Thursday, December 28, 2006

Alaska, California (And, Yes. We are Back from FLA)

From the deck of the private bar. Can you say, "Gracious living"?

Brother Pat Daugherty and I had a bit of lunch on the water last week before I went east, and he afterwards showed me, within two miles of the Richmond Bridge, this amazing little harbor up a hill and down a pitted asphalt road the edges of which something seems to be nibbling away. Most directions you look across the hills or the water you see no sign of human habitation other than the little houseboat and marina community. Daugherty, who worked on the Alaska pipeline for god knows how many years -- Pat's an old-fashioned writer; no MFA, puking and mewling; he lived his life and learned what he learned -- and he says this ragged haven reminds him of the water towns he knew in Alaska.

There's a bar in this Bay Area Brigadoon, which is actually a private club and all the members have keys. Pat knows and is known here, but we bumped into an old timer he didn't know, who pulled out his key and opened up nonetheless. Just us and the cold. So we bought a modest number of Heinekens. Man who opened up was Tanker Tony, as in oil tankers. He'd spent half his life running up to Alaska and (I guess) back. Running up to Alaska, anyway, and taking the oil somewhere, and bringing fuel *to* Alaska before the oil.

Once he and Pat started talking about Alaska, our money changed. It was transformed, transmogrified. It was no good.

I would tell you where this place is, but then I would have to kill you.


david silver said...

when money can't buy drinks, things are good.

put another way, free beer rules.

do your posts mean you are back home or have you merely found a decent connection?

B. Wieder said...

Although the angle of the top photo is totally unfamiliar, the scene itself certainly looks a lot like what they drolly called the Point Molate Yacht Harbor back when I lived on a houseboat there in the early 1970s. There was no private bar then, just a cafe patronized by the fishermen and boat owners. There was not, incidentally, anything a sane man would call a yacht within miles of the place. The very last operating whaling station in the US was just down the tracks a quarter mile, and I watched the last whale ever rendered on US turf being rendered there. Small world.

....J.Michael Robertson said...

Brother Wieder is correct. That he spent part of his youth living on a houseboat at Pt. Molate is entirely consistent with his life and work. When I see the houseboat community at Pt. Molate, I think: New Atlantis!

If you know what I mean. And I think that you do.

Anonymous said...

Brother Wieder,

Incredible. I’ve wondered what the “Yacht Harbor” was like in the 70s. It sure looks like a great place to warehouse and transports drugs. What was it like then? How many people lived there? Did anyone have a job and so on.

What, exactly, was a whaling station? What deities, how many people worked there? How many ships did it serve and what kind? Was there any back forth between the whaling station and the harbor people?


Anonymous said...

It was evidently not a whole lot different from today; I haven't been out there in a good 5 years or so. The road was your basic torturous, potholed washboard. The cafe, which I only ate at once or twice, was a throwback to the 50s, and the clientele consisted of people going to or returning from fishing runs. There were only about 4 houseboats and I lived on the smallest one; we were the closest to the bank and during minus tides found ourselves grounded on one side and on a 10 degree incline. The boats, of which there were maybe 20 or so, were grubby and functional; there were very few what you would call pleasure craft , and nothing really stylish. I didn't really get to know anyone out there except for Rob, an old seafaring drunk type who came by now and then. The breakwater/road/parking area doesn't seem to have changed a bit.
If you walked about 1/4 mile up the railroad tracks toward the Chevron docks you came to the whaling station, which in basic design resembled a barn with two open ends, one on the water. It was very ramshackle, and I only saw the one whale being rendered; this was its swan song. I just happened to read that this was the last functioning whaling station on US soil a few days earlier and it was pure coincidence that I was walking by at the time. Basically, the whale was delivered at the water opening, was carved up inside--and you don't want to smell a whale being gutted--and the results removed through the landside opening. There were only a couple of guys doing the rendering as I recall. I thought about doing a piece about it for California Living, but they wanted a lot more background information than I was interested in going after.
I wish I could paint a more Cannery Rowish portrait of the place and its people, but there was little interaction between the boat owners and the houseboaters, and no houseboat "society" that I was aware of. I wasn't much of a joiner, of course. I lived there with a woman who was actually renting the houseboat for about six months. It was very inconvenient if you had anything resembling a life, and I finally decided to opt for one. If there was any drug involvement outside of my own, I didn't spot it, and at that time, I probably would have. Wish I had more, or at least more colorful, answers for you.
Sail on.

....J.Michael Robertson said...

Bob went into the wilderness. It was a convenient wilderness but a wilderness nonetheless. Pat and Richard went into a less convenient wilderness. When I was in the Boy Scouts, one night they hiked us up and over a couple of mountains and then one by one, every half mile or so, they dropped us off to be brave alone in the darkness at what seemed a 45-degree angle.

We make do with what we are given

Anonymous said...

That Point Molate end of the road sense feels so Alaska or bayou. The entire place seems desperately up for sale. Someone there told us that the yacht club entrance is silted to where most of the boats can't get out. And the houseboats --where ever could they be towed even if you wanted to stop paying moorage and move.

What I don't get is why Chevron has not bothered itself to buy out the lot, especially since they're trying to put a casino right around the point.


Anonymous said...


I appreciate your generous reply. Fascinating to read about your 70s harbor life. What gets me about the harbor is how inconvenient and separate the place is and how close it lies to all the gunk of everyday life. A bubble. Of course, I may be the only one who is fascinated.

Loved the whale rendering description.



Anonymous said...

Could there be some kind of Devil curse involved in this Point Molate story? That would explain so much - our attraction to the foul place, Bob's residence, and the gutting of live whales. The killings are especially bothersome since they occurred in a specially built whale-gutting temple, hidden from the world of men. Whale sacrifice 'neath a full moon. I'm talking BLOOD ORGY!

Think about it.


Anonymous said...

Geez. Maybe I'll move back.