(FYI: The Elderhostel organization changed their name to Road Scholar. Their website is www.roadscholar.org).
This is Road Scholar's second most popular tour, and deservedly so.
When one lives in the Bay Area, going wine-tasting is a day trip. You can drive for an hour, no matter where you’re starting from, and find wineries. But say “Wine Country” and most people are referring to Napa and Sonoma. They are the biggest, but also the most crowded – especially in summer.
This is no small matter. Traffic can be awful in the Bay Area, and the roads up there are mostly narrow, 1-lane-each-direction, pseudo-highways. Add in big Greyhound-sized tour buses arriving every hour, and instead of a bucolic pastoral getaway it begins to look like Manhattan on a Friday evening!
We signed up for this May 2010 tour. It's short, only 2-1/2 days. The group stayed in American Canyon's Fairfield Inn & Suites, just outside the city of Napa, in a large modern suites chain. The room was large and new, with easy access to the Vallejo marina where the boat, a 50’ trawler named Dolphin, was berthed. Our first day of sailing was perfect! It was a bright sunny day, and there were still many birds (the biggest migration is in winter, and ends by April).
We sailed up the Napa River. We’ve crossed it a dozen times driving over a high piered bridge, usually at 70 mph. What a difference to be on a boat going no more than 5-10 mph, watching flocks of sparrows flitting by, or a majestic pod of huge white pelicans taking off as the boat sails slowly past. Not surprisingly, one sees so much more, and feels more relaxed. Even though my DH and I aren’t ‘birders’, we really enjoyed being on the water and seeing the birds everywhere.
One of our fellow travelers on the Dolphin
The guides told us how the old salt ponds were slowly being flushed and reclaimed as marsh restoration, to the great benefit and increase in wildlife. We also saw an amazing variety of housing styles of homes built atop some of the levees, from simple summer cabins to multi-story McMansions, all side by side. The boat docked in Napa and everyone got the chance to walk around, shop (there’s a great chocolate shop!) and then eat lunch together at a pre-reserved spot.
The second day brought us to the “Mothball Fleet”, which is slowly being dismantled although some 25 ships will permanently remain in the middle of San Pablo Bay. The weather turned misty and windy, so although we saw a bit of Suisun Marsh, the decision was made to stop after lunch and the boat returned to dock.
Although we’ve sailed around the Bay and through the Golden Gate Bridge, this was the first time we’d done any sailing in the eastern section of the Bay. Even in the mist, it was a beautiful, different way to see an area we were all familiar with but had only traveled to via busy freeways. We all agreed we would have liked it to be 3 full days touring instead of just 2 full days. The boat was beautiful and comfortable, and our guides well-informed and funny.
This trip was the perfect opportunity to just keep driving through the Wine Country. So that’s what we did, on our own time for another 10 days. But that’s another story!
One of the old bridges on the Napa River. All but one are now kept fixed into place. The building on the top of this one
was the home of the bridgekeeper!