Cruising Stories

The California Delta

pacific northwest

My husband is taking me on a 50th wedding anniversary cruise, my wife Jill told her three bridge-club women friends. "Where are you going?" they asked. "Europe? Hawaii? Mexico?" "Pittsburg and Suisun City Marinas on our Bayliner," Jill said, smiling.

I recently joined the San Joaquin Delta Power Squadron to take boating to the next level, and Jill and I would be doing the cruise with several other members from the club. My goal when joining was to experience boating beyond the Antioch Bridge, which is the western dividing line between the placid inland waterways of the California Delta and a potpourri of ports that stretch all the way to San Francisco.

The best thing I did before our outing was to have my 1984 Bayliner 2850 Contessa Flybridge thoroughly checked. Too much slop in my boat's steering was a clue that it needed new bushings in the Volvo out-drive. One of the two duo-props was also replaced. This proved to be a good investment when we later hit rough waters. The only thing that did not function properly during our trip was my GPS, which failed to yield the depth and heading, and made me thankful that I had previously installed a backup Hummingbird depth meter.

After leaving our homeport of Village West Marina in Stockton and reaching the San Joaquin River, we began following Power Squadron members Bob and Marlene Burk in their 36-foot Carver. I wasn't sure of the transition to False River that is a shortcut to the Sacramento River and the Antioch Bridge. Following the Burks solved that problem, as they knew the way, but Bob's boat speed yielded a bumpy ride for us as we approached the Antioch Bridge. Because I had hit a sand bar on the west side of the Antioch Bridge several years ago, I was paranoid and determined to follow the Burks' boat into the Pittsburgh Marina.

We refueled at the Pittsburg gas dock. Tying up in the wind was a challenge with our single-engine Bayliner, but fortunately marina supervisor Gus Barkas came out of his office to help. At Pittsburg, the marina is divided into the new and old sections. Once fueled, we had to go around to the older section, where our host Pittsburg Yacht Club and Ralph Tocci Yacht Sales are located. Most of the other six Power Squadron boats doing the cruise had left early that morning and arrived before us. Tocci was there to grab our line and welcome us. That evening the Power Squadron wives provided the hors d'oeuvres at the yacht club, and the socializing began.

I then enjoyed walking into nearby Old Town Pittsburg. The city has spent a reported $38 million in renovations, even giving free rent for two years to many of the merchants and restaurants. The New Mecca Café, Pittsburg's most famous Mexican restaurant on Railroad Avenue, has expanded into two more stores on the corner. You can still sit in the original section with the murals on the walls, or you can enjoy the all-new section or eat outdoors at café tables. Every Thursday there is a car show that attracts more than 100 cars that line both sides of Railroad Avenue. Another attraction was a live band in the sunken outdoor pavilion, where people were dancing.

The best attraction, though, is the Pittsburg Historical Society & Museum at 515 Railroad Avenue, where more than $400,000 has been invested to document the area's past. There I learned that coal mining was one of the town's first industries. Rooms feature subjects ranging from an early 1900s doctor's office to bridal dresses. There is also a replica of a ship that immigrants from Italy traveled on to New York's Ellis Island before settling in Pittsburg. I can understand why people from Italy liked to settle here, said Jess Hurtado, a former accountant and spark plug financier of the Pittsburg Historical Society & Museum. It looks a lot like Italy here.

The next morning, I used the yacht club's shower and enjoyed cinnamon rolls my wife had baked before we left home. Then we all untied our boats and peeled off into the open waters of Suisun Bay. The 2-foot waves seemed like a Cape Horn day to this novice. It was like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz telling her dog Toto, We're not in Kansas any more. I told myself, "We're not in the Delta now!" We had to slow down to about 5 miles per hour, and most of the other power squadron boats, larger than ours, became white specks far ahead of us. However, two guardian angel Power Squadron boats stayed with us and were in constant radio communication. First, we followed Jack and Judy McCarty's 47-foot twin-engine yacht, then switched to following John and Gerty Ladner's 39-foot single Mainship trawler --- the vessel's deeper draft created a wider, smoother path. This taught us the value of traveling with a group. I also learned the handling differences between my 6,000- pound Bayliner and the larger, heavier yachts. Until we began following the Ladners' boat, we got tossed around a lot. Jill urged me to turn around and go home. I convinced her not to panic and told her that things would get better, knowing that we were not going all the way to San Francisco. Conditions did improve rapidly. Once we were in Montezuma Slough and crossed over on Honker's Cut to Suisun Slough, the Neptune god of water backed off enough for Jill to drive the boat and for me to get a bathroom break! We were very content to follow the slow-moving boats that waited for us. The remaining nine miles of Suisun Slough was a beautiful, smooth cruise with trees, marsh landscape and mountains off in the horizon.

Everyone helped each other dock their boats at the Solano Yacht Club in Suisun City's Marina.We observed that it does take a village when you own a larger boat. That evening I ventured out on foot to again explore the area around the marina. I discovered a wonderful promenade walkway that went from the yacht club to the other side of the marina, where restaurants and the harbor master's office are located. On the walk, I enjoyed seeing metal sculptures and a park with playground equipment. I visited the Athenian Restaurant and noted a theater with interesting sculptures outdoors.

The cruise was a tremendous bonding experience, and it may well have exceeded spending thousands of dollars for a cruise ship to Europe. The trip gave us many lasting memories. I told Jill, For a little pain, we got a lot of gain.

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