They Didn't Always Have Motors

Ed Jochim

Nearby atop a navigation beacon there is a young seagull flapping it's wings, jumping up and down, squawking and screaming. All the while it's mother is paying very little attention to her young fledgling. Looks like she is fed up with motherhood, and wants her progeny to fly away with the rest of it's kind.

Been sitting here aboard Eider, anchored for a couple of hours now at the entrance to Mare Island Strait. No breeze hotter then a skillet, and too lazy to rig the genoa as a shade cloth.

So what's the big deal just start the motor and get on with it. But that's not the idea, this trip was supposed to be made without the use of the motor. Although there it sits attached to the transom, just waiting for a pull on the cord. According to the information found at the San Francisco Maritime Museum. The old sailing barges used to ply the waters of San Francisco Bay, and Delta using only their sails, tide, current, and a large dose of local knowledge. If they could do it in a barge I should be able to do it in Eider, my P-15 Potter. With that thought in mind, I studied the tide table looking for a favorable day with a current that would allow Eider to travel from Martinez Marina to Suisun City during day light hours. I then set aside three days for the trip.

Upon arriving at the Martinez Marina I found the breeze was from the northwest. This usually indicates the beginning of a good day for sailing. The breeze will usually build from there as the day goes on. I pay the launch fee, rig the boat, attach the motor, and sail out of the marina. The current is still ebbing and against forward progress as we pass under the two bridges, and past the mothball fleet. By the time we arrive at the entrance to Suisun Slough the current was at slack and just beginning the flood that will give us a push toward our goal. Like any good slough worthy of the name Suisun twists, and wriggles through the countryside like a snake on Prozac. The first section is to windward, and with most of the water out. I managed to run aground three times. No big deal! Just raise the centerboard, shift the weight, shove the tiller over and sail away.

The rest of the trip to Suisun was uneventful and I arrived at the guest dock at 3:45 p.m. After a look around the area that included a stop for a double espresso, I climbed back aboard to prepare dinner. The menu included red wine, Trader Joe's Mushroom &Herb Risotto with a couple of tablespoon's of parmesan added just before serving, bread, and a ripe pear (a gourmet's repast).

The current had turned and was heading back toward Suisun Bay, the breeze was still fair, and sunset was not until 8:20 p.m. Time to move on, untied Eider, and moved out into the slough. Once away from the shelter of the guest dock it became readily apparent that now was the time to reef. That done it was a cold, wet, slog, every time there was a windward leg to sail. The sun was setting, and the daylight was rapidly giving way to dark. I remembered on the trip up that there was a lot of shelter from the wind at Navy Point, and it should be just up ahead. Sure enough with just enough light to see where I was we slipped behind a windscreen of gigantic Eucalyptus trees. With greatly diminished wind I lowered the jib and ghosted to my anchorage, and just as the anchor was dropped from the cockpit the trees seemed to come alive. I am sure the Egrets were aware of our presence all along, the sound of the anchor set them off. The sky was full of upset, noisy, very disgruntled birds. It took the better part of thirty minutes before all of the birds returned to their roost.

The next morning after an early breakfast we set sail once more. The current was with us, and the breeze was nothing to get excited about. Instead of continuing on Suisun slough we turned to port at Hunter Cut and moved over to Montezuma Slough, then promptly ran out of wind. For the next hour and a half we drifted along side way to the current all the while still heading in the direction we wanted to go. Finally the breeze returned, and the only question now was where do we go from here? The original plan was just to get to Suisun City. That had been accomplished and I still had two days left. For the present the current was still ebbing (heading toward San Francisco Bay) therefore the prudent thing to do was go with the flow. Once again it was past the mothball fleet, the bridges, Martinez Marina, and on toward the Vallejo Marina. The trip was to windward with enough of a breeze to keep the boat moving, and not so much that a big chop developed.

We tied up at the guest dock that afternoon, and paid the rental, and key deposit. After a nap, some reading, dinner, and watching the activity of the marina it was time to call it a day. Next morning had breakfast, and returned the key to the Harbormaster. Upon returning to the boat I found the anemic breezes of the morning had disappeared. Rather then sit there any longer I walked to the ferry terminal coffee shop for a double espresso. What a great place to people watch! Too much to see, so much activity, now when I'm in the area I go out of my way to get a big slice of life with my espresso. After about an hour I returned to Eider. Still no breeze so out with the wooden wind (the paddle), and after a little thrashing and bruising of the water we made it into Mare Island Strait. Then it was up with the sails and a drift with the current toward Carquinez Strait. It is interesting how relaxing it is no radio, no phone, and no schedule. Soon a state of Zen sets in as I drift slowly along with the bow pointing in all directions. Upon arrival at Carquinez Straight I ventured out in hopes of progress toward Martinez. That's right the current that had helped me down Mare Island Strait was now pushing me down toward San Pablo Bay. With help from the trusty wooden paddle and some huffing and puffing. I just managed to get back behind the breakwater at the entrance to Mare Island Strait where we anchored to wait for a breeze.

As you may recall this is where the story started. It took a few hours of waiting, watching, and cooking my brains before I finally called it quits. That's right it happened that fast all the talk about not using the motor on that trip went out the window. Up comes the anchor and with a pull of the cord away we head toward Martinez Marina and a cold beer from the bait shop. After putting the trip in proper perspective, It was a plus. The main objective of getting to Suisun City and back had been met. But that little voice inside still says you should have held out for the breeze. Oh well there will be another day.