.  We lacked nothing during our meal and when I had a cup of coffee with dessert the waiter came by to fill my cup every time it got a little low.  I was bragging about it so much that Sue got me to take her there a few weeks later.

We received word that Lost Isle is still battling the government anti-business bureaucracies and will not be opening for this season but hopefully the owners will have navigated their way through the paperwork by 2012.

Check out my monthly musings at www.yachtsmanmagazine.com

Bill Wells


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