Angel Island ferry hop

Getting to Marin's prettiest island is half the fun. A ferry captain shares her tips for a great day.

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All aboard, with Captain Mom

It's a scene of happy chaos on Saturday morning inside the glass-fronted wheelhouse of the Angel Island Ferry. "Becky, you can't draw there, baby. Mom needs to see," says ferry captain Maggie McDonogh to her 4-year-old, who's busy coloring atop the logbook. Becky is along for the ride, as she is most weekend mornings, along with 11-year-old brother Sam, and the family's chocolate lab, Moose, trots around making friends with all the passengers before stretching out for a doze under the ferry's instrument panel. McDonogh's not kidding when she says the ferry is her other home.

Hopping on the PA system for a quick safety announcement, McDonogh throws the engines in reverse, executes a neat K-turn ― "just like pulling out of the parking lot" ― and slides out of the harbor for the 15-minute run to Angel Island.

As the daughter of the Angel Island-Tiburon Ferry line's founding captain, Maggie McDonogh grew up on this ferry, just as her children are doing now. But as many times as she's made this crossing, "Captain Mom," as her deckhands call her, never tires of the scenery, the sounds, the entire experience. "I can't tell whether I have a favorite time on the island," she says. "But I love the fall ― it gets so warm, and the winds all die down."

Once you step off the ferry, walk or bicycle along the island's paved perimeter road. As you circle the island, you take in views of seven Bay Area counties and the major bridges ringing the bay. You forget about the urban bustle that you've just left and give in to the peacefulness of golden grasses, scrubby pines with clusters of dried cones, and groups of migrating birds stopping by the island to rest.

None of these natural rhythms is lost on McDonogh, even when she's steering a ferry and minding small children and a dog. On the trip out to the island, she gets on the PA system to point out harbor seals that lounge on rocks just outside the island's main cove, or even the occasional gray whale. "Last week, 12 to 15 pelicans swooped right down in front of the boat. It was so beautiful, and I thought, God, I'm a rich woman."

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