Wednesday, September 29, 2010

San Francisco, Week Two: The City

After enjoying our week in Sausalito, we decided it was time to check out the big city. At first we thought we might stay in Richardson Bay and take the ferry across, but the rolly anchorage finally took its toll and we decided to find a marina to stay in. Originally, we had thought we might moor at Fisherman's Wharf at Pier 39, but at $2.00 a foot, that seemed steep. Ian and Ellen, aboard Kasasa, recommended the municipal San Francisco Marina which at 75 cents a foot was a lot more reasonable. SFM accepts transient yachts on a first come, first served basis and we were lucky enough to find a berth, especially with the Rolex Big Boat Yacht Races happening in a few days time.

Leaving Sausalito

We slipped anchor and had a gorgeous sail. Rather than going directly to SF, we decided to circumnavigate Alcatraz Island. We started with full sail in very light winds and, as we approached the island, they began to pick up. We passed quite close on the western side, avoiding the tide rips, and came out the other side on a reach to Pier 39. We realized we had the tide going against us and spent the next couple hours tacking back and forth between the busy waterfront and Alcatraz. It was a great opportunity to hone our skills at tacking and, after about the 12th time, we were changing course with ease. We were very pleased with our new sails and how well Ka’sala was able to beat upwind. Eventually the tide eased and we were able to point high enough to make our entrance into the SF marina.

Looking at Alcatraz from Sausalito

West Side of Alcatraz

The SFM is in the Marina District about four miles from the Golden Gate Bridge on one side, and two miles to Pier 39 (SF’s premier tourist destination) on the other. It is divided into an east and west basin with a large grassy park in between.

Marina Office at the San Francisco Marina

The whole thing is surrounded by the most beautiful three story townhouses, with hidden courtyards and gardens, stretching several blocks back from the water. The west basin houses the St. Francis Yacht Club and the Golden Gate Yacht Club and is usually where transients can find moorage.

West Basin, San Francisco Marina

The east basin is filled with locally owned boats and its docks and facilities are not in as good a shape as the west basin. Fortunately for us, there was a berth available in the west basin, where long term tenants are the norm.

Ka'sala in the West Basin of the San Francisco Marina

Right across the street from the west basin is one of the best Safeway stores I have ever been in. It became a real highlight of our stay as we could just nip over to buy whatever we needed instead of working out the logistics of a provisioning expedition.

Fabulous Safeway across from SFM

On the other side of the west basin is Fort Mason, an old military facility that now houses art galleries, theatres, library, conference centre and hosts the farmer’s market each Sunday. Its grounds stretch all the way to the Maritime museum and the Aquatic Park, which, in turn leads to the endless succession of piers along the very busy waterfront.

Overlooking Fort Mason, Ka'sala is moored just beyond

Behind the blocks of elegant townhouses is Chestnut Street, the heart of the Marina district. This lovely street is lined with small shops, cafes, and many restaurants. It’s young, vital and “with it”. We enjoyed several meals along this route – the high point being at Mezes – a gourmet Greek restaurant that Doug treated me to for my birthday. Another highlight was our visit to the Apple store, where we both got to play for several hours with the new iPad. We were tempted, but managed to leave without dropping the 400+ dollars one would cost.

Townhouses facing the SFM

Chestnut Street - Marina District

The end of Chestnut Street opens up into the Palace of Fine Arts.  A prominent landmark on the grounds is a huge Greek-looking domed pavilion surrounded by a large pond with fountains and water birds. Radiating out from the pavilion are huge columns topped by Rubanesque nymphs whose backs face out as they look into the top of the pillars. Beautiful gardens and walkways twine around these structures and the whole place looks incredibly surreal. Even though it is undergoing reconstructive surgery, it is magnificent place to stroll and relax.

At the Palace of Fine Arts

Apparently this whole area, stretching from the Palace of Fine Arts to Fort Mason is on land that was reclaimed for a great Pan-Pacific Exhibition in 1915 to celebrate the city’s recovery from the devastating earthquake that practically destroyed this city in 1906.   The Pavilion area is all that remains of this world exhibition and the gorgeous townhouses and marina area has been built in its place. However, SF is prone to earthquakes, and this area was badly damaged by the 1989 earthquake (which destroyed the Oakland Bridge), but has since recovered.

Damage to townhouses in Marina District after 1989 Earthquake

After the Pavilion area, begins the Presideo, another former military base that has been turned into a huge park. It leads into the southern entrance to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Presideo - the SFM is to the right of this picture

In the Presideo, on the way to Fort Point

One day we walked from our marina, all along the coast line to the base of the Bridge and visited Fort Point, the original bastion to guard SF Bay. This point of land was originally established by the Spanish and later developed by the Americans during the Civil War, the Spanish/American War and the World Wars to protect the Bay area. It’s a cold and spooky place, full of empty arches where cannons faced the Bay entrance. Three floors of displays show how the fort was used and how its inhabitants lived while stationed there over the years.

Fort Point

Canon at Fort Point

In one room we met a lady dressed in civil war period costume, totally in black. She was enacting an 1850’s surgeon’s assistant and had a display of all the implements doctors at the time used to operate and try to heal their patients. It looked like a torture chamber and the lady, herself, had a wry and somewhat creepy way of joyfully explaining the surgeon’s art. We hurried on.

Civil War Medical Arts

One display that really caught our attention was the making and maintaining of the Golden Gate Bridge. There were several interviews with people who work on the bridge today and we were very impressed with their courage and their ability to work day in, day out, in the most incredible circumstances. I could not imagine painting the bridge in foggy, windy conditions, strapped to the bridge with climbing apparatus. Yet they do. One interesting little factoid was the colour of the bridge, “International Orange”, was created specifically for this art deco bridge which opened in 1937.


On another day we walked in the opposite direction from the marina, through Fort Mason Park and into the tourist areas. As we were coming down the hill into the Aquatic Park we could see several dozen swimmers in the water. We were amazed! The water averages 17 degrees!! Most of them were not wearing wetsuits and seemed oblivious to the boats passing in and out of the Park. We later learned that a couple days later was the annual “swim around Alcatraz Island” race. These swimmers are fearless!

Aquatic Park, Maritime Museum in foreground, Hyde Pier in upper right, Alcatraz Island in the distance

Facing the Aquatic Park is the Maritime Museum, currently being refurbished. We were unable to visit the exhibits, but were able to view the gorgeous mosaics in the foyer and on the deck. In all the places we visited in San Francisco we were very impressed with the pride the people of the city take in their heritage and culture as they must spend millions of dollars in upkeep and develop these public places.

Mosaic at Maritime Museum

Further from the Maritime Museum we wandered onto the Hyde Pier. This historical area houses different types of water craft that have operated in the Bay from a huge schooner to barges, to the old Sausalito ferry. Nearby was the Liberty ship display I mentioned in the previous entry, as well as an example of a World War 2 submarine.

Looking toward Hyde Pier

The first craft we entered was actually a houseboat. Apparently in the 1800s wealthy San Franciscans would tow these cottages over to Tiberon, near Richardson Bay by Sausalito, and spend their summers there. For our pleasure, there were actors on this houseboat, in full costume, role playing for us. We had some interesting conversations with two ladies about the weather, the choice between taking a ferry, then a boat to where the houseboat was moored, as opposed to taking the horse-driven coach to their summer home on Lake Tahoe. Weird!

We continued down the pier and saw and exhibit of a high-tech boat that was rowed across the Pacific a couple years ago. I found this a very interesting display as, in the spring, I had read Julie Angus’ book: Rowboat in a Hurricane, about her experiences to become the first woman to row across the Atlantic Ocean.

To see this example of what she described was really amazing. Her inspiring story was one of the factors to build my confidence to take my own journey. After all, if Julie (who lives in Comox), could survive three hurricanes in a rowboat without auxiliary power, or a sail, with only a tiny compartment to take refuge, could survive, I surely would travel in safety and comfort on the well-equipped Ka’sala!

Bojangles:  Pacific Rowboat

Story of Bojangles

From Hyde Pier we continued into the busy, congested area of Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39. Tour buses, crowds, buskers, kiosks selling everything from cheap jewelry to crabs, street musicians, trolley buses, homeless people begging, children with eyes as big as saucers, cable cars, all among the cacophony of rumbling traffic, people of all walks of life speaking dozens of languages, pinball machines, sea lion snorts and calls, as well as the smells of pretzels, cotton candy, the tar on the dock pilons, exhaust fumes and rotting garbage. I was in definite sensory overload and was glad to take a small interlude with a cold glass of wine to watch the world go by before returning to the calm, quiet confines of Ka’sala.

Pier 39

One of the bonuses of staying on the “long term” dock at the SFM was we got to meet some locals who were extremely kind and welcoming to us. The first person we met as we berthed Ka’sala was David who was instrumental in helping us get our bearings. He patiently answered all the questions I peppered at him: Are there showers? Where is the grocery store? Is there a laundrymat nearby? Does the fog come in here? Is this a safe neighbourhood to walk around in? Is the water on the dock safe to drink? Where is a good place to eat? Where can we get a good Internet connection? The poor man!

On the other side of us we met Ethel, a hairdresser from the South Bay area, who uses her lovely Alhoa 34 as her city get-away. Ethel had us over for happy hour, fed us, and regaled us with stories of sailing in the Bay. She lent us several books about sailing in the area and further south, which we greatly appreciated.

Doug and Ethel at Twin Peaks

One day, she took us for a tour of the city in her car. We began by driving out to the Sea Cliff area beyond the Golden Gate bridge, to the Sutro Baths, and then along a huge stretch of beach, before turning into Golden Gate Park.

Sutro Baths

We ascended up to Twin Peaks for a fabulous 360 of the city on a day clear enough to see for miles.

At Twin Peaks

View of San Francisco Business District from Twin Peaks

We continued on to the Haight-Ashbury district for a stroll and lunch, back to the GG Park for a walk and a look at the plant conservatory, up to a neighbourhood which had created a gorgeous tiled stairway with a tremendous view, over to the Seven Sisters (a group of lovely historical SF townhouses) then back to the marina for happy hour. We thoroughly enjoyed seeing the city through Ethel’s eyes and were greatly appreciative that she took her day off to show us.

Abba Wear:  Haight-Ashbury

Peace, man!

Aging Hippie

Still Wasted in H-A

Stairway to Heaven

David was also hugely hospitable. On one day he gave us a cod his friend had just caught, which we cooked up on my grill to make a yummy meal. On another day he came over and cooked dinner for us! He invited Ethel as well and the four of us feasted on grilled halibut with parmesan cheese gratin, pan fried baby potatoes and sauted asparagus. I was most impressed that this big man was able to use my tiny galley, in which he was totally unaccustomed to make such a wonderful, gourmet dinner. We also had wonderful conversations about San Francisco and about his writing. David spends a lot of his time writing a novel which he hopes to publish soon. If you would like to view the first couple chapters of this book about a conflicted family in South Carolina you can do so by going here:

Three times we tried to visit the Museum of Modern Art in the business district and were finally lucky!  This contemporary building houses some fine and famous pieces in a variety of medium from paintings, to photos, to sculpture and a few others that are difficult to define.  What stood out for me were the Andy Warhol graphic paintings of Marilyn Munroe, Jackie Kennedy, Elvis Presley and Marlon Brando.  A Willem De Kooning painting also stood out.  The most amazing display for me was a series of photographs of 4 sisters taken over 25 years.  Wow! 

Museum of Modern Art

Warhol:  Marlon Brando

Warhol:  Marilyn Munroe

Warhol:  Elvis Presley

Willem de Kooning

Nicholas Nixon:  The Brown Sisters

We walked all the way back to the Marina, making sure we passed through Chinatown, which made us believe we were back in Hong Kong again!

Oh, and of course, we rode the cable car!


Get me off this thing!

A Natural!

We spent five busy days in the city and by the end were ready to leave. Although the marina was inexpensive and convenient, we continued to be enshrouded in the chilly fog that rolled in each morning and the high winds that built during the afternoon. Although the marina was protected from the east, the buildings of Fort Mason on the west were on stilts, so the wash from passing boats was not broken and we rocked and rolled at the dock all day and night. Additionally, our friends from Comox, Steve, John and Meredith aboard Silas Crosby had arrived from Neah Bay and we were looking forward to catching up with them and hearing about their journey. So, with David's help, we cast off the lines and headed back to Sausalito.

Monday, September 27, 2010

San Francisco, Week One: Sausalito

After a good night’s sleep, we inflated the dinghy, dropped it in the water and headed over to the Sausalito Yacht Club (SYC) to see if we could use our reciprocal privileges to gain access to their facilities. We were given a very friendly reception and were allowed to securely park our dinghy, use their moorings and showers, at no cost, and their restaurant/bar - which is exclusive to their members.

Sausalito Yacht Club

Evening at the Sausalito Yacht Club - Golden Gate Bridge in the background

Reciprocal privileges are a wonderful thing. If you belong to a club you can often get these rights. Lucky for us, we are lifetime members of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, as a result of our time in Hong Kong when we lived aboard Caperata, our Brewer 44 sailboat. The RHKYC is internationally recognized and many of the clubs we would be allowed to use would be very classy, indeed. As we are cruising rather casually (For example, I have one all-purpose dress in my 8 inch closet), not all of them would be suitable and we, definitely, would not be appropriate. We are hugely respectful of those clubs who will give us the privilege of using their facilities and very grateful as well.

Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club insignia

Our first day at the SYC was a Sunday, so we had the opportunity to meet several members there for brunch. Two couples were outstandingly welcoming, helpful and friendly. One of them, expatriate Canadians, gave us a great deal of information about Sausalito – where to go, what to see and do. The other couple were just as nice, and even gave us free tickets to the famous Sausalito Art Festival happening that weekend.

Centre Stage at the Sausalito Art Festival

Everyone we met was very supportive of our adventure, and wanted to know everything about the trip down and what we would do next. We felt a little like celebrities and it dawned on us, that we had joined the ranks of recognized “cruisers”.

Looking at the SYC from Ka'sala - ferry to San Francisco in the background, yachts on moorings in front of the club.

Sausalito is a gorgeous town, draped across the Marin Headlands like a garland. All along the shoreline are shops, delicatessens, restaurants (many Italian) and inns. Rising up the hill connected by staircases and winding roads are houses, cottages and mansions overlooking Richardson Bay. From Ka’sala, at night, the lights from these homes sparkle like stars. By day, you can see the lush gardens, leafy trees and flowering bushes that surround them. Behind the headland, the perpetual fog tries to push its way down to the Bay. On our first evening, looking at the fog as it threatened to spill over, I was reminded of the “Black Smoke” in the TV series “Lost”, as it writhed and roiled. Pretty spectacular to say the least! Unfortunately, as the days passed by, we were to learn that the Headlands did not always contain the fog and, by morning, we would be engulfed in its windy chill until at least lunchtime.

Sausalito is like a garland draped on the Marin Headlands

One of the things we didn't enjoy about Sausalito was our anchorage. Although it is a shallow bay and anchoring is easy and secure, there seems to be an endless swell from ships, ferries and boats passing in the larger Bay, combined with waves from the winds that pick up regularly after lunch and blow upwards of 25 knots by dinnertime. This causes Ka’sala to roll endlessly and “sail” on her anchor which causes the boat to heave back and forth. This motion, combined with the fierce tides and wind makes it very uncomfortable. On our first day at anchor, I was just coming up from the cockpit sail locker, when an unannounced wake rocked the boat and slammed the lid on my right thumb. OUCH! I was quite a sight when Doug found me, half in and half out, tears streaming down my face, thumb sliced open and bruised, blood all over the place. Luckily we have a fabulous first aid kit and Doug was able to clean me up and put me back together pretty quickly. I sure looked silly walking around with a bandaged thumb in the air for the next week. Other sailors told me to thank my lucky stars I hadn’t joined the cruisers' dubious "lost digits” club!

Ka'sala at anchor in Richardson Bay, Sausalito, Belevedere in the background

We spent a week at anchor in Sausalito exploring the town and hanging out, reading books, working on the boat and catching up with the blog and our correspondence with friends. One day we went to the Bay Model, a scientific tool, created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of a working hydraulic model of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento - San Joaquin River Delta System. ( This model is about an acre in size and was used by city planners to see the effect of urbanization on the whole water system. The scope is astonishing and we feel privileged to not only have seen this model, but also to have sailed the actual areas to observe for ourselves.

Bay Model

We also saw a presentation about the Liberty ships. Did you know that between 1941 & 1945 the Americans built 2,751 supply ships of 135 meters in length to aid the British as part of the lend/lease agreement? Sausalito was one of the shipyards that produced them. In its heyday, one ship was built and launched in less than a month!

Liberty Ship: SS Jeremiah O'Brien

Many of the workers were women – you’ve heard of Rosie the Riveter? The next week we saw one of the two remaining Liberty ships, SS Jeremiah O’Brien, on display at the Hyde Pier and were just awed at its size. I couldn’t help but wonder what our labour force could produce, in this day and age, if we were as motivated as the Liberty ship workers were.

Rosie the Riveter

We met another cruising couple from Canada – Ellen and Ian aboard Kasasa ( and saw their friends, Veronica and Dennis aboard Vida Nova. They left very soon after we met to continue their journey to San Diego where they were leaving their yachts to return to Canada to tie up loose ends before coming back to continue the cruise to Mexico in early November. They were the only Canadian cruisers we met that week.

Looking toward San Francisco from Richardson Bay, Vida Nova in the foreground.