You meet crazy people in the boating world because even though there’s only a relatively small number of people, often they are either shockingly rich or shockingly poor and either way they are strange. Perhaps the most eccentric collection of anchor-outs can be found up near San Francisco in the designated federal anchorage of Richardson Bay. We spent our first ever night at anchor there, a sleepless night after which we left early the next day to go to Alameda. The next time we anchored we decided to stay longer and were promptly greeted by the self-proclaimed welcome committee, John, who gave us a dated and crumpled pamphlet about Sausalito and assured us that the 72 hour anchoring limit mentioned in said pamphlet was not enforced.

A skinny channel up the west end of the bay effectively separates the very wealthy from the pseudo-homeless. On the west side of the channel are the marinas filled with very expensive yachts; the east side of the channel is lovingly referred to as ‘the place monohulls come to die.’ Here many, many derelict boats sit at anchor and will likely never leave this bay – which gets shallower and shallower the farther north you go. During low tide many of these boats sit in the snotty San Francisco Bay mud that swallows virtually any Danforth anchor. A relatively large community of people live on these boats; some are literally just a step up from stark homelessness. Against this backdrop the wealthy white population polish their brass and occasionally take their boats into the bay proper. This large gap in economic status creates a palpable tension as each population maintains a specific and sharp distaste for the other.

One lazy morning at anchor in Richardson Bay, Michael popped his head up through the main hatch with an apprehensive look. He took me into the main cabin and pointed to the starboard side chainplate attached to the main bulkhead.

“Does that look different to you or was it always like that?”

The chainplate had pulled up a good half an inch out of the deck, essentially ripping through and tearing our bulkhead which we would soon discover was almost completely rotted through.

As soon as we realized the seriousness of the situation we realized that we were in over our heads. As an added bonus our toilet was doing what it likes to do when the holding tank is full: due to the fact that the pipes are run below waterline, a full holding tank leaks a pungent mix of shit-water back into the toilet when the boat rocks back and forth. So, the combination of catastrophic bulkhead failure and the desperate need to use the bathroom brought us to the fuel/pump-out dock of Clipper Yacht Harbour where it’s $5 to pump out a non-resident boat (bullshit). Relieved, we blindly left the boat on the fuel dock and went in search for a solution to our bulkhead problem.

After a few rigging shops we realized that this was going to be an expensive repair, especially if we were going to do the ‘proper’ fix. We decided to take the night to think it over and returned to the boat and a very relieved foreign fuel dock attendant, who looked as if he didn’t think we were ever coming back. It was starting to get dark and we quickly cast off to go back to the anchorage. John, the welcome committee, had described our previous location as ‘the boonies’ so we figured we’d come in a little closer this time. Going south down the channel we looked left and picked a spot between some other boats. I turned out of the channel and aimed for the empty space. As we drew closer to the other boats I glanced down at the depth gauge and gasped:

“Four feet, three feet, Michael we’re-“

The boat came to a pathetic, squelching halt in the mud. I threw her into reverse to try and get off the shoal. Nothing. I threw her into neutral and shut the engine off, angry.

“Fuck this. Let’s just wait till the tide comes back.”

What is both praiseworthy and annoying about Michael is that he always wants to do stuff and was excited to ‘practice’ kedging the boat off the mud. So he got in the dinghy with our 13lb Danforth and some rode and rowed back into the channel. By this point, our predicament had aroused the interest of a lone, bearded kayaker who paddled over to Michael. After Michael explained what had happened he nodded sagely:

“This too shall pass.”

That was how we met Bob.

Bob and his first mate John (another John) live aboard a 35′ center cockpit flush decks Yorktown. The boat is HUGE on the inside and monstrously over-rigged. Bob’s bulkheads are solid oak and his chainplates could hold up sky scrapers. The emphasis on the rigging means the weakest part of the system is the sails. Bob keeps bursting sails and is currently without a working jib. He has two 45 gallon diesel tanks and can bleed his engine in under a minute because he never has enough diesel in the tanks and air keeps getting into the fuel lines. Both Bob and John smoke weed and cigarettes constantly and their boat smells like an ashtray mixed with cat litter. Destination: Hawaii.

Once Bob latched onto us, it was hard to get space. He convinced us that our 20lb CQR was nothing more than an elaborate paperweight so we spent one AWFUL night side-tied to his boat listening to six fenders grind themselves to death. After inspecting our bulkhead he offered us his services at an amazing price and, as any smart new boatowner would do, we decided to hire the toothless anchor-out instead of the ‘professionals’ at South Beach Riggers. We were on a budget and Bob desperately needed some cash. It was a match made in heaven.

Bob’s need for cash was a relatively recent development. He and John had sailed from Bodega Bay with 3lbs of marijuana, planning to sell/give/smoke it away until they made the great right turn out to Hawaii. When they came into San Francisco Bay, however, they made the mistake of bypassing Richardson Bay in favour of the Cartinez Strait area, where they were promptly boarded by the Coastguard, whose training grounds are just a stone’s throw away up the Napa River. Bob, who was alone on the boat, could not act fast enough to hide the pot, which was sitting for all the world to see on a shelf. He took the bold tactic of denying the weed was his and luckily for him John, who was watching the whole ordeal happen from shore where he was doing laundry, quickly paddled back and took full responsibility for the drugs. After a couple of days in jail they were released – John is over sixty and has a clean record and Bob, fittingly, had just renounced his U.S. citizenship. The 3lbs of pot was gone when they returned to the boat, however the Coastguard, kindly, had left a little tiny bit, just enough for one more buzz.

The toxic nature of fiberglass forced us to seek refuge for one night on Bob’s boat. This night magically coincided with a crisis of identity I was having concerning the fact of whether or not we were homeless and fated to have all our teeth fall out. I was certainly unhappy leaving Azul, despite the toxic fiberglass fumes. By the time we got to Bob’s boat I was pretty pissed off.

In order to prove his manliness, I guess, Bob proceeded to take us on a night sail, however he wanted to show off his solo sailing skills so we were essentially forbidden to touch the lines. A plaque near the steering wheel told all aspiring crew members to fuck off, in as many words. While a night sail, on paper, sounds romantic and thrilling, it was late November in San Francisco Bay and it was fucking freezing and we weren’t allowed to do anything. There was absolutely no wind and Bob’s boat is a full keel, 30,000lb pig with hydraulic steering – not a record setter – so when I say night sail I mean night float with sails up.

Eventually John, Michael and I ended up back in the cabin with the cat and Bob heroically set his anchor all by his lonesome. During the course of the night we also found out John has hepatitis C. I can’t remember if this was before or after he cooked us dinner.

It sounds as if we threw all caution to the wind by hiring a toothless crazy man to work on our boat, but I would say only half of all caution was thrown. We never left him alone the boat and we kept him constantly caffeinated and happy. We also have the right blend of ineptitude and eagerness that (touch wood) seems to deter people from taking too much advantage of us. In the end, Bob did great work and left us with a ton of ideas for future projects. He essentially did the ‘proper fix’ as defined by the master rigger – he cut out the rotted bulkhead and ‘sistered’ in a new, dry piece of marine ply with fiberglass tape. He also backed up the chainplate horizontally with a steel bar, making that connection stronger than it was off the production line. He did it for one tenth of the price quoted by the prick from KKMI and we also got an additional steel backing plate, a rectangular hatch, three portlights and a vacuum cleaner in the process.

I found Bob hard to work with. He was an insufferable know-it-all who loved explaining a better way of doing something that he had figured out. I suppose one could argue that he was a man of principle, in his own way, and our time with him could be defined as a success. It’s a story. Bob could also be poignant, at times, when his marbles chose to align.

“The universe will decide whether you’re supposed to be out on the ocean.”

I wonder where he is now.