Back in October I took an epic trip up the not-quite-Amazonian Petaluma River. This was my third trip sailing up that way and our second year organizing programs with a local school. It was, and remains still, one of the rare highlights of last year and in truth one of the best adventures I’ve ever had. In fact, when I got my film back and realized I had nary a photo to show for all the good times (having accidentally shot on slide film and overexposed the entire thing) I almost broke my vow to never put non-film photos up here. And then I didn’t, thinking once that seal is broken it’d be like the gateway drug to all sorts of technology (Facebook! Twitter!) But…hell. It’s just too good a memory to sit on forever, rehashing only with those who were there—after all isn’t this about sharing adventures and getting other people excited to take them as well? And isn’t this year about doing and being and relinquishing all those stupid little judgements that hold us back?
Thus, I give you 5 days of living on the Chinese shrimp junk replica Grace Quan and her elder cousin the 1891 scow schooner Alma.
An auspicious beginning out of China Camp in the pouring rain.
Around the entrance to Bel Marin Keys with a break in the weather.
Happy hour with homemade tonic and a dry deck at Lakeville.
Passing of the lovely Thora, to be met again in Petaluma.
First real morning, awakened at 4 am to rain sheeting down the sides of the cabin through the hatch. Somehow my sleeping bag still felt warm enough to ignore the inevitable until it became, well, inevitable. While the others packed out for coffee I hunkered down and waited out the storm. And, man, when that sun finally came out it was glorious.
Morning tea and a book lazing on deck while the scattered belongings dried and the barges motored past.
Living on the river must be a treat.
Spent the day sailing slowly upriver, taking the occasional dip and finally meeting up with Alma at the Petaluma Marina. A mellow evening in town highlighted by the cramming of 10 people into a Peugeot wagon and a decent sleep before a full day of teaching 45 children about shrimp junks and leather shorts. Oh, and some river navigation and ecology.
On to the turning basin in downtown Petaluma. Love watching the bridges rise for us and everyone waving in their cars.
The River Heritage Center created by the Friends of the Petaluma River—such a beautiful spot. They partnered with us once again and helped us throw a happy hour barbecue and movie night in the barn. Throughout the year they host a handful of events and it’s definitely a spot worth visiting, both for the beautiful space and the lovely people.
Our evening continued from a raft-up dinner with Thora (cioppino and endless bottles of wine, oh yes) to some epicly sorry games of drunken pool and jukebox takeovers. Highlights include the longest game of shuffleboard in history (and one in which I was accused of cheating for giving my opponent more points than he actually had), a bar filled with taxidermied animals, a different bar that contained a wall of take-away liquor (“come in for a shot and leave with a bottle”) and a hill-rolling challenge that nearly left me concussed for the third time in 6 month. Luckily, there was just a bit of bruising and a strangely sticky sweater to show for it…should you ever find yourself in Petaluma, that hill’s a gem
Getting gussied for the public open house the next day.
Which included dockside showers for all of us miscreants.
Rowing to the evening’s festivities, with Tucker and Rogers as worthy companions. Why does going by boat just make everything that much more fun?
Another early awakening surrounded by familiar bodies sprawled across the deck and visions of barn-side bonfires and late night rows in Olga. Hustled to get everyone on the public sail then spent the day back on Grace meandering towards Lakeville. Round about 3pm, sitting on anchor, taking in the post-swim sun and along comes Alma with nothing but a Rucker at the helm and an Alice swinging hammock-wrapped between the masts. A few minutes later the rest of the crew rounded the bend looking like a goddamned Gatsby picnic and my happiness knew no bounds.
What class, no?
Another beautiful day, turned into a remarkable night surrounded by a table-full of shipmates and belly dancers at Papa’s Taverna and a moonlight trailblazing to the Tin Bar…which happened to be closed and forced us to drink gin and lime juice under the stars til young Miss Trail started snoring at the table. Pretty damn close to heaven.
They say you can never step into the same river twice, that the waters are always in flux. I would like to posit that perhaps the river you sail up might not be the same river you sail down, that something naturally has changed, but maybe that something isn’t just the river, its you. And if you can hold on to whatever you learned, whatever feeling the river may have given you, you’ll come back with more than just a memory. Hokey, I know, but you’ve got to start somewhere.
On Returning? While you may not feel the need to sail upriver in a redwood junk, there’s adventure to be had along even the tamest river, its just a matter of setting forth. However, if the Petaluma strikes your fancy, The River Heritage Center will host a gathering of boats and festivities this July for their Rivertown Revival celebration and we’ll be back up with Alma and Grace in October. There’s always the by-land option with a drive along the lovely Lakeville Highway (off Hwy 37) that’ll bring you past Papa’s and the Tin Bar before depositing you in downtown Petaluma. Go forth…and have a grand time doing so.