Skip to main content

Cruising in the Wine Country Page 2

The boat ghosts up the calm river. Grassy banks punctuated by eucalyptus and California bay trees reach off to vineyard-serried hillocks backed by golden-and-oak hills.A cool breeze and the briefest of soft, late spring rain showers sweep over you with a wave of aromas. You close your eyes and breathe deeply. You smell tangy trees and fresh cut grass...is there anise, too? Dark, damp

A VISIT TO NAPA

Napa County is better known than Sonoma. If you casually mention you’re sailing to Napa, the stunned response is invariably “How the heck do you get to Napa by boat?” The Napa River, surprisingly, is not well known, but is just as beautiful as the Petaluma.

Just west of the Carquinez Bridge, a little over 13 miles from the San Rafael Bridge, the Mare Island Strait separates the city of Vallejo from the shuttered shipbuilding center of Mare Island and also serves as the entrance to the Napa River.

Bit by bit, the city of Napa—a decade older than Petaluma—is being transformed from a heavy industry blue-collar town into a river destination, despite a difficult relationship with its namesake, which drains 400 square miles and has flooded 22 times in 140 years.

Busting out of San Francisco on a flood current, I once made the 27 miles to Vallejo Yacht Club in four hours to pick up a buddy. The Mare Island Causeway lift bridge then gave us a swift opening with a radio hail, after which we sailed on under the Highway 37 bridge (both with 100 feet of clearance) and up the Napa River a dozen miles to town.

Coasting along under jib alone, we enjoyed the tail end of the flood and a gentle southwesterly breeze, as the setting sun gradually turned the hills, vines, and our sail a golden color.

We weren’t in a rush. Folks out enjoying the early July evening on their porches could be seen to nod, approve the boat’s name—“Ahh, Time and Tide”—and give a friendly wave. Cows browsed the shore, and Latino families fishing and splashing in the water smiled at us; at one point a boy laughingly asked for a ride. To port, the glorious Los Carneros hills slid by, with the estates of Ceja, Etude, Acacia, Bouchaine, Domaine Carneros and Madonna all within four miles.

Some years back the river was tricky to navigate, but dredging in 2009-2010 and some new nav aids have improved things dramatically—so long as you follow your chart carefully and keep track of the tides and currents.

Thanks to a “living river” flood protection project and city planning, the levees are gone, the wetlands surrounding the river are filled with egrets and herons, and a spectacular riverfront is emerging, complete with a promenade, parks, an opera house plaza and elegant bridges.

A new 226-foot floating public dock has also been approved for installation at Main Street before the 3rd Street bridge. This is the historic embarcadero area called the Downtown Reach where, in 1879, seafarer and industrialist Captain Albert Hatt began construction of a complex of buildings now called Hatt Market / Napa Mill that houses the Napa River Inn, shops and restaurants. Twenty wine bars and tasting rooms are nearby.

Assuming dredging is approved (the river here has silted to three feet), the dock will be installed by late summer in 2011. City officials are still deciding if berthing for more than an hour or overnight will be allowed.

Meanwhile, Napa Valley Yacht Club has a 185-foot dock with power, water and a security gate and is just a half-mile walk away from the Downtown Reach. The club is not open regularly, so check its website to contact their port captain, who can deliver a key and collect the $30 overnight fee.

Napa Marina is available for boats with masts higher than 60 feet or those needing a pump-out and fuel. It costs $25 for an 8-mile cab ride into town (it’s less than 6 miles by water), but it’s more popular to ride bicycles to Napa and the nearby wineries.

For breakfast, lunch or a game of pool over beer on the way back down the river, check out the funky barn-red Moore’s Landing, which sits next to a huge rotting riverboat hull. Tie up at one of the two 50-foot docks at the Cuttings Wharf boat launch. Just don’t be a pain to Debbie when she comes to take your order: the menu warns you’ll be “subject to a PITA surcharge or a cold dip in the river, server’s choice.”

Sometimes the wind, chop or current will thwart an afternoon return to San Francisco Bay. Loch Lomand Marina is just up the San Rafael Channel past East Marin Island and has diesel fuel and pump-out facilities. China Camp, McNear’s Beach and Paradise Cove are pleasant anchorages, unless a northerly wind comes up.

Looking back toward Highway 37, you can see cars crawling along in the usual weekend wine-tasting traffic jam. “You went wine tasting last weekend? Wasn’t traffic terrible?” “Nah, we sailed up and back.”

Related

Rescue

Cruising: Safety Lessons Learned

It’s not often that sailors get a chance to put their rescue and MOB training to the test, rarer still that they do as quickly as newbie California sailor Khosrow “Koz” Khosravani did recently. If and when an emergency situation ever arises, though, it pays to be prepared. This ...read more

01-LEAD-'22.01.10_FALKEN-Maiden_Emma-Bow

At the Helm: Sailplans

The first thing you notice when you look at the sailplan for the Farr 65, Falken, which Mia and I recently added to the fleet here at 59-North, is the sheer number of headsails. Falken was built in 1999 as a racing boat to go around the world, and the crew would have carried the ...read more

01-PR-2-Throwing-it-Back-_©LaurensMorel

Racing Class Reunion

Where does an old VO70 go to retire? Right back to the racing circuit, apparently. This spring saw a remarkable contingent of Volvo Ocean Race one designs back on the water and duking it out on the Caribbean circuit. While it’s no surprise that some of the VO65 teams intending ...read more

05-Sailboats-moored-in-sheltered-waters-off-of-Kärrsön

Charter: Sweden

With 2,000 miles of coastline, 270,000 islands and seemingly countless bays and inlets, Sweden is truly a sailor’s paradise. One of the top sailing destinations here is the archipelago just outside the country’s second largest city Gothenburg (locally known as Göteborg), on the ...read more

fa70b13c-8eec-4c35-b30f-f89e497b469a

Crowdsourcing Age-of-Sail Weather Data

Although big, multi-million-dollar projects like the Large Hadron Collider and the human genome project with their legions of PHD’s tend to grab headlines, there’s still a part of play for the “citizen scientists” of the world. Amateur birders have long contributed to an ...read more

01-LEAD-Ultime-race-Yvan-Zedda,-OC-Sport-Pen-Duick

Ultims to Race Solo Around the World

For years now, maxi-trimarans, both solo-sailed and fully crewed, have been racing the clock on their own around the world in an effort to set ever faster records for the world’s fastest circumnavigation under sail. Back in 2000-01 there was also a no-holds-barred ...read more

P1-01-LEAD-018_CARYNBDAVIS_AMISTAD

Juneteenth on the Water

Discovering Amistad and Mystic Seaport Museum have partnered to organize their third annual Juneteenth festival, featuring concerts, speakers and a reflection on the lasting legacy of racial injustice in America. Declared a National Holiday in 2021, Juneteenth celebrates the end ...read more

Lead-2021-01-17-vue-03-34-av-tb-01

New Multihulls for 2022

Lagoon 51 In keeping with many of the more recently launched models created by French multihull builder Lagoon, the Lagoon 51 is all about comfort, “en plein air,” in particular, as the French might say. Topside, a whopping 80 percent of the boat’s flybridge is given over to ...read more