Merriam has been water-bound ever since she was a college student back in Colorado Springs. In the summer, she takes her 16-foot Crest Liner patio boat, or the 29-foot Sea Ray Sun Dancer she co-owns with a friend, out for a spin twice a week, sometimes more. In the winter, she ventures out only once a week.
"I like the water. It's peaceful and nice," said Merriam, third-year president of the East Contra Costa Historical Society, who also owns a fishing/houseboat, she likes to call "headquarters."
Years ago, she took a U.S. Coast Guard course to learn the rules and ropes. "I still try to stay current on all navigational laws," she said.
Water rules, she feels, are important, especially for respect of other boaters and safety.
"There are so many people who don't know the 'rules of the river,'" said Merriam, who has never run out of gas while on the Delta - "yet."
"I've come close a few times, though!"
She said many sea craft operators don't realize that when a sheriff/coast guard is inspecting a nearby boat, boaters must slow down to five miles per hour. She also adds that people can be issued DUIs if they're drunk or over the legal limit. "It's the same as cars," she said. "If they think you're drunk, they can come on board to give you a breathalyzer test." Such rules are available online or at boat shows, where literature is passed out.
But her favorite reading material is "Guide to Cruising California's Delta" by Hal Schell. "It's like a Bible to me," said Merriam, who owns her own pet-sitting business in Discovery Bay, where she lives. "It tells you all about the Delta; everything you need and want to know."
A member of the San Joaquin Yacht Club, Merriam takes frequent trips on the Delta to Stockton for lunch or dinner. Or she'll head to her favorite restaurant on Bethel Island, the Landing Bar & Grill for a hamburger or weekly special, mostly because "they're open all year round!"
Her farthest trek to date was to the Ryde Hotel on the Sacramento River, where sea creatures can be spotted.
"I love watching the wildlife from the boat. The birds are fascinating and sometimes you get to spot a sea lion!" said Merriam, who usually travels with friends and her three dogs. "We do catch-and-release fishing, mostly striped bass, catfish and pan fish."
One to avoid the Delta on the weekends, including Fridays, she says in 2005, there were 175,000 registered boats in the six surrounding counties. "The best days to go out," she said, "are Monday through Thursday."
The best time of day to go out depends on whether she's fishing or not.
Not quite the hobby for the inexperienced or penniless folk, Merriam said the adage,
"The boat is a hole in the water you throw money into" is definitely true.
"It is expensive to have a boat," she said, "but if you keep it well-maintained, you save a lot of money. There are fees of all kinds, including dock fees; marine gasoline is $4 a gallon now; and then there's personal property and luxury tax. I check the oil and fluids myself, but once a year I have a complete detail on it. I once saw a 42-foot Sea Ray that would've taken nearly $2,000 just to fill up!"
Last year Merriam and her friends went out on what is called a "raft-out."
"Everyone goes out and ties their boat up to each other's boat. Then we hang out, eat, and go swimming. It's great," she said. "We may do it again this year on Labor Day."