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.

Up the Creek

Jumping into the middle of the thread of posts about our desert trip, here’s an on-the-water adventure from yesterday’s paddle with my fellow BASK members.

February 21. We gathered at Buck’s Landing in San Rafael for a paddle up Gallinas Creek. With the prediction of wind and a very high tide, exploring one of the sloughs around the Bay made sense. Many of the tidal sloughs are only accessible by kayak with high tides.

Six of us were ready to launch at 10:45 AM, and after a brief safety talk and a radio check we were on the water. Radios weren’t really called for on this paddle, but since we have them it’s good to make sure they are working. As we paddled up the creek we were entertained by shore birds; avocets, herons, egrets and a variety of other shore birds. At one point we decided to explore a side channel that headed off in the direction of the Marin Civic Center and that took us as far as a culvert under a bridge that was not navigable. Returning to the main channel we continued up the creek to Highway 101. There the creek disappears in dark tunnel under the road. Pitch Black. One of our intrepid paddlers disappeared into the darkness, followed by another. Half-way though the tunnel it makes a turn, and once around the bend, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Soon the six of us were on the west side of the highway, looking up at a road sign that read “Marin Co. Civic Center Next Exit.”

Somehow, with the narrow creek we managed to get our boats turned around to head back through the tunnel. Then it was back down the creek to Santa Margarita Island Preserve where we stopped for lunch and took a short walk around the island. Our adventure covered a little over seven miles. You can view more photos here and a map of our route here

Elkhorn Slough

BASK Elkhorn Slough Paddle

On Monday January 21 I joined my fellow BASK members for a paddle on Elkhorn Slough. Elkhorn Slough is one of the largest tidal estuaries in California. It’s about 90 miles south of San Francisco and a popular spot for hiking, bird watching and kayaking. Tidal marshes make up a significant part of the slough, and more often than not the marshes are off limits because they are too shallow to paddle or exposed. We had an extremely high tide on Monday, with a high of 6.4 feet at 9:44 AM. We launched from Moss Landing North Harbor. Just off the launch site we saw dozens of Sea Otters. We then paddled south and under the highway bridge, past harbor seals and more sea otters. With the incoming current we had a bit of a boost paddling up the slough. We took a detour up a creek that’s normally not accessible. Paddling under oak trees and through fences, looking out for the occasional barbed wire. We saw plenty of Harbor seals as well as sea otters, and towards out lunch site at Kirby Park we saw Osprey. We paddled 10 miles over the course of the day. You can view a track of our route here

Monterey to Lover’s Point

BASK members landing at Lover’s Point Beach. Pacific Grove

With a three day weekend last weekend, Monday being a holiday, honoring Martin Luther King Jr., we decided to join our fellow BASK members for a weekend trip to Monterey. On Saturday morning we congregated on the Municipal Beach for a safety talk after which we launched our boats for a paddle to Lover’s Point Beach in Pacific Grove. Our paddle took us out past the harbor. We passed hundreds of Sea Lions on the breakwater and a number of sea otters on our way out towards Lover’s Point. We paddled past the Monterey Bay aquarium and around Point Cabrillo where we kept our distance from the crashing surf. Turning into Lover’s Point Beach we found the beach quite protected from the swell which made for easy landing. The clear, turquoise water at Lover’s Point Beach reminded me of something out of the Mediterranean

Lost in the Fog

On Thursday January 10, I joined my BASK paddling buddies for the weekly Thursday Lunch Paddle. We congregated at the northeast end Loch Lomond Marina where there’s a small beach that provides a serviceable launch site when the tide isn’t too high.


Paddling in the fog. BASK Thursday Lunch Paddle on 1/10/19.

When I arrived at 9:15 everybody was in a huddle discussing the fog. Boats were still on car tops and it looked doubtful whether we would get on the water. Our original plan was to paddle to Red Rock Island across the bay from our launch site. Given we would be crossing shipping lanes and ferry traffic, and with the challenge of navigating in the fog, we opted to paddle along the coast keeping the land in sight. We paddled along the shore, paddling under the Richmond San Rafael Bridge and then past San Quentin State Prison to a little beach that is a frequent launch site for windsurfers. After lunch we retraced our route, but for the last mile or so we decided to follow a compass course that would take us directly back to the marina. There was a point in the last leg where we were out of site of any landmarks, surrounded by fog. It was an eerie feeling to be paddling in the fog without any visual reference point. It wasn’t too long though when out of the fog loomed the entrance to Loch Lomond Marina. We were back on the beach by 3 pm having paddled 9.5 miles. You can view the track of our paddle here.

Lunch at China Camp

 

I joined a few of my fellow BASK members for a paddle from Lock Lomond Yacht Harbor to China Camp where we had lunch. At the launch the weather was looking a bit chilly with the potential for some wind. By lunch time thought, the weather had warmed up and the little wind we had seemed to have disappeared. We paddled out from Loch Lomond going between the Marin Island and then altered our course for The Sisters. There where we took the opportunity to “thread Gridel’s Neddle” a slot in the rock on one of The Sisters that one can paddle through.  Once through the Needle, we headed for the beach at China Camp where we broke our our lunches. After lunch we had the current with us for a quick trip back to the Yacht Harbor.  Clear skies and calm water for the day’s paddle. We get some of our best paddling weather in the fall and winter.  Our course covered nine miles. You can view the GPS track here.

Out the Gate with BASK

On Saturday, December 7, I joined fellow BASK (Bay Area Sea Kayakers) members for a paddle “Out the Gate,” meaning a paddle out from the relatively protected waters on San Francisco Bay , out under the Golden Gate Bridge onto the Pacific Ocean. Tides and currents under the Golden Gate Bridge can be a challenge, not to mention the wind. This is not a place for novice paddlers, but for those that have the skill and knowledge of the risks, it is an awesome adventure.

Our launch point was Horseshoe Bay on the Marin Headlands, and with 27 paddlers we were quiet a fleet. We formed small pods of two to three paddlers, using a buddy system, and those again formed into two larger groups; those that wanted to play in the rocks and waves; an activity referred to as rock gardening; and those that were more interested in paddling in the calmer waters away from the rocks. I chose the latter group, since I don’t think my wooden boat will fare well bashing into rocks.

We launched our kayaks at 9:45 am and paddled along Marin Headlands. There is plenty to see along the headlands; sheer cliffs come down to the water, and in some places it’s easy to paddle along the cliff watching for sea stars and birds.  There were also plenty of harbor seals and a few sea lions.

Paddling a little further out the gate, we began to feel the ocean swell. One moment I’ll be up in the air looking down at the waves crashing on the rocks, the next moment, in the trough of a wave looking up at the back of the wave that just passed.

We paddled about four miles out to Point Bonita. Our plan was to land on a beach for lunch, but it seems there was a fierce wind blowing offshore,  straight out the Golden Gate. We were faced with the challenge of paddling into a strong headwind. Rather than dally around we decided to head back to Kirby Cove, a relatively protected cove.

It was a bit of a slog back to Kirby Cove and we hugged the coast as much as possible to try to get some protection from the wind.  Once on the beach, we broke our our lunches, eventually climbing back into our boats to paddle back to our launch point. If the water in the photos looks calm, it’s  because when I’m paddling hard, I want to keep both hands on the paddle. Putting the paddle down long enough to take a photo could have dire consequences.

You can view a track log of our paddle here.