Under The Gate

Ever have a day when it feels like someone is watching over you, in a good way?

Saturday was just such a time, when my mom and I went out on a boat to scatter my grandmother’s ashes along the coast near the Golden Gate Bridge.

We’d planned the trip for awhile, but busy schedules and bad weather delayed our voyage.

My grandmother, Eda Mae Sagar, passed away in 2009. One of her wishes was not to be buried, but have her ashes scattered near San Francisco, the city where she was born and grew up. Like Tony Bennett, her heart was always in the city, and I can’t blame her.

My mom and I met our hired captain along a dock in Sausalito. Earlier he’d told us that he does scatterings from a 20-foot Boston Whaler, which he touted as unsinkable. No problem, we thought. But as the boat pulled up, I could see my mom tense up a little. The boat did look pretty small, especially since we were planning to go under the Golden Gate. Don’t worry, I told her, somewhat trying to convince myself in the process. But easygoing Captain Mike reassured us, noting that even if the boat got cut in half, both halves would float. We hopped in and were soon on our way.

The weather helped calm our nerves as well — beautiful and clear, about 60 degrees with only a wisp of wind even out on the bay. We brought extra jackets preparing for a gale, but we didn’t need them. February on the bay often brings some of the best weather of the year, we found out.

As the Whaler slowly moved out toward the huge, elegant red span, the weight of what we were about to do settled in. The gate holds a special place with our family. My grandmother first walked across the bridge in 1937, the year it was completed. Many decades before that, some of our ancestors came through the passage on a boat that had brought them around the horn from the East Coast.

Immediately under the bridge, we met up with the edge of the fierce current that brings water into the bay. There we were surprised to see dark porpoises surfacing quickly, appearing in a flash between their feedings. The water is full of fish, the captain told us, and the porpoises were there to enjoy an easy meal.

We pressed westward, directly under the span. We looked up the see the underbelly of the massive structure, a view not many folks get to see up close.

Captain Mike kept us pretty close to the north tower, in water that was almost strangely calm. We decided to keep going, eventually arriving at Kirby Cove, a spot popular with crab fishermen and within clear sight of the bridge and the skyline of the city. The boat came to a stop. This is the spot, we thought, that my grandmother would love. My mom and I released the ashes together, watching as they sank from the surface into the blue-green deep.

We popped open a bottle of bubbly, which my grandmother always enjoyed, and drank a toast to her. Then, we poured the remainder of the bottle in the water.

As we were set to leave, another boat came over, and the fishermen on board asked us if we wanted some Dungeness crabs. We gladly took them up on the offer. My grandmother would have gotten a big kick of this, and would have said something like, “Why how did you know I wanted some fresh crab?” She looked forward to crab season, and always enjoyed crab salad or cracking crab herself.

The generous fishermen motored away and we basked in our good fortune and the wonderful winter sunshine. We were there to honor my grandmother, and it felt like she was right there with us.

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