I opened my eyes and found myself aboard the C.T. Slicker, a 33-foot day cruiser captained by Tom Moorad of Discovery Bay. Tom had invited me to join him and a handful of crewmates on a journey from Disco Bay to Tule Island, where Stockton Deep Water Channel marker 16 and the Delta Yacht Club make their home.
My adventures on the trail normally take place beneath a blue sky. Today, the blue was below as well. Unaccustomed as I am to aquatic adventure, I expected the day’s agenda to consist of sedate sightseeing as the Delta’s tule-lined sloughs slipped placidly past.
The reality was better.
We were still idling through the no-wake zone when it became clear that this excursion would be no walk in the park. As we cleared the shelter of the town’s residences and headed toward deep water, a 25 mph wind gusting to 40 began raking our faces and tugging at our headgear. Wind direction: from the northeast. Our heading: northeast. I tightened my cap band to the cut-off-circulation-to-skull notch, and the bluster intensified to match it. I decided to remove the cap of my own volition.
Make no mistake: it was a spectacular day to be out on the water – the kind of spectacular that evidently keeps most folks off the water. As we plowed an 11-knot furrow up Middle River, an occasional fishing boat could be seen bobbing against the reeds, and the planing hull of a cigarette boat knifing through the chop. But not many skiers or wakeboarders were daring the squalls on this sunny Saturday morning. That’s OK – I try to avoid the company of the clinically insane.
Our hardy crew of Adriana, Alan, David, Leia, Smyrna and Tommy took the conditions in stride. By the time we swung into Mildred Tract, where whitecaps laced the surface like confetti, extra layers had been donned and noses thumbed at the gods of gales. A couple hundred yards out, a tube built for four careened crazily over the washboard surface like a rodeo bull in the act of unloading its cargo.
Tom, who as a native Chicagoan is no stranger to wind and cold, took note of the 70-degree water temperature. By mid-June, he said, the mercury is normally up to about 75. Seems like the Sierra’s winter melt was making its frigidity felt a hundred miles west. Tom’s been navigating the Delta’s labyrinthine layout for 18 years, so there isn’t much he hasn’t seen. We passed a spot called Five Fingers, where boats once dropped anchor but are now barred by weeds. He pointed out eroded slough banks and admitted that boat wakes only speed up the damage. Tom’s an upbeat guy, quick to smile and crack a quip, but he views the current state of the Delta as no laughing matter.
A shade short of 18 miles after we’d shoved off from Clipper Estates, the palm-embellished outline of Tule Island and the Delta Yacht Club complex came into focus. Tied up at the long stretch of dock was only one boat, testimony to the day’s rigorous conditions. C.T. Slicker (the initials stand for Cecile and Tom) approached the dock warily as the wind tried to spin it like a compass needle gone haywire. Skipper Tom sidled our boat against the dock and got us tied up. Nifty piloting for a city slicker.
A few hours of good eats, good banter and my dubious bocce ball skills later, it was time to rejoin so-called civilization. And wouldn’t you know it: still only two boats were moored at the dock. It was tempting to consider us a rare crew, and then the thought came: the more I rub shoulders with East County folk, the less their generosity, their grit and their wit seem a rarity.
The wind, now from the northwest, gave us a starboard nudge and C.T. Slicker’s twin 270 Crusaders churned us away from the white dock and toward the pale peaks of Mt. Diablo jutting low in the haze of distance. I’d been ushered from my world of trails into the world of tules, from blue above to blue below. For a glorious day on the Delta, this landlubber’s blues had been obliterated.