Saturday, December 22, 2012

Alameda Shipping Channel - Nov. 2012

Alameda - Amidst the Ships  
November 27, 2012

I recently went out on a sailboat with Ken Hauck in Alameda. We experienced the veritable calm before an advancing storm; it was a dark afternoon, with slivers of sunlight on the water.

It was so calm, in fact, we decided to motor out of the channel instead of hoisting the sails. We headed roughly north toward the San Francisco Bay Bridge (that spans between San Francisco and Oakland, with Treasure Island in between). We crossed under the bridge and turned around, returning to Alameda just in time to view a great sunset.

A small map (by Studio L'Image) insert shown (above right) shows the general area where we were today. The map can be seen in its entirety at SF Bay Water Trail site.

When I walked along the Bay Trail (on the shore) near the Port, I marveled at the variety of different boats moving to and fro in such a narrow channel (that can be barely seen on this small map). Some kayakers venture into this shipping channel where we were today, but I felt a bit safer seeing this area by larger boat.

Red spots on the map indicate access facilities/ramps in place; black dots indicate possible future put in and take out spots. The closest red dot to where we were was the Tidewater Boating Center.

The real fun was seeing all the working ships and crafts of all sorts in this industrial area. On the way out of the Alameda Marina we caught sight of Coast Guard Island across the channel on the Oakland side, and three large USCG ships that were docked there. We passed some houseboats, and caught glimpses of Jack London Square.

We also maneuvered around large container ships going in and out of the Port of Oakland. It was a great spot different types of tug boats at work. International container ships loaded flats of cars like they were small toys.

Ken originally learned to sail in the Eastern U.S., in 1973, and when he moved west to work in the technology industry he started sailing in the San Francisco Bay in 2003.

He feels a connection to the Alameda area -- a location that allows easy access to some of the best sailing on the West Coast. I asked Ken some questions about what he liked best about his boat and sailing in the Bay.

What type of boat to you have?
It's a 1979 Catalina 38. It's noteworthy because the hull was designed by naval architectural firm, Sparkman and Stephens. It's a design made to conform to the IOR racing rules prevalent in the 1970s, and it used to be the class boat for the Congressional Cup match race in Southern California.

What do you like best about your boat?
It's a good size to sail SF Bay, it handles the typical high summer winds well, and it's big enough to be stable and comfortable for the usual waves in the Bay. Because of its racing heritage, it's also fun to sail!

What do you like best about being out on San Francisco Bay?
Everything! The views, the great sailing winds, the weather and sharing it all with friends.

Is there anything about the Alameda area (where you keep your boat) special for you?
It's where I was introduced to SF Bay sailing when I dropped in at an open house at the Catalina dealer in Marina Village and found my boat. It has great services for boaters and it's fun going out the channel past other marinas, Jack London Square (Oakland), the old Navy airfield (Alameda), and the Oakland container shipping docks.

Are there any trends or changes you've noticed since you've been sailing on SF Bay?
Not really; it feels about the same as in 2003. But I have enjoyed watching the Bay Bridge getting built, and also some of the development south of Market (Street) in San Francisco.

Any memories or stories you'd like to share about being on the Bay?
Lots of memories, mostly good times with friends. Watching the Blue Angels (jets) perform near Alcatraz during Fleet Week. Sailing to Angel Island to picnic and spend the night moored in the cove. Seeing lots of marine life, including sea lions, sea otters, dolphins and even a pair of humpback whales once near Angel Island.

Image of San Francisco Bay Water Trail map is from San Francisco Bay Water Trail website.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Building Tule Boats - November 2012

The Original San Francisco Bay Water Trail 
November 17,  2012

A few centuries ago, several tribes in California made canoe-like boats from bundles of tule (reeds) that had been cut, dried and woven together. These tule boats, and sometimes rafts, were used for hunting, fishing and transportation in and around San Francisco Bay.

I became interested in tule boats when I saw them on display in museums and visitors centers during my 1,000 mile walk around San Francisco Bay, following the San Francisco Bay Trail. I was fortunate to find a few people last month (November 2012) who knew how to build tule boats, and was able to witness two tule boats come to life on a drizzly Saturday in Marin County.

Charles Kennard, studied basket weaving with a Pomo Indian woman, and applies tools and weaving techniques he learned to the art of tule boat building. "Reed boats are a natural extension of basketry," and a "practical test of one's skills," he explained. He built his first tule boat in 1997 and has, more recently, taken boats out on Corte Madera Creek and where the watershed meets the Bay.

It turns out Kennard built some of the tule boats I saw on my walk around the bay. I caught up with him at a workshop for a group of students participating in an Aim High program in the Tennessee Valley area (west of area shown on Marin area map) about a mile inland from the Pacific Ocean.

I arrived mid-way in the boat construction process, taking place inside a large horse barn. The barn had plenty of covered space to build two tule boats. A previously built canoe-style tule boat was suspended against one wall.

The students were working quickly in teams, and bundles were coming together on the floor.  Rope was being braided and readied to help tie bundles together. Snippets of tule and rope covered the wood floor, along with bits of straw from hay bales. Horses gazed out from their stalls at the work in progress.

While cutting and drying of the tule had happened earlier, I was amazed that two boats could be built and taken out on the water in one day. The materials used were simple but very effective. A carved deer bone tool, that looked perfectly shaped for the job, was used to help fasten or weave bundles together. The bottom and sides of the boat came together quickly.

The front end of this particular boat design came to a high point and the back had a chopped off look. I was told that there were likely at least four different tule boat designs that were used in San Francisco Bay Area. (Other tule boats, and in fact whole tule islands, can be found in Mexico, Peru and other countries.)

I asked Kennard why tules were so well suited for boats. "The interior of the stems consist of narrow, 1/2 inch long air-filled cells, making them buoyant," he explained. That was a good description of the structural advantage of tule. However, it doesn't fully explain the emotional connection one feels in actually creating and floating in one of these craft, as I was about to experience. This feeling, Kennard later commented, was not unusual; and he credits the elemental and historic nature of the material for inspiring this connection. I couldn't help but wonder if we'd lost something of value (such as working with free, sustainable resources, with our own hands) over time.

Once completed, the boats were inspected, loose tule ends were trimmed with a knife. And the boats were carefully lifted and carried outside to a truck, where they were loaded, placed together, on their sides. Boats and students were transported to a large pond toward (but inland from) the beach. Life jackets were donned, safety instructions given, and kayak paddles were used to help maneuver boats into the water.

It was a joy to watch the students experience being afloat and learning how to direct the boats. After all the students were finished taking a turn, I was able to take a short paddle around the pond. It was wonderful. The boat felt sturdy, stable and maneuverable, and I really appreciated the opportunity. A big thank you to Charles Kennard; Richard Lautze and Elizabeth from Aim High; and all the students (former students and staff) who did such a great job creating the boats.

Image of San Francisco Bay Water Trail map is from San Francisco Bay Water Trail website.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Riding the Ducks - Nov. 2012

Launching Water Trail Adventures
November 2012

I was inspired to create this Water Trail Adventures site when I heard about the new San Francisco Bay Area Water Trail, a network of linked access sites around the Bay primarily for paddlers and human-powered craft, made possible thanks to the efforts of the California Coastal Conservancy, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), and many other organizations, agencies and individuals.

I have a thing about San Francisco Bay, one of the largest estuaries in the U.S. Previously, I've walked around the San Francisco Bay (primarily following the San Francisco Bay Trail). I enjoyed this 1,000 mile, clockwise sashay around the Bay from 2009 - 2011, so much that I decided to walk around again. At this writing (Nov. 2012), my last walk was in the Tiburon area (Paradise Drive). These walks are chronicled on my Walking the Bay site, at

During my walks, I've met many people with great stories. So, while Walking the Bay is a true weblog -- with lots of photographs -- I decided that Water Trail Adventures would focus on the stories surrounding the people; their watercraft: kayaks, canoes, boards, rafts, dragon boats, tule boats, sail boats, and other floating means of transport; and the unique connection between people and their particular regions of the Bay as well as to their boats or boards of choice.

I also believe it's very important to have a sense of humor, which is why I selected a maiden voyage on a boat that is unlike most others (and clearly motorized), a duck boat in San Francisco, that has been outfitted for tours. While a duck boat doesn't fit the Water Trail's primary focus, it was fun to investigate.

Riding the Ducks

In October (2012) a friend and I decided to ride the ducks. This idea is not quite as crazy as it sounds, as Ride the Ducks is a tour outfit that takes people out on San Francisco Bay in a World War II era amphibious craft. The tour was part land (through the streets of San Francisco), and part sea (into the Bay and general motoring around in the water near ATandT Park). 

Why was this amusing? Every Ride the Ducks passenger was given a kazoo-like quacker shaped like a yellow duck's bill to wear around their neck and encouraged to make use of it along city streets. We were also invited to sing-along with songs that played periodically, and to generally clap, wave and have a great time. Passer bys on nearby sidewalks (during the land portion of the trip) looked amused, or annoyed. If you are experiencing serious issues and turmoil at work or you're scurrying home because you're late, you probably do not want a flock of human ducks honking and bearing down on you. Understood.

People have asked me where I get my ideas and contacts for stories. I do receive story leads from others in multiple ways. For example, our Ride the Ducks tour operator, Captain Rogers, was overflowing with good cheer and information San Francisco and the Bay. He also mentioned, as the duck boat made its transitional splash into the water, that he worked with a non-profit nearby (Pier 40), the Bay Area Association for the Disabled (BAAD). He talked about sailboats that had been retrofitted to accommodate individuals with disabilities. Another possible story for the future.

What was the story today?
Taking a ride on an unconventional tour boat, and meeting a tour guide who cared about other people and enjoyed making them laugh, while teaching them new facts and stories about San Francisco. Not a bad way to navigate through life.

"The opposite of play is not work, it is depression." 
-- from the book "Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul" (2009) by Stuart Brown, M.D.
Image of San Francisco Bay Water Trail map is from San Francisco Bay Water Trail website.