When we had visited Benicia, California there was an old theatre called the Majestic located on the main street. The marquee on the Majestic announced that the movie – The Bride of Frankenstein, would be showing on October 27th. Each time we went by that theatre I thought to myself – oh, how I would love to see that movie.
Be careful what you wish for.
We had stopped by Benicia as we were making our way into the Delta system, which contains large tracts of grassland with sloughs through them off the main Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. We had the impression that sailing in these areas would be relaxing, laid back, easy anchoring, sort of like a slow boat ride down the muddy Mississippi. What we came to realize afterward was, there would be little difficulty navigating shallow grassy waters in a power boat, not so much in our sail boat. Possibly if we had continued further along it would have all worked out.
(the movie begins to set the stage)
Our intention had been to travel along the Sacramento River and tuck into one of the sloughs, somehow though we took the San Joaquin and could find no suitable place. The rivers are wide with large industrial, military and oil storage sites along the shoreline. The river is also deceivingly shallow. It may look inviting to travel toward the shore but it will only be a few feet deep with no protection from wind, wave or current. We noted many old abandoned pilings or pieces of metal along the shore. We could not believe the wind, once again blowing up at 20 knots, current against us and the waves!
We did pass marinas but they were private ones and one that we could have gone into but we still had plenty of day light. We looked at a slough on the chart plotter and saw that depths were adequate for anchoring but once we were into it noted that we would still be in the wind. Onward we went out of the slough and into an open area, almost like a small bay, called Sherman Lake. Very shallow depths and Captain had to navigate very carefully. Then our speed started to slow then no speed at all. Captain could see long grass trailing and said the prop is clogged. Down goes the anchor, wind is blowing us into shallower areas, no more than 2 feet and Captain puts on his wetsuit, fins, mask and snorkel and takes a knife. He cuts great swaths of grass from the prop and drive shaft. He said it was in a long huge thick ball. Up comes the anchor and away we go but not very far, within 5 minutes the engine has no speed. Down goes the anchor and the same process is repeated.
Again, we continue, this time we travel much further along but the engine again stops forward speed. Captain puts on the scuba gear and tank; day light is running out and he does not have time to keep coming to the surface for air as with the last two attempts. This time he must hold onto a rope while under the boat, the current is running so fast. We make it out this time into the main river, the Sacramento.
I find a marina on the map and we headed towards it when we realize that there would be a bridge to go under and at this late hour no one to open it. Ok, there is a slough not far away with good depth and we go for that. We turn into the slough and make our way down it.
(the horror movie begins)
It is pitch dark. Captain uses the spot light to check for other possible objects and the shoreline. None could be seen, so we drift down further. We are probably about half way into the slough by now and the Captain is at the bow putting the anchor down. Wind is blowing hard at 25 knots but not a concern, we have anchored now numerous times in winds this high or higher since arriving at San Francisco.
Captain taught me to always look and see what is behind us while sailing, other vessels have a way of coming up from behind and could catch you off guard. I took that lesson and always applied it to when we were anchoring. Could be the calmest little bay but I always looked behind us as the anchor would go down to make sure we were not drifting too close to shore, always a quick check.
(the audience begins to scream in horror)
I begin to scream and scream and scream for the Captain. He is not responding, he is busy with the anchor and the wind is blocking my frantic screaming.
As the anchor was going down I looked over my shoulder and there not a few yards away was a massive barge.
I was face to face with Frankenstein.
Due to the high winds and current pushing us backward, it looked as though the barge was under power and coming towards us. Captain finally heard me and in a split second he saw that we were heading towards the barge and yelled to put the boat in full throttle, which I did.
Have you ever heard a train attempt to come to an emergency stop? Wheels screeching, the sound of metal on metal. The boat hit the barge as I put it into full throttle. I felt at that moment we were going to break apart or be pulled beneath it. Captain within seconds took over the helm and we pulled away.
I must admit that I was coming completely apart. Captain yelled that I must take over the helm, he could not be in two places at once. He still had to deal with the anchor and get it up. When we drifted towards the barge he said, I must throttle away from it. Over and over I saw the barge getting closer and I would throttle away.
The anchor went down for the last time that night but it was not a night of rest. Once daylight broke we pulled anchor, found another area out of the wind and waves and rested for a few hours before heading back to China Camp.
The boat was unscathed. The two of us, not so much. The stainless-steel piping on the back of the boat (which stuck out about two to three feet) to hold the single side band antenna was bent in an odd shape and the man overboard pole was snapped in two.
The Captain has criticized himself several times, I have not.
Theatre lights come on.
All is well.