Thursday, October 15, 2009

Delta Trip

Michael and I took the boat to the Delta last Thursday. We put all provisions aboard on Tuesday and Wednesday, spent the night aboard on Wednesday so we could leave at 6 on Thursday morning and "sail up on the incoming tide" as our friend Clark advised us to do. It was a perfectly beautiful day, but no wind. We motored all the way, crossing  under the bay bridge, the San Rafael bridge, the Carquinez bridge, the Benicia bridge (which has a lift span to let us under), and the Antioch bridge. It was a pretty ride, but not sailing, and took 8 hours just to get to Antioch, half way to the Delta. We phoned and got a guest slip at Antioch marina. That evening was fun. We lit our little bbq on the stern railing, and cooked our dinner. We listened to music and enjoyed being on the boat.
    At 4 Friday morning I woke up with a bladder infection. After an hour and a half of trying to get a cab, we finally called Michael's sister in Concord. She got out of bed to come get us and take us to Kaiser in Antioch. I got treated in record time there, as the emergency room was empty. (You're not in Oakland anymore, Dorothy!) Then Michael figured out the bus system there, and we were able to get back to the boat in an hour. I felt better almost immediately, so we continued our cruise. A small glitch.

    We motored by all the interesting marine busy-ness along the way up the San Joaquin river, and finally found Potato Slough, a place we had visited aboard a friend's boat years ago. We recalled being anchored near some trees or low-growing shrubby things, but saw nothing like this. It was beautiful, but unrelentingly bare. We puttered up the slough, finding no good place to put the anchor down, then continued up Little Potato slough. Coming around a bend I saw two pieces of styrofoam floating on the water, and said to Michael "I wonder what those are?"

They were there to warn boaters of a shoal. We came to a scrunchy halt there, listing. It was high tide, so no hope of the tide lifting us off. We had heard advice from several friends about running aground: Sharon: "You'll run aground" (laughing) Michael G: "Don't run aground at high tide" and Clark: "If you run aground you'll just kedge off."
We panicked.

Just as we were trying to figure out how to kedge off, (memory is the first thing to go when your mouth is so dry you can't swallow and your heart is trying to jump out of your chest) a speed boat came along and we flagged him down. The line we gave him ended up all over the place instead of in a nice neat coil like it should have been, and one end got wedged under the keel. We got successfully pulled of the shoal but when we tried to start the motor, immediately realized the line was tangled in the prop. So we're drifting up river heading for the levee, which is piles of rocks. We got the anchor down quickly to avoid that lee shore. Michael gets into his swim suit to dive down there and cut the line off the prop. He was able to detangle it without cutting it, but getting back aboard was difficult. Those steps are hard to get to from the water. I tied a loop in the line we just freed, and he held onto it while I winched him up where he could grab the stair. Coming back aboard he said "Okay, now start praying." because last time we had a line in the prop we lost the transmission. I prayed, hard.
The motor started right up, we had forward and backward motion, and soon we were laughing again and saying whew.
It was getting late so we started looking for a place to anchor, now with a healthy fear of running aground. But while investigating a site, we got too shallow again, and ran aground again. Some very bad cuss words were said. Very bad.

This time we were determined to kedge off ourselves, and were preparing to do so when another boater came by and we flagged him down for help. He was able to easily pull on our bow line to free us. We were thankful for being afloat but by no means jovial. By the time we finally put the anchor down and convinced ourselves it was holding, it was sunset. A strong ebb threatened our sense of security through dinner, but we eventually went to bed. Michael set an alarm so he could wake up to check on things at around midnight, and fell soundly asleep.
I could not sleep. The anchor chain was occasionally rubbing on the bobstay, making a horrible sound. Each time this happened I would pop my head out of the hatch and check that we weren't drifting. Things looked okay each time so I tried to sleep. The wind came up some and the final time I looked out, we had definitely dragged the anchor and were dangerously close to the levee. I woke Michael up and we got dressed very quickly and started the motor. This is about 11 p.m. and remember, it's still Friday and we have been up since 4 a.m..

When I pulled up the anchor it was draped with a medusa head of growing things, about the size of a buffalo. I guess those reeds aren't strong enough to hold a 22,500 lb. boat at anchor...

So it's dark, the wind is blowing, Michael is mostly still asleep, but we're motoring and thinking whether to try to anchor again, or just get the hell out of Potato slough. We decided to leave, to do an all-nighter and just go home. We'd had enough. With the chart, the gps, a flashlight to see the depth finder (which sort of works,)  and field glasses to watch the levee, we found our way out of the slough in the dark. The moon was just about full, so that helped. When we got to the San Joaquin we were able to follow the channel markers. It was still dicey because it was difficult to remember which marker we had just passed, find the number on the chart, and look for the next one. Plus, the markers aren't always visible when they should be, and judging distances is difficult on the water and especially difficult at night.
Around 2 a.m. we put on our foulies because we were pretty cold. I made coffee and snacks when it seemed safe to go below.

The sun came up when we were almost to Benicia, where the railroad bridge is. The chart says that at high water with the lift down, this bridge is maybe a foot higher than our mast. When coming up river we had gone under when it was open for a big ship, so the height wasn't a concern then. But at 7:30 on Saturday morning there was no ship traffic, and we just couldn't make ourselves chance going under the lowered span with such tight clearance, no matter where the tide was.  We hailed the bridge keeper on channel 9 but couldn't get anyone to answer. We tried channel 16, no answer. We asked local fishermen to help us check if our radio was working. It was fine. For 45 minutes we circled and hailed, circled and hailed, to no avail. Finally we saw a ship coming down river, heard the span go up, and skirted under. I have no idea why the bridge person didn't respond to us. After that, breakfast of eggs with cheese tasted mighty good.

The rest of the journey was just afterglow. There was some wind after we went under the San Rafael bridge, but we didn't have the energy to raise sail, going on 36 hours without sleep.
Yo ho, yo ho, as the sailors say-- we say the delta is no place for a sailboat.

No comments:

Post a Comment