Those of us who spend lots of time on the water tend to romanticize far-flung sailing destinations. But we should never forget that some of the best destinations are right under our noses.
The D Street Drawbridge opens to clear the way for sailors to enter the Petaluma turning basin. Photo courtesy of Club Nautique
By Marianne Armand
Those of us who spend lots of time on the water tend to romanticize far-flung sailing destinations. But we should never forget that some of the best destinations are right under our noses. With a pack of 15 boats of charterers, members and friends of Club Nautique, I recently headed up the picturesque Petaluma River to spend a magical weekend in the downtown Petaluma turning basin.
We rendezvoused around Red Rock at 11 a.m. on Friday morning and headed into San Pablo Bay. The layer of cloud cover burned off around noon and we were treated to a nice downwind sail in shorts and t-shirts. There was enough wind to get in some good wing-on-wing sailing as we headed for the channel. Had we allowed more time, based on the wind, we could have sailed quite a bit longer, but alas, we were the lead boat and hosting the cocktail party at 5 p.m. So we took down our sails and motored the rest of the way up the channel into the Petaluma River.
When sailors hear motoring, they tend to stop listening, but the sights of the enchanting river were enough to keep us occupied. From the cool little riverside shacks to the rolling countryside combed with vineyards, it seems there was something to see around every corner. Our group kept in radio communication and alerted one another of more shallow spots along the way. A few of our deeper keel boats did report touching down, but nothing that kept anyone stuck. Mostly we stayed in the center of the river and had plenty of water.
The last three miles of the river headed into Petaluma boasts more twists and turns that keep you in anticipation of what’s around the next bend. More riverside shacks, Pappas Taverna, ship wrecks and research vessels—there was much to see. We were even welcomed by enthusiastic local fishermen who hooted and hollered and acted as if they were being treated to a parade. We gladly obliged and flashed our best Queen waves as we progressed towards the D Street Bridge.
Other than the 70-foot clearance on the highway 37 overpass, the D Street Bridge is the only obstacle to getting into the turning basin. I had already followed the City of Petaluma’s instructions to call a day in advance to schedule our 3:45 p.m. opening. On the phone, they were very accommodating and helpful.
They did, however, give me the impression that we were to strictly adhere to the time schedule. I had taken up the stern of the pack to make sure that all my little chickens made it safely to the roost. So naturally, as we were pulling around the corner at 4 p.m. I was a bit concerned that we may not be granted entrance.
I phoned the police station and they gave me the cell number of the bridge tender. When I called him on the phone he immediately answered and let me know that he was pulled away and apologized for having delayed us. When I expressed my concern that we were running behind, he kindly assured me that he would be happy to raise the bridge as many times as we needed to bring all of our little chickens safely to the roost. I love that guy!
When I arrived, there were about 10 of our boats already med-moored to the 700 feet of dock space that stretches across the turning basin and along the edge of downtown Petaluma. We made quick work of getting our last five boats safely tied up to the dock. There were enough electric kiosks for everyone to get hooked up to shore power and, if you had water, there were plenty of faucets to go around.
After we were settled in, and preparing for the cocktail party, our bridge tender came by with an envelope that had a copy of the mooring permit, a welcome letter and the code to the gates on either end of the docks that are locked from sundown to sunup. The mooring fee is $22 per night and can be paid by check in the drop box, or mailed in after your return.
We were also paid a visit by the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce. I had contacted them to tell them about our plans and they asked how many boats we would have. They prepared and delivered welcome packets for each one of the boats. The packets included maps, events and attractions and coupons for local restaurants and spas and stores. I love this place!
Our cocktail party was a roaring good time. Everyone brought an appetizer and a drink to share. The 40-foot Catamaran was just big enough to handle the people we had on board. At one point we had so many people on the boat that the bottom steps on the transom were submerged. Our revelry didn’t go unnoticed by the locals—one of the local restaurants sent a waiter down to pass out coupons for free glasses of wine with dinner. Did I mention that I love this place?
We spent the evening laughing and roaming from boat to boat meeting new friends and catching up with old mates. The next day, we purposely left our schedules open. There are so many fun things to do right in downtown Petaluma. People went on walking tours, enjoyed mani-pedis and puttered around in dinghies. Some of us went to the music festival and some just chilled out on their boats. Rod Witel, a pilot who lives in Petaluma, had chartered a plane for the day and took a few groups up for an aerial tour of the Bay. It was so incredible to see the river that we had sailed down just the day before from up in the air.
The next day, we shared some breakfast and coffee on the dock and we were treated to a session of yoga on the bow of the catamaran. The yoga was taught, fittingly, by Julie Lucchessi of Bow Yoga. It was a great experience to take a moment to peacefully enjoy this environment that had served as such a welcome platform for an amazing weekend.
Some boats peeled off a little early to make the trip home and some of us lingered just a little bit longer. At 11:30 a.m., we waved farewell to the charming bridge tender who happily opened the bridge several times for all of our departures. The return trip down the river was just as enchanting as the ride up and it was a relaxing end to a fabulous weekend. Once back in the San Pablo Bay there was plenty of wind for a rigorous sail home. We were back at the dock and in our cars by 7 p.m.
It was one of those magically delightful weekends where friendship and camaraderie filled the air with easy relaxation. I can’t recommend Petaluma enough. It’s a fabulous getaway destination that’s right here in our backyard.
Marianne Armand has led flotillas throughout the Bay and up and down the California Coast. She holds a 50-Ton Master’s License with the US Coast Guard. She is employed with Club Nautique Sailing School with locations in Alameda and Sausalito.
There is 700 feet of dock space along the edge of downtown Petaluma. The mooring fee is just $22 per night and can be paid by check in the drop box, or mailed in after your return. Photo courtesy of Club Nautique
A 40-foot Catamaran becomes party central for the group of members and friends of Club Nautique during their magical weekend in Petaluma. Photo courtesy of Club Nautique