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
Author:
Publish date:
Updated on
WineMap1

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

Headsail

Ask Sail: Silencing A Rattling Headsail

Q: Our Pearson 26 has a 110-percent jib that tends to rattle very noisily at the top hank. We only bought the old boat recently, but it must have been happening for a long time, since there’s a deep groove worn inside that bronze hank. The jib has an unusually large and wide ...read more

Alerion2048x

Alerion Yachts 33, the 90 Minute Get Away

Easy to sail, luxurious, and swift; the Alerion 33 is the solution to your busy life. The intuitive, simple rig design, easy set-up, and put-away mean there’s no need to wait for crew to enjoy a weekend, a day, or an hour out sailing. Her beauty and comfort are evident in the ...read more

anchor

Know how: Ground Tackle

Your ground tackle is like a relationship—the more you care for it, the longer it will last. So, how do you enhance the relationship? First up, think of the accommodations—a damp, salt-rich, often warm environment, just the kind of thing to encourage corrosion. What can be done? ...read more

DSC_7522

Boat Review: Beneteau Oceanis 46.1

The Beneteau sailboat line has long represented a kind of continuum, both in terms of the many models the company is offering at any given moment and over time. This does not, however, in any way diminish the quality of its individual boats. Just the opposite. Case in point: the ...read more

shutterstock_1016585167

Cruising: Memories Made by People You Meet

Steve greeted my boyfriend, Phillip, and me as soon as we tied Plaintiff’s Rest, our 1985 Niagara 35, up to his dock on one of the Berry Islands in the Bahamas. He was tall, cheerful and clad in a hodge-podge of clothes one might wear to paint a house: oversized, grungy and old. ...read more

_98A7540

Cruising: Dogs Afloat

We dog owners understand the general expectations of ourselves in public places, like picking up after Fido and keeping him on a leash. There are, however, certain places where additional unspoken rules or expectations may apply—as in harbors or marinas. If you sail with your ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com Log the glass  A week ago I set out after breakfast on a 50-mile passage. The day’s forecast via the internet was for 14-18 knots. It never happened, and I spent the entire trip adjusting my genoa ...read more