Velella's Drift

An account of Velella's voyage from Seattle to New York via Panama, 2009-2011

I think we’ve found a way

As I am learning, the origin of San Francisco is rooted firmly in the California Gold Rush. My San Francisco experience has yielded a gold rush of sorts, although a more personal one. Today both Meg and I had our “Eureka” moment, the revelatory equivalent of striking a rich gold vane.

I remember in high school and college bemoaning the fact that space in America is disappearing. As population increases, the United States becomes more cramped. Beautiful land in this country is hard to come by, as our forefathers and their offspring have snatched it up. Like many of our natural resourced The American Dream -to own a tenant of land, nurture it and craft it after one’s ideals- seems to have been hunted almost to extinction. The government no longer pays stipends to adventurers looking to move west. The opposite; property costs more than ever and is viciously hoarded. Nowhere can you expect to live for free.

If one must save their whole life to buy their little slice of heaven, they can never expect to leave. After paying the mortgage on a house, how can one possibly have enough money left for travel? That requires paying fees and taxes, for residency on another’s property comes at a premium price. There must be a better way.

The answer, of course, is timeshares.

Actually, sailing is the answer. My long-winded intro was a little obvious, so I needed a curveball.

Today was our first day in San Francisco. We dropped anchor in Aquatic Park yesterday evening. Aquatic Park is a small manmade cove just off the north shore of San Francisco, next to the Fishermen’s terminal. Upon arriving, my first thought was “how can this exist?” Here we are, staring into downtown San Francisco, and we’re not paying a single cent. Have you ever seen an RV park in the downtown of a city? Neither have I. But somehow we are not only saddling up next to the heart of the city, but its completely free. This was my first revelation.

This morning, Meg and I rowed in to go exploring. We took BART (the Bay Area Transit) downtown, where we expected to find a farmer’s market. Instead, we arrived in the middle of cramped skyscrapers (damn you, googlemaps!). Luckily the San Fran Library was across the street, so we looked up a guidebook on the city and discovered that the true location of the market was on Fishermen’s terminal, not too far from our boat.

(As an aside, I also had a euphoric moment in the library when I discovered a book I’ve been searching for this past year. When Meg and I began planning this trip, I figured that as long as we’re living out our dreams, I might as well write that biographical Beach Boys screenplay I’ve been mulling over for the last six years. The original Beach Boys biography, written in 1973, has been out of print for years. It fetches over $300 on ebay. I’ve been looking for it forever and San Francisco is the first place I’ve seen it. This is like the holy grail of books for me and I was overjoyed to finally be able to leaf through it today, heaping luster on already amazing day.)

We spent a total of $40 for the freshest vegetables, fruit, bread, cream and a loaf of goat’s milk cheese referred mysteriously throughout the market as “batch #8” (after tasting a small sliver of it, Meg and I spent a good half hour tracking down the one booth that still had batch #8). Then we took BART back to our park, where our dinghy was locked to a lamppost. The aquatic park where we’re anchored is on a beach, and we got a lot of weird looks from the adults and kids playing in the water as we unhooked our raft from the lamppost, dragged it into the water, and took off with our groceries into the windy bay. It was an incredibly hot day, so we put on our bathing suits and had a delicious lunch on the bow of Velella, with the San Francisco skyline on one side and Alcatraz on the other.

Eventually we rowed back to town. There’s some sort of funk/soul festival going on in the park and, if we weren’t going to buy tickets, we figured the sound quality might be better off the water. Not to mention, the San Francisco public library (my newly adored institution) was having its yearly book sale. A huge waterfront warehouse had been dedicated to housing all the library’s no longer needed books, being sold as a fundraiser for a dollar apiece. After 3 hours of browsing, we had a shopping cart full of “the field guide to the gray whale”, “the rolling stone’s illustrated history of rock and roll”, “lonesome dove”, “watership down” and many others. They had an amazing book from 1879 “Magic for the Stage”, a performing magicians handbook. It was the most earthy, mysterious tome I have ever laid eyes upon. A one-of-a-kind relic, its price sticker was $500. I tried to get the surprisingly pecuniary librarian to give it to me for $100 but he would not lower his price.

An amazing day, to be sure, but what most surprises me is the richness our boat provides. The best part about this is the sanctuary we have. Anytime we choose, we can become engulfed in the city. We have friends ashore and a thousand different adventures wait. But Velella remains our inner sanctum, our fortress surrounded by an infinite moat. By rowing our dinghy half a mile out to our anchorage, we are afforded all the solitude and self-sufficiency of country living. It’s truly an amazing experience. I’ve never felt so completely self-reliant, and at no cost other than what we spent on farm-ripened fruit and a basket of used books.

After a month of hideous weather and rough seas, the winds are changing. Meghan was on to something when she proposed this trip a year ago. In a world where your ability to be self-sufficient is directly proportional to the size of your bank account, we may have found a loop hole.  It’s called “cruising”.



  Lin wrote @

It’s about time you had your Eureka moment–you passed Eureka quite a while back!

  Brook Maurer wrote @

Thanks for keeping me smiling. What a wonderful image you have given of you and Meghan “living the life”. Better be careful who reads your blog or you might have hundreds of neighbors in your aquatic park! It happens all the time when someone publishes a guidebook and describes the jewels they have discovered somewhere in the world. … Here come the crowds. For now, enjoy!!

  Josh wrote @

I love this post. Solitude in the city, thriving small markets in corporate america, earthy tomes of magic.

  Clayton wrote @

Dude, where can I pick up a sailboat. When would be a good time to come visit ya’ll?

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