Around Angel Island

April 6. A paddle around Angel Island is always a great adventure. Our original plan was to paddle out the Golden Gate, but with a prediction for a sizeable swell, we opted to stay in the bay. Seven of us were on the beach at Ferry Point ready to get on the water at 10:30. Our plan was to paddle around the Island and find a spot for lunch. We had calm water and very little wind.

Since this paddle involves crossing shipping lanes, we kept our eyes open for ships, gathering at buoy #8 to make sure we had everybody together. One thing interesting about buoys and similar features is that as the current flows around the buoy, there is a spot on the downstream side where you can basically park your boat and escape the current.

After we gathered up we paddled to the island, compensating for the ebb current with a ferry angle that would keep us close to our intended destination. As we approached the island, we discussed breaking into two pods, one to stop at the immigration station and the second to paddle around the island in a clockwise direction. We left one paddler on the beach, the remaining six of us paddled around the island returning to the immigration station about an hour and a half later.

Back at the Immigration Station we landed and broke our our lunches. After lunch it was back on the water for the paddle back to our launch point. A very pleasant day on the water. We logged 12.1 miles over the course of the day. More photos are available in my 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

Lake Chabot

We were intrigued with an invitation to paddle on the “Jewel of the East Bay,” also known as Lake Chabot, earlier in February. Lake Chabot is an artificial lake in the Oakland Hills. The dam was built in 1874-1875 to create a reservoir that was the primary source for water in the East Bay. In 1976, the dam was designated as a California Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers. I grew up not far from Lake Chabot; over the years, I’ve hiked the trails around the lake, but this was my first venture on the lake in a kayak.

So on February 9 we strapped the kayaks on the top of the car and drove to Lake Chabot. It’s a bit of a walk from the parking area to the boat ramp, so we took our wheels with us to trundle the boats down to the ramp. Getting a permit to paddle requires a boat inspection. It took me three rounds of inspection to get enough sand out of the boat to satisfy the inspector. At issue is the risk of introducing invasive species that might hitch a ride from a previous waterway. A dry PFD is required as well. Fortunately our PFDs passed inspection. I’m not sure if we would have been allowed on the water with wet PDFs. There is a $4 fee per boat for the inspection. This is on top of the $5 parking fee and a $2 per kayak launching fee. Getting the boats to the water and permitted took a bit of time. We were on the water at 10:40 a.m. Our route took us around the lake in a counterclockwise direction.

We paddled in and around several wetlands. I was intrigued by the composition of my fellow kayakers paddling along the reeds. After circumnavigating the better part of the lake we stopped for lunch.

Along the way we observed a number of birds including a few hawks, egrets, and white pelicans. At the north end of the lake we watched a turtle scurry through the water plants under our boats. We were off the water around 1:45 p.m. having logged 5.7 miles. I’ve posted a gallery of some 38 photos online.

Seven Celebrate Seventy

A friend of mine retired recently and he asked me if kayaking was a suitable sport for seniors. I’ll answer that question with a report on a recent paddle. On February 10, seven of us launched our kayaks from Windsurfer Beach, a little beach not far from the Larkspur Landing Ferry Terminal. The youngster in our group was celebrating his 70th birthday. The beach was a bit rocky given the tide, and it’s a short carry down the bank from the road.

We were on the water at 10:00 a.m. on February 10. The current was ebbing for our time on the water, with maximum ebb a little less than one knot at 11:40 a.m. at Point San Quentin. That meant we would be paddling upstream in the morning. We had a calm, sunny, beautiful day. We paddled out around Point San Quentin and turned north under the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. Then it was north to the Marin Islands. The islands are part of the Marin Islands National Wildlife Refuge, which was established in 1992, named after a Coast Miwok man known as Chief Marin. Access to the islands is restricted, so we rounded the bigger of the two islands and headed west for Loch Lomond Marina.

We landed on the boat ramp and immediately moved our boats off the ramp so that we wouldn’t interfere with any boaters. No cake today, but plenty of chocolate treats including those provided by the birthday boy, Steve. After lunch we were back on the water making a direct line to Point San Quentin. The current was with us going back.

Once around the point we paddled back to our launch site passing San Quentin State Prison, the oldest prison in California. We logged 8.3 miles on an unseasonably warm day. Of course, part of the drill is getting the boats off the beach and on top of our cars–a total body workout. Not bad for seven septuagenarians.

Check out more photos in my online gallery.

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.

.

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.

Hearts Desire to Pelican Point

July 15, 10:00 AM. We were climbing in our boats at Hearts Desire Beach. Four of us. Hearts Desire is a lovely beach on the Point Reyes Peninsula, part of the California State Park system. I chose Hearts Desire as our launch point because the weather prediction was for wind on Tomales Bay. Hearts Desire and the west side of Tomales Bay is protected from the prevailing wind, so it provides a good launch site when the launch sites on the east side of the bay are windy.

We were launching on a low tide, and while some beaches can be muddy at low tide, we found firm sand. Paddling north along the bay we stayed close to shore. We saw racoons foraging along the shore as well as Great Blue Herons, egrets and osprey. Overhead we had pelicans reeling about and, in the water, jellyfish. With the low water, the eelgrass would occasionally grace our our boats.

Our intended lunch stop was Tomales Beach about three miles from our launch site. When we got there we decided to continue on to a more secluded beach. There were a handful of campers on Tomales Beach. We landed at a beach just south of Pelican Point. True to it’s name, we saw several White Pelicans on the point and opted to land far enough south so as not to disturb them.

After lunch we returned to our boats. We were back at our launch site at 2:30, having logged 9.2 miles. You can see more details about the track here. A beautiful day on Tomales Bay, one of my favorite places to paddle. You can see more photos here.

Loch Lomond to Windsurfer

In the midst of a very busy work season I had two days open up that I had not anticipated. What to do? Go paddling! So on Tuesday, June 15, I found two paddling partners to join me. This is the windy season here in the San Francisco Bay area. As the temperatures warm up inland, the rising air sucks in the air off of the ocean. This often gives rise to foggy mornings and windy afternoons. Wind is no friend to kayakers, so the trick is to plan a paddle that takes advantage of the tidal currents, avoids getting stuck in the mud at low tide, and stays out of the wind. For these reasons, a paddle from Loch Lomond seemed in order.

The boat ramp at Loch Lomond Yacht Harbor is a good spot to launch on a low tide when other locations are exposed mud. Three of us were on the water at 10:10 AM paddling out the harbor on quiet water. After leaving the harbor, we headed east towards the Marin Islands paddling in water that was barely deep enough to get our paddles in the water. And, of course, the breeze picked up coming straight at us. Not enough to deter us, but not the predicted wind. Once at the islands we turned south, passing between them; of course, the wind rounded to the south, so we found ourselves continuing to paddle into the wind towards the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.

We passed under the bridge. As we approached San Quentin Penitentiary, we stopped to take photos of each other with the prison in the background. The lyrics to “Don’t Fence Me In” come to mind.

After lunch we were back on the water, and we found ourselves paddling into the wind again. Once we passed Point San Quentin we set a course for Loch Lomond, and with the wind on our stern quarter we had a mellow paddle with wind and current pushing us along. You can view more photos here.

%d bloggers like this: