Monday, January 31, 2005

Boat #2

With the eminent demise of the Edith E, we've begun looking for boat #2. We have one likely candidate that is local and the price may be right. Since the river clean-up project is progressing, we are thinking of forming a 501 (c)(3) to handle donations, limit liability etc..So if anyone knows this stuff (miles?) I'd like to buy you lunch and pick your brain. The non-profit name so far is "Bay Area River Cleanup" or...BARC

My current favorites - great streaming music site from other people's playlists - Almost half a million different industrial products, from fittings, to chain to electronics. Simply amazing, it's like the best hardware store on the planet. funky interface but you can get hi-res recent aerials of almost any major metro area in the U.S (as in Bay Are from South San Jose to Central Petaluma). Did I mention it's free? Ok, so you can't bring nail clippers on an airplane, but you can see every major ship in the world from one web-based map. For boat geeks, this thing is very cool because not only can you find obscure research vessels and their homepages, you can also get a sense of the sea-weather in McMurdo Bay, Antartica in real time. Great green-clearinghouse of info, news, and ideas. Our model for river/bay clean up. I wanna do what those people do. Also I want that boat/barge.

The last voyage of the Edith E

May be soon. Sad to say, but as we've dug deeper into the structure of the good ship Edith E we've found some very bad structural failures. She was originally fastened with square-cut iron nails and those seem to be failing and causing leaks and 'iron-sickness' in the frames and planking. While we can fix the worst of the leaks with some inventive methods, the problem is endemic, and we don't have the time/resources/interest in refastening the entire hull, and reframing half of it. The Edith E is on her way out. She lasted well for nearly 70 years (probably far longer than her builders ever envisioned) but at some point all good things must come to an end. Our current plan is to haul her out in the next month and begin stripping her for parts for the next boat. As some of her planking is still good I'll be salvaging as much of the wood as possible. She was built with full runs of Port Orford Cedar (no butt-blocks) which are probably almost 34' in length. Boat #2 will likely be steel given our plans for river cleanup, and the need for a simple, tough, easily repairable boat. We have some candidates, but I doubt that any will be as charming or as classic as the Edith E. I'm torn between being emotionally attached, and realizing that 70 years is a looooong life for a workboat of any type, especially wood. As they say, we'll always have the memories.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Down on the River

Today Gary and I took some potential clients out on the boat for lunch. We gave them the standard lunch tour: down to the Hulk and back. It was windy and chill, but sunny. Everybody had a great time and I got some preliminary photos of the settlements down river. In fact first I'll draw a map so you can all follow along....

A break in the clouds over Mt. Burdell.

All right, we've seen enough, time to get back on our good little boat.

The charming interior. Someone had been sleeping/drinking in the foward compartment at some point due to the amount of garbage and remains of a mattress.

The roof/cabin top of the Hulk.

The Hulk at high tide. Usually you are much lower than this.

Half a storm on the river, with a side of sun.

Hulks Ahoy..

Down river from work lie a number of shacks, houses, decrepit boats and other detritus. It's as I'd always hoped. Gary and I have been taking Edith out usually at least once a week if not several times, at lunch, or after work. We've begun seeing just how far we can go during out lunch hour and use the various wrecks, projects and dwellings as landmarks in our travels. There's one particularly beguiling hulk up on the bank about half way between here and Papas Tavernas/Gilardi's Marina. It's a large unfinished steel vessel that we've taking to calling "the Hulk" because it sits up on the bank, rusty and forlorn. It also happens to be just how far we can go during an hour lunch and still get back without getting frowned at by our boss. Typically because of the tidal nature of the River, the Hulk is 6-15 feet above the water up on a mud levee, but a couple of weeks ago during the series of rainstorms we were having, my friend and I were headed down river to see what we could see. This time, we were level with the Hulk, and that proved to enticing to resist, so we checked it out. Here's the photos.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


Man...sometimes I just can't believe that Arnold is our govenor. It's just disorienting to see him in photo ops that aren't movie related.
The Edith E is home and safe. We’ve started scraping paint and pulling out the busted/rusted hardware. She’s still in running condition and we’ve been taking her out for lunch time forays down river. Once we get all her lights working we’ll start the nighttime runs. The River is really polluted. There is garbage everywhere, it’s just amazing. There’s a Riverkeeper’s organization here, but I think they only really do cleanup once or twice a year. Also they are an overtly-political agency that is dedicated to slowing development. That’s fine by me, but it strays from the main problem that need addressing: Get the freaking trash out of the river. So Gary and I are beginning to research what it would take to start our own organization that is focused only on getting garbage out of the river. Our model hopes to take after

To that end we are going to be refitting the Edith E to reflect her new calling. The big piece that we are missing is: where to put the garbage we collect. At this moment we have 3 big hunks of wood lashed to our dock (two pilings and platform made of 6X12s) that we need to pull out of the water and dispose of. So far we haven’t found any takers. I’m hoping to begin lobbying the city for support. We’ll see how it goes.

Also we hope to refuel with biodiesel in the not too distant future, but we’ve got to change some seals first. Any of you out there with biodiesel connections: get in touch with me so we can start working on the logistics.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The Seine: LA Style.

Red. Waiting for the train. I want to start wearing hats like that.

Even the fountains look good. The taste of the water...not so good.

Sunday morning paper. Nice bum proof seats.

As pretty as a train station.

The subway on Sunday morning

Angry at God? Tell a phone booth.

Sunset in the LBC. Nice loading cranes.

A bus stop lady.

Again with the Blue Line. I like her hand.

The blue line back to LBC

The Dash. I started taking pictures of people in trasit while on the blue line. I couldn't look through the camera without freaking people out so I just shot from my lap. Not always great, but I like this one.

On the Blue Line.

This sign is brilliant. I love the 'littering' logo. Just brilliant.

Neon in the LBC

Staple Roof. Yes it's really that color at night.

Cliched Self Potrait

Ah. The VIP suite.

Take me to your leader

L.A.: Where you don't need a car.

LA Xmas Trip.

Ok, so I’ve got a little catching up to do with the old blog. I won’t have any more long trip reports for a bit yet, but I’ve got lots of general photos and ideas I want to get up there. First up: My company Christmas party in L.A.

The company I work for ( has their main office in West L.A. and most of the staff down south are ardent sports fans. This led to the idea of holding the company Christmas (ok, holiday) party at a Lakers game. Now, for those who don’t know, I don’t watch sports. It’s never really interested me that much, aside from the occasional binge on motorcycle racing or the Tour de France. So a Lakers game sounded kinda ‘meh’ to me. But a free weekend trip to L.A. with VIP treatment at the Staples Center and free food was good enough. Four of the 6 in our Petaluma contingent were going to try to do L.A. without renting a car. There’d been rumors that L.A. had a decent public transit system and we, being planning geeks, wanted to see how it worked. Our co-workers who live down there thought we were crazy. Dangerously crazy, not funny crazy. They told us it couldn’t be done. Ha! Now honor was on the line. Not much, but a little.

We carpooled to the airport with the two who didn’t indulge in our transit interest and flew down on Friday afternoon. They convinced us to join them in the rental so we could at least get to the Staples center on time. As it happened, it would’ve been faster and easier to get from LAX to downtown by the light-rail line than by car at commute time on Friday night. The Staples center looks like a giant green ufo. I’m told it’s purple most of the year, but due to Christmas they’ve changed the light.

Once inside we found a large and well appointed suite with catered food and a good view of the court, along with 3 or 4 tvs so we wouldn’t miss any of the action no matter which way we turned our heads. The best part was that we were the first ones there so I descended upon the food trays and laid waste to the fruit and cheese section. Sated, I sat down and chatted with other co-workers, most of whom I hadn’t met yet. One guy gave me an intro into NBA basketball, and explained who was who. Very helpful. The game turned out to be riveting. Gary, Terri and I are not big sports fans, yet we were all on our feet and yelling by the third quarter. It was within 4 or 5 points all game long and went into overtime. In the end the Lakers lost, but I was stunned at what those guys could do. ‘Skills’ does not do them justice.

After the game I went out to a club in Santa Monica ( with some people from work. It was fun, and we got to see some good DJs (Jason Bentley, and some other guy whose name escapes me). Then eventually we made it back to my friend’s apartment in Long Beach. She and her boyfriend kindly put me up for the night, and she cooked up some tasty drunk-vittles but unfortunately burned herself pretty badly. Let that be a lesson, don’t cook when you’re loaded. The next day I got up and made my way downtown (LBC) and hopped onto a light rail line that took me to LA. It was cheap, fast, clean, and came every 15 minutes. It was also pretty packed for a Saturday morning. And that was the rule applied to all my transit experiences in LA. Cheap, fast, clean and took you where you wanted to go. It was weird. Being a NorCal snob, I always look down with disdain on LA, but they’ve got an awesome downtown (with a huge number of stunning run-down art-deco buildings and theaters), efficient transit, and glorius weather. It was 72 degrees in the middle of December. Of course, I write this on the day that a massive mudslide kills 4 people, and there’s flooding all over the greater LA basin, but….

I had gone into LA to see the Body World exhibit ( It was amazing, and bizarre. This German Dr. Guy had figured out a way to preserve soft tissue in people without resorting to keeping them in jars of formaldehyde. Well, maybe not preserving, but anyway, he created a huge number of exhibits that focus on one system of the body after another, and the catch is these are (were?) real people who’d donated their bodies to the project. And he puts them in realistic poses, like playing basketball, or reading a book, but he’s sectioned them apart. It’s weird, but not as disturbing in real life as it is in pictures.

After that all four of us (I’d met Gary, Spud, and Terri at the museum) went back out to Long Beach and wandered around and had dinner. Then I went back downtown and got a hotel room. Heidi (my friend in Long Beach) insisted that she drive us back, because we’d been on transit all day. It was very nice of her, but the transit system down there is so much nicer than it is here, that it was no hardship to ride transit.

After we got back to the hotel I wandered around and shot pictures of LA at night. At least my uninhabited part of LA. I’d really wanted to see both the Maritime Museum at San Pedro, and the Bradley Hotel (Site of the end fight scene in Blade Runner) but I’d run out of time. Ironically, the Bradley was a block and a half away but I didn’t know it until we were on our way to catch the train back. D’oh! Next time, but I hear it’s all fixed up and not as cool anymore. Still…I’d like to see it.

The next morning we got up and hopped on the subway to Union Station, the last of the great rail stations (Grand Cental in NY being the first). It’s built in a deco-mission style that suits the locale perfectly. It was beautiful. I kept thinking about Douglas Adam’s line “No one has ever said ‘As pretty as an airport’” because they are all so awful. Why is it that train-stations (at least the grand ones) are so beautiful? Is there a way we can create large public structures with some semblance of the beauty like we used to? Think of San Francisco’s City Hall…and is it something endemic to airports that they have to be ugly and unfriendly?

We had decided to take Amtrak back, the Coast Starlight, and we were going in style: sleeper cabins. I’d never been on the train in the U.S. and I’d never been in a sleeper, so I was very excited. One interesting note: there is no apparent security apparatus for trains, no metal detectors, no dogs, no searches, nada. The lack was so apparent compared with airtravel, especially since I’d had my nail clippers confiscated at Oakland two days before. For the record, I hadn’t meant to bring them I just had a pair in my bag that I’d forgotten about.

Anyway. The train was awesome. Being in a sleeper meant free snacks/drinks/coffee all day long so I spent the time eating, and napping. It was a cat’s holiday. Also because the train has all the nap-inducing qualities of a bus (gentle rocking, low-freq hum, etc) with the benefit that there isn’t some guy next to you drooling, and you can hop onto your fold out bed and snuggle under the blankets. It ruled. I got like 6.5 hours of sleep on the train, in the middle of the day.

We got back to Oakland at 10:30pm (we’d left about 11 hours earlier) and took a cab to the airport and then drove home. A great trip.

The last picture of the trip. After this it gets really dark.

The weird Mansion. This is the best photo we have of it so far.

Sunset on Mt. Burdell

The big muddy. No not that one the other one, oh ok, the Petaluma River.

At the foward helm and in the river.

The dog house, bridge, wheel house...

Elastic time. This is all we could see for a long time.

Oh lord your ocean is so big..part 4

Or: into the big muddy.

With the San Rafael Richmond Bridge behind us, we could immediately see the shores of East San Rafael. This was of particular interest for me because I spent several summers working for Marin County Parks along this stretch of coastline, and every day at work I daydreamed about being out on the water in a boat. I’d imagined it as a kayak, or small canoe not a 1930’s fishing boat. As it happens I think I’ll be coming back down to this area with a kayak as the bottom is so shallow there that we didn’t want to get too close into shore. This was going to be a common theme for San Pablo Bay. It’s funny when you look at the bay from the bridge, or Highway 37 it seems so vast, and in a linear-2D way it is, but volumetrically there’s nothing to it. Our path was tightly proscribed because the charts list water depth at under 3 feet in most places. In some portions of our trip seabirds would be standing in the water a stones through away from our boat, while we seemed to be leagues from land. It’s a giant shallow puddle.
If you look at Marin on the map you’d think there would be a huge amount of seafront-boatish activity. It’s a big peninsula with several inlets from San Francisco bay, but because the water is so shallow, and the land so step, most of the coast line is barely developed. Other than Richardsons Bay there are precious few access points to Marin from the water. The land that was passing by the port side was dark, green and almost unblemished.
Gary and I were well into the swing of things by now. The throb of the motor and the gentle rocking of the boat lulled us into a state of quiet boredom. There was little current, and with the fog and haze, precious little to look at but the water. We put the boat on a heading, and wandered around the boat, cleaning, taking photographs of each other, and flipping through the chart book to plan future adventures.
The water had become glassy and reflected the sky above with a muddy fidelity. The haze on the land obscured the line between sea and sky. This led to a surreal few hours of humming along with almost no visual references. I spent the time poking at things and thinking of coffee. Gary explored how many places he could stand on the boat, the forward deck, the cabintop, the doghouse roof, etc…
Eventually, we realized we should start looking for the entrance to the Petaluma River. By dead reckoning from one duck blind to set of broken pilings (and there are a lot of both in San Pablo Bay) we spotted our first set of channel markers. Up at this end of the bay we began seeing fishing boats. Not the commercial ones we’d left in San Francisco in the morning, but little 1960’s and 70’s fiberglass speedboats with guys in camo and coolers sitting in the shallows waiting for a bite. I think we were as incomprehensible to them as they to us. In our slow, clapped out wooden boat, they would occasionally zip buy us at 3 times the speed. We’d wave to each other but the expressions on their faces were always of confused curiosity.
The sun was getting low in the sky now, we’d been on the water for 6 hours and we had just reached the mouth of the river. We wanted to get to the mooring by dark, because a) we’d never docked before, b) our navigation lights didn’t appear to work. We passed under the Highway 37 overpass and passed the Port of Sonoma Marina. Very quickly we dropped the fiberglass boats behind. They all turned in at Port of Sonoma. It was getting cold again, so we bundled up and stayed on deck. It was simply too noisy to be inside for long.
The River, while beautiful in it’s subdued way, is also slow to change. It would twist and curve, but always we’d be surrounded by banks of pickleweed and some sort of seagrass. Occasionally we’d see a rundown shack, but there was precious little to look at. So we’d stare at the coffee-with-cream colored water and look for evidence of shallow areas. We seemed to be making good time, passing odd outposts of human settlement such as Papas Tarvernas, which is a restaurant/bar/collection of rundown shacks and half-sunk boats. Out in the middle of a marshy section was a giant stucco mansion with palm-trees and private boat dock. It didn’t look finished as there were still stickers on the windows, but we also couldn’t see any access road. Maybe it’s someone’s weekend mansion getaway on the obscure Petaluma River, who knows? It just seemed weird to build such a house in the middle of nowhere. The rundown shacks (which Gary termed “Gracious Country Living”) were awesome. It was exactly the kind of thing I’d always assumed was down-river. It’s sort of like Mad Max/Thunderdome but in a marsh. Some people have wind generators and solar panels, other people have caving in roofs and derelict sailboats. I wanna live there.
All too soon the sun started to set behind Mt. Burdell and we were navigating up river by reflection off the water. It’s freaking dark out there. We were getting close, as the level of large weird stuff was beginning to accumulate on the banks and I could see the 101 overpass. There several boats, and half-finished boats up on blocks at the edge of the river with no settlement nearby. I couldn’t wait to see this stuff in daylight, but now we had to get to the dock. We throttled back as we passed the marina and went through the swing bridge for the railroad. From here on in there was lots of development along the river. Warehouses, townhomes, pilings and gravel loading conveyors. In a matter of minutes we could see the welcoming lights of the dock. My mom and dad were on it waiting with muffins and hot cider, bless their souls. We pulled in clumsily and thunked to a stop. I killed the motor and we tied off and squared everything away. After some refreshments, and chit-chat with my parents we began unloading all the supplies we’d brought, put the canoe back in the office and we were home. A long uneventful but highly fulfilling trip. Now we begin the repairs and further adventures. The first big one on the calendar is the Delta Meadows camping trip with Gary’s friends the Norstad brothers.