A Cruise to Tomales Bay

Absolutely Critical Information

Let me state right away that these are my opinions and observations. I am NOT a licensed Coast Guard pilot/captain nor a surveyor nor associated with any kind of geological concern. I'm a piano teacher. So, what I say may not be correct, and if you proceed on these findings, you do so AT YOUR OWN RISK. I take no responsibility. I will describe things as close to the truth as my abilities will allow me, but I am -not- a professional. As you read, don't forget this.

The latitude and longitude positions I give are -only approximations-. I could have omitted the latitude and longitude and strongly considered doing so, but many of these places are not named on the chart we have (and I presume you would have the same chart!), so I decided to do it as a help. THIS FILE IS NOT A NAVIGATIONAL AID. I am merely trying to tie in a place name/description with an approximate location. Again, I am -not- a professional in this regard, so please do not take these positions as anything more than a guess.

VERY IMPORTANT: And just because I give a location doesn't mean YOU can get there without going aground or encountering some other hazard!! Tomales Bay is very shallow overall. DO NOT PROCEED ON MY DATA ALONE. Use your chart all the time! Consult the latest edition of the Coast Pilot. Seek local knowledge. Monitor your depth-finder constantly. Be prudent.

Say out loud: "This woman is a piano teacher, not a marine professional of any kind. The information in this file is offered as a help only, with no guarantees of accuracy. If I use this information, I am proceeding at my own risk."
Thank you! mb

General

Tomales Bay requires self-sustained cruisers. There are virtually no amenities on shore. Plan to pack in what you need and pack out your trash. Don't plan to "reprovision," "re-ice," "refuel," and pump the holding tank with regularity because it's difficult to find a place to do it, and generally it will require a day trip to do so. Bring everything you need and in the quantity you think you'll need (and some extra). Conserve fuel, water, ice, and holding tank space.

Tomales Bay is very laid back! I took off my watch as we pulled out of the driveway at home and didn't miss it a bit!

We spent 17 days in Tomales Bay and wished we'd had more time.

We sail a NorSea 27 with a draft of about 4 feet.

Getting There and Back

This is a two-day trip, in my opinion. We went out the Gate early and made Drake's Bay about mid-afternoon. Somewhat bumpy ride (we mostly had to motor because there was no wind), but Drake's Bay was calm. Calm night. On other trips, on the way up, it's been wild, woolly, and beyond; and Drake's Bay has been like a wind tunnel. Depends on the time of year, I think. I wouldn't sail to Drake's Bay before May 31.

Drake's Bay is supposedly where Sir Francis put in when the Golden Hind, groaning and splitting from the weight of captured Spanish booty, had to be repaired. From Drake's Bay, he took off on the rest of his circumnavigation.

We left Drake's Bay early the second morning for Tomales (again motoring mostly) and arrived there mid-afternoon.

The trip back we elected to do in one day, to prolong our stay because it was so nice! The first part of the trip was rather rough, but after we turned at Point Reyes (pronounced "Point Rays" by locals), the ride evened out, with favorable winds.

We used radar on both trips. It was quite foggy.

Geography

Tomales Bay itself is the result of seismic activity. One day I had the epiphany that long, finger-like "lakes" and bays/gulfs often lie along fault lines. I traced the San Andreas Fault north from southern California, up toward San Francisco, and I found many long lakes lying atop the fault. Then I looked at the Red Sea. Hmmm. Suspiciously like those long lakes. Was there a fault, and if so, where? Yep, coming up from eastern Africa (Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania and all of that). I may be totally wrong about formation of such bays, but hey, if I'm right, this isn't bad for a musician to figure out! At any rate, that's why I think Tomales was seismically-formed.

The bay is hemmed in by a slim peninsula and the mainland. The entire peninsula and the area at the foot of it comprises the Point Reyes National Seashore, a protected federal park.

If you take a day trip by car, don't miss a stop at Point Reyes Station for the displays and walking tour there. Part of that exhibit is a place where a fence broke in two pieces, and one piece moved 6 feet (I think it was 6 feet; anyway, a sizable distance) during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake; obviously the fence straddled the fault. Supposedly the ground literally opened so wide that cows fell into the chasm. Drive out to the Point and hike to the lighthouse. Truly spectacular! But I digress!

The point at the bay entrance is called Tomales Point (pronounce it as you would say it in Spanish - - surprise!), and the entire peninsula is part of the Pt. Reyes National Seashore.

There is no development on the peninsula from about Sacramento Landing northward. Sacramento Landing is approximately across from Marshall Boatyard (about 38 degrees 8' N. Latitude).

Entrance

The entrance is probably what keeps most people from cruising to Tomales - - that and the trip upwind to get there.

As we planned our cruise, we drove up by car to look around. We drove on both sides of the bay and sought local knowledge, stopping at several places, including Inverness Yacht Club (on the peninsula side). Nice folks, but the gold mine of info we'd hoped to find was not there. Was not anywhere! So, armed with the chart, we took off in August with assurance that all would turn out well somehow. This file chronicles my findings, and I hope they might help someone else. (Remember: I'm a piano teacher! If you use this information, you do so at your own risk.)

At the time we cruised to Tomales Bay, two buoys marked the entrance to the bay. Be sure to check the newest edition of the Coast Pilot and "Local Notices to Mariners" charts updates, issued by the Coast Guard, for current location and number of navigation aids; Tomales is in the 11th Coast Guard District. And of course, study your chart carefully. (You can get these updates on line. Start at this site for information on how to do this. For further information, contact the CG office which handles these updates: Telephone 305-536-5621; office hours 7:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m., M-F.)

There are breakers at the bay entrance, turquoise water breaking over rocks, not unlike the Channel Islands (another of our favorite cruising spots). In addition to the breakers at the entrance, there are breakers further down -in- the bay. Kind of disconcerting! Some of the sandbars are awash at low tide. Follow your chart; you'll note the depth is to starboard as you enter. We came in at high tide. We went in and out several times, even sailing back in, and we thought the entrance presented no trouble when approached in a thoughtful and cautious manner.

There are numerous private aids in the bay, usually in the mud flats. Some of these are on the chart. Some on the chart have disappeared. We thought that these areas were too iffy. We didn't go there, so the absence of the private aids was not a problem for us. Please be prudent! The bay is quite shallow in many places and there are shifting sandbars. Update your chart and consult it for how far south -you- think the bay is navigable.

Wildlife

Immediately upon entrance, we saw elk! Elk! They are fenced in at the point (Tomales Point), to restrict their roaming too far south.

In the course of our visit, we also saw egrets, hawks, harbor seals, pelicans and other sea birds, wild pigs, coyotes, lots of fish (though we tried, we did not deplete the population by a single fish), and Aurelia jellyfish (which sting). One of the things we like best about cruising is seeing the wildlife; we weren't disappointed at Tomales!

Clamming takes place at low tide on the mud flats near the entrance (about 38 degrees 13.8). There are clamming charters; these may come from Dillon Beach or Brazil Beach. I don't know for sure.

Fishing and Crabbing

You must have a license. In summer 1998, a regular license covered crabs, too, but please check in case the regulations have changed.

For crabs, make sure you know what's in season and are able to identify what the in-season crabs look like.

For bait, we used cans of the cheapest cat food and punched 6-10 holes in the can without opening it. This is obviously a one-time use. (In the south, we used to bait with raw chicken backs.)

Obviously, you also need a trap!

We didn't have good success.

Diving and Snorkeling

One word: sharks. The Pacific side of Tomales point is a breed area for Great Whites.

Besides, the water is really turgid. I can't think it'd be worth using fresh water to shower afterwards for what you might see, sharks notwithstanding!

Winds

Winds are very light in the bay (in August) and freshen about noon. Some nights the wind blew vigorously but died about midnight. There were wispy fog and light winds in the morning, clearing by mid-day. Sometimes the fog slipped in and out. It usually came back about 4 pm to stay.

John wind surfed several times. He said the water was "warm." Ha! Actually, it probably was fairly warm since the bay's waters are "sheltered" from the Pacific. There were lots of swimmers and kayakers, so it probably isn't as cold as the ocean, but I was content not to gather data personally. Anyway, I was still thinking about....

Temperature

John and I went here the first two weeks of August. It was hotter than a pistol inland (100 and over), but it was very cool in Tomales. Low 60s to high 70s during the day. The wind plus the temperature made it "brisk." I wore jeans and a sweatshirt the whole time.

Nights were good and crisp - - low 50s + the wind - - good sleeping!

There were some flies when we were there. Mosquitoes were not a problem. Screens unnecessary.

Clothing

Bring clothes to "break" the wind, such as foulies and/or nylon windbreaker jackets. Even John, who can stand temperatures 50 degrees colder than I can, wore his foulies on several occasions.

I always wore jeans, but John often wore shorts. I always wore a t-shirt with a sweatshirt over it, but John usually wore a t-shirt. I always wore shoes and socks. John (you guessed it) sometimes went barefoot.

One late afternoon, we dinghied to a restaurant (about a 3 mi. ride), and I was not at all embarrassed to tie up wearing my full foulies (ok, no boots). I did take them off before going inside, but I tell you that I was happy to have them, especially on the return trip! John didn't tell me whether he wished he had had his foulies for the trip back.

Nothing is "elegant" at Tomales, so decent-looking jeans and t-shirts are fine, in my opinion.

I'd advise taking enough clothing to last you, as I didn't ever see a laundromat and with water at such a premium, it was a no-brainer to choose between clean clothes and drinking water.

Winds

In August, in the morning there is light wind and usually some wispy fog. Wind picks up about mid-day. Usually the wind is stronger in the southern end of the bay, so said one local - - unfortunately, it is very shallow there (marshland!), so the point is moot, as far as we were concerned!

Water

This is a challenge. Do you have large tanks if you plan to stay a week or so?

At Marshall Boat Yard, there is a hose available at the dock, but the dock is very high and very grimy, and the water is shallow for a big-boat approach. We decided not to chance it. Since we had dinghied in to get provisions at the little store, we got permission and did fill our sun shower on the dock. (For all the good it did since the sun wasn't out and the temperature was 60 degrees.)

Plan B: go to Heart's Desire and use the sunshower and the spigot on shore to fill the tank. Plan on several trips to make an appreciable dent in an empty water tank.

Plan C: fill your tanks before you leave, use water sparingly, and bring extra in jugs and bottles. This is SOP, anyway, so I don't need to tell you this!

As far as we could find out, no one had an approachable dock with a hose. Just as well, I guess, because I doubt we could have found anyone who really knew where such a hose had already been! (You can get water in Bodega Bay, however. More below.)

John decided not to risk going to Inverness YC, where they did have approachable docks and hoses!

Fuel

As far as I know, the nearest fuel is in Bodega Bay. We saw no diesel at Tomales. There are a lot of fishermen with outboards, so gasoline must be available somewhere! Brazil Beach, maybe? I have no idea.

Ice

At Marshall Boat Yard in the little store. Maybe at other places; Brazil Beach? Also available easily in Bodega.

Holding Tank Pump-Out

It goes without saying that no pump-outs are done in the bay!

Alas, there is no pump-out station in the bay, so your options are to go to Bodega Bay (a lovely sail!) or go beyond the 3-mile limit. Or have a big holding tank!

John figured our holding tank contribution was about 2 gallons/day (1 man, 1 woman).

Provisions

As far as we could figure out, the only place for provisions in Tomales Bay is the little store at Marshall Boat Yard. It is a typical "California/Bay Area" store in its stock list: several types of caviar, BBQed oysters, organic blueberries and raspberries, 35 kinds of hot sauce, beer (including several Mexican brands), canned white asparagus, micro-bakery muffins, wine, champagne, rain forest-friendly nut clusters, imported crackers, baguettes, holistically-laid chicken eggs, and Peruvian purple potatoes. (All right, I got carried away on the eggs, but there -were- purple potatoes there!)

No margarine, but you can buy butter by the stick.

No heads of lettuce, ordinary crackers, margarita mix, non-fat milk, loaf bread, dry cereal, or "normal" veggies. No fresh meat. The proprietor probably would sell you cold cuts by the pound. She does stock 5# bags of flour, 1# boxes of granulated sugar, and low-fat milk. And the cosmic eggs.

The proprietor also has all manner of exotic ingredients for made-to-order sandwiches (goat cheese mousse, avocado and arugula on sprouted-grain cooperatively-farmed bread with mustard from hydroponically-grown mustard plants soothed to greater production with Mozart- - ok, just kidding on this one, too, but I'm not far off!). There is also an espresso machine. She kindly sold me slices of bread so I could make sandwiches for us aboard. She's a lovely person and very friendly, and I don't mean to give a bad impression of her store because it is charming and full of stock, but it just struck me as a San Francisco/Marin county market with all the wondrous offerings which were so far from what most cruisers are looking for when they need to reprovision! If, however, you are driving up there (Hwy. 1), do stop and have an espresso and see the fascinating stock!

Ice. Cash only. Open 9 - 5:30 seven days a week.

Provisions also available at Bodega and perhaps at Inverness (see below).

Garbage and Recycling

You know you're a cruiser when.......you are excited to see a garbage can on shore! You're in heaven if there's also a recycling bin!

Garbage cans at: Heart's Desire, Indian Beach, Marshall Beach. Also Bodega Bay.

Recycling bins at: Heart's Desire.

One day John lashed the trash bags to the windsurfer - - while standing on it, if you please, a truly masterful performance! - - and sailed the garbage ashore. If you prefer, you can dinghy your garbage/recycling ashore!

Laundry

There are no laundromats (that I know about, anyway).

ATMs

There are no ATMs, either. Most places take only cash.

Showers

There is an outside (exposed to all), cold-only shower at Heart's Desire. This is more in the "rinse off the salt water" type of shower than the cruiser's fond dream of an enclosed shower with hot water.

Our sun shower managed to get to 93 degrees on the days the sun was out a long time (no fog).

Restaurants

There are a couple, but they are not easy to get to. I wouldn't plan on eating out more than once or so because of the effort involved in getting there!

Tony's (Reynolds): Tie up at Marshall Boat Yard. Go toward the street and turn left; walk about 1/4 mi., more or less, along the roadway (toward Pt. Reyes); There are said to be tie-up facilities at the restaurant, but a local said this was for the proprietor's cronies, not customers. Seafood. Reputedly very good. (Many cars there when we took our "fact-finding" car trip before our cruise). We didn't go. Cash only? Service only on F-Sa-Sun. 415-663-1107. Reservations needed?

Nick's (Marshall Boat Yard): "I don't think it's too clean," allowed a local, "so I don't recommend it." We didn't go. Seafood? Cash only?

At Marshall Boat Yard, there is also a building that says "Hog Island Oyster Company," which may be a restaurant. I'm not sure if they're out of business, seasonal, or what, but they looked closed to us. (Hog Island is the large island in the bay. At White Gulch, we were treated to some nocturnal oinkings, so perhaps there were many wild pigs in the area.)

Barnaby's (on the peninsula near Inverness, 38 degrees 6'): We anchored at Heart's Desire and dinghied in about 3 mi. Fried seafood place. 415-669-1114. Was busy, so you might consider reservations, although we didn't have them. Visa/MasterCard. The restaurant is adjacent to the Golden Hind Botel (415-669-1389), but whether they are run by the same folks, I don't know. The botel has shore-side motel rooms, and there are also docks/slips. Some of the locals berth there. Many (most? all?) slips dry at low tide.

There is supposedly a Russian (or was it Czech?) restaurant within walking distance (?) of the Golden Hind. I think I saw it on our fact-finding car trip. And, as I recall, there was a little grocery store somewhere nearby (or, at least I thought of it as near the botel). It looked closed to me. Whether that was just that time of day or time of year or whether it's out of business I can't say.

Several decent restaurants in Bodega.

Anchorages/Towns/Places

These are in no particular order because my notes are in no particular order! Unless stated otherwise, all are located on the peninsula.

Dillon Beach (38 degrees 14.3') Mainland. We know this town only by land access. Drove around briefly; didn't get out, didn't ask questions. Houses, beach, motel. A paid-admission RV camp near the water. As far as I know, there is no dinghy dock or fuel dock at the shoreline. Gas station (not very near shore). Probably provisions, laundry. Probably a Post Office. You can see lots of breakers in the bay from this perch, and that's why we went there: to get a close-up view of the entrance.

Brazil Beach (38 degrees 13.8') Mainland. This is the second "settlement" you see coming in. There is a large (barn red) building with a sign saying "Lawson's Landing." Perhaps a general store? Bar? Fishing Tackle? Center for Early Celtic Music? A fair-sized settlement of semi-permanent mobile homes. Looked to be a dinghy dock. Fuel? The approach is surrounded by pilings and private aids, and it just didn't look like a place we wanted to go into, so we didn't.

Nick's Cove (38 degrees 12'). Mainland. Porta-potties (public use allowed?). A couple sailboats moored. Private?

Blake's Landing (38 degrees 8'). Mainland. Permanent houses, flagpole, barn or two. Not a cruiser's destination.

Cypress Cove (38 degrees 10') Mainland. Again, looked private.

Marshall Boat Yard Mainland. (38 degrees 8') Docks are not what you would be used to if you're used to cruising SF Bay. They are also in pieces with 15" vacancies between them and stuff piled everywhere on them. Since this is the "staging area" for dinner at Tony's, I'd recommend a lunch or early dinner so it still will be light when you come back to your dink. There is also a beach, if you would care to put in there. (We opted for the docks because the beach was pretty rocky.) Marshall is a DIY boatyard, as far as I can gather. Kayak rentals adjacent. Also, the little store is there. For all intents and purposes, no water. Recycling dumpster for cardboard. No garbage can (!). There is a Post Office across the street. I would not call this an over-night spot at all for anchoring. Marshall Boat Yard is not to be confused with Marshall Beach, which is on the peninsula.

Laird's Landing This cove is formed of two lobes. One has a private residence on it and is probably properly called Laird's Landing. The other (properly called Marshall Beach, not to be confused with Marshall Boatyard, which is across the bay) is popular with kayakers and tent-campers. Garbage disposal. No recycling. Outhouses. No running water. Our stay there was in light winds. We had good holding.

Sacramento Landing We did not stop here. Might be windy because of terrain funneling wind from Pacific.

unnamed cove N of Sacramento Landing Just around a sand point (38 degrees 13.3'). Protected from south-running swell. No facilities of any kind. Wind funneled quite strongly from the ocean when we were there.

Heart's Desire Picnic tables, grill, shower head (hence the name?), bathrooms, running water at a spigot. Garbage and recycling. Accessible by car (also a parking lot), so a popular picnic place with locals.

Indian Beach (38 degrees 9') State park. Wooden "teepees" ashore make this one easy to spot. I presume they are buildings typical of the Coast Miwok Peoples, although this is never explained. Garbage cans. A nice nature walk connecting Indian Beach with Heart's Desire. It does go up-hill, but it's pretty gentle, shaded, and certainly worth the effort. Many native plants and animals identified and explained on Park Service placards.

Marconi Mainland. (38 degrees 8.5') One of original radio stations (hence the name), the building was constructed in the 1920s. Today it has been converted to a fancy conference center. The building is up on the hill, hidden in some tress. Not an anchoring spot, just a point of interest. On the shore there is a yellow (I think) building of unknown purpose.

White Gulch (38 degrees 12') This area is probably our favorite place and is close to the mouth of the bay. No facilities of any kind. Noisy on-shore wildlife at night. We preferred the unnamed cut just north of White Gulch.

Yacht Clubs

The Inverness YC is at Inverness, on the peninsula. Many of their slips are dry at low tide. Restrooms, hot showers. I do not believe there is any regular food service, as it appears to be a members-run club with a small membership. You may wish to call them.

Cell Phone Coverage

We didn't have very good luck with our cell phone.

Post Office

At Marshall Boat Yard and in Dillon Beach.

Bodega Bay

One day we decided to sail to Bodega Bay to fuel. (We were running the engine every couple of days to charge the batteries for my stitching light. Well, also for the refrigerator and since we motored up and probably would motor home... We also hoped to find a pump-out station.) It is a nice sail, though we did have to motor some to recharge the batteries.

Consult your chart, Local Notices to Marines, and the current Coast Pilot for the approach to Bodega. The channel is extremely well marked; maybe the best-marked channel I've ever seen! It's very narrow, though, so do pay attention and read your chart carefully. There is a Coast Guard station fairly close to the mouth of the channel. On the other side is a nice park, which was popular with all kinds of folks. (Warning: The "bird rock" at the channel entrance is about the worst-smelling one I've encountered; even worse than the one in Dana Point, CA.)

There are several marinas. We chose the Spud Point Marina, which is a hard left turn at the end of the channel.

There are two fuel docks (Chevron and Shell), from which we randomly selected Chevron. Now, the fuel manager may not be out there in his little house; in fact, he wasn't when we arrived. Only after being there, walking around and poking our heads into various businesses, etc. did we find out that he monitors Ch. 16, so we called him. Diesel and gasoline.

Oh, bliss!! Garbage dumpsters! (No recycling.) A head pump-out! (Also bilge.) Ice. Pay phone. Mailbox. Laundry (bring lots of quarters). Fresh fish available right there are on the dock!

The marina there, Spud Point Marina, where we spent one night, also monitors Ch. 16. Slips are on a first-come/first-served basis. No head keys are given to transients but the 24-hour watch will open the private heads and showers (if you can find this person; maybe he monitors 16, too?). Public restrooms (no showers) are open 24 hours daily and are clean. Still, though, I wouldn't go up alone after dark. Parents should accompany kids to the head, 24-7.

Across the street from the marina is the Three Daughters Deli, where sandwiches and salads, etc. are available. Cash only.

McCaughey Brothers, adjacent, is basically a marine hardware store, but they also carry first aid supplies, some provisions (canned stuff, loaf bread, milk, soft drinks, beer, wine, pet supplies, and fresh fish), toiletries, ice, bait, and fishing gear. Visa/MasterCharge.

Come off the dock and turn right, and you can walk a few yards to Mason's Marina. There you'll find a 7-11 type store, bait, ice, gasoline, and diesel. Cash? Credit cards?

Restaurants. Besides the Three Daughters, there is not much right there in the dock areas. There are three "real" restaurants a ways off. Supposedly the nearest cab is from Sebastopol - - with a $50 flag-drop - - so we decided to walk. We had been onboard for over a week with no exercise but the nature walk at Indian Beach. It turned out to be 45 minutes each way, but that was ok because we had lots of time. I wouldn't especially want to make the return trip after dark, though, since I don't know the area. We made sure we went early enough that it would be daylight for the return trip.

Turn right at the end of the dock and follow the bay around. Imagine the bay is a clock face; the bay mouth is 12 and the end of the pier at Spud Point Marina is 3. At about 7:30, you'll come to a kind of major intersection involving Hwy. 1. Go straight up the little hill; the road looks like a private maintenance thing that maybe leads to someone's house; it's actually a shortcut to Hwy 1 South. If you go right at this intersection, the road is a dead-end, ending in the Sandpiper Café (which was not recommended; don't know why). If you go left, this will take you to Hwy. 1 North. When you go straight, onto the little "private" road, you'll pass in front of Compass Rose Gardens. Keep going to the top of the hill and turn right again onto Hwy. 1.

Update (4-24-01): Dick Slavens e-mailed me about a Bodega restaurant: "Too bad you missed the Sandpiper Restaurant, much better food and prices than the Tides or Lucas Wharf. Don't be put off by the outside appearance, the food is great. Look for the Specials each week." I believe this is down the "private driveway" at Compass Rose Gardens, but you should check a phone book.

Some kind of shopping center was also at the top of the hill (turn left), but we did not investigate. Probably a grocery store somewhere there.

About 11 on the clock face, on the right, is The Tides. This restaurant, which was recommended, has the flavor of a "tour bus" stop and a "destination." There's a gift shop, etc. It reminds me a lot of Harris Ranch on Interstate 5. Seafood. Visa/MasterCard. There is a rocky beach, but I wouldn't want to land a dinghy there.

About a quarter mile further is Lucas Wharf. There is a beach, but again, I'd not want to come ashore there in a dinghy. Seafood. Visa/MasterCard. Locals say the food is comparable and that Lucas is cheaper than Tides. We ate here, and the food was good. Servings were not generous, however, and the bartender did not know how to make a whiskey sour, however; she used Rose's Lime. In all, the meal and the hike were a nice change, and I'd recommend it.

copyright 1998-2001, Martha Beth Lewis
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Last updated June 9, 2001.