Friday, December 17, 2004

The good ship, and ill-stowed gear.

The San Rafael-Richmond Bridge

Just before the Racoon Straight

The Golden Gate

Fast Ferry

Oh lord your ocean is so big..part 3

The sun was out, the motor was humming, and we were on our way. We'd pointed the boat due north and took our positions up in the bow. It was almost warm, the watery sunshine keeping the worst of the bay chill off of us. The motor had come up to temperature and from then on the dials remained perfectly still. A good sign, as my biggest fear had been losing the motor while trying to get across the shipping lanes. Now all I had to worry about was springing a plank, losing the rudder, breaking the steering gear, blowing a hose or seacock, or...

But out on the water those worries died away. We were checking the bilge every 10 minutes or so just to make sure we weren't caught off-guard by some unseen leak. It was smooth sailing. The boat moved through the water like a duck which is much more comfortable than moving through the water like a cork. When we encountered bigger swells she just raised her nose a little and the waves got pushed out of the way. Our major wave testing was accomplished by catching the wake of the high-speed catamaran ferries. Those things just fly along. They are shockingly fast. We instinctively took photos every time one passed, but of course you can't get the sensation of speed from a photo.

We were chugging along at our sedate pace of 6 knots, making our way towards Angel Island. I've heard the old yarn about how being out to see isn't boring because the sea is always changing, and there always chores to do. This rule proved true almost immediately even in the bay. The, dare I say it, fluid nature of the water is entrancing. Changing from what only can be described as sea-green, to blue to muddy brown and back again as we passed different currents and depths. In the middle of the bay there were odd patterns in the water caused by massive upwellings, or clashing tides. Rafts of reeds, seaweed, and garbage floated along usually providing resting places for sea birds. It was endlessly compelling. The subtle complexity of the water reminded me of camping in the sierras and hearing all the gentle fractal layers of sound that you don't notice until it's time to sleep. I feel almost sheepish that this bay has been sitting there all my life (and much longer, I know) and I'm only discovering it's offerings now.

Angel Island was approaching on our left and we wanted to stay pretty close to shore as it was plenty deep for our little boat and the current is less there. For those of you unfamiliar with the bay, Angel Island sits just offshore of the Tiburon Peninsula and the water between the two is some of the most turbulent on the bay. Angel Island acts like a giant thumb on the end of a garden hose and the water that passes down the straight there moves with incredible velocity and strength. These forces have also carved out the seabed to over 100', some of the deepest in the bay. The change at the surface is readily apparent. In the lee of the Island the water was green and fairly calm. There was almost no discernable movement of the boat over the waves, just the reassuring throb of the motor and seeing the coast moving steadily, albeit slowly, to our stern. Towards the inside edge of the island, there was a clear line in the water where the current took over. Immediately the water turned a deep dark blue and the swells increased dramaticaly. Gary and I scampered to the bridge in the cabin as we were getting soaked up foward. Our speed seemed to drop to nothing and the boat was plowing through the swell with aplomb. We cackled and whooped with excitment, as we knew this was likely to be the most exciting part of the trip (provided we had no mechanical failures). I got a sense of what it must be like to take a little boat like this out in the Pacific to fish, and my respect for those old guys rose even higher. One thing seemed clear, this boat was built to deal with conditions far beyond what Gary or I could. The limitations of this boat are purely found in its skippers.

All too soon we were out of the current and back up in the shallows of the bay. Our two major milestones were behind us, and we could'nt quite see our third: the San Rafael-Richmond Bridge. I'd been looking foward to this part of the journey the most because we were in familiar territory, and there were numerous anchorages and marinas to dive into should anything go amiss. Our course would take us by several Marin County Parks, and China Camp. Having spent several summers as a park aide, I'd always wanted to see my old workplaces from the water, and now I would get my chance. On our left was the Tiburon Peninsula, well known as being one of the most exclusive areas in the bay. The houses peeking out from the trees were impressive, if only for the amount of glass each one held. Marin from the water is deeply wooded, and because of the bay's shallowness here (less than 3 feet in most places) we had to stay well off shore. Most of the cities that are on the water in Marin are either in a different part of the bay, or nestled back into the hills and are only reachable by narrow dreged channels. The effect is that very little activity is seen from the water, certainly none of the hubbub of SF or the east bay. In fact in all the bay area, I think Marin (with the exception of Sausalito) ignores the bay the most. This was a blessing for us, as there was very little waterbourne traffic to deal with as we headed north.

With the worst of the bay behind us, and smooth, if muddy, waters ahead we decided to break out lunch. Gary's partner Karen (aka Spud) is an ex-chef, and packed us food for our journey. Neither one of us had inspected the stores when we brought them aboard, so we were suprised to see that lunch was going to consist of crackers, fine cheddar cheese and sardines. Now I like fish, but sardines? Hm....we'd have to see. Gary explained that it was a proper fisherman's lunch, and damn it we were driving a fishing boat weren't we? True enough. He tore off the cover and 8 little headless fishbodies were floating in oil. Luckily she'd gotten the kind without heads, otherwise I'd be going hungry. They fall apart when you pick them up so it's not unlike trying to make a PB&J without a knife. I'd scoop out a wad of sardine (without looking at it because the combination of the shiny skin sluffing off, and the blackish innards spilling out was too much) slap in on a cracker and cover it with a chunck of cheddar and then cram it in my mouth before it all slipped off onto my lap. Wow. It was actually pretty good, and it was perfectly fitting for our experience. By this time we'd gone back up foward and were steering only occasionally to keep us on course. Unfortunately, we were getting low on coffee. In fact, even with rationing, we'd be out well before we got home, and that was a problem. Now getting coffee in Marin is about as hard as getting stuck behind a BMW in traffic, but access to Marin from the water is a time consuming premise, and we were full-steam ahead for Petaluma (which at this point our Conrad references had taken over, and we resorted to refering to our destination as 'the heart of darkness.')

Out of the haze loomed the San Rafael-Richmond Bridge and dotted around it's bases were numerous barges and crane boats. They are retrofitting it or repaving or something so there's a lot of activity going on below. You can see some of it when you cross, but it doesn't compare to seeing just how many 'boats' are tied up to moorings, or pilings under the bridge. The water here was muddy and opaque, as it would be for the rest of the trip. We were out of the flushed part of the bay, and into the delta-fed, turbid, shallow waters. Beyond the bridge lay San Pablo bay, which is very big, and very shallow, many areas are a foot deep or less. If things went bad there we could beach it and have a long wet walk to shore, if the bay mud didn't suck us down.

Gary was piloting as I was wandering around the boat putting things away and taking pictures of the bridge. The current around the bridge was confused and turbulent, and the boat began yawing slightly. Gary kept a steady hand on the wheel as kept an eye out for traffic and hazards. There was some construction debris in the water, and lots of smaller tugs moving about. The current under the bridge was impressive, there was a little bow-wave on the upstream side of the bridge pylons, the bay was acting like a very broad river. Once under and out the other side things calmed down again. San Rafael was to our left and the Chevron refineries were to our right. I could see the 'two sisters' off in the distance. These are two rocks covered in birdshit just off the shore of the park I used to work at. I was always curious to see them up close, and I can now say, yup they are two big rocks covered in birdshit.

We were now out of San Francisco Bay, and going up San Pablo Bay towards the mouth of the Petaluma River. It was 3pm, and we were down to about 8 oz of coffee.

To be continued....

Monday, December 13, 2004

Um..hello? You want what graphic done when? Today?

On our way to Angel Island

Oh lord your ocean is so big..part 2

The fog was unrelenting. We could see almost to the end of the block, but not much further. Occasionally it looked as if the sun was about to peek through, but it failed to overcome the power of a december morning in SF. Sigh. We weren't just sitting around though, we were running through various systems to see what worked and what didn't. Hedley the Harbor Master came by and gave us a letter of passage. I've since found out his true title is 'Wharfinger' which is even cooler, but I don't know what it means.

After 8:30 the local chandlery openned and I went in to kill some time. The place looked like it'd been there since the Barbary Coast days. For those of you familiar with Petaluma, it was like Tomassini's Hardware on a much bigger, older scale. It was abundantly clear that these guys only dealt with Fishermen. There was no yachty crap in sight. All business. I poked around and bought a couple of buckets and drooled over the old school boatbuildings tools, and rigging equipment. Then back to the boat to collect Gary and go get 'second breakfast.' After second breakfast we wandered out Hyde St. Pier and saw a Hicks Marine Engine running. These things are ancient gas motors designed and built in SF from the early part of the century. They are very very cool and mezmerizing to watch. By this time it looked like the fog was beginning to lift so we got back on board and started up the motor.

After squeezing out of our berth (luckily there was nowhere near the shenanigans of last week) and only bumping the boat across the way we made our way to the fuel dock. Our arrival wasn't graceful, but it was gentle. Gentle enought that the fuel dock guys didn't hear us coming and luckily didn't see our hamfisted attempts to rope off until we'd gotten it figured out. We topped up on diesel, as a big troller came in for fuel. His technique wasn't as dainty as ours. He powerslid his huge boat sideways so it slammed into the dock with a deep WHUMP and made all the pilings shake. Ah! so that's how it's done.

With fuel aboard, and a little backing and turning to get pointed the right way (ever watch a 16 year old try a 3 point turn? That's what we looked like, but with more scampering around deck and panicked hand signals) we headed off into the Bay and fog.

Once we got passed the S.S. Jerimiah O'Brien we (ok, I) got immediately intimidated because I couldn't see anything more than a few hundred feet away and I couldn't hear any fog horns next to the din of our motor. We threaded between some more fishing boats coming in, and managed to stay out of the way of a fast moving ferry we could barely see. I couldn't do it. It was too scary, we didn't know what we were doing and I really didn't want to get run down by a frieghter or fishing troller so I turned around.

After the panic subsided a bit I realized that if I just put it in gear and steered from the forward station (out on the bow) I could hear everthing, and see much better. Once bundled up and seated on the cabintop I got to piloting our way towards alcatraz. I couldn't really tell what direction we were going (no compass) but it felt pretty good. I maintained a state of cat-like alertness to any movement or sound. It was pretty exhausting. After what seemed hours of not blinking and spinning my head around at the faintest whisper of sound (while trying to distinguish the fog horns of the golden gate, and alcatraz from container carriers coming out of the east bay) the sun started to come out. Which was a good in the long run, but bad in the short run. The fog was getting thin enough to be illuminated, but not so thin that you could see through it, basically it got really bright and confusing, as opposed to simply grey and confusing. Right about this time the visibility got even worse and just as the fog started to close in I caught something very big and very very fast moving out ahead of us (so fast I thought I my eyes must be playing tricks with me). I would've guessed it was a ferry, but that's only because I didn't think we had drifted into any major shipping lanes yet. Both Gary and I were squeeking "Ack! What is that? Jesus it's fast! WTF?" Then right out in front of us was a loud fog horn and this big black shape started to condense out of the mist. CRAP! he was running back to get the throttles I started turning hard to starboard and clanging our bell when we realized: it was Alcatraz! We'd gone much farther than we'd imagined and were right on the backside of Alcatraz. Whoohoo! Our first milestone reached we moved off a little bit (so as not to hit the rock wall that came up out of hte bay) and started heading north. The fog stopped at the midline of Alcatraz so as we moved towards the eastern shore it grew solid and our visibility lengthened to such a degree that I could begin blinking and breathing again.

It was such a stupendous sight in the fog, that I deeply regret having left my camera down in the cabin so I got no picture of it, but it was stunning. Gary might have one, but it was something that had to be experienced like a sunset. Elated Gary and I broke out the snacks and started crossing the bay proper. There was no shipping traffic in sight (not a good sign actually, I'd rather know exactly where they are so I can plan ahead) and we motored across towards Angel Island. The water was a deep green with light swells and a brisk breeze. As we looked around we noticed that only the water had cleared of fog, Marin, SF and the East Bay were like big wispy pillows. It was to be that way for most of the day. Clear over us and dark and gloomy everywhere else.

Now that the panic had disapeared we began to take note of what a great boat the Edith E was. Smooth and gentle in the swells, she was the most comfortable boat I've ever been on (most of my boating experience has been in 1970's era fiberglass sailing boats that tend to pound in a seaway). I can why people personify boats, because they do seem to exhibit personality in the way that cars (at least modern ones) can't. Piloting a boat is not like a car, and its hard to let go of that kind of training. You can take your hand of the wheel for awhile, and especially because we are going so slow (4-6 knots) you get time to look around and notice the small things like a piece of seagull down that is floating on top of the water, almost perfectly dry until it gets caught in your bow wave. We were both totally smitten, and couldn't figure out why didn't everybody do this all the time. It was a beautiful morning out there and I only wish I'd had more people with me to share in it. Next time, I guess.

Angel Island was still had a wispy cap of fog on it's upper slopes but at the water it was clear and bright. Our next major milestone was coming up, the lee of the island and crossing the Racoon Straights. That would put us across the major part of the shipping channels and get us close to a number of marinas should we run into problems. To be Continued...


Sunday, December 12, 2004

Oh lord your ocean is so big, and my boat is so small...

That's what the brass plaque reads in the wheelhouse of my boat. The Edith E may be small, but she's capable, and friendly, and most importantly: Home.

Friday started early. There was a light knock on my door at 5.15 AM, which set Fargo barking up a storm. I don't think there's a better alarm clock than the shrill yawp-yip of my heeler. I was up and dressed in minutes. I'd packed what I felt was necessary the night before so I piled into Gary's car with my bag and we were off. Almost. We swung by the office to grab his canoe so we could have an escape vehicle in case the Good Ship Edith came unhinged in the Big Blue.

By 6:25 we were in San Francisco. The still sleeping fisherman's wharf was our breakfast nook. After the proper ratio of hot-caffiene and carbohydrates had been purchased from the great Seattle-Evil-Empire we clambered down to the decks. We had brought with us an impressive amount of gear for a day's journey:
-More Tools
-Battery Charger
-Plus all the stuff we'd bought from West Marine in the last 72 hours (bilge pumps, wiring, hoses, oil, anchor/chain/rope, etc...)

We were going to cross the San Francisco Bay by heading east behind Alcatraz and Angel Island and heading up past Marin and under the Richmond-Bay Bridge and across the thin but expansive San Pablo Bay into the mouth of the Petaluma River, then another series of twists and turns until we touched her nose at the dock at Foundry Wharf where she is to be berthed. All in all a trip of 6-10 hours non-stop depending on wind and tide, and the actual speed of our boat.

But first we had to get the Edith E prepped.

After breakfast Gary got to work wiring in the bilge pumps, and I did everything I could to dispel the nervous energy which had been building all week. A little aside: I love boats, especially wood ones, but I'm also prone to sea-sickness, and nether Gary nor I had really any experience piloting a boat out across one of the most challenging areas to sail in the US if not the world. Granted we weren't sailing, but that only meant we had no backup if our motor quit, or the rudder fell off, or...So I was nervous. Moving about and stowing gear, as well as getting more aquanted with the boat was a good thing. The time it took to find places for everything was a viceral reminder that we had thought of almost any forseeable consequence. So by 7:30 or so we were ready, but we had one problem: Fog.

The fog was so thick that we couldn't see the end of the lagoon much less any traffic on the bay, suffice to say we could hear fog horns going off all over the place. Did I mention our horn didn't work? Nor our running lights? So we stayed in dock and waited, and waited....To be continued.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Gary at the helm as we head west.

Orion in the Bow. He looks a little nervous, or cold, maybe both.

Ms. M looking at Alcatraz. Notice how small the wake is. This is a great boat.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

I'm Driving! Lookit me go! I think we are doing about 3 mph....

Heading Out!

casting off

A three hour tour...

Oh dear god. She runs. She floats. She is a boat!

Today Gary and I, well, Gary got the boat running. She ran out of the harbor poked her nose into the San Francisco Bay and went back in. But let me start from the start.

After going over to Hayward/Oakland yesterday to pick up a set of seats for my car, I decided to come home over the bay bridge and swing by the boat. It was early Saturday evening, and I wanted to check out the batteries because we suspect they were the reason the motor wasn't starting. In all honesty, I wanted to go to the boat so I could make sure that I hadn't been dreaming the whole thing.

She was still there, and our padlock was still on the door. Hooray!! It was also pretty sweet to have a free parking place right in the middle of fisherman's wharf, so I had to use that while I had the chance. I wandered around in the crowds for awhile and marveled at the randomness of it all. The best part was there was this bum who was using a pair of brushy liquid Ambar branches as a blind (like a hunting blind) and then he'd jump out and scare people. Now the really good part was that it worked. People were genuinly suprised. OK picture the scene. It's Saturday night and there's a crowd of people lined up staring at this little 3 foot high wall of tree-brush and you go walking buy...yet you are not noticing the crowd of people or the bum crouching down behind the brush. Then BLAH! He jumps. You jumps and the whole block breaks out in applause and laughter. It was really bizarre.

But I digress. Anyway after getting some coffee and some food I go back to the boat and climb down the ladder to sit on the cabintop and eat my dinner and watch the street from below. It was far cooler then I could've imagined. I was struck dumb at how happy and peaceful I felt on my little boat, munching on a burger, and rocking gently to the waves.

After all that I determined that the batteries were toast, packed up and went home.

Gary and his partner Spud (nee Karen) were planning on coming down today, as were Meredith and I. He was bringing all the tools he felt he needed as Ship's Engineer and a pair of golf cart batteries. I was gonna bring some diesel, a funnel and whatever else I could think of. Our goal was to get it started.

As it happened, Meredith, Orion and I all went down a little after noon, and Gary had been aboard for several hours replacing the roached batteries and figuring out the wiring as needed. I left Orion and Gary alone together and Meredith and I went for lunch and a quick, freezing stroll out the Hyde St. Pier. When we got back, Orion and Gary had gotten her started and had taken her out. Evidently it was quite a tight squeeze out and a bit uncomfortable getting back into the berth. They pack the boats in sardines really. We hopped aboard and Gary started her up again (Jesus! The motor is LOUD) and Orion and I manned the boat hooks to fend off other boats (we did a terrible job of it and we got kinda stuck a couple of times). Eventually we got turned around the right way and headed out of the harbor. Midway out (in the picture where Gary is waving at the camera) I took control and steered out past the Jerimiah O'brien and that WW2 sub they have down there. Then we spun it around and headed back as Spud was on shore (she manned the camera) and wanted to go home. Getting it back in was also a bit of a bump-n-grind, but we were getting the hang of it. Then Gary and Spud went home, and Meredith went to wander around looking for Christmas presents a bit, and Orion and I were left to trouble shoot the bilge pump and clean up the boat. All I can really say is WHOOOOHOOOOOO!!! Pics to follow.

Now we just have to get her across the bay and up the Petaluma River.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Picture uploader on the fritz.

The Edith E will remain on my flickr page until this thing starts working again. Feel free to stop by and leave a comment. We are taking suggestions for names. At this point we are thinking the Colonel Kurtz.

The song of the Edith E.

Wow! What a day, and it's only 2:30 Pm. I'm now the proud owner of a clapped out ex-fishing
boat. Pics above. Some of you may know (or may have guessed by some of my earlier posts) that
Gary and I have been looking for a boat for a little while now. The criteria was: Not totally
roached, decent if rough mechanicals (must be diesel), and not too much rot. We didn't want
something bigger than 40ish feet, and not too much draft. It's intended destinations will include: the Mothball fleet, Delta explorations, Urban Decay sightseeing tours along the
bay-front, Foggy Petaluma River tours. With Gary as ship's engineer, and myself as ship's carpenter we figure we can make a good team.

The problem was finding a boat. People want actual money for these tubs. Like more than a couple thousand dollars. We simply weren't going to spend that kind of money. As it happened we ended looking at several boats, and none of them seemed worth the price.

Then Craigslist got interesting. Someone was advertising a 46' ex-Naval Launch for $1000.

Supposedly it ran but needed to be moved from it's mooring immediately. It was next to Hyde St. Pier in SF. Now my sleaze-meter starting pinging, but we kept after the deal. After an entertaining experience involving a guy on a rusty bike, a boat that had been impounded and an enlightening conversation with the cops, we decided to walk away. There just seemed to be too
much bad ju-ju surrounding the deal.

But that adventure got us in touch with Harbor Master Headley. HMH is in charge (as his title
implies) of the harbor at Fisherman's Wharf. He was the one who was *really* selling the Naval
Launch, and while it was eventually sold, he had several other boats that were going up for
auction. Most he decided were probably out of our price range (you know, REAL fishing boats,
with metal hulls and big diesels and such) BUT he had one for free if we just came down and
picked it up. He told us "30' or so, seems to keep water out because it's been sitting for about
a year with no maintenance, other than that I don't know. Come get it."

Now we're talking. Free. That's a proper pirate boat. Pirates never paid for boats right?

But was free a low enought price? How bad was it? Only a recon trip at dawn would tell. So I got woken up this morning at 6am to the sound of my dog barking incessantly at Gary. I thought we'd agreed on 7...damn. I threw on some clothes, kissed meredith's sleepy forehead and we were off.

We got down to Fisherman's Wharf by 7AM, unfortunately Harbor Master Hedley wouldn't be in his office until 8. I knew I'd said we should start at 7. So I tersely told Gary to park because I
needed coffee, and perhaps a refreshing bread-product, and I needed them now. Fisherman's Wharf is actually quite fetching at dawn. Just us, the street cleaners, the bums and the pigeons. We wandered around looking for a boat called the Edith E.

We found her just before 8. Since Harbor Master Hedley still wasn't around we went aboard and poked around in her cockpit, and opened all the access panels we could. Frankly we were amazed. Her hull looked to be in better shape than every other boat we'd seen yet, regardless of asking price. Her cockpit and decks were a bit rough, but nothing some sanding and paint wouldn't fix. Maybe a little stick of wood here and there. Still, suprisingly sound. We started to get suspicious and I was digging around poking my survey-knife into every piece of wood I could reach. Nothing but the statisfying tunk-tunk-tunk sound of solid, rot free tree-flesh.

Then Harbor Master Hedley showed up, and for a minute I was afraid he was going to tell us that the owner was going to pay his debt, and she was no longer available, but no! The owner was fine with us having her, and Hedley was equally happy he was going to get another paying customer in her berth. Sweet!

The day wrapped up with us trying to charge the batteries (they're dead jim.) and getting the motor to crank over. Now I'm back at work, waiting for the moment when I can get back to my ship and get her running. She needs to get across the bay and upriver. Stay tuned!