Technical Report

Small Craft Operation and the Eastshore State Park
A Realistic Assessment

by Paul Kamen
Chair, Berkeley Waterfront Commission
June 7 2001

The Eastshore State Park presents a number of valuable opportunities for on- the-water active recreation. Kayaking, rowing, paddling, windsurfing, sailing, dragon boat racing, and outrigger canoe racing have all been proposed. There appears to be widespread consensus that only non-motorized watercraft are appropriate.

Facilities are required to support most of these activities: beaches, ramps, docks, floats, bathrooms, boat storage yards, and parking lots.

But even at the most intense level of use, these facilities would only occupy an extremely small portion of the park. A quick look at the site map, and comparison to nearby small craft support facilities (South Sailing Basin) confirms this. Facilities for water-borne recreation will not significantly compromise the open space and habitat preservation goals that have been set for the Eastshore State Park.

Examining the various uses as they might be supported within the ESP, specifically in the area known as the North Sailing Basin:


This is the group that seems to have the most vocal constituency and the most immediate demand for better access. Kayaks are tolerant of a wide range of launch conditions, and can use docks, floats, sandy beaches, rocky beaches, or tidal steps. They can launch into smooth or moderately rough water.

Kayakers, however, generally bring their kayaks with them to the site by car, so there is a need for parking close to the launch site. This parking will also be attractive to non-kayakers, so it could be critical to provide enough parking to avoid saturation even during peak use periods.

One alternative to close-in parking is to provide on-site storage for kayaks and other small hand-launched watercraft, allowing non-automotive transportation to become practical. On-site storage also allows direct trips from work to the launch site, without going home first to get the boat and other gear. It's a transportation load reduction that doesn't show up as a reduced cars parked at the site, but still a very real reduction in energy consumption and pollution overhead associated with the activity.

Cal Sailing Club has operated a good model of on-site storage since about 1980. 45 private sailboard lockers, which occupy about the same footprint as three parking spaces, have saved countless miles of driving.

A good example of kayak storage can be found on the Oakland Estuary

Kayak storage on the Oakland Estuary

Kayakers seem to be happy with a steep rocky beach to launch from. This requires only minimal improvement of the rip-rap or gravelly beach edge treatment that characterizes most of the ESP shoreline.

The beach along the North Basin Strip at low tide

Tidal steps might be more cost effective and avoid the small amount of fill that might be necessary to turn rip-rap into beach (although a beach is far more valuable for other non-boating uses). Any location along the North Sailing Basin shoreline could be adapted.

Kayakers generally wear wetsuits and need to change in and out of them. Bathrooms with showers and space to change are highly valued, but not essential.

There appears to be considerable interest in a network of campsites and related facilities for touring kayaks and other small craft, possibly on artificial or floating islands. This is an intriguing proposal that needs to be developed in greater detail before specific site recommendations can be made.

Recommendation: One or more Kayak launch sites, including on-site storage, in the North Sailing Basin.


Windsurfers have facilities requirements very similar to those of kayakers. They can launch over nearly any kind of dock or shoreline into rough or smooth water. Docks are preferred but not required. They wear wetsuits and would love to have bathrooms, showers, and changing rooms at the launch sites. They bring their sailboards to the water by car and need close-in parking, but can also use inexpensive on-site storage facilities.

Sailboard storage lockers at Cal Sailing Club

Windsurfers also like to have a grassy or "carpeted" rigging area for assembling their sails and spars.

One of several windsurfer rigging areas serving the South Sailing Basin

The big difference between windsurfers and kayaks is that windsurfers love strong wind. The best and most heavily used launch sites are exposed to the afternoon sea breeze from west-southwest. The south shore of the neck leading to the Albany Bulb seems to be one of the preferred locations within the Eastshore State Park.

Entry-level windsurfers, however, need more protected water and reduced wind speed. The success of the South Sailing Basin as a regional Windsurfer recreation area (although it has no official status as such) is probably due to the mix of conditions in close proximity to each other. A useful analogy can be made to a ski resort: In the morning when the wind is light, there is a small "beginner slope" area inside the protection of the short peninsula that extends to the south. In the afternoon, when the wind is up, outside the South Sailing Basin is the "expert slope" with intermediate conditions close in. A ski resort could not function unless it offered this variety of skill levels, and the same is true to for a family or group-oriented windsurfer venue.

The North Sailing Basin offers considerably better protection for beginners in the afternoon, and nearly the same access to expert conditions. So the North Sailing Basin is arguably a much better location for a "sailboard resort" catering to families and groups. It provides easy access to beginner, intermediate, and expert conditions, all from the same launch site, for more hours of the day.

Demand for a sailboard resort is questionable, however. It might work in association with camping or a waterfront hostel catering to the international reputation of Berkeley as a windsurfing destination, but this is not on the table for ESP. Most of the current demand for windsurfer access is by local individuals at advanced skill levels.

Recommendation: Accommodate windsurfers at their preferred location on the Albany Neck or Bulb.

Entry-level rowing

Rowing is the most accessible form of water-borne recreation.

Sailing, especially on San Francisco Bay, requires considerable commitment of time and energy (although not necessarily money, as a number of local sailing and yacht clubs with programs for non-boat-owners continue to demonstrate). Only a small portion of the population at large - perhaps 20% - will ever be interested in continuing participation in sailing, regardless of the facilities and programs available to them. This 20% is still a very large number of people and sailing programs should be supported - but sailing cannot serve the casual or one-time visitor the way other forms of on-the-water recreation can. Even kayaks require a certain amount of training. Using the safest entry-level kayaking equipment generally involves getting a wet bottom, and they don't' accommodate unskilled passengers as easily as rowboats.

But entry-level rowboats have universal appeal, and require little or no previous experience to enjoy. They keep the occupants dry and comfortable and carry passengers well. Floating in a boat is a sublime and basic pleasure; there is a strong attraction to a small and simple boat that perhaps half of the population can feel.

Entry-level rowing requires smooth water and a dock. It's also desirable for the launch site to be on the downwind side of the body of water served, for operational reasons: when beginners can't row, the wind should blow them right back to the dock or nearby shoreline instead of all the way across to the other side of the cove.

Heavy, low-performance boats are available that are "safe as a house" for beginners. New York's Central Park rowboats are a long-lived functional example.

Parking is desirable but not required, because users do not have to bring anything by car. Showers and changing rooms are not required. There should, however, be some means of pulling boats out of the water and storing them on shore, and there should be something resembling and "office" for administering a rental concession.

Recommendation: dock, hoist, small storage yard, and office for an entry- level rowboat concession along the North Basin Strip. This would be located north of the Schoolhouse Creek outflow restoration, but not so far north that it would lose the wind and wave protection of Cesar Chavez Park to windward. The rental concession could be operated by a business that also serves more experienced open-water rowers, or by a non-profit club.

Small craft support facilities at the South Sailing Basin

Open-water rowing

This category includes several more advanced forms of rowing. The boats are sophisticated and fast, and require more careful handling on the water and on shore. The skill level required can be moderate to high, depending on the type of boat.

This activity usually centers around a club or commercial enterprise. Good examples can be found in Berkeley Aquatic Park, San Francisco Aquatic Park, and Sausalito.

Open-water rowing is a natural step up for someone who starts in a rental rowboat and wants to continue. It serves a smaller portion of the population, but the participants are highly dedicated, and in the club setting, are likely to contribute untold hours of public service promoting this activity.

Recommendation: Designate some property adjacent to the rowboat rental facility for use by a non-profit open-water rowing club.

Outrigger Canoes

Outrigger canoe racing, along with dragon boat racing, has experienced very rapid growth in the Bay Area in the last five years. The most popular size is propelled by six paddlers. Outriggers are pulled up on the beach by hand, and love rough water.

Outriggers at Shorebird Beach during Berkeley Bay Festival

In Hawaii they race across the channels between the major islands, and Central SF Bay on a summer afternoon poses no problem. On the Bay they race over long open-water courses. Outriggers can launch into big waves, but they prefer a wider and smoother beach than the kayaks or windsurfers.

Intercollegiate outrigger racing is just beginning to appear. Considering relative growth rates, logistic requirements, and cultural factors, it seems very likely that support for traditional college crew teams will become a very tough sell to athletic departments. Compare the delicate racing shell to the seaworthiness and versatility of the outrigger.

One possibility for a future outrigger club is to incorporate the facility into a future hotel development project at or near the foot of Gilman Street. These facilities, and support for a continuing public service program associated with the club, might be set up as a public service concession from the developer. (And think of the hotel brochure: palm trees, outriggers pulled up on the beach, Golden Gate Bridge in the background.)

The non-profit club model could also work without the private sector support, but to date the outrigger community has shown little interest. Pressure for new launch sites is likely to build in the next few years, and a place should held to meet future demand if the growth of this activity continues on its present trajectory.

Recommendation: Designate an area anywhere along the north shore of the meadow or the North Basin Strip for a future outrigger canoe club.

Dragon boats

Like the outriggers, dragon boats have burst on the Bay Area aquatic recreation scene in the last few years. It's impossible to predict where the sport will go, but it's a certainty that this activity will become a lot more popular before it stabilizes.

Dragon boats are long narrow single-hull canoes that carry 20 paddlers, one steersperson, and one drummer. They race over very short courses: 250, 500, and 750 meters are typical, with some venues sponsoring longer courses if the body of water allows it.

Dragon boat and 20 paddlers at full speed

They need a dock and a paved ramp or hoist for haulout, although at some facilities the boats are stored in the water. They also require a boat storage area and a small office or meeting room.

Dragon boats operate strictly in smooth water. although it doesn't have to be quite as well protected as for a traditional racing shell. Race events are often associated with international festivals that draw teams from all over the Pacific rim and beyond.

Dragon boats appear to be a superb fit for the North Sailing Basin, for a number of reasons:

1) There's 800 meters of well-protected water along the west shore of the Basin, right along the east edge of Cesar Chavez Park. The protected area is wide enough for many racing lanes, and is completely free of wakes from commercial shipping and powered recreational vessels.

2) The Cesar Chavez Park shoreline is a kind of natural spectator bleacher, and would allow a very large number of people to get a superb view of every major race.

The 800 meter protected course in the lee of Cesar Chavez Park

3) There's a hotel right across the street that could serve as event headquarters for regional and international championships.

The southwest corner of the North Sailing Basin, at the northwest corner of the Meadow

4) Dragon boats are "ethnographically correct." Dragon boats speak directly to the traditions of many people of diverse Asian ancestry, and this is a very large and growing demographic in California.

5) Dragon boats are unbeatable when it comes to getting large numbers of active participants out on the water. With 20 paddlers per boat, they are extremely cost-effective as basic equipment for organized youth programs. Clubs or municipal programs are organizational models that can work well. See Shirley Gee's letter at

Letter from Shirley Gee of the International Dragon Boat Association

If one of the goals of the Eastshore State Park is to give local teenagers a place to bike to after school for the kind of water-related sports and recreation that can hold their attention, then dragon boats are essential.

Although there is currently only a mild regional shortage of good locations for dragon boat operation, this shortage will probably become extremely acute as the sport continues to grow. There has been only moderate dragon boat advocacy at the public hearings to date, but any reasonable projection of current growth anticipates a very significant future need.

If the park is going to serve the needs of the California of the future, dragon boats and outriggers will be given a place in the park plan.

Recommendation: Designate an area at the north-west corner of the meadow for a dragon boat club.


Small boat sailors are even more dedicated to what they do than open-water rowers. Sailing on San Francisco Bay requires specialized skills and a high level of commitment. But the devotes - especially those involved with non-profit clubs - contribute vast amounts of time and effort towards promoting, if not evangelizing, this activity. This promotion often takes the form of public service. The Cal Sailing Club is a perfect example: volunteer members have been giving free sailboat rides to the general public twice a month for the last 30 years on a fairly large scale.

Non-profit clubs often include a strong public service component as part of their normal activities

Sailboats launch sites require docks and protected water. They need a paved ramp or boat hoist, and a storage yard and maintenance shed. Also storage areas for sails and spare parts. The facilities requirements are very similar to those for dragon boat operations, with one major exception: water depth.

Small sailboats require significantly deeper water than paddlecraft or rowboats, a minimum of about three feet for normal operation. According to the most recent survey (April 2001), there is sufficient water for small sailboat operation about 95% of the time. But the trend is in the wrong direction, and in an undetermined number of decades the reduced water depth will begin to impact the operating schedule of a sailing facility.

Soundings of the North Sailing Basin

This should not be a deal-breaker; many sailing facilities in Europe are happy to schedule around the tide, and the same could work here well into the second half of this century, maybe beyond.

Docks in the South Sailing Basin at low tide

What the North Sailing Basin has to offer that's not found in other locations on the waterfront is a large protected body of water, ideal for a youth sailing program.

At this point in time, however, it's not clear if there's sufficient interest from any local organization (e.g. Berkeley Yacht Club, Cal Adventures, Cal Sailing Club) to establish a program in the North Sailing Basin. It could be done as a municipal project, but various forms of paddling or rowing programs would probably be more cost-effective and serve a wider range of participants.

Recommendation: Designate a small area at the north-west corner of the meadow for a future small boat sailing facility, probably structured as a non-profit club.

Organizational structure: Club or Commercial Concession?

State Parks seems to have a mechanism in place for incorporating commercial concessions into parks when a specialized recreational service needs to be provided.

However, there is another option which sometimes yields much more impressive results: the non-profit club. These clubs are dedicated to a specific recreational activity (sailing, rowing, outriggers, dragon boats) that requires or benefits from group support.

Membership in these organizations is open to the public at surprisingly low cost, usually far below that of doing exactly the same thing through a commercial operation.

Clubs also have a strong public service component. This is usually integrated into the club's normal promotional and recruitment tactics, but the result is that casual visitors often get to partake of the specialized activity for free under expert direction.

This works because of the dedication of volunteer members. Non-profits are a resource that is particularly appropriate for water-related activities, especially in cases where accessibility to the non-wealthy public is an important goal. The specialized skills required for instruction and maintenance, if they have to be purchased at market rates, can easily price a commercial or unsubsidized municipal operation right out of the range of the typical recreational customer.

Volunteers take on a difficult repair project at Cal Sailing Club

What should go where?

Nautical chart of the Berkeley waterfront

This link shows the latest nautical chart of the North Sailing Basin. Although the soundings probably date from 1970, the overall pattern is still the same. Note the mud line at lower low water, and how much more shoaling has occurred in the southeast corner (near the shoolhouse creek outflow) than in the southwest corner (near the Radisson Hotel).

Schoolhouse Creek outflow

This, along with the need for better wind and wave protection for some types of watercraft launching, suggests that wetlands restoration is probably more appropriate around the Schoolhouse Creek outflow area, at the southeast corner of the North Sailing Basin. The southwest corner is the most protected spot, best for dragon boats, open water rowing, sailboat docks, and other uses requiring protected water.

As noted, facilities need only take up a narrow sliver of the Meadow, and would not impinge on the vernal pools or surrounding habitat in the interior.

Rowboat rental is easier in protected water, but also works better on the downwind side. So the the North Basin Strip, to the north of the Schoolhouse Creed outflow, seems like the best spot. (Beginning sailboard instruction shares this downwind location requirement with entry-level rowing, for essentially the same reaons.)

Outriggers can go almost anywhere, but their shore-side requirements are similar to dragon boats, and it makes sense to designate a shared area.

Kayaks can also go almost anywhere, and it may or may not be useful to combine shoreside facilities with other access points.

The following link is a summary chart showing specific recommendations for location, facilities, funding, and probably timeline for each type of small craft activity discussed here.

Summary table