Ephemerisle cannot be reached by land. You must arrange for transport and lodging by boat beforehand. While daytrippers are welcome, please make sure that you arrange a means of getting to and from the event beforehand. Wear good shoes just in case you need to clamor down rocks to get to the ferry. Most ferries to shore end at dusk and don't start again until dawn. If you miss the last ferry, you could spend a cold, wet, sleepless night.
In most years, Ephemerisle has been at Mandeville Point, about 11 miles from the city of Stockton. Note when calculating travel time that some of the roads are interrupted by bridges that may be raised to allow for boat traffic.
There are basically three options:
- Catch a ferry
- Launch your boat/structure from a nearby boat ramp
- Bring your own boat all the way by water
Getting a ride on a ferry
Volunteer ferries are typically operated by the islands, and depart and return to one of the nearby marinas (which are listed below). Check with the leaders of your island to see if there is a volunteer ferry for your island. Ferry schedules vary depending on the person operating the ferry. Do not expect a ferry to tow your floating land or art unless you explicitly arrange this in advance.
Check the Ephemerisle 2022 page for info on how and where you can catch a ferry.
Launching a boat/platform
Towing home-built structures not designed for the water is very, very slow. There are strong currents in the channels and traffic from big ships, so coming by kayak can be risky and only should be attempted by experienced kayakers.
These are the closest usable boat ramps:
- King Island
- Paradise Point
- Lighthouse Marina
Check the Marinas pages for more locations and details.
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
This is a tricky thing to write about as trip planning is something that is very much each captains responsibility, but I can describe what I do. Current rules everything when traveling to the delta for me.
- Heading to the Delta: I try to cross SF bay at slack tide, arriving 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 my humble boat's speed, where I average 4kts or so usually, with a max hull speed of around 6kts, I've seen 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 me to get from Emeryville to Potato slough in 9 hours, departing 7am and arriving around 4pm.
- Returning to the SF bay: This is more complicated. I try to ride the ebb current if I 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.
- Don't forget that you get the most 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 riding 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.
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:
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.
- 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, 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, diesel and gas fuel dock. If you call ahead they will leave a gate key for you in an accesable 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.
- I've never had to stop between Bencia Marina and the SF bay, but there are some bail out points at the west end of San Pablo bay that might be useful, like Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor, McNears beach/China Camp, Loch Lomond Marina, and San Rafael Creek. More details on these or other locations are welcome.
Channels: Shipping channels are great. Even on my boat that draws 4.5' it is nice to stay in the channel where possible. The delta gets shallow in a hurry outside of the channels, even in wide open areas like San Pablo bay, or Suisun bay. If you do have to depart from them, check your chart, watch depth meter, and always keep a sharp lookout for the best route.
Navigation: Use channel markers/daymarks. Frequent numbered markers allow one to always chart their location. 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 is a great tool, it is really nice to have some paper charts, or even a chartbook to refer to in order to get the big picture. Something like San Francisco Bay and the Delta Waterproof Chartbook by Maptech WPB1210 3E, or similar are 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.
Traffic: 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. I will depart the channel if possible to avoid getting too close to large shipping.