Out of Boat Experience

April 1, 2020. It’s a bit more challenging to go paddling these days with the stay-at-home order. How do we manage to get some “essential” outdoor recreation while minimizing the risk associated with the coronavirus? On our paddle today, we did our best to practice social distancing. Three of us launched from the boat ramp at the Emeryville Marina. While we are used to helping each other get the boats off the cars, today it was every person on their own getting the boat on the water.

We had the boat ramp to ourselves. The marina was very quiet. Once we were on the water, it was no problem to maintain a good distance. We paddled from Emeryville, north past the Berkeley Marina, out to the end of the Albany Bulb, and then to the Albany Beach. We landed at the south end of the beach away from the few dog walkers and beachgoers, keeping a good distance between us as we landed.

We maintained our distancing while we ate lunch. After lunch the prediction was for the wind to come up, and as wind ripples started to form we were anxious to get back on the water. As we approached Emeryville, we could see the wind ruffling the water on Ashby Shoal, so we went to check it out.

On the shoal we had just a few inches of water, so I decided to climb out of my boat and pose for a photo. There are not many places in the middle of San Francisco Bay where you can get out of your boat on a low tide. Low tide was 0.2 feet at 1 p.m. As we were heading into the Marina, we passed a solo kayaker with a cute dog dressed up in a mermaid outfit. We had very little traffic on the bay with few commercial or pleasure craft, just a paddle boarder and a couple of kayakers. Our paddle covered 8.5 miles. The wind remained light through the course of our paddle. You can view more photos here and see more details about our track here.

Cake and Champagne Paddle

March 5 marked my 70th birthday. So what do I do on my birthday? I go paddling with friends. What better way to celebrate than being outdoors in the fresh air, doing something active with the camaraderie of good friends. I volunteered to be the trip initiator, and after reviewing the tides and currents with some knowledgeable fellow paddlers, I opted to plan the paddle from Emeryville to Point Isabel. With a strong ebb sucking water out of the bay for most of the day, paddling along the east shore of the bay would avoid strong currents. The announcement I posted on the BASK club bulletin board read “Thursday Paddle: Cake and Champagne.”

We met at the the boat ramp at the Emeryville Marina and, contrary to the signs that said “Paid Parking” and the a warning that parking might be an issue, we were able to park close to the boat ramp for free. It seems the signs are out of date.

We were lucky enough to have our good friends Danny and Susan show up with a double that they had just acquired; a very long boat. It took four people to get it on the water.

After a safety talk and radio check we were on the water at 10:30. We had calm water and overcast skies when we launched, with a prediction for winds of 8 knots with gusts to 12 knots in the afternoon.

Our paddle took us north along the east shore of San Francisco Bay. As we approached the Berkeley Marina, we were beginning to feel the effects of the wind as wind waves kicked up a bit. Everybody seemed to be comfortable with the conditions so we paddled on, past Berkeley, past the Albany Bulb and on to Point Isabel. The landing at Point Isabel only accommodates one boat at a time on a rocky beach, so we took turns bringing our boats in.

As we were breaking out the cupcakes and champagne, who should show up but our paddling buddy Tom, on a bike, decked out in a PFD and spray skirt. The best way to explain this is to share Tom’s post from the club message board:

At breakfast this morning, Ellen is perusing Buzz and says “Oh, Treve’s having a birthday pedal today to have cake and champagne at Point Isabel. He says you have to wear a PFD and spray skirt to attend.” She caught me at “cake”, and I replied “When will they be at Point Isabel?” The answer, “probably around noon.”

Now I’ve never ridden my bike wearing a PFD and spray skirt, but Treve’s an interesting fella and might know something I don’t about this.

So I got OTB [on the bike] around 11:15 and had a smooth pedal down to the bay and along the bay trail, no ferry angle needed. Approaching Point Isabel I am astonished to see Treve and his buddies not on bikes, but paddling kayaks! Huh?

Oh well, at least they did let me have one of Joann’s homemade cupcakes and a sip of bubbly.

How was it pedaling with PFD and spray skirt? Not recommended, but if you do, best to secure the grab loop to a buckle on your PFD to prevent tangling (thanks, Susan, for the tip). I didn’t attempt a roll.

Happy birthday, Treve! And it was great to see Danny and Susan on Danny’s Thursday paddle. As it should be.

Tom C.

After lunch it was back in the boats for the return trip to Emeryville. The wind which had been threatening to build moderated a bit, and we found ourselves riding a bit of chop heading back around the Albany Bulb and into Berkeley. As we approached the Berkeley Marina we opted to duck inside the marina. It seems Susan’s legs were going numb from sitting in the back cockpit of the double. Susan swapped places with Steve and we were back on the water. From Berkeley it was an easy paddle back to the Emeryville boat ramp, returning at 3:15. Our paddle covered 9.9 miles. Not a bad day for a 70 year old. You can view more stats on the tracklog here and more photos here.

Track of our Thursday Cake and Champagne Paddle

Paddling with Danny

On Saturday, February 20, we congregated with some friends to take our good friend Danny paddling. Danny, an avid paddler, suffered a stroke in January. A few friends decided it would be good to get Danny on the water. We scared up a a double kayak and took to the water. The plan was to launch from Schoonmaker Beach in Sausalito and paddle to Bayfront Park in Mill Valley for lunch. The weather prediction was for calm winds and flat water. As we were gathering at the beach, though, the wind was threatening to kick up.

Richardson Bay is fairly protected and usually a flat water paddle. After some discussion we decided it was safe to launch.

Our course took us past marinas full of pleasure boats, and past houseboats, both high-end glamorous floating palaces and the less glamorous but intriguing low rent floating homes. Then it was under the Highway 101 bridge to our lunch stop a Bayfront Park in Mill Valley.

After lunch we discovered that the receding tide had left us launching in the mud. With some maneuvering we managed to get back in our boats without getting stuck. We retraced our route back to Schoonmaker Beach, a round trip of 6.5 miles. Danny was all smiles and delighted to be back on the water. What better therapy is there than being on the water sharing the fun and fellowship of friends. You can view more photos here and see more information about the track log here.

Paddle Golden Gate 2020

World-class coaches in an iconic venue. That’s Paddle Golden Gate. This event happens every two years, bringing coaches from around the country and as far away as the UK. The event is hosted by California Canoe and Kayak. I signed up for all three days, February 7 through 9. Courses range from paddle strokes to boat control in tide races to rock gardening outside the Golden Gate.

On Friday it was Master Boat Control. We started in the protected waters of Horseshoe Bay working on paddle strokes for managing a kayak in dynamic water. Later we ventured out to Point Cavallo with a strong ebb creating some interesting eddies and currents. One of my classmates, Jan, captured a video that shows what we were up to. The exercise involved paddling out past the point, into the current at an unfavorable angle, and then using a sweep stroke on the downstream side to turn the boat into the current, using the minimum number of strokes. If you watch the video notice what happens to the boats as they go out past the rocks and into the current. You’ll see me in my boat at -0:38 sec, white helmet in a wooden boat.

On Sunday it was a class in rolling. We started out on the beach, progressed to the water without our boats, getting used to the water and the mechanics of rolling, and then in our boats with individualized instruction. When you see somebody that has a good roll it looks easy and effortless. But the truth is that it’s counter intuitive. When you’re upside down in the water, the first thing your mind tells you is to get your head out of the water. To roll successfully, though, your head needs to come up last. It’s not easy to reprogram your mind. I finished the class with a successful roll. It will take some practice to make it an instinctive action.

On Sunday I had signed up for a paddle to Alcatraz and Angel Island. When I arrived at Fort Baker the wind was howling with gusts to 40 knots. Our coaches suggested we assess the conditions and come up with our own plan. We students were unanimous that we would not be paddling to Alcatraz. We could barely stand on the jetty with the gusts of wind blasting us. Our plan was to stay in the protection of the harbor and practice boat control in the wind. Before we could get on the water, the Coast Guard revoked our permit. It seems they were too busy with other actions to monitor our event. Even so, we made the best of it with some land-based exercises – the main lesson being that flexibility is essential. Things don’t always happen the way you plan. It was an amazing three days with an amazing group of coaches and paddlers.

Why Drive when you can Paddle?

Thursday evening, January 23, provided an opportunity to paddle from Berkeley to Sausalito. The motivation was the monthly meeting of our kayaking club, Bay Area Sea Kayakers (BASK). The meeting was being held at the Presidio Yacht Club at Fort Baker, just inside the Golden Gate Bridge. I teamed up with a fellow BASK member, Tom. We put our boats in the water at the South Sailing Basin in Berkeley. We were on the water at noon, paddled out past the defunct Hs Lordships Restaurant and headed north towards Richmond. We had flat calm water and no wind. Our plan was to paddle north to Richmond, then paddle around Brooks Island and up the shipping channel to Ferry Point where we planned to take a break.

As we approached Ferry Point we were feeling pretty good and we decided to cross the bay directly before the ebb current got strong. Anticipating the current we set a ferry angle of about 30 degrees north of our intended track and found that the angle carried us directly towards Angel Island. Mind you, we did have to paddle a bit to keep our course.

Nearing Raccoon Straight my thought was that we would pick up a current that would carry us up the Straight. I was surprised to discover that all of the water seemed to be going around Angel Island on the bay side and not moving up the Straight.

We stopped momentarily to see if we could raise some of our paddling buddies on the radio, knowing that there were more people on the water heading to the meeting. As we dallied I was watching the shoreline and noticed that we were drifting significantly with the current. We dug our paddles in the water and headed to Ayala Cove. Along the way encountering some interesting whirlpools and eddies that played with our boats turning them this way and that.

At 2:30 we landed at Ayala Cove and had a late lunch. A park ranger wandered by while we were eating lunch and informed us that there was a $5.00 fee to land a boat, something I had not been aware of on previous visits. After a leisurely lunch we were back on the water.

We continued up Raccoon Straight to Point Stewart, a point that’s noted for some wave action on ebb currents. It was quiet today. By this time the ebb current was kicking us along and we were logging eight knots, making for a quick crossing to Sausalito. The ebb at Yellow Bluff was kicking up some wave action so we stopped to play in the waves. The last time I was here it was a white-knuckle experience where I found myself paddling for my life, or at least that was what it felt like. Today it was not so energetic and I manged to grab my camera and take a few photos of Tom in some white water. It was 4:30 when we landed at the yacht club. There we met a number of other paddlers who were coming to the meeting by boat and we watched the sky go ablaze with color as the sun set. Our journey covered about 13.5 nautical miles. More photos are available here.

Starting the Year with a Splash

Poking around the rocks outside the Golden Gate

On Thursday, January 2, I managed to get on the water with a few of my BASK kayaking friends. We launched from Horseshoe Bay just under the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge and paddled out the gate to Point Diablo. We were feeling a bit of swell with 10 foot waves on 18 second intervals. For most of the paddle this simply meant riding up one side of the wave and down the other side, like going over gently rolling hills. We could see the waves slamming into the exposed coast with quite a bit of force. Inside of Point Diablo we were somewhat protected, and we managed to poke along the coast fairly close to the rocks.

While poking around the rocks near Point Diablo we managed to collect quite a bit of floating debris: empty bottles, plastic bags, blocks of foam flotation, and even a tarp. Later, on the return to our launch, Alan found a Christmas tree.

With a high surf advisory we were concerned whether we’d be able to land at Kirby Cove for lunch, but the cove was protected enough that surf wasn’t a real issue. Even so, I managed to dump my boat when launching off the beach after lunch.

We were on the water at 11 AM and back on the beach at 2:30, having covered 5.7 miles. I was happy to get on the water again after being holed up with a cold for the previous 10 days. You can view more photos here and view the track of the paddle here.

Between Storms

Thursday, December 5, we had a lull between storms which gave us the opportunity to go paddling. We joined a few of our Bay Area Sea Kayaker (BASK) friends and launched from Ferry Point in Richmond. Our plan was to circumnavigate Brooks Island with a lunch stop along the way. From Ferry Point we headed southwest around the end of the breakwater that protects the Richmond harbor.

Once around the breakwater we headed east, passing Brooks Island, watching the harbor seals that were resting at Bird Rock and continuing to the Albany Bulb. We had hoped to land at a little beach on the Albany Bulb, but the tide was so low that there was no beach, only rocks. We decided to check Point Isabel, a short distance away, but before we got there we found a little pocket beach we dubbed Twin Towers Beach. There we landed and broke out our lunches.

Back on the water we headed towards the Richmond waterfront, paddling past the Red Oak Victory. The quiet water and soft lighting with clouds made for some interesting lighting effects for photography.

At one point I was mesmerized by the pattern of ripples forming behind the boat in front of me. Like dropping a pebble in a pond creating radiating concentric rings, each dip of the paddle would create such a pattern, with the rings drifting off behind the boat and alternating on the left and right; the rings expanding and merging together. It seems the still water and the particular quality of light created a dance. It was a subtle effect and not something I could capture with the camera.

As we neared Ferry Point on our return we speculated about the graffiti which reads “KEEPS” on the old Terminal One building. It seems this piece of real estate is destined to become luxury condominiums. Our paddle covered 8.8 miles. Please feel free to explore more photos here. Fellow BASK members will appreciate the gallery since I made a point of capturing “portraits” of paddlers, taking advantage of the soft light which I find ideal for this kind of photography. You can also view the track log here.

Buy Nothing Day Paddle

Friday, November 29, the day after Thanksgiving is often referred to as Black Friday. I prefer to spend the day outdoors. This year we (my wife and I) joined a few of our paddling buddies for a “Buy Nothing Day” paddle. If you look up “Buy Nothing Day” in Wikipedia you’ll find it’s described as “an international day of protest against consumerism,” and one of the activities listed for the day is a “Buy Nothing Day paddle along the San Francisco waterfront… promoted by the Bay Area Sea Kayakers to kayak along the notoriously consumptive San Francisco waterfront.” Nine of us gathered at the beach at Crissy Field.

After a safety talk and radio check we paddled along the waterfront, and then across the bay to Yerba Buena Island. We were hoping to have lunch on a little beach on the Southwest corner of the Island, but with the extreme high tide there was no beach. We opted to go around the island, passing under the eastern span of the Bay Bridge and paddling into Clipper Cove.

There we found just enough beach to land and have lunch. After lunch we retraced out route, being wary of shipping traffic, ferries and pleasure boats.

On the return trip it looked like the weather might close in on us with dark clouds gathering and the wind picking up. Fortunately we had a strong ebb current moving us along and the wind didn’t last.

I managed to capture some video of the paddle with a GoPro camera mounted on my helmet. With some effort I’ve condensed over an hours worth of video down to three minutes.

Over the course of the day we covered 13 miles. You can view more photos here and see more details about the route here.

Halloween Paddle

Thursday, October 31, found me on the water again paddling with several of my BASK buddies. One of the members of the group, Steve, decided to embellish the map of our track. See the image below.

We launched from Point San Pablo Harbor. Point San Pablo is at the north end of San Francisco Bay, separating San Francisco Bay from San Pablo Bay. It’s also on the route for ships going up the Sacramento River. Once on the water we headed for deeper water out towards the shipping channel hoping to hitch a ride on the flood tide. At Point Pinole Regional Shoreline we found a beach where we landed for lunch.

We paddled in near-perfect conditions with little wind and smooth water. After lunch we gathered around to sing Happy Birthday to two members celebrating October birthdays, Susan and Jen.

On our return with the current still flooding we paddled closer to shore, taking advantage of an eddy to carry us back in the direction from which we came. Over the course of our paddle we covered 9.4 miles.

Back on the beach we put put our boats on our cars, changed out of our dry suits into our street clothes and gathered up at Nobilis restaurant for snacks and drinks. Point San Pablo Harbor is a sleepy little yacht harbor with a funky collection of houseboats and public art. While not on most people’s tourist roster, it’s worth the visit, even without a boat.

You can view more photos here and view the track and stats here.

Paddlepalooza

What happens when you have 53 paddlers from three kayaking clubs point their boats towards Angel Island? It’s a Paddlepalooza! Saturday, October 26, we were on the Horseshoe Bay dock at 9:30 AM for a safety talk. Horseshoe Bay is just inside the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a popular launch site for kayaking. On Saturday the currents were favorable for a paddle around Angel Island, riding the flood towards Angel Island and after lunch riding the ebb back. A critical part of kayaking on San Francisco Bay is paying attention to the tides and currents. Following the safety talk we broke into eight pods. We were advised by Vessel Traffic Control and the Coast Guard that if we were to paddle in pods with good separation between the pods we would minimize the impact on shipping traffic and other recreational boaters.

Once we were on the water it was off to Angel Island at a leisurely pace, going around the island in the clockwise direction. While on the water we got to mix it up with members of other clubs. The three clubs involved were Bay Area Sea Kayakers (BASK), Western Sea Kayakers (WSK) and Sacramento Sea Kayakers (SAK).

Our lunch destination was Quarry Beach, a protected beach on the southeast side of the Island. After lunch we assembled into new pods for another opportunity to make new friends, and we headed back rounding Point Blunt, the southern most point on the Island, and hugging the shore until we reached Point Knox. Then it was time to cross the open water back towards our launch point. On the crossing we found ourselves paddling into a headwind with enough wind to kick up a few waves, but with the ebb current we made good time on the crossing.

Things got more exciting as we approached Yellow Bluffs. This spot is famous for kicking up some wild water on the ebb, and true to form it was exploding today. Our strategy was to paddle north around the rough water, but this is not what happened. We stopped for one of our pod members who was having having trouble with his boat. By the time we got going again, we discovered that we were being sucked right into the rough water. It was a wild ride. I was too busy holding onto my paddle to even think about taking photos. I found myself surfing down waves, getting knocked left and right, and somehow I managed to stay in my boat. Paddle forward, surf the wave and keep paddling. Against the ebb it was slow progress. Eventually I made it to smooth water closer to shore where a number of paddlers were holding position while we regrouped.

My wife Joann managed to stay in her boat in the rough water also. Two paddlers capsized. One of them ended up riding the ebb current out towards the Golden Gate before eventually being picked up by a fishing boat.

The water at Yellow Bluff is a popular place for more experienced paddlers to play. Having “played” in it briefly I can see it would be fun to go back with some more experienced paddlers to improve my boat handling skills.

I did take more photos on the paddle. You can view those here. I also had a GoPro on my helmet. So stay tuned for some video footage. We logged 10.6 miles over the course of the day. You can see the map of our route above, or here.