Calm Between Storms

Friday, January 29. We had calm weather following a storm that wreaked havoc up and down California. Some of our best weather for kayaking happens in the winter in the calm between storms. Come spring, the weather pattern shifts to afternoon offshore winds that create choppy waves on the Bay.

Nine of us were on the water launching from the beach at Ferry Point shortly before 10 a.m. and ready to ride the flood current up the Bay. Our course took us out under the fishing pier and then to the buoy that marks the shipping channel. We had no wind and calm water. Once across the channel we headed north toward Red Rock Island, and from there up to The Brothers, two islands near Point San Pablo.

While we were heading north, a high speed ferry passed kicking up a wake that came at us broadside. I yelled “outside” to my paddling buddies as I turned my boat into the approaching wave. I received a cold, wet slap in the face as the cresting wave broke over the bow of my boat. Tom attempted to surf the wave without much success.

At The Brothers, we found a strong tide rip running between the islands. A few of us decided to play in the standing waves. You can see the disturbed water in one of the photos above.

Then it was over to Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor where we landed on the beach and had a suitably socially distanced lunch. After lunch we were back on the water. With the changing tide, we were able to ride the ebb current back to our launch site.

We all had been admiring the clouds that were off in the distance. To the west towards Mount Tamalpais we could see rain. To the east we had pillows of white cumulous clouds. Chris said the clouds reminded him of a Maxfield Parrish painting. His words inspired me to see if I could capture a photo of the clouds that might be worthy of Maxfield Parrish. I gave the clouds some added emphasis in postproduction to make the point. You view more photos here. Let me know what you think. We logged 12.6 miles over the course of the day. You can view details of our track here.

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.

Albion River

The Mendocino Coast provides a wide range of opportunities for outdoor activities including hiking , camping and kayaking. And with a kayak, depending on your skill level and the weather conditions, you can surf, poke around in the rocks or paddle on the flat water of a number of rivers. We spent two days padding in Mendocino, September 20 and 21. On our second day, we opted for a flat water paddle on the Albion River. From our camp at Van Damme State Park we drove to the Albion River, where we paid the $10 fee and launched our boats.

We launched on low water and had the current with us paddling upriver. We planned to paddle for an hour and a half and find a takeout for lunch and an early return, thinking we might have a longer paddle back down the river with the current still flooding, pushing water up the river, and the potential for wind. As we approached our turnaround time, the river became narrow and winding. The game became “let’s paddle to the next bend,” and then “the next bend.” This went on until we reached a log across the river, blocking further progress. There we found a gravel bar and a pleasant meadow which looked like an inviting place to stop.

We pulled our boats up, ate lunch and put our boats back in the water just as the rising tide was threatening to take our boats. The gravel bar had disappeared in the 30 minutes we had been eating. We were amazed at how much tidal activity there was this far up the river.

We were happy to discover that our progress back down the river was good despite the current, and the wind did not materialize. We paddled through some old pilings, practicing boat control, and past the houseboats, some of them looking more dilapidated than they had the year before. We were back at our launch site at 2 p.m., four hours after our launch. Our paddle logged 8.5 miles, most of it in total peace and quiet save for a few birds and a river otter. You can view more photos here. Here’s the track of our paddle.

Santa Cruz Paddle

The past two weeks have been a blur of work and play, so let me back up to September 15. Despite the smoke and poor air quality, we found ourselves at the kayak boat ramp at the Santa Cruz West Harbor at 10 a.m. We joined a couple of newfound friends and fellow Bay Area Sea Kayakers, Trey and Becky. Our connection was a common interest in photography. Trey found his way onto the email list for my art store at store.treve.com. He responded to an email promoting my fine art photography. After exchanging email, we ended up talking on the phone and taking him up on his invitation to paddle out of Santa Cruz. The Air Quality Index was 158 as I recall, not ideal for outdoor activity, but we decided to brave the elements and launch. The air quality was much better than it had been the week before. We paddled out of the harbor and headed for the lighthouse two miles away. Conditions were quite calm, with little wind.

Just past the lighthouse we rounded Seal Rock and took our time paddling into Cowell Beach, watching the surfers at Steamer Lane. Then it was an easy beach landing and lunch. Back on the water, we paddled out along the pier, under the pier and back to our launch site. In the kelp beds we saw a few sea otters. Elsewhere we saw cormorants, sea anemones and star fish on the pilings of the pier and sea lions making their presence well-known with their barking under the pier.

It was fun paddling with our new friends, and no doubt we’ll join them on the water again. Trey and Becky, being potato farmers, left us with a bag of potatoes, a few of which we put to use a week later while paddling with other BASK friends in Mendocino. Stay tuned for more about Mendocino. Over the course of the day we logged 5.4 miles; we were off the water by 2 p.m. Here’s the track of our paddle.

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.