So here’s the scenario. You’re out paddling your kayak along with some of your buddies and one of your paddling buddies ends up unconscious floating face down in the water. And this happens under the Golden Gate Bridge in some lumpy water. What do you do?
This is one of the scenarios we acted out with members of our kayaking club, Bay Area Sea Kayakers (BASK) recently. We gathered in the morning at Horseshoe Bay, on the North side of the Golden Gate Bridge. We broke into two groups, those that wanted to practice basic rescue skills and those that wanted something more challenging including incident management.
I joined the more advanced group. We launched our boats and headed out to the Golden Gate Bridge. It was just off of Lime Point where we had our first execution of a T-rescue. With practice this is an efficient and quick way to get someone back in a boat. After the mornings practice sessions, we landed at Kirby Cove for lunch. As you can see it was a gorgeous day to be on the water.
After lunch we were back on the water. This is where we had a more complicated scenario. Just what do you do when you have an unconscious kayaker in the water? Someone needs to go in the water to assist the person, get them face up, and perhaps provide rescue breathing. Someone else needs to get on the radio to call for help. In our practice, we did get the person back in the kayak and upright, with some cooperation from our “unconscious” victim. The kayak was now full of water and unstable, so two kayakers came alongside to stabilize the boat and the paddler. Two other kayakers used an inline two to get the swamped boat and victim to safety. We were now surfing breaking waves with white caps. I can’t say our “victim” would have survived if this was a real situation, but we all agreed that practicing this scenario gave us a better understanding of what we would do in a real situation. And then messing about in boats with some good friends and well accomplished paddlers is always fun.
10 of us, members of BASK (Bay Area Sea Kayakers), met at the boat ramp at Horseshoe Bay near the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. The plan was to paddle out under the Golden Gate Bridge, along the shore and then to cross over to the south side for lunch at China Beach. Our adventure started with a safety talk where we reviewed our plan and checked our radios. We were on the water at 11 AM. There was a tongue of fog lingering under the bridge, but that just added to the sense of adventure.
As we passed Lime Point and headed under the bridge a swirl of water caught me and tried to spin me around, but I had been watching the water and corrected my course. The active water just adds to the fun. Then it was out along the shore towards Point Diablo.
Before crossing to the south side one of our members contacted Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) to make sure we would be clear of any shipping traffic. With no anticipated ship traffic, we gathered in a tight pod to cross the shipping channel. As we entered the more exposed water, we started to feel the swell moving us up and down. There was enough wave action to so that boats on the opposite side of a wave would disappear out of sight, and the waves seemed to be a bit steep, perhaps due to the wind and the current coming from opposing directions.
The current was apparently taking us further out the gate then we had planned, and we had a couple of paddlers experience some sea sickness. One has to temper the current predictions with the fact that this year there is a tremendous amount water coming down the river into San Francisco Bay. This accentuates the ebb. We put two boats on tow lines to move things along. It was a workout making way to China Beach. It was 2 PM when we landed on the beach for lunch.
After a quick lunch we were back on the water heading for the south tower of the bridge. We gathered up in the calm water of an eddy behind the tower. There we contacted VTS again and learned that a container ship was approaching the bridge. We held up for the ship to pass. Then we put our paddles in the water to get across the shipping channel. As the ship passed, we were met with the wake, a steep wave. Punching through the wake felt like punching through surf. Having crossed the bay again we headed for our launch site. Once we were back on the beach, we all agreed that it was an epic adventure. We logged 12.5 miles. More photos are available in an online gallery.
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 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 a 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.
It’s time to get caught up on a few of my recent adventures. The past two months have been quite busy providing photographic services to my architectural clients and caring for a family member that is recovering from a hip replacement. That in itself has been an adventure worth writing about, so stay tuned.
Before that, though, I’m going to turn back the clock to May 15 when I had the opportunity to join a few fellow Bay Area Sea Kayakers (BASKers) for a paddle out the Golden Gate. The plan was to paddle out for an introduction to “Rock Gardening.” Most of us have had some experience paddling around rocks, so this was somewhat of a refresher course. You’ll notice that we are all “dressed for immersion,” as well as wearing helmets and paddling plastic boats. It’s better to scrape a plastic boat on the rocks and barnacles than a fiberglass boat.
Once on the water, we poked along the coast inside the bridge to get a feel for the rhythm of the waves. Then we paddled out around Lime Point and under the bridge. Our leader Jan pointed out a number of features suitable for testing our skill and timing at navigating the rocks. It’s all about timing. Time the wave right and you can experience the thrill. Time it wrong and you can end up in the water.
Since paddling in the rocks requires keeping both hands on the paddle, I did not take many photos. I did have a GoPro camera on my helmet and I captured some video including a few frames where I ended up going for a swim. Fortunately my paddling companions were well practiced at rescues and they had me back in my boat in no time. I had been thinking it had been quite some time since I had practiced a rescue, so I guess you could say I got my wish. A fun day on the water. More photos available here.
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.
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.
What happens when you have 53 paddlers from three kayaking clubs point their boats towards Angel Island? It’s a Paddlepalooza! Saturday, October 26, we were on the Horseshoe Bay dock at 9:30 AM for a safety talk. Horseshoe Bay is just inside the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a popular launch site for kayaking. On Saturday the currents were favorable for a paddle around Angel Island, riding the flood towards Angel Island and after lunch riding the ebb back. A critical part of kayaking on San Francisco Bay is paying attention to the tides and currents. Following the safety talk we broke into eight pods. We were advised by Vessel Traffic Control and the Coast Guard that if we were to paddle in pods with good separation between the pods we would minimize the impact on shipping traffic and other recreational boaters.
Once we were on the water it was off to Angel Island at a leisurely pace, going around the island in the clockwise direction. While on the water we got to mix it up with members of other clubs. The three clubs involved were Bay Area Sea Kayakers (BASK), Western Sea Kayakers (WSK) and Sacramento Sea Kayakers (SAK).
Our lunch destination was Quarry Beach, a protected beach on the southeast side of the Island. After lunch we assembled into new pods for another opportunity to make new friends, and we headed back rounding Point Blunt, the southern most point on the Island, and hugging the shore until we reached Point Knox. Then it was time to cross the open water back towards our launch point. On the crossing we found ourselves paddling into a headwind with enough wind to kick up a few waves, but with the ebb current we made good time on the crossing.
Things got more exciting as we approached Yellow Bluffs. This spot is famous for kicking up some wild water on the ebb, and true to form it was exploding today. Our strategy was to paddle north around the rough water, but this is not what happened. We stopped for one of our pod members who was having having trouble with his boat. By the time we got going again, we discovered that we were being sucked right into the rough water. It was a wild ride. I was too busy holding onto my paddle to even think about taking photos. I found myself surfing down waves, getting knocked left and right, and somehow I managed to stay in my boat. Paddle forward, surf the wave and keep paddling. Against the ebb it was slow progress. Eventually I made it to smooth water closer to shore where a number of paddlers were holding position while we regrouped.
My wife Joann managed to stay in her boat in the rough water also. Two paddlers capsized. One of them ended up riding the ebb current out towards the Golden Gate before eventually being picked up by a fishing boat.
The water at Yellow Bluff is a popular place for more experienced paddlers to play. Having “played” in it briefly I can see it would be fun to go back with some more experienced paddlers to improve my boat handling skills.
I did take more photos on the paddle. You can view those here. I also had a GoPro on my helmet. So stay tuned for some video footage. We logged 10.6 miles over the course of the day. You can see the map of our route above, or here.
Here’s a photo I captured yesterday at Horseshoe Bay as the morning fog was starting to dissipate. The three kayakers in the foreground were part of the Paddle Golden Gate Symposium, and event sponsored by California Canoe and Kayak. I participated in a workshop on “Forward Stroke Refinement.” When paddling with others recently, I’ve marveled at paddlers that can go great distances without their arms falling off, and I’m motivated to learn how to do that. Who would know how much technique can go into making a kayak go forward smoothly and efficiently? On the very basic level, you just put your paddle in the water, use it as an anchor and drive the boat forward with your feet, using your hamstrings and obliques to power the boat. Sounds simple right?
Our class had 11 participants, with folks from Boston, Port Townsend, Seattle, and Los Angeles, and three world class coaches, Sean Morley, Chris Hipgrave and Marcel Bieg. I took a quick tally of the class rosters and figured there were well over 100 boats on the water with paddlers participating in 13 different workshops. Quite an amazing event. I’m off today, catching up on some work projects, and back tomorrow for “Traditional Skills & Rolling.” I may get wet tomorrow. Stay tuned!