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Reflections on the River

Some Benicians who have been around for six or seven decades recall their youthful studies in geography; the textbooks and maps available showed the designation “Strait” always in the plural.  With fluid and finished sound the phrases rolled out as the student recited: “The Straits of Magellan, the Straits of Juan de Fuca, the Straits of Gibraltar, Carquinez Straits.”

Today local journalists and map makers favor the singular form “strait” to describe the channel which connects Suisun Bay with San Pablo Bay, and carries along the waters of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers to merge in San Francisco Bay and the Pacific ocean.  Carquinez Straits! – The Narrows of the Dardanelles, the  Narrows between Staten Island and Long Island, New York! Wouldn’t it sound odd to call each of them the “Narrow”?

Words change, speech forms change, modes of travel and means of navigation: sailing ships, steamboats, all types of craft passed through Carquinez Straits carrying the Argonauts to Sacramento en route to the digging on the American and the Feather River.  When the nuggets and gold dust ran out, speculators used hydraulic operations, which resulted in clogging the waterways, until the legislature was forced to regulate this practice. 

As the state grew, ships carried consumer good for an expanding population in the capital and the towns of the Great Valley. 

The beautiful passenger  steamers belong to former years; such graceful boats as the Antelope, the Yosemite, the Chrysopholis and the Delta Queen are gone from the river.  But through the Straits of Carquinez navigation still plies.

The barge today is usually thought of as a freight carrier: in former times the barge was fitted as a pleasure craft for members of royal courts.  Cleopatra was reputed to have had a sumptuously decorated barge.  At Oxford University, England, students still have the use of a pleasure barge. 

So 50 years ago to relieve water shortages, the City of Benicia. In 1921 bought a water barge to carry water from the Delta.  The barged water was treated in a filter plant located at the barge dock. 

Sid Abbott, Benician, recalls his in recent decades as skipper of one of the tugboats that propelled the barge (which carried a capacity of 500,0000 gallons of water to the Arsenal from the Rio Vista Area. And now the Coast Guard Mosquito boats patrol the historic Carquinez water.  Oil tankers bring in crude oil via the Alaska pipeline. 

The Benicia City Council has launched plans for a new marina to revitalize lower “Main Street”.  The River continues to be a shining highway, a haven for wild life along the meandering soughs, and an integral heritage to be enjoyed and protected for future generations. 

Excerpt taken from an article by Marion Garibaldi published in the Benicia Sentinel Vol 1 No 1 October 1977

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