Keeping a Distance

We were glad to get on the water March 21st. The stay-at-home order suggests that outdoor activities such as hiking and bicycling are essential – as long as you practice social distancing. So Saturday we decided some outdoor activity was in order.

It felt a little weird going out since we’ve become hyper-sensitive to the health risks of the coronavirus. Walking the dog, I find myself making an inventory of everything I touch. Has another person touched that tennis ball? Can I get in and out of the dog park without touching the gate? Go home and wash hands!

Is it OK to drive the short distance from home to the kayak launch site at Ferry Point? I see advice to put the kayak away and not even think about paddling until the order is lifted. After weighing the risks, we loaded up the kayaks and drove to Ferry Point.

Ferry Point is along the Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline, part of the East Bay Regional Park District. When we arrived at 10 a.m., the gate to the parking lot was locked. We parked on the street and carried our boats down to the deserted beach. On the water, we followed a freighter and two tugboats out the channel.

Out on the bay, our plan was to cut west across the shipping channel and then head north to Red Rock Island. We ended up paddling parallel to the channel while the tugs maneuvered the ship as they went north and then made a U-turn to join the shipping channel going south. Normally there are ferries zipping by on the Vallejo to San Francisco run, but no ferries today.

Once the shipping channel was clear, we headed for Red Rock. We had calm water and a bit of a boost from the current on the tail end of the flood. Slack water was predicted for 1 p.m., although we were mindful that current and tide predictions can be off by an hour or more in this part of the bay. We circled the island once, and then decided to land on a tiny beach on the southwest side of the island.

We had the island to ourselves. San Francisco was visible in the distance, some eight miles away. All around the Bay people were holed up in their homes under the order to stay at home. It seemed odd and liberating to be alone at the island, free of the anxieties that are plaguing the world. It also felt a bit odd to be paddling without our fellow Bay Area Sea Kayakers (BASK). Our paddling experiences are often quite social.

Calm water prevailed on our return trip. As we passed the channel marker buoy #7 at 1:00 p.m., we noted that there was no noticeable current, so it seems the tide and current predictions were accurate for this time and location.

Our paddle covered just over seven miles, and we were back around 2 p.m. We were in no rush to land our boats, so we paddled along the Richmond waterfront a bit, and took some time to refine our boat handling skills.

When we landed on the beach at the end of the paddle, we noticed that the parking lot was open and quite busy. A few people were on the the beach, walking dogs and fishing. Most seemed to be practicing social distancing.

Stay safe and check out this link for more photos.

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.