THE gentle swaying of our 47-foot houseboat was working its magic. Reeds shushed outside our little window and the dark river purled underneath. Northern California's peaceful Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta had lulled me into a deep, far-from-the-city sleep.
Around midnight, my eyes shot open. We were moving.
My shipmate Erik and I met on the bow, pulling on clothes and fretfully assessing the situation. The boat had blown out into the center of the slough and was gaining speed. Working by starlight, we hauled up both anchors and threw them out again, but they wouldn't catch. More hauling and throwing, hauling and throwing. Harrison Ford rented this very boat months earlier, the manager at the marina had told us. Indiana Jones wouldn't have thought much of our efforts.
An anchor will fail and fail, we learned, then suddenly take hold with perfect sovereignty. By 1 a.m., we'd nailed it -- or at least felt too tired to care anymore -- and toddled back to bed. When we woke the next morning, we found the boat hadn't budged. With new cockiness we retrieved the fishing rods, but that was pressing our luck: not a nibble. Presumably we'd bonked all the fish with our anchors.
Having survived the "Cape Fear" portion of our weekend excursion, our group was now free to settle into the true houseboating experience. This involves an 80 percent slower heart rate, for starters. When they're not breaking loose in freak windstorms, houseboats don't move much faster than regular houses. Indeed, it wasn't a need for speed that brought us to the Delta, nearly a thousand miles of lovely, winding waterways that comprise the largest estuary on the West Coast. What we hankered for was deceleration. Locals speak of living on "Delta time," and if it took a nine-ton floating shoebox to slow our progress for a weekend, I was on board.
Too often, Bay Area residents -- or visitors -- point the car north or south when seeking variety. Marin, Napa, Santa Cruz and Monterey are all wonderful, but I was looking for something with an entirely different vibe. Joined by my crew, of sorts -- my wife, Amy; our toddler; plus Amy's sister; her husband, Erik; and their two kids -- I headed east toward the Delta. In just 90 minutes we were on another planet.
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