Delta Doo Dah
Latitude 38

New Directions, 2010

Cliched as the saying is, variety really is the spice of life. A study by Italian researchers proved that even monkeys prefer to choose from a buffet of foods than to get their favorite food for every meal. So why do we humans so often find ourselves in a 'rut'? Our ruts aren't limited to food, though; we tend to return to the same vacation spots year after year. While the familiar is comfortable, little gets the blood pumping faster than stepping into the unknown. So we humbly suggest making this the year you try something new: cruising the California Delta.
"But my family sails to the Delta every year," you may say. Okay, but do you find yourself following the same itinerary each time? Day 1: Antioch Marina; Day 2: Franks Tract; Day 3: Georgiana Slough; and so on. Or maybe you prefer to find a quiet spot and simply chill for a week. Whatever your modus operandi, pull out your trusty Delta chartbook and the ratty old copy of Hal Schell's quintessential tome Dawdling on the Delta, and plot an entirely new course for your Delta cruise.
Keep in mind that many of the charted depths of the less-traveled sloughs are older than your parents, and out-of-print guidebooks might suggest anchorages that are no longer viable options. For example, over the years, silting has made it all but impossible for keelboats to access The Meadows - the fabled anchorage nestled off Snodgrass Slough - while a form of invasive grass has made Five Fingers anchorage - five symmetrical cuts in a tule island that lies between Connection Slough and Columbia Cut - totally impassable. But with more than 1,000 miles of navigable waterways, the Delta is still ripe for discovery.

If you're new to the charms of the Delta, planning your cruise can be intimidating. When to leave, where to go, what to bring are all questions that can leave a rookie reluctant to set off on a new adventure, so we've compiled some of the answers:

When to Leave
Season-wise, summer is hands-down the most popular time to explore the Delta. Trading in the Bay's fog and biting winds, sailors enjoy warm breezes, fresh water dips and the decision of which swimsuit to wear that day. Late spring and early fall trips can afford sailors similar - if slightly cooler - weather without the raucous crowds. Winter cruising isn't recommended due to the risk of debris-laden storm run-off from the Sierra.

Tide-wise, leaving the Bay at low slack will carry you quickly and easily up-Delta.

Where to Go
Before learning where to anchor, it's essential to know how to anchor. Stern anchoring is usually a must in the Delta, as most rivers and sloughs are too narrow to allow swinging freely on a bow anchor. Here's the 411: Find a tree, piling or big stump on shore. Motor slowly toward your objet du désir while dropping the stern anchor and paying out the rode. Depending on your draft, you may have to hop in the dinghy to take the bow line to shore. Most folks pull the boat close in for easy shore access during the day, then pull back out when the bugs show up for dinner. Anchoring parallel to shore is an option for narrow sloughs, but is considered a faux pas in crowded anchorages.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the water in many anchorages can become alarmingly thin. It's not unusual to have single digits under your keel. But don't worry; if you run aground, you'll be in good company - most Delta rats do it every now and again. If you've followed the number one rule for cruising the Delta - always move on a rising tide - you'll float free soon enough.

Now for the where. Just about any spot that's out of the channel - and that can accommodate your draft at low tide - is a good spot to anchor. But here are a few of the more popular stops:

• Middle Slough - Situated directly across from Pittsburg off New York Slough, this quiet cut offers room for dozens of boats.
• Decker Island - Conveniently located where Three Mile Slough meets the Sacramento River, the anchorage tucked behind Decker Island offers an excellent respite from the chop of the river.
• Steamboat Slough - Relatively wide, Steamboat will take you from the Sacramento to the Old Sacramento in style, especially if you stop by the famous Grand Island Mansion for their Sunday champagne brunch.
• Georgiana Slough - This verdant and meandering waterway starts at the historic towns of Locke and Walnut Grove, with the latter offering a public dock free for day use (fees are charged to stay overnight). Anchoring is doable, but you'll likely have to lie parallel to shore to leave the channel open.
• Mandeville Tip - Barron Hilton's legacy continues with his annual 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular. Get there early - as in, a week early - to stake your claim.
• Potato Slough - This popular slough's three "bedrooms" might seem filled to capacity during the height of summer, but many of the boats are simply used as weekend cottages. If you happen to actually find people aboard, you'll also generally find them to be friendly and helpful in finding you a spot.
• Broken Rudder Slough - 'Discovered' during the inaugural Delta Doo Dah last summer, this cut on the east side of Little Mandeville Island was home to several boats and could have easily held a dozen more. Entering the cut was a breathtaking affair as depthsounders read in the negative, but that appears to have been the result of thick grass.
• Franks Tract - Once a working farm, this flooded tract is now a state recreation area. Though it's deep enough for dinghies, keelboats should stick to the deeper channels around the edges.
• Marinas - When you've simply had enough 'camping out' and are longing for a real shower, you'll have no trouble finding a marina wherever you want to go. Just about every Delta marina is listed on Franko's Map of the California Delta - just be sure to call in advance not only to make sure they have room at their docks but also to check their depth.
There are, of course, so many other places to anchor in the Delta that trying to list them all would fill an entire issue of Latitude 38. All it takes to 'discover' your own new favorite spot is a good depthsounder, a chart and a healthy sense of adventure.

What to Bring
Vacations are about having fun - whatever your pleasure - so customize your list as you see fit. But don't leave home without these Delta staples:

  • Inflatable dinghy, sailing dinghy, or kayak.
  • A small solar panel will keep the house bank topped up, while compact 'panels' can charge the iPods, iPhones and iPads.
  • Sunscreen, the higher the SPF the better - and don't forget a couple tubes of 15+ SPF lip balm.
  • Bug spray, netting and swatters.
  • Lots of hot weather clothes - shorts, bathing suits, tank tops - but don't forget a light jacket and a pair of pants for the odd cool evening.
  • Wide-brim hats, and lots of 'em.
  • Good quality but reasonably priced sunglasses. Why? Because, with all the time you'll spend in the water, you won't be too bummed out when you sacrifice your shades to the river gods.
  • Windscoops. Need we say more?
  • Boat shade. Anything from the ubiquitous blue tarp to a custom-made deck awning. You'll live under it.
  • Water toys - inner tubes, air mattresses, surfboards, and water cannons can really make the trip memorable.
  • A hammock, comfy boat cushions and a stack of beach towels for reading your favorite guilty pleasure.
  • A digital camera. Set the photo quality and size to their highest settings for the best results.
  • Fishing license and gear. Nothing tops off a great day better than dinner you caught yourself. Striped bass, sturgeon, catfish, crawdads, steelhead and crappie can be snagged upriver. Whatever you do, don't take your chances poaching. A license is just $41 (plus $6 for the Bay/Delta stamp) while the fine for getting caught poaching is $760.
  • Foul weather gear. The beat back through San Pablo Bay can be a real corker. It's the price we pay for such a relaxing vacation.

Now you have no excuse not to spend some time this summer exploring new and exciting cruising destinations in the California Delta. Even a monkey could do it.

- latitude/ladonna

This story was reprinted from the June, 2010, issue of Latitude 38. To order a copy with all the color photos, use the subscription order form, and specify the 6/10 issue, or just drop us a note with a check for $7 to Latitude 38, Attn: Back Issues, 15 Locust Ave., Mill Valley, CA 94941. This issue is also available for free on eBook.

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Photo ©2009 Ruben Gabriel

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