Dockside Dwelling: From Ship to Shore

A friend from New York came to visit, so naturally we took a boat ride. All the while my friend was filled with excitement, admiring the spires of the city landscape, the hills rising toward Mt. Tamalpais. We gazed out at Grizzly Peak and the Berkeley hills.

Photo by Francisco Arreola

On the Contrary: Entering the Gate by Sail

By Denise Dohogne
Published: March, 2007 

This is gorgeous; itís alive and the colors are strong, my friend said. In New York, we have to travel so far to see something like this. But you live here. You probably donít even notice.

Wrong, I said. Every morning I wake up and I walk to my window. I just stand there and stare.

Thereís plenty around here thatís worth a good stare. What the California coast lacks in easy cruising, it makes up in the San Francisco Bay, the Carquinez Strait and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. This is a different world, one which took awhile to be discovered.

From out at sea, the entrance to the Bay can be tricky to spot. Fog frequently takes credit for the two centuries in which Spanish ships explored the coast without discovering San Francisco Bay. That simple fact bought the Ohlone and Miwok Indian tribes an extra 200 years of privacy.

Bay Area sailors know, once theyíve looked at the Golden Gate from the ocean, that the entrance, even with a city built around it, can be hard to pick out even on a clear day. The East Bay hills fill the background and the Golden Gate doesnít stand out until close enough to identify the bridge across it. Then, once in sight, the winds might pickup suddenly, especially as the seasons change from winter to spring. Thereís really no predicting the weather during this time, just knowing the adages of this contrary time of year, such as: If March comes in like a lion, it goes out like a lamb.

With the Golden Gate being the only sea level opening, the wind on the bay can change from lamb to lion and back again faster than you can react. Itís possible for winds to go from zero to 15 here in a moment. The wind may hang in the Gate for a time, but eventually it will move in, steadily, increasing and drifting eastward until it takes over the whole Bay. And, if waiting for a breeze, the educated keep a lookout to the west for the sudden heeling of boats and darkening ruffles on the surface. Those are the tell tale signs that the wind is coming and so are the days of full sails on the Bay.

Denise Dohogne is Broker/Owner of Denise Dohogne Real Estate and Travel, a Waterfront Real Estate and Specialty Cruise Agency in Benicia. She is captain of a 1977 CHB Trawler, the Hey Diddle Diddle in Glen Cove, and a member of the Vallejo Yacht Club. For more information, call (888) DD4-WATER or visit