As Napa seeks millions of federal dollars to re-dredge its namesake river – where winter storms two years ago undid much of a recently completed waterway clearance project – the company operating the city’s downtown dock plans to introduce a new boat to cope with shallower waters.
Tideline Marine Group will debut the Kestrel catamaran in March, weather permitting, as a weekend excursion boat plying the Napa River, according to Danielle Weerth, the company’s director of business development. Trips on the 20-passenger boat will begin and end at the city dock at Napa’s Riverfront, where Tideline oversees commercial operations such as kayak rentals and tours and gondola trips.
Two open houses are planned aboard the Kestrel, which is currently in San Rafael, before its Napa River debut, according to Tideline.
Kestrel’s arrival will mark the first regularly scheduled passenger service from the Napa dock, which opened in 2013 but was slow to gain business due to years of silting that left its waterway too shallow for deeper-draft boats to navigate. The choice of a catamaran instead of a single-hull boat allows Tideline to keep to a schedule during low as well as high tides even when coping with shallow portions of the river, Weerth said last week.
Tideline’s leisure-oriented boat run will be licensed to serve wine, liquor and beer on board and will be targeted at those visiting Napa for its wineries and restaurants “so that people can have a different experience than driving and cycling for wine tasting,” she said. Ahead of the Kestrel’s Napa debut, the company is seeking partnerships with local restaurants and winemakers, Weerth added.
Passenger service from the downtown dock began in 2018 with charter journeys to San Francisco in July and November – one a floating birthday party and the other a corporate event – on 40-passenger vessels. However, the aftereffects of storms in early 2017 – starting within weeks of the river’s first federally funded dredging work since 1998 – have slowed Tideline’s planned expansion of boat service out of Napa.
A 2016 project had removed shoals from a 17-mile section from Vallejo to the Riverfront, the north end of the navigable channel, creating a minimum 9-foot depth for watercraft. But a pair of storms in January and February 2017 deposited more than 23,000 cubic yards of new sediment in the Napa River, the city Public Works department reported at the time.
An Army Corps of Engineers survey revealed that storm-driven silting downstream of the Napa River Inn would require about $3.5 million of re-dredging work to remove, according to Rick Thomasser, operations manager of the Napa County Flood Control and Conservation District. City and flood district officials are working with U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, to request fresh dredging funds, and Thompson in December wrote the assistant secretary of the Army requesting unallocated Corps funds for the work.