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Figuring Out Life on Land

Stefa Katamay

Mazu
Tayana 37
January 25th, 2018

First there was exhaustion. Then, there was excitement. Then, there was a sea of confused feelings. Welcome to the emotional adjustment after sailing away.

The City of Brisbane Marina, located about 15 kilometres south of San Francisco, is our home base after the journey from Sidney, BC to San Francisco. We had been warned that the marina was remote from services and a challenging location from which to reach San Francisco proper. We need to make multiple trips back to Canada before heading further south, so the favourable rates here trumped the location. Still, we wonder if we made a mistake choosing this marina.

The biotechnology campus south of the Marina is devoid of coffee shops, grocery or convenience stores, or they are hidden within the square corporate blocks. The tiny City of Brisbane is four kilometres away at the end of a long road that parallels the highway. The free shuttle to the airport, from which we can take a train to the city, is a nice perk, yet the fare for the (BART) train from the airport to the city of San Francisco, is rich. We question whether the rate we are paying at the Marina is a false saving if it is going to cost $36USD for a round trip for two to the city. And we discover that the San Francisco Bay Trail, “a planned 500-mile walking and cycling path around the entire San Francisco Bay, running through all nine Bay Area counties, 47 cities, and across seven toll bridges” is only a short section from the Marina to the airport. The prospect of cycling around the Bay had been a selling feature of this Marina.

These relatively trivial challenges generate tension on the boat that didn’t exist at sea. The differences in our energy levels and drive are also getting in the way of figuring out how to live on land. Jürgen is struggling to adapt to the record-breaking temperatures, while I’m itching to get some exercise and explore. In response to Jürgen’s glum mood I ask, “What did you expect when tied up at the dock?” “That everything would be within a ten minute walk!” And I have to concur. We both had visions of being in the thick of things, walking to and hanging out in coffee shops, finding respite in a quiet library, having a short jaunt to a local grocery store, and restaurants. Yet at the Cedar Grove Marina, our home dock in Sidney BC, except for boat yards and one restaurant, all other amenities were seven kilometres away. We agree that changing marinas isn’t the answer. Figuring out life at this marina is training for future destinations.

Getting Around – Uber

Jürgen tackles our transportation woes. We download the Uber app and start experimenting with different types of rides available. UberX, pooled rides, we’re game for them all. We discover it is less expensive for us to get in and out of the City with Uber at almost any time of day than it is to take transit from the airport. And we travel the world through our drivers. They come from China, El Salvador, Georgia, Korea, Mexico, and Nepal. Being picked up at the Marina is an easy opener to our story of sailing from Canada. The vulnerability of travelling on the sea opens doors to conversation with the drivers. And we do our best to learn something about the lives of our drivers. Can they make ends meet driving for Uber? Generally, yes. How do they like driving for Uber? They drive their own vehicles, when they want – what’s not to like? And one of our drivers points out that Uber provides new immigrants an income stream that is a step up from the physically demanding jobs generally available to this population. We ask, “Where do you live?” “How much do you pay for rent?” “Do you have family here in the US?” “Back home?” “How often do you visit family back home?” To our frank questions we receive frank answers. What’s there to hide from these Canadians who are passing through? One of our drivers from Nepal provided a detailed description of how to make momos, a dumpling native to Nepal, when he learned that I had travelled in his home country and was familiar with this native treat. “Use lots and lots of cilantro. Don’t forget!” We may forget the details of making momos; however, we won’t forget this driver.

Getting Around – bikes

In our early days at the Marina, we walk along the Bay trail adjacent to the Marina to revive our muscles after our days at sea. We pass individual lime green and fluorescent orange bikes; parked here and there, leaning on their kickstands, sometimes up to half a dozen bikes in one place. They are from the bike share programs “Lime Bikes” and “Spin”. We look them up, download their apps and our life at the Marina is transformed. With the app any of these bikes can be unlocked, used at the rate of $1/half hour, locked up and left wherever we end our trip. Now we ride to the grocery store and Uber back with loads too big to schlep on a bike. Or one of us heads out to tackle a few grocery items that can be thrown into the basket of the bike or into a backpack, and knock off a few hours of riding in the process. Riding bikes feels like the ultimate freedom!

Jürgen out on a Lime bike

Food

Seasoned cruisers suggested we stock up on favourite foods prior to leaving Canada. We ignore this advice. What’s the point of travelling if we’re hanging onto the familiar? Still, our first foray into a Safeway store in South San Francisco leaves us both underwhelmed and low. It’s true. We can’t find some of the items we want, yet that is not what gets us down. It’s the packaging; lots of it, on fresh produce that doesn’t need packaging. We’re in California, the source of so much of our produce in Canada, yet the selection of fresh produce in this store is wanting. We try another store, Trader Joe’s, and the feeling persists. Our discouragement is lifted when a fellow cruiser discovers a store operated by a Hispanic family within easy biking distance. Here we find mountains of reasonably priced quality fresh produce, and shelf upon shelf of dried beans. Subsequently, we explore vendors along the main street of South San Francisco that displays fresh produce outside their doors, all Hispanic. At one, we enjoy fresh Mexican pastries and our shopping is now the adventure we were hoping for while cruising.

Time

We can get around and we’ve got plenty of food onboard. We have friends on the dock too – at times one to three other boats from the Bluewater Cruising Association are hanging out at the Brisbane Marina with us – so we’re not lacking for companionship. Still, there is an ennui that hangs over the boat. After three years of preparing to sail south, there is little structure to our time now. And time we now have in San Francisco.

We tackle San Francisco as tourists. We take a hop-on-hop-off bus tour to get an overview of the sights and some history. On foot, we explore the crooked steps of Lombard Street, cruise cafes, restaurants and the City Lights Bookstore in North Beach. We rent bikes and ride around the peninsula to Ocean Beach, seeing neighbourhoods off the beaten track from the tourist circuit. We walk up to the Coit Tower for 360° views of the City; walk to the Palace of Fine Arts originally constructed in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific exposition, and walk around Oakland where we discover the awe-inspiring architecture of the Cathedral of Christ the Light. We get to know the City well enough to get around with ease. Yet no matter how many wonderful encounters we have with residents or visitors, we remain tourists, visitors, outsiders. It’s a hollow feeling for an extended stay.

Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, CA

The City of Brisbane community pool changes my experience of our long-term stay. I had taken up lap swimming in the year prior to our departure from Canada, and was hooked to this alternative to the running and riding I had done for the previous forty years to get an endorphin high. I had it in my head to look for pools once we were underway. Buoyed by the enthusiasm of the Marina administrator, a regular user of the local pool, I head out for my first swim. With little convincing, I am granted entry to the pool with the locals’ rate. Once on deck, I am in awe of this little gem; a heated outdoor 25-yard pool surrounded by eucalyptus trees, steam drifting above the water into the morning’s cooler air. There are enough users to warrant sharing lanes, yet the pool is by no means crowded. Friendly faces make room for me. Warm feelings wash over me as I slip into the water. Here I am on the inside even though I am an outsider. In subsequent visits, I am greeted by pool staff as “Canada” and conversation with regulars flows easily with this shared activity. Although still a passer-by, this place of shared activity connects me to a community with which I am familiar. The hollow feeling abates.

Stefa looking out from the Coit Tower

Meanwhile there are a few boat chores to tackle. Jürgen has boat parts to find and boat systems to tweak. His forays up and down the dock inevitably lead to conversations with other boat owners. People are curious about our trip down and keen to be helpful. From one dude, Jürgen learns about the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in Golden Gate Park, a free music festival drawing big names like Emmy Lou Harris, Billy Bragg, and Robyn Hitchcock. With two other BCA couples we head down to the festival and enjoy the music and the vibe. It is fifty years since the summer of love, yet looking around the crowd we catch snippets of 1967. Peasant blouses, flouncy skirts, feather earrings, cut-off jeans, flip-flops, beards, rants from the stage, and the ever-present smell of pot. We’ve dropped into iconic San Francisco.

Boat chores for me include making a cockpit cushion to replace the one that went missing in Bodega Bay. In Canada, I had ordered supplies through a local canvas worker. The deal was he ordered what I needed at wholesale prices and I paid him retail prices. He made a little money on me and I got what I needed, with professional advice thrown in for free. After searching in vain for a local supplier of Sunbrella fabric and firm open-cell foam, I resort to the same strategy for getting supplies in San Francisco – I hunt down a canvas worker willing to help me out. Instead of professional advice, I get invited to crew on a boat in the Red Bra Regatta, held at the South Beach Yacht Club in San Francisco. When race day arrives, I spend five hours floating on San Francisco Bay, relishing the company of other women who love to be on the water. The race is cancelled three hours into the float, yet we are having too much fun pumping sails, looking for the wind, to care whether there is a formal event happening around us. Later, Jürgen joins me at the Yacht Club for the after party where we drink, eat and dance with new friends until we can hardly stand from fatigue. By the time we head out the door, we are ready to become members of the South Beach Yacht Club. The hollow feeling disappears completely. Our training for life on land at future destinations was well launched in San Francisco.

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  1. Corinne Whelan says:

    Thank-you for sharing your experiences- I really enjoyed it! Happy Sailing⛵️
    Corinne

  2. Keith James says:

    Stefa, thanks for your article. I had planned to go to Brisbane marina this June. Based on your experience and what you heard from other people can you recommend a better location in the Bay area? KJ

    1. Stefa Katamay says:

      Perhaps other cruisers can weigh in on your question. The favourable rate made Brisbane ideal for a longer term stay (two months) as we had to fly back to Canada twice in that time frame for commitments.

  3. Russell Mead says:

    Hello,
    When we were staying in California as part of our adventure with our boat TIllicum 1 we stayed in San Rafael at the marina there and also in Alameda for a shorter time. BOth had good access to San Francisco and we too used our folding bikes to get around. We remember the tiny seeds that had thorns and wound up popping the tires.
    We are now in Nova Scotia after transiting the Panama Canal in 2009 Got to NYC in 2010- so very long ago!
    Enjoy the ride!!

  4. Jean Baillargeon says:

    Niece piece Stefa. When do we see you in Mexico ?? We are in PV for a bit before heading south for a few weeks then back in La Cruz for haul out before the Jump.

    1. Stefa Katamay says:

      We’re in La Paz and staying on the Baja side this winter. Only heading to the mainland in April to get up on the hard. Doesn’t look hopeful that we’ll see each other for awhile! Fair winds!!!!

      1. Jean Baillargeon says:

        Ah too bad… I was looking forward to it and so was Helen. Well, who knows, things in the cruising world have a way of being very «fluid» indeed. (no pun intended). Don’t miss out on Isla Isabel when you do come to this side… Amazing place, weird anchorage, but weather permitting a no-miss. All the best to you both enjoy your time on Baja.