AFTER EIGHT YEARS in Alameda, an island town with an anchor on its flag, I'm still unacquainted with most things nautical. But two weeks ago, on a sunny Thursday, I circumnavigated the island in a powerboat.
A landlubber at core, I'm oblivious, most of the time, to the salty Bay water and the open windy spaces that surround us. Though when I travel — as I did last week to Boulder for my 20th high school reunion (everyone looks the same, just older) — I delight in describing Alameda as "an island in the San Francisco Bay." So romantic! But living here, I tend to forget that just as the mountains are Boulder's wilderness, the Bay is Alameda's.
"Everyone seems to like to go off and get away from it all," says Alamedan Peter Brand, a project manager for the Coastal Conservancy, who rows his rough water shell three or four times a week on Bay waters. "You can go out on any day of the year and you're going to be virtually alone. You feel as if you're miles from the next human being, right in the middle of the major metropolitan area."
My guide for the trip around the island was school board trustee David Forbes, whose day job is managing Club Nautique, a sailing and powerboat school and boat rental facility in the West End's Ballena Bay. Forbes skippered private boats in the Caribbean and put three Atlantic crossings under his belt before settling in Alameda in 1991.
His own craft, a 26-foot sailboat named Mr. Squigley, gets heavy-use as a teaching boat for new sailors. "Alameda is one of the sailing capitals of the Bay Area and the Bay Area is one of the sailing capitals of the world," says Forbes.
Our boat for the afternoon was named "Majestic," one of the 50 or so that Club Nautique rents. With three TVs and air conditioning, the 44-foot powerboat is a stylish vessel, far fancier than my home.
"You don't need to own the golf course to play golf," Forbes told me, lamenting how little attention is paid to what is arguably Alameda's finest resource.
Once out of the marina, a blue expanse of water lay before us as we set out east, powering along Crown Beach, toward the bridges that link the main island to Bay Farm. It was hot on land, but cool and breezy for us. As we approached the bridges, Forbes radioed ahead. They were promptly raised for our passage.
We slipped under the metal spans and into the San Leandro Bay with its view of McAfee Coliseum. There, we finally passed another craft. The family in the little powerboat oohed and ahhed at Majestic, and we didn't mention that she wasn't ours.
We turned into the estuary that divides the Island from Oakland, and we spotted the back yards of people we know. Farther along, I saw things I'd never noted before: boat yards, multiple huge marinas.
"Look," said Forbes. "There are boats of every kind as far as you can see."
We saw huge ramps left over from the World War II days when Alameda was a shipbuilding hub, and slid past the huge container ships at Oakland's port, and then, of course, around the point, to the massive USS Hornet.
Nearly back to our start, we slipped for a moment into Sea Plane Harbor, and I saw, clear as day, Forbes' vision of a future for the cozy harbor. A bustling boardwalk, restaurants, benches, stores, easy access to the water, and a stunning view of the Bay Bridge and San Francisco's skyline.
"Don't you see it? asked Forbes. And I did.
"Living in the Bay Area," Forbes told me, as he guided the boat back, "and not getting out on the Bay is like living in Vail and not skiing."
Eve Pearlman also writes the Alameda Journal Blog, look for news, impressions and opinion at www.ibabuz.com/alamedajournal