Angel Island

Thursday morning, November 17. A chilly morning, and climbing into my wet, clammy dry suit seemed quite rude. Wet inside and out. I had been out the previous evening for a rolling clinic. The suit was wet on the outside from being upside down in the cold water of San Francisco Bay, and damp on the inside from condensation. I contemplated adding a layer of insulation but figured once I was on the water I would warm up.

Six of us assembled on the beach at Ferry Point. The predicted weather and tides were favorable for a paddle around Angel Island. After a quick safety talk and radio check we were on the water at 10:00. Shortly after leaving the protection of the Richmond Shipping Channel we encountered a breeze and some wind waves out of the north west. We watched several ferries zipping up and down the bay, and then we held up for a barge that was crossing our path in the shipping lane. We had a couple of harbor seals check us out also.

Our radios were handy for staying in touch and keeping the pod together in the midst of ship traffic. Once we were across the shipping lane we opted to continue our way around the island in a clockwise direction. We landed on Perles beach a little after noon. Perles Beach faces the Golden Gate with a panoramic view that includes San Francisco as well.

There was just enough breeze to create a bit of a wind chill, so after a brief lunch we were happy to get back in our boats to continue our journey. Back on the water we continued our journey around the island. After rounding Point Stewart we paddled close to shore to check out the beach at Kayak Camp. One of the photos shows a fellow kayaker with is boat pointed to the trail that leads up from the beach to the campground. There was no trail visible from the water. The trail is presumably overgrown. Once we were back around to the eastern side of the island we once again held up for shipping traffic and then continued on our way back to Ferry Point.

We were back on the beach at 2:20 after a perfect paddle around Angel Island logging 12 miles. You can see more photos in an online gallery. Here’s the track of our paddle.

Pt San Pablo to Pt Pinole

On October 13, seven of us were on the beach at Point San Pablo Harbor ready to launch. Weather and tide conditions were promising for a paddle to Point Pinole with little wind predicted. Slack tide at 9:47 at Pinole Point meant we would would have the current with us in the morning. We launched at 10:30 and headed out towards the shipping channel to pick up the current. As we paddled we kept our eyes open for ships and ferries.

We had some ship traffic and noted that one of the ferries heading towards us did an about-turn. What was that about? It seemed like several of the ferries were exhibiting some unusual behavior.

When we reached Point Pinole we decided to paddle around the point landing at the beach on the northeast side of the point. It was shortly before noon when we landed. The beach has a handicap accessible ramp. After lunch it was back on the water and we used the pilings of the old pier as an obstacle course. Good for practicing boat control.

Since we were still experiencing the incoming flood, we planned paddled closer to shore to take advantage of countercurrent eddies. We were back at our launch site shortly before 3 pm having logged 10 miles. More photos are available in an online gallery.

Martinez to Eckley

On September 29 I joined nine other BASK members for a paddle from Martinez to Eckley Pier. We launched from the boat ramp at the Martinez Marina at 10:30. Once we were out of the Marina we turned west where we hit a bit of bumpy water. We had the current with us and the wind against us resulting in some wind waves splashing over our decks. Then it was on to the obstacle course of old pilings which are always fun to paddle through, creating an opportunity to practice boat control. Slack water was about noon, so we had little current to contend with as we meandered through the pilings.

We arrived at Eckley Pier at noon, broke out our lunches and watched the train go by as we ate. Then it was back on the water and back through the maze of pilings. Now we had the wind at our back and the current starting to flood so it was a little more challenging to paddle the maze. Some opted to paddle in the open water. With the current pushing us back up the river it was a quick paddle back to Martinez. We were back at the boat ramp at 2 PM, having logged 9.2 miles.

More photos are available in an online gallery.

Here’s the track of our paddle.

Mendo Madness

We were hardly back from Scotland when it was time to pack up the kayaks to head for Mendocino. On September 20 we pointed our rig to Van Damme State Park to join our kayaking club for our annual Mendo Madness. Each year our kayak club takes over a good part of the campground for a week of paddling and socializing. There were about 70 of us, which makes for plenty of paddling opportunities with skill levels ranging from novice to expert, a great opportunity to get on the water with friends and to advance our skills.

On Wednesday we paddled up the Albion River. It’s such a peaceful feeling paddling on the quiet river past the redwood trees, with a variety of wildlife to view. We saw plenty of birds, but no seals or river otters.

On Thursday conditions were perfect to paddle on the coast, so we joined a group of experienced paddlers, launched from Russian Gulch, and paddled south exploring caves, tunnels and other features on the Mendocino Headlands. I had a GoPro camera mounted on my helmet, so stay tuned for some video of our paddling through caves and tunnels.

Our club has occasionally been referred to an eating club with a kayaking disorder. True to form there was an abundance of food with two pizza ovens and charcoal grills going. We came prepared to cook our own meals, but who wants to cook when you can simply nosh while sharing stories with friends. Friday night was Bourbon and Brine, hosted by two club members that are very creative at creating mixed drinks suitable for the occasion. They were assisted by a half-dozen bartenders.

On Sunday, September 25, we broke camp to head for home. Passing through Cloverdale at noon gave us a good reason to stop for burgers, fries and shakes at Pick’s Drive in. Great burgers.

More photos are available in an online gallery.

Carnassarie Castle

Today, September 11, marks our 22nd day of travel in Scotland. We’ve had many adventures over the past three weeks. Some of those adventures will eventually make their way into this blog, but for today, I’ll share today’s walk to Carnassarie Castle. And, of course, at the top of the news is the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. That caused us to revise our plans to return to the Edinburgh airport for flight home. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop us from lacing up our hiking boots this morning and going on a walk after a hearty Scottish Breakfast at our B&B here in Kilmartin, Old Manse.

Our track led us along several country paths, up into the hills, through woods and past babbling streams. Then we climbed a hill to the castle where we spent quite some time going up and down many flights of narrow circular stairs to admire the view. The castle was built between 1565 and 1572 by John Carswell who had been granted the land by the Earl of Argyll. Carswell would become the Bishop of the Isles and was instrumental in translating the Book of Common Order into Gaelic, which became the earliest book to be translated into Scots Gaelic.

The overcast sky with threat of rain provided some nice soft lighting to set the castle in a surrounding landscape of green rolling hills and woods.

After climbing all the stairs and poking into rooms and windows, we found a spot to break out our lunch of cheese and crackers.

We returned to the town of Kilmartin by retracing our steps, walking by an apparently abandoned caravan which seems to have a picturesque spot along the track. Back in town we stopped at the museum café for a bowl of hot lentil soup, muffins and coffee. The museum is closed at the moment for renovation, but that didn’t deter us from enjoying a cool pleasant day in the area of Scotland which is known for it’s archeological significance, with ruins going back over 5000 years.

Kayak Around Iona

August 31. Our Wilderness Scotland paddling adventures included several day paddles exploring parts of the Isles of Mull and Iona. The day’s adventures usually started with a briefing by one of the guides. Here’s Howard explaining the route around Iona. Our land base for these outings was Achaban Houses which was a mile from Fionnphort, our launch point for the paddle around Iona. You can see the van with the kayak trailer in the photo.

It was a promising day as we schlepped boats and gear down to the waters edge. Without much delay we were on the water but since we had the tail end of the ebb against us we stayed close to shore looking for eddies and paddling inside the rocks that separate the Sound of Iona. Once we were around the rocks and on the sound we picked up the pace a bit to make the short crossing to Iona where we paddled around the point and into a white sand beach for coffee and tea.

For the rest of the trip we had the current with us. We poked our noses into caves, paddling in and out of rocks admiring the clear and colorful water. Coming back into Fionnphort we had to hold up a few minutes for the ferry. And then it was off to the pub to celebrate.

More photos are available in an online gallery and you can view a video as well.

We logged 11 miles on calm water. An excellent days paddle.

Breaking the Curse

For the past six weeks or so we’ve been cursed with contrary winds. It seems we’d plan a paddle and the wind we experience was not what was predicted. It seemed as if the wind gods were playing havoc with us. We’ve been attributing this curse to Alan, one of our paddling buddies, since he was the one that was planning the paddles. We even devised a plan where we would send Alan off in one direction hoping he would serve as a decoy so the rest of us could paddle on calm water.

On Thursday afternoon July 7 though, following a lovely paddle we gathered at the Up and Under Pub where we shared a toast and declared the that we had broken the curse.

Six of us launched from Ferry Point that morning for a paddle around Brooks Island. We paddled in the counter-clockwise direction, crossing the open water early, in the event that the wind should come up later in the day.

Paddling along the south side of the jetty we encountered quite a bit of eel grass. We had this experience on the previous paddle at this location and it seems this year there is eel grass where we don’t recall seeing it in the past. Then, having spied the remains of the dead whale, we paddled close to take a look. Jaw bones are now exposed where a month ago it looked like a freshly beached whale.

We were also amazed at the number of pelicans we saw, wheeling overhead, diving and fishing. We stopped at Barbara and Jay Vincent Park for lunch, walking to the top of a knoll where we found some rocks on which to sit.

After lunch it was back on the water. The wind had picked up a bit and we were bracing for a slog into the wind. We crossed the channel heading to Brooks Island, and admired an Osprey that was feeding it’s young on a nest on the top of the dolphin (pilings) in mid-channel. Then the wind eased up and we had a pleasant paddle back to our launch side, again mystified with the number of pelicans that were about. You can see more photos in an online gallery.

Tomales: Marconi to Chicken Ranch

June 26 seven of us launched our kayaks from Marconi Beach, not knowing quite where we’d end up for lunch. Shortly after 9:00 we launched on flat calm water, paddling across to Hearts Desire Beach where one of our fellow BASK members was assisting in an Environmental Traveling Companions kayaking event.

From Hearts Desire we noodled south east along the Point Reyes Peninsula, taking our time and exploring all the nooks and crannies and even some caves. Paddling through eel grass beds we saw hundreds of jelly fish. Since my Olympus TG5 camera is waterproof I popped it under the surface and started snapping pictures more or less at random. I was amazed I got something useable.

Then paddling on before you know it we were at Chicken Ranch Beach. It was just a few minutes after 11:00 and though it was early we decided it was lunch time. Our plan was to get an early start and then get off the water before the wind came up.

Sure enough, as we were eating lunch the wind started to build, and not as predicted. Prediction was for WSW winds 9 kts. What we had was coming straight down the bay. We launched into a stiff wind that was raising whitecaps. Fortunately we did not have a great distance to travel so we slogged it out powering straight into the wind. We were back at our launch point at 12:30, having logged 5.8 miles. You can view more photos in an online gallery.

Whale on Brooks Island

May 31. Five of us launched our kayaks from the beach at Ferry Point for a paddle around Brooks Island. We were on the water at 10 am after a quick safety talk and a radio check. Our course took us from the beach out to the end of the jetty at the end of the Richmond Shipping Channel. The plan was to negotiate the exposed leg of the paddle early before the wind and associated waves started to build. Once we were out of the shipping channel we followed the jetty heading southeast. We were amazed by how much sea grass we encountered. Perhaps my previous experience was with higher tides and rougher water when the seagrass wasn’t so evident.

About halfway along the jetty we found a dead whale. This was cause to take photos, but to do so I had to ask one of my paddling buddies to open my back hatch get out my spare parts kit with spare batteries for my camera. My camera battery went dead shortly after launching. The island is off limits due to nesting birds, so we stayed in our boats.

With the whale well documented we continued on. Pelicans were quite plentiful, wheeling overhead and diving for fish. One pelican dove just a few feet away from my boat giving me the opportunity to capture a few photos at close range.

The water was starting to get a bit bouncy as we approached the southeast corner of the island, but nothing of concern. We landed at Barbara and Jay Vincent Park on the little beach facing the bay. The beach was a bit rocky with the low tide. After lunch we were back in our boats facing a stiff wind coming from the southwest. We decided to paddle straight into the wind which would place us on the leeward side of the jetty, hoping the jetty would provide us some protection. We battled the wind and the whitecaps and eventually found some relief.

Along the way we encountered the Brooks Island caretaker with what looked to be a load of recycling. He advised us not to land on the island due to the birds that were nesting. He also told us that one could land on designated areas from September through March when the birds are not nesting. We reported the dead whale, and continued on our journey. We were back on the beach where we had launched at 1:30 pm having logged 6.7 miles. You can view more photos in an online gallery.

BASK Meeting at China Camp

Sunday, May 15, provided us with a full day of activities with our kayaking club BASK (Bay Area Sea Kayakers) at China Camp State Park. We have a good relationship with Friends of China Camp, the non-profit that runs the park. As such we had access to the museum for a presentation prior to the museum opening to the pubic. China Camp is a beautiful spot on San Pablo Bay about an hour drive north of San Francisco. It is of interest historically and culturally. A Chinese shrimp-fishing village thrived here in the 1880s.

I arrived early since I had volunteered to record the presentation given by John Muir—a presentation on the history of China Camp. That video is now available on YouTube. Before the meeting we unloaded our boats since we planned on paddling later in the day. The tide was quite low when we unloaded, as you can see in the photo. By afternoon the tide would be high enough to avoid getting stuck in the mud.

After the presentation we moved to a picnic area south of the main beach for brunch: bagels, lox, cream cheese, fruit, yogurt and coffee. This being our first fact-to-face general meeting in over two years, it was a treat to be able to sit down with fellow club members.

After brunch a number of us broke into pods to participate in a coastal cleanup. Each pod was assigned a section of shoreline between China Camp and Buck’s Landing. I was in the green pod, and our territory spanned Buckeye Point to Jake’s Island. Five us us set out to paddle to our area. As we rounded the point near Rat Rock, we found ourselves paddling straight into a stiff wind, with wind waves and white caps. We attempted to hug the coast to stay out of the direct force of the wind, but the wind soon took a toll on members of our pod. Three members opted to turn back rather than fight the wind and the waves.

Two of us continued on, powering into the wind and waves. I found it to be an exhilarating experience.

While paddling I was also trying to stay in contact with other club members via radio. Each time I’d pick up the radio, the wind would set me back, and then I’d have to struggle to catch up. Even so, we made it to Jake’s Island in good time. From there is was a fast ride back as we scoured the shoreline looking for debris. There was not much to see from the vantage point of a kayak.

We did pick up a pod member on a SUP and, with the higher vantage point, he was doing a better job spotting debris. What debris we did find required getting out of our boats and wading in the marsh, wary of stepping into a hole of boot-sucking mud. Most of the debris was higher up in the marsh and hard to reach from a boat.

Once we had completed our cleanup, we rendezvoused with Ranger Scott to off-load our debris. We didn’t set any records for distance, having covered five miles, but even so, it was a fun day and an exhilarating paddle. More photos are available in an online gallery.

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