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. Below is a photo from Belvedere looking towards Corinthian Island in summertime, with arks anchored in Belvedere Cove. The place where the bridge once was is circled.

If you go to Tiburon, walk west along Main Street and just after it curves to the right and uphill, 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 over the hill and down the road from the arks was the location of the bridge.

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.

Should you wish to participate, the Blessing of the Fleet occurs this year on April 24 beginning at 1030 near the Corinthian. You’ll see a line of boats forming near the east end of Raccoon Strait. Proceed under power and join in. A video of this correspondent participating in the blessing of the fleet, along with shipmate Terry Shrode in a fashionable hat, can be found here.


The opening day parade of boats begins at 1200 off of Chrissy Field. If you wish to watch it, please observe the restricted area maintained by the Coast Guard.

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