Sailing from SF Bay
Ephemerisle can be reached by water from the SF Bay.
It's about a 60 mile trip (16 hours by sailboat) from Berkeley. It tends to be a lovely two day sail there with the wind at your back all of the way out there. And it tends to be something of a nightmare trip back with pounding waves directly into the wind the entire way back.
Make sure you've got a depth sounder! Everyone runs aground in the delta.
Make sure you've got a good working engine. The trip back is very, very difficult without an engine.
Tides and Currents:
Trip planning is something that is very much each captains responsibility, but here are some factors and strategies to consider. Current rules everything when traveling to the delta.
- Don't forget that you get the most force of the current in the middle of the channel, so if the current is against you, try to get to the side of the channel as much as safety allows. Kame Richards has a great talk about harnessing currents and counter-currents when needed.
- While navigating the sometimes shallow waters of the delta, it ideal to move during a rising tide so that if you do run aground it may not be to long a wait for your vessel to float free. This is obviously not always possible, but it's something to keep in mind.
Heading to the Delta
Make use of the current by crossing SF bay at slack tide to arrive at the Richmond bridge/San Pablo Straight area at the beginning of the flood tide at that location. This timing isn't exact as the flood tide and current stays with you as you head upstream if you can keep up with it. If done correctly, you may be able to ride the flood tide to Antioch or beyond. Combined with the usual westerly or SW wind, the current can add a significant amount of SOG to your boat's speed. This can add 3kts. For a boat with an average 4kts and a max hull speed of around 6kts, this might allow 8 or 9kts sustained while in the height of the current with a strong following wind. That translates into a lot of extra ground covered in daylight hours, allowing you to get from Berkeley to Potato slough in as little as 9 hours.
Returning to the SF bay
This is more complicated. A common strategy is to ride the ebb current if one can catch it in the early morning before the west wind picks up and creates too much chop. If you have the engine capacity for it, some have suggested heading to the SF bay on a flood tide to trade adverse current for smoother waters. It all depends on your boat. Regardless, the west wind that builds in the afternoon helps on the way to the delta and is a rough element on the way back to SF bay. This generally becomes an issue west of Antioch where the afternoon west wind can make the New York slough, Suisun Bay, and San Pablo bay pretty rough. Plan accordingly.
A common itinerary for the shorthanded is to make day one of the trip to Pittsburg Marina, which is a full but not exhausting distance. Second day is a short hop to Benecia that feels like a premature stop, but there are few good options past it. Lastly an early departure to cover the nautical miles back to the SF bay. Those with faster boats or more crew can eliminate stops by sharing the helm time, or by taking a break during the afternoon winds and resuming at night.
Areas to stop on the way there or back if needed
If all goes well with timing the tide and getting favorable wind, it is possible to make it from the bay area to Mandeville Point in one day. It is a long day though for all but the faster boats, so one may need to stop over on the way, and definitely on the slower trek back to SF bay. Here are some of the places one might stop for the night:
- Pittsburg Marina - Inexpensive, diesel and gas dock, nice restrooms, very friendly, short walk to town with good food. If you arrive after hours you can just dock in a guest slip and pay in the morning. Marina is not secured which allows free entrance and exit, but you wont have access to the bathrooms without getting a key during business hours.
- Middle Slough - Can be a little windy, but roomy and a place to anchor.
- Mayberry Cut - Calm, but some shoreside raccoons.
- Benecia Marina - Sometimes really shallow. Has diesel and gas fuel dock. If you call ahead they will leave a gate key for you in an accessible lockbox. Short walk to town with many cafe, bars, and a supermarket, though the market is just far enough that taking a car service back to the marina is in order if you get lots of groceries.
- Some bail out points at the west end of San Pablo bay that might be useful:
- Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor
- McNears beach/China Camp
- Loch Lomond Marina
- San Rafael Creek
More details on these or other locations are welcome.
Use channel markers/daymarks and a nautical chart. Frequent numbered markers allow one to always know their location by consulting a chart. While the delta can be a confusing maze of waterways to the unfamiliar, channel markers and a chart will allow anyone to navigate easily. While a gps or phone nav app can often offer the same capabilities, it is critical to have some paper charts or a chartbook to reliability refer to in order to navigate safely and to get the big picture. Something like "San Francisco Bay and the Delta Waterproof Chartbook" by Maptech WPB1210 3E, or similar is invaluable. There are also one page delta maps that are useful for knowing where various businesses in the delta can be found, but they are really not meant to be used for navigation.
The delta gets shallow in a hurry outside of the channels, even in seemingly wide open areas like San Pablo bay, or Suisun bay. Even on my boat that draws 4.5' it is nice to stay in the channel where possible. If you do have to depart from them, check your chart, watch depth meter, and always keep a sharp lookout for shallows.
While the channels are the best way to keep from running aground, they can be some huge traffic in them. A prudent captain would give the large commercial traffic a wide berth. They are often constrained by depth and/or cannot stop or maneuver. If you are unable to determine which direction to go to keep clear of a vessel, like if you are not sure if they are turning around or which channel they are picking, you can contact their bridge on channel 13. They are unlikely to be able to avoid you, but if you know what they are doing it may help you avoid them. See radio page for general usage.
Common mechanical issues
There are a lot of weeds floating in the delta. Be sure to check your sea strainer daily. This is something that many bay sailors only have do very rarely, but in the delta your sea strainer can fill with weeds daily. It's always a good idea to have a spare impeller and gasket, but especially so in the delta where a clogged raw water intake can destroy an impeller quickly.