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.

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.

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.

Crossing Carquinez Strait

At the northeast corner of San Francisco Bay is Carquinez Strait. This is a narrow passage where the Sacramento and the San Joaquin Rivers empty into the Bay. On Saturday November 27 our kayaking club, Bay Area Sea Kayakers (BASK), hosted a paddle here. Not having much familiarity with this area I thought it would be fun to explore this area with a few paddlers that know the area well.

After a comprehensive safety talk and radio check nine of us we were on the water at 11 am launching from the boat ramp at the Martinez Marina. We paddled west staying clear of the shipping channel and taking advantage of the ebb current for a quick ride. Shortly after launching one of our party discovered that he was quite uncomfortable in his boat. He turned back leaving the eight of us to continue on. When it was time to cross the straight we held up to let a ship pass. Then it was across the straight to Glen Cove Waterfront Park where we found a nice beach to land. We had lunch in a grove of trees on a bluff overlooking the beach.

After lunch we were back on the water hugging the north shore to avoid the deeper water where the current was still ebbing. We even managed to find a few eddies going counter to the main current. We paddled along the Benicia waterfront admiring the waterfront homes and decrepit docks. When it was time to cross the shipping channel we again held up for a tanker and an escort of tug boats.

Then it was back across the straight and back to the marina. We were back at the boat ramp at 4 pm, finding a traffic jam of boats waiting to use the ramp. We managed to land and get our boats off the ramp without interfering with the traffic much. We logged 11.7 miles on an excellent paddle with great company. You can view the track of our course below. Click on the map to view a more detailed view. I was disappointed to discover the lens on my camera had acquired a smudge of sunblock which ruined most of my photos. A lesson to carry a lens wipe and to check the lens frequently. In any event, I did manage to salvage a number of images and you can view them online.

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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.

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.

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