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Paddle! Paddle! Paddle!

Al Zagofsky left and Johingn Jackson kayaking on the West Sacramento Barge Canal — photo by Janet Branaman

It was a lovely Friday morning in late June — the sun would be in the 90s in the afternoon but it was reasonably comfy in the late morning, so Janet Branaman, John Jackson, and Al Zagofsky thought it would be great to kayak on the Barge Canal in West Sacramento.

The Barge Canal also known as the Sacramento Deep Water Ship Channel connects the Port of West Sacramento to the San Francisco Bay and was built intermittently between 1946 and 1963 as a method of shipping California Central Valley produce to the Pacific.

It is one of only two constructed inland deepwater channels in California — the other being at Stockton. In West Sacramento, it is located adjacent to the FRC — Farmers Rice Cooperative and many of the ships are bulk carriers that receive the rice or other agricultural products by conveyor and gravity from storage silos.

Large bulk carriers arrive periodically to load agricultural products, and sometimes offload large machinery and similar manufactured goods. It is one of the few ports that is not designed to handle containers.

So much for a quick background. So, John and Janet are kayaking with me as we approach the large wharf/dock. I say to them, "The sign says to stay clear by 100 feet." There was no ship at the wharf.

John responds, "We like to boat under the wharf." I wasn't sure if he was serious.

So, I said, "Give me a minute and I'll check that the coast is clear," and I began paddling away from the dock, toward the center of the channel.


The—it was like a scene from a bad movie — this enormous ship came out of nowhere and seemed to be headed right towards us. I pointed towards the ship and yelled, "Paddle! Paddle! Paddle!"

The three of us paddled toward the other side of the channel. I'm not sure if this made it better of worse but the ship was not running on its own power, so even though the crew on deck saw us, I'm not sure what they could do.

The ship, the 180 meter long Nord Imabari, all 38,271 tons of it was being pushed by a tug boat, the Dorine Brusco right in our direction. Fortunately, we had enough time to get out of the way — although a ship nearly the length of two football fields was rather imposing.

Just checking — the 2010-built, Liberian-flagged Nord Imabari has just come up the canal from the Port of Almeda near Oakland, and had been to San Francisco and before that Sriracha, Thailand and Singapore.

Well, the three of us just floated around the big ship as the tug guided it to port.

Interestingly, we saw an unusual bird. I'm guessing it was a green heron. Janet took several photos, and was able to get relatively close, but her camera had a wide angle less and the photos weren't too clear. Oh well, we saw it — whatever it was — and we had a fun time kayaking on the Sacramento Deep Water Ship Channel.

~ Al Zagofsky





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