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.

Hunt for Sunken Treasure

The word was, that if we were lucky we might find the propeller of a World War II fighter plane that went down in Drakes Estero. The tide has to be just right. If the tide is high the propeller is underwater. If the tide is too low, there’s not enough water to float a kayak. As it turns out our timing was perfect. We launched from the location of the old Oyster Farm and paddled about 2 1/2 miles down the Estero and into Home Bay. The propeller is not far from the eastern shore of the bay.

During WWII Drakes Estero was used as a practice bombing range. It seems hard to imagine P-39 Airacobras flying dive bombing missions over the bay, given it’s current peaceful state.

The usual paddle on Drakes Estero is to launch from the beach at the parking area, the previous location of the oyster farm, and paddle down the bay to the sand spit at the entrance for lunch and return. Here’s a link to a Youtube video I put together a couple of years ago of a paddle on the estero. We were paddling as part of the 2018 BASK Skills Clinic. Our group decided on an alternative plan. We decided to poke into Home Bay and look for sunken treasure, the treasure being the propeller of the P-39. We were lucky enough to find the propeller and then, with a nice beach close by we landed and had lunch. With a rising tide, the propeller was just about all under water when we finished lunch and our boats were just about to float off the rapidly diminishing beach.

Back in our boats we were amazed to watch several schools of bat rays and a few leopard sharks gliding under our boats in the shallow water. With the hopes of capturing one in a photo I stuck my waterproof camera in the water, over the side of my kayak, and snapped away.

Amazingly enough, I actually captured one, although not something to brag about as far as quality of the photo is concerned. When we returned to our launch point the wind was picking up and the fog was moving in. Perfect timing for a pleasant day on the water.

 

Book Review: The Oyster War

 

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I just finished reading The Oyster Wars by Summer Brennan. I was drawn to this book when my brother left it with me following a visit a few months ago. I’ve had some interest in this story for some time. The location where the Oyster farm was is one of my favorite locations to go kayaking. I have a brother who is himself an oyster farmer (not the one with the book), and having studied marine biology myself, I was quite interested in science behind the story.

This turns out to be quite a compelling story about the fate of the Drakes Bay Oyster company. And also an intriguing analysis of how various interests can play into commerce and environmental issues. The author provides some background, going back to the oyster pirates of 1897 and the days of Jack London.

To be honest, I have followed this issue only remotely while it was developing, aware of some of the issues, and hopeful that the oyster farm and the National Park service would find a way to live together in harmony, protecting the natural resources while permitting aquaculture to continue. After all, if you can have cattle on the land, why not ousters in the Estero? Nevertheless, Having read Summer’s book, I’m inclined to believe that the oyster farm had no future operating in a wilderness area.

If you have any interest in environmental issues, commerce and culture and how those forces might collide, I recommend this book.

The biggest lesson I learned from this book can be summed up in a quote Brennan provides from Tom Strickland:

“I think that the situation has been hijacked by interest groups with different agendas who have spun out narratives that have no relationship to the facts.”

This seems to apply to any number of issues we face.