There is a troll under the Bay Bridge, tucked away on a span, just east of Treasure Island. According to atlasobscura.com, an original troll was welded to the old bridge to protect it from further disasters when workers were repairing it after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. The current troll turned up on the new bridge opened in 2013.
I didn’t know about the troll until we were sailing under the span. A diminutive creature, the troll is easily missed. It helps to have someone who can point it out. In our case it was Captain Lisa Chapin, who had taken us out for a morning of sailing on the San Francisco Bay.
Chapin, is the owner of a SailTime franchise, a yacht-sharing program and a concept that is growing in popularity, according to Consumer Reports, which is tracking the trend to share everything from vacation homes to rides.
While the term might suggest a privileged pastime for a relative few, “yacht” is technically defined as a non-working boat, Chapin pointed. While Aristotle Onassis might have sailed around the Greek islands in his 325-foot floating palace, Chapin’s fleet of seven boats range from 31 to 41 feet. And the SailTime concept allows boating enthusiasts other than Greek tycoons their share of time on the water.
Through SailTime, one becomes an annual member, with a guarantee of three days a month on one specific yacht to head out onto the water — and possibly more depending on how much time the other owners have booked through the online booking system. SailTime provides the berth and the maintenance of your time-share boat, as well as training in the art of sailing.
In our case, we set out from the Emery Cove Marina in Emeryville on Chapin’s brandnew Wanderlust, a 38.1-foot boat from Beneteau. The Wanderer had a new-car feel, with immaculate living quarters that included two sleeping areas, a spacious bathroom, kitchen and dining area. A used Beneteau yacht this size, according to listings, sells for around $200,000; new, one might be looking at a $300,000 investment (plus maintenance and finding a place to berth it.)
A boat-share with SailTime starts at $495 a month, said Chapin. The amount varies, however, by the number of custom-tailored lessons you need to become a proficient sailor who can head out safely with your family and friends. The monthly membership fee covers slip fees, maintenance, insurance, and operating costs.
Chapin said SailTime plan offers a way to try out boat ownership, to see if the reality matches the dream, without a huge cash investment. Chapin, who purchased her franchise 12 years ago, said some people go on to purchase a yacht of their own while others remain contented with the SailTime setup.
People use their yachting time for a myriad local adventures, she said. “They sail to Sausalito for dinner and sleep on the boat. They go fishing. They go to Angel Island for a hike.” When there were ballgames, she added, some owners liked to sail San Francisco for a Giants game.
On the other hand, once we were out onto the water, Chapin cut the engine, hoisted the sails, and we were content to have no destination at all. During two hours, the only other living creature we saw, close up, was a curious harbor seal who popped up to study the humans sailing by.
Instead of news, we listened to Chapin’s tales of life on the water. Chapin, who learned to sail, “as a child with a very small boat,” lives on another boat with her husband, a sound engineer. Their sailing adventures have taken them around the world, but Chapin, originally from Texas, has not grown tired of exploring the San Francisco Bay.
Now, with limited opportunities for getting away, the appeal of a boat is growing as a safe way to “relax, have fun, and spend time together as a family,” she said. Sailing lets you to experience the freedom of the water, while testing your wits against the wind. “Sailing is an intelligent sport,” Chapin said.
Members also have access, for a reduced fee, to similar yachts in other SailTime locations. Because SailTime is designed to give local residents time on the water, their locations are places where people live, rather than tourist destinations. The franchises across the United States include Door County, a peninsula north of Green Bay, Wisconsin, Houston, Detroit, Chicago, as well as cities up and down the East and West coasts as well as on the Gulf Coast. San Francisco, with its earth-sea landscape, continues to attract people who want to give sailing a try.
“Living in San Francisco and not sailing is like living in Colorado and not skiing,” said Chapin.
It’s a whole new world, out on the water, when the only sound is the flapping of a sail, or the soft purr of an engine. And if you are lucky, you might see a troll.