Point of Sail

An artist’s passage through the Sacramento Delta.
sailing martin machado

Martin Machado is proof that creative inspiration can strike at any time. The San Francisco-based artist was trying to avoid freeway congestion after visiting family in Sacramento when he opted for a backroads route through the Delta region, stumbling upon landscapes and vistas he had never before seen. “I was just blown away by how beautiful it was as I followed the river and saw all these little towns,” he says.

It was then that Machado, an experienced sailor as well as a painter, resolved to sail from San Francisco to Sacramento, stopping along the way to paint what he observed. “I kept seeing sections of water that looked sailable, and that sparked my interest in making the trip.”

watercolor bridge

With his 26-foot sloop rig packed with oil paints and canvases, a camp stove and a cooler full of frozen soups, Machado set sail in March just as Bay Area residents were being ordered to shelter in place due to the pandemic. He rushed through the first leg of the trip, managing to reach the shelter of the Delta before a storm barreled through the area.

Over the ensuing days, Machado was beset by challenges, from inclement weather to hands bleeding from the arduous task of pulling up anchors. A malfunctioning motor took as long as 90 minutes to get working each morning. As soon as Machado docked in Sacramento, the motor died for good, the victim of a cracked valve. A friend fetched a new one in the Bay Area while he painted in the shadow of the Tower Bridge.

watercolor refinery

Between the daily grind of managing the boat and worries about what was happening with his wife and children back home, “there were definitely added layers of tension and stress,” says Machado. “It was not exactly easy to get the artistic juices flowing.” Yet he managed to soak in the beauty of the terrain as he meandered through places like Georgiana Slough and Pirate’s Lair.

watercolor highway

“I loved experiencing twilight along the river. I saw amazing trees, small towns, people camping along the shoreline sitting by the fire,” he says. “Passing people, they don’t know you and you don’t know them. It was good practice being challenged by the physicality and limitations of time, testing my body until I was super sore and exhausted, trying to squeeze some art out of it.”

watercolor san quentin

That art—a handful of moody, pointillistic oil paintings from the expedition—along with some sailing ephemera was turned into an exhibition titled “Bows and Bends,” which showed at Public Land, a gallery space in Sacramento. Gallerist Austin McManus said the work was the result of a “unique endeavor,” adding, “I don’t know too many artists who paint while on a sailboat.”

Machado, who has ambitions of repeating the trip someday, possibly with his son, remains inspired by the experience. “I know I’ll continue making work about the trip for a long time. I have a lot of paintings in my mind.”

map of sail machado's journey