Richardson Bay Routes
Richardson Bay is a broad arm of the San Francisco Bay between Sausalito and the Tiburon Peninsula and is “home” for most of our rowing. The waters of Richardson are more protected than the central bay, with more predictable conditions, and the tidal flows are much calmer. That gives our new rowers a comfortable and close-by place to practice, but many of our experienced rowers prefer to stay within these smoother waters. Richardson is more than big enough for a two-hour row, with a variety of conditions, scenery and especially rich wildlife.
Of course, every row originating from our dock will start and finish in Richardson Bay, so as an OWRC rower all of these routes will become familiar parts of your rowing routine. Club rowers are restricted to Richardson Bay until they have been rough-water certified.
Richardson Bay: 5 Zones
You can think of Richardson Bay as five rowing “zones”, each with different considerations and rowing potential.
The Sausalito Channel is a dredged “roadway” running 2 miles from the open bay to the northern yacht harbors in Sausalito. Intended for boaters, it gives rowers a good clear pathway and typically smoother waters than elsewhere. The downside is boat traffic.
The rules of the road are simple, stay to the right (since we row facing backwards, that means stay to your left) , stay out of the way of the boaters (they have the right-of-way) and don’t run over any kayakers, paddle-boarders or other rowers. Boat speeds are restricted to 5 mph in the channel, so everyone is going at about our pace, and it works out to be easier than it sounds. The Channel is often how you will get to and from OWRC, so you will learn it well.
As you look into Richardson Bay from the shore you will see boats of various description anchored out in the bay. Most are in a band alongside the channel. We can row through these boats but must take care not to collide with any. Usually you will pass through the anchor-outs on your way to somewhere else. The frequent need to turn and check your position and heading can be an annoyance.
One note: Tidal currents in Richardson are mild, compared to elsewhere in SF Bay, but they are present and can reach up to two knots. When you are navigating through anchored boats take care to judge the effects of a current on your track. Your shell may be pointed at a clear gap between boats but the current might be setting your true track significantly to one side. If you are unclear on the distinction between your track and your heading, or on how to judge the situation, ask one of the coaches.
The Sausalito shoreline from the Spinnaker Restaurant, at the end of the channel, to the Sewage Plant just south of the last houses, is more exposed and breezier than segments north, and will give new rowers a chance to experiment with a more “open-water” style row. You can hug the shoreline to avoid a chop or push out to the #2 mark, out in the open end of Richardson. If the wind is up you will find choppier water here, and the tides create a “swell”, even on days of calm winds.
Cone Rock and Belvedere
The broad and open area between the anchored boats and the shore of Belvedere Island is a playground for rowers. There’s lots of room and little traffic (except other rowers!), so this is the place to try some long, carefree stretches of rowing. Cone Rock is a prominent landmark in the southern part of the area. Being more exposed, this zone can become rough when the wind is up, especially in the south beyond Cone Rock, but it is often quite calm and very pleasant row.As you get close to Belvedere’s southern point, tidal rips will become stronger, so be cautious if you are new.
At the northern end of Richardson Bay is Strawberry Point. The bay between Strawberry and Tiburon is very shallow as you go north and is a restricted-access bird sanctuary from Oct. through Mar. Take care to avoid the shallows (check the tide height) and stay out of this area during the sanctuary months. Close along the Strawberry shore, however, is a dredged and marked channel that is exempt from the sanctuary restrictions and very popular with OWRC rowers.
This channel is straight and very well protected from winds and waves; a flat-water training course for working on your speed and form. Stay at least 20 yards from the rocky shore, there is a shelf of rocks that is exposed at low tide, and watch for other rowers. You will likely see others out there enjoying a fast lap or two of the Strawberry Channel. The channel ends at the #14 marker. That’s your turn-around (shallow water from there in).
“Go North” - Channel North and Strawberry
When the summer winds blow, the word around the dock is “go north”. Turning left leaving OWRC (or towards your right facing backwards) takes you north along the Sausalito channel towards protected waters. While rowers are not restricted to the channel, that route is clear of anchored boats.
To the north end of the channel
Going north up the Sausalito shoreline, past the marinas and houseboats, gives you about 2 kilometers of relatively protected rowing. For that reason the route is popular with OWRC members rowing “flat-water” shells. The primary risk on this route is the number of obstacles, both moving and anchored. Kayaks and paddleboards are common in this area, so be alert. As you pass the last marina on the Sausalito shore the waters will become more shallow. If the tide is out be careful at the far end. You are sure to both see and smell harbor seals on the outer barrier at Clipper Yacht Harbor on the way.
The Strawberry Channel
The channel running alongside Strawberry Point is straight, nearly a kilometer long, and very well protected from winds. In other words, a great place to work on speed and form. There is a shallow shelf of rocks extending 20 to 30 feet from the shore that is exposed only at low tide. Don’t hug the shoreline in this channel. There are often several rowers using moving fast up or down the channel, so be on the lookout for traffic dead ahead. Do not row past the #14 marker at the end of the channel (where it enters the lagoon); there is very shallow water beyond it.
Rowers usually turn east when past the Clipper docks to reach Strawberry point and the channel, but there is a gap in the anchored boats just outside OWRC that will get you there also.
“Go south” - Channel south and downtown
Although less protected that the northern routes, you can usually find good water and fewer obstacles going south along the Sausalito shoreline. After passing the Spinnaker Restaurant, the potential for wind and chop increases, but staying close to shore will usually find good conditions.
South along the shoreline
Turning south leaving OWRC brings the rower into a wide part of the channel with easy rowing; watch for kayaks and boats leaving Schoonmaker Marina (the home marina for OWRC). As you pass the large marina downtown be on the alert for boats leaving or entering that facility, and, as always, watch for other rowers or kayakers dead ahead; they can be tough to spot. Past the Spinnaker you will leave the channel and enter the much more open outer section of Richardson Bay.
If there is a west wind (most days in the summer) you will pick-up some wind and mild to moderate chop here. Even on calm days, you will experience waves and often a long-period swell caused by tidal flows. Turn west along the shore and push upwind towards downtown Sausalito. On the way, watch for ferries approaching or leaving the town ferry dock.
As you progress, the waves should get smaller even if the wind gusts pick up. You are approaching a part of Sausalito known as “Hurricane Gulch” and it is aptly named. This is the best place for new rowers to gain experience with wind and waves. Conditions here are very rarely more than “moderate” and usually less, you are close to safety if things become overwhelming, and there will likely be other rowers in the area. Give it a try when you are ready.
Novices can continue along the shoreline until reaching the Sewage Treatment Plant just south of the last houses. It’s a large green/brown building and should be easy to spot. This is the southern limit for Novice rowers . Even though the waters may look calm beyond, they are subject to tidal current and are more remote.
From the Plant you can return the way you came. The row out to the Sewage Plant and back is 6.4 km / 4 miles round-trip; a one-hour row for most everyone. If you have the time and energy, try rowing out to Cone Rock or past OWRC up to the north end of the channel. Explore!
Out to the #2 Marker
Many OWRC rowers prefer to maintain a straight course past the Spinnaker, and continue 800 meters further out to the large piling that marks to edge of the shallow water of Richardson Bay. This is the #2 channel marker and it is easy to spot from the Spinnaker Restaurant. The water out to the #2 mark is more exposed to wind than the shoreline route, and tide-generated swell and chop is typical. On most days, however, it’s a pleasant row and a chance to get away from land and obstacles and experience a taste of the open bay.
Novice rowers should not row past the #2 mark. The water depth increases quickly south of this point and current will become much more significant.
To Cone Rock and Back
Another quick and simple row turns left (or east) at the #4 channel mark or at the Spinnaker to visit Cone Rock. Take care rowing through the anchored boats after leaving the channel, or row south a little further to go around the end of the Anchored zone.
The Cone Rock mark is easy to spot. The water is deep and clear of shoals around the rock so there are “no worries” approaching and rounding CR.
A round trip to CR and back covers 4.3 km or 2.6 miles; a nice quick row and a good route for new rowers. You are pretty much guaranteed to see cormorants perched on CR.
“Boxing the Bay” Loop Routes
There’s lots of room in Richardson Bay, and perhaps the most popular route for OWRC rowers is the “random row” around this broad and beautiful area. Still, a planned route is a good thing to practice. The following are some suggested loop routes to try out.
Row a Box around Richardson
After rowing south to the Spinnaker Restaurant (see “Go South” above) begin a broad turn to the east (away from town) to round the outer anchored boats. The large steel-hulled boat, Emerald Sea is a good landmark (“seamark?) to use. As you pass the Emerald Sea you will see Cone Rock just ahead. Round CR and turn north into the broad area along Belvedere Island. You have come nearly 2.5 km / 1.5 miles so far.
Rounding Cone Rock, aim for Strawberry Point (it is not strictly necessary to aim carefully out here, but it is good practice) and enjoy the wide-open waters. Even on breezy days the chop is not bad past CR (except on winter days with a south wind). On many summer days, fog rolling down the hills above Sausalito can make the OWRC area and the channel very windy, but that wind does not continue out past the anchored boats, and there is calmer water out here; you may be pleasantly surprised.
About 1.4 km / .9 miles past CR you will come even with OWRC. Turning west here you can pick your way through the anchored boats and complete a small box of 5.1 km/ 3.2 miles, a one-hour row for a slower rower.
If time and your energy level allow, hold the course from CR to reach Strawberry Point, and then turn west to enter the Sausalito Channel. Returning to OWRC from here completes a loop of 7.1 km/4.4 miles, a solid one-hour row for most rowers. The basic “box” route is easy to extend or shorten as you wish, and you are never very far from the OWRC dock.
The Richardson “Big Loop”
If the question is “can I do a long row within Richardson Bay?” here is one answer. This suggested route totals 12.5 km or 7.76 miles without leaving the bounds of the “novice zone.” First row the “Go South” route along to shoreline out to the Sewage Plant. On the return make an arc to the right to head out to Cone Rock (adjust your arc to avoid rough current or waves). At CR you are 5.5 km, 3.4 miles into this row.
From CR row north, parallel to the Belvedere shore. After 1.4 km you should pass by a single piling with a reflective marker, just off the north end of Belvedere Island. During the late fall and winter months the area north of here is closed to all boats, including rowers, as a wildlife sanctuary. When the sanctuary is closed turn towards Strawberry Point to stay outside the restricted zone. In other months you can head straight for the #14 mark at the end of the Strawberry Channel (look for the end of the houses along the immediate shore).
Returning up the Strawberry channel, swing around the point and enter the main channel to return to OWRC. This is a two-hour row for a typical sculler in an Aero; 1.5 hours for quicker rowers. The route can be extended or shortened with simple variations. For example, after rowing up the Strawberry channel aim straight back to Cone Rock and return to OWRC via the southern part of Richardson. It is easy to get in 15km+ rows and even 20km within the bounds of Richardson. On days of bad weather this is a popular option.