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:
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

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell.Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.comGuaranteed result What you see on the end of this halyard isn’t a beautiful Flemish Eye worked by a rigger, but it will make a big difference when you have to “mouse” a line through the mast. If the ...read more

dometicadler-700x

How to: Upgrading Your Icebox

The time has come when the prospect of cold drinks and long-term food storage has you thinking about upgrading your icebox to DC-powered refrigeration. Duncan Kent has been there and done that, and has some adviceFresh food must be kept at a refrigerated temperature of 40 degrees ...read more

Jet-in-Belize

Cruising: Evolution of a Dream

There’s a time to go cruising and a time to stop. As Chris DiCroce found, you don’t always get to choose those timesAlbert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, ...read more

01a-rosemary-anchored-at-Qooqqut,-inland-from-Nuuk

Cruising: A Passage to Greenland

When a former winner of the Whitbread Round the World Race invites you to sail the Northwest Passage, there is only one sensible answer. No.More adventurous types might disagree, but they weren’t the ones facing frostbite of the lungs or the possibility of having the yacht’s hull ...read more

Allures-459-2018

Boat Review: Allures 45.9

Allures is not a name on the tip of many American sailors’ tongues, but it should be. After the debut of its 39-footer last year, the French company has made another significant entry into the U.S. midrange market with the Allures 45.9, an aluminum-hulled cruiser-voyager with ...read more

ZP-Sail-Away-pic-No

Jury-Rigging on Charter

A little know-how goes a long way on vacationThey say cruising is just fixing your boat in exotic places. Maybe that’s why so many people prefer to charter. After a week of sailing you pack your bags and step off your charter boat without another care in the world, leaving the ...read more