From the outset I knew that rowing to Vallejo was going to be tough. How much would the tide help me? I didn’t know. Could I row 18 nautical miles before the tide turned against me? I was going to find out.

My route was a 36 mile roundtrip from Paradise Cay; my plan to leave Sausalito for Paradise Cay on Tuesday evening. 

The afternoon was breezy. ‘The wind should be behind me to Tiburon Peninsula,’ I thought. And it was. Largely. 

I round the peninsula and allow the tide to carry me away from the shore, in order to avoid the counter current running in shallower water. The wind ratchets up a notch and I groan. The wind is killing my speed. The tide is pushing me further east and now it’s dark and Richmond looks like a better option for the night than Paradise Cay.

I persevere. 

I wonder why I am persevering. ‘Why don’t I quit? Why don’t I abort when the conditions turn against me?’ Half an hour later, I have managed to claw my boat away from the bumpy convergence zone where opposing currents meet and I am sheltered by a rise in the land. Boat speed rises. We are back on track to Paradise Cay. 

My boat is beelining for a flashing green channel marker. ‘WTF!’ I chuckle. I am convinced my boat is magnetised, drawn by the earth’s force field to collide with every channel marker in its path. Magnetic marker syndrome! I laugh. There is a seagull on top of the marker sitting next to the green light and every time the light flashes the seagull is lit up. ‘Stupid seagull!’

Submerged pilings, one unlit entrance marker… the row into Paradise Cay is stressful. I am not a fan of entering unknown harbours in the dark.

Yacht club member Walt Bilofsky kindly lent me his vacant slip, but the docks are unmarked and I can’t find it. There are empty slips all over the place and so I opt for an end-tie. On the other side of the marina is a housing community, many with private docks. The sky is a matt charcoal behind the houses and the air is filled with children’s laughter. It’s Halloween. 

‘What a cute boat!’ I have a visitor, a lady living aboard a sailboat with her husband and dog. The dog looks indifferent. Walt gives me a tour of the yacht club which has an impressive view. Then I bunk down for 6 hours, alarm set for 3:15 am.

No part of me wants to get up at 3:15 am.

I go through my routine of pre-row stretches and set off. It’s 4am. 

I make excellent progress across the bank. Then I hit deeper water. My speed grinds down. The water pulls at my oars. ‘Did I get the tides wrong?’ I am confused. I let the boat drift to see where she wants to go. The tide is incoming and my bow points towards Red Rock. Interesting. I am not overly familiar with the current pattern in this part of the bay and so I opt to row with the current heading east. Slowly my speed picks up as I go under the Richmond Bridge, but my hope to reach Vallejo by mid-morning is dampened. 

Past the island called ‘The Brothers’ I row, the windows of the B&B lit from inside and I wonder who is staying there. Morning starts to break. The light is grey and San Pablo bay is vast. This is going to be a plod.

I settle in for a morning of podcasts, starting with a very interesting interview of Arianna Huffington. I am well out of all shipping channels, so ships go by, ferries rip past. I am in no ones way and no one bothers me. 

My friend Rick Leach spent the night in Vallejo, on his way south cycle touring. We made a lose plan to meet for brunch, but this feels like a long shot. I am nervous about the Mare Strait and I’m running out of time.

I row a good cadence and I row consistently.

I am hungry. Again. My body feels like a parking meter, where each snack buys only 15 minutes of time! On the hour I have a ‘standup break,’ where I tuck the oars under the gunwales and stand up for a few seconds. My muscles thank me for this.

2.8 knots becomes 3 knots and I start to think, maybe, maybe I am going to make it. 

Tormey is hugely industrial, smoke stacks billowing into the sky. This is my view. 

I tear past an anchored ship and into the mouth of Mare Island Straits. 4 knots becomes 5 knots and I have to be careful how I navigate at this speed. I am getting sucked up the river. I start to get excited. ‘I am going to make it! Brunch! YES!’ 

I start singing the word Vallejo in the style of The Lonely Goatherd by Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music. To jog your memory – 

Vallay-ee   Vallay-ee   Vallay-ee   odl-oo!

Dilapidated docks, palm trees, the place has an industrial beauty. 

And then there’s Rick! It has to be Rick. A man on a loaded bicycle in an orange shirt with yellow panniers. Rick rides along the waterfront as I row. People stop Rick as he goes by. I can’t tell if they’re curious about me in the stripy boat, or Rick with his cycle-touring rig, or both. 










Current flowing this strong make me nervous. How am I going to stop?

The entrance to the Vallejo Yacht Club becomes obvious and to my delight the guest dock is dead ahead and right below the club house. Bullseye.

Docked. Voila! 

Click here for part 2.