Surfing Ashby Shoal

January 7. Our intent was to enjoy a quiet paddle from Barbara and Jay Vincent Park in Richmond to Emeryville and back. We were on the water at 10:20 with an ebbing tide. It was a calm day with very little wind and no wave action. As we approached Emeryville, though, we could see waves breaking on Ashby Shoal.

We decided to go check it out. Once we got there we decided to play in the surf. I didn’t have much luck riding the waves. I just couldn’t get the momentum to get a good ride, but I did get in some bracing practice as the boat broached. One of our gang ended up out of his boat, and we proved that the T-rescue is an efficient way to get somebody back in the boat.

Part of our group stayed out of the surf zone, and we had a lesson in radio communication. Susan called Steve to find out what was going on. Steve was with me, standing by while I assisted Alan. Steve’s radio was off. He heard the call coming on my radio and tried to respond thinking his radio was on. I was busy helping Alan get back in his boat. Susan’s radio went dead before we were able to respond. The lesson here is to keep your radio charged and remember to turn it on if you want to communicate. After we got Alan back in his boat, it was a quick paddle into the Emeryville boat ramp where we found a little park for a socially distanced lunch.

After lunch it was back on the water for our paddle back to Richmond, with a short stop while Sharon pulled out her bird guide to identify birds. We logged 11.4 miles over the course of the paddle. More photos are available here.

Around Angel Island

We gave a fitting send off to the year 2020 by putting our boats in the water and paddling around Angel Island on the last day of the year. The quality of light, the serene conditions and the reflections on the water prompted me to convert the images to black and white.

Four of us launched from Dunphy Park in Saualito, pushing off at 10:20, about the time for maximum flood. We paddled out to Point Knox and around the island counter-clockwise. We did feel a bit of the current as we approached Point Knox, with the current trying to push us up Racoon Strait. Once around the point though we had the current going with us and we made good time going around the island and landing at the Immigration Station.

We had a suitably social distance lunch while sitting on the ledges that were part of the historical display. You’ll note that one of our paddling buddies, Steve ended up half-way between “Acceptance” and “Rejection” in the “Realities” zone.

After lunch the current was beginning to ebb, so we had the current with us for an easy paddle down Racoon Strait. As we rounded Peninsula Point, back into Richardson Bay we hugged the shore admiring the expensive home on Belvedere Island. I was looking up at the homes on the cliff when with a crunch I found myself aground on a rock. Easy enough to get back on track, but a reminder to keep an eye on the water. Then it was across the bay back to our launch site, after some discussion about what landmark to aim for. Navigation from a low vantage point can be a challenge . We were back on the beach at 2:15, but only after breaking a paddle while landing. When getting out of the boat, I discovered that I was in a rocky hole, not a firm beach. I put my paddle down for balance, inadvertently wedging it between two rocks. Down I went and leaning on the paddle caused the shaft to snap.

So it goes. I’ve had a paddle on my shopping list for some time. Now I have an excuse to buy one. We logged 9.5 miles and I don’t recall ever having such an easy and pleasant paddle around the island. It was a very quiet day on the bay. Calm weather, and not much boat traffic. We did see a number of the usual bay residents including cormorants, gulls, pelicans and harbor seals. You can view more photos here, including both the black and white and color versions of the images above. Let me know what you think.

Middle Harbor

On December 18, we decided to launch from Encinal Boat Ramp in Alameda and paddle to Middle Harbor Shoreline Park in Oakland.

We launched at 10:30 on a flood current, which meant we would be paddling against the current going towards Oakland, but with a small tidal change, the current would be minimal. In the afternoon we’d be riding the current back. I plotted the course using the BASK.org trip planner, measuring about 4.3 miles to our intended lunch location. I printed a copy of the map which I studied, looking for a landmark that would mark our turning point to paddle into the beach. Then I stuck the map in my dry box, which I keep in a hatch.

I opted to paddle my Dagger Stratos rather than my wooden Coho. Why? Because I hadn’t paddled it for awhile.

All was fine, paddling on calm waters. As we approached the port, I kept an eye out for the jetty I had noted as our turning point. We arrived at the end of the pier at the port and poked around the end thinking we’d find the park. What? No beach? I fiddled with my GPS unit trying to pull up the map on the tiny screen. Then it became clear that I had picked the wrong landmark for our turn into the park. Note to self: Carry a waterproof chart on the deck .

We backtracked and found the beach. A fine sand beach lined with palm trees. It seemed out of place with container ships to the north and south. It was 12:45 when we landed for lunch and we had worked up an appetite after six miles of paddling. We made a note that this might be a fun place to take the grandkids. There is a viewing platform you can climb to watch the tall cranes moving cargo, a nice beach at least on a high tide, and a dolphin sculpture to play on.

After lunch we were back on the water retracing our route, but sticking closer to the shore. We saw a few harbor seals and thousands of birds including cormorants and brown pelicans. We were back at our launch site at 2:45 having logged 11 miles. I was reminded why I like my wooden Coho. On a long paddle on calm water, it moves with less effort than the Stratos. Want to see more photos? Click here.

A Tale of Two Boats

On November 30 we put our two wooden boats on the water at Drakes Estero. It’s a 50 mile, 75 minute drive from our house to the launch point. We opted to drive out to the Point Reyes peninsula the day before and spend a couple of nights at a lovely little Airbnb rental so that we could enjoy the paddle without having to get up early. High tide was predicted for 10 a.m., and my plan was to be off the water by 2:30 when the sandbars would likely be exposed.

I’m paddling a Pygmy Coho, a kit boat from Pygmy Boats. The Coho was built in 1999, so it’s marking 21 years of use. At 17.5 feet long it’s a full size sea kayak. Joann is paddling the Ronan, built in 2017. I have to confess that if I have my choice I’ll choose the Ronan. The Ronan is 14.25 feet long. The Coho has very little rocker, so it’s fine for passage making when you want a boat that tracks straight. It’s also great for camping since it will hold quite a bit of gear. Sad to say, Pygmy Boats is not producing kits at the moment, and it remains to be seen if they will be back in business. The Ronan is a bit livelier with more rocker and a hard chine, and I find it a more playful boat especially if there is some wind, waves, or dynamic water. Today we anticipated flat water and little wind, so the Coho seemed like the boat for me.

I decided to capture some video with my GoPro camera. Here’s a link:

I alternated camera positions between my helmet and the deck, experimenting with different camera vantage points. I’m never content with just one point of view.

We paddled out the Estero to Sunshine Beach, just opposite the entrance to the Estero. Here we found ourselves feeling just a bit of the swell from the ocean while paddling through the glistening fronds of a kelp forest. After a quick stop, we were back on the water hoping to get across the sandbars before the tide dropped and before the wind picked up. We meandered back through Home Bay. In Home Bay we found the propeller of a WWII P-39. Check out an earlier blog about the sunken treasure.

Over the course of the day we logged 10.5 miles. On the return trip we did find that we were paddling into the wind, with the wind blowing 12-15 miles per hour, not enough to cause concern. Over the course of the day we logged 10.5 miles, a very pleasant paddle, and we were back on the beach at 2:15, ahead of the falling tide. We did see a few birds, including white pelicans and numerous shorebirds, along with a few harbor seals.

Drakes Estero is one of my favorite places to paddle. It has the feeling of a pristine section of the California Coast. It’s within the boundary of the Phillip Burton Wilderness, so there are no motorized vehicles. The Estero is subject to closing for seal pupping; check with the park service if you plan to visit.

Check out an earlier post here. And an earlier Youtube video here.

Mendocino Magic

So many stories to share! I seem to be challenged with finding the time to post them all. Perhaps that’s just as well. I wouldn’t want to bore you with every single adventure. But then I consider this blog to be a log of my adventures, so why not share them all?

I’m going back to September, when we put our kayaks in the water in Mendocino and had a magical paddle. Our kayaking club, BASK (Bay Area Sea Kayakers), has an annual tradition of spending a few days in Mendocino in September. This year with social distancing and the coronavirus pandemic, the club cancelled the event dubbed Mendo Madness. We had been planning on this trip for many months, so rather than just cancel we managed to spend two nights at Van Damm campground and two days paddling. One of those paddles on the Albion River I wrote about not too long ago. Now it’s time to share our coastal paddle.

On the morning of September 20, we launched from Van Damm beach and paddled north. The wave action on the coast was calm and we discovered that we could paddle places that are often too rough to access. Our paddle took us into some magnificent sea caves.

I had a GoPro camera going on my helmet. I’ve finally managed to edit the video down to three minutes that I think will give you the feel for what it’s like to paddle here. Here’s the video clip.

Paddling into the caves with the water glowing a blue-green was magical. This wasn’t about covering distance, but we did cover about four miles while poking along the rocks. We were back on the beach for lunch. After lunch we explored a few caves south of the beach. Here’s the track of our morning paddle.

The Mojave Road

The Mojave Desert is a huge swath of land in the Southwest corner of the United States, much of it located in California. It occupies close to 48,000 square miles and is noted for the Joshua Trees that grow only in this desert. The Mojave Road runs across part of the Mojave Desert and through the Mojave National Preserve, a unit of the National Park System. The road was originally a trail for Native Americans stringing together a series of watering holes and providing a route for trade between desert and coastal dwellers. Later it became a route for Spanish missionaries, explorers, and settlers from the 18th to 19th centuries. Today it’s an iconic four-wheel drive road. We spent four days driving the road with a caravan of Four Wheel Pop-Up Campers.

For part of the tour, I had a GoPro camera on the dashboard of our truck. Here’s four days of touring condensed into 10 minutes. Make sure to watch the water crossing at 8:52.

Our tour started at 7:30 a.m. on October 8 in the parking lot of the Avi Resort in Bullhead City. There we met our tour guide, Bob Wohler of the Off-Road Safety Academy. Bob gave us a briefing and provided a radio for each truck to use for communication while touring.

Once we were off the pavement, we stopped to air down our tires. I’ve driven off-road periodically for over 20 years and this was the biggest eye-opener on the trip for me. Less air in the tires gives a much smoother ride. As Bob would say, sympathy for the passengers, sympathy for the equipment, and sympathy for the environment. Our tour passed a number of interest points, the first being Fort Piute. Then it was on to our campsite for the night at School Bus Camp, noted for an abandoned school bus that marked the location until a few years ago when it was removed.

There are numerous points of interest along the road, including a tin can into which you can drop a penny for good luck, the Mojave Mailbox where you can sign your name and leave a comment, and a collection of gnomes and frogs. You just have to see it to believe it. The terrain ranges from sandy flats to rocky road to a dry soda lakebed, traveling through some magnificent Joshua Tree forests along the way. The road has worn down at several points so that you are driving in a canyon so narrow that the vegetation is brushing against the sides of your vehicle.

Once across the soda lake you arrive at a pile of rocks. Bob had instructed us to pick up a rock earlier in the trip, and this is where the rocks are deposited—at Travelers Monument. There is actually a monument buried under this pile of rocks. If you scramble to the top of the pile you can read the plaque. We were sworn to secrecy regarding the words so you’ll just have to plan a visit to read it yourself.

A highlight of the trip was the lava tube, and also the water crossing at the end. We ended up driving the last section of the road from east to west because we helped some travelers who got their vehicle stuck in the sand. Time was an issue, so we took a detour to Afton Canyon Campground for our last night. The next morning two rigs decided to cross the Mojave River with Bob’s coaching.

More photos are available here, and I’ve made a few select images available as fine art prints in my art store.

We logged 180 miles on the tour, some of it on side trips off the Mojave Road. Elevation ranged from 500 feet at the start of the tour to 5,700 feet at the high point.

Cowbells in the Sierra

It’s August 25 and I’m hiking down a mountainside when I hear cowbells. For a moment I start fantasizing that I’m in Switzerland. I check the map and I’m headed to Upper Gardner Meadow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, but let me back up to the previous day. The story starts when Carson, my dog, and I hopped on board our camper for a four-day trip over the mountains. The original plan was to finish some client work and head over the mountains to join my wife and my son’s family in Big Pine, joining them on the 25th. The wildfires burning near Santa Cruz forced me to change my plans. The fire drove my daughter and her family to seek refuge at our house in Albany. Both she and my grandson, Micah, had colds and, as such, my family on the East Side suggested I take my time crossing the mountains to make sure I didn’t bring the cold with me. I can think of worse fates than being banished to the mountains for a few days.

In any event, I decided to drive up State Route 4 and to camp near Highland Lakes near Ebbetts Pass.

The drive took us past Mosquito Lake, which despite the name, provided an idyllic view of a cabin on a rock with clouds reflecting on the quiet water.

Not far beyond we found the turnoff to Highland Lakes. I found a spot to camp for the night a couple of miles down the road, a spot with a well-established fire ring and a babbling stream. A perfect spot to camp and let Carson run off-leash. I popped the top on the camper and cooked a quick dinner.

In the morning I broke camp and drove the rest of the way to Highland Lakes, where I found an established Forest Service camp. I picked a site near the lake. I wanted to be close to the lake to take advantage of the evening and morning light. The campground fee was $8.50, the reduced rate for a senior pass. I ended up putting a $10 bill in the envelope since I did not have the exact change. I wonder if the pricing is just a way to put a few extra dollars in the coffer. Pit toilets and running water was available and the campsites have steel fire rings. Many of the picnic tables are in need of repair. Most of the campers had dogs on leashes so we felt at home. Having established camp, Carson and I found a trail that would take us on a five mile loop, up a mountain side to a lovely little pond. From there we hiked along a ridge and then an off-trail scramble down the mountainside to join the trail again at Upper Gardner Meadow. Then it was back to camp. The air was a bit hazy with smoke, but I found that the quiet waters of the lake provided some nice reflections early the next morning. Here’s the track of our hike

Stay tuned, since I”ll be sharing more stories about the trip.

Five Depart, Three Return

August 8. The plan was to meet at China Camp, launch our kayaks, paddle out to the Marin Islands and over to the Loch Lomond Yacht Harbor for lunch, then to return after lunch.

Six of us met at China Camp, Michael, Joann, Cynthia, John, Christine and myself. I had posted an announcement that this would be a mellow paddle without the drama of wind and waves. The wind prediction at China Camp was 6 knots, based on Windy, an app I use for wind predictions. Meanwhile, the NOAA prediction for the San Francisco Bay at large was 10-15 with gusts to 25 in the afternoon. China Camp Beach is a bit protected from the wind, so it made sense that it might be windier on the Bay.

We were on the water at 10:10 and proceeded south. As we approached Point San Pedro, we were starting to feel the wind. It was a bit of a struggle rounding the point, but everybody seemed to be doing OK. Once we rounded the point conditions let up a bit, but it was clear that the Marin Islands were out of our reach given the wind. We opted to take a more direct line to Loch Lomond. Even so it was a workout. It was not the mellow paddle I had hoped for, but everybody seemed to be up to the task.

We pulled our boats up the boat ramp at Loch Lomond and found some picnic tables where we could practice social distancing while eating.

After lunch John and Cynthia decided to organize a shuttle back by hitching a ride with John’s wife, who had remained on the beach at China Camp with a good book. They were concerned about the conditions at Point San Pedro on the return paddle.

The remaining three of us put our boats back in the water and, with the wind behind us, it was a fast and easy paddle back to China Camp. Once we rounded the point, the last two miles proved to be mellow. Our track for the day covered close to eight miles. Due to a technical glitch, I only logged the paddle back from Loch Lomond to China Camp. It seems I must have hit pause on my GaiaGPS app as we launched.

Wind in the Gate

Friday, August 7, three of us met at Horseshoe Bay near the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge with a plan to paddle to Point Bonita and back. These paddles are locally referred to as OTG (out the gate). Predicted conditions looked good since we’d be paddling out on slack water (no current), and riding back in on the afternoon flood. Wind was predicted to be 6 to 8 knots from the south in the morning, with 15 to 20 knots in the afternoon.

We were on the water at 10:35, with the wind blowing from the south, but a bit fresher than we expected. Nevertheless, we decided to peek around Lime Point, the point under the north end of the bridge, to see what was in store for us. Once around the point conditions were favorable and, while we found ourselves paddling into the wind, we opted to continue along the coast.

About halfway to Point Bonita was Point Diablo, the reckoning point for the day’s paddle. Inside the point the water was calm and protected, outside you can catch the full brunt of the wind and waves. I paddled a short distance beyond the point and decided that battling three- to four-foot waves with a 15 knot headwind was not the best plan. We made the unanimous decision to paddle back to Kirby Cove for lunch.

Kirby Cove was quite protected from the day’s wind and waves, so we had an easy landing. We hauled our boats up the beach wary of the rising tide and broke out our lunches. We found a log about 12 feet long that gave us the proper social distancing. After lunch we returned to our boats just as the waves were starting to lap at them. Back on the water it was an easy return paddle, although we did find an eddy under the bridge that was moving counter to the incoming current. You can see Eoin and Michael just inside the tide line of the eddy in the photo below.

I opted to paddle outside the eddy. We were back on the beach shortly after 1 p.m., having completed a very pleasant paddle covering 4.5 miles. I’ve included a map that shows the track of our paddle. I’ve been enjoying using Gaia GPS as my method for tracking activities on and off the water. The phone app synchronizes with the online service, which I find convenient. You’ll note that I am wearing a GoPro camera on my helmet. One of these days I may actually post some footage.

Threading the Needle

On July 13 it was time to get back on the water. We had a six week hiatus while playing grandparents and dealing with the challenges of social distancing and staying-at-home. With a prediction for afternoon winds we decided to get an early start. China Camp State Park was our chosen launch site and we were on the water at 9:40.

Our plan was to paddle south around Point San Pablo, check the wind and water and round the Marin Islands if conditions looked good. We were paddling on an ebb so we would have the current with us going south, and the wind with us on the return. Once we were on the water two small islands, The Sisters, looked inviting so we set course for the islands thinking we might “thread the needle,” passing through a narrow slot in the west Sister called Grendel’s Needle. Once we were through the slot, we headed back to Point San Pablo. We found that on crossing back we were experiencing the full fetch of the wind blowing from the southwest, giving us some steep wind waves up to three feet with a few whitecaps slapping us; not a place for an inexperienced paddler, but we found the challenge invigorating.

As we rounded the point, we left the rough water behind. I find when I’m paddling in challenging conditions I’m intent on keeping my hands on the paddle and practicing boat control. Putting the paddle down to take photos is not an option.

We took a quick reconnoiter of the Marin Islands and decided that rather than slog into the wind, we’d turn into a little beach near McNear Brick & Block, a brickyard that was established by George P. McNear and his son Erskine in 1898 which still operates today. You can see the chimneys of the brick works in one of the photos.

Once we landed, we pulled our boats out of the water and dipped into our lunches for a mid-morning snack. With the wind building though, we decided that it was prudent to get back on the water to begin our journey back around the point.

We were back at our launch point at noon. We finished our lunch and went back on the water to practice boat control drills and rescues. My Eskimo roll needs more practice.

Our paddle covered six miles, and we were glad to be off the water as we watched whitecaps build in the afternoon.