The Maritime Report: It's boating season!

The Maritime Report: It's boating season!

Dave Bloch

A 2012 "Sweet 16" race on the Oakland/Alameda Estuary. Photo by Michele Ellson.

Although boating and sailing go on around the Bay Area year-round, things really begin to pick up in the spring. The Central Valley gets warmer each afternoon, causing its hot air to rise and pulling new air in from the Pacific Ocean to take its place. For us, that new air is WIND, and that predictable daily breeze is what makes this place one of the (if not THE) finest sailing venues in the world.

The official start of the boating season is the Opening Day on the Bay, sponsored each year by the Pacific Inter-Club Yachting Association (PICYA). This year's event is this Sunday, April 27.

The day starts with the 51st "Blessing of Pleasure Craft." The event takes place at 11:00 a.m. way over by Corinthian Yacht Club in Tiburon. The boats will pass between the Club and the USS Potomac, the presidential yacht of Franklin D. Roosevent (whose home is here in our Oakland/Alameda Estuary). After the blessing, many of boats will travel south to the San Francisco city front to view, or take part in, the big annual parade.

The Decorated Boat Parade is a really fun event every year, and well worth the trip over to the city to view. You get a close look from the pier where the Jeremiah O'Brien Victory ship lives, or from out at the end Pier 39. (It's a good time to see the sea lions there, too. Bet you haven't done that in years.)

The parade starts at noon out in front of the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco. I've been out there for several years, and it's an hour or so of arriving boats circling around looking for the big number placard of whatever boat they are supposed to follow. (If you're number 402, then you're looking for 401 and some boat numbered 403 is trying to find you.) Somehow it all works out with no collisions.

The start of the parade is always the big San Francisco Police Department fire boat blasting its water cannons. The fire boat makes its way down the parade route from west to east, with all the entry boats following majestically (or any way they can) behind. This is a competition with awards for best boats (sail and power) "decorated to theme," which this year is "Visions." (Themes are always deliberately vague to allow for lots of creativity.) Other categories include things like "Flags and Streamers," which often has many boats comprising a single yacht club entry. There is also a special category for boats decorated by kids; last year some of these were the best of the lot!

So head over to the city on Sunday and find a good place to view the boats travel along the city front!


The other activity that is now running in full swing are the three series of estuary races. Head over to our Island's north shore on any Wednesday evening, or nearly any Friday evening, to see 20 or so sailboats in fun, informal racing down to Jack London Square and back. The boats are absolutely beautiful to watch, especially when they have their big spinnakers up for the run back from Jack London. These races all start around 6 p.m., but check the websites of the Island, Oakland and Encinal yacht clubs for information.

There are also races throughout the summer off the south shore of Alameda sponsored by Ballena Bay Yacht Club, but these are harder to watch from shore.

(Also, all of these races are followed by drinks and dinner at the hosting club. Although alcohol laws require that all these clubs post those "Members and Guests Only" signs, you should feel free to walk in, tell anyone that you watched the race and are interested in knowing more about their club, and they will nearly always be happy to invite you in. These are very friendly places!)