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A Long Weekend in the Delta

By R/C Graeme Lowe

It was supposed to be a relaxing trip: a holiday weekend sail into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, full of pleasant dips in fresh water, relaxing sunsets, and warm breezes. We found all three, but relaxation was mixed with excitement perhaps a bit more often than we expected as my partner, Nico, and I departed Berkeley at 0700 on Saturday.

Usually, a trip up into the delta begins with a strong following breeze, taking you swiftly to your destination, current-gods willing. Due to a massive heat wave, however, we would be denied this extravagance. For ten hours, we motored in the same approximate direction as the breeze and at the same approximate speed. With little to no apparent wind, and the thermometer clocking triple digits, that first evening anchored in Bedroom #2 of Potato Slough was a welcome relief when it cooled down to 85 degrees after sunset. We had made 57.6nm in 9 hours and 59 minutes.

After a few hours of sweating in the engine compartment, I figured out the issue lay with the ignition circuit, and soon after, I hotwired my first motor. Hot damn! If I’ve ever felt such relief, I don’t recall. We were on our way, just a few hours late. And those three hours meant we would have to put in at the New Bridge Marina in Oakley, just 3.5nm short of our original destination of Antioch, if we were to have a drink at sunset. The building flood and 20 knots of breeze on the nose would have added another hour to the leg. No, thank you. This leg was 15nm in 4 hours and 9 minutes.

After working from the marina the next day, we were fighting the flood tide and big headwinds again when we finally got underway around 1700. This leg had some narrow channels, though nothing like the sloughs of the day before. But it soon opened up into some of the most glorious sailing we’ve ever experienced. Warm breezes meant we were comfortable in shorts as the sun set, with fresh water splashing on our faces.

This leg included the only sailing we did after dark. With incredible wind, and slightly more open waters, our tacks extended from every 20 seconds to every 20 minutes. At 2230, we glided peacefully onto the Benicia Marina guest dock after covering 25nm in 4 hours, 36 minutes.

The next day was scenic with great sailing, as beautiful as it was uneventful. We had finally found a steady upwind rhythm at this point, tacking regularly but making good progress. We checked out The Sisters of Point San Pedro and then flew closely by The Brothers. Before we knew it, we were in classic summer afternoon San Francisco Bay sailing weather, putting in another reef, and rolling in some more jib. Our final leg was 29.5nm and took 5 hours, 41 minutes.

For anyone considering it, the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is a magical destination that feels like another planet but is totally doable in a long weekend. There are so many nooks and crannies to explore, and so much to do. Just check your motor before departing!

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