Set sail on the winding waterways of the California Delta


Dr. Peter Moyle, professor emeritus at the University of California, Davis’ Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology, has studied the delta for decades. Dr Moyle focused his research on the endangered Delta smelt and other fish in Suisun Marsh, an area that he said “most closely resembles the original delta.” He has no doubts that whatever the way forward, a major change is obvious.

“The Delta is a very different system than it was 150, if not 50 years ago. This will continue to change, ”he said. “What we’re living with now is a temporary condition, and people need to figure out what they really want the system to look like. “

There are endless possibilities of what this could look like, from attempts to maintain the status quo as much as possible to some kind of eco-reclamation of open waterways and swamps. Everyone wants to save the Delta, but which version of the Delta is worth saving? And who best serves this Delta?

Sailing in the Delta is a leeward dream; sailing is a task upwind. For the summer, we rented a slipway in Owl Harbor Marina on Twitchell Island (which Dr. Moyle says may well be underwater for decades to come). On an extremely hot Friday night in July, after driving a weekend on the water, we sat in the cockpit of the boat as the sun set and the wind picked up, the sky glowing orange; it had been 110 degrees that day and promised to be even hotter the next day. We saw a pair of swallows worrying about our proximity to their nest, precariously built under one of our boat’s solar panels. The birds seemed to be arguing over the best way to proceed.

“What a dangerous place for a nest,” we thought, discussing the likelihood of their eggs hatching before we left, hoping they would despite their questionable choice of a home.

When we returned a few weeks later, the temperature had dropped, the nest was empty, and the swallows were gone. We carefully sailed the narrow channel, avoiding shallows and seagrass, past long abandoned, half-sunk boats surrounded by invading water hyacinths, and then so did we.


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