Archive for October, 2010


Richardson Bay is dotted with boats anchored offshore. Viewed from a distance–say while looking down from Mount Tamalpais or the Marin headlands–all the anchored boats make for a picturesque postcard.

But up close, it’s a very different situation. The anchored boats come in all shapes and sizes. There are small runabouts no larger that 17 feet that would be more at home pulling waterskiers on Lake Sonoma than running around San Francisco Bay. There are sailboats–very small and very large–some with their masts and rigging still intact, others that are just floating hulls. There are large motoryachts, some that look like they might still be able to move under their own power, and others that look as though they haven’t moved in years. There are few ex-commercial fishing boats too–their huge steel hulls looming ominously over the nearby pleasure boats. There’s even one large barge piled high with old dredging equipment.

This old barge is piled high with miscellaneous junk. It wasn't clear if it was also someone's home.

But most of these boats have one thing in common: They are all in various states of disrepair. Look at it this way: the owners of these boats couldn’t afford a slip to keep them at, so instead they’ve been anchored offshore. And if a yacht owner can’t afford $300 a month for a slip, then they definately can’t afford the upkeep required to keep the boat spic and span.

Many of the anchored out vessels also serve as a home for their owners. Afterall, being anchored in the bay is free, but it’s free for a reason. There’s no electricity, water, or sewer system. Fuel for generators and drinking water all has to be brought over from shore by a dingy.

Oar or outboard powered dinghies are the only link to shore for the anchor outs.

While there are certainly a handful of seaworthy yachts simply anchored in the bay as they tranist their way up or down the West Coast, it’s obvious that for most live aboards anchored out, thier owners are one step from being homeless. Some boats are piled high with gear and junk, others are covered with makeshift shelters made out of blue plastic tarps.

Junk covers what was once the aft deck and cockpit of this double-ended ketch.

The anchor-outs are sometime seen as part of Sausalito’s appeal–as a throwback to the 1960s when Sausalito was more artsy counter-culture than yuppy–Marin Nostalgia has all sorts of interesting history on about Marin County and the anchor outs. But despite this, dilapidated boats riding at anchor also present a number of hazards.

It may be small, but the solar panels on this sloop give it away as a live aboard.

With no “honey barge” pump-out option in Sausalito, many live-aboards at anchor dump their sewage directly into the bay, polluting the water. But it is the anchors and anchor lines themselves that actually do the most environmental damage.

That’s because each anchored boat needs to have at least 50 feet of anchor line out, even in Richardson Bay’s relatively shallow water. (In order to hold, the anchor line needs to be at least 3 or 4 times the depth of the water.) So every time the tide changes or the wind shifts, the boats swing around, and some of the anchor line drags across the bottom. As it does so, it kills any seagrass, mussels, or other organisms that usually help keep the water clear. The dragging line also stirs up silt, clouding the bay. (Editor’s note: I read a great op-ed piece about this, but now I can’t find it, if someone remembers where it is please let me know!)

There is another danger as well. During winter storms, boats sometimes break away from their anchors and are left drifting. The boats are typically blown toward Tiburon, and smash into the docks and homes of residents there–often causing thousands of dollars of damage to the home, not to mention the cost of removing the boat. An excellent article in the Marin Independent Journal provides a typical example of what happens during a storm.

While I've seen this boat securely anchored for over a year now, if such a large boat were to break free in a storm, the damage could be consierable.

There have been proposals in the past to clear the boats out, or to at least provide mooring balls, but for now, it seem like this charming-yet-problematic part of Sausalito will remain.

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Marin County is known for being a bicycle-friendly place. That is, it’s bicycle friendly if you aspire to be Lance Armstrong, and like getting dressed up in your favorite team’s jersey and tight shorts and then riding your carbon fiber road bike over twisty mountain passes.

But for an average person, or even an average cyclist, Marin is not terribly inviting. That’s because most of Marin’s towns are laid out it a North-South line along the 101 freeway. It’s great for drivers–I can get from Sausalito to Novato in 20 minutes–but having a freeway as the county’s main artery is difficult for those who’d rather walk or bike.

But Sausalito and Mill Valley have managed to find a way around the problem, thanks to the aptly named Mill Valley-SausaltSausalito Path.

The wide path provides plenty of space for trail users of all types and abilities.

The paved, 3.5 mile path stretches from Gate 5 Road in Sausalito all the way to Vasco Court in Mill Valley. The path is literally the only way for pedestrians walking from Sausalito to get anywhere north of Gate 6 Road, as the only road is the 101 freeway.

Luckily, then, the path is extremely pleasant to walk or ride on. The path is paved all the way, and for much of the way, there are dirt or gravel paths on the side was well, ideal for those who don’t like jogging on hard pavement.

Heading North, after passing the Bait Shop Market and Mike’s Bikes–both ideal places if you or your machine needs some refreshment–the path parallels the shore of the Pickleweed Inlet. Just before crossing under the 101, there’s a small seaplane and helicopter airport that offers aerial tours of San Francisco should you be so inclined.

Physical activity not for you? Hope on a helicopter or seaplane tour instead.

After passing under the freeway–don’t worry, it’s not too creepy in the underpass–the path makes its way across the wetlands in the Bothin Marsh Preserve. This is the most beautiful part of the path. There are wooden bridges over small inlets and canals and an abundance of bird and marine life. Tidal wetlands are, after all, the most productive ecosystems in the world. Dogs are allowed on the main trail if kept on a leash, but are prohibited on the smaller side trails to prevent damage to the wetlands.

Ok, so maybe it's a little bit creepy.

One word of warning, though: Because it’s built on a levi across the tidal wetlands, the path is occasionally underwater during the highest tides. Forget to check before you go, and you might be coming home with wet shoes–that or waiting for the tide to recede.

The inlets and canals can be kayaked during higher tides, but be careful, the tidal currents can be surprisingly strong.

After crossing the wetlands, the path passes Tamalpais High School before continuing through several of Mill Valley’s parks. If you’re trying to get to downtown Mill Valley, take a left on the sidewalk at East Blithedale Avenue.

The Redwood Bridge takes U.S. 101 across Richardson Bay. The original bridge was actually made of redwood, hence the name.

The traffic on the path is usually quite heavy, and ranges from kids walking to and from school to the ever-present hardcore cyclists. It helps to get out of their way, because even though the path speed limit is 15 miles per hour, there’s little enforcement.

It’s an easy and flat walk, but 3.5 miles is farther than most Americans walk in a week, so make sure to wear decent walking shoes if it’s your first time.

The South end of the path provides view of Sausalito's famous houseboats.

Fleet Week. San Francisco’s annual display of military might was underway once again, from October 7-12, and it featured all the usual things you’d expect from a mostly-shameless military recruiting tool.

Fleet Week’s stated mission is “to honor the dedication to duty and the sacrifices of the men and women in the U.S. Armed Forces.” They also add that the mission includes providing disaster preparedness training.

In reality, though, it’s a display of cool military machines, starting with the parade of ships under the Golden Gate Bridge and culminating with the Navy’s Blue Angels performing on Saturday and Sunday.

Rather than just go and sit in Crissy Field with thousands of other spectators, I decided I would participate in the informal Sausalito tradition of taking your yacht out to watch the festivities from the Bay. It sounded like a good idea.

Of course, I don’t have a yacht. I have a 16-foot, 39-year-old boat that’s more at home on lakes or the delta then in San Francisco Bay’s choppy waters. Still, I had a go.

Most other spectators had yachts, I had this: A 1971 IMP Cherokee. Not exactly the best boat for San Francisco Bay, but at least I was floating.

I headed out of Richardson Bay, which separates Sausalito from Tiburon, picking my way carefully through the fleet of derelict anchor-out boats as I went.

One of the many derelict anchor-outs in Richardson Bay. Stay tuned for more on the anchor outs.

The Coast Guard was out in force, keeping the massive spectator fleet away from the flight line, but that was the least of my worries. My first thought was to anchor the boat in the “general anchorage” area just off Alcatraz, and sit back and watch the show. Anchoring there was clearly no problem for the large yachts, with hundreds of feet of line and electric windlasses (the winch used to pull up an anchor.)

The Coast Guard was kept busy keeping the flight line clear of boats. For obvious reasons, boat were prohibited from being directly under the aircraft.

But I only had a small anchor, with maybe five feet of chain and 70 feet of rope. The depth gauge was showing just around 70 feet of water was beneath me, so such a short rope wasn’t going to cut it. (In order for an anchor to hold, the anchor line needs to be at least three times the depth of the water.) To make matter’s worse, the wind must have been blowing at least 15 knots, so every time I left the wheel to try to deal with the anchor, the boat was rapidly blown back toward an expensive-looking yacht.

Yachts like this one aren't cheap. Not hitting something expensive was my priority.

Instead of anchoring, I chose to constantly cruise up and down the flight line. But this was even more stressful. As a small motor boat, I was decidedly the low man on the totem pool, and most of my time was spent trying to avoid collisions with larger boats. Because of the extreme amount of boat traffic, most of the big yachts had their sails down and were motoring, but a few particularly brave (or stupid) skippers were under sail, creating headaches for everyone else, who had to scramble out of the way.

This beautiful gaff-rigged schooner's skipper chose to cruise the through the crowd under sail. Impressive, but stress-inducing for everyone else.

But back to the air show itself. There were the usual aerobatic demonstrations, a performance by the Patriot Jet Demonstration team, a couple of military helicopter demonstrations, even a low flyover by a United Airlines 747. And of course, the show culminated with the Blue Angels performing for almost an hour.

A United 747 made several low flyovers. Advertising? Probably, but it was still cool to see such a big plane flying so low.

A jet from the Patriot Jet Demonstration Team makes a low pass.

The Blue Angels didn't disappoint, despite being extremely tricky to photograph.

But on the water, it was hard to enjoy an of it. Unlike a car, a boat can’t just stop on the water, so more time was spent looking out for other boats than looking up at the sky. I wasn’t alone. While guests on the fancy yachts lined the rails to watch the show, nervous skippers stayed glued to their steering wheels.

But somehow it all worked. True, the air show itself probably would have been better from Crissy Field, but the up-close view of some of San Francisco Bay’s most impressive yachts more than made up for it.

At least it didn’t rain. Rain might be an annoyance for everyday drivers, but when your priceless (or technically, very expensive) convertible classic car is sitting exposed in a parking lot, the stakes much higher.

Fortunately, Sunday, October 3rd stayed dry, and the Sausalito Classic Car show was able to go on as planned—although the overcast skies, cool temperatures and high wind undoubtedly kept the turnout lower than it could have been.

It would have been too cold to follow this advice

The yearly car show is held by the ferry landing in downtown Sausalito, and is sponsored by–no surprise here–Sausalito Classic Car Storage.

Luckily, for those who don’t own a classic car and just wanted to wander around, the show was free–car shows are just cool cars parked in a parking lot, when it comes down to it, so it’s hard to charge admission. Anything free and fun in Sausalito is off to a good start. If you wanted beer it was $5, as were hot dogs. Sodas and other snacks were also available. In fact, the food and beverage setup was exactly the same as last weekend’s Chili Cook-Off, right down to the same tents and signs.

As far as car shows go, this one wasn’t the biggest. It was small, in fact. San Rafael’s annual May Madness show is easily five times as big, if not more. But in true Sausalito fashion, what the show lacked in quantity, it made up for in quality and elitism.

There are bigger car shows, but there are smaller ones too.

There were no project cars or rat rods here. The majority of the cars had been beautifully restored to near-original condition, although there was the usual contingency of hot rods as well. (For non-car geeks, hot rods are NOT in original condition, usually they’ve been “resto-modded,” a combination of restored and modified.)

Theoretically, it was fun for the whole family. In reality, it was much more fun if you're a car geek.

As usual, classic American cars were well-represented, including Lyle and Georgia Shiffer’s amazingly clean 1960 Chevrolet Impala. The Schiffers are the car’s original owners, and still had the original license plates and window sticker from the dealership.

Original owners, and an amazingly original car.

By far the most radical car in the show was the Swig family’s 1968 Toyota Corona–although there wasn’t much original Corona left. The car featured a fully tubed race chassis, chopped top and highly modified body and an enormous Lexus v8 engine for power. The car’s top speed has yet to be tested, but it cruises easily at 130mph, according to the information on a handwritten piece of paper stuck on the windshield. The car appeared to be built for top-speed racing events, such as Bonneville Speed Week. With all the fancy, polished show cars, it was refreshing to see a car that was really built to drive–and drive fast.

There's not much original Toyota Corona left here...this car is not grandma's grocery-getter anymore.

In addition to the usual American classics, there was a large contingent of vintage sports cars–dominated by Jaguars and Mercedes–and obscure supercars. There was a BMW M1, the only mid-engine BMW to ever be mass-produced. There was also a Jaguar XJ220–of which only 281 were ever sold. The car–which was a huge commerrcial failure for Jaguar–came from the factory with a twin-turbocharged v6 engine putting out 542 hp. At almost seven feet wide, it’s also the widest Jaguar ever made.

BMW M1--BMW has built some concepts cars that look like a new M1. Here's to hoping it gets built.

It was a commercial failure for Jaguar, but the XJ220 still has to be one of the most stunning supercars ever built. And with only 281 road-legal cars produced, it's also one of the rarest.

In truth, if wandering around and learning geeky facts about obscure automobiles isn’t for you–and let’s face it, it’s not for most people–then there really wasn’t much to do. There was a band, but no one seemed to pay much attention to them. There were a couple of stands, one selling models of cars, and another selling funny signs, but that was it.

The booth selling funny signs provided about two minutes of juvenile entertainment.

 

Unless you’re a serious car fanatic, then, the Sausalito Classic Car Show is a nice place to stroll around for 15 mintues, but it’s certainly not something to fill your whole day with. Go inside, get some coffee, and get warm.