Point San Pablo to Bullhead Flat

On the morning of March 1, six of us gathered at the beach at Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor with a plan to paddle across the bay to Bullhead Flat, a destination in China Camp State Park. Since currents, wind and shipping traffic are concerns, we spent some time discussing the plan before launching our boats. With a slight flood we expected the current to push us north, up the bay, so we set a ferry angle taking us more directly across the shipping channel with the current carrying us towards our destination.

We were on the water at 10:00. David turned his radio to channel 14 to notify Vessel Traffic Control (VTC) that a pod of six kayakers would be crossing the shipping channel. He was not able to raise VTC. We paddled on until we were outside of Point San Pablo and I was able to contact VTC on my radio. I reported our location, our destination and the estimated time for our arrival across the shipping lanes. The red buoy marks the starboard (right) side of the shipping lane.

Once across we headed for The Sisters, a couple of islands off of Point San Pedro. Several of us decided to “thread Grendel’s Needle,” a gap in the rocks on the westernmost Sister. We had calm water paddling through the needle. With a stronger current and wind, there can be quite a surge of water.

We were a bit hesitant to paddle the needle since there was a flock of cormorants on top of the island, and we try our best to not disturb the birds when we are paddling. From The Sisters, we paddled north past McNears Beach, past the China Camp Village beach, and on to Bullhead Flat. There we pulled our boats out of the water and found a picnic table to use as we broke out our lunches.

After lunch, it was back on the water for the return trip. The current was now ebbing a bit, so we had the current working with us as we crossed the bay. Again, we set a ferry angle to compensate for the current. The gathering clouds caught my attention on the return paddle, and I thought they made for a lovely photo composition with the kayaks. I’ve posted an online gallery with more photos. You can see a track of our paddle below. We logged 8.3 miles with a very pleasant day on the bay

Starting the Year with a Splash

On January 2 I was on the water with fellow BASK members (Bay Area Sea Kayakers) for a paddle around Angel Island. Eleven of us assembled at Horseshoe Bay near the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. After a brief safety talk and a radio check, we were on the water at 10 a.m. We were looking to take advantage of the strong currents associated with the king tide. Our plan was to head south into the shipping channel to pick up the “express lane,” the flooding current for a ride to the island.

Paddling into the bay we crossed a well-defined eddy line, the line separating the still water from the fast-moving current. Once we were onboard, it was s smooth ride to the island. We poked around the rocks near Point Blunt and landed at China Cove for lunch, hauling our boats up off what little beach was left to keep them secure from the rising tide.

After lunch we were back on the water. With a high tide of 7.4 feet, an afternoon low tide of -1.9 feet, and slack water at 12:40 p.m., we were looking for a fast ride back through Raccoon Strait. What we didn’t expect was some rough and turbulent water at the west end of Ayala Cove. We encountered a tide race just off the point with whirlpools, eddies and chaotic waves. The chaos resulted in collisions, capsizes, lost paddles and hats, and a bloody head wound. Four of our paddlers ended up in the water. Mind you these are experienced paddlers. While we were facilitating rescues, a few harbor porpoise were cavorting about.

I’m not sure how I managed to stay in my boat in the chaos. Crossing the turbulent water was like being in a washing machine. No chance for photos here. My hands were busy bracing with the paddle. I did capture a photo of one of our paddlers being assisted getting back in his boat. With everybody back in their boats, we made a quick stop on the island for first aid. Then it was time to finish our return trip.

A few of us rode through the tide rip at Yellow Bluff and made our way back to our launch; another pod stayed clear of the rip, riding the express lane in the deeper water before turning into Horseshoe Bay.

You can see more photos in my online gallery. Over the course of the paddle we logged 10.6 miles with an average speed of 3.6 mph. Here’s the track of our paddle.

Kayaking Baja

In early December we managed to get our kayaks out on the Sea of Cortez for a couple of paddles. We had traveled to Baja as part of a caravan of 11 campers on a trip led by Bob Wohlers and the Off-Road Safety Academy. Our first opportunity to paddle was at Bahia San Luis Gonzaga. We spent two nights camped on the beach, which afforded us one day to kayak. We had calm water and no wind. We paddled from our campsite on the beach out around an outcropping of rocks and to the point at the northeast end of the bay. We saw numerous birds including Frigate birds, but not much other marine life. Coming back from the point we noodled along the shore poking into all the little inlets we could find.

We logged 6.6 miles and had a very pleasant paddle. Here’s the track of our paddle.

Our second opportunity to paddle was on December 10. Anticipating wind we were anxious to get on the water early, launching at 9:45 AM.

We spent the better part of two hours paddling along the beach, around the headlands and back. Sure enough, on the way back the wind came up, as you can see from the whitecaps in one of the photos. Fortunately, we only had to contend with the wind for the short distance back to our camp.

Here’s a short video captured with my GoPro camera while paddling.

Picture Perfect Day

I have yet to master the art of capturing photos from a kayak. When I come back from a paddle, I’m often disappointed by how few of the photos meet my expectations. Invariably the photos are out of focus, blurry or have the wrong exposure. It’s a challenge to hold the camera steady with one hand while bobbing around in a tippy boat and holding onto the paddle with my free hand. And then the composition is always changing. I’ll see a potential opportunity forming and by the time I can get the camera in position the scene changes. Then while I’m trying to snap photos my paddling buddies are continuing on their journey. Time to put the paddle back in the water and catch up. And I’m always trying to position myself within the pod to take advantage of the light and composition. Glare on on the viewfinder is another issue, which means I’m more likely to just point and shoot and hope I get something. I like to capture candid moments on the water, water dripping off the paddle blades and the play of light and reflections and clouds. And then there’s the risk of getting water drops on the lens, or worse yet, a smudge of sunblock.

So this past week I decided it was time to master the art of kayaking photography. I use an Olympus TG-5 and on Thursday, November 4, I was determined to see if I couldn’t improve on the quality of the images.

Our launch site was Point Isabel on the east side of San Francisco Bay. One of my paddling buddies suggested this put-in since it is a short drive and I can just sort of fall out of bed and be there. I pulled out of my driveway at 9:02 and parked at the launch site at 9:13. A welcome change from the previous week when I spent two ours getting to our launch site. Our paddle took us to the north end of the jetty on Brooks Island. We had calm water, no wind, and dramatic clouds against a blue sky. Great conditions for photography, with the water offering nice patterns and reflections.

We could see the skyline of San Francisco peeking through the clouds in the distance. We kept our distance going past Bird Rock so as not to disturb the birds.

We were paddling on a high tide, 6.8 feet at 11:40, and as we paddled along we noticed that there appeared to be gaps in the jetty. The tide was so high that it was flooding over the jetty with enough clearance to float our boats. You can see David, riding a little bit of a tide rip over the rocks. We paddled over the jetty and back and continued on to Ferry Point where we stopped for lunch. Then it was back on the water for the return trip. We paddled across the shipping channel and along the inside of the jetty to avoid any shipping traffic. We were back on the beach at Point Isabel at 2:00 having logged 8.5 miles. You can take a closer look at our track here or on the map below. On uploading the photos to my computer, I found that that I had some 424 images! Quite a chore to sort through. But I discovered that the habits I had developed for land-based landscape and architectural photography were hindering my ability to capture photos from a kayak. On land I tend to use a small aperture to maintain a good depth of field. On the water a wider aperture and a high shutter speed seem to work best. I was quite happy with a number of the images. Of the 424 images I captured, I marked 44 as keepers. You can view those photos here. Overall it was a picture perfect day.

Don’t Walk the Boat

Drakes Estero is one of my favorite places to paddle. It’s an estuary in the Point Reyes National Seashore and designated as part of the Phillip Burton Wilderness. A beautiful spot to paddle with lots to see. It’s closed March 1st to June 30th when harbor seals are birthing and, given the shallow water in some places, you want to pick a time when you’ll have enough water to paddle over the sandbars. This past week, on October 28, the timing seemed promising.

The first challenge was getting to our launch site. It’s 54 miles from my house to the launch site. During the morning rush hour it can be a challenge. I left my house at 7:40 and arrived at our launch site two hours later. Traffic was backed up crossing the San Rafael Bridge due to fog. As you can see, once we were on the water the fog had cleared and we had flat calm.

I’m including a screen shot of the tide graph, since we were hoping for a enough water to keep from walking our boats across a sandbar. High tide was 7:03 at 4.28 ft. Low tide was 11:17 at 3.71 ft.

We found the sandbar shortly before 11:00. If we hadn’t been distracted watching birds, we could have avoided the walk by skirting west around the bar. Approaching the beach, we began to feel the wave action from the ocean as waves entered the mouth of the estuary; we paddled through kelp beds and clear water feeling the gentle action of the dissipating offshore swell. Offshore a good swell was pounding the beach with rows of breaking waves.

Once across the bar, we climbed back in our boats and paddled to Sunshine Beach were we had a leisurely lunch. You can see the beach in the distance beyond the Janie’s wooden boat.

After lunch we paddled over to the inside of the Drakes Beach spit where one of our group had split off to admire the surf.

It is unusual to be on a paddle with three wooden boats, all built by their owners. Then it was back on the water for a pleasant paddle back to our launch site. As usual, what started as a calm day ended up with some wind, but not enough to hinder our progress. Over the course of the day we logged 8.3 miles and we saw dozens of harbor seals, pelicans, shore birds and even a couple of leopard sharks. You can take a closer look at our track here or below. If you click on the map, a satellite view shows the sandbars and channels in more detail. You can also view more photos here.

The Church and Creation Care

A friend of mine recently told me that a friend of hers was surprised to discover that the Church has an interest in creation care. I found this a bit surprising since I have had a faith-based interest in environmental stewardship for over 50 years. We need to experience the world around us with a sense that this is a sacred gift given to us. And what institution is better suited to promote the sacred nature of creation than the church? This is not a new idea. Saint Francis of Assisi is often referred to as the patron saint of ecology and of animals. His teachings go back to the 13th century.

For my own part, I have felt that my role in promoting environmental stewardship is to use my camera to create images that capture the beauty and grace of God’s creation, and through those images inspire others to want to save the planet.

This week something shifted, and I was invited to go stand on a street corner and hold up a sign. So the afternoon of October 19 found me at Ashby Avenue and Regent Street in Berkeley holding a sign.

I’m the guy with the black hat. The invitation to participate came through a church croup, Creation Care and Climate Justice, which is looking for ways to make our own church, First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, more environmentally-friendly and to share the message with the congregation and the community at large.

The location for our rally was selected because it’s close to the Berkeley Presbyterian Mission Homes (BPMH) and we wanted to show solidarity with their mission.

Now is the time to act. We’re a few weeks away from the Global Climate Conference in Glasgow (COP26) and the global organization “GreenFaith” is asking faith communities to rally and insist on Climate Action. Keep your eyes open; both faith based and secular organizations will be spreading the word.

Mendo Madness 2021

Each year our kayaking club, BASK (Bay Area Sea Kayakers) takes over a number of camping sites at Van Damme State Park for a week of camping and kayaking.

This year’s adventure started Sunday morning, September 12. With our kayaks on top of our camper we hit the road. Before we got very far we discovered that our camping reservations didn’t start until Monday. What to do for Sunday night? We pulled off the road to consider the options and Joann booked us a night at the Seagull Inn. Hey, I’m not going to complain about breakfast being served.

After breakfast we drove the short distance north to Russian Gulch. The prediction was for high surf, but the beach at Russian Gulch is quite protected, so getting on the water was not a problem. In poking around the cove though, we decided it was too rough to venture out. After a very pleasant paddle on the cove we checked into our campsite. That’s our Four Wheel Pop-Up Camper with the kayas on top parked next to the trees.

In the morning we fired up the Dutch Oven. Here’s Joann serving up Hash Brown Crusted Goat Cheese and Scallion Quiche. Yum! With rough water predicted on the coast we opted for a paddle on the Big River, and we found a few BASK members happy to join us. We logged 12 miles paddling up the river and back. A very pleasant paddle in an enchanted forest.

Wednesday, September 15, we put on our hiking boots and hiked up Fern Canyon to the Pygmy Forest. Another enchanting trail up a canyon lined with ferns and redwoods. The hike in itself is worthy of a separate blog post so stay tuned.

On Thursday with the conditions on the coast continuing to look daunting, we opted to paddle on the Albion River. We managed to pull together a group of eight people to paddle up the river. That brings us to Friday, our last day in Mendocino and it was time to paddle the coast. Conditions were much calmer than earlier in the week so we launched from Van Damme Beach and poked around a few rocks and paddled through a few caves. Hard to condense a week’s worth of adventures into one short blog post so stay tuned. I’ll be posting separate stories with more details. You can view more photos of our adventures here.

Wind and Chocolate

August 5. I had planned a paddle that would originate from Ferry Point going to Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor. When I arrived at the parking lot at 9:15 I was surprised to see that none of my paddling buddies had unloaded their boats. The boats were still on cartops. Everyone was concerned with the wind. After a quick consultation we decided on an alternate plan, to launch from Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor and paddle to Point Pinole for lunch. Our thinking was that this might be more sheltered from the wind.

Eight of us were on the water at 10:40, paddling in some wind and chop with the wind and waves coming at us on the stern quarter. This was a good exercise in boat control, since my boat, a Pygmy Ronan, was tending to weather cock and I was constantly correcting for the wind. At noon we were breaking out lunch at Point Pinole, having traversed the 4.2 miles in an hour and 20 minutes.

During lunch Steve broke out a stash of chocolate. Mind you this was no ordinarily chocolate. A well-known Napa Valley restaurant is apparently about to launch their own chocolate brand. Steve managed to get his hands on some samples. We had a treat tasting five flights of chocolate starting with milk chocolate and moving on to some amazing 85% dark chocolate.

We were back on the water at 1 p.m., slogging into a headwind and choppy water. Our strategy was to head towards Riviera de Garbage, and hopefully find some protection from the wind in the wind shadow of the land. At 2:45, we found the boat ramp at Riviera de Garbage and stopped for a welcome break. It had taken us an hour and 45 minutes to cover the three miles. On the crossing we were entertained by pelicans fishing, dive-bombing for fish quite close to our boats. My efforts to photograph them were unsuccessful. From Riviera it was an easy paddle back to our launch site landing at 3:40.

Everybody agreed that the paddle was a good workout and we were back on the beach without an incident. We logged 9.8 miles over the course of our paddle. You can view more details on my GAIA GPS account, and you can view more photos here.

Don’t Trust the Map

This adventure takes place on July 16 as part of our three-day trip to Point Reyes while camping at the Olema Campground. We spent one day kayaking and one day hiking. We based our hiking plan on a map that turned out to be out of date.

Perhaps we are a bit old-fashioned, but there is something comforting about being able to spread out a printed map and get a sense of a place larger than what you can see on a smart phone or GPS unit, not to mention that you don’t need to recharge batteries. So having consulted the map in the morning, we decided on a hike that would originate at Muddy Hollow, follow the Muddy Hollow Road the the White Gate Trail, then on to the Estero Trail, looping back to our origin. This is a lovely hike that meanders through oaks and pines, crossing several streams lined with lush green ferns and alders, and out onto the more open coastal savannah.

We had a very quiet hike, seeing only a half-dozen people over the course of the day. We did see a few elk, at a distance, a few wildflowers and a few birds. When we got to the halfway point, we were looking for a trail junction that never appeared. It showed on our printed map, but not on the GAIA GPS map I was using to track our hike on my iPhone. We had to surmise that the trail on the map no longer existed, which led us to walk a few more miles than we had planned. When we returned to the car we had logged 10.6 miles. We were happy to know that we can still hike that distance over easy terrain. You can view more photos here and look at the track of our hike in more detail here.

Boat in a Bag

How about a kayak that you can check as airline baggage for that remote expedition? I’ve been intrigued with the idea for some time, and when the opportunity came up to try out TRAK kayaks I signed up. So Saturday, June 26, my wife Joann and I grabbed our paddles and PFDs and drove to the Antioch Marina where we met Kathy Bunton of Delta Kayak Adventures. Kathy walked us through the process of assembling the kayak. It’s quite an ingenious system. The frame is aluminum tubing that unfolds and snaps onto the ribs.

The frames are color coded, with the bow sections being blue and the stern red. You slide the frame into the skin, and then you attach three hydraulic jacks that put tension on the frame. You can see Kathy adjusting the tension on the keel jack. You can also use the keel jack to adjust the rocker. With a few pumps, the bow and stern come up to give the boat some rocker. Release the tension and the keel goes flat. You can adjust the rocker while you are paddling; I was surprised to see how sensitive the boat was to the rocker adjustment.

Once we had our boats together, foot pegs adjusted, and the float bags in place, we paddled around the marina a bit to get a feel for the boats. Then it was out onto the San Joaquin River, around Point Antioch and into into Corteva Wetland Preserve. There we found some calm water and I asked Kathy to take a photo of the two of us in the TRAK boats with Mount Diablo in the background. We paddled up a few of the waterways in the preserve where we watched river otters, racoons, herons, ducks and turtles. Then it was time to head back to the marina.

Back out on the river, we had a good ebb current pushing the water to the west and a good breeze blowing from the west kicking up a few waves and even creating a few white caps. I ventured out into the rough water playing with the current and the waves a bit to see how the boat handled. Overall I was impressed with the performance. It felt more like a hard shell kayak that I expected and I like the way it edged. The hard chine felt a lot like the Pygmy Ronan I often paddle. Out in the wind and current, the boat did tend to weathercock a bit, but with a bit of practice I think it would handle well. While we didn’t cover any real distance, we did manage to log a little over three miles, and to get the feel for the boats on flat water and lumpy water with some wind. It was a fun and adventuresome paddle.

You can view more photos here. And take a closer look at the track of the paddle here.

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