Why Sail an El Toro to Stockton?

Every year when I drive my son and his boat to Stockton for Sail Camp, I can't help but think that driving 65 miles downwind with a perfectly good sailboat tied to the roof makes no sense at all. The 'Toro is eight feet long and perfectly capable of making the trip on its own.

2010 was a Pacific Cup year, but I was recovering from eye surgery and not allowed to be away from the eye doctor for two weeks. SO... What to do that would be just as stupid and dangerous as sailing a small boat to Hawaii? Sail a much smaller boat to Stockton! I had the time off, and my son needed his boat delivered from Richmond Yacht Club to Stoctkon Sailing Club.

The trip took five days. I carried all my camping gear and nearly all of my provisions on board, adding another 50 lb. to my 180 lb. of live ballast.

The boat is an older Sailnetics self-rescuing model, with a custom carbon mast made from an old windsurfer mast. A single deep reef point was added to the sail. I carried an anchor, GPS, VHF, and a chart. Three dry-bags and a watertight box held all the camping gear, electronics and provisions. The camping ground pad and a boat cushion made the back part of the cockpit very comfortable for long periods of time, and with all the heavy gear forward, there was no need to keep live weight centered over the thwart.

One other boat sailed the entire route: A Contender (16 ft trapeze singlehander) sailed by 17-year-old Cal Sailing Club member Auric Horneman. We were joined by two sea kayakers at Martinez: Fran Sticha and Bo Barnes, both active in the Bay Access organization. Due to vastly different performance characteristics, the different boat types split up for each leg. We were in frequent VHF contact and met for overnight and lunch stops.

Trip Log

Day 1

Departure delayed from 8:00 AM to 9:00 due to the usual misc. tasks piling up, including giving a weather briefing to some Pac Cup racers starting that day.

Strong sea breeze already up by 9:00, started with reefed main. Easy sailing out into the Bay, around Pt. Richmond and Richmond Long Wharf. Nice boost from flood tide. Red Rock at 10:00, Pt. San Pablo at 10:40.

Ran out of flood tide off Pt. Pinole. Steep chop, adverse current, very slow rounding of Pt. Pinole against ebb in somewhat dicey conditions, but no problem beaching on east side of Pt. Pinole near the group campsite, arriving at 12:00.

Beach-to-park access not great, but there is a path near the bathrooms close to the fishing pier, and another path south of the fallen trees on the beach. Joined by Jim McGrath and Penny Wells (from Ferry Pt. and Pt. San Pablo) and by Bo Barnes and Fran Sticha, by road. Also Grant Bennet and family by road.

The park is the former site of the Atlas Dynamite Co., and the group campsite is hidden in a crater-like bunker.

Elapsed time RYC to Pinole: 3:00.

Day 2

Depart before other boats at 07:30. Wind stronger than anticipated, and water rougher than expected.

Waves did not smooth out until under the Carquinez bridge in stronger flood current at 9:40. Pleasant sailing from there to Martinez Marina, arriving at 10:30. Good trainspotting. Kept reef in for the whole day.

At Martinez, easily found SSS Sea Witch but had not received promised text message with combination to cabin lock. We hacked the combo (the "one-up, one-down" method) and made ourselves at home. Lunch at Mexican place at Main and Ferry. Kayaks arrived by road later. Dinner at Japanese place on Main.

Elapsed time Pinole to Martinez: 3:00.

Day 3

Could not depart 'till 8:40, after Harbormaster's office opened to return marina key. Wind and waves up, steep chop despite flood tide. Went north of Roe Island (not sure if it was the restricted area off Naval Weapons Depot), then between Roe and Ryer islands. Good wave protection between islands, but very rough otherwise. Would have used a deeper reef if available. GPS ground speed (30 sec. average) at 6.0 several times. Auric capsized and turtled the Contender but recovered without assistance.

Stopped at Pittsburg Marina for lunch on the dock, arriving at 11:40. Joined by Auric and the kayakers. Mistakenly declined offer from a friendly powerboat owner to give us a ride to town in case we needed anything. We didn't need anything, but we probably could have leveraged overnight berth space on his boat if we had engaged.

Depart Pittsburg at 1:00, still very rough conditions, 30-sec. average ground speed hit 6.1 on one occasion, with probably about one knot of flood current. Arrive Antioch Marina at 1:40.

No activity at Antioch Marina, gates locked preventing exit. (Did not know about Humphry's guest dock outside of harbor.) Depart Antioch Marina at 2:25, sailed on to Bridge Marina, conditions still rough. Highest wave crests barely touch horizon as observed while sitting on boat cushion and ground pad on bottom of 'Toro, making them about 2.4 ft. Arrive Holiday Harbor at 3:05.

Entered Holiday Harbor by mistake, no tie-up available, bent masthead wind indicator on overhanging covered berth roof. Difficult exit from harbor, upwind in vary narrow channel. Sailed a very short distance around to Bridge Marina. p>All jibes on day 3 are chicken jibes.

While tying up at Bridge Marina YC, masthead wind indicator fell into boat. Dropped mast to straighten and re-install.

Bridge Marina Yacht Club was closed, but some members arrived for a board meeting and we were allowed to use the bathroom. Slept on the Bridge Marina YC guest dock.

Discovered the public pier and public bathrooms at Antioch/Oakley Regional Shoreline on the upstream side of the bridge the next morning. Group camping by special arrangement with EBRPD may be possible.

Elapsed time Martinez to Bridge Harbor, Antioch: 4:20.

Day 4

Depart Bridge Marina YC at 08:30. Still windy but wave condition is better with reduced fetch. Still reefed. Conditions improve dramatically at turn-off into False River at 10:45. Easy and pleasant sailing in False River.

Took wrong turn into slough on south side of Little Frank's Tract instead of north side of tract while eating lunch and following shore of Bethel Island. Attempted to cross part of Frank's Tract to return to slough on north side of Tract. Encountered very thick vegetation and light wind. Capsized in light air (less than 10 knots) while attempting to clear weeds from rudder. Righted easily, no water in dry bags, no significant gear or supplies lost, only one small bag of trail mix drifted out of reach. Joined by Auric in Contender after scheduled VHF communication.

Shook out reef, tacked up narrow channel at NW corner of Frank's Tract to return to intended route. After re-joining ship channel, beached bow-in against tules to lower mast and clear remaining vegetation from masthead and straighten wind indicator. Pleasant sailing with full main to Tinsley, arriving at 3:05. Made Tinsley West Dock at 3:30.

Accommodations had been arranged for one person, but were graciously extended for the party of four. All of us were assigned to the small room with two bunks between the Laser garages. This room is so narrow, the ladder for the upper bunk is on the opposite wall. Bo slept out on the grass next to some dinghies 'till sprinklers came on at 3:00 AM.

Elapsed time, Bridge Harbor to Tinsley: 6:35.

Day 5

Depart Tinsley at 10:20.

Short upwind sail in light air to Little Venice Island for lunch. Kayakers get there first and are initially turned away, but invited back after presenting gift certificate for "mooring and hookup" given by Jim Quanci, evidently acquired at last year's Latitude 38 "Delta Doo-Dah." Island is private but group camping is possible with reservations and reasonable fees.

Depart Little Venics at 12:45, pass Tinsley Island at 1:05, then easy sail to Stockton in less than 10 k wind and flood current. All four boats now traveling together. Heavy and loud powerboat traffic. Made a short rest stop at Acker Island.

Arrive Stockton Sailing Club at 4:50.

Elapsed Tinsley-Stockton: 3:45.

Total elapsed time en route, RYC to SSC: 20:40.