Nautical Terminator – Opening Day

Baseball and fishing have opening days for the season, but what opens? A gate? A bottle? In the case of sailing on San Francisco Bay there was once something that actually did open on opening day.

          In many parts of the country, the climate dictates that boats be taken out of the water for winter, so it’s natural for there to be some sort of celebration when they are recommissioned in the spring. Despite our more temperate climate, the custom was brought here and observed at scattered locations where boats were kept in the 19th century.

          In the late 1800s, some people owned houseboats that they called “arks.” They spent the summer months anchored in quiet Belvedere Cove where the San Francisco Yacht Club is now, but in winter things could get somewhat dicey in the open water. Tiburon Lagoon (now filled in) on the back side of Corinthian Island provided excellent protection, but Main Street, which connected Tiburon to Beach Road and Belvedere Island, would have been in the way. A drawbridge was constructed that permitted the arks to pass into the lagoon for winter on “closing day” in the fall. When the bridge was opened in the spring, “opening day” featured a celebration and parade.

          If you go to Tiburon, walk west along Main Street and just after it curves, on your right you’ll see many of the quaint old arks, now firmly anchored on land. Behind them where the parking lot is now was once Tiburon Lagoon, and just a little past the arks was the location of the bridge. Go into Sam’s Anchor Cafe, and in the last dining room on your left as you head toward the deck, you’ll find a photograph of the drawbridge on the wall.

          The Pacific Inter-Club Yacht Association (PICYA), formed in San Francisco in 1896, united local celebrations, including Tiburon’s, into a sail called a “Cruise in Squadron” in 1917. This became Opening Day and is still organized by the PICYA. In 1963, a “Blessing of the Fleet,” based on a tradition of blessing fishing boats that dates from at least medieval times, was added specifically for recreational boats under the auspices of Tiburon’s Corinthian Yacht Club.

          The Blessing of the Fleet occurs this year on April 28 at 10:30 in Raccoon Strait. The opening day parade of boats begins at 12:00 off of Chrissy Field. For details see

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