Delta Doo Dah
Latitude 38

Nothin' Doin', circa 1981

"But I forget how to go to the Delta," I complained to my husband John.

Last year we had gone to Hawaii with the Kauai Yacht Race, and hadn't done much family cruising in isolated areas since. I was totally unprepared to provision for two weeks in the tules.

"Just pack the same things you took to Kauai," he replied in his usual misjudgment of the situation.

"Okay, a strapless sundress, a blender and a case of Piña Colada mix," I smirked.

When the bantering was over, I tried to reconstruct the 'Delta Experience,' but I could only recall the negative aspects. The first year when our small boat was equipped with four cases of pampers and never a trash can; washing clothes in a bucket of river water; water skiiers at sunrise and mosquitoes at sunset; sinking the El Toro under tow as we crashed to weather through Middle Ground; the eternal quest for ice, and water, and the undiscovered anchorage.

Suddenly I felt depressed. I hadn't seen the boat canopy for at least 18 months, attrition had reduced the oars to half their original size, and the children had outgrown their essentials: bathing suits, water wings and flip flops.

"What do you like best about the Delta?" I asked my son, searching for inspiration. "It's warm," he said exuberantly. "And you can swim all day." He was right, of course, and the thought of doffing my turtleneck in favor of a bathing suit, downright rare aboard the boat, was uplifting. So I gathered up all the swim suits, towels, and shorts and jammed them into a duffle, and the packing was done.

"What do you like best about the Delta?" I asked my daughter, hoping for further assurance. "Sleeping and cooking on the boat," she grinned. So I rounded up all the sleeping bags and made a list of throw-together meals - mostly omelets, chef salads, and casseroles. Long ago I learned to leave the wok, the double boiler, and the souffle pan at home. If a meal can't be barbecued, or cooked in a maximum of two pans, it doesn't belong on the Delta. Continual pumping of water from the tank to the dishpan gives me galley maid’s elbow, not to mention the grouchies.

"What do you like best about the Delta?" I asked my husband, knowing full well what he would answer.

"Doin' nothin'," he said, predictably. He too had obviously forgotten a lot about going to the Delta. "Doin' nothin" ignored his Delta chores: anchoring and unanchoring, rigging and unrigging sailing dinghies, lugging ice, pumping stove fuel, navigating uncharted waters, canopying and uncanopying, inflating and deflating rafts, inflating inner tubes, water toys, and so on.

What I had forgotten began to come back to me, though, as we pulled away from the dock at nightfall on July 4th, hell bent for Mandeville.

Two weeks' provisions lined the settees, the table, and the nay station, to be "stowed underway to save time." John had made several midweek trips to the boat with supplies, but he is no good at stowing. He puts canned drinks in the starboard upper locker when we have always stowed them in the port lower. He even puts pots and pans behind the forward backrest when it's obvious they belong under the aft bunk. I knew I'd never find anything again if he helped.

The kids were useless, too. They kept stuffing fruit peels down the "garbage disposal".

A great spinnaker run from the Brothers to the Antioch Bridge found us on schedule at murky Mandeville Cut, the bizarre floating zoo where yachts cling beam to beam to tules, where powerboaters chew up anchor lines, and where a carnival atmosphere pervades in anticipation of the evening fireworks display. Unfortunately the kids don't forget the fireworks, so we're doomed to endure Mandeville for a few more years.

The next afternoon we put into Helen and Herman's, where we were forced to buy $4.00 of party ice to cool the $2.50 chicken in our ice chest. (There wasn't a block of ice to be found on the entire Delta that weekend.)

When you venture into Helen and Herman's, be certain that your boat insurance premiums are current. On summer weekends, it's a crowded gathering spot for a wide cross-section of the Delta populace, from Tinsly Island yachties to neophyte houseboat drivers who aren't able to handle currents and shifting winds. Secondly, be certain you pay attention to what you put in your tank. One of the H&H pumps has an oil mixture for ski boats, and one of their water hoses pumps river water. You wouldn't want to get either by mistake.

After that we did the Delta routine, which includes the following:

Hammock Hanging - Attach your hammock to your pole lift and forestay. Climb in and test it for several hours to be sure it is secure.

Clam Gazing - Scoop up a handful of clams and observe their activities... very educational.

Ankle Dipping - (uses less energy than swimming). Get someone to draw you a bucket of water. Sit in the cockpit and dip your feet whenever you feel warm. Maybe you can get the same person to hand you a cold beer.

Web Weaver Watching - Within five minutes of tying to a tule, 27 spiders will take up residence in your rigging. Keep an eye on them.

Houseboat Hooting - Observe the rental houseboaters trying to anchor.

Bird Listening - Much less strenuous than watching.

As long as we're giving advice, here are some of the activities you shouldn't do on your Delta excursion:

Wax The Hull - Balancing on the edge of a rubber raft gets you into positions in which you would not like to be photographed.

Wash The Dishes - This is supposed to be a vacation, isn't it? Buy 200 paper plates and assign your spouse or kids to trash duty.

Bring The Dog Along - Dogs are very set in their ways. I have never seen a dog smart enough to use the head, although I once saw a picture of a cat that could.

Bring A Bra Along - Bras are boring, I have it on very good authority.

On one ice run, we had a 25¢ shower at Terminous and tried dinner in their recently remodeled restaurant and bar - very good food in air-conditioned Delta luxury!

We meandered up Georgiana Slough, where we hadn't been in years, venturing into Oxbow Marina, a recent private housing because we had appetites for a big steak at Al the Wop's in Locke, complete with salad, bread, sauteed mushrooms and pasta... we weren't hungry again for days!

That night we anchored off the swimming beach a mile south of Walnut Grove which now sports big signs saying CLOSED AREA.

We assumed they meant the shore and enjoyed the shade of the huge trees undisturbed until late the next morning when the water skiiers chased us onward.

After a full day of exploring, gingerly testing depths with our keel, we found that secluded anchorage of our dreams: a tiny wooded island with tall trees that shaded the bow by early afternoon. We had lazed there out of sight for a couple of days when it occurred to me that now was my chance to get that St. Tropez tan I'd never had. We hadn't seen another soul since we'd dropped the hook, so I shyly slipped from my swimsuit and arranged myself on the foredeck. Moments later I grabbed a towel as a motorboating family put-putted by, smiling and waving.

That ended my first attempt, since I figured they'd soon be returning. Hours later they hadn't, so I again bared my white bottom to the breeze, attracting a field hand on a tractor rumbling along in an area I would have sworn was accessible only by water.

A later attempt produced a passing sailboat skipper who flashed us a knowing grin. But the ultimate peep was accomplished by a huge ship on the nearby river, peering over the top of the trees as I lounged au natural in the pulpit. Exasperated, I refused to cover up, the ship moved on, and nobody else ever came by again: the power of positive defiance.

Eventually, after two solid weeks of "doin' nothin" it was time to go home. The Middle Ground and Suisun Bay seemed worse than ever as we crashed, bashed, and pounded through the slop. Our sunbaked bodies were in shock under four layers of wool and slickers. Vallejo Yacht Club was a halfway haven, where fellow sailors swapped stories about just how awful it was out there.

San Pablo Bay was uncommonly docile at slack water for the final hours of our journey. And that night at home again, with it all behind me, I asked myself . . . after the swimming and tanning and cooking and washing and reading and rowing, what do I like best about going to the Delta?

The answer had to be Coming Home. Back to hot running water, modern plumbing, and free ice cubes. Back to privacy and square soft beds where you don't touch feet with somebody unless you want to. To slathering myself with flowery smelling lotion without tempting mosquitoes, and looking at my tan in a full length mirror. To pushing a button for clean dishes and another for spotless clothes.

I've had my primeval fix for this year, thanks! Now I can throw out the floating soap, store away the canopy, and sleep the whole night through without swishes and clanks and mysterious bumps in the night. The Delta will still be there when I need it, but right now with the washer humming, the coffee perking, and the toaster ticking, I'm going to just sit here, doin' nothin'.

- Sue Rowley, August 1981


This story was reprinted from the August, 1981, issue of Latitude 38 (volume #50). We actually have at least one copy available, lightly used and rather brown around the edges. To order it (complete with muddy black & white photos, including one of a bare-ass sunbather), use the subscription order form, and specify the 8/81 issue, or just drop us a note with a check for $7 to Latitude 38, Attn: Christine Weaver, 15 Locust Ave., Mill Valley, CA 94941.


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