On a recent sunny afternoon, I picked my way through the hustle and bustle of Pier 39 to Dock J, where a small Adventure Cat catamaran waited to transport me (literally and figuratively) far away from the tourist crowds and into calm Bay waters. Before sailing out, our young, big-bearded, and jovial Captain Hans emphasized that there would be no “cheesy” spiels on this sail. Then he urged his passengers to sit back and enjoy the ride.
And enjoy we did. Adventure Cat owners Jay and Pam Gardner truly understand the magic of sailing. Upon graduating high school, they sailed their first boat south to Mexico, and have continued to center their lives around sailing and sail making ever since. (Proof positive: Their first daughter was born aboard a boat that they called home for eight years). The Gardners, along with their partner, Hans Korfkin, built the first Adventure Cat 20 years ago, and their regular sails continue to thrill locals and tourists alike.
For my part, I was excited to step beyond the usual “ferry adventure” and let the journey itself be the main attraction. (It also helped, of course, to know that the catamaran saves an estimated 74,000 gallons of diesel per year as it coasts along the pristine Bay waters.)
As we coasted out of the harbor, youngsters and their parents helped hoist the sails while a group of teenagers settled cautiously into the catamaran’s “trampolines,” mesh nets that hang over the open water on the the front of the boat. We sailed across the Bay toward Alcatraz, with Angel Island looming nearby. Sausalito, San Francisco, and the Golden Gate Recreational Area all glistened in the sunshine, while a cool Bay breeze maintained that signature crisp feel.
Gradually, we made our way through choppier waters and ventured underneath the outstretched, sunburnt arms of the Golden Gate Bridge. The catamaran lingered near Kirby Cove, where we took in picture-perfect views of the waves crashing against the rocks before returning to the harbor.
On our journey home, Captain Hans invited passengers to take a turn at the helm. Reminded of a sailboat excursion in my younger days (when I accidentally crashed into a harbor), I tentatively steered the boat back under the bridge. Satisfied with my success (well, at least none of my fellow passengers toppled overboard), I handed over the reigns to some excited kids and headed for the bow.
From my perch I exalted in the wind whipping my hair, the sound of the waves slapping against the boat as the city’s gorgeous skyline came into view. By the time I stepped back on solid ground, I felt as though I’d returned from an expensive spa treatment: My mind and body were energized, reinvigorated, and relaxed. So relaxed that even the packed Pier seemed like, well, a walk on the beach.
From March through November, the Adventure Cat sails twice daily, at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Tickets cost $35 for adults and $15 for children ages 6-12 (5 and under ride free). The Adventure Cat also hosts romantic evening sunset cruises, which include light hors d’oeuvres and two complimentary drinks ($50 per person). Check the website as departure times vary
Take Bus 47 to Fisherman’s Wharf. Walk to Pier 39 at Beach Street and the Embarcadero.