Two San Francisco Bay boaters are combining what they love most — sailing, friends, and music.
While there are lots of sailors, and lots of musicians, the simultaneous intersection of those two activities tends to be pretty rare. Sailing, especially in the brisk winds of San Francisco Bay, isn’t very conducive to playing an instrument. But singer-songwriters Deborah Crooks and Kwame Copeland have been able to bring those elements together on their 26-foot 1972 Folkboat. And while much of the music necessarily has to wait until docked, the couple has made their boat Espresso a venue to showcase local and regional talent.
In 2017 and 2018, the couple, who call their musical project Bay Station, sailed around San Francisco Bay in what they called their Love the Bay Tour. They sailed from port to port, inviting more than two dozen musicians to meet them, then interviewing them and jamming with them back at the marina. They broadcast the music live and then posted the edited videos on their YouTube channel. While their guests are rarely boaters, Crooks and Copeland found that sailing and art seem to go together naturally, and musicians relish playing in such an interesting venue. "It's kind of like the musical version of 'Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,'" says Copeland, referring to comedian and actor Jerry Seinfeld's popular online-only roving talk show.
They had such a great time with the tour, Copeland says, that they were inspired to expand their nautical and musical adventures into a series of monthly episodes. Each month, they host a special music or literary guest and film the onboard performance and conversation at their dock in Alameda, then produce and release a video a few weeks later. For an hour or two, the docks are filled with the music of talented musicians and singers who bring along their own special songs and instruments. "The music is not the typical tiki bar stuff, though most songwriters have written something about water, and it often comes out on while on the boat," says Copeland.
A Wyoming native and audio/visual engineer, Copeland credits the sailing bug to his father and grandfather. His first sail in California was on a schooner in Santa Cruz. "I loved it," he says. "I felt like a kid, wanting to climb the masts and swing from the rigging." He’s owned Espresso for 10 years and says the stable full-keel boat is perfect for the Bay.
Crooks, who also teaches yoga part-time, grew up in California around a lot of competitive Santa Cruz sailors and quickly decided that racing was not for her. Copeland, she said, initially took her out for a calm sail around the Oakland/ Alameda estuary when the wind was light, which was a perfect introduction to a more laid-back style of sailing. "I enjoy being able to view nature way more than going fast," she says.
Anyone who's ever been on a Folkboat knows there is little excess space, but the boat has managed to accommodate musicians with banjos, guitars, accordions, and even an electric piano. Copeland has installed cameras all over the boat that capture the sailing and singing, which he then edits for their video website. The sessions haven't been without some challenges. "Once, we had to turn the boat around in her slip just to get a better signal for streaming," laughs Crooks. And the weather on the bay can be unpredictable. But, the couple says it's always worth it. "We once had a bunch of liveaboards raft up to take in the performance."
As Bay Station, Crooks and Copeland have released three CDs of original music, toured the country, received radio airplay and music placements, and perform regularly with their full band throughout California. If you want to catch an episode, visit the Bay Station Band YouTube channel. You can also keep up with Bay Station's Love the Bay on Facebook.